Category Archives: Lexington-70’s

Geezer Survey

A friend of mine had an epiphany recently. He dolefully claims he now knows he’s a codger. He’s a smart guy who’s picking up on the hints; knee replacement, triple bypass …the mirror in his bathroom.

Good for him for being so perceptive.

What about the rest of us? How will we know when codgerdom assumes control?

I see all these surveys on Facebook and what they promise to tell me about myself. No disrespect, but I don’ need no stinkin’ surveys, especially ones powered by my birth month and the first letter of my second dog’s name.

I can make my own survey.

Here is a Lexington Geezer Survey and I invite you to take it. If you do, I’ll be happy to evaluate your response using the same scientific protocols currently being used to determine charge/blocking calls in college basketball – I’ll guess wildly.

Be honest now…because…well…why not?

Also feel very free to relate stories, rationales, and/or pertinent limericks to enhance your response.

Seriously, you don’t really have to be honest about this nonsense…because…well…who cares? And nobody’s fact-checking.

Lexington Geezers, here’s your chance to demonstrate if you’re a real “Nighthawk Special” or merely a “Tabletopper” (extra credit for understanding those references).

Here goes;

  1. Just to get it out of the way right away and establish a base line; choose – Ginger or Mary Ann?
  2. It’s 2am Sunday morning and you’ve dropped off your date; choose – Jerry’s on North Broadway or Southland Drive?
  3. More nuanced questions; choose – Warner Oland or Sidney Toler? Sean Connery or Daniel Craig?
  4. The Ben Ali or the Strand?
  5. The best Felix Leiter; choose – Norman Burton, Bernie Casey, David Hedison, Cec Linder, Jack Lord, Rik Van Nutter, or Jeffrey Wright? Good grief!
  6. Did you ever attempt the “Steak for Two” at Columbia’s by yourself? How many drinks do you remember having had that evening?
  7. The best Bond girl; choose – Ursula Andress, Daniela Bianchi, or Ursula Andress…or Ursula Andress?
  8. Artie Kay or Billy Love?
  9. The Torqués, the Mag 7…or…the Mercy Men?
  10. And for more extra credit – a) Did you ever get a 9-cent banana split from those balloons at Woolworth’s? And b) Do you think they really existed? If you answered yes to “a”, I hate you. If you answered yes to “b”, I have a bridge I’d like sell you.

Knock yourself out!

Or should I say; “Sock it to me!”

Hootenanny Wind

Hey!

You millennials!

Don’t trust anyone over 30.

That was the advice proffered by my generation in the sixties. That would be the 1960’s, though after a morning of pulling weeds, it feels like a hundred years before.

My friend, Jim Sherburne, wrote an interesting novel concerning that generational advice; RIVERS RUN TOGETHER. In it, he describes a 30-something writer in Chicago in the summer of 1968, during the Democratic presidential nominating convention. The protagonist’s heart was pining to be part of the protests happening behind police lines in the parks in Chicago, while his carbon-dated time on the planet consigned his bag-o-bones to the streets nearby. I recommend the book…especially now.

I’m over 30.

Dammit.

So…don’t trust me…but read this…it might help bridge the gap when next we meet.

In the early to mid-sixties, I was politically born.

On an August day (no school that day), Martin Luther King revealed his dream to the largest crowd I had ever seen, in Washington. It was on TV and I could not look away.

Earlier that year, a new music show had appeared on TV. It was called “Hootenanny” and it featured folk music.

That same year, radio station WBKY (now WUKY) had a late Saturday night show hosted by Ben Story featuring even more obscure folk music.

I was twelve.

What’s folk music?

Who’s Martin Luther King?

Why’s he black?

Does that mean something?

Is somebody doing something to him they shouldn’t?

What does Pete Seeger mean when he asks “Which side are you on?”

Sides? There are sides?

I was twelve.

Patrick Sky reached for a laugh in his now-forgotten classic “Talking Socialized Anti-Undertaker Blues”; “Formaldehyde and alcohol, we’ll pickle you, and that ain’t all; black or white, to us you’re all the same.” Where’s the laugh? It plumb evades me. What’s black or white got to do with it?

I was twelve. I had to look up “formaldehyde.”

Phil Ochs’ sad musician-turned-wino in “Chords of Fame” complains in an alley; “Reporters ask you questions. They write down what you say.” Why would they do that? Aren’t reporters supposed to be covering real news in 1963? The Cold War? Polio? Cuban missiles?

I was twelve and still eating sugar cubes and mastering the scary yoga of “duck and cover.”

Tom Paxton and Pete Seeger were asking “What did you learn in school today?”

Well… I really was taught things like;

“I learned that policemen are my friends
I learned that justice never ends
I learned that murderers die for their crimes
Even if we make a mistake sometimes.”

I was twelve. It had not yet occurred to me that might not be OK until Tom and Pete suggested I cipher on that a little more.

I listened as Judy Henske and Judy Collins and Joan Tolliver sang about the problems in the coal fields using the words of Billy Edd Wheeler. Mountains being stripped, towns abandoned, rivers poisoned? In Lexington, we didn’t have rivers or mountains.

But Mr. Wheeler’s words have stayed with me for over five decades.

All their words have. I learned much from these foreign-to-me teachers.

Mostly what I learned from these singers and preachers and yes, my Sunday school teachers was to always do the next right thing. Picking sides, recognizing colors and genders, knocking down mountains, fighting diseases, corrupt authorities……….just do the next right thing.

Mortgages, and insurance bills, and utility bills, and 401K’s have distracted me.

Stormy Daniels, and the Ukraine, and Confederate flags, and face masks are thrown at me now to continue to distract me.

I learned better in 1963 and what I learned still holds true.

Stay focused on Rev. King’s dream.

It’s the next right thing to do.

Trust me on this……no…wait……don’t trust me…go vote……do this yourself.

Turn Yer Radio On

I was eleven years old when I first started falling asleep to the radio. I still do whenever possible.

<<<< “Post #1 — One o’clock and all is well.” The call rang out in the dark. A twenty-something Union prison guard in Western Kentucky was listening and questioning the wisdom of leaving New York for this blue uniform and a nocturnal duty of vigilance over tattered Southern wretches. Still, it was reassuring to hear of the continued existence and thriving of Post #1. He scanned his portion of the prison ground for anomalies and finding none answered; “Post #2 – One o’clock and all is well.” He assumed Post #3 would be similarly comforted…hell, those Southern boys might like to hear a pleasant word as well. >>>>

In 1962, when I was eleven, it was my battery-powered cigarette-pack-sized transistor radio tucked under my pillow, ideally tuned in to a late night baseball game from the West Coast between my hallowed Reds and the despised Dodgers or haughty Giants. To drift off to Waite Hoyt’s description of Frank Robinson and Vada Pinson battling Maury Wills and Sandy Koufax, or Willie Mays and Juan Marichal was bliss. If the Reds weren’t available, the local overnight disc jockey, Tom Kimball on WVLK touting “Nighthawk Specials” at Columbia Steakhouse and a mélange of pre-Beatles rock was a pretty good Plan B for a pretty good night’s sleep.

A half-century later, not much has changed.

<<<< About two miles from our home, a train whistle rewards our summer-open bedroom window with long, long moan that croons; “We’re out here travelin’, workin’, carryin’ on…don’t you worry none…we’re here…all’s well.” >>>>

Each night, I pessimistically set my clock radio to play the radio for two hours. Then I proceed to become comatose in about two minutes. I try to find a live sporting event first, then classical music or jazz, then settle for any music or live programming.

It has to be live programming.

Television won’t do the job. Television is visual and I find it hard to fall asleep when my eyes are open. Go figger.

Recorded music won’t do. There’s no currently awake mind behind.

Live programming…that’s the ticket.

Why?

<<<< Sirens pass, shrieking. Hospital helicopters wop and chop overhead. Each heralds an urgent problem. Each assures that responders are responding; “All’s not well, but we’re on it!” >>>>

I think my need goes back to 1962 and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

In the fall of 1962, Nikita Khrushchev got the neighborly idea of putting Russian missiles in Cuba, ninety miles away from the Florida Keys. Jack Kennedy realized quickly that missiles in Cuba threatened to sharply amplify the hazards of a determined Duval Street Crawl beyond a drunken face plant on a Key West sidewalk, a night in the Key West slammer, and your name on page two of the Key West newspaper. The hazards could logically portend an end to Western Civilization which, hard as it is for my acquaintances in the Keys to believe, involves bigger issues than a cold beer (or five) and a well-done conch fritter (one is enough). Kennedy ordered a naval blockade to intercept a missile-laden Russian ship headed for Cuba.

The whole country felt a spasm of fear. A nuclear conflagration seemed eminent.

<<<< My dog farts in bed and sighs. All is well and evidently well-fed. >>>>

My sixth grade class at Yates Elementary were schooled the day after the blockade was announced in the intricacies of “duck and cover.” We knelt in the school’s halls with our heads down and covered by our hands.

But I had seen images of Hiroshima.

I didn’t raise a ruckus in school about our atomic training, but I was silently and forlornly convinced that “duck and cover” wasn’t gonna cut it.

No, Lexington’s best hope was in the fact that there was no military reason to nuke it. I found a soupçon of solace in that, though it would be a few more years before I knew what “soupçon” or “solace” meant.

But I still fretted about the rest of the world. If the random angry world powers ignored Lexington but obliterated themselves, how would I know?

On the radio!

All’s well…

What’s French for Pep?

Flea 06

I was in a French farce once…
…on stage.

I’ve participated in and initiated many a farce in my life but they weren’t French and they weren’t onstage.
This one was.

On opening night, the director (a guest director imported from New York City, no less) assembled the cast in the Green Room for a pre-show chat (aka pep talk). This perplexed me. At the stupidly young age of 19 when I, of course, knew everything, one of the things I knew was if your farce required an injection of pep to achieve “farcicality” you might want to consider doing Ibsen instead. Shouldn’t a prominent bed and sturdy doors that slammed loudly be farcical enough?

Be that as it may, we assembled in full regalia (wigs, tails, boas, bustles, and spats) and our director spoke.

“When I was a young man, I apprenticed at a summer one-week-stock theater in the Catskills. Each night as we traveled from the green room to the stage, we passed under a large sign that read;
‘IT’S A COMEDY HOUSE. PLAY IT LOUD AND FAST.’
I came to hate that sign that summer. I knew theater was far more than important than that. I knew acting involved far more than that. I swore when I was a director I would not sell my art out like that.
And we haven’t.
We will take the stage tonight knowing who we are, where we’ve come from, where we’re going, and why we’re making this journey. We’ve listened to each other, and laughed with each other, and cried, and kissed, and slapped…we’ve loved and betrayed…we’ve explored every path of this theatrical journey and we’re ready to take our audience with us.
Just…
…just…
…remember this;
IT’S A COMEDY HOUSE. PLAY IT LOUD AND FAST!”

<< sigh >>

Well…
…the bed was prominent, the doors worked, the walls were mostly pink, and the accents were vaguely French.

It was a farce.

The Hazards of a Wine Education

“Yer name Leasor?”

The words came out softly from a warm Bluegrass night accompanied by a blinding police car spotlight in the summer of 1973.

I could, regrettably, rule out an epiphany since I was pretty sure I was not on the road to Damascus.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind wouldn’t be released for another four years, so it wasn’t a targeted alien abduction. Probing, thank God, was unlikely.

I was in my car parked at the back door of a liquor store at about 2am Sunday morning.
How could anything good come of this?

Wait, wait, wait…
Let’s roll this clock back a bit.

++++++++++++++++++++++++

I have been asked a number of times how I learned about wine.
I read magazines and books of course. In the early 70’s I read a quote from the owner of a California winery; “The only way to learn about wine is to open bottles.” That rang true and desirable to me in 1973, and has continued to ring true and desirable through the decades. But in 1973, I couldn’t afford to open that many bottles. Oh sure, it was a time when the most expensive California Cabernet Sauvignon (Paul Masson) was $3.59, Pouilly-Fuissé was $3.79, and Dom Perignon was $15.99. But I was making $1.85 an hour as an assistant manager and riding a bicycle to work whenever the weather allowed.

There were no student loans for opening bottles.

One day a customer ordered two cases of Jos. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett (about $2.99 per bottle). It arrived in the store and the customer did not. We were stuck with $70+ of wine that nobody else in Kentucky had even heard of, nor could they pronounce it if they had. What to do?

It behooved us to sell the cases. To do so, it behooved us to research the wine.

On Saturday nights, the store manager and I would work the store together with one cashier. At midnight, we would let the cashier leave and the two of us would finish working until the legally mandated closing time of 1am. It was usually a slo-o-o-w final hour.
One slo-o-o-w final Saturday night hour, the manager chilled down a bottle of the problematical Jos. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett. I slipped next door to the grocery store (Randall’s, if you’re geezer enough to remember) and purchased a couple of gourmet cheeses (Colby and Havarti, leftover from their deli sandwiches as I recall – goin’ first class all the way). We pulled out the Lichine’s Encyclopedia of Wine, and pulled out the corks, and employed a couple of styrophene cups – goin’ first class all the way.

That night I learned a good bit of geography (the importance of those hilly bends in the rivers Mosel and Saar, and their orientation to the sun). I learned of the winemaking prowess of the Prum family. I learned a good bit about my first grape varietal; Riesling. I learned about the agricultural challenge of coaxing maximum ripeness while avoiding potentially crop-destroying early winter. Most importantly, I experienced for the first time sunshine in a bottle. There’s no going back from there.

From humble sips, a sometimes blurry enthusiasm ensued (plus, we sold the two cases).

We continued our Lincoln-esque educational path. Wine sales and reputation grew steadily. In the long run, the manager eventually became the best and most influential wine-buyer in the state and I did OK conducting a ton of wine-tastings over the next 40 years.

But in the short run…

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

This particular Saturday night, we had tried and studied a couple of real nice wines from the Cote de Nuits and I was definitely feeling the effects of the nuit.

We closed the store and the manager drove me around the shopping center to my parked car, dropped me off, and departed.

I sat in my car for a moment with windows down, my ride in 1973 being sans air-conditioning, GPS, Sirius, FM radio, cruise control, and cup-holders. I blissfully contemplated my next move. I was leaning towards a greasy breakfast at the Euclid Avenue Toddle House with the closing time rejects from the Fireplace Lounge and the Chevy Chase Inn. I was pretty sure that crowd would ignore my shoulder-blade-long locks and spare me the usual jukebox tribute of “I’m Proud to Be an Okie From Muskogee.”
Hash browns…
…hash browns…
…might just be the answer, whatever the question might be.

BAM!

That’s when the police car spotlight hit me.
The car glided alongside and a voice that invited no nonsense inquired; “What are you doing here?”

I explained, eloquently, perkily, and with perfect American diction, my status as an employee of the liquor store, just getting off work and heading for home for a good night’s sleep before I arose to attend church, teach Sunday school, and sing in the choir……uh……and get a haircut, Officer.
I don’t think he bought it.

Then he asked; “Yer name Leasor?”

I confessed……abjectly.
Every fault known to man, every yellow light compromised, every RSVP un-responded to, every face turned away from the ugly hour mirror, every oil change postponed, every missed cut-off man…I confessed to it all in the name of Leasor.
“Yes…it is.”

“I saw you in a play. My girlfriend…she loves the theater. She took me to a play and you were in it. I didn’t like the play much, but you were pretty good.”

I was stunned and flattered into silence for a moment. Now remember, it didn’t take much to stun me at that exact moment…………I’m not proud of that admission.

We chatted for about 15-20 minutes about theater and girlfriends. He asked; “You still doing that?”
By then, my faculties were returning to razor-sharp (well…at least hacksaw-sharp) and I determined he was asking about theater and not girlfriends.
“Oh, yeah. I’m rehearsing a show now. You wanna see it? I’ve got comps.”
“I might. That’d be nice. My girl would be impressed.”
We arranged the logistics and he asked gently;
“Where’ya going now?”

Well, frankly, my belief in the restorative power of slimy hash browns being strong, I was still ciphering on the possible wisdom of a visit to the Toddle House, but his question gave me pause.
“I’m going straight home.”
“Where’s that?”
I responded with my address.
“Why don’t I follow you there, just to be safe?”
I agreed.
He did.

He and his lady attended my show and came backstage afterwards.
I think he scored a lot of points with her.

I merely lived to tell the tale.
I won……

Yes……I won……

But, it might have been because of the kindness and care of a problem-solving police officer. Attitudes about alcohol and driving were different; lenient and far more dangerous in 1973 than they are today. That incident changed my path. I stayed in the wine business, but my educational curriculum steered to a safer course. The slo-o-o-w Saturday night classes were terminated tout suite. C’est bien, n’est-ce pas?

The Three Kevins

curse05
Haggard Leaning, Moi Reclining

I have worked on stage with The Three Kevins.

Wanna touch me?

The Guignol Theater at the University of Kentucky has a history that extends to the middle of the last century. A history of that length has room for several “Golden Ages.” I like to think I was lucky to have been a student in one of those halcyon eras. In the early 70’s the theater department was flush with young actors who had participated in the two-year experiment of one-week summer stock theater experience in the Guignol called Centennial Theater. New York actors mingled with UK student actors rehearsing one play in the afternoons and performing another in the evenings. I arrived on the campus in 1969 to a collection of veteran players and immediately understood I had to catch up quick or sprout roots in the UK library. My academics atrophied but rehearsals were soaring.

I foolishly accepted the trade then and I wisely accept the trade now.

Another “Golden Age of the Guignol” happened about ten years later. Dr. Jim Rodgers attracted a talented faculty and talented student actors followed.
Tim McClure, Martha Bernier, Sheila Omer, Lisa Jones, Sue Grizzell, Walter Tunis, Patti Heying, Bill Felty, Julie Klier, Billy Breed, Nancy Shane. What an assemblage of talent!

But I think of it as the time of The Three Kevins; the “Kevins” being Haggard, Hardesty, and Kennedy.

Kevin Kennedy was bright and quick. I worked with him in Terra Nova. The Antarctic was not nearly as cool as his wit. I think he makes violins in Colorado now.

Kevin Hardesty has a voice that makes you listen eagerly even if he’s merely reading the phone book. I worked with him Glengarry Glen Ross. Kevin is currently the rage as Daniel Boone in the Chautauqua Program of the Kentucky Humanities Council.

Kevin Haggard is a professional actor. He moves with reason and purpose. He speaks from the heart when his character must, from his head when his character must, reluctantly when his character must, and impetuously when his character must. I worked with Kevin in The Curse of the Starving Class. I’m a fan.

This reminiscence was triggered by viewing a Fox program I’d never heard of; The Resident. Kevin Haggard appears briefly as a hospital board member participating in decisions that would not qualify one as a “better angel.” Kevin had three or four lines and maybe a total of 40 seconds of screen time. A small part, but played with integrity and attention. Just what I’d expect from Kev.

Kevin moved to Nashville from Lexington and seems to be always working as an actor and seems to have become respected in his profession and seems to be happily married. Talented and nice guys don’t finish last.

I have worked on stage with The Three Kevins…and all these Guignol Golden Agers.
I was made better by all of them.
Lexington was made better by all of them.
That’s what the arts do.

Cherish them, please.

Dickens and the Deity

Charles Dickens was a good friend of mine.

No, not that Charles Dickens.

This Charles Dickens was a teacher/director in the University of Kentucky Theatre Department in the 60’s and 70’s and yes, that was his real name. He was tiny and skinny with a voice that was neither tiny nor skinny. He shuffled though the halls of the Fine Arts Building during play rehearsals followed by Bridey, his Scottish terrier and smoking (it was long ago and a freer age then – dinosaurs still roamed the savannahs, probably smoking).

Charles was an important teacher for me, though I never had a class with him.

How does that work?

Charles was my director in four different shows and he was a fellow actor in three. I learned much about theatre in those experiences.

But my first experience with Charles (unbeknownst to him) was before I even reached UK.

The year was 1969.

The place was the Guignol Theatre.

The reason was the Kentucky High School Play Competition.

I had competed earlier in the year at the regionals. We did well, but did not advance to the state finals. It was at these regionals however, where I met and befriended Jim Varney (see “Pre-Ernest Musings in the archives of this blog). Thus, I was simply a spectator, enjoying the efforts of other schools.

Charles was one of the judges.

I knew of Mr. Dickens. I had seen one of the plays he directed and heard exotic tales. Don’t get too excited. “Exotic” to this Southern Baptist-raised high schooler probably consisted of hearing of Mr. Dickens;

– Wore turtle necks.

– Drank…something…other than Coca-Cola.

– Quoted old movies like Gospel.

– Smoked…(sotto voce)…a lot!

Exotic.

But here he was, in the house of the Guignol, about ten rows in front of me.

We were watching and evaluating the same plays.

I felt wiser instantly and was reveling in my newfound sagacity.

Then Henry Clay High School took the stage.

For some unfathomable reason, they had chosen to do a miracle play; “Noah’s Ark.”

There it was, a gigantic backdrop of the title boat. In front of the ark, strutted sheet-bedecked high-school actors announcing and pronouncing archaic and utterly boring lines that didn’t even have the good manners to be iambic pentameter. At least you could have danced to that. It would be another nine years until Animal House came out. Otherwise, I would have erroneously assumed I had stumbled into a toga party.

The play crawled along through pomposity and vague righteousness until it reached a tense moment. The tense moment was tipped off by a tiny rumble of thunder offstage right. The ark backdrop wavered and from out of the top of the ark, holding on for dear life, popped a head in the midst of a medical cotton nimbus and beard.

It was God.

God stabilized his precarious perch, looked down, and sternly said; “No-O-ah-H!”

Now you fellows reading this, at this point I need you to keep in mind the age of this young boy-becoming-a-man and recall that first tough moment when your voice changed. Now, please turn and describe that moment to the females in our audience so they can also comprehend what just happened to our young actor…

…as he was playing God…

…In the Kentucky State High School Play Competition.

OMG.

As if that weren’t enough…

…at that moment, a great rolling guffaw filled the theatre,

It was the hooting of Zeus,

It was the howl of Odin,

All emanating from this tiny man judging the competition.

It was Charles Dickens, laughing at God.

My inchoate sagacity evaporated.

I wanted to hide under my seat and await the inevitable lightning strike.

It was exotic.

I learned a lot about theatre from that blasphemous chuckler.

Ridin’ the Bus

Before we get to the bus…

I think my favorite “Peanuts” cartoon featured Linus asking Charlie Brown; “Didn’t you ever get into any fights at school?”
Charlie replied after cogitating for a panel or two; “No, I formed discussion groups.”

Now, to the bus.

I rode a lot of buses in junior high and high school.
I rode school buses. I had to be at the corner of our street on time, rain or shine, or left behind. If I missed the bus, I had to race two blocks to the next nearest stop and try to catch it. If I missed it there, the Taliban (not yet invented) was summoned to slice my head off in front of 23,403 people in Rupp Arena (not yet invented) and my remaining limbs would be shrink-wrapped (not yet invented) and shipped to Hogwarts (not yet…) for wand-blasting experiments. There was no parental ride to school. My folks had jobs.

I never missed the bus.

If I had, in my parents’ eyes I would be to blame; a worse alternative than anything in the last paragraph. The fault was mine. Not the driver, not the weather, not the roads……me.

I never missed the bus.

There were students on the bus who were bigger than me. I devised strategies to deal with them. In my parents’ eyes, if there was a problem, it was mine.

There were students who were smaller than me. Ditto.

There were girls. Ditto.

There were students whose skin was a different hue than mine. Ditto.

It was unruly, yes.

It was loud, yes.

It was challenging at times, yes!

No one got shot. No one got pregnant. The driver drove and looked straight ahead.

We all got along until we could arrive at our destination…every day…for years……what other choice did we have?

There were no fatalities.

But there was learning of a sort.

Today, we live in gated communities, drive our children to school, pick them up after, and schedule play dates.

We decry the current tribalism tearing our country apart; “Why can’t we get along with each other? Why are we so divided?”

Perhaps we have not learned to get along with each other. Perhaps some of our rolling yellow classrooms devoted to getting along with each other while we get to our goals have vanished.

“…I formed discussion groups.”

Yes, I most certainly did.

I had to.
And it has served me just fine.

MAGA Hats and Tweeds

It was in the halcyon days of the mid-70’s. I was working in the wine department of a Shoppers Village Liquors (later to become Liquor Barn). I was wearing blue jeans, an army surplus shirt, Dingo boots, and my hair hung down to between my shoulder blades. I was a certifiable hippie-type who knew his wines. There were plenty of certifiable hippie-types in Lexington in those days, but most of them knew more about Pabst Blue Ribbon than Mumm’s Cordon Rouge.

One afternoon, I approached a middle-aged gentleman in the French wine aisle with my best; “May I help you?” He continued to gaze at the Beaujolais Villages selection for a moment (lost in the Fleury and the Brouilly) and murmured; “Are these all Beaujolais? What’s the diff-f-f-f…?”

Along about “diff-f-f-f…” he had glanced up at me, assessed the likelihood of any credible assistance from such a creature, and reached the conclusion of zero, zip, goose egg, and bupkiss. I caught a spark of despair in his eyes.

“No…I’m just looking.”

I’d seen this play before.

<< Let’s take a little reference side trip shall we? >>

In acting, an actor should quickly learn the difference between what they do and what others see, or they’ll never progress and they’ll never know why.

The sequence?

  • I go on stage and do my piece, tell my story.
  • When I finish, I step off the stage and the watchers (director, teacher, critics, audience…hecklers) tell me what they saw.
  • If there are differences between what I did and they saw…I change.
  • My story is paramount.

If my watchers don’t get my story, it doesn’t matter what I thought I was doing. If I want to succeed, I change and change and change until my story gets through the way I want it to be heard and understood.

I’m an actor and a storyteller. I’m foolish a goodly bit of the time, but I’m not often stupid.
And I wasn’t in the mid-70’s.

<< End of little reference side trip. >>

I lapsed into a hard ponder after receiving my congé from the fellow struggling with Moulin-au-Vent, and realized I was tilting with a few windmills of my own.

I really liked selling wine. I wanted to do more of it. But the signals I was sending were inhibiting me. I knew my hair and my fashion choices spoke nothing my quality, but others were making instant negative evaluations. Their prejudices were obstructing me. I was paying a price I no longer wished to pay.

I scheduled a haircut.
I called my professor from UK and asked him to teach me about tweed coats.
I had learned to tie a double Windsor a few years before from my friend Chuck Pogue.
I had an eye exam (previously scheduled) and when the doctor suggested contacts, I opted for glasses.

Voila!
“Perfesser Lesser” was born.

I was amazed and delighted and a little bit disgusted by the change in fortune.

People respond to the signals we send. We may ridicule them for their response, but we choose the signals. We are in control of the signals we send and thus are in control of the response we elicit.

I was not my hair.
I was not my boots.
I was not my army shirt.

Nor was I my tweed jacket and my glasses.

These were simply signals I chose at different times of my life.

Similarly, the young man from Covington Catholic High School standing in front of the Native American drummer was not his MAGA hat.

But the hat was his signal.
The signal was his choice.
He was in control of the response.

It took me until my mid-20’s to decide I no longer wanted to pay that particular price.

I had the Côte d’Or to explore.

And yes, the choice has been golden.

Foxy’s and the Flaming Embers

I’ve written about how I got into the alcohol business (see “My Last Job Interview” in the blog archives), but I haven’t described that gem of a first retail job.

It was a tiny liquor store on North New Circle Road across the road from the Flaming Embers Inn and next to Foxy’s Diner. It was a choice location…for something…but not for a liquor store. The store had been purchased by the owners of the new chain Shoppers Village Liquors to acquire the liquor license. They were building a large and fancy new wine shop on Reynolds Road and needed a license. At that time, buying an existing business was the accepted procedure for obtaining a liquor license. Obviously, if an existing business was willing to sell, it probably was not doing much existing business…at least not enough to continue existing.

But there’s the rub. In 1972, you couldn’t just buy the store, close the store, and idle the license until your new location was ready to go. The license had to be in use. Thus, a tiny shop with lousy access to a busy highway offered an employment opportunity to a theatre hippie who needed a summer job (aka; 40+ year career).

My first day on the job consisted of training; learning how to operate the cash register and the price gun (22 minutes), learning how to break down a cardboard box (30 passionate seconds), learning how to lock up and set the alarm (5 minutes), and learning how to pronounce “Spañada” (a heinous, cheap, and versatile jug wine concoction from Gallo – it was amazing, you could boil it like a toddy, freeze it into ice cubes, spike it with fruit and/or grain alcohol, and pick up thirteen TV channels, three in color). After my grueling 30 minutes of apprenticeship, I was left on my own for that 4pm-12m shift and every other weekday night shift for the next seven months until the store closed in November.

The first night I finished my duties by 5:30 and the customer flow dwindled to practically none after 6:30. I was left with nothing to do until midnight except watch the small TV (three channels, none in color — coulda used some Spañada). I didn’t own a TV myself at that time so it was a novelty…for about an hour. At midnight I closed the store and vowed to not spend another night watching TV. It was another two years before I owned a TV of my own.

Instead, I brought books to work.

Until college, I read two or three books a week for curiosity and entertainment. In college, my reading was hijacked by the required reading. Now free from academic regimen, I reverted instantly to my pre-university habits. That summer, I averaged reading a book a night, and still sold my share of Spañada. If I finished my book early, I was left to contemplate the neon sign across the street and meditate on what kind of business plan would lead one to name their hotel “The Flaming Embers Inn.” It smacked of prophesying an insurance claim. Or perhaps there were too many tawdry crime novels in my literary buffet.

My typical day that summer consisted of an evening of voracious if indiscriminate reading, closing the shop at midnight, slipping next door to Foxy’s for an exquisite Foxy burger, and then home to work until about 3am on the musical extravaganza Chuck and I were writing . It was an immersive routine of consuming and producing art, consuming dubious but affordable food, and paying the rent.

Thanks to that summer, I don’t believe there’s anyone but me that understands and admires the opening scene of “La Boheme” as I do.

But even as I write that, my head tells me only about a million current and past theatre hippies have had the same experience. That fact represents a hope for the world.

My heart interrupts my head to shout; “You lie!”

My head and my heart; those two have never gotten along for any length of time, and with any luck they never will. To brutally paraphrase Nikos Kazantzakis; they are both made stronger by the tussle.

I’m thinkin’ neither was made stronger by Foxy’s burgers, nor Spañada.