The Right Play

Did you happen to watch the Tony awards on TV a couple of weeks ago? It’s Broadway’s version of the Oscars—except instead of awards going to movies you haven’t seen, they go to plays you haven’t seen.

But on this particular Tony night, bunches of awards went to at least one play that perhaps you have seen—or at least heard of. That’s because while the movie industry has “remakes” —and television has “re-runs”—the theater business has “revivals.”

One of the big ones this season is a musical from the 1960’s called Hello, Dolly! It’s loaded with tunes including one called Hello, Dolly! (Hope I didn’t just ruin the play if you’ve not yet seen it. Here’s a further ruination of a famous play: In Death of a Salesman—a salesman dies.)

As I watched the Tony broadcast—and the cast and producers of the legendary Hello, Dolly! took their bows—not one of them referred to the play as having saved a life. But that’s probably because they didn’t have the same experience with it that I did. (I’ll get back to that ‘saving a life’ thing shortly.)
I became familiar with the songs in Hello, Dolly! because I performed a couple of them a few years ago on an actual stage—when the Fifth Avenue Theatre made the risky—and some say misguided—decision to cast me as the male lead, Horace Vandergelder.

The opportunity to be in a big musical at a major theater was too wonderful to pass up, but I was scared to death. What if I was lousy? I could already hear the reviews:

“I loved my seat in the back of the theater. I could barely hear Cashman’s singing from there.”
“The play began great. Then Cashman entered.”
“Two things in Hello, Dolly! should be cut: The second act…and Cashman’s throat.”

Still, I decided that if a Seattle audience did throw fruits and vegetables at me, at least they would be locally grown and organic.

In the weeks leading up to the first rehearsals, I got loads of advice. Perhaps the most helpful was: “If you accidentally fall off the stage into the orchestra pit—try to aim for the kettledrum. It sounds the funniest.”
But with my luck, I figured it would more likely be the tuba—and they’d need the ‘Jaws of Life’ to get me back out.

Nervous as I was—with first rehearsals looming—my wife came up with an idea that seemed perfectly wrong. “Let’s go on a cruise for a week,” she said. “I found a great deal to Mexico.”

“No can do,” I said ungrammatically. “What could possibly be a reason for going on a cruise when I’ve got lines and lyrics to learn? Plus, my memory is so bad I can’t even remember what I ate last night.”
“It was garlic fries,” she said, holding her nose. “And if you agree to go with me, I’ll help you rehearse your lines every day of the cruise, so that by the time we return, you’ll know all of them.”

It made sense. She told me so. And that decision is how a life was saved. (Told you I’d get back to that.)
True to her word, as we rose each morning, she would drill me on dialogue as punishingly as a sergeant. “It’s Hello, Dolly,”she’d scold. “Not Hey, What’s Up, Dolly?” Slowly but surely I started getting it down—all the words, the inflections, the songs.

On the final morning of the cruise, I told her we could skip the rehearsing. I was ready. But she insisted we run through the entire play one more time. I put my foot down. She put her fist up. And that’s why we stayed put in our room 45 minutes longer than I wanted.

Just as we finally finished the line reading—and were about to go up on deck—I heard what sounded like crying coming from the direction of the small balcony off our room. I leaned around the partition between our cabin and the adjoining one—and saw a woman—weeping bitterly—leaning out over the railing. She was—more than apparently—thinking about jumping the nine stories into the ocean below.
While my wife gently spoke with her, I ran out into the hall and alerted the ship’s security folks. They arrived in time to enter her room, sneak in—and pull her down from the railing.
Whether that woman would have actually leapt is unknown—but here’s hoping that these years later, she’s hale, hearty—and happy that she didn’t.
Later that final cruise day—as we departed the ship—my wife turned to me and said, “Good thing we went on this cruise, wasn’t it?”
I looked at her admiringly and said, “Wonderful woman!” It seemed like the perfect description of the person I married.
It was also my final line in Hello, Dolly!

Funny nose glasses

It was intended as a simple commercial promoting a baseball giveaway—in which 30,000 Mariners’ baseball fans would each receive a free vinyl M’s jacket when they came through the turnstiles on August 23rd, 1981.

The commercial was written and produced by the person writing this column. At the time, I was a freshly-minted (for breath purposes) producer for KING TV, the Mariners’ broadcast station of the early ‘80’s (carrying a measly 15 games out of 162.)

I thought it would be funny to feature an actual Mariner player as the spokesman—one who starts out doing a straightforward sales job—but is misinformed about what is actually being promoted. The premise had the player pitching a (non-existent) “Funny Nose Glasses Night”—rather than the actual “Jacket Night” promotion. Laughs would hopefully ensue.

I had decided upon funny nose glasses as the ideal bogus promotional item because the very notion seemed absurd. The usual giveaway items were—and are—always associated with the game of baseball itself: Jackets, bats, caps, etc. They are traditional components of the American past time.

But funny nose glasses are…well…funny—in an almost universally accepted way that has nothing to do with baseball. Also known as “Groucho” glasses, they look a lot like the makeup style the most famous Marx brother was known for. Even a humorless college professor could generate student smiles by donning a pair. (In fact, many college professors already look like they’re wearing them.)

Recently, in a simple Google search—not possible in 1981—I discovered an scholarly pyschology article entitled, “The Effect of Groucho Marx Glasses on Depression.” Clearly, if such apparel has the benefit of bringing cheer to unhappy people, the same kind of glasses could certainly provide solace to baseball fans of a struggling team. And the Mariners certainly were in the early 1980’s.

The player chosen for the assignment was a dandy outfielder named Tom Paciorek. He played 18 seasons all told—and the best of them were with the Mariners. One year, he finished second in batting average in the American League.

Paciorek was chosen for the jacket night commercial for two reasons: One, he was a quick study at memorizing copy—and two, he was the only player that would agree to do it.

The Mariners’ marketing people expected me to put together a commercial that would be quick, slick and professional-looking. They settled for just quick.

Still, the estimable Paciorek knocked the spot out in a couple of takes—as I served as director and off-camera announcer. Here it is—in all it’s low-definition glory:

When game night rolled around—at least according to team lore—people streaming into the Kingdome were dismayed when they were handed jackets. “We thought we were getting funny nose glasses instead,” many reportedly said. (Why exactly they were disappointed is unclear. After all, funny nose glasses do a lousy job of keeping a person dry in a rain storm.)

But the Mariners’ marketing department heard so much noise about it that they made a decision: “Let’s actually have a “Funny Nose Glasses Night” next season.”

And so they did.

It happened May 8th, 1982—designed to coincide with the one year anniversary of the night that the same Tom Paciorek hit the first of his two consecutive ninth-inning, game-winning homers against the Yankees.

A crowd of 36,716 showed up for “Funny Nose Glasses Night”—the fourth largest turnout of the season—and a bigger crowd than came for an actual big deal baseball milestone two days earlier: Gaylord Perry’s 300th career win. (He later wound up in the Hall of Fame.)

The Mariners’ manager at the time, Rene Lachemann—even got into the act by wearing a pair of the goofy glasses to homeplate for the traditional lineup exchange. Less well remembered: The M’s lost to the Yankees that night, 9-4.

All these years later—this week in fact—the Mariners are again staging a “Funny Nose Glasses Night.” But there will only be 5,000 pairs given away this time—so the promotion could inadvertently turn into the first ever “Crying Kids Who Missed Out—And Their Parents Are Not Happy About It…Night.”

Footnote: Even though he was as responsible as anyone for that very first “Funny Nose Glasses Night”, Tom Paciorek wasn’t around to be a part of it. By then, he’d been traded to the Chicago White Sox. But that turned out just fine for him—because today he is a Chisox baseball broadcaster.

And speaking of the Windy City, I need to contact someone at the Mariners again—about my idea for “Whoopee Cushion Night.”

Beard or Not?

If Abe Lincoln was still alive, he’d be 208 years old—and really tired. Not only is Lincoln considered one of our greatest presidents, but he was also the first to do something else. Wear a beard. Not the most fascinating thing about him perhaps, but beards are intriguing in their own way.

Following Lincoln, only a few other presidents have had beards. The last was Benjamin Harrison—also called Benjamin Hairy-one, although not to his hirsute face. Harrison was five feet six inches tall, but with his beard appeared to be five feet six and an eighth.

Following Harrison, beards—at least on presidents—pretty much went out of style. Teddy Roosevelt had a moustache—and so did the guy who followed him, William Howard Taft. Taft had plenty of ear and nose hair too. And since he tipped the scales at over 300 pounds, Taft also had muttonchops—at least three times a week.
But since then, for almost a century, no president has had so much as a single sideburn. That’s good, because a single sideburn makes a face look unbalanced.

It would appear however that beards are making something of a comeback. Seems like every Hollywood hunk is walking around with them. A recent study group gathered data from thousands of women—and the result seemed to say that females think the sexiest men are those with heavy stubble. Guys with less stubble were pretty popular too—at least according to the study.

Perhaps unrelated to the study—after David Letterman quit show business, he grew a big bushy beard—either so no one would recognize him, or no longer confused him with Jay Leno.

After all, a beard is a great disguise for a man. Come to think of it, it’s pretty good for a woman too. It doesn’t do much for a baboon though.

The popularity of facial hair has varied through the centuries. Until the 4th century, men in Greece all wore beards. It is perhaps where the expression, “He sure has a Greecey beard,” came from.
But then, along came Alexander the Great who told his soldiers to shave so that enemy soldiers wouldn’t be able to grab ahold of their beards in battle. He also told soldiers with unusually hairy chests and backs to wear tighter-fitting shirts.

Later, beards came back into vogue in France—as did the word ‘vogue’—until Louis XIII became King. Louis decreed that since he didn’t have a beard, no one else should have one either. Never mind that the King was 8 years old at the time.

And speaking of being 8 years old, I was once—and still am—a big Superman fan. But even as a little kid, I could never figure out why nobody was able to figure out Superman’s secret identity. How could Lois Lane be so clueless?

Lois’s reasoning was: “Hmm. Clark has the same facial features as Superman. He’s exactly the same height, build—and his voice sounds identical. Oh, but wait a minute! Clark’s got glasses and Superman doesn’t. They MUST be different guys.”
C’mon Lois! Think!

As a kid, I found it entirely plausible that a guy could have come from another planet with super-powers. But I never believed that a solitary pair of glasses would fool anyone. Except, possibly, the lightly-regarded supervillan “Dr. Dim Bulb.”

No. If a guy like Superman really wanted to protect his secret identity— a beard would be the only way to go.
It would be easy for someone with his array of superpowers to simply speed up his testosterone and almost instantly sprout facial hair. Then, whenever he wanted to switch back to his alter ego, he could shave at super-speed. And a guy like Superman would never need to worry about cutting himself. (And, yes, it is sad that I’ve actually thought this out.)

By the way, if Superman WAS a real person, I think he’d make a great president—bearded or not. But his electability might be a problem.

First, he was born on another planet—making him constitutionally ineligible.
Secondly, there’s the matter of the tights.

Celebrating Failure

In the long human history of great successes, inventions and innovations, lies an even longer trail of dismal flops, mistakes and failures.

In short: For every perfectly-operating tunnel-digging machine—there are also untold numbers of “Big Berthas.”

Many of my favorite quotes are about success and failure:
“If you set your goals high and they are a failure, you will fail above everyone else’s success.”
“Failure is disguised success.”
“The best lessons learned are from other people’s mistakes.”
Here’s another favorite: “Whenever you publish quotes from other people, don’t bother giving them attribution.” OK.
From the start, the human experience has been a series of trials and errors. Think of how many dirt clods and chunks of wood cavemen must have eaten before they figured out better cuisine.

“Hey, Oop! Come here! See if you don’t agree that this squirrel tastes better than boulders.”

Some poor ideas are immediately obvious. Gargling with hot sauce, skateboarding off the Space Needle, surfing behind a speeding car, or holding an open flame to a certain area of the body—are arguably poor concepts. No one knows exactly where such notions come from (except for the one with the open flame which was invented at a college frat beer party by a guy named Stanley—whose name has been changed from Pat to protect his identity.)

But it’s when bad ideas wind up losing a lot of money that they become noteworthy. New Coke, the Betamax, Ben Gay brand aspirin, yogurt shampoo and the Edsel should all be in a museum of failure—if only there was one. Wait! There is one! Or soon will be.

The Museum of Failure is opening next month in Helsingborg, Sweden. Suitably, Helsingborg is the fourth largest city in Sweden, failing to crack the top three.

The Museum will house a curated collection of more than 60 products—products that the Museum website says, “provide insight into the risky business of innovation.” A guy named Dr. Samuel West—who is something called an ‘organizational psychologist’—is the person in charge. He says, “The purpose of the museum is to show that innovation requires failure.” With that kind of mission, if the museum turns out to be a flop—it will simultaneously be a success.

Among the goofed-up innovations the museum will house:
• Bic pens specifically designed for women—presumably sleeker, prettier and less grubby than regular pens.
• Coca Cola Blak—a coffee-infused version of the soft drink. “Drink three and stay awake for a month.”
• A Harley-Davidson fragrance. No further details available, but it failed—probably because motorcycle riders don’t want anything masking the scents of sweat, fumes and bug juice.
• A battery-operated health and beauty mask. It looks like it was designed by the maniac from those Halloween movies. The mask stimulated facial beauty using small electrodes—in effect, shocking your face into looking more attractive. The claim was that—if properly used—you’d wind up looking like the actress Linda Evans. If improperly used—you’d wind up looking like the maniac from those Halloween movies.
The coming museum will also include some better-known near misses like the Segway. This sort-of scooter was introduced in the early 2000’s with more promise than a Trump-Comey wrestling match:
“The Segway will be as big a deal as the personal computer!”
“It will be more important than the internet!”
“Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive.”

In fact, the Segway fell pretty well short of expectations—and that’s why it’s featured in the soon-to-open museum. (Even though they are used occasionally by police to catch crooks—provided those crooks don’t exceed a speed of 12 miles an hour—and that they don’t try to escape via bike paths and sidewalks in Seattle where Segways are, of course, not permitted.)

Even relatively new products like the Google Glass will be featured in the new museum. If you remember, the Glass was designed to look like a pair of spectacles—that ideally nobody would notice were actually recording video. It turned out that silly things like privacy laws screwed up an otherwise fine idea—in much the way a virgin margarita screws up tequila.

In fact, some say, 80 to 90 percent of new products fail. That’s good news for the Museum of Failures. It should eventually be much larger than any other museum in the world. Unless there’s a Museum of Reality TV Shows.
Recently seen in a magazine cartoon: Two older men sitting in an office—as one of them remarks, “Those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it. And those that DO study history are doomed to stand by helplessly while everyone else repeats it.”

Ace reporter

My college sophomore nephew surprised me twice the other day. “Hey, Uncle Pat,” he said. “I want to feature you in a class assignment.” That was a surprise. And it caused me to wonder exactly what the assignment might be? Drop me from a tree to see if gravity is a real thing?

The second and bigger surprise was that the assignment was for his journalism class. Journalism? Didn’t that subject vanish from curriculums years ago? At the very least, some would say, it’s as relevant these days as taking a course in telegraph receiver repair.
But it turns out that journalism—even in the midst of being pilloried by the latest U.S. president and others—is nonetheless hot as a career choice. Even as traditional birdcage-liner newspapers are getting harder to find, many readers keep turning to them. Plus, their favorite publications (like this one) are also on-line. Then, that version can be printed for the birdcage.

Journalism was a key part of my own college experience. I was the editor of the school newspaper—taking bold editorial stands on hot campus issues—like why pizza had been dropped from the cafeteria menu.

But my nephew’s interest in journalism seems to be steering toward reporting—particularly the broadcast type. In the old days, that used to mean standing in front of the capitol building in Olympia and explaining the finer details of a bill. Nowadays, it means standing outdoors and explaining that it is raining.

My nephew asked me a tough question: “What does it take to be a good reporter?” I pondered that for a second and realized I didn’t have a great answer since I’ve had very little TV reporting experience. But I’ve known lots of good TV reporters—and steered my nephew their way. Plus, I have also known a lousy one—and I think any aspiring broadcast reporter might learn more by studying him.

His name—not his real one out of fairness—is Jonathan. He was a TV reporter for almost a decade before quitting. If you talk to him now, he will admit he should have always considered a different career. In fact, in his initial job interview, he almost didn’t get hired because of his habit of saying, “No news is good news.”

But he had the right look for a TV reporter and soon got a job at a small station in eastern Washington. Things were rough right off the bat. On his first day of field reporting, he struggled to determine which camera he was supposed to look at. This should not have so tough—there was only one.

But nothing will expose a rookie reporter—and an out-of-towner—like mispronouncing local names. On Jonathan’s very first report, he mispronounced ‘Kennewick.’ He called it ‘Chicago.’

His grasp of state history handicapped him as well. Explaining the early days of the state’s first settlers, Jonathan recalled how Lewis and Clark first came to this region over two-hundred years ago. Several viewers noticed when Jonathan referred to the duo as “Jerry Lewis and Dick Clark.”

But knowledge can be gained over time. It’s a reporter’s “instinct for news” that cannot be taught—and Jonathan had none. One time—and this really happened on a live broadcast—he was interviewing a fireman about chimney safety. The fireman was clearly nervous about being on live television and it showed. The guy’s mouth was so dry he could barely speak—and his knees were shaking like a maraca player.

Then, in mid-sentence—during an explanation of the importance of soot removal—the shaky fireman suddenly fainted and fell to the floor. Jonathan calmly turned back to the camera—summarized the importance of soot removal— and then tossed back to the news anchor.
The anchor said, “Hey, Jonathan? One more thing. Is the fireman OK?”
Jonathan replied, “Not sure about that. I’ll check and get back to you.”
That really happened.

Jonathan decided to become a pastry chef shortly afterwards—thanks to his own initiative—and getting fired as a TV reporter.

I have always wondered how Jonathan would have fared as a reporter during one of history’s bigger news stories:
JONATHAN: “And the Hindenburg is attempting now to dock next to the mooring mast…”
JONATHAN: “Helium is not flammable—but the designers of the Hindenburg went with hydrogen instead. Interesting choice. Back to you.”


It was in a coffee place whose marketing slogan was posted right behind the counter: “Just Brew It!” My order had arrived: A grande, quad, non-fat latte with caramel drizzle, iced, sugar-free, with soy, chocolate sauce, cinnamon, nutmeg, extra whip, 10 pumps of vanilla with an extra shot at 120 degrees—and a sprinkling of bacon.
It was a bit expensive. I paid with a hundred dollar bill, receiving 58 cents in change.

I strolled out the door just as a large disposal truck passed by. There was signage on the side of the vehicle—with a slogan below the company’s logo. It read, “We will do whatever it takes.”
What does that mean? “We will pick up your trash at gunpoint?”

The slogan seems to fit the mission of a Navy Seals special operations force—not a garbage crew. Rather than “We will do whatever it takes,” shouldn’t the slogan be reconfigured to “We will take whatever you do”?

It could be my imagination, but we seem to be entering a new golden age of retail business sloganeering. There is also an excess of cheesy advertising —all of which sounds pretty identical. If the idea of a ad jingle is to be memorable and motivate consumer action, most current local commercial music falls well short. Plus, most jingle singers simply repeat what the announcer has already said.

ANNOUNCER: “So be sure to get down to Home City Bank today!”
JINGLE SINGERS (singing): “So be sure to get down to Home City Bank today!”
JINGLE SINGERS: (singing) “Member FDIC.”
ANNOUNCER: “OK everybody, you didn’t need to sing that last part about FDIC.”
JINGLE SINGERS: (singing) “OK everybody, you didn’t need to sing that—“
ANNOUNCER: “Shut up!”
JINGLE SINGERS: (singing) “Shut up!”

But while every business might not be able to afford a swell jingle, there is no effort involved in coming up with a slogan. Seems everyone has to have one these days. Probably even slogan oompanies themselves: “A nifty slogan really pays…call us for a catchy phrase.”

A familiar one: “Why buy a mattress anywhere else?”—the longtime Sleep Country slogan—has presumably been retired since the company has been swallowed up by another one. But with the slogan now up for grabs, what’s wrong with our state snatching it? “Washington State. Why buy a mattress anywhere else?”

Among all businesses, plumbing companies for some reason seem to be among the most frequent sloganeers. Locally, “Stop your freankin’, call Beacon” may have achieved the highest familiarity—beating out “Stop your panickin’, call Hannikan” and “Don’t panic, call Stan Wick.”

But more creative examples abound among plumbers:
“We drain your worries, not your wallet.”
“A flush that beats a full house.”
“We repair what your husband fixed.”
“The best place to take your leaks.” (This one needs improvement since it implies that you need to bring your problems to the plumber.)

Sometimes a certain last name makes the slogan easy—like Einstein Plumbing “The smart choice.” This would also work for potential “Da Vinci”, “Newton”, “Hawking” and “Archimedes” plumbing places. Considerably less comforting would be “Jack the Ripper”, “Vlad the Impaler” and “Ivan the Terrible” Plumbing.

Not all plumbing company slogans are so brilliant. Among the less inspired:
“We’re plumb crazy.”
“All cisterns go.”
“Got a leak? I’ll take a peek.”
“If it weren’t for us, you’d have no place to go.”
And the all-time worst: “Pity the stool.” Pity the slogan writer.
Runner up? “We’re number one in the number two business.”

But one popular slogan—and one that you often see for most every kind of business—including plumbers—is the trusty: “No job too big or too small.” On the old local Almost Live! sketch TV show, the great writer Bob Nelson came up with a splendid script based on that very claim.

It went something like this:
Phone rings. Bob answers, “Hello, Carlson’s Cement Company. No job too big or too small.” Bob listens to the caller for a moment, then replies, “No, that’s too big! Way too big! How am I supposed to do a job that big? It’s just me and my dumb kid Carl working here! Come on! Think!” He slams the phone down.

Within seconds, the phone rings again. Bob answers, “Hello, Carlson’s Cement Company. No job too big or too small.” Bob listens for a moment, then replies, “You say you have two jobs? What’s the first one?” He listens, then replies, “No can do. That job’s too small. Way too small! What’s the other job?”

He listens, then replies, “What are you nuts? That one’s too big! Way too big!” There’s a pause, then Bob says, “Yea, you do that!”

He slams the phone down.

Then turns on his ‘closed’ sign.

Rickle’s Tickles

Sometimes when a famous person ‘shuffles off this mortal coil’ it can be of interest—and worth noting—but not personally upsetting to most of us. It was Shakespeare who coined the ‘mortal coil’ expression—and he was certainly admired—but his passing doesn’t hit most people that hard. It happened, after all, several years before most of us were born. My uncle, for example, didn’t shed a tear. On the other hand, he’s never gotten over the passing of Francis Bacon.

But a man I never knew personally (although I did once get to meet him) died the other day. It hit me like someone in my own family had checked out—especially odd since Don Rickles was like no one in my actual family. He didn’t remind me of my dad, a favorite cousin or a funny uncle (although he did look a lot like one of my aunts).

The story goes that when he was beginning his standup comedy career his act was that of a standard joke teller and impressionist. But when dealing with the inevitable heckler (are there professional hecklers?) Rickles began to discover that he got bigger laughs lambasting audience wiseguys than he did doing his actual show. Before he knew it, he had ditched the regular jokes and impressions and became the ultimate insult comic.

One of his great putdowns was calling someone a ‘hockey puck.’ Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with a hockey puck. You can’t have a good NHL game without one. But ‘hockey puck’ just sounds funny—and vaguely dirty. Calling someone a ‘baseball’ or a ‘frisbee’ just doesn’t have the same crackle. (Although badminton fans could make a strong case for ‘shuttlecock.’)

But the words he chose—and the way he said them—was part of Rickle’s magic. It wasn’t about jokes for Rickles—it was about attitude and energy. And he had both in great supply. It seemed to me that being called a ‘hockey puck’ by Don Rickles would be an honorific better than a Nobel prize.

While my teenage friends were buying rock music records, I spent my limited funds on comedy albums. I bought them all—from Jonathan Winters to Bob Newhart; George Carlin to Cheech and Chong. But it was a Rickle’s recording, “Hello, Dummy!”, that I treasured most. That album—taken from a live Rickle’s standup performance—is now nearly 50 years old. I played it so much, I had to buy it a second time—I’d literally worn the grooves out.

The old album was trotted out the other day for a fresh listen. Then I remembered that my record player was packed away in a storage unit along with the landline phones, VCR’s and palm pilot.
Luckily, the entire album is on You Tube these days.

It’s, as they say, politically incorrect. It’s at times highly offensive—and crazily inappropriate. But darned if it still doesn’t make me laugh. Somehow, because it’s Rickles—as a character—saying those awful things, it seems OK. Maybe it’s because he was edgy to the point of absurdity. Rickles was, after all, a comedian—no one took his remarks seriously. It was not as if he were running for office.

He continued performing his stage act almost to the moment he died at age 90—the notion of retiring was never under consideration. So in 2013, when I heard that he was going to appear at the Snoqualmie Casino (Rickles loved venues like that)—my son (also a big fan) and I intentionally lined up front row seats—enhancing the chances he would single us out for a withering insult. We even finagled backstage passes so we could meet the man in person—and get personally trashed by him.

About an hour before the show, a guy in a tuxedo waved my son and me over and we were led to an area behind the stage. We looked at each other and smiled expectantly. It was like we were about to meet the pope—if the pope was about to make an appearance at a gambling joint and tear us apart verbally.

We walked around the corner waiting to be ambushed—and suddenly there he was: The Merchant of Venom. He was wearing a robe and was seated in a chair—and looked nearly as tiny as “Mr. Potato Head”, the character he provided the voice for in all the Toy Story movies.

“Hi ya, fellas. Good to see ya!” said Rickles in a sincere and most pleasant greeting. Disappointingly pleasant. We all made small talk for a minute or two, with Rickles displaying nothing but pure charm.

My son and I waited for something more, like “You’re father and son, huh? I can see the resemblance. Too bad.” But he offered nothing remotely Ricklesian—and the guy in the tuxedo started to usher us away.

Then, just as we were exiting—and nearly out of ear shot—Rickles called after us one last time. “Thanks for showing up,” he said. “You hockey pucks!”

A wave of joy washed over.

Sleep Study

Here is a headline for you: A NEW STUDY HAS COME OUT!

Now that you have been thoroughly startled, let me give you the stunning details.

Actually this is not a new study—but I newly stumbled across it. Experts in Britain say they have identified six common sleep positions and what they mean. The study was a yawner to conduct—but the results are interesting. They are also a bit incomplete. It fails to include man’s favorite sleep position: La-Z-Boy.
Nor does the study mention anything about people who walk in their sleep. My younger brother Sean used to crawl out of his crib—late at night—and start ambling around the house completely asleep. Once, he was discovered—illuminated by a street lamp—walking down the road. Good thing he did not have the car keys that night.

After that, the folks decided to ensure that baby Sean stayed in his crib at night—and fashioned a hard cover that went over the top of his little bed. It worked well enough—but Sean felt and looked like a caged monkey. It did not help they’d put in a tire swing.

As he grew up, Sean stopped sleepwalking. But he did fall asleep while walking. He also once claimed that he downed six martinis—and then passed out so completely he slept through an earthquake. He was shaken, not stirred.

Getting back to that British study: The most popular sleep position identified by those experts is “Crouched in the Fetal Position.” This is the position that stock market investors sleep in. Actually, experts say that fetal sleepers tend to be “shy and sensitive.” The people seen on Jerry Springer are not fetal sleepers.

Another theory is that the fetal position provides comfort to certain people—perhaps bringing them back to the feelings of protection and security in the womb. Those people can sometimes be found sleeping at Laundromats—inside washing machines.

The study says that 51% of us prefer the “Crouched in the Fetal Position” position. Prefer? How do we know what we prefer? We are asleep. Besides, mysterious things happen during sleep. You might prefer to sleep in a standing position—but as soon as you doze off, your body does what it prefers.

Me? I prefer to wake up in the morning with my hair looking exactly the same as it did when I went to bed. I would also prefer to awaken with minty fresh breath. But instead, my hair always looks like I spent the night in a wind tunnel—and the breath could drop a buzzard from the sky.

The next most common sleep position is “The Soldier”—flat on the back with arms at the sides. The experts say those kind tend to be “quiet and reserved.” That is also pretty much a definition of what happens to everybody when asleep.

Next most popular sleeping style? “The Log”, as in “I slept like.” Log sleepers lie on their side with legs outstretched and arms down—said to indicate a “social, easy-going personality.” The only problem with being a log-type is that over time, dry-rot starts to set in—along with wood beetles and ants. (Although it can be excellent for growing mushrooms.)

The so-called “Yearner” position is when the sleeper lies with arms outstretched. The sleep experts say it indicates someone who is “suspicious.” The next-door neighbor sleeps in that position, but I would not call him suspicious. A person of interest, yes. (Incidentally, a wide-awake person with arms outstretched—and into your pockets—is called a “time-share salesman.”)

The fifth style of sleeping is called the “Freefall.” It is lying flat on the stomach with hands at the side of the head. Supposedly it is the favored position of someone who is “brash and gregarious.” It is also the favored position of someone who is weird.

And finally, the least common sleep position: “The Starfish.” Picture someone lying on their back with outstretched arms and legs. The researchers say this position indicates a person who is “rather unassuming.”
It may also indicate a person who has “assumed room temperature—and is “rather deceased.”

So sleep well tonight.

Katherine Hep-burned

I was stocking the shelves at “Three Boys Market” in my hometown of Bend, Oregon—a city whose population at the time practically could have fit onto the Cathlamet and Issaquah ferries (although there wouldn’t have been enough beer to go around.)

A man walked up behind me and said in a movie voice, “Hey, kid. Where can I find the buttermilk?” I wheeled around and immediately knew why it sounded like a movie—Kirk Douglas was standing there. He was easy to recognize—that distinctive chin dimple could have held a full quart of buttermilk.
Afterwards, I couldn’t wait to race home so I could tell my parents that I’d shown Kirk Douglas where the buttermilk was. It was my first brush with greatness.

Douglas was in town to shoot a western—The Way West—along with another big time actor, Robert Mitchum. I never saw Mitchum though. He didn’t seem like the buttermilk type.

During the next few weeks I didn’t spot any other actors—except for one: Sally Field. It was her first movie. I don’t remember why or how, but my dad made me stand in a photo with her. The photo (I still have it somewhere) is a watery looking Polaroid. It shows Ms. Field smiling politely alongside a clumsy-looking doofus—me. I look as nervous as a lion tamer wearing a meat suit.

Following the photo I told her, “Look, if you ever wind up winning an Oscar you should accept the award by saying, ‘You like me! You really like me!” She looked hard at me and replied, “You’re sure a clumsy-looking doofus.” (As you guessed, I made that last story up.)

But she really did wind up winning an Oscar—in fact two of them. That’s pretty good for a woman who started her career on TV in Gidget and The Flying Nun. I attended catholic school—but never saw a nun that could fly—although Sister Mildred Marie did have X-ray vision, using it often to look into students’ souls.
But Sally Fields’ two Academy Awards are only half as many as Katherine Hepburn received. Hepburn’s four Oscars are still a record—even better than Meryl Streep (one of the most ‘over-rated actresses in Hollywood’ says one Mar Lago resident.)

Hepburn once came to my hometown too. She had been cast in a western (Bend was only a good locale for westerns—it’s scenery less suitable for musicals, Tarzan movies and Shakespeare.) Hepburn was on hand to shoot a movie called Rooster Cogburn—co-starring John Wayne. It was a sequel to his Oscar-winning turn in True Grit—his only award, poor guy.

During the filming, Wayne was spotted around town occasionally. I remember seeing him come out of a smoke shop one day—his slightly tippy gait gave him away. I read someplace that he walked that way because for a big man, he had tiny feet—and was just trying not to fall over. I don’t know if that’s true, but his footprints on the Hollywood Walk of Fame are hard to tell from Lassie’s.

My dad had an insurance office directly across the street from a fancy gift shop named Clauson’s Gifts. The owner of the shop—which contained a number of expensive glass figurines and other precious objects—was one of the city’s best-known misanthropes, Mr. Clauson. He was perhaps 60 years old—and awoke every morning on the wrong side of the planet. He seemingly not only hated people—but every other living thing from animals to house plants. (He tolerated Venus Flytraps a bit better because they ate other things alive.)

His small shop seemed designed to keep customers away. He posted handwritten placards everywhere: DON’T PICK UP ANYTHING! LOOK DON’T TOUCH!—and IF YOU BREAK IT, YOU OWN IT!

If a kid walked in, Clausen didn’t hesitate. “Get out of here—now!” he would bellow. He would even chase kids away for standing on the sidewalk, two blocks away from his place.

My dad happened to look out his insurance office one day to see the great Katherine Hepburn strolling along. She opened the door of Clausen’s Gifts and stepped inside.

Within moments, according to my dad, she came barreling right back out—red-faced and fuming—with Mr. Clausen right behind her shaking his fist.

Later, Dad ran into Clausen at the bank. “I saw you chasing a woman out of your shop the other day,” Dad said. “Did you know that was Katherine Hepburn?” Clausen bristled. “I don’t care who the hell she was!” he retorted. “I told her not to touch the stuff—and she kept touching the stuff! So I threw her out!”

In one of my dreams, I imagine John Wayne showing up at the gift shop the next day and punching Clausen in the nose. “That’s for Kate!” the Duke bellows in my dream.

But as Wayne leaves the shop, Clausen—his nose bleeding—stumbles out and yells after him, “Hey, jerk! Anybody ever tell you that you walk funny?!”