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All People > anadyr > Roger's Ramblings--the Anadyr/Stepping Stones Blog > 2017 > November > 06
anadyr

Birthdays

Posted by anadyr Nov 6, 2017

 

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Days come and go, but sometimes your parents can make certain events and days impossible to hide.  Dad had sent me a 50 pound box of jelly beans, a huge box of teeth-destroying sugar pills that I lugged up four flights of stairs to my dorm room.  I opened the box and the card spilled out, giving my secret away.  I left the door to my room open and headed for the dining hall.  I was trying to remain unnoticed. I wanted everyone to get their fill of jelly beans and then leave me alone to study or whatever was important to me at that point in my young life.

Beer was the forbidden fruit, the stuff that we all craved but couldn’t legally have.  The college town was dry, no liquor stores, but plenty of beer distributors, a uniquely Pennsylvania thing that I assumed was worldwide.  I would hear tales of drinking parties, but I never went, staying within the lines, keeping to the books, always a rule follower.

Tonight might have been different if it wasn’t for the need to cram for a test.  Can’t remember what the subject was, but it too was vital at that point.  Plus, hot dates were scheduled for both Friday and Saturday with the same girl. I needed to conserve my strength.

The anonymous welder, the guy who made the tubular track way for the cafeteria trays, would have been proud.  His huge speed bump-sized welds created a road fraught with disaster.  My plastic tray almost took a dive.  I managed to spill my 16 ounce glass of milk, and didn’t cry over it.  I headed for a table away from the windows, one that was far enough out of the traffic pattern that I might be able to get some quality time in, thinking about cars, girls, my test, or nothing.  Probably nothing.

Two exceptionally gorgeous girls—we called them coeds in that simpler time—approached, and to my amazement sat down after asking if I minded.  I looked for Allen Funt and his Candid Camera crew, but they weren’t showing their faces or cameras just yet.

They asked nice, caring questions.  I must have mumbled a lot because they cocked their heads to hear what I had to say.  One was a senior, the other in my class.  They never lapsed into that “we’re better than you are” speak that split the campus into the commoners and the wannabes.

We sat there for an hour, even though the three of us had somewhere else to go.  It was a pleasant time with the sun streaming through the windows, the trees losing the last of their leaves.  No promises made, no lies told—it was a watershed conversation.  I must have mentioned the day, the milestone, because they both gave me a kiss as they stood up and congratulated me.

I walked back to the dorm knowing I could brag about this for weeks, but I never mentioned it to anyone.  I kept in touch with the girls for a while, but our paths diverged and we didn’t see much of each other.

Fast forward a few decades. I was crammed into a vinyl booth at the Waffle House ordering breakfast.  My family wanted to take me there, a ribbing gesture to celebrate another milestone, this time marking my first order from the Senior Menu, or “Food for the Young at Heart,” as the menu cloyingly called it.

My smile was fixed as I forked my Senior Menu Denver Omelet. The wait staff came over and sang “happy birthday to you.” A small dish of strawberries came with a single candle, many short of the real number.

I looked back over my shoulder and could have sworn that I was sitting in that dining hall again, chatting with those two girls, and having the best 21st birthday on record.

anadyr

Accents

Posted by anadyr Nov 6, 2017

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The long yellow tiled hallway, high school, early 1960’s.  The janitors took great pleasure in waxing and rewaxing the tiled floors, making them the prefect place to do a long, slow slide to a locker.  Hitting the lock just right, the combination set, it popped open and I got our most next load of books.  There was a tap on my shoulder.

“Name?”  It was the new teacher.

“Roger.”  I was not sure what I’d done.

“See me after school; heard your voice a mile away. You’re going to be the lead in the school play, Father of the Bride.” He smiled.  “Lose that smirk, I’m serious.”

He was gone, striding along making small slides as he did.

Two years later the mirror fogged as I tried and tried again.  It would be painful to make this change, I knew that when I started.  There was less than a week until the first interview for the radio station.  I regretted having signed the mimeographed sheet in the student union.  Freshmen were supposed to be seen and not heard, to stay out of these upper class things.

Clark, one of the guys on the 4th floor of the dorm who seemed to know more than the rest of us, or pretended he did, said that I needed more enunciation and less mumbling.  I took his advice to heart.

Ted Lux was the big radio personality, the station manager, the guy who always wore and coat and tie, may have even slept in it.  To get on the station you had to pass Ted’s heavy questioning and to do a demo tape.

I walked into the studio, a place where silence and microphones lived in harmony, where large velvet lined turntables stood ready, and mysterious dials flickered when they picked up sounds from distant galaxies, or so I imagined.

“Sit down,” Ted said.  He had that radio voice that we’d heard so much about, but I noticed there was a gap between his front teeth, one that he did his best to hide behind the mike.  He handed me a small piece of typed material to read.

I whizzed through the text making all the stops and hitting all the marks.  Ted looked up, hand over his mouth as he coughed.  “Little fast, but good.  Experience?”

“No, other than a play and some public speaking, that’s it.”

Ted checked off something on a clipboard.  “You’ll start as a news reader, and if it all works out, you’ll probably be in line for a show of your own, but not for a while since we’re full up right now.”  He rose and shook my hand.  “Read the collegian and if your name is on the schedule come in.”  He looked at his clipboard.  “Keep practicing that diction, OK?  We try to make it sound professional here.”

Ten years later I am sitting alone in a room with a long wooden table and 35 empty chairs.  The top of the table is gleaming even in the indirect light.  All the walls are covered in a velvet curtain except for the one behind me. That wall is a screen, a semi-transparent one, on which images will be projected.

I made the cut, of thirty or so applicants, the only one to get ten minutes with the boss, the Secretary, in his busy day.  Along the way I had to impress and repeatedly so, a series of increasingly important people as I climbed the ladder to the elevated status of briefer.  Large and small egos tried to instill their personal view of making a point, and I tried my best to listen politely.  After all it was a winnowing, and I was the winnowee

Speak to the man, that’s what I had to do. It wouldn’t matter if he were small, tall, short, black white, whatever.  I had to focus on the face not more than ten feet in front of me, forgetting that the timing of my talk was important to the men behind the curtain, the ones flipping my acetate slides to coincide with my reasoning.  I had ten minutes, that was it.

He came in laughing, asked for a phone, motioned for me to stay and not leave, spoke into to the phone, hung up.  “Let’s go,” he said as he leaned back in his chair.

Recently. I was feeling poorly and have made it to Urgent Care in Palm Desert, 450 miles from home.  The doctor is asking me to take deep breaths stethoscope at his ear.  “Where are you from?”  He asks.

I tell him Pittsburgh. He stops the examination.  “You have no Pittsburgh accent at all, you know that? I get a bunch of Western Pennsylvanians in here and they all sound the same, the Pittsburgh thing is hard to miss.”

“Guess it was drilled out of me, starting in high school.”

 

 

anadyr

Work is Work

Posted by anadyr Nov 5, 2017

 

I got called to the White House basement, the situation room, for speechwriting assistance.  Seems that the chief executive was giving a major foreign policy address and wanted some visuals to spruce up the language.  Having just done a major book that contained oodles of visuals, my number was called and another fellow, one senior to me, and I were on our way, taking just a notepad, a few pencils, and a memory for phone numbers.  This trip was important enough that a chauffeured car from the motor pool was summoned.

 

Coming through the adjacent 17th Street Northwest entrance I remembered that the Old Executive Office Building, the ornate and strangely elaborate Victorian building nestled to the right of the White House, was called the box that the presidential mansion came in. I guess maybe that’s true. 

 

It’s a long walk to the situation room in the White House basement, and the walls are lined with large color photos of the president, some taken that very day, in poses with the famous and ordinary.  It’s a rotating gallery of images, all flattering of a handsome man in good settings with good light.

 

I entered the room, plumping myself into a luxurious burgundy leather chair, sat against the wall in self-defense, and waited for the assembled to wander in.  I marveled at the opulence of this room, one that most, no, all Americans might never see.

 

My agency colleague had to sit at the big table where the chairs had no arms.  He was nervous; he felt as if he might have to answer a question. I had the luxury of knowing that he felt that way.  Schadenfreude, a word I loved and just learned, (the malicious satisfaction of the misfortune of others), summed up my emotion.  But, there I was in a chair with arms, enjoying my relative anonymity.

 

The Chief of Staff and his entourage arrived. Lots of good-looking suits, more expensive than mine, entered the room.  The conversation started somewhere else; we were there to get orders not to discuss the fine points.  My colleague and frontbencher was sweating; eyes were on him.  Surely he would be embarrassed.

 

“So, Mr., whatever your name is,” the Chief of Staff began, “you mind telling me how you are going to support this presidential address?”  The dagger was thrown, my colleague tried to grab it but failed, leaving only a bewildered expression to confront the verbal onslaught that was to come.  He looked at me, obviously reeling and in pain, and asked if I could help.  At least his lips were moving, there was no sound coming from his mouth.

I stood, introduced myself as only those who know that they have nothing to lose can, and said, “I can get photos for the address if you need them.”

 

“Where are you from?” the Chief of Staff asked.  “Sure you can do this?” he added for good measure.

 

“Yes sir,” I said, gaining speed and confidence.  “I can have them here in under two hours.”

 

“Settled,” the Chief of Staff said, rose, and adjourned the meeting.

 

My colleague looked more worried than ever. “What the Hell are you thinking?”  He asked.  “How in the world will you get that stuff here that quickly?”

 

“Phone call,” I answered with little enthusiasm.

 

“You got the damn numbers memorized?”

 

“Get me to a phone,” I answered haughtily.  Using a White House phone involved the assistance of a White House operator, the kind of call that caused immediate reaction and total compliance with anything that was asked by the caller.  I recited the phone number to the operator and found myself speaking with a frightened agency division head who happily gave me the photos after meekly mentioning that they were never really unclassified, but that was no problem.  “Send them over to the White House by courier, I need them in an hour,” I said with authority.

 

The six black and white photos came. They were the kind that the speechwriters were looking for, the address was given that evening, photos included, and the Washington Press Corps was abuzz with the images and the words spoken by Ronald Reagan that night in 1983. He introduced the Strategic Defense Initiative, “Star Wars,” in that speech, scaring the hell out of the Russians and hastening the demise of communism. I had to catch a cab back to the office; the motor pool did not answer my call, even with the white house interceding.

 

I drove home in the darkness, about an hour ahead of the presidential address.  My wife met me at the door, pointing to her watch to suggest that being late was getting tiresome.  “What happened at work today?’  She asked.

 

“Not much,” I answered, “work is work.”