A look back

While out driving one morning

It is still winter, but we have had some warm sunny days lately. I took this picture while returning home from the library a few days ago.

***

A friend of mine recently moved to Cologne (Köln), Germany (Deutschland). She has been posting pictures, and sending me pictures that she has taken in the short time she has been there. I must admit to a wave of nostalgia sweeping over me when I started looking at those photos. I’ve written before about being stationed in Heidelberg when I was in the military. Some of those memories popped back into my mind.

I decided that rather than just jumping into my writing, I should first go back and look at everything that I had previously posted. I found that a) I hadn’t mentioned Heidelberg in a post for nearly five years, b) one of the few stories I mentioned was about drinking wine with a guy with whom I was stationed, and c) when I did mention Heidelberg it was mainly in relation to music albums that I bought there. By the way, writing about music was originally a focus of Classical Gasbag.

In this post I want to expand on my story about drinking wine with my buddy. As I mentioned before, my friend’s name was, and perhaps still is, Lou. When we were able, and when the weather permitted, we would walk to the student section of downtown Heidelberg, buy a bottle of wine, and cross the bridge to sit on the bank of the Neckar River.

Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain, was said to love the beauty of the Neckar River and Neckar Valley. I agree that the valley is beautiful, but when I was in Heidelberg, the Neckar was one of the most polluted rivers that I had ever seen. Lou and I, however, weren’t as much interested in the river as with the coeds who came to the river bank to work on their tans.

But we also spent the time passing the bottle back and forth while we talked about the state of the world. In our case, the world revolved around the war in Vietnam and rock and roll. We talked about what we would do when we got out of the army. We talked about the girls we had been dating when we were shipped to Germany. And we occasionally talked about politics. I’m sure that our conversation became more profound as we neared the bottom of the bottle.

By the way, the wine we chose was not a wonderful Riesling, but rather a cheap bottle of strawberry flavored wine that Lou introduced into my life. I guess you could say that it was a German version of Boone Farm. What were we thinking?

40 year anniversary

The blizzard of ’78

Forty years ago today, January 25th, a record-setting blizzard struck Indiana. Well, it struck other areas as well, but I live in Indiana, so that’s how I think of it. And it was memorable to me for more than just the weather. I’ll get to that part in just a bit. For a little information on the actual storm you can go to http://indianapublicmedia.org/news/indiana-spared-years-blizzard-1978-77397/ where there is also a link to more pictures similar to the one above.

My memory, however, begins at work, a few hours before the storm arrived. At that time I lived three blocks from where I worked. As usual I had walked to the office. I didn’t feel up to par that morning, but I felt good enough to work. As the morning progressed I started feeling worse. So when I left for my lunch break I told my supervisor that I was taking the afternoon off as half a sick day. As I walked home I felt weaker and a bit light-headed. I got to the house where I rented the upstairs apartment, climbed the stairs and let myself in, undressed and collapsed into bed. I fell asleep and didn’t wake up until the next morning.

When I awoke I found that we had been hit by a blizzard, and that I was snowbound in my apartment. I was still weak, but that didn’t stop me from lighting my first cigarette of the day. I was sitting in my living room, drinking coffee and smoking when I realized that I only had a half a pack of cigarettes to get me through. That didn’t bode well for a person who was currently smoking two and half packs a day. Still, I didn’t worry overmuch. I figured I could go out and buy a carton of cigarettes before I was out of them completely.

I felt really weak and tired, but I bundled up and went downstairs to walk to a mom-and-pop grocery store that was a couple of blocks away. When I tried to go out however, I found a snowdrift about three feet high that was blocking me from opening the door. I was too weak to push it open. Well, that wasn’t good.

I went back inside and once again collapsed on the bed. When I awoke two or three hours later I reached for my cigarettes and counted them. I had four left. I lit one and started thinking. Maybe I had a pack or a partial pack in a jacket pocket in my closet. I hustled to the closet and started searching through my jackets. All I found was a cigar that a jubilant new father had given me quite a while previously. It was better than nothing.

I decided to smoke the cigar before finishing my last few cigarettes, so I removed the It’s a Boy! wrapper, stuck the cigar in my mouth, and gently bit into the end of it. The cigar was evidently older than I had remembered, because it crumbled in my mouth when I bit. Talk about nasty!

I finished off my remaining three cigarettes within a few hours. It was another two days before I was recovered and strong enough to get out of my apartment. When I walked to the store I found that they were completely sold out of tobacco products, not to mention things like milk and Twinkies.

To wrap up this story, tomorrow, January 26th, will be my fortieth anniversary of non-smoking. I’ll see if I can go another ten or twenty years.

***

By the way, thanks to my friend Anju who graciously let me use the picture she took as the new header photo on Classical Gasbag.

Memories of Marilyn Monroe

Yes, it is Marilyn

This is my new mousepad. It is a Christmas gift. I have conflicting thoughts about dragging a mouse over Marilyn’s face. I’m sure that I’ll use it eventually, but not today.

Why was I given a Marilyn Monroe mousepad? It is a convoluted story, but one that I’m ready to relate.

It began more than fifteen years ago. Back then my camera of choice was a 35mm Nikon. I took many pictures, and as a result, I often received different types of picture frames as gifts. One year,Trina gave me a carousel type of frame that held ten or twelve 4X6 pictures. I decided to put black and white pictures of family and friends in the rotating frames because it was faux pewter and I thought B&W photos looked better. So I went through my photos and chose photos of the proper size. Unfortunately, I was shy two photos to fill all the frames.

At that point I had a mischievous thought. I went online and downloaded a B&W picture of Marilyn Monroe, and one of Bridgett Bardot. I printed them and used them to fill the frames. Then I took it to my office cubicle in Indianapolis and set it on my desk. People would stop by to chat, and would occasionally spin through the photos. Nobody said anything until it had been there for a few weeks. Then my boss, who was pretty sharp, asked me about those two pictures. I told her that they were pictures of past girlfriends. She smiled and gave me a “sure they are” look and let it drop.

A few months later I brought the pictures home to our new house, and installed it in our home office. I didn’t think much about it until our granddaughter Macey, who was very young, and one of her friends came across the pictures, and asked me about them. I told hem the same story that they were old girlfriends. They were outraged that I would display pictures of old girlfriends when I was married to Grandma Cindy.

Later that day they sneaked (or snuck, take your pick) into the office and tried to steal the photos so that they could destroy them and defend Grandma Cindy’s honor.

Shortly after that they were shopping in the mall with Cindy. It must have been around Christmas because they were looking a calendars. The girls came running up to Cindy and declared in a loud voice that my girlfriend must be famous because her picture was on a calendar. Cindy tells me that all of the people around them started laughing.

Ever since those days, Marilyn Monroe has been my former girlfriend, and people give me MM themed gifts. I wonder if the girls have figured out yet that Marilyn was 19 years older than me?

Striking Matches – A Frictional Account

The furniture in question
The furniture in question

One of my favorite gifts this past Christmas (confession: they are all my favorites) is a simple set of various incense aromas with a holder/burner. It came in a wooden box with a clear glass, or plastic (I haven’t checked yet) cover. It is very nice and fits on top of a new piece of furniture that holds most of my jazz and pop vocal CDs, as well as all of my DVDs of musical performances. If I sound proud of that piece of furniture it is because I put it together without attaching any of the shelves upside down. I think it was a first for me.

I don’t know about you, but when lighting incense I often wish that I had a functioning third hand. No, I don’t have a non-functioning third hand. When I light incense I need one hand to hold the incense. But I also need a hand to hold the matchbook and a third hand to strike the match. I suppose that I could light a candle that is in a holder and then use it as the flame for the incense, but that seems like a step too many.

I don’t remember when I burned my first stick or cone of incense. It was probably when I was in college, but it might have been when I was in the army. Often when I burn incense and play a jazz album I think of our barracks when I was stationed in Heidelberg, Germany.That may be a false memory, but it seems. real to me.

I’ve written about false memories over the years. The first time was early in the life of Classical Gasbag. I don’t think about it often, but now as I look back at my younger days, I sometimes wonder if I’m remembering a truth or what I wish were the truth. How much have I blurred my mental line between fact and hopeful fiction?

I would be perfectly happy if some of my memories, the ones of which I am ashamed, were a fiction. But then, if they were a fiction, why in the world would I be making up such dreadful things and blushing at the thought of them? I makes me believe that I actually did say and/or do those things.

Are you thoroughly confused yet? I’m going to stop before I confuse myself.

If you have any memories that you know are false, or suspect are false, feel free to share them. You can either leave a comment or fill in the form below and submit it.

Journeys Part 3a

Playground
Playground

I took this picture Saturday morning before there were any children around. It probably would have been a better picture with children. But then I would have had to explain to the parents why I was taking pictures of their kids. This is better for me.

***

I’m sure that you have heard the expression “Life is a journey.” That is a concept that I’ll be returning to as I go along in this journey of exploring journeys. An aspect that I want to write about today is some of the changes I’ve witnessed as I have lived my life. Cindy and I were talking about this a few days ago when she remarked that she didn’t think her children lived in a time when people didn’t cook with microwave ovens. That made me think about other changes that I’ve witnessed over the years. I started making a list of things that have come along; including some that are already gone. Related to cooking, and earlier than widespread use of microwaves, were TV dinners. I’ve never been a fan, but there are still a lot to choose from in the frozen food aisle at U.S. supermarkets. And now that I think of it, I believe self-cleaning ovens were introduced in the 1960’s. But that is just a guess on my part.

Also in the supermarket is a larger selection of fruit and other produce. Much of it is now available all year or during longer periods of the year rather than during specific harvest periods.

Off the top of my head I would also add that there is a larger selection of affordable beer and wine in most supermarkets. Here in Indiana hard liquor has also been added to our supermarket selection.

Cindy also mentioned that television stations used to sign off at night. If you turned the TV on during the hours they didn’t broadcast shows, you would see a test pattern. It is also likely in those early years that what you saw was in black and white. The 1960’s brought the beginnings of large-scale color television programming. That is when my father, always an early adopter when it came to television, bought his first color TV. He had earlier purchased a Sylvania TV with its famous halo light to save us from eye strain. Once we had a color TV, my mother decided that she no longer wanted to watch anything that was broadcast in black and white. A bit snooty if you ask me.

Since then there have been upgrades in sound and picture quality, including stereo broadcasts. There are giant screen TVs including projection TVs. We also have flat screen plasma and LED TVs. Oh, and there also now curved screen TVs and 3D television sets. Of course, many people prefer to watch their shows on computer monitors, tablets, and smart phones. Talk about eye strain.

I have barely scratched the surface of my list, so I’ll soon be returning to this subject. Feel free to share any changes that you witnessed in a comment. I would enjoy seeing them.

 

Journeys Part 2

House on a quiet Saturday evening
House on a quiet Saturday evening

I was out taking pictures Saturday evening when I came across this house. It was a lovely evening despite the overcast sky. There was the smell of charcoal in the air from outdoor grilling, and I was listening to Garrison Keillor’s final installment of “A Prairie Home Companion.” I haven’t been a constant listener over the years. I started listening haphazardly when I lived in Auburn back in the 1970’s and 80’s. I made a point of listening to the last update from Lake Wobegon on Saturday. I’m glad that it wasn’t raining because it would have been a real downer if it had been gloomy.

***

Today I want to talk a bit about my journey as a writer. I use the term writer as “one who writes” not necessarily one who writes well. I’ve probably written about this journey before in posts, certainly in letters and emails to friends, so I hope that you won’t be bored with my repetition.

The first time that I remember having a conscious thought about wanting to be a professional writer was when I read a book of humor by Jack Douglas. That was when I was in high school. Jack Douglas became known to me through Jack Paar, the predecessor of Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. Paar mentioned one of Douglas’ books on his show. Douglas had been a writer for Paar…perhaps he still was at the time. The book that I read was titled “Never Trust A Naked Bus Driver,” and I thought that it was hilarious. When I look at it now I realize that my taste in humor has matured somewhat. But at the time I decided that I wanted to write humor like Douglas. I tried, but I wasn’t very good.

I continued to work at writing in high school and into college. I spread out beyond straight humor when I was influenced by other authors such as Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, Ian Fleming, and other authors who appealed to young male minds. My writing didn’t improve very much.

Then at some point in college I decided that I would try my hand at poetry; convinced that it would impress the coeds. Looking back I can think of no reason why poetry would impress any of the coeds that I knew. But I tried. And I failed in large part because I kept injecting lame humor into my rhymes. I also felt that alliteration was an important aspect of my poems. What was I thinking?

I also started writing letters while in college, and that carried on into my time in the army. I actually think that I became quite good at writing letters. It was something that I enjoyed.

Of course I also wrote many papers while I was in college. My professors and instructors always told me that I needed to add more to that papers to fill them out. I worked at that, and it came to help me later when I was working for the State of Indiana. I spent a few years working in our agency’s Policy & Planning section in the administrative office. Succinctness was never a high priority in that department.

And now I have a blog. I write what I want, when I want to write. I can be succinct or I can be wordy. I love that freedom. I have also started two novels during the past two National Novel Writing Months. I haven’t truly finished either, but I enjoy writing a long cohesive story with occasional wanderings from the main narrative. I’ll probably never truly finish either novel, but I’ll keep working on them.

So that’s my journey in writing. I’ll have other journeys to share later.

I wear a black hat

I'm working amidst clutter
I’m working amidst clutter

I set up the laptop on the end of our dining room table. I’ve been doing that a lot lately. I don’t have room in our office to set it up. When Cindy decides to do her work in the dining room as well, it really gets messy. I’ve decided to do more on the laptop even though I prefer our desktop PC. I know the PC will die someday…probably sooner rather than later, I think it is good that I start feeling more at ease with the laptop. I try to be progressive, but don’t ask me to use a tablet!

***

I am in a foul mood today. If your day is sunny and warm, stop reading. If you look out of your window and see rainbows and unicorns, don’t look here. I can’t guarantee that I won’t bring you down. I don’t want to burden you with the things that are bothering me. Today just about everything seems to be a dark cloud with NO silver lining, so I’ll deflect into something that won’t bring my blood to a quick boil.

When I worked for the State, our agency was always trying out the latest management fad. I remember sitting through training sessions on The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, The One Minute Manager, The Myers Briggs Personality Test (and how to use it as a tool in the office), and Six Thinking Hats. Our agency, in each case, decreed that we would be trained in the use of these tools, and that we would use them to make a better agency.

Half-hearted attempts would be made to implement and use the techniques for a period of time. The time period was usually long enough to get us past the next statewide manager’s meeting, where each manager would enthusiastically report on how well things worked, and then it would be quietly dropped. A few months later another fad would be discovered and another period of training, implementation, and reporting would occur. And so it went.

Generally speaking, the usefulness of these methods was proportional to how much attention the managers and supervisors paid in the training session, and how willing they were to change. Our managers hated change, so they seldom understood the concepts involved. Take the Six Thinking Hats as an example.

As I understand the process there are six ways that a person, or a group, can think to work on a problem or to develop a strategy. Each of these ways to think is assigned a different colored hat. Blue is for managing or determining what needs to be addressed and setting parameters. White is for information or determining the facts. Red is for instincts, or gut reactions. Black is for discernment or identifying reasons to be cautious. Yellow is optimistic or identifying benefits and seeking harmony. Green is creativity or statements of provocation.

When bringing this technique to bear on a problem each hat is supposed to be used. In this way a balanced approach will lead to a better informed decision. That is the theory as I understand it. Somewhere, out in the world, it may be  a useful technique. Not where I worked. As in all things, management used this process not so much to solve problems, but to use it a few times and then report success to the administrative office. The staff, who got even less training and who often viewed these fads with skepticism, couldn’t break out of their normal internal problem solving methods long enough to try thinking in a more balanced way. I understand. I have that problem. I wear a black hat.

Or at least that is the way I have been labelled by my wife. According to Cindy, I only see the negatives. That is her shorthand for discernment. I prefer to think of myself as often wearing the Blue, White, Red, Black and Yellow hats simultaneously. OK, maybe not so much the Yellow. I can occasionally wear the Green hat, but it isn’t my strong suit (or hat).

Still, I get tired of being labelled black hat because I try to see the entirety of a situation rather than just playing with the bunnies. I like playing with the bunnies also. But I keep my eyes peeled looking for the cat that is sneaking up on them.

That isn’t why I’m in a foul mood today, but I feel a tad better getting that off of my chest.