A Summer Place

A fistful of quarters jangled in my pocket as I strode toward my destination.

When I was ten years old, there was simply no better place in the world than the humble campground store I knew as Barney’s. It was the hub of a Michigan lakeside resort that my family frequented during the seventies. Every summer, we drove up north with the Monfort family, rented a pontoon boat, and shared a cottage that was adjacent to a tiny, private beach. I imagine that the proprietors, a couple named Barney and Eunice, considered the surrounding geography to be the main draw of their business. But while playing on the beach, swimming in the lake, riding on the boat and fishing were all pleasurable to some degree, I was happiest when I was allowed to burn a little time and money at Barney’s.

It was nothing more than one long, rectangular room with a concrete floor, a place where patrons could find any convenience they might have forgotten to pick up in town as well as the preferred vendor of nightcrawlers and waxworms. There were vending machines for soft drinks and newspapers, and I certainly purchased my fair share of candy there. But the real attraction for me was the front half of the establishment, which was dominated by pool tables and pinball machines. Read More

ABBA Reconsidered

Growing up in the 70’s, I heard my fair share of pop music, mostly as I dawdled over a bowl of cereal while our local AM radio station spun tunes in between news updates and weather forecasts. WIMA programmed an adult contemporary playlist that was as digestible at the breakfast table as it was suitable for dentists’ offices. Songs like Feelings, Tie A Yellow Ribbon, Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head and Music Box Dancer were mixed with country crossover hits such as The Devil Went Down to Georgia and Southern Nights, all topped off with a liberal sprinkling of Bee Gees hits. From the dawn of disco to its twilight and shortly thereafter, WIMA also kept ABBA in heavy rotation.

I was familiar with ABBA because of their inclusion among the small stack of 45’s I had inherited from my siblings. Brownsville Station’s Smokin’ in the Boys Room. Clint Holmes’ Playground in My Mind. The Night Chicago Died by Paper Lace. Something had to go under the needle of my very first record player, and whatever I found around the house was added to the playlist. I still remember the red and black Atlantic Records label revolving as the low-fidelity strains of Waterloo warbled from built-in speakers. It was a happy and infectious tune, and although I had no idea what the song was about, I knew I liked the music. Like most of the ABBA hits that were destined to dominate the airwaves, Waterloo was so catchy that it was hard to forget. Hear it once, and you know it. Hear it twice, and it’s stuck in your head. Read More

Green Machine

Why learn to balance on two wheels when you don’t have to?

I don’t remember exactly when I learned to ride a bicycle, but I’m pretty sure I was the last of my peers to acquire the skill. I have a vague notion that it wasn’t even necessarily my idea. Somehow we ended up borrowing an old and rusted girls’ bike with training wheels, a literal vehicle for shame and embarrassment. I knew that the whole world was watching me as I wobbled up and down the sidewalk. Ha, ha! Look at that kid who hasn’t learned how to ride a bike yet! I kept my head down, tried to keep my balance, and wondered how I had unwittingly fallen behind the rest of the pack. Like every childhood drama, it seemed terribly important at the time.

My first experience with self-propelled vehicles was the classic tricycle, which by all accounts I heartily enjoyed. It was the standard, all-metal model with a runner between the back wheels. I am told that it was stolen from our front yard one night, a heartless thievery that I do not recall, yet I am willing to cast blame upon the anonymous robber for activating latent neuroses. If ever I am called to plead my case before a jury, I’m blaming whatever I did on the tricycle thief. Read More

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