September 30, 2008

My Dad

Okay, a giant post, sorry... but there's a fun video at the end! Ho boy!

First let's start with ME! Because that's when I met my dad, when I was first me. That's me below, li'l melon-head Tommy only a month or two after I was born. I've got a serious diaper problem happening.

Yo! Can I get some powda' here?! I'M CHAFING!

Okay, enough about me. Back to my Dad, and let's get through the depressing stuff first, Dad's no longer around, I'd say that we lost him back in 2004, but that sounds like he went missing under the sofa cushions and he's bound to turn up next time we clean. No, he passed away four years ago this past September 28th, after many years of struggling with a failing heart. But Dad was a fighter and hung on for years and managed to get around pretty much on his own up until his final year - during which time my Mother shouldered the huge responsibility of caring for him. Then in 2004 Dad disappeared into the sofa cushions with all the pocket change that I'll never see again.

Recently I got to thinking about him and missing him. I don't have any drama to write about with my father, no lurking unresolved issues, nothing like that. In fact I even got to say good-bye to him just a few of days before he died. I loved my father and felt like we got along great, other than my normal teen-angst years when everyone has issues with their parents. Otherwise there was nothing bad or damaging about my relationship with him. And as I grew into an adult, our relationship only got better... although that time shared with him was far too brief.

My Dad, Lyle Hart, was born on August 2nd, 1932 in Alliance Nebraska. His father was a farmer and had a fair bit of land where they grew corn and beans. My Dad's first house when he was a child was a sod house. Yep, a house constructed out of blocks of grass and earth out on the prairie. That's it in the picture below. Dad's about 3 yrs. old there, and showing his early propensity for wearing silly hats.

When I get older, I'm gonna getta' mow the house!

As cliched as it is to say, Dad came from humble beginnings growing up in the heartland.

Lyle at 17, jacking cars in rural Nebraska.

I don't know what Dad was like when he was growing up, but from what I can tell he was well-liked. I'm betting he was a regular guy from farm country. Dad was very bright and creative and did not want to get stuck working a farm for his entire life - a source of friction between he and his father from what I understand. So consequently, he left the farm to make his way in the world.

Dad served in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War. He worked as a cryptographer, encoding and typing military messages. He was stationed in Germany during his years in the military, and from his stories seemed to love his time overseas.

Dad at 19, in the Air Force during the Korean War.

In the above picture, that he'd sent home to his parents, Dad is copying his father's military photo from WWI (below). He'd written on the back, "Okay, so it isn't as sharp as Papa's" And no, it certainly wasn't.

My grandfather (Clarence Hart) circa 1917 WWI
Dig them crazy pants!

Yeah... I'm trying to figure out the math too on how my Grandfather served in the First World War since that would seem more like something my GREAT Grandfather would have done. Grandpa Hart died when I was around 7. He may have married late and had Dad when he was a little older, I'm not sure. Both sides of my family have longevity in their genes. The most plausible explanation is that Clarence constructed a time-machine out of a tractor and went back to fight the Kaiser.

Yankee-doodle this! I'll see you bastards in Versailles!

Dad went to college but he never completed his degree and was only a few hours short of getting his BA. Something that I think annoyed him the rest of his life, but did not seem to hinder his success.

Dad was always interested in art, theatre, photography, and filmmaking. He worked his adult life making industrial and educational films. While he was working in Denver Colorado as a cameraman he met my mom (LeJean) who was working as a teacher.

LeJean & Lyle

Actually, Dad was given mom's number by a guy in a bar, he called the number and that's how they met. Seriously. And then a year or so later I arrived.

You drop me old man and I'm calling child services!

Mom and Dad then moved to Lawrence Kansas, where Dad worked for Centron Films. Centron Studios was a complete film studio right in the middle of the country that made industrial and educational films, and one cult feature film: Carnival of Souls. Herk Harvey, the director was one of my dad's close friends.

Me and Mom at our family's first house in Lawrence Kansas... this was BS (before siblings).

Me getting ready for my fourth birthday!

It's birthday time beoches!
Dad's not happy about the gang-signs I'm flashin'.

I have vivid memories of the time when we lived in Lawrence. As I said, Centron was a motion picture studio, complete with a large sound stage. Their industrial clients were national and international corporations and very often would include big-name (or biggish) name talent for their productions like: Rowan & Martin, George Goebel, Jessie White, Eddie Albert, Don Johnson, and so on. Dad would often bring me along on shoots. When I was very little, I remember getting to meet Ed Ames who offered me a bite of an apple he was eating.

Me and Dad on a blacksmith's set at Centron.

To me this was Hollywood-- and in a way, it wasn't too far off. I even got a chance to do some acting. I was featured in several educational films, even one where it looks like I get run over by a car because I didn't observe the walk signals.

My brother Scott, Lyle, LeJean and me at my Mom's parent's house in Parkridge Ill.
This was right after Dad lost his father.

Dad later accepted a job with Deere & Company in the Quad Cities making industrial films, so the rest of my growing up was in a tiny town in the middle of farm country in Illinois. Dad had not wanted to be a farmer, but his profession had kept him close to farming.

As I said, there was no drama or issues between me n' Dad. He could be strict, but never unfairly so. He had a great sense of humor. While he was conservative in his views he was socially very liberal and fair. Except for that time he tried to murder a Canadian family that homesteaded in our garage, but they were asking for it and I have to court papers to prove it.

Dad with a pillow my sister made for him at Christmas.

Dad had a silly sense of humor, and didn't mind looking silly himself. Below is a picture of him wearing a wig my mother had purchased when she was going through chemo for cancer (she has since recovered).

Does the price tag make me look cheap?

Oh, and the silliness didn't stop at wigs. Nope. Dad had tons of HATS. Whenever I'd see him I never knew if he'd be wearing a cowboy hat, farmer's seed cap, straw hat, pork-pie hat, you name it.

Dad looking dapper in his Russian sailor's cap.

When I became an adult, my father's taste in clothing and hats was endearing and amusing to me. Back when I was a teen though, I was horrified. One of my most embarrassing moments happened the summer of my junior year in High School. I'd gotten a job at a local car dealer painting their sale banners on their showroom windows. This was a bonus, since the daughter of the dealership was a fellow classmate and a hottie whom I was hoping to ask out. Well, my first day working, late in the afternoon, the dealer's daughter comes out to bring me a drink, and she's actually talking to me! We were just starting to hit it off when I heard the familiar sound of a small gas engine putt-putt putting off in the distance... it was Dad. He had a little Honda 90 trail bike that he'd zip around town on in good weather. He thought he'd pay me a visit at work. DAMN! Well... a visit from your parents when you're a teen trying to act cool in front of a chick is bad enough, but add to this how my dad was dressed:

He was wearing these awful tie-died/bleached cut-offs, a bright yellow tank-top that was covered in CB phrases from the 70's with things like "Ten-four good buddy" and "Put the pedal to the metal" and "We gotta' convoy!" And to top it all off, Dad was sportin' a big ol' cowboy hat and cowboy boots (remember, he's wearing shorts). Ugh... Oh the humanity of it all!

I wanted to choke myself on a paintbrush and die right there. Now that I think about it, his visit was probably very brief, but to me it seemed an eternity. Eventually Dad went on his way to finish his errands. As he left, the dealer's daughter looked to me, shook her head and said, "Sometimes dads are such dorks".

Yes. Yes they are. But now, it's moments like that one that I recall fondly and wouldn't change. Well, except I would have liked to have gotten a date with the dealer's daughter, but that didn't happen.

TRIVIA TIME: Dad had told me the reason I was named "Tom" was because his mother would always call him Tom when he was growing up. He didn't know why she did this, his name was Lyle after all. But she always called him Tom, so the name got passed on to me. However, I did find out from my Grandmother the reason, it was because growing up on a farm they had lots of cats around. And she said Dad was like a tomcat, always running around. So it was Tom for "tomcat". I was happy that I was able to share this bit of info with Dad.

Dad at the Alamo... looking to rent a car.
(Ha! No one's ever said that before I bet.)

The last five years or so of Dad's life, when his health started failing, I made sure to visit him and Mom for the Holidays. I'm very glad that I did because we had some nice quiet Thanksgivings and Christmases together. I also got to have some good talks with Dad during this time.

Dad and Jenny (my sister) at Christmas 2003
Fighting over gifts, as usual.

Mom and Dad would split their time between Nebraska (where he was from) and Arkansas (where she was from). They would spend the winter months in Arkansas, then the summer in Nebraska. When Dad got very ill in Arkansas he really wanted to return to the little town in Nebraska where he'd grown up, Riverdale. He said he wanted to go home and sit on his porch. Which he did, and I'm glad he was able to.

Below is a short video I shot in 2001 while visiting Mom and Dad in Arkansas for Christmas. I was demonstrating to Dad my new camera and how quickly video could be edited on my Mac laptop. It's a cute slice of my parents together.

I got married this past year in Hawaii and really wish Dad could have been at the wedding.

Me and Emily after the ceremony.

Dad never got a chance to meet Emily I'm sure he would have loved her.
The Harts in Hawaii
Jenny, LeJean, Scott, Tom

However, perhaps it's fortunate that Emily never saw him dressed in his shorts, tank-top, cowboy hat, and boots - I dunno, add a lei and he would have been dressed for Hawaii. Dad would have had a great time.

September 24, 2008

Karmann Ghia

Sherman, set the Wayback Machine for sometime in my callow youth---

Go on... pull my paw and I'll show you what the middle ages smelled like.

---back in the Midwest, in a small Illinois town of about six thousand, right in the middle of farm country. And there I was, in High School trying to figure it all out. Okay, not really. I wasn't trying to figure anything out except for maybe girls, but as I've learned nobody understands them. However, being male and a teenager in the Midwest I was also into cars. My first car was a gold '67 Chevy Caprice Classic (a high-end Chevy Impala), that was a hand-me-down from my Grandparents.

Hellooooo Goldie!

That Chevy was one sweet ride. It was in mint condition. Big engine, tons of power, bench seats... ah, what a road machine. Perfect date car too. But alas, the Caprice was not to be mine for long. After I'd been driving the Caprice for about a year, that was when my younger brother was starting to drive and my parents felt that since the Caprice was an automatic that it would easier and safer for him to drive while I drove something else. I was not happy about this at all, but I had no choice. Of course whatever I'd be driving next would be newer, safer, and a better car than this old Chevy. Ah... no it wasn't.

It was a rusty, '73 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia that my dad paid $200 for. Yeah, that's a FAIR trade.

Dad figured the Karman Ghia would be a good "beater car" for me to learn how to drive a stick-shift. In retrospect he was right, because ever since I've only owned manual transmission cars and I like driving a stick.

Sadly I have no "before" pictures of the Karmann Ghia when I first was given it. It was green (where there wasn't rust) with a white hard-top - no heat and no air-conditioning either. It took me a few weeks to get the hang of changing gears, but once I was comfortable with driving, the Ghia was a ton of fun to zip around in.

Factoid: The plate was the title of the first
ill-fated attempt at doing a sequel to the movie "2001"

Being an old Volkswagen, this car also required plenty of "special attention". I replaced at least two starter motors, several fuel pumps, one generator, etc. It was always in need of work. But I loved that little car dearly.

One day I noticed a large pile of leafy tree branches stacked near the street where the city had done some trimming. This gave me an idea. I grabbed some twine, picked up the branches and tied them all over the outside of the Ghia (took me most of the afternoon to complete). Once I was done, the Ghia was unrecognizable as a car and looked like a big bush. My friend Greg had stopped by and he was amused by what I'd done, so we decided to take her out for a drive. It was difficult seeing through the window, but I was able to see enough to navigate the street, so we headed off through town. Thinking back on this now, I guess it was kinda' irresponsible, but I was a teen - in my defense I wasn't racing through the streets, I was lumbering along at the pace of a parade float. A motorcade of drunken Shriners could have easily passed us.

Nobody drives shrubbery in our town and gets away with it!

Greg and I drove around for about a half-hour before the inevitable happened, we got pulled over by a cop. He was totally cool, and amused by what we'd done, but he said we had to get it off the road or he'd give me a ticket since my plates and tail lights were not visible. Otherwise he said it really didn't pose a threat, but he didn't condone driving a vehicle covered in branches. The cop allowed me to drive the car back to my house. He followed along behind then watched us remove the branches from the car. Once he saw how rusty the old Ghia was he said he could understand why I'd want to cover it up.

This whole experience gave me an idea - why not paint over the rust.?.. and if I'm going to paint the car, let's make it camouflage - inspired by the tree branches of course. And by paint, I mean just that - with a bucket and a brush. I had no cash for any fancy-ass paint job. So I ran to Farm and Fleet (local farming goods store - Walmart type of place).

Everything we sell is made right ch'er in America!
'Cept for that which is made in China... and that's most everything.

I got some tractor paint and brushes and went to town on the Ghia.

Painting inspired me to do more work to the car. Another trip to Farm and Fleet netted me some running lights that go on semi-trailer trucks... so I wired up the Ghia for lights, putting them along the sides. Then I added amber lights to the front, and blue lights inside the nose grills.

Strangely, everything in the interior could only be seen in black and white.
Must be a German thing.

All of these lights were on their own switches so I could control them. The Ghia had been missing a radio, so I just used the open hole in the dashboard to put the switch box for the lights. I mounted an under-dash stereo to make up for the missing radio.

Launch control, we're ready for lift off.

And then I got my hands on some carpet pieces and shagged out the inside of the car. In order to make sure the carpet stayed in nice n' snug, I used bolts with big washers to hold it in place on the floor. So this took some drilling, and was a lot of work, but I didn't want the pieces to come unglued while I was driving. Finally the Ghia was all tricked out and ready to go.

Green on the outside... fuzzy on the inside! Like my underwear.

But after my first fill-up I could smell gas inside the car. Turns out that when I was drilling the holes for the carpet bolts, I accidentally drilled into the gas tank (it's in the front of the car). Considering that the gas tank wasn't full of fuel when I was drilling, but instead full of dangerous fumes, I was extremely lucky that I didn't cause a spark while drilling, because---

Ground control to Major Tom... you're majorly screwed!

--- that gas tank probably would have exploded. So I ended up having to pull out the gas tank and patch up the hole. Once this was done, the Ghia was at last ready to roll!

Highway to the danger zone BABY!

Man, I had a blast in that car. My friends and I would pile in and drive all over the place. Being a small town in the middle of nowhere there wasn't anything to do so we'd "shoot the loop", which is just another way of saying we'd go cruising. That was BIG fun back in small town Illinois.

Amazingly, I got a ton of use out of that little Karmann Ghia, I drove it my senior year in high school and my first three years of college. Remember, that the car had no air conditioning or heat. In the winter I'd have to bundle up. I recall leaving to head back to the University of Iowa after Christmas break. Mom made me a thermos of cocoa for the trip and in addition to all my winter wear, I was wrapped up in a sleeping bag too, all squeezed into that little drafty car. The things you do when you're a poor college student.

I ran out of relevant pictures for this post,
but I found this nifty picture of a cat in a space suit! Ain't it neat?

The Ghia was always having problems, and despite this I still loved the car. At one point the starter motor went out for a second (or maybe third) time. I didn't have the money to get a rebuilt one to replace it, so I had to drive it without a starter motor... which you can do with a manual transmission car. What you have to do is, put the car in neutral, then push it to get it rolling. Once you've got a decent amount of speed, you jump in the car before it can stop, press down the clutch, slam the stick into 2nd gear and then let out the clutch. This will cause the engine to turn and consequently start. I drove this car for two semesters having to start it in this manner. I got good at it too. I started parking creatively, pointed down hills and such so I'd have an easy starting roll.

See what I mean? No more pictures.

My junior year at the University of Iowa was when I said good-bye to the Ghia. I was living in a house just off campus with five of my buddies (all of us crammed into a tiny house). Tom Grant, one of my roommates asked if I'd consider selling the Ghia. I thought about it, and said that I might. He said he didn't have much money but offered me $250 cash.


And I made $50 more than my dad had paid for it. Ha take that!

Listing all the troubles I had with this car, you'd think that this would have put me off Volkswagen's - not at all. My next vehicle was a '77 VW Bus. And THAT was a hell of lot of fun to drive.... and "no", I didn't paint it camouflage.

September 22, 2008

Fun Factory!

For the past six months I've been working on a job that never gives me any down-time, or so it seems. Add into the mix that it's been a supremely frustrating experience and that I work at home, and you can see why I get a little batty week after week. Well, this past week was lighter than most and consequently allowed for some free time over the weekend. So Emily and I decided to hit the beach, just to hang out and relax. We headed down to Redondo Beach and while walking around the pier we encountered this:

Watch it! That clown's gotta gun!

The Redondo Beach Fun Factory is an indoor arcade on the boardwalk, it looked like it might be good for some cheesy fun, after all the word "Fun" is in the name of the place. I mean, there's no way this place could be filled with creepy, frightening creatures that would give children nightmares. Wanna bet?

I remember these characters from the book of Revelations...

The "Fun Factory" was filled with all sorts of video games, carnival games, and lots of creepy characters who were no doubt at one time supposed to amuse and delight little children... Children of the Corn perhaps, but to any other kids?... these things had to be spontaneous diaper-fillers! The place had old arcade games, carnival games of chance there was even a Tilt-a-Whirl.

Teddy was hung by the neck to serve as a warning to kids
to keep heads and arms inside the ride, or suffer his same fate.

Emily did find one of her favorite all-time arcade games - Skeeball!

Just to keep things interesting, I'm rolling ripe avocados!

Emily's a shark at Skeeball and she racked up a lot of tickets. I was playing at the machine next to her and couldn't figure out why I wasn't able to come close to her score. Then I discovered that my machine was only giving me 7 balls, not 9 as promised. Skeeball bastards screwed me out my tickets!

Then we came across this-- one of the original "Pong" games. Man, this thing was a piece of ancient history, but it still worked.

Last time I played this, I had hair! Take THAT Wii!

After the excitement from this mish-mash of arcade amusement started to wear off, we looked around and noticed how truly unnerving some of the rides and games were. Like this clown seesaw.

Don't mind me, I'll just be starring at your crotch the whole time.

There was a really disturbing Donald Duck ride. Clearly it's meant to be Donald Duck, but it's been given a bizarre paint-job to probably off-set any legal actions from the Disney Company. But the end effect is one of a drugged out Donald just waiting to take your kids away on a magical journey.

Duuuuuude... I'm sorta' freakin' out here...

And then we came across one of the more unsettling items. A coin-operated puppet show filled with characters that looked like some macabre mortician's fetish cabinet.

For our next number... we eat the chipmunk!

Emily found a vending machine from her childhood and couldn't wait to give it a try. It was a Flintstones-themed machine that you put 25¢ in and get a plastic egg with a toy prize inside.

Fun is just a quarter away!

But a closer look at the machine's window and what it said was unsettling...

Translation: "Hey kids! These came outta' my butt!"

Okay... so dinosaurs laid eggs. I got no problem with that, but it was the female dinosaurs, NOT the males (as far as I know). So what are these "eggs", where are they coming from, and why isn't someone stopping it?

But Emily was braver than I and ventured forth into the steaming pile of Dino "eggs" and what did she find? A purple reindeer finger puppet! Who knew the Fun Factory would deliver such delights?!

Hey guys... I... I can't feel anything below my neck! Guys?!

Before we left the Fun Factory we had to stop at the prize counter, cash in our tickets and see what treasures we had won! Could it be one of two racially insensitive Native American statues?

Chief WoodenFeathers on the right is yours for 3000 tickets! Or $750 cash.

The prize counter had a confusing ticket vs. tokens exchange rate towards credits, so despite the 70 or so tickets Emily had won playing Skeeball, it only amounted to 5 credits and consequently left our choices limited. We got a lizard.

I could help you redo your floor, I am a repTILE after all.

After winning a rubber lizard and a purple reindeer finger puppet, we bade farewell to the Fun Factory and dragged our chairs to the beach to catch the last of the afternoon sun.

It was a gorgeous day at the beach. A little too cool to get in the water, but nice for just sitting in a beach chair and dozing. Very few people around. It was quiet and relaxing... until the seagulls showed up.

Moments before we were descended upon by about 50 hungry seagulls. Seriously.

Fortunately we did not have any food with us, otherwise the air strike of oceanic birds would have pecked us to death. They quickly moved on and left us alone. Secretly I think they were after Purple Reindeer, whom we were able to safely smuggle out of Redondo and to freedom in the San Fernando Valley. I'm sure he'll be writing a book about his harrowing experience very soon.