Sunday, April 26, 2009

CKMS, HBC, HUH and Other Obscure Acronyms

Recently, my buddy, Mart, reminisced on his blog about a radio show that he and I used to do at the University of Waterloo's campus radio station, CKMS-FM, back in our younger days. That triggered some fond, and humorous, memories for me, so I've decided expound a little on the subject myself.

Mart said, on his blog, that he owned a radio and cassette recorder during his teenage years, but he just didn't use them. That's not entirely true. He didn't use them in the same manner that most other teenagers would use them; that is, for recording and playing music. He did, however, use the cassette recorder to create mock radio broadcasts. His repertoire included a soap opera parody that he called "General Crisis", a classical music show called "Classical Masterpieces" and, most bizarrely, a series of news reports by a pair of anchormen named Herb Jennings and Earl McGumphrie, representing an Imperial broadcasting network. By "Imperial", I mean belonging to the galactic empire in George Lucas' Star Wars universe. These "Imperial Reports" were meant to be the kinds of news reports that citizens of the Galactic Empire might expect to hear if Imperial journalists were on the scene during several key scenes from the Star Wars movies, describing the unfolding events. Jennings and McGumphrie always seemed to run afoul of these situations and get themselves in trouble. During one report, for example, McGumphrie accidentally managed to get himself locked inside one of the pods carrying an imperial probe droid just before it was launched toward the Hoth system.

Mart initially conceived of and recorded these things on his own (apparently he was badly in need of a hobby in those days) but he eventually played the recordings for me. Since he and I always shared the same quirky sense of humor, not to mention a certain fanaticism with regard to all things Star Wars, I was naturally taken with the idea and soon got into the act.

I should explain, at this point, that Mart was always more original than I. He was the "idea man". I, on the other hand, had a way of taking his ideas and extrapolating them into ponderous mutations of their former selves, to the point where they bore only the faintest resemblance to Mart's original, simple concepts and tended to scare away small children and the elderly. You might say I was the Bill Gates to Mart's Steve Jobs.

Mart's recordings reminded me of an audio version of a Canadian comedy show by the Second City comedy troupe that was on television at the time, called SCTV (the Second City Television Network) so I suggested that we develop Mart's recordings into a radio version of SCTV, which we called HBC (the HUH Broadcasting Corporation).

"HUH?" I hear you ask. What does "HUH" mean?

* Sigh! *

It stands for "Highly Uncontaminated Humor" but, to really explain things, I need to go back even further, to Mart and my pre-adolescent days.

You see, Mart and I used to be neighbors. That's how we got to be best friends. Then came the day that I moved across town. Now, that wasn't really so very far away, but neither of us was of driving age yet and we did live a healthy bike ride apart, so we kept in touch by mail for a while. (Note: for the benefit of my younger readers, "mail" in this context refers to the non-electronic variety, involving the delivery of paper documents by the postal service, a process which generally takes several days).

It wasn't long before we began enclosing extra things with those letters; drawings, jokes and such. This evolved into a full-fledged, home-made, hand-drawn comic book roughly resembling the satirical magazines that were so popular with pre-pubescent males such as ourselves at the time, like MAD and CRACKED magazines.

We called our magazine HUH Magazine, "HUH" being, as I said, an acronym for "Highly Uncontaminated Humor". Don't ask me what "contaminants" were supposedly missing from this particular form of humor. I suspect the most appropriate answer might well be "anything that could be considered to be of cultural or intellectual merit". I offer for your consideration a rather elaborate parody of the original "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" movie poster that I drew for an early issue of HUH Magazine. I won't divulge how long it took me to painstakingly hand-render this, except to say that I wore out at least two cases of colored markers.

So, you see, HBC was a sort of transformation of HUH Magazine from a paper medium to audio.

It's also worth noting at this point that, later on, around the same time that we did our stint at CKMS-FM (remember CKMS? I'll come back to it. I promise!) Mart and I decided that drawing cartoons might be a neat way to make a living. Hey, it seemed preferable to actually working (no offense to Mssrs. Adams, Schultz, Ketcham et al) and we actually went as far as assembling a portfolio of material and submitting sample comics such as the example presented here to United Features Syndicate and some other places.

The astute reader will have surmised from the fact that neither the names "Halma" or "Mielke" are today revered among the echelons of great cartoonists that every last publisher whom we approached respectfully declined our proposal. On the other hand, I still maintain to this very day that comic strips such as Kit 'N' Carlyle stand as irrefutable evidence that there is, indeed, no justice in this world.

As I mentioned earlier, Mart was the idea man while I had a tendency to realize his ideas beyond any reasonable justification. The concept of recording funny programs to tape was Mart's, but it was I who decided that we should develop it into a full-fledged parody of a radio station. Mart came up with most of the subject ideas and invented most of the characters. Aside from Jennings and McGumphrie, the Imperial newsmen, there was Luthor Heinberg, the classical orchestra conductor, Stan McGee (yet another reporter, but without the Star Wars slant) and a food critic whose name eludes me at the moment. I, on the other hand, found it necessary to sit down and draw caricatures of several of the key characters, such as the one of Earl McGumphrie, shown here. Somehow, creating a physical image made the characters more real to me.

Did I also mention that I'm a pack rat? By now I'm certain that Mart, who follows this blog, is likely picking his lower jaw up off his desk upon seeing that I've actually kept all this material for all these years.

So what has all this to do with CKMS-FM? Simply this. During my high school years, I met a Danish chap by the name of Peter Karwowski (well, okay, he was Polish; in fact, he still is, last I checked) who also remains a close friend to this very day. Peter was also interested in recording and broadcasting at the time and, in fact, briefly started a career as a radio announcer after finishing college. His interest in the broadcasting arts led him to CKMS-FM, where he volunteered as an overnight announcer on weekends. When I learned of this, I saw an opportunity to share HBC with someone other than just Mart and I asked Peter if we could use the station's recording facilities to do a somewhat more polished version of HBC and whether he might be willing to play segments of our work on his show.

Peter entertained the idea but, as it turned out, the good people at CKMS-FM were foolish enough to give Mart and me our own show which we imaginatively dubbed "The Andy & Mart Show" (guess which one of us chose the order of the names), so we started broadcasting HBC ourselves, rather than besmirching Peter's show with it, a small mercy for which I'm sure he remains grateful. We defined HBC for our listening audience as the "Hosehead Broadcasting Corporation" rather than the "HUH Broadcasting Corporation", partially because Bob & Doug McKenzie were very much in vogue at the time, and partially because we didn't want to have to explain what the acronym-within-an-acronym "HUH" meant, for reasons which, by now, will be all too clear to the reader.

The Andy & Mart show featured the usual combination of music interspersed with weather, news items, and special features including our own HBC segments and we always infused it with a liberal dose of our off-beat brand of humor, such as the time that we made finger shadows for our listening audience. In fact, the station's Programming Director, David "Doc" Hight (who wasn't a big fan of our show, I must admit) once sarcastically introduced us as "The Andy and Mart Comedy Carnival" just before surrendering the microphone to us at the end of his show, which immediately preceded ours. Much to his dismay, I took his pointed jab as a compliment and enthusiastically adopted the new name from then on. You just can't insult some people.

It would appear that I have once again taken Mart's quick, off-hand reference to our days at CKMS and inflated into ... this. I guess some things never change, as they say.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Opposite Of Selfishness

Next month, my wife, Judy, and I will celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. That feels like an accomplishment. Most of my daughter's friends seem to come from single-parent families, foster homes or homes that include either a step-parent or a live-in boyfriend or girlfriend. Teenagers who live with the same two, lawfully-wedded people who conceived them definitely seem to be a minority these days.

To those of my friends who read this blog whose first attempts at marriage were not as successful (and you know who you are), I'm not gloating. The fact is, a successful marriage takes the complete commitment of both partners. It takes understanding, compromise and, of course, love. No one partner can ever make a marriage work single-handedly, no matter how hard they work at it.

That having been said, I give Judy most of the credit for the success of our marriage. I have my share of personal foibles and she learned to accept a number of shortcomings on my part early on in our relationship. I like to think that I've matured over the years and overcome some of them, but I demanded a lot of patience from her during our time together, and I've not yet attained perfection.

If I'm making marriage sound like a lot of work, it is, and yet it isn't. A successful marriage is founded on love and, when you love someone, you don't mind going that extra mile for them. Sacrifices don't feel so much like sacrifices. You do things, not out of a sense of responsibility, but out of a simple desire to make your partner happy. Let me give you a couple of personal examples.

Practically since the day we were married, Judy has arisen with me early each morning, and fixed my breakfast and lunch before seeing me off to work. For many years, she didn't work outside of the home. The special needs of our son, Christopher, demanded a full-time, stay-at-home parent, and Judy shouldered that responsibility. That meant that she didn't need to be up at any particular hour and, during Christopher's infancy, she was often up with him in the middle of the night. She accepted most of the midnight parenting because I had to get up for work the next day, and she didn't. This, of course, made her even more tired when our alarm woke me for work the next morning, yet she still got up with me, made my breakfast and lunch while I showered and shaved, joined me for a cup of coffee, and then retired back to bed (if Christopher wasn't already awake) only after I left. She did the same after our daughter, Jessica, came along as well.

Most of her friends were aghast upon learning that she did this. Most swore that they would never, ever do that for their husbands. Judy didn't have to do it either. I didn't demand it of her. She did it for me because she wanted to. Making me happy made her happy. To her, it didn't feel like a sacrifice at all.

I try to reciprocate. Judy never learned to drive so, whenever she needs to go anywhere, I generally drive her. She likes to have her mother, sister and best friend over to visit on Saturday evenings. As it happens, none of them drive either, and they would often choose not to visit us if it meant having to take a bus or pay for a cab. So, every Saturday evening, I pick them all up after supper and then take them all back home again at the end of the evening, sometimes in the middle of the night. I don't do it for them. I do it for Judy, because I know that she enjoys their company and might be deprived of it if I didn't help out.

These days, Judy does work outside of our home, and starts work about half an hour earlier than me, so I get up just a bit earlier than I would otherwise have to so that there's time for me to drop her off at work before going to work myself. While I shower and shave, she still makes my breakfast and my lunch, even after all these years.

Thinking about this recently gave me a new insight regarding the nature of love. It seems to me that love is the opposite of selfishness. Selfishness means putting one's own needs and interests first. When you love somebody, you put that person's needs and interests ahead of your own. And here's the key; you don't do it because you have to. You do it because you want to.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Sympathy For Judas

I try to stay away from religious topics on this blog because religion is too emotional a subject to discuss rationally. If there's one thing I've learned, it's that it is impossible to dissuade someone from a religious belief with which you happen to disagree, just as it's impossible to convince someone who already holds their own set of beliefs to adopt yours if they don't happen to share them, no matter how right you may think that your beliefs are. So let me say from the outset that any religious opinions that I may express here are strictly my own. I don't expect my readers to agree with them, nor do I even suggest that they are any more correct than anybody else's beliefs. I will also state, for the record, that I was raised as a Roman Catholic, although I hardly consider myself to be a "good" Catholic. An example of what I mean by that will become clear shortly. In earlier times, the Pope would likely have excommunicated me if he knew of my beliefs.

As it's Good Friday, I thought I'd share my thoughts about Judas, the apostle who betrayed Jesus. As you may have already surmised from this post's title, I have a certain amount of sympathy for Judas. This is hardly an original idea. The rock opera, "Jesus Christ Superstar" portrays Judas in a somewhat sympathetic light, depicting him as a man whose lack of faith in Jesus and whose fear of the authorities drive him to turn Jesus in for the good of his followers. It also suggests that Judas merely performed an undesirable service that had to be performed by someone. After all, if no-one had betrayed Jesus, he would not have died and the entire purpose for his coming would have been lost.

In recent years, it has been suggested that the Gnostic Gospels may include a Gospel of Judas and that, in that Gospel, Jesus, far from rebuking Judas, declares him to be his most trusted friend and, in fact, asks for Judas' help in betraying him. "You will exceed all of them," Jesus said to Judas, according to this Gospel, "for you will sacrifice the man that clothes me." This Gospel is not, of course, recognized by any of the modern Christian churches, but I present it as evidence that I am by no means the first person to suspect that Judas may have been very misunderstood. I do, however, wish to offer a new perspective that I have not heard suggested before. Perhaps Judas' problem was that he had too much faith in Jesus.

During his time among us, Jesus reportedly performed many miracles. He turned water into wine, he fed multitudes with just a few fish and a few loaves of bread, he walked on water, he healed lepers and paraplegics, he cast out demons, he even raised the dead back to life. Surely a man capable of doing all these things would not allow himself to be put to death. Perhaps Judas said to himself, "The Pharisees are fools! I'll take their money. We could use it! It will do them no good. Jesus is the Messiah; the Son of God! They can't hurt him!"

So he took the silver pieces, and he lead the soldiers to where Jesus was, in the garden of Gethsemane, and then he watched in stunned horror as they arrested Jesus, beat him, put him on trial and ultimately executed him, while Jesus did nothing to stop them. He didn't even speak in his own defence!

I imagine poor Judas, standing there, waiting for the miracle; waiting for the heavens to open and smite those who would raise a hand against the Messiah, and ... nothing. If I'm right, it was Judas who must have felt betrayed. Everything he had believed up to that point was suddenly wrong. His Messiah turned out to be all sizzle and no steak. And now Judas was unwittingly responsible for his death. I can well understand the despair that would have followed and led him to hang himself. When viewed in that light, it all makes perfect sense to me.

Call me a blasphemer if you will, but I believe that, if there is a heaven, there was surely a place in it for Judas. His only sin was not understanding Jesus' plan. Then again, what do I know?

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Toy Story 2

Regular readers may look at the accompanying pictures for this post and think, "Oh, right, the toy jet plane. You've already told us about that." Very true, but this one's mine. If you've stumbled upon this blog and haven't read my original Toy Story post, you may find it helpful to read it first. You can find it here.

When we left off, I had bid unsuccessfully for a Marx battery-operated jet plane just like this one. After that, I kept an eye on eBay in hopes that another might someday appear. I didn't have long to wait. Within a week, there was a second one up for auction. That one eluded me too. A few weeks after that, however, the aircraft that you see pictured here appeared on eBay and, this time, I prevailed.

I must compliment the seller, who goes by the handle of cjwile on eBay. The toy was shipped promptly, finding its way all the way from San Antonio, Texas, to my humble southern Ontario home, within a single week. It was very nicely packaged and arrived in excellent condition, looking exactly as it did in the pictures posted on eBay.

I was somewhat disappointed, when I first turned the jet on, to find that the two inboard engines no longer light. I don't fault the seller for this. She never claimed that all the engines lit up; only that the toy worked, which it does. I chastise myself for neglecting to ask. Even so, had I known of this slight deficiency, I would likely have purchased the airplane anyway. It's not as though I plan to spend hours actually running it. It will become a treasured display piece.

Apparently, this particular toy is not at all rare, despite its age. I've seen several examples on-line now and there have already been more since I purchased mine. It must have been a very popular toy in its day, and the fact that there seem to be a fair number out there still in good, working condition over 40 years after the Louis Marx Company stopped producing them is a testament to their quality.

To begin with, the airplane is made mostly of tin, not plastic. This makes it much lighter than it would be if made of plastic, and gives it a much shinier finish. The markings, including the TWA logo, the passenger windows and the cockpit windows are painted on. They are not stickers or decals. In fact, the entire aircraft appears to have been spray painted and then had a clear coat of lacquer applied for an extra glossy finish and added protection.

I was amazed to learn, after doing some more creative Googling, that this toy jet plane is actually modeled after a real one; specifically a TWA Boeing 707. I found a picture of the actual aircraft on and found that the markings have been more or less faithfully reproduced, right down to the registration number on the tail! When's the last time you saw that amount of attention to detail in a toy?

Touches like this doubtless made this toy costlier to produce but they also make it more attractive and durable. Decals or stickers would surely peel away or fade over time. Aside from a few minor scratches, this toy looks almost like new. I did some reading up on the Louis Marx Company after I found this airplane. Back in the 1950's, they were the world's biggest toy maker, and I'm certain that this had to do with the company's motto, "Quality is not optional".

Judging by this particular toy, this was more than just an impressive-sounding slogan for the Marx toy company. Nobody makes toys like this anymore today.

Today, almost all toys are made of plastic and pre-printed decals are applied instead of painting the markings because it's cheaper and maximizes profit. Sadly, that's all that today's manufacturers seem concerned about. Nobody seems to take any pride in what they produce anymore because pride doesn't contribute to the bottom line.

I don't lay the blame for this entirely at the feet of the manufacturers. The consumer is as much at fault. How many of us are willing to pay a little extra for quality workmanship? Too many people look only at the price tag. By doing this, we encourage manufacturers to cut corners wherever possible to minimize costs. They're only giving us exactly what we ask for.

Okay, I'll dismount my soap box for this week. I got my airplane, and I feel good about that. I feel as though I got a little piece of my childhood back.

Memories, especially old memories, can sometimes feel almost like dreams. Think of a vivid dream that you've had, and then compare it to an old memory. Don't they seem much the same? Both were just as real in your experience. How can you be sure that the memory actually happened? This is not an original idea of my own. I believe Marcel Proust essentially said the same thing.

Until recently, I had this memory of a toy airplane that I owned as a very young child. I couldn't remember exactly what the airplane looked like. I remembered that it was red, white and silver, that its engines flashed on and off with red lights and that it made a loud, piercing sound. I didn't know who made it and I hadn't seen one like it since. Perhaps I had only dreamed it? But now, I know that I didn't only dream it, because I have something tangible; something that I can see and hear and touch. My airplane has become real again.

Since it was an old photograph of my sister and myself that led me to find my beloved toy jet plane, I thought it only appropriate to bring things around full circle, as it were, and close this chapter of my life with an updated photograph, showing me, my sister, and the legendary airplane, reunited at last, after all these years.