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Short Stories

Here is where you will find my short stories that don’t quite fit the other categories. Mostly goofy autobiographical stories about my life.

Right now, I have to be careful what I post here. I’ve sent a lot of personal stories to friends that were never meant to be seen by the public. However, there are some that are perfectly fine for this format. Examples are my Lompoc stories. Those have already been published (at least some of them) in the Lompoc Historical Society newsletter. I may just repost them for all of you to see. There are, of course, other stories about my adventures in Spain and Turkey and some rock and roll adventures that may make the grade. We’ll see. Keep checking back.

LOMPOC STORIES

ZORRO SAVES THE DAY

           Every kid grows up with heroes and I was no exception. During my formative years in Lompoc, I was particularly drawn to Lloyd Bridges of Sea Hunt fame, Darrin McGavin of Riverboat, and Guy Williams, otherwise known as Zorro.

          You couldn’t ask for a better hero. Zorro was dark, dashing, wore a disguise, and got to use a sword. I was in elementary school, around first to third grade during this phase of my hero worship. When we first moved toLompoc, we lived in a trailer park. I can’t remember the name of it but it was somewhere around D and North streets.

          I was so into Zorro that my mom made me a Zorro outfit, all in black, with a cape and hat. I used to dress up in that costume, put on a mascara mustache, and go all overLompoc“righting the evils of all men.” Mr. Simmons, the manager of the trailer park used to always say, “Hello Zorro” every time he saw me. I had two girlfriends during that time that I “rescued” various times, Lynn and Christine. I’ve always wondered what happened to them.

         We made one of our many trips to Disneyland and I finally got my sword. The old broom handle I’d been using was no match for that “real” plastic sword in the shape of an epee. I was in hog heaven, ready for Sergeant Garcia to signal me with the sign of the Z! For the next few weeks after that trip to Disneyland, I terrorized everyone in Lompoc, stabbing them in the ass with that sword. That is… until the day I sat on it and broke it. Oh well… there was always Lloyd Bridges, Mr. Sea Hunt.

MISTER SEA HUNT

           Zorro soon played second fiddle to “Mr. Sea Hunt,” Lloyd Bridges.

          Who could forget that immortal line, “And then it happened!” Lloyd narrated every episode and sooner or later, he got around to saying it every time he got into trouble. It usually preceded an explosion or a cave-in. So, how does one play skin diving?

          As it turns out, making a play scuba outfit is not as hard as it sounds. I was always mechanically inclined. My dad found out the hard way when I destroyed most of his tools. But I digress. A little thought and artwork gave me the edge I needed. My tanks consisted of several oatmeal cans taped together. I had to have double tanks, of course. Then I made the regulator out of an old Christmas ribbon spool. The hose was an old leather belt. I already had a mask and fins, left to me by the people that rented us the house on Prune Street.

          I used to plant treasures in the hallway and seek them out with my gear on. It didn’t work as well outside. The confines of the hallway made me feel more like I was underwater. Unfortunately, the outfit wasn’t much good anywhere else. It certainly wasn’t waterproof. I always wanted to take it to the Lompoc Municipal Pool but knew better than to try that. Besides, I was getting a little older. Walking around town in costume was a perfect way to get beat up!

          When it came to the real water, I soon discovered that a super skinny kid has no buoyancy. I sunk like a rock! I never had proper swimming lessons and could barely keep myself afloat. The real world of scuba diving was a far cry from my Sea Hunt days.

          My career as Mister Sea Hunt didn’t last as long as my Zorro phase, but it was sure fun. I never lost my admiration for Lloyd Bridges. Go Mike Nelson!

CAPTAIN FRED SAILS DOWN THE LOMPOC RIVER

           I was always fascinated with ships. The first image of a boat I remember seeing is when my grandfather was visiting us in Lakewood, California. We were browsing through an encyclopedia and he showed me an infamous painting of the Lusitania sinking. I was about three years old.

          Jump forward a few years to Lompoc in about 1959 or 1960. We had moved to Prune Street.

          The show Riverboat was on in prime time. Though it played past my bedtime, my parents let me stay up just to see it. I loved that show! Darren McGavin, Burt Reynolds, Carney, the whole gang! Since the Sea Hunt thing was not working out, my next passion was to be a riverboat (or just any boat) captain. Using my primitive mechanical skills, I had to make a boat. A riverboat was too hard to make, especially the paddlewheel and then there was the steam engine.

          During this time I had an artistic bent and took to drawing sailing ships. By attrition, I figured out how to rig sails, at least to a point. Of course, in real life they never would’ve worked, but for my purposes, they did just fine.

          The back yard on Prune became my river, or ocean, depending on what day it was. I gathered wood from all over and made a large hull. It had three masts, jibs, spars, square sails all over it and even a crows nest. For Christmas I got a Civil War cannon and mounted it on the deck.

          Whenever I set sail, I would unfurl all the sails which used to be our bed sheets (mom wasn’t too happy about that) and with all the wind in town, I never had trouble getting them to look like they were actually working. I got to shoot pirate ships with my plastic cannon balls, and when the mood struck, I was Captain Gray Holden sailing down the Lompoc River to make a triumphant return to town after a long voyage around the world.

          There used to be a children’s TV show in Santa Barbara with Captain Hook, this guy with a hook prosthesis. I sent him one of my sailing ship drawings and he put it on the air. I was famous! Billy Barty also used to have a children’s show out of Santa Barbara or LA and I sent him a drawing but he never showed it, or I missed when he did.

          Unfortunately, my ship was destroyed in a pirate raid when some other kids came in the back yard while we were away and tore it to pieces. I thought of donning my Mister Sea Hunt rig to salvage it off the ocean bottom but…

THE PURITAN ICE PLANT

           There were many great things about being a little kid in Lompoc. One of them was capturing blue bellied lizards. We used to do this everywhere there was an open field. Eventually, we wandered further and further away from my house on Prune Street where we had just moved after living in a trailer court for several years. I was probably in 3rd or 4th grade and it would be my first year at Clarence Ruth Elementary (which would decades later become Clarence Ruth Montessori). This was about 1960 or so, plus or minus a year or two.

          On the next street over, College Avenue, there used to be a field with a deep pit full of water. This field is now known as Thompson Park. After it was built, when I was seven or eight, I started smoking. We used to go to the newly built ballpark and look for long cigarette butts under the bleachers. Ewwww (as young teenage girls might say). But I digress.

          We ventured past that field looking for lizards and in the block between Maple,Laurel, R and V streets was an old industrial area that included a seasonally opened produce packing plant. It was very old and very decrepit in the eyes of us kids, and a paradise for exploration. I noticed on recent satellite maps that this is still an industrial area but the buildings, at least from the air, look entirely different. I can imagine after 40 years, they certainly are. It was originally known as the Puritan Ice Plant, back in the 1930’s, and was in ruins when we discovered it, though the packing plant next to it was still in operation.

          The day we discovered this place, we began to explore. The main building was long and had some conveyors in them, lots of rotten looking old pallets, several offices with lots of indecipherable paperwork scattered about. None of this was locked back then. When the plant was not in use, they simply left it as is until next time.

          At the east end of the main building was a deep channel of water we called “the pit” and we were scared of it because the water was nasty and dark, and it was very deep. We would find a long board and stick it in to try and find the bottom. We never found the bottom until a few years later when enough debris had fallen in to fill it up within reach of whatever board we had. It actually gave me nightmares a few times.

          With all the excitement of exploring the main building, there was one feature that made it pale in comparison. The old cooling tower (part of the original Puritan Ice Plant machinery). This rickety wooden structure was about three or four stories tall and had a huge fan on each wall about two stories up. Inside were cooling pipes that were for the ammonia type refrigeration system. Of course, at the time I didn’t know what it was, but I remember smelling ammonia a few times from various leaks. I guess we were lucky they were small leaks because that stuff could be quite toxic in that industrial form and strength. At the bottom of the tower were channeled pits full of shallow water. This water was nasty and appeared bottomless, but we found out it was not that deep. There were boards spanning most of those channels and we used to walk over them as a dare and hoped the monsters didn’t get us.

          The best feature of the tower was that there were several wooden ladders along the inside walls and we could climb almost all the way to the top. Keep in mind that at this time, the tower was already rotted and quite old. I remember scraping a shin or banging a limb when one of the ladder rungs broke.

          This plant provided much ecstasy and fear for us and produced endless adventure for several years until a Mormon kid named Kenny was there with a few friends and fell and broke his arm. After that, the “authorities” tore the tower down and ruined our adventure. I never blamed Kenny for that, but I blamed the “old” people who ruined our fun.

          I’ve thought of that place many times over the years. In 1999, I was hired to work at a wet corn mill in Hammond, Indiana. That plant was originally built in 1902 and had some of the original buildings still in use. That creepy old place and the packing plant in Lompoc inspired a horror novel I wrote called “The Factory.” I would never have had the inspiration if it wasn’t for the corn mill or the old Puritan Ice Plant in Lompoc.

 THE DITCH

           For a little kid, the simplest things can provide the most pleasure. Maybe that is why at Christmas time, you’ll find them playing with the box and ignoring the toy that was in it.

          Harking back to the late 50’s and early 60’s, I spent a lot of time in the great outdoors. Instead of being confined to specific outlets like is the norm for today, we pretty much had the run of the town. No worry about child predators back then. People didn’t lock their doors. They even left the keys in their cars. With the whole outdoors at my feet, I found my “box” in the San Miguelito Creek, which runs along V street. Back then, it was just a V-shaped flood channel that we kids knew as “The Ditch.”

          When we first moved to Prune Street, I wandered to and fro with my friend, Larry Hodgson. We discovered The Ditch at the junction of V and College Ave. Since it was roughly V shaped, I assumed V Street was named after The Ditch. I neglected to equate R and N and all the other alphabetical streets with it.

          On the day we discovered it, they had just cut down some large pine and eucalyptus trees on the south side of the intersection. The trees fell across the ditch and provided a lush green jungle to explore. Add to that the tunnel going under College and we had the formula for adventure!

          The creek always had water in it, from a trickle to an occasional flood. It was a paradise for catching frogs and collecting tadpoles. Plus there were the ever-present dragonflies of all colors along with the occasional lizard or snake. That ditch, between College and Laurel was the place to be. Soon Larry moved away but by then, everyone on the block knew about it and we hung out there all the time.

Back in those politically incorrect days, most boys had BB guns and I was no exception. We used to go hunting frogs. I hate to admit it, but I took out way too many of the little critters in blind ignorance. Even today, I feel bad for the slaughter us boys purveyed on them. When I wasn’t shooting them, I collected them, raised them, and let many of the survivors go.

          The brush was quite thick in the ditch, and thankfully devoid of poison oak (we had no poison ivy there, or poison sumac that I knew of). Fortunate for me, but unfortunate for my friends, I seemed to be immune to the stuff where if my friends, especially my neighbor John even walked near a plant, he would break out. So, playing in The Ditch was free of at least that hazard. However, there were plenty of patches of prickly weeds and nettles. It didn’t take long to learn where they were!

          I recently pulled up a Google image of The Ditch and noticed that it is cemented in and looks like it’s now surrounded by a fence with warning signs and barbed wire, all the stuff one would expect from a society now obsessed with protecting our youth from themselves. Too bad. Us kids survived it all, but in those days, there were less people to get hurt, fewer child predators to worry about, and no lawyers ready to pounce at the first smell of litigation.

FLYING

           It’s funny how I was so fascinated with flying as a kid, yet I developed an aversion to it as I got older. I’m not a white-knuckle flyer, but I’d rather drive or take the boat, so flying is an uncomfortable necessity. Here I am, retired from the Air Force.

Living onPrune Streetwas the first opportunity I had to climb on the roof of our house. At that age, I’d climb anything. I couldn’t do that when we lived in the trailer at the other end of town. When we lived in Palmdale the first time, I was way too little to get up on the roof, though I remember climbing the ladder my dad forgot to take down when he’d gone up there to repair a leak one time. The height scared me and I chickened out after a few steps.

          SinceLompocis where I first developed my tree climbing skills, our roof was a no-brainer. What can one do besides get up there and scan the neighborhood from high up? Well… as a young scientist and inventor, it was a perfect place to experiment with my various flying inventions.

          I can’t remember the order I tried all of these things in so I’ll just list them as I remember them. Of course, I had to try the umbrella, as it was shaped similar to a parachute. Off the roof I go, holding my trusty umbrella. Well… the grass is a lot harder than it looks! The umbrella didn’t exactly catch the wind as I envisioned it.

          Then there was the twisted blade thing that was basically a piece of wood tied to a string that I twisted to make it twirl. Yup, you guessed it. The grass was just as hard as it was with the umbrella.

          Being a modern young man, I had to put technology to work and my next experiment was with a fan. I got one of my dad’s extension cords from the garage and linked it inside to the most convenient power outlet. Then I got up on the roof and turned on the fan. Once again, the grass provided a less than ideal cushion when I came crashing down. I couldn’t understand why that damn fan wouldn’t work. Airplane propellers did. Helicopters did.

          One of my last experiments was the result of my favorite movie at the time, The Absent Minded Professor. Good old Fred McMurray invented flubber. The miracle rubber would make all those basketball players fly around the court. I loved that movie even though I hated basketball. This miracle of science all came together when some toy company came out with flubber, in conjunction with the movie, of course.

          I practically begged, borrowed, stole, to get my hands on that little wad of silicone junk that came in a plastic egg, as I remember. It smelled horrible. It was clear with bubbles in it and when you molded it into a ball, it bounced pretty high. I think it was a precursor to Silly Putty, but is now colored instead of clear. I had two wads of it and stuck them to the bottom of my shoes. Up on the roof I go, and in lieu of the grass, I opted for the sidewalk so I could get a better bounce. Unfortunately, flubber didn’t actually bounce like in the movie and the sidewalk proved even less cushy than the grass! My feet hurt for several days and I was quite disillusioned by the stuff. However, I still thought the movie was cool.

          If not for all those flying experiments on Prune Street, I may have ended up being 6’4” instead of the 6’2” that I am now.

SAILING THE SEVEN SEAS ON PRUNE STREET

           Since an early age, I’ve been a do-it-yourselfer. I’ll admit to at least a modest bit of mechanical ability and I’ve put it to use throughout my life. When I wanted a telescope, I built one, the first in high school. I did the same for my first Theremin, an electronic instrument that makes flying saucer noises. That thing was my first substantial electronics project after a crystal radio I built in elementary shop class. Then I built my own guitar amps and analog synthesizers in the seventies and eighties. Along the way were various wood projects and other mechanical devices including a burglar alarm for science class. However, the start of it all was my first sailing ship.

          In a previous story, I talked about the three-masted frigate I built in the backyard. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t actually go anywhere. I was out and about one day, playing in a field that would become Thompson Park and found the chassis from an old baby carriage. I couldn’t resist dragging that thing home and “overhauling” it with my dad’s tools. I tweaked the wheel alignment, lubed the casters meticulously, tightened all the loose nuts and bolts, and had a great time “pimping my ride,” long before there was such a term. That tweaking can only go on so long. What next?

          Aaarhg, Matey, aaargh! I had no clue how to make a boat that would actually float. Besides, there was no significant water within walking distance. Why did I need water? The one thing I hated about Lompoc was the incessant wind. It never seemed to stop. Since it was a coastal town, it wasn’t likely I’d ever see that many calm days. On the other hand, I loved sailing ships and sails… aha!

          I mounted a mast and sail on my baby carriage chassis. With that sail on, I proudly rolled it onto the sidewalk and found I could get going to about five miles an hour before I hit the corner. I’d whip around that corner on two wheels and hit the brakes in the shelter of the fence at the corner house.

          I’d take longer and longer trips down the sidewalk as I extended my reach. I even tried it in the street but almost got ran over. The only problem was that I could only go one direction. The prevailing winds inLompoccame from the west so I could only travel east down Prune. Once I reached the corner, I’d have to furl the sail and push it back home again. There was no tacking back and forth to go the opposite direction.

          Sometimes I’d sail in various pirate or sailor costumes.

My land yacht “hit a reef” when a particularly strong wind gust broke my mast. I shipwrecked about three houses down. I never rebuilt it and went on to bigger and better things. For a while though, I was the “Captain” of Prune Street.

MAKIN’ LIKKER

           Even before moving to Prune Street, I was the mad scientist and had a fascination with chemistry. By the time I was eight or nine, I had gone through many chemistry sets, my own, and sets borrowed from older kids. By the time we moved to Prune, I still had that experimental bent.

          Cowboy shows were all the rage on TV. Rawhide, Riverboat, Maverick, Have Gun Will Travel, the list goes on. It was real hard not to be curious about the “likker” the cowboys always drank in the saloon. They had their whiskey, their beer, their wine, and always chugged it down in one gulp as they prepared to “head ‘em off at the pass.”

          My parents were never much into drinking. My dad was a tee-totaller and my mom only drank occasionally. However, they always had a bottle of Jim Beam in the kitchen cupboard, which they never used unless Grandpa Frank came over around Christmas when he’d put it in the egg nogg. I had tasted sweet wine before and it was a lot better than whiskey. With my budding chemistry background, making wine seemed like a good experiment.

          My plan seemed logical at the time. To make my wine, I took grape soda and mixed some of that Jim Beam into it. Then I hid it up in the attic in a covered cup to “ferment” for several months. When I finally thought it was ready enough to try, I checked on my brew and found it mostly evaporated. What was left tasted so bad, I almost threw up. I was so sure it would work!

          Not long after that, I was talking endlessly about drinking my “whisky” just like the cowboys did. My dad got fed up with all that talk and said, “Okay, you want to drink your whisky? Well, here you go.” He filled a Tupperware glass full of Jim Beam, gave it to me and told me to chug away. Just like the cowboys, I took that glass and tried to chug it down.

          To this day, some fifty years later, I cannot stand the smell or taste of Jim Beam!

          I’ve never intentionally tried to ferment anything since.

HOW I DISCOVERED MY ONE AND ONLY ALLERGY

THE YELLOW MUSTARD FIELD

           Some of my first memories of Lompoc are the flowers. Not just flowers, but flowers upon flowers! The vegetation, in the random fields and along the sides of the roads, wherever there was a patch of dirt, you’d find wild flowers. The most common were yellow mustard and horseradish. To me the plants looked almost identical except the horseradish plants were a little shorter and had purple instead of yellow flowers.

          When we lived in the trailer park near Avenue H, there were plenty of empty fields around to explore. One in particular had a lone crabapple tree. We used to pick those god-awful tasting apples and attempt to eat them. Most of the time, we could never get through more than a few bites before we gave up. Near that tree grew a lot of yellow mustard and horseradish. I would pull up the huge horseradish roots and chew on them, usually burning my tongue.

          When we moved to Prune Street, there used to be a large field where a Mormon Church now sits. In this case, the mustard was actually cultivated instead of just wild. The plants would grow very high and that field was a paradise for adventure. We would go into the field and get lost in the thick brush. Eventually, much to the chagrin of the farmer, we wore many paths going everywhere. We played endless rounds of cowboys and Indians or army. All of the gang from Prune Street died many times at the hands of our enemies.

          I remember following a trail through that field many times, never seeing the sun, just a yellowish sky.

          After a year or so, I developed severe headaches and sinus problems. My mom took me to the doctor. He determined I had a minor allergy to the mustard, gave me some kind of shot and it never bothered me again. I don’t know what was in that shot, but to this day, though I have sinus problems, I have no specific allergies to anything that I know of.

          One day, we were out in the field playing army when we came across an underground fort made by a bunch of older kids. They dug these deep trenches and covered them with boards, then covered the boards with dirt. This made a perfect cave and we had a really great time in it. I bet the farmer busted an axle or two when he came to harvest the mustard!

          The gang on Prune enjoyed that field for years. I bet nobody in that Mormon temple has any idea of the little kid memories they built their structure on top of!

DISTANCES

           I know many of you have heard that shopworn sayings of how your parents or grandparents used to “trudge through the tundra, miles and miles to school every day” while being chased by the bad guys, delinquents and truant officers. Do truant officers still exist today? Or, trudging through lightning and earthquakes to the store on the other side of town to get a quart of milk.

          Back during my elementary school days, we walked or rode bikes everywhere. The Lompoc Valley isn’t exactly the Sacramento Valley in size, but there are distances involved, especially considering the way things are today.

          From the time I was in first grade through the eighth grade, I walked or rode my bike to every corner of that valley. It was nothing to bike the 3 miles up to the site of the old mission where the crack from the earthquake that destroyed it in 1812 still cuts in to the south side of the valley. It was nothing to walk from Prune all of 1.1 miles to Lompoc Junior High (now called Lompoc Middle School) or the half mile to Clarence Ruth Elementary when I was littler. It was nothing to hike the 1.8 miles to the Santa Inez River on the north side of town and explore for hours.

          Nowadays, an elementary school kid is taking their life in their hands just walking to the end of the block! There are so many child molesters, kidnappers, sex slave traders, gang-bangers, drunks in vehicles, and who knows what else to contend with that it can be hazardous even for adults to go outside. Times have changed when everyone has to lock their cars and doors even when they’re home.

          I can say that I lived in an age where as a kid of eight or ten years old, I had walked or rode my bike every corner of Lompoc.

          Distances aren’t what they used to be, at least the mode of getting there isn’t, and I don’t mean mechanically.

THE GREAT MUD BALL WARS

           Once we moved to Prune street, we were surrounded by kids my age. We all pretty much met in the street and became friends. At that time, because of the rain, mud formed between some of the houses. It was great for making mud balls. The clay-like texture proved ideal to form into basic shapes.

          We decided to each make an arsenal of mud balls and throw them while they were still wet so we wouldn’t hurt each other. I made a huge stash of ammo and marked mine with a red Tinkertoy. I rubbed a reddish groove in mine, my brand, just like Rawhide… get along little doggies!

          I had my stash of mud balls and kept them wet in my “secret” cache next to the house. We spent several days pummeling each other with these mud balls until my next door neighbor stole some of mine and claimed they were his. Apparently I was more efficient at making them than the others. With the proof of his theft in the brand, we went from friends to enemies and alliances shifted.

          Our war came to a crashing halt when some bigger kids invaded our territory and pelted us with dried mud balls. These hard objects resembled rocks and wiped us out. Soon after that initial battle, I discovered some of my mud balls among the dried ones the older kids were using. My next door neighbor and I shifted alliances once again. Since we found out those big kids had been stealing our mud balls the whole time and drying them to “teach us a lesson,” we had to plot our revenge. Alas, it never happened. The rains went away and the mud disappeared. The remaining mud balls crumbled and the big kids went on to other things.

          Within my first few months of living on Prune, I went through a major mud ball war and learned which big kids to avoid. A bitter lesson, the agony of defeat, soon forgotten as other adventures took up our time.

DYNO’MITE!

          It was sometime between 61 and 63 but I am not sure which year. One of my friends, Paul took up collecting keys. At that time, people didn’t have to lock their doors and used to leave the keys in their cars. The little brats that we were (between 10 and 12), we went around stealing keys out of cars. When we got tired of cars, we expanded our horizons, ending in a construction yard on an industrial block centered between R and V, Laurel and Maple. We had no trouble jumping the chain link fence where we found a construction truck.

          After grabbing the keys for Paul (his pockets bulged by now), we noted all these compartments on the back of the truck. In one of them, we found red sticks that looked like the old red BB packages with the crimped ends, except much larger. The label said High pressure gelatin.

          “Are they they Jello or something?”

          I don’t recall who said that, but it sounded good enough at the time. We confiscated the six sticks and ended up in a drainage ditch under the railroad tracks parallel to Laurel Ave, an east-west road that met up with V Street and Tha’ Ditch. We opened one of the sticks. Inside, the substance looked like brown sugar with white stuff in it. Someone found a spoon lying along the side of the road, we dug a bit out and tried to light it. It wouldn’t burn. I think it was John who found a bottle of rubbing alcohol in another compartment of that truck, so we poured some on that wad of high pressure gelatin, lit it again and it burned like a flare. In our minds we’d found road flares! Why not save them for 4th of July and light them?

          We split the sticks between us. I got two, John got two, Paul and Tommy got one each. We took them home and stashed them.

          Jump forward a few months. Paul became paranoid and decided to get rid of his stick. He took it out to his trash can. A neighbor saw him throwing it away and understandably freaked out! It wasn’t long before Paul’s dad was brought in the loop and all hell broke loose.

          Saturday morning, I lounged in the living room of our house on Prune Street, drank hot chocolate and watched George of the Jungle on our black-and-white TV. A knock at the door interrupted my morning routine.  When I answered, it was the police! Paul stood behind the cop.

          The cop gave me the fish-eye. “Where’s the dynamite, Son.”

          “The what?”

          Behind the cop, Paul tried to tell me, “The flares!” I finally got the hint (I’m a little slow at charades).

          When I got home that day, I took my two sticks and hid them in the weeds in the alley outside of my fence. I took the cop out into the alley and show him the sticks lying there, exposed, but buried in the weeds. His name was Homer and he was the jumpy type. My long-haired Dachshund, Fritzi, escaped out the back gate and peed on the sticks. Homer about had a cow!

          Of course being a dumb kid, I had no idea of the significance of that, except that it was the funniest thing I’d seen in a long time, especially Homer’s reaction. After he calmed down and while we waited for the EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) team from Vandenberg to show up, Homer explained to Paul and I about nitrogen whiskers.

          When certain explosives like dynamite age, they can crystallize with what are called nitrogen whiskers. Something as mundane as a radio frequency, a wisp of dust, or a leaf can break a crystal and cause an explosion. To this day, I still remember Homer and that explanation. In fact, I used it in one of my novels, Lusitania Gold.

          By this time it is still sinking in that those flares are actually dynamite. The adults have now recovered three of the sticks, but what about the other three? John lived two doors down from me and everyone wanted to know who had the rest of them. Paul was afraid to tell, and so was I.

          John saw the commotion with the police cars and came down to check it out. I pulled him aside and told him what our flares were. He freaked out and went home. His sticks were under his bed. He rushed into his bedroom and slid them under his brother’s bed because he didn’t want the cops or his mom to find the Playboys he stashed under his bed! A few minutes later, he came back and told Homer that he had two of the sticks. By that time, the bomb squad was in the alley behind my house and they marched into John’s house and went to work on those sticks. This was about the time Homer told me that one stick could flatten a city block. Oh crap!

          Now we still had one stick missing, Tommy’s. Paul didn’t say who got the other one and I didn’t want to be a fink, but I’d already opened my big mouth that I knew where the other stick was, so I took the cops on a wild goose chase all over Lompoc. The way they kept us kids in the car, we couldn’t talk privately. Pretty soon, the cops were thinking of taking us to jail. Finally, we were left alone in the car and Paul asked me what I was doing and I told him I didn’t want to get Tommy in trouble. He told me I was crazy to keep him out of it with the danger, and to go ahead and tell them. He’d been trying to tell me to give up his name, but I couldn’t understand his signals. Like I said, I suck at charades!

          When we got hold of Tommy, we found out he stashed his stick in the weeds in Tha’ Ditch on V street across from his house. His stick was twisted and opened in the middle where the tube unraveled. Since his was exposed, it developed nitrogen whiskers.

          All four of us earned a visit downtown to the pokie where we received the treatment by the cops, but they didn’t charge us with anything. The next day, the Lompoc Record had a story called Those Lucky Boys. I guess so! I used to have that article in a scrapbook but now I can’t find it. The last time I saw it was in my mom’s house in Palmdale. I got hold of the Lompoc Record a few years ago but to get that article again, they’d have to search through their old records and they’re not all computerized yet.

          That’s the story of how four young kids almost blew up Lompoc!

MESSIN’ WITH MY “EDJEEKASHUN”

          As I think back on my years in school, I will be the first to admit I was a mediocre student, at best. Sure, I had my bright spots, but most of them were in the first through fourth grade. Then things started to go off the rails. Part of that was my total lack of interest. However, some of it was inflicted by the school system, bullies, sorely lacking social skills, and I might as well blame the dog while I’m at it!

          The early sixties could be a scary era to live in. Paranoia filled every day with Commies around every corner, nuclear bomb drills and because we lived in good old Calee’fornia, called just California back then, earthquake drills. The standard response to both consisted of first diving under a desk. As for earthquakes, the only difference was the added option of never running outside and also being able to stand in a doorway. In the case of the atomic bomb, diving under a desk wouldn’t have meant much. With Vandenberg Air Force Base just a few miles away, the blast probably wouldn’t have killed us but the fallout certainly would have. As a famous salesman on TV used to say, “Oh, but there’s more!” To add to our growing list of concerns, we also had the dawn of the UFO age, the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot and every other number of strange and weird phenomena to make a young kid freak out. Did I mention Vandenberg? Right next to our big base sat Point Arguello, the sister bas where between the two of them, they constantly shot missiles into the sky to do who-knows-what.

          For a paranoid young lad, I considered us living at ground zero if the Russians decided to get frisky, aliens wanted to invade, and countless monsters decided we humans were lunch. To say I lived in a distracted state of mind is an understatement. I developed an ulcer in the third grade. We now know ulcers come from a virus (or bacteria?), but worrying can egg them on and I had that in full supply. Sometimes we would discuss this stuff in class. Unfortunately, that became the setting for why I hated English class for the rest of my school days.

          Often, we discussed nuclear bombs and the end of the world and all that good stuff with the teachers. I guess they wanted to comfort us a little, shut us up, or talk things out so they didn’t feel so paranoid themselves. One day we were slogging through English class at Clarence Ruth Elementary and were talking about nuclear bombs. The teacher made a reference to our English books. He told us that if released properly, there was enough energy in one of our English books to destroy the world. The trick was in releasing the energy in the proper way to take advantage of it. I looked at that thick boring book, and never did that well in English until well after I graduated. Funny, as now I’m a writer!

          Then there was the math… Good old Calee’fornia decided to experiment on us kids by subjecting us to SMSG, an experimental math program for elementary school kids. It was all the rage with the adults and they thought it would push us into the twenty first century, still a few decades away (this was early 60’s). I learned a smidgen about vectors, base six, base two, base three and a bunch of other stuff I can’t possibly remember. I struggled with that stuff for probably four years and never really got it. When we left Lompoc and returned to Palmdale in 1965, I had to take basic math over again as a freshman in high school because I could barely add and subtract! To this day, I’m no whiz at math. That SMSG ruined me to math for life.

          Despite those glitches in my education, the Lompoc school system set me up for the knowledge I have used for the rest of my life, including two master’s degrees. I must’ve absorbed something because as an adult, I’ve always done pretty well with classes. I guess I should thank all you teachers, wherever you are!

LITTLE KID ARTS AND CRAFTS

 

          As a creative young lad, I loved to mess with arts and crafts. I don’t remember the teacher’s name, but when I was in first or second grade at Arthur Hapgood Elementary, our art teacher had us make polyhedrons out of craft paper. I still remember those black balls. I think we made them for Halloween. We made them again the next year at Clarence Ruth and some of them were orange.

          My creative spirit went to the next level in shop class where they trusted us enough, even in the fifth and sixth grades, to perform rudimentary woodworking. I guess nowadays, it’s not politically correct to let young whippersnappers touch anything more threatening than a computer, at least until they’re at least in middle to high school. Back in the good old days, at least wood shop was common even in elementary school.

          It was inevitable that we had a shop teacher with a finger, toe or eye missing. Our woodworking instructor at Clarence Ruth was Mr. Rosen. Though he had all his fingers, one of his eyes consisted of glass. When he would get pissed, he’d give you the “fish eye.”. Everyone had to watch out for the “fish eye.” I really liked Mr. Rosen and he was a very decent teacher, at least to me. My first year, I carved out a walnut bowl. Not with a lathe either. This was a leaf shaped bowl and I had to use chisels. It didn’t turn out too bad.

          The next year, since I was into sailing ships, I made a three-masted frigate, just like the models I had at home. I’d been drawing them since I was in second grade and a big thrill for me came when I sent one of my drawings into a TV show Billy Barty (anyone remember him?) hosted in Santa Barbara. His character was a pirate and he did bits then showed cartoons. At the end of the show he had a section where he read letters and showed stuff kids sent him. I sent “Pirate Billy” (or whatever his name was) one of my three-masted frigates and he showed it on air! I was thrilled. “We have this drawing from Freddy Rayworth up in Lompoc.” He held it to the camera for a precious ten seconds and said something else I can’t remember.

          With that inspiration still in my head, I put that drawing into reality several years later. The hull was made of balsa wood and I used different sized dowels for the masts. It turned out pretty good, but since I always seemed to have one bully or another haunting me through every school year, just before grading, someone went into the storage room and smashed my ship to bits. I ended up getting a C in the class, despite the teacher knowing how much effort I put into that ship.

          I also tried my hand at drawing. I don’t remember the art teacher’s name, but she showed us how to look at something and draw it without looking at our hand or our work until it was done. I don’t know what this technique is called but by using your eye to follow the shapes of an object, if you could mimic those shapes with your hand, sometimes, you would surprise yourself with what you could draw. The one and only time it actually worked for me, I was in Mr. Hampstead’s English class (I think it was English because he was also a gym teacher if I remember right). I was bored out of my skull and took pencil to paper. I decided to try that technique on Mr. Hampstead. After a few minutes, I looked down at the result. The drawing looked exactly like him! To this day, I’ve never come close to doing that again.

          Once I was at Lompoc Junior High School, I learned to use my creative skills in art class. I made a huge monstrosity out of toothpicks. It stood about three feet tall and I must’ve used twenty or thirty boxes of toothpicks and who knows how much Elmer’s glue. It was a shapeless mass, sort of like a twisty mountain (the Matterhorn?). A bully smashed that one too. I glued it back together, but dropped it on the way home from school. I can’t remember if I ever made it home with the pieces.

          By the time I reached high school, I was into band and never took another shop or art class. Today, I can’t draw artistically to save my life, but I can technically draw and it comes into play make things out of wood. At least something stuck from those shop classes!

          When I was stationed in Turkey, a lot of Turks, especially Gypsies, had wards for the evil eye painted all over their wagons and had them on jewelry. It always made me think of poor old Mr. Rosen.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 19, 2013 8:05 pm

    I’m enjoying the way you write about your life – it’s a measured, honest tone. No frills, just good stories.

    • February 20, 2013 2:09 am

      Gabriela,

      Thank you so much for the kind comments. You’re the first person to comment on my short stories!

      As Jimmy Durante used to say (an old-time comedian from way before your time…),

      “I got a million of ‘em!”

      Fred

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