Category Archives: oldies

How It Should Be… According to Mickey

A 1951 Schwinn Spitfire like mine in 1963 when the world was golden.

My bicycle was red. It was red and looked just like the ones that Captain Kangaroo had in his commercials that we watched on a black-and-white TV every day before we walked or rode our bicycle to school, across town a whole long seven blocks away. After school I could ride it out a whole mile and a half to Jack’s farm with Bobby and Richard and Mark the preacher’s kid to go skinny dipping in the cold creek in Jack’s South pasture. Jack was younger than any of us except Bobby. And it was a golden age.

Spiderman comic books and Avengers comic books cost twelve cents to own, but they were forbidden. And as much as we sneaked them and passed them around until they fell apart, usually in Bobby’s hands, we never knew that Dr. Wertham had gone to Congress to make our parents believe that comic books would make us gay and violent. He was a psychiatrist who wrote a book, so even if you didn’t believe him, you had to worry about such things.

I believed in Santa Claus until 1967. And after I found out, I only despaired a tiny little bit, because I began to understand you have to grow up. And adults can lie to you, even if they don’t do it to be mean. And the world is a hard place. And the golden age ended in November of 1963 when JFK was assassinated.

In June of 1968 I rode my bicycle out to the Bingham Park woods, Once there, I took off all my clothes and put them in the bicycle basket, and then I rode up and down the walking paths through the trees with nothing between me and God but my skin. I had a serious think about how life should be. All the while I was terrified that someone might see me. I was naked and vulnerable. A mere two years before that I had been sexually assaulted and was terrified of older boys, especially when I was naked and vulnerable. But I was a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals and Bob Gibson. They were repeated World Series winners. And they beat the Yankees in the series in 1964. And more important than that, cardinals were the little red songbirds who never flew away when the winter came. You don’t give up in the face of hardship. You face the trouble. No matter how deep the snow may pile up.

And in 1969, the first man to walk on the moon showed that a Star Trek world was in reach of mankind. Star Trek was on every afternoon after school. I watched a lot of those episodes at Verner’s house on his family’s black-and-white TV. The Klingons were always bested or beaten because the crew of the Enterprise outsmarted them. You can solve the problems of the universe with science. I know this because of all the times Mr. Spock proved it to me not just by telling me so, but by showing me how you do it. And what you can achieve is greatly enhanced if you work together like Spock and Kirk and Bones… and sometimes Scotty always did.

So, what is the way it should be? What did Mickey decide while naked in the forest like a Dakota Sioux shaman on a spirit-quest?

JFK’s 104th birthday was on May 29th. Dr. Wertham has been dead for 40 years. Bob Gibson was 85 when he passed away in October of last year. Captain Kirk turned 90 in March of this year.

The Golden age is long gone. There is no single set of rules that can clearly establish how it should be now. But I like those ideas of how it should be that I established for myself while naked on a Schwinn Spitfire in a forest long ago.

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Filed under autobiography, cardinals, comic book heroes, commentary, humor, inspiration, oldies, Paffooney, philosophy

Don’t Think Too Much

These days my head works overtime, filling itself up with memories, fears, complicated notions, and problems that need to be solved.

Today I need to uncomplicate the clutter in the entryway to the thinking room (what you might call a study) in the quaint little labyrinth of my stupidly dense and moronic, overworked little mind.

Today I am simply going to re-compose my 1965 letter to Santa to ask for things I should’ve wanted, rather than the junk I asked for.

Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots! Yes! Those would help me relieve that 9-year-old’s stress I earned by a foolish insistance on spelling words the way they sounded instead of the way that would get it right on Miss Mennenga’s spelling tests.

Punching things more might’ve made it easier to cope with a 9-year-old life.

But there are things in the 1965 Monkey Ward’s Christmas Catalog I saw, and maybe would’ve played with more than the G.I. Joe junk I was obsessed with, and would’ve been better for me in the long run. The rubber G.I. Joe scuba suit I got that Christmas melted a couple of years later in the box I was keeping it in when I left it on the back window ledge of the 1961 Ford Fairlane. I could’ve tried…

Gumby, dammit!

He wouldn’t have melted. He would’ve simply galvanized into a brick-hard substance that would never bend again, the way my little sister’s red Gumby did a couple of years later. Maybe a brick hard green Gumby couldn’t have been played with either. But it would’ve been useful for throwing at sisters when I was mad.

And I could’ve gotten my own Barbie and Ken.

Then I wouldn’t have had to borrow my sister’s dolls to look at them naked and marvel at how much they didn’t look like real people naked. Or practice making hangmen’s nooses from bright-colored yarn, sentence them to hang by the neck from the bottom rails of the upper bunk, and blame it all on my little brother. (Really he should get all the credit anyway, since he and my littlest sister actually got caught doing it the first time by my other sister, and I just stole the whole idea from him.)

I definitely could’ve learned more about the world of 3-D cartoon characters if I’d gotten one of these. In fact, we, the four of us kids, did get one two Christmases later. I know a heckuva lot about 3-D Woody Woodpecker, looking at those six discs a thousand times each.

And building toys like these kept us fascinated for hours.

And we argued for hours more whenever Mickey built a helicopter or a submarine or a windmill that he didn’t want the other three to take apart again to build something else.

This thing was great at teaching patience and focus. You wouldn’t believe how easily the pen would slip, or the little gear teeth wouldn’t mesh properly. The few bad words I actually knew in 1967 got practiced too often for these very reasons. It would be two more years in the future that we got one of these to share too.

In 1965, Dear Santa, you should’ve thought more about how to train an evil little mind than how to make a little G.I. Joe-obsessed boy happy.

Although, you sure did get it right in 1966 with that Mercury Capsule for G.I. Joe.

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Filed under autobiography, nostalgia, oldies, playing with toys

How to Talk to Real People

While visiting in Iowa, I ran into an old high school friend at a local eatery. I remember how in high school and junior high, I played basketball on the same team with him, I listened to his exaggerations about a probably non-existent sex life, and helped him on one or two occasions to get answers on Math homework (even then the teacher in me wouldn’t let me just give him the answers, I always made him work out the answers step by step).

Now he is a judgmental and basically crabby old coot. He is a Trump supporter, hater of immigrants who take American jobs, and an unpleasant arguer of politics. And the sorest point about his intractable coot-i-ness is the fact that, as a classmate, he is the same age as me and I am, therefore, just as intractably coot-y as he is.

So, how exactly do you talk to a mean old coot?

Well, you have to begin by realizing that it is not like the dialogue in a novel or TV show. This is a real person I was talking to. So, I had to proceed by accepting that he thinks I am an idiot and anything I say and think is wrong. Not merely wrong, but “That’s un-American and will lead to a communist takeover of our beloved country!” sort of wrong. I can then laugh off numerous Neo-Nazi assertions by him, make snarky comments about his praises for the criminal president, and generally get along with him like old friends almost always do. I play my part just as furiously as he plays his, and we both enjoy the heck out of it.

We are both of us crazy old coots, likely to say just about anything to get the other one’s goat. Getting goats is apparently vital to the conversations of real people. But we have more in common than we have as differences. We don’t keep score in our world-shaking debates, nor do we count how many goats we get. And that is how you talk to real people.

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Filed under characters, humor, insight, oldies, Paffooney

Old and Grumpy

Suppose being grumpy was a super power, and we could, as a grumpy old brotherhood of geezers, coots, and conservative uncles, could change things just by complaining about them.

No woman would ever leave a toilet seat down again. The Dunkin’ Donuts on Frankford Road would magically reopen and never run out of donuts again. And liver spots and wrinkles would suddenly be attractive to beautiful young women whether they were linked to fortunes or not.

But what if, in order to make better use of this unexplainable super power, we start telling old coots like the fool in the picture that they have to prove they will use this super power only for good, or we will raise their taxes? Or we would forbid them from ever eating bacon again? Either of those things would definitely motivate them.

Of course, the biggest problem with geezers, old coots, and conservative uncles that no one wants to sit next to at Thanksgiving is that they don’t generally get smarter and nicer with age. It is probably not wise to give them a super power that can alter reality. Yes, they are generally quite literally mean-spirited and unqualifiably dumb. And it isn’t really a matter of whether they could ever actually have a super power like that. The real problem is that they already have it. They proved it in 2016 when they elected a gigantic orange-faced Pillsbury Doughboy with mental flatulence to lead our government. And it wasn’t the dumb part that did it. It was the literally mean part. Trump is a walking, talking old coot-complaint given to us by mean old men to tell us, “We are unhappy geezers, coots, and conservative uncles who would rather blow up the government than lift a single tax dollar (especially from a rich dude) to try and fix it”.

What we truly need to do is harness a bit of that grumpy-old-man complaining power, a truly misunderstood and misused super power, to tackle problems like making public schools better, cleaning the environment, and electing smarter leaders (not the stupid ones who actually represent the majority of us). But of course, we will first have to turn off the spigots in the brewery of prejudice and ignorance that is Fox News, and brand all the greedy and stupid people with a red letter “R” for Trumpian Republican. That way, knowing who to vote for to make things better will become easier to the point that even us geezers, old coots, and conservative uncles can do it right.

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Filed under angry rant, commentary, goofy thoughts, humor, oldies, Paffooney, satire

Cranky Old Coots Complain and Don’t Care

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Yes, I am a coot.  I became a coot in 2014 when I retired. I have the hair in the ears to prove it.  I sometimes forget to wear pants.  The dog is learning to hide from me on days when my arthritis makes me cranky.

So I am a practicer of the ancient art of being a cranky old coot.  I have opinions.  I share them with others foolishly. And I am summarily told to, “Shut up, you danged old coot!”  And, of course, I don’t shut up because that would be a violation of number five in the by-laws of cootism.  Obnoxiousness is our only reason for still being alive.

Lately, my group of coots on Facebook (who call themselves a “pack” like wolves, but, in truth, a group of coots is called an “idiocy”) are talking about politics… very loudly salted with firmly held opinions, beliefs, and bad words in several languages.  I mean, it’s texting each other on memes we disagree about, but we do it LOUDLY, like that, in all caps.  We also do it in such an infuriating manner because, if no one ever bothers to tell us to “Shut the hell up!”  we will begin to suspect we have actually died and gone to purgatory where we are still being obnoxious, but nobody knows we are doing it.  That is rubbing coot fur in the wrong direction.

The radical right (otherwise known as coot paradise) have been cooting up a storm about school shootings and gun control of late.  They have more or less turned their ire on me because, knowing I was a school teacher, they have seized on the Coot in Chief’s notion of arming teachers to protect schools.  Obviously a majority of old coots agree that requiring a few “volunteer” teachers to conceal carry and learn how to handle a school shooter crisis situation with a gun instead of the way teachers are actually trained and practiced on handling such a situation, is the only economical way to defend schools from crazed lunatics with assault weapons.  Of course, it is definitely more economical than hiring full time police officers to handle security because “volunteer” teachers does not mean that they are necessarily willing to do it, but rather that they are doing it without pay.  And of course they shout at me things like, “Why don’t you just admit that you are too scared and unpatriotic to carry a gun as a teacher, and cowardly allow some female teacher with a big pistol to step in and do the job for you?”  That is a very coot thing to say, and is hard to adequately counter, because if you try to argue using logic other than coot-logic, like the notion that since a majority of teachers in this country are female, you are asking women who are fierce enough to do the job (and I have known more than a few who would take it on no matter how hopeless their prospects) to take a handgun that the principal bought at Walmart with money from the Coke machine in the hall and face down a suicidal maniac with an assault rifle, you will not even be heard over the cacophony of coot braying and chest-thumping, let alone be understood.

And, for some reason, coots love Trump.  Maybe because they feel he is truly one of them.  He is older than dirt.  He has an epicly bad comb-over to hide his bald spot.  He says bad words very loudly in front of women, children, and everybody.  He says, “Believe me,” a lot, especially when telling lies.  And he’s not afraid to fart in public and blame it on the dog.  I admit to insulting Trump in front of them only because I like to see coot faces fold up in extra wrinkles, and coot heads turn various shades of angry red and apoplectic purple.

So, yes.  I am a coot.  Not proud to be one… that I can remember, but a coot never-the-less.

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Filed under angry rant, commentary, feeling sorry for myself, foolishness, goofy thoughts, grumpiness, gun control, humor, Liberal ideas, oldies, Paffooney, teaching

Being Old Enough to Know Better…

I am the man from the Setting Sun,

Come to the future to deliver the past.

What does that even mean, that silly little two-line poem I wrote twenty years ago?  Am I not old enough to know better than to create a snippet loaded with goofy contradictions?  Apparently not.  But I am old enough to deliver the past.  I have been around long enough that I remember when President Kennedy was assassinated.  I saw Neil Armstrong take that “small step for man” on the surface of the moon.  I have learned a number of lessons from the past.  And as a writer, I can deliver those lessons in the form of stories.  I was born in a different century.  I have been around for more than half of one… approaching two thirds.  I have collected all kinds of wonderful things in my goofy old brain.  And make no doubt about it, with six incurable diseases and being a cancer survivor since 1983, my Sun is about the set.  So, I have a mission, to open the eyes of people who are too foolish to avoid listening to what I have to say, or to read what I have written.

I saw The Sound of Music starring Julie Andrews in the Cecil Theater in Mason City, Iowa in 1965 when I was not yet ten years old.  I heard the song My Favorite Things for the very first time on the old black and white Motorola TV set in the clip I posted at the start of this post.  Kukla, Fran, and Ollie was a puppet show I never missed on Saturdays if I could help it.  In a world before video games and computers and even color TV, kids still had priorities.  And my world was definitely a world of imagination.

Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Moose

Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Moose

Fess Parker as Davy Crockett, and then as Daniel Boone

Fess Parker as Davy Crockett, and then as Daniel Boone

Paul Winchell with Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff

Paul Winchell with Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff

So, what kind of knucklehead must I be to think younger folks would want to know about any of this stuff from the time of dinosaurs and black-and-white TV?  I write books that are basically genre-breakers and about way too many different things to make sense to adults.  As a result, I classify myself as a Young Adult novelist, a writer for children… but not the beginning reader kind, or the early chapter-book kind… the kind like Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, Light in the Forest, or Dicey’s Song.  I write books about what it was like to be a kid in the past… the 1960’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s… last century.  And I have some knowledge and expertise in this area because I was one of those teachers during that time period that got to know the kids in my classes.  I made the horrifying mistake of actually talking to kids, asking them about their lives, and listening to their answers.  I talked about all manner of things with all manner of kids… brilliant things and stupid things… with dumb kids, smart kids, smelly kids, charming kids, and the kids everybody else hated.  You know… I did all the stupid mistakes that teachers who have no earthly idea how to do discipline would do, and got those kids to learn to behave at least halfway like human beings by being somebody they trusted and respected and… on rare occasions… believed.  Right now I am working on Snow Babies.  It is set in 1984.  And I hope to be good enough of a Sunset Man to be able to deliver it to the future.

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Filed under humor, NOVEL WRITING, oldies