Short Story, Flash Fiction, Of the Day, Spaceliner by Bill Chance

This was twenty years before there would be a bicycle shop on every corner, and forty before you could have one delivered the next day from the internet – the only place his father knew of was Sears and Roebuck. They drove to the massive featureless brick rectangle at the edge of an endless parking lot.

—-Bill Chance, Spaceliner

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#3). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

Spaceliner

It took the boy a month of courage collecting and the prodding of his mother to get the nerve to ask his father to buy him a bike. He expected the usual answer, “Christmas will come in only a few months, we will see about it then.”

When his father snuffed out his cigarette, stood up and said, “OK, let’s go,” the boy almost fainted.

This was twenty years before there would be a bicycle shop on every corner, and a half-century before you could have one delivered the next day from the internet – the only place his father knew of was Sears and Roebuck. They drove to the massive featureless brick rectangle at the edge of an endless parking lot.

The boy was jealous of his friends because they all had bicycles they called Spiders. These had huge curved banana seats – with purple plastic metallic sparkling covers. The handlebars rose straight up with a curve on the end – hopelessly unstable, but it looked cool. One friend had a bike with an actual round car-type steering wheel. He was the coolest of all.

But his father marched straight to the Sears Spaceliner model. Chrome and red, gigantic, heavy as a steel boulder – these had streamline art deco style curved tubes and a thick red console behind the handlebars that contained a light, horn and silver plastic control knobs. This was a careful design of an impractical transportation device that looked to a father from the fifties like something a boy from the sixties (on the other side of the vast cultural divide) would like.

“Let’s get one plenty big,” his father said, “So you won’t outgrow it too soon. I don’t want to be back down here in a year buying another one.”

The sales clerk had one already put together and he let the boy try it out in the back parking lot.

He had to push it along until it gained enough speed to roll upright on its own and then climb on to it as if it was a boat without a ladder. The thing was so large – so too big for him – that at the bottom of each stroke the pedal would disappear past his foot. He could not reach them at that point. He’d have to fish around with his foot as the pedal rose to get back on it.

Near the front door of the cavernous Sears was a little stand selling hot nuts. The vendor heated them on a little stove and sold them in paper bags. The odor of roasting peanuts, walnuts, and cashews filled the entrance and spilled out into the parking lot.

“Can we buy some cashews?” the boy asked. He was shocked when his father bought a bag. His father wasn’t one for impulse purchases. But this was a special day.

To this day, the boy, now an old man, loves cashews and splurges on a can every time he goes to the grocery. Sometimes he gets out an old cast-iron skillet out and heats them up before he gobbles them down.

 


This story is, of course, mostly true. It is a little simplified from reality – I didn’t get to test the bike out in the store. It turned out to be very frustrating – it was so big It took me a month to learn to ride it. In the meantime, my brother, who was three years younger than me got a small bike (what we would call a BMX style today) and immediately began scooting around the neighborhood. I thought it was my own incompetence, instead of the size of the machine.

I finally learned by lugging the thing to the top of a long, steep hill, standing on one pedal while the thing picked up speed rolling downhill. Then I would climb on. As you can imagine, this process resulted in a lot of crashes, skinned knees, and thumped heads (no bike helmets then).

If you know me, you might think that this is the origin of my love for cycling. That would be wrong. A few years later, back on a base, I went down to the Post Exchange and spotted a ten speed racing bicycle, what we called at that time an “English Racer.” It was the first time I ever saw a bike with dropped bars. I was addicted to Popular Science Magazine and had read about the new invention “derailleur gears” and amazed to see them in real life.  I was entranced.

Again, I was shocked when my father bought the bike. This one was perfect. I rode that bike everywhere and learned how to work on it (the early derailleur system was crude and needed constant adjusting). That has continued to the present day – 55 years later.

Not too long ago, I saw a Sears Spaceliner for sale at a vintage bicycle show. It was in mint condition – it cost seven hundred dollars. I didn’t buy it.

Looking For Shelter In This Thunder And This Rain

I have been bought, I have been sold in the city.
I’ve dined with the demons, and I drank of their fear.
But you, you have known, and waited in silence.
Come, cradle my heart in a homecoming tear.
—- Jimmie Spheeris, I Am the Mercury

The musicians play next to the reflecting pool in front of the Opera House

I’ve read a couple of times lately that vinyl is now outselling compact disks. I’ve also read that digital downloads are becoming fewer and fewer and soon – vinyl will be outselling MP3s. I’ve read this on the internet so it must be true.

Everybody nowadays listens to streaming music.

For me, old person that I am, streaming music means internet radio. Hey, it’s free, there are thousands of stations… and it does leave me a bit of a link to the past… it isn’t over the air, but it is radio… more or less.

And my favorite online radio station – by far – is Radio Paradise. They have a handful of different mixes, all brilliantly curated. I listen to their main mix all the time and their mellow mix while I sleep. What I especially like is the stations ability to mix familiar excellent tracks with new and/or odd stuff that I have never heard – but will go out and look for.

The other night I was listening to the mellow mix when an old song came on that brought the memories flooding back. It was I Am the Mercury, from the album Isle of View by Jimmie Spheeris.

 

I was immediately transported back to 1974 – my freshman year of college. I could see that 12 inch album in a pile on a dormitory floor, pick it up and spin it on a cheap turntable. The quiet ethereal mysterious sound builds to a climax. Music has such an ability to bring the past back… and vinyl with a 12 inch album cover work of art especially so.

Twenty Years Ago

“Time was passing like a hand waving from a train I wanted to be on.
I hope you never have to think about anything as much as I think about you.”
― Jonathan Safran Foer

Downtown Dallas, from the 2017 Dallas Tweed Ride

Oblique Strategy:(Organic) machinery

I was cleaning up the directory structure on my laptop and happened upon some more of my old journal that I put online (these were the days before blogs) starting in 1996. I wrote every day for ten years or so. I navigated to December 17, 1997, exactly twenty years ago. This is what I wrote then.

—————————

The morning cup of coffee has an exhiliration about it which the cheering influence of the afternoon or evening cup of tea cannot be expected to reproduce.
—-Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr

I managed to get almost all of my most pressing stuff caught up so I took a half day of vacation this afternoon.

I braved the stores and bought an espresso maker to give to Candy for Christmas. I hope it’s alright. There’s eighteen gazillion different kinds of these things: steam pressurized, pump pressurized, Braun, non-Braun, cheap, expensive, built-in grinders, plastic, metal, with and without Stainless Steel Frothing Pitchers, even a tiny backpacking model. I finally decided on one with an Automatic Froth Generator – whatever the hell that means. It is my hope that this will make the construction and blending of a proper Cafe Latte easier. I believe this is the concoction she purchases at Starbucks.

I only hope the damn thing doesn’t explode.

Candy went to pick up the kids and I hid her present ’til I can get enough courage to wrap it (wrapping paper and I don’t mix neatly). We were going to surprise the children with the fact that I was home from work early. Candy called, though, and said that since the day was so nice the kids wanted to go to the park. I decided to finally dust off the old mountain bike and ride down to surprise them there.

Man, am I out of shape. It felt good to ride again after so long, but my legs were rubber and my chest was heaving.

It appears that I will join the rude crowd, the mass of lemmings, and get on the New Year’s resolution train; joining a new health club and trying to whip my lazy aging carcass into some sort of presentable shape by spring. Wish me luck.

—————————

So things have changed and they have stayed the same. You forget how strange and new the idea of espresso coffee was only twenty years ago. Candy bought herself a Keurig this year. I am still struggling to ride my bike – though I do better now.

And I still can’t giftwrap worth a crap.

Fallout Shelter

[Strangelove’s plan for post-nuclear war survival involves living underground with a 10:1 female-to-male ratio]
General “Buck” Turgidson: Doctor, you mentioned the ratio of ten women to each man. Now, wouldn’t that necessitate the abandonment of the so-called monogamous sexual relationship, I mean, as far as men were concerned?
Dr. Strangelove: Regrettably, yes. But it is, you know, a sacrifice required for the future of the human race. I hasten to add that since each man will be required to do prodigious… service along these lines, the women will have to be selected for their sexual characteristics which will have to be of a highly stimulating nature.
Ambassador de Sadesky: I must confess, you have an astonishingly good idea there, Doctor
—-Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

You don’t see very many of these anymore.
Waxahachie, Texas

The Federal Government is moving forward to bring into operation fallout shelter space for large groups of people under very austere conditions. Many homeowners, communities and business firms can and will provide more adequate and better located shelter space for their own needs. The Federal Government is backing this effort with a massive dissemination of technical information. In addition, we will inform those who cannot afford costly structures on low-cost methods of improvising shielding against fallout radiation. The people of this country will be urged, by me, by the Governors and by other leaders to do what is within their means.

I look forward to the closest cooperation between all levels of government in the United States to move rapidly towards this goal. Your committee is making a major contribution in stimulating participation by the state governments in the nationwide civil defense effort.
Sincerely,
JOHN F. KENNEDY
Letter to the Members of the Committee on Civil Defense of the Governors’ Conference. October 6, 1961

Someone younger than me would find it very hard to imagine how ubiquitous the “Fallout Shelter” sign was during the time of my youth. They were everywhere.

This was the time of “Duck and Cover” films being shown in school. Even at that young age I remember looking down at a puddle of sweat on the floor where it had dripped off my forehead as I crouched under my school desk in an air raid drill and thinking, “What the Hell? We are all going to roast!” I had recurring nightmares of Russian nuclear strikes, air raid sirens, and the end of mankind.

But times have changed… if not improved, and I haven’t seen a Fallout Shelter sign in decades. Until we stumbled across one on a photowalk in downtown Waxahachie.

So, if “Rocket Man” fires off his missiles in anger and insanity I guess you better get in your car and haul ass to Waxahachie, Texas, and hope there is room in their fallout shelter. It’s right off the town square, across from the statue of the Confederate Soldier. There should be plenty of room.

I won’t be there.

Major T. J. “King” Kong: Survival kit contents check. In them you’ll find: one forty-five caliber automatic; two boxes of ammunition; four days’ concentrated emergency rations; one drug issue containing antibiotics, morphine, vitamin pills, pep pills, sleeping pills, tranquilizer pills; one miniature combination Russian phrase book and Bible; one hundred dollars in rubles; one hundred dollars in gold; nine packs of chewing gum; one issue of prophylactics; three lipsticks; three pair of nylon stockings. Shoot, a fella’ could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff.
—-Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

What I learned this week, March 13, 2015

Kindle

Call Me Ishmael

8 books to lift you out of darkness

When Shaka Senghor (Watch: Shaka Senghor: Why your worst deeds don’t define you) was nineteen, he shot and killed a man — and was sentenced to spend the second nineteen years of his life in jail. At first, Senghor sat in his cold cell and rationalized his worst deeds. “In the hood where I come from,” he says, “it’s better to be the shooter than the person getting shot.” Then, Senghor found solace in literature — and his perspective was transformed in prison.


My Xootr Swift bike with picnic supplies loaded in the pannier.

My Xootr Swift bike with picnic supplies loaded in the pannier.

How to Set Up a Serious Folding Commuter Bike : Xootr Blog

I actually rarely commute on my Xootr folding bike – I view it as more of a versatile, fun mode of transport. I took a used Craigslist Giant Mountain bike and outfitted it with racks and fenders – use it as my commuter and light cargo bike.

Commuter Bike with Dallas skyline in the background

Commuter Bike with Dallas skyline in the background. I need to take an updated photo – this one doesn’t have the fenders installed.


Magazine Street, New Orleans

Magazine Street, New Orleans

How Bicycling Brings Business

Bicycle Second Line New Orleans, Louisiana

Bicycle Second Line
New Orleans, Louisiana



Herb Alpert, Whipped Cream

Herb Alpert, Whipped Cream

Herb Alpert’s ‘Whipped Cream Lady’ now 76, living in Longview and looking back

Do I remember the album cover from back in the day? Even though I was only eight when it came out – of course I do.

One bit of useless trivia, Leon Russell (as Russell Bridges, a member of the “Wrecking Crew”) played piano on the album.


5 SXSW Eateries Off the Beaten Path

For my Austin peeps and visitors.


Bike lane on Yale, near my house.

Bike lane on Yale, near my house.

Why bike lanes are battle lines for justice


15 Of the Best Jack Kerouac Quotes

“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”—The Dharma Bums


Look At This Tiny Drone [Video]

This would mean the end of privacy, if wind didn’t exist

Street View

To relieve some stress with some mindless web surfing I sat down with Google Maps and looked at StreetView of places I’ve lived in the past.

It’s a bit of a nostalgic treat, but more of a sad thing – so many places look run down now.

I have no illusions about this being interesting to anybody else – but here are a few places I’ve lived.

First, as an adult… or at least on my own… not surprisingly, most places I’ve lived since leaving home are available:

My dorm in college – It was a brave new world back then.

Hey, look at all these bike racks. We didn’t have those when I was in school. We only had a couple of the old ladder-style. I kept my 1974 Raleigh Supercourse (Reynolds 451 tubing, Brooks saddle stock) in my room. One night someone, obviously an organized and professional criminal crew, came by and stole all the bikes out front in one sweep.

My last two years in school I lived in this apartment fourplex. Tennessee street in Lawrence is one of the coolest streets I remember – but I lived in the most uncool little brown apartment. Hey, I didn’t have to look at it.

When I graduated and found my first job, I rented the top floor of this old building. I had my own entrance, the one you see on Google, and stairs went right up from there to my door. It was a nice place to live – an old halfway house for alcoholics, it had two bathrooms including a great old iron clawfoot tub in one.

After living there, I bought this house – the first house I owned. It was a tiny little crackerbox, but I liked it. I’m glad to see it looking so good, though it hasn’t grown any bigger.

When I moved to Dallas, I lived in this old complex on the M streets, right off Greenville Avenue. It was a great place to be young and broke.

Over the years I actually sub-rented two different units in this condo building. Possibly the best thing was its access to White Rock Lake – I did a lot of bicycle riding back in the day.

When we were married we bought this little house in Casa View ( technically Casa View heights). It was in terrible shape when we bought it – a real fixer-upper. It had a fantastic pecan tree in the backyard. Nick was born when we lived there.

Unfortunately, the school district there wasn’t very good, so we moved south a little way into Mesquite. Lee was born when we lived in this house. We lived there a long time – I planted those trees in the front yard.

When you are young you should plant all the trees you can – it’s something you can look at over the years, even if you don’t live there anymore. I wrote about the oak I planted in the back yard and how you can see it now.

Live Oak in back of the house I used to live in.

Live Oak in back of the house I used to live in.

Now, looking back further, there aren’t very many street views of houses I lived in when I was a kid. Most Army bases don’t have street view and the other countries I lived in don’t have them either.

There is this sideways view of one house when I was in first and third grade. Not a very good angle – it was an amazing house.

When I was in fifth grade we rented this house while my father was in Vietnam.

And a couple years later we fixed this house up – it hasn’t aged very well since.

I’m not sure any of us do.

Baritone

Used to tell Ma sometimes
When I see them riding blinds
Gonna make me a home out in the wind
In the wind, Lord in the wind
Make me a home out in the wind

I don’t like it in the wind
Wanna go back home again
But I can’t go home thisaway
Thisaway, Lord Lord Lord
And I can’t go home thisaway

I was young when I left home
And I been out rambling ‘round
And I never wrote a letter to my home
To my home, Lord Lord Lord
And I never wrote a letter to my home
—-Bob Dylan, I Was Young When I Left Home

My little bike ride through the Tulane campus was bittersweet. It was fun but I was filled with a melancholy nostalgia. Lee has graduated – this might be my last visit… or at least it will be the last visit with any connection or significance. I remembered visiting five years ago for parent’s weekend, walking the sidewalks on the guided tour, imagining what it would be like to study at such a beautiful place in such an amazing city.

This last visit – I almost felt more connection than with my own campus… that was long ago and I was just a kid, anyway. Nobody knows the terrible lucidity of nostalgia at a young age – it only comes with the onslaught of incipient dotage.

Baritone
Mia Westerlund Roosen
Tulane Campus
New Orleans, Louisiana

Baritone Mia Westerlund Roosen Tulane Campus, New Orleans (click to enlarge)

Baritone
Mia Westerlund Roosen
Tulane Campus, New Orleans
(click to enlarge)

“The Greek word for “return” is nostos. Algos means “suffering.” So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return.”
― Milan Kundera, Ignorance

Sunday Snippet – Forklift Rodeo

Randall Zaphtig took his daughter Penelope by the hand and led her from the car. They were on a long roadtrip from his ex-wife’s (Penelope’s mother) funeral back to his home in Oklahoma. He had decided not to fly, thinking that the drive would give him time to get reacquainted with his daughter before introducing her to his new wife – her new mother – for the first time. The trip was turning out to be quiet and even more awkward than he had been afraid it would be. He was prepared for tears, but not for the withdrawn, silent, robot-like waif that his daughter had become.

On a whim, Randall left the Interstate at the New Calebtown exit. He turned off almost by habit – he had lived in New Calebtown for his first three years out of school and had worked in the Caleb Brother’s hat factory there as a production engineer.

For some reason, unknown even to him, he had a strong desire to show her the factory he had once worked in. He drove to the plant parking lot by reflex memory but when they both climbed out of the car he saw that the building was no more. All that was left was the cracked parking lot, with mean looking weeds starting to poke up through the fault lines in the asphalt.

Still he took Penelope’s hand and together they walked across to the broken lines of concrete footings that outlined where the factory used to be. Looking down at the parking lot next to that he saw peeling, faded, yet still visible orange lines stenciled in and over the almost invisible now yellow parking demarcations and a strong, long forgotten memory came flooding back, causing him to stumble a little.

The orange lines were from the forklift rodeo. The men in the shipping department took great pride in their ability to move undamaged product out of the door quickly and a great part of that was their ability to drive their forklifts. These were country boys and men, farmers, that had grown up driving trucks and farm equipment not long after they had shed their diapers. Industrial and agricultural machines were in their blood – hydraulic fluid, lubricating grease, and diesel fuel moved under their skin. Driving a forklift at the plant was nothing more than a further fulfilling of their destiny.

The highpoint of their year was the forklift rodeo. There were local, county, and finally State competitions and it was a sad year when somebody from Caleb Brother’s did not place high in the State Finals. A handful had won the competition over the decades and their trophies were displayed proudly in a glass case at the entrance to the office row.

A young hotshot out of college – Randall was expected to referee the factory rodeo. The orange lines were painted on the lot to the exact specifications of the annual contest. They were supplemented by piles of wooden pallets in strategically placed locations to form an obstacle course the contestants were expected to navigate with the heavy trucks, moving forward and backward, fast and slow, picking up, moving and dropping loads according to strict rules and regulations.

Randall had to stand on the dock over the aisle where a contestant would enter with a pallet on his forks, drop the pallet, back out, then turn around, re-inter and retrieve the pallet. He had a checksheet where he would note the proper use of the horn, back-up signal, and whether the driver would turn his head and look for oncoming traffic. He would note the angle of the forks when picking up or lowering, and the height of the forks when moving naked.

There were dozens of details that had to be adhered to and Randall used his checklist to grade the contestants. They would argue later over over whether their heads had turned or if they had looked closely enough or moved too fast backing out. In order to be victorious in the contests, there had to be practice and Randall was assigned to help out with this an hour a day for the month leading up to the Rodeo.

He hated standing out there for hours in the heat watching those men riding the smoke-belching machines, making little tick marks on his forms, and having to argue over every little detail. The men would rib him, especially teasing him endlessly over the fact that he couldn’t do what they did every day. It was humiliating.

Now, decades later, he wondered what happened to those men when the plant closed down. They all had families – sometimes three generations had worked there. Men like that had few options. There wasn’t anything else in New Calebtown for them. Randall had no idea how their families could survive.

He was pulled out of his sad reverie by his daughter. She had been walking along the cracks in the pavement and looking at the harsh spiny nettles that were fighting their way up. A few of them were blooming and she had carefully pulled the flowers off of the sharp stems.

“Here, Daddy, for you,” Penelope said, handing him the bunch of surprisingly colorful blossoms. He held them to his face and was surprised at how sweet they smelled.

“Come on, let’s go,” he said to his little girl, “We’ve still got a ways to go.”

Scopitone

The last few weeks, whenever I would sit down at the computer – dipping my toes in the very shallow edge of the warm and wild sea of the internet – looking for youtube videos of old and tacky musical performances – I kept coming across the word “Scopitone.” A lot of musical chintz, commercial pop from the early sixties, especially stuff from Europe…

Some of the best (and worst) of it had the word Scopitone floating above the tawdry grin and shabby outfits, grainy film-transfer, inane and incongruous background singers, and abysmal dance routines. I assumed that Scopitone was a brand, or a record label, or something else rooted in the second-rate musical world of the time. I was right about that, I guess, but it wasn’t until a few days ago that I stumbled across what Scopitone actually is.

It is a machine. A musical video jukebox of the time. MTV for the sixties. An Ipod of the day, the size of a refrigerator.

A Scopitone Machine

A Scopitone is a way to pay to view sixteen millimeter films of the stars of the day. The short musical films were stored on reels inside the complex mechanism and delivered up for view on a dark, dim, blurry screen atop the contraption while the sounds, carried on an innovative magnetic track beside the filmstrip, bellowed out of tinny, static-filled speakers.

The Scopitone was developed in France after World War II. The story is that two French engineers built the prototype projector from a 16mm aerial spy camera and used other leftover war equipment for the mechanism. It was very complex and wasn’t perfected until the late 1950’s. I can’t imagine the difficulty of building a mechanism to automatically thread and rewind a pile of 16mm film reels, all in a portable machine the size of a refrigerator.

The interior mechanism of a Scopitone

The machines were mostly placed in loud, noisy, crowded bars full of desperate drunken young men. That is why so many feature skimpy outfits on skinny starlets, shimmying whatever it is that they’ve got for the three minutes or so the song spends wearing itself out.

A classic Scopitone – Neil Sedaka with Showgirls. (Is Miss June Barbara Eden?)

I love the idea of these whirring, clanking, clumsy mechanical marvels competing for spare change with the stale pretzels on the bar. What pitiful echoes of sophomoric erotic thoughts would course through the alcohol-fueled young minds while viewing something like this:

The only thing stranger that the short success of the Scopitone is the fact that these films are still around today. You can buy DVDs. There are blogs dedicated to them. I can go online, type Scopitone into the youtube search field and my screen fills with a list of hundreds of these ancient artifacts. Is it stranger that they are available… or that I actually like to look at them, or even write about them.

Oh well. It is what it is.

This is actually a great song. But why are they singing to a bear?

This one is straight from a burlesque show… and I remember the Dean Martin James Bond spoof of the same name. Did the song come first?

Have to have one with dancers wearing fringed bikinis.

This is the most heartfelt song I’ve ever seen that involved women in bikinis playing skee-ball. “Hey Kids! Play with Peppy”

Always had a soft spot for instrumental “twist” music.

Most of the Scopitone music is obscure and second-rate – but this is one of the best songs of all time… and an interesting visual of the time

And of course, Bang Bang