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A Happy Sunshine Moment

Happy Sunshine MomentI drive through downtown Louisville every day on my way home from work. The interstate would be faster, but Spaghetti Junction’s usually choked at 17:30, so I keep to the surface streets and cross the Second Street Bridge to get back into Hoosier Land.

Louisville’s Main Street is five lanes wide. There is a stoplight where it intersects Second Street. The right two lanes are turn-only, and will put you on the bridge. There are signs and arrows to point out this fact.

Sometimes I find myself in the left of the two turn-only lanes, and about 40% of the time there is a clueless idiot in the lane to my right who wants to go straight. Forget the signs, the arrows, the guy on his left (me) staring him down in the side-view, right-turn signal flashing for the last half block. If I don’t stop, he’ll ram right into me.

But there is a silver lining.

A ’96 Toyota 4Runner comes equipped with an adequate “beep beep”, “trumpet him melodiously”* horn. In 2002, or thereabouts, I installed additional air horns. These are much more effective at grabbing someone’s attention. Sort of the difference between a pudgy crossing guard in a yellow vest and a neon moose packing a bazooka.

Once I’ve determined that I’m dealing with a zombie (the bad kind sucking on a Red Bull, chatting with the glowing blue doorknob that grows from his ear), I let loose the horns of wrath.

“HHAAaaaaaaaaahhhhrrnnkk!!!” A two-three second burst works great.

The thing I like most about that far right lane is that it ends on the other side of the intersection in a concrete hump about 18″ tall. As the blockhead blue-toothed zombie zips in front of me, he’s so startled by the ear-splitting attack-goose blast, he doesn’t notice that he’s about to rearrange his ground effects and ventilate his oil pan.

Sometimes he pulls it out in time. Often, he doesn’t.
A happy sunshine moment.

*Attributed to a Tokyo car rental brochure:
“When passenger of foot heave in sight, tootle the horn. Trumpet him melodiously at first, but if he still obstacles your passage then tootle him with vigor.”

In a Belgrade hotel elevator:
“To move the cabin, push button for wishing floor. If the cabin should enter more persons, each one should press a number of wishing floor. Driving is then going alphabetically by national order.”

A sign for skiers in an Austrian hotel:
“Not to perambulate the corridors in the hours of repose in the boots of ascension.” [Hooray, The Boots of Ascension! I’m sure it was 1997 when I read that for the first time. This movie must be made. “In a world where the President is elected by national spelling bee, a potted plant is CEO of Microsoft, and our National Anthem is the Hamster Dance, ninja cowboy hacker Steel Jack Bombkill, and his wisecracking goldfish Travis, travel through time to save the planet, his fiance, his soul, and a box of crackers, from total annihilation. To accomplish their task, they must find his father’s boots, the Boots. Of. Ascension!“]

Detour sign in Kyushi, Japan:
Stop! Drive Sideways.

A Rome laundry:
Ladies, leave your clothes here and spend the afternoon having a good time.

More vigorous tootling
From the Spookyblue archives – All your base…

Of Jingle Bells And Corduroys

Snug Harbor Christmas FriendsThere are optimists and there are idealists. One expects good things to happen. The other believes that good things would happen if only there were more sentient robots and flying cars.

Optimists are often misrepresented as idealists, but it’s an unfair comparison. Everything is good, or if it isn’t quite, then goodness is certainly on the way. There must be a pony somewhere in all this horse manure.

An idealist, on the other hand, is a completely different bird. In flocks, they’re likely to argue with each other about who among them actually exists. Solipsistic silliness.

I didn’t know that I needed to learn any of this. Regardless, and like the cold wet mush of melted snow slowly soaking through your winter corduroys, the clarification was made for me on Christmas Eve, 2007 at around 10:00 PM.

Snug Harbor Christmas Lights 2008For some weeks I had been collecting sleigh bells, and by Christmas Eve I had about four dozen of them tied together and hanging from two long sticks. Their sound was impressive. Jingle bells on a grand scale.

It was just past nine and the red, green, and gold lights in our front yard twinkled merrily. Thousands of happy lights glowed all up and down our street, surely a harbinger of marvelous Christmas magic to come.

Mrs. Spookyblue and I, bundled up against the biting cold, piled into the truck and drove off into the night. We wound slowly through our neighborhood with the windows down, heater blasting, and our sleigh bells filled the night with Christmas music. Indoors, children heard the call. They tore down stairs, up stairs, piled into great laughing heaps before picture windows, eyes big as Frisbees.

Jittery reindeer“Santa,” they shouted, scanning the sky for a tell-tale sparkle or the leading red dot that was surely Rudolph’s nose.

Parents nodded knowingly and spoke in that sing-song reserved for children and puppies, “You’d better hurry, and get into bed! I sure hope he doesn’t pass us right by!”

With a squeal they ran and jumped and flew into their sheets and blankets and pillows. Then, after all edges were tucked and foreheads kissed, and with silver starlight shining softly through frosted glass, they, one by one, dropped off to sleep. And the last thing they heard, before toy dreams came to play, was the sound of distant sleigh bells. Sigh.

At least that’s how I imagined– well, I don’t have to say it, do I?

In the real world, a cold trickle of suspicion played down my back. For 45 minutes we drove up and down city streets, meandered through subdivisions, and cruised country lanes. And I shook those bells. I shook them until my arms fell off, and I think we saw a total of three people. If you count the police cruiser that trailed us for the last mile. Suspicion became realization, then cold wet disappointment. I put away my bells and rolled up the window. It was a quiet ride home.

The problem with idealism isn’t that one might strive to bring the world closer to his ideal. It’s that the idealist often doesn’t realize what he is. His imagination leads him down a road to glory or ruin, but he amazingly ignores the ruin part. If he’s lucky, he’ll think to himself, “things didn’t work out last time, but maybe this time. Maybe tonight.”

An amazing creature, the optimistic idealist. Oh, he may sulk for a while. A year, even. But he’ll eventually go inside, change corduroys, and run back out to try again. What’s wrong with falling in love with a dream, after all?

Now. Where are those bells.

Merry Christmas!

The Winter Solstice and A Crystal Radio

Winter Solstice is approaching. Earth has been tilting away from the Sun since June, and in just a few days Sol will be as far below the equatorial plane, or as low in the sky, as he’s going to get.

For those of us parked in the Northern Hemisphere, Winter Solstice marks our shortest day and longest night. It brings a full 24 hours of darkness to the North Pole. You can’t get any further away from the sun’s warmth and light without stepping off the planet.

Nightfall. The longest dark experienced by the living. It occurs every year between December 20 and December 23, and guess whose birthday falls on the 22nd.

Our ancestors dreaded this dark time and did their best to fill it with their own light and warmth.

In the 1960s and ’70s, things like solstices, Saturnalia, and the Wild Host didn’t really have any impact on me. Thanks mainly to a few hundred years of Christian tradition, I suppose. And electricity.

So, when baby Spookyblue appeared on the Winter Solstice of 1966, he never gave a thought to rough-housing Norse spirits or the terrible Yule Cat. Instead, a long string of birthdays, 41 so far, have always been flavored with cinnamon, scented with pine.

Happily, my parents did a good job of separating birthdays and Christmases so that one never diminished the notability of the other. I only ever remember one time when a relative tried to pull that “here is your birthday and Christmas present” crap. And even though I had always wished I’d been born in October, getting presents a few days before Christmas is a great relief valve for a hyper 10 year old.

We got to eat 9lb lasagna off the good plates in the dining room with Sprite to drink in some very golden, very ’70s special occasion glasses. There were always candles, a big cake, and presents, and fun, and happy happy happy happy– “Boom!” (excited kid explodes in a spinning cloud of confetti and joy)

Crystal AM Radio Kit - $3.95Christmas at our house was huge, but some of the most memorable gifts that I can remember actually came to me on my birthday. And this is something I never really considered before. Mom and dad took great care every December 22nd to celebrate me in the midst of celebrating Him.

Standing in the middle of all that celebrating is a tall stack of boxes, each representing a year, an era, a Christmas or birthday. These are the Best Presents I Ever Got, and they each hold a memory.

I built that R2D2 model at the kitchen table and ate Pop Rocks for the first time. I played with that Lego truck in the middle of Elm Street when it was a sheet of ice for a week during the Blizzard of ’77. Pictures from “The Year of The Pinball Machine” show me with a black eye I got wrestling with my little brother.

Science Fair Crystal Radio KitSomewhere in the middle of the stack sits a box that reads “Science Fair Crystal Radio Kit”. It’s right next to the big “Girder and Panel Construction Set”. Funny how most of what’s in this stack is either a “set” or a “kit”.

This was simply the neatest thing I had ever seen: A radio that didn’t need batteries! The propeller on top of my blossoming nerd-ness spun faster than it ever had before that night as Crystal Radio KitI carefully assembled my crystal radio on the kitchen table, ignoring everything else.

That included the gallon of peppermint ice cream that mom didn’t think I knew was in the freezer. To this day I have to cinch up my gorge at the mere thought of peppermint ice cream, and if memory serves, that much younger Spookyblue was only hours away from learning of the terrible, regurgitative price for the sin of gluttony.

There weren’t very many pieces to this project. Just a few discrete components that slipped into little springs that held everything together, and then it was complete. I inserted the earplug and slowly turned the little dial. Silence for several seconds. Then a sudden crackle of radio static popped in my ear and I heard a voice. A voice! In Spanish!

Crystal Radio Close-upNo matter. I was utterly thrilled to hear that high, tin-can alien voice. Who cared that I didn’t understand a word?

Some further fiddling with the dial rewarded me with another station, and this one played music. Not only that, but it was Christmas music! What a prize!

Two nights later it was Christmas Eve and I lay in bed, wide awake, with a very attenuated “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” playing in my ear. Again. You see, of the two stations that I could receive on my crystal set (I never could dial in anything else), the one playing Christmas music must have been automated because it looped the same songs all night. The same five songs. I think I finally passed out at around 2:00.

O tidings of comfort and joy…

One more note… Although the Winter Solstice event itself happens in an instant, it’s very gradual to us. We won’t notice any change in the sun’s position for about three days, meaning that the first noticeable lengthening of the day will occur on December 25. This “Dies Natalis Solis Invicti”, or “Birthday of The Unconquered Sun”, was a Roman celebration until we eventually replaced “Sun” with “Son”, and along came Christmas.

Special thanks to Blazerman for letting us swipe some of his pictures. Tons of interesting stuff here.

Thanks also to Sam at SamsToybox.com. If you dig retro toys, especially the old Aurora monster models, then you owe yourself a romp through Sam’s very cool collection.

How a Girder and Panel Construction Set is like a stuffed squirrel

One of the best presents little boy Spookyblue ever got was his Girder and Panel Construction Set. Black plastic posts and beams interconnect to form a framework. A variety of window panels snap onto the skeleton to form a blue plastic superstructure. Eventually you end up with a very cool Skyscraper.

I love toys like this because there are three stages of fun. The first is the construction process. You can choose to follow the instructions and build any number of models out of the little booklet that came in the box, or you can use your imagination. Guess what I did.

It’s impossible to accurately predict how long any given construction project will last. Hours or days doesn’t really matter unless work began on the coffee table in the living room. In that case, there are definite timelines that one must observe and little sympathy for tears shed when your enterprise is unceremoniously dumped into a cardboard box and parked in the upstairs hallway.

Barring catastrophe, a shiny skyscraper stands tall and proud. Now the second stage of fun begins, and it usually involves Spiderman, aliens, a giant car-eating robot, and a tornado. Robots are usually of Lego origin, but certain rules of ontology limit such cross-platform/genre commingling.

It is widely accepted that the Play Universe is populated exclusively by cars, trucks, robots, monsters, black holes, and Spiderman. More mysterious, however, is the list of unspoken, but explicit, formal requirements that determine the nature of their existence and the relationships they share.

Mismatched scale alone accounts for a huge percentage of failed relationships. For example, a Matchbox car is just a roller skate to a GI Joe action figure. (A real GI Joe is 12″ tall and has a fuzzy beard.) In addition to size, genre also plays a significant role in these relationships. Lincoln Logs can only relate to cowboys and indians, and possibly army men that have been swept backward in time.

That explains why the newly constructed tower is attended mainly by Matchbox and Hotwheels cars, and why there are never any attacks by Tinkertoy contraptions or a giant mad Pooh bear.

Swinging from the highest spire, Spiderman battles the car-eating robot. Then some aliens. A ghost monster. Another robot. This may go on for several days until the fun plays itself out and a final earthquake or tornado critically damages a crucial support, triggering stage three.

The third and final stage is a sort of primal quirk not limited to humans and can be witnessed in any household that has a dog. He has carried around a stuffed squirrel for weeks. He sleeps with it, takes it outside with him on rounds, and when you come home from work, he frantically searches for it to share in the “moment of greeting”. But one day a strange threshhold is reached. A logic gate trips and his darling baby, the soggy friend with whom he has shared such quiet intimacies as to make poets weep, is gleefully and mercilessly gutted on the living room carpet. All that’s left is the shredded carcass and a localized snow storm of polyfill stuffing.

A similar storm of violence reduces the skyscraper to a heap. Now liquidated, it is dismantled and returned to its box under the bed where it waits for the day when it will rise again like a blue plastic Phoenix. I find a long plastic tube that holds several yet-to-be-colored fuzzy black posters rolled up inside. And the package of felt tip markers hasn’t been opened yet. Sweet.