Monday, December 30, 2013

Fort Jefferson

A few weekends ago, Kevin and I took a trip down to Key West.  It was my first time driving through the keys and visiting the "southernmost point in the continental USA".  It's charming and picturesque.  And loaded with chickens.  But as lovely as Key West is, my ulterior motive for going there was to visit Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas.

Any Lincoln Assassination buff worth his salt will know that Fort Jefferson was the prison where 4 of the Conspirators were sent to initially serve life sentences due to their flimsy participation in both the assassination and/or the failed kidnapping plot that never actually occurred.  One of the conspirators actually died on the island of yellow fever.  Perhaps the most famous prisoner was convicted conspirator Dr. Samuel Mudd.

Visiting Fort Jefferson would culminate my passion for visiting every site and location that had anything to do with the assassination.  I've lost count of the number of times I've been to Ford's Theater and the Peterson House.  I've visited the Surratt Tavern and Dr. Mudd's House, and I've traveled the escape route several times.  I've even visited Tudor Hall, the boyhood home of John Wilkes Booth.  But the one place I never ever thought I would get to see was Fort Jefferson.

Set on a small island about 70 miles off the coast of Key West, the Fort must be accessed by either boat or plane.  For me, being there was something unimaginable.  To be in the same spaces and see the same views and feel the same walls - it's why history is so exciting for me.  And the assassination story and the people involved will never stop fascinating me.  It's a feeling like I described when I visited John Wilkes Booth cemetery plot this past summer:  that when I stood on his gravesite, despite him dying 101 years before I was born, I was now just 6 feet away from him.  That's what gives me goosebumps about history.

I could give you lots of details about Fort Jefferson and our visit, but I will direct you to my friend Dave's website, BoothieBarn.  I took some photos that he posted so that everyone with the same interest could enjoy.  However, I will post here the video that Kevin created for me.  This really means something to me.  It's haunting and lonely and desperate, which is how I imagine the Conspirators - or any prisoner sent to this desolate place - would feel.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Where is Christmas?

It’s one week 'til Christmas, and in Miami-town
The palm trees are swaying, there’s no snow around.
There are beaches and cruise ships, not snowflakes and slush.
Instead there are swimsuits with buttocks a-plush.
No English is spoken; it’s all Spanish here,
Or Portuguese or Haitian are heard by the ear.

At midnight, children are out on Lincoln Road
Not home in their beds in their parents’ abode.
With mama and her boob job and dad in his shades
Pretending they make as much bank as Dwyane Wade.
There are people in sweaters, but it's 80 degrees,
“Just ‘cause it’s December, you’re not going to freeze!”

A tea in Starbuck’s red cup just ain’t the same.
There’s no need for cocoa, it’d set me aflame!
Home on the balcony I step out to see lights
But sadly, there’s little to see in the night.
There’s nothing to wondering eyes that appear
No trees or candles or menorahs down here.

 Not much Christmas spirit is spied from above,
No running around in hat, coat, and glove.
No greetings from strangers you pass on the street,
No holiday wishes from people you meet,
Not even "Feliz Navidad" from a dude.
It’s Miami after all - everyone here's so rude.

It’s all so depressing, and just not the norm.
I miss hustle and bustle - the whole Christmas storm.
It just isn’t “home” as I feel “home” should be,
It just isn’t Christmas, here in ol’ Miami.
And just when I think I can’t take anymore
I hear the sweet sound of someone at the door.

I listen to hear a brass key in the lock -
My "Bun" coming home from work at six o’clock!
He greets me with kisses (there’s never enough)
And I realize I don’t need all that other stuff.
'Cause Christmas is more than just lights on a tree,
It’s there with whomever you make family.

And I suddenly feel all warmed-up inside
Because he is my "home" - he’s where Christmas resides.
He’s my lights, my carols, my garland, my tree
All wrapped up so sweetly, and all just for me.
So whether it's hot or cold outside the door,
It’s always a “home Christmas”, with the man I adore. 

Merry Christmas, Everyone!!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Happy Birthday, Granny!

Had she lived, my maternal grandmother would be 104 years old tomorrow, December 14th.  She died in 1987 at the age of 77, and I've spent the last 36 years hoping that I've made her proud.  My mind is full of what-ifs.

When I was a boy, I spent just about every weekend with her at her house, usually just the two of us.  I'd watch TV and she would sit in her big recliner and read or crochet.  I still have the hat she made for me when I was 10.  It was during the country's 1976 bicentennial, so she made it red, white and blue.  On really cold days in Chicago, I'd still wear it.  Nothing kept me as warm.

I carry her spirit with me every day.  She was my hero and my champion.  And especially every December 14th, I miss the woman I loved so much.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Melted Plastic Popcorn

The melted plastic popcorn decorations were popular in the late 1960's through the 1970's and are enjoying a kitschy-cool comeback as vintage collectibles on Ebay and Etsy. Original pieces were made by The Kage Company, Inc., a plastic fabricating company in Hartford, CT.  The Kage Company went out of business in the mid 1970s and finding information on them is very difficult. Fortunately, it is still very easy to find your favorite pieces online from individual sellers.

They're called melted popcorn plastic decorations because they look like melted plastic shaped like popcorn. Older decorations, circa 1960, have edges that are not as flat and smooth as a newer melted plastic popcorn decoration.

Melted plastic popcorn decorations can been found in many shapes for the holidays. There are melted plastic popcorn decorations for all the holidays: Christmas, Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Valentines and even melted popcorn decorations just for the fun of it. Snoopy, Tweety, The Road Runner, Pink Panther and Betty Boop have been immortalized in vintage melted popcorn plastic. A complete list of ALL the melted plastic popcorn items seems to be unattainable.  The prices range depending on the rarity of the plastic holiday decoration. They are designed to hang flat on a wall or door and the sturdy plastic stands up to tough weather conditions.

I grew up in a melted plastic popcorn home.  Every Christmas season, these decorations hung in our windows, including Santa Claus (both in a sleigh and standing with a tree, as seen above), Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer, a few snowmen in different poses, and Christmas trees.  It would not have seemed like Christmas without these cheerful decorations (also the window clings that went in the bathroom window every year.  My mom doesn't do anything in the house without knowing how it will affect Christmas decorating).

Mom also had pilgrims and a turkey in our front windows every Thanksgiving.  I loved them so much, that my mom gave them to me when I moved to Chicago, ostensibly so I could feel closer to home.  It meant all the more to me knowing how much she treasured them.

Since then, I've obtained several ghosts, witches and black cats for Halloween, a few red hearts for Valentine's day, and even a flag that I can use for Memorial, Independence, and Veteran's Days.  While not quite an obsession, I do love these things.  I'll probably collect more along the way.  You can never have too much popcorn.

Friday, December 06, 2013

William Amos Troutman

The search to fill in the branches of my family tree began in 2002 with the discovery of this photo:

This was all I had to go on; there is no date on the photo, but there is an engraving in the matte that states the photo was taken by E.E. Conrad, the leading photographer of his day in Meyersdale, PA.  Upon discovering the photo, my mind boggled.  Who was this dashing man with the very familiar eyes?  Where did he live?  What did he do?  What was his story?  In an almost obsessive state, I set out to try to find the answers to these questions.

My father's genealogical history was murky. I've discussed it before on here.  Most of the older generations passed away while my dad was still young.  He mostly only knew nicknames of people, not their legal names.  And their relationships to each other were incestuous at best.  By that, I mean that there were two families that intermarried several times down the line, where the siblings of one family married siblings in another family.  This was not an altogether unusual practice in the 19th and early 20th centuries, especially in small, rural/farming communities.  The pickings might be unfortunately slim; your nearest neighbor might live a mile away; your schoolhouse might have 10 kids ranging in ages 6 to 14, five of whom are your own siblings.

But after more than a dozen years researching both my parents' respective family trees, pouring over census records, visiting cemeteries, connecting with genealogists, researching ancestry websites, and submitting for copies of birth/death/marriage certificates, I have successfully researched the trees back 14 generations.  The farthest person I have found is Collin McKenzie, born in Cromarty, Scotland in 1630.  Oddly enough, both my father and mother's lines descend from this man and his wife, Isobel.  But that's another blog to be written later.  

Out of the 14 generations, I place William Amos Troutman in the 6th generation (our new two great-nephews are the 1st). The first thing I learned about William was that I couldn't find any information on his parents or siblings.  There is no birth certificate on record for him.  So it took reading several censuses and obtaining a copy of his death certificate to put it all together.

Amos Troutman and Mary Rickard (or Richard or Reichard) had a tryst in 1876, with William being the illegitimate outcome.  I know Amos and Mary didn't get married because Amos is listed on the 1880 Census as being single and living at home in Southampton, PA. The 1880 Census also states Mary, still listed with her maiden name, as living with her parents, Jacob and Mahala Rickard, in Larimer Township, PA.  Also in the Rickard household was a 4 year-old William. It would seem that William was born out of wedlock in 1876 when Mary was 18 and Amos was 20. 

What is also interesting is that they (or she) named the baby William Amos Troutman.  The name "William" is prevalent in Amos' family line:  his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were all named William.  Therefore, baby William Amos was named after his father and grandfathers.  I find this odd since the couple didn't marry.  The romantic in me wants to think that Amos and Mary wanted to or perhaps planned to marry but were forbade.  Although the realist in me believes Amos didn't want to marry Mary and she named the baby after his father and grandfathers out of spite. 

(It's important to note here that also living in the Jacob Richard household was a 1 year-old boy named Harvey Deal, who like William, is listed as Jacob's grandson in the 1880 Census.  It would appear that Harvey was the son of Mary and some other young man, perhaps with the same name as the boy.  We can deduce that Mary got around.)

At this point, Mary disappears from the history books.  Amos goes on to marry Isabel "Belle" Bluebaugh in 1882.  They had 9 children together.  I have no information as to whether William and Amos ever stayed in touch or if William even knew his half-siblings.  They all remained living in Somerset County in PA, however.

I am guessing the photo of William above was taken around 1900 when William was 24.  I can't think of a reason why he had the photo taken as he was not a professional.  As there was no national census between 1880 and 1910, I can only assume he was a laborer all his life.  He could neither read nor write, except for signing his name.

Some more information on William:
  • 1908 - Married Cecelia Agnes Winebrenner on January 28th.  She was from Mt. Savage, MD.  I'm curious what brought William to MD to find a bride, not to mention one so young.  On their wedding day, William was 31 and Cecelia was 16.  They shared their wedding date with her father, John E. Winebrenner, and his second wife, Julia.  A photo of the big event is below, with William and Cecelia on the left.  Everyone looks so happy, don't they?

  • 1910 - William and Cecelia were living in Mt. Savage, MD, along with her brother James Winebrenner, listed as a boarder in the household.  At this point, William was a laborer with the County Roads Department.
  • 1918 - William, at the age of 42, was issued his WWI draft card.  He was not activated  to service. 
  • 1920 - William and Cecelia were living in Frostburg, MD, along with 3 of their children, Mary, John (my grandfather), and Frances.  At this point, William was working as a coal miner.
  • 1930 - William and Cecelia were living in Larimer Township (William's hometown) in a house he bought for $250.  John and Frances were still living at home.  William was working as a trackman with the railroad.

William Amos died on August 26, 1937, at the age of 61 - two years before my father, his first grandchild, was born.  According to his death certificate, William died as a result of carcinomatosis (cancer in his stomach, liver, and lungs).  Cecelia was 45 years-old when William died and would remarry.  Contrary to what is written in William's obituary, he was not a lifelong resident of Somerset County.

Per the obit, William is buried in White Oak Church cemetery in Larimer, PA, sharing a tombstone with two of his children, Anna Marie and Alverta - both of whom were complete surprises to Dad, Mom, and my sister when we visited the cemetery for the first time in 2005

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Planet of the Apes

As a kid, "Planet of the Apes" was my introduction to fanaticism (a few years before Lincoln, even).  I don't remember when I first saw the films, as I was only 2 when the original movie aired in 1968, with the 4 sequels to follow annually beginning in 1970.  But somewhere in my youth, before the TV series began in 1974, POTA appeared before my eyes.  And I was a changed boy because of it.

Let me first admit here that I am not really into science fiction; I'm a history buff.  I like knowing that the people who interest me really did walk the earth, that events really happened, and that places really existed.  I like "Star Wars" as much as the next guy, but my dorkdom is firmly rooted in non-fiction.  So looking back and knowing what I know about myself, I have to wonder what it was about POTA that flicked a little switch for me.

In any event, I was hooked.  I had the POTA Hallowe'en costume, lunchbox, trading cards, several posters, action figures, treehouse set, records, board game, coloring book, and probably much more stuff that I've forgotten about.  I. Couldn't. Get. Enough.

There were some things about POTA that I knew I did not like, even as a kid of, say, 8 years old: 
  1. I didn't like Charlton Heston at all.  I liked his character, Taylor, okay but I didn't like the actor (I've always been a critic).  To me, he always looked thirsty.  I dunno, it was a just a feeling I had as a kid; a feeling validated when Heston became an outspoken proponent of the NRA.  ("..from my cold dead hands," indeed.)
  2. I initially didn't like "Beneath the Planet of the Apes", the franchise's second movie.  As a kid, I guess I didn't really understand it, what with mutated humans, the bomb and all.  But as an adult, I've come to understand it.
  3. It took me several years to realize that the chimp babies were switched in "Escape from the Planet of the Apes".  Like, maybe, 30 years.  It wasn't shown; the viewer had to draw a conclusion.  (I never said I was quick.)
  4. Most recently, I have not been a fan of the new POTA movies.  I was very eager to see the Tim Burton remake in 2001, but was left disappointed.  As a result, I've not seen the other two which followed.
When the POTA series aired for one season in 1974, I watched it every Friday night from my favorite place on earth, my grandmother's house.  This was a big deal because the show was on CBS and she almost never turned the channel from NBC.  It helps to be the favorite.

And today, my devotion remains intact if not more sedate.  I now own the box set of the original 5 movies, and Kevin created a piece of art using Cornelius (a main protagonist) as the centerpiece.  And while POTA has not been as consuming as Mr. Lincoln, it has gone where no other SciFi has gone before in my life.  So much so, that even today, I can remember Cornelius's recitation of the 23rd Scroll at the end of the original film:

"Beware the beast man, for he is the devil's pawn. Alone among God's primates, he kills for sport, or lust or greed. Yes, he will murder his brother to possess his brother's land. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours. Shun him. Drive him back into his jungle lair: For he is the harbinger of death."

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Time I Was In An Off-Broadway Play

My senior year in college, I got a call from the head of my university's theater department, Mr. Herman, who asked me if I would be interested in performing in a visiting play called "Johnny Got His Gun", based on the book by Dalton Trumbo.  The cast was largely made up of alumni visiting from NYC; the person playing my character could not make the trip.  The play would run for 3 performances.

I was a bit astounded by the request.  I was an English major in college.  And while all of my friends were in the theater program (I dated a music theater major) and I had been cast in a few productions, I was somewhat shocked that Mr. Herman was bypassing ALL of his theater students to pluck me for the role.  I could only figure that all the other students who could play this part were actually busy in other productions and either didn't have the time or couldn't be spared.  Nevertheless, I said yes.  These were the days when I was young and brave and would try just about anything.  Ah, youth.

When the time came, I met the cast and had just three days to learn my part.  The entire cast had to relearn the staging since we were performing the production in the studio theater, a black-box theater much smaller than where the play was performed in NYC.  My part was simple enough (about 20 lines throughout the course of the play) but was physically challenging.  Set during World War I, the play was narrated by a soldier horribly disfigured during battle.  My character was a dual role, "Sergeant/Jesus".  I opened the play by carrying a practically dead soldier (both of us in full, authentic WW1 war gear) up a flight of 10 or 11 steps, pause for dramatic effect while bombs exploded behind me (silhouetted for dramatic effect), then traverse around several obstacles on varying levels of risers to the other side of the stage where I then lay the body down on an wooden "army cot".

My costume.
Carrying the man (who was about 5'10", 170) in my arms across stage was one thing; carrying him as dead weight while he was in full fatigues and covered in a heavy wool blanket (and I was in full uniform and wearing a heavy wool coat) was quite another.  During the 6th rehearsal of the opening scene, my legs turned to jello.  As I moved to lay the soldier in the cot, I lost my balance and basically just dropped him onto it, practically falling on him in the process.  The director loved the look of that so much, he told me to keep it in for the performances.  (Whaddya know, I'm a 'method actor'.)

I don't remember any of my lines except for one:  every time a bell rang I was to place my hand on a specific soldier and firmly but compassionately say, "It's time." (that was the Jesus side of my character).  Just two words, but they were the hardest to say.  I couldn't get the emotion correct.  The director tried several line readings with me and I just could not emote what needed to be conveyed.  I either underplayed it or over-emoted.  At one point following me saying "it's time", he looked at me and drolly said, "That was more William Shatner than Jesus."  Oof.

I said the line differently in all 3 performances.  Sorry, but this is what you get when you go outside the theater department for actors.  I was not an actor.  I sucked and I knew it.  And all of my theater friends who came to see 1 of the 3 performances knew it too.  I wanted to be SO GOOD, but/and I knew I wasn't.  However, my mom and my sister, who came to see the final performance and thought I was amazing (that's what moms and sisters do, right?).  But I carried the hell out of that soldier across stage.

A few months later, I auditioned for Mr. Herman for the upcoming summer stock shows.  And although he cast me the year before, he didn't this time.  Can't say I blame him.  Still, it was an overall great experience.  And if i were to undertake such a task today, I'm sure I could do a better job.  But being in that scenario, surrounded by the most talented people I knew and being judged by their criteria, I choked.  My friends were kind and sweet, but we all knew.

This essentially ended my theater career.  And I thank God for it. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

My First Job: McDonald's

It's not that I am embarrassed about my first job; it's that I was actually so bad at it that I came within days of actually getting fired.

It was a job that I think most people would believe to be fairly straightforward and simple: working at McDonald's.  Sitting adjacent to my high school, McDonald's was a popular place, especially following high school events like football games and concerts.

I'd just turned 18 and got the job of working the grill in my hometown restaurant.  I'm not sure how restaurants are run today, but in those days (the mid 80s), you either worked the registers or the grill.  Working on the grill meant that those working the registers would bark orders back to you about what to make, how much to make, and how many items required cheese.  There were beepers going off all the time and there was always something that needed to be pulled out of a grease vat someplace.  You were constantly stocking supplies, washing dishes, and mopping up the slippery floor so you didn't lose your footing and fall into grime.  It was usually you and just one other person for a 4-, 5-, 6-, or longer-hour shift.  Job training was trial-by-fire, and let's just say I was burning up.

I was neither sure what I was doing wrong, nor how to correct it.  There was a definite rhythm needed to flow through all the procedures, but I just didn't have it.  Nor, apparently, could I obtain it.  And it seemed that after 4 months of this, my days were numbered.

One of the assistant managers, Chris, suggested moving me to the registers as a last-ditch effort.  The general manager, Bob, originally said no - he was ready to fire me.  Chris asked for two weeks "just to see"; that it would take that long to train a new person anyway.  Bob reluctantly agreed and I was moved out front.  The change in my performance was immediate.

Within days, I was controlling product, directing other crew members, assigning tasks, and taking orders.  I had no idea of it at the time, but it was this transition that taught me that my career would be based on managing and developing people.  What was originally done as a last-ditch effort ended up defining my eventual occupation.  This job taught me to quickly recognize strengths, assess abilities, delegate responsibilities, and listen to needs.

You wouldn't necessarily think that serving burgers at McDonald's could teach these skills.  But it's all about getting out what you put in.  Training and development is always there; sometimes you have to look for it or even create it yourself.

One month after this change, I was given my first achievement award in my career: Crew Member of the Month for September 1984.  I still have the plaque to remind me to never give up.  My mantra has always been, "They'll just have to fire me if I am not doing well; I refuse to quit."   I was lucky that Chris recognized my potential.  And that's what I continue to try to do in my management career.

Monday, November 04, 2013

When October Goes

"And when October goes
The snow begins to fly
Above the smokey roofs
I watch the planes go by,
The children running home
Beneath a twilight sky.
Oh, for the fun of them
When I was one of them.

"And when October goes
The same old dream appears
And you are in my arms
To share the happy years.
I turn my head away
To hide the helpless tears.
Oh, how I hate to see October go.

"And when October goes
The same old dream appears
And you are in my arms
To share the happy years.
I turn my head away
To hide the helpless tears.
Oh, how I hate to see October go.

"I should be over it now I know.
It doesn't matter much
How old I grow.
I hate to see October go."

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


It came to me in a dream.  Quite literally.

The other morning I woke up and told Kevin that I think I have created a new word.  After rolling his eyes, he looked at me and drolly asked, "what's the word?"  And I blurted it out like the way a 50 year old woman yells out her first wedding vows.  The word is oplusion.


I jumped out of bed to write down the word and its definition: "the measurable depth of any surface in which a hole has been made."  Here is a visual:

The thing is, I don't know if a word already exists for this.  It's not another word for the hole, but the sides of the hole that measure the thickness or depth of the hole.  I'm not an architect, designer or contractor so its possible this has a name already.  So I went to a good source, Kevin's dad, to find out if there was a word already.  Kevin's father is a retired VP of a cabinet company.  He said there is no such thing.

But since not, then have I just created something?

Friday, October 25, 2013

Bob Evans' Weirdness

Several years ago while visiting my parents, the three of us grabbed an easy dinner at their local Bob Evans' restaurant.  About halfway through our meal, the folks at the table next to us finished and left.  They consisted of a couple appearing to be in their early 70s (he with a cane and she in a wheelchair) and their daughter who appeared to be in her early to mid 50s.

So Dad, Mom and I finished up about 20 minutes later and as we exited the restaurant, we were somewhat surprised by what we saw.  A van was pulled up close to the entrance with its side door open.  The old man with the cane was sitting on a bench near the restaurant door, the old woman was by the van laying on the ground on her back, and the daughter (now sweating and looking exhausted) was leaning against the passenger seat in the van.  No one said anything to us as we approached the scene, but my dad had to stop to see if everything was okay.

Through her huffing and puffing, the daughter admitted that she just couldn't get her mother into the van.  Apparently after several attempts, the daughter had given up trying to get her mother from the wheelchair into the back of the van.  Neither of them were in the best of shape to start with.  And the old man seemed fairly frail so I doubt he was any help.  So Dad asked if we (he and I) could help in any way.  The daughter basically threw her hands up in the air and said, "Well if you can get her in the van that'd be helpful".

After rolling my eyes at my dad (the way I always did when he happily volunteered me to get involved in a situation I wanted to avoid completely), I drolly looked at him and said (while heaving a labored sigh), "Okay how do you want to handle this?"  While Dad and I took a second to discuss what to do (and my mom took the time to remind my dad that he was too old to do what he was about to attempt), the daughter lets out this gem: "You can just grab her by the harness and pull her up into the van".

Grab. Her. By. The. Harness.

Dad and I shot each other a look.  I looked over at my mom and she gave me her best WTF expression.  As much as I wanted to know why there was a harness on this old woman, I chose not to ask.  I just wanted to do what I had been volunteered to do and get out of there.  And let me tell you, there was no way in hell I was going to grab an old woman by a harness and lift her anyplace!

After Dad and I visually agreed we would not follow that procedure, we decided that Dad would help me lift her off the ground, then shift all of her weight into my arms and I would put her in the seat while Dad helped guide me in.  And that's what we did.   When we picked up the woman, I could feet the harness apparatus.  It felt more like a life preserver.  I guess it was something the daughter made the mother wear so she could more easily maneuver her around when necessary.

So after the woman was safely in her seat, we got a simple thank you from the daughter (neither the old man or woman said anything through the entire ordeal) and assumed she could take it from there.  When Mom, Dad and I got back to our own car, we started talking about the situation and asking each other the questions that we would never be able to answer:  "What the hell had just happened?", "How long was the woman laying there?", "Would the daughter have asked us for help if we hadn't volunteered?"  The list went on and on, each question adding more incredulity to the situation.

But I also left that situation with a clear answer to an unasked question:  my parents are genuinely nice people who want to help when they see someone in need.  While I would have been completely content just walking by and not getting involved, Mom and Dad saw that something wasn't right and offered to help in any way.  This is but one of the millions of reasons that my parents are my heroes.  They have always given what they could to help whomever they could.  And in this situation, they knew exactly when to leave just in case someone might have been embarrassed by the situation, including one of us.  I was proud of them and even felt better about myself for helping out.

But I still made them buy me a Peanut Buster Parfait at the Dairy Queen on the ride home.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Ebony, Ivory & Jade

Way before McCartney and Jackson's "Ebony and Ivory", there was "Ebony, Ivory & Jade", a 1979 movie starring Bert Convy as Mick Jade, a former tennis bum-turned-Las Vegas song-and-dance man, who doubles as a private eye with two female dancers, Ebony and Ivory (Debbie Allen and Martha Smith) in which the trio go undercover to protect a lady scientist from international hit-men as she heads for Washington D.C. from the Middle East with her super-secret formulas.  Check out the intro and first few minutes.  The music is classic 70's super funk.  Hoping to build on the Charlie's Angels phenomenon, the movie didn't quite live up to expectations so no series was created.

But the really BIG shame is that this cheesy Spelling/Goldberg T&A wannabe is a knockoff of a pretty damn funky blaxploitation film of the same name that premiered 3 years earlier in 1976.  Only this time, the namesakes are three kidnapped lady athletes.  Ebony and Ivory are African American and Caucasian women, and Jade is Asian - kinda make more sense.  As the poster says, they are "3 Foxy Mama's" who "can lick any man ever made!"  'Nuff said there.

Here's a sampling of what we all missed. Seems like the black chick is the one who is doing all the work.  And you just know she throw some major shade as a result.

Monday, October 21, 2013

John Ritter

I sometimes forget that he's dead. And when I remember, it's always a bit of a shock.  John Ritter died 10 years ago on September 11, 2003 of an aortic dissection

Ritter was one of the few male role models on TV during my formative years in the 70's who was both masculine and sensitive.  His character, Jack Tripper, on Three's Company was the guy women wanted to date and men wanted to be buddies with.  Jack was my introduction to the word "gay". 

Ritter's characters were almost always tender, sympathetic and comforting.  This is especially true of the character he played in his final film, Sling Blade.  I like to think that those were Ritter's characteristics as well.  He seemed like one of the nice ones, one of the good guys.

He was 55.  

trotted out all the stereotypes, it was a remarkable character for its time to me for reasons that might not be readily apparent. It’s because through much of my early life growing up in a predominantly homophobic state, surrounded predominantly by homophobic people, my strongest association with the term “gay” was Jack Tripper.
trotted out all the stereotypes, it was a remarkable character for its time to me for reasons that might not be readily apparent. It’s because through much of my early life growing up in a predominantly homophobic state, surrounded predominantly by homophobic people, my strongest association with the term “gay” was Jack Tripper.
trotted out all the stereotypes, it was a remarkable character for its time to me for reasons that might not be readily apparent. It’s because through much of my early life growing up in a predominantly homophobic state, surrounded predominantly by homophobic people, my strongest association with the term “gay” was Jack Tripper.

Friday, October 18, 2013


I only recall having two lunchboxes during my elementary school years.  I think perhaps there was a third around 6th grade but I can't remember it.  Hey Mom, I am relying on you to refresh my memory.

My first lunchbox back in 1972 was the metal Snoopy lunchbox that was shaped like Snoopy's doghouse.  I carried this lunchbox on Bus 43 during 1st through 3rd Grades at Eckhart Elementary School.

At Eckhart School, the cafeteria functioned as not only our lunchroom, but also as the school's gymnasium and auditorium.  We ate breakfast and lunch there, had phys. ed. classes in bad weather, watched plays and concerts, attended assemblies, and would gather the few days before Christmas every year to spend the day watching Christmas cartoons.  It was indeed a simpler time.

The teacher's lounge (that secret sanctum of mystery known to all students) was a room just off of the cafeteria, to the left of the stage.  For some weird reason, it was an honor to take a teacher's empty lunch tray to the dishwasher.  The seat closest to the door was the most coveted in the entire cafeteria.  When the lounge door would open, every kid would raise their hand, begging to be chosen.  And when you were chosen - to take an empty tray to a dishwasher - it was the equivalent to being elected class president.  I once got to do it twice in one week.  It was like winning the lottery.

In 4th Grade, I switched over to something more befitting my now-more mature personality - the Planet of the Apes lunchbox.  This container wasn't based on any of the 5 films, but rather on the short-lived television series during the 1974 season. God, I loved that entire genre.  I had Planet of the Apes Halloween costumes, dolls, tree house, village, action figures, movie soundtracks on vinyl, coloring books - you name it.  Today, my collection includes the 5-movie box set of the original series and a wonderful piece of wall art Kevin created for our apartment a few years ago

It's possible I carried the POTA lunchbox through 6th Grade, but then stopped.  When it was time to move on to junior high school, lunches were now packed in brown paper bags.  How droll!  How was one to project his unique personality by using a brown paper bag?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Sinus Rinse

For the past 5 years or so, I have been suffering from (among other things) recurrent acute rhinosinusitis.  I get between 4 and 5 sinus infections per year, each one its own separate episode.  Usually, I've seemed to get them from airplane travel.  Not sure if its the reconstituted air or the close proximity to so many germs or perhaps both.  But just about a week or so after every flight, BLAMMO!:  my sinuses will drip down my throat, my nose will clog, my head will hurt, and my face will swell.  That's right, my face swells.  I always feel so pretty.

A co-worker and I would commiserate over the agonies of sinus infections.  She knew all too well the pain I would suffer.  Before I moved to Miami, she gave me NeilMed Sinus Rinse system.  She, herself, would use a neti pot for nasal irrigation, but she's old-school to this practice and thought I should try a simpler device. 

So about 4 months after moving to Miami, the time came for me to actually give this sinus rinse a try.  I woke up with what felt like a sinus infection but later in the day turned out to be just a really, REALLY, bad cold.  It's been years since I've had one this bad.  So along with some Emergen-C, I decided to use the sinus rinse.  There is actually a video on youtube that demonstrates how it all works.

I will say that for someone who has spent his entire life preventing liquid from going up his nose, it went against all acts of nature for me to actually stream this stuff up into my nasal passages.  I always figured that water or anything else would end up shooting up into my brain somehow or - worse - dripping down the back of my throat and/or out my mouth.  But amazingly (and the video helped demonstrate this), that is not how it all works.

And after just three days of sinus rinse, Emergen-C, and drinking a few glasses of OJ, the REALLY bad cold was completely gone.  

Friday, October 11, 2013

Reese's Cups

There seems to be a debate happening in the country that has nothing to do with healthcare, debt ceilings, or partisan politics.  No.  The debate is how to correctly/properly/phonetically pronounce the name of one of America's best candies:  Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.

The problem seems to center around the first word:  Reese's. In 1928, H.B. Reese created the peanut butter cup and named the creation after himself.  So the name of the candy is actually a possessive word; owned by one person.

Now, if you call the candy by its actual name, then I think it's very easy to get the pronunciation correct.   However, in my family (and I am sure in many other families), the candy's name has been shortened to just Reese's Cups.  And herein lies the problem:
  • Some people correctly pronounce Reese's as it's spelled, Ree-SEZ Cups.

  • For other people, the name has more of a rhyme to it by being pronounced as Reesee's Cups.
  • And for yet other people (my parents' included), the possessive "s" seems to have been dropped altogether, making the name Reesee Cups.
It's a real potayto/potahto kinda thing.  I've found these pronunciations to be more  colloquialisms than anything else.  There doesn't seem to be this kind of disparagement with Reese's Pieces, I guess because of the rhyme scheme.

Regardless, I cannot (and probably never will be able to) look at them and not think of my dad, who would eat them until he was sick if my mom wasn't there to stop him.  I'm not sure if they are his favorite candy but, for me, they are forever tied to my dad.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Childe Harold

I wanted to reflect for a moment on a restaurant in DC that closed back in 2007, the Childe Harold.  The 4-story, brick restaurant and saloon was located just north of Dupont Circle on 20th Street, NW - a stone's throw from the bustling gay shopping/nightlife on Connecticut Avenue.  Off of the regular walking track, it was a place of destination for those who knew its history.  At its creation in 1967, the Childe Harold was christened for a Lord Byron poem celebrating a young man's world travels.

Having no clue about the place, I accidentally made this location the first place I took myself out to dinner when I moved to DC in September 1995.  Alone and a bit homesick, I wanted to do something that, at that point, could only be done in a metropolitan city:  I ate dinner outside on the covered patio while reading a book.  The food, spaghetti and meatballs, satisfied my hunger; the glass of red wine was a tip-o'-the-hat to my melancholic college days; and the book, "Chicken Soup for the Soul", was to ease my homesickness.

It's interesting that I unwittingly chose this place; a place named for a poem that describes the travels and reflections of a young man who leaves behind a known life for discoveries elsewhere. Both the fictional Harold and I were young men who had lived lives of pleasure and revelry, now looking for distractions in foreign lands.  How interesting it is when art imitates our lives, and/or vice versa.

Sometimes without us ever really knowing about it.

Monday, October 07, 2013

The World's Smallest Car

Think back to when you first saw a Smart Car and remember how impossibly tiny you thought it was.  Think again and prepare to giggle.  Meet the Canta.  And for a special treat, behold an adorable 20 year-old Kevin standing next to one in 1998:


The Canta is manufactured in the Netherlands by a small company called Waaijenberg.  Most golf carts dwarf these things, and it’s interesting to see what the minimum space requirement is for two people to be seated in a vehicle scooting around in normal traffic. There also appears to be some space behind both seats, which could come in handy if you bought a magazine or newspaper during your travels.

Here are some things I discovered about the marvelously miniscule Canta:
  • No driver’s license required!
  • You can legally drive them in bike paths and (the company says) through shopping centers
  • They all feature a Honda engine of either 160 cc or 200 cc
  • There are 4 different models, and almost all are manufactured to custom specifications according to the owners’ desires
  • The most expensive of the 4 models, the Inrij-Canta, is specifically built to be driven by someone still in their wheelchair. The chair wheels into the rear door and then right behind the steering wheel.
  • The Dutch version can reach speeds up to 30 mph, while a German electric model only goes half that speed, and a UK version goes up to about 44 mph. 
  • The basic version of the Canta sells for under $16,000.  The Inrij-Canta version will run you a little over $24,000. 
The fact that you don’t need a driver’s license to drive one of these things is more than a little shocking to me. The company doesn’t mention anything about a minimum age requirement to drive one, but I suppose the strangely high price tag takes care of that. Anyone old enough to scrape up $16K or more certainly would have better things to spend it on than buying a tiny car.
At least I hope so. 

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Four Generations

For what could be the first time in my record-keeping of my father's family tree, there are 4 generations of Troutman males alive at the same time.  The recent birth of Noah, our nephew's son, has created what I think to be a first (at least first in many generations) of this milestone.  While 4 living generations is not a big deal for most families, it is a VERY big deal for my father's bloodline, the median age of which averages at about 28 years old.

My dad turned 74 on his birthday this past June, passing the ages of his parents and all sets of his grand- and great-grandparents.  He's outlived every expectation.  These latter years, however, have not been so golden; my dad developed Alzheimer's over three years ago and it's been a steady downhill slide ever since.  Mom is Dad's caretaker now and sees to his every need.  Dad is mobile and can still do most things for himself, but he is feeble beyond his years.  It is sad that my folks have been robbed of what was to be a very special time in their lives.

Still, I think even Dad understands what it all means for him to see a Troutman male great-grandchild.  I traveled home this week to meet Noah and to make sure this moment in time was captured appropriately:

Friday, September 27, 2013

September 27th

To understand what this blog entry is all about, click here.

2012 - We hold the "Wishy Awards" ceremony at work; an award show I created that promotes a strong culture and celebrates individual contributions to the success of the mission.

2011 - Get a cortisone shot in my right shoulder from my orthopedist; visit dermatologist to have wart removed from foot.

2009 - Run my first 5K; have lunch with Jenni at Gio's; make homemade vegetable soup.

2008 - Pick up bike following tuneup at Uptown Bikes on Broadway.

2006 - Tour Mt. Vernon and Fort Washington during visit to DC.

2005 - Paint bedroom in new apartment in Chicago, where I just moved 2 days before.

2004 - Drive Ex#5 to work; have pizza for dinner then go with him to Tom-Tom in Adams Morgan.

2002 - World Bank protests in DC; visit the Museums of Natural and American Histories.

2001 - Have dinner with Ashley at (ironically) Hamburger Mary's in DC.

1999 - Nurse hangover from drinking all night at JR's the night before, following the AIDS Walk that afternoon.

1998 - Fly back to DC from Cancun, following a 4-day vacation with Ex#3.

1997 - Shopping, see "Face Off", and dinner at Dupont Italian Kitchen with Ex#3

1995 - Work at The Gap, 12:30-9:30.

1993 - Drive back to ShenU from home and my aunt and uncle's 25th anniversary party.

1992 - Dinner at Bonanza with Ex#2, Leigh and Scott.  Watch "Victor/Victoria" for movie night on campus.

1991 - Drive from DC to see Ex#2 at school.  Party at Corey's house.

1989 - Go to Gunter Sport's Bar with friend Jim K.

1988 - Interview at Accessory Lady after work.

1986 - Work 9-5 as desk clerk hotel.

1985 - Work 4-9:45 at Camelot Music in the mall.

1984 - Take English Early Bird Exam in Dunkle Hall, Room 218.  (Pass, 'natch.)

1983 - Beall High School Thespian Society Induction Dinner at Giuseppe's.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

HuffPost Miami. Why?

Every day, I look to Huffington Post as one of my news resources.  Along with CNN, Uptown Update, and Cumberland Times-News, I read HuffPo daily, covering sections like politics, business, media, gay voices, arts & culture, and the local sections for DC, Chicago, and Miami.  For these cities (the three in which I have lived), here are some top headlines from last week:

  • DC Lawmaker: Stop Shackling Pregnant Inmates
  • Why Is It That Guns Are The One Danger We Cannot Seem To Do Anything About
  • Government Shutdown 2013: Here's The Truth About What Will Happen

  • Will CPD Ever Really Regain City's Trust Post-Berge?
  • Shuttered Woodlawn Clinic Revamped To Dispatch Mental Health Workers
  • Rahm Defends $24 Million In CPS School Upgrades Amid Pension Crisis

And now, (sigh) Miami:
  • You've Never Seen A Mai Tai Like This!
  • Angela Simmons Celebrates Her Birthday In A Bikini
  • LeBron Shares Honeymoon Photos

HuffPost - if these are the most hard-hitting headlines and stories you can come up with for Miami, perhaps you should rethink having it listed as a specific section.  Replace it with perhaps another liberal city such as Boston, Philly, Seattle or even Cleveland.  Or if you're looking for a major metropolitan city that is conservative, try Houston, Dallas, or Omaha.

Anyway, my point is that if the best you can do for Miami is stories about athletes weddings and what "celebrities" look like in swimwear, it might be time to focus elsewhere for the news and leave the fluff to Entertainment Tonight.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Greatest Generation

Technologically speaking, I am of the belief that mine is the greatest generation; perhaps the last one.  My generation, Generations X, is able to comfortably adapt and work with the latest technology while still being educated in the basics, such as multiplication and cursive writing.

I say this because my parents' generation, the Baby Boomers, has not been as adaptable to technology like mine has.  Even though my parents have had a computer for at least 10 years, my Dad never got beyond solitaire and my mother still doesn't know how to attach photos to emails or even delete items from the computer.  And its not that my folks are stupid; I hear stories from my friends all the time about how their parents grapple with things like emails, Facebook, and the more advanced Skype.

On the flip, my nieces and nephews (late Generation Y and Millennials) don't know how to multiply numbers or read/write cursive script.  Again, not because of stupidity - even worse:  they've never been taught!  With this texting generation that mostly lets computers and phones figure everything out for them, they apparently no longer need to know how to perform basic math or communicate in any written form except print or text.  Once, I got into an argument with a 20-something cashier who could not understand how my giving her $.02 cents after she entered my $20 in the register would not screw up the change she was supposed to give me on my $14.77 order:
Me:  Here you go.
Cashier:  What's that for?
Me:  So I don't get all that change back.
Cashier:  I can't take that.  It will screw up my register.
Me: No, it won't.  
(I pause here to see if she will understand.  She doesn't.  She looks at me blankly.) 
Me:  I'm giving you this so you can give me a quarter back along with my $5.
Cashier:  No, I have to give you back what this says. (pointing to register showing $5.23)
Me: No, you can give me back $5.25, because this $.02 cents makes up the difference between $5.25 and $5.23.
Cashier:  No, I can't do that.
Me:  You CAN do it and I promise you it won't screw anything up.
Cashier:  It will make my drawer like 2 cents short! (like, duh!)
Me (exasporated):  Oh my god, fine.  Give me the $5.23.
While it's easy to understand my parents' generation wanting to stick to the old ways, it's hard for me to fathom how my nieces and nephews' generation is going to be successful in anything without the need to rely on a computer to tell them what to do.

I seriously wonder how businesses are going to survive.  With people staying in the workforce longer, there are now 4 generations of people in today's workforce - all of whom communicate and work differently.  This is a concern for ANY human resource professional, specifically because the generations on either end (Boomers and Millennials) may not be able to work together amiably.

It's going to get very interesting.