Clay Guys

Philadelphia, PA – The early 70s

I had lots of toys as a kid. Cars, trucks, games, action figures, and comic books. I loved all of my toys. But one of my favorite toys was modeling clay.

Modeling Clay | Childhood memories, My childhood memories, Childhood

I owned several of these packs of clay as a kid. The problem with store-bought toys was they come in very specific shapes and sizes. The plastic army men or spacemen figures are rigid and are stuck in their cast positions. But clay can be shaped into anything you want. The things you can make out of clay are limited only to the skill of your hands and your imagination.

So your choices are unlimited as to what you can create with clay. It was my favorite toy as a kid. A simple shapeless lump of modeling clay.

It was great when you first opened the packet because you had a few colors to work with. But in time they all eventually blended and all of your clay was one color. Brown.

This didn’t matter because it wasn’t about the color of the things you made, it was the shape and what you did with them.

Unlike Play-Doh, clay never dried out. It stayed in its natural form no matter what you did with it. If you left Play-Doh out and didn’t seal it up in an airtight container, it dried out. It turned hard as a rock.

I remember Play-Doh had a salty taste to it and I do remember eating a bit of it as a kid. Children learn early by putting things in their mouths. It’s a primitive learning skill. Play-Doh, like Elmers Glue, was both non-toxic and didn’t taste that bad. Even if it was just an experimental exercise.

Photos: Vintage Play-Doh Cans and Playsets | Mental Floss

But Play-Doh just didn’t hold the same eternal magic and durability as modeling clay. If you made something out of Play-Doe and it was good, you wanted to give it to your mom or just leave it out. It then turned to stone and became a permanent artifact. You couldn’t play with it anymore. But with clay, if you needed more clay or were tired of your sculpture, you could simply squish it and make something new.

I remember watching the 1933 classic film, King Kong. I immediately grabbed my clay and sculpted the great ape fighting with a giant snake from a scene in the film. My father was impressed with my creation, and how I captured the moment in the film. But at some point, I either moved it or changed the positioning of the figures and my dad said I messed it up. This hurt my feelings so I squished it. I thought…it’s my clay and I’ll make what I want. You can’t create the things that I can.

Modeling clay is such a wonderful toy for children. The highest form of intelligence on the planet is creation. Remembering or memorizing facts and figures already created and thought of by others is just a memory exercise. That’s a decent skill and it is needed. But taking a lump of shapeless clay and turning it into something that never existed before is a real talent.

Isn’t creating something our greatest homage to our creator? To emulate our creator is the best compliment we can give to that entity. Real or not. Why settle for someone else’s vision of what a toy should look like. Clay gave me the ability to create my toys and characters to make my adventures.

I once sculpted a little brown bunny rabbit for my mother. It was maybe two inches long. My mother loved it so much she placed it on a shelf in our kitchen and it stayed there for years. My mother passed away a few years ago but always kept the little rabbit. A couple of years ago my older sister found that sculpture and gave it to my daughter to give to me. After half a century in existence, the bunny was still intact. After 50 years he was a bit dried out but that’s how durable modeling clay was back then. (Sadly, he crumbled a few years ago and I had to toss him.)

My friend RJ and I spent hours and hours making things out of clay. I remember he once sculpted the nativity scene out of clay and presented it to his mother for Christmas. It was a great work of art for a child. He was very talented as a boy.

One of our favorite things to make was a thing we called “Clay Guys”.  They were little men about an inch tall. We occasionally made little clay girls. The only difference between these simple figures was the female clay people had a little swatch of clay hair on their heads and two tiny balls of clay on their chests. These were covered with another thing swatch of clay around the figure to form a dress. There was nothing sexual about it because we were just children, but that’s how we defined the gender of our characters in simple child terms. But 99% of our characters were guys. Clay guys!

Sometimes we’d find little things they could use as tools. Like a pin or needle from a sewing kit. These became swords in the hands of our characters. Sometimes, instead of the little bump on the top of their shoulders that represented the head, we would replace that bump with a marble. Two little oval clay eyes were affixed to the marble, which made that figure into an alien.  Cat’s eye marbles looked the coolest because it was as if you could see inside the alien’s head and his thoughts were swirling around in there. Hence making him a brilliant alien.

Here you can see us with an army of alien clay guys!

As I write this, I wonder where this perception of what an alien life form could look like. I’m guessing it was probably inspired by images we’d seen in comic books or old science fiction films we liked to watch. Mad Theater and Horror Theater on channel 17 with host Doctor Shock come to mind.

Sometimes we’d make the occasional giant clay guy or the monster that our little clay guys had to fight to the death. The cool thing about our clay guys was they could be destroyed, but also resurrected. If one of your guys lost an arm or was cut in half during a battle, he could be repaired, or even squished and reborn as a new clay guy!

We would make little search parties of clay guys and send them on journeys through our house. Climbing, jumping, hanging from ropes (strings), and going into battles were all part of the adventure. We knew some of our team wouldn’t come back from the journey, but that was the fun of it. Our toys had mortality. They could die on the adventure. But as I said, you could always bring them back from the dead to live and play with again.

Once we made a bunch of clay guys and stood them all up in a line going across our street. The cars would come, and run over part of our team squishing them horribly. We knew we’d lose a few, but there were always the survivors. If you could pick the cinders, dirt, and stones out of the survivors’ bodies, they’d live again to go on another adventure tomorrow.

The possibilities of making things out of modeling clay were endless. It was the best toy and inspired us to use our hands, our minds, and our imaginations. Sometimes the simplest things are the most fun. I know now there are so many high-tech toys out there and video games are king. But holding a lump of clay in your hand and making something from your imagination was the best.

 

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You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Lin – A Brief Repose

I went to Southgate bar and grill for opening happy hour, but Lin didn’t show. It would have been awesome if she’d have walked through the door, but no dice.

She probably forgot about it. No big deal.

I was complaining to my friend the other day about how I thought being a paid writer was a bit sexier than it is in reality. I pictured myself being like Hank Moody in the series, Californication. Just that cool guy, who hangs out, drinks, smokes, and parties his way around town. Bedding multiple, attractive ladies along the way.

But that’s fiction. Being a real writer who earns a living doing it is a solitary existence that takes patience and diligence daily. You can’t write 2500 words about ‘the tax advantages of solar power’ or  ‘Lead Routing for Today’s Salesforce’ if you’re hungover or messed up on drugs.

You have little free time because you’re stuck behind your keyboard for hours on end researching and writing about a bunch of stuff you know little about. But it pays the bills and keeps a roof over your head while you’re waiting for your next novel to become a bestseller.

There’s nothing glamourous about it and it’s a lonely existence. But I like writing and learning about new things. I also love the dopamine drop when you finally finish a long piece knowing you’ll be paid handsomely for it. But more likely than not several assignments are waiting urgently right behind the one you just finished that need to be done. You have deadlines that must be met. This kind of writing isn’t sleeping late, heading over to Cavanaugh’s for lunch and then writing your dating blog for the rest of the afternoon while you sip poorly made manhattans.

This is work and it’s a grind. But that’s what most jobs are. They’re not fun. That’s why they give you money to do them. These companies don’t have the talent on hand to write all of this stuff for their internal communications, websites, and their blogs. So they job it out to freelancers like me to get the job done quickly.

When I said at the top of this piece that I was complaining… I wasn’t complaining. I like having a job where I get to write all day. A year ago, I could be where I was working in some B-rate sports bar, dealing with a$$holes, drug addicts, mentally unstable whackos, alcoholics, illegal aliens, felons, and sex offenders. And that’s just the people I worked with!  (Sadly, I’m not exaggerating)

So, it’s just not as sexy as I thought it was like in the movies. But nothing is. Do you think being a cop is cool and fun? That’s a dangerous and sometimes boring job. It’s feast or famine most days.

I was simply lamenting with someone of like mind who shares this same vocation. She has so much more experience than I do when it comes to this sort of work. (She was the editor for a news agency in Philly for years, so she knows her stuff) I respect her and like her as a person and I’m so fortunate to have her in my life. She’s opened not only a new profession where I can use my talent and earn a living but a whole new chapter in the book that’s my life. So I may complain but I’m still enjoying it!

So, I was coming back from my daily trip to my go-to breakfast nook, Rachael’s in Rittenhouse. They know what I like and make me the same thing every day so I don’t have to even order when I go in. I say hello, grab a seat and they bring me my breakfast. During this long period of non-stop writing assignments it’s been a happy little break I get each morning to get some fresh air, see some people, eat a delicious meal, and then back home to work.

I was still ruminating about how my life as a paid writer was nothing like Hank Moody’s but I just thought about the money.

But I walked on the west side of 19th street today because there was some construction going on on the other side. I was walking by Metropolitan Bakery and I hear a familiar voice.

“Hello, Charles.”

Sitting there outside at one of the little tables sipping her coffee was lovely, Lin!

It’s as if the gods had heard me complaining about my boring writer’s life and decided to throw me a bone to cheer me up. They wanted to show me that I can still have a little joy in the daily grind of cranking out article after article.

She gestures to the seat across from her, “Sit.”

I happily sit down and the dopamine is flowing through me. This is great! It’s just what I needed today. Two days ago I was so frustrated with a client’s demands that I wanted to pack it in. (Not really) And now, I was chatting with my neighbor. It was a tiny miracle. Just incredible luck and timing. The lift I need in my day to carry on.

“Your hair looks different. You look great.”

“Yea I got it trimmed and they frosted it.”

“Well, it looks nice.”

We chatted a bit and she stated that her schedule is usually pretty crazy. I asked her what she was doing after coffee, and she said she was going to walk up to the bookstore (Shakespeare & Co.) on Walnut Street. But then she had to go home and go to bed.

“To bed?”

“Yea, I’m working from 6 pm to 6 am for the next few days. It’s brutal.”

And here I was crying about writing industrial articles for money from 9 am to 9 pm every day from the comfort of my air-conditioned house. I told her I wished I could walk up there with her and stroll around the bookstore and look at literature, but I had to get home and write. (People like other people that are busy. Remember what I always say on this blog: “We always want that which retreats from us.”)

However, there were a few flags. Not red, but flags. She recently met me. I’ve only seen her twice. But a few things are going on here. In the last photo on her Instagram, she has her natural hair color. Black. When I met her it was sort of blonde. That’s new. A week or so later at this encounter her hair is cut in a shorter style and frosted.

Not a big deal I suppose, but she mentions that she’s getting her first tattoo and raised her arm to show me where.

She also mentions to me that she recently met up with her ex. Not “a month ago guy up in Fairmount”, but “4-year guy” who cheated on her and they split up. That’s never good. I asked her if she thinks he was trying to get back with her, and she said yes. So, he cheated because he was bored or tired of her, and now that hasn’t worked out for him and he wants his girlfriend back. This is all just pride and young person nonsense. Why did she agree to meet with him? She’s young, she was hurt when he cheated. She dumped him, and now she regrets it. She’s not happy with herself. Rudderless for the moment. The different hair. Blonde of all things. Now a tattoo. Chatting with the ex.

The flags are turning red.

She goes on to tell me she recently bounced her rent check. She’s only lived next door for a little over a month. She said the landlord charged her $20 for the bounced check fee and an additional $100 fine for the infraction. That seemed harsh. Incidentally, we both share the same landlord. I’ve never had a problem in the 11 years I’ve lived here.

This girl is a registered nurse! She’s got to be making good money working all of these hours she says she’s working. Maybe she’s just being reckless with her money. Maybe spending too much on stuff to stuff her empty heart filled with nothing but regret and sadness? Who knows.

She also mentioned that she recently acquired some mushrooms. So now she’s smoking weed and using psychedelics? Does anybody want to know that their nurse is a casual user? I don’t know if they can even do that. Don’t they get regularly tested? This girl is all over the place. Even in the short time I’ve known her, this seems like an overshare and a lot for me to download.

Red flags are now waving at me in the wind.

We chatted a little more and I pulled out my phone and typed in her name into the directory. Then I handed it to her. She put her digits into my phone and that was it.

I told her I was sorry we couldn’t hang out at the bookstore but we definitely should at some point. She agreed and kept saying, “text me. Yea, just text me. Our schedules are crazy. I’ll be around. Text me”.

So that’s a good sign. Now I have her number. I probably won’t text her for a week, because I have to focus on finishing these articles. I don’t want to get distracted by an attractive young lady. I have to get these done. But by Wednesday of next week, I’ll probably send her my contact info and send her a friendly little text to say hello.

Will I hear back from her? Maybe. I don’t know what her life or schedule is like. I may never hear from her. What if she gave me the wrong number? Nah, that would just be rude. I can’t think like that. But I’m going to text her once I’m done with all of these assignments.

I said goodbye to her and she went one way and I went the other. But I returned home energized and refreshed knowing that I had gotten to see my neighbor again and got her number. It was the better move and felt easy.

So I’ll hit her up next week.

As I said at the end of the last post about Lin, we’ll have to see what happens. But I’m already getting a vibe from this chick that she’s a bit confused and doesn’t know what she’s doing.

She may not make it to the “hang-out with Chaz” stage.

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. 

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Rock – Ola

Philadelphia, PA – The early 70s

My dad had this couple he was friends with back in the late 60s and early 70s. He met them through the bank where he worked in Northeast Philly. They were a cool sort of hippie couple in their 30s. That period in our history was a great time of change in this country. But my dad liked them and they were nice people. They turned him on to the counter culture of music, film, and of course marijuana.

I remember going over to their house when I was a kid and they had a lot of cool, artsy stuff around the place. One of the things that struck me was this old-time jukebox. It was an actual working antique even back then. It was chock full of over fifty 45rpm records from the 50s and 60s. Cool!

My sisters and I were captivated by this massive cabinet full of flashing lights, swirling colors, and loads of great songs inside. It was an incredible piece of technology. It must have weighed over 500 lbs and made of solid oak. The front door swung open and you could see how it worked. You could also watch the operation through a little window in the front of the unit. The 45 rpm records were all stacked on metal plates and when you pushed the play button, would swing out and a little turntable would rise and pick up the platter and it would meet the stylus and play the record. Neat to watch. The heavy sound blasted out of a 15-inch woofer in the front.

Check this out:

My dad’s friends were going to be moving to a smaller place and told him that the jukebox was just too big to fit through the door of their new home. They asked if they could loan it to him and keep it at our house. Of course, my dad agreed, much to the joy of my sisters and me.

It sat in the corner of our enclosed porch at the house at 312 Magee Street for the rest of the 70s. We slowly began adding new 45 rpm singles that we had bought so we could listen to our music in this booming beast.

This will give you an idea of what it was like even though this one in the video is a little different from ours. (But we did have Jailhouse Rock in ours and played that song often. I think Treat Me Nice was on the B side of that single)

It was almost like we had this big entertainment robot living on our porch. Any of the kids could just push a button and music would come on. The girls could dance and the boys would simply rock out to the tunes.

I think the most memorable time of having this jukebox in our family was on Halloween. We’d have it lit and playing music, and when kids came to the door trick or treating they would all see it. No one had ever seen anything like it and they were all amazed at the sight of this technological musical marvel.

We had it on loan from them for over 40 years. It went to the shore house in North Wildwood in 1979 and remained there until a few years ago. The grown son of the couple wanted the jukebox back. In my opinion, after having the jukebox in our possession for over 40 years that it was rightfully ours. Possession being 9/10s of the law. But the right thing to do was to give it back to the family. We were no longer interested in the unit and it had been on loan to us that was an agreement my father had made with them back in the 70s so my sister wanted to honor that decision.

So it’s been gone for a while but I sometimes think back to all the fun we had listening to our music through that booming beast from a bygone era.

There I am in the early 80s next to the Rock-Ola!

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Lin – Hello Neighbor

“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!” – Michael Corleone (The Godfather III)

I attempted to write this a week ago, but something else came out. But I think I’m ready to focus on the story at hand. As I said in that other post,(There’s Clarity In The Truth) this could be nothing, but at least I finally have a new story for this blog. I’ve been writing about my youth non-stop for the last year! Those posts have done well and kept Phicklephilly afloat regarding content. But, to be true to the why I created this blog back in 2016, it’s my responsibility to report on things that happen in my life now.

I came out of my house the other day. I was probably headed down to Walgreens to pick up some stuff for the house. I haven’t gotten out much in the last year due to covid, but things are opening up now. I’m fully vaxxed and ready to safely mingle with the populous.

I went through the front doors of my building and there sitting on the steps of the building next door with her little dog, was one of my new neighbors.

She was a cute Asian girl with frosted hair and was obviously in her 20s. I stopped to say hello and pet her less-than-friendly animal companion. I noticed she was reading a book about chess master, Bobby Fischer.

I introduced myself and told her that was a great book. I asked her if she had been inspired by The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix. She said that she had not and was just interested in chess.

We engaged in some general small talk; apartment life, Philly, relationships, where we’ve lived, how long, and how things had been through covid. There’s plenty to discuss with people now more than ever. We’ve all just come through a global health crisis and have that in common.

She stated that she had recently ended a four-year relationship because her significant other cheated on her. That’s rough. A deal-breaker for many. She had dated a guy she met on one of the dating apps for about a month, but that too had petered out. The coincidence of that last foray for her in dating is that the new guy lived on the same block as she did when she lived up in Fairmount.

She had said when they dated she was over his house nearly every day. But once she moved down here to Rittenhouse, he was done with her. Weird right? But it sounds to me as with all of these dating apps and the sheer availability of people on them with zero game, it’s easy to hook up with new people all the time. He either met somebody hotter or was too lazy to make the effort now that she’d moved across the city. I’m positive it’s one of them.

Maybe both.

She had told me a story where she was hanging in the park and some guy started to chat with her. His move was to open with a few words about her dog and maybe he had one of his own. I’ve seen this MO before and wonder why no one has invented an app where you could rent a cute dog for the day just to pick up chicks!

But this guy asked for her number and she relinquished it to him. Funny thing was, she later saw him at Vetri Pizza and he was working there. He also was wearing a wedding ring. So this clown is a player and a cheater. She found that abhorrent.

She asked me what I did and I gave her a short history. Musician and artist turned banker for 20 years and Ad exec for 10. I told her how I grew tired of being stuck in a cubicle all day and started to work in places where I could be around different people. Just work a job and go home every day. The last couple managing restaurants here in center city. I wasn’t particularly good at any of that and restaurant work just isn’t for me. I just don’t have the head for that business. It’s a grinding and vulgar industry and I want nothing to do with it ever again. It seems it attracts the worst people and that’s just not a match for my life.

She said that she worked as a nurse at Jefferson Hospital. I thought that was cool and that she was a bright girl. She even mentioned how she was interested in architecture and how she’d like to learn more about that.

Somehow books and writing came up, (probably all me!) and I told her I was currently doing commercial freelance writing for several different companies. I handed her my business card and told her to enter my name into the search bar on Amazon. She did this and of course, all of my books appeared. I loved it when she held her phone up to me and I saw the cover of Angel with a Broken Wing.

“You wrote this?”

“Yea, that and a few others.”

Lin said she loved books and literature and thought that was pretty cool. She even blew my mind when she said, “You’re like the most interesting person I’ve met in this city.”

That’s when the dopamine dropped in my brain and I felt all of my fatal charms returning to me after being in quarantine for over a year. That part of me that I’m so good at, but haven’t used in so long. I thought my powers were gone, but apparently, that’s not the case.

I loved the surge of meeting a new attractive lady. But this wasn’t some nice gal from Tinder. This was my neighbor. I had to tread carefully. We chatted for a while and it was really nice. Lin is someone I’d like to hang out with. She loves books, so maybe a visit to the Philadelphia Library or some small book stores around town. Or, maybe some conversation over a coffee or a cocktail. I would love that. Just the rush of hanging with someone new and interesting and of course, easy on the eyes.

She now had my business card and I purposely didn’t ask her for her number. Too soon. Too much. She’s right next door. No need to rush. She’s not going anywhere.

But since that initial meeting, I had thought about her and how I’d like to hang out with her. She just seemed nice and it would be fun to hang with a new person.

I told her that Southgate, the Korean BBQ bar and grill was opening up their inside bar on Friday and I was going to go there. She was free to join me there for a drink if she wanted but I just threw it out there. She may forget when the day comes or not bother coming, but as I said before. I have no expectations.

I’m just sliding down destiny’s rainbow, like always.

We had chatted for over forty minutes and she had to go in. I still had to get something to eat and pick up some stuff at the store, so we said goodbye.

Of course, I looked for her on social media and found her. Everything seemed happy and normal enough and there were no red flags. I figured at some point we’d cross paths and chat again.

Then I got buried in commercial writing assignments. They hit like a freight train. When it rains, it pours, and be careful what you wish for. I had wanted to be a freelance writer for a while figuring if I could just make some money doing it, it would support me, the blog, and my freedom to compose books. Just like the poet Robert Graves once said; “I raise dogs to feed my cats.” What he meant was, do what you have to to survive, so you can do the things you like.

Anyway, so here we are into the new year and this is my first new Phicklephilly story about meeting a new person. I’d like to get to know Lin and spend some time with her. As I said before, this could all be nothing, but if nothing else, she could be a nice person to hang out with and grab the occasional refreshing beverage.

I have no expectations.

But, we’ll see what happens.

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

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