Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Elye's Spider Pumpkin

I'd forgotten about these pictures I took of the spider pumpkin Elyse carved and painted back at the beginning of October.  Pretty cool! (There are also a few uncarved smaller pumpkins--or whatever kind of squash they really are--in these pictures.)

Friday, November 26, 2021

Me at Vines Park

Earlier today, Anna and I went for a walk at Vines Park, and I paused to snap this self portrait in the woods.

I do have a talent for framing pictures of myself so that it looks like I have antlers, don't I? (Maybe you wouldn't have even noticed that if I hadn't pointed it out. Also, for the record, I don't have antlers. There was just a tree behind me.)

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Six Snapshots of a Drive Up US 441 with Jessica

Today, Jessica and I went on a drive up U.S. 441 into the Great Smoky Mountains. (Actually, in the interest of accuracy, I will admit that a lot of it is officially designated as U.S. 23, and some of the way we took I-985. But I prefer to think of it as a drive up 441.)

Here are six snapshots that summarize parts of our trip:

This is where we had lunch, in Clayton, GA. It was pretty good, and it was nice to have lunch at a place where someone comes to your table and takes your order and where some form of chicken strips don't make up the majority of the menu's offerings; however, I generally expect a place that calls itself an Italian restaurant to play something other than country music.

I hope Jessica doesn't mind me posting this picture, but the laugh here is irresistible, isn't it?

I was up in the beautiful Appalachian mountains much of the day, and yet one of my favorite photographs is of funky chickens on the side of a building.
(I might feel a little differently if I'd actually gotten any decent pictures of the mountains.)
(Also I'm very taken with all the shapes and textures and colors in this image, even without the chickens. This is on the side of the antique mall referred to below, by the way.)

Cheap plastic and kind of expensive, but cute nonetheless. -- at Yesterday's Treasures Antique Mall in Dillard, GA

The bottom floor--or some of it, anyway--of Yesterday's Treasures Antique Mall in Dillard, GA.

My attempt at capturing the beauty of the mountains in Franklin, TN, but mostly it serves as a reminder that on the way home we stopped at a Lowe's to use the bathroom.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Sunday Morning Coffee and Reading

Anna's gone back to bed (after getting up with me at 6:30 to watch the rest of the most recent "Great British Baking Show"), and the kids aren't up yet--or at least haven't come out of their bedrooms--and I'm sitting out on the back deck drinking coffee, being cold, and doing some reading.

Overhead, the sky is a flat gray. It almost looks like, if it were cold enough, it might snow.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Elyse and Mommy Go to the Theater

Tonight, Elyse and Anna got dressed up to go see a Christmas play at the Conyers community theater (the New Depot Players). Here they are before they left:

Thursday, November 18, 2021

My Fifth Birthday Party, 1972

One of the things I notice now, looking at this fifty-year old photograph with the eyes of someone who considers himself to be a decent amateur photographer, with a respectable amount of knowledge about cameras and lenses and how they work, is how close to me the vantage point of this picture appears to be. How did my mother--or whoever took this picture, in the unlikely event it wasn't her--get that close with a fixed-focus Kodak Instamatic camera? Probably she really was just right there with the camera in my face. (It's also possible that this image is a cropped version of a wider original; I can't remember what the actual print looks like right now.)

Whatever the case, this picture certainly does put you right there with me and my birthday cake at this, my fifth birthday party, probably a Saturday afternoon in April, 1972. (I doubt the party was actually on my birthday, though the actual date has probably been lost to history.)

But I do remember this party. It was in the basement of our house in Clarkston, and all my cousins and neighborhood friends and relatives--at least all the ones who didn't have to work, or have some other convenient excuse for getting out of a little boy's birthday party--were there.

What I think I remember--though I admit I may just remember having been told this story over and over so many times that it has the feeling of a genuine memory--is that when I was about to blow out the candles on my cake, my cousin Lorri leaned in and blew them out for me. It was that moment that this picture captures.

What I also think I remember--and this I'm pretty sure is a genuine memory and not an implated one, except that it might have been from the party the year before this one--is that the cake was decorated with a plastic horse and cowboy. Sometime after this party, later the same day or the next day, perhaps, I took them out to play with in the neighborhood, and I left them on the curb a street or two away when Mom called me home for supper. I went out to play with them some more, later that day or maybe the next day, I'm not sure, and I was incredulous that they weren't still there on the curb where I'd left them. Someone stole my horse and cowboy from me! It had genuinely not even occurred to me that someone would do such a thing. But someone did. I think that was the very beginning of my loss of innocence.

One other thing I want to point out in this picture: look at the bottle on the left side of the frame. Pepsi. I have another picture, of another part of the house (the kitchen), at another time (I don't know exactly when), in which a Pepsi bottle is clearly visible. Where we a Pepsi family? Even living in (or near) Atlanta, the birthplace of Coca-Cola? Or maybe there just wasn't a Coke-vs.-Pepsi rivalry back then, and people just bought whatever was most convenient or cheapest. Whatever the explanation, I'm okay with it. To be honest, I slightly prefer Pepsi over Coke; I rather like thinking this bias goes back to when I was just a little kid.

Monday, November 15, 2021

"Try to Keep the Ball Low..."

There is quite a bit of wisdom to be gleaned from this exchange between Charlie Brown and Lucy (from March 19, 1969), but I don't think the real takeaway here is "try to keep the ball low." (I think it's something about how often the better choice is to just shrug and say, "It's a mystery to me, too," because, really, the Lucy Van Pelts of the world don't want to hear your answers.)

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Me and My Corolla

Oh, man, that car! It was a 1977 Toyota Corolla that Dad bought new and drove until it was ready to be handed over to me, which happened sometime in late 1983. If you look carefully you can see a 1978 Stone Mountain parking permit on the front bumper. (If you look at my current car, a 2013 Hyundai Elantra, you'll see a 2022 Stone Mountain parking permit on the windshield. Having a Stone Mountain parking sticker on my car is a long-standing tradition with me...but that's a whole 'nother story.)

And look at me! I was young and thin and had my whole life ahead of me. I imagine this was taken only a few months after I passed my driver's license test (thirty-eight years ago as I write this…*sigh*). In the picture I'm not wearing glasses, which tells me this was probably a few months into my eleventh-grade year of school, since that is when I got contacts. I'm wearing the same Junkyard Dog shirt I was wearing in a picture I wrote about a few months ago, the one of me and Scott in Granny's house in Tucker. And it's hard to say for sure, but I think I'm wearing a pair of white K-Mart shoes that had Velcro straps to fasten them instead of conventional laces; my high school friend Kirk Brooks used to call them my Sesame Street shoes.

Not long after this was taken--less than a year after I got my license--I would total this car on Lawrenceville Highway in Lilburn, driving myself and my then-girlfriend Laura to my grandmother's house (yes, the one in Tucker), when I failed to notice that the car in front of me had stopped for the red light. It was terrible.

But that fact doesn't prevent me from having great memories of this car.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Me, In My Tues 10:00am Classroom

Me, in my Tues 10:00am classroom after all the students left. Do I look like an old hippie English professor? That's kind of what I am. (Kind of--not actually old enough to really have been a hippie, and I probably wouldn't have made a good one anyway, and as an adjunct instructor I probably don't really merit the title "professor." But still...)

(I sent this as a text to Jessica yesterday morning after I taught one class but before the other, and then later posted it on Instagram. I also decided that I might as well publish it here on the blog, too.)

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Christmas Morning with My New B.B. Gun

This is me and Dad in the backyard of our house in Lilburn, Christmas morning, probably 1976 or 1977. Pookie, the dog I had all through school, is on the ground behind Dad, with a tennis ball in his mouth.

I can relate to Ralphie, the main character in the great Christmas movie A Christmas Story (with a screenplay by Jean Shepherd, who adapted it from his book In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, and who also provided the voice-over narration). Ralphie longed for a B.B. gun, and when I was about that age, so did I. (Though in the interest of accuracy I will point out that that movie didn't come out until a few years after this picture was taken, and I'd never even heard of the book, so I had no idea I had this in common with the fictional Ralphie.) Every issue of Boy's Life magazine back then featured two or three ads for B.B. guns, and I studied those ads every month like I was preparing for a test.

In this picture you can see that, like Ralphie in the movie, I got my wish for Christmas.

The box Dad is holding is a rubber-backed target--at least I'm pretty sure that's what it is--that either came with the gun or Dad bought for me as part of the present. We set it up against the back fence and did some target practice that morning. I did not shoot my eye out. (Or anyone else's, for that matter.)

In case you can't tell what I'm doing in this picture, I'm pumping the gun to build up pressure and fire power. The manual said that ten pumps was supposed to be the maximum, but I'm pretty sure I used to pump it forty or fifty times to send the B.B. extra far and extra hard. I don't think it actually made a difference; I think that whether I gave it ten pumps or fifty, it shot about the same.

I still have this gun--it's out in the garage somewhere, probably nearly covered in spider webs and leaf debris. It doesn't actually shoot anymore. I can say that for sure because about five years I bought a container of B.B.s and loaded it up, but it wouldn't shoot--ten pumps or fifty, it shot (or didn't shoot) about the same. When I pulled the trigger, the gun made a rather unsatisfying PPFFFTT sound, and the B.B. rolled out of the barrel.

This picture must have been taken by my mother, who I don't remember objecting to my owning a B.B. gun the way Ralphie's mother did in the movie. I'm sure she wanted me to be careful--which I was--and I probably got some standard speech about not shooting people or dogs or birds or squirrels--which I never did--but I doubt Mom thought a whole lot about my B.B. gun. I think it was just accepted by then: little boys had B.B. guns.

On a side note, in this picture Dad would have been in his early thirties, twenty years or so younger than I am now. As I think I've written before, one of the remarkable things about looking back at these old pictures and thinking about those times is not just seeing myself as a kid, but seeing my parents and realizing they were practically still kids themselves.

Friday, October 15, 2021

My Default Chekhov

Up until I was nineteen or twenty, if you had said "Chekhov" to me, I would have immediately thought of Ensign Pavel Chekov, the navigator of the U.S.S. Enterprise, played by Walter Koenig on the original "Star Trek" series and in a number of theatrically-released movies. He was my default Chekov. (Didn't know there was such a thing, did you?)

Sometime around 1986, though, my default Chekhov changed (both in the person it referred to and in the number of H's in the spelling, as you can see.) I was very interested in short stories then (still am, though back then I actually wrote them; now I don't), and I was reading a book I'd bought used somewhere or other called The Short Story. (It's actually an old college textbook for a literature class in short stories; it was published in 1967, the year I was born.) One night I read a Chekhov story in that book called "The Lament," about Iona, the cab driver in late-nineteenth century Russia, who is so overcome with grief at the loss of his son, and so unable to express his grief to any of the uncaring people he encounters through the course of the story, that at the end of the story he tells all his problems to the little horse who pulls his cab.

It's a stunning little story--only about four pages long, probably no more than 2,000 words, but heartbreaking. That's when my default Chekhov switched from the fictional twenty-second century starship navigator to the real nineteenth century Russian author.

I didn't actually read that much more Chekhov then, though, although I probably did sometimes tell people he was one of my favorite writers. Mostly I was reading the works of people who were American and still living and writing (Raymond Carver, who was still alive and working then, Bobbie Ann Mason, David Leavitt, Peter Cameron, Lorrie Moore, and a whole host of others, all of whom are still working as I write this) and dreaming about taking my place among them (which I never did--but that's okay; I gradually came to recognize that I didn't necessarily belong among them).

These days I do read a good deal more Chekhov, and I love his stories. But what I also love is the alienness of the people and places he describes--there's something immediately intriguing to me about being told that a character's name is Dmitri Illyich, and that he is sleeping on a haystack near an old barn in Vladivostok. Those exotic names (or exotic-sounding, to my American ear) get me every time.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Burt's Pumpkin Farm and Dahlonega

We set off this morning for a nice day in the North Georgia mountains. I had intended to take us to Blue Ridge, but traffic proved too heavy--there was an apple festival along our route, in Ellijay, and I suspect that was the reason for all the cars. To avoid that, we changed plans and went to Burt's Pumpkin Farm and then on to Dahlonega.

Here are some of the pictures I took on our trip:

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Monroe with Jessica

Today Jessica and I went to Monroe to walk around, go in various stores, have lunch, and, most importantly, take pictures. Here are twenty of the pictures I took:

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Sunday Morning Stars

I went out to the back deck this morning at 6:30 to sit outside and drink some coffee, looked up, and there were stars!

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Me and Dad at Six Flags around 1975

It's hard to believe that when this picture was taken, Six Flags was only seven or eight years old.

To someone of my generation, the amusement park Six Flags – or Six Flags Over Georgia, to use its full name (though no one ever really does) – seems to have always been there, enticing us to visit it, encouraging us to keep our Coke cans to save on our entry fee, promising us the danger and thrill of getting soaked on a log ride or risking (but surely not actually getting) life-threatening injuries on a roller coaster. But it wasn't always there, of course; in fact, Six Flags opened the year I was born, 1967, so the amusement park and I are the same age. I can remember talking about going there with some of my friends in second grade – somehow we had become convinced that there was a whale living in the lake at the park (which I realize now was probably not true); I don't think any of us realized then that the park was only a few years old. Not that that would have mattered to us; seven years is a pretty long time to someone who is only seven years old.

I don't remember the specific trip to Six Flags on which this picture was made; I have other pictures that must have been made around the same time – maybe the year before or after this one; maybe even the same summer – but I can tell they were different visits because in those pictures I'm wearing different clothes than I am in this one. Six Flags looms large enough in my memories of the 1970s that I know we must have gone there many times, even though it's all the way on the other side of Atlanta from where we lived.

This picture shows me and Dad on the Hanson Cars, an antique-car ride on which you steer low-powered old-timey-looking cars (fancy go karts, really) on a track that looks somewhat like a road and which metal guides in the asphalt prevent you from leaving. (In fact, I think the steering is optional; as long as you accelerate, the metal guide will ensure your path along the track – though it is less jerky if you do steer.) I know now, after reading about Six Flags on Wikipedia, that the Hanson Cars ride was one of the original attractions in the park when it opened in 1967, as was the Dahlonega Mine Train (a sort of mini roller coaster). The Great American Scream Machine, or just the Scream Machine as we called it when I was in elementary school, opened in 1973 (the same year I started first grade); it seemed such an integral part of the park that I probably believed it had always been there.

Not that I ever rode the Scream Machine, at least not back then (though I think I did ride it a couple of times in 1993 or '94, when I went there in my late 20s after not having been for fifteen year or so). When I was a kid I wanted to go to Six Flags all the time, but mostly I would ride only the gentlest of rides. I did ride the Dahlonega a few times, but that was fast enough for me you couldn't have gotten me on a full-size roller coaster or the Great Gasp or any of those other thrill rides for anything. The ride I remember the best was "Tales of the Okefenokee," a "dark ride" on which you rode in a boat through scenes of animatronic, anthropomorphic swamp critters that seems in retrospect like a combination of the cartoon sequences from The Song of the South (minus all the racist stuff, I sure hope) and Walt Kelly's Pogo comic strip. Or maybe like the "Hillbilly Bears" and the "Possible Possum" cartoons I used to see on TV every day after school. (Anthropomorphized mountain/swamp/country animals, especially bears and rabbits, were part of the zeitgeist of the second half of the 20th century, apparently.)

I think an ideal Six Flags experience for me when I was ten would have been to ride "Tales of the Okefenokee" about ten times, eat some ice cream, and then play ski ball for four hours. In truth, though, I only remember with clarity one visit to Six Flags when I did play ski ball: when I was in fifth grade, we went to Six Flags one Friday after school with Jan and Richard, I think for an AT&T-sponsored event (or BellSouth, or whatever that company was called back then; it was where Richard worked, but I’m sure that meant nothing to me at the time). All I really recall about that trip was playing ski ball and trying to win enough tickets to trade in for...I don't know, a Cadillac, I think. I didn't make it, of course. In fact, I don't think I traded my tickets in for any prize at all; I think I kept them with the intention of going back again soon and then getting enough tickets to get the Cadillac. Instead I don't think I went back to Six Flags for about fifteen years.

I don't know what happened to the ski ball tickets. Probably Mom threw them away a couple of days later, when I was back at school, and I've just now, more than forty years later, realized it.

I went to Six Flags just three or four years ago, with Anna and the kids. A lot of it has changed, but you know what hasn't? The smell. It smelled like Six Flags – not a bad smell at all; a good smell, an exciting smell. Smelling that, I was ten again.

But I still went home without a Cadillac.

Oh, and by the way, the Hanson Cars ride is still there, and so is the Dahlonega Mine Train.

(In the interest of complete honesty, I feel I should admit that they don’t really have Cadillacs among the prizes you can get in the games pavillion, no matter how many tickets you get.)

Bonus: Here are some pictures that one of my parents took in the "Tales of the Okefenokee" ride sometime in the 1970s:

(Yes, it's a rabbit milking a cow. No, I don't know why.)