No soap radio

My dad was a funny guy and had witty stories and jokes ready for any occasion. I don’t really remember too many of the stories and only remember one of his jokes. Maybe two.

The joke I definitely remember made no sense to me when I was a kid. When I grew up I figured it was funny to someone who was in the “know” about the “golden days of radio” because it sure made my dad laugh. It was not until this afternoon that I realized that my dad was not telling me a joke as much as pranking me.

“Momma Bear and Poppa Bear were taking a bath.

Momma Bear said, “Poppa Bear, pass me the soap, dear.”

Poppa Bear said, “No soap, radio.”

After telling the joke my dad would laugh and laugh and laugh. I’d say I didn’t get it. He’d say, “No soap, radio! No soap radio!” I’d tell him I still didn’t get it. I’d ask what it meant, but he could never seem to explain it to me and said, “never mind” when I bugged him about it.

I told other people the joke and no one else understood it either. How could my father laugh so heartily at a joke that no one understood?

When I grew up I’d think back to the joke and try to understand it. I finally came to the conclusion that it must have had something to do with the olden days and radio programs. That maybe the people that grew up listening to soap operas on the radio understood the joke and that since I hadn’t I’d never hope to understand the joke.

This afternoon I brought the joke up with Dean. He remembered me telling him about it years ago. I told him my theory and he suggested that I consult Professor Internet. I did and what I found out kind of made me sad.

It turns out that the “No soap radio” joke was a prank that may have started in the 1950s. A group of friends would be in on the joke, one person would tell it (or a variation of it) and all the friends would laugh. If the person being pranked laughed, the others would laugh and ask what was funny.

So when my father told it and I didn’t laugh but asked what it meant, how did that make him feel? Was he disappointed that I didn’t do what was expected? Would I have laughed if other people were also laughing? Should I be upset that he was trying to prank me? Does it really matter? Should I stop obsessing on this?

Dad at the Wonder Spot in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin 1954

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San Francisco house dream, time travel and possible ghosts

My waking dream this morning (rather, dream after I woke and fell asleep again) was my favorite kind of dream — a house dream. Only the other day I lamented, either to someone or to myself (is it worrying that I don’t remember if I was talking to myself or someone else?) that I’d not had a house dream in a while.

This was different from other house dreams because the house we’d bought was clear across the country in San Francisco. We’d visited it before — maybe to look at it to consider purchasing it or as tourists. In the dream, it was moving day. We’d just gotten off the plane and were on our way to the house wondering when Clare and Andrew would arrive to help us move in. Dean and I arrived at the house, which was somehow connected to a church that we also now owned, but rented out to a congregation, and let ourselves in.

old photograph of a Victorian mansion

Not our house, but it looked something like this except it was in the middle of a city block, not on its own.

The door was open and when we walked in the front door someone asked us if we belonged there. We showed them that we had the key and said it was our house. The person, a workman, said we should look around. We started in the kitchen and moved to the living room where we were glad to see a golden-yellow mid-century modern leather sofa until we noticed that the front of the middle cushion was in shreds. As we walked around the house more we noticed a lot of sofas and other furniture including an old crank telephone.

Clare arrived and was sad that we’d bought this house after she moved out because it was a Victorian mansion and she’d wanted to grow up in one. At this point, I was carrying her around like she was a child. I told her that now we’d be only a short airplane trip away instead of a 5-hour airplane trip away.

We walked into the master bedroom and noticed an ornate door that we’d missed on our first visit. The door led to a walk-in closet with views of a river running through downtown (yes, I know there is no river in San Francisco, but my dream self saw it). The closet also had a staircase that led downstairs.

As we continued our tour of the house we encountered more and more people who looked like they were either tourists or were shopping. I went back to the master bedroom and noticed a hospital bed behind a curtain and saw a man in the corner, crying and looking at some papers. I wondered if someone he loved had just died in the house.

I followed a woman dressed as a waitress into the walk-in closet and down the stairs. We went out a door and I tried to talk to her, to ask her if people in San Francisco were friendly because by this time I was not sure we’d made the right decision, moving across the country into a huge, possibly haunted, Victorian mansion. She would not answer me and disappeared into a doorway. I turned around and realized that I was in 1800’s San Francisco.

That’s when I woke up and my first thought was “how the heck could we afford a Victorian mansion in San Francisco?” My second was that I was relieved that we were still in Bethesda. My third was how weird it was that I was carrying Clare.

My interpretation:

The house in San Francisco: I bought Ruth Franklin’s biography of Shirley Jackson a few weeks ago and read a bit of it which mentioned the house that Jackson likely based “Hill House” on. I must have had that at the back of my mind, although I have not yet read “The Haunting of Hill House“, I have seen both movie adaptations of it.

The people in the house: After thinking about the dream for a short while I thought that aspects of it were like the House on the Rock in Wisconsin, so perhaps the people were visiting a similarly strange house in San Francisco.

Carrying Clare: A few days ago I had the pleasure of holding a family friend’s  2-month old grandson. I remember thinking back to when I held my own children like that.

Time Travel: I don’t know — I like time travel. I like the staircase being the portal.

Shredded couch cushion: We have a leather sofa I hate in our basement and Dean just bought something to fix it. I was hoping we were going to replace it instead.

Or maybe I have been watching Twin Peaks too close to bedtime!

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Moonlit Merry-go-round

When? It was probably 1980 or 1981, it could have been later, but by then we were living in Pittsburgh. Where? It was probably Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg. I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but I do remember the emotion. I don’t even remember who I was with when I first saw it — maybe Mom and Aunt Ginny. All I really remember is walking past the window and seeing the painting and having a powerful feeling of sadness, but also a feeling of desire. I wanted to own the painting.

I must have talked to Dean who probably reluctantly agreed to visit the Merill Chase Gallery in the mall to see if he wanted to own it too. I do remember going into the gallery and telling a Merill Chase employee that we were interested in purchasing the painting in the window. The employee showed us a small room with a sofa or comfortable chairs and invited us to sit while she had the painting brought to us and placed on an easel. She left us alone for a few minutes while we talked about it. I explained why I liked it. I don’t recall Dean’s responses. I really wanted it. It was not too expensive, as I recall something we could afford, but not easily. It turned out that the painting was actually a serigraph and came with a certificate of authenticity.

We bought the serigraph and it hung in the living room of our Pittsburgh apartment. It must have hung in our Alexandria homes — in places where visitors could see it. For many years it hung above our bed in Bethesda. One night Clare and Andrew asked me the story of the painting. Since I didn’t know the actual story, I made one up. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it had something to do with the merry-go-round being magical so the horses could still run on it but one horse wanted to run free and jumped off the carousel, only to freeze a few hundred feet away from the merry-go-round. No happy ending. I think it made the kids very sad.

Once I realized that the Internet knew everything, I looked up the artist, Robert Addison. I found a few things about him. His other work was often as depressing. The merry-go-round in my serigraph is featured in some of his other work. Its origin is based on seeing a bombed out merry-go-round when he was stationed in England during World War 2. The painting was completed in 1979. I think he did two versions of it because there is mention of “Moonlit Merry-go-Round, II” on the Internet. More recent searches have found that Dennis De Young from Styx used Moonlit Merry-go-Round on an album called One Hundred Days from Now.

Once I established my attic office the painting was taken there. I think it makes Dean sad, and he doesn’t really like it — I don’t think he ever did. But I do, I still do. Only I ever see it now — or Dean when he comes to the attic. Very rarely do guests visit the attic so, the only actual piece of art (by an artist who is not a friend or family member) is hidden away for only a few sets of eyes. And that makes me sad.

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Where’s the coffee? Where’s the pie?

In 1990, back when I still read newspapers. Back before kids, I read an article about a new television series in the April 30 Washington Post. I trusted Tom Shales, the journalist who wrote the article because he’d never led me wrong when it came to entertainment. Maybe it was because he was born in Elgin, maybe we just had/have the same tastes in television.

I probably would have watched it anyway because it was the brainchild of mastermind David Lynch — a director whose works Dean and I liked. We’d seen a presentation of some of his very early works at a local (now long-gone) art theater, and we saw pretty much anything he’d done that far (except Dune).

Dean and I loved the first season of Twin Peaks. Our next door neighbors also loved it and we’d often watch episodes together, drinking damn fine, and hot, coffee and eating pie. We even had a Twin Peaks dress up party for the final episode. My friend Totty came as the Log Lady. I don’t remember who I dressed up as. Too bad that was before smartphones with cameras because we would have definitely taken photos.

Back then, I don’t think I knew anyone else who liked Twin Peaks. Certainly no one at school. There was no Internet on which to discuss each episode with strangers. (at least not in our house). We just liked it, talked about it among ourselves and when we did run into someone who’d seen the series we’d talk with them about it.

We bought the DVD set when it came out and Clare got into the show, so much that she took it to school, then Olympia (not far from the filming location) and shared it with friends.

On one trip to Olympia, we visited North Bend, Washington where parts of Twin Peaks was filmed and ate pie and drank coffee at the Double R and posed for photos in front of the Great Northern Hotel and it’s nearby iconic waterfall.

Needless to say, we (or rather I) followed with interest the rumors about the revival Twin Peaks series. Totty heard about the series and suggested we get together to watch the first episode. We were not able to watch it the night it aired, so we planned on watching two episodes the week after. Totty brought an apple pie she’d baked and I made some coffee. We settled down to watch the revival of what had been our favorite television series 25 years ago — and possibly still was our favorite.

Well… the owls are not what they seem. If someone had been secretly filming us our expressions would have gone from happy expectation to confusion to bewilderment to disappointment to sadness. As the credits rolled for the second episode, Totty remarked that it sure was not what she was expecting and said, “Where was the coffee? Where was the pie?”

Damn right — where were the coffee and pie? Where was the charm?

Dean and I watched episode 3 a couple nights ago and, after some strangely Eraserheadesque scenes, it got better. I am not giving up on the series, I am just going to go into the rest of the episodes with much less expectation.

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RAS 5: Come Along with Me — Shirley Jackson

Run, don’t walk to your nearest bookstore and purchase a copy of Shirley Jackson’s posthumously published short story collection Come Along With Me. If you have read anything by Shirley Jackson before, you know this has got to be good. If you have never read anything by Shirley Jackson, what are you waiting for?

I, like most of the world, was introduced to Shirley Jackson through reading her short story, The Lottery, in high school. It wasn’t until years later when I picked up her books about raising her children that I realized what a wonderful writer she was. After reading Raising Demons and Life Among the Savages I moved on to We Have Always Lived in the Castle and fell madly in love.

Come Along with Me is the name of her incomplete novel which is about a woman who escapes from her past reinvents herself.

The rest of the book has something for everyone: Humor (Pajama Party and The Night we all had Grippe); Mystery (A Visit and The Bus); Suspense (The Little House); Drama (The Summer People and The Rock); and Non-fiction (Three Lectures: Experience and Fiction, Biography of a Story, and Notes for a Young Writer).

At some point, I must make time to read all her novels. Maybe after this Read-a-Shelf thing is over.

Statistics: Stats: 243 pages (paperback). Started October 2016, finished May 23, 2017.

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Old Writing: Part 23::The Littlest Dancer

No clue what age. Grade school. (I hope).

The Littlest Dancer

Once there was a girl at the age of five. She wanted to be a ballet dancer more than anything else in the whole world but her mother and father were much too poor to let her take dancing lessons.

Amy, which was her name, stomped down the stairs and into the kitchen.

Amy thought she could watch T.V. and learn ballet that way so she turned it on and her father came in and turned it off and said, “That is enough of your playing with the T.V. set.”

When bedtime came, Amy went upstairs and got dressed but she did not go right to sleep. Instead, she lay awake thinking.

The next morning she said, “Please let me go to dancing lessons. Please!”

“NO! You know we don’t have enough money to spend on silly old ballet classes.”

“But…” Her mother stopped her in the middle of the sentence.

“NO! NO! NO!” her mother said.

So that night she ran away. Her mother was terrified. She fainted so her husband woke her up and comforted her. They called the missing persons department.

“My child is gone. Can you find her? She has brown hair and wants to learn ballet very much. Can you help us find her?” said her father.

“Yes we know just the place to look, ballet school,” said the missing persons police officer.

So they looked there and she was there. They took her home and paid the people and Amy got to go to ballet school and when she was all done she came home with a lot of money and you might see her someday doing ballet.

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Old Writing: Part 22::My First Hour (this morning)

Probably 6th grade again.

My First Hour (this morning)

I opened my eyes and recalled my dream I had the night before. Then my dad walked in my room to see if I was awake or not. I pretended I was asleep (although he always seems to know I am really awake).

He told me to get up. I did not stir. Then my mom walked through the door (she thought I was still asleep) and said, “GET UP!” I got up and went into the kitchen. I still was in my PJs because when my dad leaves for work he always lights his pipe and I hate the smell of it, especially when I am eating. But my mom told me to get dressed before I ate. So I hurried up and got dressed so I wouldn’t have to smell any of my dad’s pipe when I was eating. I put on a blue plaid skirt but I couldn’t decide what blouse to wear so I decided on the short sleeve one and a sweater.

I made it out to eat just before my dad finished eating so I didn’t have to smell his pipe after all.

I had Rice Krispies with my brother. He talked about his worms all during breakfast. That turned my stomach.

After all that I went in and brushed my teeth and my retainer and washed my face with Noxema. My dad made a smart remark about the smell.

When I left I forgot my shorts and shirt so I had to go back and get them.

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Old Writing: Part 21::My Blob

Probably 6th grade again. The prompt must have been something about using color.

My Blob

Ho! Ho! Ho! I see my sophisticated horse [is] as lazy as ever. There’s the red snail in his shell. The blue moon. The orange moon and the violet moon off in the yellow sunset. If you look closely you can see a lopsided champagne glass. The snail just pushed his triangle head out of his shell.

The teacher wrote “Good” on the paper. I am curious what was good about this writing.

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Old Writing: Part 20::Two Haiku

These were probably written in 1969. I was in 6th grade. The second of these haiku poems I used for years whenever I had to write one. I always got a passing grade.

In the early spring
The birds sing so merrily.
I hate to leave them.

Flowers bloom and wilt.
Snow falls down and melts away.
Life begins and ends.

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Old Writing Series: Part 19::The Cheshire Cat

We must have been assigned to make a picture out of words. Yeah, not a poet…

The Cheshire Cat


I speak to my Cheshire cat,
In a tone that pleases him.
If he smiles ’til the clock strikes nine
I feed him liver which is fine.

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