Thursday, May 29, 2008

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Here is the latest in my continuing series of dead author landmarks. During our recent visit to Salem, Massachusetts, Mary took this picture of me at the birthplace of Nathaniel Hawthorne, with whom I first became acquainted playing the card game "Authors" as a child. Other authors I recall from the game are Alfred Lord Tennyson, Charles Dickens, and Louisa May Alcott. I don't recall that playing the game inspired me to read any of their works. But I digress. In keeping with the spirit of promoting tourism, which seems to be the main concern in Salem, Hawthorne's birthplace has been moved from its original location, and now sits on the same property as the House of the Seven Gables. One ticket buys you admission to both.

The only Nawthorne novel I had read up till now was The Scarlet Letter, and that was approximately a hundred years ago, in high school. I did my part to boost the local economy, and bought a copy of The House of The Seven Gables in the The House of Seven The Gables Bookstore, before taking the official guided tour of The House of the Seven Gables. The tour started a few minutes before the scheduled time because the guide was quite concerned that our group get through the house before a busload of 60 clamoring adolescents on a school field trip.

Turns out it's debatable that this is the house upon which Hawthorne based his book, although he had a cousin who lived there, and was known to have visited her at the house. As I understand it, the house has had a variable number of gables over the years due to repeated remodeling, and at some point had seven gables, but was down to three in Hawthorne's time. It was purchased in the early twentieth century by a woman who believed in life imitating art, and she had the mansion restored, complete with seven gables (though some people argue there are really eight), and put a cent shop in one of the rooms, like in the novel, even though there had never been a shop in the house. Whatever.

This is another house which Hawthorne lived in with his family after his father died--the Manning house.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Happy Birthday, Dr. Percy

Today is the birthday of the psychiatrist-turned-novelist, Walker Percy (1916-1990), who said,

"[We] live in a deranged age, more deranged than usual, because in spite of great scientific and technological advances, man has not the faintest idea of who he is or what he is doing."

Monday, May 26, 2008

An Elektro-fying Experience

On my first trip to Flushing Meadows, Queens, in 1964, I took this picture with the plastic camera I bought at the dime store in Milford in preparation for visiting the World's Fair. I don't recall the brand of camera, but it was a simple fixed-focus box camera.

On our current vacation, Mary and I took the long ride on the 7 train from Manhattan to Flushing Meadows Corona Park. The former ash dump which was spruced up for the 1939 World's Fair and again for the 1964 World's Fair is a nice park today, and home to the U.S. Tennis Center. The Unisphere, erected for the '64 Fair, is still there, but the fountains are dry.

The plaza next to the Unisphere is decorated with maps of the 1939 and 1964 fair grounds, and various icons of each fair. Here I am posing with an etching of Elektro and a female admirer, along with the original photograph.

(Originally published May 26, 2008; edited February 5, 2011)

Friday, May 16, 2008

Semicolon revisited

In an earlier post, I dissed the use of semicolons, based on the opinion of the late, great Kurt Vonnegut. Even Vonnegut, however, flagrantly used a semicolon in the same book where he decried the use of the said punctuation. So I feel I too must be fair and balanced. One of my heroines in the field of language is Erin McKean, who has established the Semicolon Appreciation Society, which I have to support if for no other reason than its similarity to The International Association of Turtles.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The First Time Ever I Saw Your Fez

In my last post, I mentioned the fez which I received in the 1962 Shrine Circus Essay Contest. I did find it in a box in the basement, still stuffed with the pages from the Goshen News and covered in the plastic bag my mother used to preserve it. The fez has weathered the last 46 years very well--the face below it, not so much.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

First, At Last

Forty-six years ago I placed second in an essay contest in Kosciusko County, Indiana:
Somewhere I have another newspaper clipping with a picture of me sporting an even toothier (impossible, you say?) smile than this, wearing the Shriner's fez I won, and receiving my cash award, the amount of which escapes me now. Squirreled away in another box is the fez itself. My mother never threw anything away. Eventually I'll find it, but for now, here's a picture of Mr. Magoo to remind you what a fez looks like.
Now, after a quest of almost five decades, I have achieved my goal of being A-number-one, top of the list, king of the hill--not in New York, New York, but in Kosciusko County, Indiana. Last month, the Kosciusko County Literacy Society sponsored The Big Read, a project where the entire county was encouraged to read F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Part of the project was a contest to write an essay using the descriptive style of Fitzgerald. I entered, and lo and behold, I have won with my entry entitled, "Way This Side of Paradise," which uses way too many adjectives and adverbs to describe the experience of raising ducks in Milford, Indiana. The prize package includes publication in the KLS Newsletter, and two $25 Visa gift cards, which, allowing for inflation, is probably pretty close to what the Shriners forked over in 1962. But as most writers know, it's not about the money, or the fezzes.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Western Mysterious Eye

I don't know how he acquired it, but as long as I can remember, my father had a broken-down machine called "The Mysterious Eye," which held four dice and a slot to put in nickels. I wound up with the machine after my parents died, and in 2000, I shipped it off to have it restored. It was in pretty bad shape. Jeff Frahm, who did the restoration, had this to say in one of the emails we exchanged:

As I'm sure that you are aware, your Mysterious Eye is a mess and needs a lot of help. There are some serious parts that are missing as well as some that are broken beyond repair. This will require some extensive fabrication in order to put it back into working condition. Also, the front casting at the top was broken where someone tried breaking into the machine and a piece of tin was glued over the spot and painted red to disguise it. The broken out piece is missing and the casting will have to be heliarced and machined in order to get the back door to be able to be locked on again. This machine was introduced into the coin machine market back in 1935 and was a dismal flop. It is electrically operated and was quite crude in its engineering so it proved to be quite unreliable and a constant headache for the operators that had them on their route. I'm confident that I can get it going again but be forwarned that this machine is not the kind that will hold up to
constant play or abuse.

Several weeks and many dollars later, the restoration was done, and Jeff did an admirable job. Heeding his warning, I seldom run the machine, but I thought I would fire it up and put a video online so people will have a chance to see The Mysterious Eye. Apparently, they are rare, probably because they broke down and were discarded. I don't understand all the intricacies of how this thing works, but I understand it a little better after finding the patent application posted below. Essentially, each die is enclosed in its own compartment. When a nickel is fed into the machine, the platforms the dice rest on drop down, and a small hammer activated by an electromagnet beats on the platforms, shaking the dice. Then the platforms rise up till the dice contact a glass covering over the compartments. The dice are shaved such that the die is thinnest when 1 or 6 is showing, a little thicker when 3 or 4 is showing, and thickest when 2 or 5 is showing. There are contacts attached to the platforms and these contacts are closed depending on the thickness of the dice. So, if any combination of 1 and 6 appears in the first two compartments, the contacts attached to those two compartments are closed, and the machine pays 10 points (two nickels). If any combination of 1 and 6 appears in the first three compartments, those three contacts are closed and the machine pays out 20 points (four nickels). The contacts in the fourth compartment are set so they are held open if a 2 or 5 (the thickest dimension) is showing, and close if either the thinner 3-4 or thinnest 1-6 dimension of the die separates the platform and ceiling of the compartment. When that occurs along with ones or sixes in the first three compartments (all contacts closed), the payout is 50 points (10 nickels--yoo-hoo!)

The Eye is a little slow on the payout now, compared to when I first got it back from Jeff, but it does work.

Read this doc on Scribd: Western Mysterious Eye

Friday, May 09, 2008

Robot Resurrection of '49

This clipping from The Statesville (North Carolina)Daily Record of June 9, 1949 discusses the renovation of Elektro after WWII.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Elektro vs. the Nazis

I was struck by the juxtaposition of the lugubrious, ominous picture of Hitler and his henchmen and the drollery of the carefree picture of Elektro dancing with a lovely young girl in this clipping from an Iowa City newspaper in 1939. Click on the picture to see a larger version in a separate window.

Monday, May 05, 2008


Recently, I signed up to receive A.Word.A.Day via email from Each day, a word with its definition and an example of its use shows up in my inbox. Last week's theme was words derived from the names of mythical creatures. The word for April 29 was:

argus (AHR-guhs) noun

An alert and observant person; a watchful guardian.

[After Argus, a giant in Greek mythology who had 100 eyes and was sent to watch over Zeus's lover Io. He was killed by Hermes and after his death his eyes transformed into spots on the peacock's tail. Greek argos (bright).]

The example of the word's use was:

"Arnold [Schwarzenegger] knew immediately that Total Recall needed an Argus-eyed director who could maintain control over complicated visual effects, extravagant futuristic sets, dangerous stunts, etc. -- while also demanding good performances from his actors."
Bill Jones; Muscles Parlayed Into Stardom; The Phoenix Gazette (Arizona); Jun 2, 1990.

A nice example to be sure, but I heard an even better one last week on the podcast of the Public Radio International show Selected Shorts. If you want to hear it, you can download it for free at iTunes. The program, entitled "Word Pictures," includes a reading of a letter from Dalton Trumbo, written in 1958, and addressed to the manager of the Franklin Hotel in Rochester, Minnesota, where Trumbo and his wife stayed while they were being evaluated at the Mayo Clinic. The letter is in response to the manager's allegation that the Trumbos pilfered a coffee pot from the hotel. Dalton Trumbo was one of the Hollywood Ten who were blacklisted during the McCarthy era. He actually was a communist, but also a very talented screen writer and novelist. When he couldn't get work in Hollywood, he and his wife moved to Mexico, where he continued to write movies, which were sold under the names of various "front men" whose names appeared in the credits. Anyway, this letter is a very funny rant. Trumbo recounts how, on their first day in the hotel, he and his wife ordered cocktails to be delivered to their room. While they were waiting they read all the "institutional literature with which our quarters were awash." All the placards, brochures and warnings not to steal the ball-point pens were "breezily signed by Mr. F," who Trumbo inferred was none other than the owner of the hotel, Mr. Franklin. So omnipresent was his name in their room that he was "a brooding, wheedling, hectoring spirit that leered at us through argus eyes from every nook and corner." And so forth. You really have to hear the whole thing, because these brief snippets don't do justice to Trumbo's acerbic wit.

Please note that argus should not be confused with Argos, the dog who patiently waited back in Ithaca for over twenty years while his master Odysseus went galavanting around the ancient world. Nor should it be confused with Argos, Indiana, where I first experienced nervous perspiration performing a cornet solo in a band contest in middle school, or what we at that time called junior high.

Tribot Videos Gone Hinky

I had a couple posts devoted to tribots I had built with the Legos Mindstorm kit I got from Mary for our 33rd anniversary. Somewhere along the line, something went wrong and the videos of the tribots in action stopped working. I have tried uploading them again to no avail, so for now I am deleting those posts. Farewell, Elektro, Jr!


Blog Widget by LinkWithin