25 A Week In Sydney
26 Interview with the Widow - 1
27 Interview with the Widow - 2
28 Three Kings of Orient
29 1969 - Year of the Rooster
30 Summer in Europe
31 Bellybuttons & Maggots
32 Yes/No vs. Maybe
33 Blood, Beer and Warm Feet
34 Mine Universe
35 Hands off, Boots on
36 The Accidental Cure
37 It's the Only Thing
38 The Professor's Stable
39 Little House on the Highway
40 "9/11 is OK"
41 Suspected Child Abuse
42 Midlife Crisis
43 Where Am I Today - 1
44 Where Am I Today - 2
45 The Rosebud Period
46 Angular and Giddy
47 Sandin, N. A., Computer
48 Hot Trailers
BLOOD, BEER AND WARM FEET
I was watching “The Godfather” for the umpteenth time and suddenly began thinking of Ute, the little girl I dated when I was in the Army in Germany. Then I wondered how she happened to pop into my mind. I thought back to the scene I had just watched. Michael had just hung up from a phone call from his girl and the goodbye was awkward due to his being in a room full of guys. Clemenza razzed Michael for not answering her when she obviously said she loved him. “Why you don’t tell that nice girl ‘I love you from the bottom of my heart’?” And there it was! Ute knew very little English, but she learned to tell me “I love you from the bottom of my heart” in person and in writing.
This experience got me to thinking about how certain words and phrases strongly remind me of certain people. Here are a few other examples.
Nurse at the blood bank
In the 70s I coordinated the blood drive where I worked and made several donations myself. Once when I went in I had the presence of mind to ask the nurse to keep an eye on me. She asked why and I told her I had a tendency to hyperventilate. She simply said “Don’t!”. I thought about it and saw the logic in her recommendation. I had control of my breathing – why should I let it get out of hand? So I just concentrated on not taking deep breaths and everything was fine. I think of that nurse whenever the subject of hyperventilation comes up or when someone says “Don’t”.
Bill the Fox
There was a small bar on Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica, CA in the 60s and 70s called The Fox Inn. The guy who ran it was called Bill the Fox for obvious reasons. He was famous for being able to flip his hat in the air and down a mug of beer before the hat hit the floor. You may even have seen him on TV (Bill was MC on The Man Show after his bar closed in 1989, and he was also on an episode of Taxi) performing this skill. He didn’t swallow – somehow he was able to open his throat and just pour down the beer!
In those early days, Bill was a systems analyst by day. He enjoyed partying and finally decided that he could indulge himself and make a few bucks at the same time, so he opened the bar. During the day, Bill’s wife ran the place and they always had a good crowd for lunch. Whoever got the table by the kitchen had to watch their baby in the high chair. At night, he would play the piano, sing a few bawdy songs and “toss off” a few mugs of beer. I spent enough time there that when I walked in, Bill would interrupt whatever he was playing and break into a rousing chorus of “I don’t give a damn for the whole state of Michigan” sung to the tune of “The Old Grey Mare”. I think of Bill whenever I hear that tune.
I just looked up “Bill the Fox” Foster online. He died in 2000 – you can view a tribute to him at http://www.livevideo.com/video/97B92BCD0B5546B5836EC93BD145DC78/video-tribute-to-bill-the-fox.aspx
Programmer Herb W.
The saying this guy is famous for in my mind doesn’t come up very often so the links in my brain haven’t been refreshed very often. Herb was an older guy and looked like he had a few health problems. When anyone asked him how he was, he invariably answered “Fair to rotten!”. How could I not remember that?
Brother Bud and the old lady in Ironwood
What are the odds? How many people in Ironwood, Michigan have even been to California?
My brother Bud and I had been visiting our parents and stopped in to the bar at the Holiday Inn afterwards for a night cap. There were a fair number of older people there and tables were scarce. An elderly couple invited us to share their table and we did. They introduced themselves and in return I said “We are the Christian Brothers from California.” Now, I didn’t lie – we were from California, we were brothers, and we were Christians. But the old lady said “Go on, we know Brother Timothy and neither one of you are him!” What are the odds?
We had a good time chatting with the couple and when the polka music came on I asked her for a dance. She was ready to go and we tromped around and out into the lobby of the hotel where there was more room. She had asthma and started wheezing but just kept on going. Bud was sure I was going to kill her, but it all worked out.
Whenever I hear the term “Christian Brothers” or even polka music I think of Bud and that poor old lady.
My ex-sister-in-law Jo
I was visiting my brother’s farm, probably in the 60s when they had lots of impressionable kids around. A commercial for V-8 juice was popular then that rhythmically repeated “It sure doesn’t taste like tomato juice”. I started saying that and as you might expect, the little rug-rats started repeating it. Jo shook her head and went on with her chores in her usual low key way, but it was apparent that the chaos was wearing on her. Eventually (and for the first time I ever saw it) she cracked and demanded silence from everyone.
The sight of V-8 juice and the words “It sure doesn’t taste like tomato juice” will always remind me of Jo. I wonder if those kids remember the incident.
My father’s father was a tall, lean, graceful gentleman who died with more hair on his head than his three surviving sons had put together. He was the only person I have ever known to use the phrase “…like the dickens”. It was kind of a catch-all phrase that indicated something superlative. Someone would drive “like the dickens”, or swear “like the dickens”, or swim “like the dickens”.
That word or even the name Dickens will always bring my Grandpa to mind.
Programmers A, B, C
In the mid-60s I maintained a Jovial compiler. The compiler was fairly new and still had a few bugs, so I would take complaints from users and determine whether the problem was caused by the compiler or by some incorrect input. Naturally both of us hoped the fault lay with the other. I had a steady stream of complaints and the first thing I would look for was whether the compiler had recorded any errors during its process. My standard response was always “Fix all known errors and recompile”. My customers didn’t like that, but I had to insist. The fact is that by correcting known errors, very often the unknown problems would clear up as well.
I’ve had good use from that phrase in all aspects of my life. Whenever I encounter a problem, I try first to correct anything I know to be amiss and then see if the unknown issue still exists.
Programmer Sal A.
One of my regulars with compiler questions (see above) was Sal A. Sal was a very sharp programmer and his mind was always churning – what we call today thinking out of the box. However, I was up to my ears in alligators with real problems and I must admit I didn’t have a lot of patience with Sal. When I saw him he would start by saying “Hi Norm! I’ve been thinking….” and then go into a long discussion about how the Jovial language could be changed to be more friendly, more efficient, more logical, or more something else.
Since those days, the phrase “I’ve been thinking…” raises the hairs on the back of my neck because I just know the person is going to try to talk me into doing something I don’t want to do and I think of Sal A.
Aunt Julia had two children of her own and seemed to have infinite tolerance for children. Whenever others in the family chastised their children or complained about their conduct, Julia was quick to defend them and wisely say “Oh, he’ll grow up too!”. I can’t be certain, but I think I may have used this truism in defense of my own actions once or twice when I was growing up. I know the sentence reminds me of Aunt Julia.
2nd Lt. Harry E.
Army life was pretty much a self centered experience. As a draftee in basic training, survival was the order of the day. There was little room for manners, grace, or activities that were not of direct benefit to self. The need for this kind of attitude was relieved somewhat after training, but the habit was pretty much ingrained by then.
Some six months after being drafted, trained, and sent to Germany, the survey section I was in was out in the field establishing centers for the placement of artillery batteries. We would draw rations for a week and leave on Monday morning and return Friday evening. We set up squad tents and lived in the woods during these trips so things were pretty crude.
One day our first lieutenant showed up with a new second lieutenant who was going to be his replacement. They stayed for a meal and used mess kits just like the rest of us. Lt. Harry finished his food and got up to get a little more. As he did he said to Lt. T. “Would you like a little more?”, offering to get it for him. My jaw dropped in disbelief! The very thought of having concern for another person in those conditions was incredible!
I’m not sure that it changed my attitude then and there, but there is no doubt that when I hear those words, or see that level of grace, I think of Lt. Harry, an officer and a gentleman, even when eating out of a tin tray in the woods.
My last mother-in-law and I had a variegated relationship. She and I argued a lot, but we also skinny-dipped together (the last time before and the first time after her radical mastectomy). With a smile on my face I called her my “mutha-in-law” and she responded by calling me her “son-of-a-law”. When I hear some tough gangsta use the term “mutha” I can’t help but think of Lee L.
Ann K. and the 80% law
Think about the many times you have discussed a person that you admire. You tend to put that person on a pedestal and think of him or her as near-perfect. An old friend would always break my chain of thought about such things by saying “No one is more than 80%”. I am more and more convinced that she was correct – Tiger Woods makes me think of Ann K.
Mike P. and warm feet
A counterpart in another company whom I saw on a regular basis for many months during my work career was a devoted jogger. He once told me that he knew it was a successful jog if he got home, removed his shoes and found that his feet were warm. These days I walk early in the morning. I wear sandals (without socks, of course – I’m not Canadian), and in the winter I’m chilly to begin with (it was 58F this am when I went out). When I get back home after about an hour, take off my sandals, brush off my feet, and find them to be warm, I think of Mike P.
A few years after I was a regular at The Fox Inn, I occupied an office on Wilshire Blvd. just a few blocks from the bar. While parking one day on the side street next to the office I ran into Bill the Fox. Turns out I had been parking regularly in front of his house!
I just reviewed the P-gram distribution list. Most of these memories are mine alone, but I estimate that 8 of you will remember The Fox Inn and at least 2 will remember the “Fix all known errors” note pad. I expect to hear from you!