When the world is a monster     Bad to swallow you whole     Kick the clay that holds the teeth in     Throw your trolls out the door    

The One-Legged Sandpiper

December, 2008

Holly Jolly Christmas Monday, December 1, 2008 Holly Jolly Christmas

Christmas Time is Here

      I can only receive two FM radio stations at the train station in Danielson. Both are easy-listening-oldies-ish sort of stations. Both started playing nothing but Christmas music weeks ago. This still bothers me... but not as much anymore. I used to despise Christmas advertising and product displays before Thanksgiving. The Chipmunks Album Cover I'm a little better about it now. I still think we should wait at least until December before any mention of Christmas at all. It short changes Thanksgiving as a holiday as far as I'm concerned. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays and not just because of the food. The first one I can remember was at my grandparent's house in Woodbridge, NJ. There was snow on the ground at the time and I remember vividly many of the details of that day including my grandfather's trick brandy snifter... but that's a story for another time.

      We all have things that trigger strong holiday memories... a flag, milestone, key event or turning point. In 1959 (before I was born) Rostom Sipan Bagdasarian (David Seville) released the "Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)" as a single and sold four million copies and won three Grammy awards. From 1961 to 1962 Alvin and the Chipmunks was an animated series. It was cancelled after one season but lived on in syndication. As long as I can remember, Alvin and the Chipmunks have been all over Christmas. I knew the Chipmunk song before I knew Christmas was actually a religious holiday. Hearing the Chipmunk song, "Holly Jolly Christmas" by Burl Ives and two pieces from the Vince Guaraldi Trio, "Christmas Time Is Here" and "Linus and Lucy" used in the A Charlie Brown Christmas TV special are my musical triggers. There's dozens of other songs that bring back fond, and otherwise, memories... but those four are the big ones.

      Some of you may be asking yourselves "What's with the over-the-top Christmas theme?" Well... as long as I can remember Christmas has been a battle between tradition, religious significance and rampant commercialism and merchandising. Retail sales is the name of that game baby! I grew up steeped in the no-holds-barred TV advertising of the sixties. Those are my Wonder Bread years. Some of my favorite traditions ARE rampant commercialism... or at least byproducts of it. I don't know if that's good or bad. It is what it is. So what if the Grinch and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer mean more to me than the birth of Christ. This is why the Sandpiper will look the way it looks for the month of December. It's every tacky Christmas decoration we all grew up with rolled into one. Like the holiday of Christmas, it has great meaning hidden beneath many layers of tradition and crap. It is what you want it to be and what you make of it.

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   The view from inside... looking towards the beach.   

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   A warm cheery place...even on the stormiest night.   

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   This window is a beacon of comfort during the winter months.   

Sixty Years of Tradition

Leaving the beach to start the Christmas season.

     In 1948 Francis and Agnes Walter (Kelly's grandparents)rented a house on East Channel Way in Ocean Beach. The next year, 1949, they bought their own bungalow on East Bay Way. The Walter familly has been a fixture here at Ocean Beach ever since. Agnes Walter has instilled a strong appreciation of rituals and traditions in her family, especially her granddaughter Kelly. For as long as anyone can remember, Agnes has closed up the house the weekend after Thanksgiving and opened it up again soon after Easter. This ritual serves well the great sense of purpose she conducts her life with. The family relies on this sense of purpose and the resulting yearly rituals as much as they rely on anything else.
     One of the important tasks associated with closing up the house is decorating the bay window in the front of the house with Christmas decorations and lights. Kelly helps get the decorations down out of the attic and put up the lights. The warm glow of the Christmas lights is an oasis on an otherwise dark deserted street. I miss seeing the lights at the beginning and end of boardwalk walks for the rest of the winter. The beach finally feels deserted when Agnes closes up the house and heads north.
     Leaving the beach can cause a great deal of stress for a beach person. Agnes has been coming and going with the seasons for sixty years and says it never gets any easier. I can believe this from my own experiences... having to leave the beach many times during the year. We each have our own protocol for dealing with the last day. It almost always includes a last walk up the beach and we all seem to hope for bad weather to make it easier. It doesn't. The key to surviving the ordeal is to look past the emotional anguish to the next arrival.

Holly Jolly Christmas Tuesday, December 2, 2008 Holly Jolly Christmas

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Go for it! Doan be ascared.

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   The Atlantic Ocean on a bright sunny December morning.   

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   The Dazzling brilliance reflected off the water is very inspiring.   

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   This is why morning beach walks are the best.   

Holly Jolly Christmas Wednesday, December 3, 2008 Holly Jolly Christmas

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   A mediocre sunset over an agitated Barnegat Bay.   

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   This is the roughest I've seen the bay this year.   

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   This baby would tear up the bay in this wind.   

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   It's a good thing she's tied up... just in case.   

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   A lone sandpiper working the "surf" in the bay.   

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   This looks like the start of a new inlet to the ocean.   

Holly Jolly Christmas Thursday, December 4, 2008 Holly Jolly Christmas

Clear and Present Danger

The Most Memorable Presents From Days Gone By

      If you were product of the sixties you were all about the presents. Yeah... They tried to tell you about the birth-of-Jesus thing sometimes... But it was all about the presents. Some I remember like it was yesterday. These are those... A few at a time.

You sunk my battleship!

      My version of battleship was newer that the one in the picture here. The unit had both players back to back with a radar screen type deal you rotated to see a silhouette of your enemy's ship. It was a great unpowered gag to emulate radar and made for a pretty good game. I remember playing it on the dining room table on Christol Street in Metuchen, New Jersey so the sun coming in the window would light up the radar screens better. Circa 1968. Notice Mom and Sis in the kitchen doing dishes while the rutting stags engage in a post dinner game of "BS". The women don't even need eyes to complete their chores.

"You sunk my battleship!"

Yeah I did.

Dog fights without the dogs

      This was another great game. Each player had an easily identifiable top. When whoever was anointed said "go" every player would yank their top string, carefully wound around the top as if you were packing your own parachute. The tops would whirl against each other and over a period of time, usually less than a minute but often longer, the last top "standing" would win. Strength mattered, but not as much as you would think. A nice smooth pull, increasing pull speed throughout the duration of the pull (maybe a second), seemed to be the best strategy.

      I think one hit me in the eye only once. Not bad for a game in the sixties. Simple idea. Great game. It was actually my brother's present. Circa 1970. Look sat their eyes! The father (or guardian... or...whatever) and the kid on the right don't seem to be impacted in the same way as the other two. Maybe there's hope for them. I hope they're still alive. Maybe it's a symptom of exposure to Platformate... A trendy gas additive at the time.

Big Bruiser was the best towtruck ever
Big Bruiser was the best towtruck ever

      Big Bruiser was a tow truck. A giant (at the time) white truck with a battery operated blinking light and working winches with fairly pointy metal hooks on them for towing things. The best part was the plastic pickup truck in the same scale that came with it. It had a jack and some other tools I think and a tire that could be changed with one that was flat and a fender that could be replace with a crumpled one.
      Big Bruiser is one of those toys I wish I still had. That's how great it was. I was walking the aisles in Brimfield, Massachusetts about ten years back and saw one for sale. It was getting close to the end of the huge flea market/antique sale and everybody was packing up. The guy wanted $80.00 for it. I kept looking back at it. I told him I had one when I was about six or seven. He returned from behind his table with his hands behind his back and produced the pickup truck... With all of the parts even! I should have bought it.

Holly Jolly Christmas Friday, December 5, 2008 Holly Jolly Christmas

Clear and Present Danger

The Most Memorable Presents From Days Gone By

      If you were a product of the sixties you were all about the presents. Yeah... They tried to tell you about the birth-of-Jesus thing sometimes... But it was all about the presents. Some I remember like it was yesterday. These are some more of those... A few at a time. The first installment appeared Thursday, December 4, 2008.

      This "Clear and Present Danger" was supposed to appear in the Sandpiper on December 5, 2008... To go along with the over the top Christmas theme. But it was not to be due to all sorts of issues. Here it is now. There's going to be more soon. Favorite toys are important things in life. My favorites now are my computer, kayak and camera... In that order.

Bizzy Buzz Buzz was a great idea... But it sucked!

      Bizzy Buzz Buzz was a motorized pen that looked like a bug... Sort of. The idea was that you could put a pen cartridge in Bizzy and it would move the pen in a circular motion creating a spiral pattern on the paper while making an alarming amount of noise. This pattern would vary with how fast the pen was circling and how fast you moved the thing across the paper. This all seemed like a good idea but like many good ideas was limited by the technology at the time. We were putting men in space regularly getting ready to go to the moon, 747s and SSTs were ready to take to the air and microprocessors were getting ready to find their way into overpriced consumer products but... Do you think we could make a pen that would write worth a hoot? Not a chance.

Is this how Dupont started?
Where is the nitro?

      Chemistry sets were great things. Yeah... ya did some of the "experiments"... But mostly just mixed stuff together to get it to explode. I remember actually achieving that on one occasion. The resulting "reaction" blew the bottom out of the test tube and shot purple foam onto the ceiling of my room. What the heck was "Log Wood" and why was it in there? Azurite was that cool blue/green powder that could make clay men look like they had some kind of anthrax or Andromeda Strain thing going on.
      Can you imagine something like this being sold today? I'm glad I got to play in the sixties before any of this stuff was bad for you. In the big Gilbert Mad Scientist version you even got a Bunsen burner... For heating stuff... With FLAME!!! You'd have to have little Bobo in one of those oil well fire fighting suits to use one of those or you'd be arrested for reckless endangerment or something like that. How did we manage to survive?

See you in court!

      If you survived the explosion from the chemistry set you were ready for these babies. Click Clacks... Two rock hard acrylic spheres, prone to explode into razor sharp shards, mounted on opposite ends of a nylon cord you could strangle a Rhinoceros with and a breakable plastic ring in the middle to hook your finger in. The idea was to get them going so the impact of the spheres sent them hurtling back in the other direction to do it again repeatedly making a hell of a lot of noise before striking you in both temples simultaneously or shattering. Most ended up hanging from phone or electric wires. I'm pretty sure they came with a blank wrongful death lawsuit included.

Cootie was a game?

      Cooties used to be something girls had and seemed best to avoid. That definition seemed to trump the actual game in popularity. I did have some... Or one, depending on how you interpret the concept. It was either a game (not) or a box full of bug parts. My definition was always the later. My grandparents gave me the present and I remember opening it in their house on Grove Avenue in Woodbridge, NJ so that was a very long time ago. I was four or five maybe. I don't think I ever played the game. I just built bugs which was certainly more than enough to justify the existence of the things.

Holly Jolly Christmas Saturday, December 6, 2008 Holly Jolly Christmas

Mervin R. Whipple's
Christmas Wonderland

101 Pineville Road, Ballouville, Connecticut

Since this is officially the Christmas Issue... What Christmas would be complete without a trip to visit my neighbor, local celebrity of sorts, and previous member of the United Methodist Church of Attawaugan (Currently my home), Mervin R. Whipple. Mr. Christmas as he's known locally. Just up the road a piece is where this all happens. The month of December brings a constant parade of cars up normally quiet Ballouville Road. This is what they're going to see.


     This is what you see as you drive slowly up Pineville Road in the line of cars waiting to park. There are plenty of volunteers with reflective orange vests, flashlights and two-way radios directing the procession.

     The view from a parking space right across the street, a lucky find. There can be as much as a quarter mile of cars along the side of this dark and normally deserted road.



     This is the heart of the operation, the Everlast Memorials showroom and sales office. This is what Mr. Whipple does, besides 10 weeks of setup, and 16 weeks of putting away decorations each year.

     Every square foot of the property is decorated. It must be over an acre.



     The entrance, with a line of people waiting to get in. Not just parents with children. Everyone comes here, year after year. Waiting in the cold, and more often than not, snow, is just part of local Christmas tradition. It's open the entire month of December.

     One of my favorite Christmas activities is bringing unsuspecting visitors "up the road a piece" to the Christmas Wonderland.



     There's a half hour wait on the way in, as everyone files past a Santa Claus on the way to shake Merv's hand. He's pretty good at recognizing faces, which isn't easy when you see over a hundred thousand per year for ten seconds or so each.

     The Sales office is decorated inside and out. The line continues past Merv at the door to the "Post Office", where you can buy Christmas Wonderland Postcards. $5.00 for the complete set of twenty. You can mail postcards from here as well. They'll receive a special cancellation from Christmas Wonderland Station, Ballouville, CT 06233.



     Inside is a nice break from the cold of waiting in line. Inside and out, there's movement, lights, music and people everywhere. It becomes a blur of sensory overload after a while.

     Outside into the cold again, just in time.



     Not only is this the Christmas Wonderland, but it's the home of Whipple's Chapel, A small marble structure built to look like a small country church. In previous years, the chapel was heated, and made a nice warm-up stop on a tour of the grounds. It has standing room for a dozen people or so.

     Through the covered bridge and past the gazebo, up the gentle slope towards the wall of lights at the boundary of the property and the gallery of animated characters.



     The displays are in their own glass front buildings, each the size of a small shed. Each has its own theme, complete with background scenery and animated characters.

     There are over 400 animated characters in all. Some are over 100 years old. Some custom made for the Christmas Wonderland.



     There are lights everywhere. Over 100,000 in all. These are not the cheap mini lights either.

     A back drop of lights twenty feet tall surrounds the property. Merv admits his December electric bill is over three thousand dollars.



     There are dozens of these displays. Each one a small building with a glass front, lights and power.

     Each display has a different theme, some simple, some very elaborate.



     The back drop must be hundreds of feet long.

     "Herby doesn't like to make toys." There's even Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.



     Some of the scenes are quite elaborate. It's impossible to get pictures without reflections in the glass. There's no place without lights.

     It takes 10 minutes to walk past all of the animated displays.



     Merv says he has over half of a million dollars invested over thirty years. "I'll take fifty cents on a dollar" he says.

     Another view of Whipple's Chapel. Watch out for microphones in the mistletoe.


I'm beggin' ya... Click Here to stop these rotten bells.
One more "jingle" and I can't be held responsible for what happens. -->


     Back inside after completing a tour of the grounds.
You had your chance... Now you have to listen to them for the rest of the page.

     The lights and music give everything a surrealistic Quality.



     It overwhelms and often frightens children.

     The whole experience brings to mind questions you just can't get answered in the ten seconds you get with Mervin Whipple. I'd like to know where he stores it all off season.



     Looking in through the window, over the shoulder of an animated character looking back at a bewildered visitor.

     100,000 people visit in a good December, each for their own reasons. You have to see it once. After that... You keep coming up with reasons to go back.



     I've gone at least once every year since the first. I'm not sure what my reasons are yet.

Holly Jolly Christmas Sunday, December 7, 2008 Holly Jolly Christmas

Death of a Christmas Tree

The Worst Part of Christmas Vacation

      I never liked going to school. After about third grade or so I always felt I learned more on my own. Consequently, summer vacation and Christmas vacations were extremely important. Christmas was the longest time away from school besides summer. It was ten days or thereabouts to have fun and play with my stuff. The vacation seemed infinite at the beginning of the first day off but quickly became finite as the days ticked by. The best ones were the ones where Christmas fell on the first few days off. Those always seemed longer.
      Metuchen is a small town and we never had school buses. You could me two miles from the High School because it was in a far corner of town, but the three grammar schools were spread around a little more evenly and the middle school, which was the old High school, was right in the middle of town. So we walked to school if we didn't get a ride.
      Going back to school when vacation ended was always bad enough. What made it worse were all the Christmas tree casualties laying dead in the gutter with their remaining strands of tinsel shimmering in the breeze. They always looked so sad and abandoned. They would show up every garbage day for weeks after Christmas. Usually the last one was well into February. This was one of the reasons I started buying live Christmas trees to plant after Christmas rather than throw in a gutter some where. More About that soon.

Holly Jolly Christmas Monday, December 8, 2008 Holly Jolly Christmas

Beach Badge Pictures

The Em McNally Beach Badge Collection
Keeping The Spirit Alive

      Beach badges have been around since 1967 at Ocean Beach. They were devised as a way to exclude people who weren't members of the Ocean Beach Surf Club from using the beach. The upside of beach badges, the only one in my mind, is that they give us a memento to remember each year by. This was not lost on my Aunt Em who began saving them from year one. The downside of beach badges is that they are often used as a way of harassing people who otherwise don't deserve it. I have seen "board members" of Ocean beach make a family get up and move all of their kids and gear because they happened to be sitting a few feet over the "border" between Ocean Beach and Tri-Beach next door. Most of them are vacationing renters and don't realize the serious breach of protocol they have committed. If you have been seeing me at Ocean Beach for all of my life and I had my badge yesterday... chances are I'm not suddenly an illegal immigrant from another beach coming to soak up the sun that belongs to the blessed people of Ocean Beach today. Anyhoo... Let's get back to why these pictures are here.
      My Aunt Em loved Ocean Beach as much or more than anyone I know... except me. She saved a badge from every year since 1967 and mounted them on croched hangers she made for that purpose. When she regretfully decided to sell her house and move to Florida full time to be near her family, she asked me if there was anything from her house that I wanted. The beach badge collection was the first and only thing I could think of. I promised that I would maintain it forever and keep it safe. The first "embadgement" ceremony was performed during the first Sunrise with Bonnie. Agnes Walter did the honors. There is even a virtual beach badge collection on the One-Legged Sandpiper. Unfortunately, during the transition to three new hosts and four new computers, the original badge pictures were lost. The good news is that these new pictures will be 1365% better resolution than the old ones. The bad news is... The old ones may be lost forever. Time marches on.

Holly Jolly Christmas Tuesday, December 9, 2008 Holly Jolly Christmas

Beach Front Pictures

Scanning the Horizon at Ocean Beach, New Jersey

      The beach front in Ocean Beach has certainly changed since I first remember it. Forty years ago the view would have been drastically different. The smaller houses remain mostly unchanged but the big new double and triple-deckers dwarf the old classics. They also block much of the view from what used to be Otto and Elsie Falb's house. If you are the second house back from the beach this is not a good thing.
      Forty years ago the windows of most of the houses would have been shuttered against the winter storms. Most people didn't have homeowners insurance on a summer home so there was every reason to secure the "bungalow" for the winter. Things were very different back then. The beach was mostly deserted from October on. Everyone battened down everything that couldn't fit inside and shut off most or all of the utilities. Lavallette used to shut off the street lights and traffic lights and the only thing that seemed to be open was the Pirate's Den or whatever the seedy bar that occupied the building that's now the Crab's Claw. I remember "camping" at the beach on a few occasions with no water turned on... Just gas heaters and electricity. If you walked down to the highway, or up to the beach and saw another light on anywhere it was a big deal because that meant someone else was there. The beach was always loaded with driftwood and there might be a tire track or two from a Jeepster or something similar driving on the beach. I miss those days.
      It wasn't ALL perfect though. There used to be pools of crude oil washed up and carcasses of oil soaked cormorants and gulls scattered around and garbage like nobody's business. The isolation and quiet was great... Unless you needed something you didn't bring. I miss those days now. I get that feeling back some times on night boardwalk walks during the week that's not a holiday and the island is mostly deserted. I like the days that I can walk up the beach and be the only one north and south as far as I can see. One of the most vivid memories from when we "camped" was going to "Uncle" Pat Stacik's house for buckets of water. Mr. Stacik was an old friend of my grandfather's and his best fishing buddy. He was the first person I remember staying at the beach all winter after he retired. The house would be warm and smelled of pipe smoke. There might be a fire going in the fire place and if we were really lucky "Aunt" Irma might have a pot of chowder going on the stove. Those moments were the inspiration for Uncle Pat's Clam Chowder... One of my best Danger Kitchen recipes.
      Too many things may have changed forever for those events to be relived. Maybe the impending financial meltdown we're probably going to experience will erase some of the "progress" that's happened since as long ago as I can remember. I'm glad I have the memories.

Holly Jolly Christmas Wednesday, December 10, 2008 Holly Jolly Christmas

Clear and Present Danger

The Most Memorable Presents From Days Gone By

      If you were a product of the sixties you were all about the presents. Yeah... They tried to tell you about the birth-of-Jesus thing sometimes... But it was all about the presents. Some I remember like it was yesterday. These are more of those.

Creepy Crawlers were the best!!! Creepy Crawlers were the best!!!
      Creepy Crawlers were close to the pinnacle of development for dangerous toys in the sixties. What you did was mix foul smelling colored goop and pour it in a mold. Then comes the good part... You turned on the kiln. Yes... KILN!!! I don't care what they called it... It was a kiln. It heated quickly to hundreds of degrees; hot enough to burn your fingerprints right off your fingers. Then you used the metal tong-like thing to put the metal mold filled with goop into the kiln... Usually spilling plenty of the goop on the hot surface below where it usually burst into flames or at least bubbled until it was black. Either way it released a nasty cloud of acrid fumes that made your eyes water. While the mold filled goop was in the kiln, the curing goop released its own unique and horrible set of smells. You were basically vulcanizing rubber on the kitchen table. After a while you took the mold out, burned yourself a few more times and released brand new soft plastic bugs and spiders and worms from the mold. It was absolutely fantastic.
      Not satisfied with creating the best most dangerous toy ever, the company that produced this chemical-refinery-in-a-box came out with Incredible Edibles. This was different goop that would produce an edible bug, spider or worm... In the same toxic chemical infused mold you used with the other goop. I wonder how many kids ended up eating plastic bugs instead of the edible ones because they all really did look, and taste, alike. They came out with molds for cars bodies and boat hulls that had battery powered chassis and submersible propeller units to make them work. These were way more difficult because you had to have the exact right amount of goop to get the two piece mold filled all the way. I did get a few made successfully. They didn't put much effort into the motorized parts so the product kind of died on the vine after that. I think a few houses burned down as well.

Crystal growing was tedious but cool.

Crystal growing was tedious but cool.       Crystal growing was tedious but cool AND... It came with a real Pyrex beaker... And CHEMICALS!!! You put measure amounts of chemical into water and heated it. Then you put it in the special growing beakers with a string hanging in the solution from a stick. Over what seemed like an ice age crystals would form on the string... or on the bottom if I remember correctly. It took forever but the results were kind of interesting.
      When it comes right down to it, the results of a celery stalk in colored water or carrot top held in a cup of water with toothpicks was just as cool. I think you could do that with a potato as well. Whatever. I'm pretty sure I still have some of the crystals in that compartmented container that has the leftover beads from the Christmas ornament kits.
      Come to think of it... I would probably enjoy one of these more now than when I was ten. Like Chia stuff. The Chia Homer Simpson Kelly gave me lasted two years and grew Chias three feet long and as thick as a pencil. He was definitely scary looking. I scalped him and transplanted the Chias to a pot where they made it through most of another winter.


      The first model I ever built was a triceratops. We were still living on High Street so I was first grade or younger. I painted his lips red (for blood) even though he was a vegetarian. I remember fixating on painting his feet and ankles brown to show he was walking in mud. I don't remember why that was so important. Dinosaurs are still the best. I believe Sinclair had built Dinosaur World at the 1964 World's Fair so dinosaurs were the all the rage... and still are.


Dr. Nim

      Dr. Nim was supposed to be educational but it was just cool. There were some sorts of games you could play against the game. I seem to remember it being a tough competitor. It was basically a simple three or four gate binary computer that ran on marbles. When I got it I was probably just a little too young to fully appreciate it. We called it "Nim Skull the Numb Skull".

Download the original Dr. Nim Manual here for a blast from the past.
Dr. Nim
Dr. Nim

Holly Jolly Christmas Thursday, December 11, 2008 Holly Jolly Christmas

An Occurrence At
Haven Harbor

Strange goings on in New England...

On a bizarre little island...

Off a different kind of coast

You aren't from around here are ya?

      Haven Harbor is a fictional story that was born in a puddle of a pond in my backyard on Christol Street in Metuchen, New Jersey when I was in third grade or so. A trip to Eastport, Maine and Ketchikan, Alaska have contributed Ideas as has the Popeye movie with Robin Williams and a small cluster of houses between the highways somewhere near Mantoloking, New Jersey. The characters are all fictional but based on people I have met over the years. This is chapter one. The introduction showed up in November of last year here in the Sandpiper.

Chapter One


Wake Up And Smell The Ocean


That’s Mister Coffee To You


39.79946° North

74.11947° West


          The first thing Palmer Hamilton was aware of that morning was the warmth and comforting smell of the old Navy blanket that was pulled up over the lighter covering of the berth he occupied.  He must have gotten cold during the night. The air in the owner’s cabin of the Hunter 46 was cool and damp. It smelled like Ocean. He decided that he should have closed the main hatchway last night before going to sleep. The balmy Indian summer weather of late October couldn’t last forever. He realized that he was making observations AND decisions now.

 “I must be awake,” he thought jokingly. In spite of the unexpected cold weather, and damp, clammy feel of the interior of the big sailboat, this had been what he referred to as Gourmet Sleep. Cool fresh air, comfortable bed, nothing that had to be done that day and… He was on his sailboat.

“It just doesn’t get any better than this,” he said to himself in yawn talk during a prolonged stretch.

          The second thing Palmer Hamilton was aware of that morning was that Situation Number Six, his prized sailboat, his baby, must have dragged her anchor during the night. The gentle puffs of wind out of the west during the weekend had been replaced with a lively breeze off the Ocean and slightly north. “Sitch” had swung around and dragged her forty pound mushroom anchor far enough that her rudder was now nudging the soft sand bottom at the edge of a deep spot about a thousand yards due north from the tip of the Sedge Islands. The motion of the big boat should have been gentle and relaxing. Instead it was an awkward dodging motion as the gusty and fretful wind pushed her from one side to another pivoting on her rudder, and yanked her to an abrupt change in direction as she used up the slack in the anchor rode.

This was not satisfactory to the boat’s owner at all. “This has to be fixed right away,” he thought as he glanced over to the cabin wall to check the time on the ship’s clock.

“Five Bells” he said out loud, noticing it was almost six-thirty.  The clock had belonged to his grandfather and had hung on the wall of their beach house for as long as he could remember. His grandfather would announce the time in bells, even if the chime were turned off, having been a Navy man for longer than most people ever do anything. Every time he saw the clock it reminded him of his grandfather. Every time.  He thought, “How happy would that man be to know his clock was still in service… Where it belongs.” he thought. Palmer was distracted by the newest addition to the boat’s décor. It was an N.O.A.A. Chart 13003, Cape Sable To Cape Hatteras, with watercolor additions of a stylized compass rose, Barnegat Lighthouse, and a great rendition of Situation Number Six close hauled in heavy weather, by Capt. Jean Graves, an artist living in Seaside Park. The “Park” was not known as an artistic community. It was known more for domestic disturbances and Drunk And Disorderly arrests. It was the last town on the south end of the island before the state park and was not yet subject to the overbuilding that characterized the rest of the island. These were still very sincere beach cottages. Close together and rather humble in style. They still had fun there.

          He rolled from his berth just as the clock began to chime. “Up before six-thirty” he said to himself as he reached for the heavy pair of sweat pants and hoodie that lay in a pile on the oriental rug that covered most of the beautiful teak decking of the owners stateroom. Getting out of bed before the half hour or hour was one of the quirky rituals that Hamilton performed almost every day. His theory was that these rituals, along with some personal ceremonies and private traditions, gave some semblance of order to his very busy, yet unstructured, life. He could also say he was “up before…” whatever time it was in the morning… If it ever came up during the day… Which it seldom ever did.

          As he opened the door that leads to the main cabin, He noticed that the cold air blowing through the boat all night hadn’t eliminated the enticing smell of last night's ham and cabbage dinner. The meal had been a great way to celebrate the inevitable end of kayaking, clamming, crabbing, fishing and for most folks, sailing season. The guests included Edna Walker, the eighty something year old grandmother of his favorite clamming, crabbing, fishing and sailing buddy, Nicole Walker. Edna had gamely endured a twelve-mile boat ride in Nicole’s little fishing boat to come out for dinner on Situation Number Six. He was honored that she made the trip. She brought an apple crisp for dessert that was made with fresh apples she and Nicole had gathered from the last remaining apple tree on the island after church the previous day. He had known Edna for as long as he could remember being at the beach. She and her husband Arthur were usually the first people he saw on the beach regularly in the spring and some of the last people still there in the fall. Edna, alone now, was still in the game for all she was worth. He liked her style. He noticed a small pile of things, including her car keys that Nicole had left on the seat of the navigation station in her hurry to get her grandmother home as the wind began to pick up last Night. He laughed as he tossed them into the locker near the ladder leading through the open hatchway to the deck… Where they landed on the pile of her stuff that had already accumulated there.

          Nicole Walker looked like a surfer chick, with long “Blue hair and blonde eyes” as she liked to say.  She had a little bit of a hippie look about her but that’s where the similarity ended. She did surf, but was more of an Old Salt than most old salts. She loved to fish and rigged her own poles and cleaned her own fish. If you wanted to fish for it… Nicole knew where it lived and what it liked to eat and where you could catch that as well. Hamilton and Nicole had spent many enjoyable days during the past summer sailing and motoring around Barnegat bay checking eel and crab traps, fishing for fluke and blues and weakfish, and slogging across the sand flats of the lower bay digging for clams and collecting mussels. Even the so salty they’re-crusty locals were paying attention to where “they” clammed and fished. Nicole also did all her own mechanic work on her car and her boat motor, and her wood carvings were becoming quite in demand at some of the fancy shops at the north end of the island. Even at her young age, Nicole was the type of person Hamilton liked to have as a friend. A bit of a loner like he was, she had many interesting qualities that few people were aware of… Even her own family. Nicole wasn’t afraid of rough weather and would go sailing at the drop of a hat as soon as the coast guard announced a small craft advisory. Hamilton loved putting “Sitch” through her paces offshore when the weather turned foul, and Nicole was always willing and available to crew. “Practice” he called it. “Fun” she called it. It would prove to be both. 

          A quick look out of the nearest port on the starboard side confirmed what Hamilton thought had happened. The backdrop had changed from a mile of greenish bay water that ended at the scrub pine and holly covered shore of Island Beach State Park, to the vast expanse of sedge grass and sand flats that made up the low islands at the southern end of the park superimposed on a postcard like view of Barnegat Lighthouse, some three miles distant across Barnegat Inlet to the southeast. The wind was coming directly off the ocean now and Situation Number Six had wallowed her way off the slimy bottom and into slightly deeper water. The awkward square dance she had been doing was replaced with a graceful motion not unlike that made by someone as they imitate riding on a horse with their hands holding up imaginary reins. Situation’s situation had remedied itself. “Ah… The powers of procrastination” he said to no one as his thoughts turned to coffee. “Over reacting can be worse than not reacting at all.” He declared, holding his right index finger in the air as if reciting a proverb.

          The interior of Situation Number Six was spotless. Palmer Hamilton coexisted very well with microorganisms and dust most everywhere else he lived in his “Distributed Living Concept” life... Everywhere he lived but Situation Number Six. He had purchased her over a year ago and she could still be used to take pictures for a sales brochure even though she was close to six years old now. This was due in part to receiving little use from her former owner, through no fault of his own, but also to Hamilton’s insistence on keeping her “near perfect” and ready to weigh anchor at a moments notice for “as long as it takes to get where I’m going.” All of her equipment was kept in perfect repair and was constantly being upgraded, except… The Coffee Pot. The Coffee Pot was a Mister Coffee Model CM 10 33 5. A classic, purchased for him in 1980 by a “neighbor” in East Hampton, Connecticut, where he was living while working a stint as a computer consultant at The Connecticut Yankee Nuclear Generating Station… The “Yankee” Plant as it was known locally. The coffee pot, which has outlived the Nuke plant, was now on duty in the spotless teak cabinet and Corian countered galley on the port side of Situation Number Six. The pot was chipped and cracked, and the rest of the little unit was stained and distorted from twenty some years of making coffee, but “he” still made great coffee and best of all… Wailed like ghost with intestinal distress during the brewing process. Palmer laughed to himself at the flood of memories brought back by the first anguished moans of his trusty favorite kitchen appliance. It was a day of infinite possibilities… But there’s always time for reflecting on the past.

          Ascending the ladder to the cockpit from below with a cup of coffee was an important daily ritual. Hamilton looked forward to it no matter what the weather. Each day on the water had a distinct feel about it. After a while you can tell in an instant just what kind if day it is. And what kind of day it will be. Palmer recognized this type of day as soon as his head cleared the hatchway. Clouds in patches half covered the sky and the wind was blowing low billowing clouds of fog off the ocean and into the bay. The early morning sun was shining through hazy breaks in the mist and clouds and forming thin beams of brightness that ended in patches of scattered sparkles on the choppy surface of the water. The ever-present sea gulls were nowhere to be seen yet. The breeze had that in-your-face saltwater smell to it that seemed to heighten Palmer’s senses to the point that it seemed like he was hearing and feeling things a hundred feet before they actually reached him. To the southeast the lighthouse was fading in and out of the clouds as the reflected off of the glass lantern room like a laser beam while the openings in the clouds and mist rolled by. This was the type of day that filled him with energy and ambition. The ambition to dive into the business and personal projects ignored for most of the summer. Including the excuse for being in this spot in the fist place: The online cruising guide he was working on.

          Palmer scanned the bay around him as he enjoyed the last of the good Brazilian coffee on board.

“Time for a supply run” he said to the cormorant swimming along the port side of the boat as he turned to look north to see if any of the familiar summer boats were still anchored in the area. The Cormorant hadn’t noticed Palmer sitting in the cockpit and let out a startled squawk sort of noise and dove below the surface for nearly fifty yards before surfacing. Now the bay was empty north to Tices Shoal some five or six miles distant where one lone sailboat was anchored. This was a mildly depressing time of year for Palmer. The summer beach and boat people were drifting off to their fall and winter pursuits, and the tourists were thinning out even on weekends. He enjoyed the quite and solitude of late fall… But only after an adjustment period. “Maybe it’s time to get back to reality,” he thought as the caffeine in the coffee activated that area in his brain that maintains the list of things to do. His thoughts turned to the travel and cruising guide website he was building. The reason for anchoring here all summer was to build an exhaustive section of this area of the intercoastal waterway. The website had become fairly popular during the two years since its creation and he had even picked up a few corporate sponsors. His goal was to make the site productive enough to support Situation Number Six, pay for continuing improvements to her and cover the cost of some extended cruises to parts unknown. Maybe even become a floating Charles Kuralt. This summer he had spent more time eating clams and crabs and kayaking than he did working, although he did have a substantial pile of notes and thousands of digital photos to cull into some semblance of a cruising guide. “Time to get going” he thought as he hurried from his comfortable coffee spot in the cockpit. He could here music blaring from one of the commercial fishing boats heading out through the inlet almost a mile away. Sound travels very well over water. He thought he recognized “Save Yourself” by Stabbing Westward. That song has been his theme song to get psyched for kayaking the big waves that occasionally roll in to the barrier islands here from the open Atlantic after a hurricane. “Nope… Not today” he thought as he half slid down the ladder to the roomy cabin below. “Time to check email and start the fall semester” he said to himself.

          Palmer Hamilton still thought of the year in terms of college semesters. The summer was the time to play. Fall was the time to ease back into work and spring was the time to hustle to finish up things before summer. Luckily for him, some hard work and some careful Real-estate investments allowed him a certain amount of freedom when it comes to work. Some clever refinancing had provided the money to purchase Situation Number Six from her original owner's wife after he died unexpectedly. He had ordered her from the factory with some extra features that made her a powerful blue-water sailboat. The Doctor was more concerned with who would get her and how she would be used than how much she would be sold for. He began looking for a potential buyer when his illness made it impossible for him to sail or maintain her. The Doc wanted her to have a good home rather than sit in a storage cradle until her teak cracked and her gel coat oxidized and faded, and her interior developed that foul musty smell of neglect. The Doc spent months interviewing buyers before a friend emailed him a link to Palmer's personal website: one-leggedseagull.com. After reading the “Looking For A Boat” page and skimming a few others, he knew who he wanted to have his beloved boat. The Doc intended to take one last cruise aboard his boat with Palmer to turn over the reins but wanted to wait until late October or early November to do it. He told his wife that he would wait until sunset on the last night aboard before doing the deal, and planned on giving Palmer an even better deal than discussed during their cruise. That was the last thing she remembered him saying about the boat and intended on carrying out his wishes even after he died suddenly in mid-October. She gave Palmer that deal. More than she would ever know.

          The Blue Screen Of Death appeared as soon as Palmer clicked the

OceanLink Internet service icon. His finger was on the power switch before the stream of profanity left his lips. The four seconds for the notebook to power off always seemed like minutes. He waited a second or two before turning the little computer back on.  He got up from the cramped workstation on the starboard side of the owners stateroom and headed through the companionway into the main cabin to turn on the stereo while waiting for the computer to boot up. After listening to a few minutes of “witty banter” between Don and Fred Imus, he was tempted to call in and ask them “if their mother had any kids that lived?” but decided to try Bob and Tom a bit farther down the dial. A beep from the computer back in his stateroom called him back to try getting online again. This time the OceanLink system connected him but the email software was unable to connect to his mail server, located in an apartment he kept in Providence Rhode Island in a rental property he owned overlooking Providence Harbor.

“Suckin’ pond water again eh?” he said out loud as he roughly closed the screen of the notebook in a gesture of frustration.

“I really hate computers you know,” he said to the small pink stuffed pig named Yoinkie, a present from Nicole, that he kept as his mascot.

“I really do.”

          His thoughts turned to breakfast. Not a healthy nutritious breakfast he made himself onboard Situation Number Six, but one of those big greasy clog-your-arteries-but-leave-just-enough-blood-flow-so-the-clot-goes-straight-to-your-brain kind of breakfasts. Served to him by someone. Someone who pretended to flirt with him because that’s what she did with everyone. The closest place was over three nautical miles away across the inlet near the base of the lighthouse. He decided to row over in the vintage sixteen foot Hankins skiff that he used for a tender. The idea was that somehow that would make up for the intestinal assault that this gut-bomb of an impending would mount.  Kind of like having a diet soda with a four pound serving of lasagna. The wind was picking up as the sun rose in the sky and the haze started to burn off. The bay was starting to get choppy. This would make the row a bit more interesting.

          He slid below and turned off the coffee pot and headed for the shower. The first stop was the electrical panel mounted on the bulkhead below the hatch to the cockpit. The eight-kilowatt diesel generator kicked over with barely a complete turn of the started and came to life with a muffled rumble from deep in the hull. He clicked on the charger to replenish the double sized array of extra large batteries that made up the twelve-volt power supply for “Situation”. The solar panels kept a trickle charge going into the batteries, but the SeaVolt inverter drained a lot of battery power to make AC for appliances like the coffee pot and such. Running the big generator for an hour a day kept Situation Number Six fully charged with just Palmer aboard. He clicked on the Oasis water maker to keep the two hundred gallon fresh water tank topped off and ready to travel. The water maker could make almost two hundred gallons a day if necessary, more than twenty times what Palmer used by himself without trying to be conservative. The generator burns about a gallon of diesel fuel an hour. With her double normal capacity fuel tanks holding two hundred gallons of fuel, “Sitch” could stay out for quite a while. He clicked on the water heater and decided to try email while giving the heater a few minutes to work. The extra large, for a boat of this size, tank was well insulated and didn’t loose much heat while turned off. Even over night. In about as much time as it took for another failed attempt at checking email, Palmer was enjoying one of the most important rituals onboard… The Hot Shower. Palmer always insisted that this is what made the difference between boating and yachting.

          It was cold enough that Palmer put on actual long pants for the first time in months. He was very warm blooded and comfortable in shorts and T-shirts long after most people switched to sweaters and long pants. He normally didn’t wear shoes until November. He threw his Topsiders up through the hatch into the cockpit and returned to his stateroom to carefully fold the Navy blanket and place it at the foot of the queen size berth. The blanket was in perfect condition in spite of its age and he wanted to keep it that way.  The tag on it said it was manufactured in May of 1944. He wanted it around in 2044. He covered it with a Tuckerton Seaport afghan and headed up on deck.

          Palmer started the main diesel turned on the remote electric anchor windlass and winched in most of the fifty feet of anchor chain, leaving the forty-pound mushroom anchor just below the surface. He shifted the transmission into forward with the engine still idling to ease the load on the windlass until the anchor was off the bottom. It took more throttle than he thought to hold the boat against the wind. “Sitch” lurched backwards as soon as the anchor broke loose. He revved the diesel and made some headway as the windlass pulled the anchor free of the bottom.  He moved a hundred yards towards the northeast into the center of the deep hole he was anchored in and dropped the anchor again, letting out almost a hundred feet of chain rode, stopping at fifty feet, and again at seventy-five feet, to add 20 pound messengers to the chain. “This oughta hold ya,” he said out loud as he reversed the engine to set the mushroom by tugging against it gently. The chain rode tightened and stopped the big sailboats progress astern. He revved the engine a bit more, giving the anchor one last good yank. He eased the throttle and slipped her into neutral when he felt the bow dip slightly. That anchor was set. He’d set the hundred pound mushroom after breakfast in case she wasn’t holding. With this wind, the steady tugging on the forty pound might break it loose. He carried enough ground tackle aboard to set two large anchors in fifty feet of water if he had to or set up a three-anchor mooring in one hundred feet of water that would hold in any weather. Situation Number Six was a well-equipped boat. He turned the engine off after looking over the side to make sure she was pumping cooling water and prepared for the row to Long Beach Island for breakfast.

          Palmer arrived at the bulkhead just west of the little cluster of businesses at the entrance to the lighthouse state park. Andy’s Bait and Tackle and gift shop, Kelly’s Ice cream and his favorite little breakfast spot, Kelly’s Old Barney Restaurant. The Hankins skiff rows easily in any kind of weather, but the banks of fog and mist hanging low over the water obscured almost everything but the lighthouse towering 165 feet above the surface. He had to stop more than once and wait for a clearing to see his destination. The wind off the ocean made constant course corrections necessary and blew what seemed like gallons of spray over the gunnels and into the bilge where it sloshed coldly over Palmer’s bare feet. The water was still warmer than the air, but it still made the trip a little uncomfortable. The skiff tracked well through the water but was pushed west almost as far as he rowed south. Even so the whole trip took only an hour and twenty minutes, including a heated exchange of hand gestures with the owner of a large sport fisherman named “Tuna Town”, who seemed to feel that getting out of the inlet a minute sooner was more important than yielding right-of-way to a rowboat. He had been rowing all summer and hardly broke a sweat during the twenty-five minutes of vigorous activity.

          Palmer guided the beautiful wooden skiff gently up to the bulkhead just west of the breakwater surrounding the lighthouse. He tied the skiff fore and aft after shipping the oars and lashing them down to the thwarts. He was steady on his feet even as the fender boards of the skiff tagged the creosoted pilings that retained the oily bulkhead. He climbed up the bulkhead and over the railing in one smooth movement much to the delight of some elderly Asian tourists who clapped as he smiled and took a very theatrical bow. He scowled at them when he heard them saying something about Popeye in broken English, much to their delight.  He waved goodbye as he hurried across the street, following the enticing  smell of coffee, and bacon cooking.

          “Morning Palm” whispered Sarah as she leaned away from her table of customers as he walked by. She greeted him the same way every time he was in there after she learned his name. He normally disliked anyone abbreviating his name and he despised nicknames but he never seemed to care that Sarah did both. Maybe it was the way she flirted just a little. “She IS kind of cute” he thought as she hip-checked him on the way by. He noticed it a little more each time he ate there. She was attentive and friendly from the start but treated him like a V.I.P. ever since he put two of her watercolors and accompanying poems online. She told everyone who would listen that it would be her big break, that she would be discovered now, and “it will all be thanks to Palmer here”. Palmer knew she secretly hoped that the man of her dreams would read the poems and fall in love with the person she really was. Not the cute waitress by the lighthouse. The waitresses all had a collective “Prince Charming” fantasy they shared, but based on the typical mornings discussions of the activities of the night before, they weren’t exactly holding out for Mister Right. There was plenty of “Looking For Love In all The Wrong Places”. Palmer thought it was healthy and entertaining, the way they shared the fantasy. They held no illusions, but they always had hope. It passed the time and gave them a lot of practice evaluating every male that walked through the door. They were quite good at it.

          Jessica greeted Palmer at the counter with a sarcastic “Good morning Mister Hamilton”. “Good morning Miss Piper” he replied formally. “That’s Ms Piper to you” she said feigning indignity. “Whatever.” he replied with a smile, “I need a huge greasy breakfast today”. “What’s the occasion?” she asked. “The first day of the rest of my life” he said trying to sound both profound and sarcastic at the same time. “I’ll take care of you,” she said over emphasizing “you” in a suggestive voice. “So, Didja find a keeper yet?” asked Palmer. “No, you?” she responded. “Nope”. She passed an order into the kitchen and turned back to face Palmer. “I thought you were leaving at the end of September? Not that I’m tryin’ ta get rid a ya or nuthin.” “I thought so too but… Summer’s not over ‘till I say it’s over.” “Besides, I’d miss seeing you guys in the morning.” “I’d like to have your job” Jessica said looking past Palmer towards where Situation Number Six was anchored. The top of the mast, and his personal pennant were visible from there. “I do have to consider doing something soon” he said. “I’ve got some programming jobs waiting for me and a bunch of apartments to renovate, and I haven’t done squat for work on yafahay.com. Not even my own website… Summer is bad for productivity.” “Well I hate to tell you boat boy, but its fall now.” She leaned over and stared him in the eyes from a few inches away as she spoke. “Well I should get back up north to see the leaves change. It’s probably peak color this week.” He said not taking his eyes off hers. Hey” shouted Sarah from across the end of the narrow dining room. “Don’t get so close to him. He’s mine I keep telling ya.” “I don’t think so,” said Jessica, “He’s taking me up north to see the leaves change.” “Oh yeah… I forgot… What with all your days off and all.” Sarah feigned bitterness in her response but couldn’t keep the smirk off her face. “Hey Mother Nature! Hey Leaf Woman!” she laughed. “Pick up yer Order! Boat Boy looks hungry.” “hungry for lovin.” Jessica said in her cutest cartoon voice. “From Me!!!” they both yelled in unison, breaking into laughter. Palmer was enjoying the attention and the more casual atmosphere that tends to pervade most resort type communities after the season ends. Here especially. Two fishermen sitting nearby seemed unhappy they were being ignored. He dug into the plate containing a little of everything and was soon lost in thought and hash browns.

          “You all set?” asked Jessica. “Hey… Earth to Palmer.”  She said a bit louder after getting no response. Palmer turned from staring out the window at the shoreline of the park and said “Huh?” “Are… you… all… set?” she asked again faking sign language gestures with her hands. “Yes… I… Am…” replied Palmer not really amused. “What were you thinkin’ about?” asked Jessica with a note of concern in her almost whispering voice. “I just need to get back to doing something today… Even if it’s wrong.” He didn’t notice that Sarah had come over as well. “Breakfast is on us today” they said in stereo with sheepish grins on their faces. “Just our way of thanking you for not being a Benny.” Said Sarah. “Awwww… You guys are too nice… I’m gonna miss both of you big-time.” said Palmer actually a little choked up. “Yea… We were a little worried when you came in the first time… but ya turned out all right” added Jessica with a giggle. “Say Bye to Nicole for us. We haven’t seen her in a while.” “She’s student teaching now and pretty busy I guess. Besides she likes the warmer weather better. Not like me.” “Yeah Mister Hamilton, you are pretty warm blooded.” Said Jessica throwing her arms around him in a hug. “Alright, give it a rest.” He said putting a free arm around Sarah as she joined in. “Now when I see you guys next I want you both to have nice normal boyfriends. No piercings. No scary tattoos. No Band members. Nice… Normal. Keepers.” Palmer’s last statement brought laughter from the girls as he broke the hug and headed for the door. “Yeah right!” hollered Sarah as Palmer disappeared out the door into the wind.

He hurried over to the railing next to where the skiff was tied and waved to his friends as he climbed down into the little boat. The oars were unlashed and beating the water quickly. He wanted to get out of there before the lump in his throat made him decide to stay longer. He wasn’t sure he was leaving, but he was sure he wasn’t staying. “Yeah that makes sense,” he said out loud as he started to cross the channel. He paused to let Thunder Grunt and Boomer, two charter boats he didn’t recognize, cross his bow. The pause was long enough for the wind and incoming tide to push him as far west as he needed to be to reach Situation Number Six. “This is getting good.” He thought as a foamy little wave broke over the bow. He tied up behind “Sitch” about twenty minutes later and stood on deck looking over his surroundings while slowly turning completely around. He remembered how much he hated leaving the beach when he was young. It was even worse now.  He sighed and headed below deck.

The mail server finally responded and one by one the summary lines of the new emails joined their already read brothers on the In Box screen. The status window always concealed the sender’s address and the Subject. He started deleting the junk mail as soon as the status window closed. He stopped clicking as he read the senders address. “Elizabeth Victoria Mentton” he said out loud using his best Jeeves The Butler voice. “Oh my goodness! What have we here.” The subject read “Invitation Extended”. He didn’t recognize the format as typical junk mail. “No doubt an opportunity to increase the size of one thing or decrease the size of something else.” He thought as he double clicked the sender name. The Email was from elizabeth_mentton@havenharbor.com. And dated this morning at 8:02 am. It read “Dear Mr. Hamilton, Mr. Pardon Biltmore Ellengton, the developer of Haven Island, would be honored to grant your request for an interview, and invites you and a guest or colleague to visit the island as his guest for as long as necessary to gather enough material to complete the Haven Harbor section of your website. This opportunity is yours exclusively. I have made reservations for you on the ferry to Haven Harbor at 2:00 pm this Friday. Please let me know if this is acceptable. I will have more information waiting for you at the Haven Harbor Ferry Service office. Mr. Ellengton looks forward to meeting you. Sincerely Ms Elizabeth Victoria Mentton”. A hyperlink that read, “Click here for driving directions” followed. “That’s it then.” Palmer said to himself ”Summer’s officially over.” He had half hoped to be turned down. The prospect of leaving this unspoiled, naturally beautiful spot didn’t really appeal to him. The fat lady of summer hadn’t sung her song yet as far as he was concerned. The feeling, that can only be described as anguish, that one gets, from having to leave the beach at the end of summer, was almost immediately replaced by a slightly uneasy feeling of excitement. This was the first time Pardon Ellengton had been interviewed. Why had he chosen Palmer and his project? Surely there were dozens, if not hundreds of writers and web authors dying to dig into Haven Harbor. “He must have read something in the One-legged Seagull that appealed to him” mused Palmer as he re read the short Email a few more times just to be sure.

The background of the email was an attractive watermark featuring a compass rose and stylized sunset. A larger full color version of the same graphic was used as a logo in the upper left corner of the Email. The font color and face were carefully selected to complement the watermark and logo. “It’s quite an attractive package.” Thought Palmer as he turned on the HP 2250 printer. The Email and driving directions were soon in a manila folder labeled “Haven Harbor” sitting on the Nav station under a big list of things to do. Palmer Hamilton was pacing the deck of the big sailboat with a cell phone to his ear counting the rings and hoping a person or machine would pick up. He strained to hear anything from the tiny speaker as the wind whistled in the rigging and the chop splashed against the hull. There was a lot to do in a hurry and no time to waste.

Holly Jolly Christmas Friday, December 12, 2008 Holly Jolly Christmas

Clear and Present Danger

The Most Memorable Presents From Days Gone By

      If you were a product of the sixties you were all about the presents. Yeah... They tried to tell you about the birth-of-Jesus thing sometimes... But it was all about the presents. Some I remember like it was yesterday. These are more of those.

Fireball XL5 Fireball XL5
      Fireball XL-5 was a TV show with puppets. Marionettes to be exact. The series was first produced in Great Britain in 1962 in a basement or something like that. It was primitive but captivating... If you were four or five at the time. It was also a predecessor to Team America: World Police by Matt Stone and Trey Parker (South Park). I was all about this show when I was four or five. After all... Lost in Space wasn't even on TV yet. Then the merchandising started. I had to have one and finally did get one: A deluxe set. I remember finding it under the work bench in the basement on Christol Street after we moved.

Fireball XL5
Fireball XL5

Ech-A-Sketch       If you never had an Etch-a-Sketch I feel bad for you. Mine was a present from my grandparents if I'm not mistaken. I usually never completed any major drawing on mine, but it made a great navigation screen in a space ship or cardboard submarine. I always wanted to crack one open and see inside but it always seemed like sacrilege to do so... Like cutting stuff out of a National Geographic. My cousin or my brother gave me a mini one for Christmas a few years back and it was even more fun than I remember it being. I made a drawing of my church building and haven't played with it since. Remember the Toy Story movie? Woody relied on "Etch" big-time. I hope they never change them.

Fire Chief Helmet

      This was one of the first Christmas presents I remember getting. I don't remember wanting to be a fireman but it's possible. It was just a great thing to have. Oil companies were way more glamorous back then. Every gas station gave away stuff with fill ps and the commercials were slick and cutting edge. I can't remember if the helmet made a siren noise or had a microphone and PA speaker. It didn't even matter when the batteries died... Or leaked and corroded everything like they used to do all the time. Who can forget the bright yellow Eveready battery with the bubbly rust colored ooze around the terminals? Ah the sixties.

Erector Set

      Erector sets have always been the stuff of dreams with girders, gears, chains, pulleys and enough loose hardware to foil even the toughest Electrolux. Let's not forget the sharp edges on all of the metal parts. One thing I do remember is never having all of the pieces needed to make the coolest thing in the instruction book. The last two or three seemed to always need pieces from the set you didn't have. Bastards!!! It was tough to watch cartoons AND build stuff at the same time... Unless they were lame cartoons like Josie and the Pussy Cats or something like that. Johnnie Quest... Forget it. You couldn't count the holes on the girders for proper placement and follow a Johnny Quest plot... Especially that one with the thing that was pure energy and they covered with paint so they could see it and baited a trap with a light bulb to catch it and electrocute it.

Erector Set

Holly Jolly Christmas Saturday, December 13, 2008 Holly Jolly Christmas

Death of a Snowman

      This is some more unfinished business from Christmas. December was a little hectic and it just didn't happen.

Holly Jolly Christmas Sunday, December 14, 2008 Holly Jolly Christmas

Chief Trautman's
Christmas Ornaments

      These Christmas ornaments were made by my Grandfather in the early seventies and on for a few years. They were made from kits originally and then from parts and supplies later on. I made a few of the kits myself and still have a plastic compartmented hobby container with all of the leftover beads and pins. Like everything else my grandfather did, the attention to detail and accuracy used is superior. Most are thirty-some years old and still look great. They are prized possessions and for the past few years have been back where they started: hanging from the overhead beam in the living room of the Dip & Sip in Ocean Beach, New Jersey.
      The pictures are blurry and have other issues but they were the first attempt at shooting in manual mode with the new camera. I was going to shoot more but most of the ornaments ended up on the tree this year. These pictures are from Christmas 2007. We ended up with a larger (cut) tree than originally planned for so we hade to press these into service as tree ornaments.

Holly Jolly Christmas Monday, December 15, 2008 Holly Jolly Christmas

S. D. (Special Delivery) Kluger Mirth and Merriment, Memories and Merchandise
Christmas With the Village People

Santa Claus is Coming to Town... The movie

      I was barely four years old in 1964 when the Rankin/Bass animated Christmas special Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer was on TV for the first time. I was five when A Charlie Brown Christmas aired for the first time. The very next year How the Grinch Stole Christmas followed the previous two classics. I saw them all the first year they aired and haven't missed seeing all three every year since. Seeing them each year has been a huge part of all of my Christmases.
      I was getting a little older; all of ten, when Santa Claus is Coming to Town joined the holiday TV lineup. I was very resistant to embrace this newcomer at first. I was older of course... And it was 1970 and the innocence of the 1965 Christmas special was being infused with a little of the 60s culture that was all up in our lives at that point. The Kringles I was part of that decade but not the hippy-dippy Laugh In Mod-a-go-go part of it as much as the Woodstock, Vietnam War, space program, civil rights part of it. Yeah I was probably dressed like I belonged in the Partridge Family, but I was more concerned about the impending threat of being killed in Vietnam. My grade school teachers from second grade on would constantly remind us that if we didn't do well in school that we wouldn't get into college and we'd get drafted and sent to Vietnam and get killed. We saw body bags in the news every day. It was a real threat... so Kris Kringle's trouble with the Burgermeister Meisterburger seemed a little lame. The imprinting at age four, five and six was stronger than at age ten so I didn't warm up to Santa Claus is Coming to Town the way I might have otherwise until years later. Hell... I remember hiding from Bumbles the Abominable Snow Monster the first time I saw him. By ten... I don't think so.
      Shopping for Christmas has become more enjoyable as I grow older. I used to hate it... Even when I had plenty of money and could just buy what I wanted for presents. Nowadays... I haven't a penny to spare but enjoy the Christmas shopping process immensely. I was in my mid thirties when I started feeling the warmth. I started purchasing Christmas S.D.Kluger's half track ornaments and such and grabbing copies of my favorite Christmas specials as I found them. I watched Santa Claus is Coming to Town again about twelve years ago and finally got it. Fred Astaire's voice... The half track... Peter Pine, Willy Willow... "Winter please"... The Burgermeister... Even the psychedelic and wedding scenes with what's-her-face... Jessica. I was hooked so when I found a complete set of figures at Ocean State Joblot or Christmas Tree Shops I had to get it. The Winter Warlock has even become a tree topper. He was pressed into duty for the first time to top "Doug" the Douglas Fir... Probably our best tree so far even though "he" didn't survive being planted at the Train Station. The rest of them are still fastened to their snow drift looking plastic base that held them in place in their box. They look like a choir of Eastern European types or how my class must have looked standing on the bleacher-type choir steps that pulled out from under the stage in the auditorium/gym of Campbell School in Metuchen, New Jersey. I wish I could find one of those half tracks. I'd spend money on that before I'd buy food.
      Models have always been a favorite of mine. Miniature houses and the like as well so... I'm a sucker for those Christmas Village type structures with lights and all that we see everywhere for sale before Christmas. S.D.Kluger's half track I have quite a few... Most from Christmas Tree Shops or even the dollar store. Many of them were set up a few Christmases ago along with a big Christmas Train under the tree and even a dollar store train set around the village of little Christmas houses that were a dollar each from CVS in Ortley, New Jersey. The cast of Santa Claus is Coming to Town was perched on their plastic Snow drift on the bottom shelf of the TV stand behind the village. Pork Chop had issues with the dollar store train running. It usually derailed after a half lap around the tracks or so. At one point Kelly was referring to the characters on their snow drift on the other side of the village and called them the Village People. I loved the name and it stuck. Winter is Winter but the rest of them are the Village People... The reason for this entry after all.
      As long as we're on the subject of Christmas specials... Let me tell you my theory of what can make them a success. It's the voices! Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer had Burl Ives. Charlie Brown had great memorable voices... And don't get me started on the music. The Grinch had Boris Karloff for kripes sake AND... Thurl "Tony the Tiger" Ravenscroft. Santa Claus is coming to Town had Fred Astaire and Mickey Rooney. Frosty the Snowman, which came out the year before Santa Claus is Coming to Town, had Jimmy Durante, one of the great voices certainly, but the lead voice was lame. I haven't purchased "Frosty" yet and have no immediate plans. I can't warm up to the character due to the voice... And he's a dumbass. I think Tom "Magnum P.I." Selleck or James Earl "Darth Vader" Jones would make great Christmas character voices but I'm afraid the golden days of the Christmas special are long over.

Holly Jolly Christmas Tuesday, December 16, 2008 Holly Jolly Christmas

You're a mean one Mr. Grinch
Dr. Seuss'
How The Grinch Stole Christmas!

I can hardly remember Christmas without watching the Grinch. I've watched it every year since it first aired in 1966. Don't try and tell me you don't sing along with the song every time you hear it. You can find it on the Dr. Seuss website... Or here. It's part of my Christmas ritual.

My mom has a copy of this book

      Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas! started as a children's book in 1957. This was followed in 1966 by a popular television special also titled How the Grinch Stole Christmas! produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's MGM Animation/Visual Arts studio, and directed by Chuck Jones. I'm usually not a fan of made-up words in a song for the sake of fitting something else in: "pompitous" in Steve Miller's "The Joker"; "headmen" in Traffic's "40000 Headmen"; etc., But in the case of "super-naus" I'll make an exception... It was 1957 after all. 40,000 headmen speak of the pompitous of super-naus.

You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch

Author: Dr. Seuss

You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch.
You really are a heel.
You're as cuddly as a cactus,
You're as charming as an eel.
Mr. Grinch.

You're a bad banana
With a greasy black peel.

You're a monster, Mr. Grinch.
Your heart's an empty hole.
Your brain is full of spiders,
You've got garlic in your soul.
Mr. Grinch.

I wouldn't touch you, with a
thirty-nine-and-a-half foot pole.

You're a vile one, Mr. Grinch.
You have termites in your smile.
You have all the tender sweetness
Of a seasick crocodile.
Mr. Grinch.

Given the choice between the two of you
I'd take the seasick crockodile.

You're a foul one, Mr. Grinch.
You're a nasty, wasty skunk.
Your heart is full of unwashed socks
Your soul is full of gunk.
Mr. Grinch.

The three words that best describe you,
are, and I quote: "Stink. Stank. Stunk."

You're a rotter, Mr. Grinch.
You're the king of sinful sots.
Your heart's a dead tomato splot
With moldy purple spots,
Mr. Grinch.

Your soul is an apalling dump heap overflowing
with the most disgraceful assortment of deplorable
rubbish imaginable,
Mangled up in tangled up knots.

You nauseate me, Mr. Grinch.
With a nauseaus super-naus.
You're a crooked jerky jockey
And you drive a crooked horse.
Mr. Grinch.

You're a three decker saurkraut and toadstool
With arsenic sauce.

Copyright © 1957, Dr. Seuss.

Visit the The Dr. Seuss Web Page.

Holly Jolly Christmas Wednesday, December 17, 2008 Holly Jolly Christmas

Clear and Present Danger

The Most Memorable Presents From Days Gone By

      If you were a product of the sixties you were all about the presents. Yeah... They tried to tell you about the birth-of-Jesus thing sometimes... But it was all about the presents. Some I remember like it was yesterday. These are more of those.

The Flying Phantom Jet

      The idea here was to fasten a plastic base to the ceiling with thumb tacks. This base had a swiveling spool of strong string on it. You unraveled as much string as you think you had room for and then hooked this Phantom jet model to it. It took four AA batteries I seem to remember. You switched it on and the propeller would cause it to slowly move in circles. Over a minute or two the circles would gradually increase in diameter as the plane gained speed. Before long it was humming around the room at a surprising speed limited in range by how much string you gave it. With fresh batteries it seemed like it would hurtle around the room with such speed that the string would be thirty degrees or even less from the ceiling. Soon afterwards it would hit you in the head or strike something in the room within it's arc or travel and spin out of control like Maverick and Goose in that scene in Top Gun. This thing was great.
      I remember the days when Phantoms flew out of Lakehurst Naval Air Station (site of the Hindenburg explosion) about fifteen miles west of Ocean Beach. You could usually count on at least one low level pass over the water along the beach during a weekend. By low... I mean about a hundred feet. Ah... The good ole sixties.

The Gemini space capsule model

      The space program was almost as significant as dinosaurs and oil companies in the 60s merchandise culture. I watched the Rendezvous of a U.S. and Soviet space capsule on a black and white Magnavox 19" diagonal TV. I got a Gemini capsule model the first Christmas we spent in the house on Christol Street in Metuchen, New Jersey. It seemed way beyond my first grade skill level at the time but was still the coolest thing ever. I distinctly remember looking at the paint schemes and wondering what color khaki was. Turns out it was tan... Those were some zany times those sixties.

The Gemini space capsule model.

      Green Ghost was the Must-Have game of 1965. I got one for Christmas in 1968. I don't remember the rules much but you spun the big ghost and it pointed at who moved next I think. Your playing pieces were these little green plastic ghosts that fit on the end of your fingers. The Tensor Light They glowed in the dark after a tanning session under a strong light. The glow-in-the-dark green pieces probably contained enough radium to X-ray a bug. The dozen little ghost pieces made it easy for everyone playing to have a hand full of green fingertips. The game was played in the dark and at least once during every game the sounds of choking and gasping for breath were heard due to the easy swallow-ability of the little ghosties. There was a haunted house and shipwreck and your "guy" could disappear through a hole in the board and come up any where on the board through another hole. All cool stuff to be sure.
      I still remember the "woga woga woga" noise made by the big green ghost spinner like it was yesterday. The Tensor light I had in my room was used to charge up the radium before and during the game when the board and pieces started to fade to dark. The Tensor light always smelled like melted clay due to the... ah... melted clay on the "shade", left over from facilitating a bad end to a small platoon of clay men that incurred its wrath. The "Shade" as it was called was aluminum and heated to hundreds of degrees in seconds. It was covered with black fuzzy felt-like stuff that gave you a split second chance to pull away before the resulting burn escalated from second to third degree. It sat on my desk next to the wooden duck on a wooden base with the giant metal paper clip behind the duck that was supposed to hold papers but was perpetually torturing the unfortunate clay soldiers that escaped the searing heat of the Tensor light. In 1997 Marx Toys produced a 30th Anniversary edition of the game. This box has "Find Kelly the Ghost... if you DARE" printed on it.

Hugo, the man of a thousand faces.

      Hugo was creepy... And not in a mini-me kind of way... In a serial killer kind of way. I'm not sure why. The idea was simple: A makeover doll for boys, like those heads that girls got to put makeup on and change the hair. Yeah it had scars and beards and all but there was something not quite right about it. After all... It was the sixties and we (boys) spent all of our spare time playing army and stuff like that. Hugo was to makeover dolls what Pretzel Jetzel was to Kenner Easy Bake Ovens. I wanted Pretzel Jetzel. Hugo I never warmed up to. You can see by the box he had glasses. What??? No night vision goggles a la Silence of the Lambs? "It rubs the lotion on itself."

Holly Jolly Christmas Thursday, December 18, 2008 Holly Jolly Christmas

Over the River and Through the Woods

It Always Meant Christmas to Me

Over the river and through the woods
To Grandmother's house we go
The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh
Through white and drifted snow

Over the river and through the woods
Oh how the wind does blow
It stings the toes and bites the nose
As over the ground we go

[Everybody now]
Over the river and through the woods
To Grandmother's house we go
The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh
Through white and drifted snow

Over the river and through the woods
Oh how the wind does blow
It stings the toes and bites the nose
As over the ground we go

Over the river and through the woods
And through the barnyard gate
We seem to go extremely slow
It is so hard to wait

Over the river and through the woods
Now Grandmother's cap I spy
Hooray for the fun
Is the pudding done?
Hooray for the pumpkin pie
Hooray for the fun
Is the pudding done?
Hooray for the pumpkin pie

      This song has stuck in my mind since the first time I heard it. I always conjure it up as a Christmas song even though my memories are of the first thanksgiving I was aware of. I think I remember the day like it was yesterday although what I have latched on to may be a group of related memories my mind has packaged as one. In either case, it's a strong image that gives me comfort from after my birthday through New Years Day. I get that choked-up kind of feeling when I think the thoughts other times of the year. It's everything my WASPy middle-class average American east coast holidays could ever be rolled into one nostalgic lump in the throat. It's a good thing!
      The day starts with having to dress in one of those beige wool coats that boys had to wear back then because "John John" Kennedy wore one. I think there were gray wool shorts, blue wool blazer and a beanie-like beige wool hat with a button-like appendage in the middle on top that hurt if you happened to head-butt something. I don't remember liking it. It itched and rustled too much. I seem to remember there being some very early snow on the ground in front of our house on High Street in Metuchen, New Jersey. I can remember being allowed to jump off of one of the low brick planters on either side of the front walk. I'm pretty sure Mur and Momma Mur were arriving at the Burns' house next door. Mur was my best fried Jim Burns' grandfather and Momma Mur was his grandmother. They were my favorite people at the time... Next to my own grandparent of course. They had a black cat called Blackie that I seem to remember scratching my mom one time so I was afraid of him. Tiger, our cat, was my absolute favorite. My mom's car was a giant red Buick Roadmaster with the chrome fake intake ducts on the hood. It sat in the driveway under a huge pine tree and always had pine needles on it... And in that place between the hood and windshield where they would get sucked into the vents and blow around in the car when the defroster was turned on.
      My grandparents lived on Grove Avenue in Woodbridge, New Jersey which was a about fifteen minutes away. It was one of those neighborhoods depicted in the beginning of All in the Family. The houses were space a little farther apart but were generally that size and configuration. Grove Avenue dead-ended against the berm supporting the Penn Central Railroad tracks. My grandparents had a double lot if I remember correctly. There was a garage at the end of the driveway and a screen house to the left of the driveway in the extra lot. I remember it being well shaded and there was a patio of concrete pavers that my grandfather made himself. The area to the left of the garage behind the screen house and patio was overgrown and I remember my grandfather telling me there were snakes living in the tall grass.
      My grandmother was an anachronism from pre-cold-war America. She didn't have a job from way before I first knew her or drive ever. She worked as a telephone operator back in the day and answered to the nickname "Mert" for some reason. As best I can tell, Mert is a Turkish name meaning brave and manly. The Urban Dictionary has more than a few interesting possibilities by none of them seem to apply. Whatever... She was a good person. She was also prejudiced, bigoted, opinionated, narrow-minded and had a mean streak a mile wide and would peck the flesh from my grandfather's bones from morning to night but... If you were her "Sweet Patootey" you could fair no better. She was known for being a good cook and always prepared huge quantities of good food. I remember being in her kitchen before that first Thanksgiving dinner. The turkey was still in the oven and the aroma and warmth were overwhelming. She went into the unheated pantry and returned with a Mr. Salty pretzel tin. It looked like a sailor and was filled with ice cold pretzels. That's my first pretzel experience ever... That I can remember. I had a brown plastic glass with ginger ale in it to wash them down. I'm pretty sure I got one of the turkey legs for dinner that day. I remember cranberry sauce, Harvard beets, celery stuffed with cream cheese and sprinkled with paprika and not muck else of the meal. My brother was an infant at the time so I must have been four.
      Vivid memories can prove to be inaccurate. I would have bet money that my grandmother took me to see my first ever movie in a movie theater but a little research proved that to be impossible. I was staying with my grandparents for some reason. Now I realize it was probably because my brother was in the hospital having eye surgery. I stayed in my Uncle Bill's old room. It still had a green Navy blanket on the bed. My grandmother and I walked to a little restaurant on Main Street in Woodbridge for lunch and then went to the movies. We saw Thoroughly Modern Millie with Julie Andrews and Mary Tyler Moore, although, except for the changing string of pearls scenes, I really only remember Carol Channing. As it turns out, our experience was my sixth of the seven movies I have remembered as my first over the years. Mary Poppins was actually number one in 1964 followed by Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines in 1965, The Ugly Dachshund, Born Free and The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming in 1966. Thoroughly Modern Millie was number six in 1967 and Ring of Bright Water was number seven in 1969. Any how... Back over the river and through the woods already.
      My grandfather was always a bit of a practical joker and had a great sense of humor. He was missing the tip of his ring finger on one hand and used to tell me it was from sneezing while he was picking his nose. That kept my finger out of my nose until well into my thirties as I remember it. He had a trick brandy snifter that looked half filled due to some actual brandy trapped between two layers of glass. He tricked me with it that day and then set me up for his next gag. He showed me how to pretend to dump it on myself and then gave it to me to show the gag to my dad... Except he had filled it with water up to the level of the fake brandy. I marched proudly into the living room and doused myself with water in front of everyone. I'm betting my grandfather never considered the possibility that my dad would begin spanking me immediately, knocking the glass out of my hand and making me cry. Luckily the thick wool rug in the living room prevented the trick glass from breaking and I have it tucked away carefully in my tea chest. Next to my Santa Claus bank, my oldest possession, it is one of my most cherished... In spite of the mixed memories.
      My recollections of the day include asking my grandfather who lived in the farmhouses in the paint-by-number paintings hanging in their house. That might sound tacky but like everything else my grandfather did they were exceptional and are treasured family relics to this day. The farm houses seem to be part of that over-the-river-and-through-the-woods mental image I've created. Add the green naugahyde rockers, that had perpetually sticky backs due to an attempt to clean them with an inappropriate cleaner and were known as The Sticky Chairs, and you have a bonanza of memories that create a warm fuzzy feeling during an otherwise stressful time of year... And it all started over the river and through the woods.

Holly Jolly Christmas Friday, December 19, 2008 Holly Jolly Christmas

Letters to Santa

And Other Childhood Memories

      The town I spent my Wonder Bread years in always had a pretty good Christmas parade and a mailbox out in front of town hall for letters to Santa Claus and the town hall was nicely decorated I seem to remember. I remember writing letters to Santa Claus. I remember asking for Pretzel Jetzel one year. Those things almost never seemed to work out. I remember the drives to town hall to walk up the sidewalk to the mailbox placed there for the purpose. I remember being young enough to be alarmed by the bright floods lighting up the whole front of Borough Hall as it was known.
      Leaving a snack for Santa Claus was something I remember well. The first time I remember doing it we put a folding table near the fireplace in the house on High Street. Old Metuchn town hall. The offering was a plate of my mother Toll House cookies, a banana and a glass of milk. I remember checking in the morning to make sure everything was gone. The fat bastard left the banana peel, some crumbs and half a glass of milk... Something I probably would have been sent to my room over. We were discussing this practice recently and Kelly told me she used to leave carrots for the reindeer as well. I don't remember doing that but it's possible. I can certainly see Kelly wanting to take care of the reindeer. Letters to Santa Santa Claus was always the star of the Christmas parade in town. I seem to remember it being Thanksgiving weekend but I can't be sure. He would sit in the back of an open convertible or possibly a fire truck and wave to everyone. He was always the last vehicle in the parade and was surrounded by "elves" in the street romping around and throwing candy to the kids in the crowd. Can you picture that flying today with the overly protective uber-parents that seem to be doing all of the breeding? They would never let little Bobo eat something handled by an elf not wearing latex gloves that skidded into the gutter of Main Street. They wouldn't even be allowed to pick it up off of the road... or have to rush off to wash their hands immediately. There would no doubt be issues because said candy has no country of origin labels or allergen info on it. How did we ever manage to survive I wonder. I didn't mind seeing Santa Cause in a parade. I remember never wanting to go sit in one's lap at a mall. That used to happen in the big open area outside Bamburgers in the Menlo Park Mall near where we lived. They tried making me do that once. I remember hating it. Does that still happen? Seems like there should be a special branch of the department of Home Land Security looking into Santa Claus licensing and registration. After all, we wouldn't want a Muslim or an illegal immigrant posing as Santa Claus would we.
      We used to run through the cloud of DDT behind the mosquito truck at the beach, eat wax lips and those little wax bottles of hypoglycemic liquid, throw lawn darts at each other, inhale second hand smoke from parents that smoked and drank their way through pregnancies and never ever wore seatbelts. The Breakfast of Champions We ate stuff off of the floor, ate undercooked meat with unwashed hands, licked bowls of cake batter with raw eggs in it and survived it all with a squirt of Bactine, A smear of petroleum jelly and a Chocks Chewable Vitamin made from whales and lead-based paint.
      I certainly remember believing in Santa Claus. I can remember being suspicious about some of the details at some point but I don't remember a definitive point that I stopped believing. I guess we grew into it back then. Now a days they may send crisis counselors in to deprogram all of the yuppie larva when one finds out there's no such thing. All in all though, Christmas is not a bad ritual... Even if most of what we have now for tradition, pomp and circumstance seems to have been dreamed up with the goal off selling us crap we don't need in the past fifty or sixty years. I was older than you might expect before I even understood it to be a religious holiday. I appreciate that part of it but... I'm a product of the sixties. Give me my Chipmunks and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer any day.

Holly Jolly Christmas Saturday, December 20, 2008 Holly Jolly Christmas

Clear and Present Danger

The Most Memorable Presents From Days Gone By

      If you were a product of the sixties you were all about the presents. Yeah... They tried to tell you about the birth-of-Jesus thing sometimes... But it was all about the presents. Some I remember like it was yesterday. These are more of those.
      Just a reminder to anyone reading these "Present" entries that wasn't born in the years 1958 through 1962 or thereabouts. A toy generation, like a cartoon generation, is about four or five years long, not the 25 years typically allotted to a human generation. Things change quickly and nothing seems more foreign or ridiculous than toys or cartoons from another "generation". I'd have no sooner ridden a Big Wheel than wear a dress when I was 8... The year the came out. So you may be alarmed by the primitive caveman-like technology used in some of these toys if you're younger than me, or scoff at the flash-in-the-pan cheesiness of the same if you're older than I am. Either way... They're MY most memorable presents so get over it.

      This "Clear and Present Danger" was due to appear in the Sandpiper on December 20, 2008 but it was not to be due to all sorts of issues and time constraints. Here it is now. There's still quite a few more to go. Favorite toys are very important things in life.

      Space was the final frontier. Star Trek was the show to watch. We were on our way to the moon. The time was right for the Ionization Nebulizer. It was just a plant mister with a big plastic ray gun around it but... It was pretty cool. There were other things to go with it as well.
      There were space boots: Big plastic blue things that looked like the bottom part of a hovercraft with a ski-binding-like way of strapping them to your feet. They had vents in back so air would rush in and out of them as you walked giving you an odd walking-on-the-moon kind of gait. You sounded like Dart Vader hyperventilating as you walked. You could walk through wet grass and deep puddles but they tended to suck in water if you were in too deep. Each boot would weigh 25 pounds in no time fording a deep puddle so you had to be careful.
      There was a helmet as well. It had a transparent yellow plastic dome and not enough air vents. It tended to fog up quickly and heated up to a stifling temperature in seconds in the sun. Everything smelled like plastic for the rest of the day if you spent even a few minutes wearing it. It' not easy boldly going where no man has gone before.

The Ionization (plant mister) Nebulizer

Jarts... Game of death!!!

      Could there be anything more representative of dangerous products from the sixties than Jarts? I think not. It's not the toy/game itself, but the inevitable way in which it is used. Even without intentional misuse, just a small percentage error during normal "play" and someone was looking at a potentially debilitating injury. The idea was a twist on the game of horseshoes... Only with small harpoons. Each "Jart" was about 18 inches long and ended in a slightly blunted three eighths of an inch diameter metal point about three or four inches long. To make it easier to throw, an eight or ten ounce steel weight was built into the shaft about four inches back from the point. This served as a stop to keep the "Jart" from passing through your skull completely.
      Each player, or team in case you wanted to kill the whole family at one time, had a plastic ring on the ground in front of them. The other team would take turns hurtling their harpoons at the ring in front of the other team. A gust of wind or slight miscalculation and one of your opponents had their knee cap pierced like a toothpick though a cocktail onion. Just a couple of observations about the box in the picture. One: "The Missile Game". MISSILE Game!!! Yep... Missiles are fun for the whole family. Just ask Londoners or Iraqis. Two: Notice the dad rubbing his head from a recent impact. Three: Notice the holes in the box. Four: Notice the "Missile" flying straight at mom. They were kind of cool though. I still have a scar.

Johnny Lightning

      Johnny Quest, Johnny Carson, Johnny Astro and now Johnny Lightning. Wasn't Señor Wences' hand "puppet" Johnny as well? The sixties were a good time to be Johnny. Any way... Johnny Lightning was a race track with two lanes for cars and steeply banked hairpin turns at each end. I think they were Hot Wheels or similar cars. I started with Match Box cars and by time my brother was into it Hot Wheels were the order of the day four years later. As the car came around the track you flicked the lever for your car to boost it around the track again at warp speed. With a little practice you could barely see the cars they moved so fast. If you miscalculated the car would slam to a stop in the "pit area" when it hit the "booster" or whatever it was called. Matchbox cars made an odd scraping sound going around the track a tenth of the speed of Hot Wheels and tended to fly off of the track so this game lead to an early demise for many Matchbox cars that I wish I had now. Some of the rest were melted down to make anchors and such for cardboard ship models. The Galleon still has a load of recast Matchbox ballast 36 years after it first sailed the pond in Roosevelt Park.

Johnny Astro

      Johnny Astro was one of my favorite presents ever. Johnny Astro To the uninitiated it might seem like ridiculous game that didn't, even couldn't, work. You would be wrong if you found yourself in that group. Even before the "modifications" this was a winner. You blew up a balloon and fastened a small plastic "gondola" to the bottom of it. After putting about a dozen D-cells in Johnny, you used the throttle lever to control the speed of the fan in the turbo-prop-looking thing. You used the joy stick to aim the blast of air from the fan at the balloon. The balloon would actually fly around the room... And was controllable. What isn't in the pictures here is the two round pizza sized targets you cold land the balloon on. One was the moon with great craters and rocks and such. The other was mars... and looked like a pizza big-time. This thing was the best except that it ate batteries like nobody's business.
      That is where my uncle Bill came to the rescue. He was in the navy at the time and was a chief electrician on the Skipjack nuclear fast attack sub if I remember correctly. As if that wasn't cool enough, he also had a habit of "modifying" toys for greater "performance" and as luck would have it... Was home on leave the Christmas Johnny Astro showed up. A little soldering and a few parts out of the ever present electrician's toolbox and the fan unit was modified to plug into a train transformer providing almost unlimited perpetual power. It also made it as dangerous as a Cuisinart food processor without the top on but it was the sixties and that didn't matter. I remember keeping my fingers out of the fan after it drew first blood. You could pin the balloon to the ceiling in any far corner of the room with the new power and it was great for teasing the cat as well.

Holly Jolly Christmas Sunday, December 21, 2008 Holly Jolly Christmas

Clear and Present Danger

The Most Memorable Presents From Days Gone By

      If you were a product of the sixties you were all about the presents. Yeah... They tried to tell you about the birth-of-Jesus thing sometimes... But it was all about the presents. Some I remember like it was yesterday. These are more of those.
      Just a reminder to anyone reading these "Present" entries that wasn't born in the years 1958 through 1962 or thereabouts. A toy generation, like a cartoon generation, is about four or five years long, not the 25 years typically allotted to a human generation. Things change quickly and nothing seems more foreign or ridiculous than toys or cartoons from another "generation". I'd have no sooner ridden a Big Wheel than wear a dress when I was 8... The year they came out. So you may be alarmed by the primitive caveman-like technology used in some of these toys if you're younger than me, or scoff at the flash-in-the-pan cheesiness of the same if you're older than I am. Either way... They're MY most memorable presents so get over it.


      Lectron was one of those educational toys that was still cool. The pieces were small electronic components mounted in plastic blocks that had magnets to connect them together and stick them to the metal project board. There was a power supply and every component had the proper schematic symbol on the top surface. It was a brilliant idea and actually worked well. I think I still have some of the pieces lying around. I seem to remember one fall afternoon down the beach spending time building a Morse code transmitter with my friend Ed Green and we tried sending S.O.S. messages and ran up the beach in the dark to see if anyone responded.


      What can I say about Lego other than it was and always will be the best. I remember the first set I ever got. It was one of those small square opaque plastic bins with a few simple pieces and some wheels. I remember snapping together the first few bricks in the living room on High Street, sitting on the couch just to the left of the door that lead to the kitchen. The first Lego was a gift from my great grandmother Sloat... My grandfather's mother. It had a profound impact on my life. The Lego collection was built over time a set at a time. Blue doors from the truck kits, Gears and platform pieces and the most highly coveted of all: The motor pack. Lego
      Motor packs were blue (see below) and had a battery pack that held three C-batteries. There were two types and I had one of each. The first one had wheels with a flat on the shaft that mated with a corresponding flat on the inside of the motor pack. This gave a direct connection between the wheel and motor and gave the resulting vehicle the ability to jump like a Willys in four wheel drive. Anything I built, from a printing press to a turbine to a Huggamajigger worked better with the old moor pack. The newer ones relied on a friction fit coupling that allowed the wheels to spin in their sockets under even the slightest load. It sucked. Everything else about Lego was as close to perfect as a present could be.


Lincoln Logs 2       Lincoln Logs were the Lego of the fifties. Lincoln Logs 3 They were actually invented in 1916 by one of Frank Lloyd Wright's sons. The first time I saw them was in my friend Jim Burns' basement on Rose Street just around the corner. Lincoln Logs 4 They came in a big cardstock barrel with a metal lid like Tinker Toys. Bonanza was one of my favorite shows on TV and I wanted to build a Ponderosa house with Lincoln Logs from the first second I saw them. Lincoln Logs 5 Like most "sets" of this nature, you never had enough pieces to build the best stuff in the instruction booklet. I liked the older sets with the green wood roof pieces. I hope the wood ones are still available. It would be a shame if they're not.

Lite Brite

      My brother got one of these for Christmas when I was eight or nine maybe. I always wished I had received one. They were fun to do and looked great at night when the lights were off. You put a black piece of paper behind the front face and a letter corresponding to what color peg you poked through the paper showed in the hole. When you poked the colored plastic peg though the paper, it lit up brightly... Hence the name. They also had plain black paper sheet so you could make your own designs. It was a great idea, cool thing to play with, and had literally hundreds of small pieces to swallow.

Holly Jolly Christmas Monday, December 22, 2008 Holly Jolly Christmas

Nuts to You

Set the date and don't be late!

      Since Christmas is a time for traditions and food traditions are some of my favorite, it's time to talk about food traditions. The Christmas meal is an obvious but beaten-to-death place to start. The family dinner during my Wonder Bread years was usually turkey or lasagna. I think I liked the lasagna version better. After all... We just had turkey on Thanksgiving... Not that I dislike turkey but my mom always made a greaat lasagna. Nuff said 'bout dinner.
      Two of my strongest memories aren't even part of dinner. I always remember the bowl of mixed nuts. How the mixed nuts went was a metaphor for Christmas vacation. Mixed nuts are the best! When the bowl was first filled it was easy. Grab a walmut... Easy cracking... easy picking. Then the pecans. Then the almonds. You'd mix it up a little to start... But that was pretty much the order. By time the weekend before going back to school was here you were into those acorn looking things and last but not least... The Brazil nut. Those meant then end was near. The nut bowl Impossible to crack. The shell had to be picked off a shard at a time and then end result semed to be stale and soapy tasting half the time. Vacation was over before they were. The nut bowl as almost as important as the contents. It was one of those wooden ones turnd on a lathe with the bark still on the outside. It lookes like the picture here except it had a ring cut in to bare wood about halfway up the bark sides. There was a place on the top to store nut crackers and a half dozen nut picks. The whole thing was varnished and quite attactive.
      Stuffed dates were another favorite. They occupied a bowl on a table between the living room and dining room usually. Stuffed Dates They were simple, just pitted dates stuffed with shelled walnut halves and rolled in sugar, but they were a little exotic and good. They always appeared before Christmas Eve when life seemed to hold limitless possibilities and everything was right with the world... with one or two exceptions.
      My favorite Christmas related food memory, hands down, is the boiled spice cake my grandmother and mother have made as long as I can remember. It's very similar to a fruit cake but way better as was always quickly pointed out if anyone called it fruit cake. It was great by itself and was amazing toasted with butter or cream cheese. Click here for THE boiled spice cake recipe. It is similar to Agnes Walter's plum pudding (coming soon to Danger Kitchen). I remember my mom made one for me to take in to my second grade teacher, Mrs. Eckman, when I was in Campbell School back in Metuchen, New Jersey. As soon as the other teachers smelled the rum in it she was the envy of the other teachers. I should have made one for Christmas this year. Next year for sure! The picture to the right is a picture of fruit cake and a poor representation of the spice cake. The real deal is much taller and a rich dark brown color. It looks like brown concrete with candied fruit gravel in it... Way more fruit and nuts than any mere fruit cake. Make one with the Danger Kitchen Recipe and see for yourself.

Holly Jolly Christmas Tuesday, December 23, 2008 Holly Jolly Christmas
Christmas Eve Eve

Clear and Present Danger

The Most Memorable Presents From Days Gone By

      If you were a product of the sixties you were all about the presents. Yeah... They tried to tell you about the birth-of-Jesus thing sometimes... But it was all about the presents. Some I remember like it was yesterday. These are more of those.
      Just a reminder to anyone reading these "Present" entries that wasn't born in the years 1958 through 1962 or thereabouts. A toy generation, like a cartoon generation, is about four or five years long, not the 25 years typically allotted to a human generation. Things change quickly and nothing seems more foreign or ridiculous than toys or cartoons from another "generation". I'd have no sooner ridden a Big Wheel than wear a dress when I was 8... The year they came out. So you may be alarmed by the primitive caveman-like technology used in some of these toys if you're younger than me, or scoff at the flash-in-the-pan cheesiness of the same if you're older than I am. Either way... They're MY most memorable presents so get over it.

Lost in Spce Game

      Lost in space was the first TV program I ever remember bargaining to watch. It was 1965 and I was four years old when it first aired in black and white. It was on at 8:00 or 8:30 pm Sunday nights If I remember my TV. Whenever it was it was on when I was supposed to go to bed and I remember begging to watch the first one and each episode afterwards. The first episode had the guy in the carrot suit that needed "moisture" and you could see his knee sticking out of the plaster of the costume. It was still a great show and I wanted the game but never got one. I never knew anyone that had one either. I can remember pretending to be in the Chariot when we went to the store in my mom's '64 four-door Chevelle and I always wanted one of those as well. Never got one. I guess there's always EBay. I'd even wrap it for myself to open on Christmas. "Warning Will Robinson!!!"

Ed “Big Daddy” Roth’s Mysterion... The ultimate custome hotrod!

      Magic rocks were some sort of chemicals, no doubt toxic, that you mixed with water and allowed to form crystals of all kinds of bright colors. They worked pretty quickly and produced a glass full of day glow stalagmites. That was about it.

Matchbox Cars

      Matchbox cars were a rite of passage in the sixties. Everyone seemed to have at least some. I think I remember buying them for 35 or 50 cents after selecting the right one from the rotating display unit on the counter in Metuchen Center, the local hobby shop, on Main Street in Metuchen, New Jersey. They were very nice people. There was a woman with a fake arm working there as well. She had a lot of freckles. Any way... I had the cattle trailer and the Greyhound bus and the Combine Harvester and all sorts of other ones. The Unimog with its load of yellow plastic pipes was my favorite. I wish I hadn't melted them all down to make anchors and ballast for ship models.


      Microscopes were always fun. They never worked as well as they might have but it was still fun looking at bug guts and playing Andromeda Strain. The slide covers were good for making windows in model buildings and boats. The heat from the plug-in light always cooked whatever was alive in the water I brought back from the stream that ran along the Reading Railroad tracks between my house on Christol Street and the Grove Avenue bridge by the High School. We used to catch salamanders under the rocks beneath the bridge. The underside of the bridge was charred and dripping with creosote from when some kids set it on fire, supposedly in the fifties. The plug-in light was too hot. The mirror was never bright enough so the whole thing was rather disappointing.

That’s Mr. Potato Head to you!

      Mr. Potato Head was originally designed to be used with real potatoes. Mine had the plastic potato but mentioned real potatoes. I guess maybe too many kids were maimed by the real potatoes. I remember Frankie Frank and wanting to use real hotdogs to make him. Mr. Potato Head was the first toy ever advertised on TV. He hit the streets in 1952. Don Rickles was a perfect voice to use for Mr. Potato Head in Toy Story and Toy Story II. Mr. Potato Head is like Etch-A-Sketchs and erector sets and Lincoln Logs. He's a classic. He's Mr. Potato Head.

Ed “Big Daddy” Roth’s Mysterion... The ultimate custome hotrod!

      The Mysterion was a custom hotrod show car built by Ed Roth in 1963 or 64. I remember being amazed when I tore off the wrapping paper to reveal the model. It was the coolest car ever I thought... And still do. Ed "Big Daddy" Roth was a design and marketing genius in a grunge-biker-beatnik package. He was crazy-weird ahead of his time and was just as comfortable behind a drawing table as he was behind a cutting torch. For all of his style and cutting edge ideas, he seemed to turn into his own worst enemy as the sixties turned into the seventies and never turned into the mogul of beatnik chic that I expected him to.
      I've built the model twice. Once in the mid sixties and again in the mid eighties. The sixties kit had a plastic packet of silvery fuzz that you sprinkled on the interior section after you painted it black so it looked like the fuzzy interior of the original car. The newer kit didn't have the bag of fuzz. I was disappointed. The original instructions were narrated by Ratfink, one of Roth's cartoon characters, and were loaded with all kinds of beatnik lingo if I remember correctly. One of the strongest mental images I have is of Ed Roth, in the form of the giant floating head on the box, being the devil... or at least what the devil might have looked like. I was never religious certainly but he did seem a little demonic. Great car! Great Model! Great present!

The goofy game for dopey doctors.

      The goofy game for dopey doctors, as it was called on the commercials, never lived up to expectations. If you screwed up all it did was buzz. I mean... It was the sixties. It should have administered a strong electric shock or at least fired a dart at your eye or something. It was just never much fun.

Feel the mystical power of the universe at your finger tips.

      Ouija Boards were great. The mystical powers of the universe were never demonstrated more effectively than when a Ouija "Wee Gee" board was answering a question, as the tips of our fingers turned white and flattened under the strain of wrestling out an offensive name for one of the other participants. Even with the lights off and a candle burning this was still ridiculous. Bob Green and I spend days rigging a séance we were planning on having with a Ouija board and the rest of the group of beach friends. There was going to be a candle that blew out with a small bellows made out of a doorknob cover and a porch door that opened with fishing line. Ooh scary!

Holly Jolly Christmas Wednesday, December 24, 2008 Holly Jolly Christmas
Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve in Ocean Beach, New Jersey

Christmas against all odds.

      This was the year to end all years and it didn't seem like much of a Christmas was destined to happen... until the last few days. Due to economic constraints we broke with tradition and have a tree that can't be planted and will die. It was $14.00 from Wal-Mart and would die anyway so... Now it has a chance to stand tall and look good for a grand finale of sorts. Better that than end up in a dumpster. This one didn't get a name yet. Years past have seen Cartman, Clint, Doug and Muerta. Doug and Muerta didn't survive but Cartman and Clint are thriving as are most of the rest of them I've planted over the past 23 years. A few have died and one was cut down by the power company because it got too big but most are doing fine at three different addresses. All are reminders of a past Christmas and a tree that had a chance.
      The trip down from Rhode Island took longer than I expected on Tuesday night and I didn't get to the beach until 10:45 pm. The first order of business was to get the living room rearranged and the tree in its stand ready for decorating in the morning. It took three lengths of fishing line fastened to the curtain rod brackets to get the tree stable. It was reasonable full on one side and rather sparse on the other so... she listed to port a wee bit. A little fine tuning Christmas Eve morning and the decorating process was underway. The first ornament in place was Pinchy the stuffed lobster from the Nordic Lodge restaurant... A present to Kelly from Ken Muserlian. In no time at all the tree was decorated with all of the best ornaments and looking fine. The branches were settling down nicely under the weight of the ornaments and we were soon working on getting dinner ready.
      Walks up the beach are a frequent activity during an average day in Ocean Beach. Christmas Eve is no exception. We decided on our favorite meal, Ham and Cabbage, for dinner and the house smelled better each time we returned from the beach. A big ham yields a few ham steaks for Ham Steaks and Mashed Potatoes and... A great ham bone for pea soup. The leftover broth from the Ham and Cabbage makes an amazing Pea Soup base and there's usually enough Ham and Cabbage for two or three meals and as many lunches. We were going to eat very well for a while for not a lot of money. This is the theory of Squalid Splendor you'll be seeing more of in the near future in the Sandpiper. We had rock crab claws in the freezer leftover from a five pound bag Kelly got for my birthday in October AND... Jumbo baked stuffed shrimp from Providence, Rhode Island, stuffed with a stuffing that seemed to beat the Crab's Claw's hands down.
      We ate our fill of crab claws and stuffed shrimp and settled in to watch a Ghost Hunters marathon while the Ham and Cabbage filled the house with a mouth watering aroma. We had wine and Wood Chuck hard cider (Kelly's "Savories") and an early Christmas present to me... A bottle of Goslings Black Seal rum. After a beach walk the house felt warm and was filled with the smell of the Christmas tree and dinner. The tree looked great and the strange blue light bulbs in the strands started blinking. We kept glancing at the presents in anticipation during lapses in the Ghost Hunting action... frequent and substantial as they are. We watched the Charlie Brown Christmas tape from the Christmas box and even listened to the Chipmunks Christmas CD... Number one of course... The best one.

Merry Christmas to all...

And to all a good night.

Holly Jolly Christmas Thursday, December 25, 2008 Holly Jolly Christmas

Christmas Day

A Day of Reflection

      Christmas day has recently been a day of reflection and relaxation for me. I used to make every effort to attend whatever family or social Christmas day activity that was happening but decided I would rather relax and play with my stuff and take naps if the mood strikes. Pork Chop was a great companion for Christmas day. He would have a can of tuna for a treat and be perfectly happy spending the rest of the day just hanging out. This is the second Christmas without him. Cartoon network had a Warner Brother's cartoon marathon running all day so I had my fill of Bugs Bunny cartoons and plenty of leftovers and it was a great day.

Holly Jolly Christmas Friday, December 26, 2008 Holly Jolly Christmas

Clear and Present Danger

The Most Memorable Presents From Days Gone By

      If you were a product of the sixties you were all about the presents. Yeah... They tried to tell you about the birth-of-Jesus thing sometimes... But it was all about the presents. Some I remember like it was yesterday. These are more of those.
      Just a reminder to anyone reading these "Present" entries that wasn't born in the years 1958 through 1962 or thereabouts. A toy generation, like a cartoon generation, is about four or five years long, not the 25 years typically allotted to a human generation. Things change quickly and nothing seems more foreign or ridiculous than toys or cartoons from another "generation". I'd have no sooner ridden a Big Wheel than wear a dress when I was 8... The year they came out. So you may be alarmed by the primitive caveman-like technology used in some of these toys if you're younger than me, or scoff at the flash-in-the-pan cheesiness of the same if you're older than I am. Either way... They're MY most memorable presents so get over it.

The Play-Doh Fun Factory

      What a great idea and what a great toy! Play-Doh was good enough by itself and then... There was the fun factory. You would have to be from another planet not to know about the FF. Put some Play-Doh in the hopper, press the handle down and extrude some cool shapes out of Play-Doh. I want to get one and use it to make mashed potato I-beams for some Iron Chef kind of recipe with the overly pretentious plating they tend to do to distract you from the tiny portions. How about beaver tail medallions pan seared with butterfly wings and caramelized slug trails served on potato and abalone I-beams? Does it come with fries?

The Presidents of the United States of America. No... Not the band that did that Peaches song.

      This would seem to be a lame kind of present but... It was a present from my grandparents and so was cool by default. I don't know why I loved it so much but I did. Nixon had just been elected so It came with him. I don't remember having the columns but the Styrofoam bleachers they stand on had a place of honor on the maple bureau that was my mother's when she was young and my Dad stole and told everyone my brother left in an apartment somewhere. The guys in the back row would fall down behind frequently and turn up during the occasional room cleaning covered in lint and dust and looking like little presidential Sasquatches until they were cleaned off. For whatever reason I had enough respect for them never to use them for any sort of target practice. You can see why that might have been tempting can't you? I mean... With them just standing there looking distinguished and all.

   Pretzel Jetzel   
Good ole Pretzel Jetzel
The Whole Magilla

Click here for a larger picture of Pretzil Jetzil
Union Carbide plant?

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Nope... Pretzel Jetzel!!!

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Maybe heez one of Zsa Zsa's ex huzbandz no?

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Even the box lies.

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Look at them stacking up!

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It was the Jet Age all right.

Cynicism Born of Disillusionment

At Least You Can Believe Everything You Hear On TV Now

     One of my earliest "food" memories is of eating pretzels at my Grandmothers house in Woodbridge, New Jersey. They came out of a Mr. Salty tin stored in the unheated pantry off the kitchen and they were cold, but they were good. Mr. Salty seemed to be dressed like a sailor, and they were served with ginger ale in a brown plastic glass with no ice. The bubbles formed a frothy little geyser in the center of the glass and the whole moment is preserved in my mind to this day. Boy did I like pretzels.

     I always remember being fascinated with cooking. It was like playing with food... only you were allowed to do it. Girls had Kenner Easy Bake Ovens to cook with but boys were discouraged from participating. We wouldn't want them turning out like Little Richard or Liberace now would we... But this was the Jet Age and even boys should be cooking with light.

     Back then you could advertise automobiles on TV with the actors smoking cigarettes and drinking liquor without wearing their seat belts and there wasn't as much of a hint of truth in advertising laws. Enter Pretzel Jetzel! When I first saw it I couldn't believe anything could be so wonderful. A factory... I could have my own pretzel-making factory. I could make enough delicious mouth watering pretzels for me and everyone else for that matter. I could be a pretzel-making industrialist Pretzelmeister with a cheesy Bavarian accent.
All I needed was... Pretzel Jetzel!!!

     It was the first thing I ever remember wanting for Christmas. I saw commercials for it every interminable day until Christmas. It seemed like a lot to ask for... this massive orange industrial facility belching steam and seething with ductwork and pretzel making power. I was sure there wouldn't be enough room in the house for it. I could imagine feeling the ground shake as it huffed out pretzels like machine gun bullets. It was going to be wonderful... if only I could get Pretzel Jetzel for Christmas.

     The first thing that seemed wrong when I came downstairs to open my presents was that there wasn't a box big enough to hold a present as substantial as a pretzel factory. There was a good-sized box under the tree, but not what I expected. Maybe it was just one of the conveyor motors... and the rest was elsewhere. I remember feeling the first pangs of disappointment even before I opened the box. I ripped into the wrapping paper and refused to look at what I knew was the truth until the paper was nearly all off. There it was. The mighty pretzel factory. The picture on the box even made it look lame. The anger over being "had" tempered what excitement I could muster. The moment would have been saved if we could have plugged it in and started it up right away to have it fill a basket with crispy delicious pretzels, but it took what seemed like hours of setup time, what with putting in the light bulb (not included) and all. Mixing the small batch of batter took minutes. Baking the first crispy delicious pretzel took forever. The light bulb seemed to heat the whole thing to a dangerous temperature, to the point where burning plastic was the predominant smell in the kitchen. After the better part of an hour the pretzel had dried, cracked and pulled away from the side of the mold and looked like dried snot. It still had to be dug out of the mold with a knife and tasted like mucilage. The disappointment was overwhelming. The anger was directed mostly at myself. I remember feeling ashamed I had been so gullible. Never Again! Never!!!

     I like seeing things for myself now. I don't trust what I'm told blindly. So when I heard that Darter Snails were in danger... I needed to see for myself. I heard there was a place where you could see them dead and dying in their natural habitat, so I was ready to go to the National Park where the trouble was. Because of the coal smoke obscuring their vision, the giant Sequoia the lumberjacks were felling there hit an oil drilling rig which fell on a Darter Snail that had died from feeding on a spotted owl, covered with oil, caught in a leg-hold trap because people making over two-hundred thousand dollars a year are paying too much tax on dividend income. The evidence I sought was lost, but all in the name of National security.

Pretzel Mr. President?

Rock Tumbler

      Patience was required for this one, even more so than crystal growing or magic rocks, but the wait was well worth it. I remember the little machine humming away in the basement for what seemed like months before giving up its load of beautifully polished stones. You put the rough stones in the barrel with water and some sort of polishing compound and let it tumble forever. I seem to remember only doing one load of rocks but the treasure trove of gems made for great pretending-to-steal-treasure-from-the-art-museum games. If I was older than nine or ten I might have used it more but maybe not. I wish I had one now. I don't know if I could resist the urge to try and make sea glass with it.

They'll knock you block off

      The only one of these I ever got to play with belonged to Diane or Jimmy Hiburger... family friends. I always wanted one but never got one. I don't think it was because it was too violent. I mean, we got army riffles and such all the time. I think a TV show about gladiator type battles with construction equipment might attract a large audience. Picture backhoe fights! They would need to be remote control so nobody got killed but the combatants could certainly be "wounded" and "bleed" hydraulic fluid, fuel or coolant. No matter what this was a great game and it was fun to knock someone's block off.

Holly Jolly Christmas Saturday, December 27, 2008 Holly Jolly Christmas

Christmas in Piscataway, New Jersey

A real family Christmas in spite of a troublesome year.

      It seems like Christmas should be pleasant and relaxing. I've always thought that... but it doesn't always work out that way. This year was no exception... If not the most extreme example ever. Part of the stress created by Christmas can come from the extensive planning needed to achieve a few hours of "perfect" Martha-Stewart holidaying. In this particular instance it was all more than worthwhile. It seemed nearly everyone participated to the same magnitude on some level or other. Meal preparation, travel plans, present acquisition and decoration all seemed to come together nicely Saturday afternoon giving us a taste of what we always seem to aspire to.
      It was a true family Christmas in the best sense of the term. There was little or no stress or turmoil and certainly no drama. Timing was loose and all of the food, even the gravy, seemed just right... if not perfect. How many times does that ever happen? We even got to taste some of Agnes Walter's traditional Christmas plum pudding... the sixty-sixth one she's made. We napped and cooked, listened to music and watched some TV and a Sponge Bob DVD, drank a few glasses of wine and ate lots of food, opened some presents and played with our stuff and had about the best Christmas I can remember in a long time.

Holly Jolly Christmas Sunday, December 28, 2008 Holly Jolly Christmas

Clear and Present Danger

The Most Memorable Presents From Days Gone By

      If you were a product of the sixties you were all about the presents. Yeah... They tried to tell you about the birth-of-Jesus thing sometimes... But it was all about the presents. Some I remember like it was yesterday. These are more of those.
      Just a reminder to anyone reading these "Present" entries that wasn't born in the years 1958 through 1962 or thereabouts. A toy generation, like a cartoon generation, is about four or five years long, not the 25 years typically allotted to a human generation. Things change quickly and nothing seems more foreign or ridiculous than toys or cartoons from another "generation". I'd have no sooner ridden a Big Wheel than wear a dress when I was 8... The year they came out. So you may be alarmed by the primitive caveman-like technology used in some of these toys if you're younger than me, or scoff at the flash-in-the-pan cheesiness of the same if you're older than I am. Either way... They're MY most memorable presents so get over it.

      The Saturn V rocket was an amazing vehicle. It produced something like seven and half million pounds of thrust on takeoff and its three stages were used to propel a small collection of vehicles to the moon and back. I remember watching the first moon landing on a Magnavox black and white TV sitting on top of the refrigerator at the beach. The picture was grainy and there was plenty of white noise but it was 1969 and TV wasn't a big deal at the beach back then. That year for Christmas I got the Saturn V rocket model... The biggest most amazing model ever. It stood over four feet tall and was like building five different models in one. You could even separate the stages to have a bunch of different models depending on how you wanted to display it. I still have the first stage engine in a box of model parts. The rest was thrown out in a cellar cleanup while I was at school.

The Saturn V Rocket... Greatest space vehicle to date.

The Savannah... First nuclear powered merchant ship.

      The Savannah is in my opinion one of the most beautiful ships launched since the White Star Line's Big Three. My first encounter with the ship was seeing either a finished model or the box containing the unbuilt model while staying in my Uncle Bills old room in my grandparents' house in Woodbridge, New Jersey. I can't remember if the model was build or not and I can't remember if I ended up building that one or one of my own. I think I still have the reactor containment vessel cover piece in one of my parts boxes. I'd love a chance to build another of these some day. Such a beautiful ship. I here someone is trying to restore and preserve her in California. I do hope that's the case.

The Schwinn Continental. The Toyota Tacoma of bicycles.

      The Schwinn Continental was the Toyota Tacoma of the late sixties and early seventies. It was almost indestructible and infinitely reliable. I remember looking down the lineup of the Metuchen bike shop on Main Street. That was back in the day when the pet shop, hobby shop, hardware store, shoe store and bike shop were all on Main Street. The bikes were arranged by increasing price with the varsity down at the far end and the Paramount closest to the door. It was a direct drive track bike and would be less suited for the road than using a dragster to commute to work but... It was the best (most expensive) bike Schwinn made or at least the top of the heap at the Metutchen Bike Shop. The way they had the bikes arranged just drew you towards the Paramount. But reality was reality even in 1972 and I ended up with a Continental. One step up from a Varsity was good enough for me. I rode it for quite a few years until I got my Sports Tour... Which I still have 33 years later.

Silly Sand

      Lame Sand is more like it. This looked like a great idea. Anyone who has ever made a drip sand castle knows the concept. The sand was colored and it seemed like it would be like a little beach in the middle of winter. It wasn't

How are things on the planet surface?

      These were space boots: Big plastic blue things that looked like the bottom part of a hovercraft with a ski-binding-like way of strapping them to your feet. They had vents in back so air would rush in and out of them as you walked giving you an odd walking-on-the-moon kind of gait. You sounded like Dart Vader hyperventilating as you walked. You could walk through wet grass and deep puddles but they tended to suck in water if you were in too deep. Each boot would weigh 25 pounds in no time fording a deep puddle so you had to be careful.
      There was a helmet as well. It had a transparent yellow plastic dome and not enough air vents. It tended to fog up quickly and heated up to a stifling temperature in seconds in the sun. Everything smelled like plastic for the rest of the day if you spent even a few minutes wearing it. It' not easy boldly going where no man has gone before.

Holly Jolly Christmas Monday, December 29, 2008 Holly Jolly Christmas

Clear and Present Danger

The Most Memorable Presents From Days Gone By

      If you were a product of the sixties you were all about the presents. Yeah... They tried to tell you about the birth-of-Jesus thing sometimes... But it was all about the presents. Some I remember like it was yesterday. These are more of those.
      Just a reminder to anyone reading these "Present" entries that wasn't born in the years 1958 through 1962 or thereabouts. A toy generation, like a cartoon generation, is about four or five years long, not the 25 years typically allotted to a human generation. Things change quickly and nothing seems more foreign or ridiculous than toys or cartoons from another "generation". I'd have no sooner ridden a Big Wheel than wear a dress when I was 8... The year they came out. So you may be alarmed by the primitive caveman-like technology used in some of these toys if you're younger than me, or scoff at the flash-in-the-pan cheesiness of the same if you're older than I am. Either way... They're MY most memorable presents so get over it.

      This "Clear and Present Danger" was due to appear in the Sandpiper on December 29, 2008 but it was not to be due to all sorts of issues and time constraints. Here it is now. There's still quite a few more to go. Favorite toys are very important things in life.

      Voyage to the bottom of the Sea was one of the "must see" TV shows of the mid sixties... Especially if you had an uncle in the navy on a nuclear sub. Admiral Nelson was kind of a scary authority figure and the captain reminded me of my friend Jim Burns' dad a little. Ensign Kowalski always seemed to get the worst of every situation and I sure wanted to build a model of the Seaview. You can't tell me we should build a real submarine like that now. The disappointing thing about the model was painting the whole thing light blue according to the instructions. It looked kind of wussy. That and the fact that I was too young for spray paint at the time and the whole thing was brushed with one of those little Testors model paint brushes and about 12 39-cent jars of sky blue paint. It looked pretty bad.
      I always wanted to build a flying sub model to go with it. Jim and Ruth's (Ruth's) at the bottom of East Rutherford at the beach had one on the shelf for years. I should have saved up and bought it instead of buying gum, punks and smoke bombs. Oh well. I hear there's a Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea boxed set or sets available. I loved how the would tilt the camera to make it look like the sub was being trounced by something and the cast would flail from side to side on the set to make it look like something dangerous while sparks shot out of every instrument panel. Good times!

The Seaview was the coolest submarine ever.

      Space was still the final frontier when this was the gear to have. My brother and I both got the boots, Ionization Nebulizer and the helmet. It fogged up at the first breath and god help you if you went out in the sun wearing it. It heated up instantly to dangerous temperatures and everything smelled like plastic for hours afterwards. The boots made you sound like Darth Vader hyperventilating and the ray gun (Ionization Nebulizer) was a plant mister. It was still cool though. It offered some degree of protection in snowball fights.

The Schwinn Continental. The Toyota Tacoma of bicycles.

      Spirograph was a great idea that suffered from the same limitations as Bizzy Buzz Buzz. The pens were the weak link in the chain of fun. You could usually get the first step or two complete without incident but then the inner gear would fly out of the outer gear or the lousy pens would quit midstream and you'd try and go back over it and then the gear would jump a tooth or two or the paper would rip or the pathetic pins that were supposed to hold the outer gear down pulled out of the cardboard. It had a bunch of gears though and that was cool enough. The elaborate complex shapes available with Super Spirograph made it even less likely that you could complete anything in the instructions successfully.

Spudsie... the LAME potato!!!

      So you wind up Spudsie here and he starts to tick... like a BOMB!!! Then you calmly pass him around a circle of players until he goes off in somebody's hands. Kind of like a Mujahedeen training exercise. The problem was, besides the obvious, that as the game progressed towards oblivion, the passing of Spudsie the Roadside Bomb became increasingly frenetic. Inevitably the person holding it (him?) when it (he?) goes off launches him at the face of the nearest player in a convulsive spasm of panic. It's all fun and games until someone loses an eye!

Squirmles the... ah... lame thing.

      Squirmles was a wormlike thing that you made move with a thin strong nylon line attached to it. You would wind the nearly invisible line around your fingers or neck or wherever you wanted this cute harbinger of paper cuts to glide. When you pulled the nylon line it sliced into you like a cheese slicer into a wheel of cheddar if you weren't careful. Assassins may have used them instead of piano wire to strangle their victims. The eyes fell off.

Squirmles the... ah... lame thing.

      Can computers really be fun? No.
If they feel the need to tell you it's Fun on the box... It most likely isn't.

Holly Jolly Christmas Tuesday, December 30, 2008 Holly Jolly Christmas

Clear and Present Danger

The Most Memorable Presents From Days Gone By

      If you were a product of the sixties you were all about the presents. Yeah... They tried to tell you about the birth-of-Jesus thing sometimes... But it was all about the presents. Some I remember like it was yesterday. These are more of those.
      Just a reminder to anyone reading these "Present" entries that wasn't born in the years 1958 through 1962 or thereabouts. A toy generation, like a cartoon generation, is about four or five years long, not the 25 years typically allotted to a human generation. Things change quickly and nothing seems more foreign or ridiculous than toys or cartoons from another "generation". I'd have no sooner ridden a Big Wheel than wear a dress when I was 8... The year they came out. So you may be alarmed by the primitive caveman-like technology used in some of these toys if you're younger than me, or scoff at the flash-in-the-pan cheesiness of the same if you're older than I am. Either way... They're MY most memorable presents so get over it.

      Tinker Toys bridged the gap between erector sets and Lego. You could build some pretty great things with them. There was always that last piece of one size that you needed to finish the wind mill or space station and it had been stepped on and the end was caved in and it kept slipping out of the hole in the wooden hub and the whole structure would fall apart as a result but... They were still great. The green plastic wind mill blades were good for picking your teeth with. I think they made giant ones at one point but I may be thinking of the giant erector set you could build a go-cart with.

“Stinker” toys were great any way you looked at them.

      Few things are more All-American than a train set. When you set it up on carpet there is always the danger of the track being damaged by someone stepping on it but you have to set it up near or around the Christmas tree any way. I never did get a layout built. There was one in the basement of Christol Street when we moved in and it was pretty cool but it got scrapped and that was that. I'd rather have had the old one than none at all. There was grass and trees and houses and trestles and a gate that never worked on the road that went to nowhere but it was still a little world unto itself. I liked the rail yard part of it best of all. One of these days though... One of these days.

      Piston engines go (boing boing boing noise) but the Mazda goes (Mmmmmmmmmm Noise). If you remember that commercial you remember how the rotary engine was going to revolutionize the auto industry... Or not. This was the visible version of the Wankel rotary engine that first appeared in the Mazda RX-7 I think. The model was cool enough but never quite worked as expected. I guess in that sense it was an accurate representation of the rotary engine.

I always wanted a visible V-8

      Wow... I could have had a V-8. Look at the kid's hair. How about the dad's jacket and tie... And PIPE!!! The kid looks like he's really into it in that innocent kid kind of way. The dad looks shifty. I always wanted to build one of these. Ever since building the dual V-8s for the Mysterion model. What's with the dividers on the table in front of the model? The dad may be using those on the floor plan of the local armory to plan an insurrection of some sorts. I knew I didn't like him the second I saw him.

These were great in the tub or pool.

      If it was the sixties you had to have these to play with in the bath tub. They were ok but the set didn't have a flying sub. You had to have the flying sub.

Squirmles the... ah... lame thing.

      Wizzer was a top basically. You ran it along a flat surface to set the internal flywheel spinning and the gyroscopic effect allowed it to do some pretty surprising things. After a while the bearings would start to go and they would make a strange buzzing sound and then the plastic outside would start to spin. One thing you never wantet to do was put the spinning nylon roller at the base in your hair. Everybody was sporting that Partridge Family hair back then and the wheel would instantly grab a wad of hair and wrap it around the spindle towing the Wizzer up tight against your skull and if you were lucky only rip out a small chunk of scalp... Or so I've heard happened... To some kids... Somewhere other than where I lived... Those kids lived there they did. The ones that did that thing with the Wizzer. Dumbasses!

Holly Jolly Christmas Wednesday, December 31, 2008 Holly Jolly Christmas
Happy New Years Eve!!!

Clear and Present Danger

The Most Memorable Presents From Days Gone By

      If you were a product of the sixties you were all about the presents. Yeah... They tried to tell you about the birth-of-Jesus thing sometimes... But it was all about the presents. Some I remember like it was yesterday. These are more of those. This will be the last installment this year... There are plenty of other topics to explore before next Christmas.
      Just a reminder to anyone reading these "Present" entries that wasn't born in the years 1958 through 1962 or thereabouts. A toy generation, like a cartoon generation, is about four or five years long, not the 25 years typically allotted to a human generation. Things change quickly and nothing seems more foreign or ridiculous than toys or cartoons from another "generation". I'd have no sooner ridden a Big Wheel than wear a dress when I was 8... The year they came out. So you may be alarmed by the primitive caveman-like technology used in some of these toys if you're younger than me, or scoff at the flash-in-the-pan cheesiness of the same if you're older than I am. Either way... They're MY most memorable presents so get over it.

      This "Clear and Present Danger" was due to appear in the Sandpiper on December 31, 2008 but it was not to be due to all sorts of issues and time constraints. Here it is now. Favorite toys are very important things in life. Remember the Winter Warlock getting a "Choo Choo" in Santa Clause is Coming to Town and Arthur giving Hobson a Train in Arthur?

      The constitution has always been one of my favorite sailing warships. It great that its still a commissioned ship in the United States Navy although it's needs resulted in the scrapping of the last New England coastal steamer in existence a few years back. The Nobska was junked so the Constitution could be overhauled in the dry-dock the Nobska was being restored in. I have mixed feelings about that. I wanted ship models for presents all the time and this one was the best. I knew it was beyond my capabilities at the time so I waited. It's been 38 years. I'm almost ready... I guess I got distracted.


      Jaguar E-Types were always sexy sports cars. Even the two plus two with its unusable back seats. I got to drive a twelve cylinder two plus two once and remember how smoothly and effortlessly it eased over a hundred miles per hour. I owned an XJ-12 for a while in the early eighties and in spite of the mechanical horror shows that played out almost monthly I have fond memories of the car. I got this model when I was ten or thereabouts and like the Constitution it seemed a little beyond my model building scope at the time. It's still waiting patiently for the day I have the time and circumstances permit building it. That will be a most special occasion indeed. It has working suspension and steering and an extremely detailed engine. I know just where to dab on the black paint for the oil leaks and I can still hear the sucking sound from the vacuum leaks from the 17 different hoses that connected each of the four Stromberg carburetors to each other and the outside world.

      Walkie talkies were what every male of the species wanted for Christmas in the sixties. I mean... you could talk to your best friend on another planet if need be and call in air strikes against Germans and Japs and other enemies that we fought play wars against every day and somehow managed to not become warmongering nationalists hell bent on world domination. If you got walkie talkies for Christmas they were Archer Space Patrol walkie talkies. They used a transistor battery and if weather conditions were perfect and that red thing on Jupiter was in the right place and there were no solar flares going on you could touch the soon to be bent and broken antennas together and if you adjusted the "squelch" just right you might be able to hear your best friend's voice coming through the hiss over his actual voice a few feet away. They sucked big-time but we all had them. 10-4 good buddy.

      Cities Service was the quintessential local gas station when I was just noticing things like that. I seem to remember there was one on the corner of High Street and Main in Metuchen. I think it later became a Mobil but I may be mistaken. I got a big (at the time) ride-on Cities Service Tanker truck when I was about three or four and remember it like it was yesterday. I got a wrecker like the one in the picture a year or so later... but before Big Bruiser. This was back in the day when oil companies were good instead of evil. They should never have stopped giving out steak knives and such. I still have some Mobil steak knives from 1960 something that still work well.

This was a great toy truck even before my Tonka dumptruck.

      Sinclair always had a special place in my psyche. It was an oil company, gas stations, sponsor of Dinosaur World in the 1964 World's Fair AND... Had a dinosaur as a spokesfossil. All kids loved dinosaurs and I did especially. The first model I ever built was a triceratops model on the back porch of our house on High Street in Metuchen, New Jersey. I had an inflatable Sinclair dinosaur and "he" was my favorite toy until the tragic day I came downstairs and he had deflated overnight never to return. I remember him looking more like a real brontosaurus than this one here but that may not be the case. Brontosauruses probably don't exist any more due to a bunch of renaming and getting the parts together correctly that seems to have overtaken the paleontology situation over the past thirty years or so.

      The first motor vehicle model I ever built was Ed Roth's Mysterion. The second one was a beatnik hotrod garbage truck with go-go dancing surfer chicks in the garbage part and surf boards on the side. Next came a custom dune buggy called the Sand Dragon and last but not least was Don Garlit's Wynns Charger. I was never a "car guy" and don't follow any sort of motor racing but I wanted a model to build during a dreadful rainy summer in 1970 and the only model Jim & Ruth's (Ruth's) had that I could afford was Don Garlit's Wynns Charger.


      Pot holder weaving is the third "craft" I mastered. The first was making Play-Doh ashtrays and the second was making construction paper chains for Christmas decorations. I'm not sure why but I've always liked weaving type activities. Maybe it was the order from chaos thing or just the geometric patterns that resulted. The kits came with a frame and a big bag of these stretchy tubular fabric rubber band like things that you hooked on the nibs on the frame in one direction and then did the over under weave in the other direction. The magic came when mom took it off the frame and laced up the loose outer edges and knotted off the results to complete the project.

This is exactly what they looked like.