various braindroppings. infrequent. some incoherent. Please COMMENT, critique, complain, and send me a link to your blog or photos page. You can also click "follow" and get an email upon addl. posts. thnx!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I lost an old friend.

My old friend Wally passed away the other day. Now, when I say “my old friend”, I mean it. In fact, he was my oldest friend that I had. Not that I knew him longer than anyone else (although it was a 32 year old friendship), but what I mean is that he would’ve been 89 next month. I first met him when I answered an ad for a car stereo installer, while I was working my way through college in the late 70’s. I walked in expecting to find a big, bustling retail car audio store with all the top brand names, and young people everywhere buying and selling the best high performance gear, only to find the smallest office I’d ever seen, stacked with white boxes that said “RCA car radio” on them. And an “old guy” with a New York accent, saying, “how many car radios can you install in an hour?” I said: “Radios?” - “No, I’m lookin’ to do Custom Stereo System installs, you know, Retail, with separate amps and….” He cut me off and said “No, No, No,….too many headaches!….We do Wholesale here. You know, stock-looking radios in new cars, right on the dealerships’ lot. Right before the customer buys the car. – You’re in,- you’re out, bing bang,….no headaches!” Well I had never even heard of such a thing. And I equated RCA with the “old days”, and although it wasn’t what I thought I wanted to do right then, the money and the hours sounded great, and there was something about this guy that was very likeable, so I took the job, and although I only worked there a few years, it was the start of a journey that would lead me to owning my own retail car stereo business, and would lead to a 32 year friendship with a very fun, interesting, positive guy that lived his live through a philosophy of “no headaches”.

Wally and Gloria were sort of employers, friends, and even parental figures for me, and they went out of their way to help me out in so many ways. They also gave me some very good advice from time to time. Everything from getting over an ended relationship, to not starting my business as a partnership, and to start small, with as small a rent payment as possible. I can still hear Wally: “Fred!, Listen, I’m tellin’ you, you don’t want the headaches!” He was so right. Life is too short. I really learned a lot from him about enjoying life, day to day. We stayed in touch, over the years, as I visited them with my wife and kids, and they would stop by my store, and see my dozen employees, and Wally would say, “Fred, doesn’t all this give you headaches?” And I’d say something like “Yeah, but once I get it running smoothly…, I’ll be able to be home more….” Until I realized that he was right again, and sold the store. It’s not that he was afraid to take a chance. He just wanted to know the odds going in. And that made sense to me. I’d usually see them at the annual CES show in Vegas. And actually, If I had gone to Vegas any other time during the year I might’ve run into them as well, because they went a lot. Wally liked to gamble. “Craps…this is the only game worth playing”, he would say, as he taught me the game. They say that stress is the number one cause of a shortened life. And I think Wally was proof of that. Just last week he was up at Vegas, a drink in one hand, dice in the other, probably saying something to the dice like, “’Come on boys, bring it home, ...and don’t give me any headaches!” Thanks Wally, for being my friend, and being such a positive, fun loving guy.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Michael Jackson was a freak

He was born a black male but he adopted a persona that was closer to a white female. He was a millionaire who spent like a billionaire, purchasing hundreds of useless glittery art-like objects from dealers like the retail shops in Las Vegas casinos that mark up items to unbelievable percentages! There may be a sucker born every minute, but this guy was the chump champ! He had an ego the size of Cleveland, never uttering one humble remark in any interview, and never acknowledging the talents of other performers. His art was also somewhat of a “freak of nature”. In a segment of the art world, called rock and roll, where gritty and rough and tough messages are the most prevalent and saleable, he consistently wrote and sang (and had success with) songs about very positive messages. He somehow managed to make topics like non-violence and world peace seem “hip” and “cool”. What a freak. His bizarre costuming also never portrayed an image of gang-violence or any other offensive, negative, or rebellious styles. How strange for the rock-world. And his dances were as freakish as they come, seemingly defying the laws of physics.
But his personal life was the all-time freak-out of any celebrity, bar none. Instead of “clubbing”, “drugging”, sleeping around, and spending millions on uber-elaborate parties like most celebrities, this weirdo chose to do things like build a Disneyland at his house and invite handicapped kids and their families over for a weekend of rides and ice cream, just to see them smile. What kind of freak gets a kick out that? I guess because he started show biz young, and didn’t have a normal childhood, he tried to re-live it vicariously through his guests. But, apparently, his early success kept him from having any normal relationships with anyone, on any level. He was so out of touch with reality, that he didn’t even see the potential pitfalls of sleeping in the same room, and even bed, as the kids, and was terribly, personally hurt when some families accused him of inappropriate behavior. Hell, everything he did was inappropriate by normal standards. Would you let your kid sleep over at some guy’s house that dresses like a girl and acts like a child? I actually think those parents were a little more na├»ve than Michael on that deal. And even though the investigations seem to prove that there wasn’t any actual molestation, the whole ordeal was a bit out of control and turned Michaels’ positive intentions into a nightmare for everyone. What a freak.
He may have looked at the man in the mirror, but could never really see himself. A world-class celebrity and entertainer, who couldn’t even carry on a normal conversation. But just like so many tormented genius artists over the ages from Mozart to Kurt Cobain, he could handle complex art forms, just not the details of daily life, normal relationships, and personal contentment. It’s always a really sad situation for them, but a good thing for the rest of the world. Because not only do we benefit from enjoying their wonderful art, we get to look at them, and reflect on our own lives, and realize how lucky we are that even though we can’t make art like them, we have discovered the much more important artistry of obtaining personal happiness. Thank you Michael, for being a freak of nature, and entertaining us on many levels. May you rest in peace.

P.S. I can’t wait to see the bio-picts about him. I wonder what actress they’ll get to play him?

Friday, July 3, 2009

Don't worry, Regina, we actually thought we had it made!

After telling my 21 year old daughter how rough life was for us as kids (my previous post), she was so sympathetic, and wondered how we could survive such a boring existence. So I had to set her straight on a few things:
It's true, that when I was kid, the “digital age” had not yet begun, but we really had everything we wanted. For example, there were pin-ball machines, with fancy mechanical rotating "digital" readouts for scoring! Then there were some new, high-tech ones that had vacuum-tube, 7 segment, true digital display readouts for the score, - man was that cool! Then when I was about 16, the very first video game came out, called "Pong". It was a TV screen in a box/table facing up that two people could sit at, and play either a one player game (against the "brain" of the thing), or two players. And it was just like ping pong. A "ball" (little, fuzzy square) bounced back and forth, that you had to hit with your "paddle", an inch long blob that you could make scroll up and down the far edge of the screen with a rotary knob controller. 'Too simple and boring, right?

Well, we thought it was right out of Star Trek! Not only was it new and high tech and whiz-bang and cool and futuristic and space-age and our first contact with a thinking machine up-close-and-personal!!! …It was also sophisticated enough that you could put "spin" on the ball if you not only got up or down there in time with your paddle, but made your paddle move just as the ball was hitting it. !!! This was the most amazing part of it, to think that a machine could calculate all that stuff. And it also really made the game more interesting to play for a long time, to master just how fast and in which direction to make that ball leave your paddle in a slightly different direction, at a slightly different speed than normal, which would make a whole lot more work for your opponent to return your shot. In one-player mode it did go faster and faster until it won. It’s true you could never win. And then it calculated and displayed your score. And so you only "won" by having the highest score on that machine in that particular pizza joint, or wherever. I'm pretty sure that if I had a nickel for every quarter I spent on those early video games I could buy myself a new laptop today.

We really didn't miss the internet. Nothing was hard to look up or know what was new or anything. We had great yellow pages, and newspapers, and radio and TV stations and gorgeous full color magazines. My friends and I were into all the new, high-tech, exploding fields of - photography, stereos, two way radios, bicycles, and remote-controlled-scale cars/airplanes. We were the high-tech generation! (we thought) Color TV's were getting so cheap that even poorer families like mine could afford one. When we got one (when I was about 14, in ‘70) I got to have the old black and white one, in my room. IN MY ROOM! For a poor kid, I was sure the envy of my friends. I had that TV, to which I rigged up headphones (so that I could watch late at night when I was supposed to be asleep), my own stereo phonograph, and a radio with FM... -in Stereo!

At about 12 years old I convinced my mother to not worry when I "illegally" hooked up an extension to our home telephone in my room (back then, the phone company wanted you to pay $2/month for each additional phone device you had, - even though it was just one phone line!?) I had a killer ten speed bike (that I saved up for, for about a year), a pretty good used camera - and a flash attachment! And,....when I was about 15, I had a CB with a huge base-station antenna on the roof of our mobilehome. This was possibly the most important material thing I had, concerning my emotional and societal development (in addition to some of the controversial comedy albums like George Carlin's), because back then, in the early days of Citizen Band radio, the air was clear and not over crowded like it became later in the late 70's, and you could talk all over the Valley, and meet people. And somehow, a tiny percentage of “enlightened” high school kids bought them and used them as a social networking tool, much the same way kids today use Facebook, texting, email, I.M., and cell phones. I had moved from Tempe to Mesa when I was 13, and still had old friends there, and so with the CB radios we where finally able to talk for free all night, every night. Not privately, you understand, but that was part of the fun of it. Other people would just jump in and offer their "comments", and it was a great way to kinda get to know a buncha people from all over. When I was "doing my homework", I had the CB on (on "our" channel - channel 23), kinda half-listening in to whatever the evenings' conversation topic was and periodically interjecting, while the TV was on with the sound low, - and maybe a little music on the phonograph, just for background filler! (I don't remember my homework getting the best scores). As soon as someone got a car, we went mobile (with mobile radios) and had impromptu "boondocker" parties (‘don’t know where that term came from) in the desert on the edge of town (which wasn't very far to go, back then) every weekend. Gas was 45 cents (although there was a devastating gas shortage, where gas skyrocketed to 75 cents!). Then Cassette players and recorders came out, and you could record your albums and play them in your car!….IN YOUR CAR!!!

We really had everything we could’ve dreamed of, and didn’t want for much. We felt pride in being the space-age generation that put a man on the moon, and we were sure that someday, when we’re older, we will probably be able to visit there as tourists, if we could afford it. We had Tang and Velcro and other great by-products of the space race. And every day, you’d hear about how in a few years, we’d have affordable computers for our homes! We didn’t know what we might want to do with them, but just the thought of having one was exciting enough! We started having affordable mini-calculators (we could cheat at math!), and digital watches – with alarms!!
Rich people like doctors, and mafia hit-men had radio- mobile telephones in their cars, and you’d hear of some phones that could fit in a small suitcase! Cars were cool, of course, because the hey-day of the muscle car was about ten years past, which meant you could afford to buy some of those cool cars used (even if we couldn’t afford gas). Actually, we could always afford gas, ‘cus even 75 cents/gallon wasn’t a deal-breaker if you wanted to cruise badly enough. The problem was Gas Rationing. They’d legislated how much gas you could buy, and which days, based on what your license plate number was.

So, I remember not being able to buy gas, even though we had money! And we really needed to cruise (Main St. in Mesa), so I remember one time we set out to steal some gas out of parked cars. We knew how to siphon, we got our hose and gas can, we targeted two sorta long-term parked cars in the corner lot of the mobile home park that I lived in. We decided on these because we figured by the time they got back to using them and noticed the fuel was low, they’d think it was from evaporation. Why we worried about this, I don’t know! This being our first time (and turned out to be the last) at real honest-to-no-goodness crime, we were nervous and a little scared to say the least. It’s funny, I have a terrible memory, but I’ll always remember this event ‘till the day I die. It was Mike Putz, and Vance Green, and I, and we made a point of wearing black clothing so we wouldn’t be seen as easily, even though we noticed there was a huge streetlight right there. We started by hiking all the way around the outside fence (even though they were just a 30 second walk from my front door!?) and then jumping the fence right behind the parked cars when we were sure no one was around. “We’re safe!” “No one saw us!” (that was because no one was ever around after dark in this sleepy little trailer park).

The first car we targeted didn’t seem to have a gas filler inlet on it anywhere! We we’re all (stealthily) searching every inch of this car, and, nothing! Somebody said “See, I knew we shouldn’t be doing this, we don’t know enough about cars to even do this!” It’s true, we were not “car enthusiast kids”. Only Mike Putz had a car so far, and none of us had the kind of Dad that talked cars all the time or anything. Finally somebody found that the rear license plate flipped down to access the gas inlet. -It had a locking gas cap on it!! We had heard of them, but they were new and no one really used them much, but this guy did! “Just our luck! – Damn!” We had it all planned that we would take just half a gallon from each, filling our can and giving us enough for about 25 miles in Mike’s Chevy Vega. “Let’s just take the whole gallon from this next car here,… we don’t care!” “OK, it say’s Mercedes Benz on this one, I think it’s a rich guys’ car, he won’t care” “OK”. So we maneuvered around, still whispering and hiding in the shadows of the cars, the best we could.

You have to remember, we had seen a lot 70’s TV, and knew just how to act and talk like proper two-bit thieves. And so, we find the gas filler, and put the hose in, and now it’s time to finally decide just who is gonna start the siphon. We had “discussed” it before, but hadn’t yet agreed on a “designated drinker”. You see, to start a siphon, you have to suck on the hose long enough to draw the gas down the hose, to a lower level, where it will continue to flow, into the can. The problem is, you always end up getting some gas in your mouth, ‘cus it’s virtually impossible to know exactly when to stop sucking and see if it worked! So we’re back to arguing about who the lucky person will be, - only this time it’s bigger stakes because there’s only one car now, and the honors can’t be shared, when somebody’s weak flashlight illuminates a sticker next to the fuel-filler that says “Diesel Fuel Only”. We hadn’t even heard of passenger cars that run off of Diesel! We thought that maybe it was modified and that we found the only car in the world that had diesel fuel in it! –Just our luck! We laughed (for about a week), and decided to abandon our life of crime, realizing it was just not in the cards for us. Besides, we really did have everything we could want.