Tuesday, December 27, 2005

When running was for glory - not exercise

Verne and Mark
Originally uploaded by Brite light photos.
JAMESTOWN, NY - After a two-mile walk down the beach yesterday - and being passed by dozens of energetic runners - I ran across this photo, taken at a track practice probably during our senior year at SWCS.

It appears that Mark Swanson is a step ahead of Verne Ahlgren, though with Verne's steps, one extra stretch would put him ahead of Mark.

I remember Joe Rushin standing alongside the track a lot with his stopwatch, timing people without them knowing it. Then, he would come up to you when you least expected it and tell you how you were doing.

One day Al Ross and I decided to run a 100-yard dash, after arguing who was faster. Al's long legs could carry him faster over longer distances, but up to 220 yards, I could usually beat him.

This particular day, one of those rare warm spring days, we ran like demons, a dead heat at the finish line where Coach Joe stood, having timed us.

When we stopped, panting, the look on his face was a mixture of suprise and rage.

We had run arguably the best race of our lives, both of us around 10.7 seconds for the hundred - faster than I ever ran for sure. I was a 11.0 seconds guy usually - on a good day.

After chewing on us both for a moment, he said he probably needed to have us race against each other at the meets - we obviously had more at stake than when we ran against other schools.

Of all the folks who we had as teachers and coaches in high school, I think I miss him the most - even when we he was chewing me out, emphasizing each syllable FITZ-GERRRRRRRRRR-ALD!

Monday, December 26, 2005

Getting out on the links in the springtime

The golf guys at SWCS
Originally uploaded by Brite light photos.
PUERTO VALLARTA, Jalisco, Mexico - Hitting the links around here is expensive, maybe $200 per-person, per round on golf courses that feature wild parrots in the trees and occasional crocodiles lingering in the water holes.

Going into the rough here can be filled with special meaning.

The photo with this posting today was probably taken somewhere outside of the the SWCS campus on Hunt Road, but could have been taken at Moonbrook golf course, I suppose, the only course can remember.

It seems to me we had an after-prom(?) party at Moonbrook and there were legends about couples who wandered out onto the greens to, well, look at the stars.

The only member of the Class of '66 in this shot is Jim Jackson, whose name I believe is on the list of people still being sought for the reunion next summer.

I remember that his dad was a city councilman - maybe in Celeron - and that Jim was a whiz kid in math class. (Compared to me, anyway.)

Senior year, when by some mishap I was writing sports for The Trojan - I remember having to write up a story about the golf team and being completely lost with the terminology. I went to Golf Coach Gene Munson - who also was my guidance counselor - and got yet another lecture about my long list of shortcomings. He was the same guy who first put me in honors classes and then later decided my future was more likely as a delivery driver.

Next to Jim in the picture is Bob Johnson, whose mom was the postmaster in Lakewood.

The last time I saw Bob he whipped me in badminton and then also nailed me in fencing class.

Never did a golf match with him.

Friday, December 23, 2005

A multi-media Christmas Card from Britain

Marcia Carlson
Originally uploaded by Brite light photos.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. - A few days ago, I was in my pre-Christmas slump or depression or regression - whatever - and I received a copy of a Christmas 'card' that was sent to Marcia Carlson (now Marcia Carlson-Hein) that just pulled me right out of my haze and had me practically dancing.

I say practically, because my knee - injured doing The Twist last July 4th - is out of control and surgery looms ahead, just after I get back from Mexico.

I figure, why not go to Mexico, boogie-board, surf, hike, drink margaritas and try to dance? I'll just get anything broken repaired when the surgeon opens me up in January, right?

With that kind of medical philosophy, it's no wonder the nurse in my doctor's office tells me I'm in great shape - for someone 10 years older.

But this piece of music, Wizard in Winter by the Trans-Siberian Orchesta is phenomenal and the light show created to go with it should rouse even Ebenezer Scrooge out of his bah-humbug routine.

Below is the link to the web page that explains the urban legend about the light show and the music, provided to me courtesy of Marcia's husband Ric, who is a Mac guru.

With any luck, we'll get to see Marcia and Ric at the reunion next summer.

WARNING: If you listen to this song more than once or twice, it will stick in your head worse than the Mickey Mouse club theme. M-I-C (See you real soon!) K-E-Y (Why? Because we love you!) M-O-U-S-E.

  • Wizard In Winter
  • Monday, December 19, 2005

    Suppose Lake Chautaqua had great surfing?

    How about that wave?
    Originally uploaded by Brite light photos.
    HAWAII - The picture with this blog is from the Dec. 5 surfing competition in Hawaii where the waves are a tad more fierce than what we had to deal with off Lakewood Beach. (A tad in this case is a factor of about 20...)

    Still, when I saw this photo, I was reminded of how much where we grew up - and what we had in the way out outdoors and sports and opportunities - dictated so much of who we ended up doing recreation-wise.

    I learned to downhill snow ski here in California at about 27 years old. I went to Lake Tahoe with a couple of newspaper buddies and spent the weekend downhill skiing wearing a T-shirt and levis. Yup. It was that warm. I got a helluva sunburn, too.

    My only other experiences in New York - once at the high school, a second (at some resort called Cockaigne?) led me to believe that snow skiing required dressing up as if you were about to join a British polar expedition. And then you got to work your butt off trying to get back up the slope after a less-than-fun run down an icy hillside.

    In California, that first ski day, there were bikini-clad young ladies adorning the slopes and riding up in the chair lifts alongside me.

    Jaysus. There goes my blood pressure again.

    But as I pack my bags for a three-week Mexico sojourn, I think about what I did learn - how to water ski, swim in cold water and handle small boats - all skills that have served me well.

    The other key thing - thanks largely to Doss Johnson firing me briefly from my job as a lifeguard at Lakewood beach - was learning how to sail a small boat. Out of work and semi-disgraced in the family (How the hell to you get fired from being a lifeguard my mother asked? Easy, just don't show up for work one day.) I borrowed my cousin Gordy Puls' Snipe sailboat for about a week (while the Lakewood City Council pondered my appeal for reinstatement) and thanks to the gentle waters of Lake Chautaqua, I learned the basics: how to tack, how to run downwind, how to steer with an open beer in your hand.

    Those same principles came into play a few months ago when I was 50 miles off the California coast, barfing my guts out and praying for a wind shift as I pounded Sabbatical into headwinds and had green water over the deck for hours. The beer in this case was filling the scuppers. It was a long way from a Gordy's Snipe zipping back and forth in front of Lakewood Beach(so I could signal Doss with my finger when he came out for his many cigarette breaks,) but still...

    Suppose we had grown up where the surf broke large right in front of our houses?

    Might Mick Olsen be a surfboard God now? And what about Linda Davidson (whose name surfaced today to add to the email list)?

    Could Linda have end up in surfing movies? Think about that shock of blonde hair and her presence.

    Another theme to explore for next summer's reunion.

    What could have been?

    Think about it, classmates...

    Thursday, December 15, 2005

    One good thing about getting older, maybe

    LAKEWOOD, N.Y. (CIRCA 1963) - When I was 15, my mother (after much pleading on my part), bought me an acoustical guitar, a not-too-expensive model, because she was a very smart woman. She knew the attention span of teenagers, particularly her son.

    Anyway, I learned about a one half of one song, never really got the whole 'tuning' thing down and gave it up, probably after a week, and maybe a half-dozen hours of practice.

    Fast forward the Wayback Machine to 2005.

    (Jaysus, not so damn fast! I get dizzy quite easy when sober.)

    Now I have an acoustic guitar that a friend (whose house I am housesitting) lent to me and after about a week of puttering around, I can almost play about five songs and not wince at the sound coming out of the instrument - or the sound of my voice singing.

    I haven't had the courage to record anything yet. I gratefully accept my wife's white lies about how good I'm getting.

    So why is it in 2005 I can do this, but couldn't in 1963?

    Some of it is attention span, though I'm not sure I have that good an attention span right now anyway.

    What I think it might be that now I believe - no, make that understand - that things are within my reach and I never believed before.

    (Hmmm... you are thinking...'Has old Fitz slipped what few cogs are left on his wheel?')

    Maybe, but here's a case in point for me: foreign languages.

    Jon Giacco and a raft of other high school teachers/zombies convinced me at SWCS that I had zero aptitude for foreign languages. Zero, zip, zilch, nada, cero, etc... Bad news for me. (Lots of crappy grades in high school.) Worse for my mother when you consider that my late father spoke (and could write in) eight languages. My mom could only handle three, English, German and Latin. I believed that I was at the end of the anti-evolutionary scale when it came to language learning, though curiously, I had read at least 100 of the novels in the SWCS library by 9th grade, including a few that Mrs. Levine, the librarian, thought I was too young for. Yes, the library had interesting books. They just never seemed to make it into our English classrooms.

    But that is another story.

    In 1985, when I went to Spain, part of the deal I made with my university was I would learn enough Spanish to read my lectures aloud (at four Spanish universities) and also be able to do a little polite conversations in the social gatherings that were part of the Fulbright grant and a monthlong tour of the country with other college profs.

    I learned Spanish (enough) in eight weeks (8 weeks!) to avoid making a total ass of myself (the key word there is total), and since then have gotten semi-fluent.

    Why? Had to for that trip to Spain. And some years later, knowing I would be sailing Mexican waters, really wanted to.

    Ditto for French. When I went to France and toured on a canal boat for two weeks a few years ago, within a couple of days I was jabbering like a madman in every bakery and bistro - en Francais, merci beaucoup. I wasn't afraid of it anymore and besides, it just isn't that hard to understand with a little study and extremely attractive female French tutor. (Oops... delete, delete, delete..)

    So that leads me to one of the goals I set for myself when I turned 55, a goal to achieve before I, um, well, you know, pass to the next world. It's to learn to play a musical instrument. I chose the ukelele first, but had that choice vetoed by my wife, Admiral Fox, who feared endless choruses of Tiny Bubbles - or worse, Tiptoe Through the Tulips.

    When I did pick up the guitar this time, I thought about all the people I know who have mastered the guitar - at least enough to sing a few tunes - and thought, hell, I can do it if they can, fer Chrissakes.

    I wish I had adopted that attitude say, 20 years ago (when I started learning Spanish), but the important thing isn't when you wake up to realize something, it's waking up and realizing something - ever.

    So after I get done banging on this keyboard, I'll sing Fre-re Jacques and a few other tunes for my captive audience (a half-deaf old Labrador named Bear) and then put my feet up and read a little Spanish to tune up my language skills for my trip to Mexico Christmas Eve.

    We're going to Puerto Vallarta, where you can't move without tripping over a gringo, but after a few days it's on to more remote places where you better be able to ask directions in Spanish - and be able to understand the answer.

    And maybe before I go, I'll be able to strum enough to get away with playing the song below, made famous by the Texas Tornados, among other folks.

    Una Mas Cerveza
    by Tommy Alverson

    Was down in Mexico where I had roamed
    Not too much Spanish by then had I known
    I found myself in a terrible mess
    There were ten bad banditos, one gringo to mess

    I was surrounded no where could I run
    They had Los Pistols and I had no gun
    I searched my memory for something to say
    I had to think quick this could be my last day

    Una mas cerveza
    Una mas cerveza
    Una mas cerveza
    Was all I could say
    Una mas cerveza
    Una mas cerveza
    Una mas cerveza
    Just let me go my way

    I saw a cantina so I went inside
    I found a dark corner a good place to hide
    I was no safer when I looked around
    Not una mas gringo was there to be found

    A small crowd had gathered around to my chair
    “Eduardo Dormito” they pointed and stared
    They gave me a guitar but what could I say
    Oh yes I remember that mexican phrase

    Una mas cerveza
    Una mas cerveza
    Una mas cerveza
    Was all I could say
    Una mas cerveza
    Una mas cerveza
    Una mas cerveza
    Just let me go my way

    Saturday, December 10, 2005

    Was 'Allentown' Billy Joel's best song?

    Billy Joel
    Originally uploaded by Brite light photos.
    JAMESTOWN, N.Y. - I'm not exactly sure when 'Allentown' was recorded by Billy Joel, but I remember the first time I heard it - living here safely in California - and it struck me that it could have been written about Jamestown.

    Of course, using Jamestown instead of Allentown would have totally screwed up the lyrics, so I'm glad it went the way it did.

    When I left Jamestown in 1970, in a blue VW bus with a wife, a three-month-old son, and a psychotic black cat named Mr. Kitter, I was leaving what looked like dying factory town. In the bars (yes, I was occasionally in the bars in Jamestown, seeking information and career advice, of course) the fear was palpable among the drinkers and advice givers about shops closing down and/or moving to the south where they could pay lower wages and maybe less benefits.

    This was all in the wake of the Art Metal scandal, about which I know only a little except that a number of fairly close family acquaintances lost their pensions - completely. They didn't even get a chance to be privatized.

    But "Allentown" strikes a chord even today and when I listen to it, I see flashes of some of the factories I worked in (briefly...very briefly) and how it seemed that wasn't what I wanted.

    When I worked Van Stee Corporation, half the workers all were missing a digit or two from industrial accidents. "Lefty" was more meaningful than a simple sobriquet for someone who used their left hand.

    At 57, I'm still occasionally plagued by the same question I had at 20: What will I do when I grow up?

    Maybe just write screeds like this and hope that some day I'll be able to strum "Allentown" on the acoustical guitar.

    Hell, I'm doing great with "Hail, Hail, the Gangs all Here" and as soon as I can limber my fingers up enough, I think "Frankie and Johnny" is within reach.

    Watch out Billy. I'm movin' up on you.

    Today's song?

    Tell me you couldn't guess...

    by Billy Joel

    Well we're living here in Allentown
    And they're closing all the factories down
    Out in Bethlehem they're killing time
    Filling out forms
    Standing in line
    Well our fathers fought the Second World War
    Spent their weekends on the Jersey Shore
    Met our mothers in the USO
    Asked them to dance
    Danced with them slow
    And we're living here in Allentown

    But the restlessness was handed down
    And it's getting very hard to stay

    Well we're waiting here in Allentown
    For the Pennsylvania we never found
    For the promises our teachers gave
    If we worked hard
    If we behaved
    So the graduations hang on the wall
    But they never really helped us at all
    No they never taught us what was real
    Iron and coke
    And chromium steel
    And we're waiting here in Allentown

    But they've taken all the coal from the ground
    And the union people crawled away

    Every child had a pretty good shot
    To get at least as far as their old man got
    But something happened on the way to that place
    They threw an American flag in our face

    Well I'm living here in Allentown
    And it's hard to keep a good man down
    But I won't be getting up today

    And it's getting very hard to stay
    And we're living here in Allentown

    Tuesday, December 06, 2005

    How the Santa Claus hat gave me away

    Santa and the Bear
    Originally uploaded by Brite light photos.
    LAKEWOOD, N.Y. - I wandered my suburban Sacramento neighborhood over the weekend, dog on leash and Santa Claus hat firmly on my head and got more invites (and offers of a wide variety of alcoholic beverages) than if I had been strolling with Pamela Anderson in a string bikini.

    Ok, maybe that was a slight exaggeration.

    But it reminded me of how when we were growing up in Jamestown, the Christmas season was festive, inclusive and, well, just a lot of fun. No school, no teachers, no tests. And for me, no job.

    It also reminded me of Christmas Eve following our senior year in high school (or maybe it was the next year, good grief), when I was tooling around in my mother's Pontiac, stopping at various people's houses with a screw-top container of Manhattan cocktails I had mixed to exactly the proportions my Uncle Howie McAvoy required for his.

    Keeping them cold in the trunk of the car was no problem.

    At some point in that sojourn, I stopped by the Lakewood Rod & Gun Club - maybe to see Jim Carr - and one of the waitresses plunked her Santa Claus hat on my head after I had flirted with her for an hour to let me take the hat with me. (If I remember correctly, she was about 40, and her husband was sitting at the far end of the bar, completely swacked and not amused by me.)

    But, as Jimmy Stewart says in the movie, Harvey, "the evening wore on," and I kept wearing the Santa Claus hat through several open houses at people's homes and a late-night Cuban sandwich at the Triangle Restaurant before showing up back at my Lakewood house just in time to load up my grandmother, mother, and sister to head off to the Sacred Heart Catholic Church and midnight Mass.

    I can still hear my grandmother as she opened the car door to get in:

    "Evelyn, he's drunk as a skunk."

    I believe I was probably well over whatever the legal limit was then for alcohol, but my mother simply shrugged and told my grandmother to get in and off we skidded to a high Mass at midnight.

    That was the longest religious service I have ever attended. Stand up, sit down, kneel.
    Stand up, sit down, kneel. Stand up, sit down, kneel. Stand up, sit down, kneel. Stand up, sit down, kneel. Stand up, sit down, kneel.

    Jaysus. Keeping my balance was real challenge.

    I think had I been wearing one of those awful furry snow hats (with the ear flaps) my grandmother would have only thought I was unfashionable, not three drinks over the line.

    (It wasn't until Christmas Day that I learned my mother had slipped a few Manhattans herself Christmas Eve and decided no lecture was required for me. It's also why she didn't grab the wheel.)

    I kept that hat for years and wore it most Christmas Eves, attending open houses and whatever saloons I wandered into with my friends.

    I also kept up the Manhattan tradition - and the visiting friends on Christmas Eve - for quite a few years here in California, though I discovered that serving a drink like a Manhattan to native Californians is a recipe for disaster.

    Margaritas are more the style here. The blood is a lot thinner.

    But carrying around a blender in this neighborhood is going to be a problem, I can see.


    Friday, December 02, 2005

    Hello Mary Lou & Cheryl Towers in Pittsburgh

    Hello Mary Lou
    Originally uploaded by Brite light photos.
    PITTSBURGH, Penn. - The great danger in sending me any photos of yourself (and friends) is that they will go up on this website.

    Maybe danger isn't the right word here, exactly.

    Anyway, this afternoon I received this photo of sunny Pittsburgh with Mary Lou McCloskey (Class of '65) at the helm with Cheryl Towers looking mysterious in the sunglasses.

    Cheryl said there is a really long story involving police, Australians, a dog and some bikers involved with this photo. But for a full account of that, you'll have to go straight to Cheryl.

    But that is one helluva motorcycle.

    My Class of '66 blogging has been quite hit or miss lately - more miss than hit - for which I apologize. I have one more week of pounding journalism into undergraduate skulls and then I'm done for the semester and I only have my writing contracts to fulfill and (drum roll please) some time to figure out how to play a guitar my friend Sanders Lamont lent to me.

    I tried to learn how to play the guitar when I was about 15 but had no patience at all. I'm not sure I have the patience yet, but I just figured out a couple of chords and my fingers don't hurt too much, so maybe this time I'll get past "The Farmer in the Dell" in the song book.

    I eyeballed a nice Roy Orbison song book when I picked up some new strings for the guitar. (Sanders bought the guitar two years ago in Zihuatenejo when he was helping me move Sabbatical from Z-town to Puerto Vallarta, so it has some great memories attached to it). But I decided that before I tried to attempt to play "Pretty Woman," I had best master a few of the basics or else this beautiful musical instrument might end up like the guitars owned by El Kabong, from the cartoons.

    (What the hell was El Kabong's little sidekick's name? Was it Babbalouie?)

    Time to get back strumming.

    Wednesday, November 30, 2005

    Still searching for these Class of '66 folks

    Classmates list
    Originally uploaded by Brite light photos.
    LAKEWOOD, New York - I received the list in the photo with today's blog from Randy Carlson.

    These folks are ones the reunion committee is still having trouble tracking down.

    If you can shed any light on where to find them - or better yet, just contact them directly and have them email me and send their contact information to Randy.

    In case the photo is hard to read, here's the list:

    Judy Abbott Galati
    Sheryl Allen Beree
    Kathy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson Cavalier
    Kathy Baker Walz
    Dan Beckstrom
    Jim Bova
    Kathy Bowman Scott
    Doug Brandow
    Phil Calavitta
    Dorine Danielson Kelly
    Sue Ducat Getska
    Linda Foster Cross
    Bob Fulcher
    Chris Henderson
    Linda Hetrick Gill
    Linda Himes Knott
    James Jackson
    Pamela Sue Johnson
    Dave Jones
    Marti Jones Upson
    Darlene Koterass Pattyson
    Elaine Kwiatkowski Frentz
    Bryan Larson
    Roberta Lindbeck Knight
    Gary Lucas
    Judy Nau Dunn
    Jack Nobbs
    Jerry Nelson
    Carol Nunn Morganti
    Jon Ostrander
    Doug Pillsbury
    Janice Pratt Scott
    Sue Pratt Grey
    Melanie Robertson Reynolds
    Ann Sivi Johnson
    Dan Sundquist
    Greg Taft
    Diane Thorpe Hackett
    Bob Tyler
    Jennifer Wall Breland
    Jessie Doud
    Jim French
    Ellen Hurt Galena
    John Limberg
    Denise Norell
    Ken Sonne
    Conrad Wilson
    Thomas Wrinn

    Saturday, November 26, 2005

    Reunion mementos - what should they be?

    Reunion memento
    Originally uploaded by Brite Lights photos.
    SACRAMENTO, Calif. - One of the few side benefits of moving is finding stuff that has been tucked away in drawers or boxes, like the 1966 quarter keychain that was featured at our 20th reunion.

    At least I think it was the 20th.

    But it got me thinking about how much the little things like that keychain can mean. I put it away in a little box where I keep other SWCS valuables, like some ribbons from track meets and a signed photo from Sandy Carlson. (I'm still trying to track her down - and leads would be greatly appreciated.)

    Anyone have any ideas for what kind of memorabilia that should be part of the 40th reunion?

    I know I'm taking home a brick from Lakewood Elementary that Bud Hooper snagged for me. But what could we put together for the class? I have an idea for a video project - kind of a living yearbook with everyone talking into the camera for 30 seconds with their favorite (or least favorite) high school memory.

    I've been making 'Rockumentaries,' for the past couple of years, with one in progress right now of a wedding of a favorite relative. Maybe a video like that would be fun.

    That's as far as my thinking has gotten, at least on this Saturday morning and with only a single cup of Earl Grey tea working its way through my rapidly closing capillaries.

    Any thoughts?

    Friday, November 25, 2005

    Thanksgiving in California sans boots or snow

    Originally uploaded by Brite Lights photos.
    SACRAMENTO, Calif. - So today is the after-Thanksgiving madness of shopping. The newspaper yesterday was bursting with advertisements: specials on everything.

    Time to run up the credit cards again, still recovering from last year's day after Thanksgiving orgy of spending.

    My main memory of Thanksgiving from upstate New York was a pounding headache the day after from the Manhattans my uncle, Howard McAvoy, would make, drinks that even as a teenager I was allowed to have one of.

    One drink? Ha!

    (Here's the recipe: three parts blended whiskey, two parts sweet vermouth, dash of bitters, dash of cherry juice, pour over ice and drain into Manhattan glass.)

    As I had Thanksgiving dinner yesterday with my daughter and various in-laws, there was a lot of talk of what store to hit today, where the best buys would be and how much loot to pack away for Christmas presents.

    I remember Thanksgiving in the 60s as being all about the food (and drink, ok, and drink). It was the only time of the year that we had turkey, a decidedly more tasty bird than the Super Duper chickens that were a staple of my diet growing up. I swear those chickens were genetically linked to rubber trees.

    It was also a very social day with people dropping by the house all afternoon, grabbing a quick Manhattan before toddling off to the next Manhattan stop or their eventual destination for their feast.

    After the feast - and cleanup - the rugs got rolled up at my aunt's house and the records came on, records that mortified those of us early teenagers. Good God - they played the Polka!

    Mostly the women danced while the men fell asleep in chairs, stultified by a combination of drink and way too much food.

    Today I woke up hungry, the other thing I remember from the day after Thanksgiving, which was no problem because the family would prepare so much food for the whole clan that everyone took home enough food to keep us in turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing for a week. Although as teenager, I remember putting a pretty good dent in that food with a speed my mother found almost alarming.

    Instead of turkey leftovers today, however, I'm going to do a very California thing and go out to a little cafe down the street for a light breakfast - sans any poultry - before deciding which stores to attack later today. The newspaper today was full of advertisements, too.

    But I'm not shopping for Christmas gifts for people. I'm in search of new boat stuff, of course.

    Sailboats need gifts, too, or at least their captains do.

    Wednesday, November 23, 2005

    It's autumn for the trees and me, too

    Autumn leaves
    Originally uploaded by Brite Lights photos.
    SACRAMENTO, Calif. - As I stood up to argue in a university meeting last week (taking the moral high ground, of course, and getting pounded for it by the bad guys, as usual) it suddenly occurred to me that I have been doing such things for a long time and that in terms of my time (not just the season), it's definitely fall.

    I remember that old Frank Sinatra tune, "It Was a Very Good Year," and how he walks through his life, in song. Then there was George Burns' "I Wish I Was 18 Again."

    That, I do not wish, though I could shave a few years off the 57, nearly 58 I'm carrying, particularly those years that have given me a bad-enough knee that I'm looking at surgery, enough little skin spots that I have to put on some kind of special cream from the dermatologist, and a creaking set of discs in my neck that give me pause every time I swing my neck around.

    I always disliked fall when I was in high school - summer was my time. Fall always meant more clothes, shorter and shorter days, and the inevitable winter.

    And boots. Goddamned boots!

    It wasn't until I read about how the lack of sunshine can affect you (Seasonal Affective Disorder?) that I caught on to why I found winters tough. It also explains living in California and my love of the south of the border. (OK, I like the margaritas there, too. Ok, senoritas, too..)

    Summer was always ahead though, however far. I always knew the ice would break eventually on the lake and I would be sliding my boat back into the water and water skiing was in the future (along with summer school, most likely).

    When I look ahead now, I see summer, too, but for me anyway, the days are more precious than ever.

    I made a mistake two years ago of guessing that I might live to be 75 (a very big might with my family history). I know that in 2005, that's not that old, but I decided to run the numbers.

    Don't do it.

    I broke it down from 20 years into months, weeks and days. Even a generous interpretation of the figures says if I want to finish unfinished novels, sail across to the South Pacific, or rescue any damsels from the clutches of evil I damn well better get off my ass and get to it.

    Where did I put my sword anyway?

    That's the trouble with the autumn of life, you also begin to lose your memory. (Or did I write that earlier in this blog?)

    Here's the song for today, kids, from Frank Sinatra:

    It Was a Very Good Year

    When I was seventeen
    It was a very good year
    It was a very good year for small town girls
    And soft summer nights
    We’d hide from the lights
    On the village green
    When I was seventeen

    When I was twenty-one
    It was a very good year
    It was a very good year for city girls
    Who lived up the stair
    With all that perfumed hair
    And it came undone
    When I was twenty-one

    When I was thirty-five
    It was a very good year
    It was a very good year for blue-blooded girls
    Of independent means
    We’d ride in limousines
    Their chauffeurs would drive
    When I was thirty-five

    But now the days grow short
    I’m in the autumn of the year
    And now I think of my life as vintage wine
    from fine old kegs
    from the brim to the dregs
    And it poured sweet and clear
    It was a very good year

    It was a mess of good years.

    Monday, November 14, 2005

    Breathalyzer tests before SWCS dances?

    Originally uploaded by Brite Lights photos.
    ALBANY, Calif. - There was a column in today's San Francisco Chronicle about how a high school in Albany, Calif. is going to test its students with a breathalyzer before letting them into school dances.

    It seems that a number of students are going into these dances half in the bag and the school wants to stop it.

    Here's the column itself.
  • Chip Johnson

  • What's fascinating about the column is that it doesn't really address the issues of consequence for the students - other than that they will be sent home.

    Sent home. Terrifying!

    I remember walking into a couple of SWCS dances with a little beer (and sometimes Southern Comfort) in my stomach, but I was also so terrified of getting caught that I probably acted more straight then when I was, well, straight.

    I don't think whomever was chaperoning those dances would have settled for just sending me home. And if they did, well, come Monday morning I would have (at best) been sentenced to a lifetime of detention with Mrs. Kistler at the front of the classroom. (Oh, the horror!)

    I also remember when people got into serious trouble - like arrested for stealing a car for example - they seemed to just disappear into some void. I don't remember them ever coming back to school boasting about how they boosted someone's Chevy.

    This posting probably says as much about me as it does the school district that wants to educate the students about alcohol abuse instead of giving the students a couple of months of community service for showing up tanked at a school function or sentencing them to the equivalent of detention in 2005.

    I shouldn't read the Monday morning newspapers so closely, especially when I have to teach undergraduates today - all of whom have likely not read the chapters I assigned for my lecture or done the writing assignments due in class. There's been an epidemic of ill grandmothers this semester and an outpouring of grandchild concern that has been keeping them from their university studies.

    Final exams for the university are only three weeks away, however. And I won't be taking any breathalyzer tests on my students before they walk in to take a humdinger of a final.

    Wednesday, November 09, 2005

    Goodbye Cheracol bring on the Sudafed

    Cheracol cough syrup
    Originally uploaded by Brite Lights photos.
    SACRAMENTO, Calif. - A damned cold has laid me low for a couple of days, making me long for a jolt of Cheracol cough syrup - not the stuff they sell over the counter now - the real stuff I got as a kid, loaded with codeine.


    Whenever I got a cold when I was kid - and started hacking - my mother would drag out the Cheracol and give me a good dose. The fact that I would go into a stupor for a couple of hours seemed to escape her - I guess she thought it was the cold bothering me.

    That whole experience all came flooding back to me in the past few days when I took Sudafed - a drug I don't like to take at all. Hell, I don't like any drugs anymore - including aspirin.

    But when my nose was running like Niagara, I gave up and took a half-dose so I could work without turning my keyboard into a petri dish.

    One would think a half-dose would be, well, a half-dose and not that potent. But about a half-hour after gulping the small red pill with a cranberry juice chaser, I was alternately wired and exhausted, suddenly thinking about cough syrup.

    When I went to Villanova, the campus infirmary would dole out bottles of codeine-laced cough syrup every time you went in. And several of my buddies (who mixed the syrup with Coca-Cola in some kind of weird conconction that tasted awful) would develop cold symptoms every Friday so they would have something to keep them partying through the weekends. And, of course, they encouraged everyone to drop by and pick up a bottle (sometimes two if you got the right doctor or the friendly nurse who dated some of the basketball players).

    I never developed a taste for the stuff (probably a realllly good thing), though I confess to getting a fair share of the drug for my buddies. One bottle of cough syrup was good for three or four bottles of Schmidt's of Philadelphia in a trade. I didn't much like the Schmidt's beer either, but a sober weekend? At Villanova? Pleeeeeese...

    If the Sudafed doesn't do the trick today, it's on to more serious stuff - Four Roses Blended Whiskey mixed with ginger ale. I'll feel worse in the morning, but the evening will be much better.

    Where's that Cheracol when I need it?

    Tuesday, November 08, 2005

    Memories of my 55-mph dream machine

    LAKEWOOD, N.Y. - The summer between junior and senior years, it was summer school time again, thanks largely to my inability to study either Math 11 or chemistry.

    While both Ethel Goller and Hank Weiss gave me passing grades, in those two classes, the Regent's exams were not so kind.

    But instead of riding a bus to Jamestown, I signed up the Chautaqua High School program which necessitated wheels, as my mother would not let go of her automobile for my commuting - particularly when she had given me the summer school money for Jamestown, not up the lake.

    At the time, Yamaha 80 motorcycles were the rage. Bud Hooper had one already and so I purchased one on a time payment plan, $16.23 per month. Bob Fulcher and Jim Carr ended up with machines, too. What a summer!

    I only crashed a few times and once jumping one of the hills at SWCS my girlfriend Cindy Hall slipped off the back and landed squarely on her ass.

    Seems funny today, but at the time, she didn't see the humor and had a bruised tailbone for weeks.

    Most of us got pretty good at popping wheelies and speed shifting. I remember that the fastest I could get the machine going was 55 mph, full out on Summit Avenue headed down towards where Cheryl Towers lived. We used to encircle Bill Loftus, who had a Honda with a smaller engine. He wasn't too steady on it, either, and more than once we thought he might end up in the ditch.

    I once eluded the Lakewood Police by cutting through back yards up on Winchester, shutting the engine off and pushing my motorcycle home the long way around, covering it quickly before the police figured out which red motorcycle was popping wheelies in front of Mayor Roland Rapp's house on Erie Street, right near where Randy Carlson still lives.

    That's exactly the kind of story you shouldn't tell your children. My eldest son tried the same trick with his small cycle but got caught. In fact, I must have been the luckiest kid alive because I rarely got nailed for the things we were doing, but my boys - after hearing tales like this - were in constant hot water.

    I've owned two other motorcycles since that Yamaha 80, a BSA 441 Victor and Yamaha 200.

    The BSA Victor rarely ran. I should have learned from owning two Triumph Spitfires. The Yamaha I sold when I was about 40 and had one of those close calls that screamed - LAY THE BIKE DOWN - except that I didn't and somehow made it through a gap between a car and a truck that Chester Anderson's nose could not have fit through.

    Still, seeing the photo posted with this blog reminds me of riding all the way around Chautaqua Lake on summer days - without a helmet, of course.

    When the helmet law went into effect in New York, that's when my red Yamaha 80 and I said goodbye.

    Saturday, November 05, 2005

    Seeing your cousins - 40 years later

    The Three McAvoy's
    Originally uploaded by Brite Lights photos.
    LAKEWOOD, NY - My extended family bailed out of Lakewood shortly after we graduated from high school so that nary a Fitzgerald or McAvoy or Puls lives anywhere near a Jamestown zip code.

    The Puls family included Gordy Puls, Jr. who taught math at SWCS. And the McAvoy's pictured here at a wedding a few weeks ago, all bailed, too, with Nancy on the left (Class of '68 or '69) leaving for Virgina, Kathleen (Class of '65), center, eventually ending up in Maine, and Robert, well, I'm not sure, except he's the youngest and the wedding of his daughter was in Michigan, so he might be roosting there. I know he was in the U.S. Army and did a lot of jumping out of airplanes.

    My sister Evelyn took the photo. She lives outside of Boston.

    I worked at Lakewood Beach with my cousin Kathleen for several summers right out of SWCS. She was a lifeguard but also taught swimming. Working the beach was a family tradition. Gordy Puls and his older sister Barbara both were lifeguards there years ahead of my showing up. Sue Guertin worked at the beach also, but up in the playground area keeping the kids in line.

    What's striking about seeing these cousins of mine after so many years is how much they look like their parents. Nancy is the spitting image of her mother, Helen (and also my grandmother). Robert is clearly Howard McAvoy's son.

    Kathleen just looks like Kathleen.

    In the meantime, I'm still working on how many bricks I'm going to buy for the SWCS garden, and what to say on them.

    Some of the latest ideas include:

    To Mrs. King, who never let me look at the damn typewriter keys.

    To Gunny Anderson, who would have killed me if I called him that in school.

    To Lakewood Mayor Roland Rapp, for giving me my job back when Doss Johnson fired me from Lakewood Beach.

    And that's the short list.

    Saturday, October 29, 2005

    Buying bricks to help future SWCS students

    SWCS brick graphic
    Originally uploaded by Brite Lights photos.
    JAMESTOWN, N.Y. - Tom Priester sent along an order form several days ago - which I in turn sent to members of the Class of '66 - for purchase of an engraved brick to be placed at the school. A portion of it is posted here, the graphic of the area where the bricks will be placed.

    The money raised will go for various schools things, all of which Tom Priester can explain in great detail.

    I'm going to buy several I think, though I'm vacillating about what to put on the inscription.

    Think about it: To Mrs. McKay, for letting me hide out from Algebra Class for most of a year, or To Ed Stupka, for telling me arguably the most filthy joke I ever heard, or Gene Munson, for telling me I'd be lucky to get a job driving a garbage truck.

    I've been off the blogging circuit mostly for weeks, moving the boat, and now (God-help-me!) moving again to a new house. A friend has offered to let us house sit his casa for a year, maybe longer, and by the time that gig is up we may be at a point where we can actually retire from the university and grab Sabbatical and head south again.

    I don't know that we will do that, but it sounds nice as I look at the window at a cold gray day here in Northern California.

    I'll bet quite of few of the class are retired already or getting very close to it. I never really planned for retirement, given that males in my family traditional pack it in around 45. What a shock to be 57 and the only thing wrong with me (physically anyway) is a knee that will require some minor surgery. The rest of me has been abused, of course, but the genetics that took my father and grandfather seem to have skipped me, my doc tells me.

    By sheer accident, I am a member of the California Public Employees Retirement system, arguably the best in the nation, which will be taking care of me for many years when I leave teaching. I remember my mother's New York State Teachers' retirement would have been ok (had she lived to collect it) but she needed to hit around 62 or older to collect I think.

    In CalPERS, we can bail anytime after 50, with 55 being the magic number (2 percent times your salary times your years of service equals your paycheck).

    It seems odd to think that at this reunion, instead of swapping tales about adventures, we will more likely be talking about our retirement plans, how many grandchildren we have (and what great things they are doing and how perfect they are), and scratching our collect head about how we suddenly got to this age.

    I went to a reunion for one of the newspapers of which I was an editor back in the 1970s and was startled when I walked in to see a woman who had been the "society editor" when I was there. The last time I saw her she was probably in her 40s, and now, well, she's in her 70s.

    My editor from that era, who retired 20 years ago when he hit 65, didn't make the reunion and although I want to see him, I wonder about him at 85 and if the image I have of him from years past is the one I want to keep.

    It must be time to read "You Can't Go Home Again," by Thomas Wolfe.

    Is it obvious that I am writing and writing to avoid packing my condo? Sorry.

    Instead of more rambling, here's a song for today, one that has nothing exactly to do with bricks or retirement or going home, but one that reminds me of the year or so after graduation.

    Happy Together
    by The Turtles
    If I should call you up, invest a dime
    And you say you belong to me and ease my mind
    Imagine how the world could be, so very fine
    So happy together

    I can't see me lovin' nobody but you
    For all my life
    When you're with me, baby the skies'll be blue
    For all my life

    Me and you and you and me
    No matter how they toss the dice, it has to be
    The only one for me is you, and you for me
    So happy together

    Tuesday, October 18, 2005

    American Bandstand and Sheena of the Jungle

    American Bandstand
    Originally uploaded by Brite Lights photos.
    PHILADELPHIA, Penn. - In between grading papers from my magazine writing class, I've been tapping on the keys, looking at music for my 'rockumentaries,' but also looking forward to our reunion next summer.

    I ran across several songs by Fabian, whose music is a little hard to find. And then I tripped across a dozen interesting sites related to American Bandstand.

    I remember watching that even when I was about 6-years-old. I would sit with my older sister, much to the chagrin of my grandmother, who did not approve of the dancing on the program and certainly not of her grandchildren watching the on-screen gyrations.

    (Oddly, she had no objections to the torrid-blond Irish McCalla (starring in Sheena of the Jungle) swinging through the trees, hanging out with apes who were dying for that leopard skin tunic to tumble.)

    I remember being entranced by the music and all the happy people jumping around, and the dance contests and rating of music.

    And years later, when I hear a song and someone asks my opinion, the first words I think of are usually, 'well, it has a good beat...'

    But in the meantime, is anyone making up some lists of music for the reunion parties? Maybe that could become part of the Yahoo! site (where I deposited some photos recently of Bob Swanson's Rasta Ranch adventure).

    I know I have a playlist in mind - which I'll share another time.

    While that's being pondered, here's today's song - just downloaded to my computer - performed by Carole King.

    It Might As Well Rain Until September

    What shall I write?
    What can I say?
    How can I tell you how much I miss you?

    The weather here has been as nice as it can be
    Althought it doesn't really matter much to me
    For all the fun I'll have while you're so far away
    It might as well rain until September

    I don't need sunny skies for thing I like to do
    'Cause I stay home the whole day long and think of you
    As far as I'm concerned each day's a rainy day
    So It might as well rain until September

    My friends look forward to their picnics on the beach
    Yes everybody loves the summertime
    But you know darling while your arms are out of reach
    The summer isn't any friend of mine

    It doesn't matter whether skies are grey or blue
    It's raining in my heart 'cause I can't be with you
    I'm only living for the day you're home to stay
    So It might as well rain until September
    September, September, oh
    It might as well rain until September

    Friday, October 14, 2005

    The email list is fixed - at least I think so

    An email box
    Originally uploaded by Brite Lights photos.
    SACRAMENTO, Calif. - You should have received a test message from me sometime in the last day or so that was just a test of our email list.

    Somehow, somewhere in the electronic bowels of this Apple iBook G4, my emails lists started, well, co-mingling and it seems one of my notices about an update went to half of the upper administration at the university.

    I suspect they were quite amused. (That's pure sarcasm, in case you missed it...)

    In any event, after redoing the list and sending the test, it appears that the Class of '66 list is ok, and now I just need to get back to writing in this space on a regular basis.

    It's more likely to happen now that I don't have any writing assignments (until Monday anyway), my sailboat is almost home (next weekend, seas permitting) and the semester is half over.

    That means midterm exams and lots of grading - for my student assistant!

    Iremember taking lots of tests in high school, all leading to the dreaded Regents exams. But did we take midterms, halfway through the semester or maybe in December? It seems to me that we got report cards on a quarterly basis, but I have scrubbed my memory clean of most of those details.

    My students - right about now - suddenly remember that they are going to be graded in my classes and are keenly interested in what that grade may be. Just yesterday I had a very earnest young woman ask me what system I used for grading.

    SWAG, I answered. I use the SWAG system.



    She wasn't very amused, but pretended to be. Still eight weeks left in the semester and there is that matter of a grade at the end.

    Did Harold Burgard and Hubie Davis and Henry Weiss SWAG our grades? If so, they generally guessed a little low for me, I think. Then again, maybe not.

    Forty years later, those grades are pretty distant (except for the ones that doomed me to summer school). But the importance of the death of chivalry (thanks to Harold), the ability to write a sonnet (14 lines of rhyming iambic pentameter, thanks to Hubie), and the knowledge that sodium and chloride make salt (NaCl, thanks to Henry) are as close to hardwired in as a human brain can get.

    I better stop here, before I lose control and start writing "An Ode to Miss Goller..."

    Today's song?

    Poetry in motion
    performed by Johnny Tillotson

    When I see my baby
    What do I see
    Poetry poetry in motion

    Poetry in motion walking by my side
    Her lovely locomotion
    Keeps my eyes open wide
    Poetry in motion see her gentle swaying
    A wave out on the ocean
    Could never move that way

    I love every movement
    There's nothing I would change
    She doesn't need improvement
    She's much too nice to rearrange

    Poetry in motion dancing close to me
    A flower of devotion a-swaying gracefully
    Poetry in motion see her gentle swaying
    A wave out on the ocean
    Could never move that way

    I love every movement
    There's nothing I would change
    She doesn't need improvement
    She's much too nice to rearrange

    Poetry in motion all that I adore her
    No number nine love potion
    Could make me love her more

    Monday, October 10, 2005

    Rasta Ranch wine tasters talk to San Diego

    VALOIS, New York - The phone rang last week while I was on deck on Sabbatical in San Diego, getting ready for a 400-mile upwind bash to San Francisco, my nerves fraying by the minute with the weather reports forecasting, well, sloppy weather.

    So it was great to hear Bob Swanson's voice, along with the shouts of the crew from Jamestown (all bunched up in this photo) who were on their annual wine tasting pilgrimage to the finger lakes, specifically about a mile from the Seneca Lake house where I spend my summers. It's the Rasta Ranch winery, home of Uncle Homer's Red wine, a personal favorite.

    They took this photo - as well as some others I will post on the Yahoo! site - and several times during our conversation I could hear the group having a very good time.

    I've been out of contact, offline and almost incognito for a week as I moved Sabbatical north through the worst seas I have ever been in. But we made it as far as Monterey, Calif., where the ship will sit for a couple of weeks while I get the rest of life back on track.

    And, frighteningly enough, I had numerous SWCS-related dreams on the trip while we bounced off 12-foot waves and took enough green water over the bow to make the whole crew about the same color.

    More on those dreams later.

    For now, Cheers, Bob! Thanks for the photos.

    Saturday, September 24, 2005

    Joe Rushin - the best doctor I ever had

    Joe Rushin
    Originally uploaded by Brite Lights photos.
    JAMESTOWN, NY - In high school, when I had sprains and strains and all the things that happen when you run track (or have people wrenching on you on the wrestling mat) most often I would talk with Joe Rushin about what I needed to do.

    He seemed to have a knowledge of physiology that say, Dr. Marvin Siegel, our family doc, was clearly missing.

    I sure miss Joe right now, as my right knee is swollen like a football and the MRI to check it out is scheduled for December.

    Yup, December. I just love managed health care.

    Joe taught us how to use isometric exercises and how not injure parts of the body like knees. The ultimate though was to be allowed to sit in the whirlpool in the locker room if you had a sprain. You always had to have a spotter when you soaked, I guess because he was afraid you might fall asleep and drown. With the racket in the locker room, that seems pretty doubtful in retrospect.

    Maybe I just need to break down and purchase a hot tub to soak. I could get one a lot quicker than December.

    I ran across Joe's photo today when I was thumbing through the yearbook, avoiding all the work I need to get done today and this weekend for next week's classes and writing.

    I always heard Flash Olsen and Dick Shevalier refer to him as director of athletics, but his title in the yearbook is administrative assistant.

    Administrative assistant? Somehow, athletic director fits the Joe I remember a lot better.

    Monday, September 19, 2005

    Batting about .500 on names of people

    One of those twins
    Originally uploaded by Brite Lights photos.
    SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Winni Anderson (on the Yahoo discussion list) gave me a heads up that the names of the twins I seem to be writing about every day in this space are Val and Vaughn, not Val and Vicki.

    Oops. Sorry Vaughn. I still have a crush on you. Or maybe it was your sister.

    But, in a more drastic goof, I said Winni's dad's name is Fred - but it's Syd. Fred Anderson was Nancy Anderson's dad. Confused?

    So for roughly 40 years, every time I tell the story about the croquet hoops in the backyard, or make reference to Bud Hooper's NASA-style launch of his blue and white '63 Chevy through the Triangle Cleaners, I have called Syd by the wrong name.


    Some of my students read this blog by the way, and I expect to have a sign on my door when I get to the university today that says "Syd Called about Fred..." They're think they are sooooooo funny.

    In the photo today taken from our yearbook, Val/Vaughn is standing behind the counter with I believe Andy Robinson. Given my recent track record on identifications, his name could be Stanislaus Phalegglast. But I'm pretty sure that it is Andy. And I'm pretty sure his last name is Robinson and he has an older brother named Steve.

    Out front, standing on the right is Marianne Jim, and possibly Linda Hanson. But I won't swear to it and if I misspelled their names, too, I'll take one of my own remedial classes.

    In the meantime, can someone find and please invite the twins (Val and Vaughn) to our reunion next year?

    Today's song isn't from our high school days, but it fits, so what the @$%@#%#^:

    Double Vision
    by Foreigner

    Feeling down n' dirty
    Feeling kinda mean

    I've been from one to another extreme
    This time I had a good time
    Ain't got time to wait
    I wanna stick around
    Till I can't see straight

    Fill my eyes with that double vision
    No disguise for that double vision
    Ooh, when it gets through to me
    It's always new to me
    My double vision gets the best of me

    Never do more than I really need
    My mind is racing
    But my body's in the lead
    Tonight's the night
    I'm gonna push it to the limit
    I live all of my years in a single minute

    Fill my eyes with that double vision
    No disguise for that double vision
    Ooh, when it gets through to me
    It's always new to me
    My double vision
    Always seems to get the best of me
    The best of me, yeah

    Ooh, double vision
    I need my double vision
    It takes me out of my head
    Takin' me out of my head
    I get my double vision
    Oh, seeing double, double
    Oh, I have double vision, yeah
    I'm getting double vision...