Tag Archives: reminiscences

Strange Days

I’m the Lizard King. I can do anything. ~ Jim Morrison

There was a very good program on American Masters on PBS tonight, When You’re Strange, a film about The Doors by Tom DiCillo. The Doors were peaking when I was very young, but I had the advantage of growing up with an older brother. The music of his era (60s) became the foundation for my musical tastes, regardless of my youth at the time. The Doors and Jim Morrison were one group that influenced me greatly in my misspent youth. I have most of their albums in my collection.

Remember albums? They’re these black plastic disk-like things with concentric grooves embedded in them. When a stylus travels within these grooves, a magic occurs. It’s a magic that brings the twisted genius of a man like Morrison into your living room. It fills your head with the images and the rhythms that were swirling around in Jim’s LSD dreams when he was in the studio singing those songs into a microphone. It’s a strong magic.

The poetry of this magic is such that it creates feelings and thoughts that stay in your head for a lifetime. Regardless of the media that you choose when accessing that magic in the future (I’m currently listening to The Doors – Riders On the Storm on Youtube), the magic transports you again… to that time, that place, with those friends that you were with when you first experienced the magic of that particular song.

Today, while having coffee with my aunts and uncles, I watched one of my uncles across the table from me. He was always a tall, virile man. Nowadays, he’s a shrunken, aching, enfeebled old man. I still see the man he was, but he can no longer be that man. Life is fleeting… so fleeting. It made me think of my own mortality. I’m not the man I was 25 years ago either. I’m not what this man has become… yet, but that day is down the road.

The documentary about The Doors and my thoughts about my uncle made me realize that there is so much that I miss, so much that I no longer do, so many good times and memories in the past. I thought of friends who are no longer in this world; like my buddy Frank, who died at 36… or my lady-friend Melissa, who left this world at the ripe old age of 39… and many others whom I miss. I shared much with these people. They each took part of me when they left this place.

I realize this article isn’t going to garner much laughs or many comments or generate ad revenue. I don’t really care. I’m entitled to ramble on occasionally. I’m sitting here enjoying a hot cup of coffee and I’m about to step outside and flick open my ol’ Zippo and light up a Marlboro. I quit smoking back in December of ’07, but for some reason I felt the need for a cigarette tonight. I wanted to perform the ritual… packing, opening, lighting that first cig. It brought me momentary surcease from the ghosts haunting me this evening.

It would be foolish in the extreme for me to start smoking again. I know that. Besides, I can’t afford to buy the damned things these days. I might have one more and then give the pack away. I’ve had my moment. The fog has lifted and clarity returned. I’ve confronted the ghosts. They’re all my ghosts. They’re mostly friendly. I have nothing to fear.

Strange days…

~Eric

Update: I smoked that second cig and then poured water over the rest of the pack and tossed it in the trash.

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A Letter to Momma

Dear Momma,

It’s been a while since I wrote last. I just wanted to drop you a quick line and wish you Happy Mother’s Day!

I hope you’re having a nice day. I’m sure the weather is beautiful up there in the mountains. Spring is upon you there, for sure. Everything is turning green; the crickets are chirping, the butterflies are flitting about, the bees are buzzing over the feast of nectar in all those wildflowers up there on the hillsides. I’m sure Bear is running here and there behind the cabin chasing whatever comes within his view. Daddy’s probably sitting on the deck watching it all.

The kitties are fine. I’m sure Patches misses you. Your prediction of her becoming a “lap kitty extraordinaire” turned out to be right on the money. Precious is a big girl now. I also have a little black kitty now. Her name is Li’l Black Kitty. Original, huh? They’re all doing fine, Mom. The kitties were probably the most important things you left me when you went away. They’ve brought me much joy over the years.

I’m still your “biker” son, Mom. I don’t have a motorcycle at the moment, but I did have a really beautiful one for the past few years. Steve bought it for me. Some gift, huh? He rode it from the dealer into my driveway one evening and handed me the keys. Can you believe that? I never had new motorcycle in my entire life. This one was brand-spankin’ new. Sadly, I had to sell it; ironically, to help him out of a jam. He’s my brother. He’s helped me out of a few. It was my turn.

We’re both hurting a bit from this “housing bust” and the resulting economic meltdown in Florida the past few years. You don’t worry none about either of us, ya’ hear. We’ll pick ourselves up and dust off and be on top of things again sometime soon. Don’t you worry! We’re doing OK for the moment; hopefully, back in the upswing. There’s food to eat. We’re in OK health. You and Daddy raised us both well. We’ll survive. You can count on it!

I had to sell your little Subaru Brat a couple years back. It developed a transmission problem. I just couldn’t justify spending any money on it. I know you’ll be sad to hear that, but the good news is a collector bought it from me. He intended to take it home and make it his #1 project for a few months. He wanted to restore it to original. He was a nice man. I believe he might have just done it, too.

Gotta’ close for now, Momma…

I just wanted to let you know that all’s OK with me and Steven. A lot of things have happened, good and bad, over the last decade or since we saw you last, but we persevere. Life is for living. Tell Daddy that Steve and I miss him, too. Rarely a day goes by that we don’t think about y’all. Give Bear a hug for me. I’ll try not to wait so long to write next time.

I love you,

~Eric

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On a warm summer’s eve in June of ’99, my mother left this world for her mountain retreat in the sky. I’m an atheist, but if I’m wrong about all that, I sure would wish something like that for her. She loved her cabin in the mountains of Western North Carolina.

You folks reading this right now… if your mother is still with us in this world, I URGE you to go to her, give her a hug, and tell her how much you love her. There are those of us who cannot do that anymore. Do it for us… for yourselves… and especially for you moms.

Have a wonderful Mother’s Day!

~Eric

The Gunpowder Plot – A Reminiscence

A buddy of mine, whom I grew up with here in the neighborhood, tooted his horn at me as he drove down my street earlier today.

Seeing Ernie reminded me of one of our escapades from almost 40 years ago during our misspent youth. Here it is for your reading enjoyment…

The Gunpowder Plot

No, not that gunpowder plot, but one Ernie and I created when we were about 11 or 12 years old in my mother’s kitchen. Back in the late 60’s and early 70’s Florida went through a stage where fireworks were illegal for anyone to own except for certain reasons. So every holiday the chances were pretty good that someone would know someone who was traveling up to Valdosta, Georgia in order to bring back some fire crackers and other goodies. Fireworks were legal in Georgia, so we had our own little modern day bootlegging operations going on transporting contraband across state lines.

Well, as I remember it, this one 4th of July in ’71 or thereabouts no one that we knew made that trip to Georgia, so none of the kids in my neighborhood had any firecrackers or smoke bombs or m-80’s or anything to go “bang” for the 4th. Terrible dilemma, huh? Well, never fear, Doctor Diabolical to the rescue… I told my buddy Ernie that we could make some gunpowder and then use it to make our own smoke bombs and stuff. Being a smart little bugger, I knew the basic ingredients of gunpowder, but not the proper proportions or where to get the ingredients.

Well, Funk and Wagnalls to the rescue. My parents had a set of encyclopedias in the living room on the mantel. I went in there and pulled down Volume G and rifled through the pages until I came across the entry for gunpowder. Aha! Now we’re cookin’! Ol’ F&W told me that I needed potassium nitrate, sulfur, and charcoal in the proper proportions to make this magical stuff go “boom”. It also told me that sulfur and potassium nitrate (salt peter) were both available at any local drug store. OK, now we know where to get the ingredients. Oh, the charcoal we got from Ernie’s dad’s backyard grill.

Off to the little neighborhood drugstore we went. Now keep in mind, this wasn’t a big drugstore chain. It was just a little corner store that sold analgesics and cough syrups, no pharmaceutical drugs. Anyway, there it was on the shelves… potassium nitrate and sulfur, both in these neat ½ pint canisters. We bought two cans of each. Then we rode our bikes to Ernie’s house and grabbed a few chunks of charcoal out of the grill. Then we rode back to my house forthwith with all the goodies for our little science project.

We got a big pot out from under mom’s stove and poured the potassium nitrate and the sulfur into it in the proper proportions. We got an old wooden mortar and pestle that my mother had for crushing garlic cloves and we used that to pulverize the charcoal chunks, unfortunately ruining my mother’s mortar and pestle in the process. Then with some nice powdery charcoal added to the big pot and the whole contents carefully mixed repeatedly we were ready for a small test of the supposedly volatile mixture.

I took out this tiny pink spoon, they use to come in the box with the old Sweet and Low sweetener, and I carefully scooped a small amount up into the spoon. I don’t think either Ernie or myself actually believed this stuff was gunpowder. It just looked like this gray powdery stuff. Well, while holding the little spoonful over the big pot of powder I struck a match and lit the contents of the spoon. It went ZIP! Unfortunately, when it did this it scared the hell out of me and I dropped the little spoon into the big pot…

…and AAAAWWWWHOOOOOSH!

You have to picture one of those Three Stooges episodes where the cannon blows up in Moe’s face. The pot exploded and blew completely off the table. Ernie and I jumped back and tipped over our chairs. Our faces were completely black. We had no eyebrows or eyelashes. We had black stuff on our tongues, in our hair, up our noses, and on our clothes. Fire was smoldering on the table. My mom’s centerpiece fake fruit bowl was partially melted. Ernie and I were still lying on our backs on the kitchen floor recovering from the shock when my mother came into the kitchen screaming, “What the hell are you two doing in here?”

The smell of the sulfur was overpowering. It permeated the whole house. There was also this dark black, acrid smoke floating around in the kitchen and drifting into adjoining rooms. There was this black dust all over the walls and window glass and every other surface in the kitchen. My mother was calm and collected about the whole thing. She just stood there with the black smoke swirling around her head and said, “Clean it all up before your father gets home or else!” Arrrrrgh! We got to work immediately. It was about 7PM and we had 3 hours before my dad got home. We scrubbed and cleaned and mopped and scrubbed some more. We did it though! There wasn’t even a hint of what had happened by the time dad got home. I don’t think mom ever told him a thing. That use to happen a lot when I was a kid. Thanks mom!

Well, Ernie and I made another batch the next day, outside this time! We had lots of fun making stuff go boom and poof the next couple of days, but it was no substitute for the real thing. Of course, for those of you who don’t know, gunpowder is not used in fireworks or firearms cartridges. A compound called nitrocellulose is the basis for the propellants used in modern cartridges and fireworks; the British call it Cordite. Gunpowder is only used in “black powder” firearms, like old flintlock type rifles and such.

The next year we were able to get the real thing. Woo-hoo! That’s the story and I’m stickin’ to it!

© 2001 V.T. Eric Layton (excluding images)

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Hope y’all enjoyed that. Until next time…

~Doc Diabolical

My First Car… 1977

It was the hot summer of 1977. I was 15 years old and dreaming of hot rods, motorcycles, and girls… probably in that order, too.

I was in between 10th and 11th grades that summer. I was sporting a cool set of “Elvis” sideburns and had a tape box filled with the latest and greatest Rock and Roll 8-track tapes. All I needed was some wheels. No. Not a bicycle. I needed some big boy wheels… a car, a motorcycle… something with a motor. I dreamed about a ’57 Chevy or a cool Harley-Davidson raked out chopper, like Cap’n America’s bike in the movie Easy Rider.

That was also the summer that my mom and dad let me know that I was going to be getting my very first (official) car in September, once I passed my operator’s license test. I only had a restricted license up till then. My mother was in a hurry for me to get my license and car because, as she said then, “I’m tired of carting your ass around.” Mom was a plain-spoken country girl from Avon Park, Florida. She usually told you like it was; no BS from momma.

I say “official” because my first “unofficial” car was actually a 1963 Pontiac Catalina Safari station wagon real similar to THIS tank. It was originally our family car, but my dad sold it to his and mom’s business a few years earlier. It was recently retired and sitting in my yard. I adopted it. I started working on it and tinkering with it till one day when my father asked me what I was doing. He and I had a bit of a round and round over that car. He was for selling it. I was for keeping it. He won the debate. That was the end of my hot rod station wagon dreams.

So anyway, September rolled on by. I passed my operator’s license exam. And within a couple days, was driving my first “official” car, a hand-me-down (from mom) 1969 Plymouth Valiant. It was just like the one pictured here, but mine was monkey puke green. OK, it wasn’t no cool hot rod. It had a six cylinder; not a speed demon. However, I actually wish I had that car nowadays. That 225CI slant six Mopar engine was one of the best plants to ever come out of Detroit. It got 35mpg on a bad day. I installed some coax speakers in the back deck and a hand-me-down 8-track tape player and off I went… a 16 year old with the world in the palm of his hand.

I didn’t drive that ol’ girl for that long. I was into a real hot rod shortly thereafter. The Valiant was given to my uncle Aaron, my mother’s brother. He drove it for about  a month till some idiot turned left in front of him one day. The ol’ girl was totaled. Uncle Aaron was alright, though… just car-less again. A sad ending for such a great little car. Oh well, that’s the way it goes sometimes.

That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it!

Till next time, folks…

~Elvis, er… I mean Eric

Dreaming of Simpler Times

The oak trees in the neighborhood have been spending their days generating pollen profusely the last few weeks.

It looks like they’re nearly finished with their springtime ritual. My oaks, all eight of them, are beautiful and fully loaded with fresh green leaves. The yard still has tumblin’ tumblepiles of pollen dingleberries blowing around. That will be gone after a few more good rains and some stiff breezes, though. In the meantime, the poor folks who are allergic to this stuff are still rubbin’, scratchin, sneezin’ and wheezin’.

I love this time of year in my area. It’s not quite hot enough yet to be considered uncomfortable and everything is GREEN and coming to life again after the long, dark wintertime (very facetious comment regarding “winter” in Florida). Anyway, looking out the window earlier today at the old oak tree out in my front yard, reminded me of a story I wrote about that tree a few years ago. I hope you enjoy reading it. Maybe it’ll bring back some fond memories of home for you also.

The Oak Tree^

There’s a big old oak tree out in my front yard that’s probably almost 100 years old. It was there when my father bought this property and started building this house. That was in 1953 or so. The tree was old then. It was probably a sapling when Coolidge was President. Of course, at that time the tree had many brothers and sisters around to keep it company because this whole area was woods back then.

Please read the rest of my story at my Cabin In the Woods board. By the way, below is a relatively recent picture of the old oak tree.

*click for larger image

Until next time, folks…

~Eric

^The Oak Tree is protected by copyright.

Fresh Cut Grass, the Buzz of Bees, and Baseball!

It must be getting close to summertime!

I don’t like the hot, humid Florida summers these days as much as I did when I was a kid. Of course, I loved summertime back then because it meant a temporary release from Stalag Luftschool 13 and the care of Sister Mary Himmler of Our Blessed Ladies of the Gestapo.

Another thing that always meant summertime for me was baseball. I remember following my favorite teams; the Baltimore Orioles with legendary players like Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, Brooks Robinson, and Davey Johnson. Or the Pittsburgh Pirates, with future Hall-of-Famers Willy Stargell and Roberto Clemente. Ah… the memories.

Back then in Tampa, just a few blocks from my house, was a baseball park called Al Lopez Field. It was named for Hall of Fame player Al Lopez, a Tampa native. It was also the home field for the Cincinnati Reds during their Spring Training exhibition schedule. The Reds training facility was just three blocks from my house. It was called Redsland. Currently, that same training facility is used by the NY Yankees.

When I was a wee tot, my dad used to take me to Al Lopez field to watch the pro exhibition games, or more often the Tampa Tarpons (Florida Grapefruit League) games. I think that’s where I really developed my love for live baseball. To this day, I love the smells of the park… the fresh cut grass, the food smells, even the stale beer smell. It all brings back those memories of going to the park with my dad when I was a kid. My older brother took me a few times, too.

Speaking of my older brother, he actually played professional ball for a while with the KC Royals and the Pittsburgh Pirates. Cool, huh? He never got a shot in the Big League, but he played well in the minors. I was looking at a site the other day with his stats from back then. They were pretty impressive. I think the reality of family life and the need for a higher paying career ended his baseball playing days.

Here’s a picture of ol’ Al Lopez Field. It was torn down years ago to make room for Raymond James Stadium (Home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers). These days I follow the Tampa Bay Rays. I was listening to their opening game on the radio when I first started to write this article. They WON! Rays 4 – Orioles 3.

Baseball season has started. That means the long, hot summer is ahead of us. All things are possible. Take a deep breath. Smell that fresh cut grass. Ahhh…

Play ball!

~Eric

The Easter Egg Hunt

It’s been sort of a tradition for me to post this at one of my favorite forums each Easter. I’ll post it here this year. Some of you have read this; some of you haven’t.

Enjoy!

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The Easter Egg Hunt

Earlier this morning shortly after I awoke I realized it was Easter Sunday. Once this thought settled into my groggy, just awakened brain I began to think of Easters past. Actually, I was only thinking of one Easter past. It was many years past, probably near thirty-five of them. I believe I was around four years old for this Easter I’m writing of here.

I remember being awakened by my mother early that morning. I was in bed with my father. I must have crawled into bed with him sometime that night or early in the morning. I seem to remember doing this occasionally. I’m not sure where my brother was at the time, most likely in his own bed in our bedroom. He was about fifteen at the time and would not have been partaking in Easter egg hunts, I’m afraid. More than likely he was dreaming about the homerun he had hit playing Little League Baseball earlier that weekend, or some such adolescent thoughts which were years away yet for myself.

Mom ushered me out of bed quietly so as not to disturb my father who had most likely been out late the night before partaking of his favorite hobby, Greyhound racing. I remember her helping me to get dressed in my little jeans and sweater outfit. It was early April and there was still a bit of a chill in the air in the early mornings here in central Florida, where I grew up and still live.

This Easter event that my mom had planned was totally surprising to me. I had no prior hints that she was planning on doing anything like this. After getting me all dressed up, which she use to refer to as, “dressing a limp noodle”, she motioned me through the house and out toward the backdoor. The hunt was to take place back there, and the game was already afoot.

Upon stepping out onto the back porch, mom informed me that the Easter Bunny had come in the night and placed candy and other goodies all over the backyard. My mission, should I decide to accept it was to determine the whereabouts of these goodies and take the booty for my very own! Arrrr, matey! And so the hunt begins in spite of my mixing of metaphors.^

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Please follow this link* for the rest of this story. Thank you!

*Note the link will lead you to my Cabin In the Woods board @ ProBoards.

^This material is protected by copyright.