I am sorry, but today’s post will probably bore you unless you are a doll-collecting, obsessive-compulsive bag of mixed nuts like I am. These are the kinds of details that only interest the true collect-a-holic. You see in the picture my mint in-the-box Star Trek Barbie and Ken, 1996 30th Anniversary Edition. It was a difficult track-down. Now, you Google it and you can get one for 25 dollars on e-Bay without breaking a sweat. When I got hold of this in 1998, however, it was a bit tougher to find. It started with a trip to Goodwill. My wife loves the bargain clothing and especially the shoes. (She’s from the Philippines and has a touch of Imelda Marcos Footwear Disease.) While there, with my young son in tow, in the toy section… I discovered two loose Barbie and Ken dolls that actually weren’t naked. Barbie’s head was severely damaged, and she had lost a leg. Ken was in practically un-loved, un-played-with condition. Both had uniforms. The Star Trek uniforms you see here on the two figures in front. (Ken was missing the shoes, phaser, and communicator, but the original accessories were pretty small and pitiful anyway. Barbie had no fishnet stockings and no shoes, along with no working head.) Of course I had to buy these wonderful items. They cost me 25 cents apiece. Gonga! I hadn’t known that such a 12″ action figure existed! (Okay, really a doll, but, you know…) I immediately began a search of toy stores and junk shops in South Texas. At the time we had relatives in Dallas. So I went prowling there too. You wouldn’t believe the looks I used to get from parents wondering what a forty-something old man by himself wanted in the Barbie section of KayBee Toys. Now they see my gray hair and figure, ah yes, shopping for his granddaughter (of which I have none, but I digress.) Finally I found the rare item in a San Antonio flea market stall. And it only set me back fifteen dollars. Wotta find! It made my goofy old collector’s heart glad for a couple of months afterwards… heck, that’s not true either! Sixteen years later it still makes me giddy.
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I have been a conspiracy-theory nut for some time. Back in the 1970’s, my father and I went to a movie called Chariots of the Gods. It presented the insane theories of Erich von Daniken as if they were fact. It mentioned the Nazca Lines, Stonehenge, the Great Pyramid, and other ancient wonders and seemed to show depictions of ancient aliens in the art of those cultures. My father and I were convinced by his arguments and thought there really must be something to it. I went to college with a real hunger to learn more.
I was disappointed to learn later that the man was a completely unprofessional, untrained archeologist, and that he may have actually stolen his main thesis for the Chariots book from Carl Sagan and I. S. Shklovskii in their book, Intelligent Life in the Universe. Sagan would go on to say;
“That writing as careless as von Däniken’s, whose principal thesis is that our ancestors were dummies, should be so popular is a sober commentary on the credulousness and despair of our times. I also hope for the continuing popularity of books like Chariots of the Gods? in high school and college logic courses, as object lessons in sloppy thinking. I know of no recent books so riddled with logical and factual errors as the works of von Däniken.”
—Carl Sagan, Foreword to The Space Gods Revealed (quote and citation borrowed from Wikipedia)
So I went through a number of Sagan-influenced years of my life saying that there was no sound reason to believe that out of an infinity of places to visit, interstellar tourists would want to come and visit here. Does a normal, sane tourist want to go to an island full of cannibals? Our movies, after all, always depict us killing, dissecting, or taking advantage of alien visitors.
But then I discovered the whole story of the Roswell, New Mexico crash in 1947. Convinced at one point that the crash really was a Project Mogul weather balloon, I began to discover the work of another alien-visitor-obsessed gentleman by the name of Stanton Friedman. This man is much harder to dismiss. He has a master’s degree in physics and spent fourteen years as a nuclear physicist “for such companies as General Electric (1956–1959), Aerojet General Nucleonics (1959–1963), General Motors (1963–1966), Westinghouse (1966–1968), TRW Systems (1969–1970), and McDonnell Douglas, where he worked on advanced, classified programs on nuclear aircraft, fission and fusion rockets, and compact nuclear power plants for space applications. Since the 1980s, he has done related consultant work in the radon-detection industry. Friedman’s professional affiliations have included the American Nuclear Society, the American Physical Society, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and AFTRA.” (quoted from Wikipedia… I know, I know… but this is all verifiable information, not made up or imaginary like von Däniken’s.) He is also the first civilian to investigate the Roswell crash. He began by interviewing the air-base’s intelligence officer during the incident, Major Jesse Marcel.
More and more I became interested in the phenomenon and the people who research it. I have a pretty good list of liars and clowns who talk about aliens, and I will use some of that in a future post. There is comedy gold in that topic.
But I do believe that aliens are real and have visited our planet. I began researching the topic again for my novel, Catch a Falling Star, because it centers on an alien invasion and a clash between incompetent space travelers and single-minded Midwesterners who can’t possibly believe. There are just too many people surfacing with stories to tell about alien encounters, UFO sightings, and government cover-ups. People like Nick Pope, a former Minister from the British government, Paul Hellyer , a former Defense Minister from Canada, Edgar Mitchell, an Apollo astronaut, and numerous technicians and inventors from McDonnell-Douglas and other aircraft manufacturers are coming forward in legions to testify that things like this are very real.
The more I looked at the silly simpering grin on my old foolish face, the more I realized it needed a few things added. So I added a few of my dream babies. You know, those characters I have created in cartoons and novels who may have started with my own three kids, or kids I grew up with, or kids I taught over the years, but ended up with a large injection of my own mental DNA in their final, fictional selves. So here is a self portrait that I privately refer to by the title “Goofy Me”.
Having been a Jehovah’s Witness for a good part of the last twenty years, I am not in the habit of thinking holiday celebration. But they have moved on without me. I am a bah-humbug door-knocker no longer. So, I guess it’s time to recall how much this time of year used to mean to me. I searched my writing. So far the only holiday scene I have written is from Snow Babies. The characters in this scene are all severely snowed in and the electricity is out. They have decided to pass the time by putting up the Christmas tree without lights. The blizzard rages. It is an intense time where survival is not guaranteed. Hence, the need to remember the season.
Canto Seventy-Three – A Red, Green, and White Christmas Tree Block
The thing about the artificial Christmas tree, although it was plastic and solid forest green in a very unnatural way, was that it did look pretty good when you put all the right pegs into all the right slots and got it standing up by itself all full and fluffed out and green. It looked like a real tree… maybe… a little bit.
Denny handed a frosted red ball up to Valerie. Because she commanded the heights from the stepstool, she got to place each precious glass or plastic ornament. The Clarkes had a full string of bubble lights, but since the electricity was still out, Val didn’t see any reason to place the thing. The red ball went on the spot near the center front where Valerie had hung it the two years previous. The only difference was… well, the difference was… yes, the difference was… that Tommy Bons, all attitude and dirty blue jacket was standing in the spot where… you know, the spot where… the spot where someone needed to stand to catch Valerie if she overbalanced and fell towards the tree. The place where last year… her father stood.
Pidney was watching with some concern. “Why are there tears in your eyes, Val?” he asked stupidly.
“Well, I… no reason.”
Tommy caught her flitting glance with his steady blue gaze. He looked deeply into her eyes. Then, she saw what she never expected to see. Tears stood in his eyes too. Without saying or hearing a word about it, he understood. He knew. She could see it in his eyes. He knew what it was. He hadn’t just lost his father. Both of them. At once. In a car crash. Like Ponyboy in the Outsiders. Jeez she loved that book.
“You gonna put up the Santa thingy?” Pidney asked.
Mary Philips pulled the Santa thingy out of the box. It was made of Styrofoam balls, red felt, white cotton fluff, and black button eyes. And when she turned it over, on the bottom, it said, “to pretty little Princess, from Daddy Kyle.” The tears came like rain. Valerie crumpled into Tommy’s arms, weeping desperately.
“I… I don’t understand,” said Pidney. “I thought putting up a Christmas tree was a happy thing.”
Valerie had both arms wrapped around Tommy, squeezing the juice out of him, and crying like her heart was breaking. No… not breaking… broken. Shattered into little shards of glass, and scattered like snowflakes on a December morning.
Wordlessly Mary showed Pid what was written in black felt-tip marker on the bottom of the Santa thingy.
“Oh,” said Pid. “He made that himself, didn’t he?”
Valerie couldn’t answer. She sobbed like she could barely breathe.
Dennis limped up to Pidney and stood beside the big dumb oaf. He reached his small hand out to Mary, and she put the Santa thingy in it.
“This is really neat,” he said. “It’s like the ones my grandma made for me with Styrofoam and knitted all the clothes for and stuff. I wish I still had those.”
Valerie slowed the tears for a moment and looked at Dennis. He was a really cute little boy when you looked past the crooked little legs and the thin frame. And he had such a darling and gentle manner about him. He made you want to hug him until all the juice came out of him too. She loosened her death-grip on Tommy.
“He bought a stupid little crafts book,” said Valerie. “He was gonna give it to me along with the cabbage patch doll he bought. Then he decided to make that silly little Santa man from one of the craft patterns in the book. He did it all by himself, and gave it to me as a surprise gift. He did all of it. He did it all by himself.” It was the first time she had told that story to anyone. It was the first time she’d even remembered about something he gave her since… Well, it was a silly thing, but she did love it. “Can I have that?” she asked Denny.
“Sure,” he put it in her hands with a puckish smile.
“I think it goes near the top this year. Not in place of the angel, but right near her, to keep her company.”
Valerie got back up onto the stepstool and placed the Santa thingy near the top at just to the left of center. She looked at it and began to smile.
“Yep,” said Tommy, “the tree looks pretty stupid without lights, but that looks just about right to put it there.”
Valerie laughed at him.
Pidney moved over beside Mary and put an arm around her shoulders. “Sorry,” he whispered. “I’m really not as dumb as that, you know.”
“Yes you are,” whispered Mary, “but we love you anyway.”
Valerie heard that, and laughed all the harder. This Christmas tree thing was going to continue to hurt. And Pid was pretty dumb sometimes. But Mary was right. It had to be said. Valerie loved him anyway.
I am busily working on my novel, The Magical Miss Morgan. I would very much like to finish in November, but, at less than half way through, I don’t think it is likely. It is a novel about being a teacher. It is about both classroom magic, and dealing with the magical legacy of having a brother who is a wizard. So, this example Canto is telling about sitting at the teacher’s desk after class, talking to a “real” fairy. In the Paffooney, you see Miss Morgan with two students who are also Norwall Pirates, Blueberry Bates and Mike Murphy.
Canto Twenty-Three – After School at Miss Morgan’s Desk
Francis sat in the chair behind her desk and stared into the open planner spread out in front of her. She still had two days to get the following week’s plan accomplished. It was, however quite blank. For the last half hour she had done nothing but stare at it and think horrible thoughts about Six-Three.
“Please, dear teacher and storyteller,” said Donner plaintively, “respond that I may know you are unharmed and not mentally damaged.”
“Oh, hello, Bug. I’m okay, but I have had a very bad day.”
“What’s the matter?” the little insect-man had fluttered down to her desktop from somewhere above.
“Oh, sometimes students and their parents make me question if I’m in the right profession.”
“You are a lore-mistress. What higher calling could there be?”
“I just mean that I hate being in a job where you have to deal with willfully ignorant people.”
“I know what you mean. Dealing with Garriss and his brother Torchy is like that. No matter how many times you show them how to put out a campfire, they just seem too stupid to get it right.”
“No, Bug, my problem is not really like that. Cutie and her mother are not stupid. They are both quite bright. But they have a reason to not understand what I am trying to explain to them about my curriculum and my teaching methods. They want to set me up as a problem to be corrected, and so they refuse to see that my teaching methods are not the problem.”
“I have listened intently to the lore of Bilbo. I don’t know exactly what kind of fey creature a Hobbit truly is, but the world you describe… the world of Bilbo… is very accurate from the viewpoint of the fair folk. Tellosia is just like this Middle Earth you tell the young ones about.”
“Oh, heavens! I hope that doesn’t mean there are dragons flying around Belle City somewhere!”
“No, no. Dragon flies aplenty, but no dragons for at least six hundred years.”
Francis stared at Donner with a look that would’ve stunned any human student. Dragons? Really? Even six hundred years ago? Donner was completely oblivious to her disbelief. But maybe that was a good thing. If there were a dragon, maybe her disbelief could kill it and save the world.
“How did the mission we sent Garriss on turn out?” Donner asked innocently.
“Tim Kellogg took him to Norwall, just as we discussed. He gave your little fire child to a sweet little girl named Blueberry Bates. She is making drawings of him to pass around school and talk about fairies being real.” Francis frowned at the bug. “But tell me, Donner, can Garriss really teach the girl a spell to set someone’s underwear on fire?”
“Oh, yes. That is a simple glammer with pixie dust and the right tinder.”
“Oh, that is not good. I need to head things off again…”
It was almost too much. Her brother’s legacy of magic and the Pirates’ liars’ club made her life unnecessarily complicated. She and Jim needed to sort out how they were going to deal with Krissy, and on top of it all, Mrs. Detlafsen was intent on making a political issue out of Francis’ teaching style.
“If you are worried,” offered Donner sweetly, “I can teach you a spell to make a rain cloud hover over someone’s head. A nice big ten inch cloud… six gallons worth of rainwater… and you can make it rain on whichever person you need to soak. That should put out any fire that Garriss started.”
“Is Garriss hurt by water? Can it extinguish him? Hurt him in any way?”
“Magical water applied in the right way can snuff out a fire wisp, if you do it right. But Garriss is no beginner when it comes to magical fire… or even magical water.”
“That’s good. Tim’s little band of Pirate maniacs probably won’t kill him, then.”
“Believe me,” said Donner, grinning, “If my people haven’t been able to snuff out that fool in the last century, with all the reasons they have for trying, your young pie-rats don’t stand a chance of doing it.”
These two 12″ ACTION FIGURES are Luke Skywalker and Princess Leiah. They are rare 1978 dolls that are hard to find because they are in a size much larger than other Star Wars figures, and they are from a toy company that no longer exists. When I bought Luke on E-Bay, he only had the pants and the boots. I had to buy Leiah stark naked. The doll didn’t have any clothes on either. I was able to cobble together some clothing with the help of Barbie and G.I. Joe. I had to re-braid Leiah’s hair, and, of course, I had no idea how to re-create the Cinnabun ear-muffs Leiah is supposed to wear, so I left it looking as you see it. I am proud of my ability to find and acquire two such rare dolls, but I am well aware that they are not presently worth diddly-squoot compared to a mint conditioned pair.
And, Dang it! I didn’t edit the words “doll” and “dolls” in favor of “action figures”, but I am much too lazy to go back and fix that.
The little Iowa town where all my hometown novels are set is based on the little town where I grew up and spent all of my school years from Kindergarten to Senior Year of High School. I call it Norwall. It has all the same letters in it as the town of Rowan, the real town behind all my farm-boy fantasies. I also added an “L” for love and an “L” for laughter. All these stories, whether written already or still percolating in my demented bean, are set in this little town.
The school building where I went to learn through the sixth grade was gone after the 1980’s. But the gymnasium with its theater built in still stands and is used as a community center to this day. It was here where I had my first crush, where I first saw a girl naked who was not my relative, where I was deeply embarrassed during the square-dancing lessons in Miss Molton’s Music Class, and where I told such big black hoo-haw lies that I truly got the proper training I needed to be a story-teller.
This isn’t what Main Street really looked like to me. I saw it in the 1960’s and 70’s. This is the 1950’s, when the artist who created this blanket was in high school. But It contains the world I knew. The water tower is missing, but the fire station and post office are there at the far end of the street on your left. The grocery store, the cafeteria with its George’s Malt Shop sign, the Brenton Bank building, and the hardware store are there on the left. The town hall and V.F.W. is on the right hidden by the trees. You can just see the steeple of the old Congregational Church that was torn down and moved to a new location during some of my earliest memories of the street.
This is what it looks like now that the hardware store is gone. The bank and the cafeteria have been updated and changed. The water tower has changed from silver to blue.
The Methodist Church, built in the thirties and torn down in the eighties, was an important part of my boyhood. It was a place where my faith in God was nurtured and reinforced to the point that my highly active and existential mind could never truly turn to atheism and doubt. It was also the place where a Methodist minister took the time to explain the facts of life to me and helped me overcome the terrible secret I kept inside me about being molested when I was ten. In more than one way, my life was saved in this building. I miss the place terribly.
So, here it is, the town that made me who I am and provides the background for the most important thinking and writing that I will ever be able to do.
Yes, I am definitely abnormal when it comes to collecting junk. This particular obsessive collecting behavior seized upon these Pez dispensers who all come from the Pixar movie Toy Story Two. Did I really have to get all seven? From seven different trips to the store? Yes. It was life or death. Especially since they only cost a dollar and a half, and I only have to risk diabetic coma from Pez candy. I’m not a fool. I gave the candy to my non-diabetic kids.
In order to make postable Paffooneys, I had to find a way to turn drawings into digital photos without buying a larger and more expensive scanner. My creative solution to the problem has been to tack the drawings up to my white bedroom door next to the lamp and photograph them with a digital camera. The only problem, how to get rid of glare off slick colored pencil surfaces and still have enough light to get a photo with good strong color. I keep fiddling with camera settings, and some of the more atrocious failed experiments have debuted here on this blog. Since it is supposed to be humor, I hope you find my failures laughable rather than nauseating, but rest assured, Pepto-Bismol works.