I see my regular physician something like four times a year. The other day, I got the good news that, in his opinion, there are no apparent reasons why my life span should not run another five years. His words were entirely volunteered and not the result of any prompting on my part. Assuming he's correct, I will make it at least into my 90s.
His words prompted my thinking about the enormously serendipitous aspects of living a life that appreciates improvisation in a world decidedly inclined to schedule just about everything. I got to thinking about some of the delightful surprises I've experienced over the years; with such thoughts come hope there are more down the road.
It was early on while working for TV Guide magazine that I found myself in Oklahoma City on the way to the airport to pick up Barbara Nichols, an actress whose charms produced deep conviction by some that she made Marilyn Monroe look by comparison like a boy. Nichols, who made it into many dignified forms of show business by way of men's magazines, had flown in to bring some added attention to the new Oklahoma Edition of the publication. It was while driving her to the Skirvin Hotel that I learned she was hungry.
We stopped at a very nice Italian restaurant where the food was good and the conversation sprightly. Quite suddenly, the actress exclaimed: "Oh, my goodness, there I am," and pointed to a brick wall with an oddly mottled look. With that, she pulled me out of my chair for a closer inspection. Our examination revealed a great variety of the more interesting pieces of female anatomy that had been cut from magazines, pasted on the wall, then shellacked.
"Look, there's one of my boobs," she exclaimed, her voice trumpeting a manic sense of pride. Who would know other than the possessor of it or them or, maybe, Hugh Hefner with magnifying glass in hand? Later on, she found her derriere although she didn't call it that.
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The Chase-Park Plaza Hotel in St. Louis probably is still going strong and I suspect that public relations there continue to be done by a Mary Chase. Just as there has been over the course of nearly a century something like 18 Rin Rin Tins, so it has been with the hotel and the myriad Mary Chases.
I met the very attractive Mary in 1956 at a party honoring Nat "King" Cole, the jazz great who had shucked his trio, become a pop singer, and had just acquired a TV show that would be rejected by a number of southern stations because he touched singer Peggy Lee. More about that one at some future date.
During a john break at the party, I chatted with pal/disc jockey/newsman Bruce Hayward who informed me that Mary, whom I had promised a resumption of our conversation, was very interested in me. Married for seven years and alert to the "itch factor," I fled the hotel. A TV Guide transfer to Atlanta occurred a week later.
During the next three years, I was moved four times eventually landing in Kansas City where my responsibilities included St. Louis. One evening, I entered the Chase Hotel and there, standing precisely and impressively where I had left her, was Mary Chase whom I had stood up three years earlier.
"What took you so long?" she asked.
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Tom O'Brien, a retired broadcaster who used t live on Orcas Island, left the party a couple of years ago and I recall his good cheer if only because of a story about musician Boyd Raeburn.
Tom was doing dance band remotes back in the early 40s from such places as the Glen Island Casino and Frank Daley's Meadowbrook. One evening, O'Brien, then making $25.50 a week, was scheduled to do a remote at Ben Marden's Riviera. It involved the Boyd Raeburn Orchestra, so progressive it made most other big bands sound funky.
O'Brien was approached immediately before airtime by Raeburn whose name was often mangled by announcers. "Son, don't mess my name up. It's Raeburn, Boyd Raeburn, Boyd Raeburn. That's Boyd Raeburn."
"Yes, sir," replied O'Brien.
The engineer then threw the signal, the trumpet section sounded, O'Brien cupped an ear and intoned: "From coast-to-coast on NBC, it's Roy Boidbrain and his orchestra."
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It was on a lengthy tour of Spain and nearby countries that wife Jan and I checked into The Bajandillo in Torremolinas. Not far from Gibralter, we quickly gave the hotel the not terribly sober sobriquet: The Banjo Dildo. The hotel's architecture, U-Shaped, provides water views from all rooms and our second floor location was above a central lobby with the hotel wings angled from us.
Halfway into our 10-day stay, we discovered a laundry problem on a Saturday--bad timing in most countries. Since our room had a balcony, we washed some clothes and hung them out to dry before setting out for a late lunch.
Returning, we noticed that most of our clothes had fallen to the lobby roof so we put retrieval procedures into motion. To a wire coat hanger's shoulder was attached a clothesline which I lowered to a position above some underwear, then hooked a pair of shorts. After a few feet of success, the underwear fell off and I resumed fishing for laundry. This time I extended the middle of the hanger's base to form a V above the hook. Although I had never attended an engineering school (a thoroughly laughable notion), I figured an engineer would improve the balance of the coat hanger by doing what I did. Jan, of course, spelled me during what probably was 20 minutes of mostly frustration. We finally hauled up the last of the laundry.
It was at that moment that a startling burst of rather deafening applause greeted us from the adjoining wings of The Banjo Dildo. People, gathered on a great many of the hotel's balconies, either were demonstrating their appreciation of American ingenuity or recognizing our Chaplinesque low comedy. We treated it as a La Scala moment and bowed graciously from our stage.
During the rest of our stay in Torremolinas, the guests of The Banjo Dildo greeted us with applause and more than one drink was sent our way. The moral of the story is that loopdy Americans are much more appreciated on foreign shores than ugly ones.
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Living 14 years in Friday Harbor, Washington included a number of reminders that made it clear I was living in a small town.
One of them occurred when Lloyd Benedict and I met over lunch at Fords, a Bar & Grill. Benedict, a retired insurance executive, had been given the assignment of talking me into becoming president of the San Juan Community Theatre's board of trustees. We began lunch with straight up Beefeater martinis, then settled back to talk about rutabagas and kings, then matters theatrical. With drinks reduced to the width of one's small finger, we ordered another round after which our waitress did a silent, awkward, table-side hover.
"Is there anything wrong?" asked Lloyd.
"Well, sir," she responded. "Those are our only straight-up martini glasses and I guess I'll have to wait for you to finish your first drinks."
The story doesn't end there. About a year after turning Lloyd down (he took on the trustee presidency himself much as Dick Cheney the George W. Bush administration's vice-presidency), we met once more at Fords where we again ordered martinis and laughed about our prior experience there. A different waitress this time but the result the same: there were still just two straight-ups in the bar.
Figuring a third questioning would surely be the charm to produce proof of more glasses, I asked the obvious of a co-owner of the re-named Fords--still called Haley's Bait Shop. A diligent search followed amid much laughter. That was in 2002, eight years after the first incident. Four months later, I was assured "we now have six or eight more" although no physical proof was offered. I think it's time for another martini in Friday Harbor.
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Harry Chan was one of my favorite people and remains so because of memories. A six-foot third-generation Chinese, he fathered film actresses Meg and Jennifer Tilly while married to a Caucasion. Harry and I became related by marriage when, after a 15-year courtship, he married my second wife's sister, Susan Christenson.
The marriage took place during a very hot summer in Grand Island, Nebraska and was followed by a reception at a country club. During the celebration, a quite puzzled little old lady toddled over to Harry. Commenting about what a good time she was having, the quite elderly woman conveyed her puzzlement.
"Mr. Chan," she began, "I have noticed the mosquitoes are out in full force and they are biting everyone but you. I don't understand."
"Well, mam," replied Harry. "Those mosquitoes know that if they bite Harry Chan, they are going to be hungry in 20 minutes."
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