Thursday, October 31, 2013

Nothing says Halloween like a birthday cake, good food and a wookie

Earlier, I celebrated my 52nd birthday (in the office) courtesy of some awesome coworkers and a friendly wookie. That’s me in the corner, admiring the cake as the others sang Happy Birthday—and Chewbacca, aka Kathy, doing a pretty good photobombing of said event!

Originally we were just going to have a cake, but someone said “Seeing how it’s Halloween, and there’s going to be a cake, why don’t we have appetizers and a main course or two as well?” These people mean business. There was enough food to feed an army & then some, along with a pretty spectacular ‘chicken taco bar’ (which one person, Linda decided to do on her own and amazed everyone). Being the birthday boy (heh) I was only required to show up and eat. And now, I have about 4 lbs of Gwen’s cheesy potatoes and birthday cake parked in my teepee’s icebox!

Anyway, not a lot to say here—just thought I’d share a few pictures:

A chocolate torte birthday cake (it kinda speaks for itself)

My coworker Mia & myself, comparing our ages—darn it, I’m old!

Ed’s cucumber sandwiches lend an air of elegance to Kim’s hobo beans and Jamie’s kielbasa

Kathy’s world famous wookie-cookies

Rita promised to give me the finger; she wound up giving me several of ‘em

A big thanks to everyone for the great grub & making this birthday a real special one!

Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

A Sunday sermon from ApacheDug’s Mountain


Perhaps one day I will simply vanish.  It may be more difficult to do in this day and age (especially when your identity is plastered all over the internet) but I hear people still manage to do it. 

My coworkers will scratch their heads and say “how can someone like Doug just disappear?  Did you try texting him?  See if his location has changed on his Facebook map.”  

And then the Steelers will win their first game of the season, and our department will get a couple new hires and I’ll be all but forgotten. 

Meanwhile, somewhere in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, perhaps in a small rural community that Google Maps hasn’t gotten around to yet, a man will show up with two battered suitcases in tow.  One filled with clothes, the other with books and a couple framed family photos and a radio.  He’ll take a room at the local boarding house, and someone will ask who he is, and Mrs. Jenko (the widow who runs the place) will say “Well, his name is Edwin Morris (he is going by his middle name now) and he’s from Pittsburgh and I don’t know much else.”

“He pays his bill on time and cleans up after himself in the kitchen, and doesn’t make a lot of noise.  Most mornings he takes off with one of his books and a bag lunch, but I don’t ask questions.  A man has a right to his privacy.”

Then someone will suggest Mrs. Jenko invite him to church Sunday morning, and she does.  Edwin has seen the church on his walks, and it reminds him of the one from his childhood, the same country church his parents were married in.  He says thanks, he’d like that.

That’s how it would happen on ‘The Waltons’ you know… if a stranger from the big city came, and decided he wanted to stick around.

A couple Mondays ago, I was on the bus coming home from work with an idea for my next blog, something extolling the awesomeness of my favorite tv show, ‘Breaking Bad’.  (The night before had been the series finale and I watched it breathless with excitement.  I just had to write something about it.)

What happened instead was that when I arrived home, I turned on the tv (as I normally do, just to have some noise) and was flipping through the channels and an episode of ‘The Waltons’ caught my eye.  It was just starting, and it hit me that it’s been many years since I watched this show.  I left it on while I looked through my mail and waited for 6:30, when Diane Sawyer would tell me the latest going-ons in Washington and the rest of the world.

The episode was titled “The Sermon” and begins with the local preacher making plans to leave for a week, and wants to know if John-Boy will stand in for him and deliver a sermon the following Sunday. 

John-Boy is honored and says yes, but worries to his family that he’s not up to the task. 

 Grandpa Walton (Will Geer) shares his own thoughts about his maker with John-Boy

As the week unfolds, we watch as John watches others go about their lives—his dad (who isn’t a churchgoer) at his saw mill, and how he watches proudly over his other children; Grandpa’s tender ways with his animals, and the way Grandma (Ellen Corby) clasps her worn Bible to her chest for comfort as she rocks in her chair—and yes I know it all sounds terribly hokey, but when John-Boy climbs onto a large outcropping atop Walton’s Mountain and ponders the world below and around him, I sat here transfixed. 

(Needless to say his heartfelt sermon of how God reaches people in different ways left me with a big lump in my throat.)

I never started that blog about Breaking Bad.  It was an awesome show (if you can ignore that gnawing in your chest that maybe you shouldn’t have enjoyed it so much, a schoolteacher who decides to manufacture and sell crystal meth).  What I did instead was set my dvr to record The Waltons—which airs daily on The ‘Up’ Channel—and I’ve been coming home from work each night for the last couple weeks and rediscovering this wonderful family all over again.

The cast (and shows creator Earl Hamner) was recently reunited for a reunion spread in Entertainment Magazine—pictured in front of the Waltons home, September 2013.  (Will Geer who played Grandpa Walton died in 1978; Ellen Corby passed in 1999.)

I’ll be honest here and admit that I didn’t really enjoy The Waltons in it’s heyday; we watched it off & on in the ‘70s (it was never ‘Must See TV’ like Happy Days or The Carol Burnett Show) and I can remember being bored with this assortment of actors and stories that just felt too ordinary.  Even their house seemed too simple, and plain.  And now those same things bring me real comfort, and joy inside.   


Thursday, October 10, 2013

To sleep perchance to dream… you might even call it a vision quest


Okay, this is going to get weird—but I have something I’ve often thought about sharing here, and now I feel I can.  I recently watched this special on the Science Channel titled “Sixth Sense: Does it Exist?”  You know… ESP, extrasensory perception.  (If you were around in the 1960s-70s, this was a trendy topic.)  Anyway, they presented this study where scientists at Princeton University believe we’re all connected in some way, a “global consciousness”.  They demonstrated how this “cosmic brain” we share can be monitored via computer, and how historic events will cause it’s levels to spike.  (Similar to what an earthquake does to a seismograph.)

What made it particularly fascinating though was their readings on Sept 11, 2001, the day of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.  On that date, the spikes went off the chart.  Understandable.  But what made this so intriguing was that the spiking occurred at 4:30am EST, 4-5 hours before the attacks.  These researchers felt this proved their theory that time as we measure it—the past, present & future—exists simultaneously, and given the right circumstances, our subconscious is capable of glimpsing into (what we perceive as) the past or the future. 

I know, trippy stuff.  But I believe I once experienced such an event, and here’s what happened.

Way back in in the winter of 1983, when my sister Shawn & I were living in our grandmothers former house and sharing expenses, we were on a pretty tight budget.  Both of us were working minimum wage jobs, and most things (like heat) were considered luxuries.  I daydreamed regularly about winning the Lotto, and to a young man’s brain, a million dollar windfall seemed perfectly doable.

So one day at the library, I see this book titled “Self Hypnosis: Visit Past Lives & See the Future”.  I thought why not, got the book and read it earnestly.  And every night after going to bed, I’d use the techniques described in the book to try and induce a vision.  I would lie there and visualize the words “see the future, see the future” as I drifted off to sleep. 

I never did see tomorrow’s lottery numbers, but for a chronic insomniac like myself I sure learned how to fall asleep fast enough.

Anyway, this went on for a week or so.  And then one night (after my ‘future’ chant) I fell asleep and experienced a VERY vivid dream.  I was standing on the walkway outside of Murphy’s Mart (the department store where my sister & I worked) and there was a noise in the air, like an oncoming train.  I looked up just in time to see a small plane dive nose-first into the parking lot directly in front of our store.  The plane smashed into a couple of cars and erupted into flames, and I could feel the heat from the burning fuselage on my face and the backs of my hands.  The air was heavy with the smell of fuel.  And then suddenly someone appeared beside me and handed me a newspaper, and said “Mr. Rumskey thought you’d want to see this”. (Mr. Rumskey was our store’s manager.)  I looked down at the paper and saw an article about that same plane crash right in front of me.

When I awoke that morning, I wasted no time telling my sister about it.  She said “Wow, some dream” and I said no, no—it was more than that.  I was there.  It’s hard to explain, but I felt some weird compulsion to share it with anyone who would listen.  And later that day at work, I did just that—I told everyone at the store.  

It was only a week or so later when it happened:  I was leaving the store at the end of the workday, and had just gotten out the front doors when Sandy W. (a friend & coworker) followed me outside and said “Doug, I’m glad I caught you.  Mr. Rumskey thought you’d want to see this.”  She handed me the local paper and sure enough there was an article about a small plane crashing into a department store’s parking lot.  


The front page of the Observer Reporter, from February 19, 1983.  Click on the paper to read about the tragic accident

No it wasn’t our store of course; the crash occurred across the country in another department store’s parking lot.  But there it was on the front page of our local paper—and there I was, in the same spot in front of our store where I was handed a newspaper in my dream a week or so earlier.

In the days that followed, I tried in vain to have another one of these ‘visions’, but no such luck.  (And I never won those millions in the Lotto either!)

I know what you’re probably thinking, I’ve often told myself the same thing; it was just some crazy dream, God knows we’ve all had them.  But there’s still a part of me that knows it was more than that—and now, after watching that special on the Science Channel, who knows… maybe it’s time I tried this again!  

Friday, October 4, 2013

Who can turn the world on with her smile? Mary—with a little help from a lot of people

original MTM cast 

I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll always consider “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (which ran on CBS, Saturday nights at 9:00pm from 1970-77) my all-time favorite tv show.  I think it’s partly because in that fall of 1970 when her show began, our family had also just moved (like Mary did in her first episode).  Okay so we didn’t move to Miinneapolis, but for a 9 year old like me, it was pretty tough leaving your neighborhood, school & friends behind.  And when I watched a nervous Mary stumble into her new life, I felt an instant connection.  She was sweet, and funny, and pretty—I was smitten.

So when I heard of this new book about the show, I wasted no time getting my copy.  Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted: And all the Brilliant Minds Who Made The Mary Tyler Moore Show a Classic by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong.  (Click on the title to see the book on Amazon.)  

 I couldn’t put it down, but I can’t help but feel the title was a little misleading.  Yes we get to read all about Mary, Lou, Rhoda & Ted (and Murray and Phylllis too) but the book focuses just as much (if not more) on the series creators, James Brooks and Allen Burns, and especially on the women they hired—secretaries and female writers who helped make the show what it was.  Does Treva Silverman (one of MTM’s early writers) deserve her accolades?  Yes.  Do we need to read about her 2 year trek across Europe during the shows run, to find herself?  Not really, no. 

But it still delivers one helluva history lesson in early 70s television, and how MTM almost didn’t make it.  At the time, TV Guide wrote “this is preposterous, are they really making a show about a 30 year old spinster?”  Network execs worried the concept was too sophisticated for middle-class America, a single girl trying to make it on her own.  They reminded James Brooks that on ‘That Girl’, Marlo Thomas had Donald—and an apartment paid for by Daddy.  Where were the outlandish schemes?  The slapstick?  The laughtrack?  Brooks insisted it be about an ordinary woman living an ordinary life; a good ensemble would drive the show. 

The only reason it even made it to tv was because of ‘Laugh-In’.  Fred Silverman (the new head of programming at CBS) saw the ratings for it on NBC and wanted something urban and modern for his network too.  And in less than a year, TV Guide would be singing a whole different tune, calling MTM the “gold standard” for television comedy.

I love this:  Joe Rainone, a 26 year old accountant from Rhode Island was a fan and wrote long letters critiquing what worked & didn’t after each episode.  The MTM staff were so impressed, they flew him to LA for a week, for the taping of an episode.  Here he is (center) with Mary and James Brooks


But it really was a first, in many respects—no tv show had been written by an assortment of women before.  James Brooks said “when I put in the script that Mary says ‘I’ll go get cleaned up’, the female writers yelled ‘a woman would never say that!’”  The women also pushed for more realism, inisisting her apartment not be “all girlish and fluffy” and even limiting her wardrobe.  “No working girl has an endless closet.”  Mary would wear the same dress or blouse she’d worn on an earlier episode, with a different belt or scarf instead.

 Mary crochets while Rhoda watches tv; MTM received scores of letters from fans who considered these moments their favorite parts of the show

I loved reading about the casting too;  I thought I’d heard it all, but still found some surprising tidbits.  When Gavin McLeod (Murray) auditioned for his part, he asked why Ted Knight was there; it turns out Ted was also Gavin’s business manager.  Enemies on the show, they were close friends in real life.  The same with Cloris Leachman (Phyliis) and Valerie Harper (Rhoda).  Always at each others throats in Mary’s apartment, in actuality Cloris saw Valerie Harper as her best friend.  And when Betty White later joined the cast as Sue Ann Nivens, it turns out that she (and her husband, Allen Ludden of Password) were fixtures in the studio audience.  They’d never missed a taping of the show.


The author of this book, in front of the Victorian house where Mary, Rhoda & Phyliis lived.  Decades after the series ended, fans still flock to see it

I know I’ve gone on too much here but I’ve barely skimmed the books surface.  For instance, I don’t think the women of today realize the positive influence this show had—not just on women writers, but for women’s rights.  In one episode where Mary’s parents visit, her mother turns to her husband and says “don’t forget to take your pill dear”.  Mary is busy in the kitchen and answers “I won’t” then realizes it wasn’t meant for her, as her parents turn to stare.  A funny moment in one episode that made headlines—and got cheers across the country from the women’s lib movement.  Such a line wouldn’t be given a second thought today.

I own “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” on dvd, and I’ve probably seen every episode more times than I’d care to admit.  But as a middle aged man, I watch it now in a different light.  Where before I’d be transported to Mary’s apartment, a single adult living in the city with funny and caring friends, it now reminds me of those Saturday nights in our little farmhouse, surrounded by my parents and brothers and sisters.  And I am home again.

I sure do love you, Mary!  Smile