Monday, March 25, 2013

A Tune or Two from 1977

This is what satellite radio gets ya when you're just not paying attention.....

Some serious "ironed" hair with the Farrah Fawcett flip, a home made t-shirt, dimples, and polyester pants.
and this .....

Lowell George in Little Feat.
Good tunes, 1977, good tunes.

In that year, I was in my first year of  teaching ninth and eleventh graders at Douglas County High School. Some of those folks are in their 50s.

*shakes head*


Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Memory Palace

In her memoir The Memory Palace, Mira Bartok recalls a comment from Nicolaus Steno, the “grandfather of geology,” who once wrote the following: “Beautiful is what we see. More beautiful is what we understand. Most beautiful is what we do not comprehend.”

In light of her mother's schizophrenia and the havoc it wreaked on her life, it's an optimistic conclusion for her to come to not only about her mother, but also about herself and the life that she had because of her mother's illness.

Born in 1959, the youngest of two daughters, Mira Bartok's life turned for the worse when her writer father took off for parts unknown and left her and her sister to be raised by a gifted but mental ill mother. From chaotic event to chaotic event, Bartok recalls in lurid but eloquent detail the episodes of her mother, Norma Herr, as she battled the demons that surrounded her. Whether it be the Nazis, the police, her own parents, or the mysterious and elusive “they” who were out to kill, kidnap, or rape them, the paranoid Norma saw danger everywhere.

The sisters escaped into their own world of survival: Mira's sister to her book readings and creative writings and Mira to her art work, two skills that they perfected and eventually became their livings.

When they were of age and means to live away from their mother, each girl did, but it didn't stop Norma from harassing and worrying each of them from afar.

What Bartok chronicles in this memoir is both fascinating and horrifying – a dissecting look at a life shared with a loved one so frightening ill.

For many reasons, this memoir stands out from others. Perhaps it is Bartok's use of mnemonic paintings to separate her chapters and highlight her memories or it's the intelligent and disturbing excerpts from Norma's journals that Bartok shares, but this book is courageous, compassionate, and tragic.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Gear Shift Shuffle and Other Adventures

David and I recently endured a trip that involved car trouble. Argh. Hate. Car. Trouble. Our saga involved a small town auto repair shop, a triple A tow truck driver whose shirt said “Dennis,” but he told us to call him Ray, and a set of mechanic brothers of varying size and tattoos. All of that story, when I recover fully, might show up on another blog.

As I thought about our being stranded many miles from home, fragments of memories surfaced about cars and the trouble we had with them growing up – as I thought – we had more than our share, but maybe that was just my very limited experience.

Before 1963, my dad bought used cars. The first car he owned as a married man was a DeSota, a vehicle that none of us can recall, but my oldest brother Hunter remembers  he owned.

The next car was probably a 1954 or 1955 blue Oldsmobile, whose existence is sealed in the minds of all of us due to the unusual “ailment” it developed and how “we” managed it.

Being a frugal man, my dad put off the repair since he figured out a way around it – at least on a temporary basis. This four door Oldsmobile, and forgive me for my limited understanding of the mechanics of cars, had a glitch in the linkage between the shift and the gear mechanism. Something broke that caused the gear shift to work only in one direction.

The driver could shift into – let's say “drive,” but if he stopped or had to back up, then the gear had to be shifted manually from under the hood, an operation that each of us learned to do.

So, imagine this scenario: We're on our way to church. We come to a stop light. The back door opens, Hunter jumps out, runs to the front of the car, pops the hood, climbs over the wheel well, reaches into the engine, jiggles something, jumps down from the front of the car, slams the hood, runs to the opened back door, and shutting the door, disappears back into the car. Next light --- same thing --- this time, Margaret executes the drill.


Yes. Seriously. We. All. Did. This.

I'm making an assumption that Hunter and Margaret performed this little act more because they were older and taller and possibly faster. Kenneth and I might have been allowed to do this when there was not much traffic – as in the church parking lot. I mean, Mother and Daddy did have some sense. LOL.

I wonder what the drivers behind us thought – did they honk their horns, shake their collective heads at these children outside of the car at an intersection, or “tsk, tsk” at the McDaniels and their budget cuts?

My daddy learned to avoid red lights, coast through stop signs, and minimize the times we had to do the gear shift shuffle, but the ritual was done enough for all of us to remember it – as Hunter noted, “it was less than a year, but longer than a week.”

 the blogger, Kenneth, Margaret, and Hunter, 1957

The cars of my early years always seemed to need repairs – we owned the Oldsmobile, and then after that car – two Ramblers. These two cars, one green and one white, spent a lot of their time, as I recall, not running; however, one of the features of the car stands out to my brother and me  --- the push button transmission that we fought over to be allowed to push. Easily amused. We were. Are. Am.
The Ramblers' car repair history is part of our collective memories.
We know those two cars had a significant number of repairs done; one broke down on the side if I-85 in Gaffney, South Carolina, and one of them stood like a felled steer for several days at the end of our  driveway with a broken axle.

Note: Research on the American Rambler indicated that from 1958-1969, they were the lowest priced car in the US [must be why we owned one, a used one at that] costing around 1800 dollars new, and that they were popular for their “economy of ownership.” Popular where? Not in my neighborhood.


Daddy had a car mechanic he trusted, and he spent many Saturdays at Mr. Allen's Garage “getting the car fixed.”
Mr. Allen owned his repair shop and ran the garage from two or three bays in a ramshackle building behind his home, or at least I think he lived there. He and his two brothers, greasy, weathered, cigarette smoking men in overalls, peered into the hood, jacked the car up on the lift, and diagnosed the problem with relative ease. Perhaps cars were easier to work on in those days and “car trouble” a necessary evil of ownership.
Located on the left side of a fairly busy road, and as we all recall “on the way to the Atlanta Penitentiary” [we knew places by how close they were to other places], Allen's Garage had a bumpy gravel driveway that slung rocks left and right as the car climbed the slight incline to the back of the house where Mr. Allen and his brothers worked on cars.

The area behind his house was a veritable junkyard: big and small parts of cars lay strewn about, cars with no wheels, hoods gaping open, and empty windows filled the confines of his property [some of them abandoned there for good and stripped of all parts]. Overgrown weeds and tall grass lined either side of the drive, and at the fence in the back, an impenetrable barrier of vegetation left untended and grown wild made it a type of fortress.

In the car bays themselves, hundreds of tools, all shapes and sizes, dotted the ground, and oil stains the size of Detroit left crazy Rorschach inkblot designs beneath the lifts, and permeating the air – the reek of gasoline.

Mr. Allen climbed in, around, and out of the car, and sometimes, just jiggled something under the hood to make the repair, thus sending Daddy on his way without accepting a nickel. Other times, he delivered the bad news that “it was the carburetor, or radiator, or hose” that would cost an amount of money hard on our tight budget living family.

Since I remember his place of business and his reputation as a fair man, those visits to his garage made an indelible imprint on my memory and that of my siblings.

Sometime in the early 1960s, one of those Ramblers broke down as we traveled back to Atlanta from a Christmas visit with my mother's family in Virginia. On the side of I-85 [in those days a four lane] and over a 150 miles from home, we abandoned the car on the right side of the road and trudged up  the highway to the nearest exit in Gaffney, South Carolina.


For a number of reasons, the Rambler could not be fixed on the spot – possibly it was a Sunday, or a part needed ordering, or it was too late in the day, – but instead of spending the night in a hotel there, Daddy and Mother made a more economical decision. We did something that we had never done before – we rented a car.

The excitement of that rented car sent us all into a frenzied state: my parents, one of worry about the cost, and us kids, pumped to the max with adrenaline at the thought of an unfamiliar car. The four door sedan, I think it was a Chevrolet, had all kinds of bells and whistles, windows without a side bar, and a new smell that made us all want to inhale.

On the three hour drive back to Atlanta, we busied ourselves with examining every inch of that car; we crawled and poked and prodded the thing silly. I distinctly remembering Daddy, fearful that he would have to pay extra for something we broke, berating us from the front seat for our curiosity.

Later, my brother Hunter and my mother would take a Greyhound bus to Gaffney to pick up the supposedly repaired Rambler only for the thing to break down again. What happened after that is not in any of our memory banks.

For years after, when we made the trip up I-85 to Virginia, we looked at the Gaffney exit and said, “Remember when the car broke down there and we had to rent a car?”

Obviously, we haven't forgotten.

I don't travel that part of I-85 much anymore, but the last time I did, I looked over to see that gas station at that exit and thought of that memorable trip home.

The other story associated with the Rambler was a time Daddy bought an attachable luggage rack for the roof of the car to help alleviate the numerous suitcases necessary to take a family of six to Virginia for an extended stay.

The rickety rack, barely adhering to the roof of the car, required that the suitcases be tied to the rack with straps, and the air passing beneath the rack made a loud whistling noise at the 60 mile an hour speed we drove on the interstate.

On one of the trips with the luggage rack, we heard the noise as the straps suddenly broke, two suitcases got airborne onto I-85, popped open, and coughed up articles of clothing across the two lanes of traffic.

As we watched this event unfold via the rear window, two, alert tractor trailer drivers slowed down, stopped, and blocked the two lanes of traffic. Their quick thinking kept cars from running over our personal items. As Daddy pulled over to the right shoulder of the road, my brothers scampered out of the car, picked up the scattered clothes, and rescued the suitcases.

If I close my eyes, I can still see those flying suitcases shoot off the roof of the Rambler, land on the interstate, and our white clothing puffed out the sides like stuffing. The result of the winged luggage was at a minimal – scuffed leather and a broken clasp – we, however, continued to use that suitcase with its broken lock for years. 
By the time 1963 rolled around, the Ramblers were history, and Daddy bought his first new car from John Smith Chevrolet in downtown Atlanta --- a blue four door Belair.

We had hit the big time – the trips to Mr. Allen's on Saturday came to an end, no more break downs on the interstate, no more un-piloted suitcases – and my oldest brother was a year away from driving.

Scarier times with cars, my faithful readers, were still ahead.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Tallulah here.

Sitting here because it is warm.
No other reason.
It's because I can.

The humans went away.
Left me here.
Tallulah here.
By myself.
With provisions and a sitter.

Nephew number 3 or 4, or I dunno. 
I lost count because I don't care.
For nephews.
Or anyone for that matter.


He came over.
The nephew.
Followed the humans' directions.
Except the one about not touching me.
The one about the steps.
Basement. Steps.
I need to see down there.
Pretty sure.

Several times.
Number 4.
Tried to coax me from my hiding place.

Silly 'phew.


So much smarter than he.
Many hiding places.
 See him.
But he.
Not see.


One time.
Andrew over.
Serving me.
Not him.
After all, he had the treat of feeding me.
Cleaning my box.

Andrew must be special 'phew.

When he came in, I tease.
Walked close enough for him to almost touch me.
Then at last minute.
I scampered.


My fur fly like wind.
My paws like Reebok.

Tallulah here. 
Very smart.
Not so much.

Note:  Andrew better than Stumpy, that interloper. 
In yard. Many times.While humans away.


That cat needs containment.
I have ideas.
Maybe Drone.

Gotta go.
Garage door opening.

Better not be Andrew.