Down the Hall on Your Left

This site is a blog about what has been coasting through my consciousness lately. The things I post will be reflections that I see of the world around me. You may not agree with me or like what I say. In either case – you’ll get over it and I can live with it if it makes you unhappy. Please feel free to leave comments if you wish . All postings are: copyright 2014 – 2021

Archive for the month “November, 2014”

And the Winner of the Transparent Ribbon is…

RibbonsI suppose that no matter what I write about and post here someone will be unhappy about it. I can live with that, but apparently others cannot. That, as I am wont to say, is their problem. I see no need for them to try to make it mine.

When I started this blog, more for my own amusement than anything else, I stated that it will consist of whatever coasts across my mind. Many things do waft by, but if I wrote about all of them I would need a personal secretary, a bottomless coffee pot, and some serious bandwidth. Since I have none of those things I must pick and choose what will show up here. I tend to select those things that amuse or amaze me. I choose to avoid the things that sadden or anger me. I have enough stomach acid. I don’t need any more.

The reason I bring this up is that this morning someone said to me that I should use my blog to express anger and outrage about the various issues that upset him and should upset me. When I suggested, politely I reassure you, that he should start his own blog, he said that he was too busy and didn’t have the time.

This is the same person I see always decked out with various colored ribbons to express their concern for a multitude of causes. When I suggested that, to me, it seems that he is more concerned with having the appearance of caring rather than actually caring for real. His ribbons are worn to impress other ribbon wearers, and to make him feel superior to those without ribbons, not to actually do something. After all, he is too busy.

I suppose that I could have gotten nasty and bluntly told him to mind his own business and to have a nice day being a hypocrite.  I didn’t because he already knows, deep down, that he is a hypocrite and he must be used to having people telling him to piss off. After a while even the sharpest thrown rock doesn’t have as much impact.

In what was supposed to be a rebuttal, he announced that he has never actually read anything I have posted on this blog. I can live with that too. I am also too busy – to care about ninnies like him.

Maybe I should pin a ribbon to my shirt? Perhaps a nice clear ribbon so that everyone will know that I care about transparent jackasses more than they do. Just thinking about it I’m already feeling better about myself -superior, even.

And now we return you to our regularly scheduled broadcast.

The Morning After The Day Before

A lot of people are calling today “Black Friday,” a piece of accounting slang indicating cornish hen dinnerthat today is the day when their sales ledgers go from Red Ink to Black Ink. Many retail concerns realize the majority of their sales for the year in the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas. What a way to live.

For me today is “The Morning After the Day Before.” It really doesn’t have a color. Everything is shrouded in an L-Tryptophan cloud. Rather than go battle the hordes of shoppers at The Mall I am spending this day fighting the urge to go back to bed or to catch a nap standing up as I wait for my coffee.

If I were to go shopping I’m sure that I would come home with – stuff. I don’t need any more stuff. My wife doesn’t need any more stuff. We really don’t need half of the stuff we have right now.

I’m just glad that I don’t have a “Bed, Bath And Beyond” store nearby. Whenever I go into that store I become enraptured by all of the “Beyond” stuff. It is like finding myself trapped inside every Infomercial extant on TV. I see piles of microwave cooking gizmos and various adhesives (in a selection of colors) that would enable me to drill holes in my boat without fear. But I don’t have a boat.

In a way it all takes me back and makes me feel young again. Strolling through a “Bed, Bath And Beyond” is like preparing to furnish a college dorm room with a wide range of stuff prohibited by the school in addition to things your mother insists that you actually need.

No, today is the day when I sit quietly in a stupor and let other people move the economy forward. I’m just not capable of being a cog in the commercial engine – tomorrow maybe, but not today. Today I am content to be little more than organic matter in size 10 shoes. I can and will respond to basic stimuli, but little more. Cogent thought and critical thinking will have to wait until the fog lifts. My wife has confirmed that I am quasi-capable of forming simple sentences aloud, but she doesn’t think I’ll be going much beyond that until Sunday. It sounds like today may be the perfect day for me to ensconce myself in ‘The Rip Van Winkle Memorial Chair’ and stumble through Netflix. Oh, look! Six thousand movies I’ve never heard of.

I’ll get back to you tomorrow.

Significant Signal Leakage

Man up a pole


There was a knock on the door one day last week. It was a uniformed young man from the Cable Company. His van was parked at the curb with a very large ladder strapped to the top.

The fellow politely introduced himself and stated that there had been a report of a, “Significant Signal Leakage,” reported at our address and he had been sent to investigate and correct the problem. The big ladder was so he could check the connections on the pole along the backyard fence.

He didn’t look like he was about to pull off a home invasion or an attempt to steal my 2002 Hyundai, so my response was, to paraphrase, “Whatever.”

He extended his ladder up against the pole by the fence and scampered up. I saw several squirrels eyeing him enviously. He spent a good twenty minutes putzing around up there, knocking out our cable connection in the process. I was going to miss the Jeopardy! rerun. Life goes on. I should feel blessed – after all, there are people in Bulgaria who never get to see Jeopardy!

When he finished up in the backyard he moved his ladder over to the side of the house to check on the connection at that end. He seemed to be determined to stop that “Significant Signal Leakage” before it became a deluge.

Eventually he seemed satisfied, packed up his ladder, climbed back into his van and drove away. He gave us no reassurance that he had fixed the problem or that we were in no imminent danger. The TV came back on, but Jeopardy! was long gone. I’ll get over it.

Shift the scene to the next morning. I am sitting in the Chapel at St. Arbucks having my coffee when one of the Usual Suspects enters and comes over near me. This young fellow, with a Significant Southern Accent Leakage, works for the Cable Company. I told him about his co-worker’s visit of the day before and I asked him, “What does ‘Significant Signal Leakage’ mean?”

He laughed so hard I thought he was going to drop both his coffee and his accent.

“My friend,” he said, “It doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a high tech sounding phrase we use when we don’t want to bother explaining what the real problem is. From what you told me it sounds like we just had a loose connection somewhere. ‘Significant Signal Leakage’ – I just love those jokers.”

It is a good sounding phrase – “Significant Signal Leakage.” I may start using it myself. When I feel the need to return an undercooked steak I can claim that it has “Significant Signal Leakage.” When my doctor asks me how I’m feeling I can respond with, “I think I have Significant Signal Leakage.”At St. Arbucks when the barista asks me, “How are you this morning?” I can say, “I have ‘Significant Signal Leakage,’ please add an extra shot of espresso.”

Feel free to use this phrase if you wish. I don’t have it copyright protected or anything. I doubt that the Cable Company has either.

My Holiday Shopping Tip

christmas-shopping mall

Christmas is hard upon us again and, with the dreaded “Black Friday” looming like a friend of your mother’s just waiting to pinch your cheeks, I offer some advice. The following is something I learned last year.

It was just before Christmas and I was down at the Mall with my wife doing some shopping and she took me into unexplored territory – Terra Incognita:  The Body Shop.

She said that she was looking for something “scented” for her friends.

“This is Cranberry/Tangerine, Dear. What do you think?”

“That would be good on toast,” I answered honestly. I’d missed breakfast.

“This is Pomegranate.”

“I don’t smell anything. Wait a minute… Nope, all I smell is that plastic cap.”

She gave me that look.

“Honest, Darlin’, I don’t smell anything. Maybe I’m not wired to smell Pomegranate. My people came from Eastern Europe. There were no Pomegranates in Lithuania. Maybe it’s genetic.”

I spent the next twenty minutes sniffing lotions, soaps and other stuff that I could not identify.

Here’s my point.

Men do not appreciate or in many cases even recognize “scents” and “aromas.”  Men are more…basic. We deal in smells.

Now, the Body Shop, wonderful company that it is, deals in scents and aromas that women buy, in large part, to make themselves appealing. It can’t be because they want to smell like the produce section at Kroger’s. It is to draw men closer. And here is where the system fails.

If women really want to be alluring to the nasal passages of men they should adorn themselves, not with scents and aromas, but with some really good smells.

What smells do men like?

Buffalo Wings.

Cash. (That was tough.)

What guy could resist sidling up to a gal who smelled like a large order of McDonald’s French Fries?

“Oh, yes, I do believe I’d like fries with that.”

Ladies — What about “That New Car Smell?”

But the ultimate in attractive smells…pay close attention, I’ve put some thought into this. If you want healthy, red-blooded, virile American men at your beck and call – before you leave the house, behind each ear, just put a little dab of: “Eau de Season Tickets.” You’ll have guys following you like bloodhounds after a wounded escapee.

That’s it in a nutshell – My Holiday Shopping Tip for this year. Forget the Old Spice. Forget that fifty buck pair of driving gloves. Get the man in your life a smelly, game used, uniform jersey from Pablo Sandoval or whichever sports figure he likes who sweats like a Bishop getting a lap dance.

No scents, no aromas, just some good old eye watering smells.

Merry Christmas and Play Ball!

Morning Becomes Eclectic

Baeslers Sign

The photograph that is attached to this posting is from a nearby market. According to their marquee sign they were having a sale on sweet potatoes, celery, and biscuits. They were also telling me that the current temperature was minus 104 degrees Fahrenheit. The time portion of the sign would only tell me that it was 22 minutes after the hour, but refused to tell me which hour. For that I was on my own.

It’s been pretty much that kind of morning.

My coffee run to St. Arbucks was met with another crowd of collegiate runners in town for the NCAA Championship Meet.

I think that tomorrow I will go to St. Arbucks wearing my sweatshirt that proclaims me as an alumnus of “Very Expensive College.” I had that printed up just for such occasions.

Looking at those young athletes made me feel seriously out of shape. No, actually, just looking in the mirror made me feel that way. All those runners just rubbed my nose in it. I left feeling inadequate, but still better educated than them.

After checking the time and temperature at the supermarket I went home and was reassured that we now have partial heat at our church. This is a big deal because my wife is the pastor of the First Congregational Church of Terre Haute and, apparently, it is minus 104 degrees outside.

The church, erected in 1903, has been laboring with a furnace just a bit younger and that monster completely died a few weeks ago. Getting a new one has taken longer than expected. For a couple of weeks we held Sunday services huddled up to portable heaters, swaddled in blankets, and praying for a warm front to pass through town.

Now that all of the parts have arrived and the workers are putting in very long days to install everything, we can proudly announce that part of the building has heat. We stopped by yesterday and, for the first time in too long I did not feel like a frozen fish stick. Tomorrow I believe that we will all be able to worship without looking like a lost polar expedition.

This morning continued to jump around like a goldfish on a hotplate when I learned that, while one family member is recovering nicely from getting her tonsils out, another has had a mild stroke. The prognosis is good for both of them, but it is turning this Saturday morning into something resembling an emotional Pachinko machine.

I lift my cup in hopes that the rest of today will be less stressful for my wife and I, warmer than minus 104 degrees F, and relaxing enough that we will be able to flop into our comfy chairs to turn on the TV and continue binge watching “Foyle’s War” on Netflix.

Morning With Some Very Thin People

My morning started out with my usual pilgrimage to the chapel at St. Arbucks for coffee and fellowship with the usual suspects seated in the corner. The place was quite busy when I got there and became even more so when a couple of vans pulled into the parking lot.

I have to admit that I was impressed when the group of young and extremely fit people came into the Chapel. Most days the attendees bear a stronger resemblance to the waiting room at the Geriatric Clinic. Then the memory bank kicked in with an explanation: This weekend Terre Haute is hosting the NCAA National Cross Country Running Finals. There are teams of collegiate runners from all over the nation here to run in the sub-freezing temperatures, just for the glory of the sport.

Of course, that’s not anything I would ever do. In fact, I have held true to my conviction that the only way to make me run is to chase me while brandishing a weapon. Personally, I see no glory in breathing frigid air, while sweating like a nun in a whorehouse – in my shorts – in a crowd of strangers – when I could be somewhere warm – with a hot cup of coffee in my hand.

After taking a sip of my coffee I walked over to a table of young athletes whose clothing identified them as being from the University of Oregon.

I asked them if they were here for the NCAA Thingy. They sure were they said with a smile. Being an unofficial one-man welcome on-the-wagon I welcomed them to Terre Haute and wished them all good luck. Again they all smiled. I went back to my seat.

Being that physically fit must help to induce all that smiling. I also noticed that all of these youngsters were very slim. No, that’s not accurate. I have more fat in my left thumb than they all had collectively. They were skinny, but I’d wager that you could bounce a quarter off of their stomachs, not that I would ever suggest actually doing that. Let’s just say that they were all well prepared for this weekend’s competition and that they were all thin enough that they could have been sent to Terre Haute in a good sized Express Mail envelope.

I wish them all good luck and I hope they all celebrate with an actual meal.Woodlawn Varsity Cross Country Runners

Welcome to the @##^&!!@# Winter

It is cold today. I’m not talking “cold” by Miami Beach standards. I’m talking cold by the joints in my body cold. The lovely Weather Bunny on the TV this morning said that it was 10 degrees Fahrenheit outside. I don’t care who you are, that’s cold. It is even colder if you have knees, hips and elbows three times as old as the Weather Bunny. I grant you that the fact that I have lost about 40 lbs. or so is going to help. Less pressure on those joints has to be a plus factor. However it doesn’t make those joints any younger and, contrary to popular opinion, it is not easy to get parts for a make and model this old.

Along with this recent drop in temperature we have had our first measurable snowfall of the season. I hate snow. I know that “hate” is a powerful word, but I can’t think of any word stronger.

I hear people saying, “Oh, but isn’t the snow so pretty? It’s just like a Christmas card.” It is pretty for the first fifteen minutes or until I have to go outside into it, whichever comes first. After that all resemblance to any Christmas card I’ve ever seen ends. After that it all looks like slipping, sliding, falling, shivering, scraping, and bent sheet metal to me.

You will notice that I did not say shoveling in that list. I do not shovel, just like I don’t mow in summer. That is why God invented teenagers. I quit shoveling snow the day after my late Uncle dropped dead in his driveway with a snow shovel in his hand. I am older than he was when he hit the pavement.

I grant you that there are many positive aspects to winter. This is the Holiday Season when friends and family get together and we can celebrate the Lord’s coming. We can also celebrate the NFL Playoffs and the approach of Spring Training and the return of Baseball.

God first, Baseball second.

One of the best parts of winter, on a more personal basis, is that we will soon pack up and head to visit family in southern Texas. It doesn’t get cold and snowy there very often. It has happened, but rarely enough that, when it does, the local newspaper puts out a special edition and publishes an actual book filled with commemorative photos. Some people just have it too easy.

I imagine that you have picked up on my general feelings toward winter. I’m not its number one fan. But there are people who love winter and can’t wait until they see that first snowflake. Personally I think that these people are in serious need of professional help, and I don’t mean the professional ski instructors in Vail. However, these folks are adults and I am not responsible for them. I am neither their parent, nor the person who controls their medication levels. If I were I would administer a large dose of “Getreal,” a palliative that would help them to realize and empathize with the bulk of humanity that greets the arrival of winter with groans and muttered curses. OK, so maybe not the bulk of humanity. The bulk of humanity lives in semi or full-blown tropical climes as was meant to be.

Does this mean that I should be directing my enmity toward those Neanderthal or Cro-Magnon jokers who migrated to Norway or some other icy location about a million years ago? I’m here, they’re gone (except for the few Neanderthals who remain on the rules committee of Major League Baseball) so they wouldn’t feel the sting of my rebuke. Instead I’m left to verbal dumping here about it all. So it goes.snow  monster in traffic

OK, take a breath and carry on, but be careful, it is slippery out there.

Uncle Sam Didn’t Want Me


There were few places colder in December of 1966 than Cleveland, Ohio and there was no place in Cleveland in December of 1966 that was colder than the hallways of the Federal Building that housed the United States Selective Service. It was there that the U.S. military pre-induction physical examinations were conducted. That is where I was on a particularly cold day in December of 1966.

How I got there was a combination of remarkable stupidity on my part and remarkable efficiency on the part of the Selective Service Draft Board in Beaver Falls, PA. Looking back from the precipice of almost a half century I can detect with a whiff of objectivity and amazement that it made enough of an impact on me that I can still remember it so clearly.

My day in the icy hallways of the Federal Building began more than a year earlier when we moved back to Cleveland and I enrolled at Cleveland State University, or as they insisted on calling it “THE Cleveland State University.”

There I was, the ultimate small town boy, dropped smack into a major metropolitan area and signed up to take classes at a university I had never seen and had not a clue on how to get there from where we were living.

I was told that the best way for me to get to the campus was to take the city bus into downtown Cleveland and transfer to a second bus that would take me up to the school. That was all well and good, but I had never been on a bus in my life, I had no idea what the fare was or where to get off let alone where to catch the second bus. My first day was a real sweatfest.

Through sheer luck and some very nice and helpful strangers I was able to find the school. Once there I actually found my way around. This was the first year for THE Cleveland State University. The state of Ohio had purchased a small private college and slapped on a few new signs. The entire school had only three buildings. Even I could figure out where things had to be. I followed the crowd a lot and even found my way home at the end of the day. I felt rather sophisticated, even though people said I had an accent and wanted to know where I was from. When I told them I hailed from “Beaver Falls” they answered with, “What’s that?” I never knew I had an accent. I just thought that they were the ones with the accent.

As the year progressed I learned to relax and not sweat so much. I got myself involved at the college radio station. No, not true – I got myself obsessed at the college radio station. I was fascinated with it all and they seemed to like me. I liked it so much that I began to skip classes to work at the station more and more. It got to the point that I was becoming a rumor in my assigned classes.

At the end of my third trimester at THE Cleveland State University my grades came in. It wasn’t so much that I was failing everything as it was that I was almost universally “Incomplete” as far as the school was concerned. They sent me a nice letter that, while officially “incompleting” my stay there, actually was saying, “You’re not really here anyway, so let’s just quit pretending. So long and have a nice day, you jackass.” It was hard to argue with their logic. I assume that in the same outbox as that letter was another addressed to my local Draft Board back in Beaver Falls saying, “He’s all yours, if you can find him. We couldn’t.”

During that time in American history it was the law that all males had to register with the Selective Service within a few days of their 18th birthday. This registration was to let the government know where you were in case of war and they wanted to drag your ass into the Army. The Draft Board, as it was called, kept track of every young male in the country, regardless of physical, mental, emotional, or peculiarity condition. They did a pretty good job of it too. At 18 you went to your local post office and filled out a card with your relevant information. It was a rite of passage that said you are no longer a child, you are now meat.

Based on a number of variables, each person was given a “draft status.”

If you were married, the sole support of your family or in prison you were placed in a status that pretty much guaranteed you would never be drafted into the military. I could never understand why being in prison was such a blanket exemption. I would think many of those guys would already have a skill set that could come in handy. Oh, well.

If you were a fulltime student in good standing in a real institution of higher learning you were given the status “2-S.” That was me for my year at Geneva College in Beaver Falls (lovingly called the High School on the Hill) and my time at THE Cleveland State University. That is, until I was sent a “Dear John” letter by the university.  I wasn’t worried because I just assumed that, given my physical quirks, I would be given the new draft status of “4-F.”

4-F meant that you were physically disabled and rejected for military service. Well, if there was anyone I knew who fit that description it was little ol’ me. Boy was I wrong.

After THE Cleveland State University and I parted ways I figured that I would get a job to earn a few bucks and pick up some classes at THE Cuyahoga County Community College to try to resurrect my GPA so I could try to get into another college without being met with gales of academic laughter. I got a job in the toy department of a large store in downtown Cleveland.  I still have bad dreams about that job. I’ll try to fill you in later

It never entered my mind that my local Draft Board back in PA was getting ready to stop me in my tracks. I knew that they would be notified by THE Cleveland State University that I was no longer among the ranks of “The Vikings”. (What Vikings had to do with THE Cleveland State University and Northeastern Ohio I had no idea, but then again it was a better choice than the far more appropriate “Floating Dead Lake Erie Fish.”)

The gents of the Draft Board just followed the manual that they used to determine the fate of local boys and reclassified my draft status from the relatively comfy “2-S” to the decidedly uncomfortable “1-A.”

1-A meant that you were not only a lousy student and/or not in prison, but that you were now at the head of the line. No longer just meat you were now a hunk of filet mignon. Don’t make any plans beyond next month and don’t think about any trips outside the country, Bucko. For some reason beyond my comprehension it seemed that my future now lay somewhere in between the Toy Department and Viet Nam.

I was more confused than concerned. I was the guy who had a doctor’s note excusing me from Gym Class all the way through school. I was the guy who was removed from Shop Class because I was, “A danger to myself and others.” I was the guy who couldn’t even hold a rifle properly, let alone aim and hit anything with it. Yup, I was just what the Army was looking for in the middle of a war. I figured that the only possible role I could have filled was that of Hostage.

When I got the letter saying that I was reclassified as 1-A I never really thought anything would come of it. I would just write a letter to the Draft Board in PA explaining things and that would be that.

I wrote that letter and they answered with a letter of their own telling me to report for my Pre-induction Physical Examination. I was being drafted!

I wrote them another letter asking them if they were serious and, anyway I was living in Cleveland and I didn’t want to have to make the trip back to Beaver Falls just to be told to turn around and go home carrying my new 4-F draft status letter.

They replied quickly, telling me that, yes indeed they were serious and that they would be satisfied if I would report to the Cleveland Selective Service Offices for my Pre-induction Physical. They also added a P.S. saying that if I didn’t report for the Physical I would soon find myself in a Federal Prison. I decided that I would follow their suggestion.

So, at 6 AM on a freezing December morning in 1966 I showed up at the marble halls of the Federal Building in downtown Cleveland prepared to get this nonsense settled so that I could be home in time for breakfast.

When I tried to approach someone who appeared to have some authority I was told be quiet and to strip down to my Fruit of the Looms and get in line with the several hundred other young men who were there. I left my clothes in a small pile next to several hundred other small piles, put my wallet in a small cloth bag and tied it to my wrist as instructed by a man in uniform who looked like he would just as soon shoot me as stab me.

Here I was in the chilly marble halls in my undies standing next to a long line of other young men who looked much more physically fit than I. This shouldn’t take long. One gander at my mismatched legs and clearly malfunctioning arm and I would be sent home.

Eight hours later I was still there wondering what the heck I had to do to get these people to open their eyes.

I had put in a group of about twenty other guys standing in a neat row while another angry looking man in uniform stood at the front of the room read off a list of various diseases, conditions, and symptoms. Out of sheer boredom he had turned his list into a song. Our job was to listen and to take one step forward for each of his lyrics applied to us. He did not have much of a voice, but by the time he was finished I was standing alone at the top of a human pyramid. He made note of that.

I was shuffled off to a line where a man in a white coat took my blood pressure. He said not a word to me other than, “Next!” I moved on to another man in another white coat who looked in my ears and down my throat. “Next!”

In another room I and the others were ordered to turn around, drop our shorts and bend over. What heinous crime must this man have committed to get that job? I’m not sure what he was looking for, but we were all then moved on to another room for a vision test. I had to take off my glasses and read the chart on the wall. After the big “E” I was not too sure what was next. That didn’t seem to matter to the man with the clipboard. On to the hearing test!

Before we were shuttled into a small booth for the test yet another angry looking soldier advised us that this test did not have a “pass/fail” cutoff. “You’re going in hearing or you’re going in deaf – but you’re going in. Next!”

After this, as my morning slipped away, I was sent in for an interview by a person who actually had the word Doctor on his name tag. He sat behind his desk and I sat on a chair in front of him. He asked me a series of questions about my likes and dislikes. I think his key question was whether or not I liked “Mannish Women.” Subtle, real subtle. When he finished he finally looked up from his clipboard, looked me in the face, shrugged and called out, “Next!”

Somewhere along the line someone must have noticed that my left arm and leg didn’t match the ones on my right side. I was sent to another office where another white coat squeezed my arm and leg and then asked me to use my left hand to squeeze his hand. At last somebody was catching on that I was not G.I. Joe material. Or so I thought.

After having my arm and leg squeezed I was soon back with another roomful of my fellow Pre-inductees. For some reason the guy at the front of the room put us through a series of calisthenics. I’m terrible at such things. Jumping Jacks? Get real. I never took Phys. Ed. In school and the room was too crowded anyway. Here were twenty guys jumping around with their little cloth bags swinging around on their wrists. It got ugly as a couple of fights broke out and the MPs waded in.

Most of the young men I had seen in their underwear so far had looked reasonably fit and they knew that they were going to pass the exam. And they knew that passing the exam meant that their next stop was Southeast Asia. They were scared to death and it didn’t take much to upset their emotional apple cart.

In every room I had seen at least two soldiers wearing armbands reading “MP” and carrying Billy clubs. All it took was for a couple of boys to innocently bump into each other and a fight would erupt. Within seconds the MPs would break it up by swinging their clubs and dragging the fighters away. It was such a happy place to spend my day.

At noon everything stopped and, still in our shorts, all of us were handed a wax paper wrapped sandwich and a carton of milk – lunchtime courtesy of the American taxpayers. Not many of us could eat. We were either too nervous or afraid of vomiting. The place smelled bad enough with all of the panic sweat. Ham and cheese upchuck wouldn’t have helped at all.

After lunch we lined up again, but this time my name was called out and I was told to report to a specific doctor down the hall.

This man in his white coat informed me that as a result of the physical exam I had just completed that I was not going into military service – yet. Say what? What’s with the “yet”?

According to this fellow I was being rejected because I had high blood pressure. I had high blood pressure at 7:30 in the morning. It was now past 1 PM. What took them so long? Because having high blood pressure was considered a temporary thing I was being reclassified to a 1-Y draft status and subject to being recalled for service at any time.

I guess the fact that my left arm and leg were distinctly below industry standards somehow slipped past them.

I found my own pile of clothing, dressed and returned their little cloth bag that was still tied to my wrist. As I left I was handed a donut by a lady wearing a “USO” tag. It was stale.

From that day until I was 28 years old I received a post card from the Selective Service every three months asking me if my blood pressure was any better. I checked the box saying “No” and I mailed it back to them.

The next time I saw my own doctor I mentioned my new draft status and the whole blood pressure thing. He said that my BP was fine and that, “Those clowns don’t know what they’re doing ninety percent of the time.”

I feel that by failing that physical exam I did my little bit to make the world a safer place.draft physical exam

Bowling For Breakfast

I went to a wedding this past weekend and I’m a regular at the Starbucks that is just down the street. How do these two things relate to each other? Let me elaborate.

The wedding I went to this past weekend joined two friends, one of whom works for Starbucks. A number of coworkers attended the ceremony and reception. I recognized most of them even though I’ve never seen them out of uniform and in possession of anything below the waist. I can’t say that this worked going in the other direction.

The reception was held at a locally owned facility that is a restaurant/event venue/bowling alley. I know that sounds a bit odd but for the wedding rehearsal dinner at the same place we enjoyed a breakfast buffet (even though it was in the evening) and free bowling. I can’t say I’ve ever had that combination before. Everyone seemed to be having a good time. Maybe it’s just me that found it a tad unusual. Scrambled eggs, sausage patties, and bowling shoes – I never contemplated that they might all go together as well as they did.

After the wedding proper the following day we all trooped back to the same location for the reception – no bowling this time. This was where the Starbucks identity crisis took place.

I was returning from a trip to the Euphemism (AKA the Men’s Room) when I spotted one of the Starbucks baristas from my neighborhood store. I walked up to her and started to just idly chitchat. It didn’t take very long for me to realize that the young lady had absolutely no idea who in the hell I was. Her eyes were glassing over and she was edging away from me and putting her arm around her little daughter’s shoulder. Rather than walk away, which would have been the best thing to do, I switched into salvage mode. I looked directly at her and said, “I’d like a Venti Iced Coffee with cream, no sweeteners, please.”

It took her a couple of seconds, but the clouds lifted and she broke into a wide smile and said, “Oh, hi. I didn’t recognize you at first.”

After that we had a pleasant, albeit short, conversation. I have to admit that I can understand her not recognizing me. This was in a context that could not have been more different than the Starbucks, and this was, without a doubt, the first time she had ever seen me wearing a tweed jacket and necktie. Actually it was the first time most of the people in the room had ever seen me dressed in anything other than a leather jacket and San Francisco Giants baseball cap. Some people even took pictures. They must have felt like they needed photographic proof that it was really me. It was like seeing me so dressed was like their first experience with a Sasquatch. Visual evidence was necessary.
wedding cake
All in all the reception was quite nice. The food was good, no one embarrassed themselves while we were there, but the bowling lanes were off limits.

Sometimes Things Just Don’t Work Out The Way You’d Planned


I don’t think my life has been all that unique or special compared to the other people seated around the table with me. Sure, the details may vary, but I think we’ve all faced similar challenges, had similar goals and disappointments. We are all children of parents who lived through the Great Depression and World War Two. Those events forged them and their lives just as Viet Nam and the Prosperous 1950s have done with us. We are the products of our times. We are who we are, both alike and different at the same time.

I have always been shy. Not introverted, no – being shy is different. Shy must have a cause, but I sure don’t know what it is. Is being shy a learned behavior? No, I don’t think so, that would be introverted again. Shyness is a state, not a behavior. I have noticed that many, if not most, of the actors, comedians, and other performers I’ve known, have been shy. Why else would we sweat or vomit before going onstage? We know that the odds of actually being physically harmed by an audience are relatively small. The danger is all of our own creation. Although there have been a few times when I thought I was on the wrong side of those odds. When you are performing and you are separated from the audience by a chicken-wire barrier you know that it must be there for a reason, and it ain’t to protect you from the thorns on the bouquets of roses the crowd will toss your way.

Strangely enough, the shy person is most comfortable onstage. It is up there that they are totally in control of their lives. It may be a 10 minute stand up set or a two hour play, but during that time the rest of the world is on the other side of that fourth wall. The audience has no say-so about what you do or what words you unleash.  The person on stage is insulated and safe from the rest of the world.

It is sort of a “Deus Ex Machina” time where the shy person on the stage is like the Greek gods on high who manipulates the world below. As far as most audiences are concerned you, the performer, aren’t real anyway. They look at you as if you were just a flickering image on the television or movie screen. I think that is why people the audiences feel no compunction about talking out loud while you are performing. I have been onstage and clearly heard people say things like, “I wonder where he got those shoes?” or, “I didn’t think that was funny. What about you?” It’s like they don’t realize that we can hear them. My best example of this “4th wall phenomena” came during a production of “Hamlet” while still in school at Baldwin-Wallace College, near Cleveland, Ohio. The play was staged so that much of the action took place on the floor with the audience arranged in what I would call “bleacher seating.” The front row was on the floor with us with nothing in between us but air.

I was playing Polonius and doing a scene with King Claudius. We were no more than a foot away from the front row of spectators. Directly in front of me was a woman sitting there with her legs crossed and her foot sticking out. For reasons known but to God I said my line, “I will find the truth indeed, though it were hid within the center!” and on the last word I tapped the toe of the woman’s shoe for emphasis. Big mistake. I had violated that 4th wall and crossed into her world. When I tapped her shoe she screamed like I had come at her with an axe. Claudius and I both jumped back a few feet and the audience, who could see everything, erupted in laughter. Not exactly what one would expect in Hamlet. I never did that again.

Although there have been other times when came in direct contact with the audience. There was the night, during a production of “Man of La Mancha,” playing the part of Sancho,that I zigged when I should have zagged during a choreographed fight scene, and I ended up in the third row. I flew off the apron of the stage and into some poor woman’s lap. I apologized and crawled back onstage and carried on. It was not my best moment.

That entire production was rough for me.. Underneath my costume I wore basketball knee and elbow pads for protection. I suffered a few cut knees before I wised up and bought the padding.

My biggest hurdle in that show was the staircase leading down into the prison set. Needless to say I had to remove my glasses and fly blind. I didn’t have any 15th century bifocals handy. The set construction didn’t help. The director wanted Quixote and Sancho to enter down a 15 foot wooden staircase. The crew that built it tried to save itself some work by stitching together two shorter sets of stairs. A noble idea except – the steps were a uniform six inches down – until halfway when they abruptly changed to a uniform eight inches down. Every night before the curtain went up I would spend about ten minutes going up and down the stairs to get acclimatized to them, as it were. Fortunately, I survived the run without falling, but a number of actors stumbled at the change on their way up the stairs.

Another time when I got myself into trouble onstage was during a production of a couple of Woody Allen one-acts.

According to Woody, my character was described as “The Audiencewright.” My job was, as written in the script, to go onstage and ad lib for five minutes with the audience and explain that they didn’t really exist outside of the play. I know, not Woody’s best idea. The show was done in a three-quarter round with the seating going up from the stage floor.

Part of my schtick every night was that I would accost the person sitting a particular seat and play with them. Again, the complication in this plan was that I had chosen to do this role without wearing my glasses because of light glare.

The night in question I went onstage and blathered about for two minutes or so and then moved to the target seat to begin my business. It was a man, I could tell that much. I grabbed his hands and tried to pull him up to his feet. He pulled back. I put more into it, really yanked and got him up out of his seat. I put my arm around his shoulder and said something about how I planned to write into the play that he was going to be accosting a woman seated on the other side of the stage. I then spun him around and pushed him back into his chair.

When I finished my bit and exited the stage I was met by a crowd of actors and the stage manager.

“What were you doing? Couldn’t you see? Are you insane?”

It seems that the one detail I had missed while onstage was that resting under the chair where the man was seated – were his crutches. Apparently, the man was unable to walk without them. That certainly explained to me why he was so difficult to get upright. After the show I sought him out (he was easy enough to catch) and apologized profusely. Luckily, he thought it was all very funny and assured me that he was fine. We were all safe from lawsuits.

One last theatrical misadventure then I’ll become introspective, I promise.

I was doing a Summer Theater production of “Death of a Salesman” in an outdoor theater inside a city park. It was a lovely setting, but it created the need for some minor changes in the staging.

I was off stage left waiting for my cue to enter. I was technically outside of the theater on a tree lined park lane busy with people strolling by enjoying the evening. On my cue I was to enter up a ramp that went from outside directly onstage and into the action.

My cue was coming up in moments. While waiting and listening, a man who was walking by came up to me and asked what was going on inside the theater. I pointed at the stage and said, “Death of a Salesman.”  Before I could do or say more the stranger walked right past me and up the ramp. The Tech People heard footsteps on the ramp and assumed it was me. As the fellow reached the top of the ramp they hit the lights and Willy Loman found himself sharing the stage with a complete stranger.

Well, the new cast member panicked and ran back down the ramp and off into the night. The audience howled and I ran up the ramp and tried to pretend that I had no idea what was going on.

It was several years before I worked for that theater again.

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