Let’s play favorites

Do you have a favorite car? One that, over the years, you’ve consciously or even subconsciously, used as the measuring stick by which all other cars are measured?

Mine had been my mom’s 1971 Super Beetle. I learned to drive with that car. It was a four-speed manual and a blast to drive.

1971 Volkswagen Super Beetle

I was a teenager and got my license in my junior year in high school. Many of my classmates, if they had their own cars, drove the muscle cars of the day, complete with jacked-up rear ends and big, wide rear tires, so they looked like funny cars (the race cars, not something to laugh at). 

They drove Pontiac GTOs or Firebirds of various vintage, Chevy Novas, Chevelles, Camaros, as well as 442s, Skylarks, Cudas, Chargers, Challengers, and so on. All tuned so those big V8s would growl and cough and rumble as they drove around John Marshall High School, squeezing tires, to show off for the girls like peacocks waving their colorful tail feathers.

They lived for cars and girls  (queue song).

And here I’d come with my mom’s Bug. There’s not much you can do to mod a Bug, especially when it’s your mom’s, but I had a friend help me install an 8-track stereo that I could just plug in, then take out when I was done. We used my home stereo’s set of book shelf speakers, which fit perfectly behind the backseat storage area of the car.

So I’d cruise around blasting tunes and to really get attention, I’d pop the clutch and lay down some rubber. I think it caught people’s attention because no one expected a Bug to squeal it’s tires. Sure, the back end would hop and I’m sure I wasn’t doing the transmission or clutch much good, but it would leave about a two or three foot long burnout.

(And if I my younger son, once he has his license, ever pops the clutch in my Fiat 500, he’s grounded for life.)

That Beetle was a fun little car to drive. It had decent excelleration and was quick enough and small enough that you could weave in and out of traffic without any problems.

And it has been my reference car ever since. Whenever I’d test drive another car, I’d mentally compare it to that one. In the end, none even came close. 

I mean, sure, I enjoyed my 1986 Dodge Datona Turbo Z. When the turbo finally kicked in and threw you back into your seat, it was a lot of fun. But otherwise, it was a heavy car, despite its small size and wasn’t very zippy in traffic because of its turbo lag. And shifting always felt clunky until it finally did go clunk.

1986 Dodge Daytona Turbo Z

The two Ford Escorts I had were what would be called basic transportation. One was the body style from the ’80s and the other was the sportier looking version from 1995. They were more utilitarian than fun.

And although our 1996 Pontiac Sunrise served us faithfully for nearly 15 years until it developed a hole in one of the cylinders, I wouldn’t necessarily call it fun to drive either. In fact, it seemed rather heavy, but we always felt safe in it during the winter.

So over 43 years, and at least 14 cars, the memory of that Beetle lived on… until three weeks ago when we bought the 2013 Fiat 500 Lounge.

Queue angelic choir singing “Ohhhhhh!”

Now I have a new favorite car.

Small is the new black.

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A weigh we go!

I’m reaching what for me is a milestone in my weight. 

Me, after my thyroid went wonky

Back in 1999, I blew up like the Michelin Man when my thyroid went on the fritz. Seriously, I have one picture that if I find it shows that is no exaggeration. My skin is white and puffy and you can hardly see my eyes because they’re just slits surrounded by puffy flesh. My lower legs were the worst. They had lost all their hair and were like playdough. You could push in on the flesh and leave a one-and-a-half inch indent that would stay there for quite some time. (Anyone remember the old pulp fiction action hero, The Avenger, who had lost nerve function to his face and could mold it like putty, changing his appearance to that of anyone? It was a little like that.)

I thought I was dying. I was scared.

My doctor ran me through a whole battery of tests to figure out what was wrong — nerve testing for my carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms, chiropractors for my severe back pain, blood tests to see why I was cold and tired all the time — which is amusing (now that I look back on it), because we had a ferret who had a thyroid problem and he lost all the hair on his legs, so my wife kept saying it was my thyroid; it took my doctor months to come to the same conclusion!

And my weight shot up because my thyroid wasn’t regulating body functions properly; I was retaining fluids and I was just too damned tired to exercise. This experience has also made me a little less critical of people with weight problems because as with me, it might not be their fault and might be a medical condition.

So since 1999, I’ve been well over 200 pounds. I think I might have peaked close to 250 before I started taking my thyroid medication.

Today, I weighed myself and I’m almost, but not quite, at the point where I’ll drop below 200 pounds. Honestly, I can’t remember when I was below that. Early 1990s when I was still running seriously, before I developed shin splints? 

Now I’m only a couple pounds on the wrong side of 200. Part of me wants to fast just to reach it, but my luck, my body will think it’s experiencing a famine and it will hold onto its fat reserves even more tenaciously. So, no. Fasting isn’t the answer.

I do think I’ll run more often now that I see I’m approaching that marker. Instead of running three times a week, I’ll try to run five. Yesterday was the first time i ran on back-to-back days and i felt good.

Even though i can see 200, I’m nowhere near finished; after 200, I’ll still have at least 15 more pounds to go to reach my goal, but 200 is a great marker indicating my goal is within reach.

Yesterday, for grins, I lugged around a 20 pound barbell. It was exhausting! And I used to carry that, and more, around all the time!

By the way, losing weight is hard. You have to do exhausting aerobic exercises, get your heart rate up, sweat, breath heavy, for at least 20 minutes at a time, every other day preferably, plus you have to watch what you eat, count calories, watch fats, increase fiber, eat more fruits and veggies, and drink a lot of water (not soda or sugary energy drinks), and even then, depending on your.motabolism, you aren’t guaranteed fast results or huge losses.

Anyone who tells you losing weight is easy or all you need is their magic pill or secret formulation or miracle diet or superfood, tell them to Fuck Off. In fact, punch them in the nose, give them a good kick in the groin, then tell them to Fuck Off. The punch and kick will be good exercise.

Eat right. Drink water. Exercise your ass off.

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There was a time

There was a time when television united us. It was a communal experience. Before that, it was radio.

It was said that back during the peak of radio, on a warm summer evening, a person could walk down the street of any community in America and listen to an entire, uninterrupted episode of “Amos ‘n’ Andy” as it wafted out of the open windows of all the homes.

That’s what I mean by a communal experience. The next day, you could stop anyone on the street and ask, “Did you hear last night’s show?” and strike up a conversation about it.

The same could be said for movies, to a lesser degree. It was a shared experience.

When television took over, it became the dominant form of entertainment and everyone watched Uncle Miltie on “Texaco Star Theater.” They watched “Gunsmoke.” They talked about the Ponderosa and the Cartwright family on “Bonanza.”

All the kids at school talked about “Howdy Doody,” “Captain Kangaroo,” “the Mickey Mouse Club.” Family entertainment included “The Wonderful World of Disney” and “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” hosted by Marlin Perkins.

As a child of the 1960s, if I were to run into someone else who also grew up then, no matter what part of America they grew up in, we have television to unite us. Shared communal memories of “Lost in Space,” “Leave it to Beaver,” “My Three Sons,” “Rawhide,” “Mission: Impossible,” “Combat!” “The Addam’s Family,” “The Munsters,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and possibly even shows from the 1970s, like “Mary Tyler Moore,” “Carol Burnette,” “Dean Martin,” “All in the Family,” to name a few.

(As a sidebar, the same thing could be applied to music. In the 1960s — and before — music was fairly unified. Pop music was nearly universal. The radio played rock ‘n’ roll and British Invasion right along side Motown and country. In the space of an hour a person could hear the Beatles, Stones, Troggs, Elvis, Fifth Dimension, Smokey Robinson, the Temptations, the Supremes, Kenny Rodgers, and Johnny Cash. Music was communal until they opened up the FM band, allowing more stations and more splintering of tastes.)

But in the 1970s television began to see a splintering of viewer-ship. Instead of just three major networks on VHF, more independent stations appeared on UHF. HBO started up, beaming into homes via these ugly metal antenna on a few homes. Then, cable started becoming wired into neighborhoods. More channels meant less communal viewing, a splintering of the audience.

Sometimes a show came along that encouraged communal viewing, like “Cheers.” But those were becoming fewer and fewer.

Today there are very few communal shows. Not everyone gets HBO or ShowTime, so although shows like “Game of Thrones” are popular, only a few really see them. Similarly, shows like AMC’s “Mad Men” or the BBC’s “Doctor Who” seems wildly popular, but really only cater to a specialized audience and are hardly universal.

And this situation will only grow more fragmented because today’s younger generation are abandoning cable for web-based services like Netflix and Hulu that cater to their desire to see the shows they want when they want for a lot less than cable charges.

Some will argue choice is a good thing, that we’re not a homogeneous peoples, but a collection of free-thinking individuals able to seek out their own form of entertainment instead of marching lockstep, following the herd.

Which is true. We are all individuals, but we’re also social animals who often seek commonality in order to understand, communicate, and associate. We need to relate to each other and without having a shared communal experience how can we possibly ever understand each other? Television once gave us those shared memories, but those have faded over the last few decades.

When the Internet and the world wide web burst upon the scene, many saw it as a great way to universally connect with people all over the world. It has, but unfortunately, it has also become a catalyst in increasing our distance from each other as more and more sites dedicated to each and every taste imaginable, good or bad, has sprung up. Instead of sharing our lives, we’re becoming more isolated.

The closest we come today to any shared communal thoughts are within politics where people identify themselves as either liberals or conservatives (or independents). And although the people within those groups do share common beliefs, the real problem is the bitter divide between one group and another.

Many people used to see television as a negative influence upon society, but now it appears it was what unified us, brought us together. Without its communal influence, we’ve seen a rise in anger, bitter animosity, and violence. There is a demonization going on and we’ve stopped seeing each other as fellow humans. Instead we’ve reduced each other to a faceless, derogatory name: neocon, libtard, teabagger. We’ve lost the capability to empathize, to care, to share experiences, and without this capacity to see our similarities that television brought to us, the senseless violence of today will only grow worse.

For those of us who grew up on Gene Roddenberry’s “Star Trek” and his futuristic vision of a unified Federation of Planets where all mankind (and most alienkind) lived together in peace and harmony, then the Present, with all its splintered hatred and fragmented ugliness, sucks.

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Influences and Inspirations

I was reading David Gerrold’s “Worlds of Wonder: How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy,” and did one of his exercises, which was “Take out a blank piece of paper (or open a new file on your computer), and make a list of your favorite science fiction and fantasy movies.”

I did. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that these movies, and the television shows I also added, most likely had the greatest influence upon my young mind and imagination. These were the images that were most indelibly imprinted upon my subconscious as a writer.

To be honest, I wasn’t much of a reader as a youngster. Sure, I read the usual stuff, “The Song of Roland,” “Alexander the Great,” “The Once and Future King,” and illustrated versions of “The Illiad and the Odyssey,” and the Norse legends. Along with assorted non-fiction books and Hardy Boy mysteries and school assignments. Not to mention a boatload of comic books from “Little Lulu,” to early DC superheroes, such as The Flash, The Atom, Superman, Aquaman, The Legion of Superheroes, Teen Titans, and Batman. Marvel’s merry mayhem joined into my reading when I was probably nine or 10.

It wasn’t until I was around 13, maybe 14, when my actual science fiction and fantasy literary education finally began, first with Robert E. Howard’s “Conan” and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “Tarzan,” then later with nearly everything. But in the beginning, in the dim twinkling recesses of my memory, there were the movies that first held greatest sway over my curious beginning writer’s mind.

So now, without further ado, that list of science fiction and fantasy movies that greatly influenced me growing up.

“The Wizard of Oz.” Flying monkeys. Witches. A living strawman and tinman, and a lion that could speak. This movie was shown nearly every spring and in those days, before the invention of recording devices, and I’d watch it every time it aired. In addition, I also read many of the Oz books.

“Forbidden Planet.” Earthmen traveling to a distant planet in a flying saucer. Robby, the robot. An invisible monster that made footprints in the sand.

Invisible monster from “Forbidden Planet”

“Johnny Quest.” The Saturday Morning Cartoon. It had science fiction. Adventure. Lasers. Robots. Futuristic jets, subs, and hover discs. It also had an invisible monster, just like “Forbidden Planet.”

Invisible energy monster from Johnny Quest

“Lost in Space.” Sure, corny by today’s standards, but as a child, all I saw was the Jupiter 2 spaceship. B9 robot. The spacepod. The “chariot.” Laser guns. Force fields. And of course, lots and lots of weird aliens.

In the same vein, “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.” The Seaview, then, seemed like such a futuristic submarine to my young mind. Today, I know that such a sub, with those wings and fins would have created such turbulence that even the least technologically advanced nations could track it while underwater. Nor would glass windows in the front be practical if even possible. But still, it had the flying sub. And lots of giant monsters. (Additionally, all the other Irwin Allen shows, such as “Time Tunnel” and “Land of the Giants.”)

“Star Trek.” This had everything the previous shows had, stunning spaceships, rays guns now called “phasers,” along with transporters, food processors, and more alien worlds, but it was more serious and much of it written by some of the big names in science fiction, including David Gerrold.

“The Outer Limits.” It had elements of horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and to be honest, probably scared the bejeesus out of me with episodes like “The Zanti Misfits” more than anything else on television or the theater.

The Zanti Misfit still creep me out

I think those had the most influence upon my childhood. But there are more. “King Kong.” “Godzilla.” The giant bug movies: “Them!” which is still one of my all-time favorites. “Tarantula.”

Other 1950s science fiction movies included, “The Thing from Another World.” “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” “The Blob.” “War of the Worlds.” “The Fly,” which our middle school showed over several lunch periods.

Of course the Universal monsters, especially “The Creature from the Black Lagoon,” had a big influence, as well as the Hammer horror films. Many of these movies aired on a late night horror show in my hometown on Channel 6. It was “Shock Theater” with Dr. Cadaverino, who was among the great horror hosts of all time.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t include the movies by special effects giant, Ray Harryhausen: “Mighty Joe Young,” “Jason and the Argonauts,” “Earth vs. the Flying Saucers,” “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms,” “20 Million Miles to Earth,” and “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad,” and more. Even today I marvel at his work and probably subconsciously try to recreate his wonderful story-telling ability.

There is one more movie, or show, that has influenced if not my imagination, then my nightmares. I don’t know its name. I was fairly young when I saw it, somewhere between eight and ten I’d guess. I was up late one night when it came on. As I said, I can’t recall its title, but I remember distinctly the beginning. This man was driving down a dark country road in the rain when suddenly something unidentifiable ran in front of his headlights. He struck it, but when he got out to see what it was, he couldn’t find it, however, in the light of a lightning flash, we see that this little clawed hand came up and punctured his tire. He got back into the car and made it to a diner, I believe. At that point, the horror was too much for me, so I went to bed, but not before it left an indelible footprint upon my subconscious. I had nightmares for weeks afterwards and to this day, I still have an urge to rewrite that story, “stealing” that beginning then creating my own horror story from it.

I just haven’t had the nerve to do so yet.

So there you have it. A small look into my mind’s inspirations.

So what sci-fi and fantasy movies do you think have had the most influence upon you?

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Memories of my brother, part 2

Time is relentless and moves forward without regard to the human condition. In other words, whether we pay attention or not, the present will slip through our fingers and become the past. So its best to not take anything for granted and to live today as if there were no tomorrow. Because one day you might just realize that there are no more tomorrows.

This is how I feel about my little brother who passed away Wednesday, November 6, 2013, just seven days shy of his fifty-first birthday.

I wrote yesterday that as children we weren’t the best of brothers. We weren’t the worst either. Probably somewhere in the middle, we loved and tolerated each other, but there was the 5-1/2 year gap we had trouble overcoming. That changed when I returned from the Navy.

My first day home, I was wandering through the maze that was our mom’s basement. Back then, it would have made for a good episode of hoarders.

After my parents had divorced, my mom went into collecting mode. The basement was filled with all sorts of antiques, memorabilia, and flea market items stacked hither and yon, with just space enough for some meandering paths.

I was like Louis or Clarke that day, exploring for the Northwest Passage. I didn’t find it, of course, but I did find a skateboard. Bear in mind, this was 1983. Skateboards were fairly primitive then, just a little better than a board with a skate nailed to it. Nor was skateboarding the craze it currently is. Honestly, it was the first one I’d ever seen. So being the adventurer, I took it out into the alley.

Naturally, I sucked. I had no idea how to make it work, so I’d just stand on it and let gravity roll me down the alley. Or I’d give it a push with one leg. Needless to say, I grew bored with it. So I picked it up to take it back downstairs just as Tom came home from work.

“Whatcha doin’?” he asked. I explained I’d found the skateboard and thought I’d try it but I hadn’t gotten very far.

He took it and said, “Let me show you how its done.” He didn’t say it smugly or arrogantly. That wasn’t Tom. No, he genuinely meant he would show me so I could try again.

I guess I should mention that my brother was now over six feet tall and was battling a weight problem (or not battling it, if you catch my drift). I think back then he was close to, if not over, 300 pounds.

I was like, “Are you sure?”

He got on, gave it a few kicks to get up to speed, then he promptly wiped out in spectacular fashion.

“My ankle! I broke my ankle!” Yes, he certainly had shown me how its done. I tried not to laugh, but you know how it is. Anyway, I struggled to get him to his feet and helped him hop over to the car, then drove him to the Emergency Room at St. Joseph’s.

He had indeed broken his ankle. Second time, too, as I later learned. This time he needed a pin for support and he spent the next few weeks in a cast.

That was my reintroduction to my little brother. I learned he was as prone to leaping without looking as I was.

Throughout the ‘80s we both lived with our mom. I went to college, he worked whatever job it was he had at that time, and then we’d spend the evenings watching television together and riffing on them like we were part of Mystery Science Theater 3000. We discovered our senses of humor were very similar: dry and warped. Probably inherited from our father.

We watched shows like “Riptide,” “Airwolf,” “Star Trek, the Next Generation,” to name a few. (At this point I’d like to point out that it was my brother who turned me into a Whovian. I had come home from leave back in the 1970s and he and my mom were watching this weird show on PBS.about some wild eyed crazy man with a long scarf. It was Doctor Who. If I have nothing else nice to say about my brother, just turning me on to Doctor Who should be enough.)

My brother was a geek, too. He had the entire series of “Speed Racer” on VHS, although I don’t know what became of it. He also had several sci-fi/fantasy figurines, such as ships from Star Trek and dragons and wizards. And he was a gamer. One day he brought home a Sega Genesis and we played against each other for hours.

On my first visit to see him in the hospital when we learned he had cancer, I wanted to bring something he might find fun. I tried to get a model of the Mach V, but the hobby store clerk told me those were hard to come by. So I picked up bendable copies of Gumby and Pokey. When I mentioned I had tried to get the Mach V, he said he already had a nice diecast version of it. He was animated in his description of it. That made me glad because Tom was the sort who always made sure everyone around him was happy at his own expense. I’m sure that Mach V meant a lot to him.

My brother and I became close during the 1980s. We had tons of inside jokes. Sometimes the joke was so inside, it made no sense to anyone, but we thought it was hysterical. For instance, we’d both crack up if either one of us said, in a deep bewildered voice, “The boy?” usually to indicate our bafflement over something. (Maybe one day I’ll explain the reference.) And there were many more. We probably drove people crazy when we’d just exchange random dialog from the many television shows we had watched.

As the ‘80s drew to a close, he moved into an apartment with his friend Mark. We’d still see each other, sometimes going to a bar together. Sometimes he’d come home to do some laundry because it was cheaper than a laundromat. It was a ritual he continued even after he was married. If it was Sunday, you knew Tom was at our mother’s. I think Sundays from now on will be very rough for mom.

Tom was always enthusiastic about things. When I was looking to get my own car, he came along, and when I found this little sporty silver car and it became obvious I was going to buy it, he ran over to it, arms wide, and gave it a hug. He was happy for me.

But time marched on and eventually I married. Then he married. And life became busier, children came along, and we saw less and less of each other. Mostly holidays at our mom’s.

But we’d call once in a while. We had this phone thing that I know drove my wife nuts. If one would call the other, it went something like this:

“Hello?”

“Hello?”

“Hello?”

“Hello?”

“Hello?”

“Hello?”

“Hello?”

“Hello?”

“Hello?”

“Hello?”

“Hello?”

And this would go on and on until one of us would finally go, “What do you want?!”

My ringtone for Tom, appropriately enough, was the Three Stooges doing their “Hello. Hello. Hello.” routine. Now, I’ll never hear that on my phone again.

We all know its part of life to lose people. Some you expect, like aging parents or relatives. Some you don’t. Siblings are in the some you don’t category. In fact, you expect siblings to be around your whole life. You expect to grow old together so you can get together at the holidays as grandparents and reminisce about the past, about all the good times you had together.

You don’t expect them to be gone, taken unexpectedly in their prime, leaving you with the regret that you didn’t spend enough time together. That you let the opportunity to spend time with them slip through your fingers.

The last twenty years flew by and I guess we lived them expecting at least another twenty more years together. But Fate had other plans and now my little brother is gone. Its still hard to believe. It happened so quickly with barely time enough to say we loved each other.

If there is a Heaven or an afterlife and Tom is up there, I hope he knows how much he meant to me even though I never was the sort to show it or say it.

I’m going to miss my little brother. And one day, when my time eventually comes (which I pray will be a long way down the road), I hope the first thing I hear is

“Hello?”

“Hello?”

“Hello?”

“Hello?”

“Hello?”

“Hello?”

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Memories of my brother, part 1

My little brother passed away yesterday. Its ironic that I still call him my little brother because as an adult, he was inches taller and pounds heavier than I was. And yet, I still thought of him as my little brother and I think people gave us an odd look when I called him that in introductions. But that’s OK, because people often thought he was the older brother because whereas he inherited his height from our mother’s side of the family, he also inherited his male pattern baldness from our father. Traits that seem to have skipped over me.

As kids, we weren’t close. There was a 5-1/2 year age difference, which when you’re a child, is almost insurmountable. On the other hand, we weren’t distant either. We had our share of arguments, mostly me teasing him until he’d cry. Big brothers do that.

As a child, Tom had this habit of sitting in the comfy chair and rocking his body forward then backward, rebounding off the back springs over and over. It was a comfort thing to him and he’d do it whether happy or sad. Still, you could tell how upset he was by how violently he slammed into the back of the chair. And he’d sing while doing this, or maybe it was a mantra or chant, something that sounded like, “Yappyoo,” over and over. It was years before we finally figured out he was saying, “Happy you,” which to this day makes no sense because he said it even when angry.

I’d get him angry and he’d often just go to his chair and bounce. But one day, I was watching TV and had my back to him as I teased him, and instead of retreating to his “Yappyoo” place, he surprised me by smacking me hard with a toy wooden truck. Not one of those light weight, chintzy, balsawood things. No, this was a high quality, hand-crafted, solid hard wood truck stained red that he crashed down on my head. For once, he made me cry.

But still, whether I deserved it or not, that didn’t change the fact that back in those days he was the annoying little brother who always had to tag along and cramp my style. I was a playa, after all.

“Can you take Tom to the park with you?”

“Gee whiz, Mom. Do I hafta? He’s such a drag.” Yes, that’s how we talked in the 1960s. Just like on “Leave it to Beaver.” He was Beaver to my Wally. And I had to tow him around.

“Hey, Ed! C’mon! We’re playing hide’n’seek!”

“Can’t. I’m watching my little brother. He’d get lost.”

And he did get lost once. I was playing baseball after school on the playground with our Cub Scout pack. A Police car pulled up and a Police officer came looking for me. I had no idea if I’d done anything wrong, but I was called over by the Scout Leader and the Police officer told me, “You’re brother never came home from school.”

I think I must have had a look of fear, because he reassured me that with my help, we’d find him. I could ride with them in the car because I’d be able to recognize Tom better than they would.

My friends were like, “What do the Police want with you?”

And I replied, eating up all the attention, “The Police need me. We have to look for my little brother.”

We never did find him. Not exactly, anyway. Instead, I think we caught up to him hours later as he was on our block walking home. Turns out he wasn’t kidnapped by pirates and taken to some far off exotic island. He had simply gone home with a friend who nobody knew and he hadn’t bothered telling anyone.

Our parents worked different shifts, our dad during the day and our mom worked the late shift at Johnston Municipal Hospital, Milwaukee’s public-run hospital, so we were sort of latchkey kids — at least it felt like that — and I looked after him after school.

One day Tom came home crying. I asked him what was wrong. He said some kids had threatened him and took his money (which probably amounted to the glorious sum of 42 cents, mostly pennies). I asked him to show me where because after all, I was the older brother and then a worldly middle schooler who’d seen his fair share of fights.

Unfortunately — for them — we never found them. But I think the fact that I was ready to beat someone up for him meant a lot to Tom. Another thing about big brothers: we’re the only one’s allowed to pick on the little brother.

Our dad went back to school — to get a degree and to meet women. He was hardly ever home. He was either at work, at school, or at the library “studying.”

Eventually, this studying led to a divorce, which really devastated Tom. I believe that he kept up the hope my parents would remarry until the day dad died.

So essentially, I was his sole male roll model. And I didn’t realize at the time how much he probably looked up to me. Had I known, I wouldn’t have joined the Navy. But I did, a year after our dad left us, and Tom must have felt abandoned.

I never thought about this until now. Never asked him about how he felt back then or how it affected him. And now I’ll never know.

I was in the Navy for about 7 years and only came home 4 times, so from what I gather, Tom just sort of drifted rudderless. He had troubles in school, didn’t finish high school but did eventually receive his GED. He went to a vocational school, MBTI, I believe, for something in computers, but didn’t graduate. And he went from one minimum wage job to another.

Our dad was useless at that point, only thinking of himself and certainly not thinking how Tom was growing as a person.

He did take Tom to see a couple Milwaukee Brewers baseball games, because my dad liked baseball. I guess he thought that’s what dads do to bond. Except Tom wasn’t a sport kid. One time they were at a game and a ball flew into the stands. Tom caught it. My dad was so proud and then Tom, not knowing any better, threw it back onto the field to my dad’s horror and embarrassment (back in those days, no one threw a ball back). More than likely, that was one of the last bonding moments they enjoyed.

But growing up, the two of us were as different as could be. There is an old, grainy 8mm film (that I need to find at my mom’s) where my dad is chasing Tom around the house trying to get him on film. Tom is running away, crying and upset because he didn’t want his picture taken. Sadly, its a silent film or we’d hear his yelling “Stop. Go away. I don’t want my picture.” And all the while this was going on there was this blonde streak trying to be the center of attention, waving his arms and dancing in front of the camera.

Tom was a very emotional child and I don’t mean that in a bad way. He was caring and concerned about others. He was more like our mother whereas I was more like dad. Mr. Spock was my hero. No emotions.

And Tom was inquisitive. Years ago I was going through a toy box at my mom’s from our childhood with my own son, to see if there was anything he might like.

You could tell the difference between my toys and Tom’s. Mine were in fairly decent shape, although sometimes very worn from use. Tom’s on the other hand were in pieces, dismantled and sometimes rearranged in a different order, think along the lines of the misfit toys of the bully kid in “Toy Story.” Except Tom didn’t do it out of any reason other than he was interested in how they worked, so he’d take them apart and just not bother reassembling them.

Its a shame he never was able to apply that interest into a vocation. But sadly, Tom had several talents that were never fulfilled.

He was a very good artist, but he never took it beyond the hobby stage and eventually abandoned it altogether for whatever reason.  Shortly after I returned from the Navy and saw what he could do, he and I had talked of creating a comic of some sort, I’d write and he’d draw, but that never came to fruition.

He also was a very good cook, but again, never took it beyond his own kitchen. I think mom had even been willing to pay for schooling to become a chef, but if I recall, he decided instead to try for that computer course which he never finished.

And lastly, he had a wonderful singing voice that no one ever got to hear. I remember one time we were at Summerfest, Milwaukee’s summer music festival, in the crowd for a Jan and Dean revival concert. The whole crowd sang along, but when I heard Tom’s rich, full voice I stopped listening to Jan and Dean and just listened to him. Its a shame, but he let that talent languish, too. His son, however, has inherited Tom’s voice and luckily, Brandon has been encouraged to use his singing talent and now he’s with the Milwaukee Children’s Choir. Tom can at least live on through his son’s voice.

Next: I come home after the Navy.

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Jonny Quest

I was seven in 1964 when a television show aired that would become such an integral part of me that decades later I could still hear the theme song, still remember many of the episodes despite having no exposure to it beyond the 1960s.

That show was “Jonny Quest,” a prime-time cartoon that attempted to do something few cartoons before it did. It strove for realism and tried to present near-adult stories of action, cold war drama, and science fiction.

It featured such cool tech fare as laser beams, jet-packs, robots, rockets, computers, and flying platforms. The Quest party, which was made up of Doctor Benton Quest, his son Jonny, Jonny’s friend Hadji, their body guard Race Bannon, and of course, Bandit, were threatened on a weekly basis by some of the most interesting monsters from werewolves, mummies, and yetis, to robot spiders, energy monsters, and a pterodactyl.

I’d have to say that this show, more than any other, formed my love of all things sci-fi techy, this and “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.” Because they both came out in 1964, a full year before “Lost in Space” and two years before “Star Trek.”

Inexplicably, as good as the show was, despite the good “acting,” great story telling, killer theme song, dramatic incidental music, and action and adventure galore, the show only lasted one season. Only 26 episodes were aired. One reason might have been because it was just too expensive to produce compared to the other Hanna-Barbera cartoons of the day, which were, well, cartoony.

“Jonny Quest” strove for more realistic looking characters and except for Bandit, which maintained a Hanna-Barbera cartoony aspect, they pretty much succeeded and that is probably what killed the show, trying to maintain the high-quality realism on a weekly basis.

So the show went into Saturday morning syndication for a while, until it finally disappeared.

It was many years before I ever saw another episode of “Jonny Quest” again (let’s just forget the so-called “second season” from the 1980s and the godawful Ted Turner version from the 1990s), until sometime in the 2000s when either Cartoon Network or Boomerang reshowed them. And when I saw them again, they brought back all the awe I had felt as a seven-year-old when I saw them the first time.

Every time they aired it, I watched. But I soon grew disappointed. They showed them irregularly and they rarely showed all 26 episodes.

So today, I took matters into my own hand and bought the DVD set of “Jonny Quest” the complete first season. Now I can watch it whenever I want and I can see the episodes that are shown rarely on television, including the very first, and in my opinion, the very best episode ever aired, “Mystery of the Lizard Men.”

To say I’m geeked would be an understatement.

As a fun tidbit, here is a PF Flyer advertisement featuring Jonny Quest and Race Bannon. PF Flyers were the shoes that made you “run faster, jump higher,” and here you’ll see why!

And I had that ring, too!

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