Monday, September 29, 2008

the complete plays of jamie bradburn, age 7

There's a local reading series called Grownups Read Things They Wrote As Kids that allows people to do just that: expose to the public odd pieces they wrote during their formative years. I haven't attended one, but the concept inspired me to dig through the storage tub of early literary masterpieces back home.

Among the goodies I found was a script written around grade 2, Zama's Talking Bird. Memory serves that this was a group assignment meant to follow up a story in one of our Gage readers. The play is credited to three writers but I suspect I devised most of it, since its structure and narrative pattern resembles other works from the same period...unless I absorbed the thoughts and writing rhythms of peers.

Revisiting my early writing, the more I'm convinced that:

  • My imagination was healthy
  • I was aware of what certain type layouts should look like (plays contain acts, etc)
  • Warner Brothers cartoons were my formative creative influence
  • My destiny should have been absurdist writer or performance artist

Background: in the early grades I was perceived as a genius, due to a sponge-like ability to absorb information. In a small semi-rural elementary school, this attracted attention. It occasionally meant being showcased in front of senior students like a sideshow attraction - it took years to live down reading a history book in front of a class of grade 8s when I was in grade 1. How much context I understood is debatable but it took little effort to reel off the winner of the 1911 World Series or what D.W. Griffith's important films were. By grade 2 I was tossed in front of the senior classes to lecture about old movies, until my parents put a stop to my circus freak days.

Video evidence (a class video shot in grade 1) shows I was a precocious brat with an Elmer Fudd speech impediment, prone to upstaging others and expressing my exasperation at those a few steps behind me during assignments. I was a chatterbox, which resulted in low marks on my report cards for personal behaviour. Definitely had a flair for the dramatic, inherited from Dad.


Why this script was typed out is a mystery (Formal presentation? Method of permanent preservation?). The typist would have either been Mom (note neat indentations) or me (preservation of the play's structure, liked to play with Mom's typewriter).

Click on images for full-size versions.

Zama's Talking Bird (Page 1)
Page 1: The opening scenes. Mostly makes sense, except for the crow's sudden slip into duck talk. Discuss amongst yourselves the deeper meaning of this change in language.

I detect my writing style in its embryonic form, especially when Zama blurts out "Okay, if that's the way you feel!"

Zama's Talking Bird (Page 2)
Page 2: Note mysterious insertion of act numbers. I guess I had an inkling of how plays were structured after flipping through Dad's collection of Edward Albee paperbacks (even if I thought Martha rambled on about "Gotham records" in Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? and couldn't understand why no animals ran loose in The Zoo Story) or his copy of MacBird!

Also note the gratuitous death. Horrible diseases tend to be treated in my early writing like blackout gags, non-sequiturs or the literary equivalent of Wile E. Coyote's mishaps. My grandfather passed away a year earlier (and my maternal grandmother would follow within a year), so I knew what death was and understood that it could serve as a device to move a character off the stage for the rest of the script.

Zama's Talking Bird (Page 3)
Page 3: "Old Waterfront" failed to hit the Billboard Top 100 chart upon its release as a single from the soundtrack album in fall 1982. I imagined the song was set to a rinky tink barroom piano that the characters gathered around.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

malevolent talking oil furnaces department

From the mid-1980s, a cranky, talking, slightly creepy oil furnace from a series of Ontario Hydro ads. The furnace's face was plastered on billboards in Leaside during my last childhood visits to Toronto before my grandmother moved to A'burg. I don't recall this campaign having much, if any, presence around Windsor and Essex County.

The furnace in a less malevolent mood.

Monday, September 22, 2008

have you got time for the dish of the day?

Take Time to Decorate a Chicken Salad - French Clock Chicken Salad
Tired of making the same old poultry-based appetizer when the gang come over? Take some advice from Janet Evans' Personal Cookbook from the pages of Canadian Homes and Gardens (1956) and "take time to decorate a chicken salad." The secret? Stiff mayo icing!

French Clock Chicken Salad
To serve 10 or 12 people, you will need: 4 cups cut-up chicken, 3/4 cup blanched slivered almonds, 2 cups finely chopped onion, 2 cups chopped pineapple, 3/4 cup mayonnaise, 1/3 cup thin cream, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon celery salt and 1 teaspoon paprika.

Mix cream and mayonnaise together. Put all ingredients together in a bowl and stir together well. Place salad in the serving bowl. Press it down smoothly. Ice it all over the top with stiff mayonnaise. Hard-boil 6 small eggs. Cut them in half. Use small thin slivers of green peppers to put the hours from 1 to 12 in Roman numerals, one on the yolk of each half egg. Put eggs in order around your clock salad. In centre of the clock, put half of a stuffed olive. Around it, about 1-1/2 inches from the centre, put a ring of green peas to represent the "jewels" usually found in a French clock. Now you are ready to place the hands of the clock, also made from green pepper. Set it at the hour at which you intend to serve the salad.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

the tip of ted's life

Vintage Ad #607: How I Got the Tip of My Life (Accident Investigations)
Source: Marvel Super-Heroes #33, November 1972
"But Jim, I cause a lot of accidents. Will Universal help potential employers overlook that?"

"Ted, your experience and in-depth knowledge of what happens in an accident should land you a job in no time. As I said, the field is booming!"


Marvel Super-Heroes was one of the backbones of Marvel's reprint lineup in the 1970s. Carrying on the numbering of Fantasy Masterpieces when its first issue (#12) appeared in 1967, the title began as a double-sized comic consisting of new tryout stories a la DC's Showcase backed with Golden Age superhero reprints. Both elements vanished by issue 21, to be replaced by various reprints until the series settled down to a normal-sized republishing of 1960s Hulk and Sub-Mariner tales.

The Hulk Must Die! (story: Stan Lee, art Bill Everett over Jack Kirby layouts) originally appeared in Tales to Astonish #78, April 1966. This tale marked a couple of turning points for Ol' Greenskin. For nearly a year, the series was a testing ground for Stan Lee to try out new artists and see if they could adapt to Jack Kirby's action-packed style. Some were DC vets hiding their identities (Mike Esposito as "Mickey Demeo", Gil Kane as "Scott Edward"), others admitted who they were (Bob Powell, John Romita). With this issue, Bill Everett settled in for a half-year stay, his cartoony style well-suited for the Hulk's brutishness and the movie serial pacing of the series. I love the following panel, where it's clear the Hulk suffers from a king-size case of ADD.

Take a gander at those choppers. One session with the Hulk would provide a lifetime's income for any dentist who survived the encounter.

Ever since the Hulk's debut in 1962, Lee had difficulties in establishing a permanent persona for the character. The Hulk's brain capacity varied wildly, from intelligent to barely functional (which later writers chalked up to multiple-personality disorder). After eight months of gradually diminishing brain power, the Hulk's trip back from the future at the start of this issue marks the point where the character settled into the "Hulk Smash!" mode most people are familiar with (he was thick as a brick for most of the previous issue, but managed to make a reasonably intelligent observation before being sucked back into the present).

The story deals with the army capturing ol' Jadejaws and leaving him in the care of Dr. Konrad Zaxon, whose name screams "EVIL!!!" Something about mastery of organic energy and a shiny suit of armor allowing him to conquer the world. The tale ends with Zaxon pointing an "organic energy attractor" (translation: big blue gun) at a pissed-off Hulk...TO BE HULKINUED!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

martha logan says...

Vintage Ad #603: Martha Logan Says Meat is Material of War
Click ad to view a larger version

World War II. With many staples of life like meat being rationed, consumers were encouraged to make the most of their allotments and stretch them to their limits. Magazines were filled with advice from manufacturers on how to sensibly use their products to leave enough for the boys overseas. Once you cut through the wartime propaganda, words of wisdom from real or fictional home economists ring true even without the ration coupons.

A moment of silence for all cuts of meat that succumbed to freezer burn.

Martha Logan appears to have been as real a person as Betty Crocker. The name used for tips and publications from Swift's home economics department through the 1960s.

Stay tuned for more tips from Martha in the future.

Source: National Home Monthly, November 1943

Monday, September 08, 2008

southern sojourn 1: indiana wants me, lord i can go back there

Last year, my family went on its first long-distance roadtrip in years. We easily survived a week together in Ottawa, so I set my sights on a more ambitious trip this summer. I often daydreamed about a trip along the Mississippi and through the upper South to visit landmarks in the history of popular music - the blues of the Delta, rock and soul in Memphis, country in Nashville. Since none of us had ventured through these areas, I was able to convince Mom and Amy to join in the adventure.

We packed up the official Warehouse Transport Vehicle on the first Saturday of August and began our southern journey.


Trying Not To Step In Something Natural In Shipshewana
Our first stop was Shipshewanna, located in the heart of northern Indiana's Amish area. Mom used to visit frequently with her Detroit-area cousins to check out crafts and a giant midweek flea market. As is usual with such towns one of the main obstacles for pedestrians is dodging the horse flop.

Blue Gate Restaurant

Blue Gate Family Style Meal
We ate lunch at the Blue Gate, which had expanded since Mom's last visit to town. We ordered the family-style meal to keep our stomachs happy for the rest of the day - I figured a Frankenmuth-style meal would be a fine way to begin the trip. Clockwise from left: chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, chicken dressing, noodles, green beans, smoked ham and chuck roast. Not shown: salad and fresh-baked bread. One round of the all-you-can-eat affair was more than enough for us to handle. Eyebrows raised when I tried the green beans and liked them - usually I only eat other strains (Italian, long) and not a serving of plain old string beans.

Blue Gate Pies
Dessert was also included. The menu listed 25 tempting varieties of pie, causing numerous mental coin flips. We narrowed our choices to blackberry, coconut cream and peach. All were good picks.

After lunch, we briefly wandered nearby shops. The Christmas store did not feature any Santas as scary as one on our last roadtrip.

We drove south along Indiana Route 5, aka the Harold H. (Potch) Wheeler Highway. Miles of farmland, including stretched where the corn stalks towered over the road, made this a relaxing drive. Few absurdities struck our eye until we hit Huntingdon, where one of the town's main attractions induced uncontrollable laughter...

Dan Quayle Center and Museum (2) Dan Quayle Center and Museum (1)
The museum appeared to be closed so we were unable to take in the full wonder and glory of one America's most memorable second-in-commands.

Boom City Fireworks
I-69 hit us with a bang

Except for a stop at an outlet mall south of Indianapolis, we stuck to freeways until we arrived in Louisville at dusk. I hadn't planned on booking a hotel beforehand but decided that (a) I might be pooped from a late drive from Toronto the previous night and make an irrational choice, and (b) I didn't know how long the trip from Detroit to Louisville would be. After surfing the web, I picked a Hilton Garden Inn on the east side of the city, due to a combination of price, decent reviews and promising-sounding breakfast.

After checking in, Amy and I hit the hotel pool. It was tiny and would have been fine except for a unruly mob of kids in town for a baseball tournament. The legal disclaimer noted that no more than five people were allowed in the pool, but there were at least a dozen rangy kids whacking each other with pool noodles and doing cannonballs into the shallow pool. That any water remained in the pool was a marvel of science. A few parents sat on the sidelines, oblivious to the mischief their offspring were up to. Amy and I shot frazzled looks at each other whenever the next faceful of water hit us.

At least they enjoyed themselves.

We feared that the kids would bounce off the walls and run amok in the hallways all night but we didn't hear them once we returned to the room. While Mom and Amy settled in for a night's rest, I studied the maps for the next day's adventure.

All pictures taken Aug 2/08. Full set.

Next: All the way to Memphis 

at god's world, we buy ugly houses

At God's World, We Buy Ugly Houses
When you have an ugly home to dispose of, call God. A hillbilly representative will be sent to your home to estimate how much compensation your dilapidated/outdated home merits and provide the Lord's promise that your next dwelling will be more attractive.

I shot this photo while driving down south along Schaefer in Detroit, somewhere between 7 Mile and Fenkell. The "We Buy Ugly Houses" billboard cropped up several times during a Labour Day weekend drive around the Motor City.

Friday, September 05, 2008

vikings attack amherstburg, film at 11

Driving along Front Road south of Amherstburg usually means catching glimpses of pleasure craft and tankers sailing the Detroit River and a picturesque view of the Fermi 2 nuclear plant. Marauding Viking ships are a rarer sight.
Vikings Versus Pleasure Boaters
The people in the pleasure craft had no inkling of the fiery fate that would be theirs within minutes.

Vikings Pursued by the Coast Guard?
The Coast Guard was in full pursuit and managed to corral the raiding party before further damage was inflicted on innocent civilians.

Photos taken on August 9 or 10, 2008 

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

flat tire department

The Chatham-Kent stretch of 401 is one of the most heavily-policed stretches of the highway. A flat landscape and lack of visual distractions make it ripe territory for leadfootitis (though I have never been stopped along this stretch). Even the overpasses bear the mark of the OPP, through a number of bridges named after fallen officers.
The heavy OPP presence comes in handy when things go wrong with your vehicle, as I experienced while driving down to Amherstburg Friday night. Fog settled in west of London but my fellow drivers took note of the conditions and drove carefully. Around Ridgetown I felt the back tires sliding a bit, which I initially chalked up to moisture on the road. Just as I passed the exit for Highway 40, the sluggish ride turned into a bumpy one.

Hello flat tire.

I noticed flashing police lights on the horizon. I tried to drive on the shoulder towards them, until the thumping grew too loud. I quickly realized I had left my cell phone in Toronto, so I figured I'd walk ahead to the lights. As soon as I hopped out of the car, a police cruiser pulled up behind me. The officer noticed my erratic drive along the shoulder and jokingly asked if I was trying to stash away open booze. I explained the situation and the officer promptly called CAA, though they were placed on hold for an eternity before connecting with an operator.

We chatted while waiting for assistance, leaning against the highway railing. When I mentioned my destination, they indicated that the Hell's Angels were having a party in A'burg over the weekend for a minor anniversary. Both of us noted the imminent closure of the service centres near West Lorne for renovations and the problems this may cause for tired drivers and truckers - as of today, the furthest west one will find a fully-operating service is Ingersoll thanks to closure of the stop at Tilbury. Few facilities exist immediately off 401 between Windsor and London without going on at least a 10-15 minute drive (eastbound, limited facilities have been set up at Tilbury, while Dutton is scheduled to close for renovations at the end of September).

Not that the West Lorne/Dutton centres weren't overdue for a remodelling, as they were among the first to switch from cafeteria-style services to fast food chains back in the 1980s. My parents grumbled about the quality of the old cafeterias, with Shell's 1867 locations in Tilbury and Dutton getting the worst marks (something about stinky people in line and dodgy food). We usually brought lunch on childhood trips to Toronto, stopping at the picnic area at the Ingersoll service centre to eat our goodies.

The first officer left after 20-30 minutes and another took their place. The new cruiser's headlights provided enough light to read a newspaper. Within 20 minutes a tower arrived, put on the spare tire and I drove back into the fog, which thickened as I continued westward.