Sunday, August 28, 2011

My love-hate relationship with the first day of school—I can see I’m not alone

1973 September3This morning I called my sister Shawn to wish her a happy birthday (Happy Birthday, Shawn!) and asked to speak to my 6 year old niece Sophia. 

When she got on the phone and I asked her if she was excited about her first day of school tomorrow, she said “Yes and no Uncle Doug... I wish I had more time, there’s still some stuff I wanted to do.”

Shawn, Donda, Steve & that’s me in the back, Sept 1973

Hearing that wistful lament suddenly reminded me of my last days of summer vacation, a feeling of excitement about starting a new school year but a sense of dread too; no more staying up late, no more sleeping in & eating cereal in your underwear while watching gameshows.  No more swimming or cookouts or family vacations, no more going days at a time without wearing shoes, no more setting up a bedsheet tent in the backyard (complete with flashlight, comic books and bologna sandwiches) for overnight camping. 

No more drive-in movies, no more county fairs, no more weekday explorations of the woods behind your neighbor’s farm because you just KNEW there was something more there than meets the eye... it was all over.


Duke, me & Shawn in 1969, the year before we moved ‘to the country’; my brother’s shirt has the Apollo moon landing

But there was a good side to it too; I can still remember laying on my back in the yard those final days of summer, restless and thinking the first day of school couldn’t get here fast enough. 

Going shopping with my mom & piling those large white bags from Fishers Big Wheel into the back of the station wagon, filled with new school clothes and notebooks and bookcases and lunch boxes. 

And of course, always coming home from school that first day, flushed with excitement at seeing all your old classmates again, surprised at how tall some of them had grown over the summer and seeing the girls in your class in a new light; wow, they looked like real teenagers!

 Poor Duke got his head chopped off in this picture of our first day of school in 1976

I was just wondering, do people still do this?  Line their kids up and take pictures of them before their first day of school?   To be honest, I don’t even KNOW anyone that has more than one or two kids, let alone six. 

(My youngest sister Courtney isn’t even in these photos; by the time she started first grade, our brother Duke had graduated from Pitt and started law school, and my sister Shawn & I were both away attending college.)

Well, since my mom went to so much trouble to document her kids’ school years, I thought I’d share a few of them here.  They bring back some good memories & are a cool reminder of the Seventies.   (Like the picture below from September 1977—I am digging Steve & Donda’s lunch pails, Happy Days and Donny & Marie!  And both my sisters make quite the fashion statement in all that denim.)

September 1977;  our brother Duke was away at college

So maybe tonight I’ll call my little niece again & tell her how sorry I am that she wasn’t able to do all the stuff she had wanted to do this summer but I just know she’s going to have an exciting school year ahead.  (Um...hello?!  This squirt attended more cookouts and trips than I have in a lifetime—and spent more time in the water than most fish!)   And I’ll refrain from telling her to enjoy these first days of school while they last, because before you know it, they’ll be nothing more than memories & some mildly embarrassing photos of days (and fashions) gone by. 

Besides, she’s only starting first grade—both she (and my sister) have 12 years of these to look forward to!

Happy Birthday Shawn—and good luck tomorrow, Sophie!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread—and I can prove it


A month or so ago (after a visit back home with my sister Shawn and her family) I posted this on Facebook:

“Spent the day with my 6 year old niece Sophia running from barking dogs, eating too much raspberry ice cream, exploring a 'secret garden' & snooping around a rural high school that shut down 50 years ago.  I AM WIPED OUT.”

One of the responses I got was this: “I want to know who would go on an adventure like that without a camera in the first place!”  I couldn’t agree more, and made a promise to take my camera along on my next visit.  And this past weekend, I did just that.  

(As much as I love my little niece, I was anxious to visit that strange school again.)  So after a tasty dinner of grilled chicken & corn on the cob, off we went!


The school in it’s heyday, circa 1910;  here’s that same entrance now, with my brother-in-law Jim; that black iron fire escape on the right can be seen in both photos 

Located just “a ways” up the road  from my sister’s house, the school (surprisingly large) sits alone on a quiet corner near some woods, it’s north and south entrances overgrown with vines and greenery. 

Many of the windows are boarded up, some broken, the intact ones clouded with age.   But the grounds are well kept, giving it a surreal appearance of both care and decay.  

The opposite entrance, the steps are barely seen

Ever since my first visit to the school, I’ve tried (in vain) to find out more about the place; all I know is that it was the area’s first high school, it’s been closed for approximately 50 years but made a brief comeback with some makeshift apartments before closing up for good.  

I was also intrigued when my sister informed me that our mom may have attended a school dance there, in the early 1950s.  So what were the plans for it?   Would it be torn down eventually, or would Mother Nature claim it for her own?  And why did the place give me a weird feeling, have I been watching too many ‘paranormal investigation’ shows where these people go into old abandoned buildings and make contact with old abandoned ghosts?

Apparently, yes.  Shifty

While walking about the property, I knew I had to get some interior shots.  Fortunately, there was a window at ground level with no glass and I was able to get my camera in there and take a couple pictures of the main entrance.  I couldn’t have been there for more than a minute when I heard a slight ‘shuffling’ sound from somewhere within. 

I figured it was probably a bird or small animal (and prayed it wasn’t some hobo ready to bonk me over the head with his whiskey bottle) and I called out very softly “Hellooo… is anyone here?”  Nothing. 

I then heard a light creaking sound and I quickly held up my camera and snapped a picture of the stairwell in front of me.  I cursed under my breath for forgetting to turn on the flash, so I hit the auto-flash and took a second pic.  When I looked down at the tiny preview screen on the back of my camera & pressed ‘Review’, my eyes almost popped out of my head at that first picture.   An orb!


The first photo taken without a flash, the second with the flash on; where’s a digital voice recorder, EMF detector, ghost box & psychic when you need one!

Now I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation for that ectoplasmic orb hovering above the steps in that first shot, RIGHT WHERE I HEARD THAT CREAKING, but it’s not a reflection of anything I’m aware of and it wasn’t a “dust particle” caught in any flash.  So I wonder what that was?  

When I showed the picture to a few friends, I got the following responses:

  • JAMIE:  Hmm...
  • JULIE:  Breaking and entering?  Fresh I am so proud of you!
  • ERIN:  Doog, that’s pooky! 
  • KATHY:  McDougal I think you have caught a ghost on your camera.
  • JEFF:  Chuckle!  (He was laughing at the re-enactment of my double-take after seeing that orb for the first time)

Happily I began doing some orb research on the internet but grew less excited as my ghost orb began meeting some ‘dust orb’ definitions.   

You may be just a dust orb if you have a weak luminous center (mine didn’t), was taken with a flash (mine wasn’t), taken in a location with lots of dust (ok um), or taken with a digital camera (rats)

oh wait, now some pictures are showing up of dust orbs captured on a digital camera without a flash...

Oh who am I kidding?  Mine was just a damn dust orb!

orbie          orbie          orbie

Well, it was fun while it lasted (I really thought I had something) and this doesn’t mean I’ve stopped believing in all paranormal phenomena just yet.  I suppose if I really want to do some ghost hunting someday, I’m going to need some real equipment--and probably a good partner too.  Oh, I have just the right person in mind!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Batman’s here in Pittsburgh--yet he’s never felt so far away

I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that they’re currently filming the next Batman movie right here in Pittsburgh.  Sunday morning while doing some weekend ‘blog-browsing’, I saw that my friend Martin (who primarily writes about music and comics on his blogsite) had done a piece on Prince’s ‘Batman’ soundtrack from 1989.   (Click here for his review.)  

When I mentioned to Martin about Batman filming in the ‘Burgh, I was surprised he didn’t already know.  What, isn’t this national news?!


The Bat Emblem, blazed across the front of the Highmark Building

Later, when I told my sister Shawn (who lives south of Pittsburgh) about the filming disrupting parts of downtown, she said “it sounds terribly exciting.”  Yes, it does so how come I’m not feeling it?  I’m just having a tough time finding the love for Batman these days.  

I’m not sure if it’s because of Christian Bale’s raspy voice, the glut of superhero movies on the market, or the character’s evolving further and further away from the Bat-Dude I’ve loved since the 1960’s. 

Like most of my generation, my earliest memory of Batman was the live-action tv show in the ‘60s with Adam West; my parents (God bless ‘em) did the best they could to keep up with my love of Bats—I had Bat pajamas, Bat slippers, a giant Batman poster that hung directly across from my bed (the first thing I saw in the morning & last thing I saw at night), a Batmobile I could pedal and of course—a ‘regulation Bat uniform’ for kids, complete with a fully accessorized utility belt.


Christian Bale in his updated uniform, fighting the juggernaut Bane on the steps of the Mellon Institute -- it was 93 degrees when this photo was taken! 

The day before, Christian jokingly lamented on the local news that he was roasting alive in that “black rubber suit”... he should’ve added “all the way to the bank”!   (Okay, that sounded kinda snarky, sorry there Christian) 

Well, getting back to my boring tale—what was so ironic about those early years of mine(and my love of all things Bat-Guy) was that they went on for a good year or two before I even knew Batman had his own comic book!  

Then one day in the summer of ‘68 my older brother Duke asked me if I wanted to see his friend Jeff Tewell’s comic book collection.  I said sure (not really interested, but just wanting to hang out with my big brother).   When we went up to his friend Jeff’s bedroom, I saw a desktop with 2 towering stacks of comics;  it turned out that Jeff’s mother worked at the local GC Murphy’s and was allowed to bring her son home all the books that didn’t sell. 

My brother mentioned what a Batman fan I was, and Jeff said “Here, I have a couple copies of this one.”


The cover of my first Batman comic, Batman #197  “Catwoman Sets Her Claws For Batman

I carried this book around with me for a couple months, not knowing that it was published monthly; and then in early 1969 I got the chicken pox, and my family’s babysitter (Barbara Knopski) brought me a new Batman comic—and my addiction was started.  

(By the time my comic fever was over in the early 80s, I had amassed a couple thousand comics—but with Batman appearing monthly in Batman, Batman Family, Detective, Brave & The Bold & World’s Finest...he probably accounted for half of them!)

Anyway, around the same time DC Comics decided it was time for a change, I did too and began finding new places to spend my money.   


Okay, I can’t say I walked totally away;  in the 1990s the ‘tpb’ was born, glossy collections of old & new Batman stories, and I may have bought a few here and there for old times sake... but I’m not the Bat-fan I once was.  I guess I’m still nostalgic for the Batman of my youth.


Anyway, I’m happy they’re filming here in Pittsburgh; the city could use the money.  Am I excited to see it?  Not like I wished I was.  And just because I happen to have this cool limited edition 1960s Batmobile squirreled away in my bedroom closet (still in the original packaging) doesn’t mean anything either, haha!   Until next week, same bat-time... same bat-channel. 

BAT NOTE:   I wanted to give a special shout-out to my friend Jeff W, who reads my blog and sent me a link to a custom car site that will BUILD YOU YOUR VERY OWN BATMOBILE, complete with all the bat-gadgets.  (Okay, it’s $150K but it doesn’t make me want it any less!)

You can read all about it by clicking right HERE.   Thanks again, Jeff!   icon_batman