Monday, November 13, 2023

Some Offices Are Built To Be Playgrounds


When I was stationed in Wiesbaden, I worked at the American Arms Office Towers (AAOT). The building was dual use with one side having offices and the other side a military hotel. When I first arrived, I stayed in the hotel with two of my sons and walked to work, which was convenient. Originally, the entire thing had been a hotel, so most of the offices had their own shower and bathroom. Except for the offices being small, they were among the best I had in my entire career.

The building was six stories tall and in the shape of a hub and spoke, with a large circular center on each side that was open from the ground floor to the roof. Ringing the center rotunda was a walkway that looked down over the center. As a result, if you were on the sixth floor you could glance over the railing and see all the way to the bottom. At the bottom was a circular desk where security guards sat monitoring cameras and the entrances and exits. Overall, and aesthetically pleasing layout. 

Then came the day I was at the store and saw some of those little plastic parachute guys I had when I was a kid. If you are not familiar with them, they consist of a plastic soldier attached to a plastic parachute with strings.  You would fold with parachute up and then throw it into the air (some came with a slingshot to facilitate this).  If you got it up high enough, the chute would unfold and open and the solder would float gently to the ground.

As I picked one up, pondering getting one for my son, I had an idea. I could drop the parachute guy from the top of the rotunda at the AAOT and it would float all the way to the ground floor, as long as it didn't veer off course. Just that germ of a thought convinced me to pick up a couple of these toys and bring them home. 

One evening, after work, I put the parachute guys my pocket and headed back to the AAOT with my son. We strolled in, took the elevator to the sixth floor, and I handed him one the parachute guys and told him to throw it over the ledge. He did and we leaned over the rail and watched as it floated down six floors. I took the elevator back to the ground floor, retrieved the toy and put it on the elevator for the ride up. When it got there and the doors opened, my son retrieved the parachute guy and threw him over the ledge again. We did this numerous times that evening.

Before we left Wiesbaden, we would play like this from time to time. Sometimes if I had to run back to the building to check on something or retrieve a hot message, I would take my son along and we’d play the parachute game.

When my tour was finished, and as I was preparing to leave. I picked up a couple of dozen of these parachute guys and at my departure lunch I gave all of my staff one with an explanation of what I had been doing after hours. I can just imagine if all of them went up to the sixth floor at one time and through all of the parachute guys over the edge. It probably looked like a plastic army guy invasion.


Tuesday, November 7, 2023

A Pit, a Pendulum, and a Dark Auditorium

I don’t have a favorite author; I have favorite authors. One of those authors is Edgar Allen Poe. Like most, I discovered horror books in fifth or sixth grade. Later on, I had a literature teacher who turned us on to more horror and Gothic horror stories, which is when I truly discovered the depth of Edgar Allen Poe’s work. His books are magnificent, of course. I’m not the only one who thinks so. In college, I eagerly enrolled in a literature class entitled An Examination of the Works of Edgar Allen Poe, but the actual content had little to do with its title.

Not only did we not examine the works of Poe, we barely examined anything at all. The professor had designed the class around the critiques Poe had written about other authors and their works. Apparently, criticism was Poe’s main income vehicle back in the day. To ensure that we knew what Poe was actually criticizing, we read dozens of other authors’ work before reading what Poe thought about them. This was not the class I thought I had signed up for. 

To make things worse, the professor had a very monotonous voice, and he’d insist on reading long passages from the book that I could not have given a damn about. Did I mention this class was my first of the day at the ungodly hour of 7:30 in the morning? Since I was still a freshman, I didn’t know I could drop a class simply because I wasn’t getting anything out of it, so I stuck it out. In the end, I got a B with the only lesson being learned that sometimes writers do things to make money when their time would’ve been better spent creating.

During my first year at Central Junior High School in Lawton, Oklahoma (Go Cougars!), I was introduced to the concept of school social activities. Once every other month, the school held a dance with a live band in the gym while they showed a movie in the auditorium. On later reflection, I think this was to please those with religious restrictions on dancing and to help shy teenagers who didn’t want to dance in public. It was an elegant solution, but I never ran into another school that followed that protocol. Like most seventh graders, dating was a foreign concept, so I arrived at the first dance and quickly met up with a group of my friends.

We stood around the fringes of the empty dance floor for quite a while before someone took a leap and danced. Soon, the floor was completely full. That included me, because my friend Mark’s girlfriend had several other friends and timing met opportunity. After one dance, across the gym floor I saw her. I’d seen her in class and thought she was cute. She had long dark hair flowing across her shoulders, and the darkest naturally red lips I’d ever seen in my life. Her bangs accented her eyes, which I found hypnotic. I guess that high contrast look and accent on the eyes this might've influenced my later attraction to Goth girls. 

As I stood watching other people dance, she quietly sauntered up beside me. We held a brief conversation that included that she didn’t dance. She then asked if I’d accompany her to the auditorium to watch the movie, which was about to start. I agreed and off we went.

The movie was The Pit and the Pendulum starring Vincent Price. I’d seen Vincent Price in several movies adapted from Edgar Allen Poe’s work before this and always enjoyed his performances. Price had the creepiest voice and aristocratic mannerisms that always seemed haunting. 

As we watched the movie, I gathered my courage and held her hand in the dark. The movie included themes that were perfect for our age group (adultery, murder, revenge, madness––the usual). She’d occasionally squeeze my hand during the scarier parts, but other than that we sat there silently - sweaty palm pressed to sweaty palm. 

I vividly remember two things from the movie. While walking down an abandoned passageway, Vincent Price walked into a wall of cobwebs face first. Years later, he mentioned this scene and how he asked the director if it was meant to scare the ladies. The director replied, “No. The men.”   Also indelibly etched into my mind was a scene that also gave me sleepless nights for the rest of that week. It was the very last one in the film. I won’t reveal it here, but I’ll say the director of Carrie and M. Night Shyamalan probably learned the concept of the glance back twist ending from this film. 

After the shock at the end, it was time for a shock of my own-- she leaned forward and kissed me as the credits scrolled. She wasn’t the first girl I ever kissed, but she was the first girl I was ever attracted to who I kissed. The shocking end of the movie and the subsequent kiss left me flabbergasted. Since it was Friday night and I would not see her again until Monday, I had to wait to see if I’d get a repeat opportunity––maybe somewhere in the halls of my school. But alas, it was not to be. 

She went home and told her mother about our evening, which resulted in her being up grounded. She was forbidden any sort of non-platonic relationship with anyone outside of her faith and until she was twenty-one. I was forbidden fruit at thirteen? It left me feeling a little Romeoesque. 

I’ll always have great admiration for the stories of Edgar Allen Poe. I’ve since learned that a lot of the urban legend surrounding him… his madness, and drug abuse were just that—– urban legend. That’s okay. I think it adds to his stories. If you believed he produced some of the most amazing tales while mentally altered, you have to admire him more. 

After all, how could he craft such perfectly written tales while not being in full control of his faculties? He takes you along as a tormentor is permanently bricked into a wine cellar wall. You imagine hearing the cries of a cat and the beat of a heart, even though both are impossible. Then a bird — a Raven — who knows and repeats but one word. 

All that isn’t from one being tortured, but one who wants to torture the reader, leaving them enjoyably unsettled. 


Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Don't Dread the TBR, Everyone Needs One

Sitting on the corner of my desk, and a nice neat pile next to a miniature I call Tiny Lair, is my pile of books to be read (TBR). If these were homework assignments or part of a required reading list, the feeling might be less than positive. However, these are books are ones I’ve selected but just didn’t have time to read. So, they sit there in this nice neat pile waiting for time.

I admit some books have been there since last spring. Sometimes it is difficult to read a book during summer unless you’re relaxing in a beach chair next to a body of water. Now that we’re past Halloween, I expect I’ll begin working my way through this stack.

I typically read three books at the same time - one fiction, one nonfiction, and one on philosophy/self-improvement. It lets me flow back-and-forth depending on my mood when I find a few minutes to glance at a page or two. I also read one novel a month for my Zoom Reading Group. It might seem like a lot of reading, but it really isn’t.

Besides the pile that you see sitting on my desk, I’ve got another pile stacked in bits and bytes on my Kindle. Whereas most folks seem to gravitate towards one or the other reading media, I easily flow between the two. My typical rule of thumb is that if the title is something I think I might read again or at least want to have around for reference, I buy it in hard copy. If it is something I’m only reading once, it goes on my Kindle. It’s a simple division.

On my wish list for my next house, I hope for a spacious office with a wall-to-wall bookshelf and a hidden passage to a cozy reading room. The room would include an easy chair, some kind of music playing device, a lamp, and a few other accouterments that’d create a proper reading environment. I guess my desire for such a hidden room comes from all those Batman episodes I watched when I was a kid. I must not be the only one because there are several companies that produce the hardware to create my desired secret passageway through a bookcase.

Like most readers, I see no shame in having a TBR pile. In fact, I think it reflects the fact that my basic philosophy is that there is always something more to read. 

Oh, within that pile are several books bought as gifts from the various wish lists that I have online. The one recommendation I’d make: If you’re buying a book as a gift for someone else, take a moment to sign it. I know, I know some people say it reduces the value of the book. I’m not talking about a first edition Chaucer; I’m talking about modern publications. I can’t speak for everyone, but every time I open a book that was a gift, I’ll occasionally turn to the inscription and reflect on the one who gave it to me. In this way, the gift becomes a recurring memory of the gift giver.