Writing Wednesday

This weekend that just passed, Decades TV had their weekend binge, where they show an old television show all weekend long. This time around they showed whatever it is — 40 hours? — of Lost in Space, one of the great sci-fi television programs of all time.

OF ALL TIME!

There is no argument about that.

151120-lost-in-space

But seriously, if you grew up in the 60s, the first sci-fi space adventure television program that aired was Lost in Space. I was at the perfect age where I was mesmerized by lasers, force fields, the Jupiter 2, and of course, the greatest robot ever created, the Robot, or B9 as some of us call him.

Jupiter-2 168 10-9-11

And because I had fallen in love with the concept — a family of space pioneers setting off to colonize Alpha Centauri, who were unfortunately sent astray by a saboteur, who they then welcomed into their family with open arms — I was able to simply accept the fanciful silliness .

It’s been many years since I’ve watched it. I caught an episode now and then when MeTV was airing it several years ago, but not since they changed their lineup. When Decades aired it this past weekend, we had our television tuned to it for the duration.

And you know what? I still love that show. Even with all the pseudoscience and over-the-top fantasy elements of pirates, knights in shining armor, hillbillies, and a talking carrot, I still found the show very enjoyable to watch.

In fact, something strange happened while watching it.

I started to get the itch to write about it. I mean, if you’re a fan of Star Trek, Doctor Who, Star Wars, for example, there are tons of authorized novels out there to satisfy even the most voracious reader.

But Lost in Space? Nothing.

Well, OK, there was one book, published back in 1967 or so, which I read when I was 10.

Novel

But that’s it.

And without even consciously thinking about it, a story, a novel of Lost in Space has begun to formulate in my imagination.

Personally? I’d rather it just go away because what could I do with it? Who would buy a novel about a television show that only aired 83 episodes and went off the air in 1968?

I’d rather write something marketable.

I’d rather start the final polish on my own urban fantasy fairie tale.

Or start working on the sequel to my urban fantasy fairie tale.

Or even finish up my two weird westerns.

Anything!

But so far, all I can think about is Lost in Space, and the story keeps growing and growing and at this rate, it won’t be denied.

Maybe I should write it just to make it go away.

Lost in Space is suited to my writing style, however, because it is as much fantasy as science fiction and it’s science is often somewhat fudged. In that way, Lost in Space is more akin to Star Wars than Star Trek.

Lost in Space can best be described as pulp fiction style space opera. More ray guns and monsters than quarks and string theory.

So in that regard, Lost in Space is almost a perfect venture for me.

Let me mull it over some more.

Stay tuned. Same time! Same channel!

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Shadows of downtown

I walked through the downtown Boston Store yesterday, to get some gift ideas, and I was shocked to realize they had cut it in half.

The street level store area used to extend from Wisconsin Avenue all the way back to Michigan Avenue and the second floor extended for the same length.

But now they’ve walled up the store halfway. I believe I read the other part will be office space and condos or something.

It makes me sad because the downtown Boston Store is all that remains of downtown’s glory days as the city’s primary shopping area and the place to go.

The Boston Store, as well as the former Gimbel’s, were the Taj Mahal’s of department stores and coexisted along side J.C. Penny, T.A. Chapman’s, and others throughout the 20th century.

Sure, all those stores had other locations at Capital Court mall, Mayfair mall, and other malls, but the downtown stores were special. They were a delight to visit. Mall stores were small in comparison, maybe two floors and at best 260,000 square feet for the Capital Court Gimbel’s.

But downtown? The Gimbel’s and the Boston Store occupied an entire city block and were 7 or 8 stories of shopping adventure.

Shopping at these stores was an event. You didn’t just run in, grab something, and run out. No. You spent the day there. Gimbel’s had a Tasty Town grill type restaurant, as well as a delicatessen, a bakery, candy shoppe, flowers and so on. And that was just the street level.

Each floor was like visiting a completely different store. The second floor had rainwear, coats, custom wigs, lingerie, and robes. The third level had men’s clothing, men’s hats, kid’s clothing, sporting goods, and toys.

The fourth floor had housewares, appliances, oriental rugs, small electrics. The fifth floor had furniture, bedding, televisions, stereos. The sixth had lamps, mirrors, china, glassware, a gift shop, import bazaar. The 7th floor was offices, but the eighth floor had a Forum Restaurant for fine dining.

And the Boston Store was very similar. Seven floors of anything and everything you could possibly need. These were the Amazon.com of their day. Whatever you could possibly need, or imagine, could be found at these downtown department stores.

But the short-sighted removal of the trollies, the growing number of malls and white flight to the suburbs slowly killed the glamour and adventure of going downtown and visiting the department stores.

Now, the downtown Boston Store, once a glorious seven story monument to shopping adventure, has been reduced to just a shadow of it’s former magnificence, an oddity in a world where people shop online or drive to a strip mall

If you never visited one of these shopping megaliths, it’s probably hard to imagine the hustle and bustle as crowds of people moved excitedly within to the roar of conversation. The elevators were always full as they moved up and down, floor to floor, while the elevator operator chimed, “Fourth Floor. Lamps. Paintings. Mirrors. Occasional furniture.”

Sadly, the only way for someone today to get a small idea of what downtown department stores were like is by watching old Christmas movies, like “Miracle on 34th Street” or “Holiday Affair.” Unfortunately, they’re in black and white, so they give no sense of how colorful and well-lit these stores were.

The buildings still stand, but they’re mere shadows harkening back to a past when downtown was the place to see and be seen.

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Thor’s Day

As a child, my parents gave me a children’s book on Norse mythology, “Norse Gods and Giants,” written and illustrated by Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire.

The stories, adapted from the Norse myths that come to us from the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda, captured my imagination.

(In school, I was disappointed in the obvious bias against Norse mythology. They never touched upon it, making it seem like there were only the Greek and Roman gods. Bah.)

In “Norse Gods and Giants,” I learned about the nine worlds, and learn about Ymir, the frost giant, his cow, the giants and trolls, the birth of the Aesir gods and their battle killing Ymir and creating the world with his bones, how Odin, the All-Father, lost his eye, how Loki, the mischievous one, was blood brother to Odin, the story of Fenris, the wolf, son of Loki and how Tyr lost his hand when the gods fettered Fenris. I loved these stories.

But above all, I really loved Thor, the hot-tempered, if dim-witted god of thunder. They drew as a bulky, angry God with fiery red hair and beard.

Often he’d fly into a rage at the mere mention of jotuns (giants) and throw his mighty hammer, which they drew as a roundish mallet with a very short handle. He’d throw it so often, the hammer would become red hot and he needed an iron glove to catch it so his hand wouldn’t burn. He road on a chariot drawn by two angry goats.

So this was my image of a Thor (and one I used when I wrote him into one of my still in progress novels). An image which is very different from Marvel’s version.

I mentioned Friday, I was reading the early stories of Thor when he first appeared in Journey of Mystery. I have almost finished that book, “Essential The Mighty Thor, Volume 1.”

It covers Journey into Mystery #83 (August 1962) through Journey into Mystery #112 (January 1965). None of these stories did I read as a child. I was still reading DC, Harvey Comics, Archie Comics, and Gold Key at this time.

Now for a really bad segue, when the Thor movies came out, I was very disappointed when they decided to make the Aesir aliens instead of actual mythological Norse gods. It pretty much ruined the movies for me.

Part of that was because at a young age, I came to love Norse mythology. And the Silver Age Thor I read, dealt with the mythical gods, not aliens.

Some people seem to think the comic book Thor was an alien, too. I don’t know if they recently changed canon, but I stopped reading Thor sometime in the mid to late 1970s, the Bronze Age, and he hadn’t been changed into an alien at that point.

To prove this point, one of my favorite features within the Thor comics were the “Tales of Asgard,” which began in Journey into Mystery #97.

“Tales of Asgard” was a wonderful feature illustrated by Kirby showing the majesty and grandeur of life in Asgard. He drew sweeping vistas of gleeming Asgard and momentous battles featuring Balder, Syf, Thor and others that really captured my budding sword and sorcery loving soul.

But to my point, the first several “Tales of Asgard” were essentially a retelling of the Norse creation myths. No aliens. No ancient galactic space travelers settling on Earth.

No. These were fairhful retellings of how the Norse gods came to be including the birth of Ymir, the frost giant, his companion cow, and how the first Aesir, Buri, grew out of the ice, took a wife, had a son, Borr. And that son had three sons, Odin and his brothers.

The “Tales of Asgard” mention the Yggdrasill, world tree, and even tell how the first man, Aske, and the first woman, Embla, were created from an ash and adler tree.

Granted Lee and Kirby took artistic license and told these creation stories in their own inimitable style, but they still followed the original Norse mythology stories.

In the beginning, therefore, Marvel’s Thor, Odin, Loki, et al were actual, true mythological Norse gods, never aliens.

So there.

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That reminds me

An interesting characteristic of our brain is associative memories.

It is throwback Thursday, after all.

I’m refering to the brain’s ability to connect two completely different items or concepts.

Music, for example, has very powerful associative properties. For many of us, hearing a certain song will awaken certain memories, some happy, some sad.

Many songs will remind us of a time in our past when we first heard the song, say a childhood event, or a year in school.

Some songs give us a vague feeling, such as “Sugar, Sugar,” by The Archies gives me a general happy feeling about my chikdhood, whereas others are more specific. When I hear “Snoopy vs. The Red Baron,” I’m back in the Cub Scouts with my friends taking a train down to the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. Some parent had brought an AM radio along and we’d sing to somenof the Top 40 hits.

Another example is, I used to listen to Black Sabbath’s first album while a teenager reading sword and sorcery tales, particularly the Conan stories by Robert E. Howard.

Now, when I listen to Black Sabbath, a feeling comes over me, a mood, if you will, that is similar to reexperiencing the awe and wonder I had back then reading those stories.

So intense is this mood that now I’ll play their music when I’m writing, hoping to capture some of that magic in my own story.

Smells also provide strong associative memories. Maybe a whiff of a certain cologne or perfume will bring back memories of someone out of our past.

Sometimes the association will surprise us because it was unexpected.

For instance, the reason for this rather bland post is because I was making coffee and enjoying the aroma of the freshly ground coffee.

Now I’ve been around the smell of coffee my whole life. There are many decades worth of memories associated with it that I could have recalled.

I could have remembered my time in the Navy, where coffee was figuratively our life’s blood. We drank it nonstop from the moment we awoke until we fell asleep. Our index fingers nearly atrophied into a permanent crook from holding our coffee cups.

On the other hand, because I do drink it regularly, the pleasant scent of coffee doesn’t always trigger any specific memories, it just puts me into a good mood.

Today I was surprised when the coffee scent triggered a memory of my childhood. I was taken back to my parents’ house before they were divorced. Back when I thought my childhood was happy.

Both my parents had coffee in the morning, so our house would fill up with the odor as it was being brewed in an old aluminum electric purculator in our kitchen.

It was similar to the old perculators they’d show in the Maxwell House coffee commercials, like this one:

I remembered that my dad, who, because he drank a lot of coffee, smelled of it. Many people remember the scent of their dad’s calogne. Me, I remember that he smelled like coffee.

My mom had made breakfast and ee were eating at the kitchen table, while my dog, Thor, lay just outside the kitchen doorway watching us. He wasn’t allowed in the kitchen and he stayed obediently on the other side until we came out.

It was an odd associative memory and I thought I’d share.

Have you had any associative memories lately that surprised you?

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Adventures in ADHD – Impulsivity

One characteristic people suffering with ADHD have is impulsivity. We are impulsive! We do things first, then think about it. We don’t consider the consequences of our actions beforehand. In other words, we leap before we look.

We don’t need no stinking beer. We have ADHD!

Long before the phrase, “Dude, hold my beer” came into the vernacular, those of us with ADHD said, “Watch this.” We don’t need alcohol to deaden our self-preservation center. We were born this way.

My childhood was rife with examples of impulsivity, of “Watch this.”

Friend: Bet you can’t jump off the garage roof.

Me: Watch this. *screams*

Friend: Dude! I’ve never seen anyone do a lawn belly flop before.

Friend: Bet you can’t climb to the top of that tree.

Me: Watch this. *screams*

Friend: Dude! Good thing that big branch stopped you.

Friend: Look at this minibike I made. Wanna try it?

Me: Watch this. *screams*

Friend: Dude! I forgot to mention it has a high center of gravity and you can’t turn at high speeds.

Friend: Go kick that cat off of our baseball field.

Me: Watch this. *screams*

Friend: Dude! I’ve never seen a cat that mad, clinging to a person’s leg before. That’s a lot of blood.

Friend: Our dogs are fighting! We’ve got to stop them. Go grab yours.

Me: Watch this. *screams*

Friend: Dude! That’s a pretty deep hole in your wrist.

Anyway, I could go on.

And on.

And on.

But you get the point, impulsivity sucks.

It is also expensive. I become suddenly interested in something, a hobby, or what have you. I read everything there is about it. Join tons of forums so I can talk about my interest with others. And I spend money.

Then I lose interest. And again, impulsivity kicks in and I purge my life of that interest because, of course, “I’ll never be interested in this again.”

My most famous and regretable “I’ll never” was when I threw out all my Silver and Bronze Age comic books when we were moving. I had Captain America #100 through 150. I had Conan the Barbarian #1 through 35. And others. All in the trash. “I’m in my 40s. I don’t need these. I’m not interested in comics any more.”

Me: *screams*

Yeah. You guessed it. Over the last decade or so I’ve been buying them back on eBay.

A more recent example, but not nearly as costly, was an interest in drawing. I went out and bought some drawing books and several types of drawing pencils. I worked for several months learning how to draw. I could draw a realistic human eye like nobody’s business. I’d like to show some samples, but I purged all my drawings from that period. (Somewhere I have a blog post featuring drawings from high school, if you care to look. Found it.)

Then I lost interest (or found a shiney new interest). After a few years of not drawing, I finally got rid of the books several months ago. I mean, it had been years, right? “I’ll never want to learn how to draw again.”

Me: *screams*

Yeah… Who’d have guessed? I mean, really? I went searching my bookshelves for the drawing books, then realized, oh, yeah. I got rid of them.

Today, I wisely went to the library to check out a couple beginner books on drawing. At least I’m not spending money.

Yes, impulsivity is the reason I’m a jack of all trades, master of none. I learn as much as I can, as quickly as I can, about an interest, but I lose in it before I can master it.

By the way, if you play guitar, I’m thinking of selling my 2008 Gretsch Duo Jet in silver flake. I mean, I haven’t touched it in two years, right? “I’ll never play guitar again.”

Future Me: *screams*

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Friday on my mind

We made it to Friday! Time to party! (Or as I keep thinking a commercial for a local Native American gaming casino says, “Some people like to BUTTAH! all night long.” Yeah, my wife gives me that same look every time I say it, too. “Why would you think she’s saying butter?”) Fine, let’s get to it.

Bad Friday Haiku

Let us hit the streets

The weekend beckons us again

It’s time to buttah!

Coffee, a little bit of Heaven on Earth

My wife and I recently (a month or so ago) found a newly-opened coffee store. But not your ordinary coffee shop that serves beverages, no, this store sells coffee before it’s brewed. It is called, CoffeeIcon. The location used to be the Java Hut –Oh, drink coffee you will– Sorry. And we frequented it infrequently. Then it was gone and the store stood empty for years. 

I forget why we stopped by. Either for the Walgreen’s on the corner and we noticed it in passing (“Stop! Coffee! My precious!”) or we were getting some pizzas from Papa Murphy’s next store. (Funny, but as a kid, I always thought people were saying, “They’re our next store neighbors.”) Anyway, I digress, as usual.

We stopped in and were stunned. Inside there were shelves upon shelves of coffee. Dark roast, medium roast, light roast, flavored coffees, coffees from Africa, South America, everywhere. It was like we’d died and gone to coffee Heaven. 

They have the largest selection of Keurig-style coffee pods I have ever seen. This isn’t your average supermarket selection. This is premium coffees. Coffee that you can sample! Yes, you heard that right. Find a k-cup coffee you’ve never had before? Take it up and they’ll brew it for you. No charge. As in free. 

That’s the best thing ever! Free coffee!

Their selection of brands includes, for example, a nice selection from Twisted Pine, which is a Green Bay Wisconsin roaster that started with their “1265 Breakfast” roast (any guesses what that address is?) and has greatly expanded their offerings. Their “Jamaica Me Crazy” is one of the few flavored coffees I like. Caramel and vanilla flavors blended with a hint of coffee liqueur.

But CoffeeIcon is more than just Keurig cups. They sell beans, as well. In fact, they have a large variety of green beans on the premises and they will roast them to suit your taste and grind it to your preference.

Our most recent visit, I picked up a pound (12 ounces once it’s roasted and ground) of their “Jaquar Espresso” (and I apologize, but I do pronounce it with an X, but I’m working hard to stop), which is an organic blend of several South American varietals. It’s a dark roast, but it’s smooth and delicious. 

The cool thing is, on the bag the barrista wrote the temperature and length of time it was roasted at so the next time I can go in and say, “Could I try it a few degrees cooler this time?”

If you like spicy, get the Marley Coffee “Catch a Fire.” It has natural chili pepper flavor in it. Delish. And yes, that’s Bob Marley’s son, Rohan, who founded it.

They’re online, too, and they ship. Coffee Icon

Running within myself

This morning I experimented running at a pace that allowed me to breathe through my nose the whole time. Usually, I run too fast and I end up gasping through my mouth. I’m not sure if that is beneficial aerobically. But it always leaves me exhausted, almost burned out afterwards. 

Today, I made a concious decision to run slower and I did. Sure, my time was 2-1/2 minutes slower than I had been running for the same distance, but I finished the run still breathing through my nose and actually had enough kick left to sprint to the finish. Usually you can’t tell I’m sprinting because I’m so worn out.

I guess I’ve been pushing myself too hard all this time. I need to slow down in order to build up my aerobic fitness.

Weigh-In Friday

I lost 0.2 pounds. Slow and steady wins the race, right?

I spy a Monarch!

I saw a Monarch butterfly in our yard the other day. I was happy, but at the same time, quite sad.

I was happy because I’ve always liked Monarchs with their bold orange and black wings and because they are so unusual due to their marvelous migratory pattern, traveling thousands of miles from the U.S. and Canada to central Mexican forests.

As a child, that fact alone facinated me; that this delicate creature could survive an exhausting and hazard-filled flight of over 2,800 miles was simply miraculous. I still have a book from my childhood about it, “The Travels of Monarch X” by Ross E. Hutchins.

But I was sad, too, because seeing a Monarch has become a rare occurance. As a child, I remember them swarming everywhere. They were among the most common of butterflies in the summer.

Now, they are endangered. Pesticides, which are decimating our honey bees, are killing the regal Monarchs as well. They are also suffering from a loss of habitat; Man is encroaching on their winter mountain retreats. And let’s not forget climate change (which, if you’re conservative is easy to do). It too is having a negative effect upon the once proud Monarch.

It’s sad to think that one day our children, and our children’s children will not be able to experience the joy and wonder that is the glorious Monarch.

I think I’ll go read that book tonight. Maybe it’ll uplift me.

#climatechangesucks

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Spritzen was not one of Santa’s reindeers

Does anyone else make spritz cookies for Christmas?

Spritz cookies are a German cookie, called¬†Spritzgeb√§ck (the German verb spritzen means “to squirt,” which makes sense as you’ll see).

They are a delicate, somewhat dry cookie, have a rich, buttery flavor, and are full of wonderful memories of my childhood. (If you don’t get flashbacks of my childhood when you eat one, you probably made it wrong.)

These simple ingredients: butter, egg, sugar, flour, and vanilla create the dough, but after that you’re on your own.

We tried for a number of years to make Spritz cookies but they just don’t come out right. By that I mean, I remember making them with my mom all through my childhood. We’d put the cookie dough in a metal press, push the dough through the design onto the baking sheet, and yay! A little Christmas tree, or wreath, or a heart, or a Mercedes-Benz emblem, and a few others I still can’t identify.

Then my brother and I would help decorate them with red and green sprinkle sugar, jimmies, those tiny jawbreakers, some kind of gummy candy, and cinnamon red hots, which were always the last ones eaten, begging the question: why did we even use those?

And if my wife ever tells you that my brother and I decorated the cookies with weird shit like sunflowers seeds and such, don’t believe her. We only did it that one time as a experiment. I swear.

The process seemed so easy. Press. Lift. Cookie. Sure, even my mom had all few flubs where the dough wouldn’t release from the design disk, but they were few and far between.

My wife and I tried making them ourselves and I don’t know if we were doing something wrong or if something in the ingredients was changed over the years, but the whole process was one big frustration.

The cookies rarely stayed on the baking sheet when we lifted the press, forcing us to peel them off, thus distorting or totally ruining the shape. The dough was not only difficult to work with, but it destroyed a couple cookie presses. A plastic one and an metal one, both using a trigger to push the dough. Only it didn’t push the dough. Instead the dough destroyed the ratchet gear mechanism in both.

Thus, for the time being anyway, we have stopped making Spritz cookies. At least until we can figure out what we were doing wrong.

Which makes me sad, because those were my favorite cookies. They were as much anyway part of Christmas as eggnog, decorating the tree, and gift giving.

What makes me sadder is I can’t even find them in the stores. I can find Spritz-lookalikes. Some come in tins. Some are called an Italian cookie or whatever. They look like a Spritz cookie but one bite and you know its a poser. It’s a cheap imitation made of shortbread.

If I wanted shortbread, I’d have asked for shortbread! Such asked disappointment.

Do you make Spritz cookies? What’s your secret?

And can you send me a Spritz Cookie Care Package?

Happy baking. Happier eating.

Basic Spritz Cookies Recipe

2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup soft butter, 1/2 lb
3/4 cup sifted sugar
3 egg yolks
1/2 tsp almond extract or 1 tsp vanilla (I believe my mother used almond)

Have baking sheets ready–do not grease. Start oven 10 min before baking; set to moderately hot (400 deg F). Sift flour and measure. Cream butter until shiny, add sugar gradually, creaming well. Beat in yolks until fluffy, then flavoring. Stir in flour in 3 or 4 portions until smooth. If dough is soft, chill an hour. Now shape dough into a cylinder and drop into cookie press, fitted with desired design plate. Press dough out onto cold baking sheet about 1-inch apart. Bake about 8 min or until a delicate brown. Remove from pans immediately to cake racks to cool. If difficult to remove from pans, return to oven a minute. Cool thoroughly. 4-1/2 dozen medium cookies.

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