Thursday, May 28, 2015

The storyteller, Eddie Hunter

I met Eddie Hunter, of Marietta, Georgia, through the old Prodigy message boards in the early '90s. We both shared a love for the old Mad comic books. We also swapped anecdotes about our lives. I found Eddie had an advanced sense of humor and a genuine ability to tell a personal story.

Since Eddie has sometimes used artwork from my blog on his own, Chicken Fat, I thought it only fair to use some of Eddie’s stories on mine.

Eddie is, in the best sense of the word, a reporter. He watches people and listens to what they have to say. This comes through in his word-sketches. Everyone has a story. You just have to be receptive to it, and that is my friend Eddie. He and his wife, Anna, are constant companions, and have a wide circle of acquaintances. Eddie has an interest in family history, and in the history of his community and its fellow citizens.

I went back to some 2005 entries from Eddie’s blog for four short stories, each a few paragraphs. Eddie’s droll observations and comments are in the best tradition of storytelling. My only contributions are occasionally capitalizing a proper noun or providing a comma where I thought it was needed. I hope Eddie will forgive me. Other than those minor touches every word is Eddie’s.
Savannah, a Ghost, and the Unattached Hand

I went with Anna this past February to Savannah. She had four days of business meetings to attend.

The first or second evening we met the others of the working staff along and had dinner at The Olde Pink House in the historic district.

The Olde Pink House was first owned by James Habersham. James Habersham was a Georgia representative and was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Now, it is said The Olde Pink House is haunted by Habersham’s ghost. The Travel Channel did a bit about Hancock’s ghost there and so did PBS. The waiters claim that he would walk around in his clothing of the period and socialize with the guests and sometimes even play a trick on them, like hiding one’s fork before he or she reached for it, and the list is endless.

We had reservations. Two big tables held ten of us. Our table was round and was in a corner of the a room. Anna's co-staffers' table were within arm’s reach. One of the men sitting across from me I will call Tony. Behind Tony, high up on the wall, was a portrait of James Habersham, the original owner and maybe part-time ghost.

As we made polite conversation Tony, who struck me as a loud mouth braggart, with lack of anything else to say, brought up the subject of somebody that worked in his office, a handicapped person, a person that was challenged in controlling his body movements and his face movements. Tony said if he got excited talking he would lose control of his facial muscles and spit all over all you as he talked. Tony said he learned long ago to keep his distance or step aside when this guy was about to tell something.


One quiet person, lets call him John, between 55 and 60 years of age said, “Tony I think you deserve a hand for that.”

WHAM!!! A big unattached hand landed onto Tony’s empty plate.

Everything got deathly quiet. John reached over and picked up his rubber artificial hand and reattached it. Everybody at the table broke into laughter and some even were having hysterical laughter. I looked up at the portrait of James Habersham and he seemed to be frowning and not amused at all.

The rest of the evening Tony was mostly quiet. The hand was an inspiration to many to use some one-ones… like, “John can’t keep his hand to himself" — and more. — December 15, 2005

 Eddie Hunter and his sons, Rockwell (Rocky, left) and Adam (right), 2014.

Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?

Thirty years ago we named our first son Rockwell Tyson Hunter. From time to time some one will ask why did we pick such a name.

Well, my middle name is Tyson, and so it is my father's, and it is also his mother's maiden name.

Now for the name Rockwell. Back in 1957 when I was in high school, one day a new kid came to class. I forgot his first name but his last name was Crane. He was tall and lanky. He sat next to me in class and I asked him was he related to Ichabod Crane. He gave me a hateful look.

Then, that same day, at lunch several of us were up around the baseball field hanging out. Crane walked up near and stood at a distance. Trying to be friendly and to welcome him as one of us, I said, "There is old Whooping Crane!'

He came at me swinging his fists like a lopsided windmill with broken blades. He had no fighting sense about him. He only knew when you are in a rage you attack giving it all you have by swinging your fists.

I am not much of a fighter either. But I do know how to dodge something coming at me, especially when the route of the oncoming fist is so predictable. So, I merely danced around dodging his fists, and from time to time hit him in the face with no problem at all; he knew nothing about blocking oncoming blows either.

I won the fight. I had no damaged look about me at all, no blood, no body scratches or marks, where Crane on the other hand had a bloody nose, and puffed up swelling around the eye, and his clothes were torn and dirty.

There was a movie playing at downtown Marietta's Strand Theater at the time, starring Jayne Mansfield and Tony Randall. The name of the movie was "Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?" And not many months before the movie "Somebody Up There Likes Me", the story of Rocky Graziano, prize fighter starring Paul Newman. Both movies plus Crane and my actions caused somebody who witnessed the fight to say, "Will Success Spoil Rocky Hunter?"

My new nickname caught on and spread quickly. I was christened "Rock Hunter" by my peers. I went by the name Rock for the next ten to fifteen years, and still when and even now when I happen to run into a long lost friend, chances are he/she knew me as Rock.

So, it was only fitting that I named Rocky Rockwell.

And some place else in this blog world Crane may be at this very moment posting his blog which ends by saying "... and that is why we named our first son Ichabod." — December 18, 2005

Christmas Eve Story or Me the Party Pooper

Last year on December the 24th my sister had us over to her house for a Christmas Eve dinner. The guests included our other sister, my two sons, my son's girlfriend, Tiffany, and my sister's boyfriend, Mark.

We got there a little early to hang some pictures in her newly remodeled bedroom, which I promised I would do. I brought all my tools I thought I would need.

I just got started good and dinner was ready. We sat down, somebody said the blessing and we started passing things. Then, while passing something I suddenly felt dizzy.

I remember I had the same feeling at Kroger's less than two weeks ago in the Deli department. They had free samples of something sweet with a whipped creamy topping and I couldn't resist myself, and within a minute after I did it I went into a dizzy spell. I walked around pushing a cart, thinking if I walked around I could shake the dizziness that was in my head. I walked around and around pushing that cart — I would have fallen over if I didn't have the cart to keep my balance. I was right, I walked right out of the dizzy spell.

It looks like I might be a diabetic I thought, so I guess I better go to the doctor and and check that out — which I promptly forgot in a day or so.

Then, at the dinner table I was having the same feeling. My eyes locked looking at a right angle. I could not look in any other direction, and I was still dizzy, my head was going around and around.

I told them I was going to sit in the living room a few minutes but I would be back soon to join them. When I got up and walked sideways they knew something had happened to me.

I told them not to worry about it, the same feeling came across me at Krogers and it left me soon. But they kept looking at my eyes. Then they rushed me to the hospital.

I had a stroke. Talking about being a party pooper!

I stayed in the hospital for three days with an I.V. that was marinating me with blood thinner.

Now, I think I am OK. (knock on wood — or my head). And ready for a rematch! — December 22, 2005

Eddie’s stories are often an ongoing narrative. In the posting just before this final entry, Eddie and Anna had gone to see Peter Jackson’s King Kong, for which he gave a review. This is the followup post:

Ted's Grill

After we left the King Kong movie we went to Ted's Grill. We had a gift card to use there.

Ted's Grill is partially owned by Ted Turner. The restaurant has a decor of Montana saloon. As you may know, among Ted's vast holdings is a huge ranch in Montana where buffaloes are raised.

And of course the main items on the menu are bison and beef. They also have salmon which I normally order, but hey, when in a Montana make-believe grill, you make believe you are in Montana — I ordered bison. Anna, the traditionalist, ordered beef.

To me, the bison tasted like beef. I remember the last time I ate bison it tasted wild and like the blood had not yet been drained. This time it tasted better — or less wild, which means better to me.

On the other hand, when the manager saw me making my entrance, bumping into chairs and tables, and knocking condiments off tables, he could have informed our waitress to "don't waste the bison on him, give him beef, he won't know the difference."

One time in the nearby town of Roswell, which is near where Ted Turner lives or did live at one time, we stumbled upon a restaurant called "Mouth of the South" which is Ted Turner's unofficial nick name. We thought maybe he took advantage of the nickname and turned it into money, which Ted can do so well. So, we went there to eat, only to learn the Mouth of the South is catfish. — December 27, 2005

I reproduced one other story of Eddie’s, from his days in the U.S. Navy, in this posting from November 3, 2013, “Three examples of telling a personal story successfully”.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

When Brother Bill warned us: “The topless bathing suit means the end of the world is near!”

Brother Bill was a businessman in his mid-thirties. He may have been all-business at work, but he was mostly fun and jovial on those Wednesday nights he took off his tie and was in charge of us rowdy 16-year-old teenage boys at our local Mormon ward. It was 1964, the year of the Beatles, and less than a year since a U.S. President had been assassinated. It was the year many of us post-war Baby Boomers began our sure rite of passage into adulthood with our first driver’s licenses, and for me, my first steady girlfriend. Heady times, indeed..

One night at church, as usual, we were joking and jostling with each other, boisterous as always. Brother Bill shushed us. He said, “I am going to say an opening prayer!” and we automatically bowed our heads and heard the first words of a typical Mormon prayer: “Our Father in Heaven...” I also remember the words, “Let these young men hear the words I say and heed them, O Lord.”

Amen. The next thing out of his mouth was uncharacteristic of the usually happy Brother Bill: “Boys, I am convinced the end is nigh. The end of the world is coming. And soon.” That got our attention. “I suppose you have all heard of the topless bathing suit.” It was having its fifteen minutes of fame. Yes, we had heard of it, but none of us had seen it. Newspapers could not run pictures because it was, well, topless. But we speculated in school. I heard a girl scoff, then say, “It couldn’t be pretty.” Pretty? I thought. What is prettier than a pair of  boobs?

 The suit is also known as a monokini.

Brother Bill was quite exercised about what the topless bathing suit portended. We got a whole lecture. What I remember was, one, the very existence of the topless bathing suit would lead us teenage boys into acts of sin: depravity and debauchery, and two, it was an indicator to him that the end of times was upon us. “It could be any minute, Jesus will come down from heaven, and the world as we know it will come to an end.” Holy cow.

In some ways the Mormons are a doomsday cult. They would not describe themselves that way, but their official name says it: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It’s the “Latter-day” part that is relevant to my story. Their own founder, Joseph Smith, claimed it was the church to belong to when Jesus came back, and that time was soon. (Of course, that was 180 years ago.)

In 1964 I was wobbling in my reception to the message of the Mormon church. If I had a reason for believing, it was because I believed older people were smarter than me. I believed there were people who knew things I did not know, like when the world would end. For various reasons, a year later I had made a decision about the church. Belief had vanished. One Sunday —  in May 1965, 50 years ago this month — I walked out of my local Mormon ward and told myself, “I am never going back.”  Over the past year since Brother Bill had lectured us, I had decided people like Brother Bill were spreading their religious fears and superstitious paranoia. There was some concern from my friends and adults like Brother Bill about me becoming inactive, but no one forced me to reconsider. They gave me the choice and I made it. .

After a while I stopped waking up in a cold sweat because I thought the devil was tempting me with lascivious thoughts into deeds that would cast me into a deep pit of hell. Nowadays I don’t think about it at all. If everybody who had lascivious thoughts were cast into hell, there would be a very sparse group of people in heaven.

I stopped believing there were people who knew when Jesus was coming back. I never worried about what Jesus would think of the topless bathing suit.

 Peggy Moffitt’s iconic 1964 picture, modeling Gernreich’s creation for Women’s Wear Daily.

Anytime something shocking or challenging to long-held beliefs occurs the apocalyptic types among us invoke the end of times. Probably when dress hems rose abve the ankle in the 1920s, religious leaders spoke to some young men, told them the end was near, and the arrival of Jesus was imminent.

Pictures formerly hidden from us of the topless bathing suit, created by designer Rudi Gernreich, can be found on the Internet. Gernreich was born in 1922 and died in 1985, presumably by natural causes and not from a lightning bolt thrown by God. Gernreich liked to challenge traditional ideas; he was a fashion iconoclast. But his designs, while still provocative, don’t rise to the level of world-ending.

An original Gernreich topless bathing suit was sold by auction house Christie’s this year for $2,075.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Built-in disappointment with the next Star Wars

Star Wars had quite an effect on a generation. My wife and I wanted to see it the first weekend it was shown in theaters in 1977.  At the one theater in Salt Lake City showing the movie, we turned away at the sight of the lines around the block. We were more successful getting seats a week or two later. We were immediately taken by the story and the characters. It was very fresh, and it transformed the movie industry for the decades following its release. The main thing we got out of it was fun. I liked the special effects, but what Sally and I most enjoyed were the characters and their interactions.

“Star Wars Reboots,” in the June, 2015 issue of Vanity Fair, is an article on how the creative team came together for the latest movie in the franchise, Star Wars Episode VII—The Force Awakens. I found the article interesting, and also noticed that for the most part, the team has been involved with Star Wars either as moviegoers, or as movie makers, for a long time. The team decided they wanted to get back to what made the original movie successful, so they have hired some of the original actors, and have done a more retro-styled motion picture.

Another thing that struck me was the reverence with which the project was approached. It reminded me of statements by Roma Downey and her husband, Mark Burnett, when describing their Bible mini-series. Star Wars, in some minds, approaches the level of being a religious experience.

I have seen the sequels and prequels, but I never enjoyed them like the first movie. Using the Law of Diminishing Returns as a guide, I think we got less of the effect as each sequel progressed the storyline. The prequels, for me, are boring, despite a lot of gloss and CGI. Even though I have seen them, I cannot remember anything about any of the movies released since 1999. My feelings about them are not disappointment. Disinterest might be a better word.

Unlike hardcore Star Wars fans, caught up in mythology, I saw them without major expectations. A documentary, The People Vs. George Lucas, goes into great detail describing fan disappointments at these later films, pinning the blame for their disappointment on Lucas. They should blame themselves for not observing another “law”: “Expectation is greater than realization.” What fans had done in 1999 when The Phantom Menace was released was to build it up in their minds; they personalized it, but the film makers were not able to get in the heads of the fans, each of whom had his own vision. Then they actually saw the movie. Instant letdown. One fan described going back to see the movie several times, trying to convince himself it was as good as he wanted it to be. That is a good example of a true believer, akin to someone who believes in the Bible, but suddenly finds the foundation of his faith is showing cracks. He tries to heal those cracks. When I watched the documentary on Netflix I hollered at the screen a couple of times at fan revelations like that. It's only a movie, people!

Despite the fact that Lucas is now gone (he sold his company and the rights to all intellectual property to Disney for four billion dollars), and the onus is off him for the success or failure of the reboot, how can it not disappoint those fans who have built up the mythology of Star Wars into something that can only succeed in their own heads? People who hyperventilate over advance trailers or whose palms grow sweaty just thinking about taking their seat on opening day of a new Star Wars movie have already run the movie, or a movie of their own passions and fantasies,  dozens of times in their heads. Nothing can match up to that experience inside one’s self.

I am sure that what I am describing is already known to psychologists and mental health professionals, because it isn’t just to movies like Star Wars (or Star Trek, or Indiana Jones) that this phenomenon occurs. It also extends to other areas of a human being’s life: relationships, religion, politics, even conspiracy theories.

I doubt I’ll be filling a seat in my local cineplex when Star Wars Episode VII—The Force Awakens opens. I’ll listen to what others have to say about it, and a year from then I may watch it on Starz or HBO. Unlike those with unrealistic expectations I have none at all. In my personal, cynical view, I see it as less of a story than a major marketing tool to gain back the $4B Disney paid to have the rights to make it. And if any of the true believers ever stop their fantasiziing to consider that, then they will be truly disappointed.

Here is where some of my cynicism comes from. The director/co-writer is J. J. Abrams, who took the television series, Lost, and its interesting premise, and by the end of the series had alienated his viewers before driving the series over the cliff with a bad, contrived ending. That is the guy Star Wars fans are pinning their dreams on.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Racist bile, 1868 style

It has been 150 years since the Emancipation Proclamation and the passage of the 13th Amendment. It has been 50 years since the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965. But racism, sad to say, still rears up, and because of social media and improved technology, more and more it ends up online or on television, filmed by bystanders. Racism today is generally decried as bad, but there was a time in America when even public figures got away with racist remarks. It has been a growing process, or a painful learning curve, to get people past making public pronouncements of their own ignorance.

But even after living around racists and racism for decades, I was still unprepared when I found this book online at the Internet Archive. Page after page is filled with the kind of vicious and vituperative venom that might seem over the top in a Ku Klux Klan brochure, although I am sure that brotherhood of racists would probably co-opt some of the quotes from the book. This is slander to a whole group of human beings.

When reading The Negroes in Negroland on the California Digital Library of the Internet Archive, I had at once a reaffirmation of the basis for deep racial divides in America, and also that as a matter of unwritten public policy, we may not have moved far beyond these stubbornly held beliefs of the “inferiority” of races other than white European.

This book could poison anyone reading it, especially if they were looking to have their prejudices reinforced. The “compiler,” Hinton Rowan Helper, of North Carolina, only picked quotes that conformed to his point of view. There are no comments or quotes as far as I could tell that give a conflicting view of other races. I could not read the whole wore me down with its barrage of hate, but if you look up the book you can look at any page without hope of finding any form of praise for African-Americans.

The year 1868, when this was published, was only three years after the Civil War ended, and the Emancipation Proclamation, and the 13th Amendment ending slavery. Slaves had been freed, but to what? They had no education, and no place to go. It was not like post-Emancipation that they could suddenly apply for a job as a home builder or deputy sheriff and be welcomed with open arms. In many cases slaves had no education at all; they were illiterate, and the white man’s country was a hostile place.

I have my own feelings about why our society has been poorer for its prejudices, but I also understand human nature. It is just in the nature of some to feel superior to others based on how they look or act.

I have “clipped” some especially egregious examples of the hateful sludge between the covers of this book. If it offends anyone, then that’s good. It should offend. It was not written with any other purpose than to dismiss black people as being somewhere between human and animal...and mostly animal.

Quotes from the introduction pretty much sum up the author’s attitude:

Invoking God at the end is a specious way of bringing in Diety for the purposes of backing up one’s prejudice. Another is calling on physical racial differences and the supposed difference between blacks and whites. As in, “God must have cursed this race! Look at how different they are from us!”

If that hate-filled list of buzzwords and overkill in expressing disgust of “negroes” is not enough, those of mixed race are not free of disdain and loathing:

Finally, and I could not help but include this, because the description of the black’s singing voice makes me think of a legacy of African-American singers, from the early twentieth century to today, whose voices have changed American music, making it popular all over the world.

In its biography of Hinton Rowan Helper, the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, speaks of Helper’s books:
“ . . . three of which were extremely racist and unleashed intense hatred towards the Negro race. His writings contained rational, progressive, and farsighted viewpoints and ideas as well as irrationalities and illogical ideas which sometimes sounded like the ravings of a maniac. Historians John Spencer Bassett and J. G. de R. Hamilton have portrayed him as a man of keen intellect with a touch of genius which at times bordered on insanity.”
Helper was born in 1829, and died in 1909.