Retirement Home

Friday, March 29, 2013

Here is a postcard from the 1920s of a home for retired union workers who belonged to the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners.

The United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners has been in existence for 130 years. At some point, the union eliminated "Joiner" from its name. The UBC is one of North America's largest building-trade unions.

In 1928, the UBC purchased 2,000 acres in Lakeland, Florida. It designed and built this postcard-perfect retirement home for old tradesmen who would have otherwise been destitute. During the home's heyday, nearly 400 white men resided there. Note the irony of a union retirement community in a state that to this day eschews collective bargaining.

A Restored Panorama Photograph

The building was completed and dedicated in 1928. A professional photographer, M. C. Mayberry of Saint Petersburg, Fla. took the panorama of the building and grounds upon completion. For decades, this picture languished on a wall somewhere inside of the sprawling building. Without central air-conditioning, heat and humidity penetrated the building and accelerated the picture's deterioration.

By the mid-1970s, with retirees receiving Social Security and pensions, the home no longer served a purpose. It closed in 1976. The First Assembly of God Church purchased the property in 1980 and changed its name to Carpenter's Church. The building served for several years as a church-affiliated school. It is currently vacant. (Historical information obtained from the Lakeland Public Library.)

A clergyman of the church loved the picture and decorated his office with it. When the churched closed, he retained the rickety-framed and faded photograph as a keepsake. The clergyman retired a decade or two ago. One of his friends, a former employee of the church, borrowed the photo for me to restore.

Early Panorama Photography

The most popular panorama camera of the early 20th century was the circuit camera—an ungainly, large, box-like machine. Mounted on heavy-duty tripods, wind and vibration necessitated they be securely anchored in order to capture a crisp image. Circuit cameras were marvels of mechanical ingenuity. They featured a clock-like mechanism that transported the film in one direction while the camera panned in the opposite direction, thus exposing the film quite slowly as it traveled past the lens.

Close-Up Details

Top Dog Imaging restores antique photographs, repairs damaged pictures, and retouches pictures for businesses and consumers. Contact Top Dog at (863) 607-9059 for a free consultation.

Lakeland, Florida

Friday, March 8, 2013

I have lived in Minneapolis, Boston, and Omaha—smack dab in the middle of the Midwest. Now we live in Lakeland. Situated between Tampa and Orlando, this micro-metropolis enjoys some claims to fame: 1) Commercial hub of Florida's citrus and phosphate mining industries; 2) Spring training host of the Detroit Tigers; 3) Home of the corporate HQ of Publix—a wildly successful regional grocery store chain.

Lakeland highlights: 1) more churches per capita than any place anywhere; 2) An abundance of tidy, well-designed municipal parks (including a state-of-the-art skateboard park); 3) Main Street is similar to the one in Mayberry.

Lakeland, Fla. Main Street 2008

1958 Postcard of Lakeland

This photo was taken around the dawn of the spaceage!

Dogs and Baby Books

Friday, November 4, 2011

Dogs: I have had three dogs during my fifty-two years of existence—Alfie, Jazz, and Lila. Baby books: My mother compiled one about me. I, at the tender age of ten, made one that documented Alfie's puppyhood.

Here I am at twenty-three months. It is from my baby book.


Our first dog was a gift from my parents. My brother was twelve, my sister seven, and me ten. Having a canine-a-phobic father and a germ-a-phobic mother, my brother and I were astounded when they told us that their friend's dog had pups and that we could choose one for a pet.  

Having recently gotten over my fear of dogs, I was thrilled with the prospect of having a devoted four-legged chum. My parents soon drove us over to the Cohens' whose mid-size French Poodle had had a litter of pups. I cannot remember the bitch's name. I do recall that Mrs. Cohen ushered the mom dog out of their chilly wood paneled basement rec room so that we could select one of the pups. The Cohens' were exotic. They had modern art paintings and sculptures purchased from the local museum store adorning their walls and occupying entire tabletops. Due to the Cohens' obvious level of sophistication, my ten-year-old mind figured that the pups were well bred and highly refined. The puppies were mutts, part Poodle and part indeterminate terrier. We picked out the "cutest," but had to wait a couple of weeks before the pup could leave his mum.

My brother came up with a name for the puppy—Alfie. A few years earlier, the movie "Alfie" starring Michael Caine and Shelly Winters came out. The title song by Burt Bacharach and Hal David was a chart topper. It got lots of airplay on AM radio in 1970, even though the movie came out several years earlier. Once the puppy entered our lives, we often crooned, "What's it all about Alfie?"

On the day we brought Alfie home, Mom listed the rules. "The dog stays in the basement. You kids are going to play with it after school.  And, your Dad will build a pen for the dog." My brother and I tacitly understood that Mom was certifiably unreasonable. Our basement was cold in the winter and damp in the summer. On exceptionally rainy days, water seeped in and spread across the black and white checkered linoleum squares. "Never mind her rules; she'll change," I believed. "Why should anybody want to keep a pet in a dungeon?"

Understandably, alone in the basement, Alfie whined, barked, and relentlessly slammed full-body into the cardboard clad wood-frame pen. Mom eventually caved in and allowed the dog to spend his days upstairs, confined to the kitchen. This made life better for all of us. Still, at bedtime, a family member would lead Alfie by his collar to the basement pen. My dad built it out of remnants from the playpen my siblings and I hung out in during our infant and early toddler stages. The pen was rickety and weird. It had a hinged gate with an eyehook to lock the dog in.

Alfie did not have a serene life. He did not relish being alone in the kitchen when we were home, and he did not enjoy being cooped up in the basement at night and during the daytime when everybody was out. It is no wonder that he destroyed the kitchen cabinets by incessantly scratching and clawing at them from sheer boredom. Sometimes he would manage to get into the cabinet where we kept the garbage. We would then scream at him and scold him by forcibly tapping our index fingers against his sensitive nose shouting, "Alfie, that's a no; that's a no-no!" Obedience school or even getting a book about dog training eluded us. The dog's shortcomings, according to my parents, were purely the result of "bad genes."  His coat was hopelessly matted and he stunk. Still, I loved him.

A few years later, we moved across town into a four-bedroom tract home in a new neighborhood dotted with spindly trees and well-manicured lawns. Mom declared that the dog would not be moving into the "new house" with the rest of the family. My dad placed an ad in the classifieds, "Dog for sale, $25." One man responded to the ad; he brought his three-year old daughter to our house to look at the doggie. Alfie immediately humped the little girl. The man pulled his daughter away and left without saying much. The last time I saw Alfie was before I went to school on the day that the movers came. When we arrived home from school, Mom cheerily announced that one of the moving men took Alfie home with him. "Why would anyone take a stinky, matted, neurotic dog into their home?" I thought, "Alfie went to the gas chamber." Thirty-three years passed before I was to have another dog.

My Baby Book and Lila

My mother compiled baby books on each of us. My brother's was yellow, my sister's pink, and mine 1958 green. My baby book remained in mint condition until about five years ago, when a dog that we rescued from the pound named Lila chewed up the cover. Luckily, we discovered the book before the dog destroyed it. (I will not reprimand a dog for committing a crime in the past, not even if the past amounts to only ten seconds. Dog brains are unlike human brains. For canines, cause and effect occurs at a different level of consciousness than it does for humans. Simply put, dogs do not think as we do.) Although Lila was intelligent, cute, and confident, she did not respond well to training. She bothered our longtime pet dog Jazz, and one day bit our daughter. That was the final blow. We took Lila back to the pound. The SPCA filed a report with the sheriff's department and quarantined her for thirty days. I assume they euthanized her. Ironically, after I discovered Lila's mischief, I found the baby book that I had made for Alfie, unharmed, sandwiched between the middle pages of my baby book.

Baby Books

Baby books are handy tools for archiving important milestones in a young person's life. I am glad that my mother did this for my siblings and me. It is funny how each successive book got thinner than the previous. My older brother's is thick with pictures, tidbits, and certificates. Mine, a bit thinner, contains a lot of facts and pictures about my life until I reached the age of four. My little sister's is thin. I think Mom had her hands full raising three children and did not have the time or the energy to record data about polio booster shots, height and weight. By about the time my sister reached the tender age of two, Mom ran out of steam; she ceased recording first times for this and first times for that.

As a ten year old with a penchant for facts, figures, and photography, I took on the task of making a baby book for Alfie. I used the baby books that Mom had made as a template for Alfie's book.


To get a good picture, I had to remove the Scotch tape that secured the tooth onto the page.  The tooth broke in half when I picked it up.


Interesting coincidence—notice the illustration of a baby reaching for the toy dog. Stuffed dogs were among my favorites. I think that loving dogs is part of my DNA. I do not know from whence it came. I have read that certain traits skip a generation, or two or three.

We gave Alfie a toy, a skein of multi-colored yarn, when he was a couple of months old. I cannot recall how many days, weeks, or months it took him to shred it down to "the last piece."


Thirty odd years after Alfie disappeared from my childhood, the idea of getting a dog became a topic of conversation between my wife and me.  It took several months of Saturdays and Sundays checking out pounds and rescue shelters to find a good dog. We wanted a gentle dog that would be a good companion for our three-year-old daughter Helen, a pal to motivate me to go on walks and stay fit, and a friend for my wife, Sara, who grew up with many dogs. One day, Sara and Helen visited a rescue shelter a couple of miles away from our home in Boston. They walked down the narrow aisle that separated the two rows of kennels in the darkly lit cement block chamber.  Amidst the cacophony of barks, yelps, and whines, they noticed Jazz. Unlike the other dogs, Jazz appeared mellow and alert. She sauntered over and put her nose against the cage so that Helen could touch her snout. Since Jazz had only arrived at the shelter the day before, she was not yet eligible for adoption. The obligatory observation period, three or four days, was not up. That night, Sara and Helen mentioned that I might want to stop by on my way home from work the next day to check her out. I did; I noticed her gentle and alert demeanor too.

I read the paperwork on the clipboard that hung above her kennel. It said Jazz was a year old and that the family that had adopted her six months earlier returned her a few days ago. Their reasons: 1. Unable to house-train; 2. Chews up the wooden fence in the backyard. Her chart included phrases like, "loves to please," and "gentle temperament." A couple days later, we dropped by the shelter and hung out with Jazz. We filled out the paperwork, and I signed Jazz and me up for an obedience class. The next day, I picked her up on my way home from work. Within a week, she learned to go pee-pee and number two outside.

We love Jazz dearly. Although she does not have a baby book, we have scads of pictures of her and anecdotes galore. We did not compile a traditional baby book for Helen either. Helen is an ongoing project. However, Sara has been maintaining a notebook of notable "Helenisms" ever since we brought her home from the hospital. Somewhere in our home, there is a cache of her baby teeth. As for Alfie's baby book, I took pictures of him with my official Cub Scout camera. After the Lila incident, I removed the photos from Alfie's book for safekeeping. The adhesive from the Scotch tape was eating the prints. I have no idea where they are. When I find them, I will include them in my next tome on dogs and baby books.



Omaha Back in 1976

Sunday, September 12, 2011

My childhood was uneventful. I watched too much TV and daydreamed a lot. I always had a penchant for pictures, particularly photographs. I started taking pictures at around the age of eight. That is when I got my first camera–an official Cub Scout kit. It came with one roll of film, some flash bulbs, and a battery. Aside from the shutter button and a knob to advance the film, there was a little lever for setting the camera to either black and white or color film. The lever was connected to a sheet of metal that had a pair of holes punched out–one bigger and one smaller. Black and white film did not require as much light as the color films of that era, so the big hole was for color. I figured this out at the age of ten when I took the Cub Scout camera apart. After wrecking it, I graduated to my dad's Ansco Cadet. I found one tonight, on eBay. The description claims 1959 as its date of manufacture.

By the time I had reached 14, photography had become a big obsession. My dad built me a darkroom in the basement and I acquired a 35mm camera. By the age of sixteen, I got my driver's license and my first view camera–a 4X5 Calumet.

Ansel Adams and the f/64 gang had altered my perception of reality. I began visualizing everything in crystal-clear black and white–a boring teacher, clusters of clouds reflecting a sunset, the side of a building aglow from the late afternoon sun, a farmhouse obscured by misty dawn. Everything looked better in black and white. Ansel Adam's majestic scenes of Yosemite were particularly inspiring. Nebraska is not Yosemite. I settled for taking pictures of trees, barns, and individuals. I also took pictures of my high school's extracurricular clubs for the yearbook.

Then one summer day in 1976, I drove to Elmwood Park with my bulky tripod and view camera. Expecting to take pictures of trees, I bumped into a gang of beer-drinkers. They challenged me to take their picture. I accepted and spent a nervous five minutes behind the camera fiddling with the adjustments. This camera was not my father's Ansco. I had to cover my head and the back of the camera with a thick black cloth to see the image on the ground glass. For those of you that have not used a view camera, the image on the ground glass is a projection from the lens at the front of the camera. The image on the ground glass is faint, upside down and flipped from right to left. You have to be under a dark tent to see it. Finally, I was ready to take the picture. I took three. One of the guys asked me to send him a copy. We exchanged phone numbers and addresses.

I had not realized what the camera captured until I developed the negatives and looked at them through a loupe. This picture gave me an adrenaline rush. I made some prints and sent a copy to the guy in the gang.  About a month later, he telephoned our house. My little sister picked up the phone. "Hello," a voice spoke, "Is Bob there?" My sister told him that I was out. "Are you his old lady?" asked the voice. My sister did not know what this man was all about, but she did take down his name and phone number. I called him back. He told me that he sent the picture to Easy Riders and that they published the picture.

I bought a copy of the magazine and found my photo. The guy, the voice on the phone, Bill T., got the photo credit. Rats! I have not photographed a group of strangers since that warm day in Omaha back in 1976.

Later that summer, I saw a dead tree on the very outskirts of town. The way it reflected the sunset light fired every neuron in my brain that had anything to do with visualizing the world in black and white. I returned to the scene many times over the next week before I figured out how to photograph it. I ended up using a yellow filter and a polarizer over the lens.

As I looked at this picture earlier today, I realized that the city has spread out well beyond the tree. In 1976, the countryside behind me and my camera consisted of cornfields all the way down to the Elkhorn River. Now the cornfields are gone. All of that farmland is now part of Greater Omaha. Thanks to Photoshop and having not lived in the Midwest for thirty years, I see this picture differently than I did as a sixteen-year-old kid.

In 1976, during the Cold War, Greater Omaha was home to Offutt Air Force Base–the nation's Strategic Air Command (SAC). The US won the Cold War. The SAC moniker has not been used since. Tornadoes were a potential threat in 1976 just as they are today.

Dual Identity

Friday, September 2, 2011

I photographed a dog with a dual identity a couple of weeks ago. I am not suggesting that this particular animal suffers from a multiple personality disorder or works undercover for a secret organization. The dog simply has two names—one is “Bear” and the other is “Scooby.”

Bears & Scooby-Doo

My only direct experience with bears is what TV fed me in the 1960s–insipid escapades of Yogi Bear and Boo-Boo. Yogi was Hanna-Barbera Studios' cartoon version of a scheming and stupid bear. Scooby-Doo, or Scooby for short, is another Hanna-Barbera creation.

H-B also produced The Jetsons, Huckleberry Hound, and scads of other inane and hastily animated cartoon shows for children. Don Messick was the voice behind Scooby-Doo and Astro—the Jetsons’ pet dog that sported a weird atomic collar. Scooby-Doo and Astro are, in my opinion, Hanna-Barbera’s greatest contributions to the 20th century American cartoon lexicon. I attribute this praise solely to Mr. Messick for his terrific hybrid human-canine vocalizations.

Cold War Era Digression

For all I know, Hanna-Barbera Studios may have been an instrument of the Communists. Perhaps Nikita Krushchev's ministers realized that it was possible to arrest human intellectual development by subjecting young Capitalists to cartoon pablum. H-B's shows consisted of insipid plots and characters. Backgrounds, music, sound effects, and animation sequences were bland and recycled from one episode to the next.  American youth became addicted to junky cartoons. This caused the best and the brightest to eschew the hard sciences and mathematics for vapid, mind-numbing “entertainment.”

While H-B churned out substandard fair, Jay Ward Productions produced The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. Like H-B, JWP did not employ sophisticated animation techniques. Despite visual simplicity, The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show exuded intelligence, charm, and wit along with a measure of snappy Cold War satire. For all I know, this was NATO's response to Hanna-Barbera's mindless cartoon fair. Perhaps Rocky and Bullwinkle detoxified more than a handful of H-B junkies.

Bear AKA Scooby

The real dog, and the photographic subject of this blog, is super cute and sweet. He does not remind me of the abovementioned cartoon characters. Bear AKA Scooby is part Labrador and part Beagle. He is a delightful blend of each breeds' best qualities. Although I have only seen him a couple of times–once to take his picture and another to deliver the photos to his owner, he has worked his charm on me.

I conjecture that one spouse or child named him Bear, while another member of the family preferred Scooby (or vice versa). I presume that in order to maintain domestic harmony, the family decided to let the dog assume both names.

Test Pattern

Thursday, August 25, 2011

One of my earliest memories is JFK's assassination.

Debbie Cohen's mom drove me and a carload of other kids home from nursery school that day. I always liked riding in the cargo bay of their powder blue station wagon. That is where all of the good toys were. My favorite was a maze that had a blob of mercury encased between two plastic parts. The top was clear and the bottom powder blue, just like the car. The walls of the maze were about a quarter inch high and seamlessly attached to the bottom plate. The objective was to get the blob of mercury to roll through the maze. The entrance and egress were interchangeable. I liked to shake the toy with vigor as that caused the mercury to break apart into hundreds of small silvery orbs. Later, in the seventh grade, we learned about fractals. Somehow, I associated fractals with the way a mercury orb splits up into smaller orbs when disturbed.

Debbie's mom pulled up into our driveway. I crawled over the back seat, over a couple pairs of preschoolers, to get to the rear passenger door. It was crisp and chilly that day. As I ascended the concrete steps leading up to our wood-frame turquoise ranch house, I detected the scent of manure wafting from the stockyards. The odor was faint. I knocked on the front door of our house. Nobody answered. I rang the doorbell about twenty times. Nobody answered. Debbie's mom had pulled out of the driveway and taken off. Alone, I thought about the tiny mercury blobs scuttling about inside the plastic maze game. I sat on a step and waited.

A few minutes passed. My mom pulled up in her navy blue Ford Galaxy 500. She apologized for being late. We went inside and had lunch. I loved toasted peanut butter sandwiches. I liked to finger the melted peanut butter up my nose. Of course, when Mom caught me in the act, she gave me grief. I cannot remember if I had a toasted peanut butter sandwich for lunch on the day of JFK's assassination.

I do remember the news bulletin that interrupted Mom's soap opera. Or rather, I remember my mom's reaction. She gasped and telephoned my dad and then her sister-in-law Phyllis. She was upset. The soap opera program did not resume. For the next five days, TV had lost its talent to entertain me. The sounds and pictures pouring out from the big Philco mesmerized Mom and Dad.

The Philco's picture was not true black and white. It rather consisted of five or six shades of bluish light. Rabbit ears sat on top of the cabinet. In the early 1960s, there were only three channels in the metro Omaha area. Whenever we changed the channel, we had to adjust the rabbit ears to get the best reception. Good reception was relative. It depended on sunspot activity, climate conditions, and the flight paths of B-52s en route to the Strategic Air Command (SAC) base. SAC was the US Air Force's central command center during the Cold War.

From childhood to present day, my sleeping pattern has bordered on erratic. As a preschooler, I remember rising before dawn, turning on the big Philco to find nothing but the Indian Head Test Pattern on one or two channels. It was accompanied by a 1,000 hertz sine wave test tone. TV shows about cowboys and Indians were common during that era, so the Indian chief seemed right at home perched between concentric circles. A lot of thought went into designing this. Just Google "Indian Head Test Pattern," and dig in.

The other stations showed "snow" with audio. The sound was simply random audio noise, an infinite sea of crackles. I discovered that it was possible to recreate the sound of ocean surf by turning the volume control knob up and down rhythmically.

Here is a snapshot of analog TV static.

Invariably, the test pattern disappointed. At 1 a.m., it promised nothing but hours of no shows. At 5:30 a.m., it anticipated the commencement of adult stuff — news, PSAs, talking heads, etc. The good stuff did not come on until Captain Kangaroo began hawking Schwinn bicycles at eight sharp.

I do not recall anything else about the days following JFK's assassination other than the fact that I ceased paying attention to the TV set. I do not recall waking up in the middle of the night to tune into the stoic Indian chief perched between concentric rings.

The Meaning of This Post

If you have gotten this far, you may be asking, "What is the point of this story?" The point is that I want to use a variant of the original Indian Head Test Pattern as an icon to designate when this blog goes dark. Meaning, I might decide to take a vacation and quit posting for a week. Alternatively, I might have an earache. Maybe a hurricane will interrupt electrical power here at Top Dog headquarters. Perhaps a B-52 will fall out of the sky and crash into my house. Here it is, the Chow-Chow Test Pattern. I hope RCA does not chew me out for modifying and repurposing intellectual property dating back to 1938.


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