Saturday, September 15, 2007

Eddy's New Blog #2 Reflections on a Life Well Misspent

Isn't it interesting that you could have written General Petraeus' and Ambassador Crocker's testimony yourself a month ago. You knew exactly what each was going to say, and if given the opportunity you could have practically recited it along with them. And for some peculiar reason both men, and particularly the General, told President Bush exactly what he wanted to hear. I guess what they say is really true, great minds think alike.
– • –
Wouldn't you know that when I finally brought myself up to date in the world of Apple computers with a 17" iMac, six months later they would come out with a 20" version, aluminum and black trimmed, with heightened specs and a DVD burner inside, for exactly the same price. Oh, well, at least it's not as bad as what happened to the first iPhone adopters. They paid $599 for the privilege of being first, then just 72 days later heard Steve Jobs cut the price by one third, to $399. You could hear their groans around the world. Of course those who had bought in the last 14 days will get the full $200 refund providing they have the original sales slip. But those early buyers, including the ones who had to stand in line all night, well, they are going to get a $100 credit good in any Apple store, but the other $100 is water under a digital bridge.

But Apple had no choice, they had probably sold m0st all of those phones they were going to at $599, and they were creeping up on their first million, and so according to Jobs, Apple wanted to make the phone more assessable for the Christmas buying season, or as Jobs himself put it, they wanted to "go for it." Besides, they were going to come out with the iPodTouch for $399, which does virtually everything the iPhone does except make phone calls or take photographs, so they had no choice but bring down the price.

As for the early adopters, well that's way the system works. There is not a so-called smart phone out there that hasn't had it's price markedly reduced within months of its introduction. If you truly want a piece of technology you can sit around waiting for that next new evolution to take place, but if you do choose to wait you're liable find yourself waiting at the starting gate while the object of your desire passes you by. I think Pink Floyd once sang a song about waiting at the starting gate. (If you do buy it just be sure to hang onto the sales slip though, just in case.)

The remarkable thing about the iPhone incident is that the complaints from early buyers were so muted. There is so much love for the company among the users of its technology that the complainers were almost apologetic. Imagine for one long minute what would have happened if Microsoft had done such a thing. The resulting eruption would have mirrored Mt. St. Helens. And it's no secret why the Window OS is plagued with viruses and trojan horses, whereas Apple's OS X has none. Hackers resent Microsoft and they love throwing their digital monkey wrenches into the machinery that Bill built. But in addition to it's miniscule share of the computer market, the fact of the matter is that Apple users enjoy their experience, and the last thing that any of them would ever want to do is throw a monkey wrench into Apple's pie. Every now and then one security firm or another points out a new Mac OS X vulnerability, but no viruses ever come. The lesson can be boiled down to this: while Bill Gates was busy killing off Netscape to shore up his precious Microsoft Monopoly Steve Jobs was listening to the Beatles, and he learned his lesson well. "All you need is love." Jobs has created a love among the users of his company's technology that is absolutely unmatched anywhere else in American business. For a serious appreciation of Apple's business strategies go here: http://www.insidecrm.com/features/strategies-apple-loyal-customers/
– • –
Some people might question what the point of this blog is. And what an excellent question that is. A blog is a personal story. If you are famous or successful at what you do you write an autobiography, or you commission someone to write your biography for you. And people pay money to buy and read it, perhaps hoping to pick up some little secret to your success for their own use. But if you're not famous and/or successful, if you have nothing of particular interest to say, then you write a blog. Will anybody read it? Probably not. But if you can type Blogspot or one of the other blog clients will probably publish you. And thanks to the magic of internet search engines one or two surfers might stumble upon your blog and read it. And if you can manage to capture their interest maybe they will link it to a few of their friends and return for future posts. And besides, putting up a personal blog is a real ego boost. And that's something we could all use from time to time.

In case you are new around here, I need to direct your attention to the profile to the right of these words. It is there that I give away my age, 81. I have to tell you right up front that this aging gig ain't worth a glob of used spit. “Golden years” indeed? What that phrase really means is that year after year you will get to watch this or that bodily function throw in the towel and up and quit on you. I would register a complaint if only I knew who to file it with. I suppose one could seek out their nearest minister or priest or rabbi to vent to, and though it is their calling to listen and they will surely be polite, I'm certain they have a huge pile of their own personal problems and don't really need to hear about yours or my puny woes. And so I guess we'll just have to stuff our batch of catch 22 complaints into our own personal File 13. And move on.
– • –
The following letter went out to all readers of Uncle Pan's stories that had written his email box: Friends, I am sorry to have to announce that I am giving up my previously stated commitment to write a story a week for mrdouble.com. This is being done because mrdouble will not allow me to mention the URL of my blog on my page, or anywhere else on his site. In case you may be curious my Blog may be found at: http://littlleeddy.blogspot.com/. My blog is what I would call “Reflections on a Life Well Misspent,” and hopefully will offer a smorgasborg of reminiscences spiked with humor and with an occasional wisp of sanity thrown in. However, I would like to make clear up front that Uncle Pan’s 256 stories were written for mrdouble's website and its members, and I hereby give my permission for Uncle Pan's page to exist in perpetuity as long as I retain the usual author privileges. If my page goes down it will not be of my doing. I also reserve the right to seek publication of any new Uncle Pan stories at another website, and if I am successful, I further reserve the right to reprint certain of my previously posted stories at said site. And one more thing, please don’t construe this email as an attempt to upset the apple cart at mrdouble.com. mrdouble.com is a very unique space, as you all very well know. There is nothing else like it on the entire web. I meant every word I said about it in my Doubleena Land piece, and as you read this if any of you feel a rebellious throbbing pounding in your temples I would urge you to take a deep breath, count to 10, sleep on it, and when you wake up in the morning forget about it. Family members suffer fallouts in even the best managed families, and woe to the one who ticks off the head of the household. I will miss mrdouble and all of my friends here, but hey, life goes on. Good luck to all. Unky
– • –
Weingarten Realty wants to tear down the place of my first employment. http://chron.com/disp/story.mpl/front/5121222.htmlhttp://chron.com/disp/story.mpl/front/5121222.html> My absolute first real job that paid money was as an usher in the Alabama Theater in Houston, Texas (now a BookStop, but it is housed in the well preserved art-deco building that once served as the theater.) What glorious memories from those blessed days. Saturday mornings full of screaming hyper children. Paper towels filled with all the popcorn we could ever want to eat during our breaks. (They gave popcorn to us in cone-shaped paper towels because the bags were counted to figure sales.) I learned to smoke on my breaks, my very first cigarettes were puffed in the balcony of that theater, and I kept that disgusting habit for the next thirty years, finally pulling the plug on nicotine at age 45, and not a moment too soon. Everybody I have known who smoked, and who didn't quit smoking, has died. Most of them from lung cancer. I quit a three pack a day habit at age 45, and today at 81 I'm still plugging along. If a little sluggishly at times. (See complaint above.)

Anyway back to Ye Olde Alabama Theatre. There was Pepper Higgins, a buxom lass of sixteen who was a fellow usher (or should I say usherette?). Pepper was a hot blooded, curvy young thing who used to like to lean against you, so that she could feel your presence. And you could feel hers. I'll ever rue the day I called her what she was, a p......k tease, and those lovely intimate moments came to a screeching halt. Will I ever learn to keep my big mouth shut and go with the flow? Probably not?

My next employment was at the other historic location that Weingarten Realty wants to tear down, the River Oaks Theater on West Gray. The River Oaks back then was managed by a former drummer name Pete Hamlin. Pete had two slightly faded lovelies he employed as cashiers, and I was sure fun and games followed each night’s closing. I became Chief Usher at the River Oaks proudly wearing my newly earned black uniform. Chief usher to whom? As best I recall we had no other ushers working there. Anyway I got a real feel for the movie industry working at the River Oaks.

One of our projectionists was a former boxer who I suspect had a drinking problem. One night, to a packed house, he mixed up the reels for whatever movie we were showing that night. There was a quiet pastoral scene with birds singing and two lovers coming together for a loving buss. Then the reel changed and suddenly it was a dark and stormy night with a car careening down a rain-soaked highway at breakneck speed. I have never since seen so many people leave a movie theater in such a state of total confusion. And since it was the first night of the movie, I hadn't seen it myself and therefore couldn't be of any help to them. Though I could have earned a lot quarters that night if I could have cleared up their confusion.

We had one projectionist while I worked there who had several patents on camera and projection equipment, and who had worked at one of the big studios in Hollywood. He was an alcoholic. Every now and then he would have a drink and wake up several days later in a city halfway across the country. Because of his expertise he had a job waiting for him no matter where he happened to land. He had ended up in Houston after having had a drink in St. Louis. He told fascinating stories of the early days of being a movie projectionist. In those days the projectors weren't motorized. You turned them by hand. And while your left hand turned the projector showing the movie your right had to remove the spent reel of film from the other projector and put on and thread the upcoming reel, all without missing a beat with the left. You ate your lunch and your dinner turning the projector's handle, and you emptied your bladder and bowels also without missing a turn. In addition your job was to pack up the film after it's run and carry it down to the lobby where the delivery company could pick it up, and the next day carry the new day's film up to the projector. He told me in those days he worked twelve hours a day, seven days a week. And his salary, a whopping $16 a week. Of course dollars were worth a little something in those days. That was before our obsession with President's wars that had promised both “guns and butter” but instead has gutted the value of our money.

My third and last job with Interstate Theaters was at the Tower Theater, the very theater whose Popeye Club had gotten my nickel, plus two more nickels for popcorn and a coke, every Saturday morning as I was growing up. The move happened because my manager at the River Oaks, Pete the exdrummer, got transferred to the Tower and talked me into coming over with him. And if I had found the Saturday morning crowds of kids noisy at the Alabama, the Tower certainly took the cake, or got the prize, or whatever. It was wild bordering on insane. However we the loyal usher staff stood with flashlights at the ready, to expose each and every childish excess. At the Tower theater I even emceed a short Saturday morning stage show for a time, demonstrating radio sound effects, and becoming something of a game show host in the making. Bob Barker will be happy to know my game show hosting days never blossomed any further.

I got to usher my way through several memorable films of the period, not the least of which was Casablanca, with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. What a marvelously crafted piece of work that film was, holding its own with the best of them. Just the right blend of romance, politics, and the human condition. It was a sleeper when it had its first run, the crowds didn't start coming until it made its neighborhood theater debut.

The other memorable film which I got to see many, many times was Orson Welles' Citizen Kane. What a true masterpiece of it's time? Or of any time for that matter. Welles and his cinematographer, Greg Toland did some extremely innovative camera work including scenes with two distinct points of focus in the same frame. It is said that Welles also did the lighting himself much to the ire of the electrician's union, and instead of having everybody being perfectly lit in every scene as was standard in Hollywood films of the times, he experimented with making some scenes poorly lit, some were even back lit, a detail which added a not previously known aura of realism to the film. According to Wikipedia in 2007 the American Film Institute listed Citizen Kane number one in a list of 100 of the Greatest U. S. made films of all time. In a recent poll of film directors the British Film Institute also listed Citizen Kane as the number one best film of all time. Only William Randolph Hearst hated it. And ever after its release the best Orson was able to do in Hearst papers was to be referred to as Mr. Rita Hayworth.

I was going to the U of H at that time, busily learning all I could before the Army Air Corps came calling, and I managed to successfully get my termination papers from my ushering career by attempting to organize a union among the other ushers. That went over with a distinct thud. Later drummer Pete tried to lure me back, but I was too into college. And the wild blue yonder was looming on my horizon.
– • –
I have spent a good part of my life working with children, in the University Settlement House in N.Y.C., and in three children's summer camps, the University Settlement Camp in Beacon, N.Y, Camp Killooleet in Hancock, Vermont, and Blueberry Cove at Tenant's Harbor, Maine. And I spent winters teaching kids and occasionally adults guitar and banjo in N.Y.C. and in Houston. I didn't make much money at it, all my life I seem to have been allergic to anything which had any real potential for financial gain. It was a lucky thing that when I was a kid my mother had taken in her Aunt Nina Harper who when she died left my mother, her brother, and sister Calumet Plantation across the river from Baton Rouge, La. Selling my share of it seven years ago was the only thing that has given me an income for retirement.

But getting back to camp, all three of the camps I worked for over a 22 year time span, were rich experiences. The Settlement Camp had three three-week trips a summer, and we tried to cram as much into those three weeks as a regular camp squeezes in over an entire summer. The children were a mix of kids from the Settlement neighborhood in N.Y.C. and the more affluent middle class kids who paid the full fare. The camp was a mile or so down the road from Pete Seeger's home on a mountain overlooking the Hudson River. Pete's wife Toshi's parents were the caretakers for the camp and Pete would sing for the camp at least once a summer. (For any of you unfamiliar with Pete at his most unique best, I would refer you to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZK1g69iHu1Q)

One night Pete was singing for the entire Settlement Camp on the lawn outside the camp's main building, when Charles Cook, the director of the Settlement House in N.Y. and of the Camp, came in and told Toshi's father Takashi Ohta that he was wasn't feeling well. He looked a bit gray around the gills and Takashi phoned the camp's doctor, who came poste haste. As the doctor was taking Cook's blood pressure he died of heart failure. (Cook wasn't the only person to die this way, Gene Roddenbery, the creator of Star Trek, also died while having his blood pressure taken.) Someone scribbled a note to Pete to move the children up the hill so they wouldn't see the hearse as it came for Mr. Cook. And he did just that, Pete played his banjo and led the three hundred children and counselors singing their way up the hill just like the Pied Piper that he truly was.
– • –
Last week I told you about Dena Kaye, the daughter of Danny Kaye who I taught guitar at Killooleet during two summers. Killooleet was owned by John Seeger, Pete Seeger's middle brother. Dena was a very shy, introverted child but evidently she took to guitar because I heard later she had a $25 an hour guitar teacher in Hollywood.

I don't mean to name drop here, but what the hell, why not? One year at Blueberry Cove camp I got to meet two of the persons I admired most (and I don't mean the father, son or the Holy Ghost) when parents visited. One of them was Dave Garroway, the most creative disc jockey I had ever heard and later to be among the creators of NBC's Today show. As a young man I used to listen to Dave's night time disc jockey show from NBC's affiliate in Chicago (wasn't AM radio grand?), and as a radio buff I loved it. So much so that on a trip I made with Mack McCormick, who later became my brother in law, we visited N.Y.C. with a stopover on the way in Chicago just so that I could meet and talk with Garroway. And he did meet and talk with us, bless his heart. Who would have thought that I would be a counselor to his son lo those many years later. Dave's son, whose name was also David, was seven years old, and he was a very disturbed little boy, his mother having committed suicide a year or so before. Dave Garroway explained that to me as we talked during his visit that summer.

I didn't remind him of having met him in Chicago, and he didn't bring it up. He did express his frustration. He wanted desperately to return to the Today Show, or do some kind of television. But he had a tic which would suddenly come on while he was talking, freezing his face in some grotesque expression, and there was no way that NBC or any other network was going to put him on television regularly with a condition like that. It was very sad when a few months later I was shocked to read in the newspaper that Dave Garroway had also committed suicide. That poor kid, I often wonder if he managed to survive.

A Google search will bring up the N.Y. Times’ obituary of Dave Garroway. The curator refers to Garroway as one of Chicago's greatest broadcasting geniuses (which I can personally attest to having been an avid listener to his nightly dj show, and Chicago was a hotbed of creative radio back then, the Breakfast Club, and Club Matinee with Gary Moore, and Arch Obler with his Lights Out were among Chicago's contributions to radio, and Kukla, Fran, and Ollie continued the Chicago tradition into television), although the general public will undoubtedly remember Dave Garroway mainly for having helped create the Today Show with Mr. Muggs, that damned chimp.

Our other most famous parent at Blueberry Cove that summer was Henry Fonda, who's youngest daughter Amy Fonda was a camper for several years. The Inn in Rockland, Maine like to went wild the weekend Henry Fonda visited his daughter. Although I didn't have his daughter directly, I was the trip counselor and knew her on trips and Henry sought me out for about a twenty minute conversation about Amy. He apologized to me as he explained the life she lived in Hollywood, the limousines in which children like Amy were ferried to birthday parties and the like with other limousine ferried kids. He said he certainly had nothing like that growing up in Montana, and this was why he was sure that Blueberry Cove would be a good fit for his daughter. He seemed to be apologetic for the limo life style, but I hastened to point out that Amy seemed to be a very well balanced child, showing no ill effects from her Hollywood life of opulence. Henry was the same tall, skinny, quiet-voiced person I had seen in so many movies, a sort of walking, talking Tom Joad who, nevertheless arrived and departed in a limo. Some years later after she grew up I heard that Amy Fonda had become a social worker. Good for her.
– • –
Children's Camps are magical places, physical properties which take on mystical proportions at the outset of each summer, offering the campers music and experiences that they will never forget. And a truly creative camp director goes with the flow. One night back when Henry and Bess Haskell were still running Blueberry Cove Camp in Tenants Harbor, Maine, one of the buildings, the art building to be precise, caught fire in the middle of the night. Some counselors had been having their very own lobster feast in the building earlier, and one of them must have been careless with a cigarette, or with the coals from the fire.

I want you to know Henry woke up the entire camp, and every one of us, some fifty children and twenty or so counselors plus the kitchen crew snaked down the hill to that burning building and watched in awe as its beautiful flames lit up the Maine night sky. Every few minutes a can of paint or some other flammable substance would catch fire, shooting multi-colored streaks into the night sky. We watched (from a safe distance of course) as the Tenants Harbor volunteer fire department did their best to keep the flames contained so that the fire wouldn't spread to other buildings. Fortunately it was a very still night, and the fire was safely contained to that one building. Bessie Haskell and the cook and kitchen staff made coffee for the volunteer firefighters, and Bessie chose that opportunity to give the firemen some junk candy bars that some parent had donated to the camp, but which Bessie felt would not be good for the children's health. Ever the practical Bessie. I guess she figured the firemen were tough enough to safely ingest that junk candy.

Each Fourth of July Blueberry Cove camp had a big bonfire at low tide and the children would line up on the dock to watch the flames lick into the night sky. Although the building fire didn't happen on the Fourth Henry Haskell was to later declare this night as the greatest July Fourth bonfire in Blueberry Cove history. I think Henry was right. I know I have never forgotten the sight of that building burning so brightly on that dark, mist ladened night, and I'm sure there must be others with just as vivid a memory.

The Real Little Eddy

No comments: