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.

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.)

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Me, at home, in a T-shirt and plaid flannel shirt, circa 1987

Unlike most of the pictures I choose for these musings, I am (almost, kinda-sorta) an adult in this one. I think I was about 20 when this was taken, probably some time in 1987, maybe 1988. I was out of high school and in college but still living in the house I grew up in in Lilburn, about which I’ve written quite a bit before.

The T-shirt says Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and has the MGM lion on it. I used to wear that shirt a lot. Dad brought it back for me from a trip to California back when he worked for TBS. I was wearing a plaid flannel shirt over it because...because I always wore plaid flannel shirts over my T-shirts--it was part of the 1980s-long-haired-guy uniform. I was also wearing bracelets and a dangly earring--other parts of the uniform. (And jeans, of course. I always wore jeans back then--I don't think I owned any pants then that weren't jeans. Now I never wear jeans--I don't own a pair of pants that are jeans.)

When this was taken, I think I had already started going to Georgia State University, but it was right after my two years at DeKalb College (as it was known then), which were two great years (or so my selective memory leads me to believe). Though I know this picture was taken a couple of years after the fact, it makes me think of the fall of 1985, my first quarter at DeKalb, and taking Philosophy in the Nursing building--I loved that class, with Dr. Yohan (Shan Yohan; her husband, Walter, also a philosophy professor at DeKalb, had retired a year or two earlier. I know this only because Rod Bennett, whom I met in that class, once told me that somebody told him to be sure to take philosophy with Dr. Yohan, and when he did he was disappointed to find out the professor was the wife and not the husband.)

I was also taking the Mercer continuing-ed creative writing class at night with Jalaine, and finding new writers to admire and emulate (Bobbie Ann Mason stands out as an early favorite, but there was also Raymond Carver and Amy Hempel and others). Back then I used to actually write--I mean, write short stories, poems, parts of novels (these blog entries and musings count, but it just isn't the same thing--I know I'm not creating literature here). I even published a handful of short stories back then, too (but mostly in tiny basement-copy-machine little magazines that nobody's ever heard of, though I racked up quite a few rejection slips from university-sponsored literary magazines).

One thing that freaks me out when I do the math: If this picture really was taken in 1987, then it was only about fourteen years before I married Anna. As I sit here writing this, Anna and I have been married for twenty years. So the Chris Burdett in this picture is closer in age to the Chris Burdett who got married to Anna Benoit in 2001 at St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Lawrenceville than the Chris Burdett who is writing this is. Man, do I feel old!

I like the guy in this picture. He still had some growing up to do (maybe he still does) and some stuff to learn (maybe he still does), but he was an okay guy. Hopefully he still is.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

My First Computer

My brother, Jeff, playing a game on our Apple II home computer in the early 1980s

My first computer was a 1980 Apple II that Dad bought for us, back when he worked for a local computer store that was an Apple dealer (in addition to selling Compaq and Kaypro, and some other brands that are no longer around -- Apple obviously is). This distinction probably isn't something many people these days would recognize as important, but it was an Apple II -- not an Apple II+ or an Apple IIe, and certainly not an Apple IIc -- that model didn't come out until a few years later.

No, it was just a plain old Apple II; for a monitor you connected it to a TV set via an RF modulator, its character set didn't include lower-case letters, and it had to go into a different mode to display graphics than it used to display text. The Apple II did have color, though, which set it apart from many of the other home computers around at that time, but since we used an old black and white TV as our monitor, we couldn't tell the difference: the frogs in Frogger were a light gray to us.

But even if we were watching grayscale frogs hop across grayscale traffic to hop onto the backs of grayscale alligators, we at least had a computer, which was not true of very many families back at the end of the 1970s and beginning of the 1980s.

Yes, it was a computer, at least technically, but it was nothing like the ones we're used to today. In those days 64KB of RAM -- not 64MB, and definitely not 64GB -- was a lot. In fact, I think we started with just 4K (back then you didn't indicate the B; I guess "bytes" was understood) and worked our way up by taking the cover off and plugging RAM chips into the available slots. For the first year or two, we read programs into that memory from a cassette drive, but Dad eventually (perhaps fairly quickly, I really don't remember the exact timeline of all this) brought home a floppy disk drive, and then another, making it much faster for us to boot up Space Invaders or Frogger or whatever game we felt like playing. (These were 5 1/4 -- pronounced "five and a quarter" -- inch floppy drives and disks, by the way, and they held something like 512K per side, which at the time really was a lot.)

Games were mostly what we used the Apple II for: the already-mentioned Space Invaders and Frogger, Lemonade Stand, and quite a few I'm sure I've forgotten. In the picture above, Jeff is playing one of these games, probably Space Invaders, holding the paddle in his lap (the Apple had a dedicated port for paddles, I imagine because games like those were probably its most common use).

I made grand plans when I learned we were going to be getting the computer but didn't yet have it, back in sixth grade, of becoming a programming whiz and creating a computerized version of Monopoly (and possibly getting rich and famous, though I don't think I actually thought about that possibility very much). I would pore over the pamphlets and manuals (Dad managed to bring home a copy of a manual before we got the actual computer) and scheme and fantasize and dream.

Scheme and fantasize and dream, but not do any real planning, other than a few inept sketches of what the screen should look like, and I never wrote even a single line of code for my Monopoly game. I did become a decent BASIC programmer, though, and I did write a game that involved guns you would move around with your paddle, and bullets that could either take out the other gun, or disappear into the cactus in the middle of the screen (it was my sole gimmick, in this game at least) only to be shot out again from the cactus in some new, randomly-chosen direction. I also wrote a program that drew letters on the screen, creating a lower-case character set the computer then lacked. (It couldn't save what you wrote, though -- I didn't know how to make it do that -- so it was not a "word processor" or "text editor" by any stretch of the imagination.) And when I was taking chemistry at Berkmar (in 11th or 12th grade, 1984 or 1985; I don't remember, but I do remember that the teacher was Mrs. East -- actually Dr. East, I believe; I think she did have a Ph.D., but she didn't go by "Dr."), my science fair proposal was a computer-based study program called Computer Tutor, which I actually did do a lot of work on, but which I never actually finished, just as a I didn't finish chemistry. (Dropping out of one made it easy for me to abandon the other.)

When I was in ninth grade at Berkmar, taking Coach Thees's Algebra class, there was a tenth grader in my class who I would talk to sometimes about music (he was into synthesizers and liked Gary Newman) and computers (he also had an Apple II); his name was Jeff Martin. At one point he gave me a floppy disk containing a pirated version of SirTech's landmark fantasy roleplaying game Wizardry. It was a strangely defining moment for me -- I already loved fantasy fiction, and I soon loved this game. I didn't have a manual or any instructions, but by trial and error I learned how to play, and eventually got my cousin Scott and my brother Jeff into it with me, in long Friday night adventuring campaigns with our party of Srizaxa, Sribob, Imok (so named when we saw the spine of I'm OK, You're OK on Dad's bookshelf), and at least three others whose names now escape me. (A full party in Wizardry was six characters, and we always played with a full party.).

The last thing I'm going to say -- for now, at least -- about this phase of my life is that we subscribed to Creative Computing, a magazine I dearly loved and read faithfully every month. I also looked through the ads in the back many times, fantasizing about the computers I would get and what cool things I would do with them.

Today, computers are all around us, powering or enabling an awful lot of what we do, and we tend to take them for granted. I wrote much of this musing on my Google Pixel 3a smart phone using an Anker bluetooth keyboard, and, except while composing this sentence, it doesn't even occur to me what a cool thing it is that I have these tools at my disposal. I am glad, though, that I have memories of a time when personal computers were unique and not yet ubiquitous, and back then I think I really did realize how cool they were.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Elyse and Mommy at Callaway Gardens

This weekend Elyse and Anna went to Callaway Gardens for a Labor Day Weekend getaway, and to see the balloon glow that was happening there Saturday night (which Elyse didn't know about; Anna kept the balloon glow as a Special Surprise). Here are seven of the pictures they texted to me while they were on their weekend adventure:

Callaway Gardens is getting ready for its Fall Festival

They went to the beach for a couple of hours; this is Elyse as a mermaid

Pokey the Turtle Balloon, whose pin Elyse has and coincidentally brought, was there for the balloon glow

The second day, Sunday, they went to the wild animal safari place; this is the two of them on the bus being taken in to the safari

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Stone Mountain Village and Old Town Lilburn with Jessica

Today Jessica and I went to Stone Mountain Village and Old Town Lilburn (both places we've been before) to walk around and take pictures. Here are some of my favorites of the pictures I took:

One of the buildings in Stone Mountain Village

I'm not sure if this sign in Stone Mountain Village is vintage or recent

Rooftops seen from the library in Lilburn, where we stopped so I could visit the euphimism

Same as above, except this is looking across at where the Chick-Fil-A is

The outside of the antique store in Old Town Lilburn

Books in the antique store in Old Town Lilburn

Geometry in the antique store in Old Town Lilburn

Lots of miscellaneous stuff in the antique store in Old Town Lilburn (you can also see Jessica in the mirror on the right side)

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Roswell with Jessica

Today Jessica and I went to Roswell (Georgia, not New Mexico) to walk around and take pictures. Here are some of the pictures I took:

We didn't eat here, or even go in, but I liked their fa├žade and sign

This decorative wall was outside the antiques & interiors store, and I believe hid the air conditioning units

"If I ever left my house without my walking stick
That would be something I could never explain"

detail on an old (and very expensive) mantel in the antiques & interiors store

This is the house where Anna lived, with her roommate Carolyn, when I first met her in 1999

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Cassiopeia and Starrllyle

We never intended to remain a one-cat family for long, and today we went to Gwinnett County's Bill Atkinson Animal Welfare Center (the animal control shelter) to adopt two new additions to our home. Their names are Cassiopeia (the more orange of the two; Casio for short) and Starrllyle (the lighter-colored cat; I think his full name is spelled with two R's and three L's, but mostly we just call him Lyle); they are three-month old brothers, and they're very sweet and also very curious about our house.

Here's one picture I took--of Elyse taking a picture of Lyle in Mom's office, within a few minutes of us arriving home and letting them out--and one picture Anna texted to me and four pictures Jessica texted to me throughout the afternoon:

Casio exploring Jessica's room

This is the one Anna sent me

Hale-Bopp is so far not amused to have two new cats living in our house, but we are confident that eventually she will warm up to them.

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Elyse Goes Ballooning (sort of)

Elyse has been interested for some time in flying--not like a bird, which I'm pretty sure she accepts as impossible, but in an airplane or helicopter or hot-air balloon. Today she had the opportunity to get near one--hot-air balloon, that is--and even inside it, though not actually take it up, up and away. (I've been trying to figure out how to work a Fifth Dimension reference into this, and that's the best I can do. Sorry.)

The event took place in Jackson, Georgia, which is in the amusingly-named county of Butts, which is why it was called Butts Aglow. It involved hot-air balloons lighting up so that...well, I'll quote here from an article by Larry Stanford in the online edition of the Jackson Progress-Argus: "A balloon glow is when hot air balloons are set up and inflated, but anchored to the ground. The propane burners are ignited periodically to keep the balloons inflated with hot air. When night falls, the balloons glow like huge light bulbs or Chinese lanterns, given [sic -- I assume it should say "giving"] a spectacular display for the audience." (The whole article is here: Butts Aglow 2021)

Anyway, Elyse had a really good time. Here are some of the pictures Anna texted to me from the event:

Friday, July 30, 2021

Goodbye, Nazzie

This was not a good day.

Today we had to say goodbye to Nosfurratu, or Nazzie for short (though we could never all agree on the spelling of her full name or nickname). She got sick just a couple of days ago, and spent two days at the vet's office, but she just couldn't make it, she was too sick. She wouldn't eat and her body temperature kept going down and there was fluid in her chest and she was having trouble breathing.

We're devastated. She wasn't even three years old yet.

Goodbye, Nazzie. We were lucky to have you as our little fur girl for two and a half years.

Jess texted this picture to me back in March. I'm terribly sad that I won't get anymore of Jess's wonderful Selfies with Nazzie.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Throwback Thursday: Two Views of Our Screened-In Back Porch

(A few weeks ago I wrote a post based around just a picture of the house I grew up in in Lilburn. Here's another one, except this is based on a different view of the house, and this time there are two pictures.)

I don't remember exactly when Dad and my uncle Richard (Scott's dad) built this screened-in porch on our house in Lilburn, but I remember the building of it well, even if I'm not sure when it was. But I think it must have been 1981 or 1982 -- I'm almost certain I was at least in middle school at the time, if not already in high school -- which means that for the first eight or nine years we lived there, there was no back porch. In my memory, that house always had a screened-in porch, even though I know that wasn't true. (Memory is often unreliable like that. I think I might have learned that in college; I don't remember.)(Do you see what I did there?)

We spent a lot of time out there, or at least I think we did. (If we didn't, then we should have.) In these pictures you can just make out the white and blue plastic and canvas table and chairs we had on the porch, at which we had summer lunches and the occasional game of Trivial Pursuit. I think there was also some wicker furniture too. And ceiling fans? I think so, but you can't tell in these pictures, and my memory doesn't fill them in. What I wish was true is that I spent a lot of time out there reading, and I know I did some, but I think even after this porch was built I still spent most of my time in my bedroom reading Piers Anthony and Clifford D. Simak novels and playing my guitar.

I do remember this, though: my fourteen-year-old self was in much better shape than I am now, forty years later (not surprisingly), and back then I could do something that I wouldn't even attempt now, which is to climb up on the gate of our chain-link fence, just beside the house (you can just barely see it in one of the pictures above), and pull myself up onto the roof. Some days I would take a book with me and a little plastic jug-shaped container of juice and sit up there on the porch roof -- which was pitched at a more comfortable angle than the rest of the roof-- and read for a while. Whether this is something I just did a couple of times or something I did every day for a whole summer I'm not sure. I outgrew the habit (probably pretty quickly because I imagine it was hot up there, even if it does seem like a cool thing to do).