Category Archives: The Good Ol’ Days

You know what’s a really good movie about cops and corruption set in 1950s Los Angeles?

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“I know Titanic will probably win, but this really is the best movie of the year.”

Those words were said by me to my parents right after we watched the modern classic cop drama L.A. Confidential soon after it hit theaters in 1997. Based on the novel by James Ellroy, L.A. Confidential was directed by Curtis Hanson, who was also co-producer and co-wrote the screenplay. This movie has a stellar ensemble cast: Kevin Spacey (more on him in an upcoming aside), Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, James Cromwell, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, and David Strathairn.

Those last three actors were completely new to me. I was quite surprised to learn Crowe and Pearce weren’t Americans. The latter is an Australian born in England, while the former was born in New Zealand and lives in Australia. In the film, there isn’t a hint of an accent other than American in their performances.

Throughout the movie, everyone is in fine form. The acting is so good and the characters are so well realized, even the secondary characters are spot on.

And as the characters go, no one is pure in this story.

L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, front, from left: James Cromwell, Guy Pearce, Kevin Spacey; back: Russell Crowe,

Cromwell is terrific as the corrupt Capt. Dudley Smith, but just how far will his corruption go? DeVito nails his role as the sleazy celebrity gossip peddler Sid Hudgens, who bribes Spacey’s character (Det. Sgt. Jack Vincennes) to arrange celebrity busts for the headlines and increasing sales of Hush Hush magazine. Vincennes also gained fame through those arranged busts and that helped him land the role of technical advisor, a role he relishes, on a very Dragnet-like TV cop show.

Crowe as Officer Bud White is a cop who provides muscle in helping Capt. Smith rid Los Angeles of organized criminals, but not organized crime. You see, Dudley wants to replace the former crime boss who had been busted on a tax evasion rap. That way he can be the fine upstanding Captain of the world’s finest police force, while secretly controlling and profiting from the organized crime he’s supposed to oppose.

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Basinger won the Best Supporting Actress award for her role as Lynn Bracken, a high priced sex worker made to look like movie star Veronica Lake. She’s part of an expensive stable of call girls made to look like Hollywood stars run by local millionaire Pierce Patchett (Strathairn). He is said to treat his “employees” well as he caters to a more exclusive clientele. His slogan is “Whatever You Desire.”

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And then there’s Sgt. Edmund Exley, son of a legendary cop who was killed on duty. That murder was never solved. Exley, a highly intelligent, scheming, and ambitious, if naive, cop, is determined to live up to and perhaps surpass his father’s legacy.

On Christmas Eve, chaos erupts in the jail cell area of police headquarters. Earlier in the evening, two cops got in a minor skirmish with a group of Hispanic men, who had initially gotten away. But they’re caught and brought in and the over-served police officers celebrating the holiday mete out some payback punishment of their own.

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The press was there and caught the violence on camera and it was big news the next day. Embarrassing news for the LAPD and they needed to save face. That’s when Exley’s smarts and ambition took him from a Sergeant to a Detective Lieutenant. It also made him an enemy of every other cop in the precinct, including Officer White.

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Then came the Nite Owl.

But, first, a short aside.

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Kevin Spacey is in this movie and he’s not very highly thought of at the moment. He’s been accused of sexual misconduct with one case involving a minor. He’s also on trial for sexually assaulting an 18 year-old man.

Our legal system has the presumption of innocence as it’s baseline, but these accusations can’t help but taint the work Spacey has done over his career, much of it outstanding performances, such as his role as Jack Vincennes.

In most cases involving entertainers being flawed human beings or maybe having social and political views I don’t agree with, I try to consider the art and not the artist. It’s not always easy. It’s easy for me to not watch the Spacey movies that I thought were crap (Hurlyburly? Have you seen it? It’s horrible!), but Se7en? The Ref? The Usual Suspects? Baby Driver? Should I give up watching those?

Your answer might be yes. And that’s fair. You might think less of me for it, but I’m going to keep watching the art, while grimacing at the artist when it comes to Kevin Spacey. What you do is your decision.

Aside over, now back to the blog.

Right. Then came the Nite Owl.

The Nite Owl was an all night diner at which the customers and staff were murdered one night during a robbery. Exley was the first detective on the scene, but Capt. Smith took over the case the moment he arrived. It was soon discovered one of the victims was a former cop. He was Bud White’s partner before he was drummed out of the force for taking part in the Christmas Eve brawl.

That’s where I’m going to leave it. To go into any more details of the plot would risk spoiling a story that twists and turns its way through the seedy side of sunny California in the 1950s. There are betrayals, team-ups, double-crosses, some romance, terrific action, and one excellent out-of-nowhere gasp moment! I mean my mother, when she saw that moment, literally gasped.

The production, including using popular music of the time, is spotless as it captures the look and feel of what many think was a simpler time, a more innocent time, a greater time in American history. Except there never was a time of innocence. There was always a dark side to society. And there were always men and women willing to take advantage of it.

It’s brilliant!

If you haven’t seen it. Watch it! If you have, watch it again!

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Packing Peanuts!

Correction 2/1/19: I had the name of that crappy Kevin Spacey movie wrong. I said it was Hodge Podge, but the name is Hurlyburly. I made the correction.

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

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TV Guide: Some Bought It For The Pictures

My hiatus continues as guest contributor Michael Noble returns with a tribute to TV Guide and how it had more than one use.

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Why?! Why won’t I see those documentaries?

When I was a kid, one of my favorite things to do was head to the grocery store with my mother, especially in the middle of the week. Wednesdays and Thursdays were prime days for those treks. Because that was the time of the week the new TV Guide hit the newsstands.

You see … I collected them. With one in my anxious little hands, I scoured from cover to cover for pictures and listings of upcoming horror, monster, and science fiction programs. And, if I was lucky, those listings would be accompanied by a picture or photo of the upcoming program.

The most prized were those of the giant monsters (known as “kaiju”): Godzilla, Rodan, Gamera, King Ghidorah and the like. The thrill of finding new images was electric and it didn’t happen very often. But when it did, I used to carefully cut out the pictures and laminate them and take them to school to share with friends.

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This little exercise was huge among the lot of us. You see, not only did I provide a service to some of the kids who didn’t get TV Guide – those few whose parents didn’t believe in purchasing a program listing just to have it tossed out with the following week’s trash, poor souls – but we used to gawk and swoon and comment over the latest, glorious black and white quarter-page shot of Godzilla looming over a soon-to-be-destroyed Tokyo.

And let me tell you, it was a massive competition among us acquiring those pictures and showing them off. Week in and week out, the first kid to display his TV Guide treasures was pretty much the cock of the walk at school going into the weekend. You jutted out your chest and strutted the playground with an exaggerated confidence on a Friday knowing you were the only one with a Baragon or Ebirah tucked away in your pocket.

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The masked Mr. Sardonicus.

Of course, the Universal monsters and other horror nightmares were prized acquisitions as well. In fact I think TV Guide was the first place I saw an image of the hideous Mr. Sardonicus and his ghoulish mask offering that bedtime’s nightmares. (Note: My first glimpse of Mr. Sardonicus sans mask was in Famous Monsters Of Filmland years later. And I could see why that particular image wasn’t showcased in the Guide. Middle of the night horror visions, indeed!)

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Yikes!

You can well imagine as the years went by the group of us collected fine examples of creatures and horrors galore, each one carefully guarded and displayed during recess and weekend sleep overs. I still have my assortment safe in a box somewhere with my glow in the dark Aurora model parts, Odd Rod bubble gum cards and other treasures.

The 1970s were good times with some pretty fond memories …

Thanks, Michael! You can read more by Michael Noble at Hotchka.com.

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Great Album Retro Review: The Partridge Family Album By The Partridge Family (And A Few Other Musicians)

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Yes, I know what you’re probably thinking. You’re thinking I’ve lost my mind, right? How could I possibly think the ’70s sit-com musical family’s first album is great?

Well, it’s not great the way the previous great albums (The Who’s Quadrophenia, Genesis’ Abacab, Suzanne Vega’s self-titled debut, and Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water) that I’ve reviewed were great. But, as an example of pure, pleasurable, playful ’70s pop it’s hard to deny this album’s appeal.

I suppose there’s a good deal of nostalgia for my youthful innocence of that time period, from which this album and sit-com arose, that influences my opinion, but when you compare this first album, The Partridge Family Album, to later releases, there’s just something special about it. The Partridge Family, or rather members of the group of studio musicians collectively known as The Wrecking Crew and the pop vocal group The Love Connection, were firing on all cylinders on this album.

It was discovered that David Cassidy, who played the oldest Partridge son, could sing, so he provides lead vocals for most of the songs. And Shirley Jones, who played the mother of the talented brood, was also a fine singer and she provides some backing vocals. The rest of the cast were required to lip-sync… for the show, not the album.

I think the album is great. The sit-com? Well… No.

The Tracks:

Brand New Me – The lush, string-filled opening song starts off with a nice warm guitar riff. There are horns and soaring backing vocals and Cassidy demonstrates he has quite the range to his voice.

Point Me In The Direction Of Albuquerque – The lushness of their sound continues as Cassidy sings of a young, female hitchhiker trying get home. The song builds and descends again and again in its just under four minutes. Nice piano throughout and the “cha! cha! cha!” vocal bursts at the end are a nice touch.

Bandela – Cow bell! Lots and lots of cow bell! The Wrecking Crew cook on this one, my favorite track.

I Really Want To Know You – This one is a bit sappy, but the vocals are very sweet and sincere and completely David Cassidy-less. It’s kinda fun trying to determine which of the male voices is supposed to belong to Danny Partridge.

Only A Moment Ago – Where did all the happy people go? Did the Partridges just become the Omega Family? Or is David lamenting a lost love and how the world changed after losing her. I prefer to think it’s a post apocalyptic tale. But then I’m a bit fatalistic.

I Can Hear Your Heartbeat – Time for a rocker! A song of new found love and heartbeats and being a man of your word. Nice guitar riffs and excellent building to a quick cut to end the song.

I’m On The Road – Another song without David’s vocals. (Again which one is Danny?) It’s a fun travel the countryside song. They needed a travel song. The family got around in an old school bus, after all.

To Be Lovers – Mostly without David’s vocals, he does sing a little lead in the middle bit, this song is a little creepy. Creepy if you consider the story on the TV show had this song being co-written by Danny, who was – what? – ten at the time. A song about lovers who aren’t in love? Jeez! The kid’s been around.

Someone Wants To Love You – Well, it was the 1970s and the hippies’ message of love and peace had been co-opted by TV executives, so, of course, there had to be a song hinting at free love, right?

I Think I Love You – This was their big hit. It reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It’s a pretty rockin’ tune about a fellow who woke up from a good dream realizing he might just be in love.

Singing My Song – Another song touching on Hollywood’s notion of hippie culture and their love of singing. It’s a nice quick rollicking singalong end to a good collection of ’70s pop. The “bah-dah-dee-dum” chorus is irresistible.

Packing Peanuts!

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books.

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Horror Incorporated Didn’t Need A Host

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“Lurking among the corpses are the body-snatchers, plotting their next venture into the graveyard…”

Those were the first words that welcomed Twin Cities viewers to the weekly night of terror offered by the local TV station KSTP, back when I was a kid in the 1970s. The show was called Horror Incorporated.

There were many such creature feature offerings on local television stations all over America in those days. Our horror movie showcase was a little different than most. Ours had no host.

No Vampira. No Ghoulardi. No Mister Lobo. No Sir Graves Ghastly. No Doctor Creep. No Sharon Needles. No Grimsley.

No host.

But my research does show that Horror Incorporated did indeed, however briefly, have a couple of hosts. First was Dr. Paul Bearer (get it?) in the early 1970s. There also appears to have been a second host in the mid-70s, who went by the name Graves. Neither host lasted very long. For the majority of its run from the fall of 1969 until sometime in the later 1970s (I’m not certain when it ended) there was no host.

And having no host was good, because…

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Not a great Dracula.

In the 2000s, the show was revived with hosts. There were two attempts at a revival, in fact. I don’t know which came first, but one was hosted by Count Dracula, who stood in front of a green screen and did a not so great Bela Lugosi impression. He would make puns and tell a few facts related to the featured horror movie. He would then tell viewers to “OBEY!” and come back next week. Lame, but the actor did his best with what he had to work with.

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Not the Addams Family.

The other attempt had a small cast of young actors doing sort of a take off on the Addams Family. In fact, the main character, Uncle Ghoulie (center in above photo. No, not the wolf!), was a cross between Gomez Addams (as played by the great John Astin on the ’60s TV show) and Svengoolie, a current and longtime horror show host. They did skits and tried their best to insert humor into the proceedings. They had varying degrees of success.

Neither incarnation lasted long.

I might have a bit of nostalgic bias here, but I prefer no host. That’s the way I saw the Friday night creature feature when I was a kid. There was no silliness, except what might have been in the movie. The way that version was presented was to absolutely creep you out. You were supposed to be scared. It set the tone for a scary movie. And if they had a good one to show, one with Lugosi or Karloff, perhaps, the viewer would be in the proper mood for a scare and not a giggle.

The show featured a simple open and close which often times were far more frightening than the featured film. They consisted of a sparse set: Black with only a coffin in a spotlight. And, of course, there was fog. The lighting would change from harsh white to yellow, blue, purple, green, red. There were sounds of creaking doors, shrieks, groans, and cries of anguish. And then the lid of the coffin would begin to open and two pale, claw-like, almost skeletal, hands would come into sight. The occupant was rising from his coffin to head into the night in search of blood… I’m guessing.

And there was the voice-over provided by Jim Wise, who was also working for KSTP radio. He sounded excellent as he welcomed viewers to that week’s “excursion through Horror Incorporated…” Chills! Good old-fashioned, blood-curdling chills, folks!

When the feature was complete, the scene returned to the coffin. This time its occupant was returning from a night of terrorizing innocents. And the voice-over told us…

“Next week, I will be back again with another venture into the chamber of horror. Come along for another experience through the unknown, into Horror Incorporated.”

Now just try to get some sleep, kids!

You can watch the opening and closing at this link. See if you don’t agree that it is very effective. Also, visit The Horror Incorporated Project. It’s a fun site that really helped me in my research.

Packing Peanuts!

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books.

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How Awesome Was Game 6 In 1991?

In short, it was super-awesome! But allow me to expand…

In 1987, the Minnesota Twins won their first World Series since moving to the Twin Cities from Washington, DC in 1961. The win, admittedly, was a bit of a fluke. The Twins benefited from winning a weak division, but comported themselves very nicely when facing the Detroit Tigers, whose regular season record was 98-64, in the American League Championship Series (ALCS). The Twins, with a regular season record of 85-77, beat the best team in baseball that year in five games. They went on to beat the St. Louis Cardinals (95-67) in the World Series in seven games, winning their four home games. The boys really did enjoy home field advantage that season, with a record of 56-25 at home (best in the majors in 1987) and 29-52 on the road.

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1987 World Champion Minnesota Twins

And for Twins fans, which I am one, it was glorious!

It had been decades since Minnesota had a championship-winning professional team. It was 1954 when the Minneapolis Lakers won their last NBA Championship. They moved to Los Angeles in 1961, taking the greatest team name in all of sports with them. (I know whenever I think of Los Angeles, I think of lakes, don’t you?) The Minnesota Vikings had lost four Super Bowls by 1977 and have never been back. The Minnesota North Stars had lost the one Stanley Cup Finals they had been to in 1981 (they would make it back in 1991 and lose and then left the state in 1993). The Minnesota Timberwolves wouldn’t begin their futile existence until 1989. The Minnesota Wild wouldn’t begin theirs until 2000. (Minnesota did get a consistent championship-caliber team with the Minnesota Lynx in 1999. That Women’s National Basketball Association team has won four championships. Kudos!)

So, in 1987, Minnesotans were pretty darned pleased with the Twins. In fact, after the boys beat the best team in baseball in the ALCS, there was an impromptu gathering of fans in the Metrodome, the home of the Twins and the Vikings. The word went out soon after the Twins defeated the Tigers that the doors would be opened at the “Dome” and fans could come in to greet the returning American League Champions. The team was told they would be heading to the Dome for a fan celebration, but they did not anticipate the number of fans that would be there and the shear outpouring of love and gratitude. The greeting brought third baseman Gary Gaetti to tears. It was a beautiful thing. It’s even getting me a little misty as I write this.

Four years later, the Twins were back in the post-season. This time it wasn’t fluky at all. With a regular season record of 95-67, they were a team to be reckoned with. They still had a few of the core team from 1987 on the roster: Dan Gladden, Kent Hrbek, Greg Gagne, Al Newman, and Kirby Puckett. They had added an outstanding rookie, Chuck Knoblauch, and a wily veteran pitcher, St. Paul (my hometown) native Jack Morris. Morris had been one of the most dominating pitchers in the 1980s and he still had some gas in the tank.

When the Twins faced the Atlanta Braves in the World Series in 1991, both teams having finished in last place in their respective leagues the season before, no one knew just how great that series would be. It turned out to be legendary! I’ve seen it ranked as the greatest World Series of all time, beating out the 1975 series between the Cincinnati Reds and the Boston Red Sox. And, like the ’75 Series, it had one of the greatest Game 6s of all time.

The Twins were down three games to two when the series returned to the Metrodome. As in 1987, the two teams involved had won their home games. Twins fans (and some of the players) were a little worried about this must win Game 6, but Twins great Kirby Puckett told his teammates to climb on his back. He would see them through to a win.

He was true to his word. He had multiple hits, drove in a run and scored a run, and made a spectacular catch at the wall, which prevented a multi-base hit and at least one run from scoring. As was the case with most of the previous five games (only one game was a blowout), this one was a nail-biter. It went into extra innings and Kirby wasn’t done.

In the bottom of the eleventh, Kirby came up to hit against Atlanta’s left-hander Charlie Leibrandt. Puckett told his teammate Chili Davis that he thought he might be able to bunt for a hit. Davis said, “Bunt, my ass!” and encouraged the slugger to put the game away. Puckett worked the count to two balls and a strike, which is unusual for him being a free swinger and all, when Leibrandt hung a change-up right where Kirby wanted it.

Then came six of the most memorable words in baseball. The baseball announcing legend Jack Buck said, “And we’ll see you… tomorrow night!

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And that tomorrow night brought us possibly the greatest pitching performance in World Series history, and I’m including Don Larsen’s perfect game in Game 5 of the 1956 Series. A perfect game is a marvel to behold, but, with the series tied between the Hated Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers at two games a piece, the series was not on the line. In 1991, Jack Morris’ brilliant 10 innings of shut out baseball in the final game of the Series was phenomenal, especially considering the game was scoreless until the bottom of the tenth, when Gene Larkin drove in Dan Gladden and the Minnesota Twins won their second World Championship. (Third if you’re pedantic and include the Washington Senators‘ only World Championship win in 1924.)

Great story if it ends there (apologies to the Dana Gould Podcast), but there is more to tell.

I worked evenings in those days, so I would hurry my way through work to catch as much of the games as I could. However, Game 6 was on Saturday night, so I could head on down to the local watering hole and take in the entire game. I was sitting next to one of the elder regulars, a fellow named Chic. Chic was known to all the bartenders in the area. He didn’t do much other than drink. That life had taken a toll on him. I believe he was in his 60s, but he appeared to be at least twenty years older than that.

Oh, well.

At the same time, down in a sports bar in Florida, was a group of Twins fans taking in the game. This group included the sister of a friend of mine. The group were the only ones in the bar cheering on the Twins. Florida being so close to Georgia, the rest of the patrons were pulling for the Braves.

As I said, the game was a nail-biter. Until, we fans of the Twins saw that Leibrandt was being brought in to pitch to Kirby Puckett. You see, the Braves’ pitcher had played for the Kansas City Royals, a team in the Twins’ division, and our boys were very familiar with Charlie. They knew how to hit him. They had had good numbers against him.

As Kirby stepped into the batter’s box, the Minnesota contingent in that Florida sports bar began to cheer. The Braves fans looked at those Minnesotans as though they were crazy. In Minnesota, I turned to Chic and said, “We’ve got this game!”

After making my declaration to Chic, I turned back to the TV and saw Puckett hit the ball out!

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It was fantastic! I hope we are all in store for another outstanding Game 6 in this year’s World Series.

Packing Peanuts!

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books.

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Songs And Moments

There are many things that can trigger a memory. Photographs, certain scents, or someone telling a related story can all jog a memory and take you back to a specific moment from your past. They can be big moments or small, whichever it is, that trigger just brings you back. And a song can be a trigger for me.

This week, I thought I’d list five songs that bring five moments from my past to mind every time I hear them. None of the moments are particularly big. Most are small, everyday sorts of occurrences that just add texture to life. Two of the songs are by Paul McCartney. I’m not sure why, it just worked out that way.

Writer’s note: Click on the headers to be linked to the songs.

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My Love by Paul McCartney and Wings (1973).

This may be the smallest moment I’ll discuss. As I recall, it took place during the summer of 1973 or 1974. In those days, when my siblings and I would suggest our parents buy a dishwasher, Dad would say, “Why? I already have four of them.”

He, of course, was referring to us kids. There were four of us and we were tasked with the chore of washing the dishes. Each kid would get the washing up duties for a week. The moment that comes back to me happened during one of my weeks. And it is so mundane, you may find it underwhelming, but I’m sharing anyway.

One of our perks when doing the dishes was to be allowed to listen to music on the radio. Not too loud!

My Love was a new song at the time. What I think of now whenever I hear that song is me standing at the sink, washing dishes, looking out the kitchen window at the neighbor’s house, listening to Paul singing, “Whoa whoa-whoa whoooa.”

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Band On The Run by Paul McCartney and Wings (1974).

Probably during that same summer as the My Love moment, this excellent song brings me back to playing in a sand pile behind a strip mall near where my parents still live today. Right across the street from the house was an empty lot, in which we kids spent much of our spare time, on the other side of the lot was that strip mall.

I don’t recall why there was a pile of sand there, but what kid could resist making use of it? A group of us kids were digging through it for hours. Someone must have a transistor radio with them, because Band On The Run was playing.

To this day, that fantastic opening guitar riff brings me right back to that sand pile.

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Heat Of The Moment by Asia (1982).

This moment is the summer of 1982. My best friend Greg and I were enjoying our summer between junior and senior year. Greg had his driver’s license and he had pretty much taken over his mother’s Chevy Laguna as his car. And, since it was his car, he needed to make certain the stereo was capable of producing the proper volume level any respectable 16 or 17 year old would require.

He rigged up that Laguna so that the back seat and window space were crammed with speakers. He had seven speakers back there. Some weren’t even car speakers, at least two of them were from his home stereo. He also got his hands, I don’t know how, on an old football stadium style PA speaker. He ran everything through a powerful equalizer and the volume he achieved was impressive. My left ear is still ringing.

The song that became our theme for that summer was that hit by the 80s super-group Asia. Which we played again and again, so very loudly.

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Pilgrimage by REM (1983).

This moment is difficult to nail down to a specific time. It happened when I was in art school. I attended the School of Associated Arts (it was renamed College of Visual Arts in 1989 and closed its doors in June, 2013) starting in the fall of 1983 and graduating in spring 1986. The school was located on the historic Summit Avenue, an avenue in St. Paul, MN filled with old mansions from the days when Minnesota’s wealthiest citizens took up residence in the capital city. Railroad tycoon James J Hill’s mansion is just down the block from the school.

The picturesque Summit Avenue is located on a hill that overlooks downtown St. Paul, where the hoi polloi lived and worked and where the bus would drop me off and pick me up. On the days when I didn’t get a ride, I would bus it in and back. And I would have to walk up and down that hill. There was a long set of stairs, running right alongside the James J Hill House, that meandered its way to and from Summit Avenue. I’m not sure if it’s still there.

That was quite a beautiful yet tiring climb in the morning. I was so thankful for the few stretches in which the path leveled out for a time. I was also thankful for my Sony Walkman (remember those?), which set the mood for the climb. Pilgrimage has somehow become the song that reminds me of that walk on those stairs.

A nice song for a nice, if exhausting, walk.

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Unknown Legend by Neil Young (1993).

In the mid-90s I worked, very briefly, as a staff artist for a little start-up multi-media publishing company. The friends I made there really liked Neil Young’s 1992 album Harvest Moon. Now, it’s not that I wasn’t a fan of Young’s music. I liked and appreciated much of his art. I just enjoyed poking fun at the way he sings. I would take to imitating the yowl of a cat as I “sang” along with the 60’s radical.

Well, the company wasn’t taking off as the investors had hoped and they stopped funding it and we all lost our jobs.

Some weeks or months later, while throwing back a few brews with some other friends, the jukebox played Unknown Legend. I took immediate notice and was transported back to that workplace. My reaction must have been awfully obvious, because my friends asked if I was OK.

I hadn’t started blubbering or anything like that. I had just gotten very quiet. I told them I was remembering some friends I hadn’t seen in a while.

Surely, you have a song or two (or a thousand) that take you back to moments in time. Share some in the comments if you like.

Packing Peanuts!

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Toy Soldiers Treated Strangely

Marx Toys was a pretty damn good toymaker. They produced two of my favorite toys when I was a kid: The Johnny West action figure line (a subject for a future blog perhaps) and plastic toy soldiers. Lots of toy companies offered toy soldiers, but I think Marx’s were the best.

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The amount of detail Marx put in them was very impressive. There were facial expressions. There were German soldiers and Japanese soldiers wearing what appeared to be fairly accurate uniforms. There were also officers. And Marx produced soldiers being shot, suffering from a wound, and ones that were dead. The dead ones were always the enemy, though.

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“Aaah! They got me!”

Marx German Dead 2

“Well, we got him! Got him good and dead!”

I had their Guns of Navarone playset in the early 1970s. The playset had more than 200 pieces, which included military vehicles, canons, and, of course, the mountain stronghold. As a youthful pedant, I noticed the scale of the vehicles didn’t quite match that of the soldiers, but I realized that it would be difficult to make everything at a matching scale. Either the soldiers would have to be much smaller or the vehicles much larger. I would just have to use my imagination.

So, that’s what I did.

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Marx even made “goose-stepping” German soldiers.

At some point, I devised a battle that pitted my toy soldiers against my Shogun Warriors. I would spend hours deploying my troops into position. They were set on precariously balanced boxes and encyclopedias, awaiting the attack from those towering robots. The Warriors would attack and utterly laid waste to those valiant men.

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I’ll admit that pitting toy soldiers against toy robots isn’t all that strange of a way to treat toy soldiers (or toy robots, for that matter), but I’m not done.

In the mid-70s, my family would go on vacation each summer, which usually meant a drive to a cabin resort in the lake area of northwestern Wisconsin. On one occasion, there was a road trip from St. Paul, MN to sunny San Jose, CA. For most of those vacations, the family vehicle was an old station wagon, I forget which brand. And, because my younger brother and I were the youngest (and the smallest) of the four siblings, we got to sit in the “way back.”

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Something like this, but without the “wood” siding.

The “way back” was meant for cargo. There was no seat let alone seat belts. The two of us had a space way back in the “way back” between the luggage and coolers and against the gate or whatever you call it. We had a great view of the road behind us.

When it was warm enough and it wasn’t raining, Dad would lower the “way back” window and my brother and I could get the thrill of the wind in our hair and being a gate malfunction away from tumbling onto to the highway and to our deaths. Luckily, the gate never malfunctioned.

Having the window down, my brother and I hatched a brilliant idea. “Let’s take some kite string and tie a toy soldier to a length of it and drag the soldier behind us as Dad drives!” Well, we both agreed it was a brilliant idea, even if we don’t remember which of us came up with it.

So, that’s what we did.

The soldier would bounce off the road every which way. And whenever a car began to gain on us, we’d just reel in the string. When it was clear again, out would go the hapless soldier to gain even more nasty road rash. It was hours of fun.

Torturing toy soldiers might not seem that much more strange than having them slaughtered by giant robots, but I’m not done.

In about 1974 or so, the city of St. Paul decided the old Hayden Heights neighborhood library needed to be replaced and built a new, larger branch kitty-corner to the old one. The old one became a clock store, while the new one began to take shape.

Much the same way my parents weren’t all that concerned with my brother’s and my safety as we traveled in the “way back,” it seemed the city of St. Paul wasn’t all that concerned with keeping us kids out of the construction area of the new branch. As I recall, we seemed to have access to the dug out area for the foundation. We could get to the foundation walls, which were made of basic cinder block. And as such, those cinder block walls had large gaps at the top. A gap in which something could be placed…

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My ten year-old brain hit upon an interesting idea. Why not put a toy soldier in the cinder block of that foundation wall?

Yeah! Why not?!

So, that’s what I did.

In went a brave infantryman to stand guard inside that wall. To this day, when I drive by that library I think of that toy soldier and his sentry duty that’s lasted more than four decades. That part of the foundation wall, however small, has a soldier ready to protect it.

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Somewhere in the foundation wall of this building is a toy soldier that has been pulling sentry duty for more than 40 years.

That action done as a ten year-old didn’t stop with the library. Through the years, I have placed toy soldiers in secret places to be hidden for all time or until the building is razed or the sidewalk dug up. Throughout my house there are hidden toy soldiers. They are in the insulation in the space between the walls and the replacement windows. There’s a soldier inside the corner of the porch wall, put there when the old, rotted wood needed replacing. Out in the backyard, there’s one inside the retaining wall I helped my dad put in by the driveway.

And, just this past Sunday, I took a table out of the garage to put on the porch. I had to take apart the base in order to get it in the house (the tabletop had already been removed). That’s when I noticed the center column of the table was hollow.

A light went on above my head. I went upstairs and asked my son where his old toy soldiers were. We found them in his rather stuffed closet (not as stuffed as Fibber McGee’s*, however) and I selected one for this important mission. I taped him in place so that he’ll stay standing and I put the table back together.

As long as that table is intact, he’ll be standing guard.

Now, that is a little strange, isn’t it?

Packing Peanuts!

*10 points if you get this reference.

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