I have written about my Journey Into Magic, in which I mentioned my love of hanging around the Magic Center on 8th Avenue. Sadly, no photos of this shop seem to exist around the net, so I was delighted to find an old New York City tax photo from the 1940s which clearly shows the Magic Center at 741 8th Avenue (I believe Russ later moved his shop next door to 739).
Click the image to enlarge it; the Magic Center is clearly visible on the right.
Russ used to advertise various tricks in magazines of the day, including Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, and the New Yorker:
The next thing I need is for someone out there in the wide world of the Internet to come up with a good photo of Russ himself.
Mad Magazine™ was wonderful back in the ’50s and ’60s. I seem to recall that as I grew older, either my sense of humor changed – I started appreciating Harvard Lampoon’s work in the late ’60s – or the quality of the writing diminished.
At any rate, some of the early stuff was priceless, and still relevant to today’s challenges. One example that keeps surfacing in my mind every time I hit a detour is this gem, written by Tom Koch and illustrated by Bob Clarke.
Peeved at Obstructions (Sung to the tune of “Eve of Destruction” Barry McGuire)
You save up all year long to take a nice vacation. You make a lot of plans to drive across the nation. You dream of all you’ll see with great anticipation. You’ve only got a week to reach your destination, But that seems like enough, you feel no consternation. Then they tell you over and over and over again, my friend, That you can’t get through; the road is under construction.
You’ve never been to Maine or Utah’s scenic section. You call the auto club to help make your selection. You pay to get your car a thorough trip inspection. So you can drive afar and feel you’ve got protection. Then, when you’re almost there, you seek a cop’s direction. And he tells you over and over and over again, my friend, That you must turn back; the road is under construction.
Vacation here at home, our president keeps sayin’. Don’t spend your dough abroad, he fervently is praying. So you head for New York do do your summer playing; Or maybe to the west a travel plan you’re laying, To see those snowy peaks and geysers wildly sprayin’. But the signs warn over and over and over again, my friend, That you can’t get there; the road is under construction.
“The project involved the reconstruction of 16.2 miles of interstate mainline and the addition of new general purpose and high-occupancy-vehicle (HOV) lanes through the Salt Lake City metropolitan area. The project also included the construction or reconstruction of more than 130 bridges, the reconstruction of seven urban interchanges, and the reconstruction of three major junctions with other interstate routes, including I-80 and I-215.”
While the project was sorely needed and the end result was beneficial, for four years, the commute from outlying areas to Salt Lake City was a major pain in the patoot, with commuters searching out and jealously guarding favorable and secret bypass routes.
But wait, there’s more!
In 2009, UDOT undertook the I-15 Core reconstruction project, rebuilding 24 miles of I-15 from Point of the Mountain to Payson in just 35 months. The design-build strategy meant that the entire stretch was torn up at once, instead of doing a few miles at a time. The inconvenience was so significant that I was moved to memorialize the experience in video:
In retrospect, I really shoudn’t complain at all; nowadays our nation’s crumbling infrastructure could use a bit of help, and I think subsequent generations would appreciate our putting up with some inconvenience if it means that their bridges won’t collapse underneath them. But when you’re behind the wheel and trying to get to work (or to a vacation destination), the aggravation can certainly raise one’s blood pressure.
Since I happened to be on the subject of MAD Magazine, another extract from the same article is precisely the reason our family threw out all our TVs over 20 years ago (the kids were absolutely devastated, but somehow they survived):
The TV Victim’s Lament (Sung to the Tune of “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Bob Dylan)
How many times must a guy spray with Ban Before he doesn’t offend? And how many times must he gargle each day Before he can talk to a friend? How many tubes of shampoo must he buy Before his dandruff will end? The sponsors, my friend, will sell you all they can. The sponsors will sell you all they can.
How many times must a man use Gillette Before shaving won’t make him bleed? And how many cartons of Kents must he smoke Before the girls all pay him heed? How many products must one person buy Before he has all that he’ll need? The sponsors, my friend, will sell you all they can. The sponsors will sell you all they can.
How many times must a gal clean her sink Before Ajax scours that stain, And how many times must she rub in Ben-Gay Before she can rub out the pain? How many ads on TV must we watch Before we are driven insane? The sponsors, my friend, will sell you all they can. The sponsors will sell you all they can.
Full disclosure: My mother single-handedly raised me on the income from commercial advertising, so I feel a bit sheepish about this, but the onslaught of advertising, much of which has now moved from the airwaves to the internet, still rubs me the wrong way.
In the summer of 1969, when I came out to Utah from New York, my first job was working at Lagoon, Utah’s No. 1 amusement park. As a child, I had visited Lagoon many times beginning in the 50s when I would come to Utah to visit my mother’s family there.
Still going strong, the park is small but homey, and although it gets more expensive every year, they do make improvements all the time, and it’s got some really fun rides. I had a season pass in 2011 before I moved back East so I could go with the my granddaughters as often as opportunity allowed.
A post on another forum about Coney Island got me going down memory lane, especially when I saw this picture of Coney Island’s “Human Roulette Wheel” from 1908.
I can’t count the number of times I got flung off of Lagoon’s Roulette Wheel, suffering skin burns along the way… and I don’t think anyone ever sued lagoon for so much as a broken arm – people knew what risks were in those days, and lawyers were fewer.
The Fun House and the Haunted Shack were, without question, my favorite locations. Both as a child, from the late 50’s onward, and then as an employee one summer in 1969.
In the Fun House, the first challenge was getting in. The entrance was a mystery room, with several doors. One held a witch – not especially frightening, unless you’re 7 – and I don’t recall what was in the others, but the one you wanted, of course, was the broom closet – and you had to push the false back wall to get out.
Once inside, you would walk into the challenge area, which included the rotating barrels; I was so thrilled when I was finally big enough to pin myself in the barrel like Leonardo’s “Vitruvian Man” and be carried all the way around. Other courses included boards that swung up and down like a wooden wave pattern… a meshed bridge… a set of boards that shimmied back and forth like a huge pair of skis, among others… and everywhere throughout the fun house were the air jets, operated by a human who sat in an observation booth above the front entrance, watching for cute girls in skirts to step over the airholes. Psshhhttt EEK!! A maze after these items would drop you off in the back of the fun house close to the giant slides.
There, you’d pick up your canvas slide, with a pocket in front for your feet, and climb the stairs to the launch platforms – there was one midway up, and one all the way at the top. You were admonished to sit with your legs straight, and off you’d go. There was never any limit to how long you could stay.
At the bottom of the slide, you’d find the Roulette Wheel – a big pink disk with a yellow center, which is where you wanted to be if you didn’t want to get flung off. I think there were more injuries from people rushing to get that center spot than ever happened while being ejected. People would sit on the wheel with their backs to the center, brace themselves with their feet, and wait for the ride to start. Invariably everyone was hurled off except one or two in the middle. The outside of the platter area was surrounded with a large, padded rim. (This was Lagoon’s version of the “Roulette Wheel” shown above).
Then there was the “whirlpool”. This was a large wooden drum – different from the washtub with the drop-out floor – that would effectively allow you to stand at about a 45-degree angle if you could fight the centripetal force. This ride was one of the first ones to go that I recall.
Interestingly enough, there were probably countless chipped teeth, friction burns, broken arms, split lips, and a dozen other injuries on a regular basis… and for decades nobody sued, and the fun just kept on happening. We can thank the zeal of the legal eagles, hungry for billable hours, for litigating us out of such wholesome entertaintment today.
[Edit: An article in the Deseret News of May 4, 1957, describes the attractions in the Fun House thus:
“Opening of a new fun house, the first to be build in the United States in 28 years, will be one of the main attractions at the pre-season opening of Lagoon this weekend.
Built at a cost of more than $100,000 to meet the requests of thousands for a fun house to replace the one that burned in the 1953 fire at the resort, it was designed by Ranch S. Kimball, president and general manager of Lagoon.
Fifty-foot-high slides are among features of the modern building. There are slides of lesser heights for the more cautious.
Another device of special interest is the Whirlpool, a new circular device which revolves at a terrific speed.
Other of the 40 features within the fun house include: a skating floor, shuffleboard, crash bumper, lily pads in a tank of water, Sahara Desert, a rolling log, twisters, teeter boards, electric air valves, a moving floor, a whistle trap, roller inclines, a dog-house crawl-through, a jail, revolving barrels, the roulette wheel, tilted room, ocean waves, the camel back, and a new cage maze, which is a maze to amaze anyone.
An eight-piece animated monkey band perched above the entrance will greet customers. A balcony, featuring special seating for spectators, has been built to permit a general view of the entire fun house.]
I was tickled that my memory of the Whirlpool was not faulty, and this article reminded me of a number of features that I had forgotten about – the rolling log, the roller incline, the twister floor, the lily pads, and several others.
The “Haunted Shack” has been described in other places, but I loved it. A walk-through “dark ride”, it sat above a cotton candy shop, and the year I worked there, a buddy of mine who was responsible for that attraction took me up into the attic where you could watch the people go through the mazes. The haunted shack included a mirror maze, which, when it was kept clean, was pretty challenging to get out of.
The Haunted Shack was featured at the Lagoon History Project. It was one of my favorite attractions, and I was sad when it was finally removed to make room for the Carousel and other attractions.
The year I worked at lagoon, what was formerly the Penny Arcade had been converted into a skating rink. That’s where I spent most of my break time and free time if I ever came back on a day off. It didn’t last long, but it was a great place. I do recall seeing the first Pong game there. At that time, the rides were ticket-based… I recall you could get into the Lagoon Opera House for only two tickets, and watch silent movies in an air-conditioned environment. They were always making announcements over the PA system in this deep, growly voice that told people about the attractions they were trying to promote. That was also a popular place to take breaks on hot days.
At that time, the employee kitchen was this dingy little place on the back of the East side of the midway, but hey, that’s where we could get lunch, and it seemed fine.
I worked the games. I was most often stationed in the Shooting Gallery (machine guns with bb’s, and you had to shoot a red star completely out of a sheet of paper to win a prize). It was much, much harder than it looked – even the tiniest scrap of red would disqualify you from winning a prize – but again, not impossible. Located just south of the Fun House, that’s where I was stationed when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon – people were taking rotating shifts that day to watch the landing and EVA’s, and there were TV’s set up all over the park. I recall running to the Fascination room to watch the event during a break.
Parenthetically, Fascination was where I always spent the most time (and money) when I went to the park as a kid – when I wasn’t on the rides, that is.
Basically a bingo game with rubber balls, the attraction for me was the fact that when you won, you’d get these coupons that were worth multiple tickets at the prize redemption center. And if the traveling red light lit up on your machine when you won, the prizes were doubled, I think. I recall winning quite often, and it was exciting to play. Oh, the thrill of winning with five reds…
Tip-em-over, where the point was to get 5 lead milk bottles completely tipped over, and yes, some of them were much heavier than others – we’d put a weighted one or two on the bottom if we were facing some Lou Ferrigno type, or put a heavy one on top if it was a cute girl that we wanted to win. You could say that that particular game was gaffed, but never in such a way that it made it impossible to win. We were instructed to keep our “payout” hovering at about 30% of what we took in, which are a lot better odds than you bet in Vegas or at your average traveling carny. Flukey ball – where you had to bounce a whiffle ball off a character’s nose and into a bucket – was straightforward and just difficult to do, but not impossible – there were no gimmicks there – and the water pistol shooting gallery was a great attraction on hot days.
I recall we’d send annoying kids down to the other end of the park for a “sky hook” or a “counter stretcher”. Everyone knew the gag, so the poor wights would be sent from one end of the park to the other until they got tired.
The redemption center was fun for kids. You pretty much had to have a zillion tickets to get anything worthwhile, but there was always something that you could get with just a few. And there were some very tempting things there, tempting enough to keep the kids playing Skee-Ball or Fascination until their (or their parents’) money ran out.
The Terroride has always been a central attraction at Lagoon, it was located right next to the original Fun House (I have written about that ride elsewhere.)
Lagoon was a marvelous place to visit, and a good place to work, for a teenager. After that summer I moved on to bigger and better things, but I won’t forget my experiences there. Robert E. Freed and my mom went to school together, and I knew his family well – it was a tragic loss when he passed away far too early.
For the longest time, this little plaque has hung by my door, much in the same way as a mezuzah graces the home of the Jewish faithful.
For a number of reasons, it is among my most treasured possessions, those things that have transient value during our sojourn on this pale blue dot, and which often end up in a thrift store or the landfill when they are passed to family who have no connection to them.
The back side looks like this:
This came to me from the effects of my father, who – despite the fact that it was a gift celebrating a marriage that would end 9 years later – obviously treasured it and the sentiment included.
I have already written of Ladson Butler, a man of keen intellect and the heart of a Compassionate Samurai, whom I regret not having known in life. This was a present from him to my parents on the occasion of their wedding.
The hanzi (慢慢行) on the front read “mahn mahn hong” in Cantonese, or “Màn man xíng” in Mandarin. Butler’s translation, “gently, gently go” is accurate – 慢 is “slowly,” and 行 means “go” or “travel.” Other translations have been rendered as “take it easy” or “take care.” The sentiment extended to a visitor who is leaving your home is the same, regardless of how you read it, and brings to mind the gentleness of the well-known “Irish blessing:”
Go n-éirí an bóthar leat Go raibh an ghaoth go brách ag do chúl Go lonraí an ghrian go te ar d’aghaidh Go dtite an bháisteach go mín ar do pháirceanna Agus go mbuailimid le chéile arís, Go gcoinní Dia i mbos A láimhe thú.
May the road rise to meet you May the wind be always at your back May the sun shine warm upon your face, The rains fall soft upon your fields And until we meet again May God hold you in the hollow of His hand.
Decades ago, Chase Manhattan ran an investment campaign featuring the “nest egg” as the primary hook:
Charles Addams, the famous cartoonist whose work appeared so frequently in the New Yorker, had a different take on this:
Despite intense effort, it’s still true – you can’t take it with you. Elbert Hubbard, an author and humanist of previous generations, once expressed the same sentiment more poignantly:
“The dead carry in their clenched hands only that which they have given away.”
So this little jewel of mine will remain behind when the bus comes for me, and whether or not someone treasures it after I am gone remains to be seen – I can only hope. But for me it has had immense value.
Remember Nik-L-Nips? (You could also buy a box of 8 called 10¢ Nips, but the name will always stick in my memory.)
Mentioned these here earlier, and since then found a great blog post about many other kinds of wax candy at Do You Remember, including the “glow stick” kind and the “six-shooter,” which was full of enough syrup for a day’s buzz.
But I remember one that appeared in 1961, the same year as “Atlantis, the Lost Continent.”
That movie featured a crystal death ray, that did unpleasant things to everything and everyone on whom its deadly beam was focused.
Like turning them into instructional medical skeletons.
But that small detail aside, across the street from my home on Prince Street in New York City, in 1961, was one of those wonderful old-style variety stores that had comics and candy and hardware and just about anything else a kid might revel in.
Including these syrup-filled wax candies that looked just like that crystal engine of destruction. I swear it. I bought a lot of them. No trace of their existence seems to remain on the Internet, but I know they existed. I’m not crazy.
If anyone else remembers these, do leave a comment so I can rest easy knowing it wasn’t all an opium dream.
When I was a kid, I remember seeing cans of Hominy in the grocery store.
The fact that it looked like alien bloated corn that had been exposed to gamma rays and gotten very sick (oh wait, that’s huitlacoche) didn’t do much for my desire to ever try it.
I became more aware of its presence because I worked at the Daitch Shopwell on 1st Avenue between 57th and 58th Streets in New York, and had to price cans with these stamps and purple ink:
But time heals all things… or at the very least tends to change things, particularly one’s tastes. You can visit my Banquet from Hell, and see why I was awarded the honorary title of “Grand High Culinary Inquisitor” by Howard Tayler, author of Schlock Mercenary.
I am passionately fond of Menudo, a wonderful, hearty Mexican dish which includes both tripe and hominy, and later fell deeply in love with grits, a porridge made with ground hominy and very popular in the south. Again, I had heard of this as a kid and had no desire to try it because it sounded like eating finely crushed gravel. Fool that I was.
Grits is related to the Austrian Grieß, although the latter is made with semolina and makes wonderful dumplings. Nothing is more warming and comforting on a cold morning than a steaming bowl of buttery, peppered grits:
You’ll notice that I use the singular when describing grits, and that’s because it’s not plural. Grits is singular, and grits is wonderful.
For authentic confirmation of this fact, I turn to a lovely oral essay by Kathryn Tucker Windham,¹ an American storyteller, author, photographer, folklorist, and journalist:
I never remember sitting down to breakfast in my childhood home in Thomasville without having grits. And it wasn’t the instant kind, either. My mother, before we went to bed at night, would put the grits on to soak, put the grits in the top of a double boiler, let the grits soak overnight, so it would be ready to cook in the morning. And oh, I guess it tasted… I was just accustomed to good grits.
And I will now stop a minute to carry on my campaign for trying to convince people that grits is a singular noun: you say “the grits is good, the grits is hot.” Just because it ends in an “s” doesn’t make it plural; it’s in the same category with “news” and “measles.” So bear that in mind.
But… on special occasions, sometimes for supper we’d have grits again. Cheese grits, sharp cheddar cheese, grated and stirred up and hot grits. Aah, it was marvelous. And if my brother had gone hunting and had come back with quail or dove we’d have grits with the dove and quail. There’s just no finer eating in the world than that on a cold weather’s day. And the baked sweet potatoes that were always better in the winter time. Just slathered with butter and baked until they were soft, and almost mushy inside. Slit ’em open and put butter that we got down at little Miz Anderson’s, bought butter from her, she had a good cow that had rich milk and wonderful butter.
And the soup that my mother used to make, vegetable soup, I’ve never had any as good as she made, and I don’t know how… I’m sure she didn’t have a recipe, she just used what was available – but sustaining, comfortable winter food and somebody would have a hog-killin’ and we’d get some of that fresh meat, the ribs and he pork chops, and the… oh, it was all so good, and that was … the hogs were killed only in the wintertime on a very cold day, and they were a treat to have, and I always looked forward to them. But it was the grits, that stuck to your ribs and was sustaining, comfort food. And if you want it really comforting, add cheddar cheese, sharp, and stir it up, and eat, and enjoy.
I heard this piece on NPR years ago, and you can still listen to it at WLRH in Huntsville. Add that beautiful, mellow southern accent and you can feel her joy in the memories of her childhood, and the rich goodness of the foods she relished… including grits.
Which is divine.
The Old Wolf has spoken.
¹ Many of Windham’s works, including audiobooks, are available over at Amazon.
DistilPure MSM is an organic, non-petroleum natural-source MSM
Certified by analysis to be 100% bio-source
No fillers or additives, suitable for vegans and vegetarians
Poor Pluto. I wrote a detailed essay about my feelings back in 2014, before New Horizons had gotten close enough to reveal the stunning images of Pluto and Charon that it painstakingly sent back at 38 kbps.
Yeah yeah, I get it. Science moves on. Clyde Tombaugh discovered the Kuiper Belt; Pluto is just another trans-Neptunian object that happened to get captured, and not even the biggest. There are doubtless many more large ones yet to be discovered.
But Pluto was a part of the public’s consciousness as a planet for 76 years – from 1930 when Dr. Tombaugh discovered it, until it was reclassified by the IAU, a move that was opposed by many scientists and astronomers.
I even wrote to Mike Brown, who has referred to himself as “the man who killed Pluto,” and expressed my feelings that for historical reasons, Pluto should have been “grandfathered in” as a planet; he was kind enough to reply, and explained that while he understands why I and others feel emotionally attached to Pluto, the IAU took an opportunity to make planetary classification meaningful instead of arbitrary, which is scientifically more important than nostalgia.
But I’m still sad. And I’m not the only one. Dr. Maggie Lieu, a research fellow at the ESA (European Space Agency) recently posted on Twitter,
The cleaners took Pluto down, but he was quickly replaced:
And the current status is this: (If you can’t read the text, it says
Don’t worry, Pluto! We dwarf planets will be your friends.
Yes, those stuck-up full planets are the 1% living in their “cleared neighbourhoods” and oppressing the rest of us with their unequal distribution of mass.
I accept the science, but the IAU’s designation is, after all, just academic nomenclature – and whatever the scientists of today or the future choose to call Pluto, for me it will be the 9th planet in our solar system, Sol IX, forever.
The Old Wolf has spoken.
PS: One of my all-time favorite Woot! shirts, “Gardening at Night.”