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Entries in plastic models (3)

Wednesday
Jul182012

The Model Moral Dilemma

The mind of a young man can be co-opted by the wrong stuff. And then it takes a lifetime to shake some of it loose. And furthermore, things may be things but they aren't just things.

When I was about 11-15 in the late 1980s, I was completely enthralled by military aircraft. A couple major reasons include the fact that my house in San Diego was just a scant few miles from the outer fence of Miramar Naval Air Station, the location of Fightertown USA, the home of TOPGUN. A certain famous movie by that name, released just before I entered eighth grade, was a kind of pornography, drug, and rock and roll all in one, at least to this boy just on the cusp of adolescence that summer of 1986. Even before that, I used to be able to sit on my roof or go a couple blocks to my middle school, or just ride the canyons on my bike and I'd see F-14 Tomcat and other jets doing laps around and around for hours at a time. Most flew within a mile or so, and sometimes, nearly overhead. The base was a naval air station then and the pilots were doing their touch and go exercises to rehearse the kinds of landings they'd need to make on the aircraft carriers.

Extending that interest in watching the Tomcats and other planes do laps, my retired Navy chief grandfather indulged me sometimes and took me to Miramar and let me take binoculars to the fence just outside the Fightertown USA hangar, where I'd just observe the activity, or the planes on the tarmac. In a similar way, the stretch of empty space along Kearny Villa Road, on the east fence of the base, just at the end of the runway, felt a little like holy ground where I could be right under the planes as they landed. Of course, there would be military security goons that would come and dismiss anyone watching from that perspective. That made it all the more interesting.

Watching the Blue Angels and getting to the airshows was akin to high holy days. The spectacular six-point convergent move that is done just over the audience (or nearly so since those things have proven disastrous) was sort of a 12 year old's religious experience. Back at home, I'd pore over the Blue Angels' show program with an eye to every detail, getting to know the pilots and everything else.

Passion for Plastic

All this fed a need to build plastic models with more and more accuracy and detail. I'd been at building models since about 11 years old—about 1985 or so—and I'd been developing the craft with each model I built. My favorites were Tomcats, but I had several F-16s, F-15s, and A-4s. There were several other types but I kept gravitating toward those Cold War stalwarts. By the time early 1987 rolled around, as a 13 year old, I was introduced to the International Plastic Modeler's Society, an organization that is comprised of hobbyists, car and military buffs, fantasy figure painters and other types. I went to monthly gatherings and quarterly contests.

The Command Post business card from when I actually worked there. It wasn't the same as the place I hung out at. They had moved three stores into one and the vibe and character was different. By the time I worked there, I was over half a year from having built any models.The knowledge of the planes and the building of the models fed each other in symbiotic relationship. I routinely shopped at a store called The Command Post, a place where I later worked (interestingly in 1990 after I got out of the hobby). There I not only bought my models and supplies, I also endeared myself as the kid who knew all the product numbers and actually got into helping out, receiving product, stocking and labeling, and running errands for the guys. I was doing this at the age of 14. They would reward me with product. That Hasegawa F-14 kit was a pretty hot item when I got it.

For about eight months during 1988-89, I rode one of my bikes over there two times every weekend, taking a long and convoluted path to the store so that the old man could be satisfied I was safer as I crossed the 805 freeway. Each of those days I rode over there, I stayed the whole day, or near that. I got into a habit of staying five hours on Saturday and the entire four hour day on Sunday! I'd usually learn all I could by listening to the real staff guys (one of which, Ross Shekelton, turned me on to music, most particularly Rush, but also with the band that launched my interest in drumming: Def Leppard), and after a while, I'd even be talking to customers about how to use this product or that, and often, fans of one type of plane or another would break into enthusiastic conversation about sightings, air shows, and the like. I'd read the books, study the pictures of aircraft, learning all about them. I was the runner boy for rolled tacos over at the neighboring Roberto's taco shop in the next mall over.

Refining the Craft

Taking all that to my bedroom or my grandparents' patio (at Quapaw/Hog Heaven) during the summer, I'd spend hours at the craft of building plastic models. It was the first craft that ever commanded that much energy and focus of me. It paid off when I got my models entered into the local IPMS contests and was egged on to greater success and technique by the help of an enthusiastic group president, Darrel "The Big Salami" Killingsworth. I learned the finer nuances of flat sanding parts taken off the plastic molding "sprue"; the vastly superior qualities of liquid glue; the optimal filler putties available from automotive suppliers (NitroStan) how to prepare your surfaces for priming and painting; airbrushing; applying decals without bubbles or yellowing. Creating dioramas or maybe how to use clear acrylic mounting rods bent in boiling water so that an aircraft model could be mounted "in flight." And so on.

My A-4 Skyhawk that won two awards, and the plaque and six ribbons from the other winners, all on the same night. I swept two categories by default.The April 1989 sweep

I had been plugging along at the local contests and each was a chance to get familiar with others, learn techniques, get feedback, egg each other on. There weren't many juniors so there was a pretty predictable "competition" between me and a guy named Jeff and a couple others. Or sometimes not at all. One contest in April 1989, I got seven awards for six models, I think because no one was there and I swept the categories of Best Junior/Aircraft and Best Junior/Armor and then got the Best Junior perpetual plaque. It was a rather pointless victory, but good for the teenage ego, especially because my female friend Traci Flint (more of a tomboy/engineering geek of two years my senior) was in attendence and saw it all. At the very least, it did make for some victory chatter and my stuff was seen and the night was memorable.

Award certificate, 1988.One of the certificates accompanying the Aerospace Museum winsOther competitions were a bit harder. In the county-wide contest held by the San Diego Aerospace Museum (sic, that's what it was called then), I did have to come up with the goods. On two consecutive yearly contests, I did win against bona fide competition, placing an F-14 (that had won a few contests) and subsequently, an A-4. The prize was good for the ego: my stuff was on display before the tourist public within the main museum hall for one year for each win, with my name beside it. It was a thing to take my church group and other buddies to. (I think it failed to inspire Shelby Duncan, but she's a freak anyway.)

IPMS National, 1989

One last IPMS contest was a national one where it just happened to be in San Diego. It was during this very week of 1989 (23 years ago now) when I got four awards for three models. I had just started building armor models earlier in the year, and one of them was literally painted the day before entering. Because it was a bona fide national contest, there were other Juniors in the competition, but of course, since few can ride their bikes across the nation with plastic models in a saddle bag or milk crate on their rack, the competition was still not as stiff as among the adults. At any rate, I did get four awards, one for a wacky alternative take on an F-14, the "F-14E" as I called it. (There really were people who asked about it, especially since I came up with a tech sheet that featured the new developments of the airplane. All were contrary to the F-14's longstanding, voluptuous design. It was a total joke but a well done one.)

The three winning models with their award plaques. Abrahms tank, my hoax F-14E, and a Sgt. York tank.The spoils of model building war... the F-14E got the two middle awards

That contest was my last, even as it was my best showing ever. In fact, by October, I had a change sweep across me that was sufficient to put an end to my model building life. I began to play drums just weeks after the contest, and by the fall, all my model projects were brushed aside and forgotten about. I was getting into music. I got all the Def Leppard albums, and at the start of the school year, I was getting into Jethro Tull and bought one tape a week. I also was getting deeply into the life at church [scan of a letter from one of the adults praising that], where I had just returned to active life in June. I was so enthralled by this new life. Schoolwork suffered. Only when I actually was called to work at the Command Post did I engage in the hobby at all, but I doubt I finished even one model. By the time I got the gig at Command Post, they had moved the store (did that in summer 1989) and it was not the same. The personalities I liked had moved on. I worked extremely part time there for about five months or less and never connected again. The money I made was paid me from the cash register, and I promptly walked across the road to Music Mart and bought drum gear there once they had moved into the location. Out with the old, in with the new.

My stuff in the national magazine following the contest.Two of my models listed in the IPMS magazine following the convention

Dawning of Moral Consciousness: 2001

Going to church then in the 1989-1991 period was not the thing that led me to the change that I actually wish to write about now. But it was an early period of church life that later on did affect a lot of change of heart and consciousness. I'd have to skip ahead to 2002 and onward.

I returned to church life in January 2002, one week after it became apparent that Kelli and I were entering a whole new phase of life. We'd sort of moved past "just friends" and at that time, she was like a candle in the window to me, and I found that in the post 9/11 world, I'd need some clues of how to progress. I was 28. Family upset about a year before left the landscape of my life changed forever. My grandmother died in April of 2001, and as you've all no doubt read before, the dynamic changed drastically with the struggle between me and the old man.

I became a quite devoted pew sitter that year and by the end of the year I was recording the sermons and by 2004 was working on the website, and was on the trustees. I was seemingly mature and stepping into adult roles in the congregation. But my favorite part of the new era at church was the sermons and the great pearls of wisdom that I gleaned from the relationship with my pastor Jerry Lawritson. There I learned more about human struggles, nonviolence, liberal theology, and a bunch of stuff that excited me. Names like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Elie Wiesel, Martin Buber, Paul Tillich, and others were the names I was surrounded with. They all pointed to a deeper life that was tugging at me.

Around that same time and in a parallel universe at Mesa College, an English essay assignment I worked on pondered the direction of American style growth-based economics. That led me to knowledge of peak oil. And that shocked me. By early 2005 I had started a website called EONSNOW and was showing a documentary called The End of Suburbia. I had some idea that all these new things were going to intersect, but they were not yet doing so in my mind.

Booted from Eden: 2005

Awareness like that began to seep into my consciousness. Being troubled by these kinds of thoughts, I set about trying to share them and find others who might be troubled in a similar way. EONSNOW was literally just getting launching three days prior to the day when I got evicted from my dear house seven years ago. That was a galvanizing event as you all know by now. All of a sudden, the focus had to shift from being world-aware to getting a bunch of personal affairs in order. One thing that had to happen was vast reductions in material stuff. I was cutting through the house trying to figure out what had to go. Up in my closet were a couple boxes of plastic models. Many were in some state of brokenness as it was. Landing gear, tail fins, missile rails... all that was broken and not likely to be glued up. The decals were yellowing. The glue was brittle in places. Was there ever any chance I'd put these on display again? The newest of them was 16 years old! The Cold War came to an end AFTER my model career ended. Yet here I was, so many years later, still storing all this?

Techgnosis

Detouring for a moment here, it seems honest to say that I still find the technology fascinating. It can't be argued that any of these planes are impressive at some level. Defying physics and the laws of nature is indeed impressive. If I were into all this now, I'd be gushing about the F-22 Raptor, a plane that can do things that my beloved F-14 could never dream of. I'd be building models of it and talking about its thrust-vectoring exhaust nozzles that allow it to do some of the most unusual stuff a plane has been seen doing. But the pursuit of all this development is what I have to draw a box around: they are all weapons of war, and such things as building models is a safe way of objectifying that, and forgetting what human ruin comes either from the firing of the weapons or the very stockpiling of the weapons, and equipping a standing imperial military. The budgets that are shaped with the "defense" of the nation in mind are completely out of whack, with "defense" being half the government's spending for years and years now. And, as I researched this entry using my cursory trip to Wikipedia for reminders of terms and other figures, the F-14, as powerful as it was, was never really put to much use in war. Apparently two Phoenix missiles were launched in Iraq in 1999 for the purpose for which they were intended, and both missed. Those things are a million bucks apiece! That's pretty steep a price to pay for something that can't accomplish what it set out to do. Pointing to two failed missile shots should suggest that with all the massive expenditures the Department of Defense makes, it's clearly going to overspend on waste, fraud, or outright failure. How many people could be fed for the price of just one of those missiles? How much student loan debt could be struck from the books for that sum? How many neighborhoods could be resurrected into thriving communities? How many blocks of blight could be turned into community gardens? And yet, back in the early days of the Cold War, old Ike himself, not a stranger to the military as a victor among the victorious, warned against all this military buildup.

Air shows and other times when military buffs and supporters get together, a saying that accompanies a jet flyby is "That's the sound of FREEDOM!!!" but now I am more likely to mock that with "That's the sound of FASCISM!!!" Did any F-14 or any other piece of 20th Century military gear get made without some cooperation of corporate industry and government that now are bound up like a double helical strand of DNA? Yeah, I thought so.

It was one thing to be technically enthralled by statistics and specs alone, but it took a more mature mind than my teen years could provide before I understood and felt the wrongness of all this. Knowing how much the national "defense" budget requires is a shocker and is far from the concerns of a young kid who thinks it "cool" that a plane can fire missiles or drop bombs to stunning visual effect. Even from my family, I did not get too firm a message to remember that all those stats mask the real power to destroy life and community, and even environment. To a teenager, it's all a game. After hearing Jerry's sermons for a couple years, and hearing them again as I edited and posted them to the church site, I was poised to make a decision about the models.

July 1, 2005: From Plastic Model to the Plastic Bin

In a kind of visceral disgust at myself for keeping them long past their useful dates, I heaved every one of those models into the big black trash bin in my garage. Most I smashed into the sidewalls of the bin. I felt I had to repent for being so blind. Another layer of concern was the fact that all these plastic models were made of petroloeum—oil—and I just happened to be launching a crusade to remind people the oil age is coming to a close and life will have to change. For my immediate future, I had to concern myself with that giant amount of stuff I had inherited, bought, and otherwise gained in transactions ranging from trades to getting married and bringing Kelli's stuff into the mix. It was all hell. Smashing the models was a spontaneous act but something that was brewing for a while. I've never missed them since.

Simplifying: 2012

Skip ahead to the present day. It's 23 years after the most recent awards at the national contest. It's seven years since the models themselves were destroyed. Kelli and I have moved together five times in those seven years. Every move, we cut back some items, but invariably some get added and the feeling of being on a treadmill persists. In recent months, I've been working with Gerald Iversen, a committed peace activist and practitioner of voluntary simple living. We've been working on podcasts for JEM and for the upcoming one, it was just the two of us (Lee was off for good behavior) and the topic was the power of STUFF over our lives. While I didn't tell this story about models and worldviews during that recording, I have indeed been grappling with STUFF, in part because I do not have total say about the STUFF that occupies the house. It might be like pining for a lost innocence, but before I was married, before I inherited a household of STUFF, and before I had a studio space dedicated to the craft of recording, there was a time when things felt manageable, and moving house might have been a two or three truckload thing because it was really just a bedroom with some drumsets.

The recent move to Escondido did pare back a number of items but it still feels overwhelming, and after a bit of a period of considering our option to get a garage at $50 additional rent, we found that we had still too much stuff and that it warranted that extra space, if only because some things are just dirty items and awkwardly shaped: old bike Kelli doesn't use, lawnmower of no use to us at our previous house with a rockscape now with wood chips and no lawn, washing machines we didn't sell before we moved, etc..

my shipping boxes full of stuff, filling plastic tubs of more such stuff from over the years

I keep personal archive tubs of photo albums, boxes or folders of documents and little things to remember, all classed by year or certain other criteria. Those get combed periodically, but such a thing as the collection of awards shown in the video above has escaped scrutiny. The shipping boxes I was able to bring home from a job a few years ago have been handy for making tidy packages, but at the last house, there was no garage and the closet spaces were filled pretty completely. Shit like this just isn't that important anymore.

Of course, there is nostalgia about things like this. All the awards I won at the contests have enough of a reminder to say what model and what contest, but the rest of the story is in my head. No one would be able to put much of it together except from some journals scattered across this last quarter century. And, like everything else you can read on TAPKAE.com, no one really cares. The awards are not going to matter to anyone. They don't particularly matter to me at a great level now that I've felt drawn to another set of values. I do think of the fun I had doing the craft of it, and there are times when I realize in certain moments when I am drawing upon a kind of skill that was learned in those days. Some of those skills proved to be transferable to other things I've done in life. Maybe I bombed algebra and the critical thinking skills that was supposed to teach me, but the mechanics of shaping things with tools and sandpaper, the thought process of moving from step to step from opening a box to airbrushing and placing decals, and the pride of looking upon my creation is all stuff that sticks and appeared in the myriad experiences since, and will do so here on out.

Well Founded Immortality

All that is my experience and my perspective, but will do no one any good in the physical form of award ribbons and plaques. Curating a collection of models of the machines of war is a pointless exercise when you don't any longer believe in the value of war. Retaining a collection of pointless plastic artifacts made from oil is of no purpose to a person who for years has been critical of the abuses of the oil consuming culture. Retaining the synthetic and chemically-drenched awards that celebrate a proficiency in all of those things is particularly useless. The plaques can't even be burned, what with all the chemicals that go into presswood and the veneers. They can't be too well repurposed except as a flat surface onto which maybe a picture can be mounted, or perhaps turned into a hotplate for the dining room table. Attributing any value to these particular items is not transferrable; children I am committed to not bringing to this world won't care, will they? From here on, my generation and several preceding it will have some 'splain' to do why things are the way they are. The least most of us could do is break ranks with some the minor fetishes we have with STUFF, needless technology, and that unthinking love of the military as the defender of much of anything except the stuff that's killing us.

I will not have attained immortality for the keeping of this stuff, and if anything will aid in the immortality project, it will be some evidence of an enlarged consciousness and heart for those I meet and the things I do.

To quote Gerald Iversen, "It's just STUFF!"

Monday
Mar232009

1989

It is hard to believe that it was 20 years ago now when a most remarkable year of my life took place. In many ways it was the year when I began to think that my own story had a flow and meaning to it, and perhaps the first year when I took any steps to document it at all in anything resembling a journal or calendar notes. Sure, there are bits from before that year, but in large part, there was a shift in this period—10th and 11th grade, 15/16 years old—and somehow things seemed important enough to weigh and consider. Certain characters and experiences laid the groundwork for those in years to come. It was a time of paradigm shift for me, as you would sort of expect of a person of that age. Here are some bits of the picture. I suppose I shall revisit this theme some more before the year is out.

I first heard the name Jethro Tull the day after the infamous Hard Rock/Metal Grammy award show that gave Tull the dubious honor in a complete upset over the odds-on winners Metallica or Jane's Addiction. Even Tull were embarrassed by the attention. So, the next morning, the radio show I was listening to then (the B-100 B Morning Zoo with the Rich Brothers) were mocking the win. I had no idea what was so funny about it all; I knew none of the characters they were talking about. It wasn't until maybe a week later when I somehow decided to try the leading rock station, KGB (which for some reason always seemed like it was a metal station before I gave it a go), that I eventually heard Tull's song Bungle in the Jungle, and the irony slowly dawned on me. I didn't like metal. I really didn't even know any of the classic metal repertoire, but it was pretty clear that Bungle wasn't metal! So the joke was sinking in. But before long, I heard a couple more Tull songs—new ones from their most recent album, intriguingly named Steel Monkey and Farm on the Freeway. Steel Monkey rocked more but it too didn't seem like metal. Farm on the Freeway captured my interest right away and I never stopped liking that song. But yeah, metal they were not!

So, I stopped listening to the pop music radio programming I had long listened to since I was about nine years old, and went with KGB and its hard rock/classic rock programming. All of a sudden, it came alive and I found myself reconnecting with some riffs that I had heard and liked but never knew how to find. I would do the obligatory recording-off-the-radio onto old tapes so I could absorb some favorites, and you can be sure that my fragmentary collection of Tull songs were on there. I think for a while I had no idea Tull were already a 20 year old band with a few hundred songs. After a while of expressing interest in them at the Command Post (hobby shop detailed below), an employee named Sara hooked me up with a cassette copy of the 20 Year of Tull set, which was a totally weird experience. I followed that by launching headlong into a collection of Tull music, a couple of  albums at a time. I had no idea how deep the well was, but I plunged in. Even now, I am still listening to some things in a serious way for the first time.

The Command Post was a hobby shop I used to frequent every weekend for months and months during my heyday of model building. I'd bike over there twice a weekend and spend all my free time there. I wasn't old enough to work legally, but my expertise and product knowledge scored me some free swag sometimes. I would also help stock things and fetch rolled tacos for whoever was working for the day. There was a pair of dudes who operated the shop then, and to them I owe the shift to rock music and all that it opened up for me. Ross Shekleton and Jim Kerr—both about 20 years old, and sort of like big brothers to me at the time. Ross was an Anglo-American guy, a history major and a prog rock geek who is directly responsible for me getting into Rush and Yes and not going down the path of Guns N Roses. He played up other prog acts, but his most memorable influence on me was his piquing my interest in Rick Allen of Def Leppard. He used to do a one-arm-behind-the-back mocking of Rick and I didn't get the joke till he explained that Rick was THE guy who bounced back to drumming after losing his arm. (I recalled a friend telling me that back around the time of the accident in 1985, but that had long slipped my mind till Ross brought it back in 1989.) I got intrigued by Rick and still am amazed at his determination after his accident. That led me to ask myself that summer, after rediscovering some Def Leppard I had not heard in years, what exactly is my excuse for not playing drums? After all, I had a set in the corner of my room for the last few years. Anyhow, in this shift to more rock oriented stuff, I also happened into Def Leppard, which set the stage for the next thing that led me into a totally new direction for years. My recording collection officially commenced with my purchase of Pyromania on July 15th of that year.

Ross Shekleton was influential in two ways. Initially, he egged me on to be a model building junkie, and then later on he set the stage for a musical identity that arose out of his prodding to listen to something more than the pop stuff I had been listening to. His influence was such that he is the one figure to straddle two sides of this lifestyle fence of mine. While I was still consumed with building models, I was getting really good at the craft. That summer of 1989 I entered a few of my pieces in the contest at the national convention of the International Plastic Modeler's Society (IPMS—sort of an unfortunate initialism, eh?) It happens the convention was in San Diego so it was easy for me to get to. I guess there was a small hometown advantage. After a year or two of sweeping a few quarterly contests of the local chapter (big fish in a small pond), I entered the national contest and did quite well, taking a Junior Best of Show and some others (Best Jr. Sci Fi for a radical mod of an F-14 Tomcat, and Best Jr. Armor and Best Jr. "Out of the Box"). Even there among national juniors who showed up, I was sort of a big fish in a small pond, but it was a fairer competition. Anyhow, I got my models pictured in the post-convention newsletter, and that was sort of my model building swan song. That contest was in July, but by October I was so into drumming that I had dropped model building altogether. The materials and half-finished models and the reference materials just got pushed aside not unlike the drumset once was when it fell out of favor in 1985 or so.

ed on drums, his first kit, back in 1989Me and my first kit in late 1989But I guess I am getting ahead of myself. It used to be that for a few summers between 1987-89 I went to my grandparents' house for the day while my old man was at work. Much of the time I was working on models outside in the patio area. In the first two years I was regarded as too young to ride clear across the three mile span of Clairemont between their house and mine, so usually I stayed put. But by 1989, I was free to do so, and one day rode back home earlier than usual and uncovered my drums, set them up, and dug out my old instruction books and tried to make heads and tails of the stuff. Of course, you can't be too discreet about playing drums, particularly when you play them as badly as I did in that period. But for a couple weeks in August—starting on the 15th—I clandestinely did what I could to read musical chickenscratch and discern how to play what I heard on recordings, and dammit to blazes, but my lessons had prepared me more than I realized! The main difference between my newfound interest and the old days of lessons was that back in 1984-5 I was not exposed to records and told to go listen and enjoy the music. It was just exercises issued me by my teacher, an older man who played many instruments and taught out of his general service music store. But now I heard the music and wanted to be a part of it, and with Rick Allen as my first influence, I wanted to prove that I could "come back" to the drums. A couple weeks later, after my old man's birthday dinner at Anthony's Restaurant, I "treated" him and the grandfolks to some of my tennis shoes-in-the-dryer playing. And I guess they pretended they liked it. Or maybe my grandmother was happy to see me finally playing after those years off. It was she who bought the drums and paid for lessons after all, only for me to give it all up after a few months once I had a kit!

In a parallel universe, another part of me was trying something new, and by far the influence of this is deep and long lasting. It seems sort of twee to consider what church was to me back then, but one has to start somewhere. My association with the church of my birth/baptism/youth was never consistent. I didn't ever go too regularly unless that was sort of required or convenient for an adult in my family. Most of my history is at the one church in Pacific Beach where my grandmother was among the founders, with most other churches being very short lived dabblings of my parents. But, about the end of 1988, I darkened their door more frequently, frankly because of a girl (more later), but because there seemed to be some community of folks who cared for me. My pastor Jerry had been there since early 1986, and so I already had some rapport with him, and indeed he had been highly concerned for me. But I was still sort of at a distance from the church until one time when the youth group leader-cum-associate pastor Judy took us to see Dead Poets Society and hosted a pizza dinner and discussion afterward. The theme of carpe diem left an impression on me. (Later that summer after the IPMS contest sweep, I pointed to carpe diem and had a fun time telling people how I seized the day, just as I was told!) That movie and discussion helped lead me to some feeling of fondness for the people involved, and I was persuaded to take part in the summer vacation bible study with them and members of another church from down the road. That was my social world for the next few months, really. It's funny how I can't remember a damned thing about what happened there as a bible study, but I remember the feeling of being among some good people who were preferable to my school scene. (Years later as a 28 year old, I would return to the church after a ten year gap and try to find that chemistry again, but it never quite worked out.) From that point on, in early July of 1989, I spent about a year and a half doing literally everything that I could at church. All the social, study, worship, workshop, youth and mixed fellowship and other gatherings that I had time to do, I did. It was in that time when I was introduced to the ideas of Martin Buber in an evening study group. Now, I have a dog that is named after him, but back then it was sort of exceptional to be the only 16 year old in a study group reading I and Thou. Jerry and Judy used to be quite supportive of all this, even picking me up to take me to some of these events. A number of folks opened their homes to me as well.

In that same summer I was part of the brainstorming effort to launch a group that Jerry and Judy thought was needed to address alienation among people my age, of which there were close to ten at the time. The so-called Shalom Group was created to keep peers in touch not only with each other, but also with a few well-chosen adults. There was a lot of dialog that was held in confidence so it was made to feel safe for us who were dealing with various of the problems of that age. The kickoff gathering was in the mountains and held over a weekend immediately before the school year started. It was a really magical time for me, and coming down the mountain and rejoining the "real" world was misery-making in a way that I guess Moses understood. Not all the meetings were so transcendent, but enough of them were, and there was a good trust that resulted. A certain new girl showed up and joined Shalom about a year after its founding. Her name was Kelli Parrish. She liked classic rock and even some of the Jethro Tull stuff I copied for her. The rest is history.

Suffice it to say, church was a profound experience for me, but it had its disappointments. As much as one would like to think of it as a different world than the one outside, it has its shortcomings because church people are of course a cross section of the population at large. At the time, I was a really uptight guy, and was not prepared to see my peers (barely into high school, and with the Shalom group barely formed by then) sneaking some beer at the church camp. It was a lot for me then. It was the first of many such disappointments with the church that unfortunately revealed themselves over many years—up to the present even—and a chain of instances which led me to leave the place a couple years back, but one where Kelli still participates. Anyhow, for consolation at such scandalous behavior as a group of teens cracking a beer in the camp cabin bathroom, I retreated to my bunk and listened to Jethro Tull. It was all I had at the time. It spoke to me somehow, and that was just one experience that led me to absorb Tull's music on more and more levels over the years. Disappointments aside, the church was a place that did me a lot of good. It was from those experiences that I never really too closely identified with my peers or some who were younger, except Kelli who turned up later on. In this period of church life, I associated with people who were 40 something and older. Then later on, I found that many of them were alcoholics in their own right, and in some ways, even some of my most respected figures were among them. But let me not soil the image they had for the naive 16 year old me back then. They were some of my most trusted relationships then. Ignorance was bliss.

It is true that I met my wife at church, but over a year and a half before we met in the middle of 1990, there was one girl who came to church and was cause for a lot of hope and vexation for years to come. Shelby was a friend of Judy's daughter Jennifer. Shelby dropped in a few times in December of 1988 and totally lit up my world at the time. She was an odd bird for sure. She wasn't really interested in religion except as an anthropologist would be, or perhaps a comparative religions student. I had no understanding of the stuff myself back then so she was a total mystery to me except that on one evening a week before Christmas, we were at someone's party and we got to talking, and for the 15 year old me to talk to a girl-peer was heady stuff! I guess the feeling was one of acceptance as she listened to what I had to say. Considering I dressed like a dork (not of my own choosing, I assure you), and she came off looking like an angel to me then, it truly was something new to behold. Anyhow, for a few weeks in early '89 (months before the whole summer experiences with DPS and VBS) I was sure to get to church to have a chance to talk to her again. We talked on the phone too, but she was from a different school and therefore a different world. I don't even know how to sum up what we had in common because it seemed so little. But she was nice to me and that was a leap ahead like no other. You can imagine the hope.

That little fantasy lasted for about two months and seemed to come crashing down at around the time of Valentine's day, or maybe it was because of the idea to go to Balboa Park and see some museums, among which—the Aerospace Museum—had on display a model of mine. Whatever the reason, I didn't feel like going to church for several months and she totally dropped off the radar for a few months till later in the summer as the youth group was planning a youth service in September. From that time on, she was a total enigma to me, and an emotional rollercoaster for me as I tried in vain to figure her out—for the next 11 years! The few weeks before the youth service were spent with a couple planning meetings with Shelby and Jennifer and a couple others, had over pizza and soda at Round Table. It was different at least, and I don't think I mentioned models anymore because by then I had shifted my allegiance to the gods of percussive thunder anyway. (The shift to music didn't automatically increase my cool quotient, but if I was relying on Shelby for validation, I could die first. For years to come she routinely gave me shit for listening to Rush and having Neil Peart posters.) The day of the youth service was a fulcrum moment for she and I. I knew she was at church to sort of just give herself exposure to Christianity while not really liking any of it, or seemingly not liking any religion, having been raised with an atheist mom and agnostic grandmother. Judy had been beaming about the service to some folks after church and was heard to say that she was proud of her "investment" in the kids. Hearing this, Shelby flew off the handle, stormed off, and as far as I know, was not seen there again. Later on, she got all political on me (her consciousness for this sort of thing was astounding at even that age) and was angry at the term "investment" being applied to impressionable young people. I think she was a bit severe; I think anyone else understood Judy was making a compliment and expressing pride in her experiment. Shelby's semanticism didn't tarnish my fondness for Judy and her impact on me.

That division between wishing to understand Shelby and participate in church life was in the mean time met with the decision to remain connected to the church. Later on most of the decade to come was spent more in some pursuit of Shelby and away from church altogether, only to reverse itself in that amazing period of 2000-2001 when the whole Shelby thing crashed down in a single day. But, for a while during the remaining period of high school I held them in tension, often to face some ridicule from Shelby who was more and more aggressive in badmouthing the church life I led. Later on, most of what my life was like was badmouthed. I guess maybe I should have learned to let it go back then. I have said for years now that everything I needed to know about her was learned in the first two years. It was a far cry from the seeming acceptance that started it all off. Oh well.

By the second half of 1989 the components were in place: Jethro Tull, drumming, Shelby, church life, a shift away from models and the interest in military machinery. It was far from the multiinstrumental, Jesus-loving, peacenik-Democrat, naked-biking, domestic wife/dog family man I am now, but it was a first step. Or maybe it was a bunch of first steps, all taken at once with a bunch of left feet!

I found myself doing pretty horribly in the first semester of my junior year in high school. After all, the start of my drumming, the fateful youth service and complicated quasi-relationship with Shelby, the start of Shalom group, and my plunge into Tull collecting all happened within a few weeks of each other. I spent all my allowance on Tull cassettes (and got my first CD player for Christmas that year). I really had no idea what I was getting into with that music, but even still, I was pitching them to church peers nonetheless, and finding no one to share my deep and abiding love for the band (so you see it was amazing when Kelli came along the next year and sort of took the bait). I was so into playing drums that fall that for a few weeks I had my kit in the living room, and in order to stay close to them and play whenever possible, I actually did my homework on them—literally, upon the drum heads! The only class I distinctly remember hating was a chemistry class, but I soon got transfered to a biology class and got along a lot better. I guess I hated my math class too, and by 11th grade I must have already been repeating algebra. The school scene was all so shallow to me compared to my life outside. Social life in the school setting was something to be endured for five days while as much of my own time was spent trying to do something associated with church, if it's a social life we're considering. All of that did pave the way for the church to elect me as a deacon the following year, at the tender age of 16. The year of 1989 was an interesting time of finding new stuff to do, but by May of the following year, I felt overwhelmed and was about to have my first brush with depression, coincidentally about the same time as I began my first job—at the Command Post!

Yeah, this is skipping into the next year a bit, but it is interesting to behold. The Command Post used to be paradise on earth when I went there as a sycophantic kid on his bike. But I got the invitation to work there (albeit at a new location where I had helped them move to in the summer of '89) in April of 1990, basically on Easter weekend if I remember right. I had always been cautioned not to get drawn into working on Sundays. And here I was, getting called in to fill in at the counter one Sunday when no one else would work. The world got complicated all of a sudden. This was months after I had stopped building models, so already I was a bit ambivalent about the place and the personalities, particularly after Ross left. The new location didn't have the funky charm of the old one. But somehow, I ended up working there for a few months in 1990. These days, I am far more defensive about not working on Sundays, and feel cheated and sold out when I do get suckered into it. Back then, despite the church life I led, I didn't fancy myself religious per se, but I think that doing commercial work on Sunday, even sometimes, was a crack in the wall that pointed me away from my meaningful social life, particularly a year later still in 1991 when I worked at Subway and didn't get home till 1:30 am on Sunday morning—hardly making it easy to get to church life at 9 am. Subway pretty much was the wedge that kept me from church long enough to forget it for a decade. Among the circumstances that led me back years later were developing more of a relationship with Kelli and a massively empty work schedule in the post-9/11 period.

There was another mildly interesting subplot to the year of 1989, and that was the matter of all things German. I started taking German in tenth grade after a summer of dabbling but more so once I realized the connection between it and early forms of English. The school years included my first and second level German language classes. The second year level was in the fall of '89 and was actually an independent study. I was the only one who took the second year course that year. Jerry, pastor from church, had taken German a long time back to help with his theological studies so that he could get more from certain of his theological heroes. He sort of egged me on with the subject but always joked that I was much better at it. For years afterward, he consulted me on pronunciation. One of the extracurricular church events in 1989 included a local concert which featured this remarkable bass vocalist who sang in German. (It was a little surprising because he was a black man. But have you ever heard a black bass soloist fill an old church? The richness of tone! Ahhh.) I talked to the guy afterward and asked him if he spoke German, and he said he didn't really know any at all. Hah!

All this makes for a backdrop to be excited for the news of what was going on in the world at the time. This was of course the season when the old Eastern European Soviet bloc began to crumble and Germany was among the first to throw off the old regime. My old man seized upon the moment to go to Berlin and actually take some hammer swipes at the Berlin Wall in the midst of all the crowds that were there in the last week of 1989. I know he had a pen-friend/love interest at the time who lived there and set him up for this particular trip, so that was justification enough, but I think the historical import finalized the scheduling. He brought home a bit of the wall and it was quite a piece of show-and-tell that season. Upon reflection of all that has happened since, he seems to be better at putting walls up than taking them down, though I guess it is a feather in his cap that he helped bring the Berlin Wall down. He can tell that story. I will tell mine.

Good as that experience was for him, I remember that Christmas being one of the turning points of fractured family experiences for the holidays. I spent it with my grandparents and doing whatever was available through the church family. At Christmas Eve dinner with my grandparents, in a cheesy family diner that is now replaced by an Outback Steak House, I remember enthusiastically enumerating all the instruments I knew Ian Anderson of Tull to have played on Tull records. I barely knew what a sopronino sax or balalaika was! I may as well have been speaking Mandarin to them. Or maybe Mandolin. Whatever.

So that's what is on my mind about my experience that year. The rest is details. But I wouldn't want to bore you with details. Not at TAPKAE dot com!

Thursday
Jun221989

Sophomore Memories

This is the journal I typed extremely crudely on my grandmother's typewriter at the end of tenth grade. I don't consider it nearly as substantial as the journal Life At The Top, from two years later, but it does have a few surprises, particular in how Aaron Summerville was perhaps my first run in with a free mind, and I went along, not even really knowing what it all meant. I just thought he was oddly compelling a figure to hang out with.  [Additional bracketed comments] are left for clarity and explanation. What surprises me is what was left out from this entry that I guess didn't fit a strict assessment of my school experience: how I got into listening to classic rock, and the Shelby experience to that point, while there was still a lot of hope left in it all. Some major history was made starting in the month or so after this journal was written. More context on 1989 can be found in a post recollecting that year. You can see high school era pix and scans in my Skool Daze gallery. Digitized and posted in June 2011.

June 22, 1989

Well, another school year has passed so I thought I would try something new. I thought a summary of the year was in order since this 10th grade was a bit different than others.

I took on a more subtle approach to doing well in school. This means that whenever possible I would give the shortest answer I could that is still right. Not only did I keep the sneers short, but I also seemed to avoid  some of last year's acquaintances. My time with Eric Hart (Phart?) seemed to really decline as we only had one class together (German for me, and, well, Eric had no class). But I found myself being more assertive. I think this was possible because I didn't look forward to having an Eric or a Nico (Monteblanco) fix, whatever that is. So, by breaking away from these characters, that I usually would look up to, I didn't feel bound. I'm glad in some ways that Eric is leaving, but I'll miss getting him in trouble, and all the raucous we could get into. [He tended to not care about that, and was an "F" student anyway, but a smart and wily one at that.] For more on this, search the 9th grade memories.

I'll give a brief summary of my classes.

Period 1, German—

This class was fairly easy since I taught myself some vocabulary last summer. The class started as two groups in one classroom and of course neither group could get the attention they need in an arrangement like that. About halfway through the year, it was decided that if the two were combined the work load for the teacher could be lessened and the students wouldn't need to shut out the other class. I call the second year group the "East Germans." That's where they sat—on the east side of the classroom. One the two were actually combines, I had a name for this too: the "Unification of Germany." I always scored good on tests, and once on a chapter test, my score was 203.5 out of a possible 205—a 99.3% score. I usually met or exceeded on the daily quizzes. Mr. Milne tried to make the class easy on his students but I think some people MIST [German: manure, shit, compost] the chance…

Period 2, Physical Education with RoboBishop—

Nothing special here except for the funny antics of David Sommers. David would first ask me why I didn't answer his stupid questions, then when I gave no reply he'd tell me to shut up. Corey Carroll and I would harass David about this. When I did say something, David didn't tell me to shut up. Let's face it. David was stupid!!!

Period 3, Algebra—

my algebra progress report that features an F grade with E citizenshipMy algebra progress report from Jim Thompson's classI started the year in Algebra with Jim Thompson. However, I didn't do very well. But don't get me wrong. The class was always fun to go to. JT always had some puns. My grade in the class turned out to be…well, colorful to say the least. It was a D-/E. If JT taught history or another enjoyable class I might have tried to do better. After the semester change pre-algebra was my math class. The catch was that Mr. Spicer was the teacher—the same as last year. In fact, for a while, the SEAT itself was the same. About the only thing that wasn't the same was the students and my attitude toward the same old, same old. So, for a better part of the semester my silent and stoic behavior was (in this class like many others) thrown out the door. I just stared out the window or moped around the room. I got a lot of German homework done, though.

Period 4, Biology—

This class was an adventure. We had three teachers and a strange time. At first the teacher was Dr. Stearn, who was with the class for about six weeks. Stearn was a weird one. He'd say, "we used to think there was mucusamongus but now we know there's fungusamongus!" When he had to leave, his friend Sal came to impart some knowledge on us. Sal was there for twelve weeks. He's a nice guy but he could ramble on and on. When it came time for Sal to leave in February, we found ourselves with yet another teacher: Ms. Sulzback. She added some things that seemed to be missing: dissections. My friend Aaron and I had a try at it except did ours a bit different than assigned. On the fish, frog, and the ever-popular worm dissection, we left out the specimen and answered the objective and essay questions with EDucated guesses. We did pretty good and the teacher was surprised at how well we scored. Ms. S said that whenever she was grading papers she would look for Ed's to see the funny short answers or comments there.

Back to Aaron. Aaron is a different story. He enjoys not conforming or taking part in the school-wide "popularity contest." He told me not to conform to the status quo. So I try not to whenever possible. It leads to "unindividualism," as we call it.

Lunch—

This, like all other aspects of 10th grade was very different. Instead of having a 40 minute lunch, there was a 29 minute lunch, driving some of us to alter our activities. Avoiding Eric included doing other things at lunch. I usually stayed moving. After 4th period, I'd grab my book and take it to the English class and leave it in the "doghouse" as BIG Bill [Travis] and I knew it. Then we'd go to Herr Milne's class to eat and talk. Sometimes we never stopped moving. The one thing that I almost never got Bill to do was to go into the "world," the area outside, to the west of the bungalows. Since lunch was so short, if you blinked you'd miss most of it. Lunch was also enjoyed with Corey Carroll, Traci Flint, and our mutual friends at Traci's "sacred tree" that she started last year. I've seen as many as 12 people there. [This bunch was a kind of evangelical Christian group of friends from "the other side of Balboa."] Well, I think I hear the bell…

Period 5, Drama with Mrs. Shirley—

When I signed up for drama I looked forward to being in Mr. Hollenbeck's class. However, I found out otherwise. Mrs. Shirley is a nice teacher but like anyone else she has some faults. One is that she is too naive to what the students are up to (on stage or off). The other is that she just CAN'T SEEM TO KEEP THE CLASS TOGETHER!!! It's like trying to have a tug of war with a big truck—IT DOESN'T HAPPEN.

In drama we would do a variety of plays and other oddball dramatic pursuits. Improvs were one of those, of which Paul Kobiashi (the less we say about him here, the better) like to take part in with a certain female three years his junior! Again, back to Mrs. Shirley's naiveté…if she had any idea of the meaning of Paul's discourse (on stage, mind you) he would be in more trouble than the "U" grade he has in the class. In a room full of rowdy 9th graders, many found it hard to believe Ed (sic) could stay calm and reserved while some didn't appreciate the "E" grade I had while they were getting "U"s, which was still too good compared to what they actually deserved. Gee. I must be doing something wrong.

Period 6, Inglitch—Or, "I'm an engliSh teechur n its grate!"—

With Mrs. Barnard it was very lax. One could often move the due date back a few days or even weeks. Back to Big Bill (one of the many aliases he got from me). Bill sat backwards in the class, facing the back wall. He had his own name for himself: Shadow Demon. Now, I'm not sure if that's worse than Mr. Ed, or better. But mine gets used more often than his. Mrs. B. did a good—no, a great—job of choosing the most boring stories in the available books. If it wasn't so easy to turn in a paper a week late and not be penalized for it, my grade wouldn't have been an "A." The end of the day is not the time to have an academic class!!! Bill and I had an offbeat comic strip where some fighter jets would do some weird things. He would draw and put his own subtitles and then give it to me to put my two cents in. It was a departure from the ordinary.

SO, What I am trying to say is…

Tenth grade, the most ******* school year I've ever $%@#*&^% been in. This year was dead. However some things added life to it—the anticipation of the International Plastic Modelers Society contest in April and getting an early case of senioritis [I guess this means I was feverishly working on models to the exclusion of all else.] I think winning every junior category award in one contest (sweeping two categories with three awards each, plus Best Junior on the perpetual plaque) was a unique trick. [It had more to do with me being the only junior there that night, and having enough entries to win all three awards in two categories.] Poor Ross Shekelton [sort of a big brother to me at the Command Post shop in my heyday there] never heard the end of my war story for months to come. This year I kept to myself but still got nosey. No popularity contest for Ed.

the command post hobby store business cardThis is actually the location where I worked, which was different than the one where I spent all my time as a "pseudo employee" a year beforeI managed to go to the Command Post every weekend for ten months straight. Weekend is defined here as Ross' shift (Sat-Mon). My starting point for this was the last week of July '88. It ended in the last week of May this year. It was, like school, routine, but where else do they have such a personal atmosphere and give discounts for "pseudo-employee deeds of valor"? The other thing is that hanging out there as long as I did (and still do) boosted my model building skill way up. The new Command Post crew also got me to break my golden rule that I set when Fritz was there: never to build an armor model kit [tanks, artillery, etc.]. Well, I took the plunge and did one. The next week I was back like usual. Jeff [my most frequent contest opponent, who did built armor models] was there too. I showed him the kit I was about to buy and said, "Jeff, this is #2 and at April's contest I am going to beat you at your own game—and good!" And we all know that story about the seven award sweep when everyone learned my name. By the time I am writing this, I've finished ten armor kits and five planes. That's why I was so %$$#^$%^ at school during the second semester. ES MUSS SEHR LANGWEILIG SEIN! SO VIEL DASS ICH HABE INS KLASSE GESCHLAFFEN! ES GIBT KEINEM MODELLE! [German: "It must be really boring. So much that I have slept in class! There are no models!"]

It was just too boring to follow the first semester's stoicness, especially when Aaron is there with his "high on life" attitude. Well, I think that's all, folks.

Hertzlichen ihr,

Mr. Ed

I love Shelby Duncan
12/18/88
[Before the rough times…]