Saturday, September 24, 2005

Newspaper Boy (11)

One afternoon when I came home from school Mom greeted me, “Aren’t you the boy that always wanted a paper route?”

When had I ever said I wanted a paper route? I really didn’t have time. I had to practice my card tricks--I was going to be a magician.

But I didn’t want to disappoint Mom. Sonny, the kid who was giving up the route, would show me the ropes. At fourteen, he was two years older; Mom said he had other interests. What those were I didn’t know. Whoever invented the word “clueless” must have had me in mind.

Showing me the ropes only lasted two days; Sonny said if I could figure out what customers I had missed I would have the route in hand. Of course I didn’t have a clue. Sonny assured me I would be able to handle it. He jumped on his bike and flew off to pursue his “other interests”.

I did have the route pretty well memorized, but I wasn’t good at folding papers. I just threw them in my bicycle basket and tried to keep them from blowing away. Between chasing runaway papers and crashing my bike into people’s porches—I wasn’t made to ride a bike and throw a newspaper at the same time-- the route was getting longer and longer.

The very next afternoon it got dark early thanks to a thunderstorm; I was running even later. I was about to make my last few deliveries, when a car pulled up blinding me with its lights. It was Dad. “What in the crap are you doing out here at this time of night?” He didn’t wait for an answer—I was on my way home as fast as I could pedal.

When I got home, I heard Mom saying, “I don’t want that boy out at night riding his bike”. I heard Dad say, “He can give that paper route back to Sonny what’s-his- name”.

So it was decided my newspaper days were over. I didn’t know whether to be elated or sad. The paper route money would have come in handy for magic supplies, but there were a lot of things around the house that could be used as props.

The next evening I used some of those “props” as the folks had gone to The Store. I launched my career in magic by filling the dining room table with dishes. The idea was to pull the tablecloth (quickly) out from under the dishes. I practiced until I heard Dad and Mom pull in. It was show time; I gave the folks a demonstration.

The next morning we were still finding broken crockery.

“Maybe we should have let him kept his paper route,” Dad said.

“I liked it better when he played cowboys,” Mom said.

Cowboys! Great idea, Mom! I was twelve, but I was working my way back to six.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

1846, or Where Were You CNN? (10)

In 1846 apparently nothing happened. It was the most important year in our history, but CNN was asleep; C-Span took a powder. Luckily people who claimed to have been alive at the time took notes.

For example, a very famous American was born that year. He was a Pony Express rider at fourteen, and later went into show business with James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickox and Martha Jane “Calamity Jane” Cannary.

He lived a very long life—so long, that he re-invented himself in the 1950’s by changing his name to “Buffalo Bob” Smith and taking Howdy Doody as his new partner. (He had no choice; he had outlived “Will Bill” and “Calamity Jane”.)

Who was this famous American? . Why, none other than William F. (for Freddie). “Buffalo Bill” Cody. He was sometimes mistaken for Wild Bill Hickox, or even General George Armstrong “Yellow Hair” Custer, as they each had long blond hair that came down to their belt buckles.

Their hair was so long they were known as The Three Hippies; they of course burned their draft cards to protest the Viet Nam War. But they were all great Americans. They eventually came home from Canada after President Jimmy Carter pardoned them. They then took their act on the road, eventually replacing The Three Tenors.

But to return to 1846, not only was Buffalo Bill born, we also managed to get ourselves in a war with Mexico. Bill enlisted at age 2; the only thing that prevented Teddy Roosevelt from joining up was he wasn’t born until 1859.

The war wasn’t an accident; The President—quick, who was the President in 1846—give up? James Knox Polk (coming back to you now?) wisely went to war, as it was necessary to give our budding generals from West Point, Robert E. Lee and U. S. Grant, a chance to meet and greet before they reported to the set of “Gone With the Wind”.

A few Mexicans were killed, but it was a small price to pay for some necessary war games. A few bleeding hearts, like Abe Lincoln, protested the war. Lincoln’s heart, however, stopped bleeding in 1861 when he refused to let the South leave the Union.

The Mexican War produced several heroes who became public nuisances, as they ran for office; one eventually became President. So the war was well worth fighting on that score alone. In fact, the hero who became POTUS (President of the you- know -what) made news as recently as 1991.

I’m sure you remember the story. Zachary Taylor held office for only a few months before he keeled over under what some deemed suspicious circumstances. It was thought that he had been poisoned; somebody actually wrote a whole book about this theory. The author made such a fuss that Taylor was dug up and examined with a very fine magnifying glass. Verdict: he died of natural causes. The author of the book has since disappeared along with the advance he got from his publisher.

“Old Rough and Ready” Taylor’s brief tenure as POTUS pales in comparison to his contribution in 1846, when he was largely responsible for the successful Mexican War Games, a dry run for the Civil War, though Dwight David “Ike” Eisenhower later tried to take credit for the exercises.

And why was this the most important year in our history? It made it possible for the Civil War to be held, which has remained a great industry and a nice hobby for amateur soldiers. Sort of makes you proud to be an American, doesn’t it?

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Drive Time (9)

I drove to work this morning with the nagging feeling that I had missed a news bulletin. Something was not quite right. Then it hit me: it was back- to- school time. I made up a headline for the story I had obviously missed:

Driving Age Lowered to Twelve

This accounted for those little children who wore their caps backwards and could barely see over their steering wheels. For reasons best known to themselves, they preferred to drive down the middle of the road.

While I was trying to dodge these little people, who only yesterday were on the playground plotting to crash driver’s ed., I made a point of glaring at them. One of the Munchkins rewarded me with a puzzled look.

I imagined his thoughts: “What? Somebody else is driving on this street that belongs to us high school students only? What’s that old Geezer doing driving anyway?”

I had barely recovered from my close encounters with drivers supposedly 16, when three people in a row, average age 52.7 years, or old enough to know better, failed to use their turning signals.

These people were the parents and grandparents of the aforementioned, headline-grabbing twelve-year old drivers. We live in a small town, it’s true, but a little warning that somebody might be taking a left to The Store would be nice. I made up another headline:

One Hundred Million Vehicles Recalled as Turning Signals Defective

Half of all American drivers don’t use turning signals. They think (apparently) that blinkers are optional equipment and that turning signal use is for other people; they themselves can’t be bothered as they are in a lather to get to the other side of town. (Some people would be in a hurry to get to Hell.)

The only thing worse than idiot drivers are idiot drivers talking on cell phones. What I really love--to get to my pet peeve--are people who call a business and the first thing out of their mouths is, “Let me talk to Bob”. I created a headline for this group:

People Who Can’t Identify Themselves Barred from Using Telephones

Millions of Americans call businesses and ask for Jack or Susan. Were they brought up in a barn? I want to say: “NO, you may not talk with Jack until you say who you are. Did you notice when I answered the phone I said: This is Danny; may I help you? Didn’t that give you a clue that you are supposed to identify yourself? Apparently not, you worthless scum.”

Well, I certainly feel better.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Vacation (8)


I have actually gone on vacation only twice in the last sixty years. In 1978 my nephew Dana and I went to Beverly Hills, California; we were just a couple of single guys raising heck of course.

I was then a boy of thirty-three; Dana was twenty-seven. Going to Hollywood was a natural choice as we were show biz people in the making. Later that year we auditioned for our first community theatre play. It later opened nearly on Broadway (a street in Mattoon, Illinois.)

I retired from the stage over twenty years ago, but Dana has been active all these years. This is only right, as he is the talent in the family.

We didn’t-- at first-- seem to have a talent for traveling. We flew from St. Louis directly to Los Angeles without a hitch. We were not, however, to see much of anything but the hotel the first couple of days. We were supposed to have been on a bus tour, but we couldn’t locate the bus.

Our first disappointment came at the airport when a limousine did not meet us. We inquired about this and were told that the shuttle bus was the limousine, so stop whining already.

After checking in at our hotel, we asked where the tour bus would be. We got in line early the next morning at the designated area-- if you could call it getting in line, as we were the only two people around, a clue perhaps that we were misinformed. We saw busses, but they flew by as though we had just got off the boat.

Later back in our hotel room it occurred to us to call the Bell Captain. He answered the phone himself and said that the bus took off from Robinson’s Department Store. (Famous retail establishment, which we later discovered, sold dry goods at several times retail.)

The next morning we showed up at Robinson’s; again we were the only people in line. After several long minutes we saw our bus, or at least a bus whizzing by. We waved at the driver to let him know he had forgotten something, or someone. But once again we were stranded.

We checked with the Bell Captain who this time gave us more specific instructions (he finally realized who he was dealing with): the bus stopped on the opposite side of the building. The next morning we were in the right area, and got off on our Hollywood tour, a bit delayed, but still worthwhile.

This episode—though it had a happy ending—did me in for travel for years afterwards. Dana, however, has been on the road or in the air or at sea practically ever since. Just last weekend a bulletin came in e-mail form: he was off with friends to see a play in Chicago. He was traveling by train I understand.