Writer's Workshop: Purposes and Porpoises

Harbor porpoise. Image by skeeze from Pixabay

Do you ever see a word and immediately think of another word that kind of looks like it, and you just have to follow it? I saw that today’s prompt was "purpose" and immediately thought "porpoise." Porpoises are similar to dolphins, except they have a shorter beak and different teeth. And the weird thing is, their closest living relative is the hippopotamus. Go figure.

You’ll be happy to know that I’ve dealt with my sudden need to learn everything there is to know about porpoises, which was the purpose of the last paragraph. Let’s move on.

The big question, it seems, is "what is my purpose in life?" What is the meaning of life in general, and specifically what’s the meaning of my life?

The first thing that came to mind was the Baltimore Catechism, which was the fundamental training we received in Christian Doctrine when we were in first and second grade. It has this to say about it…

God made us to show forth His goodness and to share with us His everlasting happiness in heaven.

And this…

To gain the happiness of heaven we must know, love, and serve God in this world.

All of which sounds wonderful, and they’re certainly things that I strive to do. The question is "How?" It doesn’t really say. Then I remembered my Religion textbook, and these two pictures that stood side by side. One picture showed a man and a woman, he in a tuxedo, she in a wedding gown. Under that picture was the legend "THIS IS GOOD." The second picture showed the same two people (ostensibly), he in a cassock with a Roman collar, she in a nun’s habit, with the legend "THIS IS BETTER." Okay, so the big push that started in Catholic school was to join the priesthood or religious life. I’ve kept up with my classmates from St. Ignatius School, Class of 1970, and as far as I know, no one became a priest or nun. Two guys went to the seminary for high school, and both were home within a couple of years; both are married with families today. We all seem to have opted for good rather than better.

So, I did what any self-respecting adult in the 21st Century would do: I Googled it. (Except I used Duck Duck Go, a search engine that doesn’t track you.) I found this page on the blog of a man named Mark Manson, who calls himself "Author, Thinker, Life Enthusiast." The post is titled "7 Strange Questions That Help You Find Your Life Purpose." It’s a pretty interesting essay, which you can read on your own. One question on his list was this:

What is true about you today that would make your 8-year-old self cry?

I thought back to 1964, when I was 8, and thought about what I liked to do back then.

  • Draw
  • Listen to the radio
  • Watch TV
  • Make noise with the guitar I got from my cousin Tim (who was Teddy at the time). I couldn’t actually play the thing, but a lot of the things I did by pounding on it and slapping the strings are actual techniques that people like Tommy Emmanuel use today. Willy Cusick, my friend, had a ukulele which he played kind of the same way I played the guitar, and the two of us would make noise together. We even wrote dumb songs together, with names like "I want to go crazy over you" and "Green and yellow bubble spider" and "I like to eat." Which reminds me,
  • Write dumb songs
  • Wander the neighborhood, on foot and on my bicycle
  • Etc., etc., etc.

And I realized, the only things that I do now are "listen to the radio" (the 21st Century equivalent, anyway) and "watch TV." I let 8-year-old me down. No wonder the kid’s crying. I feel like crying myself.

I needed that article when I was 8, you know?

Writer’s Workshop: Scared To Death

Last week, I talked about a recent acquisition for my Lien Chemical Company ephemera collection, and talked about why I’m collecting items from that company (i.e. I was scared to death when I was a kid at the sight of their logo, which was practically ubiquitous at one time, leading to some very uncomfortable moments when we were out). I’m sure many of you found that strange, and you’d probably be right. I had a few irrational fears like that: Besides Lien, there were fire drills, water heaters in the bathroom, Emergency Broadcast System tests, and a few others that I’ve probably blocked out because they were so terrifying.

I think we all are scared of something that seems irrational, and that no amount of explaining can get people to understand. To some, those fears can seem funny. One day I was someplace where The Maury Povich Show was on the TV, and he was having one of his shows where he talks to people who have irrational fears, like being frightened by aluminum foil, balloons, cotton, mustard, and flowers. I know that he means well, because he has a psychologist on the show who offers to help these people confront their fears, and I think he tries to approach the topic with compassion and empathy. It bothers me, though, that there are members of his audience who find this hilarious. I wonder how many people write for tickets and specifically ask for tickets to "one of those shows with the weirdos that are scared of goofy shit." Or how many people record those shows so they can sit at home and laugh their asses off.

All fear is irrational, to a certain extent. Admittedly, some fears are harder to explain than others, like being scared of logos in the bathroom or rubber bands, but they’re very real to the people who are scared by them. It’s part of being human.

Writer’s Workshop: My Latest Purchase

By now, you’ve probably figured out that I can be pretty crazy at times. A few years ago, I wrote a post where I owned up to some of the things that scared me as a kid:

I was scared of plenty of things, even a few strange things: water heaters (especially in the bathroom); EBS tests; public restrooms maintained by the Lien Chemical Company (a successful and no longer existing restroom sanitation service based in the Chicago area, who cleaned most of the restrooms along US Route 66 and, it seemed, the world); fire drills; and a host of other seemingly-innocuous things and occurrences.

One of the ways that I’ve learned to cope with these fears is to find things that remind me of these things that scared me. For example, there are a host of videos on YouTube of Emergency Broadcast System tests, which I now watch pretty freely and are almost a comfort, reminding me of happy times gone by.

I was browsing around on eBay one day and happened to run across this:

It’s a catalog from Lien Chemical Company, whose trademark scared me as a kid. (We’ve never quite been able to figure out how it started; I think I figured out that I was in a restroom one day and a strange man came in and said things that made me feel as though he wanted to molest me, but that’s just conjecture.) I saw this catalog and felt the need to have it. Turns out that the company had quite an impressive range of products and services.

eBay has a feature where you can put certain keywords in and be alerted anytime someone has something you might be interested in. I decided that it might be fun to start collecting ephemera from Lien. So far, my collection consists of the catalog, several uniform patches, copies of a couple of patents they applied for, obituaries from several of their employees, and my most recent purchase, a pocket diary from 1959.

It didn’t look like much in the pictures on eBay, but I figured for ten bucks, shipping included, who’d be without?

I got the thing last week and it’s really kind of a cool little book.

Inside the front cover is an advertisement that features a rather snazzy looking gentleman who might or might not look like your Lien representative and a general list of things you can get from him. On the facing page is a list of the addresses for their main office and branches. Whenever I see an old address, I go out to Google Maps and see what’s there now. In the case of their Chicago location, it’s now a green space.

Flip over to the next page, and there’s a more detailed list of the stuff Lien sold, along with their guarantee, signed by C. B. Lien himself, and a page where you can put all kinds of personal information.

Then it gets interesting: the pages that follow, before you even get to the calendar part, have information about

  • the meaning of the names of the months of the year and days of the week
  • a list of the legal holidays and other observances and which states observe them
  • a list of wedding anniversaries (e.g. the 25th is the silver, 50th is gold, and 45th is the sapphire)
  • points of Constitutional law
  • the figures from the 1950 census
  • table of distances between major US cities
  • a list of states, their capitals, the year they were admitted to the Union, and rank in area (Alaska and Hawaii are missing, of course)
  • time zone differences
  • Roman and Arabic numerals
  • etc., etc., etc.

This little book belonged to someone who wrote a number of cryptic notes in the calendar and other pages. I tried to figure out what they meant, and about went nuts.

Anyway, that’s my most recent purchase, and yes, I’m strange…

Writer’s Workshop: Into The Twilight Zone

Image by skeeze from Pixabay

I’m not much of a lover of The Twilight Zone. Realizing that puts me in a minority, there are nonetheless times when I’ve felt that I’ve been dropped there. I’ve already told the story of waking up in a hotel room without knowing how I got there, so I’ll tell a different story.

Years ago I was sent to Bogotá, Colombia to help a client. I was originally supposed to be there for a week, but due to problems we encountered I ended up spending a weekend and a couple more days there. I would have been there longer, except my manager called me and told me to get my ass home so I could go to Midyear (our semiannual meeting, usually held somewhere “fun” and during which we did “fun” things). Turns out that there had been an incident elsewhere in Colombia where an American official was shot and killed by a member of one of the drug cartels, and they were worried about me.

Anyway, I came home that Wednesday so that I could have “fun” with my co-workers on Thursday and Friday, spent Saturday at home, then left for a week in Minneapolis on Sunday. I got to my hotel, ordered dinner, and was watching ESPN (which was actually worth watching at the time) when I fell asleep.

When I woke up, it was 1 AM and I was really confused: I didn’t know where I was, I didn’t know why I was there, and most importantly, I didn’t know why they were speaking English on TV. I remember actually saying, “I’m in the Twilight Zone!” and panicking because I knew I wasn’t home. I finally relaxed and told myself, “you’re overtired. Go to bed, go to sleep, it’ll all work itself out in the morning.” And it did: when my wakeup call came, everything was there.

The rest of the trip was uneventful, and nothing like that has ever happened to me again. But I still remember that trip and shudder…

Writer’s Workshop: Beyond Candy

It’s that time of year again, when this prompt comes up:

List some of your favorite childhood candies … are they still your favorite?

I’ve answered this prompt a couple of times, here and here. In fact, as the comments will show, I talk about even more of them there. As I’ve said a few times, if it’s candy, generally, I like it.

So I’m going to take a detour out of Candy Land and talk about somethings I like even better: snack cakes. Let’s face it: they’re sold at the same places and have the same target market as candy, and, as far as I’m concerned, are close enough to candy for our purposes here.

The biggest change I can think of from when I was a kid and today is that Hostess, purveyor of most of my favorites, is now owned by Dolly Madison, who sponsored all those Peanuts specials we grew up with, like A Charlie Brown Arbor Day and It’s Godzilla, Charlie Brown! Most of the stuff I knew and loved as a kid is still available, albeit in a form that preserves most of the charm of the original while at the same time made with cheaper (and potentially more dangerous) ingredients. I haven’t had many of them in years, certainly not since my stroke because Mary won’t buy them for me. Probably just as well, because I need to be taking better care of myself and losing a lot of the weight I’ve gained.

I could be here forever, naming snack cakes and why I like them, so I’ll limit myself to just the Hostess snacks, because they’re the ones I know the best, and just the ones I remember, because we could be here all day otherwise.

Twinkies By far, my favorite, then and now. Cream-filled sponge cake: what could be simpler? When I was younger, I think the cream filling was banana-flavored. Now, who knows what’s in it? Who cares? It’s not as though it’s health food. It looks as though Hostess is trying to bring back the banana cream, or a reasonable facsimile thereof.

Fruit pies In a lot of ways, these were (and still are) better than Twinkies, because you can actually tell that there’s real(istic) fruit in there. My favorite was apple, followed by cherry, then blueberry. Those are the only three that I remember; I see they’ve added ones like lemon and chocolate. Tasty!

Ho-Ho’s You’ve heard me speak of my years at Newly Weds Foods, how one of the products was an ice cream cake roll. Newly Weds made the cake, then shipped it off to a dairy (e.g. Dean’s), who would extrude ice cream onto the cake, roll it up, and sell it. Ho-Ho’s are the same idea, only with cream filling instead of ice cream, and dipped in chocolate, which becomes like a candy shell. Heaven…

Ding Dongs I think these might have been called Wagon Wheels in certain parts of the country, because another bakery had a product called Ding Dongs and Hostess didn’t want there to be any confusion. This was a cream-filled cake, coated in chocolate, which looked a little like a hockey puck. The taste was similar to a Ho-Ho, and for some reason if I had a choice, I preferred the Ho-Ho’s. Don’t ask why, I couldn’t tell you.

Cupcakes – orange and chocolate Hostess made two flavors of cupcake, chocolate and orange, and for whatever reason I preferred the orange ones. Same idea: a cream-filled cupcake with the appropriately-flavored icing on it. Might be interesting to have a chocolate cupcake with orange icing, or vice versa. They do have a yellow cake cupcake with chocolate icing now, not that I’d be all that excited about it.

Sno-Balls These were, and still are, strange: a chocolate cream-filled cupcake covered in marshmallow cream and coconut. In the old days, the coconut was always white; now they have different colors (e.g. pink) in addition to white. Okay, I guess, but the marshmallow is sticky and stretchy, as I remember it. Maybe if you keep them in the refrigerator…?

Suzy Q’s Two slabs of chocolate cake around a cream filling, sandwich style. Whenever I tried eating one, the cream filling would squirt out.

It looks like Dolly Madison is now marketing Zingers both under the Hostess name as well as the Dolly Madison name. I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled.

Maybe next year I’ll do Little Debbie, or Tastykake, or Moon Pies, or…

(All pictures are courtesy of Amazon.com and Dolly Madison/Hostess owns the names.)