War with Japan, Peace, and Reconciliation: The Obon Society

We arrived home several days ago from a wonderful nine-day vacation trip visiting the north coast of Oregon. Upon arriving in Portland via Southwest Airlines, we rented a car and headed for the coastal town of Astoria.

We had several goals while visiting Astoria: chief among them was the desire to visit the terminus of the famous Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804. We were also aware of a fine maritime museum just inside the treacherous “Columbia Bar,” where the mighty Columbia River disgorges huge volumes of water into the Pacific Ocean. The “Bar” is justly known as “the graveyard of the Pacific” for the many ships lost in its treacherous waters. We were not disappointed in the quality of the Columbia River Maritime Museum.

During our nine days of travel and exploration which ended back in Portland, we experienced many interesting places and sights including the mammoth “Spruce Goose” seaplane built by Howard Hughes in the mid-nineteen forties. The “Goose” remains the largest airplane ever built…entirely of plywood! It flew but once in 1947 – for a whole fifteen seconds! It has been in drydock ever since and is now on permanent display at the Evergreen Aviation Museum near McMinnville, Oregon. Fascinating and breathtaking are applicable words to describe the experience of seeing the Spruce Goose in person!

And, yet, the most absorbing and poignant experience on our trip occurred in Astoria, our first stop along the way. An exhibit at the Columbia River Maritime Museum documented the story of the Yosegaki Hinomaru and the Astoria-based Obon Society. The Yosegaki Hinomaru is a flag of Japan carried into battle by Japanese soldiers during World War II. It was tradition to have family and friends inscribe their well-wishes and prayers on the flag for the soldier carrying it off to war. Large numbers of these flags, like their owners, never made their way back to Japan. Many of these flags were captured by American troops and brought home as souvenirs of the war.

The Obon Society is a non-profit organization founded by a husband and wife team from Astoria. The society’s mission is to facilitate the return of captured flags to descendants of those who carried them off to war. This, to provide a final chapter in the decades-long reconciliation with Japan. The society has a moving exhibit in the maritime museum explaining their work and displaying many examples of the Yosegaki Hinomaru.

I found the display most moving and thought-provoking. Above, a young soldier is wearing a sash with his flag attached, surrounded by family and friends and about to leave home, possibly never to return.

Here, a very young soldier proudly displays his Yosegaki Hinomaru on his way to war.

Many are the yellowed photographs still lovingly preserved by descendants of American soldiers – images which depict these Yosegaki Hinomaru as spoils of war, taken from fallen Japanese warriors. For the most part, these unique and personal flags made their way back to the states and were tucked away in trunks stored in the attics of countless places like Akron, Ohio, Poughkeepsie, New York, and Indianapolis, Indiana. In many cases, they lay undisturbed and undiscovered in those locations for years until found by descendants curious about the contents of those old trunks in the attic.

Here, Iwo Jima marines display their captured flag. The sharp creases indicate the many folds necessary for its owner to carry it on his person into battle.

We found this exhibit by the Obon Society to be extremely interesting and moving – a totally unexpected experience as we worked our way through Astoria’s fine maritime museum. The images speak volumes to any discussion of war and the nature of humanity. After World War II, when tensions began to subside and travel/communications were greatly improved, many American fighter pilots who flew against the Germans wanted nothing to do with their Nazi counterparts at the various “reunions” of flying warriors from both sides which began to materialize. For some of these American pilots, it took a while for time to heal wounds and attitudes toward their former adversaries. Most of the Americans eventually acknowledged that their former Nazi enemies in the skies were fighting to protect the homeland, just as they were. Many of the flyers from both sides became fast friends while acknowledging their common humanity in the years that followed.

Most touching of all in the Obon Society’s exhibit was a short video presentation titled Yosegaki Hinomaru Tsukashima Return which chronicles the return of one warrior’s flag to the younger brother of its owner who never returned from the war. What a mind-bender it is to witness the emotional reaction of the flag’s new owner as he recognizes some of the signatures that were laid down so many decades ago. Tearfully, he says, “You have finally returned home!”

To the Obon Society: Well done! Your efforts and the work of other such organizations constitute the glue which can cement the future hopes of peace on this planet. Recognition that our common humanity is far more significant than our differences is the message sent and, hopefully, received by men and women of good will.

An Evening with Trumpeter Chris Botti

Last Thursday, Linda and I spent an evening with Chris Botti in concert. The venue for this performance was the magnificent outdoor theatre at nearby Villa Montalvo. We were blessed with a magnificent, warm evening and a convincing show of trumpet/musical artistry from this fine performer.

Mr. Botti is no longer new to the musical scene, but he represents something rare today: a popular trumpet player who stands apart, one who reaffirms the beauty, the grace, and the versatility of this magnificent instrument.

From the era of the nineteen-twenties through the nineteen-seventies, the musical scene was peppered with trumpet/cornet icons, memorable players who popularized the instruments to a fantastic degree. I am talking about names such as Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbeck, Harry James, Randy Brooks, Bobby Hackett, Ray Anthony, and Al Hirt. Of course, the wild popularity of the big-bands beginning in the nineteen-thirties provided unparalleled opportunity for the great lead trumpeters and drummers (like Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich) to show their stuff and shine as they “drove” the band, together.

With the great shift away from big-bands and their economic woes that began in the late nineteen-forties, vocalists and small groups came to the fore. The trumpet lost its “home” as the lead instrument in the great bands, and began a slide from public view, excepting the many great modern jazz players like Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis. But modern jazz has never been the popular “cup of tea” that the big-bands represented, and the trumpet virtually disappeared from the public’s view in the nineteen-seventies as rock-and-roll and its electric guitars presided.

So, Chris Botti represents somewhat of a “Lazarus act” for the trumpet, and I am glad to see it. He has a unique style which balances a strong jazz inclination, with a distinctly lyrical sensibility to his playing. Technically, he is a “force” on the trumpet, very much in command of the instrument and all its possibilities. And when Mr. Botti cuts loose on some of the wilder numbers, he blows the roof off, so to speak. He commands the stage and the respect of the other performers in a good way, driving and encouraging them to give their all – and they do!

We enjoyed the evening as did the audience; I left the venue assured that Chris Botti is, indeed, a force on the trumpet and pleased that the instrument has such an able and popular spokesman, once again.

Somewhere, Harry James is smiling.

Get America Moving Again: Reform Campaign Finance!

Yesterday, I watched day two of the Democratic debates in Detroit, Michigan. My overwhelming conclusion? Despite two debates with twenty candidates sparring over the best ways to solve the many problems this country faces, all but one candidate literally could not or would not see the forest for the trees.

The candidates stand during the national anthem on the first night of the second 2020 Democratic U.S. presidential debate in Detroit, Michigan, July 30, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

The candidate running for president of the United States who enunciated clearly the single most important problem we face was ironically the most unlikely to win the Democratic nomination. That candidate was author Maryanne Williamson, on day one of the debates.

In the middle of a discussion over gun safety in this country, she was asked by CNN moderator Don Lemon: Ms. Williamson, how do you respond to this issue of gun safety? She responded:

The issue of gun safety, of course, is that the NRA has us in a chokehold, but so do the pharmaceutical companies, so do the health insurance companies, so do the fossil fuel companies, and so do the defense contractors, and none of this will change until we either pass a constitutional amendment or pass legislation that establishes public funding for federal campaigns.

But for politicians, including my fellow candidates, who themselves have taken tens of thousands — and in some cases, hundreds of thousands — of dollars from these same corporate donors to think that they now have the moral authority to say we’re going to take them on, I don’t think the Democratic Party should be surprised that so many Americans believe yada, yada, yada.

(SIGNIFICANT APPLAUSE)

It is time for us to start over with people who have not taken donations from any of those corporations and can say with real moral authority: That is over. We are going to establish public funding for federal campaigns. That’s what we need to stand up to.

We need to have a constitutional amendment. We need to have — we need to have legislation to do it.

I have heard candidate Bernie Sanders espouse similar viewpoints in the past, but Ms. Williamson’s remarks during these debates stood alone…and tall.

Many promises and good intentions were bandied about among the candidates in Detroit. Here are just a few:

-Reform our health-care system.

-Crack-down on powerful pharmaceutical companies which charge Americans outrageous prices for critical medicines.

-Reduce fossil fuels within ten years to protect our planet from climate change.

-Rein-in the military/industrial complex in this country which has played a role in some of our unnecessary and unwise involvements, abroad.

-Abolish assault weapons and enforce effective gun registration.

The list is long, but I ask the candidates: Do you truly believe any necessary, constructive change can take place when congressional members are largely bought and paid for by the lobbyists who (very successfully) influence legislation on behalf of their powerful clients? Come on, candidates, get serious! Follow the money. Legislate that all campaign finance for government office be taxpayer-funded and strictly regulated.

The pay-for-play system prevalent in our government, today, places us precariously on the slippery-slope leading to a completely corrupt government. Never, has that been more evident.

Apollo 11: One Giant Leap for Mankind!

Fifty Years ago, yesterday, a Saturn 5 rocket lifted off its launch pad at Cape Kennedy, Florida, on one of the most audacious adventures in the history of mankind. On board were three “spacemen” adventurers who carried the hopes and aspirations of people the world over on their shoulders.

The goal: to land a man on the moon’s surface and bring him safely back to mother earth. The odds of success? In 1961, when President Kennedy pronounced his determination for the nation to accomplish this before the end of the decade, many of the engineers with experience on the program which had not yet even sent Mercury astronaut John Glenn into local earth orbit thought Kennedy’s goal… “nuts.”

By the sheer force of national will fueled by an open checkbook for NASA from Washington, Kennedy’s daring commitment was realized. With over five months to spare before the decade’s end, astronauts Neal Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin landed on the lunar surface on July 20, 1969. The confirmation came as Armstrong beamed back to earth, the message, “…the Eagle has landed.”

July 16, 1969 dawned bright and mostly clear over the Florida Cape. On that momentous day, the mighty Saturn 5 rocket with its crew of Armstrong, Aldrin, and Michael Collins, ponderously lifted from earth on a thundering plume of fire and smoke. The spectacle and the sound of it mesmerized the thousands who came to watch the launch for themselves. Even at the more distant viewing points from the launch pad, the rolling, rumbling thunder emanating from the engines of the Saturn 5 was sufficient to rattle windows and elicit speculations regarding the power and fury of whatever powers might ultimately bring about the end of the earth, itself.

Speaking less from a poetic standpoint and strictly from that of the rocket engineers who designed her, the mighty Saturn 5 at lift-off was developing 7.5 million pounds of upward thrust by expelling 15 tons per second of combustion materials from its five engine nozzles! These are incredible numbers.

 

      

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     Wernher Von Braun and the business end of the Saturn 5 rocket

This was Isaac Newton’s third law of motion on full and mighty display:
    For every action, there results an equal and opposite reaction.

In full accordance with Newton’s third law, the forces within the combustion chambers, required to violently expel fifteen tons per second of combustion products from the rocket’s nozzles in a downward direction gave rise to equal and opposite reaction forces on the upper, closed walls of the combustion chambers. It is this reaction force which provides the requisite upward thrust to the Saturn 5. One can appreciate the rolling, earth-shaking thunder which was experienced far and wide during a Saturn 5 launch when the violence taking place within its combustion chambers is fully appreciated.

It is poetic justice that the fundamental principle behind rocket propulsion should stem from the fertile mind of Isaac Newton as first revealed in his Principia of 1687, the greatest scientific book ever published!

We celebrate, today, not only the complete success of Apollo 11 as a mission, but the spirit and can-do attitudes of NASA, President Kennedy, Congress, and the American people who were all-in with their support and enthusiasm for the Apollo 11 program. Those several days when space was truly opened for exploration will stand in the record of this nation as among the best of times for America, notwithstanding the array of “other” concerns which faced us then.

The cold war with the Soviets was one of those concerns, and anyone who has paid attention to America’s many triumphs in space will appreciate that a major impetus for Kennedy to issue his man-on-the-moon challenge in 1961 was the realization that space exploration meant rocket technology and rocket technology was key to our nuclear missile defenses and our national security. Despite the need for such gnawing pragmatism in the space program, the altruistic legacy of man’s exploration of outer space remains first and foremost in the consciousness of the American people.

Like Pearl Harbor, VE-day in World War II, President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, and 9/11 in 2001, Apollo 11 was one of those generational events which remain a life-long memory for those who lived through them. I remember clearly where I was and what I was doing fifty years ago. Linda and I were living in Santa Barbara, California, and I was half-way through my Masters Degree in electrical engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara. We were renting half of a wonderful hillside duplex which overlooked that beautiful city with a line of sight toward the city harbor and west to the Pacific Ocean. As we intently watched all aspects of the Apollo launch on our little 19-inch black-and-white television during those several days, I recall countless time-outs to our front terrace-porch with coffee cup in-hand where I could enjoy the city view spread out below me while reflectively musing about the wonder of all that was happening on man’s remarkable journey to the moon and back. The few years we lived there encompassed some of the happiest times and circumstances of our young married lives; the triumphal success of Apollo 11 in July of 1969 played no small part in those special times for us and continues to provide joy in recollecting.

I have just finished watching the newly released DVD movie, Apollo 11, with my two young grandsons. The movie rates five-stars plus and does full justice to the drama and excitement of the event. As the movie ended, I counseled Matthew, my older grandson, that the times, the attitudes, and the circumstances which combined to make made Apollo 11 possible will represent a marker in humanity’s timeline, a marker which will always be remembered as “One giant leap for mankind.”

As a retired electrical engineer, I take time to reflect upon the countless scientific and technical people who made the moon landing possible:

-The physicists like Galileo, Newton, and Einstein who first unmasked the nature of gravity and the laws of motion.
-The electrical engineers/physicists who tamed electricity: men like Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell.
-The metallurgists who, over many decades, came to understand the nature and strength of materials – titanium, for example, found in the rocket nozzles of Saturn.
-The “ordinary” electrical and mechanical engineers and computer programmers who designed the immense support platform of equipment needed to support a mission like Apollo 11.
-The countless, faceless, folks who are so large in number, but nevertheless provided critical skills and support in management and mission control.
-The technician who was called upon when a leaky valve on the rocket halted the countdown before launch. With, virtually, the eyes of the world upon him, he entered the rocket assembly some two-hundred feet above the pad to tighten some bolts in order to mitigate the situation. I can only imagine the pressures on this fellow who remains faceless and nameless. He has lived with quite a memory of that time and his role in it, I am certain.

And, finally, there were the dreamers, the ancient astronomers (natural philosophers) who looked to the heavens in wonderment centuries ago and asked, “How and why is this?”

 

 

Bye-Bye Birdie: My Recent Intervention with “Chickadees”

June 15, 2019: Yesterday was replete with both a happy ending and a sad one. The story began two days earlier when my wife and I arrived home after our regular workout at the local gym. We were not home long when Linda informed me that we had “birds in the garage.” Sure enough, there were at least two small, apparently very young birds flitting around among the exposed rafters: wonderful!

I immediately knew this could be a significant problem and could only wonder how multiple birds got into our seemingly (but not quite) airtight garage. As best we could recall, neither the large garage door nor the small side door had been left open for any period of time, recently!

After the two of us watched the tiny aviary flying to-and-fro within the garage, Linda opened the back door to briefly go into the house. At that point, one of the birds in flight headed right for the open doorway to the house which caused Linda to panic and to quickly close the door while retreating back into the garage.

Taking a cue from that, I figured we merely had to open the main garage door and the little denizens of our very own accidental aviary would head for daylight and freedom. Up came the door and we were greeted immediately with the sight of another small bird trying to get into the garage! We waved our arms and the new invader turned back. At the same time, neither of the two “captive inmates” showed any inclination to fly out to freedom.

What is going on here, I wondered? I soon deduced that the third bird was likely the mother bird, well-aware that two of her newly flight-qualified charges were somehow inside our garage. Further attempts to open the main garage door while patrolling outside to discourage mama from entering proved fruitless. The two tiny flyers inside, so recently flight-qualified, seemed not to recognize that they belonged outside, in the daylight and fresh air and not inside our garage. Daylight was not synonymous with freedom, to them, apparently.

Now, I knew we really had a problem. Another wrinkle to the situation: Linda is a bit terrified by the prospect of any close, personal encounter with birds, living or dead. More than once in our fifty-two years together, I have been despatched to her beloved garden to remove a dead bird from the flower beds. A dead bird discovery in her garden evokes an immediate freak-out from Linda.

What to do with these newbie birdies? I spent much of last Wed. evening and a good part of Thursday in the garage with my large, bright LED flashlight scanning the darker regions of the overhead rafters and the racks of storage boxes in the garage. Before long, the frenzied flying about was done; now, I had to audibly track the frequent and persistent squawky-peeps emanating from various corners of the garage in order to catch them in the beam of my flashlight. Wednesday evening, realizing the dire situation, I ordered a bird net from Amazon: two day delivery!

Once I located one of the birds in the beam of my flashlight, I would try to “coax” it to re-locate to a spot where I might capture it without harm. I armed myself with a large, wet rag to toss over a cornered or surprised bird. That led to several quite humorous, but decidedly unsuccessful encounters: they were too wily and quick for me! Before long, I concluded that my best option was to stun them a bit on their perch or in mid-air using my damp rag balled-up as a projectile. That did not work. My last resort was to gently swat them in mid-flight with the bristles of a broom, enough to stun them to the ground where I could employ my wet rag capture. Tracking flying birds in our garage which is crowded with boxes and stuff of all sorts means risking life and limb – a nearly impossible and dangerous mission.

I had the feeling that leaving the garage doors open for extended periods might only invite the mother (and other of the flock) inside. Besides, these confused baby birds seemed unable to recognize the freedom represented by daylight. They acted as if the garage were “home.”

More than once, after fruitlessly stalking these birdies for well over half an hour at a time, I would declare out loud, “I am done with these birds!” My LED flashlight batteries needed replacing, and I was discouraged, but I found myself unable to resist for long, going back to the garage to try some more, consumed by a stubborn persistence!

Finally, on Thursday afternoon, I left the side garage door open and tried, yet again, to roust the uninvited residents of my garage and herd them with a broom toward daylight. I was 90% certain that one of them actually flew out the side door after considerable effort on my part. I thought I saw it out of the corner of my eye! Before he and/or others might decide to come back in, I closed the door, confident that I had but one uninvited guest remaining.

Now, it is Friday morning, and time is running out. The bird net I ordered from Amazon was not due until that evening, and I figured that a rescue was paramount before the end of the day. Without food and water, our uninvited guest surely could not last much longer, it seemed. That morning, I went out to the garage with my trusty flashlight, and my wet rag. Sure enough, there were still some weakly audible, squawky-peeps to be heard. When rousted, the little bird’s flight was slow and labored. At one point, the little flyer fluttered to the floor of the garage, exhausted, where I finally was able to cover him with my wet rag.

Scooping him up ever so carefully within the rag, I opened the side door to be greeted immediately by mama bird who quickly retreated when I stepped outside. She surely could hear her charge’s weak, squawky-peeps through the side door. Carefully, I laid the rag and its squirming little captive on the sidewalk and gently peeled back the flap covering him. The exhausted, cute little down-covered flyer was able to gain his feet, fluff himself up, and sit there motionless with eyes half-closed. I retreated several yards back, and, sure enough, mama bird was quickly there. Linda and I placed some water and crushed

cracker crumbs next to birdie, doing what little we could.

I spent close to a half-hour watching with fascination how mama bird energetically worked the various plants and bushes nearby, apparently looking for food. Twice, she went up to birdie and ostensibly transferred some sustenance to him beak-to-beak. She then departed for a while, only to come back, yet again, to check on her charge.
I came back later and found that birdie had moved off the sidewalk and onto the adjacent dirt strip – a wise move for the purposes of camouflage, if nothing else. Another half-hour passed, and I returned to find birdie still in place. I carefully attempted to place his water next to him and was startled when suddenly he took flight smoothly and straight to a bush some fifteen yards away – a very good and welcome sign! I have not seen him since, but, after what I have witnessed, I have no doubt that mama bird found him fairly quickly. Perhaps she has a few more lessons to impart before finally letting go!

The Final Chapter

Our Friday morning trip to the gym was long-delayed by the events described above, but we left happy in the knowledge that the little bird we rescued now had a chance at life. I heard no squawky-peeps in the garage prior to finally heading out for our workout. After the gym, we had not been home but a few minutes when Linda came to tell me she found a dead bird. My heart sank as I followed her to find out where she discovered the bird. Surprisingly, the bird was lying on the floor inside the garage, close to the side garage door. I immediately surmised that the second bird which I had thought flew out the open side door the day before, must not have done so. A wad of dust-balls from underneath some nearby cabinets was clinging to its feet. Sad was I, yet happy that the rescued birdie was still alive out there, somewhere, hopefully with a life ahead of him/her.

I learned a lot about these little birds during my three-day, up-close and personal interaction with them. Despite having small, “bird-brains,” they are hard-wired by mother nature with a strong instinct to survive. The mother/young bond on display throughout the three days was emblematic of that instinct. The endurance of the baby birds was evident by all the flying in a warm garage and the constant stream of squawky-peeps emitted from them, cries for help that the mother bird duly heeded.

I call these little birds “chickadees” for want of any more expertise. They are recent arrivals (within the last several years) in our neighborhood. Many are the times I have watched through the patio window as they deftly made their way among the plants outside, looking for dinner. My admiration for them has only grown deeper, given this recent experience.

Postscript: How Did They Get into the Garage?

Soon after discovering these little “garage invaders,” I employed my ladder to investigate. I was aware of a small masonry ledge just under the front eaves at the corner of the garage door where there was bird activity in years past. As I climbed to eye level with the ledge, an adult chickadee flew around the corner of the garage and landed on the ledge, not two feet from my nose. That startled me, and my unexpected presence there apparently startled the bird as well which left as quickly as it appeared. “That must be the mother bird,” I thought, and she seems familiar with the territory. A few moments later, I noticed the mother three feet away, peering at me around the corner of the garage while hanging tenaciously on to the side brick masonry which extends around the corner. One look from me, and she was gone, again.
My investigation revealed a construction area/strip about one inch high where the chicken wire underlay (for stucco) was exposed. But it was backed by a rafter – except for a two-inch length at the end. There, nothing showed behind the wire except a black hole! Despite the small diameter openings in the chicken-wire (approximately one inch), those birds somehow found their way through that area and into the garage. A rag is now stuffed into the narrow ledge opening outside. I expect no further Chickadee invasions!

A Young Boy’s Toys: The Rex Mays Toy Racer and the Story Behind It

In one’s late years, as time and life continue to move inexorably forward, a curious thing happens – at least to me. Certain objects and images we recall from our youth surface from a long-dormant state to beguile our memory and to re-kindle a new-born enthusiasm: a recollection of our youth and the things that mattered most to us in childhood.

Two of my favorite play-things early in life were my American Flyer electric train and a much less spectacular, nonetheless coveted, plastic wind-up Indy-style race car. Through the many decades since childhood, and for some obscure reasons, the recollection of that little motorized race car as one of my favorite toys stubbornly remained with me. I believe the jaunty little toy racer came to me around the time that my family moved from Chicago to California in early 1948. Special toys for my sister and I were few and far between in the lean postwar years, and this toy car was highly prized. I recall that my racer was made of light-blue plastic with an ivory-colored “underbelly,” and it had substantial, real rubber tires mounted on aluminum wheels. The car just looked “neat,” and it ran well: the wind-up motor could get it up to a pretty good speed on any extended smooth surface. My little race car disappeared many decades ago, and I never thought it likely that I would ever see one like it again.

Serendipity at the Pleasanton Antique Fair

Two years ago, at the annual Pleasanton, California, open-air antique fair, I found a suspiciously similar wind-up plastic race car with the exact same tires/wheels as my prized toy of over seventy years ago. Although the shape of its grey plastic body was somewhat different from the memories of mine, the wheels and tires registered exactly with my mental images. This car also differed in that it had a red plastic driver seated behind the steering wheel: mine did not. Despite not being exactly like mine, this “find” piqued my curiosity. The car came with its original, very nice box (rarely the case), and it was in good working condition, as well. I just knew this car had to be descended from my boyhood racer. For nostalgia’s sake, I made the dealer an offer: sixty dollars, and it was mine.

An imprint molded on the plastic bottom of the car reads:

MFG. BY PAGLIUSO MFG. CO.
GLENDALE 4. CALIF. USA

On the bottom of the box for the “Pagco Jet Racing Car,” the legend reads:

Manufactured by the makers of the original famous Rex Mays toy racer.
PAGLIUSO ENGINEERING COMPANY
113 West Harvard Street – Glendale 4, California, USA

 

 

Immediately, I deduced the possibility that my prized boyhood race car might have been “the original famous Rex Mays toy racer!” referred to on the box. And, by the way, who was Rex Mays, anyway?

My wife, Linda, and I were both intrigued by the fact that the Pagliuso Engineering Company was long ago located in Glendale, California – the city of her birth.

After acquiring an apparent “descendent” of my boyhood treasure at the Pleasanton Fair, I commenced to do what I do, and I began to Google the internet for information. I quickly verified that the “Rex Mays toy racer” was made under the name “Rite Spot Plastic Prod.” by the same company at the same Glendale address as my recent purchase, the “Pagco Jet Racing Car.” I deduced that my recent purchase was likely manufactured ten to twenty years after the Mays toy racer was produced which could place the latter date somewhere in the late nineteen-forties.

The Final Proof!

A distributor’s advertisement cut from a vintage, contemporary magazine surfaced for sale on E-Bay for several dollars. The ad offered the Rex Mays Racer with “free-wheeling motor” and “rubber tires”…all for $2.50 postpaid! The small ad included a picture of the racer offered. One look, and I could see: that was my little car – exactly, in all respects! I purchased the original ad.

What does the experience described in this post mean to me? Adding substance to the remaining mental imagery of my long-gone racer via the miracle of Google and the internet is yet another instance of the good and the joy that technology can bring to our lives. To the rest of the world, my experience with this toy race car will appear trivial, yet it illustrates convincingly the power of the internet. For me, on a very personal level, the experience has enabled a mental (and physical) reunion with the times, the toys, and the enthusiasms of a young lad some seventy years ago. And, at my age, that proves to be symbolic and satisfying – the closing of a circular journey back to my distant past, a time-tunnel to my boyhood.

Two days ago, I placed an internet order for a Rex Mays toy racer, exactly like my old blue over ivory car except that this one is a rare sea-green color over ivory (pictured earlier). Instead of $2.50 postpaid, this one cost $75, shipping extra! The little car arrived yesterday in great condition. I was not disappointed.

My new car has the following legend embossed on the bottom:

MFD BY
RITE SPOT PLASTIC PROD
113 W. HARVARD
GLENDALE 4 CALIF.
MADE IN U.S.A.

“Rite Spot Plastic Prod” on this car was clearly affiliated with “Pagliuso Engineering” as marked on my earlier Pleasanton Fair purchase: the Glendale addresses are identical.

It so happens that surviving examples of this little car are available “out there” (who could have found them fifteen years ago?). Most of these toy race cars were “heavily enjoyed” by their youthful owners, so the significant challenge is to locate one in nice condition and good working order. Who knows, the remnants of my original, treasured little race car might still be out there, somewhere, on that vast sea of possibilities called “the internet.”

And Finally, Who Was Rex Mays?

Rex Mays was a very popular champion race car driver in the nineteen-thirties and forties with many important race victories. Although placing second twice at the Indianapolis Speedway 500, he never won there. In 1949, during a race at Del Mar, California, Mays lost control of his car and was killed. Press coverage of the event and the accident was widespread: a stop-action series of published photos in Life Magazine showed the grisly details of Mays’ ejection out of the car and onto the track where he was then run-over by another car coming along. Rex Mays, it seems, adamantly refused to wear a seat belt on the racetrack! It is not clear whether the introduction of the Rex Mays toy racer occurred before or after his fatal accident: most likely before, I imagine.

The Rest of the Story

In the course of my internet travels while unraveling the story of the Rex Mays toy racer, I came across this very applicable obituary on the founder of the Pagliuso Engineering Company in Glendale, California. Robert J. Pagliuso was evidently a very successful engineer/entrepreneur. In addition to his very popular motorized toy race cars (both gas-powered and wind-up), I learned that his photography tripods were considered the Rolls-Royce of the genre. It seems fitting that his story be a part of mine in this post!

Published in the Los Angeles Times on Oct. 23, 2003:

Pagliuso, Robert J.
On April 14. 1913, Robert J. Pagliuso (Bud) was born to immigrant parents in Glendale, California. He was raised on 11,000 acres known as The Ross Ranch. Bud and his brother John attended Glendale High School where both were student body presidents. Bud attended USC and from there he studied several fields of advanced engineering. As a young entrepreneur, he founded the Pagliuso Engineering Company. Through the duration of WWII, he contracted with the U.S. Government and operated his facilities 24 hours a day. Additionally, he designed, patented and manufactured his Hollywood Tripod and motor driven toy racecars which were distributed throughout the world. Bud and John developed and owned The Glendale Plaza Shopping Center which remains in the family. Bud went on to develop other commercial real estate holdings in LA County and cattle and horse ranches in Kern County. He bred, raised and raced thoroughbred running horses.

One Last Comment

The stories I have related in this post epitomize, for me, the differences that exist between growing-up as a young boy in today’s world and coming of age in the environment of the nineteen-forties and fifties. I wrote this post because it strikes me as quaint that a little, unsophisticated plastic wind-up race car could have captured a young boy’s fancy as was the case with me. This post expresses my interest in the contrasts between then and now.

In today’s world, high-tech, lithium battery-powered robotic toys which flash, move, and talk while creating a virtual new reality are the play-things that capture young boys’ attention – not that there is anything wrong with that. There is no stopping technological progress: that is a given. With my electrical engineering background, I can appreciate what is available in today’s toy/hobby venues, but the bar is very high for modern toys.

The wind-up Rex Mays toy racer and simple toys like it, back in the day, captured – and held – the imagination and appreciation of us kids for a very long time. The culture of those times and the role of play-time “imagination” had much to do with the attraction and staying power of simpler toys. Will the same hold true for today’s toys, or is it already time to move on to the next, big thing? Could it be that less is more?

Doris Day Is Gone; She Was One of a Kind: Never Before and Never Again

Yesterday, Linda and I attended the Sunday Matinee at the Stanford Theatre which featured the film, Pajama Game starring Doris Day. The double bill also featured her in Calamity Jane. We left the theatre last evening totally entertained, musing that we had just seen one of Hollywood’s finest talents, ever, once-again lighting-up the screen with fabulous performances. Not having seen these two films, but well versed in Doris Day, we expected no less. We felt compelled to be there.

This morning, our clock radio came to life at 5:40 am with the news that Doris Day had just left this world after ninety-seven years of a life packed full of living and great accomplishment in the arts!

I have always really liked Doris Day, along with millions of others. Perhaps my favorite performance of hers was a co-starring role with Jimmy Stewart in Alfred Hitchcock’s great film, The Man Who Knew Too Much. In it she plays a young wife to Stewart whose young son is kidnapped in a Marrakesh bazaar while on a trip abroad. Her character in the film is as fresh and natural as sunlight: her acting is superb.

Everyone has their distinct favorites when it comes to movies, the stars, and the scenes they played. Doris Day gets my vote for the best-acted scene in any movie in Hitchcock’s aforementioned film. The scene: Stewart has just learned that their young son, Hank, has disappeared in a Marrakesh bazaar not because he became separated in the milling crowd, but because he has been kidnapped in an international plot of political intrigue. When he breaks the news to his wife, Jo (Doris Day), she breaks down in an hysterical fit of uncontrolled emotions.

Her acting in that scene is as touching and compelling as any I have ever witnessed on the screen. Since I first saw Hitchcock’s film as a teen-ager in the nineteen-fifties, I have respected Doris Day as far more than a pert and pretty Hollywood face. She could act, she could sing, and she could dance. And could she sing! One of her great hit records, Que Sera, Sera, made its film debut in The Man Who Knew Too Much.

Day began her career in the nineteen-forties as a big-band singer for Les Brown and His Band of Reknown. Her greatest post-war recording hit with Brown was the famous tune, Sentimental Journey. Her voice possessed a sweetness and a vocal clarity that was equalled by only one other pop vocalist of the era, Eydie Gorme. Like Gorme, Day’s clear diction while conveying the lyics was superb as well.

Another, lesser known starring role for Doris Day paired her with Kirk Douglas in the 1950 film, Young Man With a Horn. She (convincingly) played a band singer who fell in with a young trumpet player whose attentions were divided between Day and her best friend, portrayed by a young Lauren Bacall. While I enjoyed Doris Day very much in that film, the film’s greatest claim to fame was the featured trumpet playing, all dubbed-in by the great Harry James on a sparkling-clear soundtrack.

Young Man With a Horn featured yet another of my all-time favorite movie scenes. In it, Day and Douglas visit a sophisticated jazz nightclub in which his former trumpet teacher/mentor is performing with a small combo. When the mentor recognizes his former pupil in the audience, he invites Douglas up on the stage to play for the audience. And play he (Harry James) does! James’s rendition of With a Song in My Heart is enough to send chills up and down the spine. The entire scene is mesmerzing, with the audience a-buzz at what they just heard and Day with tears in her eyes back at their table.

For the girl who seemed to have it all, Doris Day reportedly paid a heavy price for her fame and fortune. Married four times, her spousal choices were highly problematic. When third husband Marty Melcher died in 1968, she shockingly discovered that her presumed financial security was an illusion. To her complete shock, she learned that Melcher and his financial associates had mis-managed much of the fortune she had earned while at the peak of her career. She found herself forced to continue working at a time in life when she should have been solidly financially independent.

I have not read her autobiography yet, but I understand it is butally direct and honest. The prevailing message: Doris Day was not about to be defined by such popular illusions as exemplified by: “the girl next door.” Doris Day was apparently not an uncomplicated woman.

What is clearly uncomplicated and easy to digest is the vinyl and celluoloid evidence she left behind that tells us we will not see the likes of her ever again.