One-Minute Memoir

October 12, 2012

Catwoman Vs. Antwoman

By Susan Middaugh

In her movie, Catwoman, Halle Berry looks Amazonian fabulous. Her performance is a working endorsement of kick boxing, tight-fitting leather pants and halter tops.The story line supports the idea that felines are not only her friends, but they also possess magical powers to transform Halle’s timid character into a powerful woman.

My experience as Antwoman was different. Unlike Halle’s feline friend, Midnight, who rescues her from drowning, the small brown ants in my kitchen and bathroom may only be described as pests.

Alone and in groups, the ants crawled across my counters, floor and dining room table. Crawl suggests subservience. These ants were bold. If I sprayed them, many stopped dead in their tracks, but others returned another day. Some have traveled down my arm and up my leg. I felt invaded.

My sister, Tricia, would probably say it was my fault. You could eat off Tricia’s floors. Housekeeping is further down my list of priorities. Once a week is fine, sometimes every two. The occasional dish in the sink, a quick swipe of a sponge tends to be my MO.  When I asked Scott, my neighbor, a single dad raising three daughters, if he had ants at his house, he said yes, but they went away after he cleaned up the kitchen after every meal. Oh, I thought. Personal responsibility. If he could do it… A change of habits was in order. Out came the bleach, ammonia, and another can of Raid to spray the back door and yard. Not exactly a 12-step program, but I felt I was making progress. The house was cleaner, but the invasion continued. Where were my weapons of mass destruction?

In Catwoman, Halle fights with her feet. She jumps over rooftops, slides down drain pipes and generally kicks butt. Halle also uses a whip with dramatic effect.To get rid of ants, it’s best to use your fingers to squish the critters one by one, a defensive technique when they stroll across the bathroom sink. After awhile, though, this method had limited effect. The body count was piling up. It was embarrassing to see stacks of what looked like raisins in the corners of my kitchen and on the bathroom shelves. I could sweep them away with a broom, but the ants had cousins.

It was time for desperate measures. I went to the public library, then to a local  hardware store in Paradise, a section of Catonsville, Maryland, for my new weapon of choice: boric acid. Halle would have snipped the container with her sharp nails. But I used a scissor and started sprinkling the white powder on the floor of the kitchen, on a ledge above the sink, and in the bathroom. It seems to be working.

I’d like to say Halle was my inspiration to get tough with these intruders. But it was really the ant that hiked across my toothbrush.

Copyright © 2012 Susan Middaugh.

Susan Middaugh is a self-employed business writer in Baltimore who also writes the occasional personal essay. Her essays have appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Baltimore Sun and on the website New-Works.org. Susan is also a playwright with short and full length works produced in the United States, Canada and England. The One Act Play Depot in Canada has published her short play, Such Good Neighbors. Several of her personal essays have appeared on this blog. To find them, simply type her name in the little search window, or check out the archives in the sidebar, beginning in April of 2009. Also in the sidebar under the Blogroll, Business and Writing labels, there are links to Susan’s website, Have Pen Will Travel.

Doodlemeister is looking for short memory pieces up to 500 words, on any subject, in any style — as long as it happened to you. Whatever the subject, we have a bias for the lighthearted tone. If need be, we’ll help you to edit and/or cut your piece. If you’d like to submit a story, please contact us at jimscartoons@aol.com 


One-Minute Memoir

June 20, 2012

On and On

By Jacquie Roland

I’ve lived to be older than my mother.  My most vivid memories of her are from when she was half the age I am now. Little girl stuff. (Memories are funny things, selective.) I didn’t know her as an old woman because I left home very young, moving to that far off country I had been struggling to get to since leaving her womb, I suppose. It’s what a girl does. What this girl did at least. Lately though, just in the past few years, I see my mother — the woman I remember — half reflected in my car’s side mirror, or a store window. Sometimes she’s just passing by as I gaze out the dusty windows of a bus in a town she’s never been to. It’s her. She’s still the same age she’s ever been. We’ve switched places in some way. She’s much younger than I am now, her hairdo charmingly old fashioned, her clothes much brighter than the ones I wear now, as I prepare for old age. (Or pretend to, at least) How strange. These glimpses of her — and it IS her — have made me realize that somewhere, in years to come, I’ll be seen shopping in another town, walking along a sunny beach, or standing on a street corner, under an awning, perhaps, protected from a sudden spring downpour as YOU go driving by. The windshield wipers will “whick” “whick” “whick” and suddenly, I’ll be there, younger than I am now, brighter . . . no longer grey.  I’ll be like her — like my mom — always looking for smiling eyes in the rain. Forever. The woman who brought me into the world before I knew what the world was, has returned in some weird way, perhaps to help me leave as my time draws near. It goes on and on. She taught me that. She’s still teaching me.

Copyright © 2012 Jacquie Roland.

Jacquie Roland is a painter, assemblagest and cartoonist. Her past lives include Art Director, Graphic Designer, actor, jingle writer, playwright, photographer and clown. Lately she has been entering HALLMARK Card Contests. Her two wins so far, both of which were chosen to be sold in stores, are also available on their website. Two other submissions, one poetry, one prose, won a place in the Hallmark book THANKS MOM, which will be published next year.

Doodlemeister is looking for short memory pieces of up to 1000 words, on any subject, in any style — as long as it happened to you. We have a bias for the lighthearted tone, but good writing is more important. And if need be, we’ll help you to edit and/or cut your piece. If you’d like to submit a story, please contact us at jimscartoons@aol.com 


A Memory

September 1, 2010

Cousin Raymond’s Schwinn

By Jake Jakubuwski

I don’t remember exactly how old I was when I learned to tie my shoelaces—probably five or six—but it was my paternal grandfather who taught me how to do it. I do remember that training my fingers to perform the intricate contortions necessary to accomplish the task was stressful. Intellectually, I could envision what my fingers had to do, but making them do it was a whole ‘nother matter. My grandfather—not the most patient person—exhibited enough restraint to spare me bruises and bumps when at first I was unable to make my fingers obey. Then, suddenly (or so it seemed to me), I sat on the floor by Pop’s chair and flawlessly did the job from beginning to end. Pop reached down and, with a gentle tug, untied them. Then I tied them again!

I ran to the stove, where my grandmother was fixing breakfast, plopped down on the floor, and demonstrated my new skill for her approval. As I recall, she grunted something neutral and then, her attention still on her cooking, said: “Where in the world did I put the lard can?” Later, when she sat the plate in front of me, I wolfed down the eggs and toast and jelly, gulped a large glass of milk, and bolted out the door, on the way to my cousin Raymond’s house to show him my new trick. I had eaten so fast that as I ran up the street I burped and snorted at the same time, and had to return to the yard and wash off the front of my shirt at the water pump. In those days (1943-44), I was living with my father’s parents in Glen Burnie, Maryland. We did not have running water. Instead, there were two water pumps and an outhouse. One pump was under the grape arbor behind the house, and the other was upstairs in the “Summer Kitchen.” I used the one under the grape arbor.

Cousin Raymond was four years older than me and had an electric train; he had an air rifle; he could ride a two-wheel bike—God, I envied him! He was so cool. Raymond rode his bike like a pro. He would pedal his Schwinn full-tilt into my yard and throw it down into a sliding stop that would scatter dirt and gravel all over. He also had a real wristwatch with numbers that glowed in the dark. As I said earlier: I was about five then—maybe six. Raymond would have been nine or ten.

On that day, I ran up the back steps at Raymond’s and pushed through the door and into the kitchen where Raymond and my uncle and aunt were having breakfast. I blurted out the news of my recently acquired skill. Raymond was unimpressed. Aunt Sadie told me I did a good job and Uncle Pete gave me a fifty-cent piece. When Raymond was finished eating we went outside and into the wooded lot behind the house where he had his “fort.” Raymond wanted to know if I thought I could learn to ride his bike. Could I? Full of shoelace-tying confidence, I said, “Go get it and I’ll show you!” Raymond wheeled his bike out of the garage and told me that my lesson would cost twenty-five cents. Being fifty-cents flush, I didn’t hesitate—I gave Raymond the half-dollar. He promised to make change later.

Raymond held the bike steady while I got on it. I settled myself on the “saddle” and grasped the handlebars with a death grip. Raymond told me that when he pushed I was to start pedaling. We started down the driveway, Raymond running as he pushed the bike. He yelled: “Pedal! Pedal!” I tried—but I was on a 26” bike with legs that were not yet long enough. So, I had to stand up to pedal. Then pedal I did—frantically. Raymond let go of the bike and I zipped completely across Fourth Avenue, a busy Glen Burnie street. Cousin Raymond was now yelling: “Steer it! Steer it! Pedal! Pedal! Watch out for the curb!” Too late—I bounced over the curb, ran up a slight grassy incline and into Mrs. Sauers’ flower bed, then tilted over in what seemed like slow motion and nose-dived into the lower branches of a fir tree. At that moment Mrs. Sauers chose to come around the corner of the house. She was pretty calm about the flowerbed and seemed more concerned over the scrapes I picked up when I dove into her tree.

Once Raymond and I retrieved the undamaged bike, I was ready for another lesson. He said it would cost me another quarter, so I told him to keep the change from the fifty-cent piece. This time, Raymond decided it would be better if I rode the bike down the street towards our grandfather’s house. Before I know it I’m back on the bike. Raymond pushes me off to a rolling start. I pedal like a madman. The bike begins to fly down the street. I’m going too fast to turn into the yard! Raymond’s yelling: “Hit the brakes! Hit the brakes! Steer! Steer! Hit the brakes!” Unfortunately, Raymond had neglected to tell me where the brakes were or how they worked. The bike picked up speed and began to wobble out of control as I bounced over another curb. Raymond was further behind me now, but I managed to turn a blind corner, only to run into the back of my Uncle Joe’s 1934 Plymouth. No contest. The Plymouth won.

There must have been a lot of hollering. Raymond now yelling: “My bike! My Bike! Look what you did to my bike!” Me screaming in pain as I slid off the hood (Yeah, I went completely over the car) and into the loose gravel that covered the driveway. My Uncle Joe yelled something I couldn’t make out as he ran away from the Plymouth, which he had been washing when I dropped in—unannounced.

After he realized what he thought had happened, Uncle Joe carried me into the house and laid me on the old mohair sofa. Grandma brought a pan of warm water and some clean cloths. She cleaned my cuts and abrasions. Pop came in and demanded to know what was going on. Raymond was still hollering about his bike. Uncle Joe explained that I must have fallen out of a tree.

Grandma tried to shush us all and shoo us out. And, even though I hurt in places that I didn’t even know I had, I was smiling. In the space of only an hour or two I had learned to tie my shoes; ruined a flower bed; nearly destroyed a bike; dented the hood of my Uncle’s car—and lived to tell about it; had been gifted fifty-cents and had spent it on bike-riding lessons. (How well I rode the Schwinn doesn’t matter—I did ride it.) I figure it was worth every penny.

Text Copyright © 2010 Jake Jakubuwski. “Bikers” Photo Copyright © 2010 Jim Sizemore.

Jake Jakubuwski spent nearly two decades as an active locksmith and door service technician. He has been writing physical security related articles since 1991. Seventeen years ago, Jake wrote his first article for the National Locksmith Magazine and has been their technical editor for fifteen years. Pure Jake Learning Seminars©, his nationally conducted classes, are designed for locksmiths and professional door and hardware installers. For more information, click the “Pure Jake” link in the sidebar blogroll and under the “business” label. (The photo at right is Jake at age 12 or thereabouts. To access all of Jake’s adventures as a Baltimore boy growing up back in the 1940s and 1950s, type his name in the sidebar search window and press the button.)



Famous Artists Schools

May 7, 2010

On July 29, 2009 I did a post titled “Cartooning Lessons,” in which I described my experiences as a Famous Artists Schools correspondent student back in the early 1960s. The post featured my first FAS cartooning instructor, Randall Enos, who is now a famous illustrator and cartoonist himself. Somehow, Mr. Enos came across my little blog memoir, liked it, and in a comment suggested that I—but wait, let’s let him explain what happened next in his own words, which I copied from his blog post. If you’d like to check out the original Enos post, here’s the link: http://www.drawger.com/bigfoot/?article_id=9751

“Between 1956 and 1964 I worked at The Famous Artists Schools in the correspondence art school. I worked on the Cartoon Course. We would get a student’s assignment and put overlays on it and point out various “trouble” spots and sometimes re-draw the whole situation and then send a letter to accompany the crit. The letters were standard form letters (after all everybody would make the same “mistakes”) but we would “personalize” the letter by inserting certain words that applied specifically to the student’s particular picture. We had lessons on inking, heads, action etc.. There were 4 or 5 of us doing the lessons and we would bounce the student around between us so he or she would have the advantage of more than one point of view. I was the youngest, being hired at the ripeness of twenty years. The others were pretty much retired guys in their 60’s having had careers in the field. One of them had and continued to draw Popeye, another had worked on the Lone Ranger, another on Katzenjammer Kids, another on Captain Marvel Jr. and Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang and Playboy girlie cartoons etc..

“So . . . the other day I’m surfing the web and I come across a blog called “Doodlemeister”. The fellow that runs it named Jim Sizemore had a post where he, in great detail, described critiques of mine he had received when he was an FAS student. It was a trip down memory lane alright. He complained that I had always given him high grades and flattery when he really wanted tough criticism. He pointed out that my overlay comments were a little more to the point than my letters (form letters). I made a comment on his blog post and invited him, if he wished, to send me an assignment NOW and I would give him a free crit. He was 25 then and is in his 70’s now as I am. I promised him, in addition, that this time I definitely would not give him a good grade. Here then is my crit of his “assignment” because he took me up on it.” (Click images for larger views.)

The one disagreement I have with Mr. Enos’ critique is not visual but verbal—his suggested caption, making it about the mythical memory powers of elephants instead of cross-species relationships. In the writing process I considered the memory angle but quickly rejected it as too much the cliché. I  think the relationship idea is the more original—and funnier—choice.

Mr. Enos ended his blog post with these kind—and much too generous—words: “Y’know, the more I look at it . . . the more I like his cartoon better than mine.”

Copyright © 2010 Jim Sizemore.

Arabbin’ and Other Childhood Jobs

September 14, 2009

A Brief Memoir
By Jake Jakubuwski

Wagon2

In the early 1950s I was living with my parents, grandparents and youngest aunt on Battery Avenue, in South Baltimore. Money was not exactly tight in our house, but there was nothing to squander on movies and other stuff that kids our age were convinced we couldn’t live without.

If you were not a pre-teen or teen in the early ‘50’s, you probably have no concept how far a half dollar could take you in the pursuit of peanuts, Cracker Jacks, hot dogs, soda and, of course, movies. The trick was to find ways to earn the money. Aunt Pat, who was four years older than me, had it easy. (Well, I thought so at the time.) She was in demand as a baby sitter, laundress, or house cleaner. Being male meant that I had to scrounge for other work, usually outside the house. If I wanted to hear change jingle in my pockets for the Saturday shows I had to take it to the streets.

Being the clever lad I was in those days, I constructed a wagon from a beer crate (long necks), a couple of two-by-fours and four baby carriage wheels. On Friday evenings and all day on Saturdays, I pulled the wagon by its rope “harness” to the A & P on Fort Avenue and hauled groceries home for shoppers. My efforts would generally get me a nickel or dime per trip. On a good Saturday I could earn as much as fifty cents. The problem was if I worked all day Saturday, I would miss the movies. That was when the theaters showed double features with “selected short subjects,” ten minute films such as cartoons, newsreels and at least one serial, perhaps Rocket Man, Jungle Queen, or Captain America — all this for a dime.

I also used my wagon to scavenge for old newspapers, magazines, scrap metal and rags that folks would put out for the trash man. But I had to get up early on trash days to beat the Rag Man to the good stuff. The Rag Man was a guy who wandered through the back streets and alleys, usually with a horse and wagon, collecting the same stuff I was trying to gather up to sell at the junk yard on Cross Street.

To the best of my recollection iron was worth about two cents a pound, newspaper would bring half a cent, and magazines were worth a penny a pound. It took a fair amount of scavenging to come up with fifty cents or so for a week’s effort. Most of that work had to be done on school days, which meant I had to get up around five in the morning if I wanted to put in a couple of hours of “Gar-BAHGE-ing” before it was time to go to school.

At one time or another, I also sold newspapers on the Northeast corner of Cross Street at Light Street, between a bank and a movie theater. The newspaper vendor hired boys like me (no girls allowed) to help him increase his sales. We would walk the streets and ride the trolley cars hustling the product. We were allowed on the trolleys free but could only ride a block or two, and then had to get off and catch one going in the opposite direction. The daily papers sold for a nickel each and I earned a half-cent. The Sunday editions cost a quarter and my share was a nickel. Again, on a good week, I could earn as much as seventy-five cents, but if I only sold dailies it was usually closer to fifty.

My all-around favorite way to make money was to work for the “Arabbers”. These were the guys that sold fresh produce from horse-drawn wagons. They would make their rounds through the neighborhoods chanting: ‘Watermelluun! Can’elope! Nice fresh corn, pic’d this very morn. Watermelluun!” The chant would vary depending on what he was pushing on a given day. The Arrabber would usually ride on the wagon seat, or walk at the horse’s head as he went up one street and down another, singing the song of his farm-fresh stock.

The Arabber would stop in the middle or the end of the block so that the housewives could come out and poke, prod and look over his offerings. I would bag the selections, keep the produce looking good, straighten the wagon and occasionally run produce up to Mrs. Rosen’s when she called down an order from her apartment window on the second or third floor.

For instance, the Arabber might be chanting: ‘I got ‘taters, I got corn, I got Anne ‘rundels pic’d this very morn! Anne ‘rundels a nickel a piece or three for a dime!” (“Anne ‘rundels” were tomatoes grown in nearby Anne Arundel County.) Mrs. Rosen might yell down: “Hon, I only need two. Send ’em up and make sure they’s firm, now.” Of course it was my job to run the tomatoes up to Mrs. Rosen’s apartment, collect the money and run back down to the wagon to give it to the boss. If Mrs. Rosen gave me a quarter, I had to make another trip up the steps with her change.

Usually, a day’s work on the wagon was worth a quarter. With the occasional nickel tip, I could pull down half a buck on a good Saturday. I remember one Saturday the boss paid me and the other helper in oranges. It had been a bad week for orange sales and these were beginning to get a bit soft. We each got a dozen oranges and had to carry them home in our shirts because, the Arabber said, ” . . . bags is expensive.” If I didn’t learn anything else from my Arabber days, I discovered that it was better to be the guy that owned or rented the wagon than the kid who did the running.

Overall, though, I have no complaints. During that productive period of my childhood I learned how to work hard and earn spending money — and how to depend on myself to get those things I wanted that my folks, for whatever reason, couldn’t afford to provide for me.

Copyright © 2009 Jake Jakubuwski.

Jake Jakubuwski spent nearly two decades as an active locksmith and door service technician. He has been writing physical security related articles since 1991. Seventeen years ago, Jake wrote his first article for the National Locksmith Magazine and has been their technical editor for fifteen years. Pure Jake Learning Seminars©, his nationally conducted classes, are designed for locksmiths and professional door and hardware installers. For more information, click the “Pure Jake” link in the sidebar blogroll and under the “business” label.


The Lady in the Red Dress

May 27, 2009

By Jake Jakubuwski

Her name was Velma and she rented one of the apartments in the same building in which my family lived. Calling it an apartment is being generous. It was a kitchen, living room and bedroom all-in-one. Like the rest of us, Velma shared the bathroom facilities at the end of the second floor hallway. Each floor had two apartments like Velma’s and one like ours. Ours was a two-room apartment. No bathroom, but we did have a kitchen-style sink, stove and icebox. Note: I said icebox, not refrigerator. The landlord had his place on the first floor which was also two rooms, but he had his own bathroom. I remember seeing it one time and thought it quite marvelous to be able to walk to the toilet withoutRedDressBlur4 going down a dark, cluttered hallway to find that someone else was already in residence. I have no clear memories of the folks that lived on the third floor; or for that matter, those with whom the landlord shared the first floor.

Anyway, I seldom saw Velma—or, as I came to think of her, “The Lady in The Red Dress,” at least not during the day. But in the evenings, just about suppertime, Velma could be heard, her high heels clicking down the stairs. If I was real lucky, I might catch a glimpse of her shoulder-length blond hair and clinging red dress through the banister railing as she went out the front door. I only knew two things for certain about Velma. She was from West Virginia, and—this was important—she was a divorcée. According to the superior intellect of my eleven and twelve year old male friends, divorcées “did it” and they were “easy.” The fact that Velma was divorced and had her own place—and didn’t seem to have a day-job—made her an object of lust and lasciviousness for the guys in my small neighborhood. And not just the boys. Judging from the looks I’d see on the faces of some of the family men when they saw Velma walk down the street I knew—even at the tender age of ten—those men weren’t thinking about church socials and good deeds, either.

Few males were immune to Velma’s charms. I remember one time when my mother found my father and her lingering a bit too long at the bathroom door. That evening there was much shouting and door slamming in our apartment. The door slamming was a real feat since there was only one interior door and four or five cupboard doors in the entire apartment. The slamming doors were accented with shouted words like “slut”, “whore” and “no good tramp.”

On a rare occasion, I would run into Velma during the day. She might be coming home from shopping or the hairdressers or—from who knows where. She always smiled at me RedDressBlur3and called me by name. Velma knew my name! Once, when we ran into each other in the local drug store, she bought me an ice-cream soda. None of my buddies believed me when I told them about it. After that I knew for sure that I was in love with Velma. In my mind she was some sort of a goddess.

It was during my tenth summer that “doing it” took on a full new meaning and I somehow quickly figured out why boys and girls were anatomically different. The backyard gatherings and closed-shed sex education classes among peers had begun to make sense. At that point my goddess feelings about Velma didn’t change—but my imagery of her and I together certainly did. I now could envision us in situations that did not just include shared ice cream sodas or holding hands up on the roof in the moonlight. Beyond that, I still wasn’t completely clear about the exact activities involved, but speculating about various possibilities certainly spiced up my days. Lust and lasciviousness had come to roost in my soul and I only knew that I felt different—really different—about Velma. I was no longer satisfied just being an admirer, a dumb-struck recipient of Velma’s occasional smiles or winks. I wanted to take my place beside her as the one and only object of her affections.

And I was convinced that Velma felt the same about me. She had to. Fate decreed it—Cupid, after all, was not stupid. He was just doing his job to bring we two yearning souls together. RedDressBlur2Together, our souls were fated to fulfill a destiny that was determined before I was born. Don’t misunderstand, in 1948 I didn’t think about it exactly in those terms, but I knew with certainty that a seminal event was about to take place in my life, and Velma—my Velma—was going to be at the epicenter of that whatever it might be.

On Saturday’s I was up early to take my week’s “pickin’s” to the junk yard. I could sell old newspapers, magazines, metal and other junk I’d scavenged during the week. I never made much, usually just enough for movies and candy. As I turned up the alley where we lived, I saw Velma sitting on the front steps, still dressed in her red dress. When I got close enough, I mumbled a “Hi, Velma” and she looked up at me. “Hey, sweetie,” she said. She was smiling but I could tell she’d been crying. The very thought of Velma crying over anything made me want to cry too. I stood at the bottom of the steps trying not to look up to where her dress sort of drooped down and I could see one the garters that held her nylons up. I looked higher still and saw soft white flesh tinted rose from sunlight burning through the red fabric of her dress. I wanted to see more, see whatever there was to see, but felt guilty each time my eyes strayed to the roll of nylon wrapped around her garter. Finally I moved up a step, RedDressBlur1where I could no longer see Velma’s half-hidden treasures. Instead, I looked at her puffy eyes and red-splotched face—and somehow stammered out a query about what was so terribly wrong that it made her cry.

The tears began to roll down her cheeks again. She told me her mother was sick and needed her at home. My heart broke—Velma was going to leave me! She went on to say that the night before she told her date about the problem and asked him for money—money that he owed her—and he got mad and took what little she had in her purse and ran off. Now, she had nothing to buy a train ticket home. I quickly realized that this was my opportunity to impress Velma and win her gratitude—perhaps even her undying love. I asked Velma how much she needed for the ticket. “Ten dollars, sweetie.” A fortune! So I reached in my pocket and gave her all of my junk earnings. I told her maybe my dad would loan her the rest. She said no, because if he did and my mother found out, it would only cause problems. I told her to wait, I’d be right back.

My mother was sleeping (she usually got home from her bar tending job around three in the morning and slept until noon). I went to the jelly jar where she kept her tip money and removed almost two dollars and fifty cents in change, not too much so it would look like anything had been taken. My father’s “junk” drawer yielded a dollar and forty-eight cents. My personal piggy bank gave up thirty-nine cents. In the kitchen Momma’s “butter money” yielded a dollar thirty-five. Along with what I had already given Velma, she was now up to a grand total of six dollars and ninety-two cents. I ran back to Velma and gave her the money, RedDressBlur0and cried over the fact that it wasn’t enough—just the best I could do. She told me “not to worry,” that maybe she could get her brother to send the rest.

Then Velma did the most amazing thing. She reached out, gently clasped my cheeks in her soft hands and kissed me right on the lips! Not like some adult kissing a kid, but like an adult kissing an adult. I could feel the tip of her tongue against my teeth and her lips covered mine in a soft but urgent manner that made me dizzy. Before I could figure out that I should respond in kind, the moment was over. She still held my cheeks in her hands, but now she was looking into my eyes and promising that as soon as she “got settled” she’d let me know where she was and maybe I could come visit her. Visit? All she had to do was tell me where and when. I would swim deep oceans and climb high mountains to get another kiss from Velma! And I would gladly wait for her to reach out to me and tell me she was ready to fulfill our destiny—the fate determined for us by deities unknown, or long forgotten—to consummate a love the likes of which had never been experienced before by mere mortals!

I was thinking all of that (on a ten year-old level of course) as Velma told me she had to go or she’d miss her train. As I watched her stand, smooth the red dress over her voluptuous body, and begin walking down the alley toward the corner where the streetcar stopped, I thought of our future bliss together. I watched her board the streetcar. I watched some tall stranger take her valise and Velma show her appreciation by smiling brightly at him. Then she turned and looked my way. She puckered her lips and blew me a kiss and gave a sad little wave and turned away. I watched as The Lady In The Red Dress left my life forever. She left with six-dollars and ninety-two cents that I would never see again. I watched as the streetcar carried my first love away forever—off into my bitter-sweet long-term memory.

Copyright © 2009 Jake Jakubuwski.

Jake Jakubuwski spent nearly two decades as an active locksmith and door service technician. He has been writing physical security related articles since 1991. Seventeen years ago, Jake wrote his first article for the National Locksmith Magazine and has been their technical editor for fifteen years. Pure Jake Learning Seminars©, his nationally conducted classes, are designed for locksmiths and professional door and hardware installers. For more information, click the “Pure Jake” link in the sidebar blogroll and under the “business” label.

Jake contacted me after reading some of my growing-up-in- South-Baltimore-in-the-1950s posts. It turns out that we have a lot in common—some of our experiences eerily similar but at the same time different in the details. For instance, my first lustful crush—when I was fifteen—was on a woman old enough to be my mother. (In fact, she was a friend of my mother’s and the same age. I know, I know—what would Freud say?!) But I never saw my mother’s friend in a sexy red dress. As far as I could tell she only wore cheap print house dresses—and, like a certain movie star named Marilyn—whom she resembled—my mother’s friend disliked wearing underwear. Ah, memory!


Speedball

May 9, 2009

An Ink-Stained Memory

The cover of my copy of the 17th edition of Speedball Text Book by Ross F. George, coverpublished by the C. Howard Hunt Pen Company in 1956, has my last name scrawled in the big yellow letter “S” in the title — proof of ownership by a much younger me. The 6″ x 9″ booklet cover is dog-eared by use and abuse over time and, at the bottom of the subtitle text, there is what appears to be spilled India ink on the words “Poster Design for Pen and Brush.” (Click images once or twice for larger views.)

In 1956 I was 19 years old and serving the second year of a three-year enlistment in the U. S. Army. I doubt that I owned the booklet then, but once I left the military — in 1957 — I became a serious art student with the help of the Korean G. I. Bill. Despite having been an avid doodler and tracer of comic book panels and Sunday newspaper comic strips as a kid, Speedball-1I had had few formal art classes in elementary school. Instead of going to high school I attended two years of “commercial art” training in a city vocational school, to which I was sent after failing the eighth grade. In those days “problem” students — very much me at the time — were given the option of repeating the failed grade, learning a trade or — in a case like mine, because of some problems with the law — going to reform school. For me, the study of art of any kind was very seductive, so it was an easy choice. Later, though, I would discover that what I had signed on for was really a sort of “bait and switch” scheme. (More on that later.)

“Tools for Lettering,” on page 1 of the “Speedball” text, Speedball-2provides a clue as to when I may have acquired the booklet. If you look closely at the “Style C” pen point section you’ll see my faded rubber stamp running vertically up the page — another ownership tag. My address at the time, 3811 Mayberry Avenue, was where my new wife and I lived in the early 1960s. During those years I became something of a “speedball” myself, over-committed in life and in art, trying to make up for lost time and a truncated education. (I had completed high school by scoring well on the General Educational Development test while in the service.) In the span of only a few years I became the father of two sons, was working full time as a clerk for the Social Security Administration and also Speedball-3doing part-time seasonal work in the mail order department of Montgomery Ward (stocking shelves in the toy section). I was also attending evening art classes at the Maryland Institute of Art. And, as if that wasn’t enough, during the same period I signed up for a course in “Editorial and Commercial Cartooning” offered by a correspondence school. Speedball-6It was around this time that I began to collect a modest library of “how-to” art books, with which I planned to master the mysteries of what I hoped would somehow become a career. My simple and — as it turned out — unrealistic, dream was to quickly make big bucks as some sort of artist, in the same way many of my male relatives had become master carpenters and managed to support their families. From the very beginning I figured that art was something I could do, perhaps the only thing I was suited for, and at which I just might be able to make a living.Speedball-20

The Speedball booklet impressed me because of the mix of visuals and beautifully hand-lettered copy. One example of the practical quality of the illustrated craft tips is on page 2, where “Three Points of Contact” of the pen or brush hand in the proper lettering position is demonstrated with a photograph (brush) and in a line drawing (pen). Until I owned the booklet I didn’t know from “Roman,” “Gothic,” and “Text” lettering styles (see page 3). Or that Roman letters could best Speedball-36be made using “C” or “D” Speedball pen points, etc. And that in all lettering, to quote the copy, “Time and effort will be minimized by using the size and style of pen or brush which will form the different letters of any given alphabet without subsequent remodeling of the strokes.”

Now back to what I termed the “bait and switch” of vocational school. The four semesters of half-days I had spent there consisted of the endless practice Speedball-80of basic “show-card” brush strokes (the other half-day devoted to “social studies” and other “academic” subjects). Show cards are those hand-lettered broadsides you still see in the windows of small neighborhood grocery stores, announcing the current sale price of milk and eggs. They were training me to become a sign painter! We students used water-based black or red poster paint and practiced the simple letter segments using old newspapers turned on their sides so that the print columns became uniform guidelines. The exercise was much like the illustration of basic pen strokes shown on page 6 of the Speedball Text Book.

Meanwhile, on page 20 of the booklet, illustrations of pen points were shown stroking Roman letters. Speedball-82Simple, all you had to do to master the basic letter forms was to allow your eyes to follow the direction of the tiny numbered arrows. (There were even microscopic arrows showing where you should “twirl” the point to make a curved section.) As good as those illustrations were, and despite my hours of practice, I never became much good with a speedball pen or red sable lettering brush. I quickly realized that I’d have to develop other skills if I hoped to make a living at a drawing table. It seemed that because of my bipolar-like low boredom threshold and short attention span, Speedball-83and my rush of ambition, I simply didn’t have the patience to practice lettering. Anyway, I was more attracted to what the Speedball booklet taught me about the arty “moods” letter styles convey (see page 36); layout theory (pages 80 to 82); and how something as simple as line direction could convey important information to a viewer (page 83). The beauty part was I came to understand that many of these lettering “rules” also applied to drawing cartoons, a subject that holds my interest to this day.

The beautiful line drawing on page 92 of the booklet, “Early Morning in the Snow,” done with a “C-6” pen point by Charles Stoner, is an example of the aesthetic versatility of at least some of the Speedball products. For many years my personal preference was the “B-6,” with which I did balloon lettering and my rather crude cartoons. The stick figure examples shown on page 94 are close to my drawing style at the time, and they cleverly demonstrate the human body when in a balanced position. The booklet text explains: “Notice also that the supporting foot is directly under the center of gravity.” Other pictures demo the off-balance body, showing a figure actively attempting a broad jump. On other pages in the bookletSpeedball-92 I learned about the use of basic shapes (circles, triangles, rectangles, squares, etc.) with which to begin designing layouts and drawings, along with strategic placement of blacks to direct the viewer’s eye movement left to right, top to bottom through the panels and the pages. Again, these tips have great value for executing all levels and kinds of art, “commercial” and “fine,” not just the lettering on posters and show cards.

Overall, what did I take from my study of the Speedball booklet and similar texts so many years ago — I mean beyond the useful tips and exercises? Speedball-94Well, most importantly I think, I came to reluctantly accept the idea that given my late start in the graphics game I would likely never be able to do any of it at the “master” level. What I did get from “Speedball” and other similar texts, though, was enough new knowledge about the craft and business of lettering and cartooning with which to earn a modest living, something for which I’ve been very grateful. So here I am after all these years, still hard at it, still learning new things every day. And still laughing at myself and my false starts and outright failures. Still trying, despite the odds, to become really good at something.

Copyright © 2009 Jim Sizemore.

To mark this first year anniversary of DoodleMeister.com (initial post published May 7, 2008), I wanted to post something to which fellow cartoonists’ and other commercial-type ink-slingers of a certain age might relate. And lo, the other day I happened upon my well-thumbed copy of Speedball Textbook. Perfect.



My Obama Trauma

March 17, 2009

By Maria Garriott

There’s no doubt that Barack Obama’s ascent to the presidency is an historic event—finally, after years of second-class status, discrimination, and dismissal, a basketball playerbf194231 has reached the highest office in the land. My Democratic friends are one step shy of hysteria, believing this is the Second Coming, if not of Jesus, than at least of Abraham Lincoln. My Republican friends are so gloomy they make Eeyore look like a Steelers cheerleader.

And except for a few appointee’s unpaid-taxes snafus (and really, it’s so easy to forget to declare a few hundred thousand or so), Obama has had no major missteps. But I’m having a hard time getting used to him in the Oval Office, whether he’s wearing a tailored business suit or really cool gym gear.

He’s younger than me.

How can the president of the United States be my junior? Isn’t the leader of the free world supposed to be a father figure—or, like Dwight Eisenhower or Ronald Reagan, a grandfather figure? Shouldn’t the commander-in-chief be someone you can look up to in a chronological way? Not your kid brother?

How can he be old enough to be president? He was born in 1961, when hula hoops were hot and skateboards had metal wheels. When John Glenn circled the Earth in a capsule the size of a port-a-potty, Barack was spooning in Gerber applesauce. When John F. Kennedy was shot, he toddled around in diapers. (I, on the other hand, was in kindergarten and got to eat in front of the TV and watch the Kennedy funeral, an unprecedented violation of accepted rules of dinner engagement.) When our cities erupted in riots in 1968 after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, assassination, he was seven, and just learning how to button his little bellbottom pants. How can he be old enough to have his finger on the button?

I knew it would come to this. My mother used to intone, “You know you’re getting old when the cops and doctors are younger than you.” I hit that milestone twenty years ago, and I’m still feeling the shock waves. When a cop stops me for a broken tail light or making a left turn that is a tiny bit illegal, I invariably look into his just-started-shaving face and want to say, “Hon, does your mom know where you are?” I remember the first time a gynecologist stopped being my father’s age. I switched doctors.

I got new glasses this week—just for distance and driving at night, but probably the last pair I’ll get without bifocals. “They make me look old,” I lamented. Then I realized that it wasn’t the glasses, but the clarity of corrected vision. There’s a reason retouched photos have that blurry look.
Obama, you’ll note, doesn’t even have to wear glasses.

Now that # 44 has been sworn in, millions of baby boomers—women as well as men, now, thanks to Hillary—look in the mirror every morning and say, “Well, chump, if you had studied harder, and laid off the Bud Light, it could have been you!” Boomers, who aren’t aging gracefully as a demographic, will wake up and smell the latte, and feel the sting of Missed Opportunities.

Still, I wish him well. We need fresh thinking, and someone to galvanize Americans into giving their best to our country. I just hope he brought his hula hoop to the White House.

Copyright © 2009 Maria Garriott.

Maria Gariott tries to find humor everywhere, including in her day job at Johns Hopkins University and her five (count ’em–five) children. In 1980, she and her husband moved into a struggling inner city neighborhood to start a multi-ethnic church. Her memoir A Thousand Resurrections: An Urban Spiritual Journey is what you might get if you cross Seventh Heaven with Homicide or The Wire. A preview chapter, bio, and ordering information are available on her website http://www.athousandresurrections.com, which you can reach by clicking her name in the blogroll link in the sidebar. I met Maria in one of the many writing groups I’ve participated in over the years. (My first such class—I do believe—began and ended before Maria was born.) As you see, she’s a very clever essayist for such a young person and I’m very, very proud to have her on this blog.