Monthly Archives: July 2014

The Jazz Singer

Here in the South we have an expression: “you clean up pretty good.” Has nothing to do with vacuuming or window washing or dusting. What it means, in the case of a woman, is that with a little lipstick, some face powder, rouge and perfume, a nice dress, fancy shoes and a well manicured hairdo, she looks a whole lot better than when she rolled out of bed in the morning. With a little “cleanin’ up,” she’s a knockout.

A couple of weeks ago I went to a yard sale at a very typical place, and met a woman who seemed to be a very typical Saturday morning yard sale host. Jeans. T-shirt. Hair pulled back in a ponytail. And sneakers. She had a very interesting table that I ended up buying after a rather lengthy conversation. What I found out was that there was something just a little special about her. She was a jazz singer.

I asked her if she was famous and she told me a little about her career. And mentioned that she was singing in a club in my town in a couple of weeks. I put the date on my mental calendar. I like jazz. At least some of it. And I pictured her as a sultry singer in a smoke filled club in the fifties. Like in the movies.

On the appointed date we went to the club. Of course there is no smoking allowed in this club. And much of it was devoted to people standing around the bar, or dining at tables outdoors. But there were tables to sit at near the stage. And, there was this super cool seating area straight out of a late 1950s magazine. Orange velour sofa and chairs. Mid century lamps. Just my style!

A little while after the show was supposed to start the songbird appeared. All cleaned up and looking like a Jazz Singer. So different from that recent Saturday morning. And then she began to sing. Who woulda guessed she had the pipes she did? Beautiful. And just the kind of jazz I like.

Her name is Mary Sigalas. When she gets to be famous, and come s to your town, you should go see, and hear, the show. Make sure you clean up good before you go. It wont be in no dive!

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?


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A Hidden Treasure

The saying goes that the pen is mightier than the sword. Of course that refers to written expression and exchanges of ideas being much more powerful in narrowing the divides between us than armed conflict. Sometimes it works. Sometimes not. I’d like to paraphrase here a little and say that the pen is mightier than the computer.

Big statement! What it refers to is the fact that I prefer, when able, to write with a pen rather than with a computer. I realize that the vast majority of writers today use computers to do their writing. It’s just a lot easier. Here I use the term computers to include desktops, laptops, tablets, and even smartphones. Hell, you can even talk into the machine and it writes out what you said. Sometimes with hilarious results. But there is always spellcheck. A godsend of a tool if you remember its shortcomings.

I use all of the above technology to write. But there is something special about using a pen. Maybe it’s just me. Never do I venture out without a pen in my pocket. I’ve even had to offer my own pen to numerous cashiers looking for my signature.

For the most part the pens I carry are just any old thing. Whatever I’ve been able to collect in my days roaming. There are a lot of pens used as advertising today, some of which write better than others. I pick them up everywhere. And leave them behind somewhere else. They get around. And there are some regular pens that are really just for writing. They too find their way into my pocket. And back out.

And then there are good pens. The well made, perfectly balanced and contoured to your hand pens. You know, the expensive ones. Gold, Sterling, Platinum. Handmade with rare woods and precious gemstones.  

In this category you get a choice- ballpoint or fountain tip. I have a thing for the fountain pens. You really get to connect with the pen and become part of the writing. You have to fill it with ink. And you can get a wide variety of colors. I like brown for some reason. And every part of the pen is special, from the nib to the pocket clip. And in between, the body of the instrument can be truly beautiful.

One day at a yard sale I saw a plastic baggie with several pens in it. They looked like fountain pens and for the price of a dollar I snagged them. Upon a little closer inspection I determined that they were not regular writing pens but actually calligraphy pens. Not my thing. So I put them back in the baggie and tossed them into a storage box in the basement. Months later I was going to sell the whole lot for a couple of dollars when I really took a good look. Calligraphy. Calligraphy. Whoa, what’s this!!! It was a true fountain pen. And not just any fountain pen either. This was an early example of a Parker Vacumatic. Top of the line in1933!

The pen wasn’t gold, silver or platinum. It’s celluloid. Early plastic. It’s not priceless, but its worth more than a few dollars. A great piece for a collector. Like me. And to think I almost missed it! A hidden treasure in among the pretenders. What a glorious day!

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

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High Tech Primitive

Assateague Island is a long narrow barrier island off the Mid-Atlantic coast of both Maryland and Virginia. All thirty-seven miles of its pristine shoreline are part of the National Seashore. It’s quite primitive. To get there from the Virginia end you have to first cross Chincoteague Island.

Chincoteague is a smaller island with a lot of marshland, but no real beach. There is however a town there. Chincoteague. It’s a small town but very nice with good restaurants, some good art galleries, a movie theater and of course several hotels. A quiet place. Not like the not too distant Ocean City, Maryland.

Going in reverse a little further geographically, we find a quantum leap technologically. Wallops Island, Virginia is the entry point to Chincoteague Island and here we find ironically one of the most technologically advanced NASA outposts in the world. It’s not shrouded in secrecy like Area 51 in Nevada, but it’s probably not very well known either. But they offer tours if you are interested.

Driving by the base on the perimeter road you can see a lot of towers with antennae, microwave dishes and all sorts of communications devices. There is a C-135 on the tarmac. No people in sight. What they do here I don’t know all the details of, but, I can tell you this- they fly drones out of there.

I know a little about this because of some connections I have. The drones are launched during hurricane season and flown over to the coast of Africa where most hurricanes begin as storms. The drones fly in circles tracking the storms to offer early information to weather trackers. Pretty cool!

A few miles away on Assateague, the only thing you can see above the natural coastal forest is the lighthouse. It’s built ten feet above sea level and is itself 142 feet tall. Built in 1833 it warned mariners of shallow waters in the area and had a giant Fresnel lens. Today it has an eclectic light that shines nineteen miles out to sea.

Other wise the beach is almost entirely primitive. There are many walking trails through the forests, and to the lighthouse that can be climbed during the day for a great view of the area. The beach is very peaceful with no surfing, body boarding or kite flying allowed. There are lifeguards but they seem to spend their time telling people they can’t surf, body board or fly a kite. And there are armed park rangers who scold people for wandering into the bird sanctuary. All with a smile and good-natured attitude. For some people, the absence of those activities is a positive thing. The beach is beautiful. And tranquil. A place for enjoying the sounds of the sea and your own thoughts.

One of the most famous aspects of this island is the wild ponies. There are about three hundred ponies that just roam around freely. They pretty much stay away from people and my kids were disappointed to find that the ponies didn’t just walk up to you on the beach. But we spotted a number of them from a distance. Each year, in the spring, they are rounded up and make a swim to Chincoteague. Across the bay. There some are sold to raise funds to maintain the island. They have been there for hundreds of years and will be for a long time into the future.

So there you have it. Primitive. Quaint. High tech. All in a row on three adjoining islands. Definitely worth the trip for a good time.

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

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Portrait of the Writer as a Beach Bum

Over the past several years I have finally been able to pursue several very fulfilling projects. A true Gemini, I now have my work, and my “hobbies.” I choose the word hobbies because while they are endeavors I love and hope to do more of, I ain’t getting’ rich from either.

One of those “hobbies” is writing, and those of you who follow this humble blog will know that I can be prolific at times. What some may not know is that I have also written tow books. Neither of great notoriety. But this summer, as part of my growing enthusiasm, I have launched a third book project. Third time is the charm, right! Watch for the screenplay in your local theater.

I came across this photo while reviewing my photo files and remember the day I took it. At the beach. This summer I’ve been to the beach several times and somehow it must be fate that the photo has surfaced and my book idea has developed. They are meant to be intertwined somehow.


When I took the picture I titled it “Self Portrait.” That’s how I saw myself that day. And today. And somehow a book by Irish author James Joyce came to mind. His first novel was published in 1916 and titled “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.” It’s what is known as a Kunstlerroman, or coming of age story, and is a highly autobiographical tale of the hero’s rebellion against mid- and upper class social norms and his gradual growth into artistic self- expression.

I’ve since changed the title of the photo to “Portrait of the Writer as a Beach Bum.” I will certainly not compare myself to Joyce as a writer, but I do believe the two stories will have some similarities. I’m not revealing details yet.

It may take a while, and will certainly be a lot of work. But it is going to be a labor of love. Even if no one else loves it. I’m stoked!

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

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The Mountain and the Music

Sometimes things just fit together. Driving north on I-77, as you near the North Carolina and Virginia border, there is a large mountain that no one’s figured out a way to get past without going over. At least in a car. The highway winds up the mountain, allowing for longer runs on less sloped grades, but still the steepness and height of the climb takes its toll on the vehicles making the trip. The heavy trucks have to move to the special truck lane. Some lumber up the road with their emergency lights flashing. Look at me, I’m moving like a snail. Others stay in the right lane, moving a little faster. Passenger vehicles tend to be in the left lane. My van didn’t struggle, but I could tell it was anxiously awaiting the crest of the peak.

As I thought about us scaling that mountain, I had to wonder what it was that enticed early travellers and settlers to make that journey. On foot, on horseback, in a wagon. With no paved road or even a path. And what in the world made them stop and settle down somewhere on the sides of the mountain? Maybe they found coal or timber there to harvest. Or maybe it was the place where their feet, or their horse or the wagon gave out and they all just said the hell with it and stopped.

The people who settled there brought with them a certain type of music. You might call it mountain music, bluegrass, or some form of country.   In my family we all like different kinds of music so a long car trip can be a challenge in finding an acceptable radio station.

Somewhere on that mountain I came across a station playing bluegrass and country. Old time music. My youngest daughter likes country music but she didn’t think this stuff was country. I don’t think what she listens to is country. It’s not patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Chet Atkins or Roy Acuff. But I kept the station on and listened to the tones of the steel guitar and mandolin and banjos and fiddles and jugs and whatever else there was.

Normally I don’t love that kind of music, but because of where we were, it was kind of fun. I could just picture the musicians and heir audience pickin’ and grinning. Steppin’ lightly and doin’ some stompin’. Feet just a movin’. But mostly grinning, cause it is kinda a catchy sort of music.

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?


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The Two Thousand Yard Stare

Mom was standing by the backdoor looking out over the patio and the yard. Her back was to me, but I could see the look on her face plain as day. It was just something I could feel in the air. And I know it well because I had inherited that look form her myself. It was a two thousand yard stare.

In 1944 artist Tom Lea was working for Life magazine as a war correspondent. One of his most famous portraits came out after his experience with the Peleliu campaign in the Pacific Theater. This battle seemed to have a dramatic impact on Lea as his style was significantly different afterwards. No doubt because of what he saw during the fierce fighting, hand to hand, cave by cave, to vanquish an enemy battling to the death.


The image is a combat hardened Marine whose appearance belies his young age. With eyes staring, wide open, you can tell he is in another place in his mind. Bill Mauldin, a war correspondent who showed America the war through the eyes of his famous “dogfaces” Willie and Joe, put it like this: “Look at an infantryman’s eyes and you can tell how much war he has seen.”

Mom isn’t a combat hardened Marine, but it was the same look. She was staring out that door, deep in thought. This was the house that was, until recently, her home. It had been her home for thirty-eight years. Now it was for sale, and she had moved to a much smaller place. An apartment in a retirement community.

I’m not sure what she was seeing out that door. Can only guess. The vegetable and flower garden she tended for many years. The apple orchard, now almost vanished as the trees aged and succumbed to rot and the burden of snowfall and high winds. My sister’s wedding reception was in that backyard with its tent and horse carriage and festivity. Grandchildren played there. Workers, including her husband and sons, renovating various parts of the house. Many memories.

Lost in time and place. She was reminiscing. And with a sudden turn, her eyes once again filled with impishness, she walked back into the kitchen and was ready to face her new world. To make new memories. To build a life in her new home.

Sometimes we need to go to our own places. Physically or mentally. And there regroup, rejuvenate, and prepare for the next step in our journey. That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

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Weekday Switcheroo!

On the road again. It feels like a Friday but it’s really a Monday. Usually goes the other way around doesn’t it?

After a very long week at work followed by a strenuous weekend, I went back to work today. Monday. But at the end of the day I’m not going home to get ready for another day of work on Tuesday. Instead, I’m on vacation and headed down the road toward my family home in Pennsylvania!

There are a couple of clues to remind me that it’s not really Friday. Rolling down the interstate I see the trucks all pulling off the road. Into the weigh station. It’s open! On a Friday afternoon or evening, the truckers are on their own. The weighers have gone home and closed up shop. Like a stirred up nest of fire ants, the commuter traffic is horrible. Rushing home to dinner, ready to do it all again tomorrow. Friday afternoon rush hour has a different feel. The Charlotte airport was running red hot. As we passed near and through the city we saw an endless line of planes coming and going. Business travellers. By Friday the flights ease off as the travellers are home for the weekend. And finally, by 8:30 PM the only vehicles on the road, other than me, were the trucks. Workers in their commuter cars were snug in their garages, waiting to hit the road in the morning, headed to work.

Monday felt like Friday because I was on vacation. But the traffic told the real story. It was indeed Monday.

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

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