Friday, July 23, 2021

Ringtones I Have Considered

 Here is a list of cell phone ringtones that I have considered, or, actually ringtones I have installed, tried out and immediately removed from my phone.

James Bond theme song

Helicopter noises

Muppets singing Menah Menah

 Submarine dive warning: Ah-oo-ga

Celtic harp music

Theme song from "Castle" TV Show

 

Sunday, June 27, 2021

The Bizarre History of Animal Magnetism in New Orleans

In the 1780’s Franz Anton Mesmer, a doctor in France, was amazing his neighbors and fellow physicians with a healing technique he called “animal magnetism,” a supposed transference of energy that humans possessed that tied them to the tidal energies of the universe.That was his explanation for it.

While most of the medical profession was not impressed with his work, the general public did take notice, and the popularity of the concept of “animal magnetism” spread. Part of the process appeared to be a trance-like state. His term for it, "animal magnetism," later became "Mesmerism" to honor the man who discovered it, and Mesmerism later became known as hypnotism.

 
Franz Anton Mesmer

Mesmer was reportedly able to heal various illnesses and conditions by manipulating the energy surrounding a person’s body by waving his hands. Large numbers of people went to him for help, and he was so overwhelmed by the demand for his services that it became obvious that “animal magnetism” needed more practitioners, and the movement was launched.

In 1784, the King of France commissioned a group of royal doctors to investigate “animal magnetism” and its ability to heal people. That investigative group included the American Ambassador Benjamin Franklin, himself known for a few discoveries. The group concluded that Mesmer’s “animal magnetism” was imaginary, although it had produced beneficial effects in some cases.

The results of the investigation stymied Mesmer’s work, and he was forced to go in exile to Switzerland. His “animal magnetism” theory continued to gather interest worldwide, however. 

The Birth of Hypnotism in the Crescent City

The scene now switches to New Orleans in the 1830’s. The following timeline is provided by Dr. Wallace K. Tomlinson and Dr. J. John Perret, in a rather extensive article written for the newsletter of the Louisiana Psychiatric Association (LPA) in 1991.

Entitled “Mesmerism in New Orleans – 1845-1861,” the article turns its attention to the gradual local development of a devoted following for animal magnetism in New Orleans during the mid-1800’s. “Mesmeric sleep, or as it came to be called, “hypnotism,” did not gain official medical sanction as a mode of investigation and treatment until it was given respectability through its use by Jean-Martins Charcot,” the article noted. Charcot was a French neurologist and professor of anatomical pathology.

France’s “long history of official opposition” to Mesmerism was mentioned in the LPA article, although interest in the field of animal magnetism continued unabated through the 1870’s. Numerous doctors investigated the phenomenon and gradually Mesmerism (hypnotism) gained some attention in the medical and psychological fields.

“Societies devoted to the study of mesmerism flourished in Europe during the first half of the 1800’s, and several were organized in the United States,” Tomlinson and Perret explained. New Orleans welcomed the new "science."

The animal magnetic society of New Orleans was “extremely active” in the mid-1800’s, they went on to say. It first met as an informal group in the 1830’s, then adopted a constitution for its organization, the document of which was published as “The Reglement de la Societie due Magnetisme de la Nouvelle Orleans.”

The purpose of the New Orleans magnetic society was to study the phenomenon of animal magnetism, develop the uses of magnetism in the area, and investigate the therapeutic application of magnetism in the treatment of human illness.

The president of the Magnetic Society of New Orleans was Joseph Barthet, and he corresponded regularly with the Baron du Poter, the editor of an animal magnetism journal in Paris, France.

In the 1840's, many newspapers carried articles declaring that Mesmerism was "humbug" and a scam of some sort. 

 
Major newspapers of the time often ridiculed Mesmerism
as in this 1841 article from the Daily Picayune

There were even staged theatrical productions making fun of Mesmerism and those folks who believed in Mesmerism. That skepticism surrounding hypnotism would seem to have survived to even today in some instances, although the medical community makes good use of its modern day counterpart. 

Its popularity in the 1840's continued, however, in spite of the misgivings of the news media of the time. As the years went by, more and more viable proofs of the mysterious effects of hypnotism (Mesmerism) were substantiated, and fewer and fewer determined skeptics could gain a foothold in their arguments against the practice. Experiments were repeatedly called for, staged, and either validated or shown to be frauds. A few refused to believe it had any merit, and they persevered in their ridicule and dismissal of the practice.

The newspapers loved all the controversy because it sold papers. Arguments about the proofs either for or against filled newspaper columns with dozens of articles, eyewitness accounts, letters to the editor, and even advertisements. Mesmerism engendered hope, and even though it was sensational in some aspects, the more valuable uses of it gradually became apparent. 

Articles like the two above, published in 1843, went a long way to legitimize Mesmerism for pain control during surgical procedure. Click on the images to make it larger and more readable.

Some practitioners combined the mesmeric trance with clairvoyance experiments, adding fuel to the fire that it was all a fraud. Many people dismissed it, and many other people believed it did indeed involve paranormal capabilities. This led some to fear it. 

Since interest was running so high, certain individuals began giving "lectures" on Mesmerism, approaching it on a scientific basis. Once that phase began, where people began debating Mesmerism on its merits and not just tossing it aside in jest, the gradual acceptance of the hypnotic state and its advantages came to the forefront.

Trances Induced

Magnetic societies relied in a large part on “trances” of the hypnotic variety, during which healings were attempted. Magnetic societies were popping up all over, in Cincinnati and Philadelphia, but the New Orleans group was growing by leaps and bounds. According to Tomlinson and Perret, the membership of the local group had grown to 71 persons by 1848, mostly middle class people of French ancestry.

“Membership included at least ten brokers and several attorneys,” the article states, noting its widespread popularity across New Orleans. As time went on, the public continued to develop greater interest in Mesmerism and animal magnetism.

Barthet had been active in New Orleans business affairs since the 1830’s and 1840’s,  and was known to travel extensively, visiting Brussels in 1848. When he returned to New Orleans, he continued his work with the Magnetic Society.

The Magnetic Society met weekly, dealt with people with various medical problems, using the Mesmer magnetic treatment as best they could. Individual cases were discussed among members, various applications were demonstrated, and family members of the “patients” were trained in the procedures of Mesmerism so treatment could continue within the home.

Sometimes people who were deep in Mesmeric trances spoke aloud their recommended treatment protocols, either for themselves or other patients, the article by Tomlinson and Perret said. 

Anyone familiar with the life work of Edgar Cayce might recognize that aspect of his own experience while in a trance. He would speak while "sleeping," telling of people's illnesses and their remedies, even though they were miles away. The huge volume of Cayce's writings, healings, and pronouncements while he was in a trance is fairly well documented.

Numerous treatment successes through Mesmerism were also described in the writings of Barthet, everything from neuralgia, migrane headaches and inflammation. French Mesmerists had found frequent success using the techniques for patients who were suffering from hysteria.

The New Orleans society published many testimonials and booklets telling of their success in particular instances, in addition to reports appearing in local newspapers. The society also maintained a library of reference materials and conducted a course on animal magnetism every trimester. 

Over those years, keeping the valid medical uses for hypnotism separate from the more sensational stage show aspects of it became more difficult, a difficulty that remains today.

Doctors Are Interested

Two local medical doctors were members of the New Orleans magnetic society, but as Tomlinson and Perret pointed out, that may not reflect the agreement of the general medical community regarding animal magnetism. While the fact that the magnetic society was primarily a function of the French-speaking community in New Orleans, there was no real published opposition to it from the English-speaking group. In fact, the L’Union Medicale de la Louisiane published a “highly favorable article” on the phenomenon in 1852.

For a while, there was some back and forth debate between Barthet and a local homeopathic doctor, a Dr. Louis Taxil, published in the local newspaper as to the merits of Mesmerism. Since at that time homeopathy was out of favor with the local medical society, that debate was more entertaining than noteworthy. In one exchange, “Barthet responded (to criticism of Mesmerism) that although he knew nothing about medicine, it was equally true that Taxil knew nothing about magnetism,” the Tomlinson-Perret article noted.

Barthet had on his side several well-known doctors who had testified that Mesmeric sleep (hypnotic trances) were documented successes when used as anesthesia and also brought about a reduction of operative mortality and post-operative complications. (Hypnotism today continues to be used in some instances for those purposes).

Dr. Taxil was gradually won over, and he was even invited to speak at one of the Society’s meetings where he toasted the “three immortals of medicine: Hippocrates, Hehnemann, and Mesmer,” the article stated.

New Orleans medical journals of the time continued to commend Mesmeric sleep for its value in treating hysteria and its use as surgical anesthesia.

Even the New Orleans clergy were surprisingly receptive of Mesmerism, and Barthet at one point stated that Mesmerism was a “powerful auxiliary to religion.” Local bishops were said to be tolerant of the practice, even referring some members of the congregation to try Mesmerism if they thought it could be of use.

With the coming of the Civil War, participation in the Magnetic Society of New Orleans declined, and Barthet traveled to France, where he died in October, 1863, at the age of 57.

But there’s more to the story: things took a rather bizarre twist in the mid-1850’s.

Along Comes Spiritualism

A new "religion" came upon the scene, Spiritualism, and its main claim to fame was the ability to community with departed spirits through a trance. The meeting at which this was done was called a seance. 

Since practicing Mesmerists, the members of the New Orleans Society of Animal Magnetism also used trances in their work, they began to experiment putting people into trances with the aim of communicating with those souls who recently died.

We won’t go into a detailed look at the origins of “Spiritualism” as a religion except to say that Barthet, as president of the New Orleans Magnetic Society, became interested in the spiritualist aspects of hypnotism. In fact, he began publishing a newspaper in New Orleans called “Le Spiritualiste” that provided, in French, the most recent communications from the dearly departed. 

Religiously-inclined people pointed out that there were several Bible verses that warned against trying to communicate with the dead and suggested staying away from mediums and the like. The possibility was too fascinating, however, and people persisted. This led to many questionable practices that clouded Mesmerism's more documented healing attributes.

It would be well to note that during this time period, however, trying to communicate with the dead was a socially-acceptable way to entertain oneself. These were the days of the forerunner of the Ouija board and sometimes thrill-seekers sought out mediums who went into hypnotic trances that shared astounding personal information that “only the recently-deceased grandmother” would know.

The Spiritualist Publication

Spiritualism was a big deal at that time, and people in France, New England and across the South were attending seances, tipping tables, doing meetings where "spirits" would knock on the table in answering specific questions. It was all about trying to get in contact with loved ones who were no longer around, in physical form, at least.

So a New Orleans newspaper devoted to those folks, both living and dead, was not so extraordinary. There were several newspapers across the country that did the same thing, and the fascination with Spiritualism took many communities by storm, particularly French-speaking communities. 

According to an article on SmithsonianMag.com, even Mary Todd Lincoln conducted séances in the White House after her 11-year-old son died of a fever in 1862. "During the Civil War, spiritualism gained adherents in droves, people desperate to connect with loved ones who’d gone away to war and never come home," the article by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie stated. (smithsonianmag.com - October 27, 2013) 

Lookout Mountain near Chattanooga, TN, had a huge Spiritualist encampment, complete with hotel and resort grounds, where they held mass meetings of considerable size.

 
A park area atop Lookout Mountain recalls the Spiritualist encampment

In 1886, Spiritualism was aided by a relatively new invention, the Ouija Board. It was created as a tool to speed up communication with the dead, and has been more recently studied by psychologists as a means of actually communicating with the subconscious mind. The U. S. Patent Office gave it a patent after being shown that it worked, but curiously absent from the patent application was an explanation of how it worked. The familiar board game was mass produced and sent out for public consumption in 1890.

According to Robert Murch, as quoted in the article in Smithsonian Magazine, at that time
“communicating with the dead was common, it wasn’t seen as bizarre or weird.” 

In fact, there are today a few television shows that still try to make that argument.  

So, in some aspects, the gradual acceptance of hypnotism as a valuable medical tool was derailed by its main technique, the trance, being hijacked by Spiritualism for the purpose of talking to the dead. The mysteries of both continue to intrigue people today.

There may be those who still think hypnotism is a bit flaky, even though they know it is used effectively in helping people quit smoking, reduce pain in surgical procedures, and  act like chickens during a comedy club stage show.

 Sources:

Franz Mesmer - Wikipedia 

Spiritualism - Wikipedia 

Animal magnetism - Wikipedia 

Edgar Cayce - Wikipedia


 

Monday, June 7, 2021

My Tourism Promotion Gig

 In 1982, I joined the staff at Deep South Communications in Baton Rouge, which included a position with the Louisiana Travel Promotion Association (LTPA). I worked there about two years, editing several magazines and newsletters. 

 
I was named Director of Public Relations and Membership Services for the LTPA, which meant taking a lot of pictures and attending a lot of meetings, receptions, and special events around the state.

Some of the publications I edited while at Deep South Communications were the LTPA Newsletter (above), the Louisiana Motor Transport Association monthly magazine, and the This Week in Baton Rouge weekly tourist magazine. The last one required me to visit a Baton Rouge area restaurant every week and write up a "critique" of the food and surroundings. Since my main diet at that time consisted of hamburgers and french fries, that was a real challenge when visiting some of the capital city's more famous culinary destinations. 
 
 
Click on the images to make them larger. 

So during the day I worked at a printing company writing up copy for all these magazines, went out and took pictures to put in all these magazines, and often at night I attended all kinds of tourist promotion gatherings, mostly lobbying efforts for state legislators. On many weekends I went to various places throughout the state and set up trade show booths for conventions and what not. 
 
I stood in the booths all day Saturday and Sunday and handed out brochures. At the end of the trade show, I knocked down the booth, put it all back into its carrying bags, and headed home to start the week again on Monday morning. Home at that time was in a one room studio apartment in Baton Rouge.


Being with the La. Travel Promotion Association was a great learning experience and a lot of fun, since I got to go statewide to take pictures of tourist groups, attend Motor Coach Tour Bus association meetings, and do interviews with owners of tourist attractions, like the Mt. Hope Plantation House on Highland Road. I made slide presentations to show at meetings. Sometimes I was called upon to be "in the picture" when out on photoshoots at various locations. 
 
 

I met a lot of interesting people, took a lot of interesting photographs (trucks!), and got to go to a lot of parties. However working all the time,  I started burning out. I eventually got a job editing a newspaper near Shreveport and moved to north Louisiana.

 It turned out that this was not the first time I had done a slide show for the La. Travel Promotion Association. Eight years earlier I had put together a slide  presentation showcasing the tourist attractions of west St. Tammany Parish. That show had been given in 1974 in Slidell for a statewide LTPA meeting. I was representing the St. Tammany Fair Association for that event, and the slide show was a general overview of scenic and family fun destinations throughout the western half of the parish. 

Before the St. Tammany Parish Tourist and Convention Commission was established by the police jury, the St. Tammany Fair Association was doing promotional work on a regular basis spotlighting tourism opportunities. One of those outreaches was the "Discover St. Tammany Tour" for regional media representatives.

See also: 

Construction News Reporting 








Thursday, April 22, 2021

Phone Progress

 Here is a chronological listing of improvements in telephones over the years. 

1. The first telephone was a wooden box on the wall with a microphone coming out of the middle of the box and a speaker attached to a wire that you had to hold up to your ear. To make a call you had to stand and speak directly into the microphone attached to the box.

 

 On some of these there was a crank on the other side you had to turn to "ring the operator" so she would answer and find out who you wanted to call. There were no dials or telephone numbers. The operator just knew what switchboard plug went to which phone. 


 2. The second telephone was a single pedestal with a heavy weighted base and the dial on the side of the base. The pedestal went up to a microphone, and attached to the base was a wired earpiece that you had to hold up to your ear to make a phone call. To use this phone you either held the phone up to your mouth so you could speak into the microphone, or you left the phone on a desk and you bent over to speak into the microphone. Either way, you had to hold the earpiece up to your ear. 

 

 
About this time, special architectural consideration were being built into homes to accommodate the new telephone. At first there were little alcoves for the device, small indentations actually built into the wall where the phone was placed. You could sit on a chair and speak into the phone.

Then came the telephone chair, a piece of furniture that featured a chair on one end and a small table on the other end for placement of the phone. Underneath the phone was a shelf just for the telephone directory. 


These were the days when there was no "bring the phone to me." If you wanted to receive a call, you had to go where the phone was.

3. The third telephone was a wider base with a dial on front, with a wired phone receiver, with both the microphone and headpiece in one handset, thus enabling you to make phone calls just by holding the handset up to your face, speaking into the microphone on one end and listening through the earpiece on the other end. This was a major innovation in telecommunications. The receiver may have been connected to the phone base by a wire or a coiled cord. The length of the coiled cord was kept short, however, because it had the tendency to pull the phone off the desk if you walked around while on a call.


4. The wall phone was primarily suitable for kitchens, since it required no counter space. The kitchen phone introduced the long coiled cord, which enabled the person making the call to cradle the handset receiver on their shoulder and still carry on conversations while walking around the kitchen. The cords got longer and longer, and as time went on started getting tangled up and knocking things off of tables. Many hours were spent trying to untangle the long coiled cords.

5. The princess phone, with its lighted dial, was suitable for young princesses. It was so light that when you tried to dial a number, the phone jumped around with each turn of the dial.

6. Cordless phones. Battery powered handsets that carried conversations from the base station to the portable  receiver/transmitter. This ended the fight with long coiled cords. There was also a "Find Handset" button the base in case you forgot where you put the phone. That button would make the handset buzz.


 7. Car phones: only the rich and powerful had the first car phones. Early car phones were like two-way radios and you had to connect calls through an operator. Eventually direct dial car phones were available.


8. Answering machines: machines that answered your phone for you, beeped and tape recorded a message. This effectively ended phone answering services. 

 


9. Portable phones: high powered 5 watt battery operated phones that carried conversations from where you were to faraway phone towers, if you were lucky. Some people called them "bag" phones.


10. Cell phones: low powered battery operated phones that carried conversations from where you were to at least three nearby cell towers so the conversation could be "handed off" from one tower to the next as you traveled along.

11. Voice Mail comes along, effectively ending the need for answering machines.

12. Bluetooth earpieces: low-powered transmitter/receivers that you insert into your ear that carry conversations from your cellphone to and from your ear, with the microphone picking up your return voice replies anyway it can. 

13: VoIP phones: desk phones that connect to WiFi to carry phone conversations over the internet using Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP).






Monday, February 1, 2021

Festival Fireworks

 The Olde Town Festival premiered in Covington in 1984. It was a week-long series of events, concerts, contests, and  demonstrations of old-fashioned arts and skills. The festival organizers needed a kick-off ceremony to start the week, so I pitched in by building a "time machine," setting the clock hands back 80 years, then having some kind of mishap that prevented the town from coming back to the present time for an entire week. 

Mayor Ernest Cooper played along with the gag, and I proceeded to create a makeshift time machine out of an old television cabinet, line the inside with hundreds of matches head to head, and when the appointed moment came, I lit the first match and the whole time machine/television cabinet disappeared into a cloud of flame and smoke. It worked perfectly. It looked just like the machine had malfunctioned bigtime.

I had a fire extinguisher on hand, of course, and out of an abundance of caution and/or dramatic effect, I hit the time machine with a burst of fire extinguisher. That was the first time I had actually used a fire extinguisher, however, and it spewed out a cloud of powder that not only covered and extinguished any flames, it also covered the mayor, myself, and anyone standing within several feet with a dusting of powder. I supposed it would have been a good idea to test that part of it ahead of time. 

Here are some pictures...

 
From left, Rick Webb of WARB Radio, Pat Clanton, Ron Barthet and Mayor Ernest Cooper 

 
I get ready to turn on the time machine after setting the dial for 1904.

 
The time machine starts up and takes us all back 80 years.

 
The time machine malfunctions, and we are all stuck in the past. George Boudreaux at left. 

 
But don't worry, the dancers are waiting in the wings to come out and save the day. 

Monday, January 25, 2021

Signs By Bart

 My dad Lamar Barthet was a sign painter. He was part-time at first, doing signs after his work hours at his real job. He real job was, at first, a special delivery mailman for the post office. Then he learned drafting and got a certificate from the International Correspondence School. With that he  got a job as a draftsman at American Cyanamid in Ama, Louisiana. 

While there he took another correspondence course by mail, this time in sign painting, to brush up on his skills. Then his part-time job of painting signs became his full time occupation. 


Painting an antiques shop sign


He painted a lot of signs in New Orleans. There were sidewalk signs, overhanging awning signs, and gold-leaf lettering on office doors. There were many truck door signs, a few billboards, and even small placards for indoor settings such as restaurants. He and some friends put up a huge billboard on Gentilly Road, and that turned out to be a major project. 

His sign work became his day job, and he started a part-time night job of selling hot tamales, just to make some extra money. When he started making more money selling hot tamales than painting signs, it taught him (and me) an interesting lesson. People are willing to pay money for something good to eat, but they are not willing to pay money for the artistic design skills and sign painting artistic skills that go into laying out and painting a sign. All he could get for painting a sign was just enough money to pay for the materials (wood, paint, turpentine) and maybe a little more. He was never paid for his artistic talent and design work.



Not Charged by the Hour

When he moved to Talisheek and opened a sign shop in Slidell, he was always busy painting signs, but there again, he could barely make enough to pay for the materials. Often he didn't even charge for his time. If it took him 40 hours to paint a big sign, he charged the same amount for a sign it only took him three hours to paint. To the customer, a sign was judged by how it looks, not its size, not by how long it took to paint, nor by its intricate design.

 
The Slidell Sign Shop  on Short Cut Road


The sign shop when it was behind a business on Military Road

That was a lesson for me as well. As I came to know more artists over the years, I heard the same complaint. The design skills, the countless false starts, the hand-in-brush talents (knowing what not to paint as well as what to paint) and the hardware and materials for the artwork structure, whether it be plywood, canvas, or poster board... all of that didn't count for much. All the customer saw was the finished product and its value was judged by that.

 
Dad chalking in the lettering on a truck fender
Painting a sign on a curved surface was always a challenge

 So it is the life of an artist, and a sign painter, and a musician, poet, or writer. The countless hours put into the work of art aren't visible in the finished product, and that's what makes art different than, say, building a dog house. 

Anyway, my dad's sign shop in Slidell, Victory Signs, put out some pretty good product: door signs, truck lettering, big billboards, small directional signs and what-not. Good thing dad had a background in drafting, because when the City of Slidell decided to pass a sign ordinance that required engineering calculations for wind load and support structural information, he was able to provide that without hiring someone else to do it. 

 
Layout and design sketch

 
Dad and one of his larger signboards


Nowadays, most signs are produced by computers cutting out pieces of vinyl that are then peeled off and stuck on the prepared surface. Someone tried to sell dad a computerized sign-making set up in the latter days of his sign-painting career, but he wasn't ready for that and couldn't afford the computer in the first place. 

Computers speed up the process considerably, especially the graphic design and lettering part, but if the surface isn't prepared right, the letters tend to curl up after time. Then there's the continuing problem of sunlight bleaching out the color red.

Dad had always wanted me to join in the sign business, and I tried once or twice to paint a sign, but my hand lettering was not good, and I never met a brush that wanted to do what I wanted it to do. I ran a few silk screen signs, and while that was okay and relatively easy to do, it still required design skills and screen production techniques that I was not familiar with. 

When the price of signboard plywood went up significantly, he decided to retire from sign work, still doing one or two when requested as favors to friends or church groups. When he died, I inherited his extension ladders and scaffolding. But picking up and extending an extension ladder and setting it in place is getting too much for me. I can barely climb to the top of a six foot A-frame ladder to fill the bird feeder. 

 
Lamar Barthet in his mail carrier job


Tuesday, December 29, 2020

The Search for Joe

Deep in the outer reaches of outer space, the Starship Miramon silently sped through the darkness. At the bridge of the 22nd century technological marvel stood Captain James T. Lurk. He began speaking into the intercom, and his voice swelled throughout the ship.

"Cast and crew, this is your Captain speaking. This is our 493rd day in space, nearly a zillion miles from Earth, and our mission has not yet met with success. We look, almost with utter desperation, for a new planet, a place with the right atmosphere, the right soil, and the water we so urgently need.

"Our loved ones whom we left so many months ago are counting on us." The Captain paused for a moment, overcome with emotion. Then he resumed. "We must succeed, we must find the planet for which we have been searching. The future of all mankind depends on us."

The Captain switched off the intercom, then looked down at his reports. They had come across many planets in their travels, but none of them had the right combination of all the necessary elements. The First Mate entered the bridge from the lifter and approached the Captain.

"Sir, the crew is disheartened. We've come so far, and...." his voice trailed off.

The Captain glared at him. "We will succeed," he said sternly. "We will find a new planet, one with the just the right climate and just the right dirt to grow what we need to make coffee. When the Earth ran out of coffee, it was chaos. Surely somewhere in this universe, we can find a good cup of coffee," he declared.


 


Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Riding The Rails

 Between 1963 and 1967 I lived in Bay St. Louis, Miss., but my dentist was in New Orleans. So every few months I would need to go to the dentist to have my braces checked, and I, beginning at the age of thirteen, would get on board the New Orleans Gulf Coast commuter train at the Bay St. Louis train depot and ride the rails down to New Orleans. It was an interesting trip.

The train would arrive, come to a stop, and I would climb up onto the platform between cars, enter the passenger compartment and find a seat among the many business commuters. Looking out the window was a great adventure, because of the wildly different terrain that the trip would provide.

We would roll southwestward past Waveland, Clermont Harbor and Lakeshore, onward into the marshes of Ansley and the hundreds of fishing camps perched on the bayou banks of southwest Hancock County. Then across the Pearl River bridge, through the Honey Island Swamp and across Pearl River Island. 


Another bridge carried us across the Rigolets, and it was an amazing sight to be sitting in the train car looking out over the marshes and suddenly there is nothing but water. You couldn't see the edge of the trestle beneath you, so for all intents and purposes, it just looked like the train had taken flight and was soaring over the waterway. 

Then came more marshes, the eastern shore of Lake Catherine, and eventually Chef Menteur Pass. The fishing camps became closer to each other, and the fishermen heading back from the early morning fishing expeditions would wave at the train passengers. 

Then, as the train entered New Orleans East, things really got interesting. Rolling through the train yards of Gentilly, where dozens of parallel tracks held dozens of stationary freight cars awaiting their sorting out and hitching up. It was the manufacturing and industrial area around the Industrial Canal. The train brought you through the middle of it all, with each half mile another fascinating array of cranes, fork lifts, and shipping containers.

Once over the canal, the train track right of way suddenly rose considerably higher than the surrounding landscape, and you found yourself looking down on the tops of houses, following alongside the newly-built interstate. I don't remember going through City Park, but maps showing the train tracks going to Union Passenger Station hint that part of the journey followed the interstate through the park, then taking a southward turn along the ancient New Orleans Cemeteries and on the way past where the Superdome would be built. 

Finally the train would ease into Union Passenger Station and come to a rest. But my journey wasn't over yet. I would walk from the station to Lee Circle, which is about four blocks, then catch a St. Charles Avenue street car and head over to Canal Street, where my dentist office was located in the Maison Blanche building (tenth floor to be exact). 

After a ten minute exam to see how my braces were doing, I would be released and then I'd go exploring on Canal Street. First, the electronic stores with all the latest radio gadgets, including a crystal radio set (red and white) that looked like a rocket ship.

Then to Katz and Besthoff for a hamburger and/or hot fudge sundae, and finally to Holmes Department Store where I checked out the camera section (where my sister Bonnie worked) and the television department. 

It was there in the television department of D. H. Holmes that one day in 1963 on my visit to the dentist I came across a group of people all crowded around a television set, sad-faced, and staring at the news broadcast.

It was Walter Cronkite, talking about President Kennedy getting shot in Dallas, TX. People were in a state of shock, I was in a state of shock. President Kennedy had guided us through some pretty tough times, particularly with the Cuban Bay of Pigs invasion, when everyone huddled in their homes thinking that World War III was about to erupt. Now he was dead, shot while riding in his convertible on the streets of Dallas.

 
 
Walter Cronkite, November 22, 1963
 

And I was standing with a group of strangers on the third floor of D.H.Holmes watching the drama unfold. I finally went downstairs, got on the streetcar, and rode to my grandmother's house on Carondelet st., to await my dad getting off work at the Cyanamid Chemical Plant in Luling. 

When he arrived, we would immediately get ready to go pick up two pots full of hot tamales from Manuel's Hot Tamales on Carrollton Avenue and head on out to dad's corner at Broad and St. Bernard Avenues.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

College Collision

 While attending Southeastern Louisiana University back in the early 1970's, I almost made a movie. It was to be a short film, shot on a street intersection west of campus, the intersection of Ned McGehee Drive and North General Pershing St.

The plot was simple: a motorcyclist in his early 20's runs a red light at the intersection and hits a car passing by in front of him. He is injured, and the entire movie consists of the people and the "witnesses" at the scene waiting for the police and ambulance to arrive.

But it is a tense wait, for different people saw different circumstances. The driver of the car was an elderly man who said he had the green light, but the man in the house at the intersection said the motorcyclist had the green light. A car with two young people, also in their early twenties, was approaching the intersection from the south when the accident occurred, and they agreed with the elderly driver, that he had the green light.

The motorcyclist is lying on the side of the road injured, and he insists that he had the green light.

So it is youth against age, but with young witnesses siding with the elderly, and the elderly witness siding with the younger person. The title of the film was to be "Collision," for obvious reasons.

That was the plan, at least.

I had made numerous films on silent 8mm film in my high school days, but this one was going to be done on black and white film with sound, so that right there was a challenge.

I had a couple of meetings with potential actors and crew, spelled out what would have to be done. I contacted the Hammond Police Department and they said they would cooperate with traffic control during the filming. I spoke with the people who lived at the house at the intersection and they said it was okay to use their house. I don't remember if they agreed to be a part of the film and act as the owner of the house. The local ambulance company agreed to supply an ambulance.

This was when I learned that going from silent 8mm movies to sound 16mm movies complicated things exponentially. There was the need for lighting and reflector panels, lighting required lights, extension cords and permission to use a power outlet somewhere in the vicinity.

There were sound requirements, a boom mike perhaps, someone to hold the boom mike. Retakes to get the sound right if extraneous noise interrupts a scene. This was before digital editing so everything had to be done in camera, no post production (maybe some editing) There had to be a script and actors who could learn their lines and act at the same time while repeating those lines.

As the thousands of details and loose ends continued to pile up, I finally came to the realization that I didn't have the time, the money, or the desire to actually go on with the project, and it was dropped in favor of more productive pursuits, such as actually going to college, studying for tests, and working on weekends to pay the bills. 

"Collision" was a good experience, just the same. I appreciate everyone who encouraged me and worked with me on the initial preparations, and I came to appreciate the work and creativity that goes into the making of a major motion picture. Sure, the finished product on the big screen offers some entertainment for an hour and a half to two hours. But the millions of seemingly insignificant creative decisions, personal choices, professional skills, and most of all, a steadfastness and drive to pull it all together and make a few bucks in the process, well.... that's just the gigantic creative effort that the modern movie audience doesn't see (or care about).

Working on "Collision" did teach me one thing, when a project starts getting too big, too complicated, and too expensive in comparison with the rewards it may bring at the end, sometimes it's better for you to quit while you are ahead, learn the lessons it offered, and try something different. 

The film, much like many situations in real life, didn't really have an ending. The motorcyclist is hauled off in an ambulance, the nearby resident goes back into his house, the two car drivers go on their way.  Is a ticket issued, is the traffic light defective, will the debate among witnesses be resolved? Sounds like a perfect set up for a sequel.....

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Vehicles I Have Owned

 Here is a list of the vehicles I have owned over the years, some with photographs. 

 
1959 Chevy Truck with flat bed
 
 
1972 American Motors Gremlin
 


 Plymouth Arrow 
 
 
Plymouth Satellite
 
 
 
Isuzu diesel pick up truck
 
 
Geo Metro
 
 
Ford 150 pick up truck
 


Nissan Frontier pick up truck

Hyundai Accent