Dear… Part II (an Update)

A few years back, I was sitting here at this desk listening to some mellow music and reminiscing about an old friend whom I hadn’t talked to in a few years. I occasionally used to send her an email or, in this case, write a blog post. I never got any replies from the emails and I doubted she ever saw anything that I posted here. I was just writing to the void, as I’ve been known to do from time to time. This was what I wrote that night (Dear…). We had drifted apart due to nothing specific that either of us could have actually pinpointed as a reason. It just happened.

Nine years ago, I had a thought going through my mind whilst writing “Dear…” that night. It was a lyric from a favorite Bob Seger song…

“I remember, I remember, I remember...”

Well, fast forward to about two months ago (5 June, 2022). It was a Sunday evening. I was sitting here drinking some bourbon and relaxing. I was also listening to my Mellowness Playlist on YouTube and I heard the first few notes of one of the songs on that list. It was The Righteous Brothers singing Unchained Melody. I immediately thought, “I ought to send her an email.” So, I did; not for one minute thinking that she’d see it or reply… ever.

This is all I sent to her in that email:

I figure if I keep sending these messages, one day… one day, I might get a reply.
~E.

So, the next day, I get up and do the usual morning baloney. Afterwards, I turn this on “soul-sucking box” to check emails and surf around here and there for a while. As the email program is downloading messages, I happen to see an email pop up in the Inbox; it’s from her! I almost fell out of the chair. I clicked on it…

Wow, I rarely check this email, usually just have junk sent here. I was just thinking about you last night….believe it or not…..at about 6p (my time).

This is the first email I’ve seen from you since 1829, lol.

This woman and I have known each other for 44 years. We were 16 years old when we first met. We’ve had a very special friendship over those years. It’s been an off and on kind of thing, but serendipity, synchronicity, or the fates have always conspired to get us back together somehow and some time down the road.

But wait… it gets weirder. It turns out that while she was sitting at her house that Sunday evening five hundred or so miles away from me, she was thinking about me and listening to Unchained Melody.

Click-Clack! Bam!

It was like this fine mesh of gears in some universal clock just snicked into place and it all came together. When we talked on the phone shortly after the email exchange on Monday, we realized how sync’d we were at that moment on Sunday evening. It was literally breathtaking.

Since that day two months ago, she and I have talked nearly every day. It’s like not a minute was lost from our friendship. We just prattled on like we’d seen each other a couple days before instead of the nearly 20 years that it has actually been. We’ve both very much enjoyed this time we’ve spent laughing, reminiscing, and sniffling a bit… but mostly laughing!

I’ve been so blessed with good friends in this life. This lady is most assuredly one of them. I’m hoping for many, many more years of conversation and laughter with her!

And time goes by so slowly
And time can do so much
Are you still mine?

~Eric

What’s the Strangest Thing You Ever Found in a Book?

Here’s my story…

About 20 years ago or so, I was at a Salvation Army auction one morning. They were selling of tons (literally) of junk they’d had donated to them over the last few years or so; stuff that wasn’t easily sold in their actual stores. A lot of it was good stuff, too.

One thing that immediately caught my eye was a pallet (6′ high, 4′ wide X 4′ wide) of nothing but boxed up hardcover books. I looked through some of the books in the top boxes and realized that there were some very old, and often valuable, books in this boxes. I decided I’d bid on it a bit and see where it goes.

The auctioneer kept bringing up lot after lot, but not the pallet of books. I was getting impatient by the time the morning wore on. Finally, when he’d pretty much sold everything that was in the yard back there that morning, he brought up the pallet of books. There was only a small crowd of folks left by then (about 20 or so). He described the contents of the pallet briefly by saying, “Here you go, folks… a bunch of books”.

He looked around at the faces in the crowd and said, “I’m opening the bidding at one dollar.” I about shit myself. I bid the $1 immediately to get things rolling. Well, after I bid, he looked around and said, “Once, twice, sold that man there for $1.” I just laughed… and wondered how the Hell I was going to get this pallet home and what I was going to do with all those books.

When I asked the auctioneer afterwards why he’d let it go so cheaply, he said, “Did you see anyone trampling you to get in a bid?” I said no, I didn’t. His reply, with a smirk on his face, was, “Gotta’ know your audience in this job.”

Well, needless to say, I got the books home and spent a few years going through them and selling some, giving some away, etc. However, that’s not the point of this story. The point was finding things in books. So, with that in mind…

There were quite a few books in this collection that had the name of a fellow in them. His name was Charles Lounsbury. He was evidently a well-educated man; many of his books were text books from Cornell University. Anyway, whilst thumbing through one of them one day, a small business card fell out into my lap. It was a dentist’s appointment card for Mr. Lounsbury. It also had his address and phone number on it.

Just for grins and giggles, I called the number on the card. An older-sounding man answered on the first ring. I said “Hello” and gave my name. I then asked the fellow if he was Charles Lounsbury. He said he was indeed. I told him about all the books I’d bought and how I had found this dentist appointment card in one of them. He was BLOWN AWAY immediately upon hearing about the books.

He told me that his sister had possession of his personal library at the time of her death, but he had not spoken with her in many years. When she died, it seems that someone cleaning out her house had donated all her possessions, including Charles’ books, to the Salvation Army. Mr Lounsbury was very interested in possibly seeing his books again. He was wanting to leave some of them to his grandchildren upon his demise.

I made a date for him to drive from Sarasota, FL up to my home in Tampa and take whichever of his books he wanted back. The following Saturday he showed up. He was absolutely amazed to find all his books in the middle of my living room (huge stack of books, here’s a sampling):

Anyway, he picked out 10 of 15 of his prized books and asked if he could take them. I, of course, said yes… for sure. After that we sat and had some coffee and he told me his life story. It was a wonderful afternoon! Charles and I became pretty good friends after that for about 10 or so years, until his death at age 88.

It’s amazing, sometimes, the things you find in books. 🙂

The Gunpowder Plot – A Reminiscence (Revisited)

A buddy of mine, whom I grew up with here in the neighborhood, tooted his horn at me as he drove down my street earlier today.

Seeing Ernie reminded me of one of our escapades from almost 40 years ago during our misspent youth. Here it is for your reading enjoyment…

The Gunpowder Plot

No, not that gunpowder plot, but one Ernie and I created when we were about 11 or 12 years old in my mother’s kitchen. Back in the late 60’s and early 70’s Florida went through a stage where fireworks were illegal for anyone to own except for certain reasons. So every holiday the chances were pretty good that someone would know someone who was traveling up to Valdosta, Georgia in order to bring back some fire crackers and other goodies. Fireworks were legal in Georgia, so we had our own little modern day bootlegging operations going on transporting contraband across state lines.

Well, as I remember it, this one 4th of July in ’71 or thereabouts no one that we knew made that trip to Georgia, so none of the kids in my neighborhood had any firecrackers or smoke bombs or m-80’s or anything to go “bang” for the 4th. Terrible dilemma, huh? Well, never fear, Doctor Diabolical to the rescue… I told my buddy Ernie that we could make some gunpowder and then use it to make our own smoke bombs and stuff. Being a smart little bugger, I knew the basic ingredients of gunpowder, but not the proper proportions or where to get the ingredients.

Well, Funk and Wagnalls to the rescue. My parents had a set of encyclopedias in the living room on the mantel. I went in there and pulled down Volume G and rifled through the pages until I came across the entry for gunpowder. Aha! Now we’re cookin’! Ol’ F&W told me that I needed potassium nitrate, sulfur, and charcoal in the proper proportions to make this magical stuff go “boom”. It also told me that sulfur and potassium nitrate (salt peter) were both available at any local drug store. OK, now we know where to get the ingredients. Oh, the charcoal we got from Ernie’s dad’s backyard grill.

Off to the little neighborhood drugstore we went. Now keep in mind, this wasn’t a big drugstore chain. It was just a little corner store that sold analgesics and cough syrups, no pharmaceutical drugs. Anyway, there it was on the shelves… potassium nitrate and sulfur, both in these neat ½ pint canisters. We bought two cans of each. Then we rode our bikes to Ernie’s house and grabbed a few chunks of charcoal out of the grill. Then we rode back to my house forthwith with all the goodies for our little science project.

We got a big pot out from under mom’s stove and poured the potassium nitrate and the sulfur into it in the proper proportions. We got an old wooden mortar and pestle that my mother had for crushing garlic cloves and we used that to pulverize the charcoal chunks, unfortunately ruining my mother’s mortar and pestle in the process. Then with some nice powdery charcoal added to the big pot and the whole contents carefully mixed repeatedly we were ready for a small test of the supposedly volatile mixture.

I took out this tiny pink spoon, they use to come in the box with the old Sweet and Low sweetener, and I carefully scooped a small amount up into the spoon. I don’t think either Ernie or myself actually believed this stuff was gunpowder. It just looked like this gray powdery stuff. Well, while holding the little spoonful over the big pot of powder I struck a match and lit the contents of the spoon. It went ZIP! Unfortunately, when it did this it scared the hell out of me and I dropped the little spoon into the big pot…

…and AAAAWWWWHOOOOOSH!

You have to picture one of those Three Stooges episodes where the cannon blows up in Moe’s face. The pot exploded and blew completely off the table. Ernie and I jumped back and tipped over our chairs. Our faces were completely black. We had no eyebrows or eyelashes. We had black stuff on our tongues, in our hair, up our noses, and on our clothes. Fire was smoldering on the table. My mom’s centerpiece fake fruit bowl was partially melted. Ernie and I were still lying on our backs on the kitchen floor recovering from the shock when my mother came into the kitchen screaming, “What the hell are you two doing in here?”

The smell of the sulfur was overpowering. It permeated the whole house. There was also this dark black, acrid smoke floating around in the kitchen and drifting into adjoining rooms. There was this black dust all over the walls and window glass and every other surface in the kitchen. My mother was calm and collected about the whole thing. She just stood there with the black smoke swirling around her head and said, “Clean it all up before your father gets home or else!” Arrrrrgh! We got to work immediately. It was about 7PM and we had 3 hours before my dad got home. We scrubbed and cleaned and mopped and scrubbed some more. We did it though! There wasn’t even a hint of what had happened by the time dad got home. I don’t think mom ever told him a thing. That use to happen a lot when I was a kid. Thanks mom!

Well, Ernie and I made another batch the next day, outside this time! We had lots of fun making stuff go boom and poof the next couple of days, but it was no substitute for the real thing. Of course, for those of you who don’t know, gunpowder is not used in fireworks or firearms cartridges. A compound called nitrocellulose is the basis for the propellants used in modern cartridges and fireworks; the British call it Cordite. Gunpowder is only used in “black powder” firearms, like old flintlock type rifles and such.

The next year we were able to get the real thing. Woo-hoo! That’s the story and I’m stickin’ to it!

Hope y’all enjoyed that. Until next time…

~Doc Diabolical

=====

© 2001 V.T. Eric Layton (excluding images)
*Note: images from archive were replaced for this posting here. (122821:1118hrs)

About Grace by Anthony Doerr – a short review

About Grace by Anthony Doerr

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is a wonderful story; one in which emotions will be pulled to the surface of your soul like a master guitarist plucks melodies from his guitar as his fingers strum the strings.

All books are visual to some extent. Our mind’s eye sees the story as our actual eyes read the words, but with Doerr, it’s somewhat more intense. He is a very visual writer. Each sentence he forms creates the beauty of that which he describes.

You’ll come to love the characters as the story progresses. You’ll also find much in the story that isn’t quite explainable in the bright, sane daylight. However, by the time you close the back cover, you’ll come to realize that explanations were never necessary.



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Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr – a Commentary

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I could not rate this book with enough stars. Yes, as I’ve said many times in many reviews, books are a very subjective thing, like music, food, etc. Some folks may not be able to get past the first three pages of this book. That’s fine, though. Everyone has different interests and tastes.

I had to laugh after reading this book when I realized that if I’d had to rely just on the cover of the book and the title, I probably would never have bent down to pull it off the shelf in the library. However, what actually happened is that I received a “year end” summary of the best books from a Smithsonian Magazine email newsletter.

I then went to Goodreads and looked the book up. While scanning the reviews, I noticed a friend, Kenny Chaffin, had given it a wonderful review. This is what actually made me lean over and pull the book off the shelf. I’ll have to thank Kenny next time I see him because this is the second time that he’s referred me to a book/author that had life-changing effects on me; the previous instance being Loren Eiseley’s writings.

So, about this book…

It was absolutely spectacularly wonderful! If I live to be 104, I will never be able to fathom how authors like Anthony Doerr dream up these tales, nor will I understand the time and effort and suffering that these authors must go through to research and actually get their stories onto paper. It must surely be a labor of pure love. I’ve always had, as most readers probably do, an itching to write stories. Sadly, I don’t have the ambition nor the obsessive motivation that is required.

Mr. Doerr has become a new favorite author on my list. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of his offerings very soon!

NOTE: I had a much better review of this book writing itself in my head last night. I should have gotten up and written it here then. 😉



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Chariots of the Gods – a Skeptic’s Reminiscences

When I was a wee lad of 11, a television version of a movie that was based on a speculative book by a fellow named Erich von Däniken was aired on NBC one night. It just so happened that on this particular night, there was quite a crowd gathered around the television. Myself, mother, father, brother, and my grandmother sat in the living room in front of the ol’ B&W Zenith console TV and watched this enthralling documentary together. I remember it very well.

This one program started me on a years long journey through every weird and unexplained event in human history, it seems. There was a section in my local public library (the main downtown branch) that was labeled .001 – Transient Events. In that section was everything from raining frogs to alien encounters. I don’t know how many books were in that section, but it was quite a few. I read them all.

I could not get enough of this subject matter. I gobbled up everything I could get my hands on back then… aliens, Stonehenge, Easter Island, etc. You’d be amazed at how much of this type literature was out there during this era (late 60s – early 70s). My older brother even took me with him to the university, where he was an engineering student, where I found another large collection in that library. I read all the books on these weird subjects that were available there.

What actually got me thinking about Chariots of the Gods and all this was an episode of The X Files that I watched last night. Don’t laugh, but I had never seen an episode of this program in my life up until a couple weeks ago. A local (over-the-air) broadcast TV channel that I get called Comet recently started showing this program M-T evenings for three hours a night. They’re showing them in order. I was thumbing through the dial and happened to catch the very first episode (1993). I must confess that Gillian Anderson may have had something to do with me stopping on that channel that night.

The truth is out there.

Anyway, last night’s episode was about Aliens, and it got me thinking about von Däniken’s book and TV program from my childhood. From there, my thoughts went back to my intense studies back then of all these type of transient and mysterious events throughout human history. And while von Däniken, and others like him (Velikovsky) were thoroughly debunked by real science, they remain quite interesting to me.

Oddly enough, or maybe not odd at all, my studies of these topics and my understanding of how they were systematically debunked actually developed in me that same skill that I utilized to analyze world religions a few years later. I’ve always been of a skeptical nature. I don’t know where I got that from, really, but it is what it is. My interests in combination with my skepticism and the critical thinking that my Catholic school education taught me have resulted in my current atheism and extremely doubtful thoughts about alien visitors to this rock.

I still enjoy a good mysterious enigma, though. Some books and programs about these things are just downright silly, but others… can be interesting. And so it goes…

Live long and prosper! 🖖

Image credits:

  • Chariots of the Gods (book) – Wikipedia.org
  • UFOs/Earth – public domain clipart
  • X-Files – image copyright unknown
  • Worlds In Collision (book) – Wikipedia.org

Annals of the Formal World by John McPhee – a review

Annals of the Former World by John McPhee

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This book was a very pleasant surprise to me. Not only is it an amazing read, but I’ll have to put it somewhere in my all-time top 10 most wonderful books. McPhee manages to enlighten, educate, and entertain all in this one volume.

The subject matter is, of course, geology. However, it’s also about Time; vast stretches of time and how they relate to the wee intervals of human time. While much of the science in this book is theoretical, it is mostly accepted as being the nearest approximation to what actually occurred on this rock in the last four-or-so billion years.

While McPhee focuses mostly on the continental U.S., he can’t help but explain similar occurrences around and within the globe. Geology to me is an interesting subject, but one that I never really did more than scratch the surface, so to speak, in learning about. I’m very glad I read this book.

Even though, it’s only distantly related to the science of Paleontology, for some reason it reminded me very much of another favorite author’s musings… Loren Eiseley. I would most definitely recommend reading McPhee’s Annals. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.



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The Journey of Man by Spencer Wells

The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey by Spencer Wells

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This was actually a re-read of this book. I had forgotten how wonderful it is. If you have any interest in learning where you came from… and I don’t mean your distinct ancestors, but your lineage as a member of the species known as Homo sapiens, then read this book. It is very well written and understandable. It is truly the story of the journey of our species out of Africa 50,000 or so years ago.

I also recommend watching the television program from which this book came about. -> https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0780543/



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The History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell – a review

The History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Well, I slogged through this one. It wasn’t Russell’s writing style that made it a slog; it was the content. Philosophy is a complicated thing. I had to re-read many sections of this book two or three times to get the gist of what the psycho… er, I mean philosopher was trying to get across.

Philosophy is a very complicated thing. There are many different kinds of philosophy; science/nature based, religious-based, politics-based, etc. There’s even a philosophy of philosophy. Russell is writing from a historian’s point of view in this book, but he still goes quite in depth to explain the basics of the systems these men (all are men, it seems) expounded upon.

I’m no philosophy neophyte; neither am I anything one would describe as an expert. I’ve had a taste for it for many years, and have studied some “masters”… Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, etc. Russell covers pretty much everyone of any importance in this book. It’s a difficult read, though. I’m not sure if it should be the first book on philosophy that someone reads.

My conclusions after this are going to disappoint many hardcore philosophy fans, but it is what it is. I feel that some of these fellows were true and groundbreaking thinkers. I think that the majority, though, were slightly unhinged men who probably would have come up with much better theories on everything had they drank more wine and smoked weed back then.

No complaints about Russell, though. His writings are always a educational and a joy to read.



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Fire in the Lake by Frances Fitzgerald – a review

Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam by Frances FitzGerald

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I grew up in this era and have spent the majority of my life studying this event in U.S. history. And even with my broad spectrum of knowledge on this topic, I’m still occasionally amazed at what a horrendous cluster-screw this whole situation was. As a child of the 60s with an older brother (b.1950) in the house, this event was always present in my home; at the dinner table, while watching the evening news, or reading the paper. We talked about it in school, also.

Frances Fitzgerald’s book is a tough slog, for two reasons: the writing is a bit heavy and the story isn’t a happy one. However, it’s worth the read because this lady covers this era in a way that I had never really encountered in all my studies. Most Vietnam War books are told from the military viewpoint or from the political viewpoint or combinations thereof. This book, however, looks at the situation from ground level. Ms. Fitzgerald goes back centuries in the histories of the Vietnamese people to explain why the U.S. failed so grievously in this situation.

Firstly, the motivations of the U.S. were NOT noble or heroic. Secondly, there was absolutely NO understanding of the Vietnamese people or their culture. This isn’t a military issue. Those in the military just felt they were doing a job that they were sent there to do by the civilian leadership of the U.S. And that’s true, to a point. The most amazing thing to me, though, is how naive, misinformed, idiotic, and often dishonest the civilian leadership (President, advisors, technicians, diplomats, etc.) were during this entire era; three or four different administrations, going all the way back to Eisenhower.

Another unique thing about this book is that it was written in 1971. This lady was there. She was observing in real time, not researching her book from documents 25 years old. The U.S., in an attempt to carry on their “foreign policies” ended up completely destroying the people that they were professing to protect. I didn’t run across any real surprises in this book. I’ve known this history for many years. What was astounding to me while reading it was the same thing that has always astonished me about this event… the utter stupidity with which it was carried out.

Sadly, lessons were not learned. The U.S.’s current involvement in Afghanistan has serious parallels to the Vietnam endeavors of the past.



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