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Resurrecting Old Books

“Eyeball” gave me this in 1970.

February 11, 2020

I’ve been checking out some of the more obscure books in our house.  One example:  [Thomas] De Quincey’s Works.  Copyright 1877 by Houghton, Mifflin & Co.

When I was in the Marines a fellow supplyman, Lance Corporal Ziewall, gave me a fat little volume by the above-mentioned De Quincey.  I liked to call him “Eyeball.”  He always called me Stork.  

Ziewall claimed to be a genius, not boasting.  He understood the computers of our day (the late 1960s).  He explained to me about the differences between programming languages like COBOL and REBOL.  I didn’t quite understand.  He said a great example of analog computer was the automatic transmissions another Marine, Corporal Eddy Bonk, rebuilt in the hydraulics shop during his lunch hour.

In turn I told him about the I Ching, translated by Wilhelm and Baynes. I dwelt on the mathematics and probabilities, the primal images of earth and sky, parents, siblings. Landscape features, skyscapes too.

I never did get very far into De Quincey, but Wikipedia said he was an English essayist who became famous for his Confessions of an Opium Eater.  This heralded a kind of drug-use literature that blossomed during the so-called hippie era.

Then I spoke to my sister, who will be 81 next week.

Do you know who Louis Untermeyer was?  Maybe you do, but you might not.  We knew who he was at our house when I was a kid because of a hefty book in the living room bookcase.

We Struckman children grew up with Modern American and British Poetry.  Untermeyer edited it.

My brother Tom memorized several poems including Vachel Lindsay’s The Congo.  Published in 1912, The Congo is overtly racist, so has rightly met with derision and condemnation.  Fortunately, times are changing.  However, in the seventh grade I also learned a lot of it when our teacher had us recite poetry.  

I could also recite Gentle Alice Brown, by W.S. Gilbert.  Actually, I memorized several in the seventh grade by Mr. Gilbert because some were sort of gruesome and, I thought, therefore naughty.  

Anyway, Mr. Untermeyer was a poet, anthologist, editor, and critic.  He was branded a Communist in the early 50s by the House un-American activities committee. 

He was friends with publisher Bennett Cerf and Untermeyer appeared with him on the TV show What’s My Line? until he was fired.  The sponsor of What’s My Line? (a company that sold Stopette deodorant) was picketed by military veterans.

Our mother heard Untermeyer speak when she attended a teacher’s union conference in 1966.  I remember she told me about it.

The reason I mention him and the book is my sister Carol and I have been mailing it back and forth to each other on our birthdays the past few years.  I sent it to her yesterday.

One can read about Louis Untermeyer in Wikipedia.  He died in 1977.

Goodbye, dear Della

George was seated across from me at Della and Lawrence’s table at their place in Hall, Montana, in the early 70s.

February 4, 2020

Day before yesterday at 8:30 a.m. I overheard Penny saying to someone on the phone how shocking and terrible the news was.  

You may have gotten calls like that, bad news of someone’s death.  Yesterday it was news of my sister-in-law, Della Jones,’ death.  Nearly 80, she had undergone open-heart surgery three weeks earlier to replace her mitral and aortic heart valves.  She seemed to be healing, but had trouble breathing.  She died in the night, shortly after her husband Lawrence visited her at the rehabilitation hospital at Big Timber.  Lawrence said he saw her winding and unwinding a skein of yarn, not speaking.

I am unqualified to tell about Della. She was nine years older than Penny and me, grew up in the “hit parade” years of bobby socks and saddle shoes.

But Della has always been kind to me and now we are grieving.  

I remember the first time we met, in 1970 or 1971, in a little old farm house near Hall, Montana.  The house was perhaps a couple miles out of town on a dirt road.  Della and Lawrence must have been working on a ranch there, and Penny and I were still childless.  I met P’s father, George Meakins.  He and I washed the breakfast dishes with water heated on a wood stove, while everyone else went to town on some sort of errand.  Then George took me into Hall and introduced me to the lady that ran the Stockman’s Bar.  George bought some candy bars and a couple packs of smokes.

I remember we slept the night at the small house.  It was heated by a wood stove in the front room that was cold by morning.

A year later, P., and our baby, Todd, and I visited Della and Lawrence at their new mobile home right in Hall, across from the Hall school.  Again, George was there.  I took a picture of him across the dining table.  

I have to leave the good stories about Della to those who knew her better than I did. I’ll remember her kind face, her laugh, her love for her family.

Arranging flats and cords

These vocal cords are resting. Probably a wise move.

January 29, 2020

Today at NOVA theater I rearranged the unused scenery in the shop.  I deeply respect the previous technicians who set up the scheme in the first place.  However, I’m the go-to guy now!  Here’s what I did, after carefully consideration.

The original scheme was to arrange the 9-foot tall flats book-wise on a 7-foot-high shelf on a side wall.  The shelf was elegantly constructed with jutting pipes to keep the flats organized.  I still admire it.

However, most of us are not strong enough to lift the tall flats over our heads to the 7-foot-high shelf.  As a result the recently used flats have been stacked flat on the floor against an adjacent wall where only the most recently placed were easy to get.  None of the flats on the shelf could be gotten without a ladder.

Therefore, I used a ladder to bring down the stored standard-width flats, the one- two- three- and four-foot-wides.  These are now at the back of the room, placed like books on the floor, widest-to-narrow, left to right.  Easy to find, easy to get.  All of this took like, three hours. I didn’t get hurt, either, just dusty and dirty.

At 8 this morning I visited a speech therapist.  Kay.  Kay put a black tube with a camera into my right nostril.  She pushed it until the tears streamed down my cheeks.  I was watching the monitor and I was surprised at the amount of hair in my nose.  

Distant memory:  As a young child I looked up at my daddy and could see lots of red hairs in his nose.  He died when I was four years old.  Yes, I digress.

Back to this morning.  I was hyperventilating and Kay asked me to relax and sniff.  She gave up on that side and tried pushing the tube into my left nostril.  Hurt worse.  Ow!  I sneezed.  She pulled the black tube gently out.  She was successful when she again tried the right nostril.  At last I could see a bunch of white thrush on the way back of my tongue.  Was this a fool’s errand?

Then she asked me to sing, “eeee.”  My vocal cords looked like a pair of white pillars that fluttered like fish gills.  I glissando’ed up the scale but was disappointed that my cords didn’t do anything spectacular.

But Kay was spectacular.  She gave me some photos of that secret place in my body where my voice comes from.  She said I most likely had gastric reflux that bothered my vocal cords, that could cause coughing while singing.  She called this “LPR”: larynx-pharyngeal reflux.  She gave me a list of foods and drinks to avoid.  As you might suspect, they include every refreshing drink and every delicious food.  Also a list of easily done exercises.  She explained that the goal is to minimize the damage that stomach acid can cause, while strengthening the tissues that sing.

If the goal of good theatrical scenery is to enhance the story, the goal of singing might be to enhance the song.  In the first instance, the work of the theater tech might be invisible to the audience.  In the second the audience might enjoy the lyric without being overly aware of the person singing.

The twisted tale of our famous door

Our niece Hannah Banana years ago at our house. I snapped the photo. Hannah died years later in Kona, Hawaii, probably of an opioid overdose.

January 28, 2020

We discovered our current house while walking the neighborhood more than 38 years ago.  Our quest that Fall day:  walk to the castles on Clark Avenue and admire old Billings.  I had recently gotten a job making antibiotic and other intravenous infusions, to be “piggybacked” into various patients’ hydrating IV infusions.  Hence, I was “Dan the piggyback man.”  I earned $5.60/hr, enough to pay rent for my family of five, and feed us.  And our cats, Burton, Leo, Annabelle.  And a nephew or niece or two.  We enjoyed walking then and we do now. 

We admired the castles that day in 1982, including the Moss mansion.

We returned to Burlington Avenue, headed home.

In front of a green house shined a pickup’s tail lights.  I walked to the door and notified a young man who thanked me, said the brake pedal caused  the lights to go on.  He trotted out to the truck while P. and I walked two blocks home on the 400 block of Burlington Avenue.

More than a year later I got a job working the night shift at the hospital and a raise to $10.20/hr.  P. and I looked to buy a house, but they were scarce in 1983.  They only suitable house available was the one where we asked about the truck tail lights.  

We thought we could afford a $500/mo payment, so we asked the real estate lady to offer the owner, John Frasco, a suitable amount.  Of course, he turned us down, but ultimately accepted.  We moved in during a blizzard, January 1, 1984.

To our sorrow, Burton the cat ran out the door never again to be seen and admired.  The temperature was at least 20 below and we had no fridge.  

We needed a fridge to keep our milk from turning sour, same as other times.  Also, to keep the milk from freezing if we tried set it outdoors.  

Well, we drove out past Lockwood and selected a 1950s-style fridge for $150 (They don’t make them like this anymore, boasted the seller.).  A guy in a truck delivered it to our driveway that night.  He said to warm it to room temp before plugging it in.  It was a fine old round-ey fridge, but it lacked a door handle, but we used a wire coat hanger to pull the mechanism.  Hay and manure were frozen to the bottom.  

We felt buyer’s remorse, so P. went to the bank to stop our check but saw the guy we bought the fridge from leaving as she approached the bank.  I tried phoning the guy an hour later but a woman hung up on me.  I called her back but she didn’t pick up.  Or maybe she picked up and hung up.  I guessed she didn’t want the fridge back.  Smarting from feeling swindled, I couldn’t think of any recourse, except to call the better business bureau.  I’m not sure there is a better business bureau in Billings.

I told our real estate agent who gave us an avocado green fridge with a door that opened and shut without a coat hanger.  She didn’t charge us, so I forgave the asshole who sold us the crap fridge, now sitting in the garage.  Someone told me the old fridge would make a fine smoker, but I ultimately took it to the landfill.  In turn, I brought back a fragment of a discarded station wagon, that is, the kind of wagon found at train stations to haul luggage from the depot to the baggage car.  It has two big steel wheels and an axle.

The house—a 1925 bungalow— we bought may have had some mixed karma.  The family who lived there before us had tragedy; they lost their mom to a heart attack, apparently.  They had a couple of kids, at least, past high school age.

Originally it had two official bedrooms, a vast unfinished attic, a full basement that had been mostly finished, but flooded years before.  The washing machine and dryer were parked in the unfinished part of the basement.  I sat on the washer.  I looked up at the floor joists.

I loved the floor joists, the pipes, the wires.  The concrete floor, the furnace.  The furnace had been a coal burner, then an oil, then a natural gas.  A squirrel cage fan forced air through the steel ducts.  I loved what I saw.

The steep stairs to the attic led from a door in the back bedroom, made two left-hand turns.  A bare bulb illuminated the huge wood-floored space.  Marks showed countless roller skates.  

Took a day to break a hole in the dining room wall, move the door from the bedroom, and cobble up a straight stairway up.  A nephew helped me insulate and frame and sheetrock the attic.  By then it was Spring and our two sons moved upstairs.  It has been floored and carpeted, windowed and re-windowed.  A great place to freeze in the winter and swelter other times.  Look how tough it made our kids.  Our older boy is a man, now, sleeps in an old house in Duluth—upstairs without heat, with his wife and two sons of his own.  Doesn’t everyone wear a stocking cap to bed?

These days, I am retired.  And tired.  We keep the attic closed with a quilt stretched over the opening.  Our daughter’s bedroom houses the occasional guest.  The attic will hold any number of persons willing to wear a hat to bed in the winter or brave the heat in the summer.

The door that used to lead to the attic has been removed and the stairs replaced by a real carpenter.  A couple months ago I took the door to NOVA theater to install in its frame as part of the set for “A Christmas Carol.”  The door was successfully opened and slammed shut (after suitable reinforcing) numerous times.  Then the door appeared in the play “No Exit.”  And “Free Birdie.”  Now it has increased its repertoire to include Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.”

Did you wet the bed? I did. Often.

Daniel bed wetter with his faithful dog, Gunther.

April 21, 2016

As excellent–no perfect–as Mark Twain’s writings are, his stories lacked any mention of bedwetting, a common form of enuresis, or involuntary urination.  

So I did a cursory literature review of fiction about children and found that most authors omit it.  Certainly the boys’ books did, such as Tom Swift, the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Mark Tidd, Penrod, and that wonderful work of fiction, G-Men Trap the Spy Ring.  I forget who wrote the last one.  Wait.  It was Laurence Dwight Smith. 

James Joyce, in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, included a bedwetting character, as did Orson Wells in one of his stories.

My niece’s son wet the bed last night.  I can sympathize. Identify.

I used to wet the bed almost every night until the eighth grade.  As a result I slept on a stinking, soggy mattress.  Kids in school told me that I smelled funny.  I declined to sleep overnight with the Boy Scouts even if the trip was one night only.  Embarrassment factor. Freezing factor in the winter.

Eventually I developed a method of sleeping with vast quantities of urine.  I considered, and discarded several options:  Sleep in a bathing suit.  Sleep in the bathtub.   Sleep curled up over a funnel of some kind.  Reminds me that in the first hours of my Marine Corps basic training a sergeant told us that we had to surrender any condoms we might have.  He didn’t tell us why, but I assumed that a condom could catch urine and prevent a wet bed.  By the time I had found out how and where to buy condoms I no longer wet the bed.  I wonder if a condom would even stay on a flaccid penis, without duct tape.  I have my doubts, but I don’t know because I have never tried to unroll a condom over one.

My method of coping with my habit of bedwetting in the 8th grade worked fairly well:  1) Place a rubberized pad over the mattress, still wet from the last episode, then make the bed in the usual way with sheets and several blankets.  2) After wetting the bed that night, climb out of bed and sleep on top of one of the blankets that used to cover me.  3)  Find a blanket to backfill the one now in use beneath me.  4)  Repeat steps 2 and 3 until all of the available blankets have been used.  5) get in trouble each weekend for making a kind of “piss lasagna” of the bedding.   

(Mother always seemed to ask me the rhetorical “Why don’t you get up and go to the bathroom?)

Actually my sweet mother finally sat down with me at bedtime. She asked me to mentally visualize needing to use the toilet. “Go ahead,” she insisted, “pretend you have to go.” I did so. I did so several times to practice.

“All right,” she said, “open your eyes. Wake up. Get up and use the bathroom.”

She had me repeat this several times. Well, I really wanted to stop wetting the bed. I really wanted to stop wetting the bed! I practiced several times each night for a couple of nights. Damned if it didn’t work! I was desperate!

Just one more reason I loved my mother so much. Turned out, that was the end of my bed-wetting. Didn’t miss it. I needed to leave home for college in just a few years.

Minnesota in January

Gunther is relaxing.

January 9, 2019

We are in our RV, a Dodge conversion van, about an hour east of Duluth.  Gunther is in the passenger seat, P. is driving.  Thanks to the miracle of wireless communication, I am surfing the internet, seated at the table in the kitchen area.  Gunther looks listless.  Earlier we walked him through a park with snow more than a foot deep.  He refused to try twice.  Turns out even though he can swim, deep snow stymies him.  Plus snow gets between the fingers of his paws and hurts him.

Our quest is to refill the propane tank so we can run the heater to keep us warm tonight.  Again, thanks to the internet we have excellent instructions to find the U-Haul business with a person there who knows how to refill our tank.  Our plan is to pull the camper in front of Todd’s house where we can sleep tonight.  This will provide us with a low-stress visit; I hope for a long visit with outdoor adventures.  That means struggling up and down hills in snow.

We bought candy in Park Lakes for our grandsons.  To bribe them.  They are both physical children, eager to play outdoors.  We want them eager to play outdoors with us.  And our dog, too, of course.

Our daughter-in-law is into making paper these days, a perennial hobby of mine.  Only she is a bona fide artist, with access to people, ideas, and materials to make hand-made paper that would be good enough to print with a letterpress.  My heart!

I tried making hand-made paper before, but I really didn’t know what I was doing.  The resultant product resembled wet Kleenex-brand tissues which, although I was able to make some crude valentines, was too friable and weak.  I have a book printed at Grabhorn press in San Francisco on hand-made paper.  That paper is strong and thin.  Turns out the secret of good paper is good paper pulp that must be thoroughly macerated by beating with a mallet, or something like that.  The pulp fibers are separated and not chopped up.

Holiday memories. .

Eddie in one of his halloween masks. This was his tamest, least scary mask.

December 29, 2019

My sister-in-law saw our Christmas tree.  Said it reminded her of Eddie.  Asked me if I missed him.  Yes, I said, especially at Christmas.

I have many memories of the holidays with Eddie.  Most people knew him as “Snow Bird,” but for some reason Eddie asked me to call him “Eddie.”  I remember long ago, I was with Eddie and the driver of the Urban Health Clinic van.  I can’t remember the man’s name, but he was older than I was.  Eddie asked me for a ride back to Billings.  I told him “sure.”  The driver eyed me, “You’ve got yourself a boy, now.” 

Sure. Fine with me, I thought.  I figured the driver was just being dismissive of my friend.

Little did I know how fortunate I was to have a bona fide super hero friend.  We formed a friendship that stretched from about Fall of 1992 until Summer, 2019.  Twenty-seven years.  

He was frugal with paying for necessities, but lavish when he bought fireworks or halloween accouterments.  At one point, when Eddie was facing homelessness because he didn’t want to pay $500/month rent, I suggested that he move under a bridge, a place he had stayed during the warmer months of 1992.  I felt frustrated by his anxiety about housing, on the one hand, and his unwillingness to spend money for it. He had long-term projects, though.

Eddie giggled.  He did take a room in the Colonial Apartments, and I visited him there, on the third floor.  I don’t know the history of the Colonial, but it looks like a huge white wooden bungalow, at least three stories high, with hallways running its length.  In 2003 the Billings Gazette published Ed Kemmick’s piece with great descriptions and history. Ed noted that the Colonial had a reputation for being the housing of last resort, a place where someone might soon be a victim. Some of the 28 rooms had heavy padlocks and the hall had the sweet smell of urine, according to Ed.

Some weeks later Eddie peddled to our house with his tape recorder.  He said a drunken man had cursed at him.  Eddie had had the presence of mind to tape record a truly foul, racist, slurred rant studded with expletives against Native Americans in general and Eddie in particular.  As I recall, several of us urged Eddie to report the incident, but instead, I think Eddie moved to a basement apartment near Billings Clinic.  Or maybe the one across from Goofy’s Bar.  In any case, Eddie was such a hoarder he basically trashed every place he lived.  Part of it was that he documented things carefully, with photographs, tape recordings, newspaper articles, official papers protected in clear plastic at Kinko’s, in multiple copies.  Tape Recorder batteries littered the small paths of floor through the trash bags of other goods at his place.  

His kitchen stove was like a peninsula midst a sea of junk, bespattered with grease, a cheap avacodo-green non-stick frying pan on top with a quarter inch of fat and a pancake turner.  I don’t remember that Eddie got sick from his own cooking.  In fact, he seemed to never get sick at all.  I worried about fires, but none broke out.

I’d know if he had had a fire, but maybe I wouldn’t know if he got sick. He popped into my consciousness in his own time. Generally, whenever we had company. And his birthday. And Crow Fair. Good times.