Friday, August 28, 2009

Loonfoot Falls Schools: Yes, the Students Get a Map

School's starting soon. From the Valderrama down by the Interstate to Coalworth's, stores have shelves full of pencils, pens, paper, and all the rest. The school building's wall hides final preparations for fall classes.

I don't know if a town's school building tells you something about the town, but I do know that towns have different sorts of schools.

Watab's school, for example, was planned and built as a unified whole: two-story lobby and all.

Loonfoot Falls' school buildings grew in a more impromptu manner.

Work started on the oldest part of the present school complex in the summer of 1908.

The old Chester A. Arthur building still looks about the same as it did a hundred years ago: from the outside. Inside, it's gone through a major remodeling twice: once in the forties, adding a new heating system and insulation; and again in 1999, mostly to remove asbestos.

Until the fifties, elementary students used the first floor and high schoolers had the second: a simple, neat arrangement. Then elementary classes were moved to a new building, an auto shop grew out of the back of the old school, and the Polk Middle School went up next door.

The latest development is the new JFK high school building, more or less behind the middle school.

If you think that sounds complicated, you're not alone. The student manual has a map of the school inside: and I've heard that a few students get lost around the start of each school year.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Baum Media Productions: From Light Bulbs to Galaxy Cadet

Baum Media Productions, with its distinctive "When You See the Bee" logo, started as a studio lighting company in the early seventies.

"I sold equipment that filmmakers use: lights, backdrops, filters, cables, booms, the whole thing," Elton Baum explained.

"There were a lot of experimental studios then, in the San Francisco area. Creative people, but without much practical experience. They needed help."

"I saw the sort of stuff they were making - and selling! - and thought, ‘I can do this.' So I talked to some people I'd met, and started making films."

The early films, like "Jerome Doesn't Live Here" and "The Krakow Chronicle," were commercially successful without achieving critical acclaim. "So what? A critic buys one ticket. I'm interested in what everybody else likes."

Baum Media Productions moved its studio to Minnesota in the eighties. "Partly for the climate," Elton grinned. I'll admit I'm biased, though, I like it here."

I discovered that Stan Parks and his brother Xul had worked on a Baum film that never made it to production: "Dino Side Story."

"Two gangs of dinosaurs, the fangs and the claws. A boy from one and a girl from the other fall in love, wish on a new star, everybody ‘sees the light,' makes friends – and then the star falls on the city and they die." Elton Baum shook his head.

"The legal department said there were problems with it: and I'm not sure I liked the ending, myself. Oh, well: there's always the next Galaxy Cadet film."

Friday, August 14, 2009

Rags to Riches to Rags: Sometimes

My dad once told me that the 'rags to riches' story often was 'rags to riches to rags' in three generations. It's not a universal rule, but the pattern exists.

The founder is born poor, but has energy, ambition, and a really good idea. A few decades later, the founder's children start taking over the business. Let's say it's one child.

The kid's smart enough: but doesn't have the founder's spark. The second generation keeps the business running, though. Or, is sharp enough to live on the interest of investments.

The third generation comes along. This wunderkind grew up surrounded by wealth, and has bold, innovative ideas.

Which turn out to be innovatively suicidal, when applied to the founder's business.

Or, the founder's grandchild isn't all that interested in the business, but enjoys spending money on things like sports cars and skiing in Vail: and spends two generation's accumulation of wealth.

There are many exceptions, of course.

Like the Adams family: the real one, starting with Samuel Adams, who helped stir up the American revolution and was Governor of Massachusetts for a while. Two centuries later, Charles Francis Adams IV was Raytheon's first president.

They're not as famous as the Adams, but Loonfoot Falls has the Baums. The family is into its seventh generation now, and most of Zachariah Baum's descendants have done pretty well. I've mentioned Elton Baum's efforts with Haskell's Corner Drug, and the I Love Fruit! stand. Next week, I plan to tell about Baum Media Productions.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Amber Defenders and the Zombie Ant

Howard Leland got bad news last month, from the Asclepias Society. It's official now, he told me: The society is interested in butterflies of any species. But not ants.

Mr. Leland is determined to save ants of the world from insensitive scientists, and is pursuing that goal with the zeal he’s shown for promoting butterfly preserves and sustainable leaf blowers.

Some people might have learned of the indignities suffered by a zombie ant, and remained unmoved. Not Howard Leland.

A lesser man might have been discouraged by the Asclepias Society's lack of cooperation. For Howard Leland, it was a call to action.

He's organizing the Amber Defenders: People protecting ants from indignities; even as amber has defended ancestral ants' remains from the ravages of time.

Looking at it that way, it's sort of heroic and poetic.

Howard Leland's told me, several times, the incident whose retelling inspired him.

About fifty years ago, an innocent ant got swabbed by oleic acid. No harm done, physically, but Mr. Leland’s sure the ant suffered emotional distress.

After ants have been dead for a few days they start giving off oleic acid. Ants rely heavily on smells to keep track of things, so that very-much-alive ant registered as "dead" to its colony-mates.

As far as other ants were concerned, they had a dead ant walking. For two hours, the zombie ant was picked up, carried to the colony's 'graveyard' pile, over and over.

So far, the Amber Defenders has three members, including Mr. Leland.

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