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Archive for the ‘> FAVORITES’ Category

Several times through the years Mom has asked me to venture into the attic or some other dark place to retrieve what she calls her “Keep Forever Box” — an unassuming carton containing dreams and precious memories acquired throughout her lifetime. From time to time she even lets me take a peek. By golly, there’s a tiny handprint of mine, set in plaster of Paris with “1952” carefully etched into the stark white surface. I recall that day when my Yokohama, Japan kindergarten teacher splayed my fingers apart and pressed my hand evenly into the shallow, plaster-filled dish. Like most kids, I was more interested in making a mess than I was storing the significance of the moment away in my bubbling and growing gray matter. Over there in a different corner of Mom’s Keep Forever Box is a frayed, crayon-construction paper drawing of a stick-Mom standing next to a stick-tree underneath a stick-sun that says “I love you, Mom” in squiggly and sometimes backwards handwriting.

Like most folks, I didn’t realize I had my own Keep Forever Box until the other day when I was cleaning out a section of basement and came across a tattered cardboard box filled with filing cabinet-drawer contents accumulated through decades of moves and casual house cleaning efforts. By golly, there’s a blue folder filled with poetry written way back in my high school days when that same bubbling and still-growing gray matter was filled with notions of girls and ideologies and change rather than common sense. And — suddenly, right there in my hand — I discover a torn scrap of paper on which is written in pencil so faintly visible I almost toss it away, a  note that says: “See ya, Timbo. Take care. Rich.”

Instantaneously I am whisked back to the day my friend, Rich left for Viet Nam without fanfare. I was not home when Rich stopped by, but I can plainly see him tearing off a piece of scrap paper from a pocket notebook he always carried with him, scribbling the note in his half-printing, childish sort of way, slipping it under my door before walking away from youthful dreams and into a future that was no more certain then than it is now.

Funny how gray matter works.

Thanks for making it back safely, Rich.

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The best toy I ever owned was a blue and white-striped plastic Wham-O boomerang. My dad gave me one when I was maybe ten years old, living inside the fortress walls of Watertown Arsenal, outside of Boston. For months every day, in-between the apple tree-lined parade grounds and the foundries where Honest John missiles were assembled (and where there was more than enough room for the boomerang to safely complete its one hundred-yard dizzying sweep), I practiced throwing the sleek toy weapon. One Sunday morning, while waiting to go to Sunday school and dressed in a plaid suit and tie, a group of pigeons flapped overhead. In an instant, without thinking, I whipped the boomerang in a deadly arc that eventually intersected the center mass of the flock.

Feathers flew, tiny bursts of fluttering pink and white clouds. Three pigeons plummeted in bits and pieces, bouncing when they hit the ground close enough for me to hear the soft poofing sounds the larger parts made on impact. The still-twirling boomerang landed nearby, an obedient beast whose leading edge was covered in blood. I was amazed, elated, horrified and ashamed all at the same moment, my heart racing with an explosive, intoxicating rhythm known only to primordial hunters.

I buried the greatest toy I ever owned on that bright, sunny church morning alongside the three pigeons I had killed, changed forever in some way, but neither for the better or worst; and like that boomerang, the Honest John missiles soon became obsolete.

+ + + + +

Tim says: I suppose nowadays “toy weapon” is somewhat of an oxymoron, but — back in the 50s — there were many of them. Wham-O eventually went on to produce the ever-popular Frisbee, Super-Ball, and Hula Hoop, as well as a slew of other toys that bore the children of today in the same way their toys will bore the children of tomorrow.

By the way, the ancient Greeks used wooden hoops (conspicuously similar to the modern Hula Hoop) for — exercise. Some things are never boring enough.

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Simply Tim Classic (circa 2001)

Back in the days, it used to be watching television was fun and easy and took little effort. The only brain-work required was when an occasional bouncing ball guided us through a slowly moving string of words while a musical theme song prompted us to sing along with a 100% transparent TV commercial’s message.

“Okay people … Here we go … Let’s all buy … some IVORY SNOW!”

Nowadays, there’s so much happening on screen that I need to record almost everything for playback to make sure I don’t miss anything. Just the other day I was watching the evening news, where I counted three distinct bars of information scrolling by at different speeds near the bottom of the screen. Above that — just underneath the rectangular space that had  been begrudgingly set aside for actual news footage — yet ANOTHER caption bar displayed a taped interview that was being translated on-the-fly into English off-camera. All of this while a live human newscaster read from a teleprompter script, rambling on and on about such-and-such or something-or-another happening to somebody with an unpronounceable foreign name. My vision raced to establish a center of equilibrium among all the dancing TV screen clutter;  just as my eyes were beginning to learn how to simultaneously conjoin four distinct areas of my brain stem with multiple data stream synaptic feeds, the television image snapped to black and teleported me into a commercial.

Gone in a nanosecond were the three separate levels of right to left scrolling messages. Gone were the caption bars and thickly-accented translation. Gone were the flashing backgrounds, the talking heads; gone the glittering news-desk logo, the twinkling star-filtered studio lights, the upbeat jingle.

Gone. Poof — just like that!

I was instantaneously reassembled, dead center, into a dreamy setting depicting a little girl swimming effortlessly underwater, alongside a majestic humpback whale. Soft music floated in the gentle current. More kids gurgled by in a slow motion aquatic ballet. The humpback’s giant eye moved right up against the television screen and stared at me…

ZZZzssst!

My brain cross-circuited, disconnecting with an explosion something like the sound a gallon bottle of vinegar makes when dropped onto a tile floor. And when I tried to adjust my eyes to the pastorally hypnotic, eco-perfect scene, I darn near fell out of my chair in an attack of left to right vertigo caused by the afterimage of all those previously right to left scrolling lines of text.

“Okay people … Don’t run from it … Grab your TUMS … and pat your STOMACH.”

I’ll take those bouncing balls anytime.

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“Watertown Arsenal, building -71 (Watertown, MA)” by Jack E. Boucher

“Watertown Arsenal, building -71 (Watertown, MA)” by Jack E. Boucher

I lived in the Watertown Army Arsenal — just outside Boston, Massachusetts — during the mid fifties. The arsenal employed thousands of civilian workers who fabricated Honest John missiles. Every day at 5 o’clock a shift change whistle shrieked from the tops of the foundries. A few minutes later the sidewalks swarmed with an assortment of folks heading for one of the several gates that led to the worker parking lots, and… home.

Most of these sidewalks were steam-vented, lined with a vast network of mature hedges containing secret forts and passageways known only to us kids. I remember hiding in the bushes beside the apple-tree-orchard parade ground, watching the adults rushing by. As they passed, I made up stories about the secret lives they led outside the arsenal gates. The short man smoking a cigar is a first base umpire for the Boston Red Sox. The guy scurrying like a weasel behind him is a jockey. The fat man with the shiny lunch box plays the cello for the Boston Symphony. The guy mopping his brow with a handkerchief sells hot dogs at the hockey rink. The woman in the red scarf teaches ballet lessons at night.

You get the idea.

Nowhere in my make-believe world did I realize the guy with the cigar is worried about how to pay for his son’s second semester college tuition due in a week; that the rushing weasel is a Boy Scout leader who needs to get across town in less than an hour; that the cello player’s mother is dying in a hospital he can’t afford; that the hot dog man is about to get fired; that the woman in red just had the car she’s heading for repossessed: that ALL of these scurrying people are just trying to GET BY as best they can.

After the sidewalks cleared, I would crawl from the security of the hedge rows and forget about the stories I had just made up. Instead, I dusted off my clothes and headed for my house at the top of the hill, knowing that Mom was cooking something great for dinner, and that Ozzie and Harriet would be on TV later that night, showing us that all problems everywhere could be solved at a dinner table piled high with mashed potatoes and roast beef.

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(edited from 1999)

Tonight I walked around my neighborhood just before midnight. In the crisp air, Christmas tree lights sparkled through loosely shaded windows, surrounded by more glimmerings carefully arranged on outdoor shrubbery and perimeters of shadowy houses. Inside, families slept — tossing and turning — awaiting the promise of Christmas morning.

This year it seems more neighbors have taken the time to decorate their already extraordinary landscapes, paying more attention to detail than they did last season. Some homes are draped in strands of lights so delicate they shimmer like neon spider webs; others are shaped into Christmas menageries, each as unique as the crystalline patterns of snowflakes. In vacant lots, treetops gracefully arch their skeletal fingertips against the winking background of stars, not to be outdone by the twinkling mechanical lights below.

It was a fanciful midnight feast.

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I have promised myself a zillion times that I would never be without a  snapshot camera within reach here at the lake, because you never know when something monumental will happen.

Like yesterday.

At about 2 PM I stepped onto the patio deck and meandered over to the railing. It was a picture perfect day: sixty degrees without a cloud in the sky, a stiff breeze blowing off the water and passing overhead. Warm and pleasant. Not bad for the first week in December. As I stood gazing at nothing in particular, a shadow crossed my forehead, rumpled across the deck, climbed the hand railing, jumped down to the ground, hovering. A moment later an American Bald Eagle floated past my head, not more than a couple dozen feet away, its forward progress momentarily neutralized by the gentle rush of onshore headwind.

I could see my camera out of the corner of my eye sitting on the dining room table, lit in a puddle of sunlight that streamed through the open patio sliding door. But I dared not move. Above, the eagle played with the breeze using its wingtips, seemingly frozen in space-time for at least half a minute. It was so close to me I could make out the crisp edges of individual white feathers crowning its dark brown body. Most startling of all was a beak so brilliantly orange it outshone a painted, Van Gogh sun.

Without knowing it was being observed, the eagle flicked its head, dipped a wingtip, rose up like a rocket ship over my head and was gone.  I was glad the camera remained out of reach, the lens cap tightly snapped shut: some moments are meant to remain private.

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Jawbreakers

If you want to relive certain portions of childhood you thought were lost forever, try slipping an old-fashioned JAWBREAKER into your mouth and hold on to your hat. I recently visited somebody’s office where a bowl of the plastic-wrapped, red candy balls sat on the receptionist’s desk.

“May I?” I asked, pointing to the display. “It’s been years.”

“Why, certainly.” She nodded knowingly. “That’s what they’re here for.”

I pinched the crimson fireball out of its wrapper and plopped it into my mouth. My tongue caressed the candy as if it were an old friend. Well, you know what I mean. An initial burst of sweetness cascaded over my taste buds, which were apparently hard-wired directly to my brain stem. A flood of synapses began firing: gleeful screams and rattles from a twilight game of kick the can, the smell of blacktop tar bubbles; the sounds of summer vacation, the flap-flap-flapping of baseball cards chattering against bicycle spokes. . .

When the first burn of cinnamon replaced the fireball’s sweetness, I sat down in a lobby chair. A wave of heat raced through my mouth. I remembered the metallic CLINK of horseshoes and the CLACK of croquet mallets, the double KA-BOOSH splash of poolside depth-charges, and the SQUISH of a well-aimed water balloon; the CRACK of a baseball making contact with a Louisville Slugger bat, the WHOOSH and SLAP of a catcher’s mitt after a strike or a miss.

By golly, a taste-bud driven time machine whirled around and ’round inside my mouth!

As sweet fire fused with my tongue, I thought I might actually have to pluck the jawbreaker out of my mouth with a thumb and forefinger like I had done so many times before when I was a kid. Instead, I toughed it out and grinned at the receptionist through red-stained teeth.

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