When we arrived, it was sunset already, and went to our desks, but we took our coats along with us, because we would soon be leaving for the church service soon. All dressed in our Sunday best, making fun of the way everybody's parents had dressed them. The teacher calls the class to order, panic time is here. One last fast run-through of the recitations has us convinced that we have forgotten everything. The previous two or three weeks of classes, largely devoted to learning these parts, all for naught. It is SHOW TIME! In the few remaining moments before final assembly, we compare notes on our family Christmas celebrations, and, mostly, our Christmas presents. Some have already opened their gifts, some have to wait until tomorrow morning, some are so cool they know already what they're getting, so it doesn't matter. Ah, adolescence! Too cool to care. Ya, sure. Tonight, we have not one but two performances. The Christmas service attendance is so large that one service couldn't hold all the spectators. Between the services, we return to the classroom, where the "room mothers" (volunteer parents) serve s cookies and juice. We were the sought-after commodity, the stars of the show. Classes line up and march out of the classroom, single file, in the exact order of our pews. There are approximately 300 of us. We are directed to the sidewalk, class by class, and march over to the church, where we wait outside for the beginning of the service processional, signaled by the church bells. Standing in the magical icy Christmas stillness, we are still talking about presents, but, in somewhat muted tones, because we're not supposed to be talking at all. And, finally, from the church steeple, a creaking from the steeple means the bells are about to ring. The familiar Ding Dong starts to peal from the steeple, in and out of sync with one another as each bell tolls at its own rate. And tonight, there's an extra bell a third voice that we has never heard from our steeple before. A third bell. Higher-pitched, and much faster tolling rate, this bell doesn't at first seem to belong with the other two, as if from some other church steeple, but then one discovers that this bell adds its joy to the special occasions celebrated by the other bells. The director this year is Mr. Brauer, the music teacher. He played the violin and looked and sounded, appropriately, like Jack Benny. During various numbers, including the processional, he picks up his violin and soars over the melody with a beautiful descant. The church is packed to capacity as we enter. The church hits us all at once, it's warm, it's bright, it's full of sound, full of joy. The still dark tree in the front, must have been about 16 feet high. As the last of the procession goes into the front pews, the tree sprang to life. Three sections of lighting suddenly came to life, the tree drew so much power that a special service was installed from the utility pole. Brilliant white light bulbs created an overwhelming spectacle that was almost painful to look at. Weeks of practice paid off, as we head to the exact seat in the exact pew we had rehearsed. The congregation is crowded into every pew, including the upstairs. The normal echoes of the church are absorbed into nothingness by the capacity crowd. The organ even sounds strange. "O Come All Ye Faithful" played at full capacity of the organ, sforzando and all using pipes not normally deployed and then some, but no match for the lusty singing of the congregation. These people were ready for a spectacular, and spectacular we were!
"It doesn't look like a church, and it's not that visible from the road". My contact, Dorothy, was giving me directions to the Hartland Christian Science church. I had been contacted to substitute for the regular pianist at the Thanksgiving Eve Christian Science church in Hartland. After the 45 minute drive, I found that I couldn't follow Dorothy's directions, because there was no light. I could see no street signs, no house numbers, and there were no visible drive ways or cross roads, no driveway reflectors and very few street lights.
So, I turned to Garmin, my GPS navigator. Garmin was in a cranky mood, guess she thought she'd have off on the Thanksgiving holiday. "Re CAL kew lating" . Without warning, after a few obscure turns into what looked like driveways, but they were really roads, Garmin sang out "Arriving, Christian Science", the address I had entered previously. However, I sailed right past it, because there was a suburbanite glaring his headlights into my back window, and I did not see a road, so I couldn't slow down. After more than half a mile, I found an intersection with a streetlight overhead, and restarted Garmin, to take me back to the destination. I must have gotten her mad; because she took me on winding roads through neighborhoods of newly-built suburban mansions, she ordered me to "Drive Point Four Miles" in a cul-de-sac, round and round she made me drive, and countless other indignities. I was now completely disregarding the suburban pickups, knowing that my mission was more crucial than driving little Tiffany to her Batik lesson. I came to the point where Garmin said "Arriving Christian Science", and drove off the road in the dark next to a mail box. Luckily, it was a driveway. The long narrow driveway led to a far-off building lit by a yard light. I straightened my tie, got my music case, turned off the GPS and walked toward the building. One car was already parked in the lot. The entrance was unlocked, so I went in. It was a large building, with a rough concrete floor. My glasses fogged up in the warm air inside. The building was partitioned into various cubicles with large windows in the partitions. From what I could see, Dorothy was right about it not looking like a church. This building was very utilitarian looking.
"Helloooo!" I said, looking for someone to take me to the assembly hall. The building was not very warm, and there was a hay-like country smell in the air, probably from being closed up all week.
"Hellooo!" a second time - there was a stirring in one of the cubicles, as if someone bumped a chair against a wooden wall. I headed toward the cubicle where I heard the stirring. My glasses were clearing up, and I noticed that the windows in the partitions were open, not glazed. Looking into the cubicle, I saw a horse. A Horse. Horse was completely covered with protective canvas, like a race horse. The horse looked at me, and I chided myself not to make judgments. I had never played at a Christian Science church, and If the horses were not involved in the service proper, perhaps there was some Amish thing going on to get them to their services.
Looking for someone to help sort out this sensory overload, I walked further into the building. As I got to the end of the hallway, two dogs came bounding out around the corner, barking and standing their ground. They looked like mostly-Labradors, and they weren't growling. I was so stunned, I did not run for cover, just stood there gaping. The Labs settled down, as long as I remained still. A man in overalls came in through the back door. Through the door, I saw an enclosure with a horse running around inside.
"This isn't the Christian Science Church, is it?"
"No where did you get that idea?"
"My GPS said that this is the Christian Science Church of Hartland." "Those damn things - you can't trust 'em. There's a Christian Science in Hartland, but it's about two miles that way" he pomted.
"I'm Dave. We give riding lessons, but we don't have services here.I never ask the horses what denomination they are."
Dave was enjoying the story he be telling about the "city slicker and his GPS", and he gave me directions to cover the TWO MILES that I had missed. And, with the REAL directions, I got to the Christian Science church, on time for the service. The church was a beautiful little white building set far back from the road, approached by a wooded winding driveway. And it didn't look like a church. The service itself was my first encounter with Christian Science, and it was a beautiful and intimate service that I will remember for the rest of my life. God is Love. =================== Excelsior - the Book is now available on Amazon. Just FOLLOW THIS LINK, or type "Gary Guetzlaff" into Amazon's main page. Just in time for Holiday Giving.
It's been over a year since I pushed that "NEW POST" button here at XLSIOR Labs. I extend my apologies to all my readers, I'm back, and hope the three of you will forgive my absence. I've been working on a new project - Kindle Publishing! I've been taking my best articles through a few more re-writes, and collecting them into an as yet untitled collection, planned for release in November 2017. And, to help me get up-to-date on the publishing procedures, before publishing the main collection, I've released as a "test batch" a short collection of some of my Christmas stories, just in time for the holidays (the release date is October 28, 2017). The book title is "Angela and Other Christmas Stories".
Kindle Publishing is a specialized instance of electronic document publishing, owned by Amazon - if you're unfamiliar with e-books, it's something like a music download. You can read a Kindle book if you have a Kindle, or you can get a Kindle "app" for almost any mobile device, tablet, Kindle Fire tablet, or even for a PC. If you have Amazon Prime, you can download and read, for FREE, a huge selection of Kindle titles, mine included. You can even read it on your cell phone. If you want to try reading it on a rotary-dial phone, however, you're on your own.
I originally wrote the Christmas stories because I needed stories for a Christmas variety show I was putting together as part of Milwaukee's venerable 25 year run of Music on KK, a community concert series established by my wife, Joyce Parker.
Trouble was, I couldn't find a published Christmas story that was just right for our show, so I wrote one. I wanted stories that were full of the child-like joy and magic that you can still experience sometimes at Christmas, at a time when we take time to appreciate one another. Over the years the stories have been refined and polished, always improving. I've finally got something that I can read, pause, and then say softly "And that's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown".
Reviews are an important part of the Amazon publishing process. Review statistics, to Amazon are an indication of the author's marketability; I'd like to come down on the good side of that . . . I think of Gil Shine, a theater director with whom I used to create shows. After each show, Gil used to appear on stage after the curtain call, a short stooped gray-haired elf with a twinkle in his eye and he'd make his announcement to the audience. Let me paraphrase: "If you have read the book, and like it, please leave a short Amazon review. If you didn't like the stories, Mum's the word!"
I was pleased to see in this week's Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that Mullen's Dairy Bar in Watertown, Wisconsin has been lauded by Thrillist.com as one of the "21 best Old-School Ice Cream Shops in America". Way to go, Mullen's!
Watertown, Wisconsin. Late 1970s. My friend Norm and I were just hitting the ground, after college, and were experiencing first-hand the realities of working in the real world. Norm was working for a Watertown sod company, and I was working in a Watertown lumber yard. I lived downtown with my piano, and two cats, Miss Riley and 3285 Unwanted. It was a 10-room strangely colored apartment with leaking skylights above an office supply store on Main Street. In the spartan living room on Main Street, we'd spend many Saturday nights having beers, comparing notes, and working at uncovering and discovering wonderful neglected songs from the 1920s and 1930s. Using reel-to-reel tape recorders and miles of patch cords, we'd achieve multi-track recordings that we thought were spectacular. Listening to them nowadays, they aren't quite as spectacular, but still are full of the joy of being in your 20s. Looking at these two care-free musicians 6 years later, you can see us performing polka favorites almost every weekend in beer tents, taverns, and dance halls throughout the area with the Jolly Cholly Band. Norm was the singer and sax player, and I played the accordion.
On musical Saturday nights such as these, around 8:30 or 9:00, we'd develop a thirst for something friendly and frosty. to go with our cheap cold beer and warm music. Where else to go but Mullen's Dairy Bar, 212 West Main Street, Watertown, Wisconsin?
A Lifetime of Mullen's Dairy
Mullen's Dairy (est. 1911) was a familiar backdrop to Watertown life going 'way back to our childhood, and that's a long time ago, kiddies.
Those refillable 1/2 pint bottles made of thick glass that we received as part of our school lunch program, full of white or chocolate milk. You peeled off the heavy aluminum foil shroud, or poked a straw through it, and you could drink right out of the bottle or through your straw.
Butter, cream, and ice cream was made and packaged right in the back room of the dairy.
And the milk was home-delivered, early in the morning by Pinky Herold, with his squeely-brake delivery truck. He'd even pick up the clanky glass empties. Pinky was Watertown's last home milk delivery driver, and he retired in 1980, the very year that the home delivery service stopped.
And, of course, there was everybody's favorite part of Mullen's operations, the Mullen's Dairy Bar, 212 West Main Street. This retail outlet was opened in the front of the dairy, right on Main Street, in the 1930s - in those particular days it was unusual for a new establishment to call itself a "bar", with Prohibition and all . . . It was a classic Ice Cream Parlor.
Mullen's Ice Cream! The ice cream was made on-premises, and you could meet your friends there for a sundae, at a booth, or on a lunch-counter stool. Fresh-roasted nuts, and just about any other topping in the world! Remember those stainless steel holders for the paper-cone serving dishes? And, if you wanted to take some ice cream home with you, they'd pack you one right out of the soda-fountain freezer barrel, fresh.
The malts! A stainless steel shake cup - frosty on the outside, and the seemingly rock-hard thickness of a root beer malt, to pour into your paper-cone-lined stainless-steel paper cup holder. You could barely pull a Mullen's malt up through a paper straw, without the straw collapsing. But, your first taste was something you remembered for the rest of your life. Usually one steel cup was enough for two people - cheap date!
A Dark Cloud
One cold dark night in the late 1970s, Norm and I came in for our usual extra-thick root beer malts. It was shortly after "Moon" Mullen died. There were rumors of major changes to the dairy operation. Bill Mullen was behind the counter, introduced himself - the "new sheriff in town". He'd been to college. Bill had given up a career with a container manufacturer in northern Illinois, when he moved to Watertown to take over the family business when Moon, his father, died. Reminiscent of George Bailey staying in Bedford Falls in that movie, sacrificing his plans for the sake of his family's business.
We told Bill how much Mullen's had meant to us throughout our entire lives. Bill was forming plans to remodel the whole complex and make it look more modern and up-to-date. He pictured a dropped ceiling instead of the high ceiling with its ancient metal ceiling fan, to save on heating bills. Paneling would modernize the institutional green walls. And those old high glass-block windows would be replaced by a nice, uniform recessed fluorescent lighting grid.
Realizing we had gotten there just in time, Norm and I told Bill in no uncertain terms that he was out of his ever-loving mind. These things he planned to tear out were the very things people came to Mullen's for, besides the extra-thick root beer malts, that is...
Citing countless examples from real life, as we knew it, or wished it to be, we convinced Bill that the old, circa 1930s look was just now on the cutting edge of new nostalgic soda-fountain restaurant design. "It's a Wonderful Life" was becoming a ubiquitous archetype, and this was even before the VHS boom brought the nostalgic movie into every home in the USA. The baby-boomers were just starting to shape the world. Everything the Baby Boom generation touched, was, without question, to reflect the image of their own childhood memories.
Ceiling fans, we told Bill, were a great way to cut down on the winter heating bills - they acted against the convectional heating forces of a high ceiling. Ceiling fans would soon become a coveted item, entire stores there are, selling Casablanca ceiling fans that were patterned after the one he was about to kick to the curb.
A stark wall of institutional green lit by the diffuse beauty of glass-block windows would very soon become a trendy and nostalgic design standard. Filtering through those glass blacks was the holy light of beloved lost childhood.
The red-seated steel-legged stools, and those old booths - people were nowadays throwing away jet-age furniture and buying imitations of the very furniture Bill was pulling out by the roots.
Bill, nodding, said he'd sincerely give it lots of thought before committing to any design. Leaving things as they were would certainly save Bill lots of money. If that's what people wanted, why fool with success? Accept.
And, luckily for our credibility, most of the things we told Bill that night about trends turned out to be true. Over the years, Mullen's Dairy has become more like itself than ever before, and that is a very good thing.
references for further study:
I received a call while I was at work from the Mrs. - the upstairs tenant couldn't get into his apartment - a very old lock was frozen up. So that evening I jumped off of the bus already knowing that I was stepping into One of Those Nights.
No answer at the broken-lock tenant's house, I left a message.
Mrs.: "He wasn't home?"
Me: "Nope, not home. Just give me the keys, and I'll go up and take a look at the lock without him"
"I don't have the keys, they are lost - I had them when I left the house"
Sigh. Another call to the tenant's answer machine: "We'll have to wait until you're home again, Milt, because we have no keys."
Retracing my wife's steps, I found the keys mashed into the slush in the road, the key ring in pieces. Another victim of Parallel Parking.
I let myself in to the tenant's apartment, the sluggish lock had been worked open. Annabelle, the Labrador answered the door. She decided that there was nothing she could do to help, what do dogs know anyway? Annabelle went back to her sofa, and resumed her nap. Then, I heard Milton's voice.
"Gary is that you?"
"Yes, I'm here to look at the lock."
"I'm here on the bedroom floor. I couldn't get to the phone."
Milton is a weight trainer. One of his over-tensed muscles had tangled into a paralyzing leg cramp. He wasn't even able to get to the phone.
"Could you bring me a glass of water from the kitchen?"
I brought him the water - "Say, isn't Annabelle supposed to run for help or something when you can't get to the phone? Like Lassie?"
Ignoring the sarcasm, slowly, Milt worked the hydration into his system, and soon was able to try standing up. While waiting to make sure Milt would be OK, I fixed the lock with a judiciously placed spritz of WD-40.
And So - Milton standing? CHECK Lock working again? - CHECK-O My work there is finished.
Arrived At Home. - My wife was waving the TV remote at me menacingly. "I can't get this @#$@ to work." Wanna see vexation personified? Separate my wife from her TV! The remote had lost its programming. I think it was just despondent from all those lawyer ads and courtroom shows. Reprogrammed it to factory freshness while waiting for the Mrs. to put on her coat - we had places to go! Couldn't do anything about the crappy programming, that's a network thing.
Next Stop - 3rd street, a mile away, to show The Duplex to Dave, a prospective tenant. Dave was on time, he took the tour, and talked awhile, and then he wanted to see the garage. I've always believed that if you've seen one empty garage, you've seen them all, but the customer is always right. So, we left Mrs. inside the heated house because she had a cold, too. And I took my own cold, the remote opener control, and Dave, and went out to the garage to have a look.
I pushed the button on the remote control, and, the door went up three feet. Then it changed its mind and went back down. Repeated that a few times. Finally, wanting something more than a 3-foot preview, with a little upward pressure, we got the door to go up all the way. Dave toured the empty garage, that didn't take long, and we headed back. Close the door? Push the button!
This time when I pushed the button on the door control, the door rumbled down halfway, and turned around and went back up to the top, kind of the opposite of its opening act. A few of these capers, and Dave and I decided to give it an assist via the handles, me on the inside, Dave on the outside. Finally the garage door rode all the way down. Me on the inside, Dave on the outside. Yes, this is, after all, Excelsior's Adventures in Property Management, and something always goes wrong. And to answer your question in the back row, "Yes, yes. Gary has trapped himself inside the garage." As the garage door settles down and comes to rest on the driveway, I just knew that the door had completed its last move for the night. We tried the button a few more times, and all we were able to get was one side of the door to shrug up about 2 inches.
In the stillness of the winter night, one comes to the realization that there is no door, no other way out of the garage, except through the garage door. But the garage door does not go up. Dave was asking if there was anything he could do, but by then I was already making plans to spend the winter in the bleakness of an empty garage - we could slip some books through the 2 inch space under the door, maybe some protein bars, and sooner or later, it would be spring.
But, then gradually, I regained my will to live. MacGyver that I am, I found a 3 ft length of 2x4, and went to work wedging it into the space at the bottom of the door. Heave the door up about 9 inches above the ground. Dave kicked away an ice shelf at the base of the door. I took off my jacket, and managed to ooze through the 9 inch space. Filthy but free, I emerged into the cold and spacious freedom of the near-zero Milwaukee night. Free at last.
Of course, my wife was mad at me for keeping the prospective tenant out in the cold so long with my time-consuming shenanigans. Why, yes it IS a beautiful night when you're watching it from the comfort of a heated house!
This post was originally run a few years ago, and has been a perennial reader favorite, judging by the analytics. The reason for the repost is to show off a photo of something I got for Christmas. My friend Norm has a brother in Minnesota, Dave. This year, for Christmas, Dave sent me an antique Sparkle Spritzer. I filled it up with the secret formula, and what we now have is a tangible piece of good times gone by. Thanks, Dave! ===================== It occurred to me as I started writing this, that, at the time this story takes place, 1959, my grandfather was the same age that I am now. He always seemed so old, even then...When he was at home, my grandfather, Lionel Kuhn, would wear a white t-shirt and blue-and-white pinstripe bib overalls. He'd be constantly puffing on a cheap cigar - White Owls were his favorite. Grandpa worked for a commercial painting contractor. When he was not on an out-of-town contract, Grandpa's world was a finished basement in the house he had built himself on Center Street in Watertown in the 1930s. Every corner of the basement was finished - ceilings tiled, walls papered, and floors painted, kitchen, refrigerator stocked with frosty bottles of Hamm's beer. One of Grandpa's favorite pastimes on weekends was cleaning paint brushes. Raue and Sons would supply their workers with the finest paintbrushes available, but at the end of the week, the brushes would be tossed away, for a new start the following week. Properly cleaning a brush is a time-consuming process, and the contractor found it more cost-effective to discard the brushes. Grandpa would save the old brushes in sealed paint cans, and would take them home and clean them. Sometimes there would even be remnants of paint, which Grandpa would meticulously strain, and bring to proper consistency. Grandpa knew and loved paint. From his arsenal of thinners, linseed oil, turpentine and white lead, he could practically build his own paint. We'd use wire brushes, and a crank-operated brush spinner, and plenty of hard work to get the brushes back to like-new cleanliness. Grandpa had hundreds of paintbrushes that he had rescued, and kept them in a metal steamer trunk. While we worked, there was plenty of entertainment. An old phonograph worked away at a stack of 78s. The Missouri Waltz, polkas and waltzes by Bernie Roberts, Lawrence Duchow, and Frankie Yankovic, Oh Them Golden Slippers, organ music by Ken Griffin, and tunes by the Andrews Sisters. We'd sing along, beat on the table with paint sticks And ... we'd cuss. Why, where the hell else is a kid going to learn to say "Goddammit!" when he hits his thumb with a hammer? Hey, what happens in Grandpa's goddam basement stays in Grandpa's basement!
Grandma seldom came down into the basement - only to do the washing. But she had Grandpa trained to come whenever he was called. So, no matter how inconvenient, when the call came floating down the stairs, he was there for her .... "Lionel, I can't find the Windex! Were you using it to wash the car?" under his breath, "Goddammit!", then, yelling back up the stairs "WHAAT?" Even though he heard her the first time, he'd make her repeat the question a few times just to be cantankerous. Grandpa looked quickly through the shelves of the paint room, and found a bottle of Sparkle Window Cleaner, but no Windex. He went to the bottom of the step: "I've got Sparkle!" Grandma's smoldering reply to this helpful hint came booming back down the steps: "I'LL SPARKLE YOUR ASS! Go downtown and get me some Windex!"
We were stunned, at first. She was really in a mood, today. Then Grandpa, aside to me mimicked softly "I'll Sparkle your ass!" Have you ever been laughing so hard that you couldn't even breathe? Neither of us could speak for about 10 minutes, we were laughing so hard, and then, Grandpa would gasp out in a whisper "I'll Sparkle your ass!" and we'd start laughing all over again. We resigned ourselves to having to go downtown. But, it wasn't all that inconvenient - there were plenty of other necessary side-trips on the way to National Tea - Albrecht's Badger Paint, Kusel's Hardware, coffee and donuts at Zweig's Grill, Charlie Howard's Tavern if Ed Raue's truck was there, Drost's Smoke Shop for some more cigars -- another story another time. But, we almost drove Grandpa's '39 Chevy into a light post when Grandpa once again whispered "I'll Sparkle your ass!" To this day, with a little turpentine and a cigar, I can travel in time back to my Grandpa's basement.