F*ck

Yesterday, I witnessed the armed insurrection and take-over of The American National Capitol building by crazed Trump supporters. Not only was there NO military or significant police presence, as is the case when peaceful black protestors take to the streets, but the few offers who were there welcomed them into The Capitol, and even took selfies with them.

The self-declared “party of law and order” ignored the law, and broke the law with the help of law enforcement.

The self-declared “party of family values” showed that they have none.

These self-declared “good Christians” showed their moral bankruptcy.

The self-declared “proud patriots” showed their utter contempt for America.

Sickening.

America is in Big Trouble

Right-wing Trump supporters have taken over The Capitol in DC with guns. Trump turned down requests for National Guards. Virginia will send their National Guard.

They’re also taking over other government buildings, including one just mere miles from where I live.

A violent attempt at a government coup is happening. I’m sick to my stomach.

A woman got shot, and she was bleeding out, live on camera.

I am terrified.

An Old Man on the Hill

His journey continued

Parking his car in a corn field
Walking through the field
Receiving occasional cuts on his arms and face
As corn stalk leaves grazed him
Causing his skin to itch
Almost as if they wanted to stop him
From making his way to the hill

He remembered his youth
Being paid cash by the hour
To pull the tassels out of most of the rows of corn
The task he once did all day long felt daunting
For he knew that he’d not last 15 minutes

His journey continued

Suddenly, there was a clearing
His fragile heart began to race
The open field signaled to him
That he was getting closer
To the hill

The narrow gravel path
Adorned with raspberry bushes
In season, red, and ripe as ever
He picked a few berries along the way
The taste, paired with the sensation
Of being on the path again
Took him back, way back
To a place where he was barely 7 years old

Interlaced with the raspberry bushes
Were bushes that produced other fruits
But these fruits were poisonous
He thought of his playmate, Teresa
And how he had begged her to NOT eat the berries
He told her they were “poison berries”
And she declared them “boysenberries”

She had been gone for a very long time
And yet her memory was burned into his ancient brain
She had just turned six years old
Her blond hair waving in the golden sunlight
“Oh, how I wish we’d never stopped to pick berries”

His journey continued

The narrow gravel path branched out
Gravel to the right
Dirt to the left
The old man thought long and hard
“We went left”

His journey continued

A noticeable incline began to build
Beneath his feet
Confirming his choice
Not much further now
Mud and dirt collecting on his shoes
Making his feet heavier as he progressed
Toward the hill
He could barely see the tree

His journey continued

At long last
He made it to the tree
On a hill that felt more like a bump in the land
There was a tire on the ground
Near the tree
Rope rotted
Flowers growing from the center of the tire

“I used to push Teresa in that swing”
He could hear her laughter once again
Glancing upward, a “Y” in the branches
Caught his attention
He had tried to climb the tree
But fell and scraped his knee
And Teresa comforted him as he cried

His memories of Teresa
Felt mostly correct
Except she appeared to have aged with him
Her face in his mind, youthful, yet somehow old and wrinkled
It was a life-long fantasy of his
That he and Teresa would grow old together

Leaving the shade of the tree
He sat down in some nearby tall grass
Looking at the tree, the tire, and all that surrounded it
Darkness would fall in the next few hours
Or maybe sooner than he thought

His journey continued

Walking through the tall grass
He could hear Teresa’s voice
“Let’s grow up and get married”
She said to him
What sounded yucky to his child mind
Today felt more like a regret
That it was something that could never be

His journey continued

He turned around
To glance at the tree on the hill
One last time
His left arm tingling
Just a while longer
He wanted to stay

Back toward the path
He encountered a broken, flat
Piece of concrete
His heart shuddered
It lay upon the ground
Like any other rock
And although familiar
It still had no natural reason to be there

With caution, he lifted the piece of concrete
To look underneath
Could it still be there?

A dirty, faded red hair bow
Teresa had taken it off
He remembered her putting it there
Hiding it for his older self
As she put it
“Someday, you’ll come back
Maybe you’ll think of me”

Oh, how he wished that Teresa could come back

Sunlight was fading
The tingle in his arm was gaining in strength
As was the sensation of exhaustion
Taking over his body

He held the rotted red bow in his right hand
As he laid down in the tall grass
“Just for a few minutes”
He said out loud
In a weakened voice

“Boysenberry”

His journey continued

Early 1970s: Camping in my back yard. The light-colored house was where Teresa lived.

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Bukowski, 9-to-5, and Another Old Man

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Charles Bukowski was 49 years old when he quit his job at the post office to become a full-time writer. John Martin of Black Sparrow Press offered him $100 per month to spend his time writing instead of working.

This was in 1969, and I believe that some perspective is in order to understand this. By today’s standards, $100 is such an inconsequential amount that it would attract only the most desperate.

By comparison, I recall having a life plan of sorts during the spring of 1985, after my second year of college. I had found a really nice apartment near the college campus for only $35 per week! It was an incredible deal for me, a man who had yet to pay his own rent in life.

By comparison, I found that I was making a few hundred bucks, at least, every single time my college band played a gig. One gig per month, and I’d be set. Two gigs per month, and I could plan for retirement, upgrade gear, etc.

Of course, all of this came horribly crashing down when summer came, and the various people in the band just went back to where they came from, without so much as a word. The hard truth was that I looked at the band as a serious entity for a future, while others viewed it as just something fun they did for a while.

This lesson taught me the terrifying truth that comes with the concept of “the group project.” Relying on others is essential to human survival, and it’s the kind of thing that has never ended up well for me.

With my local music dreams dashed, I tried to save it. However, the band I had joined (The Switch) was planning on breaking up. I joined the band in time to play guitar on their last show. It would also be my final music performance in Indiana.

They gave me a Dean guitar as a parting gift. Around that time, my mother offered me a place in California, so I packed up and took that on.

As lamentable as life on earth has become, I can still remember plotting out my first-ever budget in my head. Playing two shows per month with my band would mean that I would have a roof over my head, I’d be able to eat properly, and might even be able to afford a car! At the very least, I’d be able to afford more of my own music gear, so that I’d not have to pay $35 every time I rented the PA system from a bigger local act.

Forget about the 33 years that I spent in Los Angeles, working to build a music career. That one year in college was the most hopeful that I ever felt about a possible future earning a living as a musician.

The problem wasn’t that responsibility kicked in. The problem was that life became too expensive, and the work available no longer pays a dignified adult living wage.

I have work ethic. The powers-that-be have no human ethics.

MY START IN WRITING
I started writing when I was in early grade school, around 1973, and would use my mother’s IBM Selectric Presidential Series typewriter. She would received tapes in the mail from a law firm and would transcribe. I would be paid 25 cents to review up to 4 pages, and receive a nickel for every additional page.

I used this until she sold it to buy a car, after taking a job in the office and seeing how the office was changing.

She told me about how word processors and computers were going to become ubiquitous in the office. What this meant was that secretaries would be able to get their typing done in one third of the time.

There was also talk of the 30-hour work week, or even 25!

But this did not happen.

What DID happen was that the workload was at least tripled, and the pay was kept the same, if not lowered slightly.

The Modern Age was supposed to free us. Instead, it served to galvanize our slavery.

RETURN TO NOW
Return to now, where I am once again writing. True, I am writing about writing, and while this activity is somewhat meta, it does lead to other types of writing.

Currently, I do not write for money, although I am open to that idea. For now, I write because I feel that I have some things to say.

I did see a writer on YouTube who was giving advice to young or new writers. She noted that, “You may view your latest works as your baby. But trust me, nobody cares. Not even your friends. Don’t expect them to read what you write, let alone be supportive of it all. Your friends don’t care. Your family doesn’t care. Nobody cares.”

I thanked her for her hopeful message, as well as for reminding me that I should not care about her links where she sells her books.

That’s to say, I disagree with her message. Sure, I can see how people around me might not be so eager. I do have a few friends who actually read what I write and we talk about it, so I have that going for me, which is nice.

Like a busking musician on the street corner, the best I can do is to set my hat on the sidewalk and see if anyone drops a buck in it. Maybe I will connect with some readers, while others will have different expectations. This happens no matter how great or small a writer may be.

BUKOWSKI’S THOUGHTS
Charles Bukowski had some hard life experiences. Today, many of us can relate to what he was saying, although many in the 80s were so focused on greed that they may not have had time to hear what a “loser” would have to whine about.

Unfortunately, this attitude of poorly-placed judgment is by far more prevalent in today’s society. They’d tell him that he should have planned, or should have gone to college, or whatever other garbage argument is to be presented in an effort to protect the ego of the person passing the judgment.

To be fair, they pass this judgment out of fear. They fear that they, too, will end up at the bottom, in the gutter, or on the streets. Indeed, it is their future, since they are not the company owner.

They will work hard, not get compensated, and be tossed to the streets. It is easier, and requires less fear and energy to blame the “bum,” than it is to wake up, realize your OWN predicament, and then do something about it.

Americans continued to point at the “bums” and “losers,” as their own situations deteriorated right from underneath their own wore shoes.

As a writer and reader, I believe it is important to acknowledge and understand this human flaw as you read the words that came directly from Bukowski’s own head.

Charles Bukowski wrote a letter to John Martin to thank him for his freedom.

Hello John:

Thanks for the good letter. I don’t think it hurts, sometimes, to remember where you came from. You know the places where I came from. Even the people who try to write about that or make films about it, they don’t get it right. They call it “9 to 5.” It’s never 9 to 5, there’s no free lunch break at those places, in fact, at many of them in order to keep your job you don’t take lunch. Then there’s OVERTIME and the books never seem to get the overtime right and if you complain about that, there’s another sucker to take your place.

You know my old saying, “Slavery was never abolished, it was only extended to include all the colors.”

And what hurts is the steadily diminishing humanity of those fighting to hold jobs they don’t want but fear the alternative worse. People simply empty out. They are bodies with fearful and obedient minds. The color leaves the eye. The voice becomes ugly. And the body. The hair. The fingernails. The shoes. Everything does.

As a young man I could not believe that people could give their lives over to those conditions. As an old man, I still can’t believe it. What do they do it for? Sex? TV? An automobile on monthly payments? Or children? Children who are just going to do the same things that they did?

Early on, when I was quite young and going from job to job I was foolish enough to sometimes speak to my fellow workers: “Hey, the boss can come in here at any moment and lay all of us off, just like that, don’t you realize that?”

They would just look at me. I was posing something that they didn’t want to enter their minds.

Now in industry, there are vast layoffs (steel mills dead, technical changes in other factors of the work place). They are layed off by the hundreds of thousands and their faces are stunned:

“I put in 35 years…”

“It ain’t right…”

“I don’t know what to do…”

They never pay the slaves enough so they can get free, just enough so they can stay alive and come back to work. I could see all this. Why couldn’t they? I figured the park bench was just as good or being a barfly was just as good. Why not get there first before they put me there? Why wait?

I just wrote in disgust against it all, it was a relief to get the shit out of my system. And now that I’m here, a so-called professional writer, after giving the first 50 years away, I’ve found out that there are other disgusts beyond the system.

I remember once, working as a packer in this lighting fixture company, one of the packers suddenly said: “I’ll never be free!”

One of the bosses was walking by (his name was Morrie) and he let out this delicious cackle of a laugh, enjoying the fact that this fellow was trapped for life.

So, the luck I finally had in getting out of those places, no matter how long it took, has given me a kind of joy, the jolly joy of the miracle. I now write from an old mind and an old body, long beyond the time when most men would ever think of continuing such a thing, but since I started so late I owe it to myself to continue, and when the words begin to falter and I must be helped up stairways and I can no longer tell a bluebird from a paperclip, I still feel that something in me is going to remember (no matter how far I’m gone) how I’ve come through the murder and the mess and the moil, to at least a generous way to die.

To not to have entirely wasted one’s life seems to be a worthy accomplishment, if only for myself.

yr boy,

Hank

This is the best that anyone can hope to have.

Grandma Warned Me About Van Halen

It was the Spring of 1978, and I had just turned 13 years old a few months earlier. I had been spending time listening to a cassette tape making the rounds at my Indiana school. It was as bootleg of a new band playing their last local show in Pasadena, because they were about to hit the big-time.

That first Van Halen album blew me away! In fact, it impressed me so much that I took it to my grandmother’s house and asked her to listen to it with me.

Grandma E

I was particularly close with my grandmother. I used to joke and say that, “the stork left me at the wrong house.” It was something that was viewed as cute. But the hard truth was that I felt closer to my grandmother because she would encourage me to talk, and she would listen to me.

We would converse like adults. The time I spent with her made me who I am today.

“You’ve just GOT to hear this new guitarist and this new band!” I could barely contain myself, as grandma lifted the dust cover from her Hi-Fi stereo system.

We actually listened to both sides of the album. The look on grandma’s face informed me that she was genuinely listening to the album, like a musician would. Active listening is the name.

Grandma’s Baldwin Vibraslim bass and 100-watt Kustom Charger amp.

This is precisely what she was doing, since she was a 7th generation bass player. I would later borrow her bass rig when I had my college band in the mid-80s.

Long before this age, I had declared that I wanted to be a pro musician when I grew up. For the majority of my life, grandma served as a mentor to guide my philosophies to maximize my chances.

GRANDMA’S WARNINGS
After the last song ended, grandma had a few things to say. I can still remember hearing the first words out of her mouth.

“You do NOT want to copy this guitar player!” Grandma knew that I already played guitar, an instrument that I had added to my arsenal years ago. At age 13, I played drums, guitar, bass, keyboard, trumpet, and more.

Why not? Why wouldn’t I want to emulate this incredible player?

Late 1982: Playing the lead during my performance of “Goodbye To Romance” at the high school talent show.

Playing like this is VERY impressive. However, you don’t want to emulate this player. His sound is so unique that everyone and their mother is going to try to be just like him. The problem is that he’s already doing it well, so why would you want to try to do it better than him?

She continued.

“The solo guitarist wants the spotlight all the time. While they seem powerful, their true power lies in the platform on which they stand: Drums and Bass! If either of these players messes up, the spotlit guitar god will instantly look like a buffoon.

She proceeded to compliment the band and the songwriting.

“The guys and parts you really need to listen to is the rhythm section. They really know what they’re doing. And the songwriting is impeccable. A flashy guitar solo without strong music underneath it can only go so far.

She then sold the idea of me being an 8th generation bassist.

“Besides, the drums and bass generate frequencies that cause women’s pelvic bones to vibrate. They know who’s turning them on.”

Yea, grandma went for the hard sell by using my pubescent mind to get me to focus on drums and bass.

Me [far right] with my guitar in Stage Band [1981-82].

I played guitar in high school anyway. I was in the Jazz Band. In the Pep Band, for basketball games, I would play the lead solo for “Beat It” by Michael Jackson. That was fun. While I can learn solos, I never did focus on shredding.

THE AFTERMATH
I moved to Hollywood in 1986 to tackle my music career pursuits, almost 8 years after that conversation.

By the early 90s, Guitar Institute of Technology [GIT] was pumping out Van Halen copies, and it got annoying. I’d place ads for guitarists that would say “No GIT, please.” People would call me and be very angry, because they spent a great deal of time and money at GIT learning how to shred like Van Halen. I could only tell them, “Van Halen already did it. I see no need to do it again.”

I’m glad that era is passed, and we are now in an age where new guitarists are thumping on 8-strings. They seem somewhat inspired by Edward Van Halen, but are going their own route, or at least the route that is currently popular. There’s still room for the 6-stringers, so don’t give up. Whatever you play, originality is key.

Through it all, I was under no delusions. I didn’t think that I’d be the next Van Halen, Hendrix, Peart, Jamerson, etc. What I did see for myself, however, was a future in being a supporting player in a band. I could be the drummer who isn’t really well known, but who is always working.

IN THE END
Looking back, having my focus on songwriting and performing as part of a cohesive rhythm section was the best thing that I could have done for myself. I became a value-added drummer by learning how to sing while playing, and also run samplers, sequencers, and other pieces of a show at the same time.

I even ran a mixing board for one of my bands. A drummer who can do multiple tasks is of great value.

Grandma’s warning to not become a shredding guitar player was important. Keep in mind that this was 1978, and I did not get my High-Functioning Autism diagnosis until 2017.

Grandma knew, even then, that I was easily distracted, especially by music-related things. She helped me maintain my focus as I worked toward becoming a solid player who could step into a wide variety of situations.

It was probably the most useful musical advice that I had ever received.

01/02/2021: Update and A Thought

UPDATE: Yesterday, I wrote about how a ceramic bowl exploded in my hands, resulting in a good number of cuts and a big gouge.

I’m glad to say that most of what happened to my hands is on the mend. The big gouge is covered and feeling okay so far.

I have no particular topic to discuss at the moment, so here is a thought.

If social networking did not exist, I’d probably have been able to go to the grave believing that most of my “friends” from the past were really my friends.

It’s a strange sensation to be on social networking, which is why I no longer use it. Many of my “friends” and other people from my past have proven to not be so “into” me, for lack of a better term.

A few have addressed this with me in a condescending way, explaining to me that “people grow up and change.” Enough have said this to have me wondering if I’ve not grown up much. Sometimes I feel as if I am stuck at 19 or 20; the age I was during my second year in college [1984-85].

Maybe they once were my friends, and just grew out of it all. Many of them have gotten too religious or political, and therefore have become intolerable, as well as incapable of holding a conversation. To me, a person’s religious beliefs are something to be kept private. As for political positions, this is probably the least interesting thing about a person.

To me, a person is either a friend, or they are not. And if they are not now, then I wonder if they ever were in the first place.

This came to mind after getting a new year email from a “friend” who has previously mocked me. His mockery came after I apologized to him. My apology was based on a religious argument we had.

It’s strange, but when we were friends in college, not once did he bring up religion. Now, it’s just about all that he talks about.

All I can do is accept that this is who he is now, and then stay away from him. All I will do is cause him more problems if I try to stay connected.

That’s something I need to remember: A scant few friends can last for a lifetime. But most people are only friends with you during certain periods of their lives.

Commodore 64 Maintenance

I gave my Commodore 64 its annual cleaning and took some pictures this time.

The top half of the C64

The first thing to do is pop open the case. This can be unnerving, as the back is held on with some plastic hooks. The front has 3 screws. Remove those and then carefully pop it apart. Open from the bottom, toward the front, like a clam shell.

Keyboard connector

Just don’t open it too widely yet. Some important things need to be disconnected.

The next thing is to remove two connectors. There is a 3-pronged connector on the right for the power light. On the left [pictured] is the multi-wired connector that connects the keyboard to the computer.

If you haven’t removed this in a long time, or even forever, then know that disconnecting this can loosen up some corrosion. These connections need to be cleaned. I used an electronics cleaner that I typically use with sound board sliders or guitar volume pots. It’s called DeoxIT D5.

Putting some in the connectors, I then put the entire connector on and off several times to ensure that corrosion was not present.

C64 Keyboard.

Then I took apart the keyboard and cleaned underneath the keys, and on the PCB as well. I used the cleaner under the keys, and wiped the board with some rubbing alcohol. I cleaned every single connection under the keys. There are two connections per key, so it took a while.

BEFORE: Note the old heat grease on the chips.

Next, remove the heat sink/RF shield. There was a bunch of white goop on some of the chips. This is heat grease, and it’s very important.

Initially, I just cleaned around all of this and put it back together. But after that, a few keys [T, U, I] were no longer working. So I ordered more heat grease and gave the chips a healthy application. I also bent the heat sink/RF shield clips that touched the chips, so that the contact would be better.

AFTER: Application of fresh heat grease.
Heat sink/RF shield

I plugged it all back in, and everything worked! Honestly, I had no idea about heat grease or what it was all about. I found out about it after doing a few Google searches. The heat grease was a $7 investment, and it saved this computer.

Looks like this beauty from 1984 may have yet another year of life in it.

Happily ever after…. the Commodore 64.

Happy New Year to Me

I was washing a ceramic bowl, when it hit the counter and shattered in my hands.

On my left hand was a big cut on one of my fingers. I thought that was the only one. As I was holding it up in the air, pressing to stop the blood flow, I look to my right hand. There is a major gouge on one finger, a cut on another finger, and a cut in the webbing between two fingers.

The main ones were treated with Hydrogen Peroxide, with hand-made bandages on them. I’ll use some Neosporin later today when I change these wrappings.

So meta…

Finally, while I was wrapping things up, I noticed a very light, long, thin cut on my left hand. It was lower, about an inch long, and dangerously close to my wrist.

I guess it could be better. I was under no delusions that a new year ever changes much.

Happy new year to me, and a happy new year to you as well.

Is Santa Claus Real?

I’ve always had mixed feelings about characters like Santa Claus. On the one hand, it can be a great deal of fun. I remember as a child, wanting to tell Santa about my hopes and dreams. Of course, that fun ended the year that I snuck downstairs and caught my mom, dad, and a few uncles wrapping gifts.

The previous year, Santa had brought us a puppy, so I was starting to wonder.

It lead to a great deal of disappointment in the world, for me. Why would my parents LIE to me about something like this?

Fortunately for me, my parents weren’t religious, so they didn’t attach it to anything like jesus or god. But I have to wonder, how do parents get away with lying about Santa, but then declare the god and jesus stuff to be reality?

So far as I am concerned, once I found out that Santa wasn’t real, those jesus and god characters never stood a chance. As I saw my classmates grow up, holding bizarre religious beliefs, I could only feel more sadness for them. There they were, going to church and taking it all seriously, all because their parents lied to them.

Worst of all, these children grow up and tell the lie to their own children. So when I found out that I was going to be a father, I made the decision to never lie to my son about anything, even a feel-good story like Santa.

My favorite Santa of all time.

My son’s mother would take him to see Santa at the mall, and even had him dressed and photographed as Santa, just as my parents did 30 years earlier.

The first time she took him was a total disaster. The mistake she made was to try to hand him FORWARD to Santa. You’re supposed to hold a child facing you and then back them in.

My son wanted nothing to do with it. This Santa was very clever, and had a thin box of crayons hidden in one of his gloves. He waved his hand at my son, making the crayons shake. This didn’t work, and we had to abandon the idea of him sitting with Santa that year.

THE BIG MOMENT OF TRUTH
Flash forward to 1999: My son is 4 years old. He’s walking and talking, and is far out of diaper wearing age. His mother and I had separated a year earlier, and I had re-established myself in Hollywood Somehow, on this particular year, he spent Christmas with me.

In Hollywood, there are people who dress up as characters and will pose with you for a picture for cash. We would often go out and walk the few blocks it took to get to where they were, at the corner of Hollywood and Highland.

One person was dressed as Santa. My son noted something, saying, “That’s not Santa. That’s a girl!” Indeed, it was a woman, and her get-up was so good that even I did not notice at first.

This may have been what prompted him to ask me, for the first time.

“Dad, is Santa Claus real?”

MY RESPONSE
Fortunately, I had at least five years to think about my answer. I can still remember when I first decided that I’d never lie to my own child, years before I became a father. I also remember my first thought being one of panic, as in, “what the HECK am I going to say?”

I had come up with a few ideas, but had nothing that was rehearsed. But now was the moment of truth. The question had been asked, and I had been backed into a soft corner. I had several things to say, and wanted to carefully say it so that his 4-year-old brain could pick it up.

Here is what I said:

Is Santa Claus real? I assume that you mean “real,” as in whether or not he’s a person like us. I am proud that you asked me this question because it shows that you are growing up and starting to question the world. And I’m glad that you asked me this, because it shows that you trust me and what I am going to say. I will not betray your trust.

There is an old story, passed down through the generations, about Santa Claus being a real person who magically goes down your chimney, leaves gifts, and then leaves. He supposedly does this for all of the children of the world in only one night.

People have a wide range of feelings. Sometimes you feel happy, right? Other times you might feel sad. Those are feelings. Sometimes they feel good, and other times they feel bad. But sometimes feelings are so intense and complicated that we cannot express them by doing things like smiling or crying.

For me, Christmas has always been an emotional time. When I was your age, I would go with my family to grandma’s house. We would eat, sing songs, and exchange presents. Generally speaking, it was a time when people would go out of their way to show that they cared about someone else, or about others in general. Some might say it’s a big community feeling that only happens when many people feel it at the same time.

How do you express or represent this feeling? Smiling doesn’t seem like enough. Add laughter and that still isn’t enough.

Sometimes a feeling is so intense and profound that we have to find other ways to express it. This is where Santa Claus comes in.

No, Santa Claus is not a “real” person, like you or me. However, Santa Claus represents a very real emotion that is shared throughout the community.

Santa feels very real to many people. He feels even more real to a young person like you.

So… to answer the question… Is Santa Claus real? He is NOT a real person, but he IS a real feeling. Everyone dressed as Santa is creating a physical representation of how they are feeling. It’s a physical expression to match the emotions inside.

HOW IT WENT OVER
Is dressing up like Santa kind of like how we dress up to have fun on Halloween?

That was his first and only question. I gave that one a resounding “yes!” in response. I continued, “It’s like when you buy a present for someone, wrap it up, and give it to them. Then they start to open it. They see what’s inside and are happy. The happiness you feel for them is Santa.

Speaking of presents, I have a few things for you!

Christmas 1999, after our Santa talk.

We opened the gifts, which were near our tiny little potted tree. In the photo, the tree can be seen just above my son’s head.

He said that what he liked best about Christmas was hanging out with me in Hollywood.

IN THE END
Writing that story brought back some strong, profound memories. I won’t be seeing him this year, since we live in different states. He is working every day, and will be spending the holidays with his mother. We did exchange gifts, which was nice.

This year won’t be the same as other years, and I know that is difficult for most people. It’s difficult for me, for sure. Still, remaining safe during these times will give us a chance to maybe have another time together in the near future.

He doesn’t have any children and doesn’t want any children. I understand that sentiment, as I didn’t want to have any children either. But sometimes life happens, and there he was.

I’ll miss Christmas in California this year. I’ll also miss flying to San Francisco to spend time with a friend at his FESTIVUS party. You know, Festivus, for the rest of us.

Life is on hold. That doesn’t mean we can’t talk on the phone or have a video chat. This is when we should be grateful for what we DO have. Which reminds me, I have a few friends with whom I should have a video chat, and I need to get on instigating that ASAP.

Thank you to everyone who reads, even if you don’t comment. Regardless of what you celebrate or believe, I hope that it’s as good as it can be.

My son and me, 30 years apart.

Christmas, Music, and Commodore 64

One thing I love just as much as music is computers. In particular, I have a passion for the old Commodore 64. There’s one sitting on my desk right now.

Original Commodore 64, complete with a 1541 floppy drive, diskettes, game carts, game controller, and more. This C64 was made in 1983.

MY COMPUTER HISTORY
I first saw a computer in-person in 1978, when one of my school’s music teachers showed me how he could connect to a BBS.

He even played checkers with someone in Florida. This was no easy task, as he had to call the person to tell them to log in. Then he put the phone on the 300 BAUD modem, types in an initstring, and waited for it to connect.

Ever since then, I was hooked.

Our school got ONE computer in the library in 1982, at the start of my senior year. Few people knew it was there and nobody was using it. So I got on and started teaching myself programming with the help of a fellow student named Ted.

Ted came from a relatively wealthy family, so he had a computer and lots of knowledge. He taught me IF, THEN, and GOTO statements. I started working on a project.

The librarian caught me and told me the computer was for use with educational software only. And because of my horrible policy infraction, I was BANNED from the school library my senior year. Talk about American education, eh!

I did not let that stop me. In my first year of college, I spent some down-time in the computer lab, attempting to finish where I had left off. It was late in the middle of the night, and nobody was there.

A security guard asked to see my student ID. He asked my major. When I told him I was a Percussion Arts/Music major, he told me, “Sorry, but the computer lab is for Math and Science majors only.” Once again, I was banned.

In other words, I was actively denied access to computers throughout my formal education. It’s a very, VERY American thing.

BEYOND SCHOOL
In 1987, I got a job delivering computers for a small company in Southern California. We had lots of big-name clients. We also had lots of computers that weren’t getting rented, which I would take home and work on.

While here, I learned how to build computers, troubleshoot, install software, and more.

During this time, I ran a BBS [bulletin board] from the shop. There were some adult-oriented animated graphics, which are very crude by today’s standards. There was also an area to leave messages. I actually got to see people dating online in 1987. It was highly time-consuming and tedious, but it worked.

EARLY INTERNET
I got on as soon as the internet was made available to the general public on April 30, 1993. I used all of the regular services.

My computer at work did not have a modem, but the network downstairs had three. So I figured out how to dial the modem through the network and got online from my desk without anyone knowing. Well, anyone except for the IT manager. I stayed late and helped him with projects in exchange for him keeping that quiet.

WEB 2.0
Things took off, and I found myself working for companies like MySpace and LinkedIn. I used social networking for a long time, but have not been using it lately. There was a five year stretch where I used none at all.

For me, today’s social networking is too angry, divisive, and risky.

And that is what drove me back into the arms of my Commodore 64.

MORE THAN THAT
But it’s more than a case of negativity pushing me in a specific direction. I’ve always loved old computers. They challenge your mind and patience. I have one game that takes five minutes to load up.

It’s also a nostalgia for a time when I was passionate about something other than music. Up until 1982, music and drumming were my only true points of focus and passion.

A FUTURE WITH COMPUTERS?
I may end up doing some things with computers in the future. Unfortunately, most companies today engage in a great deal of ageism. They don’t want to hire people my age, and care more about building and worshipping a culture of youth.

No matter. I can still teach myself. I won’t spend money on school, but maybe a mentor.

UH, YOU MENTIONED CHRISTMAS?
Oh yes! I certainly did!

My Commodore 64 wasn’t always mine. For most of its life it belonged to a man who was part of a computing group called “CSUN.” No, not California State University Northridge. These were people who made a monthly diskette and shipped it to members. They communicated on their own BBS. They cracked games and associated with pirates like 1001 Crew.

My son and me, 30 years apart. Merry Xmas!

When I originally went through all of the diskettes I received with this unit over 5 years ago, I found the first-ever Christmas program [demo] that was made for the Commodore 64.

In America, it was played on the screens of Commodore 64 computers everywhere during the holidays. In the UK, it was available on a data tape called “The Very First.”

Yes, it was a marketing thing. Most of Christmas is all about marketing, pulling at heart strings, and encouraging excessive consumerism.

But for me, it’s a reminder of those simpler times, when we’d go to my grandparents’ home for a big dinner and singing songs while grandpa played the organ.

It was a time when my biggest problem revolved around whether or not I had enough gas in my car to pick up my girlfriend next weekend, or driving 20 miles round-trip to get a new set of guitar strings or drum sticks.

I could show you the demo on my screen, but someone did a better screen capture. That will be available below, at the end.

IN THE END
This Christmas is going to be rough for everyone. I don’t even want to speculate about how many people will suffer, die, or become permanently deformed by the pandemic, which will be accelerated by people engaging in Christmas traditions.

Most traditions for most people are simply not safe this year. It is during times like these that we turn toward the little things that matter. Calling your friends and loved ones, or having a video chat.

I know it’s not the same, even as I load up this program to watch it, hear it, and get taken back in time. It is during those desperate times when we have almost nothing, when we must acknowledge and be grateful for that which we do have.

Merry Xmas, happy holidays, and regardless of what you celebrate, please remain safe.

Commodore 64 Christmas demo from 1982.
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