Saturday, May 29, 2010
Sometimes I'm more-than-average lucky. I was driving home the other night along an unfamiliar street bordering some seldom used railroad tracks. A deep blue neon sign, like a beacon in the dark, spelled out, "Where the Boys Are," my favorite Connie Francis song. I'm often entranced by the oldies, and there was plenty of parking along the tracks. So I pulled over to investigate this place whose name paid tribute to one of the greats. It was past midnight and on this particular Thursday, it was the only place open on the block. The entrance was all black except for the neon sign, and when I entered, it appeared that, in my blue jeans, I was under-dressed. The crowd was mostly women, elegantly decked out in party dresses and gowns of every variety. It was as if they all just returned from a gala ballroom event.
The jukebox was playing Fabian's "Turn Me Loose," and before I even found a bar stool, I apologized to the bartender for my attire, to which he replied, "It's OK bud, anything goes in here." This put my mind at ease, besides he, too, was wearing jeans. I'd only been there a few minutes when the bartender places a drink in front of me and, while nodding over my shoulder, tells me it's the compliments of the woman across the room. I seldom turn down free stuff (except for the time when the hacking-cough lady was giving out cheese bits at the grocery store, coating the cheese with her own special potpourri of germs). So I raised my glass in the direction of a group of women huddled in a booth, as if to thank one of them. I'm not much of a drinker and don't know the names of too many drinks, but this one was pretty strong and had two cherries in the bottom and was served with a monogrammed Where the Boys Are swizzle stick.
When I finished my drink, another one immediately took its place. I reached for my wallet and the bartender waved me off, telling me the lady says my money is no good there. This was very flattering, as the last time someone purchased a drink for me was 1973. It was Doreen Grimly, and she only did it so I'd listen to her cock-eyed theory of how Barbra Streisand and David Brenner were the same person. And if I remember correctly, Doreen asked me to pay her back the next day. So this was a life-affirming event.
The drink-purveying lady was sitting in the shadows with two of her girlfriends. When the jukebox began playing "Put Your Head on My Shoulder," she approached me, held out her hand (with long, glittery purple fingernails), and asked me to dance. I was stunned by both the offer and the fact that this woman, in all her indigo-sequined and high heeled glory, looked exactly like Cher. I was speechless as we began to dance. After swaying in one place for awhile, I mustered up the courage to pop the question, "Has anyone ever told you... did you know... are you Cher?"
She pulled me closer and, in a low, sultry voice, whispered in my ear, "That's what they call me."
Holy-moly, Paul Anka was singing and I was slow-dancing with Cher. This is why I say I'm more-than-average lucky. We danced in silence, both enjoying every move. And at the point in the song when Paul steps up the key, she pulled me even closer. I'll say this, not only is Cher generous, but a lot taller in person, and solid, really solid. She must have a personal trainer; a lot of big stars have one. Her hair is still jet black, long and straight, and smelled like coconut. If only Sherwin Hikes, my friend who plays an earnest "I Got You Babe" on his trumpet, could have seen me.
When the song was over, she kissed me on the cheek and sashayed, like the graceful lady she is, back to her booth. It was a dream come true: I danced with Cher and there wasn't any of that wise-cracking banter like when she's on television. She knew she could be herself with me.
Sensing I was way out of my league at Where the Boys Are, I gave the bartender a tip and told him this was the best night of my life. "Sure thing," was all he said. I guess someone could get blase' about being around celebrities night after night, but not me. I pocketed the swizzle stick as a souvenir of the evening. All they way home I kept looking in the rear-view mirror, checking the lipstick smudge on my cheek, and vowed not to wash it off till morning. My wife would understand. After all, she must realize by now that she's married to a more-than-average lucky guy.
The swizzle stick will find a special place in my memory drawer.
Posted by Dale Wickum at 9:49 PM
Monday, May 24, 2010
Did you ever stub your toe while getting up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night? That's happened to me one too many times, and the other night, I think I broke my middle toe on my right foot. I hit the doorjamb to the bathroom and it really hurts and I'm limping like Walter Brennan on the Real McCoys. For some people this wouldn't be such a terrible injury, but for me it's critical as there are many picnics coming up and a broken toe will throw off my balance in several of the contests that go along with picnicking, especially the badminton tournament. I should have won it last year, but the oh-so-celebrated Lydia Leiderquist edged me out because a bug flew in my eye on the last point. She laughed and said I should carry a can of bug spray with me as she sashayed off the court with the much-coveted Silver Shuttlecock trophy.
Lydia's flippant laughter has echoed through my mind for an entire year. I often hear the sound of her voice mocking me as I go to sleep, and I've vowed to win the Silver Shuttlecock back at all costs. I saw her at Happy Foods around Christmas, and she brushed by me in the aisle and remarked how lovely the badminton trophy looked on her mantle. Then she pointed to the bug spray which happened to be stacked on the shelves near where we were standing. I mentioned that the stuff she was highlighting, with a Vanna White-like sweep of her arm, was for indoor bugs, and she said, "Who knows, maybe that bug flew out of your pants."
The big picnic is a few weeks away, and I'm doing everything possible to hasten the healing of my toe, including taking extra vitamins and placing my foot on a stool while watching television. I'm taking extra measures to protect my toe from being stepped on or bumped, even wrapping my right shoe with yellow caution tape when going to crowded places so as to alert the public to my precarious condition; I can't take any chances. And wouldn't you know it, who do I bump into at The Fudge Barn: Lydia Leiderquist, who took one look at my caution-taped shoe and asked why I wasn't wearing an orange safety vest and carrying a road flare. She's very smart-alecky and a constant reminder that I must walk away with that badminton trophy this year.
Perhaps the biggest cautionary step I've taken is to prevent a recurrence of the injury during the night. I get up once, sometimes twice, in total darkness, to use the bathroom and when doing so I'm half asleep. It's highly likely I'll re-injure my toe unless drastic measures are taken. So I've started wearing a sturdy pair of protective shoes to bed. I've been sleeping in socks for years, so this is just the next step. The shoes are clean and have passed a kick test against the bathroom doorjamb. They are good sturdy brogans I bought for a wedding years ago and haven't worn since. The soles are thick and the laces strong, and while the look is not fashionable, they do the job. They work as intended, like the armor a hockey goalie would require while doing his job and are not moccasins or other such house shoes where the possibility of them slipping off under the covers would render the night sleepless. In consideration of my wife's aesthetic senses, I make an extra effort to wear socks that compliment the shoes.
However, there is one problem. My lovely wife complains that every once in awhile I accidentally kick her in the middle of the night. These aren't hard kicks, and god knows she's endured many unintentional sock-footed kicks through the years, but the shoe-kicks have made her intensely question the need for my precautionary bedtime footwear. I wasn't sure of what to do. At first, asking her to wear shin guards seemed out of the question, but the more I thought about it, the more reasonable and considerate it seemed. So I bought a pair of shin guards for her (genuine little league issue) which should solve the problem. Oftentimes, a practical gift, no matter how thoughtful, comes alive with the presentation, so I'm going to have them gift-wrapped at the Party Store and tie a couple of fancy helium-filled balloons to the package.
I've already picked out a nice card and composed the following note: If Lydia wasn't so smart-alecky, none of this would be necessary.
With love, your thoughtful husband.
Posted by Dale Wickum at 12:58 AM
Sunday, May 16, 2010
I'm thinking of going out to Utah, to that fancy Sundance Film Festival and give Robert Redford my latest movie script. It's called "The Recycling Robin Hood." It's all about a guy who steals stuff, but doesn't sell it or use it for himself, rather, he recycles the items. He steals anything; cars (SUV's, mostly), computers, big screen TV's, hibachis, you name it, if it can be recycled, he steals it. He's a good guy and wouldn't harm a squirrel unless the squirrel was chewing on his roof, and then he would relocate the squirrel and his whole squirrel family to a forest preserve.
Mr. Ted Wang, from Wang's Health Food Store in Chicago, is interested in investing in the project, and to show his faith, is already giving me a ten percent discount on all vitamin related products. But I can't go blabbing this to everyone because, as Mr. Wang says, he runs a business, not a charity, and (while giving me a knowing look) there's already enough screwballs shopping in his store.
I've written a scene that takes place in Wang's, where the Recycling Robin Hood buys several pounds of organic split peas, but refuses any type of bag, paper or plastic. Instead, he fills his pockets with the dried peas until they are bulging at the seams; then he jumps onto the produce scale at the check-out counter and has the cashier weigh him, and tells the cashier to deduct his actual weight (175 pounds) from the total. The Recycling Robin Hood is good at figuring out stuff like that.
The Recycling Robin Hood conducts his whole life in accordance to a set of earth-friendly rules given to him by a conscientious, intoxicating hippie girl named Marsha he met at the Salvation Army store. He doesn't even notice her large bosoms and low-cut peasant dress, instead, he's entranced by what she says. He's very principled and uses a toothbrush he made himself from old shoelaces.
The Recycling Robin Hood doesn't wear a costume, except for a large metal belt buckle that has a triangle recycling symbol with the letter "R" in the center. He made the buckle out of a hubcap he found on Cicero avenue, right outside the Whole Foods store in Chicago. He doesn't wear it around the house unless asked by a very close friend. The buckle can be unexpectedly cold when it touches bare skin. None of his neighbors know his identity as The Recycling Robin Hood; they think he's just an ordinary electrician.
Whenever Robin steals something, he leaves an earth-friendly card that says, "Sorry to have stolen your______________ (he fills in the blank with the name of the stolen item). It is being returned to Mother Earth for the sake of the planet. Don't buy another one or I'll steal that too. Signed, respectfully, The Recycling Robin Hood."
I'm hoping this will be a hit with that environmental "green" crowd. They currently have no real leader.
One more thing: The Recycling Robin Hood doesn't steal pets, not even the annoying, barking dog that lives down the street.
Posted by Dale Wickum at 11:25 PM
Saturday, May 8, 2010
Many people have secret things about their past that no one knows about, and if brought out into the open, would shock and dismay all who knew the person. I have such a secret, kept for more than thirty years. And sometimes, when eating lunch with co-workers or at a fancy party where they serve hors d'oeuvres' on toothpicks and tiny little napkins, I think of my secret and how everybody would be shocked out of their safe little worlds if the secret was uncovered.
It started in a small town in Northern California, Petaluma, where I lived for a couple of years while in my early twenties. Petaluma is a quaint little town, reminiscent of Andy Griffith's Mayberry, where everybody knows most everybody, and people will wave hello for no good reason other than to recognize a fellow human being. It was not uncommon to engage a total stranger in a conversation that might last for an hour or so. Highway 101 ran along the edge of town and provided a never ending supply of visitors, seeking gas, food, or directions to the coast or other such scenic locations.
My little house, a cottage, really, was about three miles outside of town, and I used to ride my bicycle into town on a daily basis, seeking supplies, food, and friendship. During the summer, the ice cream parlor, located in the center of town, was a favorite stop of mine as well as for people passing through. It was where my secret identity was born. While pedaling into town that day, past the Petaluma Egg Stand, I sensed that some big stuff was waiting, though it was a mystery as to its revelation.
I pulled up to the front of the ice cream shop on my ten-speed, swung my foot onto the kickstand in a very self-assured manner that only comes with youth and a sunny day, and two guys on Harley Davidson motorcycles blasted up next to me, parking a couple of feet from my bike. If I was to be completely honest, I'd have to say the roar of their engines took something away from my arrival. And they weren't just any guys on Harley Davidsons; they were Hells Angels with the well-worn leather jackets, chains dangling from everywhere, and the unshaven swagger. When they shut their bikes off, the silence announced their assemblage like the moment after a lightning strike, before the thunder hits. It seemed like the entire street froze in their presence. People stopped in mid-lick on their ice cream cones, apprehensive about what was going to happen next.
I, of course, was standing right next to them and in an effort to make the fellas feel welcome, it was my duty to break the ice. So I quickly glanced at their colors (that's what they call their club's emblem) and reassured them that they needn't worry about the lack of an apostrophe on their jackets. They were still straddled on their bikes and stared at me in silence while I went on to explain that the way Hells Angels is written on their patches is perfectly acceptable if that's the way they want it. No apostrophe is needed after "Hell" if that's what the owners of the name desire. That's the simple the rule of grammar, and all those writers who spell it with an apostrophe (Hell's Angels) have got it totally wrong. In short, I told them they were right, the reporters and writers have it all wrong. The owners of the name decide how it's to be punctuated and spelled.
When I finished my explanation, there was a pause while they looked at each other and then back to me, and the one closest to me said, "That takes a load of our minds. Name's Frank and my partner's Jerry. How 'bout a cone." We got our cones, compliments of Frank, and were enjoying them outside the ice cream shop, while I maintained my position as diplomat by waving to the folks in town, showing off my new friends. Then Frank said to me, "How 'bout we make you the official guy in charge of spelling for The Angels." Jerry remained silent. Despite his rough exterior and a penchant for tattoos depicting a variety of frightening skulls, I think he was shy, and I've since come to think of him as "The Bashful Angel."
I said, "You mean the official Hells Angels Grammarian?"
They both agreed and we shook on it (not really shook, but they tipped their cones in my direction), and I could sense their relief about the grammar clarification as they hopped on their bikes and roared back towards highway 101. And from that moment on, I've been the Hells Angels Grammarian, revealed to no one up till now. Not even my wife knows.
My mere association with Frank and Jerry made it through the gossip network in town, temporarily elevating my status to the point where the red-haired Linda Lynn, who rarely spoke to me prior to the incident, offered me the loan of her yogurt maker, a highly prized piece of kitchen equipment at the time. It eventually led to my bicycle being decorated by Cub Scout den number six and included in the Fourth of July parade.
I can't tell you how many times over the years I've been dying to tell someone about my association with the Hells Angels. I almost blurted it out once at a Bar Mitzvah when I got stuck at a table with some guy bragging about how he knows Laverne from Laverne and Shirley. But I held back, thinking it's not my nature to boast and I'd only be sinking to a level unbecoming of my secret identity. So I nodded my head in pretend fascination until it was time to make a graceful exit. I'm glad I waited, but it's gratifying to be a part of history, to have some sort of legacy, and that's why the story needed telling.
Here's something else: the Hells Angels have an official flavor of ice cream: chocolate chip. Plain vanilla with bits of chocolate, and no substitutions; no fancy toppings or sprinkles. Since that day in Petaluma, in honor of Frank and Jerry and their generous appointment, it's been my flavor, too.
Posted by Dale Wickum at 8:54 PM
Saturday, May 1, 2010
I have friends with various disorders that genuinely seem to add to their charm and mystique. For instance, my one friend has Developmental Topographical Disorientation. It's where you loose your sense of direction and often have trouble finding your way home, similar to another friend with Dyspraxia. The two of them together couldn't find their way out of a paper bag. But they are kind and intelligent people who have the good fortune of being diagnosed, therefore their quirks are not only immediately forgiven and understood by all who know them, but offers of assistance are constantly proffered. They'll often call and say they're lost and need help finding their way home. And everyone, including me, is happy to come to their rescue because we understand they have a disability and are not simply making a nuisance of themselves.
Another dyslexic friend is always joking about stop signs, asking why they are always advertising "Pots" at almost every intersection. See, he's learned to find the humor in his disability and turn it into something very charming.
Still another friend is color blind, and while driving, he'll ask, in an excited tone while approaching an intersection, "What color is the light?!" At first, when the light was red, I responded in a panic until he confessed that he really knew the signals by their position on the pole. So the joke was on me.
It got me thinking it was about time to discover my very own disability, and when it's revealed, maybe people would cut me a little slack and, at the very least, offer some understanding. So I asked a friend, Maureen Williams, who has an associates degree in psychology from Wilbur Wright Community College, to help me with a diagnosis. Maureen wanted to get into law, but a couple of shoplifting convictions prevented her from doing so (she likes the expensive cosmetics). She currently works in the appliance section at Bob's Big Store but says she keeps up with her field through a subscription to Psychology Today which she professes to read from cover to cover.
She asked me to write a list of the things that bother me the most, so I gave her thirty-seven things, which she said was too many (really, I had lots more as there are many things that bother me). At her insistence, it was narrowed to five. Here's the five she had to work with:
-Dogs that aren't happy to see me.
-The lack of media coverage of badminton.
-Vending machines that don't offer a simple comb.
-Gum that doesn't taste like berries.
-Simon without Garfunkel.
After studying my responses, she looked me straight in the eye and said that "jackass" is not really a medical disorder, and I should search elsewhere for an answer in my quest for a diagnosis. I didn't think that was very professional, and my guess is that Maureen is better with appliances than she is with people. I wish her well, but something tells me I shouldn't have opened up to her the way I did. Now, I'll be hesitant to shop at Bob's for my next stove or refrigerator, knowing Maureen will be there, reveling in her discretionary opinions.
Posted by Dale Wickum at 1:43 PM