Wednesday, April 30, 2003

[4/30/2011] Sunday Classics preview: "Love is a thing that has victims" (continued)


Columbia Records' Goddard Lieberson took the extraordinary step of recording a three-LP Original Broadway Cast album of Most Happy Fella -- now available from Sony as a two-CD set.


Guys and Dolls (1950)
* Original Broadway Cast recording; Irving Actman, cond. American Decca, recorded 1950
* Original National Theatre (U.K.) recording, Tony Britten, cond. Chrysalis, recorded April 1982

The Most Happy Fella (1956)
* Original Broadway Cast recording; Herbert Greene, cond. Columbia/CBS/Sony, recorded May 1956
* complete studio recording; National Symphony Orchestra, John Owen Edwards, cond. Jay/TER, recorded (mostly in London, partly in New York) 1997-99

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1961)
* Original Broadway Cast recording; Elliot Lawrence, cond. RCA/BMG, recorded 1961
* film soundtrack recording; Nelson Riddle, cond. United Artists, recorded 1967
* 1995 Broadway Cast recording; Ted Sperling, cond. RCA/BMG, recorded Apr. 2, 1995

"Guys and Dolls," from Guys and Dolls (1950)

Stubby Kaye (Nicely-Nicely Johnson) and Johnny Silver (Benny Southstreet), vocals; Irving Actman, cond. From the Original Broadway Cast recording
David Healy (Nicely-Nicely) and Barrie Rutter (Benny), vocals; Tony Britten, cond. From the Original National Theatre Cast recording

* * *

"The Most Happy Fella," from The Most Happy Fella (1956)

Robert Weede, baritone (Tony Esposito) et al., vocals; ensemble and orchestra, Herbert Greene, cond. From the Original Broadway Cast recording
Louis Quilico, baritone (Tony) et al., vocals; John Owen Edwards, cond. From the Jay/TER studio recording

* * *

Overture and "How To," from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1961)

The soundtrack version doesn't really add much, but I went ahead and made the audio file, so here it is. If nothing else, it's, er, interesting to hear the Overture Hollywoodized. The 1995 Broadway version, however, definitely adds come important connective tissue.

Robert Morse (Finch), vocal; Nelson Riddle, cond. From the film soundtrack recording
Walter Cronkite, narrator; Matthew Broderick (Finch), vocal; Ted Sperling, cond. From the 1995 Broadway Cast recording


More from all three shows, and the major remarkable man who created all this music



Tuesday, April 29, 2003

[4/29/2011] Sunday Classics preview: "Rip, rip, rip the Chipmunks off the field" (continued)


Standing on the corner: Ryan French, Eric Bartlett, Brian Link, and Brian Ohnsorg in a 2007 VocalEssence (Minneapolis) production


Why not? Or even twice more, once with the same personnel -- different performance, though -- then with some fresh personnel on the field.

"Grand Old Ivy"

Rudy Vallee and Robert Morse, vocals; Nelson Riddle, cond.
Ronn Carroll and Matthew Broderick, vocals; Ted Sperling, cond.

* * *

"A Bushel and a Peck"

Just to be clear, this song is itself a performance, sung on the job by a character -- a perennial audience favorite -- whom we'll hear lamenting her real-life plight ever so poignantly on Sunday.

Vivian Blaine and ensemble, vocals; Irving Actman, cond.
Julia McKenzie and ensemble, vocals; Tony Britten, cond.

* * *

"Standing on the Corner Watching All the Girls Go By"

Once upon a time, you couldn't turn on a radio or TV without hearing this song. The "leader" (for want of a better word) of this quartet of social retards is a character I'm especially fond of, and we're going to be hearing more from him too on Sunday.

Shorty Long et al. and Robert Weede, opening dialogue; Shorty Long, with Alan Gilbert, John Henson, and Roy Lazarus, vocals; Herbert Greene, cond.
Don Stephenson et al. and Louis Quilico, opening dialogue; Don Stephenson, with Michael Gruber, Guy Stroman, and George Dvorsky, vocals; National Symphony Orchestra, John Owen Edwards, cond.


As promised, three more songs from the same shows, whose titles will also identify the sources of tonight's songs.

[And of course Sunday's post features music from all three shows.]



Monday, April 28, 2003

[4/28/2011] Jean Shepherd Tonight: Part 4 of "Duel in the Snow, or Red Ryder Nails the Cleveland Street Kid" (continued)


In God
We Trust


Part 4

By suppertime that night I had begun to resign myself to my fate. After all, I told myself, you can always use another football, and, anyway, there will be other Christmases.

The day before, I had gone with my father and mother to the frozen parking lot next to the Esso station where, after long and soul-searching discussion, we had picked out our tree.

"There's a bare spot on the back."

"It'll fluff out, lady, when it gets hot."

"Is this the kind the needles fall out?"

"Nah, that's them balsams."


Now it stood in the living room, fragrantly, toweringly, teeteringly. Already my mother had begun the trimming operations. The lights were lit, and the living room was transformed into a small, warm paradise.

From the kitchen intoxicating smells were beginning to fill the house. Every year my mother baked two pumpkin pies, spicy and immobilizingly rich. Up through the hot-air registers echoed the boom and bellow of my father fighting The Furnace. I was locked in my bedroom in a fever of excitement. Before me on the bed were sheets of green and yellow paper, balls of colored string, and cellophane envelopes of stickers showing sleighing scenes, wreaths, and angels blowing trumpets. The zeppelin [Ralph's gift for his younger brother, Randy -- Ed.] was already lumpily done -- it had taken me forty-five minutes -- and now I struggled with the big one, the magnificent gleaming gold and pearl perfume atomizer [for his mother], knowing full well that I was wrapping what would undoubtedly become a treasured family heirloom. I checked the lock on the door, and for double safety hollered:


I turned back to my labors until finally there they were -- my masterworks of creative giving piled in a neat pyramid on the quilt. My brother was locked in the bathroom, wrapping the fly swatter he had bought for the Old Man.

Our family always had its Christmas on Christmas Eve. Other less fortunate people, I had heard, opened their presents in the chill clammy light of dawn. Far more civilized, our Santa Claus recognized that barbaric practice for what it was. Around midnight great heaps of tissuey, crinkly, sparkly, enigmatic packages appeared among the lower branches of the tree and half hidden among the folds of the white bedsheet that looked in the soft light like some magic snowbank.

Earlier, just after the tree had been finished, my father had taken me and my brother out in the Graham-Paige to "pick up a bottle of wine. When we returned, Santa had been there and gone! On the end table and the bookcase were bowls of English walnuts, cashews, and almonds and petrified hard candy. My brother circled around the tree, moaning softly, while I, cooler and more controlled, quickly eyed the mountain of revealingly wrapped largess -- and knew the worst.

Out of the kitchen came my mother, flushed and sparkly-eyed, bearing two wineglasses filled with the special Walgreen drugstore vintage that my Old Man especially favored. Christmas had officially begun. As they sipped their wine we plunged into the cornucopia, quivering with desire and the ecstasy of unbridled avarice. In the background, on the radio, Lionel Barrymore's wheezy, friendly old voice spoke kindly of Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim and the ghost of old Marley.

The first package I grabbed was tagged "To Randy from Santa." I feverishly passed it over to my brother, who always was a slow reader, and returned to work. Aha!

"To Ralphie from Aunt Clara" -- on a largish, lumpy, red-wrapped gift that I suspected to be the crummy football. Frantically I tore off the wrappings. Oh no! OH NO! A pair of fuzzy, pink, idiotic, cross-eyed, lop-eared bunny slippers! Aunt Clara had for years labored under the delusion that I was not only perpetually four years old but also a girl. My mother instantly added oil to the flames by saying:

"Oh, aren't they sweet! Aunt Clara always gives you the nicest presents. Put 'em on; see if they fit."

They did. Immediately my feet began to sweat as those two fluffy little bunnies with blue button eyes stared sappily up at me, and I knew that for at least two years I would have to wear them every time Aunt Clara visited us. I just hoped that Flick would never spot them, as the word of this humiliation could easily make life at Warren G. Harding School a veritable hell.

Next to me in harness my kid brother silently, doggedly stripped package after package until he hit the zeppelin. It was the jackpot!


Falling over sideways with an ear-splitting yell, he launched it upward into the middle branches of the tree. Two glass angels and a golden bugle crashed to the floor, and a string of lights winked out.

"It's not supposed to fly, you nut," I said.


"It rolls. And beeps."

Instantly he was on his knees pushing the Graf Zeppelin, beeping fiendishly, propellers clacking, across the living-room rug. It was a sound that was to become sickeningly familiar in the months ahead. I suspect even at that moment my mother knew that one day the zeppelin would mysteriously disappear, never to beep again.

My father was on his feet with the first blink of the dying tree lights. He loved nothing better than to track down the continual short circuits and burned-out bulbs of Christmas tree light strings. Oblivious, I continued to ravage my gifts, feigning unalloyed joy at each lousy Sandy Andy, dump truck, and Monopoly game. My brother's gift to me was the only bright spot in an otherwise remarkably mediocre haul: a rubber Frankenstein face which I knew would come in handy. I immediately put it on and, peering through the slit eyes, continued to open my booty.

"Oh, how terrible!" my mother said. "Take it off and put it away."

"I think it looks good on him," my father said. I stood up and did my already famous Frankenstein walk, clumping stiff-legged around the living room and back to the tree.

Finally it was all over. There were no more mysterious packages under the tree, only a great pile of crumpled tissue paper, string, and empty boxes. In the excitement I had forgotten Red Ryder and the BB gun, but now it all came back. Skunked! Well, at least I had a Frankenstein face. And there was no denying that I had scored heavily with the Simoniz and the atomizer, as well as the zeppelin. The joy of giving can uplift the saddened heart.

My brother lay dozing amid the rubble, the zeppelin clasped in one hand and his new fire truck in the other. My father bent over from his easy chair, his eighth glass of wine in his hand.

"Say, don't I see something over there stuck behind the drapes? Why, I think there is something over there behind the drapes."

He was right! There was a tiny flash of red under the écru curtains. Like a shot I was off, and milliseconds later I knew that old Santa had come through! A long, heavy, red-wrapped package, marked "To Ralphie from Santa" had been left somehow behind the curtains. In an instant the wrappings were off, and there it was! A Red Ryder carbine-action range-model BB gun lay in its crinkly white packing, blue-steel barrel graceful and taut, its dark, polished stock gleaming like all the treasures of the Western world. And there, burned into the walnut, his level gaze unmistakable, his jaw clean and hard, was Red Ryder himself coolly watching my every move. His face was even more beautiful and malevolent than the pictures in the advertisements showed.

Over the radio thundered a thousand-voiced heavenly choir:


My mother sat and smiled a weak, doubtful smile while my Old Man grinned broadly from behind his wineglass.

The magnificent weapon came equipped with two heavy tubes of beautiful Copproteck BBs, gleaming gold and as hard as sin itself. Covered with a thin film of oil they poured with a "ssshhhing" sound into the 200-shot magazine through a BB-size hole in the side of that long blue-steel tube. They added weight and a feeling of danger to the gun. There were also printed targets, twenty-five of them, with a large bull's-eye inside concentric rings marked "One-Two-Three-Four," and the bull's-eye was printed right in the middle of a portrait of Red Ryder himself.

I could hardly wait to try it out, but the instruction booklet said, in Red Ryder's own words:
Kids, never fire a BB gun in the house. They can really shoot. And don't ever shoot at other kids. I never shoot anybody but bad guys, and I don't want any of my friends hurt.

It was well past midnight anyway and, excitement or no, I was getting sleepy. Tomorrow was Christmas Day, and the relatives were coming over to visit. That would mean even more loot of one kind or another.

In my warm bed in the cold still air I could hear the falling snow brushing softly against the dark window. Next to me in the blackness lay my oiled blue-steel beauty, the greatest Christmas gift I had ever received. Gradually I drifted off to sleep -- pranging ducks on the wing and getting off spectacular hip-shots as I dissolved into nothingness.

Dawn came. As the gray light crept around the shades and over the quilt, I was suddenly and tinglingly awake. Stealthily I dressed in my icy maroon corduroy knickers, my sheepskin coat, and my plaid sweater. I pulled on my high-tops and found my mittens, crept through the dark living room, fragrant with Christmas tree, and out onto the porch. Inside the house the family slept the sleep of the just and the fulfilled.

During the night a great snow had fallen, covering the gritty remains of past snowfalls. The trees hung rich and heavy with fluffy down. The sun, soaring bright and brilliantly sharp over Pulaski's Candy Store, lit up the soft, rolling moonscape of snow with orange and gold splashes of color. Overnight the temperature had dropped thirty degrees or more, and the brittle, crackling air was still and clean, and it hurt the lungs to breathe it. The temperature stood at perhaps fifteen to twenty below zero, cold enough to make the telephone wires creak and groan in agony. From the eaves of the front porch gnarled crystal icicles stretched all the way to the drifts on the buried lawn.

I trudged down the steps, barely discernible in the soft fluff, and now I stood in the clean air, ready to consummate my great, long, painful, ecstatic love affair. Brushing the snow off the third step, I propped up a gleaming Red Ryder target, the black rings and bull's-eye standing out starkly against the snowy whiteness. Above the bull's-eye Red Ryder watched me, his eyes following my every move. I backed off into the snow a good twenty feet, slammed the stock down onto my left kneecap, holding the barrel with my mittened left hand, flipped the mitten off my right and, hooking my fingers in the icy carbine lever, cocked my blue-steel buddy for the first time. I heard the BB click down into the chamber; the spring inside twanged sharply, and with a clunk she rested taut, hard, and loaded in my chapped, rapidly bluing hands.

For the first time I sighted down over that cold barrel, the heart-shaped rear sight almost brushing my nose and the blade of the front sight wavering back and forth, up and down, and finally coming to rest sharply, cutting the heart and laying dead on the innermost ring. Red Ryder didn't move a muscle, his Stetson flaring out above the target as he waited.

Slowly I squeezed the frosty trigger. Back . . . back . . . back. For one instant I thought wildly: It doesn't work! We'll have to send it back! And then:


The gun jerked upward and for a brief instant everything stood still. The target twitched a tiny tick -- and then a massive wallop, a gigantic, slashing impact crashed across the left side of my face. My horn-rimmed glasses spun from my head into a snowbank. For several seconds I stood, not knowing what had happened, warm blood trailing down over my cheek and onto the walnut stock of my Red Ryder 200-shot range-model BB gun.

I lowered the barrel convulsively. The target still stood; Red Ryder was unscratched. A ragged, uncontrolled tidal wave of pain, throbbing and singing, rocked my head. The ricocheting BB had missed my eye by perhaps a half inch, and a long, angry, bloody welt extended from my cheekbone almost to my ear. It was divine retribution! Red Ryder had struck again! Another bad guy had been gunned down!

Frantically I scrambled for my glasses. And then the most catastrophic blow of all -- they were pulverized! Few things brought such swift and terrible retribution on a kid during the Depression as a pair of busted glasses. The left lens was out as clean as a whistle, and for a moment I thought: I'll fake it! They'll never know the lens is gone! But then, gingerly fingering my rapidly swelling black eye, I realized that here was a shiner on the way that would top even the one I got the time I fought Grover Dill.

As I put the cold horn-rims back on my nose, the front door creaked open just a crack and I could make out the blur of my mother's Chinese-red chenille bathrobe.

"Be careful. Don't shoot out your eye! Just be careful now."

She hadn't seen! Rapidly my mind evolved a spectacular fantasy involving a falling icicle and how it had hit the gun barrel which caused the stock to bounce up and cut my cheek and break my glasses and I tried to get out of the way but the icicle fell off the roof and hit the gun and it bounced up and hit me and . . . I began to cry uproariously, faking it at first, but then the shock and fear took over and it was the real thing -- heaving, sobbing, retching.

I was now in the bathroom, my mother bending over me, telling me:

"There now, see, it's just a little bump. You're lucky you didn't cut your eye. Those icicles sometimes even kill people. You're really lucky. Here, hold this rag on it, and don't wake your brother."



I sipped the bitter dregs of coffee that remained in my cup, suddenly catapulted by a falling tray back into the cheerful, impersonal, brightly lit clatter of Horn & Hardart. I wondered whether Red Ryder was still dispensing retribution and frontier justice as of old. Considering the number of kids I see with broken glasses, I suspect he is.

-- END --



Sunday, April 27, 2003

[4/27/2011] Jean Shepherd Tonight: Part 3 of "Duel in the Snow, or Red Ryder Nails the Cleveland Street Kid" (continued)


A Bessemer converter

In God
We Trust


Part 3

It was now the second week of December and all the stores in town stayed open nights, which meant that things were really getting serious. Every evening immediately after supper we would pile into the car and drive downtown for that great annual folk rite, that most ecstatic, golden, tinseled, quivering time of all kidhood: Christmas shopping. Milling crowds of blue-jowled, agate-eyed foundry workers, gray-faced refinery men, and motley hordes of open-hearth, slag-heap, Bessemer-converter, tin-mill, coke-plant, and welding-shop fugitives trudged through the wildly pulsing department stores, through floor after floor of shiny, beautiful, unattainable treasures, trailed by millions of leatherette-jacketed, high-topped, mufflered kids, each with a gnawing hunger to Get It All. Worried-looking, flush-faced mothers wearing frayed cloth coats with ratty fox-fur collars, their hands chapped and raw from years of dishwater therapy, rode herd on the surging mob, ranging far and wide into the aisles and under the counters, cuffing, slapping, dragging winners of all sizes from department to department.

At the far end of Toyland in Goldblatt's, on a snowy throne framed with red-and-white candy canes under a suspended squadron of plastic angels blowing silver trumpets in a glowing golden grotto, sat the Man, the Connection: Santa Claus himself. In Northern Indiana Santa Claus is a big man, both spiritually and physically, and the Santa Claus at Goldblatt's was officially recognized among the kids as being unquestionably THE Santa Claus. In person. Eight feet tall, shiny high black patent-leather boots, a nimbus cloud of snow-white beard, and a real, thrumming, belt-creaking stomach. No pillows or stuffing. I mean a real stomach!

A long line of nervous, fidgeting, greedy urchins wound in and out of the aisles, shoving, sniffling, and above all waiting, waiting to tell HIM what they wanted. In those days it was not easy to disbelieve fully in Santa Claus, because there wasn't much else to believe in, and there were many theological arguments over the nature of, the existence of, the affirmation and denial of his existence. However, ten days before zero hour, the air pulsing to the strains of "We Three Kings of Orient Are," the store windows garlanded with green-and-red wreaths, and the toy department bristling with shiny Flexible Flyers, there were few who dared to disbelieve. As each day crept on to the next like some arthritic glacier, the atheists among us grew moodier and less and less sure of ourselves, until finally in each scoffing heart was the floating, drifting, nagging suspicion:

"Well, you never can tell."

It did not pay to take chances, and so we waited in line for our turn. Behind me a skinny seven-year-old girl wearing a brown stocking cap and gold-rimmed glasses hit her little brother steadily to keep him in line. She had green teeth. He was wearing an aviator's helmet with the goggles pulled down over his eyes. His galoshes were open and his maroon corduroy knickers were damp. Behind them a fat boy in a huge sheepskin coat stood numbly, his eyes watering in vague fear, his nose red and running. Ahead of my brother and me, a long, uneven procession of stocking caps, mufflers, mittens, and earmuffs inched painfully forward, while in the hazy distance, in his magic glowing cave, Mister Claus sat each in turn on his broad red knee and listened to exultant dream after exultant dream whispered, squeaked, shouted, or sobbed into his shelllike, whisker-encased ear.

Closer and closer we crept. My mother and father had stashed us in line and disappeared. We were alone. Nothing stood between us and our confessor, our benefactor, our patron saint, our dispenser of BB guns, but 297 other beseechers at the throne. I have always felt that later generations of tots, products of less romantic upbringing, cynical nonbelievers in Santa Claus from birth, can never know the nature of the true dream. I was well into my twenties before I finally gave up on the Easter bunny, and I am not convinced that I am the richer for it. Even now there are times when I'm not so sure about the stork.

Over the serpentine line roared a great sea of sound: tinkling bells, recorded carols, the hum and clatter of electric trains, whistles tooting, mechanical cows mooing, cash registers dinging, and from far off in the faint distance the "Ho-ho-ho-ing" of jolly old Saint Nick.

One moment my brother and I were safely back in the Tricycle and Irish Mail department and the next instant we stood at the foot of Mount Olympus itself. Santa's enormous gleaming white snowdrift of a throne soared ten or fifteen feet above our heads on a mountain of red and green tinsel carpeted with flashing Christmas-tree bulbs and gleaming ornaments. Each kid in turn was prodded up a tiny staircase at the side of the mountain on Santa's left, as he passed his last customer on to his right and down a red chute -- back into oblivion for another year.

Pretty ladies dressed in Snow White costumes, gauzy gowns glittering with sequins, and tiaras clipped to their golden, artificial hair, presided at the head of the line, directing traffic and keeping order. As we drew nearer, Santa seemed to loom larger and larger. The tension mounted. My brother was now whimpering steadily. I herded him ahead of me while, behind, the girl in the glasses did the same with her kid brother. Suddenly there was no one left ahead of us in the line. Snow White grabbed my brother's shoulder with an iron grip and he was on his way up the slope.

"Quit dragging your feet. Get moving," she barked at the toiling little figure climbing the stairs.

The music from above was deafening:

JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE ALL THE WAY . . . sung by 10,000 echo-chambered, reverberating chipmunks. . . .

High above me in the sparkling gloom I could see my brother's yellow-and-brown stocking cap as he squatted briefly on Santa's gigantic knee. I heard a booming "Ho-ho-ho," then a high, thin, familiar, trailing wail, one that I had heard billions of times before, as my brother broke into his Primal cry. A claw dug into my elbow and I was launched upward toward the mountaintop.

I had long before decided to level with Santa, to really lay it on the line. No Sandy Andy, no kid stuff. If I was going to ride the range with Red Ryder, Santa Claus was going to have to get the straight poop.


His booming baritone crashed out over the chipmunks. He reached down and neatly hooked my sheepskin collar, swooping me upward, and there I sat on the biggest knee in creation, looking down and out over the endless expanse of Toyland and down to the tiny figures that wound off into the distance.

"Uhh . . . uhhh . . . uhhh . . ."


Santa's warm, moist breath poured down over me as though from some cosmic steam radiator. Santa smoked Camels, like my Uncle Charles.

My mind had gone blank! Frantically I tried to remember what it was I wanted. I was blowing it! There was no one else in the world except me and Santa now. And the chipmunks.

"Uhhh . . . ahhhh . . ."


My mind groped. Football, football. Without conscious will, my voice squeaked out:


My God, a football! My mind slammed into gear. Already Santa was sliding me off his knee and toward the red chute, and I could see behind me another white-faced kid bobbing upward.

"I want a Red Ryder BB gun with a special Red Ryder sight and a compass in the stock with a sundial!" I shouted.


Down the chute I went.

I have never been struck by a bolt of lightning, but I know how it must feel. The back of my head was numb. My feet clanked leadenly beneath me as I returned to earth at the bottom of the chute. Another Snow White shoved the famous free gift into my mitten -- a barely recognizable plastic Kris Kringle stamped with bold red letters: MERRY XMAS. SHOP AT GOLDBLATT'S FREE PARKING -- and spun me back out into Toyland. My brother stood sniveling under a counter piled high with Raggedy Ann dolls. From nowhere my mother and father appeared.

"Did you tell Santa what you wanted?" the Old Man asked. "Yeah. . . ."

"Did he ask you if you had been a good boy?"


"Ha! Don't worry. He knows anyway. I'll bet he knows about the basement window. Don't worry. He knows."

Maybe that was it! My mind reeled with the realization that maybe Santa did know how rotten I had been and that the football was not only a threat but a punishment. There had been for generations on Cleveland Street a theory that if you were not "a good boy" you would reap your just desserts under the Christmas tree. This idea had been largely discounted by the more confirmed evildoers in the neighborhood, but now I could not escape the distinct possibility that there was something to it. Usually for a full month or so before the big day most kids walked the straight and narrow, but I had made a drastic slip from the paths of righteousness by knocking out a basement window with a sled runner and then compounding the idiocy by denying it when all the evidence was incontrovertible. This caused an uproar which had finally resulted in my getting my mouth washed out with Lux and a drastic curtailment of allowance to pay for the glass. I could see that either my father or Santa, or perhaps both, were not content to let bygones be bygones. Were they in league with each other? Or was Santa actually a mother in disguise?

The next few days groaned by. Now only three more school days remained before Christmas vacation, that greatest time of all the year. As it drew closer, Miss Iona Pearl Bodkin, my homeroom teacher, became more and more manic, whipping the class into a veritable frenzy of Yuletide joy. We belted out carol after carol. We built our own paper Christmas tree with cut-out ornaments. We strung long strings of popcorn chains. Crayon Santas and silver-paper wreaths poured out of our assembly line.

In the corner of the room, atop a desk decorated with crepe-paper rosettes, sat our Christmas grab bag. Every kid in the class had bought a gift for the grab bag, with someone's name-drawn from a hat—attached. I had bought for Helen Weathers a large, amazingly life-like, jet-black rubber tarantula. I cackled fiendishly as I wrapped it, and even now its beady green eyes glared from somewhere in the depths of the Christmas grab bag. I knew she'd like it.

Miss Bodkin, after recess, addressed us:

"I want all of you to write a theme . . ."

A theme! A rotten theme before Christmas! There must be kids somewhere who love writing themes, but to a normal air-breathing human kid, writing themes is a torture that ranks only with the dreaded medieval chin-breaker of Inquisitional fame. A theme!

". . . entitled 'What I want for Christmas,'" she concluded.

The clouds lifted. I saw a faint gleam of light at the other end of the black cave of gloom which had enveloped me since niy visit to Santa. Rarely had the words poured from my penny pencil with such feverish fluidity. Here was a theme on a subject that needed talking about if ever one did! I remember to this day its glorious winged phrases and concise imagery:
What I want for Christmas is a Red Ryder BB gun with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time. I think everybody should have a Red Ryder BB gun. They are very good for Christmas. I don't think a football is a very good Christmas present.

I wrote it on blue-lined paper from my Indian Chief tablet, being very careful about the margins. Miss Bodkin was very snippy about uneven margins. The themes were handed in and I felt somehow that when Miss Bodkin read mine she would sympathize with my plight and make an appeal on my behalf to the powers that be, and that everything would work out, somehow. She was my last hope.

The final day before vacation dawned dank and misty, with swirling eddies of icy wind that rattled the porch swing. Warren G. Harding School glowed like a jeweled oasis amid the sooty snowbanks of the playground. Lights blazed from all the windows, and in every room the Christmas party spirit had kids writhing in their seats. The morning winged by, and after lunch Miss Bodkin announced that the rest of the afternoon would be party time. She handed out our graded themes, folded, with our names scrawled on the outside. A big red B in Miss Bodkin's direct hand glowed on my literary effort. I opened it, expecting Miss Bodkin's usual penciled corrections, which ran along the lines of "Watch margins" or "Check Sp." But this time a personal note leaped up, flew around the room, and fastened itself leech-like on the back of my neck:

"You'll shoot your eye out. Merry Christmas."

I sat in my seat, shipping water from every seam. Was there no end to this conspiracy of irrational prejudice against Red Ryder and his peacemaker? Nervously I pulled out of my desk the dog-eared back page of Open Road For Boys, which I had carried with me everywhere, waking and sleeping, for the past few weeks. Red Ryder's handsome orange face with the big balloon coming out of his mouth did not look discouraged or defeated. Red must have been a kid once himself, and they must have told him the same thing when he asked for his first Colt .44 for Christmas.

I stuffed my tattered dreams back into my geography book and gloomily watched other, happier, carefree, singing kids who were going to get what they wanted for Christmas as Miss Bodkin distributed little green baskets filled with hard candy. Somewhere off down the hall the sixth-grade glee club was singing "Oh little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie . . ."

Mechanically my jaws crunched on the concrete-hard rock candy and I stared hopelessly out of the window, past cut-out Santas and garlands of red and green chains. It was already getting dark. Night falls fast in Northern Indiana at that time of year. Snow was beginning to fall, drifting softly through the feeble yellow glow of the distant street lamps while around me unbridled merriment raged higher and higher.




Saturday, April 26, 2003

[4/26/2011] Jean Shepherd Tonight: Part 2 of "Duel in the Snow, or Red Ryder Nails the Cleveland Street Kid" (continued)


"The classic Mother BB Gun Block":
"Oh no. You'll shoot out one of your eyes"

In a moment of unguarded rashness I brought the whole plot out into the open. I was caught by surprise while pulling on my high-tops in the kitchen, huddled next to the stove, the only source of heat in the house at that hour of the morning. My mother, leaning over a pot of simmering oatmeal, suddenly asked out of the blue:

"What would you like for Christmas?"

Horrified, I heard myself blurt: "A Red Ryder BB gun!"

Without pausing or even missing a stroke with her tablespoon, she shot back: "Oh no. You'll shoot out one of your eyes."

In God
We Trust


Part 2

Off on the far horizon, beyond the railroad yards and the great refinery tanks, lay our own private mountain range. Dark and mysterious, cold and uninhabited, outlined against the steel-gray skies of Indiana winter, the Mills. It was the Depression, and the natives had been idle so long that they no longer even considered themselves out of work. Work had ceased to exist, so how could you be out of it? A few here and there picked up a day or so a month at the Roundhouse or the Freight yards or the slag heaps at the Mill, but mostly they just spent their time clipping out coupons from the back pages of True Romances magazine, coupons that promised virgin territories for distributing ready-made suits door to door or offering untold riches repairing radios through correspondence courses.

Downtown Hohman was prepared for its yearly bacchanalia of peace on earth and good will to men. Across Hohman Avenue and State Street, the gloomy main thoroughfares -- drifted with snow that had lain for months and would remain until well into Spring, ice encrusted, frozen drifts along the curbs -- were strung strands of green and red Christmas bulbs, and banners that snapped and cracked in the gale. From the streetlights hung plastic ivy wreaths surrounding three-dimensional Santa Claus faces.

For several days the windows of Goldblatt's department store had been curtained and dark. Their corner window was traditionally a major high-water mark of the pre-Christmas season. It set the tone, the motif of their giant Yuletide Jubilee. Kids were brought in from miles around just to see the window. Old codgers would recall vintage years when the window had flowered more fulsomely than in ordinary times. This was one of those years. The magnificent display was officially unveiled on a crowded Saturday night. It was an instant smash hit. First Nighters packed earmuff to earmuff, their steamy breath clouding up the sparkling plate glass, jostled in rapt admiration before a golden, tinkling panoply of mechanized, electronic Joy.

This was the heyday of the Seven Dwarfs and their virginal den mother, Snow White. Walt Disney's seven cutie-pies hammered and sawed, chiseled and painted while Santa, bouncing Snow White on his mechanical knee, ho-ho-ho'd through eight strategically placed loudspeakers -- interspersed by choruses of "Heigh ho, heigh ho, it's off to work we go." Grumpy sat at the controls of a miniature eight-wheel Rock Island Road steam engine and Sleepy played a marimba, while in the background, inexplicably, Mrs. Claus ceaselessly ironed a red shirt. Sparkling artificial snow drifted down on Shirley Temple dolls, Flexible Flyers, and Tinker Toy sets glowing in the golden spotlight. In the foreground a frontier stockade built of Lincoln Logs was manned by a company of kilted lead Highlanders who were doughtily fending off an attack by six U. S. Army medium tanks. (History has always been vague in Indiana.) A few feet away stood an Arthurian cardboard castle with Raggedy Andy sitting on the drawbridge, his feet in the moat, through which a Lionel freight train burping real smoke went round and round. Dopey sat in Amos and Andy's pedal-operated Fresh Air Taxicab beside a stuffed panda holding a lollipop in his paw, bearing the heart-tugging legend, "Hug me!" From fluffy cotton clouds above, Dionne quintuplet dolls wearing plaid golf knickers hung from billowing parachutes, having just bailed out of a highflying balsawood Fokker triplane. All in all, Santa's workshop made Salvador Dali look like Norman Rockwell. It was a good year. Maybe even a great one. Like a swelling Christmas balloon, the excitement mounted until the whole town tossed restlessly in bed -- and made plans for the big day. Already my own scheme was well under way, my personal dream. Casually, carefully, calculatingly, I had booby-trapped the house with copies of Open Road For Boys, all opened to Red Ryder's slit-eyed face. My father, a great John reader, found himself for the first time in his life in alien literary waters. My mother, grabbing for her copy of Screen Romances, found herself cleverly euchred into reading a Red Ryder sales pitch; I had stuck a copy of ORFB inside the cover showing Clark Gable clasping Loretta Young to his heaving breast.

At breakfast I hinted that there was a rumor of loose bears in the neighborhood, and that I was ready to deal with them if I had the proper equipment. At first my mother and the Old Man did not rise to the bait, and I began to push, grow anxious, and, of course, inevitably overplayed my hand. Christmas was only weeks away, and I could not waste time with subtlety or droll innuendo.

My brother, occasionally emerging from under the daybed during this critical period, was already well involved in some private Little Brother persiflage of his own involving an Erector Set with motor, capable of constructing drawbridges, Eiffel towers, Ferris wheels, and operating guillotines. I knew that if he got wind of my scheme, all was lost. He would then begin wheedling and whining for what I wanted, which would result in nobody scoring, since he was obviously too young for deadly weapons. So I cleverly pretended that I wanted nothing more than a simple, utilitarian, unpretentious Sandy Andy, a highly symbolic educational toy popular at the time, consisting of a kind of funnel under which was mounted a tiny conveyor belt of little scooplike gondolas. It came equipped with a bag of white sand that was poured into the funnel. The sand trickling out of the bottom into the gondolas set the belt in motion. As each gondola was filled, it moved down the track to be replaced by another, which, when filled, moved down another notch. And endlessly they went, dumping sand out at the bottom of the track and starting up the back loop to be refilled again -- on and on until all the sand was deposited in the red cup at the bottom of the track. The kid then emptied the cup into the funnel and it started all over again -- ceaselessly, senselessly, round and round. How like Life itself; it was the perfect toy for the Depression. Other kids in the neighborhood were embarked on grandiose, pie-in-the-sky dreams of Lionel electric trains, gigantic Gilbert chemistry sets, and other totally unimaginable impossibilities.

Through my brain nightly danced visions of six-guns snapped from the hip and shattering bottles -- and a gnawing nameless frenzy of impending ecstasy. Then came my first disastrous mistake. In a moment of unguarded rashness I brought the whole plot out into the open. I was caught by surprise while pulling on my high-tops in the kitchen, huddled next to the stove, the only source of heat in the house at that hour of the morning. My mother, leaning over a pot of simmering oatmeal, suddenly asked out of the blue:

"What would you like for Christmas?"

Horrified, I heard myself blurt: "A Red Ryder BB gun!"

Without pausing or even missing a stroke with her tablespoon, she shot back: "Oh no. You'll shoot out one of your eyes."

It was the classic Mother BB Gun Block! I was sunk! That deadly phrase, used many times before by hundreds of mothers, was not surmountable by any means known to Kid-dom. I had really booted it, but such was my mania, my desire for a Red Ryder carbine, that I immediately began to rebuild the dike.

"I was just kidding. Even though Flick is getting one. [A lie.] I guess . . . I guess . . . I sure would like a Sandy Andy, I guess."

I watched the back of her Chinese red chenille bathrobe anxiously, looking for any sign that my shaft had struck home.

"They're dangerous. I don't want anybody shooting their eyes out."

The boom had been lowered and I was under it. With leaden heart and frozen feet I waddled to school, bereft but undaunted.

At Recess time little knots of kids huddled together for warmth amid the gray craggy snowbanks and the howling gale. The telephone wires overhead whistled like banshees while the trapeze rings on the swings clanked hollowly as Schwartz and Flick and Bruner and I discussed the most important thing next to What I'm Going To Get For Christmas, which was What I'm Getting My Mother and Father For Christmas. We talked in hushed, hoarse whispers to guard against Security leaks. The selection of a present was always done with greater secrecy than that which usually surrounds a State Department White Paper on Underground Subversive Operations in a Foreign Country. Schwartz, his eyes darting over his shoulder as he spoke, leaned into the wind and hissed:

"I'm getting my father. . . ."

He paused dramatically, hunching forward to exclude unfriendly ears, his voice dropping even lower. We listened intently for his punchline.

". . . a new Flit gun!"

The sheer creative brilliance of it staggered us for a moment. Schwartz smiled smugly, his earmuffs bobbing jauntily as he leaned back into the wind, knowing he had scored. Flick, looking suspiciously at a passing female first grader who could be a spy for his mother, waited until the coast was clear and then launched his entry into the icy air.

"For my father I'm getting . . ."

Again we waited, Schwartz with a superior smirk playing faintly on his chapped lips.

" . . a rose that squirts!"

We had all seen these magnificent appliances at George's Candy Store, and instantly we saw that this was a gift anyone would want. They were bright-red celluloid, with a white rubber bulb for pocket use. At this point, luckily, the bell rang, calling us back to our labors before I had to divulge my own gifts, which I knew did not come up to these magnificent strokes
of genius.

I had not yet made an irrevocable choice for my mother, but I had narrowed the field down to two spectacular items I had been stealthily eying at Woolworth's for several weeks. The first was a tasteful string of beads about the size of small walnuts, brilliant ruby in color with tiny yellow flowers embedded in the glass. The other and more expensive gift -- $ 1.98 -- was a pearl-colored perfume atomizer, urn-shaped, with golden lion's feet and matching gold top and squeeze bulb. It was not an easy choice. It was the age-old conflict between the Classic and the Sybaritic, and that is never easily resolved.

For my father, I had already made the down payment on a family-size can of Simoniz. One of my father's favorite proverbs, one he never tired of quoting, was: "Motorists wise, Simoniz."

He was as dedicated a hood-shiner as ever bought a fourth-hand Graham-Paige, with soaring hopes and bad valves. I could hardly wait to see him unwrap the Simoniz on Christmas Eve, with the light of the red, yellow, green, and blue bulbs on the tree making that magnificent can glow like the deep flush of myrrh and frankincense. It was all I could do, a constant tortured battle, to keep myself from spilling the beans and thus destroying the magnificent moment of stunned surprise, the disbelieving delight which I knew would fell him like a thunderclap when he saw that I had gone all out.

In fact, several times over the supper table I had meaningfully asked:

"I'll bet you can't guess what I got you for Christmas, Dad."

Once, instead of saying: "Hmmmmm," he answered by saying: "Hmmm. Let's see. Is it a new furnace?"

My kid brother fell over sideways in nutty little-kid laughter and knocked over his milk, because my father was one of the most feared Furnace Fighters in Northern Indiana.

"That clanky old son of a bitch," he called it, and many's the night with the snow drifting in through the Venetian blinds and the windows rattling like frozen tom-toms he would roar down the basement steps, knocking over Ball jars and kicking roller skates out of the way, bellowing:


The hot-air registers breathed into the clammy air the whistling breath of the Antarctic. A moment of silence. The stillness of the tundra gripped the living room; the hoarfrost sparkled like jewels in the moonlight on my mother's Brillo pad in the kitchen sink.




He would be operating something called The Shaker, a long iron handle that stuck out of the bottom of that zinc and tin monster called The Furnace.

"For Chrissake, open up the goddamn damper, willya! How the hell did it get turned all the way down again!? GODDAMMIT!"

My mother would leap out of bed and rush into the kitchen in the dark to pull a chain behind the broom closet door marked "Draft."


My kid brother and I would huddle under our baseball quilt in our Dr. Denton Sleepers, waiting for the uproar to strike us. That's why my brother knocked over the milk when my Old Man said the thing about a new furnace. Indiana wit is always pungent and to the point.

My father was also an expert Clinker Fisher. The furnace was always producing something called "clinkers" which got stuck in the grates, causing faint puffs of blue smoke to come out from under the daybed.

"Sonofabitch clinker!"

The Old Man would jump up at the first whiff and rush down into the basement for a happy night at the old iron fishing hole with his trusty poker. People in Northern Indiana fought Winter tooth and claw; bodily, and there was never a letup.

I had not yet decided on what to get my kid brother for Christmas. It was going to be either a rubber dagger or a Dick Tracy Junior Crimefighter Disguise Kit, containing three false noses and a book of instructions on how to trap crooks. Picking something for your kid brother is never easy, particularly if what you get him is something you yourself have always wanted. This can lead to nothing but bad blood, smoldering rivalries, and scuffling in the bathroom. I myself was lukewarm on rubber daggers at this point in the game, so I was inclined to figure that a good big one with a painted silver blade might do the trick. I was a little doubtful about the Dick Tracy Kit, since I sensed vaguely that there might be trouble over one of the noses, a large orange job with plastic horn-rimmed glasses attached. A dark-horse possibility was a tin zeppelin with red propellers and blue fins. I figured this was something you could really get your teeth into, and it was what I eventually decided on, not realizing that one of the hardest things to wrap in green tissue paper with Santa Claus stickers and red string is a silver zeppelin. Zeppelins are not easy to disguise.




Friday, April 25, 2003

[4/25/2011] Jean Shepherd Tonight: Part 1 of "Duel in the Snow, or Red Ryder Nails the Cleveland Street Kid" (continued)


The Automat in the really old days

In the first chapter of In God We Trust -- All Others Pay Cash, "We Meet Flick, the Friendly Bartender," we followed our narrator, Ralph, on a return visit to his long-abandoned hometown of "Hohman" (Hammond), Indiana, and to the bar now run by his childhood friend Flick, having taken it over from his father. Ralph mentioned to Flick a woman he had encountered "in the H & H" (Horn & Hardart, the Automat) wearing a "Disarm the Toy Industry" button, which made him suddenly remember "that BB gun I got for Christmas."

Now he tells his old friend the story.

In God
We Trust



Printed in angry block red letters the slogan gleamed out from the large white button like a neon sign. I carefully reread it to make sure that I had not made a mistake,


That's what it said. There was no question about it.

The button was worn by a tiny Indignant-type little old lady wearing what looked like an upturned flowerpot on her head and, I suspect (viewing it from this later date), a pair of Ked tennis shoes on her feet, which were primly hidden by the Automat table at which we both sat.

I, toying moodily with my chicken pot pie, which of course is a specialty of the house, surreptitiously examined my fellow citizen and patron of the Automat. Wiry, lightly powdered, tough as spring steel, the old doll dug with Old Lady gusto into her meal. Succotash, baked beans, creamed corn, side order of Harvard beets. Bad news -- a Vegetarian type. No doubt also a dedicated Cat Fancier.

Silently we shared our tiny Automat table as the great throng of pre-Christmas quick-lunchers eddied and surged in restless excitement all around us. Of course there were the usual H & H club members spotted here and there in the mob; out-of-work seal trainers, borderline bookies, ex-Opera divas, and panhandlers trying hard to look like Madison Avenue account men just getting out of the cold for a few minutes. It is an Art, the ability to nurse a single cup of coffee through an entire ten-hour day of sitting out of the biting cold of mid-December Manhattan.

And so we sat, wordlessly as is the New York custom, for long moments until I could not contain myself any longer.

"Disarm the Toy Industry?" I tried for openers.

She sat unmoved, her bright pink and ivory dental plates working over a mouthful of Harvard beets, attacking them with a venom usually associated with the larger carnivores. The red juice ran down over her powdered chin and stained her white lace bodice. I tried again:

"Pardon me, Madam, you're dripping."


Her ice-blue eyes flickered angrily for a moment and then glowed as a mother hen's looking upon a stunted, dwarfed offspring. Love shone forth.

"Thank you, sonny."

She dabbed at her chin with a paper napkin and I knew that contact had been made. Her uppers clattered momentarily and in an unmistakably friendly manner.

"Disarm the Toy Industry?" I asked.

"It's an outrage!" she barked, causing two elderly gentlemen at the next table to spill soup on their vests. Loud voices are not often heard in the cloistered confines of the H & H.

"It's an outrage the way the toymakers are forcing the implements of blasphemous War on the innocent children, the Pure in Spirit, the tiny babes who are helpless and know no better!"

Her voice at this point rising to an Evangelical quaver, ringing from change booth to coffee urn and back again. Four gnarled atheists three tables over automatically, by reflex action alone, hurled four "Amen's" into the unanswering air. She continued:

"It's all a Government plot to prepare the Innocent for evil, Godless War! I know what they're up to! Our Committee is on to them, and we intend to expose this decadent Capitalistic evil!"

She spoke in the ringing, anvil-like tones of a True Believer, her whole life obviously an unending fight against They, the plotters. She clawed through her enormous burlap handbag, worn paperback volumes of Dogma spilling out upon the floor as she rummaged frantically until she found what she was searching for.

"Here, sonny. Read this. You'll see what I mean." She handed me a smudgy pamphlet from some embattled group of Right Thinkers, based -- of course -- in California, denouncing the U.S. as a citadel of Warmongers, profit-greedy despoilers of the young and promoters of world-wide Capitalistic decadence, all through plastic popguns and Sears Roebuck fatigue suits for tots.

She stood hurriedly, scooping her dog-eared library back into her enormous rucksack and hurled her parting shot:

"Those who eat meat, the flesh of our fellow creatures, the innocent slaughtered lamb of the field, are doing the work of the Devil!"

Her gimlet eyes spitted the remains of my chicken pot pie with naked malevolence. She spun on her left Ked and strode militantly out into the crisp, brilliant Christmas air and back into the fray.

I sat rocking slightly in her wake for a few moments, stirring my lukewarm coffee meditatively, thinking over her angry, militant slogan.


A single word floated into my mind's arena for just an instant -- "Canal water!" -- and then disappeared. I thought on: As if the Toy industry has any control over the insatiable desire of the human spawn to own Weaponry, armaments, and the implements of Warfare. It's the same kind of mind that thought if making whiskey were prohibited people would stop drinking.

I began to mull over my own youth, and, of course, its unceasing quest for roscoes, six-shooters, and any sort of blue hardware -- simulated or otherwise -- that I could lay my hands on. It is no coincidence that the Zip Green was invented by kids. The adolescent human carnivore is infinitely ingenious when confronted with a Peace movement.

Outside in the spanking December breeze a Salvation Army Santa Claus listlessly tolled his bell, huddled in a doorway to avoid the direct blast of the wind. I sipped my coffee and remembered another Christmas, in another time, in another place, and . . . a gun.

I remember clearly, itchingly, nervously, maddeningly the first time I laid eyes on it, pictured in a three-color, smeared illustration in a full-page back cover ad in Open Road For Boys, a publication which at the time had an iron grip on my aesthetic sensibilities, and the dime that I had to scratch up every month to stay with it. It was actually an early Playboy. It sold dreams, fantasies, incredible adventures, and a way of life. Its center foldouts consisted of gigantic Kodiak bears charging out of the page at the reader, to be gunned down in single hand-to-hand combat by the eleven-year-old Killers armed only with hunting knife and fantastic bravery.

Its Christmas issue weighed over seven pounds, its pages crammed with the effluvia of the Good Life of male Juvenalia, until the senses reeled and Avariciousness, the growing desire to own Everything, was almost unbearable. Today there must be millions of ex-subscribers who still can't pass Abercrombie & Fitch without a faint, keening note of desire and the unrequited urge to glom on to all of it. Just to have it, to feel it.

Early in the Fall the ad first appeared. It was a magnificent thing of balanced copy and pictures, superb artwork, and subtly contrived catch phrases. I was among the very first hooked, I freely admit it.
This in block red and black letters surrounded by a large balloon coming out of Red Ryder's own mouth, wearing his enormous ten-gallon Stetson, his jaw squared, staring out at me manfully and speaking directly to me, eye to eye. In his hand was the knurled stock of as beautiful, as coolly deadly-looking a piece of weaponry as I'd ever laid eyes on.
Red Ryder continued under the gun:

The next issue arrived and Red Ryder was even more insistent, now implying that the supply of Red Ryder BB guns was limited and to order now or See Your Dealer Before It's Too Late!

It was the second ad that actually did the trick on me. It was late November and the Christmas fever was well upon me. I thought about a Red Ryder air rifle in all my waking hours, seven days a week, in school and out. I drew pictures of it in my Reader, in my Arithmetic book, on my hand in indelible ink, on Helen Weathers' dress in front of me, in crayon. For the first time in my life the initial symptoms of genuine lunacy, of Mania, set in.

I imagined innumerable situations calling for the instant and irrevocable need for a BB gun, great fantasies where I fended off creeping marauders burrowing through the snow toward the kitchen, where only I and I alone stood between our tiny huddled family and insensate Evil. Masked bandits attacking my father, to be mowed down by my trusted cloverleaf-sighted deadly weapon. I seriously mulled over the possibility of an invasion of raccoons, of which there were several in the county. Acts of selfless Chivalry defending Esther Jane Alberry from escaped circus tigers. Time and time again I saw myself a miraculous crack shot, picking off sparrows on the wing to the gasps of admiring girls and envious rivals on Cleveland Street. There was one dream that involved my entire class getting lost on a field trip in the swamps, wherein I led the tired, hungry band back to civilization, using only my Red Ryder compass and sundial. There was no question about it. Not only should I have such a gun, it was an absolute necessity!

Early December saw the first of the great blizzards of that year. The wind howling down out of the Canadian wilds a few hundred miles to the north had screamed over frozen Lake Michigan and hit Hohman, laying on the town great drifts of snow and long, story-high icicles, and sub-zero temperatures where the air cracked and sang. Streetcar wires creaked under caked ice and kids plodded to school through forty-five-mile-an-hour gales, tilting forward like tiny furred radiator ornaments, moving stiffly over the barren, clattering ground.

Preparing to go to school was about like getting ready for extended Deep-Sea Diving. Longjohns, corduroy knickers, checkered flannel Lumberjack shirt, four sweaters, fleece-lined leatherette sheepskin, helmet, goggles, mittens with leatherette gauntlets and a large red star with an Indian Chief's face in the middle, three pair of sox, higlvtops, overshoes, and a sixteen-foot scarf wound spirally from left to right until only the faint glint of two eyes peering out of a mound of moving clothing told you that a kid was in the neighborhood.

There was no question of staying home. It never entered anyone's mind. It was a hardier time, and Miss Bodkin was a hardier teacher than the present breed. Cold was something that was accepted, like air, clouds, and parents; a fact of Nature, and as such could not be used in any fraudulent scheme to stay out of school.

My mother would simply throw her shoulder against the front door, pushing back the advancing drifts and stone ice, the wind raking the living-room rug with angry fury for an instant, and we would be launched, one after the other, my brother and I, like astronauts into unfriendly Arctic space. The door clanged shut behind us and that was it. It was make school or die!

Scattered out over the icy waste around us could be seen other tiny befurred jots of wind-driven humanity. All painfully toiling toward the Warren G. Harding School, miles away over the tundra, waddling under the weight of frost-covered clothing like tiny frozen bowling balls with feet. An occasional piteous whimper would be heard faintly, but lost instantly in the sigh of the eternal wind. All of us were bound for geography lessons involving the exports of Peru, reading lessons dealing with fat cats and dogs named Jack. But over it all like a faint, thin, offstage chorus was the building excitement. Christmas was on its way. Each day was more exciting than the last, because Christmas was one day closer. Lovely, beautiful, glorious Christmas, around which the entire year revolved.

TOMORROW NIGHT in PART 2: Like everyone in Hohman, Ralph's family prepares for Christmas