Tuesday, August 30, 2016

REDEMPTION OVER AMSTERDAM



 "Good morning, this is your captain speaking. If you'll look out of the right side 
of the airplane you'll  notice that we're dumping fuel. There seems to be a minor 
problem that we'd like to have checked out before proceeding on to New York 
so we'll be headed back to Amsterdam. Nothing to worry about folks, so sit back 
and we should  be back on the ground in about 45 minutes".


   So what was I doing in Amsterdam anyway? Well, it must have been around 1997 and I was working on a Mattel Compact Disc Project. We had a cool demo to show to the head of technology of Philips in Eindhoven, which was not far from Amsterdam. This was gonna be interesting because his engineers claimed that what we were were proposing was impossible. The demo went off without a hitch and the look on their faces was worth the trip. We were scheduled to fly back to Los Angeles that evening.  

   But I had never been to Amsterdam and had heard about it all my life. I did have some vacation time accrued so I said goodbye to my companions and headed into the city. I checked into a really nice hotel and set out to explore. I loved everything about Amsterdam. Of course their attitude towards grass (tolerated not legalized) was one cool thing but their great canals with their unique houseboats and the general friendliness of the people made me feel right at home. Of course New York, where I grew up, used to be New Amsterdam, so much of the architecture was strangely familiar. The sidewalk cafes, the museums, the toy stores even the weather which one minute was beautiful, followed by a rainstorm sweeping thru and then blue sky again. I loved it. I just loved it all.

   I enjoyed Amsterdam fully for three days and then I started to feel a bit guilty about work so I  reluctantly packed up my stuff, re-scheduled my ticket and headed to the airport. One of the great perks of working for Mattel was the ability to fly business class on international flights, which is just an incredible luxury. I flopped back into my window seat and it even looked like the seat next to me might be vacant-even better. But just as they were about to shut the door, in came an impeccably dressed Dutch businessman (I just assumed he was Dutch), and, of course headed for the last open seat next to me. I might have made some small sign of displeasure while removing some of my stuff from the seat, but it was nothing compared to the look he had on his face when he realized he was gonna have to sit next to this disheveled hippie for the duration of the flight. Hey - I was just wearing my usual jeans and teeshirt but compared to him I was a bum and I’m sure he wanted the stewardess to check my ticket to make sure I was in the right class. Anyway we were both courteous to each other and settled in for the long flight.

   After awhile we began chatting and he asked what I did and when I told him I was designer at Mattel Toys, I guess my status went up a bit and being an ‘artist’ bought me a little leeway with my dress code. Really, he was the kind of guy who, after an eight hour flight, would walk off the plane looking as fresh and neat as when he started his day. He asked me what I was doing in Amsterdam and when I told him and mentioned it was my first time, he asked me how I liked it. I told him I how I absolutely loved Amsterdam, which happened to be his home, and he was delighted and proud to hear of all my adventures. I told him I wished I had stayed a while longer.

   He then told me more about Amsterdam and about his job which I think was in finance and then he said this: “but when I leave on a business trip I demand of myself one hundred and twenty percent efficiency!” In my casual way I responded “that on my best day I was probably about sixty-five percent”. I’m not sure he was able to process that and we were quiet for a while until the captain came on with his message.

   After all my bush pilot flights in Alaska, nothing could scare me about flying and besides I remembered that when something like this happens, if you don’t feel like flying right away, the airline usually pays for an overnight stay. So I was relaxed and enjoying this but when I looked around the plane I saw that people were scared and many seemed to be praying. 

   My neighbor turned, looked at me quite strangely, and said “It looks like you’re going to get your wish to return to Amsterdam”. “Looks that way” I replied. Then, after a while he said “Well, maybe eighty-five percent”. At first I had no idea what he was talking about and then it hit me. He thought that maybe the plane would crash and he didn’t want to ‘meet his maker’ with that ‘hundred and twenty percent’ lie on his lips. I just told him we’ll all be okay.

   And we were. The landing was smooth and silent and we all deplaned quietly. They announced that there was another plane at Gate 4 for us to continue our journey and the last I saw of my well-dressed friend was when I passed him waiting on that line as I headed to the SAS counter. We smiled and nodded at each other, both satisfied with the outcome of this particular venture.

   At the SAS counter I explained how I wasn’t prepared to fly again right now after this ‘harrowing’ ordeal and when they saw my business-class ticket they said they understood. They asked me where I wanted to stay and fortunately I had the receipt from the Sonesta Hotel which I passed onto her. “But this is a first-class hotel”, she seemed surprised. “But that’s where I’ve been staying”. She handed me a voucher and when I got to the hotel they remembered me saying ‘Didn’t think you’d be back so soon”. I asked how long the voucher was good for and when she checked it seemed that it was open-ended, and it was not only for lodging but for dining also. Imagine that. Open-ended. I probably could still be living at the Sonesta today.

   I just stayed in Amsterdam for another couple of days and had a great free time, even if it was at my best 65% efficiency.





Monday, August 29, 2016

ALOHA NUI LOA




The first glimpse of Hawaii, framed thru the jet’s window was simply beautiful. Diamond Head, Waikiki Beach, Pearl Harbor, everything I'd thought and dreamed about was there and getting closer by the minute. 



We land. This was before the era of jetways so as we walked down the ramp we were greeted by our Hawaiian hosts with flower leis for us and as we left the airport our new Vista Supervisors had decided that the best introduction to Hawaii would be a picnic on the beach, and not just any beach. We got into these old grey government cars, Rambler Americans (fitting name), and drove for an hour or so up the coast to the legendary Makaha Beach. But we didn’t stop at the parking lot, no, we drove over the curb and parked the cars pretty much right at the water’s edge. Wow. We were the U.S. Government. We could do anything. What a day. Wow.

After that fantastic experience they took us to where we’d be living. I was to have a room in a regular house in a neighborhood called Upper Kalihi. The homeowner, Hollis Chung, rented out rooms in his home, and there were three other renters, non Vistas, already there. We were all to share the bathroom. This was bad. After my space and freedom in Alaska I felt like a caged animal. Actually after Alaska I was a caged animal. I didn’t know what I could do about it that night but I didn’t think I could survive in that house and room. Not a chance. I went to sleep. 

I’m an early riser so with the dawn I wandered out to see where I was. Upper Kalihi, as you’d expect from the name, was on the side of one of the many lush mountain ridges rising up from the ocean and from the front door of the house you could see the whole panorama of Honolulu and the wide ocean beyond. Spectacular. I was still upset with my living conditions but soon Vista picked me up and took me to where I’d be working, so I have to figure that out later.

MY JOB

I was assigned to the Hawaii Curriculum Center. It was on the beautiful grounds of the University of Hawaii Manoa Campus. I was introduced to everybody, but the truth was that they had already heard about me because of the ruckus I had caused in Alaska, but they were squarely on my side because they had wanted an industrial designer on their team for the past year and they seemed as genuinely happy for me to be there as I was.

Not only that but this group was a research team, tasked with developing creative curriculum materials specifically for the children of Hawaii. The people that they had assembled were incredibly talented and believed totally in their mission. They were a passionate group. My specific job was to oversee a group of about 12 student artists who created the ‘camera-ready’ art to be produce for testing, to design the materials so they looked and worked better and to get them out for bid to the printers on the island. Truth be told I had no idea what ‘camera-ready’ even meant (Pratt didn’t teach us everything) but I kept my mouth shut and quickly learned what I had to to make things work. The truth was it was fascinating work and it was in Hawaii. 

VISTA AND ME

Let me start by saying this. Although I got what I wanted in the end, what VISTA put me thru, for no reason except total government inefficiency, left me with no respect for the organization's managers. Today, in 2016, I can appreciate their fuck-up gave me an experience living with the Eskimos that I treasure, but at that time I was in no mood to listen to anything Hawaii Vista said, and conversely, the last thing they needed was for me to complain (in writing) about anything so we co-existed. Besides, my job at the curriculum center was going well and as long as the University was happy with my work, so were they. Except:

I had these two little issues to solve. The first was my living conditions. So the morning of my first weekend off from work I started to scout the area around Upper Kalihi. I didn’t have to go far because in the back of Hollis Chung’s house was a big sloping yard. I followed it down to where he kept bees (he was very entrepreneurial) and there I saw a wall of overgrown foliage and an old weathered handmade sign that said ‘KAPU’. Figuring this was the Hawaiian version of ‘TABOO’ or ‘KEEP OUT’ I quickly parted the palm fronds to find a set of ancient giant stone steps that led down to a luscious patch of dwarf banana trees and at the end of the patch,beyond and below another old stone wall there was Kalihi Stream. This was amazing.This was real Hawaii. I knew right then that I’d be living here.


I made a deal with Hollis. He could keep all the money Vista paid him for my room rent and he could rent the room out to someone else as long as he’d let me ‘camp’ down in the banana patch and use the shower occasionally. He, of course, thought I was crazy but couldn’t pass up a business offer like this so he agreed. Besides, he saw I was picked up by a  government car all the time and I might have inferred this had something to do with the government. The deal was set. Only one piece left to put in place. Tomorrow. Sunday.

I mentioned VISTA had these cars to use for their business. There were I believe four or five Rambler Americans that were stored at the Marine motor-pool in Honolulu. The deal was we were supposed to fill out some form, days in advance, if we were going to need one for some official VISTA business and the head honcho would decide priorities. We all had been given these beautiful U.S. GOVERNMENT DRIVER’S LICENSES and GOVERNMENT GAS CREDIT CARDS (can you believe it?)



Well, the next morning,  being the early riser that I was, I headed to the motor-pool where I just took one of the cars without telling anybody. These cars didn’t have a radio so my first stop was a radio store where I bought and installed a Sony stereo tape cassette deck and multiple speakers. Next came the Stones and Zep and all the music that I hadn’t heard for a year in Alaska (because while I had a radio there, reception was incredibly poor and when you have no electricity, a battery is more important for your flashlight than for your radio). 

And that was that. I was now bombing around paradise, exploring this magnificent island, in a car that said U.S. GOVERNMENT  FOR OFFICIAL BUSINESS ONLY with Mick telling me 'ya can’t always get what ya want, but if ya try sometime…..



VISTA, of course, called me in for a lecture. I listened passively while they explained the proper procedures for requisitioning a car and why they needed the cars for their other obligations etc etc. They asked if I understood. I said I did, but after all I'd been through with VISTA I couldn't care less about any of their 'rules' and the next morning I got up, went to the motor-pool, filled the tank and was off. They really didn’t know what to do with me but after the third day they just gave up.The car was mine. Also I have to say that I was doing a good job designing educational materials at the Curriculum Center and I really did need a car occasionally to meet with printers or go to a bindery so maybe the Curriculum Center got involved. All I know was that the car was all mine and now I could go about building my new home in the banana patch.


to be continued







Saturday, August 27, 2016

ALOHA

If you’ve read my book ‘SLEETMUTE’ (a couple of bucks on Amazon and other booksellers…with pictures) then you know the following: I had just (1968) graduated from Pratt with a degree in Industrial Design and applied to VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) and stated on the application that I wanted to ‘serve’ in Hawaii (I didn’t use that punctuation of course). I was accepted and assigned, you guessed it, to the very remote, very small, very rough Eskimo village of Sleetmute, Alaska. To my complete surprise, many in my volunteer group wanted to go to Alaska, in fact, for them it was a dream come true. They all saw Alaska, not as a State,but as a religion. The Vista ‘trainers’ were surprised that I had wanted to go to Hawaii, but the US Government being what it was said the best they could do was that, if I stuck out my year in Alaska, and did well, they’d transfer me to Hawaii. It was as good a deal as I was going to get so I agreed.

You’ll have to read the book to see how a Brooklyn Jew survived the winter in the village of Sleetmute, Alaska. Just as a taste, the nearest road was 300 miles away, no electricity, no phones, no streets, no law. If you wanted to eat you had to hunt. My partner got his ribs broken in a drunken misunderstanding and left before the winter set in (and he was known as the ‘friendly’ Vista). 100 Eskimos (about 50 adults and 50 kids) and me. And while we arrived in Sleetmute in the summer, the winter, at more than 50 below zero and dark all day was…well you can read about that…or not..up to you.

You also have to understand that I really had no idea how I was supposed to ‘help’ the Eskimos and the plain truth was if it wasn’t for them helping me survive I would have died. But I tried. And after the winter ‘broke’, Jim Holton, my ‘Area Supervisor’ was gonna fly in to see what I had ‘accomplished’. Now, I was sure that I had done nothing except survive (a big plus as far as I was concerned) but I figured I was doomed. Not only that, he was supposed to stay for a day and when the weather turned bad, no plane, he was with me for a whole week. Oh fuck. I took him around to every cabin and we sat and had tea and ‘talked story’. Still I thought I had really done nothing all year in terms of Vista’s mythical ‘community development’ and when Jim eventually flew off he seemed happy but I just figured that was because he was finally getting out of Sleetmute.

(A note: If you do happen to go on to Amazon’s SLEETMUTE page, 


there’s a review of my book by Jim Holton. How we hooked up decades after Alaska is another tale but he told me stories of some of the other volunteers in my group actually having total mental and physical breakdowns because of the brutal conditions, and I don’t necessarily mean just the weather)

The upshot of all this is that Jim thought I had done a great job (I’m still surprised) but I was truly amazed when they offered me the promotion of Area Supervisor for next year in Alaska if I wanted to stay on. Unbelieveable. But of course I didn’t, I was promised Hawaii and a promise is a promise. Or so I thought.

The next section is from my book:



I’m waiting in my hotel room. A VISTA supervisor, Jack Prebis, is coming over to talk to me about my transfer to Hawaii. Wow! It’s really happening. Jack arrives. We’re sitting on the beds facing each other. “Stan”, he says, “this has nothing to do with you personally…” Every sensory cell in my body is alerted. This probably ONLY has to do with me personally. He continued. “I know VISTA made some promises to you but the reason you can’t go to Hawaii is that we need people there with special talents…they need a photographer, an industrial designer, an…..”  Now when Jack said the words “can’t go to Hawaii” my mind buckled. Jack was not talking to the kid they had sent to Sleetmute a year ago. He was talking to the Eskimo in me. I was mad. Eskimo mad. This was fuckin’ government’s gussach lies, I thought. If I had my gun I might have shot him…just as a warning.  But when he said the reason I wasn’t going was because they needed an ‘industrial designer’, I cracked. I stood up while he was talking. (he stopped). I walked over to my army duffel bag and  began emptying it, like an animal, throwing my possessions all over the room. Jack watched this display in silence. I just had to make sure. It had been a long year after all. Finally I found it – at the bottom. It was the very first thing I had packed because it was the last thing I thought I would ever need in Alaska. My diploma. I opened the little leather folio. I read it. I WAS an industrial designer.


I walked back over to Jack, holding the diploma up in the palm of my hand and held it up for him to read. Then with all the fury in my heart I pushed it hard into his face. Hard. He quickly left the room.

I’m left sitting on the bed fuming but crushed by this turn of events when I hear laughing. Peeking in from the next room was Roger, another Vista Administrator, and he’s actually laughing at this whole scene. I was ready to kill him with my bare hands but he approached me with his palms outstretched to calm me.

“Look – I saw the whole thing and I just gotta tell you a story.” You can imagine that I was in NO mood for a story, but he continued. “Do you know who Ken Kesey is?” I nodded I did. Confused. “Well a couple of years ago Kesey and me worked together at the Oregon State Psychiatric Hospital. We were both orderlies. Ken was there to do research for a book that he was writing called ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’. I was there because I really needed the job. Kesey would secretly change patient’s prescriptions and generally screw things up just to see what would happen. I kept warning him that sooner or later they’d catch him. He just laughed.”

I still had no idea what this story was about or what it had to do with me, but Roger had my interest.

One day Kesey got called into the office. They told him that they knew what he’d been doing and threatened him with jail before they fired him. As they were escorting him out of the building he yells to me, laughing ‘They fired my ass!’ ‘I told you they were gonna get you,’ I said. ‘Oh-yea,’ Kesey says, ‘and by the way they said they wanna see you next.' I got canned too. Just for being Kesey’s friend.  I’m bewildered. Roger looks me straight in the eye and continued. “Look, you’re right about this whole Hawaii thing but it doesn’t matter. You’ve only got one chance to get what you deserve and that’s to sit down, right now, and write the best letter that you’ve ever written, about what’s just happened to you, and send it to everyone important you know”. I was stunned.  Three days. I worked nonstop on the letter for three days. After Sleetmute, words, especially written words, came hard. They looked so permanent. And they were so important. Three days.  I sent it off. To Jack, to his boss, to the heads of VISTA Alaska and VISTA Hawaii, to the Governor of Alaska, the Senators and Representatives of my home state of New York and Alaska and Hawaii and finally to the President of the United States.
Several days went by. Then I got a call from VISTA Headquarters. I remember it well. “Stan! Stan! Good News! We’ve cleared everything up over here and guess what – You’re gonna go to Hawaii! Yea! That’s Great! Just what we all wanted! And hey Stan, just do us one favor OK? Yea..Well.. Uh..Just don’t write any more letters OK"?  “Sure” I said.  

On August 20, 1970 I landed in Honolulu, Hawaii. It was paradise.

 ALOHA To  be continued:


















Tuesday, August 9, 2016

MY  LIFE  AS  A  TRAFFIC  CONE

I’m sure that many of you consider traffic cones to be just pieces of some orange plastic material thrown up when and where someone thinks they are necessary. Well, the truth is, like any item approved for use on our public highways and streets, they must conform to strict Department of Transportation (DOT) specifications.

What few people are aware of is that in order to meet those requirements, new traffic cones are required to attend rigorous classes to learn exactly what’s expected of them and to properly prepare them for their important and dangerous profession.

Recently I was priviliged to be invited to sit in on a ceremony for graduating cones and here on my blog I’ve reprinted the commencement address from one of the oldest and most decorated cones to those young cones headed out on their road to service and safety

(It seemed to me that much of the advice he delivered might also apply to young humans too)


 





























Monday, August 8, 2016

SLEETMUTE 


THE LEDGE

The Eskimos never hunted for sport. They hunted to eat; for subsistence. There were no 'trophys' in any eskimo cabin. Nonetheless they were subject to the State hunting laws. They said the Game Wardens occasionally fly over and if they’re caught hunting out-of-season they were in big trouble.

It was late March. Many families in the village had run out of meat. Some men had illegally killed a moose an hour or so away from the village and hid and camouflaged it because they didn’t want to transport it in daylight. This moose would be enough meat for the whole village until the salmon returned. 

After dark, two snowmobiles set out to retrieve the moose. Jack Egnaty, a cautious and competent Eskimo drove the first and for some reason I was selected to drive the second. We crossed the frozen river and went up a stream valley at speed. It was dark and only the snowmobile’s headlights lit our path. We were going faster than I felt comfortable going but I was determined not to fall behind or, God forbid, get lost again. I stayed close behind. The valley narrowed and the walls got steeper and soon we were zipping along a narrow ledge, not much wider than the snowmobile’s track and we’re 30 feet above the valley floor. The trail twisted and turned. Jack didn’t slow down and I stayed right on his ass. He was the Eskimo. He knew where we are going and why we’re on that ledge and why the hell we have to be going so fast.

Then, without warning, Jack peels off the ledge, racing furiously down the steep slope and into the valley. I’m right behind. Maybe the trail was out ahead. We zip along the frozen stream bed for a little while and then Jack guns his snowmobile up the slope, having enough momentum to JUST make it back to the ledge. My heart’s in my mouth as I climbed behind him, barely thinking of not making it up to the trail and falling backwards, snowmobile and all into the valley. I made it.

We sped along the ledge for another ten minutes or so and then Wham! Jack’s banking into the valley again and we repeat the whole harrowing sequence. Finally we’re back on the ledge. I’m covered with sweat. Jack stops his snowmobile. He gets off and walks back. He looks at me strangely and says, “When I fall off the trail you don’t have to follow me."


Reprinted from my book 'SLEETMUTE, A true story of Alaska' available on Amazon, Apple iBooks and other fine booksellers 

Today the school in Sleetmute is named after Jack Egnaty.







Sunday, August 7, 2016

BATTERY MAKERS

What do Elon Musk and this fine young lad have in common? Right! They're both owners 
of a Battery Making Factory. Here's Elon's...


And here's the fine young lad's





   Ok, Ok, admittedly one is a giga-factory and the other is, well, I guess 'nano' in size, but still it's great to remember the good old days, before all those pesky safety and compliance 
regulations and words like 'hazmat' came into the vocabulary and kids could still 'roll their 
own' batteries.

 On the other hand maybe that fine young lad WAS Elon Musk.
   




Saturday, August 6, 2016

APPLAUSE

1971

    After my year in Sleetmute, Alaska I was transferred to Hawaii where I worked as the designer of the Hawaii Curriculum Center. 

    The Center was a joint venture of the University of Hawaii’s School of Education and the State Department of Education. The mission: to develop creative educational materials specifically for the children of the State of Hawaii.

    This was actually my first design job, and while I had a degree in Industrial Design, I really had no experience in actually designing anything. But the Center was a wonderful place, full of very smart educators and psychologists totally dedicated to creating great new ideas for the classroom. I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time but  the products we were developing were based on 'peer-teaching' (kids learning from each other using our materials) were what we’d call ‘interactive’ today.

    One of my jobs was to take some rough prototype and make it so it looked and worked better. ‘Classroom management’ was also a big deal and if I could make it easier for the teacher to keep things together, I tried to incorporate that into the design. One of my most interesting experiences was with a product called PURPOSEFUL WRITING.

    PURPOSEFUL WRITING was a communication game where two kids would sit on either side of a divider on the table. There was a pocket on each side with cards that asked each kid to WRITE a message to the other kid and if that other kid could read, understand and do the requested task, the kid who wrote the message was therefore successful and would proceed to the next (more difficult) card.



    I made the divider into colored rainbows, blue on one side, red on the other and the cards had little colored stripes which 
corresponded to the side they were supposed to be on.

    The way things worked at the Center was that my design would be approved, made into a technical specification and bid package and  sent out to the local printers for competitive bids. Eventually a vendor would be selected and production began. We usually made a hundred or so 'prototypes' to test in our pilot schools all over the state. Usually the process took at least a couple of months and
I went on to my next project and pretty much forgot about it.


    Now The University of Hawaii had an Elementary School on its campus and one day, several months later, I happened to be walking by it and when I looked in, there on a table was ‘my’ PURPOSEFUL WRITING game being played by a group of tiny first graders. This was the very first time I saw a product that I had designed being actually used and without thinking I walked into the classroom and just stood there smiling, watching those kids writing, learning and enjoying themselves.

   The teacher, seeing this strange guy just standing there, was concerned and came over to me. “Can I help you?” she asked. Realizing that I had just intruded into her class I apologized and quickly introduced myself and explained that I worked at the Curriculum Center and that I had designed PURPOSEFUL WRITING and had never seen it in action before.

    The teacher smiled and nodded and, addressing the kids said, “Class, this is Stanley Resnicoff and he designed PURPOSEFUL WRITING.”

    These little kids all turned, looked up at me and then started to applaud with hands that were actually too small to make any sounds.

    I teared up. 

Friday, August 5, 2016

FRIENDSHIP


    In 1964 my brother got me a summer job driving a truck for Friendship Dairies. It was a big truck, air brakes and all that stuff and I had to get a special license to drive it. The job? Every night the truck would be loaded up with fifty thousand pounds of farmer cheese, pot cheese and other cheeses and at midnight I would set out from the markets in lower Manhattan and unload different orders at various locations throughout Brooklyn and Queens. I had keys, (many, many keys), to refrigerated lockers or warehouses at all of these locations as they were all closed and abandoned as I made my rounds.

    For the first week on the job I went out with Jimmy, the regular driver, to learn the route and the different things I had to know about each specific delivery. The driving was relatively easy at night, no traffic, but the physical unloading was pretty tough and all the while I kept realizing that I’d be doing this all alone next week.

    So finally it’s my first day, I mean night, on the job. In addition to my normal anxiety of driving and remembering the route and the various peculiarities of each delivery, I had one new big extra thing to worry about.

    It seems that a white cop had shot a black kid in Harlem that day and it had set off sporadic race riots in the city. The word around the market drivers was that there was trouble in Brooklyn and the cops were holding up trucks before they crossed the Williamsburg Bridge until they had five trucks and then they sent them across in a convoy for their safety.

    A CONVOY! Holy Shit! A convoy! My first night on the job and I’m gonna be in a fuckin' convoy. Besides, I’m thinking, what good is a convoy gonna be? All the drivers would be heading in different directions after we left the bridge. Well, I didn’t have much of a choice so I headed to the bridge.

    Midnight. The cops were there and I got on line behind several other trucks, waited and watched as the cops counted off five trucks and waved them across. Finally I was first on line and by chance there’s nobody behind me yet, so I hit the brakes to wait. But no. The cop is waving me across. “What about MY convoy?” I yelled at him. He spread his hands palms out, cocked his head to the side, smirked like only a New York cop can and said “Ya Got Cheese! YA GOT CHEESE! and forcefully waved me on.

    I guess he figured that no rioters would bother with cheese. I hoped he was right as I rumbled on into the dark Brooklyn night.

    He was.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

SLEETMUTE

Sleetmute,Alaska 1969  

Page 96

“THE TIN MAN

It was probably January when I decided to move a short distance into an abandoned log cabin right on the riverbank. Now there were two things I didn’t know. First, it was abandoned because it’s too cold right on the river, and if that wasn’t enough, this cabin had been lifted up in a flood and rotated so now its front door faced north. Right into the wind. I didn’t know. I thought it looked good. It was impossible to heat.

That night, with no warning, I got sick. Really sick. I became very weak. I had a fever and I was burning up. I felt terrible and to top it off I had to take a wicked shit.

I can’t claim to have been thinking clearly but the only thing on my mind was to make it to the little outhouse near my previous cabin. It wasn’t far. Maybe 2 football fields away. I already had on two pairs of thermal woven cotton long-johns. I put on sweaters. I got on my parka. I opened the door.

It was brutal. Maybe 40 below. It was 4 am. The moon lit the snow. It was very quiet. I shuffled
ahead, the only thought on my mind was the relief that was waiting for me inside the outhouse. My steps got shorter. I was holding it in. Occasionally I had to stop. The outhouse was only fifty feet away. I thought I could make it. I was wrong.

I lost control. Diarrhea, hot diarrhea blasted from me completely soaking the fabric of my long-johns, enveloping me momentarily in comforting warmth – and then – one second later –everything froze solid.


So now I’m sick, it’s 40 below, I just shit in my pants and I’m immobilized with my legs encased in frozen excrement encrusted long-johns. I couldn’t move. I was the tin man. I quietly started to sob. And then I fell, face first, stiff as a board into the snow. I’m laughing as I write this. I wasn’t laughing then.


I crawled into the empty community center building. I remember it took me a long time to somehow open the door. I crawled behind a cold stove. I got into the fetal position. I fell asleep. I remember hearing kids find me in the morning. I remember them calling their moms.

The next thing I remember is being poked. I’m waking up. It’s dark. I’m in my bed. I’m naked. I’m clean. Something is hurting me. There’s laughing. I open my eyes to see three Eskimo women poking me with willow brush branches. They’re actually prodding me with branches and laughing at me. I was delirious. I remember trying to sweep them away with my arm. “Get the fuck away from me!” They kept laughing and poking. It was like a nightmare, laughing witch-like women torturing me all illuminated by the flickering fire. Mercifully everything finally went black.

The next day I was better. The fever had broken. I was very tired and weak. I remembered the outhouse, and the tin man and the women and the branches. They all seemed very far away. What seemed like one night to me then may have been more. I think those women saved my life.

We never talked about that night.



SLEETMUTE, A True Story of Alaska is available on Amazon, Apple iBooks and other fine booksellers.









Tuesday, August 2, 2016

MUGS

The complete MUGS book is at the end of this blog


     1983.....With the advent of the personal computer, the kind of games and experiences that I had been creating for museums turned into a real profession and I was offered a position as a junior software designer at Mattel Toys. It was California, the beach and computers. I loved my new job.

    One day while driving I saw a large garage sale. New Yorkers are not exactly familiar with garage sales (the first time I saw one I thought it was an eviction) but I stopped anyway just to check things out. While I was looking around I saw a couple of stuffed animals lying face down in the grass. They looked so sad. Now maybe it was because I now knew how much work went into creating those characters or maybe it was because I knew that each of those animals had helped bring up some kid, I bought both of them. I think it cost me 20 cents. On my way home I stopped at several more garage sales and by the time I got home I had about 25 different very well-loved stuffed animals in my “collection."

    I set them all up around my living room, and then went about my day. Later, when by chance I happened to look over at them, I could swear that they were all now smiling.

    I was hooked. Every weekend I set out with the newspaper and Thomas Guide hitting every garage sale I could find and buying up every dejected, rejected stuffed animal. And every garage sale had them. I carefully numbered and tagged each one and kept records of where and when I had rescued them.

    Soon I had over 2000. I didn’t know exactly why I was doing this. At one time I thought that I’d create big ‘MUG’ books and have kids in hospitals pick one to adopt, but health and cleanliness rules made that impossible. In any event my house was quickly filling up.

    Now it just so happened that I had to leave the place I was renting and I was able to buy a nice little house in Redondo Beach. It was a California Craftsman cottage, built in 1910, up on a small hill with a tiny ocean view. It was beautiful. It was also Christmas time and I noticed that my new neighbors had adorned their homes with lights and displays for the holiday season. The first Sunday in my new house I got up at dawn, went to the garage where all my stuffed animals were stored in garbage bags and began to set them up on my front steps.

    A couple of minutes later a little kid came up to me. “What are you doing?" he said. “I’m just setting these stuffed animals up on my stairs so each of them has an ocean view," I answered.
“He thought about it. “Can I help?”, he said. Shades of Tom Sawyer, I saw some free labor appear. Soon he was busy planning each animal’s place and position. Not five minutes later a little girl showed up. “What are you doing?” she asked me. “Ask him," I said pointing to the little boy, and when she did his answer was "Settin' 'em up...ocean view.”
And then somebody called the L.A. Times....


After the article was published in the Times it seemed as if everyone at Mattel knew who I was. I also received letters from people about their stuffed animals.





The stuffed animals remained on my steps for a week or so. Even though a lot of people drove by and took pictures, not one animal was ever taken. I wouldn’t have minded because I was already wondering what I was now going to do with them. Then I received a call from the sister cities program of Redondo Beach. Every year they formed a ‘caravan of cars’ that drove to their sister city, La Paz, Baja, Mexico, to bring toys to children who might otherwise not get anything for Christmas. They wanted to know if I might have something to contribute. I did. I definitely did. 



*********************************************************************************************

















































the end