Zoom In

The churches have been meeting via Zoom. Being the superb “techie” that I am, many services have had a ragged start because I seem to have trouble getting things going. I can’t remember how I got us going the last time, so sometimes I’m lucky and other times we are a few minutes into our allotted time before I can admit anyone at all. I’ll like things better when all I’ll need is someplace to stand in order to sock it to the faithful. I miss the sound of good singing; on Zoom, everyone is out of sync.

On other fronts, my office project is just about finished, with some sheet rocking to do around one of the windows and a closet to build. I’ve been laying bricks for a patio outside the lower level door and after about 400 bricks hauled here, loaded and unloaded by yours truly, I’m about half finished. I’d like to get that project done because there are trees to cut up and split for Winter’s firewood. The dock got in last weekend. This is the first year I’ve not done it myself but I figured it’s OK to make a concession to age. Marina reminds me: “Remember, Mark, you’re not 75 anymore!” The pontoon needs the tilt motor replaced and should be delivered sometime soon–unless the motor comes from China.

Last night WPCA broadcast my reading of “The Driveway”, which is the second story in my first collection, “Four Break Time Stories”. It sounded good, with some suspense building and even the authentic capturing of pregnancy and its fears. Next month I’m guessing the station will broadcast–and stream– “Conversations In Absentia”, a tale dealing with whether suicide is heroic or cowardly and how four guys wrestle with that question. The boat in the story? Yes, it’s modeled on the “Dilly IV”, a cabin cruiser I had half a century ago that I didn’t know I couldn’t afford.

The lockdown has not disrupted our routine much, save for not getting Marina to Osceola twice a week to swim. That change has meant I’ve had more time here to do what needs doing. I’m happier with the progress. Oh, today’s excitement was a call from one of our banks querying about a check that is fraudulent. I wrote it last August to the Hollywood High School Alumni Association. It was made out for $25 for dues. May 1st someone cashed it for $2,500. I admit, the signature is better looking than mine, but the bank caught it and tomorrow I trek over to the Polk County Sheriff to give them the information from the bank. I hope they catch the gal (it’s made out to a female) who did the con. In any event, the check would have bounced, as I rarely have that much money unspent. Meanwhile, Marina and I wear our masks when out in public, sanitize our hands and wash them a lot, and I try not to pick my nose.

All Things New

Both Wolf Creek United Methodist Church and Parkview United Methodist Church have been conducting our Sunday services via Zoom. It does connect many of us, but we miss those people who are not online and can’t access their church family that way. I miss the music, too. But this, too, shall pass and I think all of us look forward to being able to see each other in person again. Personally, I intend to do more focus on a single item in the day’s scriptures, rather than the gloss over all the Bible selections that are read. I sense it’s a little “much” for people when I slide from one point of emphasis to another to another; not much sticks.

On other fronts, I wore a mask yesterday to the grocery store, post office and hardware stores. Fortunately, I can read everything but small print without my glasses–I keep them on my face so I know where they are, rather than having cheaters on a chain or in a case somewhere that I have to find–so that in the truck I can figure out what I just spent in the store. WPCA-FM had me on yesterday morning as part of its fund drive and I enjoyed a rollicking conversation with Bob Zank, the station manager, that I hope brought in more listeners last night to my story reading. Last night’s story was “Curtain!”, a tale based largely on experiences in my youth in Hollywood. The station broadcasts and streams online my story readings the first Tuesday of every month at 7:00 p.. (CST).

I have managed to finish the walls of my office, with the heavy sheet rocking giving me a hernia I’m going to wait to have taken care of until things settle down at the local hospital. I’m in the process of building shelves in a large closet and I’m also about to begin building a large clothes closet in the far corner of the office. The post office trip involved sending off the latest 13 national ad series for a client I’ve had for more than 30 years. Meanwhile, Spring is on the way and there are things outside to do. Neither Marina nor I are sitting around waiting to die.

virus gone viral?

This Sunday I’ll try something new: a mini-service via Zoom, with scripture readings, prayer in response to sharing joys and concerns, and a brief mediation. This, because services at Wolf Creek and Parkview United Methodist Churches have been suspended for a couple of weeks, with decisions being made the week prior to Palm Sunday about how to proceed in the face of the coronavirus. I used Zoom for the first time the other night with Alice and her family down there in Ohio and I just hope it works well on Sunday. Zoom is a bit like a conference call: you log in and share video and audio, so I should be able to hear joys and concerns from others.

WPCA-FM has asked if I want to come to the station during Holy Week some morning so that listeners who hear my short stories broadcast that might want to meet me can meet me. I think I’ll find the time to do that. Actually, I’ve sold some books lately, both in person and online. I like the feeling of that!

Son John and his family arrived home last night from a stint at Isla Mujeres in Mexico. He commented on how strange it was to drive deserted streets. No word of hassles re-entering the country but I’m sure I’ll hear more when I have a chance to catch up with him. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying fun correspondence Marina shares with me of her exchanges with moppet granddaughter Samantha, who’s down in Ohio. Son Aaron says he’s in lockdown over in Portugal, even as he lives isolated on his mountain. No big change for homeschooling Mom, Hannah, who’s used to having her kids at home and even has college daughter Klara home again until semester’s end. Alice says that she now has great admiration for her sisters who home schooled; this, after just a day having her kids home from school and doing school work.

My “home work” has involved finishing the sheet rocking project in my office. The south wall is almost done and when that happens it’s on to constructing a large closet in the southwest corner of the room and installing shelves in the existing closet. Then, it’s enclosing part of the stairwell, installing some electrical outlets, re-doing awkward closet doors in the entry hall and then putting in a wooden floor in the dining area. The tiling for the entryway probably won’t happen this summer; I want to PLAY more!

Movin’ right along

Tuesday night’s WPCA-FM broadcast was “Lost Wax” and I found, listening to it, it’s a tear-jerker. Listening to my stories and reading them aloud uncovers several layers of meaning I was not fully aware of when I wrote the stories. I find that hugely interesting. On Wednesday, I read “Snow Job and The Four Dwarfs” to the Osceola Senior Citizens Club and to several outsiders who saw the ad in the Osceola Sun or the article in the Inter County Leader. Lotsa laughs, which is the reason for the story in the first place. It’s fun to read with that ongoing reaction from listeners.

My stint at Parkview United Methodist Church in Turtle Lake is going well. Thus far, Wolf Creek has not been shorted, in terms of attention, but I can see that an extended period of time would put Wolf Creek, a smaller congregation, at a disadvantage. Parkview is larger and has many moving parts, with lots of activities and good participation. I find their “can-do!” attitude is more than helpful. Like any congregation, there is inertia because some things have always been done a certain way, but with me they have been pretty flexible. After last Sunday’s service, Marina’s Seeing Eye Dog, Andy, threw up in the back of the sanctuary. Instantly, two older women were on their hands and knees cleaning up the mess; I couldn’t even get close to help. That’s almost as good as foot washing! I’ve wondered since if throwing up was Andy’s evaluation of the sermon. I’ve asked him; he won’t tell me.

We are in Lent, which means extra church services and studies. I’m limited by being 1/4 time at each church. Parkview really demands and needs full time and I hope to encourage them to strive for that. If Osceola can resurrect itself, so can Parkview, which has more going for it right now than Osceola did when they lacked a pastor.

I have been trying to–and hoped to have finished before adding Parkview–sheetrock my office and have a large closet built in the space. I’m closing in on the sheetrocking part and have it partially painted. In the process of hefting 4×8 sheets of half inch sheetrock up four feet and holding it there until I can screw in some stability, I’ve managed to give myself a hernia, so today was a doctor’s visit with an appointment with a surgeon to follow. I guess that also means that the pavers I’d planned to use for a small patio outside the downstairs door will have to give way to individual bricks, which weigh less.

More anon.

The Calm Before. . . .

While I don’t begin at Turtle Lake United Methodist Church officially until next Saturday, February 15th, I’ll sit in on the church’s Ad Council meeting on Wednesday. Almost a full month is a long time until its next meeting to pull things together in the way we need to do in our short contracted time together. I have the sense that my task with them will be to hold up a mirror to help them see how good they really are and, while they might be discouraged now, they have every reason for hope and optimism for the future. All they will need, then, is the appropriate pastor. We will see if I’m right and if first impressions turn out to be the reality.

On another subject, as noted in “Coming Readings”, I will read at least one story for the Osceola Seniors at Noon on the first Wednesday in March. I’m the president of that organization (and, obviously, they are hard up for a program) but we can use the occasion to pull in new people and perhaps enlist some new members. Accordingly, I’m taking out an ad in the Osceola Sun to advertise the event. I know some writers who intend to attend and I just may be able to sell some books to those interested in the stories themselves.

WPCA-FM’s broadcasts/streaming of my stories continues. Last week it was “The Many Trials”, so the March reading most likely will be “Curtain!”, a story of an actor and his protege. I’m never sure which story will get broadcast each month. When we hit the month of June, the station wants to begin the story cycle anew.

Meanwhile, I’ve been working to finish my office here at the house. I have about half the sheetrock up, taped and painted, so now it’s on to the rest of the walls and then moving the electric from its beefy extension cord to the plugs I’ve installed. And then what? Cutting and splitting firewood, I guess, maybe the piano practice I should have been doing, some guitar playing, perhaps, and probably doing some trim around doors etc. that didn’t get done by the previous owner of this place. Marina wanted to know if I planned to plant an apple tree. I hadn’t considered it and I’m not sure where to put it, but I’m sure that if it’s like my previous experience with apple trees in my yard, the deer will love my planting of an apple tree. Yesterday I bought another large bag of bird food, which gives great pleasure to the many squirrels we host.

A Plate That’s More Full

I did John Larson’s funeral yesterday in Taylors Falls. Larson was an author, an involved Taylors Falls community member, a historian and one of those people that attract other interesting people to them like moths to a flame. I’d gotten to know his late wife, Ingrid, a bit when she was at Good Samaritan for rehabilitation. She was said to be Danish but her gravestone says she was born in Germany. That’s understandable; just after WWII being German was not something to be desired and even dangerous. My German wife landed in a Polish East Chicago neighborhood in the early 1950’s and her clotheslines were cut. John was buried in his WWII Army uniform, a feat not many of us could achieve. (I mean, being able to fit into something we wore 3/4 century ago!)

WPCA had some technical difficulties this week so the story broadcast is re-scheduled for next Tuesday, January 14th. In February, things revert to the usual schedule of the first Tuesday of each month at 7:00 p.m.

Speaking of February, mid-February I begin a 41/2 month stint as pastor of Turtle Lake United Methodist Church. They are discouraged right now, between pastors and in need of a lift so the Conference hopes I can provide them that lift. I sense great potential at Turtle Lake UMC and hope that I can hold up a mirror of themselves so they can the truth: they can have a very good future, given an effective pastoral appointment.

Our family prayers this week are with my brother, Guy, whose wife, Lucy is struggling with life threatening health issues.

My Sixth Short Story Collection Has Been Published

The latest short story collection, “Another Four Break Time Stories”, was published this last weekend on Amazon Kindle. The “mangled” fairy tale in this bunch is called “Snow Job and The Four Dwarfs”. Joining it are “Lost Wax”, a tale about an American sculptor; “At Midnight’s Stroke”, a story about Hollywood, casting couches and their consequences; and “I Loved That Bike!” a story about one man’s obsession with a motorcycle and what happens when he finally gets one.

I’m hoping to be able to read these before groups, libraries, and in arts centers, as I’ve been able to do in the past. All of these stories have been recorded for broadcast by WPCA-FM. The station also streams my stories online so that anyone with a computer and internet can listen. The fairy tale already has won praise, with Peter Kwong saying in his weekly column that my reading of it at a fund raising event for Amery’s Classic Theatre was “hilarious” and “the highlight of the evening”. Very gracious of him, I’d say!

Back to being a kid

So I’m doing something unusual, watching some guy’s blog about hiking up to Lake Hollywood. He passes along Beechwood Drive and I see houses I knew more than half a century ago. There is a small market now and a shop or two, along with the real estate building (Hollywoodland) whose sign, truncated, became the famous Hollywood letters. Eventually, he finds a dirt path that will lead him down to the lake. When he gets there, he talks about walking across the bridge. No, I want to shout at him, that’s not a bridge; you’re walking along the top of the dam holding back the water in the reservoir!

I don’t know how many tons of dirt it took to “hide” the dam from being seen from down below, but from anywhere else it’s clear there is a dam holding back the water. The dam is named after William Mulholland, who oversaw its construction in the early 1920’s (1923, I think). You can walk around the lake–it’s 3 1/2 miles–and now cars can drive along the northeast side to a housing tract that went in a couple of years before I left California. It’s more built-up now and the rest of the road around the lake is gated, accessible only to Los Angeles Water and Power vehicles. Marina and I walked part of it a few years ago.

When I was in junior high and my brothers and I got home from school, we’d go with our mother for a brisk ride around the lake. We’d walk the bikes the block and a half up the hill and then whiz down to the lake. Mom and I had the fancy bikes, the “hot” bikes, three speed JC Higgins bikes with fenders and hand brakes. My little brothers had single speed bikes with coaster brakes. We took the two dogs and did our three and half miles without stopping. Later, we would stop because there were depressions that became ponds after a rain and most of the time we could find pollywogs. There were no cars to consider because at that time all cars were kept out by the gates. Down by the dam there was a large spotlight a caretaker told me once had been ready to use in the event of attempted sabotage during the Second World War.

There were two parts to the reservoir.The upper part was smaller and had the water intake from places like the Owens River or the Colorado. There was a large funnel near the earthen dam holding the upper portion of the lake. Water cascaded down the funnel and emerged on the other side, aerated by splashing down rocks. A wall and high fence kept people from the water itself and there were periodic patrols by Water and Power staff to keep an eye on things. There were fish in the lake, too but I don’t remember anyone fishing.

One house in particular always intrigued me and the guy’s blog didn’t focus on it. It was on the east shore of the lake, up high, with a gravel driveway leading to a sweeping white concrete walled drive to the large Mediterranean style house itself. The house had a stupendous view of not only the lake but a good chunk of Los Angeles. About the time I left California (1968) rumor had it that Madonna had bought the place. I’ve used elements of that house in at least one of my stories.

After rounding the lake, we’d either ride or push our bikes back up the hill and coast down Lake Hollywood Drive to home, with its sweeping view of the entire San Fernando Valley. It was great exercise and we did it regularly. Before I could drive and I had to be in Hollywood, say at church, I would ride my bike: up the hill, down to the lake, around the lake, down through the gate and along Beechwood and then a few streets east to Gower. It was safe. The only other way would have been the freeway.

My elder son, Aaron, left yesterday for Portugal where he lives. The French workers strike saw him stranded at the Paris airport for 5 hours and sitting 2 hours on the tarmac because air traffic controllers were striking, too. He did yeoman service while he was here, chainsawing trees downed by the recent tornado and splitting the wood for our stove. He also installed a small solar system for us. He’s off the grid in Portugal and gets his power from the sun and wind. Water comes from springs near the property and a well. Our solar unit is generating power that I’m using for lighting right now and I can see its potential for more. I appreciate Aaron’s efforts and generosity.

Next week I record the last of my short stories for WPCA-FM. That gives us enough fodder to take us to July, 2020. The stories air the first Tuesday night of each month at 7:00 p.m. Central Time. The station tells me they’d like to re-broadcast all of the stories. It’s a great privilege that not many writers get.

just a bit

Our elder son, Aaron, is in town for the coming month. He lives abroad off the grid, with his power coming from the sun and the wind and his water from a well on the property and a nearby spring. He lost everything two years ago when forest fires swept through his area but he’s rebuilt with concrete and, after teaching himself how to weld, with steel. Living that way is something he has wanted to do since he was a kid.

There was great irony in that I was talking with him by phone (the week following high winds that knocked out our power for many hours) about what we might be able to do for power with solar in the event we were without power again. It was 6:30 that Sunday night and I saw things outside my window turn from rainy grey to black and green with stuff blowing wildly our way. “This doesn’t look good,” I said and then the phone line went dead. Tornado debris from a nearby farm had blown into the power lines and cut off everything. Interesting to have had that conversation with Aaron just as we got hit with the tornado. Pieces of silo and barn roofing/siding still hang from trees around our area and are scattered through the woods, in ponds and by the side of the road. I’ve been working the chainsaw and splitting maul. Aaron did some wood splitting and stacking today while we were in Osceola; I appreciate his help.

No story spinning lately and just a couple of story readings still in the discussion stage. Soon enough a story line will keep me awake between 2 and 5 a.m. and I’ll be putting words on paper again.

Moving Along

At last the fourth story of my next short story collection is finished. It’s called “Lost Wax” and deals with a sculptor and his wife. I want to be able to read it aloud prior to publishing it online but it should be available in early November. It joins “At Midnight’s Stroke”, “I Loved That Bike!”, and “Snow Job and the Four Dwarfs”, the latter being the latest mangled fairy tale. I think I’ll call that coming book “Another Four Break Time Stories”.

I’m waiting for the next short story to appear. They tend to come partly formed and then get fleshed out over a series of nights between 2 to 5 a.m. when I can’t go back to sleep. Lately, sawing and hand splitting tornado-downed logs, sermon preparation and all the getting ready one does for the coming Winter around here have pretty much shoved aside any short story creating.

I just finished listening to the monthly broadcast of my short story reading–I hear it as it is streamed online on WPCA-FM–and I have to admit that I found myself chuckling over several of the lines in “Hansel and Gertie”, another mangled fairy tale. When we record these, the audio engineer gets to laughing, too; fortunately, the mike doesn’t pick it up or at least I’ve never detected it when I listen. I listen and get irritated at my occasional stumbles or “mushy” pronunciation. But if you’re not critical of yourself, how do you get better? Years ago I hosted Tuesday night for KUSC-FM radio in Los Angeles and I’ve got to say that my diction back then was better than it is now. So was my voice: these days I sound like a geezer!