Excited to Explore What I Have

You can travel, or you can explore right here at home. You can find something new on a trip by car or plane, or you can make a discovery in your reading room’s bookshelf. You can be honest with yourself and admit that you own books you’ve never cracked open. A faraway place or your copy of Listen! The Wind!; your eyes have till now seen neither.

I’m excited to explore what I have!

What’s there to buy, when you can rummage through your closet or garage? Why take a photograph when you haven’t bothered to study the albums your mom and dad filled? Who do you long to speak with again, when someone you love’s under your roof, being unspoken to.

They are alone, right now! Who again, do you long to speak to?

All that I have, should be used once and reused, often. My collected treasures should be described by me, not by others. What I’ve shared creates value to a stranger overseas, a fellow enthusiast who enjoys what I’ve shown. I don’t need him to be inspired to do likewise and show his treasures to me via the online forum we belong to. Instead, I want him to explore what he has, himself.

You are going to die, not knowing about most of the places and people in this world. Don’t die not knowing who or what you’ve got at home.

Bolt From The Blue (2011). Pen and ink on watercolor paper. It’s about being excited!
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What’s coming in 2023?

Let’s take a look at what I’ll be producing for you this year.

Last year was the tenth anniversary of The Literate Show, a site where I pair a single original photograph or illustration with writing, to make a story. This formula will continue.

This year’s subjects will include a piece on an appreciation of readers– who you are, and what makes you unique in today’s world. I’m not talking about people who skim read, or who scroll to the last two paragraphs to get the gist of the story. I’m talking about people who sit down for their meal.

Is that you? Could that person be you, one day?

If you enjoy what you get here, thank you, it’s made for you.

I picked up many new regular readers in 2022, and I owe you the following: I am, primarily an abstract and traditional floral artist who writes human interest stories. I love people and cherish friendships.

I celebrate the joys of my childhood by working with scale models and setting them in artistic diorama scenes. The pre-teen enjoyment of model tanks and planes, and of history books, flows through me at age 57 and brings much to my general writing and viewpoint.

You need to get that, to get your writer.

If you like what I write, then I hope you’ll understand there is a particular mix that is me, that makes the stories just so. You cannot remove an element from who I am, that you may think is unsavory. The work would suffer. It would be incomplete, or toothless; sensitive at the wrong moment and insensitive when it must not be. If I were to filter who I am, I’d begin to cross over into what you get from other writers.

In 2023, you will get at least one new story per month.

You will get at least one new travel photography exhibit, to a town or city that I have wandered through with my cameras.

Hopefully, you’ll be stirred emotionally with something new, and if you tell me about it, I will learn something new too.

There may be a very big surprise this year, but so much has to align to make it happen. In the meantime, I’ll restate my promise to entertain you with good material. If a certain piece isn’t your thing, please come back for the next. Or you can re-read (or discover) a particular favorite, from the past posts.

What I write is like my mother’s Armenian cooking. It is not for everybody. It is made with care. It isn’t rushed, and it’s not fast food. Most of all, it’s delicious, if you spend some time to sit down and enjoy it– in this place that’s my home.

Posted in Uncategorized, Year end accomplishments | 1 Comment

Model pictures from 2021 and 2022

It’s time to post my best model diorama and scenic shots from the past few years. I have tried not to show repeats from previous posts. You’ll be seeing fresh material.

I have seventy-five pictures for you today. To make viewing easier, I’ve categorized the images. We’re going to start with science fiction and end with jets.

Most of these models are 1/72 scale diecast metal or plastic. A few are larger scales, and a few were kit builds. I built and painted the Alf seaplane and the Semovente self-propelled gun, which is 1/35 scale and in the first three photos from the Early WWII category. Many of the tank models have been painted, weathered, and detailed by me. 99% of the scenes were photographed on my kitchen table on physical sets, and then finished in Photoshop for an artistic completion. This includes fixing flaws, or dropping in sky, or jungle, or other backgrounds where needed.

This is me enjoying my models and relaxing, by creating interesting scenes. Some of these will inspire future written stories. I go radical and wild with anything I want to try and these pictures are very satisfying to make. Click on the picture to make it big!

SCIENCE FICTION:

My favorite Enterprise, the original.
Battlestar Galactica’s Colonial Viper is my favorite space fighter. I’ve loved it since its debut in 1978.

EARLY WWII:

This is the Semovente I built and painted in 2003.
A moment for one’s thoughts.
Two paired groupings. All the differences in the world.
Many levels.

MIDDLE YEARS– WWII:

Very simple. Love the lines and movement.
Wild ground, and lots of effort on this model’s finish.
Saying goodbye.
Porsche Tiger.

THE DESERT WAR:

Atmospheric.
Great composition.

PACIFIC WAR:

Let’s write a story about this one.
My Alf seaplane model. Built in 1998, she was destroyed in 2018.
One of my favorite scenes, Guadalcanal, September 1942.
Admiral McCain’s PBY was first plane to visit Henderson Field in August 1942. The admiral reasoned, if this bird could land there, then fighters could too.
Loved making the play of natural light.
Adding color and black and white just so.
Separation. One of my favorite pictures. Let’s write a story for this one.
Gorgeous DeAgostini Grace.

BEUTE PANZER (SOVIET TANKS THAT HAVE BEEN CAPTURED BY THE GERMANS):

This T-34/85 conversion is a tough little crusher.
Much effort went into this model’s conversion and detailing.
There are historical photos documenting this particular T-34.
How does a machine work in such cold? How can we make a photo convince us of this temperature?

LATE WAR YEARS– WWII

A pleasure to set this scene, the picture was so easy it practically took itself.
Huge 1/18 scale nightfighter.
Frigid.
This forest shot was taken a year ago, outside my new South Carolina neighborhood. The forest has since been felled for a new development.

WHAT IF– PAPER PROJECTS COME TO LIFE:

Wonderful 3D printed tank.
Sherman tank with Pershing turret actually existed, but was not fielded in combat.
One of my favorite pictures, and a great model to paint and weather.
Movement!
I’m very happy with how this model concept turned out.
Crewed up, as real as I could imagine making such a scene.
T29EX is a concept tank, of which I know very little of. I do know I love the Cromwell / Black Knight Studios model.
The condensation off the front hull, and turret top, make this photo special.

BRIDGE SET:

So much work went into detailing this model, and I was happy with how it came out.
A tough looking tank, carefully made to look simple, and I’m happy to say the finish is all mine.
My three heavy tank prized models.
M36 actually saw combat in WWII.

POST-WAR:

Clear and classic.

POST-WAR BRITISH (INCLUDES THREE WHAT IFS):

I feel like I could walk right into the scene.
Something about the angle of the shot, the lines of the tank, and the colors work with the polarizer.

JETS

The first of an exciting new way for me to present models.
We can believe these are real places.

Thank you for looking!

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Speed of Goodbye

I was traveling eight hours on the I-81 highway out of West Virginia, and there was so much to not see. I was dismissive of the lands and numb to them; everything looked the same. I was in here, and all that was out there. My soda can was more interesting than the Opequon farms, and it was an empty can, at that. The landscape was a mass of repetition in those hundreds of miles, and that was true until I realized it couldn’t be true, at all.

The wastes of locations off the interstate are rarely one’s destination. A full half of these sights are the medians between north and south traffic, and east and west lanes. The medians are state property but don’t seem to belong to anybody. They are maintained yet essentially unclaimed. Thousands of people pass a given point in a matter of minutes and unless there’s a rest stop, it’s all blank to them. We can say, those sections of real estate are as regenerative as golf scenery in a 1990’s video game. Median grounds, no matter how natural and beautiful they happen to be, are stand-ins between the two real stars in our life: Who we hugged where we left, and who we’ll greet where we’re headed.

Until it all becomes untrue, to the traveler.

Here’s what it’s like. I’m a passenger in a speeding car and I’m being called. I’m being spoken to, by what I see I’m travelling past. I’m not responding and feel gluttonous in the enormity of what I’m ignoring. With the calling, I can’t help but think I’m letting the roadside down. The trees, the cows, the clearings, the barns, each of these entities scroll past for their respective first times yet they accumulate on my grid of stubborn resistance.

Whether picturesque and thrilling or simply present and passing, they are units of area. When I give no regard to these groupings, I’m placing a lock on a door that had been left open for me. My locking their door does not hold them in or shut them out– that function is impossible. And it’s not going to keep other people from entering that group’s world. All I’m locking out is myself. If I keep it up– if I pretend the calling is not for me, I’m never going to discover anything new. Because what is new must always come from outside me.

That includes ideas, for ideas are gifts.

Those highway scatterway places, with their trees and fields would feel frustrated with me if they could feel, because my lack of response has shuttered an entrance I might have otherwise crossed. I don’t mean I could have crossed their entryway by stopping my car and exploring their pastures on foot. No, I’m talking about something deeper, grander, like being on their lands by simply giving myself permission– allowing my mind– to get into their particular world.

That allowance is a big step, believe me.

A man allowing himself something, anything, is him telling the world: I was here, and now I am moving. And the world glances his way, perhaps for the first time ever and says, “Oh, look, he is alive after all.” And now the world will take note. And possibly, take action– depending on what the man does. He’s on the map now.

Resist their open door? No longer. I was here– driving many hours– and only now I’m beginning to move!

Oh, I have to get close to it, to see what makes it what it is! I have to make a movement to stop myself from not venturing to these patient places. Because they had to have been patient, to have found me.

I had taken this drive to see family over Thanksgiving, and now I was returning home. What’s going on out there?

Each bit of passing land is a mini-scene, and I take a second or two to digest it. I have just a moment to see it, to grasp and take it in, because the next scene’s coming right after. One second, and two, and gone. And next and next.

I get it, and it’s moved on. I get the next scene, and it too is gone. And again, fifty, one-hundred, countless times I accept what’s set before my eager eyes and immediately cede it being replaced with another scene.

Each tree establishes a place, delightful in its context. Freeze it in my eyes, and in that one-second’s time I think: Boy I would really love to be there. I long to plop down and linger, yes right near that enclave, not fifteen yards off the hard lanes of pavement. Under this tree, I can read Anne Morrow Lindbergh in true peace. Her words from 1935 come directly to me, there’s no age in her prose, no translation matrix to interfere.

I can do so much more than be alone. I’m driving away from my loved ones, my Thanksgiving hosts, but why not imagine them with me? Here, and here?

Everyone I’ve said goodbye to, not just this holiday but any loved one from any day– why not picture us together? I remember someone, a very special someone who loved the sound of rain on a roof. Something about it, she never articulated just what, brought her immense peace. Maybe it was the fact that she was dry and in complete safety, during the downpour. My car ride is through a storm and I can see a cottage off the road where we’d be protected. And just like that, she’s there with me.

She turns to me and presses something into my hand. It’s a folded piece of paper with lines and lines of neat handwriting. She says, “Ten years from now, when you think of us, I want you to remember how happy you are right now.” And I do.

It’s sunny again. I see a cluster of vines and I imagine my mother and brothers and sisters are there. It’s the third week of June, and mom says this is the best week to pick grape leaves, because they are at their most tender. Not to worry about gathering too many; she knows how to preserve them for an entire year. And the family is assured of several meals of delicious sarma, my favorite delicacy of them all.

How is this done within a mere second or two? Well, as each physical location passes, I begin to form ideas. Specific people come to mind and a story develops, waiting for the right sight to come into view. And then like a stamp, I apply the scenario as it fits.

I can be with you here, mom. And there, and there. You would find something to enjoy at each place I set my eyes upon. That’s the kind of contentment you carried with yourself and brought to others. Maybe you could tell us kids another story from the early days with dad, and we can marvel at how sharp your 1953 recollections are. You mean to say you two took your honeymoon in Washington DC and hadn’t made hotel arrangements? General MacArthur was in town and all the rooms were booked? Where did you stay that night? And you tell us. To our delight.

“That sounds exhausting!’ People will say.

I say, try it. Try going somewhere wild when someone drives you home. Dare to see where you look. You may find that you can play, explore, read, daydream, and converse, in long-discounted places that just happen to be real. You can imagine even more on top of that, if you include those you love. And then some kind of magic happens, as you answer a certain call.

CAPTION: You will never get here, but you can be here. You may be alone, but you can be with others.
Posted in non-fiction | 3 Comments

No, Yes

You can be stopped in one cruel way, or you can go in many wonderful ways.

CAPTION: No and Yes.
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With You

With you, I’m no longer seeking what to do today. It’s sunny and we’re in your truck, first to drop off some things for a friend, then to pick up our hot food for the game. You’re playing music and it’s loud and you’re humming along with a tune we’ve known forever. The next song comes on and you’re back to singing again, except this song’s new to me. I freeze and you smile. “You don’t know this one?” you say, as you turn it up and get into it. And I get into it.

With you, we have a picnic spread on the field overlooking the breakers on the sea. We have lots of plans for today and at this moment, all we care about is what’s placed before us. It occurs to me that your focus is making sure all’s right with me. “Do you have enough?” you ask. And I do.

With you, you hold my arm and ask me why you’ve lived this long. When others have passed. You’re worn out with nothing left. You want to know how that makes any sense at all. I say that I’m so glad to be with you. You say, “I can’t argue with that.” You squeeze my hand tight and then we talk about those we loved so much, those long gone. Wouldn’t you know, you tell me something new about them. And about you.

With you, you’ve bought me dinner for my birthday and we’ve played frisbee right after. It’s dark and I know you have a family to get back home to. I hate that our time’s coming to an end. “It’s getting too dark to play,” you say, as we gather the balls and disks and place them back in your trunk. We head out, and talk, and I don’t want our time to be over– but I don’t say a word about that. You’ve given me a great night. Then you say, “How about an ice cream?” and just like that our night starts anew. Then I say it: “I don’t want this to end. I love you so much, my big brother.”

With you, all of you, I express my gratitude. I can’t help it. We’re shoulder-to-shoulder and each other’s presence should be enough– it usually is with your other companions, right? When it’s me and you, you’re getting a different flavor ice cream, aren’t you? A new song. You’re going to hear something no one else has told you in a long while, if ever. With me.

CAPTION: Embrace is a pen and ink drawing that inspired the With You written piece.
Posted in non-fiction | 1 Comment

Sunshower

Sunshower is not what you think it is. Sunshower hit me hard a long time ago and has found me again. It left my head warm and my skin red, as I was overwhelmed with the message the rush of water brought to me.

Robbie and I were peddling our dirt bikes on the streets of Wakefield, Massachusetts, forty-six years ago. We were eleven, it was summertime and didn’t we look just fine. Rob had come up with an idea, and his brainstorms were sometimes dangerous, often illegal and always ill-advised. In those days, he would float each of his ideas to one good friend at a time, just to gauge whether or not it was out of the question. Today, it was me.

Rob’s dad kept various lengths of metal tubing in his barn. Rob thought it would be cool to stick those tubes onto our bikes’ front forks, to extend our wheels like choppers. How did I feel about this idea? Well, my dad had a saw that cut through metal and a drill I could sneak out of the house when my mom was making the upstairs beds. I was game. We planned to do the work the next weekend; his parents would be on a few hours’ trip and we’d not be spotted on our secret project.

My small, mismatched Frankenbike could certainly use some wow factor. Its flaking handlebars were stripped, which meant that they would swing up or down when I leaned forward or back– not very safe but we’d tightened it as much as we could. I had an authentic BMX saddle seat that was the envy of friends but truth be told, it felt hard after an hour or so. I spent a lot of time riding “standing up” on my pedals– just to keep off the seat for a bit.

Worst of all, my bike was heavy. It wasn’t made of lighter-weight alloys like the rich kids’ bikes. Those boys had gorgeous straight-bar frames that just seemed to jump into the air. And their colors! Chrome silver or red– kids would stare in awe. The paint finishes were certified GCS– Gum Chew Stopper. Mark, a kid from across town who we’d catch glimpses of but didn’t know personally, had such a bike. Rob and I knew he competed in racing, and that he was tough, but we didn’t know much more than that.

My frame was curved, common steel, rattle-can-painted by me and Rob on newspapers spread out beside his barn.

“Not everyone is like you,” he said. “And so’s the same with your bike.”

I had ditched my wimpy stock tires for new knobby versions– encouraged by Rob who helped me put those tires to good use. They gripped the road better, and I loved how they sounded on our streets. That’s right, a pedal-bike’s tires had their own noise quality. You had to be a rider, with your ears positioned as only a rider’s could be, to hear them at their most glorious. Turning the bike in slow Ss gave the best wet, rippling sound imaginable, and boy, did I get carried away doing just that. Each street had its own personality– Kimball, Cordis, Vernon and Lowell– and their surfaces would come to life when good tires gripped them.

Rob and I cut the four longest tubes we could from his dad’s stock, to about sixteen-inches, and fitted them to our front forks. We drilled a hole through the tubes for the wheel to screw on, and as quick as that, we had what no other kid had– choppers!

“The tender chicks will dig us,” he assured me.

“How could no one have thoughtten of this?” I added.

At first all went well. We were riding high! Then Rob popped a wheelie and his chopper assembly dropped off– the wheel and its two clanging tubes. This led him to yell for help as he frantically peddled in a mad game of Keep Your Fork In The Air. He crashed, of course, he couldn’t ride a wheelie forever, and a millisecond before he and his bike ground to a stop he said, “We just need screws to hold these on.”

Our chopper forks were too long. We didn’t want to admit it, but it was true. Our desire for attention was so much that we just couldn’t bear the thought to go shorter. The tubing gave us a high front-end posture that looked racy, but boy was it hard to pedal and steer. We could ride quite well going downhill, and even peddling on level streets wasn’t too hard for short periods. Going uphill was impossible and Wakefield was a hilly town.

There were other problems. My knob tires would scrape the tubing– the metal wasn’t curved to accommodate the wide rubber. And we didn’t have a good screw and nut system to keep the extenders straight and sturdy. I went to Schwinn Cyclery on Albion Street where I’d bought my tires and hand grips. The man at the counter smiled when he saw what I’d done. “You can’t do this,” he said, giving the tubes careful study. “Oh my gosh, no. Not this way, at least.” He paused, rubbing his chin. Then he said, “There are other options.”

I looked at his $75 Mongoose forks and aluminum star wheels he had for sale. I didn’t have anywhere near that kind of money. Heck, I had hardly any money at all. The waffle grips I’d bought from him cost $1.26. I remember the price because I had to count out the coins on this very counter, partially from pennies I found in parking lots on the trek to the shop. I didn’t want to hear about options.

Rob and I quietly restored our bikes to their stock configurations. It was a relief for our tired legs. We returned the chopper tubing back to the barn, and never said another word about it.

One day I was riding home from the bike shop and I ran into Mark, right at the corner of Main Street at Aame’s Drug store. There was no avoiding him. I’d got off my bike to take an admiring look at the plastic oval racing placard I’d just bought. It was bright blue and the Schwinn owner had thrown in a large sticker of the number of my choice– Black 7. He’d tie-wrapped the perforated placard to my handlebars, which thankfully Rob had sanded, painted flat black, and torqued real tight before I’d set out that morning.

Mark stopped his beautiful Redline-brand machine next to me and smiled. Oh, crap, I thought.

“Nice placard,” he said, bemused. “We use those for competition, not for the street.”

“Yeah,” I replied, as if he’d said, “You’ve picked the best color out of all they have to sell.”

I couldn’t believe Mark was standing with me. He was the perfect BMX kid, muscular, not too tall, and good-looking. My friends guessed he came from money. We knew so little about him, and here he was! He had a reputation for being tough– not a bully, but tough– and I was glad our schools were a mile apart. Mark was not the kid I’d want to run into in the hallway.

My friends regarded him as the top racer in our part of the state. He was reputed to have a professional bike, fully tricked out, in addition to the sharp everyday ride he was on today. His eyes were on my bike. “Caldor special?” he mocked. “What have you done to it?”

It didn’t take much for me to feel very small, very quickly. I must have turned a shade of red and I’m sure he noticed. I say this because he started his “What have you done to it” in a degrading way, but changed his tone mid-sentence. It was fascinating to hear, really. What started out as “Oh my God, you’ve ruined an already crappy bike!” had transformed into something more of a peer’s curiosity.

Just because he’d seen my reaction.

I rubbed the front of my nose and said nothing. What could I say about the choices I’d made? My small plastic Count Chocula propeller spun lazily in the wind, clamped near my left handle grip– it was the cereal box toy that Rob had begged me to throw away. Mark smiled and got his bike in motion. He rolled past me towards Schwinn and then stopped and turned around. “I’ve seen you ride,” he said. “Those wild Ss. Nice control, Hagopian. You have good posture.” And then he was gone.

Later, Rob was incredulous. “You saw Mark?”

“Yes.”

“He’s seen you riding?”

“Yes!”

“HE KNOWS YOUR NAME?”

I smiled.

“He saw the stupid Count Chocula thing? Hey, teach me how to do those Ss. You ride ’em standing on the pedals, right? That’s your secret. It’s your thing. You pedal for speed and then you’re coasting? Let me try it.”

A week or so later Rob and I were out riding. I don’t remember what business we had on Emerald Street that day. It was very hot, and the street was steep. Maybe we were collecting on Rob’s paper route? Perhaps we were simply exploring an area just past Salem Street and outside the familiar edge of our neighborhood. We rode up the hill, to a place new to me.

In a quick turn of events, heavy clouds appeared, and it began to rain– hard. Within twenty seconds we were soaked. We didn’t dare ride down the street– no one was going anywhere at this moment. We laid our bikes on the sidewalk and watched the flash flood slosh down the hill.

Within seconds an impulse struck us. We both picked an edge of the street and laid down in the surge. It was as simple as that. Laying by the curb, we were engulfed in the rushing rainwater, turned hot by the street.

Don’t believe for one second that the water was particularly dirty or contaminated. That street was cleaner than most public pools. I was there– and in it! No leaves or trash of any kind. We weren’t ducking debris or anything gross or rancid– that water was as fresh as could be.

A fast, heavy volume washed over me. Oh, the feeling of natural liquid heat! And then words came to my mind: “You’re a happy kid.” I was inspired to rejoice in that sentence, over and over, as the seconds passed. “You’re a happy kid! you’re a happy kid.”

It was the pleasure of a lifetime.

The rainwater, at that temperature on that street at that age drove those words into me. I basted in them. It wasn’t a command. It wasn’t a cue to study harder, or to be a good boy, or to stop stealing candy at Lil Peach, or to appreciate the things I had in life. The reveal was an understanding that I was, and had been, and would always be happy, in my days before and for today and a lifetime hereafter. Not everyone was going to be. Not all the time, and for some people, hardly ever.

I lay in the road, and the message came to me. Over the years I would have setbacks, a sprinkling of unhappy moments in time, but the childlike joy is my compass. This is how my bottle floats. Sunshower was a blessing.

Today I live in a house I bought this month. The neighborhood was recently built in a forest clearing and one Saturday morning I noticed something. At about 8:30 the sun eclipsed the pines and shone through my bathroom’s narrow opaque bar of windows, fully illuminating the tiled bathroom shower. That may mean nothing to most people. To me, it had glorious potential. Being showered within bright natural light took my mind back to the sensations and ideas of July 1976.

The hot water brought it back to me. It’s so easy to recall so much. The people from that summer came alive.

The shower is relieving. There are no cares because it’s a Saturday and I can stake my hours as I wish. I can stand still as long as I want to, daydream and think.

And then, oh, there it is! Someone had said something to me that July. You read it when he said it. When I’m standing on the tile with the hot water on my head, I can hear his voice and see his expression. And– I wish I had responded. Wish I could get the moment back. I want to try it again, my reaction to him I mean, because I think I missed a great opportunity. I was foolish and didn’t do anything with his words.

That’s what sunshower brings to me. It brings me a chance to make remedy.

The sun provides beyond light and heat, it works with the materials at hand to transform them, quite obviously and also much less so. Gently today, through ice-block windows. Violently yesterday, with rainwater rushing down its hot pavement servant. The violence brought me exhilaration and the understanding that I was a happy kid. The gentleness– again, all from the sun– allows me, present tense, to pick up what someone said, a long time back, and take it– take him– as far as we can go. Right now.

He said something to me, and I can’t shake it.

Did you notice it too? When he spoke to me? And how I’d done nothing?

When I’m in my house’s sunshower, and the hot water strikes, oh it’s so easy to hear what he said, and to imagine reacting differently. It’s so simple, how can I not share it with you? He wasn’t talking about what I thought was evident. Instead, he was giving me an invitation and I didn’t pick it up. He told me there were other options. What had been my reaction? I’d walked away.

Here’s what comes to mind, and please do come with me on this. The bike shop owner was telling me there were other options than what I was showing him. There were other ways to satisfy the requirement of my bike to look great. I dismissed his pitch because I thought he just wanted to sell me accessories. Yet he never mentioned buying anything. I was a kid who picked up pennies to cover the sales tax on a dollar pair of handle grips. I counted the filthy coins on the pristine glass next to the performance riding gloves kiosk. He knew who stood in front of him that day.

A modest kid.

A kid with some inventiveness, and just basic tools.

A boy completely lacking mechanical experience, or advanced bike knowledge.

I had a few dollars’ allowance due at the end of the week. I’m sure the guy knew that an eleven-year-old’s week in July was just about his whole life. What could be done, right now? He rubbed his chin, remember? Sunshower– today’s sunshower– transports me to 1976 and I answer him: “Do you think there’s something we can do?”

The bike shop owner replied, “What do you have in mind?”

“I want to make my bike look unique, be sturdy, and have a wow factor. You look like you have an idea or two. Anything you can do to help me, I would really appreciate it.”

He pondered my bike. He brought out a tape measure and studied the barn-born chopper forks. “Why are these so long?” he asked.

I nodded. “They don’t have to be. At all. We could cut these tubes in half,”

The owner raised a finger. “How about– let me go take a look at something. This may work out real well. No promises. Hold on.” He went behind the counter and rummaged around. Then he said, “Found it!” and came back to the showroom floor.

“What’s the smallest acceptable length of additional fork you’ll be okay with?”

Without giving it a second’s thought, I told him even a small length would do, anything that just looked not stock.

“Okay. Good answer. Look at these. The stools we sit on behind the counter came with optional length legs. Six-inch heavy gauge steel tubes. We don’t use them. Take a look. Good?”

“Yes!”

“Let’s see if they’ll fit.” He took just a moment to test-fit and gave a thumb’s up.

“Okay,” he said. “These are black. You’ve painted your bike black. I’ve got a slightly different idea. What do you think of dark blue? As your bike’s new color?”

“I love it.”

“Perfect. We’re going to spray paint your bike dark blue, and give you these black chopper fork extenders for just that extra bit of specialness. Sound good?”

He showed me how he planned the work. He used a mallet to carefully hammer the tube ends to an oval shape that exactly matched the fork’s. He measured to mark where he would drill the attachment holes. Then he told me that a thin stock tire, not a knobby one, would actually look best and work best.

“What else would you like?” he asked. Then, before I could answer: “I have a pair of competition handlebars I can donate. Yours aren’t safe. Once they’re stripped, there’s nothing you can do. They get stripped because you didn’t tighten them properly the first time. I will show you the right ratchet and lug to use for this. Not an adjustable wrench, as you’ve been doing.”

He also had an idea about my seat. “The rep sent us a banana seat last March even though I told him we weren’t going with that style this year. He said to keep it. It’s yours. It suits a chopper, and you’ll love how it feels.”

“Perfect, and thank you!” I said. “Now I’ll go and get the frame painted, and come back for the assembly.”

“One second,” he said, giving the back of my bike a close look. “This,” he moved his hand in a slow circle around the back wheel. “This could do with something.”

“I don’t know what you mean? I want to keep the knob tire.”

“Yes, keep it. Hold on. Be right back.” He hustled to the back room and came out holding a thin cardboard box. “Could you make use of this?” He reached in and pulled out a star rim. Incredible– that was the single most desired item of all my friends!

“It’s scratched. We can’t sell it. I can’t return it either, because well, we dropped it here. But if you want to prime it, and paint it, I’ll install it. You still have the black spray paint?”

A week later Rob and I were at Wakefield Schwinn Cyclery with my new bike. Robbie was full of praise. The black chopper forks were just the right touch to make my prize look just a bit different. The handlebars were lower than the Caldor version, and rock-solid for safe riding. Unquestionably though was the appeal of the five-spoked star wheel. It solidified the bike, and made it look purposeful.

She was never going to be a racer. Not at that weight, and not with this rider. She was going to be an entertainer, a two-wheeled Hurd School parking lot crowd-pleaser, and a heck of a lot of fun to go off exploring. Right about now, I’m happy to start my day with just the thought of it.

CAPTION: Sunshower by Ara Hagopian.
Posted in non-fiction, Wakefield | 4 Comments

Sleeping Bags Confuse Worms

Crawlers are animals that are always on the move, at great risk to themselves and with visible loss of life. Why do so many worms and slugs venture onto pavement, where the danger level is high? What’s the urge to go from here to there?

The sidewalks of Stanton Street are littered with dried worms. The creatures start their midnight on the move, as they emerge from the moist earth. Once topside, they make tracks across any surface they touch. If they can travel across the cement to reach dirt again– as most do– they will dig back underground. If they get lost going the long way down the sidewalk, they will get caught in the sun and die. If they happen to take a slight left or right, the safety of the grass will be waiting.

It seems it’s all a matter of dispassionate chance. Were the perilous trek to happen to a person, for example someone crossing a desert with a parallel road being just out of sight, it would be heartbreaking. For some observers, it’s heartbreaking no matter what being struggles a long way, seeking relief.

Sleeping bags confuse worms. Two points back this statement, from the worm’s point of view. First: What is the person trying to accomplish? He puts his body into a horizontal sack and is not fooling anybody– he’s not a worm. Point Two: Why do people lay down in bags, and then not get moving? That will never make sense to the crawlers.

Worms, and slugs, and centipedes are constantly making tracks– and many die in the process. Why are they going? Why continually take the risk, when the safety of surround should take priority over the need to wander in the sun?

Variety doesn’t exist in close proximity.

Something is missing and is being sought.

Something must be provided by a given being, in a manner that demands travel.

One’s purpose in life absolutely overrides another being’s judgement for what should and shouldn’t be put at risk.

We may not be aware of our own purpose.

If I’m out in the mid-day sun and I see a crawler in trouble, that is, they have no chance to live given their position and predicament, I’ll get a leaf and move the creature to the grass and shade. Each rescue is resisted. The worm flips and jumps, the centipede is suspicious of the Sudden Magic Leaf Carpet, and the slug shrinks and curls. The easy answer is, they are reacting as if they’re being hunted. Fair enough.

Another answer is, the being’s drive code is written in such a way that precludes another creature saving it from certain death.

That is a powerful code. Sure, we can say with certainty the worm resists “help” because it gets hunted far more than it gets helped. Is there no accommodation in their instinct that accounts for being assisted? If birds and lizards are in such a fierce hunt for food, why are so many crawlers struggling and dying in plain view?

If sleeping bags confuse worms, and they ask, “Why aren’t you moving?” and if dry-out treks confuse men, and we ask, “What are you to gain on the concrete?” then what answer satisfies both?

The crawlers’ purpose in life is written in a code that can’t be understood with a short set of values. There is some benefit being derived from the creatures’ continuous movement, aside from aeration of soil. What kind of lens would it take to understand the full purpose of the crawlers? Would it involve taking into account all animals in an environment, or perhaps a wider scope still? Worms: What causes you to travel so freely, what’s the goal, what fuels the urge? If one answer is “The worms themselves don’t know,” then how can that apply to human actions too?

Posted in non-fiction | 1 Comment

Roots in Loose Earth

A tree is not to move, a bush is not to die. Not if their roots have anything to say about it. A living thing’s roots are in place to anchor and nourish, so long as the environment remains viable. How do people who have relocated manage to thrive, when they vacate their soil? If people move far from where they’ve lived, what of their roots? Should the roots be cut, or perhaps dragged along? How do either choices work for a good life?

1984 was an odd year. My family had moved the forty miles from Wakefield, Massachusetts to Gloucester, staying with friends for a month when we needed a place to live in-between homes. At the same time, I finished my freshman college term and started my sophomore studies as well, with different dorms and new roommates. Looking back, living at five addresses that year was more than bearable because I had family and friends with me the whole way. They were my roots, and the 200-mile radius from school to home was elastic enough to hold strong.

Those roots sure could stretch, and boy, could I lean. I kept up my friendships with phone calls, letters, and visits.

The current year, 2022, is shaping in a similar way, with a difference. I’ve moved across the country to an apartment in South Carolina, waiting for our next house to be built. The personal impact is greater than it was in 1984 because this time the move was to a state of strangers. Also, my support structure isn’t as dedicated or dynamic– people are much older, and other responsibilities fill their lives. For me, leaning is not going to work this time around, not with the distance involved. Yes I stay in contact with friends; I just don’t have their physical presence, and physicality is essential with rooted people.

That’s a big change, and the only way the upheaval is going to work, the only way my long-term relationships are going to survive, is to employ certain exercises to reduce the problems of social loss.

Loneliness is a sediment that rushes through the human river, where silt is an idea that can pick up as easily as it can deposit. Loneliness is a man creating companions and situations that could never exist, except in his mind. Loneliness sprouts inter-being marriages of a sort, dozens and dozens of them, where material and time and particle are joined in bliss. Their creation is simply for company. From my point of view my creations all understand the circumstance– because I can manage it.

Here today, I am moving in two weeks, from one new neighborhood to another. What hurts the most right now is a cat I’ll be leaving behind. She’s someone’s Scottish Fold and I see her every morning when I walk. At 6:30 AM at the one-mile mark from my apartment, I pass her house and she comes running to me. We’ve been doing this for months. She calls and I crouch. I know cats; Foldy is one of the great ones.

She purrs, and never bites or scratches. All she wants is to butt her head on my hands, and to be stroked. I’m with her for about five minutes, and she would have me all day if she could.

I tell her, “I’ll see you tomorrow morning!” Very soon, that won’t be true. For me, it will be one more goodbye, in a whole string of goodbyes along the way.

You can make a new friend. Let’s say, you can make a new neighborhood cat friend. That friend will not be Foldy. I’ll go further and say, you should never want that cat to replace Foldy. There is only one that is she.

If you don’t get that, you don’t get the root concept.

Picture this. A pet owner is at a veterinary clinic and his cat’s diagnosis involves a life-saving operation with a three-hundred dollar fee. A choice must be to be made. Will we agree to the operation?

We can spend the $300 for our ten-year old cat, or we can spend $50 to adopt a kitten. How does the second choice not make the most sense? Less money for a newer cat. Why not?

In a person’s healthy social root structure, the above alternative works against one’s well-being. The situation isn’t about economics and it’s not even about affection or love. You can love a new kitten. Loyalty, on the other hand, only knows depth. Depth comes though the passage of time.

Buying a kitten can never be a trade-up from a pet you’ve had for many years. We’re not talking about cars. This is about a being that needs you, and who you need too, and how you’re going to manage the new challenge in her life. Even if you make a crushing decision, it must crush you. If it does not, then you’ve got nothing but dry twigs underneath you.

There is certainly much to consider with any connections we have.

How does a man maintain his roots when he moves far away from the people he loves? For me, the answer isn’t just to keep up with calls and texts. There has to be some physical interpersonal activity in order to make it. I’ve found a way to generously spread technology in a combination with what bits of actual human (or animal) presence I can muster.

Presence must include affection or personal regard, or we’re no better than simply standing in a line of strangers. We might as well be waiting at the Department of Motor Vehicles for our driver’s license renewal.

From my home, if I were to walk away, drive away, leave– would anyone miss me? That concept has horrifying facets. For many months this year, I was living in that situation. If I left this building, this town, this state, no one would’ve missed me. Not even a cat– I’d not met Foldy yet.

Interacting with people within arm’s length is crucial for good health. One way came as a surprise to me. I’m on a regular blood donation cycle and I recently realized something. When I donate in my new adoptive state, it’s the only time any stranger– in this case a Red Cross nurse– tells me her name and asks me questions. She touches my arm. Makes sure I’m comfortable. Makes small talk. Her attention is on me. All of that is root-making material, endearing me to the area. It’s in-person. It’s relating, and understanding. It’s someone waiting for me, and counting on me. It has a bonding effect because this human contact took place here, this strange land I’ve found myself.

When I go to bed, I think of a particular person who was once in my life, forty-five years ago, and I renew our conversations. I invent whole new situations with my friend, and express myself. She expresses herself. It’s a way of watering my soil. Sometimes watering isn’t what’s best at a given time. In that case, my nightly mental exercise is like securing a good fence to protect what I have. All the work is a cumulative effort to grow those roots.

My roots are in video chats with dear co-workers. I choose good people who are friends and who know how to exchange what we both need, to live. I do think it’s that serious. I count on my relationships any way I can take them.

My roots are in making friends, where I’ll soon be permanently living. I’ll have a house in a brand-new neighborhood and I’ll be welcoming. No-one will replace my dear friends– they are portable and are with me in technology and imagination. What I’ve learned along the way is that roots are measured in loyalty, they run deep and new sprouts emerge from the bulb. I must care for the entire system, for happiness.

CAPTION: Brighton Village neighborhood cat enthusiastically greets me at 6:30 every morning outside her house. When I move away, what will she think? And how will I feel, leaving behind one of the few beings that recognizes me and enjoys my company?
Posted in Cats, non-fiction | Leave a comment

Don’t Let Your Hero Down

Have you thought about your favorite fictional hero lately? People count on their champions to never disappoint, and let’s face it– your heroes have always benefitted you. Here’s a twist: You can shift from the passive and take action for his or her sake. Don’t let your hero down.

It does feel good to be passive around our heroes. There he is, on the screen, over the airwaves or in a comic or book. We’re in our comfy chair and by the pleasure of our command we are in his world. Unfailingly, there he is, carrying someone to safety, or linking clues to a crime. And he’s incorruptible in character as he’s true to himself. Look at him get to work! He’s going to do the right things. He’s going to figure out a dastardly mess, get up after he’s been knocked down, and bring the truth to a powerful conclusion. Probably, too, just in the nick of time to save another life.

Those who love such men and women cannot live without the ideal, especially when it’s neatly packaged for consumption. All we have to do is turn on Detective Constable Morse and follow his 90-minute lead and we are in bliss. We can’t help it! It’s a relief– yes that’s the word– to watch a master pull apart the evilest of schemes. The bad guys can’t stop him. Nor can the good guys it seems, because simply showing up in the proper team colors does not a hero make. A hero needs his independence. His loyalty is to the victim, always, and damn that someone should be hurt in the hero’s sphere. To defeat the bad guys, and to exist among the good guys, a man must be prepared to fight 360 degrees around him.

We watch. We don’t have to do the work, and the classic hero never fails in the end. We recharge, and it’s a soothing change from our hard, messy world. It’s a good turn of the brain, the hero exercise. And when the production is presented artfully, our enjoyment of the tale is all the more.

How about we pull out a 1938 radio broadcast and listen to Lamont Cranston work outside the men of law enforcement, to defeat those taking advantage of the city’s under-served. Or let’s get smitten over a dashing Captain Kirk as he uses his wit to not just save the universe, but to bring opposing sides together for the benefit of both. Including, to our delight, his two best friends, Spock and McCoy.

Lieutenant Columbo was conceived for one reason: To defeat a clever crime more cleverly. Sherlock Holmes delivered in shocking and dramatic ways. Maybe your hero– a character who’s fiercely personal to you– creates a healthy place for your head to rest, any time you need him, as an antidote for the poisons in your life.

Sometimes our hero is young and just starting out, and the audience is in fact well ahead of him. Consider the newly-minted veterinarian James Herriot in All Creatures Great And Small. We learn as he learns, and then we marvel as he eclipses us, right before our eyes. We see that despite his satchel, his moral compass is the critical tool he carries. He’s not just saving a bull, he’s preserving a family’s livelihood; it goes deeper too, holding tight the weave of the cross-generation legacy of the English countryside.

Your hero. Do you count on him to set a good example, to help you pattern your own behavior? Maybe you look to him for something grand, to reinforce your faith in mankind. Because someone real has to write it, and many someones have to consume it. That fact strengthens your faith in people.

Don’t let your hero down. Don’t drop him in the parking lot of He’s Not Really Real, to disintegrate under the grind of impassive, retread tires.

Don’t let your hero down. If you admire his actions, emulate what bits you can.

Don’t watch and lose the lesson crafted before you. Don’t watch and do nothing different tomorrow.

Free your hero from the page and fake him for choice moments of your life.

A hero prevails even after he fails. And so can you.

Take selective fiction and make it happen in front of you. Your guy is stuck in frames and on a script. You, on the other hand, are free and dynamic. No one’s expecting you to travel to Shanghai to break up an international opiate ring. What if you took certain cues from a great detective and developed a deeper relationship with your son? As your hero did when he foiled the secret China-America network that was destroying countless lives.

Do you have love in your heart to spare? Have all the champion depictions you’ve seen, over years and years, created a space within you? To be filled with warm feelings, and a purpose to try again, even when the good team said you might as well quit and the bad guys wholeheartedly agreed with them?

Heroes clear out the junk inside us. We aren’t aware of the excavation because the hollowness is filled with better stuff. You’re free to love a certain person even though you live thousands of miles apart and you’ll never meet. You’re free to love because there’s a tap with so much available at the connection. The hero’s example triumphs. He’s set us up to succeed, after all.

CAPTION: Don’t let your hero down.
Posted in non-fiction | 4 Comments