Tag Archives: stories

Observations From A Phone Book

Phone Book Pic

I enjoy going to garage sales. These are great places to find deals on such things as music CDs, books, electronic, DVDs, and phone books.

That’s right, I said phone books! I bought a phone directory for a quarter just a few weeks ago. I know! I can hear you saying, “What an idiot! Why would anybody pay even a quarter for a phone book?” But this isn’t just any phone book we’re talking about. This is a genuine March 1965 phone directory for Lansing, Michigan, USA.

This little piece of history offers a glimpse into the past. A walk through the Yellow Pages presents a list of restaurants that no longer exist in my home town, hotels that have disappeared, and service stations that no longer offer full-service care.

What’s really fascinating is finding the address of some long-closed business and matching it up with what exists in that spot today. For instance, the little grocery store (Miller Leland Grocery) that once provided food and other necessities for a North Lansing neighborhood is now a pornography shop. Another grocery store (Shop Rite Super Food Store)—and the entire neighborhood it once supported—is long gone, erased by the highway that now runs through that area.

A stuffy office in which I spent six years working had been a variety store back in 1965. Above the office, what I’d known only as a dark, water-damaged void had been a furnished apartment occupied by the woman who ran the variety store. I know her name was Lula Wint. That’s all the information a phone book will offer.

The night club (The Silver Dollar Saloon) where I spent most of the 1980s drinking and partying to hair metal bands had been an indoor golf facility (Golf-O-Tron) in 1965. There are a few picture of this on a Facebook page dedicated to the now-demolished club.

An interesting observation is in what wasn’t here 49 years ago. There were five McDonald’s carry-out restaurants in the city back then—modern dine-in McDonald’s locations didn’t appear in our area until the early 1970s—but there were no Burger King restaurants. In fact, neither were there Wendy’s or Taco Bell or any other fast food operations (apart from a single Kentucky Fried Chicken). Dominoes and Little Caesar’s Pizza chains both got their start just down the road from Lansing, but neither had opened a kitchen here at that time.

A dip into the residential pages brings a brush of fame to the experience. The father of former NBA superstar Earvin “Magic” Johnson, a Lansing Native, is listed as residing at 814 Middle Street. The budding basketball hall of famer would have been in elementary (primary) school back in 1965.

Infamy lies in there as well. Donald Basinger is listed as living at 6271 Marywood Street. Mr. Basinger would, in December of that year, take a hammer to his wife, two of his children, and the family dog, killing all involved.

March of 1965 was a full two years before my birth. It’s interesting to find my father’s name listed at an address at which I’d never lived (my parents had moved by the time I came along). He and my mother were 19 years old; newlyweds; kids, really, just getting started in life. My older brother hadn’t quite reached his first birthday, and my sister, her entrance into this world was yet a month away.

I lost my father two years ago. I’ve lost each of my grandparents, as well. They’re all in this phone book, listed at addresses I know from my youngest of days on this planet. As are my long-departed great uncles, who owned and operated a small business that once chrome-plated every bumper and every door handle on every Oldsmobile built in this city.

Even the once-mighty Oldsmobile and all of its support businesses are no longer among the living.

It never dawned on me that something so mundane as an old phone book might hold a treasure trove of memories. As a writer, I find inspiration all around me. Finding this simple directory at a garage sale has already inspired several ideas that, with a little nurturing, will one day become short stories or essays—like what I’m writing right here.

So the next time you find an old phone book, pick it up, thumb through its pages, search out the past and bring it into the present. Trust me; you’ll get a kick out of it.

 

 

 

Why Do We Write?

Why do we write? It’s a simple enough question. The answer, well, that’s not quite as cut and dried. Every writer has his or her own reason for putting pen to paper in an effort to entertain, educate, or just let off a little steam.

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I’ve been writing since about the age of eight. It’s just something I’ve always enjoyed. My motivations have changed over the years. Early on I wrote with the notion that I’d be the only one reading my work. I’d put down on paper some grand idea I’d find wandering through my head, an event from the day, or maybe a song or a poem. There has always been a need for me to create with word combinations belonging only to me.

In my teen years, for the first time, I wrote knowing that others would read my words. These writings took the form of record and concert reviews published in my high school’s newspaper. I went to a large school, with a student body of nearly 2500 members. People began to give me feedback, advice, compliments. I absorbed it all like a sponge. I felt a calling on my life; a calling to write.

To this day I am not able to make a living with this craft. And that’s fine; I didn’t take up my pen for financial gain. If and when it comes, that will be the clichéd icing on the proverbial cake!

I still enjoy writing. Whether it’s a novel, short stories, book reviews, or blog articles—like this one here—writing is my passion. I also find pleasure in writing communications to friends; letters that I’ll compose using pen and paper, stamp and envelope. I just don’t write every day the way I once did. Mood is my major motivating factor these days. Do I feel like writing something today? If I do, what form will it take? That’s just me, though.

Some writers must create each every day. Many even establish a daily word count. The day is a complete loss if they’ve not sprinkled a thousand words across their keyboard. It’s all selective depending on the individual.

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Ann Frank needed to write. This girl’s existence consisted inside four walls of a silent room that became her family’s prison for many years. She wrote every day, detailing a life most human beings could never imagine. Writing is all Ann Frank had to keep her connected to the world—as dark as her world became.

Harper Lee didn’t need to write. Oh, sure, early on she wrote short stories, essays, and articles. But then she wrote a novel called To Kill A Mockingbird and basically walked away from the craft. Her sister claims the author knew she’d never again approach the level of success Mockingbird achieved—no matter the caliber of book number two. So why bother? Rumor has it there’s an incomplete book with the Harper Lee name attached to it. We’ll probably never have a chance to read it, though.

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J. D. Salinger, though he ceased publishing his work after the mid-1960s, continued to write, taking a few hours each and every morning, creating stories only he had opportunity to enjoy. Upon his death, it was revealed that several of Salinger’s unreleased manuscripts would be published. The man loved writing but hated the attention his work drew from across the world.

Some people have never written anything outside of personal letters to friends and family. That doesn’t make them any less a writer than those with books or short stories on their resumes.

Everybody has their own reasons for writing—regardless if they publish or not.

Why do I write? I write because I have a passion to write—just not every day.

Why do you write?