Ramble With Me.

Side Effects Include Everything.

chemistry2There was a time in the United States when drugs couldn’t be directly advertised to consumers. I’m talking about legal drugs, not the other kind, the kind that movies like Reefer Madness warned you about. The distinction has always been a little fuzzy, but I’m talking about the drugs you have to get through your doctor rather than your dealer. Okay, the distinction is still had to make because even if you talk to your doctor he’s going to refer you to a pharmacist, and if the drugs you’re trying to buy aren’t the legal kind you’re probably still going to have to talk to a guy who’ll refer you to someone else. Either way you’re going to end up in a basement sitting in a beanbag chair listening to Blue Oyster Cult, or I’ve been going to the wrong pharmacist all these years.

What I’m trying to get to is that the American Medical Association has proposed a ban on direct advertising of drugs to consumers, which I think is a good idea. It would mean the end of those commercials that always end with “Side effects may include dizziness, fainting spells, constipation, dry mouth, dry heaves, dry rot…okay, I’m going to quit now partly because Steve Martin already has a hilarious piece about potential side effects which I’ve included at the end of this post, but the scary thing is even though his essay is supposed to be humor this is an area where the line between satire and reality is just entirely too thin.

It’s like trying to make fun of the cooking competition show Chopped. It’s just impossible to come up with anything so ridiculous it hasn’t been done. The other day I told my friend that the basket for the entree round contained gummi bears, asphalt, liquid helium, and barracuda nostrils. And without blinking he said, “Oh, yeah, I’ve seen that episode.”

Keep Looking Up.

Source: Weather Underground

Source: Weather Underground

In spite of the end of daylight saving time I still get up before sunrise. I’m also still confused about daylight saving time and whether I should fall back and spring forward or spring back or fall forward and it doesn’t help that when someone tells me “We need to move the meeting time up an hour” they sometimes mean that the meeting scheduled for 2:00pm will now be at 3:00pm and sometimes they mean it will be at 1:00pm. And I would ask if we could stick to Greenwich Mean Time but I’ve been to Greenwich Village and time is a very fluid concept there, or at least it was in the days when bands played at The Electric Banana, but that’s another story.

For the past couple of months I’ve noticed Venus hanging in the East. Since it’s the third brightest object in the sky I always recognize it, but I had to consult Weather Underground’s Interactive Star Chart to confirm that the other two planets near it are Jupiter and Mars. As the fourth brightest object in the sky Jupiter should be obvious but I’m never sure unless I pull out my telescope and see the four Galilean moons.

This morning all three planets were in an almost straight line. Mars is dimmer than the other two but still stands out. My sleep schedule is still a little off from the time change but what greets me in the predawn hours makes it easier to get up.

That One Place.

Ozone Falls.

Ozone Falls.

Within a few hours of being diagnosed with cancer, while I was still in the emergency room, I told my wife, “I want to go back to Ozone.” Ozone is a small town in eastern Tennessee that has some quarries and Ozone Falls, a state park around a picturesque waterfall formed by Fall Creek, and slightly northeast of Fall Creek Falls, another waterfall and state park that, in my humble opinion, isn’t as nice. I’d been to Niagara Falls, which was big and noisy and exciting, but Ozone Falls, formed by a creek, is smaller, quieter, and easier to understand. When I first saw it I was spellbound because this is what a waterfall should be. And unlike Niagara Falls which you can see from a distance Ozone Falls has to be approached from a distance that makes it come into view slowly. And then it’s a difficult climb down into the basin where, if you want, you can stand under the waterfall itself. Try that with Niagara.




Ozone Falls. Basin view.

Ozone Falls. Basin view.

Just up the road from Ozone Falls is Camp Ozone. It was a Presbyterian Church camp when I first went there at the age of eleven and went back over several successive summers. I’d heard people talk about Camp Ozone and seen older kids wearing t-shirts with the logo of a cross on a hill with the moon rising behind it, but experiencing the camp for myself was, well, special. It’s a very frustrating thing to try and talk about because I can’t really put it into words, and I’m not sure why I keep trying to talk about it. I think I could describe staying in the cabins, tromping through the woods, finding oddly colored mushrooms. I could describe the bath house where the light stayed on all night so in the morning we’d find the biggest most gorgeous moths clustered on the walls, moths whose names we learned, whose names were almost as weird and beautiful as the moths themselves: luna, io, cecropia, imperial, sphinx. I could talk about swimming in the lake. Ozone Lake is manmade and, I learned recently, was dug in the sixties by some people who didn’t know what they were doing. They just took it as a summer job. Its manmade nature explains why it’s no more than twelve feet deep at any point. You can even take a canoe out into the very middle and look down and if the light is right see the bottom, or even touch it. Radial water plants that look like green anemones grow there. It was my first experience swimming in a lake, which was very different from being in a pool or even the ocean. It was cold and murky but I still loved it. I could float or let my feet slip along flat rocks or over to silky mud. My toes would even sometimes touch those prickly water plants which kind of freaked me out.

Lake Ozone. The boat dock on the right is new to me but the rest is just as I remember.

Lake Ozone. The boat dock on the right is new to me but the rest is just as I remember.

I could even talk about the friends I made there in just a week and then never met again, or how the last night of every camp session we had a talent show. One year I did a stand-up comedy act and no one, not even the minister who was head of the camp, blinked an eye at some of the off-color Buddy Hackett jokes I told, although the laughter might have been a little bit forced.

For various reasons, mostly having to do with church politics, Camp Ozone closed when I was sixteen. From my very first year there—almost from the very first day—I’d hoped to one day come back as a counselor. That wouldn’t happen. My family and their friends would also take weekend trips to Camp Ozone for Memorial Day or at other times of the year. When we went to the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville we stayed in Camp Ozone, a little over an hour away. These trips gave me and my friends a lot of chances to explore the place without the normal camp schedule. There was also time for me to go off alone, to get to know the wilderness by myself. When the camp was officially shut down these informal visits also ended.

In a way I kept going back to Ozone, though. As a teenager I was taught guided meditation by some older friends and Camp Ozone was always where I went. I could, and still can, mentally walk all the way around the lake or stand in the waterfall basin. It was the place I always went to because it’s a place where nothing bad can happen to me. Maybe that’s why I was never afraid of going back, and while it took more than a year from that moment I told my wife it’s what I wanted she still managed to make it happen. I was prepared for it to have changed but the Ozone in my mind is a place I’ve been to so many times nothing can change it. And going there I was surprised by how little had changed. It’s now run by Children’s Bible Ministries and I was shown around by the current director. Most of the original buildings I remembered were still there, even if they’ve been repaired and renovated. He seemed to find it funny when I pointed to a large propane tank covered with green moss and said, “I remember when that was white.” He took me past where the hogans had been. The younger kids stayed in the cabins but when we got older we moved to the hogans which were canvas covered frames, open at either end, with wooden floors where mice lived. He showed me the top of the hill where I’d spent the night under the stars and then left me to walk back down by myself. What had changed didn’t matter. What was still the same made me happier than I can say.

And that’s the problem. None of this may have any meaning for any of you reading this, especially if you’ve never been to Ozone, because there are some things words just can’t convey. There is, however, something I think that can be shared. When I was in the hospital I was facing an uncertain and frightening future and while remembering a place that made me happy helped what mattered even more was the goal of going back. It’s not enough to say I didn’t want to die. I had something to live for.

So what’s your Ozone?



Lost And Found In Fog.

I know I’ve written about fog recently, but it seems to be that time of year when it’s unavoidable. What fascinates me is how much fog can change a view. As I looked out over this scene this morning I couldn’t get over how much was hidden, how much was literally lost in the fog.

008A few hours later the sun took care of that. Everything was revealed. Maybe too much was revealed.

005What I always think about whenever I see fog is how often when you’re in the midst of it you don’t realize it. The only time I’ve ever felt truly lost in fog is when I was a kid and we took a trip to Maine. One morning we drove through fog that was so dense we couldn’t see cars going in the other direction, only ghostly headlights shifting across a gray background. They must have seen us in the same way.

So too a person standing in one of those distant buildings obscured, from my perspective, by the fog could have looked in my direction. They might have seen fog where I stood. We could have been looking right at each other but unaware because all we could see was fog. There’s something revealing about that thought.

Leave The Ladybugs Alone.

ladybug1When I was four my parents moved into a new house. That same year they planted a maple tree in the front yard. A few years later I’d come home from school on fall afternoon to find the maple tree covered with ladybugs. Or ladybirds if you’re in Britain, although that name never made sense to me because they’re not birds. They’re not really ladies either, or at least not all of them are.

Source: Orlando Sentinel

I thought about all this when I spotted a little colony of ladybugs on my way to work. Here are some pictures.



Ladybug and larva.


Three stages: larva, pupa, and adult.

What’s fascinating is seeing almost their entire life cycle. Before I found that cluster on the tree I’d seen ladybug larvae lots of times without ever recognizing them for what they were and I’d seen their chrysalises chrysilae chrysalides I’d seen them in their pupal stage. The larvae attach their hind end to something and form a chrysalis and what’s hilarious is you can touch the chrysalis and it’ll bounce up and down like it’s yelling “Hey! Leave me alone!” And in fact that’s exactly what it’s doing.

It occurs to me that insects have a great advantage: they’re sealed inside a protective shell throughout puberty. I feel a little bit of envy over that. I know there were times when I wished I could be sealed in a protective shell until puberty was over and anybody who’s ever had or been around teenagers has wished for the same thing, but that’s another story.

Every time I see ladybugs I think of the nursery rhyme my mother taught me. She also played Peter, Paul, & Mary’s It’s Raining that includes this version of it:

Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home,

Your house is on fire and your children they will burn.

According to Wikipedia this rhyme may come from a belief that “it was unlucky to kill a ladybird, and that the verse would make them fly off”. So it’s unlucky to kill one but tormenting it with the idea that its house is in flames and its children will be charred embers by the time it gets there is perfectly fine. That’s why I could never bring myself to say that to ladybugs, although I did get a kick out of Roald Dahl’s James And The Giant Peach when the Ladybug marries the head of the New York Fire Department.

And when I found other types of beetles I did sing them a little song that went “Hummer hummer, little drummer, don’t you know/They’ll kick you out and replace you with Ringo.”

I haven’t been by my parents’ old house in a long time but thanks to Google I can find pictures of it. I thought it would make me feel old since it’s been close to a quarter of a century since I moved out, but the tree hasn’t grown all that much. Maybe it still occasionally gets covered with ladybugs in the fall.

Come Down To The Lab And See What’s On The Slab.

One night in late October my wife and I were in downtown Nashville. We’d gone there for a Nashville Ghost Tour, which is a lot of fun. While we were waiting I felt a sudden sense of urgency. So I ducked into a nearby hotel to see a man about a horse, and also to use the restroom. When I was done I opened the door and there were four women in evening gowns standing there.

“Could we come in there with you?” one of them asked.

There are a lot of ways this story could go. Given the time of year they could have been demons or female vampires who sucked the life force out of nice young men, or schmucks like me, in restrooms. You may know that in many vampire legends a vampire can’t enter an abode—and I assume that would include a commode—without being invited first.

Maybe it’s a dramatic story. Maybe the women are trying to get away from someone, or something, and they’ve spotted the men’s restroom as the ideal hideout.

Or you may think this story could take a completely different turn and if you’re of a certain age you’re wondering why it doesn’t begin “Dear Penthouse…”

This is where I admit I’ve been withholding information from you. The hotel in question is the Hermitage Hotel, a place with a long and storied history. Its famous guests include Rudolph Wanderone, AKA Minnesota Fats, who lived there for several years, shooting pool with tourists in the lobby for a dollar a game. (Because of this I was once given the nickname ‘Minnesota Fats’.)

And its art deco men’s room is a minor tourist destination. Why only the men’s room has been preserved in such splendor is a mystery but some time after my encounter a plaque was entered declaring the place open to all.

plaqueOf course if a trip to Nashville isn’t in your foreseeable future allow me to show you around.




sinksAnd here’s proof that they’ll let in any schmuck who walks in off the street.

schmuckHave a fun Halloween everyone. Lou Reed, take us out.

Holy Cats! I’m Feeling Nostalgic.

Source: E-gor’s Chamber of TV Horror Hosts

In the late ‘80’s Nashville made a stab at renewing downtown with a summer event called City Lights. I’m not sure how this was supposed to revive the riverfront since it was basically a collection of temporary vendor booths and performance stages that got knocked together for a few days, gave out free stuff or hosted musical acts, and then disappeared for another year, but it was fun to go and walk around. I’d pick up a t-shirt or two and tried sushi there for the first time. It was pretty good, but that’s another story.

When it started I’d go with my parents but as I got older I had other things to do on the weekends. One year my parents went the first night. I skipped it to go hang out with my friends. When I got home my mother handed me some free swag she’d gotten, including a card that immediately piqued my interest. I asked her about it.

“Oh, he was the funniest guy, but no one knew who he was.”

I knew who he was because I was a huge fan of Commander USA. I couldn’t believe it. Because I’d skipped City Lights I missed meeting the closest thing to a hero I had at that time. No, I didn’t think Commander USA was a real superhero. I was a fan because I loved horror hosts. I loved it that this was an actual job. Most horror hosts I knew came on late at night so it was almost as though they were getting away with something, like they’d snuck in to the station and were playing around after the adults had gone home.

Commander USA’s Groovie Movies came on in the middle of the day on Saturday so he seemed to violate that rule, and, being on a national cable network, I felt he was breaking another rule of horror hosts. Like Creature Feature in St. Petersburg Florida or Nashville’s own Sir Cecil Creape I thought horror hosts should be strictly local. Then again the USA Network was a fledgling enterprise at that time and was still decades away from being a docking station for Law & Order and NCIS reruns.

And he was funny. Jim Hendricks, who played Commander USA, was hilariously sarcastic and seemed to have a genuinely good time. The mother of a friend of mine taped the original Little Shop of Horrors one Saturday when he hosted it. She was compiling a huge movie library by sitting through films and using the pause button to edit out the commercials because this was the ‘80’s and VCRs were a new thing. She later said she regretted not recording Commander USA’s segments.

That was nothing compared to the regret I felt about missing my chance to meet Commander USA.

Hendricks is briefly interviewed in the documentary American Scary about horror hosts, but beyond that I haven’t been able to find out anything about him. Wherever you are, Mr. Hendricks, I still carry a copy of the Commander USA fan club card and try to remain true to its promise to remain an all around good guy forever. Sure!

Cereal Killer.

monstercerealsThe truth is I get excited about Halloween because it’s the only time of year I can get the monster cereals. When I was a kid Count Chocula, Frankenberry, and Boo Berry were available year-round, and for a while there was even Yummy Mummy. For my own particular reasons I’d also welcome the return of Fruit Brute, but that’s another story.

Even though they were available I couldn’t have monster cereals when I was a kid. This was mainly because my mother had read Why Your Child Is Hyperactive by Benjamin Feingold and concluded that sugar was making me not only hyperactive but also frequently moody. And to her credit I did seem to feel a lot better when I was switched to shredded wheat—although for some reason she didn’t buy the regular shredded wheat cereal that came in little tiny squares but a mutant shredded wheat that came in huge biscuits and had the same texture and taste as steel wool. Two were enough to fill a bowl and I could rarely finish one, so maybe things changed because I didn’t have the energy to be hyperactive.


Hey, they’re actually healthy!

It’s also probably a good thing I never had monster cereals when I was a kid because one of the commercials—I swear this is true—gave me nightmares. Or at least a nightmare. At the end of a commercial Boo Berry, who’s switched off the lights, says, “I’m in the dark!” Frankenberry says, “Me too!” An unseen three-eyed monster adds, “Me three!” The other two run off in terror.

Shortly afterward I had a nightmare that a man came into my room and hypnotized me so I could be eaten by a giant three-eyed monster.

Shredded wheat did nothing to diminish my hyperactive imagination.

I didn’t really miss the monster cereals having never had them, but at times it did feel like they were taunting me. For a brief monstercereals1time General Mills had some kind of commercial agreement with the now-defunct theme park Opryland and you could occasionally see Frankenberry or Count Chocula strolling among the rides. I never did see Boo Berry but I guess he was floating around somewhere. Boo Berry was the one I always wanted to try, partly because it was blue and therefore the most clearly unnatural of the monster cereals, but also because he sounded like Peter Lorre. As a short overweight kid with a funny voice I always felt a kinship with Lorre.

Now that I’m an adult I can enjoy the monster cereals and if I get hyperactive or moody I can go for a run or do something to clear my head. Admittedly even at this time of year the cereals still aren’t exactly easy to find. My regular grocery store doesn’t carry them. The only place I found that does is a big box store that shall remain nameless because I’ve given out enough free advertising as it is. Last year the monster cereals were in with the Halloween costumes because they’re basically made from the same material. This year they weren’t so I tried looking—strange as it may seem—in the food section. No luck. Finally a helpful employee directed me to a temporary stand in the middle of the baby clothes—again, basically the same material.

Eating the monster cereals has even been an educational experience. Here are some things I’ve learned:


2014’s well-drawn Boo Berry.


2015’s mutant mouth Boo Berry.

-Last year Boo Berry looked a lot cooler because he was drawn by DC Comics artist Jim Lee. Frankenberry and Count Chocula were also reinterpreted by other DC Comics artists. This year they’ve reverted to the version of Boo Berry with a weird internal mouth flap which had some people scratching their heads back in 2010.

-In milk Count Chocula will quickly go from dark brown to light brown and tastes a lot like shredded wheat. The other two don’t taste like any berry I’ve ever tried, but are pretty sweet. And fortunately Frankenberry’s head has been redrawn so it looks less like an ass.


From the back of the box: a series of pictures showing how his ass-head has evolved.

-One of the advantages of being a grownup is I can eat a bowl of each one right after the other.

-One of the disadvantages of being a grownup is if I eat a bowl of each one right after the other I get sick.

-All three use the same design. I guess really they’re all ghosts.


Also the marshmallows have been replaced by 100% recyclable packing material.

The most annoying thing is the cereals only come in mutant “family size” boxes. Who am I going to get to help me eat all this cereal?

Yeah, I admit it, I’ll eat it all myself. And then I’ll be hyperactive and moody and need shredded wheat or maybe just eat some steel wool to detox.

Here’s a collection of monster cereal commercials. The one that gave me a nightmare starts at around the 9 minute mark.

In The Cloud.

cloudsAs we move into fall the mornings have started to get foggy. Mostly it’s only the low-lying areas, but I’m sure in another week or two I’ll step outside and instead of looking through the trees for Venus in the southeast I’ll see mist. Every time I see fog it brings back a strange childhood memory. My friend Troy and I were standing on my driveway. This was at the house where I lived from when I was four until I finished college. The house is just at the edge of a ridge. Troy’s house was at the bottom so I could look down on it. In the distance ridges of hills seemed to go all the way around so sometimes I’d sit in my room and feel like I was on the inside edge of a giant bowl.

It was cloudy and I think there might have even been a light rain. Troy and I were looking toward the Brentwood area, off to the northwest, to the hills just this side of I-65 where new apartment and business complexes were being built. That must have been why there were cranes that we could barely see through the thick mist. It was miles away but I swear I could hear gears grinding.

“A cloud fell,” Troy said. “They’re trying to put it back up.”

This is one of those memories that’s completely isolated from anything else, like a loose bead that used to be part of a necklace. I can’t remember why we were there or what I said after Troy said that. He may have even been kidding, but from his face he was completely serious. And it made me wonder about clouds. If they could be put back up were they solid? I imagined that people must live in the clouds—and this was years before I read James And The Giant Peach, but when I did I felt a strange sense of recognition. Dahl’s “Cloud-Men” are frightening and take sadistic pleasure in sending down hail and other bad weather, but they’re also seen painting a rainbow and getting ready to lower it to Earth. They’re not all good and they’re not all bad. They’re like everybody else. Maybe that’s why it doesn’t bother me, when I see fog, to think that maybe it’s brought some of the cloud people down with it. And I wonder if they need help getting back up.

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