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Johns and Marys 4: The Swing Set

Johns and Marys v2This is the true joy in life: being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one. Being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. Life is no ‘brief candle’ to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for a moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.

George Bernard Shaw (as quoted by Mary S. on LinkedIn)

 

I have said many times in my life - sometimes humorously, sometimes when I'm in the depths of emotion - that my life should serve as a "Don't Let This Happen To You" warning. There's the time I found myself halfway between Reno and Salt Lake in a dead Hyundai with a car load of stuff including a computer monitor owned by my best friend who was, at the time, moving from Chicago to San Francisco. That's a story for another day. If I continue to do this chronologically, that'll be awhile, but worth it, I think. It's one of my favorites. 

And, you know, today's blog is also one of my favorite stories that speaks to the DLTHTY theme - the story of The Swing Set. 

You see, we had a big backyard and although we mowed the grass, we didn't really didn't do a lot of upkeep on our garage, the pink blocked patio, the metal swing set, the sand/needle box and other things like a metal shed that I made it one of my young life's missions to keep organized. My other projects, btw, of this kind were in the attic and the basement. The treasures I have found over the years in our attic included an envelope with the negatives from my mom's and dad's wedding reception in 1953 and some cool self help books from the late 60s. (BTW try as I might I cannot remember if Dr. Tec's "Fear of Success" was in our bookshelf, but if I ever made my childhood into a movie, I sure would have me thumb through it. Because foreshadowing and stuff).  I guess it was like most big backyards in the Midwest - a rusting this or that somewhere on your property, scattered bikes or toys, and a general ease about the life being lived there. It's not like east coast backyards that are, comparatively, virtually English gardens. 

Anyway, I have a sort of flap on my tongue that stems from an early childhood moment of Stupid. Here goes. 

Linda was my best pal/playmate from an early age. She lived in a large rambling house with her mom and dad and several older brothers and sisters. They had an enormous yard and a creek (which we all called "The Crick") next door where all the kids from the neighborhood would swim in the summer. There was a bunch of kids on River Road where I grew up but she was the only one exactly my same age. 

64cd3f43e8ef2f793b83c1c7279dac91Anyway, most times, I (and everyone else) would go over to Linda's house to play, but this one time during a very cold and grey winter day when I was 4 or 5, Linda was over and we were running around in the snow playing on the swing set. Like all kids we teased each other. Well, she was kind of hogging the one and only swing. At one point, I suggested we go over to the sand/needle box, and, so, she got up and we raced over to it... except I was convinced she was going to double back and retake the swing, so I doubled back and lurched towards the cold metal swing set, tripping ever so much that I went head first into one of the supporting poles. And, as I gave a 'yelp', my tongue found itself lodged on the cold metal. 

When you're 4 or 5 and your tongue finds itself lodged on any surface, the natural reaction is to yank it off. 

Yeah, I did that. 

... and then the pain began and the blood started to pour out, filling my mouth, and then, when I opened my mouth, creating a stream of red in the fresh snow. As I ran towards the house in a panic, I looked back at a dumbfounded Linda and a definite trail behind me.  Yeah, it was pretty awful. 

I don't remember much after that. Not sure if I passed out or what but the next thing I remember, I was laying in my dad's bedroom with the TV on. I think there must have been an ice pack on my tongue to stop the bleeding and I was pretty freaked out. My sister, Lynn, created a little paper doll puppet show from a book of Cinderella paper dolls she had. It was pretty cool. She'd loved the version of Cinderella that had been on TV a couple years earlier which starred Lesley Ann Warren and Stuart Damon. Damon would go on to portray Alan Quartermaine on General Hospital for over 30 years. 

Not that this needs to be said - but I'll say it anyway - when your tongue gets stuck on a metal surface, don't yank it off. And, also trust your friends. Also: don't play on the swing set in the winter, why would you be doing that anyway? LOL

And although my sister and I have had our share of good and rocky times, I never will forget that act of kindness. 

Why, you might ask, is this one of my favorite stories? Well, mainly because when I tell it, I'm able to enjoy the look of horror on the other person's face at the thought of it happening. There is a weird pleasure in that. LOL 

So that's today's story, please leave a comment if you feel so moved. 

In the meantime, I'll be back tomorrow and throughout the week with more thoughts and stories. 

 

 

 


Johns and Marys 3: The Gasoline

Johns and Marys v2I grew up on a country road two miles out of the 'city' of Mosinee. The road hugged the banks of the Wisconsin River and we sat on a couple acres with an ample front and backyard. Our backyard meshed in with a large pine forest which gave way to fields and the River itself. This space allowed my imagination to run wild and I felt as though I had the world at my beck and call. I could climb trees, explore the wild brush (one year I discovered wild black raspberries), the base of an abandoned silo, and so much else. 

The backyard itself had a metal swingset, a patio with a large oak tree growing out of the middle of it, and a rarely used sandbox that someone somewhat unwisely thought to place under a cluster of four tall pine trees thus making it more of a pine needle box than a sand box. Later, I would be the one to mow all that grass but I seem to remember rather enjoying it especially the year we got a riding lawnmower. 

I'll get to an 'adventure' I had on the swingset in another post, and the sandbox holds no stories (sadly) but the patio was the focal point of my first big childhood emergency - the day I drank gasoline. 

This patio was made up of these pinkish rectangular tiles, and on the patio sat a rusted lawnchair and a semi rusted grill. I don't remember the family using it very much, so it was kind of a big occasion when my dad would fire it up. I remember it being a particularly hot summer day and I was doing my thing - I had playmates with kids from the road, but I always felt a little silly sharing my 'pretend' with them especially since it would include me creating a TV schedule of all the shows I liked the most. I dreamt that I could create one station where all the best stuff was on..... I created a logo and everything and would do promos in my head. I was very much a child of the TV generation. 

Anyway, on this particular day, I had been running around and, as is normal on a hot summer day, got thirsty. Dad was grilling and I noticed that he had a bottle of 7Up on the little shelf on the side of the grill. I saw him step away and figured he wouldn't mind if I "snuck" a swig of his soda. 

7upI glug glug glugged and then stopped. It didn't taste right. So, I did what anyone would do when they taste something that doesn't taste right - I glug glug glugged some more. 

That's when it hit me that what I had just drunk was gasoline. 

For some reason, rather than having a can of lighter fluid, my dad poured some gas into an empty bottle of 7Up. I never did find out why but there it was, bubbling around in my stomach. 

In a moment of blind panic, I tore across the gravel driveway that circled the house and raced in through the back door of the house and into the kitchen where everyone was making conversation. 

Once they found out what had happened, my mom grabbed me and we dashed off to the car. The Mosinee clinic was, at the time, just over the bridge in a tiny office on the main street.

My mom suffered from some nervous conditions, but on that day and in that moment, she was calm, cool, and focused on getting me to the doctor's office.

Someone had called ahead and once we arrived, they rushed me in and got me into a tiny room. Soon, plastic tubes were being inserted up into my nose. I could feel them snaking down the back of my throat. 

And then they started to pump. 

Well, it all came up fairly quickly as tears wear streaming down my face. 

Afterwards, we went next door to Mueller's Drug Store and mom let me pick out a coloring book. I chose one with an owl dressed as a sheriff (how I remember that, I'll never know). 

In later years, when my sister and brother would tease me about it, I would point out that the gasoline was in the 7Up bottle, but they'd come back with 'yeah, but you drank it TWICE!" 

I cannot argue with that, unfortunately! LOL 


Tuesday Morning - the Mom Blog

Good morning all - today, September 18th it's been 6 years since my mom, Joan, passed away after a long illness.

My plans today are generally to do what I do every day - job hunt and create comics ... but on this day I'll also listen to The Lawrence Welk Theme "Goodnight" song (a kind of "our song" thing) and, of course "Tie a Yellow Ribbon" song (which is the basis for The Joan Project). Mom also liked a lot of 1940s standards. My favorite, although I don't know if she liked it (although I suspect she did) is "I'll Be Seeing You".

Mom used to sing to herself while taking the curlers out of her hair in the bathroom - she standing there singing in her gorgeous voice while a cigarette smoldered in an ashtray teetering on the bathroom sink. The bathroom was tiny but had good acoustics and her quiet sound filled the room with joy. On occasion, I would sit in there with her and we'd talk about things. While strange, I suppose, those times are among those that I cherish, and the ones I miss most. 

Here's a pic from last year's remembrance of her - I went down to Riverside Park and enjoyed a little "mom and me" time. I was feeling particularly hopeless about a lot of things as I had, at that point, just finished some things in my life and was feeling a little bummed out about my life. To my surprise, Mom arranged for The Yellow to be presented to me in a way that was as big so that I couldn't possibly ignore it or write it off as 'coincidence'. No, I'm convinced that my mom chose to show me that she was looking out for me. And that mattered. 

Anyway, if your mom is still alive, consider honoring her with a phone call or note or even a visit. If she's not around any longer, I challenge you to make a list of all the ways in which she influenced your life. I will bet, in either case, you will be happy with the results. :) 

Have a great Tuesday! 

Mom2017


Happy Mother's Day 2018

In honor of my mom, Joan, gone nearly 6 years now, I'm posting a favorite set of photos of mine of her from Christmas 1994. I usually didn't have to persuade her too much to pose for a picture (she and I share that, I suppose) as long, of course, as she looked flawless, which she always did no matter what she was wearing, because that's just how she rolled. :) 

Happy Mother's Day to all moms today! 

Joan triptych


54 - This Is What I Listened to While Learning to Draw

54Growing up in Wisconsin, my family lived in a four bedroom home. As my brother and I never got along, I spent my junior high years sleeping in whatever bed in the house wasn't occupied. My sister was at college for part of this time and my parents, each of whom had their own room but slept together, would sleep in one room for a few months and then the other one, so there was never really a lack of an alternative place for me to lay my head down. But, I did have to toggle from one room to the next for months at a stretch. It probably taught me adaptability, but I sure was happy when the brother moved out of what used to be our bedroom. They did a remodel in my freshman year and from sophomore year onwards, it was mine, all mine.

It was a kind of golden age. I was stable. I had a cast off stereo that I could play my movie soundtracks on. I had a cast off black and white TV I could watch shows on. And, I had a drafting table that my dad gave me for Christmas. It was kind of like my own little studio apartment. Actually, I think it might have been bigger than the studio apartment I first lived in in New York in the mid 90s. :) 

The drafting table gave me no end of pleasure. I'd fire up the stereo with Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Superman, 1941 (I think I'm the only one who loved that movie), and Close Encounters.  I would spend entire weekends drawing comics full of characters that I made up. No one really saw them and no one was meant to. They were there for me to practice. The music inspired me to draw and write heroic deeds, cliffhangers, and narrow escapes. I know that I have had happy times in my life, but that era was among my favorites. 

Even through my father's illness, I drew and played on. Basically it was my own way of finding something to do and trying to keep life going as normal as it could be. My mother only made one request - that I keep the music from 1941 turned down as it made my father sad reminding him of his days in the War. 

My music tastes have expanded quite a bit since those days. My playlist includes a lot more than pop culture, but it is those soundtracks that form my inspiration. Some day, you might see Angie dashing from a big boulder while wearing a cape and getting into her spaceship at the top of a ferris wheel sitting on a pier. If that happens, you'll know exactly that came from. :) 

 

 


54 - Ebony and Ivory - "Happy International Andrew Altenburg Day"

54This song selection is dedicated to my pal, AB who will get the reference of this song from our bingo days. :) And thank you, AB for the text. Yes. It IS International Andrew Altenburg Day, why thank you very much. Now, when do we celebrate your 57th or is it 58 at this point? I lose track! LOL :) <wink> 

KEYWORDS: "5 across. 5 down" 5 diagonal". 

 

 


54 - The Last Normal Year??

54Good morning all - hope you've had a GREAT week out and about in the world! As you might know, today is my 54th birthday and in honor of that, I'm posting some of my favorite music throughout the day. Enjoy!

You know, I have some friends who find it silly that a 54 year old man would make a big deal of his birthday. I understand the thoughts, but I don't agree with it. I celebrate my birthday every year because to me, it IS a big deal. 

You see, when I was in my mid/late 20s, I had a friend with whom I joked that I was approaching 30 and hadn't accomplished anything. It was a joke, really, I was only in my 20s, but, because he had been in and out of ill health due to AIDS for some years, he grimly replied 'well, some people didn't get to be 30'. And you know, he was right to be annoyed by my ridiculous notion that 30 was something to be dreaded. 

I was always a proponent for celebrating the day in style but, after that, I took an even harder line. There was one year in my 30s when I celebrated for two months with dinners, drinks and producing fundraising events around the country. That was my personal best until I approached 50 - I started celebrating in July 2013 and that lasted through to March 2015. Subsequent birthdays have been a bit quieter, of course, just to balance things out! 

But, 54 for me is abit special as it could be the last 'normal' year. Let me explain. 

In 1980 my dad was diagnosed with cancer. He was 55.  He spent a year on chemo and died at 56. This made a big impact on me, a young man of 17. So, for all these years, I've lived with the looming worry of making it through my 56th year.

So, today, I begin the ramp up to a two year cycle of celebrating 54, 55, 56, and, with God's help, 57 and beyond. Because one person I loved didn't get to be 57. 

I hope you'll join me in this journey, because it promises to be fun and interesting. 

First up, a great way to start anything: 

 

 


MEMO 1: FEATURING ANGIE - August 6, 2016

Starting today and for the next few Saturdays, I'll be posting a little 'pet' project of mine - a weekly strip called MEMO featuring Angie.

Back in high school, my best friend Brian and I co-created and wrote a weekly strip for the paper in our hometown local paper, The Mosinee Times. For two years we created a gallery of characters that we grew to love.

35 years have passed and, during this recent time of unemployment, I rediscovered my art and the MEMO characters. So, here now, for the first time, the return of our favorite character, Angie.

MEMO 1


"Jack" Things

YoungJackAltenburgBThis Sunday, June 19 is Father's Day and many of my friends are now starting to lose their parents.

But I lost my father, Jack, to cancer in 1981 when I was 17.

As we were close when I was young, his death has, so far, haunted me all my adult life ...and I suspect it always will.

However, I take great JOY in knowing that I inherited many of his best traits and thankfully not too many of his 'bad' ones.  :)

Father's Day hasn't really meant much to me since he passed.  I prefer to mark the day he died (Oct 22)  with a day of doing "Jack" things - doing things that we would have done if he were still alive - like going to a museum and/or eating chocolate ice cream. Simple pleasures, sure, but a way to sort of share the day with him one day a year.

So this weekend, if your father is still alive, be sure to reach out to him and spend the day doing what he wants to do.

But, if your father isn't alive, consider spending the day doing "Jack" things, i.e. things that your own father would like to do if it were just a normal Sunday in the middle of June. That might be going fishing, that might be fine dining, or that may just be laying in a hammock in the backyard. Trust me, doing your own version of "Jack" things will make you feel closer to your dad. It has, at least, for me.

To the left is a picture of a picture of my dad that hung in his bedroom throughout my childhood. I can't remember how old he is, but he sure is young and full of life, ready to explore the world. That's how I like to think of him.

Peace