I’ve written about my grandfather’s brother, Tom Dugan before, and mentioned his experience as a sailor on the USS Borie in World War II. The Borie was a WW I era destroyer pressed into service escorting convoys in the early days of the war, and it fought the most desperate and close-quarters battle with a U-Boat I’ve ever heard of. The History Guy does a good job of finding stories like this to feature, and he just released this video explaining the battle.
I’ve been slowly traversing the archives of a blog called Last Stand on Zombie Island, where the author does a weekly post on different warships from the post Civil War era up until the present day. He’s very good at the context of the time and place, and is able to find all kinds of fascinating examples from periods in history I wasn’t ever aware of.
I got some mail from Maryland529, the folks administering the College Trust Account we have set up for Finn, and had to do a double-take at the address, which looked very familiar at first glance. Turns out it’s the same building I used to work in at my last gig. Hopefully the mojo in that place has changed for the better. It was a cool old building—one of the only ones in that area to survive the Baltimore Fire (the original Alex. Brown & Sons building around the corner is still pockmarked and stained from the fire) and used as a storage facility for the banks in the neighborhood. There was a great old diner in the ground floor of the building that appeared in many Baltimore-based TV shows and movies which is now under new ownership. I hope they left all the 1940’s era fittings and furniture intact.
Somehow, the axis of the earth shifted beneath my feet, and I didn’t feel a thing.
When I was a teenager, in the heady days of MTV and before the second wave of video games hit, we had only a few things to do to get out of the house. When we were too old to build forts in the woods or make jumps for our bikes, we bugged Mom or Dad to drive us to the Mall, where we could go hang out and wander for hours and maybe meet up with our friends and not look like miserable lonely schlubs. I’d spend a half an hour in the Koenig Art Emporium, looking at brushes or expensive oil paints; I’d go to the poster store and maybe buy a cardboard-backed picture of a Porsche or a Lamborghini. I’d go to one of the two music stores and agonize over whether I should spend $15 on a cassette that might only have two good songs on it. And I’d always stop at the Gap.
The Gap was my touchpoint for fashion in the 1980’s; I wasn’t a Chess King guy (we quietly made fun of the pleated slacks, Capezio and black fedora set in our high school) and I had more style than Sears or K-Mart offered. The Gap was always mobbed. They played decent music, and all my friends and I bought clothes there. I worked for months to afford a fleece-lined denim Gap jacket. I had the Gap’s version of Jams when Jams were cool. I had multiple Gap polo shirts, alternating those with J. Crew polo shirts which hid my pencil neck—I only popped the collar a couple of times, I swear.
I still buy Gap jeans, as they have a wide selection of available styles which still tend to fit me in a 25-year-old way and not a Dad way, and usually it’s a breeze to buy them online during a sale and have them delivered—if they don’t fit, you run them back to the store. After I had a wave of knee blowouts in my “work uniform” this winter, I ordered three pair to replace the fallen soldiers. Two fit as advertised, but one pair was so skinny as to be latex, and I can’t rock that look without major ball squishage (I’m so old I remember when the Gap’s clothes were all 14 sizes too big). They’ve sat in the bag patiently, waiting to go back for a couple of months now, and my blood draw this morning took me in that general direction so I stopped in to the mall to return them. Donning my mask I noticed several shuttered storefronts (the beads and baubles store is gone; the Apple store moved further down the row and has been replaced with a Lululemon store. Macy’s is closed, darkening one whole wing.) When I reached the storefront where the Gap was, I was faced with a boarded up wall.
I was momentarily flabbergasted. Having a mall without a Gap is kind of like having a hand with no thumb; inconceivable to a child of the 80’s like me. They’ve been in dire straits for a long time now, so I can’t say this is a complete shock. But I figured with Columbia’s clientele and proximity to middle-class shoppers, this would be one store that would have stayed open. The closest I’ve got is a factory outlet in another nearby mall, and hopefully they’ll honor the return. If not, I’ll have to squish my balls into some skinny jeans and pour another one out for the inexorable march of progress.
When I was a kid my Dad gave me his wooden X-Acto toolkit and a plan for a balsa wood Sopwith Camel. I spent hours in the basement cutting and gluing and assembling and doping (the fabric, not myself) until I had a working, barely flyable airplane model. I graduated on to a TBM Avenger that I kept for awhile until my buddy Stas and I filled it with fireworks and flew it off the roof of the house to explode over the driveway (Hi, Mom!).
Finley has decided she wants to make a miniature kitchen set with working appliances, and the plan we found online is constructed with balsa wood and glue. In helping her work on the project this afternoon, I recall the pleasure of completing the models and flying them, and the hours of painstaking work it took to get them there.
Working with balsa wood again, I’m really tempted to buy a new model and start building it; this B-24 has a 4′ wingspan and looks like it would be fun as hell to assemble but it’s currently on backorder. Maybe that’s a good thing…
Gen. Webbdidn’t realize that the president was going to be there, so he stood to give up his chair, and President Obama just motioned him, no, you sit right where you are. Gen. Webb had this little laptop, messaging somebody. And so the president pulled up this hardback portable chair right next to him.
Twenty years ago today, I opened up a text editor and wrote a little bit about what I saw around me as I commuted to work. I styled some HTML by hand, stuck it in a subdirectory of my website, and began a habit I would stick with until the present day.
Unknowingly I was one of the early attendees to the party, and if I hadn’t been quite so cheap—I was getting my hosting for free through a friend and didn’t buy proper webhosting until 2005, after all the cool kids had staked out space in the ecosphere—I might have had a higher profile in the strange world of weblogs. Because I didn’t use weblog software, I was late to the blogroll and the trackback and software wars, which sidelined me from people discovering what I was writing about for years. And as much as I wanted for people to read what I was writing and comment, I was never one of the try-hards who begged for traffic. I’m not much of a joiner, so I only attended a few blogger meetups, and those were usually hosted by people I already knew, but it was nice to meet other folks who were doing it for as long as it lasted. There was always a tension between the promise of internet fame and the terror of internet infamy. I’m probably not tough enough to weather either of those storms, so I continue to fly under the radar. As it was, I never kept a weblog for the same reasons other people did anyway; while some folks were happy to document their every emotion and feeling, my weblog was more a record of my own headspace at any given moment.
Besides keeping a log of what I was doing for my own purposes, I also wrote this as a way to update my friends and parents. Mostly my parents; I was a little embarrassed to share this with friends directly: “I have a blog” sounds pretty dorky. It sounds dorkier now that it’s a decade past being a fad. Upon reflection, I think I wrote most of it with my Dad in mind—here’s what’s been happening—whom I found hard to talk to through normal channels. We’d talk on the phone, yes, but as I’ve gotten older I realize how much of his approval I was always seeking, and possibly how this was my weird way of reaching out. He didn’t comment on here as far as I can remember; comments only go back to the switch to WordPress. Most of our electronic communication was stereotypical Dad ALL CAPS EMAILS or forwards of annoying chain mails. Mom did tell me he read the site, but I tend to think she is the regular subscriber and he was a casual visitor.
As I look back over the body of work here it makes me think about all of the things I never asked him before he passed. There’s a black and white picture of him laying on the roof of his first car in front of Grandpa’s farm—how did he buy it? How long did he have it? There’s another of younger Bill holding a rope around the neck of a cow in shirtsleeves and a tie—where was that? What was he doing there? How about the picture above of him standing next to Mom, who is holding Renie as an infant. What was going through his mind? I would like to know who he was as a man of 30, raising a young family, and what his hopes and dreams were—but I realize know nothing about him. I have boxes of his slides, decades of memories, with no context or reference to who is pictured or what they are doing beyond what little I’ve been told. As I tried to do with my grandfather, I lost the chance to do with him, to get him to talk about those experiences and his memories and hear about his life and learn from him. Mom, get yourself ready.
Someday I hope that Finley will be able to read this and know a little more about who her parents were, what we were doing, and what we were thinking before she blew up our world in the best way possible. In that way, this weblog is more a gift to her than anything else, an annotated photo album of where she came from and the people that made her.
In that way, it’s documented the last twenty years faithfully, through one house to the second, through a wedding and honeymoon to various foreign vacations, home projects, employment shifts, a pregnancy and birth, BABY, another employment shift, more vacations, friends coming and going, cancer, death, and now the pandemic. It will continue as long as I am able to put fingers to keyboard. Maybe Finley will even take up the mantle someday, if there is still a text-based internet where people can write about their dishwasher breaking or post endless blurry pictures of their dog.
On Sunday I found myself sitting at the dining room table, surrounded by books, holding a set of battle-worn dice, and leading my daughter and her friend through a musty dungeon full of lizard-people and Orcs. I don’t know how they learned of Dungeons & Dragons, but Finley had talked about it with her friend and knew I had played it decades ago and still had some old stuff buried in the basement, so she nominated me to lead them through their first campaign. Which is fine! But it was stressful to re-read the books to try and remember how to play—and, more importantly, to remember how to lead two 12-year-olds through a dungeon.
It was created back in the ’70’s by a bunch of geeky middle-aged white guys who loved dice and math and J.R.R. Tolkien, and so everything was super-complicated and over-thought. Realizing this at some point in the early 80’s, they began to re-write the rules not one, or two, or even three, but five times to make things easier to understand and streamline them for play. All my stuff is from that first complicated edition, so I had to wrestle the rules and dice tables and backstory to make things work for the girls. Because they are both novices, I also had to create four non-player characters to assist them in their adventure—and to provide timely hints when necessary.
Overall it went really well! I was a little rusty at first but quickly caught up to things, and once I’d remembered how to get the dice tables organized we had a lot of fun going through some of the easy sections of The Keep On The Borderlands, the beginner-level module included with the starter D&D set I’d been given in 1982. We spent about three hours working through the first sections of the adventure, powered by pizza and later with an artisanal hot chocolate bar organized by Mama.
By all accounts, the girls really had fun; Finn’s friend didn’t stop talking about it for a half an hour after she got home.
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On Saturday I focused on the other side of the ice room, and built a set of shelves on the west side to get all of that stuff organized. It went in pretty easily, and all of the Dugan family slides are now up off the concrete. I also put in a rack for our storm windows and culled out a bunch of crap we don’t need to keep.
This nice-looking Traveler showed up on Craigslist and FB Marketplace for around $17K, which is a pretty good price for what they’re offering. What caught my eye, beyond the obvious good looks and desirable extra 18″ of wheelbase (and thus cargo space) was the location of the first staging shot:
That’s the former location of East Coast Scouts, my local IH mechanic in the early days when I had Chewbacca. He closed up shop in the early 2000’s when it got to be too much to stay on top of; he’s back in the area after moving to PA for a while and I traded emails with him last year.
Wow, look at that. Fifteen years ago this week I started demoing the old exam room in preparation for a renovation; I think it was this same day Jen came in and told me she’d just gotten a positive result on a pregnancy test.
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I’ve been using a cast-off MacBook Pro from work for email since before the pandemic; I have one good machine cobbled together from multiple out-of-service 2013 Retina models—this one has a drive from one machine, a replacement battery from another, and a screen from a third. It’s serviceable for what I’m doing on it, mainly email, photo selection/cataloguing, and other basics. But I’m stuck at OS 10.14 on this machine and I’d really like to upgrade to the latest version for security and modern features. It can’t talk to my iPad, which kind of sucks. It suffers from random 1-5 second freezes. There are some applications I can’t run anymore.
I think it’s time to upgrade my personal system here, given that the last truly new MacBook I bought was back in 2011, funded partially by the sale of my previous laptop. I’m looking at something ligher and slimmer (and cheaper) than a true MacBook Pro, which points at a MacBook Air: They’ve just updated the model to the new M2 chip and it goes head-to-head with the 13″ MBP with only a few minor omissions that I don’t care about at all. I’m waiting for a large expense report check to come in from work, and when that does, I’m going to pull the trigger.
There’s something impressive about seeing a theater company mount a production and watching it work from a pure entertainment standpoint but also from a logistical/production background. We went to see the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s production of A Christmas Carol downtown on Saturday with Karean and Zachary. The venue is in a building across the street from my old office on Redwood Street, which began as a bank, was renovated as a disco, and then was bought for the theater company and rebuilt. The tiered seating is set up almost vertically, so we were on the second level and sitting almost over the stage. We were able to watch the cast both perform and be stagehands, carefully introducing and removing various props while they were performing; it was like watching a tightly choreographed dance and I enjoyed every minute of it. They seamlessly wove music, singing, and even a Stomp-style rhythm into the play, and every cast member was fantastic—how refreshing it was to see so many people of color as the leads! It was an excellent production and I would definitely return for serious Shakespeare.
We had a great time with K&Z, stopping in after the play at an old Canton haunt called Nacho Mama’s, where we spent way too much time, money, and brain cells when we lived in the neighborhood. The man who founded it died ten years ago and I’d wager it’s changed hands since then, because the vibe, menu and quality have all slipped. I don’t think we’ll be going back, and I will miss Mesa Fries for the rest of my life.
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Following some recent comments about video games and ramping difficulty levels, I’ve been playing a Season event in The Division 2, where there are a series of challenges that lead up to four minor boss fights, which then unlocks a major boss fight. I did the last Season primarily solo, as is my usual MO, and found the ramp to the boss fights achievable and challenging. Far from a simple walkthrough, I had to work at the boss fights but they were a solid test of my skills to that point and ultimately I enjoyed finishing it. When they rolled out this new season, I started with the first challenge and got to the minor boss fight; with a bit more work I was able to beat it and move on to the second challenge. It was there I got my ass completely handed to me. By default they ramped the difficulty level up to Heroic, which is four steps above “you will need nuclear weapons to beat this.” As mentioned before I like to play solo, but there was no way I could beat these bosses by myself. Last night I joined another player who was playing solo against one of the boss challenges, and between the two of us we took him down. I suggested we take on the third boss, and soon we were joined by two more players who helped us along. We all died multiple times but in the end we all finished it. There’s one more miniboss to beat and then it’s on to the main event; hopefully I can find some other players to help finish the season.
Meanwhile, the search for a new game continues. I did find one that I thought might be interesting to play, but it turns out it’s only written for the PlayStation or PC.
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As mentioned earlier, there are nine new windows leaned up against the wall in the garage, waiting for installation. Between the holidays, work schedule, and family commitments, I may not be able to get any of these in before the middle of January, but I do intend to try. The first room up will be Finn’s; she has three circa 1925 windows which insulate about as well as a wet towel. I can’t wait to get the new ones in place and test the difference in both heat retention and soundproofing.
This is a lovely tribute to the late Adam Schlesinger, by his bandmates in Ivy, who I’ve written about before. They talk about their early years, who he was, and what drove him to create. It’s a really thoughtful tribute.
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I spent a little time in ProCreate learning some more tools and working on another shirt design for the holidays. I’m about 75% happy with it, both for content and execution. I’d like to move towards more vintage designs to take advantage of the resurgence in antique trucks and Scouts in particular, but more practice is required.
It’s December, and that means we’re deep in the middle of List Season. All the professional knowers and taste arbiters compile lists of 25 Somethings You Should Something and try to out-cool each other by namechecking cultural touchpoints nobody has heard of. The big ones never fail to disappoint; reading Stereogum’s 50 Album list isn’t quite as pretentious as Pitchfork, but the vast majority of artists are unknown to me. Happy to see Drug Church, Beach House, Soccer Mommy, and Spiritualized(!!) on this list; he ratio of bands I’ve listend to this year to bands I’ve heard of to who is this? is about 5:15:35 in the list of 50. Get Off My Lawn, etc.
One good thing these lists provide is isolating some new music worth checking out, which I will do after triangulating across several of them.
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We went to Finn’s chorus recital last night, which was quite lovely and mercifully short; spending more than an hour in a gymnasium with 400+ people in winter coats can get pretty close pretty quickly. They did well; there were only a few off-key notes across three grades, which was a blessing. Watching young gawky middle-schoolers file on and off the bleachers and giggle with each other reminded me of a time when the music program at school was my lifeline; all of my new friends were part of the band, orchestra or chorus. Our high school had a serious music program, something I was invited to early—I played upright bass for the high school orchestra in 8th grade, when I was technically still in junior high. The concerts were always fun but what I remember the most was that incredible time after the concerts, when my friends and I would go and hang out at the diner, jamming ten people in a 4-top booth to share a plate of fries and nurse a coffee under the watchful glares of the waitresses, laughing and killing time together until curfew hit. That feeling of finally finding a place to fit in was huge, and perhaps because I’ve been jammed in the house for so long, afraid of what the the world has become around us, crashing against the early 50’s question of what have I been doing for 30 years of my life and what does it mean, and thinking about my daughter’s future in all of this, I was feeling giant blue waves of nostalgia for those days of innocent, wide-open freedom.
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I’ve had a dozen or so sales on my storefront so far, mainly variants of the Scout II grille designs, which totals out to a pretty depressing amount of money. That’s mostly because I pushed the store during a holiday sale, where the cost of T-shirts (and thus my percentage) was dramatically reduced. And, as you might expect, likes and shares do not equate to sales. I think I have to keep feeding the store with new merch; I hve an idea for a holiday-themed shirt but it’s going to take a couple of days to put together, and I’ll most likely run out of time before the holidays.
Longtime readers here might know that I’m an aviation history buff; I love reading and learning about WWII-era planes of all kinds and I’m fascinated about the history of those still flying. So it was a shock to read this evening that Texas Raiders, a flying B-17 on the airshow circuit, was involved in a horrific midair crash with a fighter from the same era in Dallas today. I was never able to see Texas Raiders up close but I did get to see it fly in formation with a small armada of antique planes in DC back in 2015 during the Arsenal of Democracy Flyover. This marks the second loss of a B-17 in three years; Nine-O-Nine crashed as the result of poor maintenance back in 2019. Sadly, I suspect the era of seeing antique planes fly will soon come to an end.
I drove three hours up into the Poconos to look at a crusty truck on Sunday, hoping it would be good enough to drag home, but unfortunately it wasn’t. I was able to make the best of the trip by scooting through the Delaware Water Gap to visit our house in Hackettstown, where I went to elementary school up until the 5th grade. A lot has changed there and much is still the same. First I stopped off at the old house to see how it looks: it’s in good shape!
What strikes me the most is that a lot of the trees I remember are gone. The willow in the front yard I fell out of is long gone. All of the tall oaks in the neighbors’ yard to the east are gone. The house to the north looks like it was completely overtaken with new construction. And the overgrown forest and park down at the end of our street where I played Little League baseball and rode BMX bikes has been leveled and cleared, probably for some kind of new development.
Driving around town was wild. It looks like it’s doing very well—the fact that they have the M&M Mars plant anchoring the town is key. Main Street is busy and all the storefronts are full. My middle school is still standing, and still handsome despite the ugly emergency stairwells bolted to the front of the building. The winding route to my elementary school looks almost exactly the same. All of the buildings on the way still stand, and the path up the hill from the dropoff circle is still there. As I drove out of town I found myself passing the VFW hall where I raced my soap box derby car, the Dairy Queen next to the river where we celebrated little league wins, and the Walmart that used to be a Jamesway.
I’m glad to see the town doing well. Sometimes I wonder how our lives might have been different if we’d stayed there. Hackettstown wasn’t perfect but I have lots of good memories from there.