Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Memory of Childhood Bullies

Text © Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen, 2010
Images from the Internet

Like any other small kid, and I was the shortest and thinnest boy in my class for a number of years, I’ve had my share of bullies in my life. While most of them were my teachers and the Boy Scout leader, there were also some closer to my age that have moved in and out of my life.

Ah, yes, the bagel-making (his occupation) Boy Scout leader. He was a brute of a man who should never have been let be in charge of anyone, let alone kids. He seemed happiest when he found a reason to literally kick a helpless youth in the ass while he wore army boots that made Doc Martens look plush. He would make us play dodge ball with basketballs, and tell the throwers to aim at a single kid (usually the non-jock kind), so there is no way the ball could actually be dodged. I was often bruised.

Still I managed to stick around for a while, until I was a Second Class Scout, and needed only one more merit badge to become First Class. I decided to go for a cooking one, as the Troop was going on an overnight camping trip up at the Alpine Campgrounds, in the Jersey Palisades. The last Scout meeting before we left, I asked him, “Do I need to cook with or without aluminum foil?” He firmly said without, so I didn’t bring any.

On the camping trip, he did not come along, so a different Troop’s Scout Master watched over us. When I went to show my work, he said, “Since you’re cooking over an open fire, you need to use some foil, otherwise I won’t give it to you.” As hard as I tried, I could not find anyone who would part with any foil. I didn’t get the badge.

At the next Troop meeting, I approached our “leader” and said, quite perturbed, “You said I didn’t need foil when I did, and I didn’t get the badge.” He actually smirked at me with an evil grin, and said, handing me the Scout Manual, “You shoulda read it in the manual. Serves you right” (in other words, “I knew, and I fed you wrong information, so tough nuggies”). After years of abuse by this jerk, I had enough. “You know what,” I said seething with all the contempt my little frame could muster, as he leaned forward in a “what are you gonna do about it” stance, half sitting and half standing, “go to hell,” and I flung the book at him, and with karmic certainty, the point of the thick book hit him right in the groin, and he doubled over in sharp pain. I walked out, and never went back again. The next day I threw out my uniform and the sash with all my merit badges.

My first non-adult bully was in first grade by a kid named Francis, who was actually shorter than me, but was – and I mean this literally – mentally deranged. He would fly into a complete Mel Gibson rage at the drop of a hat, including fist flailing, and I had the pleasure of having to stand next to him at recess. He would glare at me and tell me all the ways he was going to hurt me, though for some reason I was one of the few who were actually left physically unscathed in the class, perhaps because I would bribe him with sweets; still, it was terrifying to be hearing this day in and day out. One day he didn’t show up for class anymore. A few days later, my mom told me that he had been playing hooky, and when the truant office came to the door, Francis attacked him, biting a chunk out of his leg. After that, he was expelled from our school and was sent to a different one for troubled kids, and I never saw him again. If he’s alive now, which I sincerely question, he’s probably either in jail, a cop, or a priest.

In junior high, because of the amount of books we had to carry, I started using an attaché case, which made it a bit easier to carry the load. This was the days before backpacks, when everyone just carried their materials in their hands: boys at the ends of their hands held tight against their leg (usually to be able to quickly hide their groin if the hormones kicked in), and girls with arms folded across their chest. However, I found the load to be too much to carry “boy style” and I could get beaten up carrying it “girl style” (which was actually a more comfortable to carry books), so I started using the attaché case, and was the only one who did. But then came along Craig.

Craig was in a grade higher than me, and whenever our paths crossed, he would grab the attaché case out of my hands, usually from the back before I saw him, and he would a) throw it down the hall, b) fling it down the stairs, or c) toss it out into the street, depending on where we were at the time. Needless to say, I went through quite a few of the cases, because they kept breaking due to the constant rough treatment by this dolt. At one point, he even told me that he didn’t have anything against me personally; it was just fun for him.

After a couple of years of this, on a non-school day, I was riding my bike along Cropsey Avenue near 21 Avenue (Bensonhurst), across the street from the park, when Craig was walking in the opposite direction. He walked into the street, and put his arm straight out as if to clothesline me. This happened fast, but I was able to pull the bike around his hand without him touching me, but had to go into the line of traffic coming from behind me (as I was going in the same direction as the traffic, I could not see what was there). It was only with grace that no cars were behind me at that moment along that very busy street.

I totally lost my cool. Despite his intimidating presence, I leapt off my bike, leaving it between two parked cars, and walked right up to him and yelled, “Are you out of your fucking mind?!? It’s one thing to wreck my stuff, but you could have fucking killed me! I have had enough of you. If you come near me again, I will call the cops on your ass and tell them about this. Just keep the fuck away from me!” Now, anyone who knew me then would know that I did not normally talk like that, and was actually quite shy. That was just a barometer of how angry I was at that moment.

After that, the first time I saw him in the school hall and he tried to grab my attaché case, I glared at him and he actually backed off, and never tried it again. Shortly after, I went to an Army & Navy store and picked up a canvas khaki knapsack, which was my choice of carryall for the next few years, even through my college / CBGBs days, until lighter and sturdier backpacks were more readily available.

During the summer of 1969, while I was 14, I went up to a sleepaway camp called H.E.S., nestled on Lake Stahahe at the base of High Peak in Harriman State Park, which is part of the Catskills. I had attended the camp for the previous six years and mostly had fun. The year they landed on the moon, however, it rained for about 17 of the 21 days we were there. The kids in my bunk were bored, and so they decided to pick on the two smallest of the group, who just happened to have the single bunk bed in the room. I always tried to get the top of a bunk bed because I liked being able to look out at the view over the netting, which could only be seen from that height. In fact, for a number of years, my nickname at camp was “Squirrel,” because I climbed up and made my nest. More people in camp knew me by that name, than by my real one.

So these brilliant kids, with nothing else to do, decided to give us new nicknames: they called me “Ho” and Harvey, they titled “Mo.” Yeah, they kept that up by calling us every gay slur word imaginable, and would trash our stuff, put shaving cream in our faces as we slept, and anything that would not leave a bruise. They made every day as tortuous as they could for their own amusement. The counselor must have been aware of what was going on, but bullying back then was not considered anything more than “kids stuff.”

One day about two weeks in, we went down to the mess hall for lunch, and we all sat in our usual spots. There on my slice of Wonder white bread was the word “Ho” cut out in cheddar, in big block letters, and Harvey’s, natch, had “Mo.” Despite all the harassment we’d been through, I burst out laughing, because I thought it was so ridiculous, and that startled them. Harvey, however, was not amused, and went to the director of the camp to complain. The next morning, he was found tied to a tree in the area among the girls’ bunks, with a gag in his mouth, and his pants around his ankles. He smartened up and did not say who was responsible. The director did not want any trouble, so he gave Harvey some extra rations, and bought him off.

The next year, I went back, and was fortunate to share a bunk with Alan Abramowitz, who remains my good friend/cousin/brother to this day. I was 15 years old in 1970, and got along with everyone just fine, including this huge kid named Laurence Rand, who everyone called Hulk due to his girth, strength, and his love of comics. That is where we bonded (and I made a point of it), because the two of us were the only ones who brought comics along.

Later, I found out that the same kids who were giving me trouble the year before were working as waiters on the other side of the lake, and they were coming to visit, as they knew (from outside camp) one of our bunk members. This was near the end of the three weeks, and I had a hard choice: do I tell them about what happened and hope they don’t start as well; not tell them and hope for the best; or not tell them and hide while the jerks were around. I swallowed my pride, and gathered the bunkmates the night before to tell them the whole story in sordid detail. I don’t remember what they said about it, but I do recall being nervous about the whole thing. Sure enough, the next night, the lugs/thugs showed up, and as they made their way through the bunk, they came across me, and pointed and said, “Hey, look, it’s the fagg…” That’s as far as he got when Hulk grabbed the speaker and literally hurled him out the door. “He’s a friend of mine; any of you got a problem with that?” Everyone in the bunk agreed, including the guy who knew them from before. The bullies backed down, and stayed on the other side of the bunk from my bed, and the guy who was thrown out walked sorely back around the lake by himself.

My worst bully though, lived in my building and was named HB (I will not give him the pleasure of his being able to Google this). He was three or four years older, slovenly fat, and intimidating for someone as small as I was. He gained great pleasure in torturing anyone he could, including the son of a local merchant who had Cerebral Palsy and was mentally impeded. Not a nice person.

My first consciousness of him was when I was when I was about five, and playing out front of the apartment building we shared. He had received a new double-barreled air gun, which he cocked/loaded with the dirt from the front garden. “Hey, Robby,” he called me. When I looked up, he shot both barrels just inches from my face, with a payload of dirt hitting each of my eyes. I was blind for about three days, and I still remember the doctor removing the dirt for hours saying, “Oh, my God” over and over. My brother beat the crap out of him for it, right in front of his mother.

But that didn’t stop him. He would continually call me names, loom over me threateningly, and once he took my scooter out of my hands and rode it for about half a block before his weight crushed the middle of it. He just left it there and walked away, laughing.

Even as a teen, he had this fascination with the fire department, so he bought a radio that could pick up the calls, whose signals would interfere with the television of everyone in the building, but by this time more people were intimidated by his bulk and enjoyment of cruelty. After a couple of years, he got involved with ham radios, which made it almost impossible to enjoy an entire program on television or radio without having to listen to his staticy talking over the airwaves. Usually his comments (one could only hear what he was saying because of his close proximity) were crude, misogynistic, and profanity-laden. Listening to his babbling, it was pretty obvious he was dumb as a stump.

Around the time I was in high school, he moved out with his mom to another building a couple of blocks away; I think she was tired of having to listen to everyone complain to her. The static stopped, but his in-person name-calling intimidation went on for a few more years, though as he was old enough to start working, I saw him less and less. And just what job did he get? Well, he tried to become a fireman, but failed the psychological tests, and besides, the fire department was well aware of him and wanted nothing to do with him. Instead, he became a prison guard. This was the perfect job for someone who wants to use his power to intimidate and find a release for his sadistic tendencies. He was there for a few years until he could find a way to claim injury, and he’s been on permanent disability since.

He still lives in the apartment a couple of blocks away from where I grew up, keeping it after his mom passed on, and hangs out with the low-level wiseguys at a corner close by. After 9/11 he had his white, unnecessarily huge SUV (better for intimidation on the road) painted with images of the fire department, its logo, and of the Towers. But he never married and as far as I know, never had a real relationship. Hell, who would want him?

Looking back, all of these guys were successful in their bullying, but losers in their life. Well, I’m assuming about Francis and Craig, but the bagel-maker, who died in his early 50s, was unhappy with his low-paying, hard-working job (though he had a pleasant wife and two sons who were a couple of years older than me). HB still lumbers around the neighborhood he’s lived in his whole life, never having reached out to anything beyond his limited scope, and while people he’s known forever will say hi, but he’s really alone.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Remembering Christine Nystrom

Text and photo (c) Robert Barry Francos

Along with Neil Postman and Terence Moran, Christine Nystrom helped co-found the Media Ecology department at New York University during the very early 1970s. I stumbled into the program in 1990. My one regret through earning my degree was that I did not get to take any classes with Chris.

That being said, there were many times I have had the pleasure to have shared conversations, dining room tables, and just hung out with Chris socially a number of times during the Media Ecology Departmental Conferences that were held in Upstate New York, first at Sack's Lodge (Saugerties), and then at Williams Lake (Rosendale). Then there was a NYU-sponsored summer program in Tel Aviv in which she was present.

There are going to be lots of stories about Chris: how she was on dissertation committees, how she affected careers, and how she mentored future professors, but what I want to share is an annectote of a very personal moment shared with her.

One year up in Rosendale in the late 1990s, it had been annouced that there would be a major meteor shower, which would be severely hindered visually (if not visible) from New York City, due to light pollution. But at William's Lake, the sky was clear and lights were minimal. Chris and I decided to get a view, so we grabbed some full-length lawn chairs and a couple of bankets (as it was in November), and we settled in, right in front of the cabins. While we invited others, no one cared to join after a full day of academic brain-twisting.

We sat under the stars watching them streak across the sky and talked most of the night, when we weren't nodding in and out, and stayed the night enconsed and freezing in the open air under the thin blankets. It was a night I treasure, though most of what we talked about was scattered and life-centered, rather than about Media Ecology; though I did get to hear some great departmental gossip and goings-on.

The sun came up, and we probably had a couple of hours sleep in total, not to mention being incredibly stiff for a while thanks to the chairs. We also both came down with bad colds a few days later, but we agreed it was worth it.

The last time I saw Chris was at the Institute of General Semantics gathering in September 2009, where she was presented an award by her former student, Lance Strate (picture above). It was great to see her, and to share a moment. A lot of people wanted her time so we only had a chance for quick greetings. However, I don't think I'll ever see another shooting star without thinking of Chris.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Concert Stubs From Long Ago

Text by Robert Barry Francos

Doing some cleaning, I recently came across a stack of ticket stubs from shows and events I had seen in New York. While the shows the tickets represent is hardly inclusive to the shows I have attended, and it mostly certainly does not include clubs like Max’s and CBGBs, here are some of them. Note that I have some with no dates, so I will leave them blank. Notes will be in [brackets]. I have also added who I attended to the shows with, if I remember, or in certain cases, I know but do not want to say. Here they are in order of date:

* NY Rangers vs. Detroit Red Wing, Madison Square Garden, Feb 4, 1970 ($4.00) [My father would occasionally get tickets from the office pool]

* The Kinks, Felt Forum, Nov 27, 1974 ($6.50) [After the first half where they played older material, they returned and did the entire Preservation; attended with Bernie Kugel]

* Marcel Marceau, City Center, Mar 25, 1975 ($7.95) [Was on the guest list after interviewing him earlier in the day; attended with Alan Abramowitz]

* Mireille Mathieu, Carnegie Hall, April 8, 1975 ($5.00) [Beautiful voice; learned about her from the Des O’Connor Show on television; this was just 3 months before the first time I went to CBGB’s and was introduced to the Ramones; attended this show stag]

* Alice Cooper / Suzi Quatro, Madison Square Garden, May 5, 1975 ($6.50) [last row of the balcony, dead center, and he looked like a spec; saw Cooper a total of 4 times]

* Mary Travers / Paul Davis, The Bottom Line, May 19, 1975 ($4.00) [I saw her do the same show twice, and she wore the same dress… other date below; RIP]

* Rolling Stones / Dem Boys, Madison Square Garden, Jun 27, 1975 ($12.50) [Dem Boys was pure torture: a sea of steel drums in an echoing auditorium; it sounded like one long and continuous note, and I have not liked the sound of steel drums since]

* New York Cosmos vs. San Jose Earthquakes, Downing Stadium (Randalls Island), Jul 23, 1975 ($4.00) [Pele was in the Cosmos then; it was a long day, going into double overtime, and by the time we left, my backside was killing me, sitting that long on concrete seats]

* Mary Travers, The Bottom Line, Jul 28, 1975 ($4.00) [Attended with Bernie Kugel]

* Sparks / Mott, Avery Fisher Hall, Nov 19, 1975 ($6.50) [Opening was Mott; note that it was not Mott the Hoople; was on the guest list after interviewing Sparks the evening before:; attended with Alan Abramowitz]

* Roxy Music, Beacon, Nov 26, 1975 (?) [Saw them twice, the other at the Academy of Music; attended with Bernie Kugel]

* Linda Ronstadt / Andrew Gold, Beacon Theatre, Dec 4, 1975 ($7.50) [Our seats were the very last row, left side; attended with Alan Abramowitz]

* Patti Smith, The Bottom Line, Dec 27, 1975 ($5.50) [The infamous show that was bootlegged everywhere; RIP Richard Sohl; attended with Bernie Kugel]

* NY Rangers vs. Buffalo Sabres, Madison Square Garden, Dec 10, 1975 ($6.00)

* The Who / Golden Earrings, Madison Square Garden, Mar 10, 1976 ($8.50) [The Who was amazing, of course, and did a large chunk of Tommy]

* Sparks, Bottom Line, Dec 21, 1976 ($4.50)

* Patti Smith Group, The Palladium, Dec 31, 1976 ($8.50)

* The Dictators / The Dead Boys, CBGB Theatre, Dec 18, 1977 ($7.50) [RIP Stiv]

* Patti Smith Group / Richard Hell, CBGB Theatre, Dec 29, 1977 ($7.50)

* Harry Chapin, Central Park, Aug 11, 1979 ($4.50) [Saw Harry a number of times; RIP; attended with Dennis Concepcion]

* Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, Club Tomato, Sep [?], 1979 ($4.00) [Attended with Alan Abramowitz]

* Herman’s Hermits [sans Peter Noone], Club Tomato, Sep 20, 1979 ($4.00) [Also saw HH with Noone once, and saw Noone without the HH once; attended with Alan Abramowitz]

* The Uncle Floyd Show, The Bottom Line, Dec 6, 1979 ($5.50) [attended with Alan Abramowitz and Stacy Mantel]

* The Tourists / Speedies, The Bottom Line, Apr 15, 1980 ($6.00) [The Tourists were Annie Lennox, Dave Stewart, soon to be the Eurythmics; attended with Alan Abramowitz]

* Alice Cooper (New York, New York show), Palladium, Aug 15, 1980 ($12.50)

* Dictators, ?, Sep 12, 1980 ($8.00)

* Rockpile / Moon Martin, The Ritz, Nov 24, 1980 ($10.00) [Have no memory of Moon Martin at all; attended with Alan Abramowitz]

* Blotto / Doug & the Slugs, The Bottom Line, Mar 16, 1981 ($7.00) [On guest list; RIP Doug Bennett]

* Franken and Davis, Savoy, May 20, 1981 ($3.00) [The show was a disappointment, despite the famous audience members, and many of SNL members guest appearing; this was the night I insulted David Bowie to his face; attended with Alan Abramowitz]

* Alice Cooper / The Spiders, Savoy, Aug 14, 1981 (12.50)

* NY Rangers vs. Buffalo Sabres, Madison Square Garden, Jan 3, 1982 ($8.00)

* Mireille Mathieu, Carnegie Hall, Apr 10, 1982 ($10) [The whole audience was full of Russians, which I found surprising; didn’t hear a word of English from the audience the whole night; attended with Alan Abramowitz]

* Dave Edmunds / NRBQ, The Ritz, May 17, 1982 ($12.50) [This is around the time Dave Edmunds was a phenomenon, and rightly so; while I respected NRBQ’s talent, I found them so boring, in a Phish kind of way, and my ex-FFanzeen managing editor had quit because I refused to publish an article about them; attended with Alan Abramowitz and Stacy Mantel]

* Let’s Active / Fuzztones, Irving Plaza, Oct 21, 1983 ($8.00) [I had met Lynn Blakey of LA at a party while on vacation in North Carolina a couple of years earlier; the Fuzztones are always great]

* The Animals, Beacon Theater, Nov 12, 1983 ($15.00) [on guest list; night I met them backstage and interviewed Eric Burdon (you can find the interview on an earlier blog); saw the same 2-1/2 hour show on the same tour earlier in the year at Shea Theater in Buffalo, NY; Attended with Mary Anne Cassata]

* Monkees Reunion, Jones Beach Theater, Jul 17, 1986 (14.75) [No Mike]

* Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, Mar 14, 1987 (?) [This may have been the time at the Bottom Line; I’ve seen JR a few times; attended with Dawn Kugel]

* Sweet Honey in the Rock, Washington Irving High School [Gramercy Park], Jan 14, 1990 ($19.00) [Another group I have seen a few times; some of the most magical harmonies; attended with my partner and Tamani Wooley]

How many of these have you attended? Feel free to leave a comment on the blog!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Childhood Memory of Robert Dobies, and others

Text © Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen, 2010
Photos from RBF archive

I was in second grade when Robert Dobies and his family moved into our apartment building in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. He was just a few years older than me.

[Robert Dobies]
Robert was part of a five-member household: his mother was Madeline, and her spouse was Joe, who became quick friends of my parents, so we saw them often. His sister, Julie Ann, was my age, and joined my class at PS 128 from second through sixth grade. Their father, the Dobies elder, was no longer around, and Robert’s youngest brother, Larry, was sired by Joe.

Joe had a bad limp. Shortly after moving in, as a pedestrian he was hit by a car at the intersection of Cropsey Avenue and Bay Parkway in Brooklyn, never an easy corner to maneuver. Unfortunately, he was taken to Coney Island Hospital, then known for not being a good place for emergencies, and they bungled up his leg, which led to the hobble. I have no memory if they sued or not. As recreational drugs were coming to the forefront of social consciousness about that time in the mid-‘60s, my mother used the occasion to scare me off mind-altering substances. She said that if Joe had been taking drugs, then whatever painkiller they gave him would not work because his body would be used to it. That definitely scared me, and perhaps it even worked on some subconscious level, because even my many years in the punk movement have been relatively drug free.

I remember the very first time I went up to the fourth (top) floor with my mom and met them all. Struck by Julie Ann, seven-year-old me said to my mom on the way back down to the second floor, “When I get older, I’m going to marry her.” My mom had a big, hearty and instant laugh, which echoed through the hallways. As I got to know Julie Ann in class, I quickly learned that we would never revolve around the same circles, and that she was way out of my league. While I was the small, nerdy, skinny kid, she was someone who would attract the jocks and the movers-and-shakers; my infatuation did not last very long at all.

[Madeline on the right, my mom on the left at RBF and Julie Ann's Junior High School Graduation]
Their apartment was where I first had home-made lasagna, scungili, and many other Italian dishes. While Robert and Julie Ann’s dad was not Italian, Madeline and Joe certainly were.

Larry was the one I would hang out with for a while, though my parents thought I was too old to do so, but we had a fun time, and even went sightseeing to the Statue of Liberty one day. As Larry got older, and years after we went our separate ways, he started getting interested in becoming a forest ranger, something I believe he actually accomplished, if I remember what my dad said correctly.

Robert was also a stunning youth, with a tussle of blond hair and a pair of dimples that made the girl’s hearts melt. Often he would be out in front of the building washing his car in his tee-shirt, and the reason I remember this is because that was how he always did it, even in the coldest weather. I’d be freezing in my under-heated apartment, and he would be outside in the wintry air with a bucket of water and a sponge. Just looking at him doing this activity was enough to make me feel even colder.

The apartment building we all shared was built around a courtyard – essentially a four-story well – in which sounds would echo and vibrate. For example, there was a family that lived directly above us, the Migliaccios, who had a daughter named Felicia that was younger than me. Living across the courtyard was the mother’s sister, who had a daughter the same age as Felicia named Loretta. It was common early on Sunday morning to hear the following conversation (or similar) screamed across the courtyard, in the thickest of Brooklynese accents:

Hey, Felicia, whatcha wearin’ t’church?!
I’m wearin’ my red dress!
Y’can’t wear y’red dress! I’m wearin’ my turquoise dress. We’h gonna clash!
I said I’m wearin’ my red dress! Too bad!!
You wear y’red dress an’ I’m gonna rip y’face off!
You jus’ try it, Loretta, an’ I’ll beat the crap outta ya!

My point is, sound would bounce off the walls and become louder than it started, which in those shrill days, was blasting enough.

[Joe and another neighor at one of our parties]
One day, while his family was on vacation and Robert was left alone, he decided to go out for the weekend with his friends, girlfriend, or whatever. As he got ready, he played some 45, which everyone who had a window to the courtyard – including my bedroom – had to hear as well.

Leaving the spindle up, which meant the record would play again, he thoughtlessly walked out the door while Gilbert O’Sullivan’s whiney and nasal “Alone Again, Naturally” was on repeat cycle… for 48 hours. Yep, he left on Friday night and we all listened to the song blaring and echoing throughout the yard continuously until he returned Sunday late afternoon, before the family arrived. I still hate this song.

About a year later, in a similar situation, he once again walked out the door for the weekend, but this time with Michael Jackson’s insipid “Got to Be There” on rotation. While never a Jackson fan, next to “Ben,” this was his worst song, as he screeched “To be theeeeeere in the moooOOOooorrrrning…” It was like a needle in my ear.

This time, though, the situation would be different. There is no way I was going to listen to that howling for two days straight. Here is what I did:

Just after midnight, I grabbed a flashlight and went down to the basement (hey daddy-o, I don’t wanna go down to the basement!). It was before powerboxes, when everyone still used fuses, so when one blew, you had to replace it. The fuse boxes for the apartment building were in this dark, nasty room, with a number of boxes, and each one containing a few apartments’ worth of fuses, each one marked with the door number painted next to it.

[Julie Ann and RBF flinch at the sun before their Junior High graduation]
I found Robert’s fuse and in the space between songs as the needle lifted, I twisted it out, leaving glorious silence. Now, I had some choices on what to do with it. I figured, if I just loosened it, he’d probably think that it was naturally wobbly, and the noise could return on another occasion. If I actually took the fuse, the first thought would probably be that someone took it because theirs blew and did not have a replacement, again leading to future episodes of continuous bad music.

Instead, I took out the fuse and put it on the bottom of the box, so it would be obvious that someone had pulled it out and then left it there for him (as his family was away, he would be the one to find it). Upon returning two days later, his apartment had no electricity for nearly two days, and all the food in their fridge, enough to feed five people – over $100 worth in those day’s prices – had gone bad. From what I learned later, he got in a lot of trouble for it from Madeline and Joe, and the apartment had an unpleasant odor for a while.

He never tried to do that again.

After the three kids eventually moved out as they became of age. Eventually, Madeline left Joe and moved out, which he also did shortly after, leaving the apartment vacant for the next tenants. Except for running into Joe (and his new girlfriend) one day at a diner with my dad in the early ‘80s, I never heard from or saw any of them again.

There was never any resentment held by me against Robert Dobies, though I do think that act was at the very least heartless, and the very most cruel. Robert, if you Google yourself and find this, just know that I wish you and your whole family well. It would be great to hear from you.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Driving in Alberta on a November Weekend: A Photo Essay

Text and images (c) Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen, 2010
These lo-rez version of the photos can be enlarged by clicking on them

At the end of November of 2010, we traveled out to Alberta for personal reasons. Along the way, I snapped. Note that just about all these photos were taken out the car window while going at least the speed limit, so you will see some blurriness. It was cold that weekend, and over the two nights, there was a fog which led to some very beautiful hoar frost.

The first day we drove through some small towns on our way to Edmonton. These photos are only one way, as it was dark by the time we returned.

Riding along, we passed through the town of Ohaton. I've always liked the shape of the car repair garage centered in the distance, with it's three-level roof facade.

The Ohaton public school is old enough to have once had separate entrances for genders. I can't make any snide remarks, because the elementary school I attended in Brooklyn (PS 128) had the same thing.

The small city of Camrose has the beautiful Mirror Lake and bridge in the heart of it, in Jubilee Park. Along the same lake is the Ukrainian Catholic Parish church that I've found to be charming, including the fancy metal work around the steeple.

Out in the countryside, this new style of grain elevator is becoming increasingly common, as the old fashioned iconic wood elevators are disappearing at an alarming rate.

The weather-beaten look of this farm house and barn is both rustic and lonely. The lines across the picture are from the heating elements along the back car window.

The distance one can feel as you look out over the snowy fields is staggering and beautiful all at the same time. In a climate like this, it seems infinite.

Rolls of straw covered with snow is reminiscent of breakfast cereal with frosting.

Many farms use more equipment than can fit in their own storage, so they park the implements outside for the duration of the winter, ready to hit the fields again once spring has sprung.

More breakfast cereal-inspired hay, a common sight outside of city limits.

Is it me, or does "Whitemud" seem like an oxymoron?

The fake tree-like smokestacks hide behind their models of reality (or, perhaps, humanity vs. nature?).

Smokestacks are also a common sight in the prairie cities and countryside, between oil, natural gas, potash, and other natural products that are in need of processing. Industry always wins.

A train trestle over the North Saskatchewan River.

Almost missed this one: yes, that is a road named after Mr. Hockey.

Obviously part of New Jersey's attempt to take over the world!

Somewhere there is an adolescent laughing at the combination of "Humpty's" and "Yellowhead." For those who don't know, one of the main arteries in Edmonton is known as the Yellowhead trail.

This reminds me of a sign at Coney Island's boardwalk (not sure if it's still there). It's definitely a cool logo for this company. I understand the whole double meaning of "space" indicated here, but does one want their stuff sent off to the galaxy, or to stay put/ This image could work both ways.

I liked this sign. Northern Lights is also the name of a Casino near Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, though I'm sure they are both in reference to the Aurora Borealis. Interestingly, both the cemetery and casino have a similar message of eternity; the one here is "The care is everlasting," and for the casino, it's a disingenuous "Where the winning never ends."

The second day we headed out again, with the foliage covered with hoar frost, which is incredibly beautiful as they are encased in snow and ice, giving them a white casing. Here we are back on the road to Camrose.

One of the bigger modern-style grain elevators, in Legacy Junction, just outside of Ohaton.

An abandoned farm is not all that uncommon, unfortunately, as the Canadian farmers are also in financial straits between rapacious banking loan regulations and big agri-business pressuring independent farmers by trying to buy out everyone.

Camrose has all their Christmas themes up right after Halloween, since Canadian Thanksgiving falls in mid-October.

The sun sits behind this octopus elevator.

Another abandoned and graffiti covered farm along the Camrose area correction line.

A lovely spot, but this truly is the middle of nowhere.

Hoar frost in all its glory, lining the road and keeping a barrier between the cars and the farm.

A lone farmhouse in the distance near the town of Round Hill.

In Round Hill, two churches sit along the same road. Note the sign is old enough to have the distance in miles rather than kilometers.

St. Stanislaus in Round Hill. We did not go inside.

I love the feeling of distance one gets looking out the window as the car rolls along. It's beautiful in any season.

Stacks of hay surround a mound of dirt, though keeping with the theme, it could be a lump of sugar among the Weetabix cereal.

Some lonely trees stand shorn and waiting for spring, as are we all.

More hay bales spread throughout a farm.

On our trip home heading east, we actually drove through the fog bank we had been in the night before on the return from Edmonton. Luckily, it passed quickly and we arrived home that evening. Special thanks to Ayrin for watching our cats, Ming and Memphis, while we were gone.