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Here is Buck as a Boy Scout, a child in the 1950s and 60s.  Dusting off my Freudian background ( I was a psychology major for three months in 1980), I have made my diagnosis and surrounded him with all the things I believe have influenced his dreams in adulthood. (The photo of Miss Atomic Bomb 1957 in her mushroom cloud bathing suit  is copywrighted by the Las Vegas News Bureau.)

 __________

 Me: What is up with your dreams? Mine are inexplicable, but what’s up with yours?

Buck: My dreams are just ugly. I’m either being chased, or a nuclear bomb has gone off, or snakes are all around me —

Me: You’re always claiming you have the worst dreams of anyone, ever. How do you know?

Buck: Well what the hell does it sound like to you? Snakes and atomic bombs, snipers and —

Me: And how does that make you feel?

Buck: Shitty. And tired in the morning.

Me: Surely you have normal dreams on occasion. 

Buck: I never have a good one. Not like you. You’ll wake up in the morning and tell me [in a stupidly high voice meant to be mine] Last night I was flying! Me and this kitten were flying through the air giving out balloons and Moonpies to baby squirrels.  

Me:  I do fly a lot in my dreams. But look at it this way: At night when I’m not dreaming, I’m screaming, so it kind of balances out. Plus I have plenty of boring dreams in which I’m just typing, which sucks because it’s like real life. During one issue of the magazine, every night I dreamt that I was reading bad copy on the computer screen at a size 10 font, just looking for misspelled words and trying to figure out what the author was trying to say.

Buck: The closest I had to a good dream — the closest I’ve ever had was when I was like Burt Lancaster in that movie where he’s swimming through all the swimming pools in his neighborhood, swimming his way home

Me: It’s called The Swimmer and he [spoiler removed].

Buck: I’ve never done the flying like you, or any of that, but in that one dream I could run the way Burt Lancaster could swim.

Me: Which almost nobody can do in a dream. Most people run in slow motion in their dreams. That’s always been the case for me, anyway. That’s why in my dreams I don’t even bother with it anymore. I just fly everywhere. That’s my preferred mode of transportation, on account of it being way better.

Buck: Well I could run, and I was just running through the neighborhoods talking to people, running and running, and I was such a good runner. And because I can’t run in real life, that was my equivalent of flying. I still remember that, being about the only good dream I’ve ever had. 

Me: Well that’s just pathetic. But please go on.

Buck: I still have this same dream that shows up from time to time, from way back when I was a little kid.

Me: And what the hell might that one be?

Buck: Snakes.

Me: That’s easy, it’s from when you got bit in the face by a snake when you were 4 or 5 years old.

Buck: No. It goes back before that. I was still sleeping in a crib — which really isn’t saying much, because back then they made us sleep in a crib for lack of bed space, but I wasn’t tall enough to reach the head and footboard yet, so I guess it was technically acceptable — but in the dream I watched the animals come off the wallpaper, and there were snakes just piled up on the floor all the way to crib, piling up and pulsating. They were pulsing, AND I HATE THAT.

Me: This might be … beyond my psychiatric training to handle  a case such as —

Buck: I really hate that dream because it always ends the same … with me running out into the street where the whole street, the whole world, is crawling with snakes about two-feet deep, then four-feet deep, then —

Me: Yeah, I get it. Well this is probably a smidge deeper than anything I learned during my three months as a pysch major. For me to really get to the root of what’s causing this reoccurring dream would possibly require me to return to school for a month or so, possibly a whole semester, just till I could but see, the problem is, and you know this,  every time I step foot on a college campus as a student, I become knocked up.

Buck: I already know what caused it. I blame the Catholic Church.

Me: Oh, me too. I think the church did this to you. I wonder if there’s been any precedent of the Vatican dispensing monetary compensation for psychological damage manifested in a dream environment as hostile as yours?

Buck: In our church the gigantic statue of the Virgin Mary, which was like as big as Godzilla —

Me: That’s gotta be worth two million right there … I want a pool and a gazebo.

Buck: — the Virgin Mary was standing on a globe crushing a snake with her foot. And at the end of every pew were wood carvings of two snakes wrapped around a bunch of grapes. Their heads were poised at each other like they were about to fight.

Me: Jesus Christ, thank God my family wasn’t Catholic. I know you make fun of my relatives and their spiritual beliefs, but at least they never exposed me to any scary crap like that. 

Buck: [laughing] Well, I wouldn’t [laughing] your relatives

Me: [laughing] Were not Catholic.

Buck: [laughing] Correct. Your relatives were not Catholic.

Me: Catholic stuff, even though I collect it  now and I’d kill for one of those Godzilla Virgin Mary Snake Killing Statues, would have really scared me when I was a kid. Seriously. My grandmother was afraid of rosary beads, and she made me scared of them too.

Buck: [laughing] Yeah. Just as the stuff that you and your family take for granted might possibly scare normal people who happen to be in their right minds —

Me: No. That’s wrong. Totally wrong. My family is way, way off-topic so I can’t get into this now. Let’s get back to your dreams.

Buck: [laughing]

Me: [laughing] Stop it! Stop laughing about my family. [laughing] Say what you want, but at least none of them were ever Catholic. That alone makes them good by default. And by good, I mean mentally superior.

 Buck: [laughing]

Me: HEY.

Buck: [laughing]

Me:  [laughing]  My family were not witches! Goddamn it all to hell! Stop. Laughing. At. My. Relatives. 

Buck: Anyway.

Me: Yes, anyway. Your dreams sound awful. They’re fucked.

Buck: They are.

Me: Now tell about your other reoccurring dream about your high school girlfriends.

Buck: That one is very strange because it opens up like a play. There’s a big stage and the curtain opens with a big table up there. And it looks like the Last Supper, everybody is in the same pose as the Last Supper, except that seated at the table are all my old girlfriends. Then I realize I’m bound and gagged in my seat in the audience. Basically I have to listen to them talk about me and how bad I suck, and I can’t even dispute anything because I’m bound and gagged.

Me: [silence, frowning, ensuing disapproval]

Buck: Well, you asked But the majority of my dreams involve nuclear annihilation. That’s why I’m so fascinated with you know me and my atom bomb problem.

Me: You grew up when all that atom bomb talk was new, and people were just obsessed with it. The Cold War, bomb shelters, Duck and Cover. It’s embedded in your psyche.

Buck: It’s a hell of an explosion, I can tell you that. I’ve felt it.

Me: How could you feel it?

Buck: How could you not? I always survive, that’s part of it.

Me: Are there zombies?

Buck: No. Just me. [laughing] It’s not like that. Somehow I always survive, which is like worse than taking the bite.

Me: Why?

Buck: Because there’s nobody left. And, basically, [laughing]  if there are people left they either don’t like me or I don’t particularly care for them.

Me: Well I love that in a movie. When there’s nobody left on earth except for like five people and they have to run from zombies. I don’t know how you avoid the zombie factor in your dreams.

Buck: Zombies are easily killed.

Me: I know. It seems fun. 

Buck: Well …

Me: I’m hoping that will happen one day. I’m counting on it happening.

Buck: … my dreams involve everything but the zombies. But from now on, I’ll try and incorporate them for your sake.

Me: Where are you in time when The Bomb goes off?

Buck: There’s no permanent time element. It goes from when I’m a kid to being an adult. It just keeps popping up in my dreams, like a way to resolve a dream. It’s a way to end a horrific dream that’s going nowhere. All of a sudden The Bomb goes off.

Me: OH. It’s like dropping a cow. On Saturday Night Live way back in the day, if they couldn’t figure out an ending to a sketch they’d drop a big plastic cow from the ceiling. Monty Python did it with a pig. You drop an atomic bomb.

Buck: Yeah, it’s sort of that way. And then the dream goes off in a whole other direction.

Me: Like nuclear holocaust.

Buck: Yeah. Then I deal with that for a few hours. [laughing] 

Me: This is all because of those Duck and Cover drills when you were a kid in school.

Buck: The only time I really remember having those was during the Cuban Blockade. That’s when the Russian ships were headed to Cuba with the missiles, the United States was sitting there waiting, and there were days in between. Everybody just figured this is IT. People didn’t talk about it in front of kids, it was like, don’t tell the kids they’re about to get their asses blown into the next universe. [laughing] Duck and Cover wasn’t a big-big thing. What they did was tell us to get under the desk if we had to, and warned us to stay away from windows and the flying glass that was gonna come through and stab us. [laughing] 

Me: [laughing] 

Buck: They told us not to look over at Mulcahey School’s left field because that was the direction of Boston, where they said the blast would be. They said if you do look over there, your eyeballs will melt. [laughing] Like it would matter at that point.

Me: So … what were your parents doing at this time? I

Buck: During the Cuban Missile Crises my mother was in a corner saying the rosary. That probably scared me the most. People didn’t really talk about it, everybody was aware of it and wanted to keep up on the news, but nobody was doing anything about it. I remember when Nikita Kruschev , who I really liked and admired, was banging his shoe on the table at the UN. After that I figured he was capable of anything. Presidents didn’t take off their shoe and bang it on a table. I couldn’t picture Eisenhower or Kennedy doing that. I knew we were really playing with the bad boys at that point.

Me: Obviously, all these things are scary for a kid, not to mention a sensitive adult like me, and that’s the crux of your bad dreams: exposure to the horrors of nuclear attack when you were at an impressionable age.

Buck: I never understood why we had to hide under a desk instead of going to any of the zillions of fallout shelters in town. There were signs up everywhere in town. I always wanted to know, why can’t we go to them?

Me: Interesting.

Buck: The shelters were stocked with water and crackers. You were supposed to live on Saltines.

Me: Television, when I was little, was always running that test pattern and telling you there would be no TV in the event of an attack.

Buck: It would be all Conelrad.

Me: MY GOD! CONELRAD! [laughing] Now there’s a blast from the past. No pun intended.

Buck: The threat of  American TV going Conelrad was scarier than anything. [laughing] 

Me: Oh yeah, definitely. [laughing] I agree.

Buck: The Commies were going to ruin television. [laughing] 

Me: [laughing] My God.

Buck: My father’s favorite TV show was I Led 3 Lives, and that was a cool, disturbing show. Gene Roddenberry — who’s from El Paso, by the way — was one of the writers, and J. Edgar Hoover had to approve the scripts. It was about a real guy from Boston whose job was to infiltrate Commie cells. My father loved that show.

Me: What about the air raid sirens that used to go off all the time?

Buck: Those would scare ya to death. The first one was just a long wail, but the second one was short blasts and if you heard the short blasts you knew that in a few seconds you were about to get creamed.

Me: Why bother with the short blasts?

Buck: To give you time for Duck and Cover, I guess.

Me: With Duck and Cover I suppose you at least had a chance of becoming a zombie.

Buck: Well there’s that infamous kid’s movie where the kid is riding down the street —

Me: Little Tony.

Buck: What?

Me: I think the movie is about Bert the Alert Turtle, and I know you’re gonna talk about a kid whose name is, I think, Tony.

Buck: Well the kid — TONY —  is riding his bike down the street when the short blasts go off, and he throws his bike down and Ducks and Covers in a rain gutter. [laughing] As if that’s gonna help.

Me: He shoulda pulled off the road and stuck his head in a mail box. [laughing] 

Buck: [laughing] 

Me: We’ve been talking about dreams and sleep problems for three days now. Do you think it’s gonna help you to not have any more bad dreams?

Buck: No. It’s probably only gonna remind me to have them. I will try for the zombies, though. For you.

Me: Thanks. I’d appreciate that.

_____________________

LINKS

Conelrad is alive and well at this fascinating site. All Cold War, all the time. Even has info on the mysterious Godfrey Cambridge PSA (known as the “Doomsday PSA”) that was “to be unspooled on national TV only in the event of a nuclear war.”

Bert the Turtle’s “Duck and Cover” film shown in elementary schools. An outrageous children’s film explaining what will happen when an atomic bomb goes off, including the “really bad sunburn” you’ll have to deal with as a result of it. “Little Tony” seems particularly misinformed.

Enthusiasts of The Swimmer movie gather at “Jeremy’s” MySpace Group. 23 members and growing.

One blogger’s theory that The Smurfs were Communists. After reading it, I have to agree.

The original cast of Saturday Night Live relied on a plastic cow to signal them that a sketch was going badly and they should just end it immediately.

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Buck is on the Sun Bridge of The State Lunatic Asylum at Taunton, as it was named when it was built in 1854. Listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, it is of neo-classic design by prominent architect Elbridge Boyden. Yes, Elbridge. Later the psychiatric hospital became known as the less-insane sounding Taunton State Hospital. Several of the buildings were abandoned in 1975, and a fire caused a lot of damage in 2006. But today much of it is used to house juvenile offenders and branch offices of various state agencies.

****** 

Me: I’m sick of this shit you’ve been pulling with the batteries in my tape recorder. Quit taking out the brand new ones and sneaking in your stupidass recycled ones —

Buck: No. Those batteries register just fine in the battery tester.

Me: I don’t care how they register, Mr. Scientist. I don’t want used, half-dead batteries in my freaking tape recorder. You’re obsessed with getting a second life out of them. Give-it-up. I only went along with it in the first place because you said you would put them in clocks. I don’t even care that the clocks are always wrong, because time means nothing to me. Now that we have TiVo,  time is none of my business. But my tape recorder —

Buck: The clocks run just fine.

Me: — well now you’ve gone too far. You’re sneaking dead batteries in all my tape recorders and they suck.

Buck: They don’t suck.

Me: They do! They do suck! When I went to transcribe an interview this morning it was so creepy it made my blood freeze in my veins. It sounded like that telephone recording in 12 Monkeys that goes all haywire at the end and says MmmmeRRY ChrISTMASSSS . . .

Buck: No, no, no. That’s just how all your interviews sound. Like the recording in 12 Monkeys. [laughing]

Me: [laughing] It’s true. But this morning it was because of dying batteries and I know it.

Buck: You’re insane. Used batteries that REGISTER IN THE BATTERY TESTER AS GREEN are just as good as new batteries that REGISTER AS GREEN —

Me: I’m insane? Listen. I wanna tell you something. Your little battery experiments are so boring they REGISTER AS RETARDED.

Buck: [laughing] So what exactly is it that you want again? I’m in the middle of doing something.

Me: Testing fucking batteries is not doing something. I’m so sorry I ever bought you that thing. I hate it. But since you’ve brought up 12 Monkeys . . .

Buck: You brought up 12 Monkeys.

Me: You, me, who cares? But it’s rather fortuitous that you should bring it up, because I wanted to talk about the Lunatic Asylum.

Buck: Which one?

Me: Well, the real asylum that’s haunted, but both of them really. 

Buck: Why?

Me: Because in that movie Accepted, the kids moved into an abandoned insane asylum and found an old electroshock therapy machine that they kept zapping themselves with. For fun, you know? And that reminded me of that kid you went to school with. What was his name again?

Buck: Well . . . I don’t want to say his name.

Me: A legitimate hesitation on your part and I’ll accept it. So just refer to him as Winky Hooterstein . . .

Buck: No. I will not refer to him as . . .  that word . . . or whatever the hell you just said.

Me: Then come up with any name you like.

Buck: I’m starting. Got your stupid tape recorder on? . . . He was transferred to my school in about fifth grade, and he had Tourette Syndrome. So all of a sudden, this new kid in school would rise up out of his seat and slowly but surely raise both hands giving the teacher both middle fingers and yell, “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!”

Me: That probably wasn’t Tourette’s. He just said it was Tourette’s to get out of detention.

Buck: No, it was Tourette’s. When he’d come out of it, he didn’t understand what was happening or anything. Anyway, then he disappeared for two weeks. And when he came back, he was like half the kid he was when he left —

Me: The poor little thing. He was like McMurphy.

Buck: Who?

Me: What the hell is the name of that book? It was a movie . . . it was a book . . . Ken Kesey wrote it . . . Jack Whatshisname starred as McMurphy . . . What’s happening to my brain?

Buck: It was Cuckoo’s Nest. And you have raging A.D.D. like no one else on this earth.

Me: Yes, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Thank you. And yeah, I’m pretty sure I do have A.D.–

Buck: So the kid came back and he wasn’t the same, so I asked him what happened. And he told me that basically they had taken him to the nut house and strapped him into a thing that looked like an electric chair and they electroshocked him. They electrocuted him, really. While he was strapped to a chair. And that’s how they handled it back then.

Me: That’s how they treated Tourette’s? 

Buck: Yeah. What was really bad was, he was half-bald in grammar school from all the electroshock. 

Me: Well that was an uplifting story.

Buck: You asked me to tell it to you.

Me: Well, what the hell? I thought you’d tell it funny —

Buck: What the hell is so funny about a little kid getting zapped to livin’ shit in an antiquated electric chair?

Me: Absolutely nothing!

Buck: Well nobody asked you to blog about this —

Me: What I wanted to blog about for cry eye, was the fact that even though Taunton had the insane asylums, it was the so-called normal people such as yourself —  me, too, I’m not letting  myself off the hook here — who acted so insane about them. When I was in school, kids were obsessed with Taunton. And the adults didn’t help any, because even the teachers referred to the mental hospitals as nut houses. That’s what I wanted to talk about. You know, like piling into some kid’s Mustang and driving around in that awful maze out at Paul Dever, getting lost and shrieking for help, and you’d all be so stoned that the shrieking would sound like ten times louder than it probably was? And then you’d all laugh hysterically, like a bunch of nuts. Were there kids taking acid out there when you were in high school?

Buck: I think I’m on acid right now. How the hell did I know what you wanted to talk about? You asked about the electroshock therapy and the only thing I really know about it is what happened to the little kid with Tourette’s!

Me: That’s true. I did. Okay, let me start over. Taunton housed the state’s two biggest and scariest mental hospitals. Except for the one over in Bridgewater, but you had to be criminally insane to get in there, Titicut Follies and all that. But in your hometown of Taunton, The State Lunatic Asylum was similar to the one where Brad Pitt and Bruce Willis met in 12 Monkeys. Back in the day, people were scared of them and they were spooky. 

 Buck: Well, I suppose if there were gonna be any actual spooky stuff going on, Paul Dever would be the place where it would happen. It doesn’t have a very happy history. Not that either of them do, they’re both pretty sad places, but Paul Dever was worse, I suppose.

Me: This is fascinating. Please go on, and try to tell as many lurid details as possible.

Buck: Before it became a mental institution, it was 1,200 acres of land they used first as a military training camp and then as prison camp. It’s where they kept the German and Italian POWs, but mostly the Italians for some reason that I don’t know, so don’t ask me. But it was still called Myles Standish back then, it wasn’t called Paul Dever Mental Institution until the late Fifties. WHY THE HELL DO I FEEL LIKE YOUR HISTORY TEACHER?

Me: Well . . . truthfully . . . I already know all this crap. I had it in Local History when I was a senior in high school. I needed the credits and Local History had the exact amount I needed, so I took it even though I really didn’t think I’d like it except for all the field trips, but they started taking us to all the really old cemeteries, and they also took us to this old house where in like 1885 this lady had thrown up out the window of her second floor bedroom, and all these chickens in the yard ate the vomit, and it turned out she’d had Smallpox, and when everybody in town ate the fucking chickens

Buck: Jesus. If you know this crap, why are you asking me?

Me: When my sister was in high school they used to take them on field trips to Paul Dever. Isn’t that disgraceful? They would parade the kids through the wards to look at all these poor people strapped into their beds and just totally out of it. They also took them to Walpole State Prison! You guys graduated the same year, did you go on disgraceful field trips like that?

Buck: Some kids did, but I opted for the vomit and Smallpox tour like you. I needed the credits.

Me: [laughing] Now talk about the pigs.

Buck: What the hell sort of photographs are you going to run with this?

Me: Don’t you worry about my photographs. Photographs are none of your business. I’ve got millions of them, I’ll never run out. Talk about the pigs.  

Buck: There were all these ruined old barracks or whatever, and the state leased them out to people who raised pigs. Like, giant pigs. There’d be tons of these huge pigs living in swill, just lying in the mud with seagulls on their backs. My father always threatened me if I was bad that it was where he was gonna send me to live there with Charlie Flabbergaster —

Me: God. I hate stupid, made-up, asinine names.

Buck: Well what was that bullshit you wanted to call the kid I was just talking about?

Me: I don’t remember. Go on.

Buck: And my father said that Charlie Flabbergaster kept a girl as his pet, and her name was Frischy Frischette. He said Charlie kidnapped her, but then he ended up keeping her as a pet.

Me: Oh, it was a bedtime fable.

Buck: And Frischy had to cook for the pigs and eat with the pigs and spend her days cleaning up after the pigs, and her only friends were pigs. I think he got the idea for the story from Pinocchio, when the little kids were getting kidnapped and turned into donkeys or pigs or something.

Me: Didn’t you feel sorry for that little girl?

Buck: I was more scared for myself. It loomed big on my horizon that I could end up there. I didn’t doubt my father would send me to live there.

Me: Let’s jump to the fact your whole town was a magnet for people who were mentally ill.

Buck: Yes. We had a lot of cast-offs from the state mental hospitals.

Me: Living in the woods and stuff.

Buck: Well you could get away with that then, apparently. You’d tell people you were from Taunton, and they’d go, Oh yeah, you’re all nuts down there.

Me: Well being from Easton, I believed it. That was the word on the street. Taunton was the nutty town where all the nuts lived. And to prove it, they took the kids there on field trips just to look around. That’s why when you were a teenager driving around with a carload of high teenagers on a Friday night, everybody drove over to Taunton to get even more stoned and run around Paul Dever or the Insane Asylum. It was spooky-fun-for-every-one. 

Buck: We always went up to the nut house during a full moon. We’d sneak through the grounds and you’d hear people howling. There’s always been that thing about them using the basement for like, I don’t know, satanic rituals or something. They were probably just torturing people.

Me: You could hear them?

Buck: Yeah. We would run around and sneak up to the building and stuff.

Me: How old were you when you did that?

Buck: Right up till graduation from high school.

Me: Yeah, me too. It’s funny I never ran into you out there.

Buck: Now THAT would have been scary.

Me: WHY?! [laughing]

Buck: [laughing] Because when you were 17, I was 27. That would have been very weird, don’t you think?

Me: [laughing] Oh, that’s right. And when you were 17, I was 7.

Buck: [laughing] That’s even scarier. If you were running around out there under the full moon, stoned and 7-years-old, I would have run the other way screaming. I’d probably be running still.

Me: And still screaming.

Buck: Yes. I’d like to scream right the hell now.

 

LINKS: Taunton: The Cursed County A site of paranormal activity dedicated to keeping alive the creepy ambiance exploited by generations of Bristol County teenagers, including Buck and myself.  

Titicut Follies, which I accidentally saw in an art house movie theater once. Horrific.

History of Massachusetts insane asylums, as well as those from other states.

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     What child in their right mind wasn’t utterly mesmerized and driven to heights of desperate and complete longing by this ad? I certainly was. I  wanted my own family of Sea-Monkeys with a vicious desire that bordered on insanity. Yet my parents absolutely refused to send away for them. And to this very day I can’t figure out the reason why. We had horses and ponies, dogs galore, cats whose kittens we never gave away, guinea pigs and rabbits, and even a de-scented skunk from the pet shop. 

     SO WHY NOT THE FREAKING SEA-MONKEYS?

     I’m sure my siblings are reading this with great amusement, as they considered me a spoiled little brat who got anything she wanted. And in some respects that is true. The problem was that I was born long after my parents were done raising kids. They were almost 40-years-old when when I came along, and their days of raising children were more than a decade behind them. They had moved on to bigger and better things, like driving each other crazy. Picture any scene from Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf and insert a little girl in an evening gown tap dancing around George and Martha’s heels while they go at it like two sure-bets at a cock fight. That was my childhood.

    If I wanted to wear white go-go boots and a fall made of real human hair to first grade, that wasn’t a problem. If I wanted to turn the living room into a satellite set for the Merv Griffin Show and insist various already-married siblings or their spouses take a seat on the couch while I grilled them on what Stanley Kubrik is really like to work with, my parents made it happen. They loved me, I never doubted that, but when I was born the Doctor Spock book went into the trash and their child rearing theory became Just give it to her and she’ll leave us alone.

     So you can understand my confusion as to why they wouldn’t get me the Sea-Monkeys. All I can think is that my parents were in some weird way afraid of them. As an adult I look at the illustration of the Sea-Monkeys and they do seem rather unwholesome. The mother Sea-Monkey is striking a somewhat salacious pose and the father looks drunk. I picture my parents peering at the ad and wondering if those things have sex right there in the fish tank. The worst a puppy could do is hump your leg and if you slap it with a newspaper it will stop. But how on earth would you stop two underwater consenting whatever-they-are from doing it right there in the aquarium for all to see? Do you poke them with a long handled spoon? Tap on the glass or shake the tank? Pour Clorox in the water?

     My parents were intelligent and well-educated people with enough common sense to know that if such a creature as a Sea-Monkey actually did exist, they would have heard about it long before I presented them with the back page of an Archie comic book. And if any of my past mail-order requests was any indication (Mark Eden Breast Developing Cream, Texas real estate, etc.) Sea-Monkeys couldn’t be a good thing.       

 In the pre-Internet days of my childhood, my parents had no way of knowing what Sea-Monkeys actually were. And they certainly didn’t know that Harold Von Braunhut, the creator of Sea-Monkeys, was a right-wing extremist and card-carrying member of the Ku Klux Klan (which is particularly chilling as Von Braunhut was of Jewish descent). No one really knew that little detail about him until it was published in The Washington Post in 1998.

 Although word got around that Sea-Monkeys were actually brine shrimp, this is not accurate. After years of cross breeding brine shrimp, Von Braunhut  came up with a hybrid (although I doubt he did the actual marine biological research himself) that could live as long as two years, and it was given the name Sea-Monkey because of its long tail. The latin is Artemia nyos. The original Sea-Monkeys were first marketed in 1957 as Instant Life, but the real money didn’t start rolling in until comic book illustrator Joe Orlando (who was also an associate publisher of Mad Magazine) came up with the illustration above. Von Braunhut held the patent on Sea-Monkeys and 195 other products that are now pop culture icons, including X-Ray Spex and Invisible Goldfish that came with a guarantee “to remain invisible” forever.  

     Anyway. Whatever my parents reasoning, I never got any Sea-Monkeys. Although they are still available, and several websites exist for Sea-Monkey enthusiasts, I’ve never seen any available in stores. What I did happen across while standing in the cash register line recently at a local craft store are Triops From The Age Of The DINOSAURS! Preserved in a state of suspended animation. Just add water and they hatch in 24 hours! With my parents nowhere in sight, I snatched up the packet and brought them home to show Buck. “Look,” I told him, “everything I need to grow pet Triops is right in this little packet!”

     He examined the package and shrugged his shoulders. Considering I had just asked him the night before if he thought I’d ever have another German Shepherd in my life, I suppose he thought he was getting off easy.

     I’ve set up the jar/tank but I have yet to add the Triops eggs. Despite the claim in the directions that “YOU CAN’T MAKE A MISTAKE!”, this doesn’t look easy. It involves water temperatures and precise measurements of purifiers, water changing and direct sunlight for so many hours a day, measuring food, etc. And I’m not even sure I want to get all the coordinates in place, because in tiny text in the directions it says they can grow to be 2-inches long. Do I want a bunch of grotesque 2-inch long prehistoric tadpoles in a jar?

      No. What I want is a German Shepherd whose eyebrows move up and down when he’s thinking, will lay  beside me and sigh annoyingly while I nap, and drop a filthy tennis ball in my lap as if it was a bag of gold. These Triops look like they’ll be all pain in the ass and no fun at all. Try as I have, I can’t seem to muster any of the old enthusiasm I had for the Sea-Monkeys of my childhood and the plans I had to train them to fetch me a Ring Ding while I watched TV, or run me a bubble bath. That dream has gone the way of evening gowns and pet skunks, forcibly interviewing my siblings and gleefully tap dancing in and around my parents while they pecked away at each other’s soul.

     What happens to us when we get older? Where does our enthusiasm go? In my case it turned into lethargy. This pre-historic pet thing is going to require a lot of energy. My hideous Triops may never see the light of day. 

______________   

Links: Official Sea-Monkey Website

Sea-Monkey Worship

  Sea-Monkey Creator Harold Von Braunhut 

 X-Ray Spex or Specs, but however you spell it they do not work.

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El Paso

Raining

69-degrees on the patio

 

Me: So I told Tommy that today for Sunday Q&A we’d be discussing your neighbor Russ from when you were kids, as per his pseudo request. Do you have any photographs of Russ that I could scan?

Buck: No.

Me: We should give him a fake name for this, since it’s going on the Internet. Let’s call him Russ Cleary.

Buck: But that’s his real name.

Me: So this Russ Cleary . . . he sounds fascinating.

Buck: He was cool, he was a free space for me when I was a kid. He wasn’t my father, and he wasn’t a priest. Everybody liked him. He was a 350-pound fat guy who had a body shaped exactly like an egg, a giant egg.

Me: And you have no photographs of him? 

Buck: No. He had two insect-thin legs at the back of his body. When he walked, he’d put his hands in his back pockets to try and balance himself back, because his gut was so big, and he couldn’t bend his legs so he had to lean like this from side-to-side [stands up and demonstates the walk]

Me: Like a Weebl, if a Weebl had legs.

Buck: Sort of, yeah. My father told me Russ had strings in his back pockets that he pulled to make his legs go, and I believed him.

Me: How old were you?

Buck: Probably five, or three, I don’t know. But it looked like it, it was easy to believe. Russ was a bachelor, he had no kids or wife or anything. He lived on the first floor and his brother and sister-in-law lived on the second floor. Russ was a big man and he had skin like an alien. He had some sort of strange white skin with like all almost-connected liver spots.

Me: [laughing]

Buck: And he had half an ear, which he told me his mother had bitten off one time when she was mad.

Me: Is that really how he lost it?

Buck: I never questioned it. Sounded fine to me. Back then you get tortured by your parents, or by anybody really, and it was perfectly legal. I figured Russ must’ve done something really bad.

Me: Why did everybody like him?

Buck: Because he was a nice guy! He was really good to kids. Back then nobody ever said anything about hanging out with the old bachelor nutty guy who was always loaded, and we always hung around him because he spent his whole life sitting on his front steps looking straight out into the street and just telling us stories. He was loaded. You’d look into his trash can and it was beautiful, all PM whiskey bottles, and it was brighter inside that trash can than it was out. It was just beautiful.

Me: What’s PM?

Buck: Some cheap ass brand of whiskey. Russ would sit there on the big, wide, front step right off the sidewalk, with his legs spread way apart to make room so his gut could hang down in the middle. He wore his pants high, which was the style at the time. [laughing] The zipper on his pants went about a mile curved around his huge gut, and when I was a little kid I used to try and figure out where is his dick? Is it up high where the zipper is?

Me: Is that who you’re imitating when you do that disturbing pose to scare the kids? And me too, quite honestly.

Buck: No, that’s just something I like to do.

Me: Well I don’t like it, never did. Is the Red Sox hat part of it?

Buck: No. Russ used to wear straw hats to keep the sun off. [laughing] Kept his skin nice, I guess. [laughing]

Me: A barber shop quartet hat?

Buck: At certain times of the year he wore those, but he had all kinds of straw hats. He’d sit there like that, smoking Salems all day and when a cigarette was done he’d fling it into the street. My father used to make me go pick them all up. Not that my father gave a shit, but he figured it was something for me to do.

Me: Gross.

Buck: They all landed right near the sewer grate in front of his house. That was the same sewer grate where my father gave me the lessons on pouring oil down there after he’d change the oil in the car. The good part, my father said, was how it kept the mosquito population down.

Me: Did it?

Buck: Well motor oil on water will, yeah. That was also when we’d be sitting on the porch step with Russ when the DDT planes would fly over head and spray us with DDT to kill all the mosquitos because we lived right near a swamp.

Me: [laughing] Oh my God that’s true, I forgot all about that. I vaguely remember that as a kid.

Buck: Yeah. We’d be outside and they’d be spraying all the time, so we had DDT burning down on us and didn’t think twice about it.

Me: I vaguely remember that, but I was more the generation where the big trucks with tanks of DDT came and sprayed down the neighborhood all the time. We used to run behind it. Was Russ effected?

Buck: No more than any of the rest of us. But he was really cool. Back then we didn’t have two-cents, nobody did, and Russ would give you a nickel to go buy a Popsicle or to Girlies to buy penny candy. He used to work down at the family market part-time, and to get there he’d do his long weird walk down past the church, which took him forever.

Me: God.

Buck: He used to show me his old pictures from when he had red hair, but he had none left at that point. He had like three strands that were seven feet long. They were always under the hat, so it was only every blue moon that you’d see them. Actually, he could have starred as Ray Milan as Darth Vader, when Vader took off his helmet. He had that same look. He used to show me his ID from when he worked for the OSS, that was the predecessor to the CIA, and he said he was a spy. I believed him, but now I don’t know what that ID was for.

Me: Maybe he did really work for the OSS.

Buck: As what?!

Me: As a spy.

Buck: [laughing] Why would a spy need an ID?

Me: Good point

Buck: He had a lot of guns around.

Me: What’s this controversial thing he said?

Buck: He was gentleman, he really was.He’d ramble on with his stories with a kid or two on each side of him, and I’d just sit there and listen. I don’t know why but it was very comforting. He was loaded, but he never drank in front of kids, we didn’t know he was loaded. And he was always polite and nice. But there was this one time when we were sitting there, hot summer day, nuthin’ to do. Russ was sitting there, he took a puff off his cigarette, and he looked straight ahead into nothing and said, “I’m so horny, I could fuck a rat.” Then he took another puff and added, “A dead rat.” I was like six. I was just choking, and I didn’t even know what it meant.

Me: [laughing] That is just terrible.

Buck: He died when he was in his seventies, at 350-pounds of malnutrition. I only ever saw one empty can of beans in his trash.

Me: Why were you in his trash?

Buck: It was there, so I looked in it. All the time.

Me: It’s a journalist thing.

Buck: Who are you taping over this week?

Me: My brother. It was a very boring conversation, he kept talking about car polish or shoe polish. . .To be honest, I can’t tell you what he was saying, I wasn’t really listening. I was watching Lucha Libre.

Buck: The movie or —

Me: No, the actual Lucha Libre. The Luchadores. Triple A wrestlers. Hoods and face masks in Mexico. It’s scary as hell, and it’s on for four hours every Saturday. I can’t get enough of it.

Buck: Four hours? This is a very weird side of you.

Me: There’s nothing weird about it. There’s nothing else on TV in that time slot between mid-morning and afternoon. It’s how I’m learning Spanish. And they have just women Lucha Libre for the first hour.

Buck: Will that be your new hobby? Wrestling?

Me: Do you think they’d take me even though I’m Irish? I would like to wear a scary devil mask —

Buck: I’m sure they’d love to get you in the ring. But you’re not Irish.

Me: I am totally Irish. On my father’s side. My grandmother said I’m Irish.

Buck: [laughing] Well there you go.

Me: What?! [laughing] Why are you picking on my grandmother?

Buck: Because she used to pee on people’s lawns.

Me: That was only on the lawns of people whose houses she was thinking of buying, and she was insane. [laughing]

Buck: [laughing] I think she was insane when she told you you were Irish.

 

Me: [laughing] It’s true, she was insane for a long time before we knew it.

Buck: [laughing] No shit, she had fifteen dogs and a husband who took photographs of UFOs.

Me: [laughing] Well at least he was successful! He was very good at it, and a lot of people read UFO magazines back then. He had a big readership. Your grandfather ate whole sticks of butter and died on top of you so I don’t wanna hear about it.

Buck: He didn’t die on top of me, he died on top of my cousin. [laughing] And my cousin was napping at the time. I think he was four.

Me: Well at least my grandmother died alone in an insane asylum in the middle of Nowhere, Maine.

Buck: That’s how everyone in Maine dies.

Me: That would appear to be true in the case of my family, anyway. That’s why I’d never move to Maine.

Buck: Me neither. I’m afraid of guilt by association.

__________________________

Buck bought a new used Miata

                                   and I got a new swimming pool. (From underwater I look muy flaco excelente!)

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El Paso

80- degrees on the patio

    I play with graphics programs the way other people play golf. Weekend golfers know they’ll never go pro, but that doesn’t stop them from enjoying the game. I know I’ll never get heavily into graphic design, but it’s fun and I enjoy it. And in the same way amateur golfers will go out and buy expensive golf clubs they have no business owning, I will buy pricey graphic programs I’ll probably never master. However, some of the easiest programs that are the most fun are free on the interweb. One of my favorites is MyTheme Animator. 

     You can do a lot with this thing, but my first attempt at it is still the most controversial. I was going for an old-fashioned horror movie feel, so I combined a photo of myself with a photo of some guy from an old movie, and I posted it on my MySpace page. (Yes, I have a MySpace page, which I use as a tool to stalk our children online. The kids are all in their twenties now and stalking them is the only way I know what’s really going on in their lives, and the only way I can stay in touch with their friends, most of whom I’ve known since they were in kindergarten.)

     So I post this thing on MySpace (because I’m basically very juvenile  and was so wicked proud that I was able to make it in the first place —  the adult version of a macaroni necklace at camp — and within like, two hours of having it on MySpace, I start getting emails from people asking, “Is that Buck standing behind you?” One email simply said, “Max’s dad looks like he’s tripping,” and from that I understood that in this kid’s psychedelic mind there was no question it was indeed Buck in the photo.

     My immediate response to all this was, and still is, what the fuck? Look at this thing. Just look at it and tell me how the hell anyone could mistake that guy for Buck:

           I’m not saying it would be out of character for Buck to do something like that, put on a swami hat and go into a trance just to see my reaction. But cheese-n-crackers man, that guy doesn’t look anything like him.

      In contemplating this mass reaction, I can’t even be disgusted with people for assuming it’s Buck in the photo. He has after all spent a lifetime inserting himself into people’s photos. It would not be unusual to invite us to a dinner party, only to discover after we’ve left that Buck has drawn himself over any framed baby pictures you have on display.

     Sometimes I’m really taken aback over our hosts’ reaction, and I admit to being surprised when they’re  incensed over Buck “doing his thing.” They react as if he were maliciously defacing their memories. Buck says it’s why we’re never invited back to anyone’s house a second time. (Sandra and Jim if you’re reading this, it’s okay, everything’s cool. I really do understand. But my God, you’ve gotta admit  that some people would’ve laughed. But not me!  I totally like you guys!  And I have no doubt Jim’s grandma was a lovely lady and meeting President Roosevelt was an honor. Nobody would dream of mocking her life! Please take into account that at least Roosevelt already had the glasses and mustache long before you invited us to dinner. Everybody knows this. Listen, can’t we just forget this whole stupid thing and start over? Studies have shown it’s physically dangerous to harbor resentment; you could get cancer.)  But people needn’t  take it so personally. He does it at home, too. Take this eighth-grade photo of our son for example, keeping in mind Buck had a beard that year:

     I think I paid $40 for that thing, simply because my own parents always bought my school photo no matter how horrid it came out:

I never looked like this and I had black hair, never red. I don’t know what was wrong with the school camera — or why my parents bought this. I keep it in a photo album titled, The Worst Photos Ever Taken of Me. My friends love that album. They’re always asking me to bring it out. They like it way too much, actually. You guys are total bitches.

     But the point is, Buck did what we in the family refer to as “Dad’s usual thing,” and I didn’t get mad, I didn’t take it as a personal affront. People who know Buck know that he rarely signs his name to anything. And I mean anything. A letter from Buck arrives not with a return address, but with his drawing in the upper left-hand corner.The guest book at a funeral, the sign-in sheet at the doctor’s office, birthday cards, a UPS invoice, an inter-office memo, the kids’ report cards, all bear his face in place of a signature. 

     He’s a generous guy and it’s not out-of-character for him to stuff a few bucks into a kid’s pocket, but the dead president’s face has without-fail been replaced with his own. One time he wrote me a check for a hundred dollars and signed it with his drawing (a check the bank wouldn’t honor, by the way) .

     For Christmas one year he stuck a National Enquirer in my stocking, which was my favorite publication at the time, but he had gone over every single photograph in the 50-page tabloid with a black magic marker so that everyone, even Bat Boy, bore the unmistakable likeness of Buck. For our anniversary one year he gift wrapped a used copy of Love Story, but instead of Ryan O’Neill holding Ally McGraw in his arms, it was Buck holding me (he had glued the headshot from my newspaper column over Ally’s face).

     Before we moved to El Paso, Buck was in the feature color photo on the front page of the Boston Sunday Globe every week. Sometimes he’d be sitting on a beat up couch in a tenement building, holding a photo of a lost loved one and weeping. Other times he’d be the coxswain of Harvard’s rowing crew on the Charles. One Fourth of July it wasn’t John Williams conducting the BSO at the Hatch Shell, it was Buck.

     Nothing is sacred, not really, and if you know Buck you know not to leave “naked” images carelessly lying around unattended or this will happen:

     Oh man, it was a dark day in pre-teen girldom when Tiger Beat arrived in the mail with New Kids On The Block on its cover. I no longer have access to that particular issue but as a photo journalist  I do have documentation of the end result:   

there are tears in these eyes

     Speaking of kids. Any kid who came visiting at our house after school with their heavy knapsack still with them, would open their Algebra book later that evening and find Buck on the pages of that night’s assignment. “Dude, your dad fucked up school property last month when I came over to watch Ninja Turtles. Now they won’t let me move up to eighth grade unless I give them $46.95.”

     So yeah, I can totally see why people might assume that any photograph originating from my house might have Buck somewhere in the picture. But mistaking him for that swami guy in an old movie? That’s just fucked up.

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