Dateline: 16 September 2008

Brains Benton and Jimmy Carson

From An Old Dictionary

The Creeps
a feeling of fear or repugnance.

extreme dislike or distaste; strong aversion


Every so often there is a news report about some poor schmuck who was on some railroad track and got hit by a train. The train ran right into the guy. And that was the end of him.

I always wondered how such a thing could happen. I figured the person must have been drunk or determined to commit suicide. But now I realize a person can be in their right mind and just not see the train coming—believe it or not. That was how it happened with me. Or, I should say, that’s how it almost happened.

I walk over train tracks every day when I go to work. The tracks run between the parking lot and the entrance to my work. I work in a maximum security prison (it’s the kind of place that can give a person the creeps). I have seen the train and had to wait for it many times in the last eight years. But last week was different.

I got out of work late that day. The usual crowd of employees (which usually includes me) had already left. I was alone, walking to my car, intent on getting out of town, away from the asphalt and concrete and convicted felons, back to the sanity of my family and the refuge of our home on a green hillside, surrounded by fields and woods. As I was stepping over the train tracks, I caught sight of a bright light off to my left, and turned my head.

The bright light was the headlight of a train engine. It was bearing down on me and only about 25 feet away. I hustled across those tracks fast and turned around to watch the train go by. It was only an engine and a caboose. I never heard a whistle. I never saw it coming. It didn’t try to slow down for me. Now, a week later, the thought of that incident gives me the creeps.

Speaking of the creeps, I went to WalMart yesterday. I rarely go to WalMart. But Marlene and I were in town (I took her to lunch for her birthday) and I needed a few things.

When I got inside the store, I forgot what I thought I needed. All I could think is that “Nobody needs all the crap they’re selling in this place!” I ended up getting a toothbrush and heading for the checkout line.

I hate to use the tired old analogy of “another planet” but, really, I felt like I was in an alien civilization. Everybody looked strange to me. It seemed surreal. Maybe it was the artificial lighting. Maybe it was the shock of so much mass marketing. Maybe it was all the needless crap. Whatever it was, I felt like I was on “another planet.” The planet Circus. It was a dehumanizing place. I didn’t feel like I should be there. I wanted to go home.

“Must.... Scotty. Scotty! Beam us up!”

So there I was, waiting in the WalMart checkout line, toothbrush in hand, looking at the magazines. Who are all those people? Why should I care about Brad Pitt. The John McCain family was pictured on the cover of People magazine. They looked like aliens too.

And then I realized something I never realized before...... they changed the gum.

What happened to the packages of gum with the flat sticks like I have known all my life? It wasn’t there. There was alien modern gum packaging. Why can’t they leave well enough alone?

So then it came to me that I’ll bet people are selling old fashioned stick gum on Ebay.

When I got home my kids asurred me that I could still buy gum in stick form. But I checked it out on Ebay anyway.

Yep. You can buy “vintage” gum on Ebay. I saw a three-pack of unopened Chicklets from the 1960’s sell for more than $15. A “wax lips” Halloween whistle from the 1970’s (in the original wrapper) was selling for over $90. I remember buying one of those things when I was a kid. I ended up eating it. That was the whole idea behind it. You blow the whistle for awhile and then you eat it. They probably cost a dime.

If you act fast, you can go to Ebay right now and bid on a single stick of Wrigley’s Doublemint chewing gum, circa 1930 (with some minor staining of the wrapper). The bidding is up to $5 (plus $3.50 for shipping) and there are two days of bidding left. Or how about this: four pieces of Banana Splits (1970s) chewing gum with tattoo transfers. That’s currently going for $11.72.

Yesterday the fourth largest investment firm in the world filed for bankruptcy. The largest insurance company in the world was on the brink of folding. The stock market was taking a dive. And people were paying big bucks for vintage gum on Ebay. Do they know something we don’t know? It begs the question... Will vintage gum be the next big investment bubble?

All of which (somehow) leads me to the favorite books of my youth. Long before WalMart wiped out the diversity of little hometown department stores with creaky wooden floors and smiling neighbors. Back then I read Hardy Boys mysteries. But better than the Hardy Boys was Brains Benton mysteries. I loved those Brains Benton mysteries! Only six were written and oh how I yearned for more.

Barclay “Brains” Benton and his sidekick Jimmy Carson were jr. high school buddies in the little town of Crestwood. They were an Americanized boy-version of Sherlock Holmes and Watson. They had some great adventures.

My favorite story was “The Case of The Counterfeit Coin,” which begins in Chapter 1 (The Crawling Hand) like this:

I don’t think I’ll ever forget that bottle of soda pop. Not as long as I live.

That’s how the whole thing started—with a drink of ice-cold cherry soda. But before it was over—brother!—I was up to here in a genuine Grade-A detective mystery, complete with guns, knives, screams in the night and a bumper crop of goose pimples.

That’s Jimmy Carson doing the narrating. Jimmy’s favorite expression (which he usually thought, rather than spoke) was, “Creeps!” Chapter 5 of the same book quoted above ends with this situation:

Looming over us was a scowling, unshaven face with two beady eyes—a man with the bald head, scrawny neck and huge nose-beak of a vulture!

And in his hand he held a hammer!


Now what kid could put a book like that down without seeing what happens next? Yeah, I really liked those books. When I think of that expression, “the creeps,” I always think of Jimmy Carson.

And when I look around me at the world as it has become, with it’s strange modern situations and circumstances, with dangers looming, and the hammer about to come down, and I realize it's not some innocent fiction mystery book, I think like Jimmy...."Creeps!"


Brenda@CoffeeTeaBooks said...

My eighteen year old son told me today that he doesn't understand why we "older people" talk about it being a different world prior to the late 1960's.

I told him "you would have had to be there" to understand.

Totally different world.

I expect it was someone of the older generation paying good money for what that gum stood for (his youth).

Not that I understand how someone could spend the money... but perhaps why.

Rachel O said...

If you think Walmart was family and I just got back from a long weekend at Ocean City Maryland and, unfortunately for us, it was Bike Week! (motorcycles, not bicycles). Talk about a circus!!!!

James said...

I'm glad to see that you brought the comments back. Comments aren't just a way for blog writers to feed their ego, they are a voice for the readers. Not that you are writing a blog to feed your ego, everyone knows you do it to promote your Whizbang Garden Cart!!! (Just kidding)


mark said...

Yes, going to Walmart I wonder what in the world all that STUFF, is supposed to be for. 20 brands of cat food. 15 brands of toilet paper, etc. And you are so right, about those stupid magazines. Like "In Touch". Anybody who needs to read such a thing, is something, but In Touch, he or she isn't. Speaking of kids detective stories, I was fond of "Encyclopedia Brown" , mystery stories about kid, who seemed to know everything.

mark said...

Yes, going to Walmart I wonder what in the world all that STUFF, is supposed to be for. 20 brands of cat food. 15 brands of toilet paper, etc. And you are so right, about those stupid magazines. Like "In Touch". Anybody who needs to read such a thing, is something, but In Touch, he or she isn't. Speaking of kids detective stories, I was fond of "Encyclopedia Brown" , mystery stories about kid, who seemed to know everything.

kjvbaptist said...

yeah i dont know where it all went wrong. i remember (im 36) sitting in the parking lot of walmart in vandalia Il. with my Father. i was like in the 3rd grade or so. he said son what does that say there. i read "discount city" he said thats good, how bout that..."we sell for less" alright. i remember i asked him if the store was good. he oh yeah real good store. then why does only mom go in and not you. he said way (25 yrs ago or so) no no no they got way too much STUFF in there i dont like it. i just remember that. two days ago i dropped my wife off in front of stuffmart. life goes in circles