Sunday, December 22, 2013


      I don't know about you, but for me Christmas was the best day of the year (the last day of school before summer vacation comes in a close second).
     Christmas morning was always great fun for my brother Steve and me. I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was seven or eight years old, but I still believed in getting presents no matter who or what the source.
    My parents were happy to oblige us. They were always generous in their gift giving, and never failed to keep us busy, in the early hours of December 25th, opening presents.
     I don't mind saying that nowadays, though still exciting, Christmas is a lot less the event it was back then. These Christmas mornings my wife and I usually sleep in then enjoy a cup of coffee before opening up our gifts.
     There happens to be one Christmas I remember quite  fondly. My parents lacked adequate storage areas in our row home. This particular holiday my brother and I received a couple of larger items, a pool table and a couple of bikes. One morning, about five days before Christmas, we saw that there was a sign on the basement door. It read 'KEEP OUT'. Because our basement door did not lock, keeping us out of there would have probably required an armed guard. About thirty seconds  after reading the note, we snuck down there and were overjoyed with what we saw.
     Of course on Christmas morning we acted surprised as hell when we tore down the basement steps and once again laid eyes on our goodies.
     One quick note about the pool table. It was not one of the fancier models. In fact, it was somewhat cheap. We had to keep putting stuff under the legs to keep it level (eventually it became about a foot higher then when purchased). Then to top it off, the surface beneath the felt was some type of plywood, which didn't hesitate to warp in our humid basement. After a while, Steve and I became rather adept at playing on the crooked thing and supplemented our allowances playing against friends unfamiliar with plywood surfaced pool tables.

     Warps and all, my brother and I loved that pool table, and, once they were able to conquer the tricks of its stubbornly uneven surface, our friends did too.  

Friday, August 23, 2013

My Distant Relative Was Not The Hero Of The Civil War!

DATE:  OCT. 3RD, 1862.

Col. Ekhart: You and Pvt. Mixter were bivouacked on Plower’s Hill, Virginia on Sept. 19th, Is that correct?

Pvt. Sawyer: Yes sir.

Col Ekhart: And you were in fact dug in, with General Taylor’s brigade, on the mountain’s crest awaiting the presence of enemy troops.

Pvt. Sawyer: Yes sir.

Col. Eckhart: Please tell me in detail what transpired next.

Pvt Sawyer: Well sir, we was waiting on those rebs. We could hear them in the distance shouting and swearing. Pvt. Mixter was behind a rock next to me. He asked me if that was them rebs yellin’ and swearin’ up a storm. I told him that it was those rebel boys making that racket. This seemed to upset Pvt. Mixter and he proceeded to pull out his family paper.

Col. Ekhart: Excuse me, his family paper?

Pvt. Sawyer: Yes sir. Columbus had some problems with remembering things, like his wife’s name, if he had kids, where he lived, stuff like that. His family paper helped to remind him of his life before his enlisting. I believe he had a map on there showin’ him how to get home also. 

Col. Ekhart: Go on.

Pvt. Sawyer: Anyhow, after he remembered his wife and such, Columbus decided he was gonna surrender.

Col. Ekhart: Up until this point, not one of our brave lads had surrendered to the graycoats.

Pvt. Sawyer: Yes sir. I guess Columbus was determined to be the first.

Col. Ekhart: What happened then?

Pvt. Sawyer: Well he kinda just put down his rifle and stood up with both hands in the air over his head.

Col. Ekhart: Where was the enemy at this time?

Pvt. Sawyer: They were yet to show their faces at the bottom of the hill.

Col. Ekhart: It pains me to ask what happened next.

Pvy. Sawyer: Well sir, Columbus started yellin’ “WE SURRENDER! WE SURRENDER!” at the top of his lungs. I believe he spooked the rest of the men pretty bad. At first, they yelled at him to get back down, but he kept right on insisting we would all die if we didn’t lay down our arms.

Col. Ekhart: According to General Taylor, Pvt. Mixter somehow convinced our boys to throw down their weapons and surrender to a faceless enemy.

Pvt Sawyer: Yes sir. He convinced them alright. Every single one of us gave up right there on the spot. We all raised our hands in defeat.

Col. Ekhart: Please relay to me what happened when the graycoats finally showed themselves.

Pvt. Sawyer: They took it as a joke seeing that there was only about twenty or so of them to our hundred and a few.

Col. Ekhart: So you outnumbered them five to one.

Pvt. Sawyer: Something like that. They said they were huntin’ squirrels and found us instead. Of course General Taylor had long since skedaddled, but them southern boys were tickled pink to have found such willing prisoners.

Col. Ekhart: Where was Pvt. Mixter during all this?

Pvt. Sawyer: Old Columbus just told them rebs he quit. I recall one of them helping him with directions on his family paper, then he up and left. I believe that he’d had enough of this here war.

Col. Ekhart: You do know that Columbus Mixter had been with the Maryland volunteers for three days when he surrendered?

Pvt. Sawyer: I guess old Columbus weren’t much of a fighting man.

The remainder of this transcript has been damaged and is unreadable. Further investigation shows that the court martial of Pvt. Columbus Mixter never occurred, due to the fact that Pvt. Mixter never remembered surrendering nor did he recollect ever being in the Maryland Volunteers. As of this writing he lives comfortably at home with his wife and children. He thinks. 



Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Adventures In Writing

   There was a time, not that long ago, when I gave serious thought to putting away my keyboard and moving on to ventures other than writing. I had become discouraged, not with the creative process, but with the marketing and promotion necessary to independent publishing. So much time, so little gain.
   I also thought that perhaps I didn't have the thick skin needed to withstand criticism of my books. Like every author I know, I thought each and every one of my books were minor masterpieces, worthy of nothing but high praise. I was wrong, of course. My books, like many others, are flawed. I came to this conclusion not too long after the brashness of my dreams gave way to the harshness of reality.
   Now, I am fine with the knowledge that some readers will love my books, some will like them, some will think they're nothing more than okay, and others will intensely dislike them. I also realize that I will most likely never get rich, or even make a decent living, writing novels. In such a competitive field, one must have great talent (and maybe a little luck) to rise above the masses and produce a best seller.
   Yes, I've fallen back to earth with a thud. I rise a little bruised, but otherwise unharmed. I will continue to write because I enjoy it. To me, each book is an adventure. I rarely know where my characters will take me. Sometimes they even have the audacity to put me in situations of jeopardy and dare me to find a way out.
   That's why I write, for the thrill of the journeys into the unknown.
   This summer I am aboard a pirate ship on the Great Eastern Seas, on the brigantine The Scorpion, being chased by the ruthless pirate, Coronado. It's difficult to give up adventures such as these and I won't even try. One more book to write this year and hopefully three the year after.
   For now I am content with a keyboard on my lap and a summer breeze at my back.
   Let the pirate wars begin!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Fighting Time

     I have made up my mind. Tomorrow I will drive to Northwood again. The neighborhood where I grew up. Northwood is an odd place to visit. In some spots, time has stopped, frozen in place for years. In other spots it has lurched forward, reluctantly I would imagine, a stubborn trailer full of memories fighting the car that pulls it.
     Here is the way it happens. Here is how time deceives the earth into thinking the old must die to make way for the new. Time makes promises, tempting promises, and then breaks them with the ease of someone who believes in their own lies.
     However, in its haste to patch the scarred and replace the decayed, it always leaves a trace behind, fragile monuments to what once were and will never be again.
     They become more difficult to find with each passing year, but they do remain. The Northwood woods shrunken and worn, still survives, as does the Northwood Elementary School. But not for long. Plans are in the works to bring it down and build a new facility in the field to its rear. The patio by the school's front doors still remains for now, holding fast. A handicapped ramp splits its center, but the patio remains.
     The house I lived in for thirteen years, from five until eighteen, still looks the same for the most part. My memory protects the bricks and paint.
     The alleys that surround it, much like the woods, have shrunk, constricted into narrow walkways, no longer suitable for games of handball and tag. The old clothesline pole at the end of my house's backyard near the chain link fence still stands. There were days when I ignored the back gate and swung out on that pole, through the air, over the fence and on to the alley.
     The ride through the neighborhood will offer no surprises. Not yet at least. If I waited years maybe, months, no.
     What once was nostalgia has become need as I grow older. I need to see how things were once. I need the places I see to match my memories. It's sad when they don't, but not in a bad way. Instead, it's a sadness that come with the passing of time. I sometimes think I'm the trailer of memories being pulled by the car, not knowing where I'll end up and fighting to remain on familiar ground.
     Sometimes the years surrender to time, too tired to fight back. Sometimes, however, they hold their ground. Those are the years I'll see when I revisit Northwood tomorrow, the strong sturdy ones filled with enough memories and places of my youth to welcome me home as an old friend might.
     And time can wait.      

Friday, March 15, 2013

Living In The Past

   In the northeastern section of Baltimore City lies a community named Northwood. The original Northwood, or old Northwood as it's called, begins to the north of what once was Memorial Stadium, former home of the Baltimore Colts and the Orioles. Where old Northwood ends, a miles or so up Loch Raven Boulevard. new Northwood begins. That is the Northwood where I grew up, and the subject of my book, The Boys Of Northwood.
   It has been many years since I left that enchanting place of my youth, many years since I bid the days of adventure goodbye and turned to the realities of adulthood. Fortunately I live near enough to revisit the realm where my friends and I once ruled, and at least once a year I do.
   The changes that I see are subtle but significant. The row homes. that stretch for as far as the eye can see, are still there, and holding up rather well. The woods, where our gang had so many adventures, still looks the same from a distance. Moving closer I see the erosion of the hills leading down to the stream that runs through its center. Northwood Elementary School, our hangout, and the home to many a makeshift baseball and football field, still stands tall, but not for long. The word is it will be torn down soon to make way for a larger learning facility.
   The three old shopping centers within walking distance of my home have new facades and tenants  Liquor stores and laundromats have replaced the drugstores with their soda fountains, counters of candy and baseball cards, and racks of comics.
   There was one thing that had remained the same throughout the years, one constant reminder of the past. Ms. Tilly Zeller, the mother of my close friend Jimmy, who lived directly across the street from my brother Steve and I, still lived on 1501 Burnwood Road. The last of the parents of the boys of Northwood to do so.
   My parents and the Zeller's moved there around the same time in the early 1950s, not long after the homes were built. Northwood was the magical place of our youth, but as we grew older, we left Northwood for other communities, some near, some far.All, save for one, Ms. Zeller, our neighbor from across the street.
   She stayed on through the years, and as the old neighborhood changed, she became the one constant; the one who remained.
   Ms. Zeller has recently left Northwood, for health reasons, the last of us to do so.
   Changes come to all places. Northwood has changed through the years, and will continue to do so. The magic may be gone but Northwood will always exist, and Ms. Tilly Zeller will always be a significant part of its legacy.