Saturday, September 27, 2014

A Book on the Window Sill

English: Building at 123 West Jackson Avenue i...
 Building at 123 West Jackson Avenue in Knoxville, Tennessee, USA,
 photographed in 1976. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

        As mentioned in my most recent post at Tossing It Out, one of the books that I read over the summer months was The Third Strike by Jerry Gray.  This is the second time that I've read this book which has been in my possession for over 40 years now.  There's a story behind this book.  I've decided to share that story here today at Wrote By Rote.

         By 1973 I had been working at Acme Premium Supply Company in Knoxville, Tennessee for a couple of years.  Acme was a wholesale carnival supply company dealing in plush toys, carnival glass, and all of the other prize items given to winners of carnival games.  It was a quirky business that provided me with the flexibility of work hours during the school year and the opportunity to work as much as I wanted during the summer months.  

         During the first half of the 70's I was attending the University of Tennessee full time most of the year.   In the peak carnival season of the summer months I worked full time at Acme with all of the overtime they had available and there was plenty to be had.  Due to the seasonal nature of the business there were periods when there would be work lulls and the warehouse would operate with minimal staff.   Since I was a favored employee who could be depended upon to be reliable, the company would keep me on duty even if there wasn't much to be done as far as the daily sales and shipping operations.

            There were always the maintenance duties of cleaning, organizing warehouse spaces, and restocking where merchandise had dwindled to low numbers.   So even if there were few customer sales or ingoing and outgoing truck traffic, there was always something to be done.  Some days I worked at a more leisurely pace because speed wasn't essential to get things done.

             When the main warehouse was overly stocked to the point there was no more room to safely store merchandise, we kept some of that overstock in a Jackson Avenue warehouse nearly two blocks away.  This extra space was in an old building that was one of many that filled an entire block.  Most of the buildings were empty and most likely condemned for use.   Apparently the building we used had been deemed usable, but it was not in the best shape.  My guess is that these buildings dated back to the early part of the 1900's or perhaps even earlier.

            Occasionally when I found myself working alone in this old building, I would explore the upper floors.  Nothing above the first floor was in use since it was not practical, and possibly not safe, to use those spaces.   There was an old freight elevator, but it seemed not to be operational.   There was an eeriness in those empty dank upper floors.   The hollow cavernous space echoed as I walked through it.  

            At the back side of the building were a few tall windows that overlooked the railroad tracks and beyond to East Knoxville.  I was drawn to the windows for the view as I would ponder my thoughts, worries, and dreams.   This lonely place was the ideal spot for contemplation though more than once I contemplated the possibility that the building I was in could collapse with me in it.

           During one of my early explorations when I was drawn to the back windows, I noticed a small book on the window sill.  Judging from the amount of dust that had settled upon the book it appeared to have been there a very long time.   After dusting off the cover I examined the book.  

           The compact book with a green hard cover had "The Third Strike by Jerry Gray" printed in gold letters.  The book only had sixty pages.   The chapter titles intrigued me.  Titles like "Rain in the Bowery", "Battle of the Bottles", and "Climbing the Heights of Darkness" piqued my curiosity.  Six short chapters was the extent of the book.

            Taking the book home with me I read it that night.  The writing was quite good--poetic prose with a somberness that made me even more curious about the book and why it was in that old warehouse.   The story of Jerry Gray lingered in my thoughts.   I decided that one day I would write a story or perhaps a novel about a character inspired by this "Jerry Gray" even though there was little more that I knew of him than what was written in this book.

            My guess is that this book was a publication that may have been intended for free distribution to those suffering from alcohol dependency.  The story is about one man's struggle with alcoholism until he eventually loses the battle.   There are moments of deep introspection, revelation, but ultimately hopelessness for the author who exhorts others to heed his warnings and take charge of their own addictions.

            Since the area where Acme Premium Supply was located was an area frequented by winos and homeless alcoholics, my supposition would be that one of these poor souls who sometimes had found refuge in the building our company was now using for extra storage had been given the book at an AA meeting or by some party wishing to help inspire someone who was in the depths.   If this scenario were the case, it was probably something that had happened years prior to my finding the book.   The warehouse had probably been abandoned for several years before Acme started using it.

           Eventually after many moves and over a decade of living on the road, my found copy of The Third Strike became lost in all my stuff that had been in storage at my parents house.   The memory of the book stayed with me over the years and often came to my mind.   After I moved to where I now live I would sometimes look through boxes that were still packed to try and find this book.  Finally, this year before taking my vacation trip, I found the book.  It was time for another read through of this book that had haunted me for so many years.

            The Third Strike was the first of the books I read this summer.  It was still as good as I remembered it being.  The small volume now resides on my bookshelf where I will undoubtedly pick it up now and then to drink in the beauty of the words.   Too bad that this "Jerry Gray"--a pseudonym as revealed in the Foreword--wasn't writing more and drinking less.  That is, if this author story is actually true.  It really doesn't matter who wrote the book.  A good book is a good book.   I almost wish this one were longer. Or if the person who did write it wrote other similarly well written books that I could be directed to.   Maybe I'll never really know.  Or maybe one of you reading this knows something about this book, this author, or anyone affiliated with either.

         Do you ever explore old abandoned buildings?   Have you ever found an abandoned book that influenced you in a big way?    Do you have any ideas or knowledge about Jerry Gray, The Third Strike, or Starr Daily?  


Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Concert Series: The Hello People

English: 1978 Todd Rundgren
 1978 Todd Rundgren (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

      During this year's Blogging from A to Z April Challenge Michele at Angel's Bark for the letter "C" wrote about concerts she had attended.   Her post brought to mind some of my own concert memories.  In my comment response to her post I suggested that I might use her idea as an occasional series topic.  This post will be the first of a sporadic series that will most likely correspond to Battle of the Bands posts that you will find on my blog Tossing It Out.   If you haven't visited to vote on my current Battle I hope you will drop by before Sunday evening September 21st at which time I will tally the votes to come up with the most favorite artist of the two I've presented.  The winner will be announced on my post of Monday the 22nd.

The Sounds of the Silent

        Many of us undoubtedly have fond memories of concerts we've attended.   Most of mine come from my college years and the decade or so that came after those years.   I had more time to spare, less obligations to care about, and more friends who were more than willing to join me in my concert experiences.   Actually there were more than a few concerts that I attended by myself since my eclectic music interests took me to events that no one else I knew was willing to join me.

        Another of the reasons that I attended so many concerts was that they were relatively cheap--anywhere from free to five or six dollars.   The big concerts with two to three big acts averaged about five dollars each.  I don't recall paying for parking for most of these, but if we did pay to park the fee was only a dollar or less.  A concert night was not a huge outlay of cash even considering I was only making $1.75 to $2.50 an hour at the job I worked during my off school hours.

        One of the more outstanding concerts (they were almost all outstanding for that matter) was in May of 1972 with the line-up of the headliner Alice Cooper, the band Free, and Todd Rundgren with The Hello People backing him up. Alice Cooper was the draw for most attendees--I was certainly an avid fan.   Free was a bonus.  Their song "All Right Now" had been all over the radio as a huge hit.  They rocked and would have been a great headline band.

          However, the pairing of Todd Rundgren with the Hello People was the act that interested me the most.   I'd already been a Rundgren fan for a few years and had a couple of his albums.   But the Hello People?  I owned their first two albums having found them in cut-outs and loved their music.   What a surprise to find two great acts unpretentiously paired as an opening act.   Being able to see Todd Rundgren in concert was definitely cool, but to see the Hello People coming to Knoxville, Tennessee was a totally unexpected treat.

         I will say here that Rundgren and the Hello People delivered a great concert far exceeding any expectations I had for them.   Honestly I didn't know what to expect, but the show they put on would have been enough for me.  I would have been happy to sit through a couple hours of their act with no other accompanying groups.

        After the coliseum lights darkened and a myriad of lighters flamed up to ignite the joints that were a staple of any rock concert back then, the stage lights came up to reveal a group of mimes.   The white-faced characters began a typical mime routine.  They were proficient in their mimery, but there was no clear indication as to why the mimes were there until they took to their instruments.   As they broke into a jazzy tune from their second album, the Hello People broke the silence barrier and began doing what they did best--playing music.

           Todd Rundgren soon joined them and the collaborative group skillfully addressed a series of some of Todd's best songs.  The Hello People were solid as a back-up band.    The set was too short for my tastes.  As I have already noted, I could have devoted the entire evening to nothing but these fantastic musicians.  But alas, the set ended all too quickly and proceeded to the next two acts.

          I wish there was a filmed record of the Todd with the Hello People.   There may very well be since I've run across at least one YouTube clip of them.   I'd like to see the entire set as I saw it on that May night in 1972.   Those concerts all went by so quickly that it's hard to remember a lot of the details.

Here's the YouTube clip that I've found:


         Those concert years were great times.   It was cheap entertainment compared to now when the cost of parking alone can often exceed an entire night out back in the 70's.  There were many great entertainment events that I witnessed during that time.   I'll try to recapture some of those memories in future posts on Wrote By Rote.

          What great concert memories do you have?   Were there any groups who surprised you with their presentations?    What do you like best about going to hear music artists perform live?


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Is My Life Story Worthy of a Memoir?


         Recently I received a comment on a guest post that was published at my blog Tossing It Out on July 20th of 2011.   Yes, sometimes these comments do crop up on older posts, usually due to someone doing a Google search on the topic of the post.   It's good to know that these posts are showing up on the search engines.

        Anyhow, this guest post was by my long time blogging friend and memoirist Karen Walker at Following the Whispers.   If you don't know Karen I encourage you to check out her blog and give her a follow.  Her first publishing success was a memoir dealing with some of the tough life challenges she has had to endure.   Currently she's wrapping up her first attempt to publish a novel.  Her blog posts usually offer snippets concerning her life that might make you put your own situation into perspective.   If you're thinking about writing a memoir or have already done so but have not yet started submitting it anywhere, Karen's blog might be a good place to commune with others of like mind.

         However, getting back to the comment Karen received on her guest post at my blog, it was offered up by Michael Fontana who left his comment on the post "Do's and Don'ts of Memoir Writing:...". Here's what Michael asks:

Karen, I am writing a memoir and am desperate for a glimmer of hope. It seems that the web is chock full of people saying, "do this" or "don't do that". Also I'm beginning to feel my subject matter is contrived, already been done, or that it's just not that interesting. I seem to be stuck on the idea of having to present it from growing up (which is when I showed traits of what is to come in the "arc") and so many say "don't talk about growing up, being bullied, drinking/drugging/recovery" etc. I'm a bit lost because when I tell stories aloud people say "you have to write a book" but the process is making me think that I don't, but I really want to LOL! Thoughts?
           Here is Karen's reply to Michael:

Hi Michael,I want to encourage you to continue to write your story. Try not to pay attention to what others are saying about the do's and don'ts right now, including me. Just put down on paper the story you want to tell. You can always delete or add things later. And it doesn't matter if someone else had similar issues and told their story. Your story is unique because it is yours. And the way you tell it will be unique, too. Just allow it to come out. With editing, you can start to pay attention to some of what others are saying. But not now. Good luck!karen

       Not much for me to add to Karen's simple practical advice. If you feel compelled to tell a story, first of all just write. Then later on you can go back over your work to see what you did right.

       You can find Karen's complete guest post at Tossing It Out.

        Do you think your life is too boring to write a memoir? Have you read any boring memoirs about a person who had an exciting or extraordinary life? What do you think are the most important things to consider when writing memoir?

Saturday, September 6, 2014

When a Quarter Went a Long Way

English: Pete's Candy Store, in Williamsburg, ...
 Pete's Candy Store, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York City
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

         These days a quarter doesn't go very far.  Not like it used to when I was a kid.  The sales tax on my typical fast food purchase is usually way more than a quarter.  I'd never think of leaving a quarter tip on the table in a restaurant.  A quarter might give you a few minutes of parking on the street meter, but you'd better be prepared to have a whole lot of quarters if you're staying long--now many meters even take credit cards.  Hand a homeless person a quarter and they might take it as an insult.

          When my mother first started giving me an allowance in 1960 it was twenty-five cents each Friday.  It was amazing how far I could stretch a quarter.   A bottled soda was a nickel or a dime and you could turn the bottle back in to get some of that money back.   A candy bar, a pack of gum or Lifesavers, or a small packet of peanuts was five cents.   A quarter would reap a tidy harvest of goodies that could last a couple of days.

           Of course I'd find other ways to get more money for more goodies.   I'd do additional chores for extra pocket money.  Cleaning out drawers, rummaging through the car, or digging under the couch cushions was usually good for amassing a pocketful of jingling change.   Add to this the several dollars I might get at birthdays it seemed that I was never broke for fun money.

           A bit of wheedling my mother for special treats when we were on shopping expeditions always provided some return.   It didn't take much begging on my part since my mother was generous when it came to her kids and she was always willing to do that special something to make us a bit happier than we already were.   And we were happy.   There were always more things I'd like to have, but I wasn't lacking in much.

           Not that we were living a life of excess--frugality was a lesson taught well to me.   But I had enough toys, books, candy, and other things to add more pleasure to my life.  After all, I was usually dealing in fractions of dollars rather than multiple dollars.   My mother probably wasn't dealing with too much more.  Yet we had our treats as well as good meals.  I was dressed decently and our housing was comfortable.

            I'm not sure how much money my father brought home each week, but apparently it was enough.  We weren't rich, but it often felt like we were.   At least kind of rich as my unknowing mind would perceive wealth.  

           Now that I think back on my childhood I realize that wealth doesn't have as much to do with how much money we have, but more to do with how much we can do with the little money that we do have.  The same principle applies now, though now a quarter doesn't last long at all and a five dollar allowance would be considered small by many standards.

           When I had five dollars as a kid I felt like a wealthy man.  I could enjoy that money for weeks.   These days you might as well hand over the five dollars at the door of a business establishment and be prepared to leave with not very much.

            Quarters add up, but by themselves they are pretty meager in our time.

           How much allowance did you receive when you were a kid?   What were some of the ways you made money when you were a child?    What would you typically spend your money on when you were younger?   

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Smaller Stores of a Bygone Era

English: Woolworth department store in Kassel
 Woolworth department store in Kassel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

         Many years ago the mom and pop stores and chains of smaller stores were the mainstay of the American shopping scene.   The department store was typically something one would find downtown or in larger shopping districts.   Dry goods stores, pharmacies, variety stores, and other smaller specialty shops would comprise most of the real estate in those shopping districts.

         Prior to the 1950's there were no shopping malls as we know them today.  A few prototypical shopping ventures experienced some success before that time, but not like the mega shopping complexes surrounded by acres of parking that we've become so accustomed to in the past several decades.   As society became more suburbanized, the stores followed the customers to the areas surrounding the city centers and many cities lost much of the downtown shopping that they had once had.

          My favorite places to shop when I was a kid were the variety stores also known as "five and dime stores".   They were often chains such as Ben Franklin, Kresge's, Woolworth, and others.   These stores carried just enough to keep me busy looking and dreaming what I'd buy on some future occasion or at that moment if I was so fortunate to have a bit of change jingling in my pockets.

         In those days my allowance was a quarter, but it was amazing how far those quarters could go.  Merchandise was inexpensive.   I might buy toys, books, or a packet of foreign postage stamps to add to my collection.   My mother was usually pretty generous with extra nickels and dimes to allow me to buy a candy bar or some other treat during those visits to the store.   We'd go there at least a couple times each week.  After all, the Ben Franklin Store was right near the De Falco's Supermarket that was in the small shopping center called "The Quad".   That was in the San Diego, California suburb called Clairemont.   These were the years between 1959 and 1964.   It was a span of time that was short in retrospect, but it seems like decades in my memory.

           Many of those small stores were the precursors to the behemoths that came along later.   Kresge's became KMart.   Woolworth became the now defunct Woolco.  Walmart began as the Walton's Five and Dime which before that had been a Ben Franklin Store.    A few small variety stores remain scattered across the country, but for the most part the large discount stores have filled the need of the people for wide selection at the lowest prices.

          The future of shopping will probably for the most part be centered on the internet.   The specialty chains like Staples and Best Buy are already closing stores in order to cut costs and centralizing their businesses to distribution centers that fill orders made online and delivered directly to the customer's door.

          Convenience is the key in a time-strapped modern society.   Why drive when you can order from the comfort of your own home and have someone deliver product to your door within a day or two?   Personally I miss those old variety stores.   They were like heaven to my young mind.  Of course I had not seen the discount stores like we have now.   I don't think those variety stores would impress many kids today.

           Did you shop at five and dime stores when you were a kid?   What are some of the variety stores that you remember?    Do you shop at the stores like Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, or 99 Cent Stores?    

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Shopping for Ideas

English: The original Piggly Wiggly Store, Mem...
 The original Piggly Wiggly Store, Memphis, Tennessee. The first self service grocery store, opened 1916. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

         So far I've never lacked for ideas for this blog and I doubt if I ever would.   As long as I live, new ideas will keep coming and now matter how much I write about my past I can't imagine ever running out of memories to write about.   Even the memories I've already written about could be approached from a number of different angles.    Ideas are not only everywhere, but they are infinite.

          Why am I writing about this topic at this time?   I'm just thinking.  I'm pondering some of the things I might write about in blog posts to come.    And since I'm on the topic, then let me ask you some questions about things that might get you to remembering your past.   Maybe these will be some ideas you can use as well.

  • What stores and other businesses can you remember from your youth that are no longer around?
  • What was your favorite store to visit when you  were a kid?
  • Do you have many eating out experiences that you remember from childhood?
  • What things did you typically spend money on when you had it?
  • Did you go grocery shopping with your parents?    Were you a help or more of a hindrance?
  • Are there any products that you no longer see in stores that you miss?
  • Did you have a hobby when you were younger and what types of purchases did you make to sustain your hobby?
  • Was there a neighborhood business that was considered a hang-out for you and your peers?
  • How has shopping changed in our age as compared to your youth?
          I don't expect you to answer all of these questions in the comment section here, though you are certainly welcomed to if you like.   Maybe one question resonates with you that you would like to discuss.  Or maybe you'd like to use one or more of these topics on your own blog.   If you do then please be sure to send me the link so I can read your responses.

         I'll probably be hitting on a few of these ideas in weeks to come.   Memoir can be anything that you remember.    Sometimes memoir evolves from things you don't remember.  That's when the research kicks in.    What's the point of remembering the past?    Maybe you can answer that one too.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Tennessee Stomping Grounds

English: Olympus 4.0 Megapixel 3x zoom Digital...
English: Olympus 4.0 Megapixel 3x zoom Digital Camera. Taken in 2002 in Cocke County, Tennessee. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

         Thomas Wolfe is famously attributed to the saying "You can't go home again" which was taken from a posthumous novel of that name.   Most often the saying is more in reference to the fact that you can't recapture the place and circumstances of your memories.  We can fondly remember, but usually we are disappointed and disillusioned when we visit home hoping to find things like they once were.

        The fact is that things change--people, places, and all that our memories embrace.  Those things might be there in one manner of speaking, but rarely can we completely recapture the old feelings or experience the same sensations like they once were way back when.

        It's been 23 years since that last time I lived in East Tennessee and that was for only a few years having spent a previous 13 years on the road with a traveling show.   When I left my parents' home in 1975 for a life of travel it was not so much a severing ties as it was a beginning of new chapters in my life.  It's a decision that I'm glad I made, but my leaving created a gulf in the familiar relationships I had enjoyed during the years previous to that departure.

        As time passed, my old friends established newer relationships with people I did not know.  Some of those friends went on to get married and start families. Others moved away like I did while a few passed from this life.  Over time even the face and spirit of my home town changed as more people from other places moved into the area, old landmarks disappeared, and newer places were built in their places.  Highways were improved and bypasses were built.   The small town that I had once known took on a greater urban feel.   Where once I could be out and about and almost have a guarantee of running into someone I knew, now I might be out all day all about town and never see an old familiar face.

         Change is to be expected over time and probably a place would not be economically healthy if that change didn't occur.  Geographically my old Tennessee stomping grounds still exists on the map, but for someone who grew up there it is barely recognizable in many ways.

         Friends grow older and gain new responsibilities with careers, lives, and families.   I don't feel quite as comfortable just dropping in on many of them for fear of intruding or interfering with their busy schedules.  There are still a handful with whom I maintain fairly regular contact, but rarely do I actually see them.  The old Tennessee stomping grounds holds a fond place in my memories.  However, these days when I visit East Tennessee in some ways I almost feel like just another one of the many tourists who pass through there each year.

        I would imagine that if I still lived there I might feel a lot different about the old homeland.  But I don't live there anymore.  And I don't know if I ever will again.  Not that I wouldn't want to.  It's just that things change and sometimes going back home can never recapture the memories of what once was.

        Are there places from your past that you've gone back to and they just felt different to you?   Do you currently live in a place where you grew up or that you came back to after an extended time away?   How do you feel about the Thomas Wolfe observation that "you can't go home again"?