Sunday, October 20, 2013

Beulah and Hoppy - From The Cold Dirt Press Archives

Over thirty years ago, I had an after-school job at a dry cleaners, the same place that two of my sisters had worked at more than a decade earlier. The tailor and one of the workers knew me since I was about five years old. Working there was a bit Dickensian with the chemical smells, drudgery, and the oppressive heat. The other employees were great characters from The Carolinas, Jamaica, and Central America, or from  right there in Westchester County, New York.

One woman who looked out for me was named Beulah. She was rail thin--wearing a size zero. Beulah was tough, smart and funny. We bonded quickly and would work the late shift together, sharing stories and a little libation at the end of the day. She had three little girls and an abusive husband who drifted in and out of her life. She also knew how to do everyone else's job in that place, and she did so when they wouldn't show up.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Too Much is Better Than Not Enough - From the Cold Dirt Press files

Another excursion through the central business district of my town brought me to a window dresser's fever dream full of ersatz Capodimonte and misfit tchotchkes. I want to miniaturize myself and bask in the nuclear glow of this storefront.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Don't Get Lost (from the Cold Dirt Press files)

Her memory, at its peak, was more than a steel trap, it was a weapon that she used to slice through any argument or inconsistent story. You knew better than to challenge it. When it began to slip away, it was like seeing a super hero contracting into normalcy without the aid of a phone booth or a closet for secret transformation. We, as a family, didn't speak of it out of deference but it became more apparent over the years.

I always knew that this would happen. You see I dreamed about it almost twenty years ago. It wasn't spelled out clearly like a user's manual or a flow chart on a chalkboard but instead revealed symbolically as a telephone conversation. In the dream, it was one of those heavy Bakelite 1950s style rotary models. I could not reach her despite numerous attempts, dialing repeatedly and yelling into the receiver, growing more anxious and frustrated. There was no happy resolution and it left me feeling depressed after I awakened. Little did I know that it foretold the emotional concepts I would end up dealing with as my mother aged.

Our telephone conversations were almost always about food and the latest updates on family and friends. The memory slips were sometimes subtle, trying to remember a word, or they were glaring as if she did not remember who I was. That is really not as jarring as you might think when you come from a large family where names are switched often. “Wait, I'm not so-and-so. I'm fill-in-the-blank.” One learns to let it go. She also could still reach back with laser precision into the files for some stories from 60 or 70 years ago with all of the vividness as if it were yesterday.

Of course, it should be noted that I inherited her capacity to retain details in a superhuman way. Peers at school nicknamed me the professor or the computer. It was only a matter of paying attention, I guess. These days, in middle age, there is a battle with my memory. It wants to go on vacation to a tropical isle just as it's needed during a hectic day. Acceptance and forgiveness need to go both outward and inward.

Lately, when I tell her about social plans, she says, “Don't get lost.” I tell her not to worry and reassure her that I'm going to places that I'm familiar with and I know my way around but I think to myself that I already am.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Shop Class - From the Cold Dirt Press Archives (2012)

Various Motors.
Hose Installation.

My late father's workshop was a source of relaxation for him. He was an expert machinist and handyman who worked at the Electrolux factory in Connecticut until they relocated to the south in the mid-1980s.

In his retirement, he repaired and resold abandoned vacuum cleaners that he found on the street. The ancient hoses and motors are still in the workshop and I had to capture them especially this glorious dream in pink albeit a GE model circa the early 1950s. I once had a canister model that he spray-painted gold. It's featured in this video that I filmed in a past life.

G.E. Roll-Around Vacuum.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Walking Sticks--From the Cold Dirt Press Archives (July 2012)

Due to unrelenting pain in my hip, I purchased a cane yesterday. Sadly, my ever decreasing lack of mobility reduced my shopping options and I had to avail myself of the last sparkle finish cobalt blue aluminum model on the rack at CVS. Never having used one before, I was unsure whether it should function as support for the failing leg or to bolster the functioning limb. Thankfully, the internet provided some tips and I was soon hobbling on my way. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Elliot Feldman is (Fill in the Blank)--From the Cold Dirt Press Archives

Photo courtesy of Elliot Feldman.

You meet the most interesting people on the virtual cocktail party of the social network and one such person is Elliot Feldman. He is a humorist, a cartoonist, and he wrote for Goodson Todman television game shows like Match Game. Elliot's novel, Sitting Shiva; was published by Evergreen Review in 2003. His comics appear online in Scene4 Magazine. His Old Hippy in Florida appears in the most recent edition of the literary journal Antique Children: Kingdom Freaks & Other Divine Wonders. When I received my copy, I knew that the Cold Dirt Press readers needed to hear about it and find out more about Mr. Feldman, who graciously submitted to my queries.

CDP: What was the environment like behind the scenes of the TV shows? Comedy is hard, but was it constant high pressure, a manic race to beat the clock, to fill air time? There had to be liquid lubrication to soothe the savage star egos and facilitate spontaneity. Was it a party atmosphere?

EF: The work environment was big-time fun. It was like being Buddy on the old Dick Van Dyke Show. The other writers, particularly Robert Sherman and Joe Neustein, were extremely talented. We were good friends. There was rarely pressure behind the scenes.

My office was a walk-in video equipment closet, but my real office was the 6430 Sunset (now CNN building) roof. I'd bring a beach chair, a lapboard, and a boombox. Occasionally a bottle of tequila and some joints would magically appear along with invited guests.
©2012 Elliot Feldman

CDP: Was comedy writing a goal of yours as a kid or was it something you fell into? And how did you get your start writing for TV?

EF: As a kid, I was a cartoonist. I was never a writer. In '75, I went to LA to break into animation, but the animators were on strike. In a panic, I wrote a spec Jeffersons TV script on a busted toy typewriter. I went door-to-door to agency offices (something not recommended) and found a sympathetic agent who read the script in front of me. She laughed and I knew I could write comedy. But since I was a hippy nobody from Detroit, she didn't sign me.

I wrote bad jokes for The Match Game for over 10 years. Before I wrote for TV, I was a longtime cartoonist. Because of this, writing Match Game stuff came easy. Goodson Todman Productions hired me off the street. Through word of mouth, I heard that Goodson Todman was buying freelance game questions for Tattletales, a celebrity version of Newlywed Game. I wound up making about $50 a week. I asked producer Paul Alter if any other show was looking for freelancers. He told me to do some sample Match Game questions. It was the highest rated show on daytime TV at the time. I did two batches and was hired on staff. A total mindblower.

CDP: Growing up my friends and I were fans of Brett Somers, Richard Dawson and Charles Nelson Reilly who seemed to like each other and also appeared to enjoy doing the show. Do you have any special remembrances of them?

EF: As for Charles, Brett, and Richard, the strongest memory I have is the day that Richard prevented Gene Rayburn from firing me. This is a long outrageous story that is best untold for now.

CDP: Were there any scandalous shenanigans happening behind the Hollywood Squares? Any of the stars doing rude things behind their desks? Peter Marshall seemed like the type of guy who, despite his blinding smile, could irk people. What was it like working with him?

EF: I never worked with Peter Marshall, but I suspect that he wasn't hired for the Match Game Hollywood Squares Hour because Marshall and Rayburn almost looked like twins. I did work on The Match Game /Hollywood Squares Hour, a complete conceptual disaster. The Match Game half hour was hosted by Gene Rayburn and the Squares half hour was hosted by Jon "Bowzer" Bauman of Sha Na Na fame. These two guys hated each other. The vitriol peaked when Rayburn smacked Bauman in the head with his super-long mike. The show ran for a few months and died a merciful death.

CDP: You went on to work on some kids' shows for Nickelodeon.I imagine that it might have been liberating and refreshing. Did that require a drastic change in how you worked?

EF: Throughout the years, I've worked on a wide variety of game type material from trivia questions for the online versions of Jeopardy and Trivial Pursuit to stunts for kids shows like Double Dare and That's My Dog (stupid pet tricks the game show). Writing jokes has always been my preference.

CDP: I'm a fan of your Facebook postings and your comics in Scene4 Magazine. Now some of them are featured in a literary journal called Antique Children. Will you tell us how this came about?

EF: As a cartoonist, my work started in college and the earliest underground hippy papers (such as East Lansing's "The Paper" and Detroit's "The Fifth Estate") in the 60s and 70s. In the 80s, my work was in the Los Angeles Reader. In the mid-90s, my comics were online. Scene4 Magazine found my comics on MySpace, and Antique Children found them a few months ago on FB.

In 2003, my first and only novel "Sitting Shiva" was published by Barney Rosset of Evergreen Review and Grove Press fame.

CDP: Do you ever come across your old work on YouTube or on cable? Do you look back on it with a sense of accomplishment?

EF: You can find my game show work playing on the Game Show Network (GSN) at almost any time of day or night. It's almost painful to watch.

You can also check out Elliot on his Facebook page. Here are some more of Elliot's Old Hippy in Florida comics for you to enjoy with thanks to Jim Lopez of Antique Children.
©2012 Elliot Feldman

©2012 Elliot Feldman

©2012 Elliot Feldman

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The 60's Grocery Store --From the Cold Dirt Press archives

On my morning commute to work, I often avail myself of the selections at Jack's Super Foodtown in Caldwell, NJ. I call it my 60s Grocery Store because the piped in music is strictly from the 1960s but with an emphasis on obscure gems and the decor, especially the floor, seems untouched from 50 years ago.

This morning's featured song was "Spinning Wheel" by Blood, Sweat & Tears. It transported me right back to that time when I listened to the song on a transistor radio.

Friday, June 14, 2013

A Thwarted Eulogy - from the files of Cold Dirt Press in 2011

My father passed away on October 17th at the age of 89. His health gradually failed this past summer after angioplasty for blocked arteries in his legs. He survived a lengthy list of adversities from forced labor under the Nazis to having a lung removed over 25 years ago and yet he was the funniest person I ever knew. Not knock-knock jokes funny, he had more of a skewed philosophical take on the world that made you think before you laughed your ass off.

The photo above showed him displaying Christmas cards on a ribbon strung across the room like one of his favorite characters, Mr. Bean.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Last Year's Honeysuckle

Last year's honeysuckle bushes have been cut back by an overzealous landscaper. 
I trust that Nature will prevail and the blooms will return soon.