Note: From July 14-21, my mom – who is awesome – took me and my brothers and our wives and families on a resort trip to Turks and Caicos. It was, no question, the best vacation I have ever taken (I don’t count my Germany trip as a vacation, because I was only 19 at the time, and life was still pretty much a vacation. Anyway…) It was a week of totally off-the-grid time – no internet, no cell phone – for relaxing and exploring and playing and eating and just enjoying each others’ company. It was also the first time Jenn and Kelsey have traveled internationally (except, in Jenn’s case, for an overnight visit to Windsor, Canada, just after we got married), and my first time needing a passport since 1990. I hope to post several entries about different aspects of the trip.
I have wanted to go diving or snorkeling near a tropical ocean reef since I was a little kid, and this summer, I finally got the chance.
On our first full day of vacation (Sunday, July 15), my daughter and I took our dive masks (no snorkels or swim fins) out to the big swimming area of the Beaches resort where we were staying. I’d never been in ocean water so clear. The seabed in the shallows was mostly bare sand, but there were patches of growth here and there, and in one of these, I spotted a small, pointed spiral shell maybe a little more than half an inch long. When I picked it up, it turned out to be the home of a tiny blue legged hermit crab like this:
Kelsey and I took a few minutes holding it in our palms and watching it peek out and take a few steps before shrinking back into its shell a few times, and then she took it back to the plant cluster where we had found it.
A few minutes later, a woman came up to us in the water and recommended that we walk down the beach maybe a quarter-mile (if that – it always seems longer, though, hiking through the soft sand) and swim straight out from a For Sale sign she pointed out as a marker. “Thousands of fish,” she promised. “Just thousands. And there’s supposed to be a barracuda out there, too.”
Well, then! Off we went.
A pelican diving at the water where we were headed was encouraging, as was the dark expanse of sea floor we could see as we approached. As we got closer, we saw the dark patch was actually the innermost portion of a reef, with narrow paths of sand winding through rocks and coral in about four feet of water. At its edge, where the rocks weren’t as closely packed, we put on our masks and submerged.
It was about a half-second before I heard Kelsey break the surface and gasp in surprise. “I swam right into them!” she said, pointing, “Look!”
We were surrounded.
Thousands upon thousands of fish, about a quarter-inch high and 1.5 inches long, were schooling around us in a giant stream, all aligned like iron filings reacting to a magnetic field. And it was as though Kels and I were generating invisible, perfect-circle repulsor fields – reach toward the fish, or take a step in their midst, and the school altered its path, swept just clear of us, and swarmed on.
Once we submerged again and started drifting around and above the coral, we were quickly enthralled by the different corals (I’ve always thought brain coral is cool, and it was here in abundance) and algae – I saw what I later learned was a sea pearl tucked into a rock – and sponges and plants, and we started seeing other fish.
We saw some shiny silver fish the size and shape of fifty-cent coins, with bright yellow tails, and some tiny bright blue and yellow fish that we think were either Basslets –
– or Cherub fish:
We also saw Blue-headed Wrasse –
and Slippery Dick. (It’s okay to laugh: We did. Because we’re twelve.)
After awhile, we headed back to the resort and told everyone about the reef.
The next day (Monday), after breakfast, my brother Adam joined Kelsey and me on our second outing. This time, we took along swim fins and snorkels.
With three of us out there, we were a little more adventurous and went further out over the reef. We spotted a couple Blue Tang –
– some Flat Needlefish, and several juvenile Sergeant Major fish –
– none bigger than about 1.5 inches, but very distinctive with their black and yellow stripes, which led me to call them “bumblebee fish” until we got home and looked them up.
When we caught a glimpse of some significantly bigger fish – these gorgeous Yellowtail Snappers about 12-18 inches long –
we followed them out just past the innermost barrier of the reef, to where the water was about 9 or 10 feet deep, and the bottom was a flat, sandy plain.
At almost the same instant, as all three of us pointed out a small school of yellowtail to each other, we saw one of these, hanging motionless in the water about a dozen feet away and down near the bottom:
A barracuda! It was about four feet long, and we all pulled ourselves up short to marvel at it. As we did so, it slowly let its mouth open just a bit, just enough for us to see the teeth.
It. Was. Awesome. In the real, not-just-like-neat-o-or-cool-but-awesome sense of the word.
We took turns surfacing to talk for a few seconds and ducked under a couple more times to look again before deciding that was a good way to end our second visit to the reef.
I got up early Tuesday morning for a long solo swim with the fins and goggles. Didn’t walk to the reef: I just stuck in the relatively shallow water near the resort and scanned the bottom. I found two broken sand dollars not long dead. One was broken completely in two (I found the pieces about six feet apart), and the other was cracked into five or six pieces but still held together by its innards. Both still bore a thin layer of coarse dark green fuzz. I took the completely separated sand dollar up to our balcony, along with a couple other tiny finds:
On Wednesday, Jenn and I walked the beach early to catch the sunrise, and found this starfish in the shallows:
Later, Kelsey and I walked down the beach in the other direction and snorkeled at the reef again. Saw more of the yellowtail snapper and others we had seen, along with some Rainbow Wrasse. We also saw some dark fish with blue highlights that may have been Black Durgon. We went out past the first barrier again (no barracuda this time) and explored its edge for a bit. Later on in the day, I learned that the resort’s expansive swimming area had actually been seeded with reef material about five years ago, and that the deeper areas (10-12 feet) were good for snorkeling.
Thursday, Jenn and I went out there, and she discovered that by drifting and letting our arms dangle jellyfish-style, we could wiggle our fingers and get the big yellowtails to come within a couple inches of our hands. The reef rocks were generously spaced, but there were enough plants and growth between them to keep things interesting. We saw a stingray with about a 3-foot span swimming near the bottom with a dark fish shadowing its dorsal area, and we followed it for quite aways. Not sure if it was a Caribbean Whiptail –
– or a Southern Ray. Either way, it was another amazing moment.
On Friday, we checked out extra masks and snorkels from the resort and got most of the family out in the deeper parts of the swim area. Jenn and Kels and I went out together, and when they went in to shore, I went back out with my mom.
Mom and I saw a foot-long fish on the bottom that reminded me of a catfish, but mottled with a pattern of tan and brown, like large leopard spots. Haven’t found a good ID for that one, but we also saw a beautiful Stoplight Parrotfish about 16-18 inches long –
– and a striking Queen Triggerfish:
After mom was finished, I began holding my breath and diving down to get closer to these. Both the parrotfish and the triggerfish let me get incredibly close.
From the surface, I had also noticed a colorful, bug-eyed fish about 6 inches long that hovered near a rock and darted for cover beneath it if I drifted above. I decided to dive toward its hiding place, and as I got near, with noplace to go, the fish slowly raised a yellow row of spines along its back. Later, I identified it as a Squirrelfish.
Eventually I had to head back in, but I could have stayed out there for hours, and I hope I get the chance to do it again. Even if I don’t, though, it was an unforgettable experience.
(Thanks to Reefguide.org for being an invaluable resource in helping me identify most of the fish we saw.)
I’m planning a few posts about this summer’s big family trip to Turks & Caicos. Quick summary: Best vacation I’ve ever taken. First time in the Caribbean, first time snorkeling, gorgeous surroundings, total lack of internet or cell phone connectivity, and a great week with my wife and daughter, mom, and my two brothers and their families.
There are hundreds of photos from several cameras to sort through, but for starters, I’ve put most of my Droid snapshots in this set: Turks and Caicos, July 2012.
Earlier this month, my mom and I took a day trip across the state – mostly on U.S. Route 30 – to catch up with some friends we haven’t seen in a long time.
Oddly enough, I started my day here –
– then drove several hours and wound up here:
Driving to western Ohio with mom can be fun, since it gives me a chance to pick her brains about growing up out in farm country, and talking about my earliest memories.
We spent a few hours in Columbus Grove, which took a big hit from that summer storm that plowed through the Midwest:
That’s wind damage. Wind damage – and not from a tornado, either. The town also lost enough trees that a week later, there was still a pile of debris a couple stories high waiting to be shredded.
We also had a good time talking with people who’ve known me since I was born – and my “aunt” Judy made it nearly two hours before bringing up the time that they invited me over to attend a demolition derby and her son Brian and I spent a few subsequent hours destroying his Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars by slamming his heavy bedroom window frame down on them. (“…we’re playing DEMOLITION DERBY, that’s what!”) I can’t blame her – from a parent standpoint, it’s a good story, and if I was her, I’d bring it up every time I saw me, too.
Since we were in the area, after mom and I left, we drove down to Lima. I last drove through here in the early 1990s on another trek around the state.
Here’s the first house I remember calling home:
The house was gray when we lived there in the early 1970s – in fact, I’m pretty sure it was the same gray as the garage in the background.
But the neighboring house – where my best friend Alberto lived – is the same red as I remembered it:
And here’s another place that sticks in my memory (although I’m pretty sure the building was just a home back then, and didn’t have the addition on the back) –
Albert and his siblings and I used to play in this yard on the other side of his house. Apparently, one day we were playing cops and robbers and we were loud enough to disturb the woman who lived here, and she came out and told us something to the effect that if we didn’t quiet down, she was going to go get her gun and she was going to play, too.
I don’t remember any of that. What I do remember is my dad carrying me around our driveway while I was crying because I was scared of the police who were called to the scene.
Other memories of this place are better: My tractor-tire sandbox in the back yard, and the swingset, and the homemade tortillas Alberto’s family used to make, and playing with my Evel Knievel motorcycle on the front sidewalk, and Alberto and I playing with the windshield washers on my dad’s VW bug, and our families goofing around and laughing together outside.
Mom and I wandered through Lima a bit finding our way back to Interstate 75, then picked up some ice cream cones and headed east on U.S. 30 again for the return home.
Five years ago, I saw the Police on their reunion tour. My friend Natania recently asked on Twitter: “What band/musician/songwriter/album changed your life?”
My immedate answers were 1) The Police – Synchronicity; 2) Pet Shop Boys – Please 3) New Order’s “True Faith.” I’m sure there are others.
Anyway, that got me thinking about the Police tour and the essay I wrote afterwards, and I figured I’d move it over here to Cornfield Meet to mark the five-year anniversary of the show:
When MTV was new in our house, I used to record songs onto blank cassette tapes by balancing our family’s boom box (also new) on the corner of the table where our TV sat. Genesis’ “That’s All” was on the first of these tapes, which I usually bought in cheap three-packs at the Hartville Flea Market. So were “It’s A Mistake” by Men at Work, and The Cars’ “You Might Think.”
And there was “Wrapped Around Your Finger” by the Police.
My friend Jacob, who had moved to Cincinnati after fourth grade, introduced me to the Synchronicity album on a trip to Florida. It was the early 1980s, and we drove through Cincinnati to pick Jake up on the way to Madeira Beach. He and I each took along a boom box, chunky headphones and a few cassette tapes. Mine were all those homemade compilations, but Jake had brought along a couple real tapes, which was impressive to a kid living on a buck-a-week allowance.
That trip was the first chance I had to listen to Synchronicity in its entirety. I was fascinated by everything about the album, from the lettering on the cassette, which looked so authentically handwritten that I asked Jacob if he’d put it on there, to the liner-note lyrics, which didn’t always match up with the songs as recorded, to the cover collage of black-and-white photos of the band behind those iconic red, blue and yellow swaths of color.
I fell in love with “Synchroncity II” on that trip. It’s still my favorite Police tune, from what I’ve always thought of as its “laser-gun” opening notes to its screaming guitars and Sting’s somehow apocalyptic vocals. (It was a frustrating thing for me, back in those MTV years, that I never succeeded in seeing the “Synchronicity II” video in its entirety. I watched a lot of awful videos in the hopes that maybe it would be the next one shown.)
Back home in Ohio, on a Sunday after-church trip to Gold Circle, mom and dad and my little brothers and I were in the music section of the department store, and dad agreed to buy Nick and Adam a tape they’d been begging for: Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
I saw my chance and asked if he’d buy me the Synchronicity cassette. It was the first album I owned, and I played it incessantly. I even managed to find bright spots in “Mother” and “Miss Gradenko”, which to this day I have a soft spot for only because I know that soon after that final harmonized vocal fades, the high-pitched opening of “Synchronicity II” is going to pierce my eardrums and start an adrenaline surge. I’ve never heard such a golden moment of anticipatory silence on any other record.
The next summer, I visited Jake for a week in Cincinnati, and I remember sitting in his room, each of us reclining on a bed with a boom box on our knees and headphones on, cranked to near-pain thresholds. We tried, once, to set the stereos beside each other and start the tapes at the same time to see if we could get a cool, doubly-loud opening to “Synchronicity II,” but one of the tape decks played slightly faster than the other, so by the time that song came around, they were way out of sync.
Although the only other Police tape I owned was Ghost in the Machine – at least, I think I owned it. Maybe I just remember listening to Jacob’s copy a lot during that visit – my fandom saw me exploring other aspects of the guys’ careers over the next few years. MTV introduced me to more of their older work. I was excited to see Dune in part because Sting was a villain, and I got Dream of the Blue Turtles right after it came out because it was the former Police frontman at work. I saw him in concert on his second album tour partly on his own merit and partly because I hoped he’d play some Police tunes. (He did just one, performing “Roxanne” in an encore.)
Similarly, I was enthralled by Summers’ rendition of the introduction from “Also sprach Zarathustra” for the movie 2010: The Year We Make Contact, and I shelled out cash for a Copeland album of instrumental work like the theme from the TV show The Equalizer. I also went out of my way to watch an episode of Gene Siskel & Roger Ebert’s Sneak Previews because they were going to talk about Copeland’s movie The Rhythmatist.
I remember being intrigued enough by the concept of synchronicity to look up a little bit of information about Carl Jung. Heck, I even got a little fan-joy out of seeing Kevin Illyanovich Rasputin Kubusheskie wearing a Synchronicity concert t-shirt on You Can’t Do that on Television.
The Police’s Synchronicity tour ended in spring 1984 (they played Cleveland in late July 1983, when I was just 12 years old), so by the time I was really into the band, it was too late for me to see them perform live.
I lost my Synchronicity tape (or maybe it got ruined or eaten by a stereo) a long time ago, and even though I replaced it a few years back with a vinyl LP I found in Mad Hatter Records in Bowling Green, I don’t have a turntable any more, so until earlier this year, I hadn’t listened to it in an awfully long time.
And then the Police said they were reuniting for a tour, and Jake and Florida and MTV and the heft of my old boom box and the weight of the headphones with their springy, coiled cord and the slow crescendo of “Wrapped Around Your Finger” and the opening riff of “Message in A Bottle” and man-oh-man the laser-gun opening and the hard-charging rhythm of “Synchronicity II” all flooded back over me.
My wife Jenn, being four years younger than I am, understood my excitement even if she didn’t share it, so Jim Carchidi – also a former 1980s kid – made the trip up to Ohio for the July 16 show in Cleveland.
We’d each bought two tickets online the morning they went on sale, figuring we’d be able to unload the extra set. No dice. The day before the concert, then, my wife asked if she and our 10-year-old daughter could use the extra tickets, just so they didn’t go to waste. (My daughter didn’t really want to go, but by the time we’d had dinner at Tower City, across the street from Quicken Loans Arena, she was at least excited to be going to what was her first real rock concert. Sorry, but Hilary Duff doesn’t count.)
The four of us split up – Jim and I, being the Police fans, sat together, and took the higher-up pair of seats because heights make my wife want to freeze up and barf at the same time.
So we have a beer and toast to the fact that we’re seeing the freaking Police, and the warm-up wraps up and the stage guys do their thing and the lights go off and the place gets loud and the show starts.
Sting is singing “Message in A Bottle” and Andy is playing guitar and Stewart – it’s his birthday, as it happens – is bashing the drums and over the course of the show will have more fun, it seems than anyone in the arena and quite possibly the greater Cleveland metro area.
Next, they play “Synchronicity II,” and even though I don’t recognize it right away because they didn’t do the laser-thing, when I do realize what song I’m hearing (thanks to a nudge from Jim), I refuse to blink and I try to open my ears as wide as possible so I can drink these moments deep enough to make my nerve endings thrum with the memory for years.
In the months leading up to the show, I had avoided all concert reviews and set lists of previous shows so that I would be surprised, and I’m glad for it. They played a version of “Walking in Your Footsteps” that I couldn’t stop grinning through, and that was a surprise because I’d always felt it was kind of one of those personal, offbeat favorites and with all the big hits to choose from, I never expected to hear it live. Bonus: Sting including the lines “Now they live in a museum/ It’s the only place you’ll see ’em!” – because while those were in the printed album lyrics, they weren’t on the recorded track, and hearing them was fun, like catching a fleeting background joke in a movie.
Too soon, the show ended, but it had been too fantastic to be even remotely sad that it was over. (Hard to frown on a moment that ends with Stewart Copeland running off the stage and pausing over and over to throw his hands up and just let out whoops and hollers and yelling, “Best birthday EVER!”)
When Jim and I met up with my wife and daughter afterwards, they couldn’t stop talking about how much fun they’d had – they both had frog-voice from screaming so loud, and as a geek dad, I can’t help but think how cool it is that I have a 10-year-old who has seen the Police, loved it, and also knows how to properly employ Star Wars quotes in everyday speech.
You know how you get home from a long-anticipated vacation and it’s good to be back, but at the same time, there’s that melancholy gut-tug of “Where did it go?”
The concert was a week ago, and that feeling hasn’t shown up yet.
I crossed paths online with Cleveland artist/WRUW dj/first-generation Star Wars fan Bridget Daryl Ginley back when I still worked in the Warehouse District, and last week I finally got the chance to meet her in person when I visited to Studio 404 so I could pick up this piece for my desk at work that would make a Jawa utinni with envy. (You know what? That’s a long and bizarre sentence, and I’m leaving it that way.)
For awhile now, I’ve liked Bridget’s skull sketches and found art assemblies and pop culture references – and even her handwritten alternative music (kids, ask your parents) playlists from WRUW. All sorts of weird and cool stuff. When she started building these shiny-domed tributes, I knew I’d wind up with one of my own.
She’s got several other variations on the theme in the studio, and materials to build a gaggle more –
– so there’s no reason you shouldn’t have a near-sighted scrap pile to call your own, if this is your kind of thing. (She’s also doing a lot of steampunk work these days, since it blends pretty well with what she’s been doing for years, and if you’re a Doctor Who fan, she might even be persuaded to tackle a Dalek for you, if you ask nicely.)
Bridget’s trying to move a lot of art from Studio 404 (classic space – amazing views of Cleveland’s skyline) now, so the time’s right, and she’s pretty cool, and this was totally the droid I –
– nope. Not gonna say it.
Also, if you like that throwback music I mentioned earlier, check out her Erie Effusion radio show. Do not request Blue Monday.
I got a lot of encouraging feedback in July of 2011 when I expanded Collect All 21! for a digital edition. Unfortunately, while the folks at my digital publishing company were great to work with and did a bang-up job converting the book and pushing it through various channels, they had to make the difficult decision to close their virtual doors earlier this year, ending the availability of the Expanded Edition.
After thinking things over for a bit and pestering some very patient and understanding friends for advice, I decided to go ahead and tweak a couple small glitches and make the Expanded Edition available again myself through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing.
Opening that first Darth Vader figure and putting him in a Landspeeder. Imagining a snowy elementary school playground as the wastes of Hoth. Seeing Return of the Jedi on opening night.
Moments like these – and a galaxy more – make up more than three decades of “Memoirs of a Star Wars Geek.” Author and first-generation saga fan John Booth takes the reader from a childhood packed with Star Wars guys (never “action figures”) and Christmas wishes both fulfilled and unrealized, through the years when the trilogy lay dormant to the mainstream public’s eye, and into an age of seeing George Lucas’ universe as an adult while exploring it again as a parent.
Collect All 21! revisits the late 1970s and early ’80s, in all their bad-haircuts-and-Atari glory, then moves beyond those decades and nostalgia to explore the evolution of the Star Wars saga and its fandom.
This expanded electronic edition also includes interviews with Star Wars cast and crew members reflecting on the saga’s impact from both first-generation-fan standpoints and a career spent bringing the universe to life on-screen.
Named by Topless Robot as one of The Ten Greatest Non-Fiction Star Wars Books, Collect All 21! is a love letter from a self-aware geek written under the sometimes harsh light of hindsight, softened with understanding. It captures the innocence and wonder and infinite possibilities of what it meant to an eight-year-old to Collect All 21!
“Like a nostalgic walk through your childhood and growing up geek.”
– WIRED magazine’s GeekDad
“The feeling of childhood magic that pours from its pages will have you reflecting on how much of an impact the Wars have had on you.”
– Topless Robot
“I never thought I’d actually get that Time-Travel Belt, but reading this book is almost better.”
– George Krstic, writer, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Motorcity, and Megas XLR
I’ve also decided to keep the Kindle edition at it’s three-dollar price – which means, yes: More book than the print edition, for less money.
Additionally, it’s available through the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, so if you’re an Amazon Prime member, you can borrow it for FREE.
And hey – Star Wars Celebration VI is coming up fast, so why not start getting psyched up now?