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(03/24/13 - 9:44 AM)
Geez, I feel like my life isn't my own anymore. I go to work, come home, work on projects until I'm cross-eyed, neglecting nothing except this blog. Today, it's me time.
For those of you not following elsewhere, here's what I've been up to:
I assisted a client, and long-time friend, in editing her e-mini-book, "Pendulums" for sale. It was a gratifying experience, and I learned a lot about something that I knew nothing about.
Next, I've spent the past two months 'working on' building and fleshing out my Riffle, Shelfari, and GoodReads accounts. It's been... laborious, to say the least, but it's paying off: I'm one of the pinnacle contributors to Riffle, having gotten in on the ground floor, and I've been building a following that has already eclipsed those of some of the site managers. Awesomesauce.
I've been keeping the Weird Uncle Pete Facebook page humming, with some success, though very little by way of new subscribership. This is a downer, as I figured this would be the one thing that would take off. Odd, how you can miscalculate those things.
As to my latest novel, "Last Rights", I am now about 3/5's of the way finished with final editing, prior to last read through and polish. The book isn't finished, but the final editing process had been a necessary exercise to both re-connect me with the work, and tighten it up.
I've been spending a majority of my time writing contributions for The Rockford Blog, a project founded by Wanda's cousin, Dan, and a project which I graciously accepted an offer to guest-author for. I've been running a series on my remembrances of growing up in Rockford, Illinois: a city villified nationwide, but that I love because it's my home. Dan and, now I, are trying desperately to provide positive notes about the place, where only negative ones exist. And it's working. His readership was 163 subscribers, and 470 e-mail subscribers before he began an aggressive marketing campaign, and I began to write my series. Since then, it had grown to 371 subscribers, and nearly 700 e-mail subscribers - a HUGE jump in a scant three weeks. He's clearly doing something right.
What's been most interesting, for me, is how I have suddenly connected with other Rockfordians though my stories. I've had feedback from interesting folks who enjoy what I'm doing and that, frankly, is more gratifying than I can express.
Below, are the current eleven articles on offer:
Remembrances of Pauline Avenue: Part I
My name is Heath, and I am an Author and Businessman who was born in Rockford, Illinois. Big surprise there, right? My parents were, likewise, born and raised there: pedestrian, I know. Beyond that, however, my lineage becomes sort of sketchy, and my family tree ends up looking more like a dead shrub turned on its side; tiny tendrils of xylem and phloem in a chaotic knit of interlacing twigs. And the whole awful mess viewed from beneath the murky depths of the Rock River, just for good measure. Suicides, divorces, deaths, relatives who moved to faraway places, and on and on. In summation: my family tree is more Chinese Elm than White Oak.
When I was mere months old, my parents had the foresight and means to enact their own American dream of home ownership and, with the funds available, purchased a 1920's bungalow on a one-block long street that ran North-South, and perpendicularly abutted the busy chainsaw blade of traffic known then - as now - as Auburn Street. Though, it was a far skinnier thoroughfare than it is in its current form.
Pauline Avenue lay in between Kilburn Avenue and Rockton Avenue and, as such, I had the now far less common opportunity to reside in a mixed residential/commercial/industrial area. We had it all, though the industry bit was of no use to me, save for the odd weekend adventure into the near-magical confines of their property indulged upon by a young boy with more time on his hands than is probably good for him, or his parents and local police force, at that.
"So what," you're saying, "Everyone grew up on a street. We all have our own stories like this. This is stupid. When is Mattlock on?" Work with me on this. There's a story here, I promise. Lots of them, in fact.
On my street lived a veritable melting pot of Americans. We had the Hispanic family on the corner, the newlyweds, the single mothers, the aging retirees, the thriving families, the African American family. Everyone, with the exception of the Asians, seemed to be present and accounted for. I wonder where the hell the Asians were?, now that I consider it. None of this meant anything to me as a kid. All I saw were people. Prejudice, bigotry, sexism, and avarice were all words I not only could not spell (dude, I was like three or four - what did you expect?), but whose existence I had no notion of. My lexicon, at that tender age, didn't require words like that.
One of my Mother's favorite stories to share, is that of the first time I saw a black person. We were in a store, I believe in the Rockton Plaza shopping center. I espied a portly African-American matron from within the mystical confines of my stroller and, being the keen observer that I was, I felt it imperative to immediately bring this fascinating anomaly standing before me to my Mother's attention. As such, I immediately did what any card-carrying, awe-struck kid would do: I shouted as loudly as I was able, to anyone caring to hear (and the way she tells it, there were plenty of ears), "Mom, look! That lady is BLACK!"
Of course, my Mother was mortified. The woman on the other hand, I am told, laughed herself silly as my Mother stepped all over herself trying to apologize for the atrocious lack of manners that the Hell-spawn in the stroller before her was broadcasting loud and clear. The woman took the time to come over, smile, and calm my Mother. Apparently, I was precocious because I am told that she took the time to get to know me, and explain her situation to me, all while indulging my deep fascination with her dermal melanin levels. I'd give anything to meet that woman again, and make her dinner.
The whole reason for bringing this story to the fore was to give you some idea of who I was as a very young person. I was curious, adventurous, curious, a handful, curious, intellectually challenging, curious, racially clueless, and curious. I might also have been a little curious. It's hard to recall.
Growing up, I played with children of every color and creed on my street. My staple playmates, however, were girls. Our neighborhood, for all of its vast diversity, was sorely lacking in the male child department. As such, I played more Barbie and house than a grown man should probably ever admit to anyone other than his therapist. Still, I think those estrogen-laden days of interaction molded me into the man that I am today. I know for certain it gave me a better sense of the female perspective. This is why, I am certain, I have decorating sense, have zero interest in sports, and am totally stupid for my wife. I often joke that if it weren't for my overt sexual disdain for the male form on every conceivable level, and my overt love/lust for my wife, I would probably be considered a stereotypical gay man. Eh: I'm comfortable with who I am.
The anchor of the neighborhood - then, as now, even to this very day - were the Zeigle family. The Zeigle's live in the largest house in the neighborhood which, I learned years later, was home to the original builder of all of the other homes in the area. He wanted some swanky digs and he sure got them. I still love that house.
And, let me tell you: those folks needed the room. The Zeigle's, you see, had nine children. All fiercely active, and I have no idea how Mrs. Zeigle still has any hair. Mr. Zeigle, much like myself, self-becalmed with a goodly mixture of humor, familial love, and cocktails. Both Warren and Ann - those are their names - are still treasured friends, and marital role models for my wife, and myself, even to this day. Everyone should have someone like the Zeigle's in their lives.
We lived next door to the Zeigle's, at 1516 Pauline Avenue, in a well-constructed home, complete with monster box elder tree in the back yard; a tree that, when we finally had to cut it down in the early eighties due to the devastation caused by decades of carpenter ant abuse, proved to be more than one-hundred years old (120-ish, I believe, but I'm not completely certain). Suffice it to say, it was old. And its absence was - and still is - palpable. I miss that tree not only because its absence feels wrong, but because it had a shape and form that were magnificent to behold. It was a work of art.
Next door to us, in an arrangement that would never stand the potential legal scrutiny in this litigious day and age, were the Johnson's. Our driveways - and garages - shared abutting space, making for one large driveway, and a party-wall garage. What the builders were thinking, I'll never know, but this configuration appeared in two further instances along the length of the street. Be that as it may, I'm fairly certain that it had the effect of bringing two neighboring families even closer together. Even more so when taking into account that the back yard had a fenced perimeter, but no dividing fence to keep either clan off of the other's property.
My parents had two boys, while the Johnson's had two girls. I was a year younger than their oldest, and my brother was nearly the same age as their youngest, making us a natural foursome for getting into trouble, and under the skin of other neighbors. Suffice it to say, the memories of those early years still bring fond feelings of emotion, and wistful feelings that most of the video game entranced, insane crime rate, 300 television-channel, cell phone adhered, children of today will never know that sort of childhood. If they only knew what they were missing. It's a poverty.
In the coming months, I intend to bring you some of my favorite recollections of my home within the confines of Rockford. Some will be short, while others will be recollected in the entirety that they deserve. I have no idea if they will be of interest to you, but here's what else my neighborhood - both immediate and extended - had that you can plan to read about in the near future:
- A pair of business tycoons
- 'Rockford Royalty'
- Hobo camps
- A Mayoral candidate
- Embarrassing kissing stories
- Sassy old folks (who sometimes cheat at cards)
- The Rockford Expos experience
- The unbelievably weird world of Boylan High
- Vagabond summers
- Viva la Beaky's Chicken!
- A plethora of other unique odds and ends that I don't want to give away, just yet
I hope that you will join me, in recalling stories otherwise forgotten, or unknown, about the great city that I had the pleasure of growing up in: Rockford, Illinois.
Remembrances of Pauline Avenue: Part II
My immediate neighborhood, in my early years, was far different than that found there today. I suppose that most neighborhoods elsewhere also suffer from this commercial reshaping, but mine doesn’t even feel the same. Still, I am pleased that I can recall it (mostly) in what was, from my perspective time frame, its original form.
For starters, we had gas stations. So many, in fact, that I recall asking my parents why on Earth there would need to be so many concentrated in one place: Sunoco, Union 76, Checker, Clark, Shell, Standard Oil (later Amoco). It still seems nuts to me, even now.
Still, those gas stations – for a kid on a bike with a limited permissible range of travel – offered my first real encounters with liberated purchasing. Specifically, I could take the hard-earned coinage that I had saved and buy anything that I wanted. Anything, that is, that one can purchase in a gas station vestibule. I remember taking in everything for sale within the confines of the Clark station (my usual preferred shopping venue): road maps, ice scrapers, key chains, candy, soda, baseball cards: it was a commercial wonderland to my youthful self, even if I didn’t have a use for most of the things around me.
Gas stations, compared with those of today, were far, far different. The pumps were all electromechanical, the air compressors were free and abundant. There were no cages or polycarbonate cocoons for the attendant’s protection. Everyone paid in cash and, often, there were a line of kids there – including myself – purchasing cigarettes for parents who sent us with money in what was – I’m certain – an effort to get us the hell out of their hair for a few brief, blissful moments, followed by a period of calming as the first ethereal clouds of nicotine-laced smoke penetrated their alveolar sacs. In hindsight, breaking the law never seemed so mundane and boring.
Across from the Clark station was the local grocery store and drug store. Their location, for me, was off limits because it not only required a trip across the car-laden Auburn Street, but a traversal over some very active railroad tracks as well. I can still picture in my mind the bustling Eagle Food Store, with the Rexall Drug (later RevCo, who took over the entire facility, years later, after Eagle Foods went out of business in this location) attached and next to it. In the remaining sliver of the building, was a small hair salon that was more often closed or defunct than I ever recall it having been open.
Further down the road, at the Rockton intersection was Beaky’s Chicken – home of the Beaky Burger. I recall eating take-out from there on only a handful of rare occasions before it closed, and became an Arby’s. More often, we ate Connie’s Pizza on special Friday nights (complete with anchovies, which I still love to this day), or ate take out from the local Geri’s Burgers. Connie’s had the distinction of being the first place that I ever saw a video game. I believe it was a building climbing game of some sort, in a head-to-head, table-top format. I wish I could recollect it more, but I recall it made a massive impression on me, as I watched people play while we all stood around waiting for our pizzas to be ready. Geri’s was housed in one of the few remaining, original, McDonald’s restaurant buildings. It later became Manny’s .39 Cent Hamburgers and, then, was torn down to make way for a self-serve car wash. I remember being enamored with the unique and obtuse architecture of the place, and also recall being disheartened when that piece of my childhood was demolished. I mean: what fun is a car wash, for crying out loud?
Where the Pizza Hut now resides, was an AC Delco auto parts store. My Father never went there, however. Instead, we headed down to 20th Street to the Tietz & Lynde. The reason? My godfather’s brother worked there. My godfather, a truly admirable man named Gary Olszewski (pronounced ‘ho-shef-ski’) was also my father’s best friend for many, many years. He’s still a man I look up to in admiration, all these long years later. I'll give my Dad credit: his loyalty to his friends was admirable. Although, I'm pretty certain, he probably got a discount for his troubles. I'll have to ask him about that, now that I consider it.
Going to the Tietz & Lynde was like a mini-Christmas for me because I got to sit (read: play) on their rotating counter stools which were, essentially, playground equipment to a hyper kid like me. With each visit Old Joe, or Pete Lynde, or another of the regular, long-time employees, would have me ‘help them out’ by ‘testing’ certain candy bars and peanut tubes to make sure that the remainder of the box weren’t too stale for the other customers. For as intelligent as I was, I didn’t catch on to the underlying ruse until a few years later. Every one of those guys seemed genuinely glad to have me around as a distraction (I think that I made them laugh) and that sort of acceptance and attention was emotionally uplifting to a young man whose home life tended to become less and less positive as the years wore on. Those simple acts of blue-collar kindness helped to shape, I am sure, a facet of the man that I became. There will always be a special place in my heart for those kind hearted, working class fellows.
Rounding out the local haunts of my immediate neighborhood were one of the original Beef-A-Roo’s, a Taco Johns (later demolished to make way for Beef-A-Roo’s rebuild and expansion, which is still in place today, and probably for the best because the decor was an ocular abomination), and the Donutland where, on rare Sunday mornings after attending church at St. Edwards (way across town on Eleventh Street), we might stop and get a turnover, and the ice cream parlor whose name still to this day eludes me. What was cool (no pun intended) about the ice cream parlor (located next to the veterinary clinic, which I just recalled) was that it was decorated in old-time photos, posters, flyers, furniture, and knickknacks from the heady days of the Hollywood's Golden Age. It also featured a player piano which, to a kid my age, was tantamount to black magic. I remember always getting a mint chocolate chip waffle cone (I was fairly insistent on this and, ironically, it’s a flavor I don’t much care for today), and often being more interested/inquisitive in my surroundings than the actual treat itself. The staff and owners were a part of the community who always had a welcoming smile and local scuttlebutt to share or receive. Intimate and unique places like that still exist today, but not nearly as many as I would like to see. When it finally closed its doors for good, a vital piece of the neighborhood was forever lost to the annals of time.
So, in my early years, that was the commercial neighborhood that I knew. For some, I hope to have evoked memories of the places that I loved, otherwise long forgotten or even unknown. For others, I offer this only as a building block for stories to come. I hope you’ll join me again for the next installment.
Remembrances of Pauline Avenue: Part III
As my childhood wore on toward my early teens, I found that my Mom was willing to relax her steadfast stranglehold over my permissible roaming area. As such, I quickly immersed myself in other neighborhood microcosms in the general vicinity of my home. For me, it was like discovering a series of unknown tribes that had been there all along, and beckoned for me to study their ways, habits, and dwellings.
Of all the extended neighborhood friends that I met, the Block brothers stood out as those who would forever change and further shape my adult life. The Blocks were Doug & Kris, and their three children: Dan, David, and Amanda. Also present were Tiffany the poodle and, not long after, Perididdle the retriever – who was more like a smelly, drooling little horse than a dog. But, I liked him anyway because he liked to play with tennis balls and I’m a sucker for a dog that will play fetch.
If the name Doug Block rings a bell, you shouldn’t be surprised. For decades after his honorable discharge from the Marine Corps he was a well respected, and very able police officer on the Rockford Police force who was eventually promoted to Detective before retiring as a consultant. His early claim to fame was nearly dying in the infamous Rainbow Tap hold up, but saving himself at the last moment by forcing the web of skin between his thumb and forefinger into the hammer mechanism of the gun pointed at the back of his head. I’m pretty sure that some unseen force wanted to keep him around for a lot of reasons. Perhaps, even to influence my life. The world is funny that way. More recently, he gained notoriety as a Rockford mayoral candidate, only to see his hopes dashed by some poor choices made by his oldest son. This was a huge blow to me on two levels. First, I was disappointed that such a poor choice had been made by someone I knew should have known better. Second, the man that I had known and respected for so many years would have been the sort of Mayor that Rockford would have been privileged to have. I often wonder how much better off my home city might be, had we had his morally sound, sure-footed, and clearheaded wisdom to guide the city to a new and brighter tomorrow.
If the name Dave Block sounds familiar, then you probably run in my circles. After almost fifteen years apart, we once more found each other a couple of years ago on Facebook. Dave, the younger son, had become an independent filmmaker (founder of Block Films) and, as we rekindled our friendship anew, it set into motion a formal meeting that resulted in the formation of Digital Ninjas Media, Inc. with him as a co-founder. My wife (also a co-founder) and I now find ourselves working side by side with him on projects, as though all those years never happened. I’m pleased to have him back in my life, and my wife has taken a shine to him as well. He’s just good people.
The Blocks lived about 180 degrees around the block from my home, and just a squidge further North. I often sought refuge, and spent many summer and weekend nights, there playing computer games on their Tandy. This was also where I had my first run in with something called a BBS and a modem. Two things which would further alter my life in profound and massive ways (that’s a story for another time).
As the boys got older, and moved from Cub Scouts and into Boy Scouts, Doug took on the mantle of Scoutmaster and, because I was already joked about as ‘the third Block son’, encouraged me to participate in the program. It was one of the best decisions of my life, and I cherish all of the friends that were made, and developmentally moral lessons learned. My time in the Boy Scouts, both with Doug and, later, others, gave me a sense of place in a world that I didn’t feel that I belonged anywhere in. Doug was a large part of my male role model component during those years; years in which I used the best of a number of male role model’s traits to develop the individual who ultimately resulted. It was sort of like having several, part-time Dads. And for as screwed up as my deteriorating relationship with my Father was at that time in my life, it made a profound difference.
One idle summer, I developed a scheme to turn all of our hours of bicycling time into something more profitable. At the age of twelve, I had already begun to master marketing. Via garage sale, of all things. When I offered up my first items – working the sale, of course – at the age of ten, my Mom used to think that the way I sold things was odd or that the things I was trying to sell would never be bought. That was, until I began to make a goodly amount of money, and sell most of my items in their entirety. I developed bundling schemes, grab bags, large-lot discounts, and a few other tricks. Apparently, marketing has been in my blood for a very long time. So, when the notion that an old duffle bag that I had lying around could be used to collect aluminum cans and 8-pack soda bottles (which, when returned were worth a whole ten cents) around my extended neighborhood, I convinced the Block brothers that this was something we had to do. Dan’s entrepreneurial spirit (something he shows a great deal of, and with great acumen, even to this day) took over while Dave was a little less wedded to the idea. Even so, he came along on several of our recyclable recon missions.
The majority of the rides were Dan, the duffle bag, and I. We very quickly bent the rules – a whole lot – by expanding our territory more and more as the summer progressed in the hopes of finding that elusive recycling honey-hole. All that summer, there was scarcely a stray can or bottle to be found on our watch, as we made the rounds each day – sometimes for hours at a time. We found a number of spots that consistently produced and, then, figured out how to thwart the bees that always seemed to be one step ahead of us.
One day, we were in the alleys in the neighborhoods to the North of our homes, when we spied a scarcely opaque garbage bag packed full of Coke cans (someone had had a party, it was clear). This got us thinking: What else was in all those bags, lining the streets and alleys on garbage day that we COULDN’T see? So, we developed a method of inspecting garbage bags by tapping them with a stick or looking for tell-tale signs of a protruding can that paid off. As we did so, we made a mental map of the worst offenders to the planet, and returned there each week to reap our refuse rewards. Once in a while, an angry adult would holler at us, until we explained what we were doing. Sometimes, they kept hollering anyway (and we made a mental note to avoid that place entirely or, be far more discreet in the future.) Other times, however, they would turn the anger into kindness and often offer to leave the booty in a separate bag or, better still, go in the house or garage and return with a stash of their own to give to our cause. Those were the best days. I wonder how many strangers would do that today? Hell, I wonder how many kids would see the value in doing what we did, in this day and age.
As we expanded our territory as far as we dared, we one day came across something odd. There was a dense copse of trees on Kilburn Avenue, on the West side, just before the curve toward the country near the Feather Club. I found a can in the weeds and, as I took in my surroundings more acutely, I saw a well-hidden path into the copse itself. I had passed by this area a hundred times, and had never noticed it – it was that well hidden. Dan was busying himself behind me, searching for more cans in the weeds, as I ventured further and further into the progressively darker, wooded area. The tress here weren’t ancient, but they weren’t exactly saplings, either. Their canopies fought valiantly for every square inch of available sunlight, and vines and weeds joined the throng below as well.
About twenty feet in, the path dog legged, and I could make out a blue tarp that had clearly been engineered as some sort of shelter with rope and limbs. It was tough to find access but, once I did, I found evidence of habitation: more tarps, telltale signs of a small fire, boxes of Little Debbie snacks, water, and other odds and ends. Now, of course, we know it was a hobo camp but, back then, we just couldn’t figure out who would leave such a neat, well-stocked fort in such a place, where any kid could come and play in it. I don’t remember how it came up in conversation but a few days later, Dan must have mentioned it to his Dad, who explained to him what we had stumbled upon. As a police officer, it made sense that HE would know it was there. We both decided that we respected the squatters’ rights and so we never entered the copse again for fear of startling someone or making them feel exposed. It was enough for us that we had found it and seen it, so we let it be, thereafter. In truth, I felt sort of bad for the guy (I always pictured it as a guy, for some reason) but was glad he had such a cool fort to sleep in, if he couldn’t have a home.
My worst day began cold and rainy. I didn’t have a lot to do, so I decided to go on a solo ride, Dan and Dave being somewhere else for the day. I went due West – a direction we usually avoided. As the morning turned to afternoon, the sun came out and it got very hot, very quickly. Behind what would later become the Anytime Club (and home to several suspicious fires), I found a good score of a number of cans all in one area. As I reached to pick up a sun-bleached can of Lite Beer, I was startled to find that it was still full. This had never happened before, and I felt like a criminal already (I was a knob, I know, I know). I figured a can was a can and, decided to pop the top and dump its contents. As soon as the seal was breached, I was blasted with foamy beer from head to toe. First, I was grossed out. I mean, I smelled like hot beer most days from monkeying with the cans to begin with but this was a whole new level of beer stink. Second, I panicked: my Mom was going to kill me. I finished policing the area for any more cans and decided to go home and clean up before she got home from work.
When I arrived home, to my surprise, my Mom was home from work already. I panicked, but decided to just go in and be honest. In hindsight, I have no idea why I thought this was such an Earth-shattering problem. I entered the house and, upon finding my Mother, I explained the whole situation, swearing up and down that I had not been drinking beer. I was stunned when she proceeded to laugh, mostly because she didn’t usually crack up like that. Apparently, I was adorable, and my situation – and angst about being seen as a ‘bad kid with beer’ - was hilarious to her. Who knew?
By the end of the summer, we had my basement jam-packed with cans. My Mom (who was a damn good sport) took us to Behr for the cans and Logli’s for the bottles and, all told, I think we earned $140.00 and some change. In hindsight, it was pennies on the hour for all the hard work that we had done, but I didn’t see it that way then. I saw it as a reward for all of our efforts, and it taught me that there are opportunities everywhere, if only one took the time to find them, and exploit them. Moreover, it further solidified an already solid pair of friendships, gave me a ton of exercise, and allowed me to not just see – but come to know – the neighborhoods around me, while meeting some of their kinder inhabitants. If I had it to do all over again, I would do it in a heartbeat.
Remembrances of Pauline Avenue: Part IV
A lot of myths exist surrounding the Internet. Before I get all wistful and memoir-ish, I want to put a couple of those to bed:
The Internet was developed as a decentralized
communications network in case of nuclear attack
FALSE: This one is cited so often that almost no one believes me when I tell them that the Internet was, in fact, developed to allow information sharing on Government projects amongst institutions, individuals doing the work, and their overseers, in an effort to streamline, avoid redundancy, and bottlenecks in knowledge. It was the brain child of a Pentagon visionary within DARPA (then called ARPA) who got tired of having to sign on to four different machines, with four different interfaces, to reach four different research institutions. ARPA, therefore, commissioned the folks at Bolt, Beranek & Newman to build what would come to be known at IMP’s: Intra-Network Message Processors, to act as ‘interpretive gateways’ between the differing platforms and operating systems each institution used. These four nodes became the foundation of the Internet that we know today. There’s a phenomenal book on the subject by Katie Hafner, called “Where Wizards Stay Up Late”. Read it – it’s awesome.
*(Acronym Reference Available Here)
Al Gore invented the Internet
FALSE: This is just stupid, so I won’t dignify it further.
The WELL (Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link) was the first
public message sharing system
SORT OF TRUE: This leads me nicely into my story.
As I mentioned before, I learned of something called a Modem (Modulator/Demodulator, for those who want to know what the hell that means) from the Block brothers when their new computer came equipped with one. A modem – for those of you who are still killing animals with a spear and living in caves – is a communications device which allows one computer to speak to another over a wired or – now – wireless conduit. Back in the eighties, they weren’t particularly useful to the average consumer, as there weren’t a whole lot of places to call with them. Unless, that is, you lived in the Rockford area.
I have a vast library of books, within my library of books, about the origins of technology. Within their numbers are numerous tomes on the Internet, and its predecessors. Yet within none of them is one name found. That name, is Bill Basham. Basham was a Rockford local who developed a Bulletin Board System (BBS, for short) that allowed Apple computer users to ‘dial in’ and ‘talk’ to one another in a group teleconference by typing, and sending to all participants, each message. Sort of like a party line phone call, but for computers. Diversi-Dial (or D-Dial, as it became known), was born.
The Rockford area, I am told, at one time boasted more D-Dial’s and, later, BBS’s than anywhere in the country. I was a few years late arriving to the party, but boards such as Heaven N’ Hell, Spenders Never Inn, Nightlines by MultiComm, Uncle Spike’s, Jeff’s Bored, Bloomford, Gateway, ‘R’ World, Paradigm, Perception, and a number of others all had their roots in the Rockford area. Infamous luminaries like King Blotto, Cap’n Crunch, and other big name ‘old school geeks & true hackers’ knew where Rockford was. We were not only on the digital map, we were one of the primary epicenters.
By the time I got around to using my first BBS (Bloomford) with Dan Block, I was hooked. Here, one could play text-based games against real individuals in real time. And the real-time aspect of not only these BBS’s, but D-Dial before them, made them truly interactive: moreso than The WELL, in that The WELL functioned more like basic Facebook with ‘static’ posts and responses. BBS’s, on the other hand, offered real-time private messaging, as well as public ‘Teleconference’ messaging where the participants were limited only by how many phone lines and modems the BBS owner had. Also present were e-mail boxes, text messaging, games, forums, special interest groups and, later, CD-ROM servers. It was magic.
I had the opportunity to buy my first modem-equipped machine when I was fifteen. I purchased it from a friend, who had found it at a swap meet. He already had a modem in his Apple and, so, had no real use for it once he heard that I was willing to give him $50.00 for it. It was a far cry from the computer of today. What it was, in fact, was a portable dumb terminal, used by telephone linemen in the field. It was a bulky, laptop-esque thing, with a super-dimunitive, monochrome screen, no software (save the dialer and terminal software), and a keypad (think Speak 'N Spell) rather than a keyboard. It was God-awful to use, but it got me to the magical place called ‘The Teleconference’ at a whole 1200 baud. My life changed forever, and I still type with three fingers and two thumbs in a ‘float’ rather than home rows. All those thousands of hours rewired my brain to make it work, and on a good day I can still type 80+ words per minute, as well as using a ten key pad blind – with either hand. I’m pretty sure that makes me a freak of nature, because I haven’t met anyone else who can do that ambidextrously. It’s just not normal. Then again, neither am I.
Growing up, I was always the socially-inept fat kid who was also poor. Not impoverished, mind you, but poor. I also smelled like cigarette smoke (though I never knew that) because my parents chain smoked in a closed house. This is probably why I find myself being the center of laughter and attention even to this day: I fought my battles with wit and humor and, over time, became adept at both. As the first weeks of modem ownership wore on, I began to recognize that this group of folks I had digitally dropped in amongst were more like a huge family than a bunch of people who mingled around aimlessly. Again, this is the eighties, long before AOL, CompuServe, or anything else had ever even been conceived. Almost no one knew what the Internet was, and computer geeks were thought of as folks to be avoided. We – the actual Rockford area group - coined and openly propagated that term to refer to ourselves in a positive way, regardless of what anyone else says the origins are. It was ours, and I was there when it happened. I am, proudly, one of the original ‘Geeks’.
Bloomford and Gateway were the two 800-pound gorillas in the Rockford area, with vociferous followers and patrons much like a pair of professional sporting teams. Gateway had Warren’s Annual Picnic, and monthly pizza gatherings at the Godfather’s on State & Alpine, where all the folks getting to know one another digitally could come and meet in person. Bloomford, likewise had these sorts of gatherings at ice cream parlors, restaurants, etc. In fact, toward the end of its life, Bloomford also had The Bloomford Café downtown, both owned by Kim Kirkpatrick. Those were the days.
Here’s the strange thing: I got to know individuals from the ages of ten to seventy, intimately, before I even met them. They came from all walks of life, all levels of society, and many were folks I would never, under any other circumstances, come to know. One of my closest friends was nearing fifty, was a Senior Financial Analyst for The Newell Group, and under any normal circumstances our friendship seemed impossible. She’s since passed away, but those years of friendship will never be forgotten. Others of these myriad individuals are still my closest friends, even to this day. On-line, we could be ourselves, and no one cared what we looked like (and, no – we were not all fat, stinky, perverted trolls living in our mother’s basements). Most of us looked like anyone else, but tended to be a bit more intellectual, adventurous, shy, or crazy (in a good way).
Even today, folks on Facebook ask, "How do you know that person?", when they see that I’m friends with someone. My answer is, often, “I don’t, yet, but they seemed interesting.” To this day, I have made new friends of all ages with each passing month in this manner, further solidifying and growing my list of individuals whom I proudly call friends. It’s a balancing act of empathy, listening, and communicating that is fast becoming a lost art, and that few have known and mastered to begin with. I’d like to think I’m a good judge of individuals who are worth getting to know, and then taking the time to do just that. People fascinate me.
I feel honored to have met so many unique individuals whom I now call friends through this medium. A medium whose birthplace is not in California, nor The WELL, as most would have you believe, but was, in fact (and my humble opinion), the ROCKFORD area.
And now, for the big finish, I offer you this: Eighteen years ago, I went to a geek party (we knew how to throw a party and have a good time, believe me – they were like nothing you could ever imagine) where a young girl I had seen on line, but had not yet met in real life, showed up. I chided her, she didn't get my humor, and we hated each other almost instantly. I’ve been married to her for almost fifteen years now, and I am beyond blessed to have such a wonderful, funny, beautiful, smart, sexy, talented, and loving wife. All this, because I accepted the mantle of digital pioneer, solely for my amusement, so very long ago.
Thank you, Mr. Basham, wherever you are: I recognize your leadership, and pioneering spirit, and am glad that a Rockford-area native had such an impact on my life, and the lives of so many other dear friends that I would otherwise never have known; friends whom I still keep in touch with today on Facebook in a closed group that I created, just for us old-school geeks, just for old time’s sake. It has evolved into a different medium than you probably ever dreamed it could be, Bill, but your spirit lives on within its confines, nonetheless. Then again, you were a visionary: maybe you saw this coming.
Remembrances of Pauline Avenue: Part V
Opportunity doesn't always knock once. Sometimes, it just hangs out on your porch, or comes back from time to time like a persistent religious zealot. The question is: will you ignore it, or hear it out? Perhaps the following will change your perceptions, whatever they may be. I certainly hope that it will, and for the better:
Kitty-corner to our house on Pauline Avenue, on the Northeast side, was the dual-column fronted home of the Tudors. Of all the architectural variety found on our street, theirs was the only home to feature this sort of unique façade. Coupled with the Evergreen and Ivory paint scheme it sort of looked like a miniature temple to The Forest City.
The Tudors were only briefly known to me. They had been in the neighborhood for some time and most of the information that I received about them came second-hand from my Mother, and my some-times babysitter, Annette Zeigle (for those of you who have been following along, she was Zeigle child #8). The Tudors reputation was pristine – almost wistfully legendary - within the neighborhood hierarchy. The younger Zeigle children adored them, and it was rumored that Mr. Tudor often made amazing things from wood – including whistles for the neighborhood children. Unfortunately, about the time I began to get my neighborhood bearings they passed on, and the house went up for sale.
Then, my life changed forever.
A couple from Milton, Wisconsin moved in, along with their newborn son. It was my father who first became friends with the family, and introduced them as Dave & Diane Klingenmeyer and their son, Paul. I’m not sure of the specifics but, somehow, my Dad had some sort of hand in assisting Dave in finding employment at what was then Warner-Lambert, on Forest Hills, where he himself worked until he recently retired.
Dave was the first bona-fide workaholic that I had ever met. His wife, likewise, would come home from working all day at the bank, and spend hours beautifying their yard into a garden paradise (seriously - it was astounding) – all while raising a family. As Paul grew, I was asked to Babysit. This was my first real job, at the age of 12. By this time, his little brother (and only sibling) Ryan had been born. I can still recall changing his diapers, and it’s fun, now, to tease a Navy Diver (and former SEAL candidate), about that in front of his wife, and children of his own, in present time. He grew up, like his brother, to be a superb man.
To make ends meet, Dave set up a woodworking business in his basement. Never one to think too hard about names, he simply called it, “Dave’s Custom Woodworking”. Against my Mother’s better judgment, I was allowed to accept his invitation to do woodworking during the summer, after school, and on the weekends, for as many hours as I cared to offer so long as it didn’t interfere with my school work – at a whole $2.00 per hour. I was going to be rich at twelve!
I started out with the simple stuff: sanding, sanding, and more sanding. Yet, even sanding, one soon finds that there is a method to the madness of even this seemingly simple task. Dave was a perfectionist, and he took the time to show me how he wanted it done (i.e. – the right way). I was a fast learner. Of all of the gifts God has granted me in my later years, my strongest gift in those formative ones were my mind, and my wit. My health and other things… not so much. I was a very, very sickly child.
As Dave began to see my potential, due in no small part to his sound mentoring, he moved me on to new facets of the business. At thirteen, I was adept with a Router, Drill Press, and Barrel Sander. By fourteen, I could plane lumber with a micrometer, hundreds of feet at a time, knowing how to manipulate the machine’s custom-made, solid carbide blades to maximize efficiency and finish in differing woods. I also learned how to finish wood with an oil and Danish Wax process. I didn’t realize it, but I was learning something else as well: work ethic, time management, and motion management skills. Dave was a great teacher. I also learned more about classic rock than I probably needed to, and was a huge fan of Pink Floyd and R.E.O. Speedwagon by the age of thirteen – all compliments of Dave. It was Dave, in fact, who in 1988 surprised me with a ticket to go and see R.E.O. Speedwagon with he and his wife at what was then still the Metro Centre. It was my first concert ever, and it was something magical and new. It was one of the most thoughtful things that anyone had ever done for me.
As I grew older, and my parents finally divorced, Dave allowed me to carry more of the business burden. And, those $2.00 per hour days were long gone – I was making a respectable wage long before I was sixteen. In the summer of ’89, I was permitted to assist him with setting up local shows. Sometimes, he would staff one in the Rockton/Roscoe area, while I would do likewise at another in Rockford. I still remember one in Beattie Park that I did – my first alone. A number of people (including local television personality, Mimi Murphy) asked me where my parents were, as they had questions or wanted to buy things. I explained that I was it, and managed to win them over with my knowledge of the woods used, construction methods, finishes, and care of the pieces. I – well, Dave - made more money that day than I had ever seen – or touched – in my entire life.
At sixteen, I began seeking employment elsewhere, as I was now ‘legal’ to do so. Still, I kept all open hours free to continue to work for Dave. I worked a lot, back then, when I was young and had the energy for 80-90 hour weeks.
Eventually, Dave and Diane bought a place in Shirland, Illinois. That is to say, they bought a piece of property that was one big tree and bramble orgy after mentally envisioning its potential. I spent a good portion of the next few months helping to clear land (grueling work) and, eventually, assisted in the home’s construction. Here again I was offered mentoring and an opportunity to learn even more about something that I may otherwise know nothing about. I was a ready and willing sponge, who understood these opportunities for what they were.
The home was a panel-modular affair, the likes of which I had never seen before. One day, while placing the top lintel strap over a set of panels that formed the garage walls, Dave got tired of being on a ladder and decided that the most expedient way to get things done was to walk along the top of the wall, bent over, with a pneumatic nail gun. I looked on from below, my inherent fear of heights driving me to say something patently obvious about being careful, before going back about my business wiring an outlet. Above me, I continued to hear the cadenced pop of the nail gun, followed by the shuffling of boots as Dave moved on to the next spot to be nailed. Then I heard a thud. Dave had fallen, after all. We all got a chuckle out of it, once we knew he was all right. But that wasn’t the best of it.
A few days later, we were putting the finishing touches on the wiring of his garage/workshop area. The roof was now on, though not shingled, and I was in the attic portion near the access hatch, pulling Romex. Dave was below, fussing with the electrical panel, when he said, offhandedly, "I wonder if I turned this off or not."
Knowing him as well as I had come to by then, I immediately stopped, and stuck my head down, "I hope you’re not serious. You need to make sure."
"No," he said, "I’m pretty sure it’s off."
I stuck my head back up and, moments later, heard a loud ‘POP!’ I panicked: was Dave all right? I stuck my head down once more and there, on the electrical panel, was welded the screw driver he had been using. Now, for those of you who know Dave, you know that his hair is beyond wily. Suffice it to say, it was now wilier, and the dazed look confirmed that he’d taken a decent jolt. He recovered in moments, but was frustrated. My only response was, "The electrical inspector is coming tomorrow, and you’re going to have a hard time explaining the burn marks and screwdriver welded to it. There’s no way you can hide a screwdriver welded to it." I love that story.
Shortly after his home's completion, Dave bought an investment property on Cadet Lane in Loves Park. Once more, he offered to include me in the ground-up renovation prior to rental. I eagerly accepted and spent a summer learning even more new skills. Skills that would later come into play in my own homes, the homes of my family, and ultimately assist myself and Dave's, by then, multi-talented son Paul, in later flipping a house on our own in 2006.
After that large project on Cadet, I would only see Dave now and again - usually when he had a big woodworking project for his former employer, Warner-Lambert. At one time, before they switched to plastic, we used to mass-produce hundreds of wooden trays used in transporting and storing gum billets, before it was molded into its final shape.
I went through a series of jobs (the variety on my resume is insane) and, by then, I was self-teaching to a great depth with regard to computer hardware, software, and operating systems. One afternoon, I received a call from Dave asking if I would care to come and help put his finances for his woodworking business in order on the computer, and I agreed. For all of Dave's genius, computers are not his friends. Eagerly, I went and did so, setting up programs to track everything that he needed. At this point, he was working for Anderson Packaging, but had purchased a single Bridgeport Series I Knee Mill and a Romi/Bridgeport Engine lathe, which he housed in his garage. Given the fact that his home had been designed and built with an attached, full-service woodworking shop, the ‘garage’ was really more of a massive workshop attached to his home, with garage doors.
Over the ensuing months, I continued to perform computer tasks for him, as well as drafting custom projects for woodworking clients in isometric drawings, as well as two-dimensional print schematics. This was about the time he hired his first, full-time employee for the metalworking business. He had seen the writing on the wall and, being a Certified Journeyman Metalworker (and a workaholic, and a genius, and good at everything he touched) he saw a potential for money to be made.
I had paid enough attention during all those years working beside him to know that Dave was a genius at creating wealth. Shortly thereafter, I became employee number two. At the time, I took the entry-level position because I had left my job as a Senior Insurance Claims Adjudicator & Adjuster with Pioneer the prior spring, and had moved to Tucson, Arizona. I had moved back shortly thereafter (it wasn’t for me), and then spent the summer playing volleyball. My Mom was insanely upset, but it was the best summer of my life. So: I needed a job, and I was fortunate to have availed myself of every experience available to me with regard to wood and metalworking, drafting, and drawing in both middle school and, high school: Architectural Drawing, Isometric Drawing & Drafting, Electrical Drawing, Technical Drawing, Blueprinting, EasyCAD, AutoCAD, and on and on. I had - quite literally - taken all the courses available on or around these subjects. I was also fortunate that, as a Sophomore at Boylan Central Catholic High School, I was permitted to be the only non-Junior/Senior in the first year of the Ingersoll Manufacturing program. My unique experiences in junior high school, coupled with my experiences in Freshman year, had convinced the administrator of the program that I would be a suitable candidate. To my knowledge, I was the youngest person to learn - and use - AutoCAD in a paid capacity in the Rockford Area, when I secured an after-school job for a division of Stenstrom Construction, called E-Tech, plotting overhead maps of underground storage tank positions. Once more, I saw a fantastic opportunity, and dove in to learn as much as I could.
Back to Dave's metalworking company: I started out deburring finished components, as well as doing the financial wrap ups. By the time Dave came on full-time (he was full-time employee number three, technically), I was learning more and more of the business. Over the next year, I learned about metals, their properties, blueprint reading and interpretation (i.e. – SAE, ANSI, & ISO specifications, and the beginnings of what would come to be, years later, notes in some thirty different languages, as well as archaic designations requiring modern equivalents), sawing, flat grinding, parts preparation, and a myriad other things. All of this occurring as I watched the business slowly grow and prosper.
By 1998, I was handling all of the purchasing, financials (including taxes), sawing, flat grinding, delivery and pick-ups, parts prep, and other things. I was juggling but that juggling allowed Dave more flexibility to grow the business. In late 1998, we built our current location at 667 Progressive Lane, in the then budding South Beloit Industrial Park.
Soon thereafter, I was given the title Operations Manager. Now, that short-term job, has become my career. Dave is out more than he’s in, and I am blessed to oversee and run a top-notch, $3M operation employing 33 stateline residents. I have learned more about my passion than, I believe, anyone in a college setting ever could. Which is probably for the best, because I made a concerted decision to drop out of college, once I saw where this business was headed, and that I would be permitted a large role within it. I saw in Dave the potential to make anything happen, and learned from him so many things that it would take me paragraphs to list them all.
And Dave? He’s now the successful owner of seven resort properties in the Phelps, Wisconsin area, as well as Sugar River Machine, Inc. (I told you he was lousy with creativity with regard to names), where I spend my working hours.
All of this because of three key factors:
1.) One man, and his new family, decided to move to the Rockford area, seeking opportunity and a better life for themselves and their budding family, ending up on on my street.
2.) I was provided the opportunity to receive a scholarship to be educated at one of the finest High Schools in the country - right in Rockford, Illinois, by individuals who donated their hard-earned money in an effort to make a difference in their community through education.
3. ) I was accepted to participate in a program sponsored by the Rockford manufacturing legacy known as Ingersoll. A company with the foresight to understand the importance of keeping manufacturing thriving in an area that was built on it, by providing specialized education to the next generation of the workforce in an effort to assist both parties in bettering themselves - and their station in life.
It’s amazing how these things happen, really: all of these seemingly disjointed events that, somehow, coalesce into a point-by-point journey known as a human life. The key is to recognize these seemingly random opportunities and, then, make the most of your strengths while doing so. Because of the kindness and generosity of all of these individuals and businesses who took the time to teach, mentor, and believe in not only my abilities, but the abilities of the youth of the Rockford area in general, I will now be able to retire comfortably at a reasonable age, and am blessed to have a job that I love – and am adept at – to greet me each morning.
Look around you – look hard. There’s an opportunity there, somewhere. Rockford is still full of them - anyone who says otherwise isn't looking hard enough.
On the opposing side of the coin, you can always seek a way that fits your abilities and schedule to make a difference in your community by effecting the lives of those around yourself; providing those opportunities that you are able. No matter how inconsequential they may seem, trust me: they're not. Especially so when it comes to the area's young people. Mentoring, teaching, interning, and mentally nurturing the next generation of citizens will not only make you feel good, it will provide exponential opportunity for your community to be just that much better for generations to come. And who doesn't want that?
Remembrances of Pauline Avenue: Part VI
Growing up, I always found myself drawn to music. My folks did their best to do what parents are supposed to do by purchasing kid-friendly 33 & 45 RPM albums for me, but I gravitated outward from that epicenter at a very early age.
On sunny, summer weekends, Mr. Zeigle (my beloved neighbor from earlier in this series) loved to sit in the shade of the substantial tree in his side yard and read the paper. The Zeigle’s side yard was like a simple slice of heaven. It was a green, shady, flower-encroached area, boasting trees, shrubs, and a small lawn across the double-wide driveway that bisected it. Near the entrance to the home, beneath the aforementioned tree, was a snug patio area, walled against traffic by simple shrubbery, and laden with a table and numerous types of chairs that beckoned, almost daring any and all comers NOT to sidle over and sit in them for a bit of meditative peace. A lot of good conversation was had in that outdoor space, and still is today.
Aside from reading the paper, and having a cocktail or mixed bowl of finger-friendly fruit, Mr. Zeigle loved to listen to Big Band music. He would set upon a stool, in the open garage mouth for resonance purposes, a radio that was an ovoid abomination of style in the 60’s when it was produced, and was even more anachronistic thereafter. On Sunday afternoons, one could often find him simply enjoying the little things life had to offer, relaxing and allowing the music to move him to some higher plane of bliss.
I don’t recall the first time that I heard this music, but I do recall the music itself quite well because it spoke to me. What I also remember is wandering over there, probably more often than he appreciated, and asking him about the bands and songs coming out of the weird-looking radio. I was hooked and today, among my 90,000+ MP3's, is a fairly large slice of Big Band history.
Often, my Grandmother (my Mother’s Mother) would look after me on random days (I can’t recall, now, why it was only me, and not my little brother Nick – I was still fairly young.) Sometimes, we would go and visit one of her plethora of friends who needed company, was feeling poorly, or had just had some medical procedure performed. My Grandmother was a veritable saint when it came to thinking of others first, and had more friends and people who loved her than anyone else I have ever met. I recall, even at an early age, thinking, ‘This is going to be one hell of a packed funeral when she passes on.’ Unfortunately, on that point, I was wrong – she outlived most of these friends. Perhaps that was part of what she was put upon this Earth to do. I know she was certainly put here to make the lives of myriad folks around her a better experience – I witnessed this often, first-hand.
At any rate, we went to visit a woman whom I had heard her speak about but had never met. Her name was Vi Romeo. Meeting Vi was something magical. On occasion, I would come into contact with one of my Grandmother’s friends who really stood out and enamored me with the complex and interesting facets of their lives. Vi was certainly among those, and I relished the few additional times I came into contact with this woman as the years wore on, prior to her passing.
In this instance, Vi had just undergone a surgical procedure (on her hip, if memory serves) which required her to be in a nursing home for a short period of recovery time. I had met her once before so, when I heard we were going to see her, I was just fine with that. About ten minutes into the visit, a stout, rotund older gentleman with a smile beaming like a lighthouse walked in. He was introduced as Vi’s son, Norris, and we said our hellos. Then the magic words were spoken.
"Norris was a big-band leader," Vi said to me, pride evident in every word. To their surprise I not only knew what that meant, I immediately turned on my ‘tell me everything’ light. Norris seemed pleased to have such a young and eager audience and, throughout the course of the afternoon, he and his proud mother regaled me with stories about his time traveling the country, the folks he met, and his personal take on the whole experience. Looking back, I wish to God that I had a digital audio recorder. Unfortunately, they hadn’t been invented just yet.
On my next trip to see Vi, this time at her home and probably a year or so later, I gained a firmer grasp of just how big Norris had made it during his career. For scattered throughout the home, framed, were poster upon poster advertising Norris Romeo and his band. I was awestruck. I spent most of the time there visiting, floating from poster to poster, wondering what it must have been like to have seen your own face on those posters; to have walked into a room filled with individuals strange to you, who relied solely on you and yours to make their evening memorable, and then being permitted the gifts and timing to do just that. It must have felt like having a superpower, if only for a fleeting few hours. I’d give anything to have been in those shoes, if only for a moment, to feel that wash of coalescing freedom and admiration around me.
For years thereafter – including this morning – I have searched for evidence of Norris’ Big Band existence on the web. To this day, I can still find no poster or photo, which is sad but not really all that surprising. For while Norris enjoyed immense localized popularity, he was but a minor player on the high-stakes table that is the United States itself. I realize that he was no Benny Goodman, no Duke Ellington, no Dorsey brother, then as I do now. And frankly, I don’t care. To me – and to that young boy so very long ago – he will always rank right up there because he had his roots in Rockford, and I had the opportunity to not only meet him personally, but to experience his life as seen through his eyes. And, cool as he was, when did Kay Kyser ever do THAT for me?
Remembrances of Pauline Avenue: Part VII
Some short reflections and a few embarrassing photos of me for a Sunday afternoon:
The first movie I ever recall seeing was Disney’s ‘The Rescuers’. What made it memorable was the venue: The Robin Drive in on West State Street, near Meridian Road (now a mini-storage lot, if memory serves.) I was so excited when I learned how a drive in worked, and that I would have the whole back seat of our two-door, dark-blue, Monte Carlo to myself - complete with any snack I chose to bring to eat while the movie was playing, no less. It was almost too good to be true to a kid of my age. I think I enjoyed the experience more than the movie, but the memory has always remained vivid. It was that special to me, and one of the few that I have of my parents being happy to be in each others company.
I once sat through an entire Miss America Pageant to impress Shannon Wallenberg, a neighborhood girl, who was all wrong for me but, at a smitten thirteen, what did I know?
One afternoon, my friend Chris Zeigle* (a Zeigle grandchild and my oldest friend on the planet) and I decided it would be fun to start Annette’s* Spyder that was parked in the driveway, and ‘freak her out’ as she sat at the picnic table in the adjoining side yard, reading. (Apparently, it was a slow day in the neighborhood). What we didn’t know (and I still don’t understand, as a life-long driver of automatic transmission vehicles) was that the car was somehow in gear. So, when we started it, it lurched forward. I had about ¼ of a second left when I managed to stop it, before we went through the garage door. She was freaked out all right, but not more than Chris and, certainly, not more than I.
*Read the earlier entries for all of the necessary background on the Zeigle clan.
One day in Dave Klingenmeyer’s basement woodworking shop, I decided to see how fast a belt sander could go if it were left to its own devices. I powered it up, and soon had my answer: faster than I could react. It raced across the countertop, hit the finishing pan, and jumped into a wall. I thought I would be killed when he found out but, as luck would have it, nothing was broken and the wall – being cinder block – took the hit.
One of my neighborhood friends, Jake Kuhl, had a Mr. Microphone. It seemed like sort of a dull toy, until we hatched an idea that involved the mentally invalid, older gentleman who lived across the street from him. This gentleman would often be found walking about outside of his home. We only knew he had mental issues because he would often take his pants off, or expose himself at random. Being the young children we were, however, we didn’t understand the difference between mental illness and perverted lunatic. As such, we decided one day to hide in the substantially dense shrubbery in front of Jake’s house with the Mr. Microphone and a radio. At random intervals, we would speak into the microphone, get his attention, and then watch his dumbfounded reaction. It was hilarious to us at the time but I sort of feel bad about it, understanding what I know now. I am fairly certain, however, that it was a coping mechanism for evening out the playing field after having had to see his wiener.
For a few summers in my neighborhood, Garbage Pail Kids were essentially kid currency. To this day, I still have all of mine including the ever-elusive, complete first series.
I don’t recall this event, as I was too young but, one day, my cousin LaVaughan was over to play. As we played in the back yard, a vehicle back-fired in the street. At this point in my life, I apparently had a deathly fear of lightning and thunder, so my slightly-older cousin yelled, “That was thunder!”
I immediately made a bee-line for the house, tripping before I got there and doing a header into the natural-stone-mimicking cinder block foundation. The foundation won and I still – to this day – bear a Brahmin-like scar in the center of my forehead where I received stitches to close the wound.
For one of his very early birthdays, my brother, Nicholas, received a stuffed toy called a “Bucky Beaver”. As we all sat in the living room, one evening, we heard the toilet flush. Soon after, it went again. The third time, we realized that something was amiss, just about the time we heard the water cascading on the floor. My father ran into the bathroom and there was little Nicholas, innocent in his still-in-diapers youth, smiling. In the toilet, was the business end of Bucky, tail flapping skyward, plugging up the drainage hole.
"What are you doing?!" my panicked Father asked.
"He wanna go swimmin’," was my brother’s smiling reply.
In my mid-teens, a joint garage sale was held in the neighborhood. Among the things for sale by my neighbor, Lori, were things that I gave her a mercilessly hard time about. Things that, I said, would not only never sell, but that had no business being in a garage sale.
Late into the first day, a woman in Daisy Duke shorts walked up the drive. Beneath their ragged demarcation point, lay the hairiest pair of legs that I had ever seen on a woman. I mean, a hirsute Italian man didn’t have this much hair - anywhere. Worse still, she was ‘dressed to be sexy’, and was a raven brunette, making the hair impossible to hide.
I watched in train-wreck-like awe as she browsed the sale. Her purchases included exactly all of the items that I said would not sell – I was stupefied. These included numerous pairs of used panties, and a large vinyl planet of the apes bank (the Roddy McDowell character, I believe.) I never doubted Lori again, and openly apologized as we laughed ourselves stupid over what we had just seen.
For a time, my Mother worked the Layaway desk at what was then the K-Mart on North Main. One day, she came home and, in a rare moment, shared a story from her day.
While working the counter, a woman had come to pay on her items laid away. As my Mother tells it, she immediately smelled an odoriferous emanation of the bodily sort, but could not figure out why it was so strong. As the woman dug in her purse, on the high counter of the layaway kiosk, the answer became clear. For there, beneath her armpits, were numerous, long, tentacle braids of hair, complete with pony beads to keep their ends in line. It was one of the rare moments when I witnessed my Mother in a state of abject disbelief.
The house we lived in had interior doors that were quite old. So old, in fact, that they had skeleton keys. Our home had come with a smattering of these, but the only one I could ever get to work was the one on the bathroom. Further, I was the only one who seemed to be able to make it work. My Dad was taking a bath one late afternoon before supper. I decided to be mischievous and lock the door as a joke. The only problem was, for whatever reason, I couldn’t get it to unlock again. More than an hour or so of finagling finally released my by then cold Father from the confines of the bathroom. Suffice it to say, he was less than pleased. Whoops.
Remembrances of Pauline Avenue: Part VIII
At some time in the late eighties (I don’t recall the year, now) our neighbors to the North, the Johnson family, made the big mid-life move North to the then booming, Roscoe, Illinois area. For me, it was akin to losing a limb to a place as far away as the Moon. Here was a family who I had grown up with; whose two daughters had been my, and my brother’s, constant companions during our formative years; who we had shared so many meals with; shared so many highs and lows that life tended to throw our way with. Here, then, was a family I would miss beyond words. The Johnson’s were what every neighboring family should be.
For weeks leading up to the move, I tried to wrap my head around the stark reality of this situation. Sure, folks and families had come and gone from the neighborhood on occasion. But none had been so important, nor so pivotal, to both myself and to the communal feel of the neighborhood gestalt, before.
As they pulled away that one final time from what had been their home for as long as I had known them, I began to allow a new panic to set in: who would live there now? What if they were boring, old, crazy, mean, and on and on? I let my imagination run amok and the longer I allowed it to do so, the more undesirable the perceived new residents became. Near the end they were octogenarian, blood-sucking, muppet-esque, Hell-beasts bent on making my life a living nightmare. Sometimes, a vivid and active imagination is not a good thing, apparently.
I need not have worried because the new residents, it later turned out, would also become a huge part of my life. Their names were Norm and Lori Keinz. In tow were also two children from Lori’s previous life, prior to meeting Norm, whom he loved and cared for as his own. Jeremy, the older of the two, was a rambunctious handful who seemed to enjoy nothing more than seeing how far he could push someone before they would finally crack. Melissa, on the other hand, was a shy, pensive, young lady who had been born prematurely and was just out of her infancy. The dichotomy was as strange as it was palpable.
Getting to know the new neighbors was something I quickly found that I was lousy at. Aside from having too many years on Jeremy to consider him a viable candidate as a playmate, I also found him abrasive and beyond annoying. Worse still, I now found myself unable to simply enter the confines of the home next door and holler for whomever I might be seeking, as had been the mutual trend for we four children for so many years. Part of my stomping ground was now, effectively, off limits.
My brother Nicholas, on the other hand, soon found much in common with Jeremy and, over the ensuing months, they became tenuous friends. As time went on, they vacillated between friendship and acquaintanceship, and are still friends to this day.
As I grew older, I began to get to know Lori and Norm in small doses. Their extended family was often present for parties – especially on the Fourth of July – due specifically to several factors: They knew how to throw a party, they had a pool, and Norm was a certifiable pyromaniac when it came to fireworks. This last bit received my immediate boyish attention – more on that in a moment.
Norm and Lori, I eventually learned, were business owners. Two, too be exact. Norm, for as inconspicuous as he initially seemed was a whiz at two things: giving people what they wanted, and being a social chameleon. Norm truly loved people and that genuine care and love for his community showed through and was, I am certain, a facet of his ultimate success. I have rarely met another like him, in this respect.
First and foremost, Norm was the owner and founder of a then blossoming alarm company, Security Alarm Co. They’re the ones with the yellow shields and blue lettering that are now seemingly ubiquitous throughout the Stateline Area. What made his company different was that it was run like a Mom and Pop operation, rather than a nationalized conglomerate of franchises. Monitoring was done locally, and he had a personal hand in every facet of the business. The positive results of this were evident in his ever-growing client base. He knew his product, he knew how to communicate with both the common man and the business man alike, he refused to use inferior hardware, and he was available whenever you needed him, unlike national and regional companies who often hired sub-par installers who didn’t put the care, time, and effort into a project like Norm did. Also, he didn’t have a call center somewhere in Oklahoma for dispatching alarms. His was redundant, in two undisclosed locations, in the Rockford Area. Norm even went so far as to take doughnuts and pizza to the local 911 dispatchers on occasion – especially New Year’s Eve – as a genuine ‘thank you’ for their assistance in making his company what it was fast becoming: a runaway success. No one else in his business could claim that sort of community-level connectivity, and his generosity endeared him to a number of folks who were rarely recognized for their hard work and specific facet of community service. I have a dear friend and a cousin who work in that very office in the here and now and – believe me – the sort of genuine acknowledgement for tireless efforts such as theirs is almost unheard of. It is a job that I could not do, and I’m grateful for their commitment.
As well as the Alarm Company, Norm was also the proprietor of Grant Avenue Foods, a neighborhood grocery and video store serving the local community. What made his store different was that he offered hot food items prepared by either himself, or his father in law, Leonard Klonicki. If the name sounds familiar, then you’re probably a Boylan Alumni. For decades, ‘Chef Klonicki’ of ‘Chef Len’, as we knew him, oversaw the feeding of the Boylan staff and student body with both expected fare and amazing dishes that had no right being in that setting. I mean, how many high schools offer Veal Parmesan for lunch? For Norm, the store was more of a hobby than a business. It was a place where he could inter-connect with the community around him, and be in a setting that he loved, as a way to relax and unwind. Some people collect things, join lodges or clubs, or play or follow sports – Norm had his grocery store.
I was fortunate to come to know Len as a treasured and dear friend outside of the confines of the school setting (a Boylan alumni, myself). He was a cantankerous, proud, Polish man who you instantly wanted to hug for no apparent reason, and who had many interesting stories to tell, so long as the Cubs weren’t playing. When the Cubbies were in action it was all business, as he shut out the rest of the world to occupy ‘The Sports Fans’ zone. Then, it was just fun to watch him, watching them. It was as humorous as it was endearing.
Every Fourth of July, Norm would indulge his other passion: blowing things up. Some folks seek out and purchase fireworks for The Fourth of July, surely. What most folks don’t do is have thousands and thousands of dollar’s worth of them culled from numerous outlets across state lines. Norm was a pyrotechnic aficionado who rarely spared expense when it came to indulging this particular passion.
It turns out, I later learned, that in a previous life Norm had been what is affectionately called a ‘Roadie’. He toured with lesser bands like Angel, but also with bigger names like Journey and R.E.O. Speedwagon. His acumen as an electrical technician was a goodly part of what led him to end up in the alarm business. It’s funny how things like that happen. I still recall one summer when R.E.O. came to town. The day afterward, he mentioned to me that he had stopped down to the Metro Centre before the show to see ‘Kevin’ (referring to lead singer, Kevin Cronin). This was when I first learned about his time as a roadie. I was so flustered – what a great experience that would have been! His response was that he wished he had known that I was a fan: he would have taken me with. I missed that boat, and never received an opportunity thereafter. Such is life.
Back to the fireworks: Norm would not just blow a few things up for a few ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’. No, Norm put on a spectacle that, I’d wager, was second only to the city fireworks in Rockford. It was that colossal and varied. As children, we all looked forward to this magical day. Norm and Lori’s family, friends, and neighbors would all come over, packing both the rear yard and the pool, cooking out all afternoon while sipping adult beverages and listening to music in the lead up to the big show. It was one hell of a good time, even for us kids. As dusk settled over the neighborhood, the ‘pre-game’ to the big show would begin with small-scale fireworks: Jumping Jacks, Morning Glories, Camellia Flowers, Silver Jets, Lanterns, Firecrackers, monster-sized bottle rockets, Roman Candles, fountains that were enormous, and so on. This was sort of the neighborhood equivalent to flashing the lights in a theater in an effort to let the patrons know that the show was about to begin. As soon as the noise and light became a constant, neighbors not already in attendance would come pouring out of their homes, finding a seat a safe distance away, ready to enjoy the communal fun that was about to begin.
Once darkness had settled in earnest, Norm paraded out showstopper after showstopper. These were fireworks that, often, cost more than I then made in a month to purchase – just for one item. And Norm had cases and cases, containing a plethora of everything that fireworks technology and advancement had to offer. Many years, police on patrol would park at the ends of our street not to arrest Norm, but to watch his show. For some reason, right or wrong, Norm’s extravaganza was so spectacular, even some of the boys in blue gave him a Mulligan as they watched in awe, as we did: a street-long community joined for one shining moment under the auspices of this single man’s love for explosive art.
Each year, Norm seemed to find some new way to outdo himself. One particular year, he had a milk crate of ‘odds and ends’ with two full bricks of firecrackers at the bottom. He lit a handful of matches, threw them in, and watched as the chaos ensued. It was something that I’ll never forget and, sadly, the milk crate met its demise that evening.
The best of the best of the best came one evening when Norm hauled out a massive, braided coil of what looked like rope – it was enormous and heavy, its length beyond reckoning. We were told that one of his alarm customer’s husbands had passed away, and she had discovered this item in her garage. Not wanting it around, and having no use for it, she had given it to Norm. What it was, in fact, was a ‘firecracker rope’ – something Norm told the assembled throng was no longer made as he held it reverently. I have no idea how many individual ‘crackers’ were in that rope but, when it was lit, it was like Armageddon in the street for a full four minutes. I have never – and probably will never – experienced anything like the deafening noise, blinding flashes, and rippling shock waves of that rope of combustibles obliviating itself. It was one of the singular events in my life that is burned into my psyche. It was just that astounding to watch. The aftermath was also something to see. From curb to curb in a twenty foot radius the remnants of paper and casing lay nearly two inches deep. Never had I seen such carnage in the aftermath of a pyrotechnic item – then or now. ‘Awesome’ doesn’t even begin to do that single spectacle justice. My kidneys are throbbing anew just thinking about the experience. I would pay an insane amount of money to relive those four, blissful, awesome minutes.
As I came of babysitting age, Lori and Norm would have me over to watch their children. Melissa was easy: give that girl a Teddy Graham, and life was bliss. Jeremy, on the other hand, was a hellion who made sure I earned my money and also, often, provoked his sister into tears just for good measure. Today, Melissa is happily married, though I haven’t seen much of her since she was a bridesmaid in our wedding. Jeremy, on the other hand, is the owner of MainfraiM Habitat for Art in Downtown Rockford, an art and framing gallery where he performs astonishing miracles with repurposed wood and items. He is also married to an amazing woman named Emily, and has a daughter who I am fairly certain may be our first woman president if she continues her precocious and intellectual leanings. One thing is for certain: for being such a pain in everyone’s ass at a tender age, he’s turned into a community-minded family man whom Rockford can – and should be – exceedingly proud of.
During my high school years, as I became more and more fluent in the nuances of computer hardware and software, Norm flattered me by asking for my assistance in doing some work on his home computer. As he began to understand my capabilities, he offered me a part-time position a few evenings a week to act as a dispatcher/operator, as well as doing some computer work for his alarm company. I was already working myself stupid but, ever the go-getter who wanted to retire early, I eagerly accepted the offer. I was tasked with dispatching alarms as they arrived at one of the central station locations (a location that, to this day, I’m happily sworn to secrecy about). I also took messages and spoke with clients who had issues, concerns, were going on vacation, etc. What was startling about my time there was that I almost NEVER received a negative call. Norm had cultivated such a phenomenal and loyal following that word of mouth continued to grow his business exponentially as the years wore on, without any real formal advertising. That’s a rare thing, but it’s a testament to his commitment to his business’ success.
A few years later, Norm and Lori moved once more. It was a sad parting, but as we all got older we also all developed and acknowledged new needs. Theirs was to find a bigger, more comfortable home to retire in, as Jeremy would be moving out. Mine was to start a home of my own, leaving the nest for new adventures. Still, to this day, we keep in touch with Lori and Norm. And it isn’t just them: Lori’s brother, Tom, and sister, Teresa, have also both been included in our life after Pauline Avenue. Teresa, especially, is a fun-loving, free-spirited, eloquently sarcastic woman who I am proud to call my close friend (even if I do give her a hard time, all the time.) Len, sadly, passed away a few years ago. I still miss his spirit, his company and, most of all, his food.
Once again, the microcosm that was Pauline Avenue had delivered into my lap lifelong friends, new life experiences, and tools and talents that would continue to mold and shape who I was then, and who I would ultimately become.
Remembrances of Pauline Avenue: Part IX
On Harrison Avenue, on Rockford’s South Side, between 11th Street and 20th Street, lies an otherwise unassuming horseshoe road. One end is called “Congress” and the other, “Senate”, though where one ends and the other begins is a point of contention from a motorist’s perspective. Lining these streets are inexpensive, conjoined, cookie-cutter homes built near the end of World War II. Welcome, dear readers, to The Victory Homes.
The Victory Homes played a very important role in my early life. In the South-Western most home on Senate drive, lived my Grandma Alberts and my Great-Grandma Webster. They resided in the only home that was, I was told, specially permitted to be modified in any way. As such, their home sported a sizeable addition that no other in the complex could boast.
Abutting the property to the South was a large, undeveloped, hilly meadow with copses of trees throughout for good measure. In the back yard was a natural drainage valley, about six feet deep and fifteen feet across from apex flat to apex flat, as well as ancient trees which gave the place a sort of mystical feel when considered as a collective with the aforementioned.
This home, for as long as I could remember, had been referred to as ‘Two Grandma’s House’. This made explaining to a young child exactly which grandmother you were off to visit more simplistic and, I reckon, that’s how it initially came to be called such.
My Grandma Alberts was an amazing, fun, loving woman. I miss her every day of my life. I remember visiting there with a fondness I seldom hold on to with regard to other destinations. Besides, ‘Two Grandma’s’ always had Brach’s Royals candies which, to this day, still remind me of her.
Her housemate was my Great-Grandma Webster, who also had the distinction of being her mother. She was the more feisty of the pair and, while many recall her as elitist and sometimes abrasive, I can honestly say that I can’t recall a thing about her that I did not love nor revere. Well, okay: she liked to cheat at cards when she played with me. Other than that: nothing. She also had the odd distinction of being the first person who I ever met that had lost a finger. I remember being astounded that someone could lose a finger – endure all of that pain and mess – and still survive to tell the tale. I was fascinated with its absence – an absence she attributed to a machine having sheared it off in her young life as a working woman.
Looking through photos one afternoon with her, I was mesmerized by a particular one. It was composed of a proud, stalwart woman who stood, hair blowing in the wind, in front of a sod house, surrounded by endless flat lands in all directions; to the horizon and, presumably, beyond. In her arms she held a swaddled baby as a second, slightly older, child stood next to her. This photo, I was told, was taken in Mitchell, South Dakota – her one-time home, and also famous for being the home of the “World’s Only Corn Palace” – an absurd sort of monument that I finally made it to see in person a decade ago. When I stood in its shadow, considering it from many angles, I also took in the town in which it resided, surrounding it; wondering what it must have looked like back then - back when she had been here - as I tried to stave off tears borne of fond memories of her before her passing, and communion with roots that I seldom was privy to know.
Great-Grandma Webster had been a descendant of Clan Donegan, before her marriage changed her surname. A portrait of her at sixteen that hung in their mutual abode showed a stunning beauty whose beguiling face was underpinned with a clear note of defiance and self-worth. I don’t know where this portrait ended up, but it’s the single thing that I can honestly admit that I covet, and would desperately love to have in my home as a fond reminder of this amazing woman who made such an impact on me as a child. Even at an early age she treated me not as a child but as an equal. It was oddly liberating. To this day, I still owe my middle name – Donegan – to her proud Irish lineage. My first name, too, is Scottish/Irish in origin. The day she passed on was one of the saddest moments in my entire life. In the here and now, I wish desperately that I had interrogated her for every story she could recollect. I know, with clear certainty that her life’s story was an amazing one. If you have someone like this in your life, that you are fortunate enough to still have among the living, do this. You’ll be amazed at how much you’ll learn about who you are, vicariously.
My Grandma Alberts, on the other hand, lived on into my teenage years. Still, while Great-Grandma Webster passed at the age of ninety-two, Grandma Alberts passed far sooner, at the age of seventy-two.
Over my late grade-school summers, I would be taken each morning to stay with my Grandma Alberts as my parents went to work. Often we would sit and talk, as she told stories about her youth, her time as an employee of National Lock, and the youth of her sons and daughter. My father and his sister, Debbie, were her last two children born to she and LeRoy Alberts (who, sadly, committed suicide very early on in my father’s life). Prior to this, she had married a man named Coffey, and fathered two boys, Bill & Bob. These were my father’s older, step-brothers. There was a fifth child, Pam, who died in childbirth. My Aunt Debbie’s second daughter is named in her honor.
The Victory Homes had a cooperative hall and anachronistic park in the center, bridging the two roads. I remember being in that hall for a number of family functions. My fondest memory, however, was the evening my Grandma took me there to play bingo with her. I later learned that she had procured specific prizes just for me, in case I won, and had seriously cheesed-off some of the tenants in the co-op when she mentioned that she was bringing me. I only recently realized what the big deal was: these folks were playing for REAL prizes (including money) and a kid yelling ‘bingo!’ for a Bugs Bunny bicycle license plate, while possibly adorable, also queered their efforts at prize winning. I bingo-ed twice that evening and, now, understand all the dirty looks that we were given. In that moment, however, I was a grand-champion.
Living in some of the homes were other kids of, or around, my age. For a time, in fact, my cousin LaVaughn lived with her mother, my Aunt Debbie, in one on the Northern stretch of Congress. As such, we often rode bicycles and played together. We’re still dear friends, even to this day. And she is a phenomenal touchstone to a youth much forgotten.
The homes themselves were laid out in inverse ‘blocks’. Each ‘block’ encompassed a communal green space where the children could play, mostly because the majority of the back yards were woefully diminutive. Within my Grandmother’s ‘block’ were Hayley, Greg, Tonia, Stacey, Jason, and a cast of other children who I made friends with, and who often sought me out when I was in residence. Stacey always tried to kiss me but, at that age, girls were still icky. Tonia, her older sister, was – and still is - my cousin LaVaughn’s best friend. She is also someone whom I keep in constant contact with today via social media, despite her current Texas residency.
Through the field, and a few blocks over, lived my Grandma’s brother, Joe, and his wife Pat. As I grew older I would, on occasion, make the walk to their home for no other reason than to hope to hear an amusing story about my ancestors. Joe and Pat considered themselves the bearers of the genealogical torch in our family and I’m thankful for their efforts because it was otherwise - often times - confusing, difficult, or esoteric.
The church that my Grandmothers attended was St. Edwards on Eleventh Street, where my father also attended school. St. Edwards served the Irish-Catholic community and was my ‘home’ church, even though it was something of a drive. Father Murphy baptized me there and was much beloved to me as one of the few Priests who made sermons interesting, as well as humorous. It made church more tolerable to a youngster and every Sunday I thanked him in my mind. Both my Great-Grandma Webster, and my Grandma Alberts after her, kept house for Father Murphy, which was part of the reason that my Father was permitted to attend school there, even though they were not technically in the Parish. Father Murphy was a truly amazing man who was loved by all who knew him.
Often, if we had been good during church under our Grandmother’s care, my brother and I were treated to Kentucky Fried Chicken for lunch. Often times, my Great-Uncle Don Webster would join us at my Grandmother’s home for said lunch. Other times, he would come over after services for coffee cake and conversation. I learned so much about my family during those few hours of fellowship. Don and his wife, Dolores, were also the proud parents of one Dan Webster, who went on to become a much-sought after Hollywood Art Director. His extended string of hit films include ‘Glory’, ‘Home Alone’, 'Date Night' and, most recently, ‘The Life of Pi’ (more on him later.)
I realize, now, how singular and unique these homes were. Their unusual layout spawned a different kind of neighborhood dynamic that I am thankful that I was permitted to be a part of. As per usual, the things I learned, and the friends that I made there still impact my life to this day. And I cannot imagine any greater reward than that.
Remembrances of Pauline Avenue: Part X
In my teen years, life became a fairly brutal affair on a lot of fronts. Aside from the fact that I was the fat kid who smelled like a chimney and didn’t know it, my home and school life were also a psychological disaster area.
When I was a Junior in high school, I received my license to drive. I was forced to wait until the spring of 1991 to receive it due to my birth date (I graduated when I was 17, so I was running a squidge behind the cut off, age-wise). Lucky me: one more thing that made me something of a social pariah.
The first weeks of driving alone were phenomenally empowering. I recall borrowing my Mom’s dark blue, Nissan Sentra Fastback (with sunroof!) and just driving with no particular destination in mind. It was more about the enjoyment of the act itself and, as I became more adept at it, I experienced a cathartic moment when I recognized the sort of freedom that I was now permitted to enjoy for the remainder of my days on this planet - hypothetically, anyway, barring the unforeseen act of God or stupidity. I relished the simple beauty of this significant epiphany.
As the school year came to a merciful close, I began hanging out in earnest with one of my friends from Boy Scouts. It all began with free tickets to a baseball game.
I had known my friend Jesse for quite a number of years from our shared time in grade school (he was a year ahead of me) but it had been more a tenuous acquaintanceship than anything else. I don’t recall the specifics of that first evening’s trip to the ballpark, but we ended up taking my Mom’s Sentra - which was so much fun to drive – to the game.
At the time, the Rockford Expos (who played at Marinelli Field on the Rock River) were experiencing a high point in their tenure in the area. Rockford had just experienced its first, bona-fide, superstar in Delino DeShields, who had made the move up to the majors where he went on to make some serious noise as a star player in his first couple of years in the big leagues. So the proposition of seeing the ‘next big thing’ was more palpable than ever for the hometown crowd. Sure the Expos were a farm team for Montreal. We didn’t care. We were a viable part of the great American pastime’s inner workings and we’d developed a taste for it.
Now, let me be overtly glib for a moment: I hate sports. I don’t follow them, I don’t watch them, and I just don’t see the draw. Be that as it may I was, for a few contiguous years, a fanatical follower of the game of baseball. From 1988-1992, I could tell you everything about everything as I built a massive collection of cardboard images of all the greats, past and present. For me, baseball started as a late-night, inexpensive escape on television. I loved to open up the house on a summer night, while my Mom and brother slept, and watch the late games on ESPN. It was as close to being there as I could get, and it relaxed me.
Back to the summer of ’91:
Jesse and I made plans to use aforementioned free tickets to head on down to Marinelli. My memory is hazy but I surmise that I mentioned to folks at the Boy Scout meeting that I had some freebies but that there was also no way in Hell that I was going alone. At which point, he must have expressed an interest. A fateful decision, it would later come to light.
As we found our way to the cheap seats that first evening in the ballpark together, we felt the warmth of the setting sun settle over us as the air began to cool and blow over the river. I expected that we’d get bored soon enough and probably leave after a few innings. I mean, it was bottom-bracket, farm team ball that we were watching. We didn’t even know who the players were.
The night wore on, as did the game, and we found ourselves not so much engrossed in the action, specifically, but in the experience as a whole. The weather, the fans, the game, the energy: all of it played a role in creating a gestalt experience that we were, somehow, spellbound by. We stayed for the entire game and – inexplicably - had a hell of a good time.
As the spring turned to summer in earnest, we found ourselves attending more and more home games. By this time, we had made the acquaintance of a pair of girls who were also regulars. If memory serves, I think that their names were Chrissy and Jody – Chrissy being the older, and Jody the younger. What I didn’t realize, but should have, was that Jesse and Chrissy were soon sizing one another up. Jody, being several years younger than I, often ended up just chatting with me, as a brother and sister might, while Jesse and Chrissy – to my way of thinking - awkwardly played romantic chess. The funny thing was, they were a good match for one another. I think that both Jody and I came to that realization after only a few meetings. For her age, Jody had something of a precocious intellect. I had no designs on either girl, so I just enjoyed the company of the group as we shared something that liberated us from the world we otherwise knew for a few blissful hours at a time.
Perhaps the most striking recollection in all of this was that, for the first time, I felt like I could be myself. Jesse, and the girls, didn’t care whether I was cool or not. Didn’t care if I was fat or not. Didn’t care about anything except a mutual love of the experience of just being there. I felt at ease and that was not something that I had felt often – if at all – in the past. Often the game ended up being ignored as we just talked amongst ourselves about anything and everything for hours at a time. It wasn’t so much about the sport for us, I don’t think, as it was the tranquility and freedom of the venue.
As the summer wore on, I think we all caught at least one ball. Mine was hit by a fellow named Randy Wilstead, who I suspected was on the team as a veteran placeholder until he was no longer a viable commodity in even that capacity. I knew that he’d most likely never see a game above this class of play. Nevertheless, I still felt compelled to have him sign that ball. I still have it. To this day, every time I see it, it brings back a flood of precious memories of the summer that I shed my child’s skin, and embarked on a new journey to become something more; something new, and vibrant, and singularly liberated.
Thanks for those memories, Jesse. I hope that yours are as fond as mine.
Remembrances of Pauline Avenue: Part XI
Clear your mind: All done? Excellent! Now imagine, if you will a hundred, pre-teen, male and female children. Keep the obvious jokes to yourselves, please – this is a family blog, remember. Now, imagine said children with real, honest-to-God weaponry, and no idea of how to use it. Got that picture in your mind? Excellent! This, folks, is what this installment is all about: weaponized pre-teens.
Now that I have either piqued your interest, or have you seriously considering calling the police to raid my cult compound, let me tell you about three weeks, of three summers, that I spent from the ages of fourteen to sixteen.
Each summer, a Day Camp for area Brownies & Cub Scouts in Winnebago County was held at Searles Park, on Rockford’s Northwest Side. This camp ran for a week, offering hundreds of children the opportunity to learn and do numerous things that would, under normal circumstances, be inaccessible to them. One of those activities, believe it or not, was learning archery from the ground up. And I, of all people, was permitted to be one of their instructors. Of course, there was also a supervising adult instructor who ran the area, because – hey – no one is THAT crazy when it comes to leaving me unsupervised, especially when weapons are involved.
When I was young, my Father decided that it might be about time to take up hunting, and also spend some time with a few of his buddies who were then members of the Blackhawk Field Archers, located North of Rockford in Shirland, Illinois. For whatever inexplicable reason, he thought it might be fun to teach his two sons how to shoot as well. Sometimes he would take us with him, when it came time for him to practice. We did this sporadically for only a couple of summers before we just stopped, as the family finished unraveling. Some of my rare, fond memories of being with my father are of weekend mornings, shooting the target courses there (think golf, but with a bow and arrow, and you sort of get the idea).
What I didn’t realize, until much later in my life, was that I was actually pretty good at shooting what is commonly known as ‘Freestyle Archery’. It is so named because no sights, pins, releases, accessories, doo-dads, lasers, homing-beacons, rocket propellant, exploding broad heads, etc. are used. It’s just you, a re-curve bow, a string, and an arrow. Back then, I didn’t even know that what I was learning had a sub-categorical moniker.
Archery, I have to admit, is something of an art form. As with using a firearm, there are myriad things to know and consider in order to correctly place a shot exactly where you wish it to end up. Unlike using a firearm, however, there are far more variables that come into play when shooting archery - even more so when doing it freestyle. Some of you may be disagreeing right about now, wondering where I get off saying something ‘insane’ like that. Well, I’m also a certified NRA Sharpshooter, so I feel as though I’m at least mildly qualified to make that assessment: Archery is far more nuanced and difficult, in my humble opinion. Not that shooting a firearm is a walk in the park by any stretch of the imagination – it’s an art form as well. Feel free to send me hate mail - I can handle the derision – so long as you can wait your turn in line. I digress. Back to the story at hand, already in progress:
During the summers, we under-aged folks were permitted to sign up, through Boy Scout Headquarters, to work at the Day Camp (and be paid the then princely sum of $50.00 for the week!), so long as we were full-time Boy Scouts and could meet the requisite criteria in our particular field of choice (if any were required). Archery, for obvious reasons, isn’t something that you can just turn a novice loose with - especially not when attempting to teach it to groups of fifteen to twenty attention-deficient boys and girls per rotation is concerned. Fortunately, I had cleared my Archery Merit Badge at my first Summer Camp experience the prior year. My experience there, coupled with a referral from the Counselor, and my ‘interview’ with the woman who ran the Archery portion of the Day Camp were enough to earn me a spot in that vector of the Camp rotation.
Each dew-blanketed morning, I would get up at the crack of dawn, hop on my trusty bicycle, and pedal the two and a half miles to the park. I was fortunate that, two years earlier, a new segment of bike path had been completed. This particular section had an entry connection on Auburn Street, and the path itself led directly through Searles Park. I could ride the whole way in peace, unconcerned with traffic, enjoying the mornings, the nature happening around me, meandering Kent Creek, and the overt tranquility. I wish my commute, now, was that peaceful.
The kindly, feisty matron who ran the Archery area was named Kay DeMarco. For each of the three years that I was fortunate enough to work at the Winnebago Scout Day Camp she headed up this area, sacrificing her time and energy to make the world a better place for the next generation without a single dime of compensation. Kay was a perfect choice for the role of overseer of this particular facet of camp activity. From the leadership perspective, she knew how to obtain – and maintain – the attention of the children (something I was lousy at). She would go over the rules, explain the equipment, and the basics: Arrow goes that way, don’t shoot anybody, you’re not Robin Hood, and don’t poke your eye out.
Once the bows were in hand, and the kids were all standing so that they faced safely downrange, the real cat herding began. Kay and I (and - sometimes - a third, ancillary, volunteer) would all keep an eye on the eager Scouts as they nocked their first arrows (terrifying) in preparation for their first real archery experience (exhilarating). In hindsight, as I’m writing this, I’m sort of wondering if they would even allow this option at a Youth Scout Day Camp in this litigious day and age. It was, to be sure, dangerous. Regardless of the minimal weight strength and size of the bows, or the bluntness of the arrows, mortal damage could still have been done - much like fire, pocket knives, hatchets, and guns, which are all also found in the annals of ‘stuff you learn to wield with the proper respect as a Scout’. Our job was to make sure that those kids had fun, learned something, and all walked away with the complete assortment of their myriad body components intact.
My part in all of this immediately became watching the children to see who needed help with fundamentals, who could benefit from a more advanced set of instructions, and who looked like they were most likely to shoot someone because they thought that we were dead wrong in our assessment and that they were, in fact, the reincarnation of Robin Hood. What I was able to bring to the table, for these kids, was the ability to instill in them the basal fundamentals of the sport, as well as confidence. If you’ve never shot archery before, then you may not realize that it’s not nearly as simple as pulling a string and letting it go. If you have, then you’re nodding along as you read because you get precisely what I’m saying.
I enjoyed helping the natural talents with their release, their draw, their breathing. The kids who struggled I spent extra time with, helping them to correct their often inherent ‘bad habits’: rolling their extended-arm’s shoulder into the bow; ‘pulling’ on the release; not anchoring on their jaw prior to – and during - release; not using their extended arm as a lever during the draw; breathing at the wrong time; dropping their extension arm as the arrow was leaving the bow, etc.
Some of the kids, God bless them, just weren’t cut out for the sport no matter how much we tried to help them or, to their credit, they gave their all. I suck at every sport except Archery and Volleyball – and I’m only marginally good at those - so I’m right there when it comes to feeling their pain on that front. To their credit, they’re probably multi-billionaire oil tycoons or inventors today because everyone is really good at something, and the Scouting program has a long, august history of turning out higher-echelon workers, thinkers, and citizens.
The children who were on the proverbial fence, however, grew more confident, excited, and competent. It was a joy that I had not known existed when I saw the proud smile on one of their faces, after having exercised all of the fundamentals correctly, resulting in their first bulls-eye hit. Those smiles and shouts of pride are priceless life-gems that no one can ever abscond with. Even as I recollect this, I find myself smiling.
As the week would wear on, I could see the spark of a love for the sport set some of the children’s spirits aflame. Others just muddled through it because they either just weren’t interested in it or were not all that interested in becoming better at it. And that was okay, too. Those children were there to gain new life experiences. And that’s precisely what they received, even if my part was only a fleeting blip on their life’s expansive radar.
All these years later I came to realize that I, too, was learning something not only from Kay, but from the Scouts as well. I didn’t realize at the time that I was honing my management, public speaking, and teaching skills but – in hindsight – I have come to know that I was doing precisely that. Somewhere, out there in the wide world, I hope is at least one of those children. I envision him or her with a family of their own, enjoying archery with one of their own children as they – just perhaps – recall that wacky Boy Scout, all those summers ago, who taught them how to do the thing right, and do it well.
After the first few entries, I learned that Debbie Johnson, and Mr. Zeigle had crossed paths at the bank, and had both seen - and discussed - the entries. The Zeigles, in fact, were so overwhelmingly positive about their part, that they graciously invited Wanda and I to dinner with Mike (a Zeigle son), his wife and son, Mary, and Annette (two Zeigle daughters). Mary and Annette I had not seen in decades, and it was a wonderful evening that I won't soon forget. Wanda and I not only felt welcomed, we felt like a part of the family that had been there all along. This - THIS - is why I still love the whole Zeigle clan so much. They're the kind of folks this planet could stand a few thousand more of.
I also finished reading Tim Dorsey's Latest, "The Riptide, Ultra-Glide", and was - once more - not disappointed. Serge & Coleman make me smile, even though they're chaotic-good. That being said, this installment felt a little light on plot and the action seemed a bit - I don't know - not some of the best I've seen from this amazing writer. Still, it's a Serge Storms novel and - AND - it ends with a cliffhanger. So, my fervent hope is that this is the calm before the proverbial storm in the next offering.
I also scored something of a rare gem on the book buying front a few weeks back:
'Hawthorne's Creed' - John Updike - NY, Targ, (1981). One of 250 copies signed by the author. Additionally inscribed by Updike: "For Sylvia & Cyril/ two lovely names attached to two fine friends/ May their hands always hold J [diamond] J [diamond] Q [spade] Q [spade]/ John and Martha." Holding both jacks of diamonds and both queens of spades constitutes a 300 point "double pinochle" hand. Updike took the trouble to color in the diamonds (red) and spades (black). Together with a deck of Pinochle playing cards, inscribed on the case "From John & Martha Updike," in an unknown hand. The cards and case are near fine. The book is fine in a near fine, unprinted, mildly sunned dustwrapper.
Here's the provenance:
Cyril & Sylvia are the Wismars. Cyril Wismar and Updike met in 1970 when Wismar became pastor of the Clifton Lutheran Church of Marblehead, Massachusetts, which Updike had joined with his family in the late 1950's. They became good friends, and Wismar presided at Updike's second marriage, in 1977. After that, Updike changed churches, attending an Episcopalian church, but the two remained good friends and their friendship lasted over 30 years, into the 2000's. This book came from the Wismars, via Glenn Horowitz, Bookseller.
I've begun reading another novel (I picked up a signed run of Robert Charles Wilson novels, who is fast becoming my new favorite sci-fi author du-jour) and, yesterday, I got so sucked into it, that I plan on reading today after I finish blogging here. When one accounts for the hours spent writing, and working on client projects, I've been clocking in nearly 70-80+ hours a week of work, or work-related stuff. And I'm just fried.
(03/03/13 - 8:13 AM)
I've been busy. Beyond busy, actually. The month of February seems to have evaporated before me.
Work's been steady.
I was invited to begin submitting posts to The Rockford Blog and spent a great deal of time in the past few days writing entries for the coming weeks - two of which are already up and posted.
I've been working on editing the novel. In fact, my office is being painted today and tomorrow and, because I still have 13 vacation days to use up before I lose them in July, I elected to take these two days off to - again - edit my book full time. Except now, when I'm trying to get caught up on my blog.
I completed two graphic art projects which, after the abrupt departure of pivotal business partner Jim became a necessity, rather than a luxury. I'd like to think I didn't do too bad for an old white guy, but I'll let you be the judge:
The above project was for a filming gig. Here are the highlights:
The Republican Party Lincoln Day Celebration was an epic night at Cliffbreakers in Rockford, Illinois, filled with Congressmen, Senators, and Local Statesmen – both former and current – and Digital Ninjas Media was humbled to have been asked to be a part of it.
For more than twenty years, Don Manzullo has been a voice for action and change in his beloved Rockford Area. A voice, in fact, that I personally have come to know and admire specifically due to his passion for doing everything that is within his power to return the Rockford area to the glory of its former self, as a manufacturing juggernaut on the world stage. As the Operations Manager of a contract manufacturing firm employing thirty-three individuals, I have seen in action, first-hand, the efforts and sincerity in this great man’s efforts and achievements. Further, as a proponent of manufacturing as a skilled trade, and a former benefactor of this sort of sound legislative action (I was the youngest participant and among the first group who was selected to participate in the Boylan High School / Ingersoll Milling Machine & Production Systems crossover project to educate a manufacturing design workforce that was quickly dwindling and in high demand) I have used the gifts and advantages that I was provided to make a better life for myself, my wife, and others.
So, suffice it to say, that when I heard that the annual Lincoln Day Dinner would be the showplace for bestowing a special honor to Congressman Manzullo, and that we had been selected to service this function, I couldn’t imagine any better reason to give something back and, therefore, volunteer our services. It was our small way of saying thank you to a man whose shadow I will always walk in, gladly.
The evening began with a special reception featuring the opportunity to talk, one on one, with major sitting Political figures: John Cabello, Adam Kinzinger, Dan Rutheford, Dave Syverson, and the special guest, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert. We were all much disappointed when Speaker Hastert was forced to cancel at the last minute due to a family emergency, but we did not let the inability to connect with such an auspicious individual ruin our evening. For me, the evening was all about Congressman Manzullo – as it should be.
Wanda, who looked positively stunning, was charged with working check-in for the V.I.P.’s, as well as taking candid photographs of the sitting politicians and candidates with those who had contributed to attend the pre-celebration meet and greet. She also took it upon herself to offer couples photos, and anything else anyone requested.
Meanwhile, in the main ballroom, Dave Block and I began setup for capturing the evening, as guests began to make their way into, what would shortly become, a packed house. Judges, attorneys, the Mayor, local candidates, Doctors, and political activists filled the room in an astounding gathering of who’s who in the Rockford, Northern Illinois, and State political roster. It was electrifying to be among so many individuals who do so much for a state and economy that has failed them under Democratic leadership, yet who kept swinging for the fences in the face of adversity, nonetheless (and I’m speaking for no one but myself in this sentence.)
With a few seats left, we were honored to have an old, dear friend of all of the DNM Team attend as a fourth, which made the evening just that much more enjoyable.
The opening speeches began, and two men who I have come to respect and admire a great deal: Mr. Larry Bauer and Mr. Robert Brokish, were honored for their phenomenal contribution to the cause of Republicanism. And rightly so. These men, in my opinion, represent all that is right with the world, and are shining examples of all one may offer to their community if only they sacrifice the time to do so. In my opinion, the recognition landed right where it belonged.
This recognition was soon followed by an amazing dinner. A silent auction was held concurrently and, after dinner, everyone was treated to sincere outpourings of gratitude for all that Congressman Manzullo has done for our area, culminating in a speech that was as moving as it was genuinely humorous, given by Dave Syverson (including some slide-show photos and a bit of good-natured roasting of Congressman Manzullo, whom Mr. Syverson has known for decades.) I will say this: the man can capture the attention of a room.
Finally, the Man of the Hour himself was brought to the fore, with his adoring wife looking on from beside him. This was when something new struck me: clearly, we both had something more than manufacturing in common, for I could see in the actions and words of the couple how deep and meaningful their love for one another was. And in this day and age, that sort of symbiotic love and appreciation is far too rare. While I had met the good Congressman in the past, both in a Manufacturing capacity and, more recently, in the capacity of a Republican Party volunteer, it was not until this moment that I realized the true depth of this man’s achievements and greatness. His commitment to my home city of Rockford was something astoundingly sincere. I truly felt after hearing this man speak that nothing was impossible when it came to revitalizing Rockford, so long as men like him continued to fight for it. It was humbling.
All in all, there were highs and lows for the Team throughout the evening but I can say this: it is not an evening that any of us will soon forget having been permitted to have been a part of.
I finished reading William Hjortsberg's, "Nevermore". It was a book which sounded intriguing, but ended up being well written, with a shaky plot device. Nevertheless, a decent read, if only for a distraction. It centers around a fictitious point in the lives of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Harry Houdini. A series of grisly murders takes place and each mimicks a death found in the works of Edgar Alan Poe. Plenty of red-herrings, suspense, and evocative, prosaic, writing is found throughout. I'm not normally a reader of period novels such as this, but it truly felt like Hjortsberg not only did his homework, but he did the fictitious actions of the characters justice while providing accurate depth.
(02/03/13 - 8:13 AM)
Today is Super Bowl Sunday. As such, I look forward to a lot of Facebook posts that hold no relevance to me. The good news is that I should be able to skim like human lightning.
Stopped by Dad's this week to see him for his birthday but, he wasn't around and I have no idea where he's at. Hopefully, he had a good time. Now that he's retired, he can do that sort of thing.
This week saw a nearly 90° swing in temperatures. Earlier in the week, we had a ton of rain, and a high of 60°. Thursday, we had an overnight low of something negative, with a wind chill factor of -24 °. Yeah: Global Warming is still a hoax.
Work has been interesting. We've been firing on all cylinders, for the most part, and have had one of the most phenomenal months in our history. That being said, we also had some serious setbacks this week. Specifically, we're losing a pair of operators. One we can save, I'm confident. One, we cannot. The upside, if there is one, is that we just hired a new, wildly talented night operator who should more than make up for the outgoing one. Couple this with the find of a second, part-time, fellow, and we're on more than an even keel. Still, just once, I'd like these high-output times to last without SOMETHING queering it. Just once. Okay: Maybe twice.
I >FINALLY< finished David Mitchell's latest work (it's been months since I started it), "The Thousand Autums Of Jacob De Zoet". It was a little bit "Memoirs Of A Geisha", and a good mixture of narrative on the Dutch East Indies Trading Company, trading entry into Feudal Japan, and love story.
I've been doing some serious work on a six-panel mailer for one client, and a DVD cover insert for another. I've never done a DVD insert before, so it's been an interesting experience, thus far.
We received an unexpected dividend check in the mail from our Credit Union, of all places. Why can't every day that I get the mail yield such positive results?
My determination to lose weight continues and, while still a Hippo-saurus, I can feel the difference already in the way my clothing fits, subtle though it may be. It's been a hard few weeks but, now that I've hit a stride, it's getting easier.
As mentioned before, Wanda and I have been spending our 'wind-down' time plowing through LEGO DC Superheroes on the Wii and, now, we're alsmot done with that title as well. They need to make these games faster, so we have more things to blow up and smash at the end of a stressful day.
I also joined the Riffle Community this week. It's sort of like Pinterest, but for books and book lovers. It's still in its infancy, so we'll see how it pans out in the coming months.
Finished the video portion of the Media Library that needed doing (finally), and got some more chapters of the book tightened up. It's taking forever, but I'm pleased with the results that it's yielding.
(01/27/13 - 9:44 AM)
Okay, so I'm making sure that this week I don't get complacent once again. Seriously, I keep thinking of and recalling stories and events that I wish I had documented here during my lapse, only to forget them again. Like this one:
A couple of weeks back, I slowly turned a corner and, for the first time, my Subaru didn't go where I wanted it to. Apparently, even it has its limits. I did a 720 and then my front wheels bumbled over a curb into a drainage easement. I had hoped to stop there, but the car kept going and did not halt until the rear rim had banged on the curb, and the tire had skidded up it. My entire reaction boiled down to, 'Well, this is happening.'
Work has continued to be brutally busy. We've hired a pair of new second shift operators: one full time, one part time. This brings our total employee count to 33. A number I never dreamed that I'd see. Hopefully, we can all pull together and make this year the year that last year could have been. Here's to hoping, anyway.
The video portion of the media library is - once again - winding down (thank God) and I'll have some time freed up once more.
On Tuesday, Digital Ninjas Media, Inc. successfully converted our first VHS to DVD format. it's prety straightforward for our video dude, Dave, which is a good thing, as I'm not smart enough to know it, nor do I have the time to learn it. Hopefully, this will open up some new doors for us in the coming year, with regard to home videos requiring transfer/dissemination. Yay!
Work on the book has been gradual, but slow, this week. I work for hours only to find that I've tightly honed mere paragraphs, as my eyes begin to go crossed. Editing sucks. Now I know why authors have someone do it for them. I only wish that I had the luxury. Still, there's something to be said for being hyper-reflective of one's own work while, simultaneously, being able to modify it on the fly.
Wanda's pain has been back with a vengeance and, unfortunately, she seems to be out of options. I can't for the life of me fathom how her luck and experiences could ALL be so far over the red line of what the physicians have outlined as 'normal'. It just goes to show that, in this day and age, even medicine can't fix everything.
I placed myself on an alcohol moratorium more than two weeks ago and, this week, added dieting as well. I'm down to roughly 1800 calories a day and my intent is to attempt to re-establish my weight at 225 (where I was before my back went all stupid.) It's going to be hard, but I'm fortunate to have the willpower to do it when I put my mind to it. The biggest impetus for 'forcing my hand' on this issue was my Doctor insisting that I be placed on blood pressure medication. It's been steadily growing worse and, now, is in the 'you're going to have aheart attack soon' range. Ergo, the new meds. I'm hoping that it's a temporary thing that diet and weight loss can control, in time. I also look forward to being lighter so that my back doesn't experience quite so much strain. We'll see.
Worked on the novel for a while yesterday, and ploughed through three more chapters of editing, albeit short ones. I'm going to be 80 before I get this done. Maybe it's time to take another week off of work and just do it for 9 hours a day, as before. That seemed to work well, but made for one heck of a greuling week. Still, I need to burn some of my vacation time, before it's all reset and paid for. Some days, I miss the 'rollover' option we once, so recently, had.
Nothing new on the book aqcuisition front this week of note, save for something interesting only to me. Specifically, I got wind of a small book of poetry published in the forties which was written by my sister-in-law, Kathy's, great-great-something, Sidney Keyes, called "The Iron Laurel". She had found a copy and so I, interest piqued, did likewise. It's a thin and frial volume, but I rather look forward to checking it out, given the tenuous connection to someone I know. The short biography I found reads thus: "Keyes wrote these poems while at Queen's College, Oxford. He joined the Army in April 1942 and died in action in Tunisia on 29th April 1943, shortly before his 21st birthday." How cool is that? Well, not the dying part - the other bit. The dying bit is just sad, but I'm happy that he put pen to paper before leaving behind nothing at all.
(01/20/13 - 9:15 AM)
WOW. I've been neglecting this for quite some time. Shame on me both for myself, and my readers. I've been really, really, phenomenally busy. And, unfortunately, this is what gave.
For starters, I've spent dozens of hours working on the media library - with months still to go. Will this damn thing EVER be done?
Second, I've been working like mad on continuing and editing my latest novel. I've spent more than 100 hours in recent weeks tightening, tweaking, adding, and on and on, in an effort to make it the very best work that I may. It's coming along nicely, but I'll be glad to have it finished as well. It's sort of like giving birth: the experience of carrying the child is exciting but, at nine months, you just want the damn thing out of you.
Wanda and I made it out over the New Year's weekend to see the new Peter Jackson film, "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey". Here's the thing: It was amazing. BUT: There were too many scenes where the campiness, and 'suspension of belief' factor were just too high. There is a limit to what was needed, and the purveyors of this film more than exceeded it in places. It wouldn't have been so bad, had they not done it so very many times. That was a little irritating.
Work continues to be insane, and we're running way behind on orders. The biggest reason is that everyone at once dumped work on us just before the end of the year, and it proved too much for our resources. Which seems like a good thing, on the surface, until you recall that the buyers don't really care about your problems - they just want their stuff. To be fair, I do this to my vendors as well, to some degree.
My general practitioner finally decided my blood pressure had been too high, for too long, and put me on medication for it. I have mixed feelings about this but, amazingly, I've felt better than I have in a long while since I began taking it.
To compliment this, I have also implemented a new regime of diet to assist with weight loss. I've been losing a little, slowly, but it's too little, too slowly. I've done it before, so I know what needs to be done. The down side is that the last time I lost a lot of weight, I was able to do so without the hinderance of an irrepairable back. Hopefully, the weight loss will assist in alleviating some of the back issues. We shall see.
I have read NOTHING new since my last entries. In fact, I am still tackling the same book, which is still only 3/4's finished. My novel has taken up just so much of my time.
I wrote some copy for a client yesterday, which proved to be an interesting challenge. Specifically, I needed to write targeted marketing materials for specific venues for a Mary Todd Lincoln re-enactor. It was a challenge that, I feel, I did fairly well with. Hopefully, the client is happy.
Over the hump of the new year, Digital Ninjas Media added cassette-to-MP3 capability, LP-to-MP3 capability, and VHS-to-DVD capabilities, via specialized hardware and software packages. My cousin Dan and his partner, Tony, graciously donated a surplus VCR. Which was a good thing, as one proved harder to find than I initially had imagined. Go figure.
Wanda and I blew through LEGO: The Lord Of The Rings for Wii, and are now embroiled in the new LEGO: Batman & DC Super Heroes. They've been a nice distraction in the evenings to unwind with, as nearly everything is destructable and the game play is simple and fun, even to a couple of old geeks like us.
I'm still experiencing negative repercussions from the staff over what I will call the, "Christmas Bonus Incident". It's amazing how fast some people forget who is their ally, and who is their enemy and - in doing so - can mis-guide so much unhappiness.
This week we re-financed the Missouri property, after finding it had increased in value roughly 35% in the past five years. I had expectations, but nothing like that - especially given the economic climate. Apparently, lake property is still alive and well. We managed to finagle a 1.5% rate reduction, after some careful arguing with the lending institution. I'm a wombat when it comes to money, sometimes, so I had no qualms about presenting my air-tight case to the lender, and sending him back with his first two offers. Which proves one of my points well: EVERYTHING is negotiable.
We had to go to Janesville, to the headquarters of the bank to sign the paperwork and so, while there, we both experienced for the first time a Red Robin restaurant. Where has THIS place been all my life?
Last week, we received word that we are getting a Chipotle in our neck of the woods, which made us giddy as schoolgirls because we would eat there a hell of a lot more often if it wasn't a 45-minute drive to the nearest one. Their food is amazing.
Made sure to get the business tax information to the accountant on the seventh this year, as we screwed up royally last year, and can't afford a repeat performance. Lesson learned there.
I've scored a few interesting books in the past weeks, but nothing too special worth mentioning, with the exception of a rare-ish Timothy Leary paper-bound & stapled work (let me rephrase - nothing that anyone other than me would get too excited about). I've REALLY tapered off on my book buying, in an effort to squirrel away more money for investing in other venues (I consider my book collection an investment and - so far - it hasn't disappointed.)
The good folks at WikiPedia still refuse to allow my author entry, as posted by another individual, even. I'm sympathetic, to a point, but when I see what IS there, I find it difficult to believe that I may not be included. In fact, my Google returns have gone up another 35% or so, and span far more pages - more concisely - than ever before. How much more proof do they need that I'm a real person, writing real books? It's Narcissistic, I know, but I'm looking at it as another stepping stone to securing a real publishing house. This would be a huge hurdle to get over.
We took the cat to the vet, as it appeared that he was losing a great deal of weight. Near as we can figure, he gained a bunch last year (when we did not need to take him in for anything) and then lost it again, as he is only two ounces below his prior weight, when weighed by the vet. Oh well. At least we got to watch him poop and pee in the car (he loves to do this, for whatever reason - it never fails. Eat your heart out, Weird Uncle Pete.) Fortunately, Wanda has devised a 'travel' litter box, so it's not nearly as messy as it has been in past instances. We learned our lesson early - especially the time he fountained urine into her open purse as she tried to pick him up, and didn't stop until he was good and finished. I wonder if Wanda misses that purse...
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