Teeny Tiny Little Records

kid with record

At some point, we got a piece of junk mail with a little gimmick — to answer “yes” or “no” to whatever magazine subscription (or whatever) come-on it was, you were supposed to detach a little tiny plastic toy of a phonograph record and enclose it. Or something. One record said YES, and the other said NO. My parents, to whom it was addressed, looked at it for three or four seconds and threw it away.

I fixated upon it.

How old was I? Four? Five? Less than four? I was aware of the outside world and some things on television. Our TV worked sometimes, and sometimes I went and hung around at someone else’s TV. At any rate, internal evidence indicates I knew the characters in the Rocky and Bullwinkle universe, specifically Boris Badenov and the Moon Men, all of whom appeared in dreams that were at least somewhat memorable. I believe Cloyd and Gidney (the Moon Men) were in a dream first, where maybe I saw them in a grocery store or something. There was even a faint flavor of California in the dream, like it was from early on in the Colorado years, when I still dreamed of the old place some of the time.

At any rate, the more elaborate dream concerned Boris Badenov, and he had an elaborate and unwieldy contraption (My dreaming predilection for unconvincing visuals: could it be a legacy of these cartoons that I watched so much? Like the ‘squalid’ dreams seem to echo the poverty-stricken backdrops of Fleischer and Columbia cartoons they showed on TV when I was a kid.) that was capable of playing those little YES and NO records.

(Later, Kathryn or Martha asked me what the record played. I said I didn’t know, and they theorized that they were just the one word on the label, repeated over and over. No doubt this was correct.)

Playing the records was, of course, part of some scheme he had. I think he may have even explained it to me, or maybe he just bragged about his complicated device. (Was Natasha there? I like to think I would have remembered her.)

By my middle years in grade school, I knew that the record hadn’t been a real record. It wasn’t the only time I dreamed of a tiny phono record that could be played. One dream I had was apparently set in “The Time Way Back When Cracker Jack Prizes Were The Real Things.” Thus, even though the disk was the size of a dime, and not a perfect circle (see? unconvincing visuals!), it was understood that it really played something on some sort of player. This being a nostalgic era, the tune was some sentimental song, perhaps involving violets or lilacs.

At some point, Linder’s got in a display of a toy record player for kids that played real, actual little disks of music recorded by kids, judging from the few offerings I saw. I lusted after one of those, even with the rather idiosyncratic software you could buy for it. Needless to say, it was unaffordable, and the cheap things were soon gone from all stores, remaining behind only as unrequited product lust in my youthful soul.

Once, in third grade, I proudly brought my Spike Jones LP, Omnibust, to class, along with a portable record player slightly smaller than I was. I don’t remember asking permission or anything, just playing it to the amusement of my classmates, particularly the clownish ones who often harassed me. I don’t suppose I got a chance to play more than a track or so before getting on with the important work of third graders, but I think the incident may have given me a mental image of myself with a not-too-huge record player on which I could listen to whatever I wanted, whenever I chose. How many records should I be able to carry with it? Three? Six? No. NO! It should be a great big number, like a hundred. Yes! I should be able to have a hundred records to listen to. Maybe those weirdo little tiny ones like I never got to have.

In sixth grade, Tim Corley brought in his little tape recorder. It played reels that were only about an inch in diameter — noticeably smaller than the three-inch reels I’d seen. I wanted one of those, and was able to focus enough to save up and get a more reasonable piece of hardware on lay-away at Penney’s, which had three-inch reels and two entire speeds. I lugged it around, and as many tapes as I could shlep. After three years or so, I decided cassettes weren’t so bad after all and got a little Panasonic recorder at a department store in Kerrville when we were down there at Christmas.

After a while, I got a better Panasonic recorder. Then I got a Sony boom box (stereo!), and another Sony box later on. When the second Sony let me down, I got a much smaller Sanyo that remains my favorite such deck to this day (shortwave!). In 1984, I got a personal cassette player that was the first of a sustained series of such units, many of them free replacements under extended warranties, which really paid off with these quirky and temperamental little machines.

At the same time, I was carrying differing numbers of cassettes with me. When I carried them in a black plastic Amway case, there was room for 78 tapes. The case seemed like overkill when I started using a Walkman-type unit all the time, so I got smaller containers that were made of nylon fabric. Each one held a score or so of tapes.

It occurred to me one day that I finally had my teeny tiny record player, complete with little bitty records. Yes, they were a different shape and mechanism, but close enough! It felt like the realization of an inane childhood dream, and it would have been perfect if I could have just carried a few more titles in maybe less space.

So when it got to where you could record CDs full of mp3s and listen to them on a personal CD player, I had realized my dream even more than before. With just a single hardshell CD case and the player, I had more stuff than I could have carried on cassettes. Mission Even More Accomplished!

Now I have, literally, thousands of hours of audio on my mp3 player. I don’t think my grade-school self would have even ventured to guess at such a bounty of music. It really makes me want to go back in time and lord it over Edison. “Hey, Edison! Look at this! And listen to that great sound! Really makes your phonograph records seem shabby, huh?” Then after that, if I still had the time machine, I’d go show it to Johann Sebastian Bach.


Why Smudbone?

Dad reclines

Because Dad used to sometimes come into a room, clear his throat, stand straight, raise an index finger, and portentiously announce, “Smudbone.”

And now I’m a dad, so sometimes I just have to come in and say it. Smudbone.

No photo is known to exist of Dad saying “smudbone.” Here he is resting his eyes on that exercise thing we used to have, with the foam pad on top of it. The marble top table is on Audience Left, below the window, which reveals a stage in the life of what are now towering trees. I might have that Muriel Cigar box. The chair it’s sitting on is in my garage, awaiting refinishing and new cushions. Shhh. He might be dreaming that he’s saying smudbone.


steakhouse meal

Sarah has a standard reaction to the camera nowadays, though she will occasionally exert sheer force of will and not only stay put but assume a pleasant expression for the sake of faraway relatives who want to track the changes as she grows up or who’d like to see her in person but will settle for a photo today.

So, December 14, eating something with chopsticks — that would be a special meal in the steakhouse part of the Plum Garden. There was much smoke and flame in the air that day.

Anyway, here she is. This is the most recent photo I could find on file, though I know she’s allowed others to be taken this year. If I find anything good, up it goes. She’s wearing that hairband now, so that could almost be a picture from today.



two kids and a toy tractor

When I was four or five, I was hanging around quietly inside and Dad came into the room. The room where I was! And he started talking. To me! I was interested, of course, and as much as his words, I was interested in a small cellophane bag of red pistachio nuts that he was eating as he talked to me. He asked me if I was interested in something called Vacation Bible School. Thinking at the time that it had something to do with the pistachio nuts, I said sure, and he nodded and left, taking the bag with him, and leaving me with an outsized craving for the pistachios.

Vacation Bible School was held at the old First Christian Church downtown, where Dad was the organist. I know I attended at least one service, and was amused by a joke Reverend Charles Patchen told during his sermon:

A fellow was visiting an insane asylum, and his guide showed him a young man clutching a large doll. “This unfortunate fellow was in love with a girl he wanted to marry,” he explained. “But she left him for another man.” The visitor shook his head sadly, and they came to the next cell where a patient was trying over and over to hit his head on the padded walls. “What about this one?” asked the visitor. “This is the fellow that got her.”

(Another church joke I recall involved a saloon parrot being moved to a church, where he looked at the minister and said, “New bartender,” then at the choir, “new chorus girls,” and finally at the audience. “…But the same old crowd.” I eventually learned the joke it was cleaned up from, where the former abode had been a cathouse, but I digress.) I sometimes wonder whose idea it had been for Dad to ask me, a young heathen, to go in for games and indoctrination. His own? Really?

The VBS was held, it turns out, in one of the ground-floor classrooms. Actually, the room was a couple of steps below ground level. The teacher was a very happy woman, and she said we were going to play a game where one little boy or girl would go outside and the others would choose an item in the room, and then the little boy (I hoped it would be a boy. Me!) or girl (No, Me.) would come back in and try to guess it. I must have held my hand up really good, because she chose Me! to go outside first. The room door closed behind me, and I looked down the hall. Both ends led outside, but the back seemed more direct. I went down the hall and stood outside. Then I looked over and saw the windows. One of them was the class window. I went over to the class window and looked in, and everybody started laughing and smiling and pointing. At me! So I waved at them and I smiled too.

The teacher didn’t smile. She made herself heard through the glass and told me to come right back inside. I did, and what happened next was a bit indistinct to me. I gathered that she was upset, but I couldn’t see why. All I did was go outside, like she said. I’m pretty sure that the teacher never, at any point, realized that I hadn’t deliberately disobeyed her in order to be a hell-raising hooligan and a bad example.

Anyway, that was the end of Vacation Bible School for me. I was just too much of a rebel for them.

Taken about a year before the story’s events, this seems to date from 1961 when Uncle Don and Aunt Nell drove through with Andy and Betsy. I must have been extraordinarily generous that day, to be able to watch calmly as another human being sits on my tractor, which had a chain-wheel drive and could really move on a good sidewalk, or even on ours. Not too long after that, we moved out of town, where the only pavement had a widely disregarded 45 MPH speed limit. (Once in a while, we’d have the diversion of another crash down at the corner where the road curved. Drinkers coming down from the Deerheart Inn were often able to keep it together right up to the time they literally hit that curve.) After a time of frustration, the tractor was given to the family next door, who had a cement deck and some sidewalks. During the time the Glass kids were wrecking it, I rode it more than I’d had a chance to since we moved out of town, pretty much commandeering it whenever I wanted, because of it being rightfully mine and all that. It was particularly fun when they had put in the cement floor for the garage. I could go in all directions, and the tractor was actually lighter once they’d busted the pretend engine off anyway.


When I was about six, I was in some kind of day camp at City Park, in the roofed picnic area across the street from the Girl Scout House (where Mom usually was, if I was loose in City Park) and next to the house that, I was told, contained the evil doings of the Campfire Girls.

Instead of running around by myself the whole time, though, there was some kind of organized parentry going on. It’s hard to believe I was in a day camp, unless Mom traded inmates with another parent or something. At any rate, there I was, and there were some other boys in my demographic there. No doubt there were other human beings as well, but I don’t remember much outside the periphery of “a small bunch of boys,” as I was not a bit shy then.

So somehow or other, the thing to do became jumping about in a fairly orderly way, from the ground to the bench, from the bench to the table, from the table to the bench, from the bench to the ground, and then repeat as desired. Also, for good reasons, the way to jump was to also emit a flat “Eermp” at the same time. If elongated, it would become “eee-yurmp,” but we kept it short and dignified, in a short, informal procession of kids eermping away as we went. A pretty good time was had.

I wouldn’t remember any of this, except one day when I was in fifth or sixth grade, or maybe higher, another kid recognized me. “Hey, remember that time we were all jumping around going ‘eermp’?” It came back very quickly, and the warm feeling — of being recognized, of being remembered, of being admired because I had good ideas like jumping around going eermp, and best of all, remembering how delightful this utterly brainless activity had been.

I once was a leader of my peers!

Family BLOG

Hey, I didn’t tell that word to capitalize! But I’ll go with it, because it looks like the logo I wasted my time creating just now after more or less accidentally starting a blog and deciding to make it family-oriented. Since I’m in the family, sometimes it can be about me.

Well. That was easy.

Here’s a lovely photo to start us all off. These are Cathy’s Grandma and Grandpa Morrissey, of whom she says she doesn’t have terrific memories. It’s a great photo, though, like an ad for Hallmark Cards in LIFE Magazine. From the 1950s, I believe.