Ramble With Me.

It Spoke To Me.

When I was six or seven I was touring a colonial house with my parents. The guide picked up a bucket and said, “Imagine if this could talk. Imagine the stories it would have to tell.” And I thought, well, it’d probably say, “I liked being filled up. It was my only chance to look around. Then they’d empty me and stick me back here in the corner. Been here a long time. So, do you guys like water?”

Jokes aside it was the first time I’d heard the cliché of “if this thing could talk”. It was a concept I liked because it really did tickle me to think how different the priorities of antiques would be, which would make them less than ideal witnesses to the history they’d been privy to.

Including privies.

Especially privies.

So I found the story written on this car interesting. It was as though the car were speaking to me, although it seems to really have been the story of the owner. It sounds like a love story, or the start of one. This was yet another case of a car I would have happily followed to learn more about its owner. I don’t know why I didn’t leave a note. A note is one thing we can create that does speak, not for itself, but for us, which is what matters.

001Taking a broader view I can see a couple of other reasons I would have liked to talk to the driver.

storycar

Pick A Card.

slinkyListening to a radio report on the demise of voice mail reminded me of how much time at work I used to spend on the phone. My first job out of college was in customer service where all I did was answer phones. If you’ve ever worked in a job like this my heart goes out to you. It was a miserable three months even though a lot of the truck drivers were nice, and two were former professors of anthropology.

Even when I went on to work in a library I still spent a lot of time on the phone. Sometimes the only way to resolve an issue was to call a publisher or other company and speak to someone personally. This continued long after email became ubiquitous. A funny side story: I used to have to contact a company in Europe. Because of the language barrier and the expense of phone calls I’d send them faxes. They’d type a reply on the same sheet as the fax and mail it to me. This drove me nuts because if they replied by fax I’d have an answer the next day, but they used some bizarro mail rate that meant it took a month for a letter to get to me. When they got email I thought, “At last! My problems are solved!” and fired off a quick message to them. A month later I got my email, printed, with a response typed at the bottom, sealed in an envelope.

They did figure it out eventually.

"Wait a minute. There's a button here that says 'Reply'. Can we use that?"

“Wait a minute. There’s a button here that says ‘Reply’. Can we use that?”

The library where I work, like most libraries, used to have a card catalog. Librarians stopped updating it in 1986 when computers were installed. It must have seemed like a gradual change. Most of the information in the card catalog was still useful for years, even until they ripped out the drawers to make way for meeting rooms, although long before that the cards themselves were removed. They were given out to anyone who wanted them. I took stacks and stacks, and kept going back for more. They were useful for taking short notes so I kept them next to my phone.

006

No joke–I drew this while waiting for someone to pick up.

Most of the time I spent on the phone wasn’t even spent talking to anyone. It was waiting for someone to pick up, listening to hold music. I’d sit and eat peanut brittle and pass that off as static when a person finally picked up. Or I’d draw pictures.

The time I spent on the phone diminished so gradually I didn’t even notice it going away. I still have stacks of old library cards. I still use them to write notes sometimes.

009

Light ‘Em Up.

I’d always assumed lightning bugs–also known as “fireflies” by the utterly pretentious–could be found in Britain as well as the United States. There are legends there of the will-o’-the-wisp that would lure unwary travelers into bogs and drown them, although that was probably swamp gas. And there are glow-worms. There’s a glow-worm in Roald Dahl’s James And The Giant Peach. She’s a pretty minor character and I think Dahl forgot about her once most of the action moved to the top of the peach, but it’s not as though bioluminescent insects are unknown on the other side of the pond. So it kind of threw me when, as we were walking up the driveway to the house where I was staying, my British friend stopped and said, “Chris…why are there little lights all over your yard?”

We’d had a few drinks and he wondered if I’d slipped something in his beer while he wasn’t looking. In retrospect I wish I’d strung him along a little bit and asked, “What? What the hell are you talking about?” Instead I reached down and scooped up a lightning bug. And it was a good opportunity to tell him about the time when I was a kid and filled a jar with lightning bugs then turned them loose in the house. My parents spent half the night catching them. Then when they finally went to bed they lay there in the dark and could see the occasional flash.

This was in Indiana where a bill to make the lightning bug the state insect. It never went anywhere. Regardless of your political views how can you not embrace that? There’s a U-Haul trailer design of a giant lightning bug that specifically says “Indiana”.

Maybe it’s because they’re sneaky. I set a camera out one night when there seemed to be hundreds of them out. No matter where I put it they seemed to say, “Okay, we’re being watched. Let’s move over there!”

 

I’m Writing Like A Chicken With Its Head Cut Off.

“I didn’t even know what salmonella was. Until I was twenty years old I thought it was some guy who used to run around and dip his ass in mayonnaise products.”

Dom Irrera

I’ve mentioned before that my wife and I feed our dogs raw food, which is called, appropriately enough, the Bones And Raw Food or BARF diet. It’s supposed to approximate what dogs would eat in the wild, minus the hair, parasites, and fights over who gets the head, which some of my Southern family members have assured me is the tastiest part of the squirrel, but that’s another story.

Providing this diet means every few weeks I grind up a hundred and twenty pounds or so of raw chicken, usually in the form of chicken necks.

necks

It’s not as bad as it sounds.

Raw chicken necks also occasionally come with the head still attached, which is all part of the fun. I run the necks—minus the heads, which I’m pretty sure aren’t that tasty anyway—through a meat grinder. And I’m careful because raw chicken can carry salmonella.

chamber

My chicken chamber of horrors.

Accidents can still happen, though. I’ve heard cases of cooks getting sick from a little squirt of chicken liquid while they were chopping one up for the fryer. And there was a possible outbreak of salmonella over at Crankoutloud that confirmed that it’s not a lot of fun.

Because we buy chicken necks in bulk, sometimes directly from a distributor, I sometimes get them frozen in a block of ice. This means I end up with coolers full of watery chicken blood. I’ve found safe ways to dispose of this. I used to dump it in the front yard, thinking it would be good fertilizer, but I got into trouble when the photographer across the street, the one who’s been stuck at home since he broke his leg, saw me dumping blood while my wife was out of town.

I hope you don't need this to underline the punchline for you.  Source: IMDB

I hope you don’t need this to underline the punchline for you.
Source: IMDB

The last time I ground chicken necks I went out to dinner afterwards, and I imagined coming down with salmonella. This might lead to an investigation of the restaurant. I can see the headline.

headline

Then there’d be an investigation of me and they’d find the freezer full of ground up raw chicken. I can see the headline.

headline2

 

One Of A Kind.

Source: IMDB

Source: IMDB

With Mad Max and the Terminator back and Jurassic Park reopening, plus a slew of sequels coming to theaters this summer, it seems like everything old is new again. I often hear complaints about remakes. In fact I seem to hear the same complaint about remakes over and over, which is funny when you think about it, but that’s another story. In principle I don’t have any problem with remakes. I’ve mentioned that my favorite movie is Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, but it doesn’t bother me that I have to specify that I mean the 1956 version. There are things I like about the 1978 version, including the inside-joke-cameo by Kevin McCarthy.

The problem I have with the 2015 remake of Poltergeist isn’t that it’s a remake. The problem is the absence of Zelda Rubinstein. I’m sure Jared Harris is a fine actor, but let me be blunt: Zelda Rubinstein was perfectly cast in the original because she may have been physically small but projected being psychically strong. She carried herself with grace and strength. The original Poltergeist is full of strong women, but Rubinstein’s Tangina towers over all of them. The first time I heard her say, “This house is clean” I expected the credits to roll. I can’t imagine anyone would want to mess with her, but it seemed like anyone who did would regret it.

Maybe that’s why her work to fight AIDS in what only seemed like the disease’s early days—it had been around for years, but Rubinstein’s work began in 1984—was so powerful to me.

AIDS and HIV have only affected me indirectly. I can’t speak to, or even imagine, the horror suffered by those who lost those they loved, especially in the early days when the disease was so poorly understood. The closest I could come was someone else’s experience. A friend of mine who was a few years older lost his first longtime partner to AIDS. They had been separated for several years. It was the partner’s diagnosis and hospitalization that brought them back together briefly. One summer when I was home from college my friend told me the whole story. His partner had died only a short time before and I did what I could to help him through his grief. He never said so, but I knew from the way he described it that his time with his partner was the happiest time of his life. We’d go to restaurants and sit and he would tell me how they used to climb a hill overlooking Centennial Park and spend the night there just talking.

Even before I met him, even before I knew anyone I knew was gay the tragedy of AIDS saddened me. Kids I knew would make tasteless jokes about it and I hated them. Maybe it scared and saddened them too and that was their way of dealing with it, but I don’t want to let them off the hook. It was a scary thing to a teenage boy, even one who had almost no chance of being infected with HIV, but that doesn’t matter. Those of us who were hitting puberty during the AIDS crisis should have been able to sympathize, to know that joking about AIDS wasn’t wrong, but joking about the victims was. The subtext of every AIDS joke I heard at the time was “if you have AIDS you deserve it”. Sadly the kids who told those jokes were just repeating what they’d heard from adults, but as teenage boys we should have been smarter and more understanding. Our bodies were surging with hormones that were almost screaming at us to have sex, and the news was telling us “Sex can kill you.” The one AIDS joke that made me laugh was when a kid sitting next to me in math class leaned over and whispered, “I’m so scared of it I’m wearing a condom right now.” There was also a Bloom County strip that reflected the dating scene at the time that also tickled me.

Maybe that’s why when I thought about AIDS all I cared about is that it was a disease and it was killing people. Whom it killed didn’t matter to me. It did matter to others, though. It mattered enough that there was a stigma surrounding it that fed the fear. AIDS was popularly considered a “gay disease”, but the fear was directed at anyone who had it. When I was sixteen one of my teachers read a story to the class about a boy with hemophilia who’d gotten HIV from a blood transfusion. His neighbors drove past his house chanting “KILL HIM! KILL HIM!” This fear spread even to those who worked with or even knew anyone with AIDS.

Here’s my version of an 80’s AIDS joke: how do you find out who your real friends are? Get HIV.

It’s against that backdrop that Zelda Rubinstein took part in the LA CARES advertising campaign. I remember seeing one of the ads in a magazine and thinking, “Hey, that’s the lady from Poltergeist. She’s so cool!”

This was the ad I saw. I didn't realize it was just one in a larger campaign. Source: The Advocate

This was the ad I saw. I didn’t realize it was just one in a larger campaign.
Source: The Advocate

Hollywood, where, within a few years red ribbons would become ubiquitous, didn’t think she was so cool at the time. She didn’t work for a year after publicly speaking out about AIDS. In case you think there just might not have been any roles for her check out her IMDB page and note how much she worked, which makes the absence of any credits for 1985 very conspicuous.

Was Poltergeist about AIDS? Not intentionally, and not even unintentionally since it was released in 1982, and it’s probably a bad idea to even try to tie the two, but let me offer some thoughts. The film was called “Poltergeist”, suggesting a single entity, but the haunting is caused by a group of ghosts. We speak of a disease as a single thing but it’s the manifestation of a multitude of organisms. The Freeling family notices odd things at first, but they’re afraid to talk to their neighbors openly about it. They retreat into their home and only turn to professional help when they lose their daughter. They don’t do anything to deserve being tormented. And then there’s that tagline: “It knows what scares you.” (It’s been changed to “They know what scares you” for the remake.) Sexual contact is the most common way HIV spreads. I don’t care how casual a hookup seems. Sex is always intimate contact which makes HIV a disease shared by intimacy. It also forced people who’d kept part of themselves secret, who’d been afraid to admit to the world who they really were, to come out. And for others, like my friend, there was nothing more terrifying than losing someone he loved. So many lost their lives. So many others lost everything else.

On the other hand the Freeling family escapes in the end. People with AIDS often disappeared, but there was no escape from the disease.

Zelda Rubinstein, who worked to make the world a better place, was born May 28th, 1933. She passed away January 27th, 2010. She lived to see HIV infection become a treatable disease even if there still is no cure. There will never be another one like her.

There’s A There There. (Part 2)

Seen from the car on our way through Bucyrus, Ohio.  Source: Google Maps because I couldn't get my camera out in time.

Seen from the car on our way through Bucyrus, Ohio.
Source: Google Maps because I couldn’t get my camera out in time.

My wife and I were headed to a dog show at the Sawmill Creek Spring Lodge. And even though I’m not a dog show kind of person that’s okay. I love our dogs dearly, and if it weren’t for them and my wife’s hard work to make them some of the finest agility dogs in the world (this may be a slight exaggeration on my part) I never would have gone to places like French Lick, Indiana, Lawrence, Kansas, Tulsa, Oklahoma, Long Beach, California, or…Bucyrus, Ohio.

Our navigator took us off the interstate, which was a little unnerving. The interstate was familiar, and, we knew, would take us straight through Columbus—and Columbus traffic at rush hour. Instead we were directed down Ohio Route 4, through farmland and small towns.

Bucyrus was not our intended destination. We didn’t even stop there, but from the car windows I got a pretty good idea that it was not your usual small Midwestern town. The first thing that got my attention was the MB Subculture Shop on the left, advertising costumes, comic books, and “accessories”. They had me at costumes, but I really wanted to jump out of the car right then to find out what the “accessories” were. We then stopped at a red light and on the right was The Pelican House Coffee Shop. A man with white hair and wire-framed glasses carrying a heavily decorated journal crossed in front of us. He looked up and gave us a little wave. That was it. By the time we passed the trompe l’oeil painting of Lady Liberty on the side of a building I was in love with Bucyrus, Ohio. The town has a website that fittingly calls it the “small city out in the middle of everywhere!”

We passed through a succession of small towns and small places that advertised good country cooking and homemade peach ice cream, and a miniature golf course and burger place. There was a succession of churches with adjoining cemeteries.

Just before we arrived at the Sawmill Creek Resort we passed a restaurant called Lemmy’s. The all-you-can-eat lake perch got my attention, but the real reason I wanted to go there was because of the large green serpent on the side of the building. I’d later learn that Lemmy is the Lake Erie Monster.

It was actually overcast when we went by. Source: Google Maps. Again I didn't have time to get out my camera. I should just take continuous rolling video of all road trips.

It was actually overcast when we went by.
Source: Google Maps. Again I didn’t have time to get out my camera. I should just take continuous rolling video of all road trips.

The resort itself is on the edge of Lake Erie. I walked down to the marina where the Sawmill Explorer was docked and resisted the temptation to jump it in and take it out onto the lake. The water stretched to the horizon like a calm ocean. A few nights later we’d go to a bonfire on the resort’s private beach where I found rocks rubbed flat and smooth and put my feet in chilly Lake Erie. The only other thing I could have wanted was an appearance by Lemmy.

The resort had open areas decorated with bits of Native American history, fireplaces, a bear rug.

019013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When we went off the interstate my first thought was that we’d be driving through nothing in the middle of nowhere, but then I corrected myself. No matter where you are it’s still somewhere. Every place has something that makes it interesting. Maybe I have a skill for finding it because I have such a low tolerance for boredom. Or maybe it’s because all you have to do to see something is look around.

015

 

 

This is one of those displays of Native American art. The mask on the far left represents the first European they encountered, who just happened to be my great uncle Willie.

This is one of those displays of Native American art. The mask on the far left represents the first European they encountered, who just happened to be my great uncle Willie.

025

 

 

There’s A There There. (Part 1)

“You must have a high tolerance for boredom.”

This is a picture of the French Lick Resort Gazebo from The Lyceum Magazine, 1913. It was unchanged when I was there nearly a hundred years later.

This is a picture of the French Lick Resort Gazebo from The Lyceum Magazine, 1913.
It was unchanged when I was there nearly a hundred years later.

This is what a friend said to me when I told him I’d had an amazing time at the French Lick Resort in an Indiana town of three-hundred people. I tried to explain that the resort was this amazing artefact of an earlier time when the wealthy went to spas for both treatment and to just hang out with each other. The guy who helped me carry the bags to our room, which was spacious with ten-foot ceilings, told me it was where Franklin Roosevelt first announced he was running for President, and that Al Capone stayed there. The draw was “pluto water”, which was basically just sulfur water from a spring. This is what gave the place its name. Animals would lick the minerals from the rocks, and because it was the site of a French trading post in pre-colonial times it was known as the “French lick”. People drank “Pluto water” for their health. There was a gazebo-covered spring out back that smelled a little like rotten eggs, but it was worth going in to see the waters that Al Capone took in a vain attempt to cure his gonorrhea. On one side of the inside of the roof was inscribed, “Nature’s finest laxative.” On the other: “If Nature won’t Pluto will.” In a room below the lobby I found a couple of statues of “Pluto” who, with his Van Dyke beard, horns, and wicked grin looked more like a character out of a different belief system. The statues originally stood on either side of the main doors. That tickled me. Pluto seemed to be saying, “You’ll be cured, but the price will be your soul.”

Overall the place was kind of run down—Pluto water wasn’t sold anymore, and even when it was doctors derided the claims of its healing powers. A few mornings I went for a swim in the pool which was under a glass dome, missing a few triangular panes here and there. It was also chlorinated–no pluto water there.

Some of the claims made in an advertisement for the resort in  The Hoosier Almanack & Family Magazine, 1912. Source: Google Books

Some of the claims made in an advertisement for the resort in
The Hoosier Almanack & Family Magazine, 1912.
Source: Google Books

There were some modern touches. In the basement I found a small video arcade and couldn’t resist putting a few quarters in the Starship Troopers pinball machine. Well, this isn’t unusual since I can never resist a pinball machine, but that’s another story. The basement also held a small bowling alley and a pizza parlor that, even though it was closed when I was there, could be opened for parties.

There used to be regular railroad service between French Lick and Chicago—thanks Al Capone!—but all that remained of that when I was there was the “railroad museum”, an old rail station where I bought some postcards, and then took a train ride through the Hoosier National Forest to Cuzco, Indiana, a little town less than ten miles away. The conductor talked about the history of French Lick, pointed out the childhood home of Larry Bird–I’m not a basketball fan but that was fun–and shared some colorful stories about the surrounding forest, such as the one about a family of cannibals that had lived there.

The French Lick Resort has been renovated since then. Even though I thought the worn patches were part of its charm I understand why they wanted to update it.

I thought about how much fun it was visiting French Lick when my wife and I made a trip to Ohio on our way to another dog show. The story of that tomorrow.

Advertisement from N.A.R.D. [National Association of Retail Druggists] Notes, v.18 no.6, 1914 Source: Google Books

Advertisement from N.A.R.D. [National Association of Retail Druggists] Notes, v.18 no.6, 1914
Source: Google Books

I Saw The Light.

mylampBlackout. The house is eerily quiet. A flashlight casts shadowy illumination that makes everything unfamiliar. I’ve twisted the switch on a lamp, but I can’t be sure whether it’s on or off. I twist it a few more times then lose count. Was it an odd or even number of twists? Will it come on when the power comes back? There’s nothing to do but sit and think about lamps.

As a kid did you ever read the story of Aladdin and see a picture of his lamp and wonder what was wrong with it? It didn’t have a shade or a bulb, and where were you supposed to plug it in?

In second grade I’d b e even more confused when I read the story of Diogenes who took a lamp out in broad daylight. The story said he was looking for an honest man. I thought he must have been looking for outlets because you can only carry a lamp so far before the cord runs out. Later I would understand that he was making a point that an honest man is so hard to find that one must be sought with a lamp in the daylight. When I first read the story I thought the honest man he was looking for would be the one who’d ask, “Why are you carrying a lamp in broad daylight? Are you trying to sell it or are you just some kind of idiot?”

I think Diogenes would have been impressed by what a wise child I was.

genie

 

Snail Call.

Source: SpongeBobPedia

Crack. I’ve stepped on a snail. I really try to avoid this, but accidents happen. I feel guilty because I like snails. I’ve always liked snails. When I was a kid I kept them as pets sometimes. I drove librarians nuts asking for books about snails, and I was disappointed in the lack of attention given to snails on the shows I watched, except for this one short Sesame Street cartoon:

Sesame Street was supposed to be educational so it bugged me when they tried to pass off blatantly false information. And I knew almost everything about this short snail poem was wrong:

Snails come out when it’s damp, especially when it’s rainy. And at night. They don’t go out for a “walk” on “fine sunny days”. If they did they’d end up  snaildried snails.

At least the last part about a snail not having to go back was correct based on my observations: snails would venture a long way from where they started and wouldn’t necessarily go back.

The problem is snails don’t carry their homes on their backs. One of the reasons they come out when it’s raining is because the nooks and crannies and little holes where they live get flooded. That shell is not a home. It’s a protective cover and part of their bodies. Snails must look at us and say, “Wait, your shell is inside your body? Under your skin? That’s weird.” Or at least they would if they looked at us and thought about us. I can’t fault Sesame Street for passing taffy when I’m anthropomorphizing snails.

snailAnother thing I learned about snails just by watching is that if you put two in a terrarium sooner or later they’ll start riding around on each others’ shells, and then you’ll have a cluster of tiny pearlescent eggs in a little hole in the dirt.

Later  very patient librarian would find me a book and I’d read that snails are hermaphrodites. This didn’t really bother me, and I even thought it would make life easier if humans were too. On fine sunny days when couples went out for a trek at the end of the date they’d both pick up the check.

snail1

 

 

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