WILLIE THE CHECKER KING

WILLIE THE CHECKER KING

Many many years ago, I worked in a state run insane asylum. I can’t mention the name. When I hired on, the director of personnel made me sign a form stating that I would never ever reveal what I saw or experienced while working in the wards. But gee, that was fifty two years ago and I’m just bursting with stories.   And this one’s a doozy. For the life of me there’s not a thing wrong with telling this tale. It’s a good story about a very wonderful person. That person was Willie the Checker King.

State mental hospital wards back in the sixties were pretty rough places to work. Many people couldn’t do it even for a minute. The ward I worked on, for each shift, had about eight orderlies and one nurse to handle about one hundred and seventy five patients. There were about ten wards in the mens side of the building. There were ten wards for female patients. For all those patients, there was one psychiatrist and I think two medical doctors. I may be off a bit on the exact numbers but, I’m just trying to give you a rough idea of the patient to medical staff ratio. It wasn’t easy for patient or staff alike. We all did our best to make the best of a bad situation. We worked hard and, the patients did their best to make our chores easier.

We’d make beds and give out shaves, do the lunch feeding and, the like. You really don’t want to hear about some of the chores we had to do.  Sometimes the patients would just come out of nowhere and attack us.   I know I once got a punch in the mouth from an angry patient who hallucinated multi fanged worms in the ice cream I brought him. I didn’t see a thing in his darn ice cream. I also didn’t see his fist coming. After he hit me, I kind of saw multi fanged worms myself. They’re kind of pretty. I traded him two of my green worms for one of his purple ones.

Eventually, the day would calm down a bit and many of us, patients and staff would retire to the sun room. It was kind of a recreation room I guess. The TV was always on and high out of reach. There were books and newspapers. No girlie magazines. Even those folks who were really way far out of Realityville still liked to sit in a chair and soak in the sunlight and read a book. They might have had it upside down but, that’s ok. They were enjoying themselves. Of course there were checker boards and right next to the best board, the wooden one, sat Willie. He was there every day at break time with his arms folded waiting for a victim. He was waiting for me.

I don’t really know why Willie was in the hospital. He seemed ok to me. He seemed to be a little childish but, aren’t we all.  He wore his clothes on the shabby side. But, if that was a symptom of mental illness, the orderlies would have been tying me to a chair right next to the guy who saw those multicolor snakes with fangs. He might have been a bit feeble minded but it, was the sixties. We were all short on the grey matter back then. Now that I think about it, I think Willie was put on this Earth just to humble yours truly Doc South and, I thank him for it.

You see, we were told at our one and only training session, to always be ready to interact with the patients. Get to know them. Watch for symptoms. Engage in conversations. We were also told to never turn our back on them. So, while we were facing them, heck why not strike up a bull session? Break time in the recreation room was the best place to do this kind of thing and every day that whole summer long I’d walk into the recreation room and there he’d be waiting with his arms folded and looking right through me. Willie was ready for the slaughter and I was the little fluffy lamb.

I like playing board games. I’m happy to play Chess, Monopoly, Risk, Bridge-It, Chinese Checkers, Chutes and Ladders, Video Village, Candy Land. You name it. If it’s a board game, I love it. Playing checkers is a great way to spend an afternoon. Well, it was a great pastime until I met Willie.

It all started one day early that summer. I was new on the job but, eager to do my best. My chores were done and I walked into the break room looking to interact with the patients. Willie called me over and asked if I’d like to play checkers with him. He had such an innocent smile. It was almost childlike. How could I say no?

I sat down across from Willie. That was my first mistake. There were more to come. I don’t know how it’s possible but, in that first game, Willie had all my checkers in eight moves. I don’t think he lost even one. I should have stopped then but, I didn’t. Every work day at break time I went peacefully to my doom. Now I want you to know that my board game pride was shattered forever since that first day so long ago. That day that I met Willie and his red and black board of doom. Oh I tried.   God knows I tried. Sometimes, I’d get three of his checkers all in one fell swoop. But, as I rubbed my hands with glee, Willie would run the board on me. Trust me, except for the human tragedy and human loss he must have felt at Gettysburg after Picketts charge, I at least have some idea as to how General Lee must have felt that awful day in July 1863.

To his credit, Willie never rubbed it in and thank God, he never wanted to play for money. Pride was all I lost that long hot summer.   Try as I might, I never, and I mean never beat him at checkers. We must have played hundreds of games. Nope, I never beat him. It was impossible to beat him. Somehow it was as if God unleashed every last bit of His checker playing power through Willie.

For me it was humiliating at first. But one of the orderlies got me aside one day after an especially brutal beating on the red and black board of defeat. Willie was rubbing his hands and giggling as I gave up, shook hands, and left the room. The orderly said I had nothing to be ashamed of. Willie beat everyone. Everyone! The orderly said that as far as anyone knows Willie is beyond defeat. No one has ever seen him lose at checkers. No one. No one ever. I believe my fellow orderly said something to the effect of playing checkers with Willie is like doing something rather private against the wind. It was time to go. The shift was over. I went home defeated again and drove my crummy car home. Willie sat in the rec-room with his checker board and smiled.

MY SUPER NIGHTMARE

MY SUPER NIGHTMARE

Oh, I had the worst nightmare last night. Read this at your own discretion and beware. You have been warned. Don’t let the kids read this unless you want them climbing into bed with you till they’re forty years old. Ohhh! Beware!!! In all my days I have never had a dream so completely terrifying as this one. Beware! I beg of you….beware.

It started out with me sitting in total darkness. It wasn’t too cold. It wasn’t too hot. I sensed that I was in a chamber of some sort. It wasn’t as small as a coffin but, it also wasn’t as big as the voids of outer space.   My inner being told me that I was not in for a treat. The chamber was quiet. In fact, it was so quiet that I could hear my heart beating and the fast pace of my breathing.   I’d be real amiss if I neglected to say that my armpits felt real sweaty and smelly too. My innards were just roiling like a fat old snake on the hunt. In fact, I was in real need of a mens room. But, there was no way to even think about walking. Heaven can only guess as to what was waiting for me in the darkness if I had been foolish enough to even crawl in this darkened cell.

I could hear, as if it were way off in the distance, the surf like sound of a crowd cheering. It sounded so far away but, maybe my chambers walls were thick like the walls of a jail. Maybe the crowd was just outside. Maybe they’re within reach and waiting. Waiting for me.

It seemed like forever that I sat there in the darkness listening to that crowd. They seemed angry and excited at the same time. I could have almost guessed that they were the crowd at Rome’s Coliseum. Now and then, they’d roar and I wondered if some poor soul just got it in the neck. I realized that there was nothing I could do but wait and pray. Truthfully, I feared that even prayers wouldn’t help me now.

I had just resigned myself to a long wait when suddenly and without warning the floor shook under me. There was a low hum in the chamber. I could feel the floor vibrate under me. I was going upwards. It was like I was in a piston chamber sitting on the piston. I could hear the air hissing past the floor in my trap. For some reason I was going to be squished between the floor and the ceiling of this darkened pit from hell.   Falling to the floor would only buy me a few seconds more of this torment. I decided to just stay in my chair and wait for the end and get it over a bit sooner. I didn’t think I had long to wait. The fiendish crowd outside chanted and screamed all the more. I was their next morsel.

The floor stopped moving with a thud and all was still. The crowd was yelling even more so and, I amused myself by trying to pick out individual voices. That was hard to do but, I could hear the shrill cry of women. There seemed to be some old guy out there with that raspy voice old folks get. I get that kind of voice myself sometimes. I heard the bellowing of younger men just shouting for all they’re worth. The squeaky voices of preteens were out there too. Oh God! Kids were in the crowd. They shouldn’t be seeing something like what’s going to be happening to me. I prayed aloud for God to take me now before the monsters got their hands on me. At least that would spoil their sick fun. I finally figured the best thing I could do was to just sit there in the dark and wait. Then a voice spoke to me out of the darkness. It was a man talking. He might have been in his mid twenties. “Thirty seconds Doc. Get ready! Good luck!”

Good Luck! Good Luck!! Who was he trying to kid? Some good luck this is to be ripped apart by fiends from hell in front of a mob. Good Luck??? The man’s voice started to count down from ten. The chamber walls started to pull back. There was all this light in my face. I could see flashbulbs exploding. There were fireworks going off above me. People were waving banners. Girls wearing hardly anything looked at me and started dancing with guys. They were sort of dressed like they were from the fifties. As my chambers walls parted fully I saw that I was actually sitting on my old folding dee jay chair. I was wearing my ratty ball cap and my old blue jeans along with my favorite black JAMM RUN tee shirt. My worn out shoes and moth eaten white socks were on my feet. I was sitting behind my dusty van with a card table in front of me. My vans rear hatch was open and sitting high up. My cd players were on the card table and my turntables and mixing board were sitting in the rear of the van just to the front of my rear bumper. Over all the noise, I could hear an announcer all excited and hollering for all he’s worth.

“Ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to Super Bowl five oh and our spectacular half time show. We invite you now to enjoy our entertainer for this years program…..DOC SOUTH. Take it away DOC!!!!!

I just sat there and stared. There was only a little bit of booing at first. But it really got ugly when I led off with a slow dance. The dancers didn’t know what to do.  They just kind of stood there with their hands on their hips. I think I probably shouldn’t have played Johnny Ray singing The Little White Cloud That Cried. I could have cued it up better too. It wowed a little at the beginning and skipped a bit. I went with a Motown hit by the Marvelletes for the second tune. For the life of me I couldn’t tell you what song it was but, the crowd and the dancers kind of liked it.   I breathed a sigh of relief when I found Harlem Hit Parade by Little Isadore and the Inquistors. I knew that would do the trick but I was so rattled that I didn’t see that my turntable was set to play at 33 rpm.  The 45 of Isadores song started out sounding like a belch at that speed. Adjusting the speed upward without turning down the play volume kind of gave the tune a modern flare. So, that helped.

The Super Bowl big wigs did give me permission to announce that my performance would be simulcast on my web station. That was cool. You know how fans at a rock concert wave either candles, mini flashlights, or lighters when they’re digging the show? Well, I saw lots of folks waving their smart phones back and forth. Soon, requests were pouring in by email. I did my best to get to them. Someday, I’ve really got to get my collection in some kind of order.

Some folks liked the show. Some didn’t. Differences of opinion broke out in the stands. You just can’t please everybody. Security was called in here and there. The show didn’t take too long really. It was the fastest three hundred bucks I ever made. Truth be known, I really didn’t need to bring eight crates of records and fifteen boxes of cds. I also found that the dancers had no trouble boogying to almost anything by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters.

I don’t know but, what started out as a nightmare didn’t wind up too bad after all. There’s talk about having me back again next year. Something about my price being right. I can always use a winter gig so, this is great. Plus I got to see the last half of the game for free.

Darned but it’s a shame this was only a dream.   At least I woke up with a smile.

 

 

ONE DAY AT THE NURSING HOME

ONE DAY AT THE NURSING HOME

I came up out of the nursing homes boiler room covered in rust dust and oil soot. The dark lensed cutting goggles and my arm length cutting torch gloves just made me even more of a sight for sore eyes. Actually, I think I’d just make sore eyes hurt even worse.   The seniors were having a ball staring at me as I looked for the hole we drilled through the floor. This hole was for the new iron return water pipe we were installing to take condensate back to the boiler from the radiators. Condensate is real hot water that was just recently steam. It gave its heat to the room, in this case the nursing homes lobby. Now, back in liquid form, it needed a way to get back to the boiler to be made into steam again. The old return pipe had rusted out and pert of the new one was in my hand.

I found the hole. I got down on my knees and hollered through it to my coworker Jackson down in the boiler room. I could smell the boiler room air coming out of the hole. It was hot and smelled like oil and steam. I could hear Jackson down there cussing. He had just hit his head on a low hanging steam pipe. He’d get over it soon. I hollered to see if he was all right. He cussed back that he was seeing stars. He wanted to sit down and have a smoke and maybe some coffee. Coffee is the boiler makers idea of aspirin. It cures all and will hold an injured boilermakers pain in check until he can get to a beer garden after quitting time. The nurses were pretty in the lobby so, I hollered down the hole in the floor telling Jackson to let me know when he was feeling better. Jackson liked to sip his coffee so this was going to take a bit.

This was a very nice care center so, I decided to stretch my legs and look around the lobby. They had great paintings on the wall. Some of the old timers were reading or playing cards or maybe, checkers. Some folks were sound asleep in wheel chairs. Some folks were going here and there using walkers to get around. Nurses were handing out pills. One nurse asked me tongue in cheek if I needed a tablet or two. I said no but my partner down in the boiler room might want an aspirin cause he just hit his head. She said she’d get him one if he really needed it. I told her that he was taking a break and drinking his coffee. She said that the coffee would probably help. She asked if Jackson was bleeding. I said how I figured he was but, he was sitting down for that and having a smoke. She said if he starts screaming or goes unconscious, to let her know. Then, she went on her rounds.

So, I went back to people watching and noticed this lovely older lady pacing back and forth just inside the locked front door. She had to be at least eighty five years old. You wouldn’t know it to look at her. She was wearing a party dress. I’m not sure what to call the dress style but, it might be something you’d wear to a square dance. It had a lot of ruffles and all sorts of bright colors in it. Her sleeves had those shoulder ruffles like Snow White wore all the time. Her grey hair was all done up real pretty and she had lipstick on all bright and red. I think her shoes were kind of blue in color and, fairly fancy too. The prettiest thing on her though, was her big smile. She couldn’t have been happier. I seem to remember that she was singing a happy song to herself in a low voice. She must have been waiting for someone and, she was as excited as could be.

The pretty nurse with all the pills walked by me asking if a grey haired old guy just walked by. I said how that could be just about anyone in this place. She said this guy would have been a little bit more conspicuous because he wasn’t wearing anything.   I said how that might be by helper Jackson. Last I knew he had his clothes on but, he can get a little loony when he hits his head. She said that if she didn’t find the resident real soon, she’d check the boiler room and see if it was Jackson.

Before the nurse could head off, I had to ask her about that happy lady at the front door. The nurse told me that her name was Mabel and she was going out to lunch with her family. She told me that Mabel was eighty four years old and her family came every Friday to take her out to eat at the Pancake House down the street. I mentioned how that was darn nice of her kids to come by and do that with her. So many kids just put old folks in homes and forget them.

The nurse hooked me like a trout. She forgot about the naked guy for a moment and smiled as she asked me what made me think it was the lady’s kids who came by? I was taken back a little and then said how well, it’s good of her brothers and sisters to come by and be so nice especially with her at such an advanced age. The nurse just shook her head from side to side and smiled. Finally, she let me in on the secret. The lady was waiting for her folks to show up. Yes her Mom and Dad!!!

This look came over my face that made the nurse say how she wasn’t lying. She said how not one bit of what she told me was a lie. Just then she pointed and said how the folks just arrived. I turned to look and sure as heck, in came two very old and grey old timers. They were old for sure. Darned old. But only to look at them. Other than looks, they could have been just a young mom and dad picking up their little girl at school. The Dad walked with a snappy step and wore a bright checkered vest and a straw hat. Mom dressed much like her daughter and carried a red purse. They had to be a bit over a hundred and must have started their family early like many did back in those days. There were hugs around and then father snapped his fingers pointing at the car saying how he was looking forward to a big pile of flapjacks. Out they went. They hopped into the car and drove off. Dad even chirped the back tires a little.   The nurse asked if I needed help getting my jaw off the floor. I could hear Jackson hollering through the hole in the floor. He wanted to know where the heck that darn pipe was. He mentioned something about how I should quit my durn goofing off and get to work.

You know, that day was about forty years ago. That nurse would be in her eighties now. Jackson, gosh he’d be ninety at least. That’s if he was still alive. He lived hard and fast. No, he’s probably drinking beer and having a smoke with Saint Peter and all his old shipmates from the Navy. Me, I’m getting up there too and, the aches and pains are taking their toll. But, I’ll just bet that family is still getting together to eat pancakes once a week.   I guess pancakes with your family is a kind of health food. Pass the syrup. Is there any bacon left?

 

MR MURRAY, GOD’S ON LINE TWO

Mr. MURRAY, GOD’S ON LINE TWO.

Imagine that you’re a general contractor in Fort Lee and, this call comes in to your office. You stand straight up and out of your chair, and try to hide your deck of cards, as you get to your feet. It’s the Big Guy calling you. The big purchase agent in the sky. The grand Kahuna of Kahunas. No, it’s not Donald Trump. But, you’re close.   No, it’s God on the phone and He wants you to give Him a price on a job He needs done.

It seems He wants to contract out some work and He needs bids. He’s been getting a lot of prayers lately about the low water levels in the northeastern United States. So, here’s what He wants done. The lakes and streams all need filling. Ground water levels should be higher. The states of Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut all need a delivery of water. God thinks a minute and decides you better give him a quote for the District of Columbia too.   He says something about how the legislators have been hounding Him to death. The neighboring states up that way need help too if you got any water left over that you can’t get rid of.

God goes on to say that you can’t take ground water from California. They’re pretty low too right now. He does say that you can take water mostly from the Pacific Ocean and also pick up what you can from the Atlantic. He says how both oceans are pretty full and have water to spare. The only thing is they’re full of salt so, you got to evaporate the water before you deliver it. You can leave the salt behind but the water you deliver to the northeast has to be salt free. You’re writing just as fast as you can as God keeps going with the specs. You wish He’d slow down. Tidal wave delivery is out. The water can’t come as a flood. God says how He’s still getting calls from Noah’s attorneys. It turns out the flood wrecked his ark and he had to crash land on some mountain. God doesn’t want trouble with the Democrats so, pipelines are out. Oh, and the water should be evenly distributed at about a gallon or so per square foot distributed wall to wall, and border to border. He says that water crossing the border might get the Republicans crazy so, can you move the water by air? Fill every darn state in the specs. He also wants the water to go into the aquafers slow but sure. He doesn’t want to hear about excessive runoff. Now, get this, He also wants you to deliver this water in a pleasant, and attractive manner. It turns out He’s big on recreation. Whatever you do, he wants people to get excited about and, and at least somewhat enjoy your efforts. Oh, and he wants your best price. He tells you how He wasn’t born yesterday. Of course He wants your answer now.

Well, you got to think fast. I mean, it’s God on the phone. This is a great opportunity but, you only got eleven guys in your crew. You could put one guy in the Pacific with a pump and spray nozzle. You need one guy driving the tanker plane. Then, there’s got to be three guys with spray nozzles on the plane squirting water out over Buffalo. Suddenly, you just snap your pencil and think to yourself that the jobs impossible. Plus what if there’s trouble with the unions. God says He’ll take care of the unions but, no, you have to throw in the towel.   All you can do is tell your Heavenly Father that you just can’t do it. You wait for the lightning bolt to hit you right in the neck but, it never comes.

Instead you hear echoing laughter. It’s God laughing his tail off. God tells you how He didn’t think you could do the work. He tells you how humans nice as they are just can’t get that kind of work done. He then tells you how Mother Nature does all His contracting. Then, He sticks it to you by saying how she just gets the sun to slowly evaporate some of the water out of the Pacific. Then she gets the wind to move it over the ocean and onto the mainland. That way she doesn’t have to pay import fees. Instead of getting the teamsters involved, she just has the water turn to clouds over every body’s heads and lets the wind move everything East. Over the Atlantic, her crews take on another load of evaporated salt free water as she goes and opens the door to ice cold blasts of Canadian air. She then alerts the media and the show begins. Pretty soon the snowflakes form and down they go falling out of the sky and the humans go nuts.

You make the mistake of asking God if no two snowflakes are alike. He tells you he’s got better things to do than compare snowflakes. Who the heck would want to check them anyway? You want the job? You got it. You tell him you got better things to do as well. God continues, saying how all Mother Nature needs to make all this happen is to lease the sun for a few weeks and aim it in the right direction. Badda bing Badda boom! You got snow and lots of it. No charge.

God then says he’d like to meet you someday, His treat, for coffee and a Taylor Ham sandwich. He says how even He can’t get Taylor Ham in Heaven. You think fast and tell him you’ll mail him one. Hey it couldn’t hurt. You notice that it’s snowing outside. Al Roker says it could be a blizzard coming. You just smile and put your Taylor Ham and cheese sandwich in the microwave. It got cold while you and God were talking
 

 

DOC AND JOHN TALK ABOUT OLD GAS STATIONS

This is a great talk I had with John Cantelmo.  John collects old gas station memorabilia.  He’s got enough stuff to open up one of those truck stops you see out on the Interstate.  We had fun talking about the old days of street racing too.  This turned out to be a great conversation laced with apple cake from Johns wife.  Oh boy!

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JOSH AND DOC TALK ABOUT THE LACKAWANNA CUT OFF

If you’re a railroad buff, this ones for you.  In this podcast, Doc speaks with Josh about a wonderful construction project known as the Lackawanna Cutoff.  It was constructed in the early 1900’s.  When it was completed, I ran from the Delaware Water Gap to Port Morris in a straight and level run.  It saved all sorts of miles and time.  The cutoff still can be seen today and with a little bit of touching up could still carry traffic.  It’s quite the engineering marvel and, Josh gives us some great tales of this wonderful project.  Doc even remembers seeing trains running on the cutoff.  Yeah, he’s that old.

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DON’T WORRY IT’S JUST A VISITOR IN THE NIGHT

DON’T WORRY IT’S JUST A VISITOR IN THE NIGHT.

My daughter Sunshine climbed up the steps to my apartment. She had one heck of an evening behind her. It was time for bed. I didn’t tell her but, her nose was all swollen and she had a bunch of bruises on her face. Still, she was standing on her own two feet. Things could have been worse. She could have been on a gurney in the morgue.

We were just getting in from the emergency room out at Dover Hospital. Earlier that evening, Sunny and a friend were in one heck of an auto wreck. The ER called me when Sunny and her friend came in on the ambulance.

On the way home, we had stopped at the salvage yard to see what was left of her car. I’ve seen some pretty crumbled up cars in my rescue days. This one looked like the guys at the junkyard already ran it through the baler.   Sunny and her friend weren’t hurt that bad at all. They were sure very lucky to be alive.

It was about two am and I had to get up around five. I didn’t kiss Sunny goodnight. That would have hurt pretty bad with all the bruises on her head. A hug was out of the question. I told her that she was going to hurt from head to toe and then some, tomorrow when she tried to get out of bed.   She went into the bathroom first. You should have heard her yell when she saw her face in the mirror.   In the kitchen, I was glad that there was no booze in the apartment because, I probably would have had a snort just to have one. I was kind of glad that there was no chance to kill three years or so of being sober. I had a soda and a handful of cheezits and headed for the hay. Sunny passed me on the way to her bedroom. She was kind of green from seeing herself in the mirror.

I got into my pajamas and slipped under the covers. My light went out as, my head fell to the pillow. I laid on my side and just sort of looked out of my only bedroom window. There was nothing to see except for the top end of a telephone pole and just a little bit of sky.

Back then, I wasn’t that religious. Even to this day I really couldn’t tell you exactly what I am. I guess in those days, my beliefs were kind of like vegetable beef soup. A little of this and a little of that all mixed up in a tasty wholesome broth and hold the clams. When it came to religion, I kind of had my soup at a table for one. I preferred take out. I guess I’m still pretty much that way.

I really didn’t pray that much. Oh, I did but not like a bishop or something with all the fanfare and choirs howling at the top of their lungs. I’d maybe talk to the almighty. I figured that it would be best to not burden him or her with my boloney. I figured that I’d just try my best to do a good job living and leave it at that.   In the back of my noggin I really did have the feeling that life was pretty scary with lots of rotten stuff surrounding us all. The best I could figure to do was to just try my best to fight off the rotten stuff and that would be good enough for God. But, boy some of that rotten stuff scared the poop out of me. It also was especially troubling when it was me who was doing the rotten stuff.

Still, this night was different. Years earlier I had maybe an even worse wreck than Sunny had.   It was a high speed head on collision and there was no way I should have lived. There was just no way at all and, that’s that. It hurt so bad to go through all the repairs. To this day, I still flinch at oncoming traffic. My eyesight is still messed up even to this day.   But, worse, than that, a day doesn’t go by that I don’t somehow or someway remember that day on the s curve with all that black ice. It never goes away. At least it hasn’t so far.

So, these thoughts and more just like them, were slogging through my mind as I yanked up the covers and nestled into the pillow. For a moment life sucked and, then I got over it as I noticed that I was talking quietly. I just said something quick and simple and I meant it with all my being. I said, “God, thank you for not taking my daughter from me tonight. Thank you.”

As long as I was on a roll thanking God, I may have said something to include my son Burgess. I think he got an A in a math test. So, I put in a good word. I figured it couldn’t hurt. That done, my pillow caressed me and whispered in my ear a muffled goodnight. I laid there with my eyes open and staring blankly. That’s when it all started.

I was looking at the wall a couple of feet away when I noticed a dim kind of light in the room. It was almost like a broken light bulb on the telephone pole outside may have suddenly come on. Except, it was kind of different and rather dim. Funny color to that light I thought but, I was really too tired to investigate. I just laid there and looked at it.

It was funny but now, there was this odd sound in the room too. I couldn’t tell where it was coming from. It was very faint. It sounded like burning wind. I’ve heard that sound before at house fires or big campfires out on a scout trip. I didn’t smell smoke so, I just listened and watched the odd dim light get a bit brighter.

It was still very dark in the room even though the dim light got brighter and the burning wind sound grew ever so louder. Now, just as slow as a really good fisherman getting his hook into his favorite trout pool would do, this small, ultrathin and very clear single strand made of tiny gold rings linked together, lowered past my eyes. Just one strand at first and then another and another. It was a chain of light or energy and very brilliant. They were so tiny and yet it was so easy to see them. Even with my awful eyesight, each and every link in each and every strand stood out in sharp focus. Now, where there was just one strand just seconds before there floated before me countless strands. Each one was brighter than the next. They floated past my eyes much like long hair floats in water. They were all made up of these golden rings of light and they were everywhere. The sound of the burning wind grew a bit louder and over that sound I heard someone speak. “I want you to look at me”

I rolled onto my back. As I did that, my eyes followed the flow of the golden chains of light. There were millions of them floating in the room. The chains fanned out from a central core much like daisy petals. Some strands were quite long and stretched out to the far walls of my bedroom. Others were just inches long. In the middle or center of the golden light strands there was a circle or maybe a globe of pure white light. It didn’t blind me but, wow was it ever bright. Still, I could look right into the light without hurting my eyes. I could easily see a face in the light or maybe, the face was the light.  About all I could see of the face was the eyes. They were beautiful. There were other parts to the face but everything was so bright.

I felt no fear at all. I have to think my visitor was an angel. I don’t want to say “it” was an angel. But there was no way to tell if this wonderful vision floating above me was male or female. All I could see was the eyes as they looked at me in a smiling kind of way. The angel didn’t speak by mouth as near as I could tell. Whatever he was saying came to me some other way. I’m not that sure he used telepathy but somehow what the angel wanted to say came out of your head as if the thought was born there.

The angel gave me no reason to fear him. Still, I think if somehow the angel was ordered to do so, this being could squeeze our entire universe and beyond like a gooey old grape. He had great power but, better than that, he also had an even greater feeling of total love.

The angel looked straight at me and a simple thought talk came into my head. I was told that I was doing just fine in this life and coming along pretty good except for one thing. The angel aimed his or her best gaze at me and the thought came saying that I spent way too much time worrying. The implication was that to spend your entire life worrying was to spend your life going in the wrong direction. The angel wanted me to cut it out.

Then, it came into my head that I needed to get some sleep. The next thing I knew it was early in the morning and I had a second hand store to run.  I got up and went to work.

I did a bit of worrying that day and even now, almost twenty five years later I still get shook and start to worry. I worry about that kind of thing.

But, I think I got a bit of what the angel meant. Worrying is for when you’re doing something you should be worrying about. Cut out all that crazy stuff in your life and try your best and, well, you’ll have less to worry about. If you goof up along the way, try to do better next time and don’t worry about it. Just keep trying.

 

 

 

KING KONG WAS MY FIRST MONSTER

KING KONG WAS MY FIRST MONSTER

King Kong was my first monster. Some might say what about the boogie man? Didn’t your parents tell you about him? Well, you know, I’m sure they did but, I never really gave much credence to the myth. My friends and I would stand under the street light outside the apartment building as evening fell and, we’d talk. Now and then the topic of the boogie man came up. But, you know, none of us ever saw him. You never heard him howling in the night. If he came through our room as we slept, you’d think we’d hear something. We really thought he was something our parents made up.

Now, as far as Santa Claus was concerned, well, there was a story you could wrap your arms around. I mean, how did the toys get into the living room and under the tree if it wasn’t for Santa. The cookies and milk were always gone in the morning and the presents were there. It was just like in the poem. Sometimes on a Christmas Eve, one of us would actually hear him HO HO HOing out in the yard. It couldn’t have been the old man outside hollering. For crying out loud, the cops would get him for disturbing the peace but, they’d never take Santa Claus off to headquarters. The case for us kids was cut and dried. Boogie Man, no! Santa Claus, yes! And then, and then, Heaven help us there was always King Kong…..YES!!!! Oh Heaven help us yes!!!!!!

 

We all saw him on TV in black and white with our own two eyes. If it was on television, it had to be true.   We all watched in horror as this giant gorilla busted through a massive gate made of iron bars and giant logs. It looked like that gate might be out in nearby Pennsylvania somewhere. A bunch of Tarzans friends tried throwing spears at him and it didn’t hurt him even a little.   That just made him mad and, he started stepping on those poor natives. Some guys that looked like sailors from the Missouri took aim and fired rifles point blank. The bullets just fell off him like they were dead flies. Pretty soon everyone is running for their lives down to the beach with King Knog right behind them breathing down their necks. Anyone who couldn’t run fast enough, well, what happened to them was beyond words. I remember one poor guys head sticking out between these big furry giant toes. And, and then, he just screamed and disappeared.

As far as we could tell, King Kong somehow got across the Hudson River and was in the Bronx. He probably waded across. For crying out loud, where was the Navy when you needed them? Gosh, what if he stepped on and cracked the Holland Tunnel? Oh God! Now, he’s in the city and he just grabbed an elevated subway train and he’s holding it in one hand while he rips an end off like it was a box of Cracker Jacks. Pretty soon, he’s shaking all the people out of the subway car and into his mouth like they were Good N Plentys. Then, he just growls and throws the empty subway car into the street and laughs as it bounces down Fifth Avenue.

As he’s wiping the human remains off his mouth some lady sticks her head out the window and starts yelling at him. I think I may have blacked out at this point but, my friends tell me that he grabbed the lady right out of the window and threw her all the way to New Jersey. So, the cops come and King Kong uses one of the cop cars as a booster step so that he can get a better grip on the building and, up he goes.

Pretty soon we see some girl asleep in her bed. She was sound asleep and snoring away. Her eyes were closed and so she didn’t see King Kong looking in her window. All’s we could see was his giant glowing eyes. He snorted and that woke her up. She started screaming. I mean who wouldn’t? I think she started to run but she tripped on her nighty and it was too late. She foolishly left her other bedroom window open and King Kong just slowly reached in and trapped her with his big fat index finger. She put up a good fight but, she was no match for the big ape. Slowly, he dragged her kicking and screaming out the window. I think she bit him too but, he didn’t even flinch.

Soon they’re both up on top of this big sky scrapper. Mom said it was the Empire State Building the tallest building in the world. These funny old looking planes with two wings and no windows take off from Newark Airport and start firing machine guns at King Kong. You think the Army would send newer planes but, they didn’t. Soon, King Kong puts the girl down near a door and a big antennae. That’s when the planes let him have it. As King Kong falls off the building, I started to scream. That’s all I remember.

My folks tried to tell me it was just a commercial for a movie. I didn’t believe them. In school the next day some of the older 2nd graders heard us talking and laughed at us for being stupid shrimps. But we knew better. On the way home from school, there were some fairly big apartment buildings. At each one, we drew toothpicks to see if King Kong was lurking around the corner waiting for us. It was at least a month or two before I’d let mom put my window shade up at night. I just didn’t want to roll over in the night and see those eyes or worse, that awful hairy hand grabbing at my blankets.

As a side note, about three years later Channel Nines Million Dollar Movie featured King Kong in its entirety. I was amazed at how it really wasn’t that bad a work of curiously quaint cinematic excellence. Oddly enough, I wondered how I could ever have been frightened of such a movie. I laughed at my childish ways as I went to fix my bath. Of course, I wouldn’t get into the tub until the tub was full and the water was turned off. I mean, what if the Blob somehow got into the city water supply? I let my kid brother Ed get in first, just to be sure.

INCIDENT AT THE POST OFFICE

INCIDENT AT THE POST OFFICE

There was this little bit of mailing that I had to do on my way to the Chatterbox last Saturday. There’s this little rural New Jersey post office that I like to stop at for such things. There’s never a line and its right along the way. Getting in and out in record time is almost guaranteed. Actually, I was mailing one of my books to some friends in Florida.

I approached the parking lot and signaled my turn. The parking lot came into sight and soon, I was pulling in. “Wow” I thought, “They’ve got a traffic jam here today. Look at this. Four cars in the lot.” Friends, I’m telling the truth. I think even at Christmas time I’ve never seen such a crowd in this lot. Now, here I come in car number five.

One car belonged to the postmaster. Some guy was just in to get his mail and was heading out and on his way. Thank heaven for that bit of good fortune. I parked the van hoping that I wasn’t going to be trapped in a big line of two people. Boy that would be rough. I hopped out of my van with my priority mail envelope in my grasp. This was going to be every man for himself. I quickened my pace as I walked around a brand new SUV. Those SUV owners sure have lots of mail sometimes. I hoped that they’d be almost done in there by the time I got in line.

It turns out that the SUV owner was an elderly lady. She was probably younger than me by the way. I’m ancient. She was just elderly and, she looked worried. A young man was talking to her as she sat in her SUV’s driver seat with her door open. I heard her say how she couldn’t figure why her vehicle wouldn’t start. “And, it’s brand new too. I don’t understand what could be wrong.”

The guy talking to her almost looked like he might be a fireman or something. He looked to be an alright kind of guy. He asked if it would be alright if he gave the ignition a try. The lady got out of the car and he got in behind the wheel. He fiddled here and there and turned the key. The car started right up with a roar. The lady was so happy. I think it was her first ever new car. Knowing how cars are nowadays, maybe she was trying to start it with her door key instead of the micro chipped Captain Video Star Command Ignition Key. The gentleman showed her what she had done wrong and she was on her way. I’m sure that if she actually knew this fellow, that he would soon be getting a really nice apple pie sometime that afternoon. She was one happy lady. Cute too.

In the post office, I had no wait at all. The lobby was empty.   The lady behind the counter and I actually had time to discuss what the two letter abbreviation for Florida is. I thought it was FO or FD. She thought it might be FA. Turns out its FL. I wrote the whole word on the envelope just to be safe.

As I left the post office and headed for my van, I got to thinking how nice it was for that fellow to help that lady. She was really in a jam and he was a big help. Of course in her day I’m sure she did more than her share of helping. I’m sure she was a mom or, at least an aunt. She probably showed young folks all sorts of tricks to make life better and safer and more fun. She taught what she knew of her time to people who needed to learn. Now, people from the days of her kids were showing her what they’ve learned from their days. And, so it all turns. One kind soul teaching another. Sounds like a plan doesn’t it?
 

 

 

PODIUMS OF HONOR LARGE AND SMALL

PODIUMS OF HONOR BIG AND SMALL

The Chatterbox always has some kind of great display on this big platform that stands in the middle of the big round dining room. I like to call it the Podium of Honor. In truth, it is an honor to get whatever you’ve done placed there for a month or so. Mostly, you’ll often see a great hot rod or classic car on display. Everything from a Deuce Coupe to a 1940’s army jeep have graced the podium with their presence. At Christmas time a beautiful Christmas tree in the center of the podium stands guard over hundreds of toys that have been donated to less fortunate local kids in the county. To be sure, the platform honors the creativity and goodness within us all.

One way you can be sure that the podium is a shrine to all that is good is to watch the little kids head straight for it with arms outstretched. The average toddler can’t stay away from it. They’re always getting yanked off the second step by mom or dad. Before you know it, they’re on their way back for a second try for the glory. This is especially true at the moment. There’s quite a compelling collection on the podium right now. The kids are going nuts, drawn like moths to a flame, or like me to a chili dog, to four or five large remote control model airplanes.

These aren’t your usual Revel plastic model planes out of a cardboard box. No, these babies are in many cases, way bigger than two or three four year olds put together. I would guess that the smallest one is around six or seven feet long with a wing span of a good eight feet. What’s even wilder is that each model is a replica of one kind or another World War II American fighter plane. I know I saw a P- 41, and a P- 58. There’s a Flying Tiger for sure. Hanging from the ceiling is a smaller replica of a Corsair. That’s the plane my father flew. They’ve got its nose pointed down as if it were on a staffing run. The kids are going nuts looking at all this. Me too.

Funny, but, as I played records from my control booth, I just couldn’t take my gaze of the display. It had such a hold on me. This or that daydream filled my mind. In each one the plane in question was revving up at the end of a runway. Or, maybe it was banking into a hard dive to attack a hostile target in the mountain pass below. Some of my daydreams were fantasy. Others were based on quite real stories of WW II that I’ve heard over the decades.

Here’s one of those stories. I got it just the other day from an old timer at a Senior Care Center. Let’s call this fellow Bob. Bob had joined the service when the United States was about one year into the conflict. He joined to fly. He wanted to be in bombers. He passed flight school and was sent to train to pilot one bomber or another. I think he went for B-19’s. Bob was very game and trained just fine. Sadly, the top brass found that he was a bit too short to be a bomber pilot. It turns out that a four engine plane like a B-19 could lose the power in three out of its four engines. The engines could break down or be damaged from hostile fire. If that were to happen, the B-19 could limp home with one engine running. The pilot would have to literally stand on the rudder pedal of the opposite side from the working engine.   Or was it stand on the rudder pedal on the same side of the operating engine? I’m not sure but, rest assured Bob knew what to do for that emergency. Still, the brass said that Bob’s legs were too short to get the pedal into the right spot. Bob protested and said if his plane was down to one engine and was about to start spinning like a boomerang, you can bet damned well that he’d see to it personally that his leg would grow much longer in a big hurry.

The top brass at the hearing had deaf ears for Bob’s plea and went thumbs down on him being a bomber pilot. They told Bob that he could be a flight engineer instead. Bob was ok with that and figured he could always butter up his planes pilot for a little time at the controls. He also figured that his flight crew would feel a little better knowing that there were two pilots on board. Bob went off to B-29 flight engineers school and did just fine.

When, he graduated, Bob was put into a squadron of fifty Super Fortress B-29’s. The war was getting near its end. Germany was on the ropes. Imperial Japan’s army was mostly in retreat. Most of Japans navy was in flames and sliding into the Pacific. B-29’s were over Japan night and day. Still, Japan’s forces fought on as hard as they could. Suicide missions aimed at soft and large targets were the normal plan. The island of Japan was getting ready for the allied invasion. All citizens were expected to fight to the death. This was the stuff nightmares are made of. Bob was ready to be part of it if the orders came. His unit trained as often as possible. They moved the whole unit to California as newspaper headlines screamed accounts of one grisly battle after another. Almost every person in America was gritting their teeth and looking to the land of our enemy across the Pacific. The future wasn’t looking pretty.

Bob’s squadron got its orders one day. They were to fly to a base on the island of Guam and, prepare for the onslaught. I’ve heard that by this time Kamakazi planes would not even engage fighter pilots but would careen through the escort fighters bomber screens and, ram smack into the middle of the first B-29 they saw. Crew and enemy would drop together from the sky in a whirling fireball.  The B-29’s carried incendiaries to set Japans cities ablaze with firestorms. This was not going to be a vacation.

Departure day came and Bob’s plane was number 50 on the flight orders.   The silver B-29’s lined up on the tarmac. They were to take off one at a time and stay dispersed on the trip from the states to Guam. Bomber number one got its signal to go and it did just that. Soon, it was gone from sight. After a minute or two, the second flight hit the air. Being the flight engineer Bob was busy charting the course and looking at the gauges. He and the rest of his crew were probably in on the banter back and forth over the radio between the tower and the outgoing flights. I’m sure some of the talk was encouraging and just a tad spicy at the same time. I’m also sure some of the outbound flight crews looked back as the land disappeared and wondered if they’d ever see home again. Some, I’m sure didn’t think about that and wondered if there were any girls on Guam. It would have been interesting to be one of Gods thought recorders that day. The delete button would have been busy.   Plane 49 got its orders and flicked it’s rudder at Plane 50 as it went for the end of the runway.

As Plane 49 was just getting its wheels up and making some altitude, a message came over the speaker in Plane 50. Bob figured this was it. He was checking his dials one more time as a message came in.  He thought, “This is it. Finally!”

But this time a different message came through. You could hear back ground noise of cheering in the control tower background. The guys in the tower sounded like it was New Years Eve. “Attention Flight 50. Taxi back to the hangar. Repeat, taxi back to the hangar! Japan has surrendered. The war is over. Repeat, Stand Down!!”

I’m not saying and, I know it’s against regulations but, the flight crew on Flight 50 was probably pretty darn drunk by the time they got to the hangar. If they weren’t drunk in the plane, they sure soon would be once they got to the hangar. It was a good day for sure. Some of the flights closest to the states turned around and headed back to base. I’m sure some of them were coming in upside down. The earlier flights had passed the halfway point and had to hit their party in Guam. Either way didn’t matter much. The damn war was over.

I’m sure that the next day if you were to fly over that airport, you would have seen all sorts of war planes parked here and there on the tarmac. From above, it would have looked like a bigger version of the display of model war planes that were on the podium of honor in the middle of the Chatterbox.