Holiday Time! Time for Musea's annual Christmas Story. How about taking some time out from your busy schedule? See where our main character Barty can take you. Happy Holidays to each and everyone of you - till next year - Tom.
Once while 8 year old Barty was working on a drawing of a horse, an uncle watching him, asked if he'd like a pony of his own? Barty said, "If I get a horse, I want one with wings," and went back to drawing.
Barty loved to draw. He loved to draw dragons. He loved to draw rockets. He loved to draw dragons driving rockets, with fire flaming out from everywhere. Draw. Draw. Draw. From the age of 8 on that's what he wanted to do.
Somewhere inside of his chromosomes was a gene for art talent. He had it twice. Couple that with a love of drawing and you start out pretty good and only get better.
Barty tried everything. He'd take a tablet and draw a monster on each page. Then flip the pages and the monster would become animated, open his eyes, wave back at you, pace about, and growl in a word balloon. He'd tape his drawings on the walls of his bedroom. Then he began to draw ON the walls of his bedroom - ceiling too. He'd draw on the bathroom tiles when he was taking a bath. After he finished his ice cream he'd even draw in the melted part left at the bottom of his bowl, using his spoon as a brush.
One would think that his future career in drawing was assured. But the Wheel of Fate spins and where it goes... or where it stops....
Flash forward. Barty was now 30, married to Katya. Her maiden name was Starr, and while they were dating he'd tease her and say her middle name just had to be Fallin'.)They now had one child, a little boy named Alvin. And Barty was now working full time at the Acme Comic Book Company.
But Barty was not happy. The super hero comic, he was assigned to, The Adventures of Captain Zoom and his Ground Crew, was not super at all. In fact the comic couldn't have been more generic and predictable. His work had become boring, hack work. 'How can drawing ever be boring?' Barty asked himself over and over again as he shook his head. Everything was a deadline. There was no time to develop the super hero's background or to get some perspective on his character. There was no time to research and develop story lines, or improve the dialogue, or even ink the colors right. There was just enough time during breaks to ruminate on how bad this all was. And his drawing hand hurt!
Boredom breeds daydreaming. and daydreaming can lead beyond glazed eyes, to awareness, newness, and innovation - a dangerous digression for bosses of commic book companies! Barty asked himself, 'What could be done if quality reigned. What could be done if you did things properly - put fun first , not profits?'
Barty daydreamed most about of all things, CHESS SETS. He didn't play. He had learned as a child but didn't care for it. But he did love the idea of battling armies of mini men marching across a game board. They LOOKED great.
Sundays, after church, on the way to the diner, the family would walk past Tag's, a neighborhood toy store. Showcased in the window was a big carved chess set. The pieces looked to be made of rose and black marble. Cost? $650.
Barty: Katya, why would games for kids be so high? They should be affordable. These are tough times, not time to gouge the public."
Katya: Nobody that owned that set would even let their kids play with it."
She said as she unconsciously stroked the head of their boy Alvin.
Alvin: What's chess?"
Barty: It's a game like Candy Land. But very old.
Alvin: Do you think they have "OZ" books?
Katya: (to Barty) We're on the 6th one in the series. (to Alvin) Maybe, We've still got some left to read.
Alvin: Daddy do they play chess in Oz?
When Barty woke up Monday morning, he had a Eureka moment, and yelled to himself, "That's it!", and pumped his fist twice over his head - an OZ CHESS SET!
Why kings and queens and knights and such? Why not the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy, and the Scarecrow?... He began to assign characters to each of the chess positions. 'I need 5 major ones, King, Queen, Bishop, Knight, Castle, and pawns'. As he was studying his list of characters, he found he had WAY too many favorites to whittle it down to 6. Then it dawned on him, "Why do both knights have to be the same?... OR FOR THAT MATTER, Why do the white knights have to be the same as the black knights?' Why indeed! Now instead of 6 different characters, he had room for 9 each side, 18 total for the game!
He then borrowed an idea from board games he had while growing up. The old games had great graphics on, not only the cover box and game board, but on the game pieces too. Barty knew how good illustrations could be. That's what he would do. He would make colorful illustrations of each character on paper, paste the paper to hard cardboard, and set the cardboard onto a wood base. 'Hey,' thought Barty, 'that would keep manufacturing costs waaaaay down! Any manufacturer could produce that at a low cost, sell it at a fair price, make a solid profit, and still give the buyer an affordable deal.'
He began to assign each position. Here was the final line up:
BLACK: King - Wizard of Oz, Queen - Ozma of Oz, 1st Bishop - Jack Pumpkinhead. 2nd Bishop - Professor H. M. Woggle-Bug, 1st Knight - Cowardly Lion, 2nd Knight - Hungry Tiger, 1st Castle - Jinjur, 2nd Castle - The Saw-Horse, Pawns - The Winged Monkeys.
WHITE: King - Uncle Henry, Queen - Aunt Em, 1st Bishop - Scarecrow, 2nd Bishop -Scraps the Patchwork Girl, 1st Knight - Toto, 2nd Knight - Billina, 1st Castle The Tin Man, 2nd Castle - Tik-Tok, Pawns - Munchkins.
And the board? It would be a grid of lines over a color map of Oz.
He used his off time and vacation days to make a prototype. The entire family helped. After 6 weeks it was a reality. He took the set into the first company on his 'to see' list. They had gone out of business. No one answered the door.
The 2nd company on the list was Topko, now run by the daughter of the founder. Jane Topko was a woman in her 60's with long grey hair and round small glasses. Topko had inherited the business from her father and was seriously thinking of retiring when her secretary brought Barty into her office. Jane had her granddaughter, 5 year old Clairrisse, visiting and playing with a doll on the carpet. Barty gave his pitch and Jane said, "Set it up. "Clarrisse got curious and went to look. With her chin and her hands resting on the top of the desk she looked at the chess pieces and said, "OOOOOOOH, can I play?"
Topko was one who could see the obvious in front of her. She looked at the game, looked at her sparkling granddaughters eyes, and bought it then and there. Topko manufactured it, it became a toy hit, and the company could not keep it in stock for 2 Christmases. Then there was a let up. Barty gradually became rich. As the money was coming in, Jane asked Barty for a follow up. "What's next Barty?"
Space of course. Chess in space - space chess. The board would be a grid over a map of the solar system with the sun in the middle. And, in cooperation with NASA, the pieces would be photos of the planets and moons. Here was the line up:
ROCKS: King - Earth, Queen - Moon, 1st Bishop - Mars, 2nd Bishop - Venus, 1st Knight - Ceres (asteroid belt), 2nd Knight - Pallas (asteroid belt), 1st Castle - Mercury, 2nd Castle - Pluto (and Charon), Pawns - Asteroids (Eris, Sedna, and other Kuiper Belt Objects; etc.).
GASSES: King - Jupiter, Queen - Saturn, 1st Bishop - Uranus, 2nd Bishop - Neptune, 1st Knight - Titania (Uranus Moon), 2nd Knight - Triton (Neptune Moon), 1st Castle - Ganymede (Jupiter Moon), 2nd Castle - Titan (Saturn Moon). Pawns - Comets (Halley's Comet, Chiron, The Hubble Telescope, and assorted space ships and other artificial satellites).
Other sets followed. Mother Goose Chess came next with 'The Dish and the Spoon' and all the other great characters from the rhymes. Then Mythological Chess. Barty insisted that one of the pairs be Thor and Loki. Oh and dragons - there had to be dragons too. There was classic film chess with MGM players on one side. Political chess sets were the hot item every four years. Another favorite was Elvis and the 50's rock stars, versus The Beatles and the 60's rock stars of the British Invasion
Barty was now known as the chess set designer. He grew older and much richer. He even received a sizable inheritance that he didn't need. Money gets money says that same Wheel of Fate!
He decided to retire early, take a vacation, and see the world - well Europe at least. It seemed like the thing that people of his means did when they retired. With his son grown and finishing college, he and Katya signed up for a tour of Europe - from the British Isles down to Italy. But after a week of touristy sites Barty discovered that he didn't like traveling. For some it opened up new vistas. For him it made him homesick. He and Katya didn't like foreign languages, foreign beds, foreign foods, or foreign TV. The sites were spectacular - he agreed that they had seen nothing like them before - but he wanted the familiar. He wanted to go home.
Call them a provincial couple if you will. Henry James would not write favorably about them; but Barty liked what he knew. And he did come back with a new vista after all - loving where he was all along.
Europe did have one thing that impressed him. They weren't all work there. Play was not secondary. It was often first in importance, and fun was OK for kids and adults. Katya saw him moping around the house, (and getting in the way of her routine) and suggested, "Do something for Dallas with our money. We have plenty. Something for Fair Park maybe. You love going there. Set up a fun fund!"
Barty agreed on something, but what? Which charity? There were many to choose from. First they put some of their money in Community Bank Accounts for the city. "That is a start" said Katya, implying that Barty wasn't done. Something bigger and more personal was in order. Something he could put not only their money but his talents into.
Something like 'Dot's Playhouse". Dot's Playhouse was a Victorian mansion that people had trucked over to Fair Park. Planted it in open space. Then filled every room with toys for all the children of Dallas. Anyone could visit. And they did. Day in and day out, visitors came from all over to play at the toy house. School buses were always parked nearby with lines of kids waiting their turn. It was a hit.
Barty and Katya were at the mall. She was still clothes shopping. He had finished his 'to do' list and was sitting in the center of the mall, near the food court with his 2nd cup of coffee. He kept looking at the same scene and his eyes glazed over. His mind began to wander. 'How quiet it is. Where are all the people? The entire upstairs of the department store had only one person. Ouch! And I don't even know if she worked there. The sign at the huge empty register counter said, 'Pay for your purchases downstairs'! I've never seen a whole floor empty of shoppers. Hard times. Lots of people lost a lot of money recently with the bank scandals ...'
A bell rang - a mechanical sound. It startled him out of his daydream. He looked up and saw a small carousel not far away. All its hundreds of mini lights were on, its horses sparkling from polish, but not one child was riding it. The operator was sitting with her eyes closed, leaning her head on her arm. The music shut off... 'How sad to see it so empty of kids...There was a wonderful carousel in Denmark,' thought Barty. After a few minutes the carousel music started up again. But the operator kept dozing. 'That's it. A chess set that's life size - and has a space theme - a space carousel!...
And make it BIG!'
Barty wanted to add a giant space carousel to Fair Park, in the vicinity of Dot's Playhouse. But not a mini version like the one at the mall, or an old classic version like he'd seen in Europe; but instead a huge space themed one. And make it BIG!
The Fair Park bureaucracy was formidable. But the private individuals that had designed and built Dot's Playhouse had led the way. The rules now were more relaxed. The planning committee allowed for others to develop private projects on the grounds IF the Fair Park governing councils approved.
They did, but not quickly. For seven years Barty and his friends, financed, designed, and built their space carousel. What great fun it was for the adults!
December 10, 2016, ribbon cutting day for the "COSMOS". Click went the giant scissors. Behind the falling ribbon was a dark grey round structure, shaped like a mammoth flying saucer. Enclosed on all sides, it was about the diameter of the length of a basketball court. There were no windows or doors. The only outside features were 3 rockets, each raised to a 45' angle, pouring out smoke from their backs, and spaced evenly around the circle. The 'hatches' of these rockets opened up. Sojourners like you would enter one of the rocket's lower hatches, walk up the stairs within the rocket, and climb out the top hatch into the carousel building - into the "Cosmos".
The first thing you notice is the vast empty 'space'. The Cosmos is covered on all sides, above, and below; with twinkling stars, colorful planets, and flying spaceships. High overhead is one blazing, circling, comet. You walk onto a huge, plastic, see through, floor, that covers the entire area. It looks as if you are floating in empty space. Embedded into the plastic floor are winding trails of shinning 'star dust'. Each pathway meanders through 'space' and leads you to one of the rides. As you peruse the paths you can see more space off the path below you. You feel as if you are walking on thin air. It's scary but completely safe.
Those who move closer to the middle see in the center of the room a great painted round model of the Sun, with sunspots and an occasional flare flaring. Everything else here revolves around the giant sun. More people enter and helpers in space suits help you to get to the ride of your choice and buckle in.
Mechanical minded visitors know that the 'horses' or rides here are not like most carousels. They have different speeds. Some are hung from the ceiling. Some are anchored to the bottom floor. Some go up and down. Some move from side to side. Some do both.Those on rides nearest the outside wall move faster. These are for the more adventurous. Those nearer the center are for the younger children AND their parents. Also there are different sets of rides hooked to different concentric rings. For riders it looks as though each ride is moving at a different pace. Though that is really an illusion.
The RIDES: 'Spaced' out across the floor are these rides. Helpers in costume are ready to strap you in to your favorite. You can choose from :
Six Flying Saucers. This is a squadron of rides each shaped like a grey flying saucer with a hatch at the top. They are arranged in a formation like a herd of geese. Each fits 2 pilots. The top half opens up and the riders climb in and buckle up. Like all the other rides there are buttons, gears, and levers to push with great sound effects. Plus there are flashing lights and illuminated dials. The saucers start with a spinning whirr. They move up and down and tilt slightly left and right.
Six Rocket Ships in 2 Squadrons. Each 3 ship group has 3 fighter rockets that hold 2 pilots each. The hatch lifts up and the riders climb in. Note the fire exhaust effect at the back of the ship, and the take off sound effects. These go up and down and tilt left and right.
The Moon. There are two main Planet rides. The first is our Moon, a huge lit up, crescent shaped Moon that seats 5, one above the other. Stairs along the edge lead up or down to each seat. The ride makes one complete revolution.
Saturn. Here riders buckle into seats on the rings with their feet dangling over the edge. The rings slowly revolve around Saturn as it goes round the solar system.
PEGASI. For younger children there is a herd of flying horses. There are 20 or so rides in a long column of running 'horses'. Half are Pegasi, the other half flying unicorns. All have wings that slowly flap up and down and then glide, as the horses slowly go up and down.
Asteroids Scattered about the floor, and mostly near the younger children rides, are asteroids, rocky boulders with seats for the parents to sit and watch their kids. They don't move.
Comet. Above everyone's head is a comet with a fiery tale that circles the cosmos faster than all the rides. It has a loud crackling sound like a sparkler, as it passes.
Balloon. A blast from the past is the balloon ride. 8 mostly younger children pack into the gondola, buckle up, and watch as the balloon slowly goes up and down as it travels around the solar system. This rises up the highest of all the rides.
Passenger Rocket. The first of three large rides is the Passenger Rocket. It seats 20. Passengers enter in the side of the spaceship with room for 4 pilots up front. Each seat has a portal. It blasts off and goes up and down.
Space Train. This ride for younger passengers, has a train locomotive seating 4 pilots, 2 passenger cars with 8 seats each, and one caboose for two.. It has a space stewardess for each passenger car. It fishtails side to side as it chugs forward.
The Observatory. This space station looks like a jungle gym of tubes. Riders can crawl through them and up and into sections with glass turrets to look outside. The largest turret in the middle, has a telescope that swivels 360'. The ride glides in orbit.
Jet Packs. Spaced throughout the solar system are jet packs, each holding one astronaut. He buckles in, holds on, and goes up as far as his tether lifeline will let him. Then he floats back down. Each rider is tethered to a spaceship.
Santa, Reindeer, and Sleigh. During the Christmas holidays a new ride is added (an asteroid group is removed). Santa has room for 5 helpers and bags of toys, in his sleigh. The reindeer climb up and land back down on the same chimneyed roof.
During the ride there are all kinds of special effects going on, not only those with each separate ride, but with the Cosmos itself. This is space that carries sound waves! Over the loud speaker is classical space music such as Holst, The Planets, or Debussy's "Clair de Lune", or music from the film "2001 A Space Odyssey". Plus each ride adds its own sounds. There may even be helmets and uniforms to wear.
Barty and Katy road with the first group that went into the Cosmos. He choose to be one of the pilots on the Big Rocket. She went up in the Balloon Gondola.
The ride came to a halt, the Cosmos stopped spinning, rocket engines idled as the passengers landed each back on their own star path. The space cadets filed out talking and laughing as the 2nd group of wide eyed astronauts waited to enter...
And you reader.. how did you enjoy your ride?
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This is an excerpt from a work of fiction in progress called "3". It is titled "Crossing Over". Time and place - sometime in the future.
We are crossing over.
The people of the earth, like a long line of refugees, are slowly, sometimes methodically, sometimes by fits and jerks; crossing over from this near side to that far side - from our present neediness, to having what we need, and then to having more than enough.
No longer is the world awash in drops of tears. The water glass is filling with wishes. the well bucket is becoming full and over flowing. Light shines off the oceans. Something positive is drawing us forward like magnets draw iron. Lead footed people are now testing new wings. Crossing over.
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On the internet is a Christmas greeting card in video form for all my readers. It features the short instrumental from my new CD, called 'Christmas'. See it on hunkasuaurus.com or on youtube. Again Happy Holidays all!
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4000 Hawthorne #5
Dallas Texas 75219
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