Scars and Diapers…

Today I had the thrill of getting a cyst removed from my back. The excitement level of this minor operation was minimal, so I didn’t have to worry about a jolt of high blood pressure kicking me off. Apart from a “slight scratch” as the doctor described it and some “prodding around” he removed something so small that an ant would have turned up his nose at it. (If an ant had a nose that is)

Two stitches later and I was released into the world once again. One more scar to add to my ever-growing collection. The joke around the Smith house is that I’ve got enough scars, impressive and not-so-impressive that I could change my name to Colonel Quaritch, the suitably nasty alpha male in Avatar.

For the record I do have a few. I have a scar on my right knee that I got (along with either 16 or 32 stitches. My memory says 32, but since it tends to exaggerate, it’s probably 16 or even six) from being scared silly by an old man who couldn’t see me on the path or even hear me, let alone harm me. But he scared the hell out of me and I ran like the Devil was chasing my ass. I tripped and opened my knee to the bone (or cap I guess).

What was funny was how I came to be on the path to town that day and my discovery of my injury.

Back in the old days when I was a wee lad of 7 women used old-fashioned cloth diapers (nappies, if you’re English) with diaper pins. *Just a side note about diaper pins. I think that these self-injuring giant clothes pins were the main reason that “throw away” diapers became the rage. Every time you went to thread the pin through the diaper to close it, your fingers automatically got skewered. There were a few folks who never stuck their fingers with the damned things, but no one I knew ever changed a diaper unharmed.*

My brother who had made his entrance into the world just a short time before was doing what every baby does when they first arrive. He was going through diapers at a rapid rate. Our mother had run out of, not diapers, but pins. I was sent to run the half mile or so to the town centre and get a pack. In those day’s you could even walk outside by yourself at 7 years of age in the dark. (Though not likely, we had curfews back then, by God!)

This task was deemed urgent, no pins no diaper for my baby brother, I left in what I was wearing. I don’t remember the shirt I had on, but I do remember I was wearing white blue jeans. I even seem to remember that they were Levis. I scarpered out the front door and headed off at a pretty good pace to town. As I walked in front of the now deserted High School (it was summer) I spied the “old man.”

All the town kids were terrified of him. He wore a black fedora hat and a long black coat, even in blazing heat of the summer. He wore black “clodhopper” boots and used a cane to walk. He rarely looked up when he walked and he mumbled to himself. I was scared of him because he kicked my dog. Scamper got in his way once, tail wagging and trying to be friendly. The old chap immediately kicked the dog a good yard down the path. Scamper squealed with pain and hi-tailed it back to the house. I yelled at the old man for kicking my dog, but he never paused or even looked at me. He just continued down the path looking at the ground.

My dad said that the old man was half blind and pretty much completely deaf. He said that Scamper probably frightened him and that was why he kicked the dog. I remember dad had a talk with him later the same day about the incident and the old fellow spoke in a very loud tone and said, “I didn’t kick your damn dog sonny, now get out of my way.”

Dad came back shaking his head and chuckling. He told me to make sure that Scamper stayed away from the old man. I didn’t think it was amusing or forgivable. I thought the old man was mean and would probably kick me if he got the chance.

That’s why I ran away from him yelling (no words but if I was to translate, it was a YAAAAAAAAH sound). Just as I started to slow myself down, I tripped and did a face plant in the rock and dirt path I’d been sprinting on. I got back up and brushed the dirt off as I ran.

I didn’t slow down till I got to the old general store (Boy, I sure do miss those). I found a packet of diaper pins and brought them up to the counter. I handed them to the lady at the till and gave her my quarter for them and as she handed me my change she nodded her head towards my jeans and asked, “Have you been painting?”

“No,” I replied, “Why?”

She pointed to my right knee and said, “It looks like you got some red paint on your knee. It looks pretty fresh too. Did you brush against something on the way here?”

I looked down at my white jeans and found that from the knee down they were red. My knee was pumping out freshets of blood.

“No, I fell.” I put the change in my pocket. “I’d better get home, these pins are an emergency.”

The lady smiled and said, “You’d better get your mom to look at your knee.”

I thanked her and told her that I would.

I took the back way home so I wouldn’t run into the scary old man. I ran into the house with the diaper pins held out to my mom. She noticed the red jeans right away. As she was a bit harassed, she wasn’t too pleased to see that I’d injured my knee, “Running away from a harmless deaf and blind old man.”

With the sigh of overworked mothers everywhere she then declared that we would have to go see our GP and see if it needed stitches. “You’d better hope you need stitches, buster. I really don’t have time for this.”

Of course I did need stitches so I never found out what would have happened if I didn’t. Not a lot I don’t imagine. My mother to this day remembers the incident and feels guilty that she’d made the, “You’d better hope you need stitches,” remark. On the day, she felt so bad about it that she stopped and got us both a fudgesicle –my favourite.

Not all my scars have such a “quaint” back story. Nor do they hold much in the way of pleasant memory. A lot of them didn’t even get stitches although I’ll wager they probably should have. But what every scar I have does is show that my life has quite often been exciting, scary, painful and for a couple of them at least, fun.

Of First Nights and Jingle Bells

I can still remember making my stage debut in a  High School play called The Curious Savage. I did actually make my debut much earlier. I was a Jingle Bell in the first grade Christmas play.

I came out on the stage on cue  and stood there. I was supposed to jingle my bell (and doesn’t that sound bad). I instead simply stood there, solemnly gazing at the audience. I then turned around and sauntered off. A fact  that my mother will never forget, to this day she finds it hysterically funny.

But my first proper debut was in the tenth grade of High School. I was the only ‘serious’ character in a comedy filled with ‘crazy’ people. I was cast, as I often would be, as an authority figure. I was Dr Emmett the staff doctor who looks after his charges with a caring and humane touch.

The play, The Curious Savage, is about an eccentric widow whose husband has left her a fortune. Ten million dollars worth of a fortune. Her step children are trying to have her committed and declared mentally incompetent. Then they will have free reign over the money.

I do not remember very much of the play at all. I do remember the radio commercial I did for it and can still recite it verbatim. The only line that I can remember from the play was a quite serious one, I was the ‘serious’ character after all.

The line, probably the only one I did not have trouble delivering, was this: “Well, that is an ever present symptom of psychotic thinking.” I say the only line, because I do remember getting tongue tied repeatedly in rehearsals. In fact the only other line I can remember is the two word sentence, “Mrs Paddy” which for some reason I insisted on saying as “Mrs Paddy-fi.”

As this happened during our last dress rehearsal, our teacher/director was bordering on the apoplectic. “NOO! NOT MRS PADDY-FII!”  She shrieked out for the sixth or seventh time straight that I said it. Finally she gave up getting me to say it properly, muttering something about ” It will have to be all right on the night,” which completely confused me at the time.

So, opening night and we have gone through the vast majority of the play. I had not slaughtered or mangled any of my lines and even said, “Mrs Paddy” instead of Paddy-fi. I was just beginning to deliver my ‘quite serious’ line when from the silence of the auditorium came a lone voice. It was high-pitched and in perfect tone. Drifting up slowly and with feeling were the lyrics to Jingle Bells.

Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle all the way” nervous laughter came from the audience and although I had instinctively stopped my composure was almost completely shot.

I could feel hysterical laughter threatening to burst out of my mouth. Using every bit of self discipline I had, I managed to not giggle or even snort. I did say my line, but it sounded something like this:

“Well (pause) it is on aver prassent systom of (pause) psychactic thinking(gasp).” The audience managed to not fall in the aisles in gales of laughter, but it was a close thing.

I found out later that it had been my old Public Speaking teacher’s daughter who was about four or five years old. She had been sitting of the front row which was why I could hear her so well. I did ask him to let me know when she would be performing so I could return the favour. He was highly amused by this and said sure.

Despite this initial ‘not so brilliant’ start, I decided that I wanted to be an actor. Because even then, I could not miss the irony of my first public appearance as a silent jingle bell and having a Jingle Bell come back to not-so silently taunt me.

Show and Tell

We moved to Fayetteville when I was fifteen. I started that fall at Fayetteville High School. I desperately wanted to take Drama, but there were no spaces left. The closest the school advisor could get was Public Speaking. It would have to do. On the first day of class I became devoted to the teacher.

He was a mountain of a man. He must have been at least six and a half feet tall. He had a barrel chest and wonderfully rich voice. He had been a bit of everything in his life before he, “Came back to the school that showed me the door and suggested I never come back.” One of the many things he had done  was work as a prison officer.
About halfway through the school year, the teacher wanted us to do a “show and tell” speech. He handed us our subjects. Mine was on how to make a Martini. I held my hand up and asked if I could do the speech on a subject I chose. He answered in the affirmative. Luckily he did not ask me what I was going to do.
When I was a lot younger I used to read a book series called The Brains Benton Mysteries.  Brains, as was suggested by his nickname, was a genius. He was like a young Sherlock Holmes. I adored the books and it was through one of them that I found the recipe for making gun powder. It was not exact, that would have been irresponsible.But it did list the main ingredients.
Charcoal, saltpetre, and sulfer. Saltpetre and sulfer I could get at the local drug store. In those days you could get your hands on loads of “cool” things. I remember getting Hydrochloric Acid and Formaldehyde over the counter. That did change very shortly when a new chemist started working there. Of course I had the other ingredient at home in the guise of charcoal briquettes.
After a lot of experimenting I made a small pile of gunpowder that could more accurately be called flash powder. I did tightly pack a bit and it did make a satisfactory bang when lit. I was inordinately pleased that I had cracked the formula. I wrote the measurement down in a notebook and never had the opportunity to make the stuff again. Well, until my Public Speech class came along.
I went home on Friday and spent the next two days making gunpowder. I managed to fill an entire coffee can with the stuff. I then wrote my speech outline and made a few index cards with the formula on them. Speech class was my first class of the morning, so on Monday I entered the room with my coffee can, index cards and my outline. The outline I gave to the teacher and I sat down with my coffee can and index cards on the desk in front of me.
When the teacher read my outline he raised his eyebrows and looked at me questioningly. I just grinned and nodded. This seemed to satisfy him and he then did a roll check and said that I would give the first speech of the morning.
I got up to the podium and using the chalk board I wrote down my recipe for making gun powder. I then explained where you could get the ingredients from. Then with a flourish I opened the coffee can asked everyone to pass it around and have a look. When the can came back to me, I opened the floor for questions.
Immediately from the back of room came the question I was hoping someone would ask. “How do we know it works, man” This was from the “druggies” in the corner. “Ah,” I said, “Now comes the demonstration part of my speech.” I took a box of matches out of my trouser pocket, opened the box and pulled a match out and lit it. With what I thought was a theatrical gesture worthy of P.T. Barnum himself, I tossed the match into the coffee can.
FOOM! In a split second a flame roughly about five feet tall shot out of the top of the can. This was followed by a huge black cloud of smoke. The teacher shouted at the class to open the windows. This action did not immediately help to disseminate the smoke which appeared to get worse. The general atmosphere in the room was one of great hilarity. There was a lot of laughter and shouting and coughing. The teacher then evacuated the class room and we all went outside to wait for the smoke to clear. Luckily no one hit the fire alarm. Although this was mainly because the smoke was confined to the speech room.
Once the smoke had cleared and we were herded back to our seats, the teacher asked me if I knew that was going to happen. I had to honestly say no. I explained that I had never made that much before and had no idea that it was going to be so spectacular. He believed me and did not send me to the Principle’s office for being a disruptive influence on the class.
He instead gave me an A+ for my ingenuity and flair. Looking back on my time spent in High School, I think it was the highest grade I ever got for anything.

Rushing

RUSHING IS DANGEROUS ANY TIME - ANY PLACE^ - N...

I’ve been in a hurry my whole life. When I was a youngster (that’s teenager, really) I was convinced that if I didn’t hurry up and “grow-up” I’d somehow miss the boat. I also wanted to do as many different things as possible. I had the usual suspects in my itinerary, travel, fame (or a monetary equivalent), freedom, and of course the all important career.

I changed my career goals as often as most folks change their underwear. My career choices ranged from: Lawyer – school took too long, Doctor – see Lawyer, Police – poor pay, Military – very poor pay (of course I did wind up in the Air Force, but that wasn’t a planned career move), Archaeology – pay non-existent. The list was endless.  Then one day I had an epiphany – on the career front anyway –  I could be an actor! Rather than try to pursue all those careers, I could act like all those folks.

So, I enrolled in the High School Drama Department. I became a card carrying Thespian and I was proud to be one. Then that “being in a hurry” thing got in the way again. I started working for who ever wanted me. I made the lady who gave me my first chance vie for my time. We had, quite understandably, a huge falling out. I quit the Drama Department in a fit of rage. This had a house of cards effect. I lost the chance at my almost guaranteed scholarship to university, and my impetus. In my hurry to get where I wanted, by rushing ahead impervious to those around me, I screwed up.

I did try (several times) to get back on the “acting train” – moving to LA in the late 70’s, and then nothing for almost 12 years. I did a little stage work when I moved to England, some extra work here and in Holland. I did the odd commercial, a lot of adverts for the Armed Forces Radio & Television Network in Holland. More extra work in the 90’s along with some voice-over work, and then…nothing.

I was still in a hurry with everything else though. While my “career” stalled out, I was rushing to do other things. Getting married – twice, divorced – twice, fatherhood – twice, changing jobs – again more often, than most folks change their underwear, moving – like a grasshopper. My life didn’t slow down until about ten years into my second marriage. Then it ground to a shuddering halt.

Now I’m single again, I’ve found that old habit of being in a hurry has resurfaced, albeit for a different reason now, I’m rushing to try get some old business taken care of. It is not often we get second chances in life. I’ve had more than my fair share of  ”second chances,” and this time I’m planning on getting it right.

I think I’ve cracked it finally. I think I’ve figured out how I can fulfil my natural proclivity for rushing while still taking my time. I’ve got a lot of catching up to do and I’ve started already – still in a hurry – but this time, I’m paying attention. I’m going to look at the sign posts as I speed up the last roads of my life. I’ll try to avoid the detours when I can, and enjoy the scenery when I can’t.

I guess that’s the only advantage of rushing, if you get sidetracked, you can still get back on your path. A little older, hopefully wiser and still able to enjoy the trip.