Thursday, January 4, 2018

Chris and Jeff Rocking Out in Jeff's Bedroom, Lilburn, GA, 1980

Jeff’s wearing a Star Trek T-shirt and mine says Star Wars, but there was no rivalry between those two science fiction universes back in late 1979 or early 1980 when this picture was taken. One was an old TV show that had been off the air for more than a decade, the other was a fairly recent, wildly popular movie—but just a movie, singular, and not a whole franchise, or, for some people, a way of life. (By the time this picture was taken, Star Trek: The Motion Picture may have been released, but it wasn’t very good so I don’t think it counts. Also, I don’t think The Empire Strikes Back had come out yet, and besides, Star Wars is the only real Star Wars, as far as I’m concerned.)

“Star Trek” and Star Wars aren’t the only science fiction represented in this photograph: on the top left you can see a Shogun Warrior, whose fists (if I remember correctly) could be shot from his arms like missiles at the press of a hidden button, and who probably had other weapons as well. On the shelf directly below that is a space vehicle of some kind from the Micronauts line.

At one point Jeff and I had quite a collection of Shogun Warriors and Micronauts. Among my many wonderful memories of childhood are the times when we could convince my mother to take us to Lionel Playworld, which was on Buford Highway in Doraville (though I may not have known either of those facts at the time), and which was (as far as I was concerned) the greatest toy store in the world. I can’t recall how much was actually bought when we would go; I think we had maybe ten dollars each saved—though in the late 1970s, ten dollars was a lot—and we could buy one or two things. Just being in Lionel Playworld was enough, even if I didn’t get to buy everything that caught my eye. We did eventually amass quite a collection, as I said, but most of the toys we had we got for Christmas or our birthdays.

Of course, most people might not even notice the Shogun Warrior and the Micronaut. The focus of the picture is me and Jeff in all our youthful, untrained musical glory. I got the guitar for Christmas just a few months (or maybe even weeks, or days) before this picture was taken. It was a black Memphis Les Paul copy, which had a mostly hollow body that was badly prone to microphonics. My amp, which isn’t in this picture (or in Jeff’s room at all), was a twenty-watt Crate amp.

This wasn’t originally the guitar I was going to get; Dad had an Explorer copy on layaway at Joe’s Music in Norcross, but I changed my mind at some point and decided I wanted the Les Paul. Though it’s been nearly forty years, I sometimes think about that and wish I’d gotten the Explorer.

The drums may have been more my idea than Jeff’s, I don’t know. I was eager to put together a band, and figured the guy in the bedroom right next to mine was a good candidate for the drums. How interested he really was, apart from a level of enthusiasm than an older brother can sometimes inspire, I don’t know, but he never really learned to play those toy drums. At one point, a year or two later, I somehow managed to get him outfitted with a bass, but we never really coalesced into a band. (Interestingly, it was that instrument, a cheap copy of a Fender Telecaster bass, that my cousin Scott played when he and I were in the band with Roy, so I did, in a manner of speaking, achieve my end.)

It took me a few years, but I finally realized that I don’t actually have any musical talent. Not enough, anyway, to become the working musician I once aspired to be, and definitely not enough to even approach the skill of the guitarists who were (or would become, in the months and years after this picture was taken) my idols: Steve Howe, Steve Morse, and especially Alex Lifeson. Within five or six years of this picture being taken, Jeff would become a much better guitar player than I was.

But this picture doesn’t remind me of lost dreams or a lack of talent—though I will admit that those are things I still occasionally struggle with. This picture reminds me of how great it was to be young and to have hopes and aspirations, and to have a brother you could try to rope into being involved in them, and, perhaps most important of all, how fortunate I was to have a mother who would put up with all the noise coming out of my bedroom (small though it was, that Crate amp I had could really wail), and who could macramé a lion for your brother’s bedroom wall, and take you to Lionel Playworld so you could dream of one day owning the entire collection of both Shogun Warriors and Micronauts.

Sunday, September 10, 2017


So far in September, Don Williams, Jerry Pournelle, Walter Becker, John Ashberry, and Shelley Berman have all passed away. Lots of other people, too, some famous and some not, but these are the people whose work I've admired and who have died in the last week and a half.

Especially Shelley Berman; twenty-five years ago, when I was actively collecting and listening to comedy records, I listed to Inside Shelley Berman and Outside Shelley Berman about a million times.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Vines Haiku 9

Emerging creature
Not as strong as you might think--
"Fragile-Stay Off" please

Friday, August 25, 2017

Exploring the Old Stone Mountain Beach

This morning I went to Stone Mountain with the intention of going for a nice walk in the woods, but instead I ended up exploring some of the hidden relics of Stone Mountain's past. Along the way I was devoured by countless mosquitoes and nearly ripped apart by thorns, and I walked into about a dozen spider webs.

I started my visit with what I meant to be a quick stop by the beach pavilion area, adjacent to the golf clubhouse, just for a quick peek and maybe a walk along the edge of the lake, but I spied an interesting path through an open gate to the left of the beach area, so I decided to see where it went. I'm not sure if I was supposed to go there or not, but no sign told me not to, so I did.

What I found first were the concrete and steel supports for the park's long-defunct water slide:

According to the Stone Mountain Park Web site's History page, the water slide was added in 1977. I vaguely remember going there with Mom and various aunts and cousins (I'm not even sure which ones) one summer day around that time, when I was ten years old or so, but I don't think we visited the water slide more than once or twice. The Stone Mountain Web site doesn't say when the water slide was removed, but I think it was sometime in the 1980s; I suspect these supports have stood there holding up nothing for more than three decades now.

Venturing a little further into the woods, I found a water fountain that must have once hydrated water slide riders, but which weeds and thorns and fallen branches have now made inaccessible:

I'm sure its water supply was cut off years ago. The next water fountain, though, just a little bit further into the woods, was quite easy to get to:

and remarkably clean:

I did try it, and no, it doesn't work, but based on its appearance, I half expected it to. It's probably been years, decades, even, since anyone took a sip from it, but it looks like you could use it today.

Just a minute or two later I found the old beach:

There's still, as you can see, a lot of sand, but also now a lot of weeds and trees. There are still hundreds of feet of retaining walls keeping what used to be beach separate from what is still woods, and the chain-link fence below (hard to see in this picture, I know) looks much less time-worn than I would have expected:

I'm not sure exactly what this was all about; it looks like a decorative raised garden, and perhaps it was, there to make your walk down to the beach more pleasant:

On the other side, the lifeguard stand still stands, though no lifeguard has been on duty for years, and swimming in the lake is now expressly forbidden:

Granite steps still lead down to the beach, or what used to be a beach:

Another set of stairs, this one with handrails, is now all but impassable:

Twenty feet up a tree hangs an ancient speaker, its wire no longer connected to anything:

I saw several picnic tables sitting unused in the woods, none of them terribly inviting, but also not as worn and rotting as I would expect:

By this point, at least an hour into this tour, I had had enough of the mosquitoes and thorns and spider webs, so, despite my curiosity about what I would have discovered had I kept going, I turned around and trudged back to the car, and from there drove myself home to the comfort of air conditioning, my "WKRP in Cincinnati" DVDs, and chicken nuggets and Jasmine rice.

Later I looked at a map, and realized that what I would have discovered had I kept going was the edge of the campground; I had almost reached it.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Driving Back to Mercer

This morning I went on a drive that took me a little less than thirty miles west and a little more than thirty years into the past.

When I was nineteen, I took a writing class at Mercer University’s Atlanta campus, not too far from Northlake Mall (the mall of my youth). It was a continuing education class, not a real for-credit college class, though I did take it at around the same time I was taking English 1101 at DeKalb College (another class I dearly loved). Though it didn’t count towards any of my degrees, I consider it perhaps the single most important writing class I ever took.

The teacher was Jalaine Halsall, a short and vivacious red-haired woman with a ready laugh and an infectious enthusiasm for literature. She had recently published a short story in The Chattahoochee Review that had won an award of some sort (I wish I could but I can’t remember exactly what; it was so long ago that Google can’t provide an answer), and she’d published a number of poems in various literary magazines. She didn’t have a degree in creative writing – I believe she had studied psychology at Agnes Scott, years before, though I don’t know if she had a degree or not – but she had recently taken a poetry class at Georgia State with David Bottoms, who became one of my favorite poets because of Jalaine’s influence. (I also took a class with him when I transferred to GSU a couple of years later.)

The class met one night a week – Thursdays, perhaps? I don’t remember – from 6:00 until 8:00 – or maybe it was 8:00 until 10:00; I can recall virtually none of the ancillary details like day and time or classroom number. But I remember the class perfectly. There were eight or ten of us, and at the beginning of class we would drag our desk noisily into a circle, and for the next two hours we would devote ourselves to literature: some nights we would begin by reading and discussing a poem or part of a story, or talking about something that was going on in the reading and writing world, and some nights we would jump right away into what made up the most substantial part of the class: the workshop, where we would all give input on the stories or poems – our stories and poems – that we had distributed the week before. Every kind of input was encouraged, from high-level general feedback (“This character doesn’t seem quite as mature as I think you want him to be”) to specific line edits or word suggestions (“‘rend’ might work better here than ‘tear’”).

I wrote a number of stories and a few poems for that class. I craved the attention and feedback and, yes, praise that environment provided. I learned from all of my other writing classes, too, of course, the ones I took for college credit at DeKalb and then at Georgia State, and the classes I took in graduate school at Kennesaw and GCSU years later, but I think the Mercer continuing-ed creative writing class with Jalaine is the class from which I gained the most.

I took the class two terms in a row (quarters or semesters or eight-week sessions; I don’t remember what the terms were), and I stayed in touch with Jalaine for a year or so after that, but then I got busy with college and work and life and I lost touch with her. I wish I hadn’t.

That was all thirty years ago. Now, this morning I needed to return a few things to JC Penney, a few shirts that Anna had picked out for Jessica but which Jessica didn’t like, and I decided to take them to Northlake – even if it is not the mall it used to be (and what mall is?), I still like to go to Northlake and walk around and have lunch in the (ever shrinking) food court a few times a year, just to revisit my youth.

I had plenty of time this morning (I don’t teach on Wednesdays), so I decided that before I went to the mall, I would drive over to Mercer – it’s not far from Northlake, remember – and see what it was like thirty years later.

It’s a beautiful, heavily-wooded campus with about a dozen buildings, some of which were constructed (I’m pretty sure) after my short time there. It was mostly empty this morning – their fall semester must not have started yet, so I passed only a few students during the forty-five minutes or so that I walked around. I went into several buildings, including, I think, the one in which my creative class met all those years ago, but nothing seemed especially familiar; everything has probably been changed several times over since I went there.

I kept expecting someone to challenge me – “Can I help you? Could I see your ID?” – but no one did. I walked into the bookstore; one of the young women who worked there asked if I needed anything, and I told her I was just looking around randomly, and she allowed me to do so in peace. I kept thinking that everyone can tell I’m not really a Mercer student and I didn’t belong there, but I doubt anyone actually gave me that much thought.

I enjoyed walking around that beautiful campus; it didn’t make me as melancholy as I thought it would – mourning my lost youth and all that. I treasure my experiences from that time in my life – reading the authors of that time, like Amy Hempel and Bobbie Ann Mason and Raymond Carver; discovering Chekhov; writing my own attempts at minimalist short stories, a few of which were published in amateur little magazines that nobody’s ever heard of (Green Feather Magazine, The Agincourt Irregular, and The Ecphorizer, among others); dreaming about the literary life I would someday lead.

And now, thirty years later, I don’t lead an especially literary life – not like I thought I would, anyway – but I don’t especially mourn its absence. I still read Chekhov sometimes, but I haven’t read Hempel or Mason or Carver in years, though Hempel and Mason are still alive and writing. I’m pretty happy teaching English 1101 at a two-year technical college rather than teaching creative writing and literature courses at a major university, as I once aspired to. I’m not writing fiction these days, but I do intend to again some day, and I keep myself at least somewhat creatively fulfilled with photography, essays like this, the family blog, and (believe it or not) the many exercises I create for my students.

I’m glad, though, that I can go back to the places that have been important to me over the years, and think back on the times that were special to me. I may not go back to Mercer again anytime soon, but this morning’s walk around the campus nourished me enough for a while.

Me, just before I got out of my car to walk around Mercer for a while.

The McAfee School of Theology at Mercer

The cafeteria (tiny though it appeared to be) is in this building

Friday, July 21, 2017

Notes from a Midlife Crisis

When Socrates insisted that "the unexamined life is not worth living," most people agree that he was encouraging us to examine our interior lives, the ideas and beliefs and motivations and choices and reactions that propel us through the world. Ever since I turned 50 a few months ago, however, I've been equally interested in doing some exterior examination: How have I changed over the years? Do the physical changes I've gone through in the last few decades--the added pounds, the new wrinkles, the ever-multiplying gray hairs and slowly-receding hair line (and, if I'm really honest, the additional chins...*sigh*)--say anything about the interior changes that I've also experienced?

Yeah, probably. I don't know. Maybe.

But there's one thing I can say: My hair has changed quite a bit over the years, but my hair style hasn't changed at all. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, indeed.

The above picture is me from sometime around 1977 until July of 2017, approximately every thirteen or fourteen years. Maybe one of the reasons looking back on my life like this is valuable is because, seeing myself at ten, at twenty-three, at thirty-eight, I can remember many wonderful things from my life at those times, and, if I'm smart (and that's a big if!), it prompts me to count all the wonderful things there are in my life right now, even if I am (gulp!) fifty years old. Midlife may not be quite as much fun or as free as childhood, or young adulthood, or not-young-but-still-not-old adulthood, but it's still life, and that's worth a lot.

Also, I find a great deal of pleasure in this Peanuts strip from 1973, drawn when Charles M. Schulz himself was fifty:

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Drive Through the North Georgia Mountains

Today I went on a drive to and through the north Georgia mountains.

Except for Suches, I'm not even sure where I went. I missed a turn in Gainesville and from that point on I used my cell phone's GPS for navigation, but it routed me around rather than through Dahlonega (which my printed directions, the ones I was following until I realized I should have gotten off I-985 a few miles back, would have taken me through; I had intended to make Dahlonega one of my stops). Google Maps doesn't show the names of towns on the cell phone screen as you go through them, just road names, so for quite a while during my drive I didn't know where I was.

Well, I knew where I was, of course; I was right there in the car with me. I mean, wherever you go, there you are, as Buckaroo Banzai said (or whoever it really was), but that doesn't mean you always know where there is.

But regardless of whatever there I was driving through, I had a good time in the mountains. I really love them. I need to spend more time up there.

Most of the pictures I took don't look that great, but here are three that are okay:

(That's my little white car parked at the Chestatee Overlook.)

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Happy Birthday to Me!

Today, much to my own amazement, I turned fifty years old!

Which means that forty-nine years ago, I turned one:

and forty-six years ago, I turned four:

Monday, April 10, 2017

Chris and Jeff in Pa's Attic with Trains, Tucker, GA, 1975

My grandfather had a train in his attic.

It was a toy electric train, of course, and the track was nailed down to the floorboards in a figure 8, with a span of plastic trestles so the tracks went both over and under themselves, as you can see in the picture. I remember climbing the pull-down metal steps to play with the train with my grandfather--"Pa" to me, the same thing my own children call my father--and being captivated not only by the train, but by the other things that lived there: a pink plastic baby crib (whose headboard you can glimpse in this picture, nestled in the floor joists just behind me and to the left), and my uncle Danny's model airplanes (the kind that really fly), and Christmas decorations (except in December, of course), and countless things I know where there but which, try as I might, I just can't quite picture now. There may have been a permanent light fixture attached to the ceiling joists or rafters somewhere, but the light source I remember was a small lamp with a little decorated glass shade that sat on the floor, and which I turned on by rotating a delicate key-like switch.

Pa had a little bottle of magic solution that could be put into the locomotive's smokestack, a couple of drops at a time, to make the engine really smoke! To an eight-year-old boy in 1975, that was pretty impressive.

Though he died when I was only eleven, I have many memories of my grandfather. I remember having a discussion with him up in that attic about the meanings of words--apparently an interest of mine even when I was very young--in which he explained to me that "a few" was just three or four, but "several" could get "way on up there, seventeen or eighteen." Even though I haven't heard his voice in thirty-seven years, I swear I can hear exactly what he sounded like when he told me this.

Attics have fascinated me for as long as I can remember, and this is why.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Lenox with Pearl

I met Pearl at Lenox today, and I took some pictures while she was looking in the jewelry stores.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Drive South on 441

Today, the next to the last day of my 2017 Spring Break, I went on a little drive. I wanted to revisit the drive I used to do regularly from 2004 to 2006 when Anna and I lived in Madison and I went to graduate school in Milledgeville; I wanted to see how much had changed in the last decade, and if it was as pleasant a drive as I remembered.

It wasn't.

It wasn't bad, really, but I love the drive north on 441 so much more--up into the mountains, into North Carolina and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Tennessee--that the drive south through Madison and Eatonton into Milledgeville just seemed like a commute rather than a drive.

I did stop at two different Wal Marts, which says something about what a mundane traveler I can be, but I also stopped at Rock Eagle, and managed to have lunch at a good local barbecue place in Milledgeville. I also went into the new GCSU bookstore in Milledgeville, which has as much floor space devoted to college T-shirts as to books (except for the textbook area downstairs), and debated trying to remember where the English department is but decided not to bother.

The pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus is said to have proclaimed that "no man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man." Some old rivers, like Twain's Mississippi, are worth returning to because both they and we have grown in new and interesting ways. Some old rivers, however, like my former commute down 441, are perhaps best left in the fondly-remembered past.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Sell's Mill

Today was the first day of my "Spring Break" (even though technically it's still winter), and, even though it was cold and overcast and generally Not Very Nice outside (with thanks to A. A. Milne for the capital letters), I wanted to go somewhere, so I drove almost thirty miles north (with a stop at the Target in Winder/Bethlehem) to Sell's Mill Park in Hoschton.

It's a pretty interesting place, but, not having a meal with me to eat at the picnic tables or kids with me to play on the playground or my wife with me to talk with about what an interesting place it was, there wasn't much for me to do but walk around for fifteen minutes, take some pictures, then go home. (I did, however, stop at the Winder library on the way home to finish up some contract editing.)