The Boy Hears Himself (Part 1)

A Recordio reel-to-reel recorderDuring an… odd few years in my younger life, my friend Dean and I became absorbed in experiments involving a reel-to-reel tape recorder. The brand name which Dean and I both “owned,” in those days when electronics were still manufactured domestically, was “Recordio.” (And yes, all right: we didn’t own them; our fathers did.)

What “odd few years” would these have been? I am pretty sure we first started doing this at around age 12. And — because of some of the “work” we did, particularly our parodies of popular TV shows — I know we must have continued at least to around age 15 or 16.

These experiments revolved around a fictional radio station, call letters CBX. Most CBX productions were ad-libbed “newscasts,” frequently starring the same two people: anchorman “Don Gurky” (played by Dean) and roving reporter “Quentin Frammistan” (guess who). I don’t have any idea how Dean came up with his character’s name; I know where Quentin Frammistan came from, though. The first name came from Quentin Reynolds (author of a series of Landmark Books — history for kids — whom I frequently cited back then as “my favorite author”); the word “frammistan,” which meant God only knows what, often appeared in the text of MAD Magazine.

In addition, two other friends put in occasional appearances. Alan’s character, Harry Two-Seven, had been so named by Dean for (I’m sure) no particular reason. Like Quentin, Harry was (most often) a field reporter; unlike Quentin, Harry tended to get caught up in situations of an embarrassing nature — something like Biff, on the Letterman show.

The other friend came along some time after we’d first started the “station” — yes, CBX endured for more than a few weeks — when we met him later in high school. His name was Tom, and his character’s name was Colonel Tom. Quite independently of us — he lived in the next town, which until we got to high school might as well have been the next planet — Tom had had his own imaginary radio station for a while. During the waning months of both stations’ life cycles, we swapped personnel every now and then.

In addition to the newscasts, CBX occasionally produced Special Events, such as (again, ad-libbed) parodies of Star Trek and Mission: Impossible. From the start, many of these Special Events featured a, umm, well, I guess you could call it a musical comedy troupe with the remarkably unembarrassed name “The Peenie Players.”

Hey, gimme a break: we had barely hit puberty yet. We certainly hadn’t heard of Dr. Freud. No, we chose the name strictly for its sound: nasal and plosive. And the reason this sound was important in the name was that it was important in the Peenie Players’ body of work, which consisted entirely of speeded-up versions (a la David Seville and The Chipmunks) of familiar songs and works of literature. (The latter ceased to be considered literature after the Peenies were through with them.)

Imagine my surprise and, well, delight (?) when a CD of some Peenie Players recordings came to me — delivered (I think) by my brother, from Dean.

More, including some samples, below.

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Remaking a Blog (a Little)

Obviously, I’ve changed the name of the blog. The former Meat and Poison was all right at one level; I’d come up with it after recalling the title of a collection of essays by E.B. White, One Man’s Meat.

But really? The …and Poison was a bit creepy. Running After My Hat? Much more satisfyingly, umm, ridiculous.

If you haven’t read it already, you might be interested in reading the brief About page here, where I explain the origin of the new name.

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Boomer Memory

Aerial view (GMaps) of former Hickory St. School areaThe New York Times reported the other day on the frenzied efforts among Boomers to sharpen their minds — particularly the parts of their minds involving memory.

When David Bunnell, a magazine publisher who lives in Berkeley, Calif., went to a FedEx store to send a package a few years ago, he suddenly drew a blank as he was filling out the forms.

“I couldn’t remember my address,” said Mr. Bunnell, 60, with a measure of horror in his voice. “I knew where I lived, and I knew how to get there, but I didn’t know what the address was.”

Mr. Bunnell is among tens of millions of baby boomers who are encountering the signs, by turns amusing and disconcerting, that accompany the decline of the brain’s acuity: a good friend’s name suddenly vanishing from memory; a frantic search for eyeglasses only to find them atop the head; milk taken from the refrigerator then put away in a cupboard.

Yeah, feeling like you’re losing brain cells with each passing year isn’t fun, although (as the article mentions later on) it’s not really as bad as most people seem to think it is. But something needs to be noted about the uselessness of boomers’ declining memory: it’s not all our fault.

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Signature Samuel L.

Last night The Missus and I watched 1408 on DVD. If you’re not familiar with the film’s plot — or that of the Stephen King story on which it’s based — and don’t want to follow that link to the corresponding IMDB page, here are the tagline and plot summary from there:

Tagline: The Dolphin Hotel invites you to stay in any of its stunning rooms. Except one.
Plot: A man who specializes in debunking paranormal occurrences checks into the fabled room 1408 in the Dolphin Hotel. Soon after settling in, he confronts genuine terror.

The man in question, one Michael Enslin, played by John Cusack, is determined to stay in the room over the objections of the hotel manager, Gerald Olin — played by Samuel L. Jackson. Olin says although he does a good job as a hotel manager, he has no training as a coroner and is tired of cleaning up the “mess” which inevitably results when people stay in 1408. So he no longer books people into that room.

Enslin doesn’t get it and requests more details. What sort of spook, spirit, ghost, long-legged beastie is supposed to be responsible for all the death and destruction?

“You misunderstand me,” says Olin, “I didn’t say there was a spirit or ghost.” It’s the room itself, he insists. And then, in classic Samuel L. Jackson form, he sums up: “It’s an evil f*cking room.”

I noted the line at the time but didn’t think much more about it until watching a couple of the “special features,” which in this case were mini-documentaries (“webisodes,” for cripe’s sake) on the making of the movie. The scene is excerpted in both of these featurettes…

…but in both, what Jackson says is, “It’s an evil room.” No F-word at all.

It does make one wonder if the scene was re-shot in neutered form for release in the mini-docs. That wasn’t my first thought, though. I actually prefer to think that the re-shooting took place for the scene as it appeared in the final version. I picture a handful of screenwriters sitting around in a bar, congratulating one another on the great job they did with the script. (They didn’t do a great job, but in the post-production afterglow, it’s easy to imagine, they may have.) Suddenly one of them stops in mid-sentence and slaps himself in the forehead.

“What?” they all ask him.

“I just realized,” he says, “we’ve got Samuel L. Jackson in a key role… and he never once says ‘f*ck’! We can’t do that!”

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Department of Mixed Messages

So I’ve got my annual car registration renewal notice here.

In Florida, Virginia, and probably some other states, car registration isn’t handled via a state DMV (although there is such a thing). Rather, it’s handled by the county tax collector. Presumably, this simplifies keeping tabs on everybody — the DMV doesn’t have to “know” you’ve moved, because the tax collector (and God love ’em) will know it.

Anyhow, there’s an option to renew the registration online. The notice provides the Web address to do so, specifying that you can use MasterCard, Visa, ATM, debit, or cash card to make the payment. And there’s a caveat:

(Additional fees apply for registrations processed through this web site.)

Elsewhere on the form is a yellow information box. It says:

Please complete your renewal as usual. Consider renewing online — it saves time, money, and gas.

Got that? Additional fees apply when you renew online. But… it saves you money!

Fair enough: it doesn’t say whose money it will save. Maybe it means the tax collector’s — don’t have to do all that troublesome handling of paperwork.

I’m just sayin’.

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How It Was / Spring: Where It Was

(Here’s the first excerpt from the first booklet in the How It Was series. I do not plan to post the entire book this way, in regular blog posts spread out over time; what I do hope to do, I explain here.)


Deep in his being, The Boy knew that somewhere out there existed a world wider than his own, and what The Boy thought he knew about this wider world was this:

Somehow, weirdly, this other world continued to spin on its axis even without The Boy at its core. Presidents, artists, convicts, detectives, and saints walked on this strange world’s uncracked pavement (their mothers’ backs forever safe). It was a world where movie musicals were filmed, where automobiles functioned as their manufacturers promised. A world where eating caramel candy by the bagful led straight to smiles — yes, as in The Boy’s own world — but never to a dentist’s chair. A world where he would fear neither the shadows of the night nor the heavy climbing rope of gym class, a world in which no one he loved would ever die, and there was no ham.

The people in this wider world spoke in exotic tongues, their melodic speech lacking the sweetly nasal twang and erratic rhythms to which The Boy was accustomed. Their hair (even beneath the helmets, war bonnets, and coonskin caps which many of them wore) was combed and coiffed immaculately. Some of these people had children, or were children themselves, some of whom were children that The Boy might eventually (in that murky future when he and they had ceased to be children) come to know and even to love.

This wider world lay not miles but whole light years of imagination from the town where The Boy lived, remote and untouchable, far beyond the range of his parents’ battered car (any of their half-dozen sputtering, wheezing, gear-grinding cars) which bore The Boy and his family through his own world’s dark heart.

Yet The Boy knew deep in his own heart that what separated that wider world from his own was not geography, but ignorance. Its people, even its children, knew nothing at all of his world. They did not (and would never) know of the boundaries of his life: the town, the neighborhood, the intricate web of human eccentricity which cross-hatched the map of The Boy’s daily wanderings.

They knew nothing, for starters, of the river and the creek which framed his existence.

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How It Was: Getting the Books

I know, I know… I said, “In my next post on How It Was, I’ll include an excerpt from ‘Book 1: Spring.'” It’s coming.

In the meantime, please check this page. It describes how I’m hoping to make the whole process of posting, downloading, and reading excerpts easier for both you and me. Eventually, it will be the page from which all excerpts can be downloaded in some sort of coherent fashion.

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E-readers (and E-writers), Part II

Literature 2, by 'lusi' of sxc.huA rough outline of the path taken by a novel to publication in the traditional way:

First, a definition: by “publication in the traditional way,” I mean that the end product is a hard- or soft-cover book which can be found on the shelves of — or can be ordered by — just about any bookstore or library in the world. The book has an ISBN, it is copyrighted, and (most importantly) its author has paid no money to arrange its publication. (He or she may have paid in many other ways, of course — in time, frustration, and anxiety, if nothing else.)

So it all begins with an author and a book. The author — let’s call him J, and assume he’s a “he” for convenience’s sake:

  1. writes a complete novel,
  2. gets it vetted by numerous readers (ideally objective readers — not just family and/or friends, but independent writers’ groups, university writing workshops, and so on),
  3. researches the correct formatting of a manuscript (or MS) according to some set of rules other than his own, and
  4. prepares a physical manuscript ready to be schlepped around to those in a position to see it published: acquisition editors.

Note a few key points about this journey so far, implicit in the above list.

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Where It Was

Delanco, NJ - 1876As I’ve mentioned, the events of the How It Was series of booklets took place in the real world as well as in the world of The Boy’s imagination (then and now). The real town where all this happened is in southern New Jersey, on the Delaware River and a few miles north of Philadelphia.

The Missus knows how tightly I cling to memories of that place and time and, accordingly, has set up on eBay some kind of early-warning system for herself, to let her know that something tagged with the town’s highly unusual (almost certainly unique) name has come on the market.

This past Christmas, she came up with some winners: a series of maps, dated 1876, and a couple of postcards. (That’s a thumbnail of one of the maps at the top of this post; click on it for the original as scanned, which will open in a new window or tab.) My friend Jimmy still lives in that area, and occasionally drops me a line to let me know of some item of interest. Recently, the local post office celebrated its 150th anniversary, and issued a series of commemorative postcards — reproductions of the originals; Jimmy sent me a few of them.

One of the things I’d like to do sometimes here at Running After My Hat is to try filling in some background on the town — not necessarily what it’s like now, or even how it really was… but at least how it was in The Boy’s latter-day memory. I’m going to start with this map — a larger-scale, annotated version of -which you can see “below the fold.”

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Formative years, formative “places,” formative people

Over there on the right, in the “Family/Friends/Alter Egos” portion of the blogroll, you’ll see a couple names you may recognize.

The most likely such candidate would be Diana Gabaldon, creator of the hugely successful series of quote-unquote “romance” novels beginning with Outlander (original title, and title as published in the UK, Cross-stitch).

You may or may not know of Floyd Kemske, also an author — creator of a series of what he called “corporate nightmares”: fantastic (literally so) extrapolations of what the worst of business might wreak on society.

(For instance, Lifetime Employment, the first book in the series, concerns a company which — as the title suggests — guarantees lifetime employment to all its employees, managers, and so on. So then, with no real turnover or attrition, how do employees move up the career ladder? By killing their higher-ups.)

It’s been many years since I’ve talked to either Diana or Floyd — indeed, I’ve never spoken to Floyd, although I’ve known him for 17-18 years now. Occasionally, a brief flurry of email reassures me that they’re still out there. Diana, there’s little doubt of, in truth; the woman is everywhere. Floyd, well, I dunno; we last exchanged email a little over a year ago. If you follow the link to his Web site, you will find much that’s interesting, but nothing (as far as I can tell) more recent than a few years old.

My point in bringing these folks up — what I really have “in common” with them, aside from the loose association that we are all or have been writers — is where we met: on the “old” CompuServe Literary Forum.

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