Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Frank Mansfield:  September 12, 1921- August 1, 2017

Below, a tribute and letter I was asked to write to my friend and former neighbor back in April 2011.  Frank passed away yesterday but I would not change a thing I wrote about him back in 2011.

"Old men forget; all shall be forgot, but he'll remember with advantages what feats he did that day... gentlemen in England now a-bed shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here and hold their manhoods cheap while any speaks who fought with us..."    Wm  Shakespeare  -­-­Henry  V  act  4;;  scene 3  -­-­King  Henry  V  addresses  the  army  on  the  day  of  Agincourt.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011, is a Veterans' Day of sorts for my friend and neighbor on Furches Street, Frank Mansfield and 99 other Triangle area WWII veterans.

I am honored to have been invited to write a letter of thanks to Frank.
Tomorrow, he and the other World War II veterans will be taken to Washington DC to view the very long overdue memorial to the men and women who served in WWII. Triangle Flight of Honor sponsors accompanying the remaining WWII veterans, providing each a "guardian" to assist with wheel chairs or other needs. Charter flights take about 100 veterans at a time.
The "Greatest Generation" is now all over 80.  If you would like to help as a sponsor, a guardian, or enroll a veteran for one of the flights this Spring, please visit . And, if nothing else, you can simply publicize the project, or volunteer to do as I have done, to write a letter of thanks to one of the veterans which is given to them on the flight up to Washington, DC.

Those of you who are familiar with my two and half years of work project managing the North Carolina WWI, WWII, and Korean War Veterans' Memorial on Capitol Square in Raleigh, and later, my designing and supervising the installation of the "REQUIEM," exhibition, a history of combat photographers in southeast Asia put together by Horst Faas, Tim Page, and the Eastman Kodak Museum, will not be surprised to find the Flight of Honor Project is of interest to me.

About Frank: he'll be 90 this September 12. "No getting around it, that's old," he told me earlier this year. He's never felt old before--and I doubt he will at 90.  It was only 2 years ago I vociferously dissuaded him from driving to Boston in the winter. He works daily in his small but neat wood shop, making unbelievably detailed models from wood; his  steam engines and road scrapers in which all the rivets, hydraulics, and wheels are made of varieties of wood.I append a few photos of the hundreds of models he's made--remember, most of the parts work, even though made of wood. He's active in his church; he visits the elderly and shut ins (he visited me when I was in the hospital in January) still cuts his grass, gardens and --until I fussed at him last Spring when he fell off a ladder cleaning gutters--even climbed on top of his tool shed, just to make sure the shingles were clean and "squared away."

Frank's an old Marine.  He's the real thing.
There is no machismo boast in him; no super patriot in him; no manhood wannabe in him. He has a small USMC sticker on his car; a two inch USMC sticker on his front door, and he flies the American flag from his front porch every day the weather's good.

He has survived the Boston Home for Abandoned Children ("My first memory," he told me, "is at about age 9 standing in the great entry hall of the orphanage. I have no idea what came before.") After passing through several kind foster homes, at age 20, he joined the United States Marine Corps in early 1942. With a new trade school diploma in drafting blue prints for light aircraft and a slight build, a recruiting officer thought he'd be perfect for the Marine Air Corps.  Frank was trained as a radio man/rear gunner in a Dauntless Dive Bomber.

Discharged after the war in Cherry Point, NC, he was one of two men in his original training company to survive the war without a wound or worse. In wartime, the training companies numbered nearly 300 men. The Imperial Japanese Army and Navy had its chance at him during the entire Solomon's Campaign and beyond.

One Thursday night last August, I looked in on Frank. He'd become quite the opera buff it seems. We watched a lavish production of "Turandot" on PBS. "Come back next week," Frank invited, "The program is "South Pacific" live from Lincoln Center."

It was a terrific production of "South Pacific" and Frank commented he'd know a lot of those types of guys. What really excited him, though, was the set. The entire back of the stage was covered with gigantic map of the Solomon Islands, with Guadalcanal in the Southeast corner. "I served, there, there, and there! I think I was there, too." Frank excitedly indicated each new island as his service and US forces moved northwest.

Intermission came and Frank went off to his home office. A few minutes later, he emerged with two books in hand. He dropped the first one in my lap.  It was a King James New Testament, its red leather cover worn pliant as chamois cloth. "I carried that all through the service," he nodded. "Look at the back page." There, in a neat draftsman's hand, in ink so old it had faded to walnut brown, were listed dates and places Frank was stationed from the day of his enlistment.

"What do these numbers and odd words mean?" I asked as I worked my way down his list of dates.

"I don't know," Frank shrugged. "We were not always told where we were really flying out of. We just knew our own location and airfield by a code name. If the enemy captured us, we couldn't even be tortured to death to reveal useful information."

"After the war, you didn't go back, look those places up and fill them in?" I asked.
"I didn't see the point. 65, 67 years ago I didn't think I'd ever forget those places."

"Frank, you ever think about going back to visit some of those places? I hear Bougainville is a very comfortable resort area."

Frank smiled.  "It sure wasn't last time I was there."

"I kept a diary," Frank dropped the larger book in my lap, a sturdy brown cardboard folder containing about 90 pages of single spaced typed pages. Frank lost several of his fingers years after the war in an industrial accident. With a mangled right hand, I had never thought of him as a typist. "The CO said if I wasn't on guard duty or flying and all the regular work was done I could come in after hours and type up my diary. I'm not much of a writer," he apologized, "I just tried to keep an accurate account of what happened."

I was stunned. This 20 year old product of an orphanage and foster homes, typed with near perfect precision, his simple, direct prose, so unadorned and honest it, luminous in its clarity and cadence.
Leafing through it rapidly, I saw stretches of dates missing. I asked about the gaps.

"We got ahead of ourselves in some places.' Frank explained.  "The planes had a limited range, so new airbases were built practically on the front lines as we advanced. One place we flew out of, the Japanese held the end of our runway. Another place, we had no machine guns, infantry support, nothing!  We slept in the planes so if the enemy attacked we could gun the engines, wag the rudders back and forth and use the planes' machine guns to defend ourselves. Places like that, CO's didn't worry about having typewriters."

After discharge, like most vets, Frank came back and uncomplainingly set to work building the second half of the twentieth century.

A Tarheel girl he'd met had an uncle with an industrial supply business. Despite a thick Boston accent he never lost, Frank was offered a job there, spending nearly 50 years becoming a top salesman in eastern North Carolina. After 30 years, the first marriage fell apart and a few years after that, Frank married the love of his life, Sara.  Until cancer took her several years ago, they had 26 happy years together.

I stopped by Frank's tonight. I offered him a ride to RDU Airport for the 8AM departure to DC and to pick him up about 8PM when they return. No thanks, Frank told me. He is driving his Buick out to the airport and then drive home on his return.   There was no point in arguing with him.

I left him a letter in his coat pocket. All the vets are to have letters of thanks to open and read on the flight to DC  thanking them for their service and sacrifice.
I invite you to join me in wishing Frank well and thanking him in the letter below. If you have time and gratitude hanging a bit too heavy on your hands, I suggest you write a letter for a vet on a future flight.

Dear Frank,
You have been a great friend and support, a kind man who I have never heard curse or say a bad word about anybody.
You are as close to being a good man as any I know.
The Marines were looking for a few good men, and, well, there you were. This is not a thank you for the use of your shop or a trip to lunch. It is not a thank you for what you've done for me lately.
This is to thank you for what you did for me and millions of younger Americans, Japanese, Germans, Australians, Frenchmen, Englishmen, Norwegians and countless others before we were born, who are free today because America had a few good men.
There were no trumpets and drums—and still you went. You had lives ahead of you—and still you went
You would go places nobody had ever heard of—and still you went.
You were promised friendly fire, bombs, drowning, or a long plunge from the sky
—yet still you went.
You were promised boredom, terror, and confusion—yet still you went. You were promised a great unknown—yet still you went.
Frank, today, at the memorial, if you can think of some of the others, pilots, mechanics, sailors, you remember who went—and now are gone—please give them my heartfelt thanks as well.
Your grateful friend and neighbor, Joel Haas

Monday, January 16, 2017

RotoRooter and the Prostate

Some years ago, I came of age to start being "dribbleptic," I offer this for a first hand (first shlong?) account of having your prostate treated so you can pee better.

I had an office procedure called TUNA (trans urethral needle ablation) More commonly it's called needle micro wave. The theory is a needle giving off micro waves is inserted through the urethra into the prostate. A short burst of radio waves or some such is fired and a little area around the needle is literally cooked.
Over the next three months, the cooked bits are reabsorbed by the body or flushed out and the pressure around the urethra is relieved.

We shall see. 

 The urologist who performed this on me had it done to him about 6 weeks ago and he says he's seeing (peeing?) some improvement.

Anyway, the adventure began at 5 AM when I had to give myself an enema in anticipation of an 8:30 AM appointment. Isn't that the wrong end you ask? Ah, but we have not gotten to the "alien abduction" part of the operation.

At the urologist's office, I was ushered into a lab room full of important looking equipment (I have important looking equipment, too, if I do say so myself) by a blonde nurse in her mid 30s. She had a very long name with almost no vowels and a strong accent. I could not resist asking innocently if she were from Kinston or Goldsboro, NC. She looked at me oddly and said no. "Okay," I teased just a little further, "I'll bet you're from Garner." She looked at me very seriously, saying, "I am from Poland. One time, I live in Zebulon."

I decided it would be unwise to continue teasing a woman who would shortly be squeezing tubes of "nut numbing" into my plumbing and prepping me for the doctor.

Anyway, I got undressed from the waist down and she handed me consent forms to read and sign. I reflected on the fact that when I was younger (much younger) when I was stripped from the waist down in front of women it would have been considered illegal delay of the game to read and sign forms before getting down to business.

I read and signed and she gave me two Valiums and an antibiotic pill to swallow.

 She had to dim the lights now so I could relax and she could finish doing her job. Did I like rock music or Christmas music to listen to? 

 I am thinking there is something so very wrong about this; an attractive woman; I'm half naked; low lights and music...Where is the wine? The script is familiar from my dim past, but why does she need to call the doctor. Oh, yeah. Now I remember. I am not a twenty-something stud. I am really a gray haired, stoned guy with a prostate the size of Nantucket and this sweet woman from Garner? Poland? Zebulon? just wants to help.

Then the doctor walks in. Damn, Oh yeah, that's why we're here. He's a very nice fellow who is roughly my age, so his body's falling apart at roughly the same rate as mine. You want that in a doctor.

He is quite careful to explain everything he's doing as he goes along.
First there's the anal probe. That's why the enema. He's using an ultra sound anal wand to get a good look at my prostate. (It is shy, and does not look back.) The doctor determines my prostate is still where it is supposed to be, not decamped to Hoboken, New Jersey.

The real fun begins.

He pulls out a glitzy, polished stainless steel and plastic pistol. Several mysterious cords and knobs are attached. Honest to God, it looks like something designed by a man who read every Buck Rogers on Mars comic book ever drawn. If Klingons burst through the door we'd be safe, or, at least, have a fighting chance. The business end of this thing had a loooooooooooooooong thin, silver probe about fourteen inches in length.

I wasn't sure whether to be intimidated or flattered.

"Are the drugs taking effect?" The doctor asks the nurse. "Well, he is talking a little slower," she answers. This is hilarious for anybody who knows me. Maybe I'm just waving my hands less.

Then he stuck the Buck Rogers gun's needle up my urethra, commenting quietly, "The first three sticks you'll feel the most heat."

"Okay," I responded. "Pricks and heat. So much of urology is about that."
So, for a hazy amount of time after that, we discuss the state of medical care delivery in the USA as he merrily zapped more and more of my prostate to the strains of Jingle Bells Rock re done as Muzak.

When he finished, he called for a 16 gauge catheter; inserted it and attached a urine bag. For the weekend, I'll wear the urine bag strapped to my leg.
I got dressed (careful to keep the urine bag inside my long pants--don't want to start a fashion disaster with teenagers--they're already wearing their underwear on the outside) and called my wife to come pick me up.

The doctor gave me a doughnut and coffee while we waited and chatted. Evidently, morphine makes some people nauseated faster than a Congressional speech on health care. I must be one of them as I threw up the doughnut when I got home.

Phone Hell

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We estimate your time in Phone Hell Purgatory to be “BEEP!” 873 years “BEEP!” 7 months, “BEEP!” and 17 minutes.  

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Zoodles of Squoozles

Having zoodles of squoozles,
attracts oodles of woozles
and drives away weasels
with measles, 
along with their easels;
allowing poodles to puddle
all in a muddle
with woozles-
only if
you have zoodles
 of squoozles!

Joel Haas

July 31, 2013

Running Late

Running Late
by Joel Haas

Running late, I bought a handful of sonnets from a street corner poet.

They looked fresh but words shriveled almost at once.  Whole lines drooped at crazy angles before I'd walked three blocks.

Two rhymes curled up at the edges, spoiling the pentameter, and then fell off as I bumped into an old guy dodging pimple farmers skateboarding on the sidewalk.

Bus doors wheezed shut behind me.  Its engine farted; the bus whooshed past and two more rhymes fell off a different sonnet, a big red one with a yellow-green center I thought would look great on the top shelf of the second bookcase in the hallway (You know, the one we never seem to find something to go with the late German Romantics)

By now, I was wracking my brain wondering if we had any packets of Edit Fresh and enough ink to mix with it and hope the poems would revive.

I knew two of the sonnets I'd just have to cut the final two lines or the Edit Fresh would never save them. Perhaps I could use them as cutting to root in more Edit Fresh.

You know how I'll sometimes take a whole line of Leonard Cohen to see if I can grow a new one on my own?  Or I'll snip a caesura from Whitman to graft onto a Merwin stanza?

Who's got time to grow their poems from seed any more!?  Cuttings and grafting are still a lot easier.  Last year I grew an entire Michael Lentz from just four words—and it was in German!  Even that is easier than growing all your poems from seed.

Everybody thinks we have a nice library and study but it is really our greenhouse where we re pot phrases, treating them like rare orchids—fertilizing them with adjectives, watering them with pronouns.

But, back to the present.  I'm juggling my briefcase, thermos, design plans that won't fit in a briefcase, plus two bouquets of rapidly wilting verse.  

I folded one of the poems.  I slid it into my inside suit coat pocket but the damn thing was still fresh, if bedraggled.  I accidentally smeared commas and semi colons across my lapels—some poetry can be like stamens on lily blooms, their pollen sticking to everything they touch.
Damn! Damn! Damn!
The semi colons will come out easily enough, but the commas are harder to remove than red wine stains. 
Oh great!...It's starting to rain...
Even if I had an umbrella I'd need more arms than an octopus to keep all this stuff dry!
Should have taken that bus!   Well, I couldn't have either; I'd spent my last bit of cash buying these sonnets.
I fantasize I could have offered the bus driver a sonnet in lieu of fare, but even if he'd taken it, would Metro Transport?

“I'm sorry, sir” the accounts collection manager at Metro Transport smiles condescendingly, “It's not that we here at Metro Transport have anything against poetry.   It just doesn't fit in our bookkeeping.  I don't know of any accounting software where it does...”

OH NO!  That damn street corner poet wrote everything in water soluble ink!  I should have insisted on the plastic laminated laser prints. But the calligraphy was so nice! I thought it bespoke craftsmanship, but no!  This is like some cheap 1950s Japanese toy!  And if any more words dissolve I'll be left with haiku!

Oh, for crying out loud!...Look what's left of this top one.

runs resplendent
upside down
at sunset
like pulsing
Oh well; this was probably one I was going to have to cut the last two lines off anyway before setting it in Edit Fresh.

Finally home.  Our place is on the second floor and –oh God give me strength!  My keys!  Did I leave them at the office?  I rub my thigh against the door frame. “Thank God!  They're here!  I can feel them!” I say aloud. 

A woman walking by stops and looks at me.

“My keys.”  I smile like a nervous dog that's just peed on a new carpet. Her head tilts back slightly under her umbrella.  “I thought I'd left them in my pocket—office, I mean.  But I can feel them when I rub against the door.”

She turns away from me slightly, baleful eyes still on me.

“I just can't take them out at the moment.  I mean they'd get wet..but that doesn't matter, of course...they're probably already wet..but, but I can't reach them right now.  My hands are full.” 

She turns and crosses the street, her pace increasing rapidly.

Moronically, I shout after her, “I'll just have to use our new buzzer!” and jam my elbow backwards, hoping I hit #224. 

“#224.”  Her voice is neutral. 
“Honey, could you buzz me in please?”
“Leave your keys at the office again?” She's amused.
“No, my arms are full!”
“You sweet man!” she trills.  “You must have stopped by the Crystal Cork to buy my favorite champagne!”  

The buzzer sounds and the door pops open a quarter inch.  I hook my briefcase strap on the handle and pull.  Three steps later I am yanked to a halt, the strap still caught in the door handle.  A spray of black water drops that may have been adverbs, indefinite articles, or some key words that might explain “pulsing marmalade sunsets” splatter the foyer's new carpet. 

Dread grips me.
She expects champagne.
Her birthday?  Our anniversary? 
A prisoner ascending the gallows, I trudge up the stairs.
The door opens before I even knock with my elbow.

Her head tips, quizzical. 
She's looking for the champagne.
Anniversary?  Birthday?--no, it can't be her birthday; I remember we went to the lake just two months ago for that.

“I meant to write you wonderful verse for the occasion,” I started, “but nothing seemed appropriate.  I fell behind because a client made major changes—so I grabbed these from a street corner poet on Adams Avenue and Third.  But it started to rain and it turned out they were cheap rhymes, probably something composed by slave labor and printed by the millions for pennies and I'm so sorry—I just couldn't get any suitable for the occasion...”  I was desperate and out of breath.  

“Suitable for the occasion?” she's about to laugh.”Pat and Lee coming over for drinks?  You needed to write a sonnet for the neighbors  to visit?”

“I was going to serve that riesling Hal gave us for our anniversary back in ...uh...”   

“March.”  She's biting her lip to keep from laughing.

I'm trapped. 

She sees my expression.

“You sweet man! You thought you'd forgotten a birthday or anniversary, didn't you?”

I hold out the sonnet bouquets.

“Thank you,” she smiles taking them with both hands.  “I think there's plenty of Edit Fresh and ink  in the library.”  She turned towards the library.  “Go put on something clean and dry—and don't let all those commas on your lapels stain anything else.  I've got some e.e.cummings to clean it.”

“What about Pat and Lee?”

“Oh, they called and cancelled.  Pat's mom is sick.  Come in the library and help me with these after you change.”

From the hallway, I hear her talking to herself, “Pity about the sonnet with the yellow-green center—it would have gone perfectly on the shelf with late German Romantics...”

I take off my coat, and just as I drop it in the hamper, I hear her laugh.

“Oh my God!  'pulsating marmalade sunsets' ??!!”     

Convincing the Muse to Cooperate

Convincing the Muse to Cooperate 

“Don't trifle with my heart,” she begged.
I laughed.
“You're a muse!  It's your job to trifle with mine!”
“It doesn't feel that way,” she pouted.
“Well, that's the way it works.”
“Works how?”
“You stay impossible—or very improbable to reach.”
“And then?
“Then you drop crumbs of attention; just enough to evoke a work of art.”
“Why does it evoke art?”
“Because I'm an artist.”
“It doesn't happen with others,” she noted
“That's because they are not artists.”
“Do plumbers have muses?”
“If they do, it evokes nipples, bibs, and clean out drains; maybe the odd valve.
If you want to be a plumber's muse, knock yourself out.  They make more money but you'll hardly be immortalized by a check flow valve in threaded pipe.”
“Can't I be a muse to bankers?” 
“You want to be immortalized as a junk bond?”
“Doctors, lawyers, auto mechanics—don't they need muses?”
“No.  They are mechanics of the world.”
“And artists are?”
“Desperately afraid they won't be angels of the next.”
“Cut to the chase,” she insisted. “ Do muses get laid?”
“Sometimes.  Being muses, they get laid but seldom screwed.
It's a small fringe benefit,” I added.
“It's not like being an artist's model?
I don't have to take off my clothes?”
“Not unless you're curious as to what else you can inspire.”
“Something big?”
“Don't get personal!” I huffed.
She turned sarcastic.  “Well.  Pardon me, Mr.-I-Want-To-Use-My-Fantasies-of-You-To-Make-Art!”
“Ah!  You're beginning to catch on, dear!”
She frowned.  “How am I supposed to be a muse at the end of the day, when I have a cold, my feet hurt, and I collapse on the sofa in sweat pants, tacky fuzzy pink slippers, and an old tee shirt that jerk I dated five years ago gave me?”
“Now that's when a muse needs her artist!”
“Oh, yeah!  That's when I need somebody else barging in like I need a third tit!”
“When you're frumpy like that, a muse should look at what art she's inspired.”
“And why,” she tapped her foot impatiently, “ is that better than looking at a young, muscular Greek god coming in with bottles of bubbly and chocolate; rogering me silly, and leaving without saying a word?”
“It's not.  Artists are just more statistically probable.”
“More's the pity....”  she sighed.
“Look.  Do you want to be a muse or not?”
“Well, right this minute...”
“Oh the hell with it!  I'll make you a muse whether you like it or not!” 
“How dare you!  You're such a pest!  I won't pay you any attention at all!”
“Thank God, you're getting the hang of being a muse!”

“You won't get laid,” she scowled.

I smiled.  “So I won't get screwed.  That's the best part about a muse.” 

Joel Haas,  2011

Morning Creeps In

Morning Creeps In
by Joel Haas

Morning oozed in under the door and squeezed through the cracks in the blinds.
I secretly watched, one eye barely open.
Morning was trying to be quiet-and doing a pretty good job of it.
I knew it was headed toward the mirror on the far wall where it would bounce around like an over sugared four year old and be impossible to ignore.
“I see you watching me,” Morning whispered.
“Aren’t you a little early?” I croaked.
“I’m Morning !  I’m always early!” Morning almost stamped its foot. “If I weren’t early, I’d wouldn’t be right on time!”
“Oormph..” was all I could muster against this sort of logic.
“Speaking of which,” Morning teased sarcastically, “You will be late soon.”
“Besides bouncing on the mirror, what else do you want?”
“Let’s go for a walk!”  Morning bounced right where it was; about three feet short of the mirror. 
“It’s too cold,” I grumped in reply.
“I’ll warm up..” Morning whined.  “I promise!”
“You won’t suddenly throw a tantrum and snow on me?” I wasn’t really enthusiastic about leaving a warm bed. 
“It’s June!” Morning shouted. “I only do that when I am in southern Tasmania—which you are not.”
“Thanks be to God,” I mumbled.
“I heard that!” Morning gloated. “What are you?—Anti-Podean?”
“No,” I answered, “I’m Anti-Pundian.”
“Volley and return’” Morning grudgingly admitted.
“I don’t want to get up!” I did my best to sound firm and commanding in a manner brooking no contradiction.
“You have to!” Morning almost screamed. “You’ll be late for church !”
“It’s not Sunday,” I countered.  This had happened a few times before, Morning not being able to keep up with its calendar. 
“Worse !!!” Morning sounded genuinely panicked.
“It’s not Monday,”  I tried not to sound triumphant.
“Oooooh!!..You’ve missed an entire day of work!”  Morning was hysterical.
“It’s not Tuesday, or Wednesday, or Thursday.”
Morning went pale gray with fright and worry now.
“And it’s not Friday,” I finally added. 
At this, Morning brightened considerably.
“So.  It must be Saturday,” Morning squeaked, relieved.  Resuming its over sugared four year old persona, Morning stuck out its tongue. “You’ll miss Sunrise Horror and all the cartoons on Channel Six!”   Morning was so happy to have uttered what it thought was a credible threat.
Alarmed at first, I relaxed.  “You’re fifty years behind times.  I can watch any cartoon or movie I want to.”
Morning frowned.  “I slipped my calendar pretty bad, didn’t I?” Morning looked very disturbed now. “Fifty years?!”
“No,” I reassured, “You just don’t stay informed .  You really just got the day of the week mixed up.”
At that, Morning was so relieved it hit the mirror and bounced gloriously all over the room. 
“You’ll hit your head bouncing so high!” I warned.
“No, I won’t!” Morning was definitely back in its four-year old persona.
“You don’t have a helmet or knee pads!” 
“So what?  I never do.” Morning bounced higher and nearly hit the ceiling fan. 
“Don’t get caught in the ceiling fan again!” I pleaded.  “The last time you got dizzy and nauseated and threw up”
“I never throw up,” Morning answered.  “And you can’t tell me what to do!  You’re not the boss of me!” 
Sure enough, two seconds later, Morning got tangled in the ceiling fan blades.  It wasn’t the around and around that made Morning so sick, I knew.  Seeing itself strobe 30 times a minute in an infinity of mirrors on the far wall is what did it.
A pinch of vindictiveness or revenge always makes the ice cream of forgiveness go down better, I have found. I let Morning keep twirling in the fan blades a few  minutes. 
Then, I pushed off the covers and stumbled over to the far wall switch and turned off the fan.
When the fan stopped, Morning caught its breath.  “That…that…” Morning was still dizzy and disoriented.  “That was just in time.”
“Well, I’m up now!” I was truly annoyed and did not hide it.
“Okay,” Morning tried to steady itself on a curtain rod.  “My work’s done here.  On to the next house.”
Still dizzy, Morning stumbled towards the window it came through. 
“Wait!” I shouted.  “That’s the wrong direction!  That’s east!  You came in that way!” 
Morning turned, blinking at me in confusion.
I bit out the words, “It will be very inconvenient today if you suddenly start to come from the west and reverse Earth’s spin.”  Offering a still unsteady Morning my arm to lean on, I gestured down the hall.  “This way. You’re supposed to leave through the kitchen window.”
“Right,” Morning gulped like a drunk sobering up.  “Kitchen window.”
“Come on,” I pulled gently.  “I’m going that way myself to make coffee.”

The End

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Feed the Birds

by Joel Haas
February 17, 2015

Snow and sleet passed through Raleigh last night, leaving an inch or two on the ground. Hardly epic by New England or Upper MidWestern standards, it was still enough to cancel school and send neighborhood kids out with sleds, cardboard or cookie sheets to find a suitable hill.

Moving water is much less likely to freeze and burst pipes, so I had left the pond pump on in the back garden. Looking out the kitchen windows this morning, I saw nearly 20 robins crowding around a small, as yet unfrozen area of the pond. Standing on bird tiptoes, they moved as close to the edge as they dared, dipped their beaks for a quick drink and then hopped back to land.

As I watched the birds shiver and drink, I was reminded of the late Rev. George Hale. Father Hale, as most people called him, was a fourth generation Episcopal priest. Balding and blessed with a genial round face, Father Hale looked like a cliché of a priest, somebody sent by a Hollywood casting agent to play a role.

When I first met him, George Hale was nearly 80 and long since retired from decades as rector of St Timothy's in Raleigh's northern suburbs. He had founded several Episcopal schools and been a force in local conservative politics. Now, he was “priest emeritus” at my parish, Church of the Nativity (Episcopal) with our rector, Rev. Diane Corlett.

“Paradise,” Father Hale would often preach, was a word derived from an ancient Semitic language meaning “garden.” He did not expect to be issued a harp and a spot on a cloud. He expected a shovel, wheelbarrow, and a place to work; a place where he would plant, and then rest to consider the beauty of the seasons in his part of paradise.

Mother Diane would tell me and other parishioners after some of these sermons, “You know there is absolutely no theological basis whatsoever for George's vision of heaven.”

“Whatever,” we would think. Father Hale's vision certainly seemed better than harp playing ad infinitum.

Anyway, back to the robins at the frozen pond.

Once, Father Hale told me theology was very simple. Love God and love one another. The way towards that did not require constant study in old texts. “Just do at least one good deed every day,” he told me. “Feed the birds,” he said. “Everybody can at least do that.”

So it was that I took a few pieces of bread, crumbled them, and lurched outside in my robe and slippers.

As I flung crumbs along the pond side and out onto the ice, robins scattered as though swept by a strong wind.

I watched as the birds assembled again to peck at the bread and water.

Then I said a prayer for the repose of the soul of Father George Hale.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Parakeet Trapper 1960
Joel Haas

The summer he was five years old, my younger brother, Michael, decided to trap a parakeet.
He would later go on in life to play Lady MacBeth dressed as the Virgin Mary, start a Flying Saucer Investigation consortium, and open a strip joint/night club for ten year olds in an old chicken coop; but that was all in the future.
For now, he was standing in the front yard of the rental home my family shared with two foreign graduate students on the edge of Raleigh, N.C. Intently, Michael stared at an antique canary cage placed under a dogwood tree. Cornmeal was scattered on the cage floor. Carefully balanced, a short wooden stick propped the cage door open.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“I'm going to trap a parakeet for a pet,” Michael answered.
Instantly, my role in Michael's endeavor was clarified. As his older brother, it was my bounden duty to “laugh him to scorn,” in the words of King James Bible.
“You dummy!” I snorted. “Parakeets don't live in North Carolina!”
This deterred Michael not a whit. He put a little more cornmeal in the cage and went off to play. He had watched as my father had taught me to build a rabbit trap out of boards, bait the trap with carrots and lettuce and set the door open with a stick. Dad insisted the trap be checked every day, but we couldn't hover about the area or the animals would be too shy to ever come near the trap. Applying the same logic, Michael went off to play in the back yard and I left to run about the neighborhood with a more mature and urbane crowd---those of us recently graduated from third grade.
After an afternoon of sophisticated activities such as riding our bikes down steep hills, turning over rocks in the creek looking for salamanders, and smashing quince apples in Pem Browne's back yard with a baseball bat, I returned home for supper looking forward to another satisfying round of “taunt little brother.”
Quite a crowd was gathered in our front yard on my return. Michael stood under the dogwood surrounded by my parents, my youngest brother, John, a neighbor or two, and the two foreign graduate students who rented the apartment above our house. Everyone was focused on the antique bird cage.
Drawing nearer, I saw the impossible had happened.
Michael had caught a parakeet.
There was lots of oohing and aahing and “isn't he cute!” as everybody looked at the little bird in the antique cage. It was hard to know who was more stunned--the bird or Michael. Michael named the bird “Keet.” (Several years later, company was procured for Keet through more traditional means when another parakeet, improbably named “Geronimo,” was purchased.) Keet had not shown the slightest interest in the cornmeal so a trip to hobby shop/pet store was in order to buy a watering tube, cuttle bone and seeds holder. They sold bird cages, too.

At the pet store, I turned to AK, the wealthy East Indian foreign student who seemed to be very generous with buying Michael parakeet supplies and proposed the first of many disastrous business models I would try over my life. If AK would put up the money to buy a dozen bird cages, I would set parakeet traps all over the neighborhood. We could sell parakeets to the pet stores and split the profits.
AK wisely declined. I don't know if he lost money later in life on bad investments, but I am here to tell you he never lost a dime on parakeet trapping.
Because, as I learned years later, it was AK who had seen Michael's parakeet trap; had seen the child logic and hope; and, with a God-like power, granted a miracle on a whim.
AK went to the pet store and bought a parakeet.
A year later, AK granted one more wish when he saw long odds, but a certain logic and hope. He gave my parents the down payment to buy a house (having wisely not invested in a parakeet trapping scheme.)
This came to mind one late October morning last year when I went out to get the newspaper. I live only two blocks from that rental house of my childhood.
I was astonished to see a small parrot on the suburban pavement in front of me. An escaped pet. The bird waddled clumsily on the flat roadway and its strong, hooked beak was nearly useless as it tried to gnaw a bit of flat road kill squirrel. Crows soon arrived and chased it away.
Winter would be here soon.
I wished for a mango or a peach to offer it.
And Michael's old bird cage.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

MacBeth for Boys

For actors, no play in the English language is more surrounded by superstition and tradition than “the Scottish play.”
My brothers and I were blissfully unaware of this as we contemplated mounting our own production of Shakespeare's “MacBeth” in our bedroom in 1962.
There had been a televised version of it and we had been allowed to stay up and see it. I recall dimly my mother explaining the plot to us.
The subtleties of literary sub texts—meditations on the fleetingness of power, mortality, morality and so on surely eluded us.
It had witches, ghosts, castles, murders and battles. And, if it did lack a twelve eyed Godzilla bent on eating Tokyo or Los Angeles, well, that's just because the Scottish play was literature; culture.
Our parents were almost as concerned that we be cultured as that we eat all our vegetables and drink all our milk.
As producer, director, and star, I recognized we were short of resources. We had no costumes, sets, props, or even a script.
“But the play's the thing!”
As I could only play MacBeth, it was necessary that my brothers handle all the other roles.
Michael and John's two level bunk bed served as the castle.
We had a plastic crown from Halloween (my mother was a theater costumer) and no house full of little boys is ever short of plenty of plastic swords and shields.
Michael (then about 8) had just had his hair cut in a crew cut, so he wrapped up in an old green blanket with part thrown over his head whenever he had to play a female role. Actually, he looked vaguely like the Virgin Mary in a Christmas pageant, which added a special piquancy to his Lady Macbeth.
We lacked a script.
This was not really a problem. I knew the story and would direct my brothers as to where to stand and what to say.
In the opening scene, one of the witches cries out, “Hail MacBeth, Thane of Caudor!” Mom had explained to me “thane” was a Scottish title—sort of like “duke” or “first baseman.” It never occurred to her to explain Caudor was a place. This little omission was shortly to cause trouble.
Instructing the witches, I had my brothers—both draped in green blankets and bent over while they stirred a cardboard box cauldron with broom handles—to say “Hail MacBeth, Thane of Corridor!”
“Thane,” I smugly volunteered, was a Scottish nobleman.
“What's a corridor?” Michael asked innocently.
I was irritated to be asked a question to which I did not know the answer.
“A hall monitor,” I told him. “Corridor is another word for hall.”
Michael nodded, only half comprehending. We both attended the grammar school across the street. Some little goody two shoes student would be appointed by the teachers to enforce our lining up, not talking, or whatever. We suffered hall monitors, water fountain monitors, bathroom monitors, etc. To be honest, the notion of a duke or thane of hall monitors had puzzled me, too, so I improvised.
“Castles have halls,” I began. “MacBeth's in charge of who has hall passes in the castle.”
That satisfied both Michael and me and so on we plunged. It really didn't matter all that much to us. In our stripped down, fast paced version, MacBeth was not going to be handing out hall passes above five minutes before moving on to murder King Duncan.
We lacked only one thing. A dagger. In the TV version we'd seen, MacBeth does his famous “Is this a dagger I see before me?” speech with a large knife floating in a doorway above his head. I intended reproducing this with equally as much dramatic effect.
I would hang our dagger by a string from the doorway into the hall. With the hall lights on and our bedroom lights off, I was sure the effect would be eerie.
I would finish the speech, snatch it free of the string and stalk over to my bed where my youngest brother John (age 4 or 5) was essaying the role of hapless King Duncan.
We encountered our first obstacle.
Mom absolutely refused to allow us to use her butcher knife for our dagger. This was a blow since it was not only impressively large and deadly looking, but it had a small hole drilled in the hilt, perfect to draw a string through. Mom seldom used the knife but she was not about to let us use the it. Not even if we promised to be careful.
I was unwilling to give up the special effect, so I settled for letting Mom give us a large soup ladle.
It did not strike me that the casual observer would think Macbeth even more deranged than he is when gazing up into the light, cries “Is this a dagger I see before me?” and rushes off to stab King Duncan with a soup ladle.
I brought the ladle down on John. Michael crouched behind my dresser, stabbing a fresh apple with a pencil. It made a terrific sound effect. John, of course, played his big scene for all it was worth and my parents nearly became hysterical.
The play had to be stopped and lights flipped on so Mom and Dad could be reassured no real fratricide had taken place.
As director and star, I was of several minds about this. I really didn't like the pace of our play being broken up, but I took a perverse satisfaction in how effective our sound effects had been.
Back on track, we pressed on. Michael and John eventually returning in the final scene, carrying before them their wilting pecan branches we'd broken off the trees in the back yard. Our back yard, if not Birnham Wood, had come to move.
The final scene came off perfectly.
We had choreographed a gigantic, stupendous, unbelievable, impressive, jaw dropping, lots of people get stabbed in big swords fights, screaming like banshees with blood all over the place-we-even-use-real-ketchup-on-old-tee-shirts and jumping up and down on the top bunk bed final battle!
MacBeth dead, Michael makes a short speech on the top bunk bed, places the crown on top of his head and...
Exeunt Omnes


Postscript:::::Years later, my brother, John, having acquired theater degrees from both UNC and USC, won a fellowship to get yet another post grad degree in directing and acting at University of California-Berkeley.
He directed MacBeth.
I understand it was brilliant. But without a Virgin Mary drag queen for Lady MacBeth, fresh apples, and a giant soup ladle, I can't imagine it was more memorable than mine.

POST POSTSCRIPT after reading all of the above, my mother, Douglas Haas Bennett sent along these additional memories of the play:
The story brought back such happy memories but I must make some comments.
Costumes: Can't remember what you wore but there was always a pile of "costume stuff" for all of you to choose from.
As armor, John wore the top of a silver dress I had made in the 1940s. Later, I cut the skirt from it when Mike was younger and wanted to be a knight for Halloween. As Banquo's ghost, John wore it with jeans tucked into aluminum foil covered rain boots. Somewhere there is a picture of him on that old metal hobby horse. John did not wear the boots for the play but as the ghost he covered the silver armor with a sheet. This ghost approaching almost did YF (Your Father) in.
Michael stabbed an Idaho potato, not an apple. It makes a wonderful natural sound effect: a tip which I later passed on to numerous theaters. Apples are too soft and the core keeps the sound from lasting long enough.
As I recall what really broke YF (Your Father) up into laughter was The Virgin Mary as Lady MacBeth stalking along the top bunk bed while making the speech about bloody hands.
When you asked for the knife I had no idea of what you were up to and could easily see you being completely fed up with your younger brothers.
I saw the play all the way through and then when YF (Your Father) came home I suggested that you all repeat it for him. It was then that he had his laugh breakdown and you three would never give another performance.
I was very impressed with the way you cut the play so that you three could do it and have the play make sense while still keeping it to under 30 minutes.
It is one of my fondest memories of the three of you doing a joint project.
I love you all for it.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


My new wall sculpture, "Liberation," was installed at Glen Aire Presbyterian Retirement Home in Cary, NC Friday.

It's cut in 19 gauge steel and painted with white enamel. The piece measures 6 ft 6 inches wide ( 1.95 meter) by approximately 4 ft high (1.20 meter). The steel lines coming bending out from the all, represent latitudinal lines such as found on a globe or map. The lines project out about 1 ft from the wall (30 cm)
The color of the piece is actually a vivid white, but the peculiar blue gray wall covering behind the piece seems to have confused my camera a great deal.
The woman in the sculpture is dissolving into the many birds, boats, stars, leaving the retirement home in spirit and dreams if not in her body.
One of the pleasures of doing commissioned art work is telling people's stories. By that I mean I always ask a potential client what they want a piece to do or say about them. For me, a commissioned piece of art work is a person asking me to tell the emotional essence of one of their favorite stories. Sometimes, I don't know the whole story myself until the piece is finished and the client sees it.
That was certainly the case here.
I have known Mr. Davis (not his real name) nearly my entire life. He was simply one of the members of the constellations of adults a child vaguely senses around him and deals with. In this case, Mr. Davis was one of the men at our Presbyterian church when I was growing up. He was Alex and Mary's dad, and sometimes he was an usher at the 11 AM service and his wife was the church secretary and he served on the church boy scouts troop committee along with my father.
I was surprised to hear from him late last year. He called me up out of the blue telling me he wanted to commission a sculpture for a new area being built in the retirement community where he had moved some years before. He could not articulate why he wanted to commission a sculpture. Pressed, he said he had seen a sculpture in a doctor's office that had moved him and he wanted one like that. I explained I had no interest in copying another artist's work and was pretty sure the copyright laws were against it, too. But, this was so out of character for Mr. Davis I was intrigued. What had moved him so much about the sculpture he had seen? I asked him to think about what he wanted this sculpture to say? When he could tell me that, I said, we could start to talk.
I met him and his daughter, Mary, several weeks later at the retirement home. I was surprised to find, Betty, his wife, was suffering from dementia and Alzheimer's--"we moved here years ago after Betty was diagnosed," Mr. Davis explained. He had seen the sculpture that moved him on one of the numerous trips to a doctor's office whenever he took his wife for treatment.
"Daddy has taken what you said about considering what this means very seriously," Mary told me. "He's called everybody in the family and everybody has told him it's his project and nobody can tell but him."
"So what's this sculpture to be about?" I asked Mr. Davis.
"I think it's about liberation," he said. I was surprised at how his voice quavered, how emotional he seemed. Men of my father's generation, WWII vets, never showed that.
I did not want to risk embarrassing him by probing further. "I can work with that theme," I assured him, and steered the discussion into safer waters such as costs, schedules, and contracts, all familiar territory to Mr. Davis, a man who'd spent his career as a purchasing accountant for a large manufacturing plant.
Over the next several months, I had several frustrating false starts on some designs I was not happy with and the new building in which this was to be installed was delayed. Finally, I came up with a design I presented to Mr. Davis and his daughter.
I worked from a comment my own grandfather made to me when he was 80 and I was in my early 20s. "Joel, I don't think or feel much different than you do, I just don't get around as fast."
I added to that, the fact that the average age of residents at this retirement community is 82 and that three fourths of them are women.
From those ideas, I designed a figure of a young woman dissolving into birds, boats, stars, all symbols of freely going one's own way or direction in the universe. I designed steel rods, much like latitude and longitude lines on a globe or map to come out and surround the figure, they also provide support for the various figures of birds and boats cut from the figure of the woman.
Mr. Davis had one other request about the design when he saw the full sized paper model, could there be a small plaque to one side giving the title of the piece, my name, the date, and --he was quite specific about this, in much smaller letters, "A gift of Robert and Betty Davis."
Well, I finally got the piece finished and the retirement community got their building done. Friday, I went out there to install the piece. Several of the staff were on hand to help as well as Mr. Davis. When they saw the sculpture had been designed to be light weight and in pieces, Mr. Davis volunteered to help put it up and sent the staffers on their way.
When we were nearly finished, I was sorting and putting away extra screws and drill bits. Mr. Davis was staring at the sculpture and commented, "There's nothing else like it here. I'm sure Betty would be pleased."
Just to pass the time, I asked him where and when he and Betty had met. That's when I got the real story of the "Liberation" sculpture.
"We met in the fall of 1943 in the most exciting city in the world for young people in wartime-- San Francisco." I was struck by this just-the-facts-business man's sudden turn of poetic phrase.
"I'd just graduated from college and was newly commissioned in the US Navy as an ensign. I was sent to San Francisco to meet my ship. When I arrived, the harbor master told me it would not be in port for months--- I would have to apply for some temporary assignment until it arrived. Assigned a 5PM to 3 AM shift in a downtown office building proof reading code book revisions, I soon noticed a very pretty WAV worked the day shift on a different floor. Given our schedules and locations, I had little hope of getting to know her. Her supervisor, an ensign in the WAVs, had taken an, ahem, "personal" interest in me, though, and she arranged to have me transferred to her department and shift. She had no idea Betty was in the picture for me. It wasn't long before Betty and I were an item and we knew we were meant to be. I left San Francisco in March of 1944, an officer on a freighter carrying 8500 tons of high octane aviation gas bound for the South Pacific. The ship returned to San Francisco in May, 1945 and we became engaged the following month on her birthday. When the ship put to sea again, Betty and I planned to be married when the ship returned to San Francisco.
We were at sea 19 months, saw a lot of boredom and a bit of combat, including three landings. Betty and I wrote the whole time. I still have all our letters. Maybe our kids will be interested in them some day. They don't have any literary value, just an account of two young people in love and lot of boring information about life on board my ship.
Anyway, I got a letter from Betty one day saying she was so excited I would be coming home soon. Surface mail to my APO address had been cut off some weeks before and she was sending this letter via air mail on the last day allowed for my address. That must mean our ship was coming back. The same day I got that letter, our ship got orders canceling our return to San Francisco and ordering us to proceed around Africa and on to New York City. There, our ship was to be decommissioned. With our mail cut off, there was no way to let Betty know. For a long time, she had no idea where I was or how I was.
Once I reached port and contacted Betty, she did manage to get to New York, though it was a long train ride in those days. We got married in a small Episcopal church in the theater district, called The Little Church Around the Corner. New York was full of servicemen in those days and housing was tight. After the wedding, I managed to rent a room at the Ritz Carlton for three nights. The rate was $10/night but for people in the service there was a 25 % discount, so we paid just $7.50/night.
To get a Stateside billet, you needed a certain number of points, accrued in serving overseas. I knew I didn't have enough points to qualify. Meeting with the re assignment officer, I explained I had just gotten married the day before, and that I knew I didn't qualify for a stateside assignment, but my wife had a large apartment in San Francisco--- could he assign me to a ship home ported there? He was sympathetic and said sure. Just to make things nicer, he asked me where I'd like to pick my orders to San Francisco? I replied, I thought I would sure like to pick them up in Miami. He then ordered me to proceed to Miami to pick up my orders for re assignment, so the Navy at least picked up the transportation tab for our honeymoon. From Miami, we traveled to San Francisco and I served on a passenger liner bringing troops home from the war. Betty mustered out of the WAVs and got a job as a clerk in San Francisco.
When the navy let me go in '47 I got a job with a company that owned a plant in Raleigh and we've lived in the area ever since.

Returning to my truck, Mr Davis and I paused at the main hall entrance and he motioned to the glass case of photos of residents in their WWII uniforms. There had been a contest to see who still looked the most like their old photo. "I have a photo of Betty in her WAV uniform," he said, "but I wouldn't put it in here with the other women. Not fair. She was a lot prettier than they were."

They have been together 63 years, but the last ten years, she's been slipping away from him, parting them for far longer than the war ever did. Back then, they could write, but now there is no letter he can write that she can read or ever respond to.
He has lunch with her every day.
He sees her in the morning and helps nurses tuck her in at night.
Still, they are parted more sternly than the vagaries of war ever did. You cannot write to a mind that has slipped below the sunset of Alzheimer's.
He is like a man putting messages in a bottle thrown in the sea. As long as there is any chance of a last letter reaching that pretty young woman so far away he will write. He writes to her now by simply being there, touching her, by saying "Good Morning." or "I love you." Maybe one will get through. He never knows.
But she waited for him, and he, by God, will wait for her.
Until their liberation.

POSTSCRIPT-- a little over four years later, Betty slipped away. Mr Davis did not speak at the funeral, but his children and grandchildren did. They remembered an independent woman who had grown up in western Colorado, able to shoot and ride. They remembered with pride their mother's stand for civil rights in Raleigh in the early 1960s. Mr Davis published his memoirs for his children and grandchildren in 2013.

Monday, November 13, 2006

My 1st Sculpture and THE CRAWLING EYE

By Joel Haas

With a 9 PM bedtime strictly enforced, it was no problem for me and my two younger brothers to bounce out of bed at 5:30 AM or earlier on a Saturday morning.

In self defense, our parents eased the television restrictions so we could watch Channel 5’s Saturday morning “Sunrise Theater.”

Using bright red fingernail polish, Mom placed a mark on the TV volume knob—under no circumstances were we to turn the volume beyond that red mark. Thus, our parents could sleep late while we watched Grade B horror movies.

After pouring our bowls of cereal and making chocolate milk, we’d plop down in front of the 1957 vintage black and white “portable” TV. (Portable in those days meant a TV small enough it only required a gorilla sized man wearing a steel truss to move it from point “a” to point “b.”)

At that time (and even into the early 1980s) Raleigh’s WRAL-TV did not sign on the air by playing the national anthem. Instead, a photo montage of the Confederate War Memorial on Capitol Square would appear. Then, a slow, respectful version of the Confederate anthem “Dixie,” sung by the University of North Carolina’s Men’s Chorus, played. Pictures of The Old Well on the UNC campus and magnolia blossoms alternated with close up views of old cannon barrels and various other Confederate war memorials on the State Capitol grounds.

When the last photo of magnolias faded and the Men’s Chorus fell silent, the real fun began.

“Welcome to Sunrise Theater,” the announcer’s voice would intone, “Bringing you the best in exciting movies from Hollywood and around the world!”

Invariably, that meant ancient grade B movies from crypts almost as old as Dracula’s. The plots were witless, the special effects, cheesy and dirt cheap, and the acting only a cut above that found in any local high school.

Nonetheless, it scared us silly.

Nearly half the movies seemed to involve the rugged and redoubtable actor Andrew Dugand saving Los Angeles from giant ants/giant spiders/giant locusts/giant scorpions/ giant somethings bred by atomic tests gone terribly wrong in the Nevada desert.

No matter how horribly its genes had been altered by atomic blasts, any monster maintained an instinct to move toward Los Angeles and Andrew Dugand with all possible haste.

Just as surely, a young, nubile scientist’s daughter, in tight khaki riding breeches would fall in love with Andrew Dugand only to be stolen away by the monster d’ jour. These girls could be Olympic track stars, able to sprint 50 miles with no problem, but let one giant spider show up and they’d run around in circles in the Nevada desert until they had tripped over the only rock within miles, spraining their ankles. The hero was forced to change his plan because he had to save Miss Riding Breeches. This never made sense to little boys. What was saving Miss Riding Breeches compared to letting giant ants and giant locusts ravage Los Angeles? And besides, for Pete’s sake! it was only a girl!

Some movies scared us worse than others. Some movies scared me more than my brothers and some scared them more than me.

It was just such a movie that inspired my first sculpture as well as bringing out all my usual jerk big brother qualities.

THE CRAWLING EYE, a British movie made in 1957 under the title THE TROLLENBERG TERROR, scared my younger brother Michael. The plot: mind reading aliens shaped like giant eyeballs with tentacles attack Earth. The aliens’ stare and tentacles freeze people to death and/or behead them. The aliens meet their match and doom when they attack a “high tech” fort on Trollenberg Mountain in Switzerland An American hero calls in Britain’s Royal Air Force to drop fire bombs on the aliens.

Andrew Dugand sat this one out. Re titled THE CRAWLING EYE for American distribution, the hero was played by Forrest Tucker (who later played the sergeant in the US TV series F Troop.)

In any event, the movie did not scare me, but it transfixed Michael with fright. Evil older brother that I was, I soon dreamed up a way to scare him again.

For Christmas or a birthday, I don’t recall which, I’d been given a large amount of brightly colored modeling clay. (Even then, somebody must have thought I’d grow up to be a sculptor!) Anyway, I spent a large part of Saturday afternoon using every scrap of clay I owned to make a large, colorful eyeball about the size and shape of an American football.

Saturday night came, and after we’d had supper and helped Mom clear away the dishes, we played a bit more, then, put on our pajamas and Dad told us a bed time story. The story finished, we dispersed to our bedrooms and it was “lights out.”

Now, I put my plan into action.

I had a small bedroom to myself behind the den/TV room. The den opened out onto a long hall in front of the bathroom door. Across the hall, Michael and John slept in bunk beds in a larger bedroom. The long hall ran from the bathroom door down the length of the house, turning left into the living room.

Carefully lifting the “Crawling Eye,” I crept through the den, past the bathroom door. Crossing the hall, I could see light coming from the living room and hear the soft, indistinct voices of my parents.

I tip toed into my brothers’ room. There was enough ambient light from the night light in the hall. They were sound asleep, John in the bottom bunk bed, Michael in the top one, his face towards me.

I plopped the clay eyeball onto Michael’s pillow just an inch from his nose.

He didn’t wake up.

More extreme measures were called for.

I shook his shoulder roughly, while, in a frantic stage whisper, I said, “Wake up, Mike! The Crawling Eye! The Crawling Eye!”

Michael’s little brown eyes popped open in surprise. A split second later, he let out a scream.

God forgive me, but, speaking as an older brother, that was tremendously gratifying.

Payback threatened almost immediately.

“What’s going on back there??!!” Dad’s voice thundered from the living room.

“The Crawling Eye! The Crawling Eye!” Michael continued to shriek.

“Do y’all want me to come back there and take off my belt?!” I could hear Dad’s heavy steps as he moved out of his chair and towards the hall.

It was time to flee.

Grabbing the clay Crawling Eye, I dashed into the bathroom. I closed the door and crammed the clay eyeball as far as I could under the old fashioned claw footed bath tub. Outside the bathroom door, I heard Dad passing by on his way into my brothers’ room.

“What’s going on back here?!” I heard Dad bellow.

I flushed the toilet, waited a few seconds, and opened the door. Yawning broadly and rubbing my eyes sleepily, I looked up at Dad’s scowling face. “Is Michael having a nightmare?” I asked in smooth innocence.

“He’s got the Crawling Eye!” Michael yelled.

I looked at Dad and shrugged. He had no idea what we watched on Saturday morning, so “The Crawling Eye” meant nothing to him.

“Now y’all listen here,” Dad shook a finger, “ Everybody’s going back to bed and go to sleep or the next time I come back here I’ll already have my belt off. Everybody understand?”

“I didn’t do anything!” my youngest brother, John, protested his innocence.

“Good,” Dad grumped. “See that you don’t.”

I trudged slyly back to bed.

Sunday morning, I made it my business to get up before anybody else. I had evidence to recover and destroy.

In the bathroom, I pulled the tightly wedged clay model from its hiding place beneath the bath tub. Taking time to gather up bits that had come loose, I scampered back to my room.

There, I disassembled the clay eye. After sorting the different colors of clay into separate piles, I thoroughly squished them together. Before anybody else got up, I was making them into animals, airplanes, or ships. Soon, there was no trace of “The Crawling Eye.”

Michael must have had a bad dream.