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The Ice Cream Man Cometh Not

The Ice Cream Man Cometh Not (with apologies to Eugene O’Neill).

I’m hoping that someone besides me remembers the ice cream trucks from the 1950’s and 1960’s. They are a delightful piece of Americana that has completely disappeared.

When I was a child (no it wasn’t in the Triassic Era), we had ice cream trucks that drove up and down the streets of rural America peddling ice cream to waiting throngs of children. Sometimes even the adults patiently awaited the truck’s arrival. These trucks had bells that alerted the public to their arrival from a block away. Their timetable was so regular that you could set a watch by them. Occasionally you would be lucky enough to buy an ice cream bar that had a free stick in the middle of it. That entitled you to a free ice cream bar. The gimmick was so effective that I remember buying bars by the dozen just to get a free one. In my part of the country, California, those trucks were predominately those of the Good Humor Man. Here is a brief history from their site

1920 Our delicious history started in 1920 in Youngstown, Ohio, when confectioner Harry Burt created a chocolate coating compatible with ice cream. His daughter was the first to try it. Her verdict? It tasted great, but was too messy to eat. Burt’s son suggested freezing the sticks used for their Jolly Boy Suckers (Burt’s earlier invention) into the ice cream to make a handle and things took off from there. The Good Humor name came from the belief that a person’s “humor”, or temperament, was related to the humor of the palate (a.k.a., your “sense of taste”). And we still believe in great-tasting, quality products. Soon after the Good Humor bar was created, Burt outfitted a fleet of twelve street vending trucks with freezers and bells from which to sell his creation. The first set of bells came from his son’s bobsled. Good Humor bars have since been sold out of everything from tricycles to push carts to trucks.

1923 After waiting three years for a patent, Burt took a trip to Washington, D.C., in 1923 with a five-gallon pail of Good Humor bars for the patent officials to sample. It worked – his patent was granted.

1929 A Good Humor plant opened in Chicago in 1929. The mob demanded $5,000 in protection money (that would be almost $70,000 today), which was refused, so they destroyed part of the Chicago fleet.

1933 During the Great Depression, Good Humor introduced a bar for 5¢ – half the price of a normal bar.

1936 In the early days, Good Humor men were required to tip their hats to ladies and salute gentlemen. It took three days of training and orientation to become a Good Humor Man.

1976 Good Humor sold its fleet of vehicles in 1976 to focus on selling in grocery stores. Some of the trucks were purchased by ice cream distributors and others were sold to individuals. The trucks sold for $1,000 – $3,000 each.

That’s the brief history of the Good Humor Man. The company and their local competitors were such an integral part of America that there was even a sappy little song I was required to learn in school. It went somethings like this:

Here comes the ice cream man.
His truck is spic and span.
He rings his bell
So you can tell
Here comes the ice cream man.

Flash forward to today’s streets which are now devoid of fun. Schlepping into a local market to buy frozen yuppie yogurt in 80 flavors just isn’t the same thing. The Ice Cream Man cometh not and that’s a shame.

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Old Movies

Why do people consistently want to watch old movies?

There is no one answer but here’s a few that I have come up on my own and by talking with friends, both young and old:

Old movies had substance. Their themes were often universal as was their appeal. There was generally a lot of meat on the bones for the audience to digest.

Old Movies had great actors. These were people who had staying power in the business and were not like today’s flash in the pan “movie stars” who become unknown after a season. Most were household names.

Old movies employed real locations for their shooting and were not completely shot “on set.” This allowed the viewer to see places they would never visit. (Ironically, I once lived in Agoura, California where 90% of the old westerns were filmed.)

Old movies were often shot in black and white (even after the introduction of color film) to make use of dramatic lighting and shadows. Think of Bela Lugosi’s face in Dracula, Jane Darwell’s in The Grapes of Wrath or many of Alfred Hitchcock’s films. These employed imaginative lighting that brought the characters and emotions to life.

Old movies were often film adaptations of proven great books. Again, I cite The Grapes of Wrath among many others. Unlike today, the film adaptations were just that: Adaptations of great books and not off topic creation by hack screen writers.

Old movies had less gratuitous violence and often incorporated more family values as compared to modern films. They did not offend the senses. Today, movies aren’t even considered “good” unless scores of people are killed in 120 minutes.

Old movies used many “real people” extras as opposed to today’s digitally mass-produced crowds. The term “with a cast of thousands” was once a reality that gave a film greater texture. Real people really do look more genuine than the foley edited variety. Consider The Ten Commandments.

Old movies used fewer special effects and relied more on real effects. This created more reality although it did also include some danger for the actors involved. My father, for instance, was pulled into a wall by a large spring after his character was shot in the film The Outlaw.

Old movies developed characters in greater depth and that in turn allowed more viewers to identify with individual characters and the actors who portrayed them. Everyone knew Rick from Casablanca, right?

Old movies were each unique. That is to say, there was no Casablanca 2, 3, 4, etc. Serialization was reserved for the serial shorts that played in theaters before the main attraction. Features were actually featured.

Old movies had richer sound tracks (not better ones). Today’s sound tracks are certainly of a better audio quality but lack the contributions of the studio orchestras that were behind the scenes of old movies. I’m thinking  here of the Swan Theme from Swan Lake in Dracula and many others that used rich orchestration.

Old movies dealt with real life current events realistically. Yes, today’s films do sometimes portray current events but usually not the urgent and realistic manner that old movies did. Consider 1942’s To Be Or Not To Be. The balance between humor and tragedy is perfect in portraying very real current events. That’s my father Gene Rizzi behind Carole Lombard in the movie poster above.

Lastly – Old movies made you cry and laugh out loud. Emotions were not hidden or drowned out under a barrage of Dolby and theater advertisements for local car dealers. When you saw an old movie, you were generally moved one way or the other. That’s why so many of us have a large collection of old movies on DVD or Blue-ray.

These are my observations along with those of some of my friends and colleagues. Do you have any you would like to share here? Please comment.

* Note: While The Grapes of Wrath was shot in black and white, the above theater movie poster was printed in color.

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Guest Post – When Did America Stop Being Safe?

Today’s guest post comes from my wife, Rachel Rizzi.

When I was a child (50 years plus), my family and I depended on national television broadcasts or radio to alert us and the nation as a whole about our safety and unusual or dangerous events. When did this safety practice cease? It seems to me that practice was abandoned shortly after Obama was elected president. Coincidence? While this is still open for debate, it seems so.

Yesterday, Sunday, November 5th I returned home from the supermarket about 3 PM and received a phone call from a friend in Europe alerting me and my husband about a church massacre in Sutherland, Texas. I immediately turned on the TV (ABC, CBS and FOX) to see what had transpired in Texas. Nothing…just the usual Sunday tripe and of course, NFL stuff: Not a word about my countrymen and children being slaughtered at prayer. Not a word at all!

Mainstream media in America has failed our citizens on too many levels, but especially about our safety. The reason behind this failure is speculative, yet not acceptable. When did being brought up to speed about our safety become an optional item? Why is the media ignoring us? Must we as a population depend on social media and sources outside our own country to receive public safety information? Even third-world countries have a better safety delivery systems in place.

These are sad and dangerous times for our country and those who mean us harm are taking advantage of our government’s failure to safeguard us. Our government must define ways to deliver our population safety instructions and important alerts. Will it be national television broadcasting, streaming via internet, cellular or are we on our own?

Every American must know which tools to use to obtain public safety instructions (not limited to weather, natural disasters and nuclear attack). Our government, both federal and local must properly distribute this information to us. It’s our Constitutional right to be safe, as stated in The Declaration of Independence. The media cannot deprive us of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

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To Be PC Or Not To Be

PC – To Be or not to be, that is the question.

I remember a wonderful pancake house / restaurant in Southern California called Sambo’s. The restaurant chain was started in 1957 by Sam Battistone, Sr. and Newell Bohnett. Though the name was taken from portions of the names of its founders, the chain soon found itself associated with the story of Little Black Sambo. It was one of the first “concept” food chains that centered around the book Little Black Sambo by Scottish author Helen Bannerman, first published by Grant Richards in October 1899. Sambo is a South Indian boy who lives with his father and mother, named Black Jumbo and Black Mumbo, respectively. While out walking, Sambo encounters four hungry tigers, and surrenders his colorful new clothes, shoes, and umbrella so they will not eat him. The tigers are vain and each thinks he is better dressed than the others. They chase each other around a tree until they are reduced to a pool of ghee (clarified butter). Sambo then recovers his clothes and collects the ghee, which his mother uses to make pancakes. Hence, this restaurant was decorated with themes from the book and even featured tiger butter for its pancakes. I especially remember those giant walls painted with colorful scenes from the book. It honestly seemed pretty tame for the time and the food was great.

However, the book would become an object of allegations of racism in the mid-20th century. By 1979, Sambo’s had 1,117 outlets in 47 American states. In the late 1970s, controversy over the chain’s name drew protests and lawsuits in communities that viewed the term Sambo as pejorative towards African-Americans, particularly in the Northeastern states. Several of the restaurants were opened as or renamed “The Jolly Tiger” in locations where the local community passed resolutions forbidding the use of the original name or refused to grant the chain permits. Lost in the PC shuffle of the times that followed, Sambo’s Restaurants were forced to close. Only one remains. It is the original location of the first Sambo’s and it is located in Santa Barbara, California. It is owned by Battistone’s grandson Chad Stevens.

If you are ever in Santa Barbara, pay this place a visit. I am sure you won’t find it offensive in the least. It’s just a neat little place to eat and ponder the question: To be PC or not to be?

Note: Here’s the address and phone. 216 W Cabrillo Blvd, Santa Barbara, CA 93101 Phone: (805) 965-3269 Tell them an oldtimer who’s not PC sent you!

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The Civil War – Part Two

Hopefully, everyone reading this has a fairly good understanding of the American Civil War which was fought between 1861 and 1865, resulting in some 750,000 deaths. Let me repeat that number: 750,000. It still stands as a huge black eye on the face of American history. Like so many of our wars, we seemed to have failed to learn much from it. In fact, the whole North versus South thing still exists today. Just drive down any rural highway in the South and you are sure to see many Confederate flags proudly displayed outside homes and businesses. In the South, some would even say that the war never really ended. Feelings of southern patriotism (which I applaud) aside, most of us hope the actual war has gone for good, buried in the past. We certainly don’t want another.

However, let’s pay close attention to what’s happening today. While we’ve been napping, the next great civil war is already at our doorstep. It’s not the North versus the South but rather the Left versus the Right. The divide in our country, while still 50-50, has widened enormously in its animosity since the 2016 election of Donald Trump. The left and the right factions of our nation can not and will not find common ground. The war of words began immediately, even before the election. The first actual shots were fired when Republican Steve Scalise was gunned down on a baseball field. The second shots, in all partial probability, were fired in Las Vegas by wacko Stephen Paddock. The jury is still out on the latter but most signs point to an Alt-Left deranged person wanting to take out perceived country music going Republicans. The folks on the left just have not been content with mere name calling. Their exploits have included tossing a disabled veteran out of his wheelchair, beating up an old lady, destroying property and making public death threats against the president and his supporters.

Much of the Alt-Left’s deeds have been egged on by famous people in our society: Movie stars, singers, NFL football players and a wide girth of other elitists. They have little to lose in the war of words and even less to loose if it comes to a fire fight. They are the chosen few who, surrounded by bodyguards, can afford to pretty much do and say anything they want as they are protected in their ivory towers. The masses that they have called to action do not enjoy such comforts but seem to feel the elitists have their backs. That would probably change immediately if it came down to a full scale war. These upper crust cruddies have a habit of being the first ones through the exit doors.

The Right’s response? Mainly gloating along with the obligatory name calling as well. So far, the right has constrained itself from major acts of violence. But often times, words cut deeper than knives. They are often as guilty as the Left in terms of incendiary word play. Again, the difference is that they haven’t taken to the streets… yet.

So where are we folks? Every week brings more acrimony and more violence. Left leaning California has now become a sanctuary state and many there want to secede from the union. Sound familiar? The pull and push has reached a breaking point and all out civil war is just a blink around the corner. We’re talking the guns, knives and clubs sort of stuff that I would like to believe none of us wants on either side of the political spectrum.

In America, we tend to think in cliches. We often act that way too. The Demtards and the Trumptards are gathered on either side of Bull Run once again. The next few months are critical to this country’s survival. There is still time to save our great republic but it’s going to involve compromise, civility and support of our current government by all sides of the political arena. Are we up to the task? I sincerely hope so. In the meantime, the Alt-Left has called for all out civil war starting November 4. Everyone needs to ask themselves, “If it comes down to shooting, which side will I be on?”

Note: The above painting is of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Seemed apropos so please give this a listen folks….

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There Was A Fish There, I Think

I live in the foothills of the Smokey Mountains in Western North Carolina. One of the many reasons I chose this place as my home is the generous amount of fishing that is available. However, sometimes it just doesn’t work out as planned.

It was Thursday and I called a friend to ask if he wanted to go fishing the following week on the North Mills River. The long and short of it was that although the river was to be stocked the following Monday, my friend had hunting commitments and could not go. I was a little disappointed as I value his company but I decided in the end to fish the river by myself along with my wife.

The following Tuesday rolled around and I set off for the whopping 10 minute trip to the North Mills River. Yes, I knew it had been stocked just the day before and so I expected a few other fishermen. But Lord, as I approached the parking area I counted no fewer than 30 cars. Yikes! I perused the stream below the road and I thought I saw few rods in the water so I rationalized, as most of us do, that many of the cars probably belonged to hikers and that the fishing really wouldn’t be that crowded. Wrong! To boot, the water level was historically low and it seemed from the start the day was doomed.

I got into my gear and headed for my favorite hole. Holly Crap! There were people in the water, shoulder to shoulder. I looked like a dunking derby! I said, “Let’s go!” but my wife reminded me that I would probably just be back in the following morning anyway so I chose to stay and fight my way into the stream. It honestly seemed like Disneyland, although I could not spot Mickey roll casting anywhere on the water. I finally found a tight spot where I felt I wasn’t interfering with other fisherman and began plying my skill.

Almost immediately I landed four nice fish and released them. I said aloud, “This isn’t going to be terrible after all.” After shooting a little line here and there, I was in the rhythm and feeling like I had made the right decision in staying. I worked my way down to the bridge after a couple of fellow fishermen left the water for lunch and began fishing a deep hole.

At first, I thought I heard a couple of Buck Eyes plopping into the water ahead of me. That’s normal this time of year. Then I saw a flash of silver. WTF? Upon closer inspection I spied the creature. It was a local resident throwing a spoon the size of Jupiter across my line. Pop! Off went the Woolley Bugger that I was stripping along. I coughed a bit to let the clod know I was immediately up-stream as I tied on another fly. That didn’t dissuade the dude so I moved closer to the bridge as to offer him a clear view of what I was doing. No matter. The spoons kept coming like torpedoes for the next half hour.

You get to the point where who can scream, “Hello asshole – Are you blind or what?” or you can just walk away. I learned decades ago that the latter is always the best course. So I waded back up and out of the stream to have lunch with my wife. Sharing time with my love has always trumped even the best day of fishing. We found a picnic bench and began eating. Every once in a while I glanced at the spooner to see if he was still at it. He was.

I waited and I ate and ate and ate until there was no more to shove in my mouth. Spoon Boy was still tossing and not catching a thing except for everyone else’s line. I then waded back into the stream below him in a completely different hole and resumed fishing. All the while, I wasn’t getting even a strike. The constant bombardment from up-stream kept coming like it was the London Blitz. Then a very strange thing happened. A complete quiet filled the air and I noticed my nemesis was gone. But where? Hell, it didn’t really matter so I waded out and back into the stream to where my frustration had begun.

At last, I was in my favorite hole with no tormentors or distractions. I laid out cast after cast but there were no takers. That happens. Unfettered, I continued but with no success. I knew they had put in 1,800 fish the day before so what was going on? Too much pressure? Probably. Too low water? Definitely. I was sure there was a fish there somewhere.

Another fisherman happened along and he politely fished below me, showing complete respect and stream etiquette. We spoke a bit as the action heated up again and each of us started catching fish. It was though the switch had been pulled on. It was really comforting to see another person on the water who knew those unwritten rules of the stream. I was so impressed that I smiled and asked this fellow if he would like to fish where I was fishing as I was going to move way up the stream. He thanked me and moved in as I moved out of the hole.

An hour or so later found both of us on the bank heading for our cars. We chatted for quite a while about things fishing and of life. I liked this guy so I gave him my number and invited him to call me the next time he wanted a fishing partner. The day had at last gotten better, not in the water but on its banks. As I left the river, I looked back and mumbled to myself, “There was a fish there, I think…”

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The Fear Of Being Milkless

What a queer and delightful sight! Nearly the entire population of our tiny town rushes to the local market like a pack of lemmings to strip the shelves entirely of milk and bread. What brings about this strange activity? A calamity of biblical proportions? An imminent nuclear attack? No. In this small corner of the world, it is the mere mention of that four letter word – Snow.

I am not exaggerating here. When the weatherman predicts even the slightest chance of a dusting of snow, people here run to the markets and stock-up on milk and bread. I’ve often mused as to why milk and bread? Are they thinking of waiting out a blizzard making bread pudding? As crazy as it is, it is also very comical to watch.

But the fun doesn’t stop at the local markets. No indeed. Entire shopping malls shut down in the face of less than a half an inch of the white stuff. Schools are automatically closed for days or even weeks, assuring our under-educated children remain so. To be sure, somewhere in the distance there is a bedraggled old woman shrieking, “Run for your lives – the chariots are coming!”

Yet in the midst of this circus-like activity, every under-skilled driver sooner or later decides they must venture out of their warm garage and give their car a chance in the destruction derby. It’s not that the roads are impassable with such light snow, it’s just that our local drivers here in North Carolina are about 90% from up north where they tend to be a little on the stupid side when it comes to driving or down south in Florida where snow is just a Christmas theme. The results are as equally entertaining as the run for the roses in the milk aisle. There is something devilishly funny about seeing an old douche bag with a Brooklyn accent slide into a ditch with her Cadillac four wheel drive utility vehicle and then utter that she should have bought the bigger model.

It is the fear of being milkless that drives this frenzied behavior. Having lived in the Italian Alps where 8 to 10 feet of snow is normal, I can only shake my head in disbelief and wonder what these poor souls would do in a real snow storm.

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Remembering Kenton

Every one of us has someone in their past who is remembered but no longer with us. I have many such people in my past but the one who always sticks out is Kenton Morse. I wrote another blog about Kenton on October 7, 2014 but there just didn’t seem to be enough words in that post. The original is here: Here’s another attempt.

I knew Kenton as a student and friend over 50 years ago when we both attended Sylmar High School in Sylmar, California. In a world that now seems light years distant, Kenton’s memory always comes shining through. Initially we really were not best friends at all. He was a grade and a half behind me and initially had a different set of close friends. However we were thrown together in the Southern California world of 1960’s surfing and there his memory will always reside. Thankfully, we eventually became the closest of friends.

Kenton was born on August 10, 1949 and I remember him as being the only son of his parents. After he was admitted to the Rising Sons Surf Club, of which I was president, we became good friends with daily contact. He had an untamed side that I admired and a shrieking laugh that demanded friendship. He often drew me out of my seriousness and he certainly made me smile. Most of all, he kept me sane through a few tough years of my youth. Some simple memories from a faded photograph and an ever fading time in my youth:

In late 1965, Kenton and I were frequent visitors to Carpinteria State Beach, south of Santa Barbara. We’d become good friends by then and regularly headed up the coast together for surfing trips, either in his 1954 Mercury wagon or my 1956 Chevy Wagon. We surfed the beach break there together and got to know a few of the locals quite well. There was a guy named Joe who lived in a mobile home with his mother near the beach. He became our friend and also a local guide to the girls. Kenton and I would hit many a party in Santa Barbara with Joe and the three of us always seemed to have a blonde surfer girl on each arm. Those were the days!

On one trip up to Santa Barbara, Kenton and I were stopped by the local Carpinteria police due to Kenton’s loud muffler. Actually, as I recall there may have been no muffler at all as the custom of the day was to run open pipes. The motorcycle officer pulled us over in Kenton’s 1954 Mercury station wagon in a parking lot and immediately wrote out a ticket for excessive noise and driving with bare feet. (Yes, both were against the law back then.) As the office mounted his motorcycle to leave, it wouldn’t start. In typical Kenton fashion, my friend leaned out his window and yelled, “What’s a matter? Won’t that piece of shit start?” Oh yeah, the second ticket was written: Insulting a police officer. (Also against the law back in the day.)

At the then famous Bob’s Big Boy drive-in restaurant on Sepulveda Boulevard in San Fernando, California, Kenton and I played out a typical night. We drove in drunk as usual with open beer in the car and ordered a burger and their famous strawberry pie. Sometime after the burger, the local police drove through and spotted Kenton’s car. Immediately, they got out of the patrol car and approached us. Without so much as a blink of the eye, Kenton dropped the open beers through a hole in his floor boards and proceeded to assure the boys in blue that we weren’t doing anything illegal. It was a nice trick, except the beer cans rolled out from beneath the car to the officers’ waiting feet. Busted!

Kenton was one of only four people to surf what became known as Rizzi’s Reef. This little know spot is a reef break that comes to life only in the largest of storm surf on the California coast above Ventura. The first time it was successfully surfed, Kenton was there beside me as we paddled out into what seemed the middle of the Pacific Ocean. He had the balls to take the first wave and it was he who stood up while paddling up the face of another monster only to be crushed after an eerie laugh. He was always pure Kenton. You can read the full account at: Fifty Years Ago – A Surfing Trilogy.

Kenton and I also double dated a lot when I was a senior in high school. He had a girlfriend named Leslie and I had one named Sharon. As I recall, our girlfriends were not particularly friendly with each other but what did it matter. Both Kenton and I had station wagons with blackout curtains in the back – kind of a surfer’s dream and a young girl’s nightmare. God knows those mattresses in the back of both cars were a mess of sand from the surfboards and the beach, usually cluttered with wet suits and surfboard wax. It didn’t seem to make any difference in the end.

Kenton and I regularly surfed together, in part because we were both very good at our sport but also because we shared a common sense of iconoclasm. We were both rule breakers and we broke one hell of a lot of them together. One afternoon in 1965, we had a surfing contest scheduled when we were all supposed to be in school. I arrived in the office of our registrar Homer Ganz with a fake looking note in hand; something about a fictitious doctor’s appointment. I was facing Mr. Ganz explaining my medical fantasy when behind him and through his window appeared Kenton in the parking lot with two surfboards hanging out the back of his station wagon. He revved his motor and his four-inch glass pack mufflers regurgitated their loud howls. The poor registrar looked out the window then turned to me and said in a resigned voice, “Just go!”

I graduated high school in 1966 and immediately headed to college with the intention of writing the great American novel. As Kenton was a year or more behind me in school, we saw considerably less of each other as I cracked the books and he continued to crack the jokes. One of the last time together found Kenton and me returning from a surfing contest in Baja California which was held at a beach called K38. We were both tired from the two-day event as we approached the northbound border crossing. When the border control agents began asking all of those questions they ask, I pushed in the cigarette light in my 1956 Chevy wagon. The agent gave us the go ahead just as the lighter popped back out. I then calmly lit a cherry bomb and dropped it at the agent’s feet as I speed off. Of course, I forgot the secondary border check some miles up Highway 101. It seemed like Kenton had finally rubbed off on me completely. Busted again? Oh, most definitely.

On October 7, 1967 I was studying Chaucer at Cal State Northridge and Kenton was heading down the Pacific Coast to do some surfing near Camp Pendleton. He caught a flat tire and pulled over to fix it. While he was taking the wheel off the car, a drunk Marine from Camp Pendleton veered off the road, sideswiping and killing Kenton instantly.

The funeral was a terrifying experience for me and one that I remember all too vividly. The music that was played was Born Free and virtually everyone Kenton had known showed up in disbelief. As I leaned into the casket to say goodbye, I couldn’t help to expect that my old friend would jump up out that wooden box, laugh his crazed laugh and tell me and everyone else that he was just screwing with us. That didn’t happen and I have had a hard time accepting that ever since. Friends like Kenton don’t come into our lives too often.

I always try to summarize Kenton in my mind: Kenton was a great friend and member of the Rising Sons Surf Club while attending school at Sylmar High School. He had an infectious laugh and could often be heard on the California coast yelling “Comin’ down!” as he jumped into waves at the last moment. He is missed by many of his old surfing buddies around the world. He is missed especially by me. Tight curls from all of us who are still around!

Tomorrow, 50 years ago, I lost the one true friend that kept me sane and laughing throughout high school. Thanks to you Kenton, I’m still here to tell the tale. I’ll be lifting a glass to you tonight and will continue keeping you in my heart… that’s a promise from a friend.

Note: Kenton’s photo from Sylmar High School yearbook, 1966.

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I Y’am What I Y’am

Those of you from the 1950’s and 1960’s surely remember Popeye The Sailor and his classic line, “I y’am what I y’am!” To you millennials and others who are experientially challenged, I offer my apologies. Popeye was a classic cartoon but moreover a spokesman for iconoclasts everywhere back then. I was one of them.

I grew up with Popeye and learned his lingo and attitude well. It has both served me and deterred me throughout my entire life. “I y’am what I y’am” can mean a lot of things but it seems to always exude an attitude that basically says: “Hey, I’m who I am – if you don’t like, too bad!” It is a form of honesty that I am thankful for learning at an early age. It has kept me true to myself and my beliefs for nearly 70 years. It has kept my compass straight as well and has kept me moving forward unimpeded by those who would doubt or criticize me to a fault.

However this forerunner of do your own thing has its down sides as well. It can also be met with: “Great but I don’t give a damn!” and “A little self-centered, are we?” Those are the perils of living one’s life with conviction. They can manifest themselves as job offers that never come as well as friendships and romances that are smothered from the first instant. I have been the recipient of all of these and much more. Sometimes being stalwart just doesn’t work in today’s world.

On balance I believe the “I y’am what I y’am” attitude is a healthy one that should be embraced by more people today. As of late, I have seen too many of what we used to call yes men and sycophants cluttering up the political and social landscape. Just going along with everyone else has historically been a non-starter and often a finisher. It’s no different today. Whether it’s millennials who just need to grow a pair or milk-toast geezers who can’t find a pair, Popeye has a few good lessons to be learned.

Over six and a half decades on I still admire the old sailor for his sand. Through the years, I have even learned to like spinach as well.

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High School

We’ve all pretty much been there – High School. This eternal crucible is where most of us get our true start in life. Our high school experiences mold us into the people who we are to become more than any other experience in our lives.

As we enter high school, we are usually immature children who need a lot of growing up. We usually get that and a whole lot more during our years in high school. I certainly did. When I entered high school, I was still using crutches after a really bad broken leg which left my tibia in over 200 pieces. I was a bit shy and constantly bullied because of my perceived handicap. My whole life needed changing and I set out to do just that.

Finding that I needed to regain my physicality, I turned to surfing for physical therapy. I also embraced the sport to regain my confidence and message a much battered ego. Riding waves and interacting with others in and out of the water seemed to do the trick. When I left high school, I was confident bordering cocky and I could walk again without a cane. I was ready for the waiting world.

It’s the stuff in between that was really interesting. In my junior year I helped form the Rising Sons Surf Club at Sylmar High School and it soon became one of the premier social focal points on campus. We would stride into the Sports Nights (Friday night dances) with our embroidered shirts ablaze, declaring to all that we thought we were pretty special. We were special in our own little way. But the experience of belonging to a surfing club matured us all in so many small ways. We learned the value of comradery, keeping healthy and even the mathematical logistics of surfing a wave.

High school was also a time of fun and screwing around before the heavy weight of adulthood set in. We loved drinking gallons of beer, campfires on the beach and the adventure of taking off in a car at night with only a vague destination in mine. Selling liquor to unsuspecting freshmen in watered down paper cups was natural and harmless back then. Nobody ever seemed to get busted back then. The lack of restraints was a wonderful thing and we bathed in the utter calm before the storm.

However, I was always serious and a bit too grounded at times. I was a writer even back then and I always had my head in a book and a pen in my hand. I knew that I would head for college immediately after high school and I seemed to have been constantly preparing for that journey. I was also the guy who knew how to cook and as such did all of the cooking for our merry band of surfers when we were on the road. Fresh muscles over a campfire in Mexico were my specialty.

Years move on with increasing speed after we leave high school. When life’s currents fully envelope us, we become part of the flow and are propelled ever faster onward toward our final destination. We pause occasionally to reflect or go to high school reunions but we find that the feeling was of the moment and can not be relived. It is as it should be. However, for the briefest moments in time we were all there long ago in a place called high school.

The good-looking guy in the photo is me in my 1966 high school graduation photo. (That’s as about as cleaned up as a surfer got back in the day.)

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