Category Archives: Stories

Stories From a Friend–Shoeshine

Note: The author of this story is my new friend, Clyde J. Hady of Brooksville, Florida. His business Facebook is Hometown Electric. Check out his latest invention on You Tube.

In 1937 I was 12 years old, and my Father was the most important man in town. It was a small town, we knew everybody, well my Mom and Dad did. We owned the forge in town, (the forge was where we melted metal and made parts that went all over the United States), and we hired most of the people in town. When we walked down the street everybody would greet us. I thought we had it made. Life was great, and we were important.

Every morning my Dad left for the factory, and he would stop in two places on the way in. First he would stop at the paper corner and get his paper (newspaper). Then he would go down the block and into the barbershop. He didn’t always get his hair cut, but he did get his shoes shined every day.

I remember going with him, when I was 12. Everybody respected my Dad! As we walked I said, “Dad, you have the most important job in the whole town, don’t you?” I remember he smiled, but he didn’t say anything. That meant he didn’t agree with what you said! So I asked him, “Isn’t your job the most important in town?” So he asked me, “What makes a job important?” Well I figured I didn’t know the answer. That’s the way my Dad was. He was always asking you questions that he knew you didn’t have the answer for right away.

So we walked past the paperboy, and headed toward the barbershop. I didn’t say anything, because it never helped to rush my Dad. He’d let you know in his own good time what the answer was.

When my Dad sat down to have his shoes shined, the shoeshine boy started talking and shining at the same time. It was mostly small talk, but then he said, “I’m sorry it’s taking so long, but you scuffed this one good. Sometimes it just takes a little longer to accomplish the same task.” Now a shine only cost a nickel so I was really shocked when my Dad gave him a dime and said, “Keep it, you deserve it today.” Why a whole nickel, that was a weeks allowance for me.

My Dad could see I was wondering why, so he said, “I’ll tell you why!” He said, “Today at work I am going to make decisions about things I don’t even know yet! Some of those decisions are going to be easy, some are going to take more thought. And when I am thinking about the tough decisions I’m going to look at these shoes. I’m going to notice that these shoes look brand new, and because I look my best, I’m going to feel more confident about myself and my decisions. I’m also going to remember that it took longer today, to make them look this good. But Bill didn’t ask for more money, he just did the job that was necessary. His job was a little more difficult, but he simply put more effort into it. Today, Bill had the most important job in town, because he allowed me to do my best. The importance of a job is much less what the job is, and much more how the job is done.”

That night I did my chores extra good, and to this day when I look at my shoes, I remember to do the very best job that I can, because my job is one of the most important jobs.

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Thirty-Four


Previously in the novel: Mercenary Leon fails in a kidnapping because of David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Also in the spy world is socialite Wallis Spencer, who dumps first husband Winfield, kills Uncle Sol, has an affair with German Joachin Von Ribbentrop and marries Ernest. David and Wallis officially meet at Thelma’s party.
David decided not to tell George the real reason to go to Argentina. Yes, they did put on their morning suits and top hats in order to cut the ribbon to open the British Empire trade Exposition. He promised George a good time because they were staying at the large estate of millionaire scion Jorge Ferrara near Sugar Loaf Mountain and Ipanema Beach. When they returned to the mansion to change for the casual evening festivities, David planned on locking George in his bedroom to let the agony of withdrawal begin.
He knew it was a risk to bring Jorge in on the secret of George’s addiction. David had known the gadabout for years. Jorge spent as much time in New York and London as he did in Buenos Aires, which meant David knew all of his secrets too. Sometime ago, for example, Jorge pitched woo to talented show girl Jessie Matthews who was featured in her first Broadway show. When leading lady Gertrude Lawrence fell ill, Jessie was promoted to star. In celebration Jorge lost control and forced himself on Jessie. The sexual assault resulted in a pregnancy and a dangerous illegal abortion.
Jessie, with her own career in jeopardy, pretended as though nothing had happened. David thought Jorge should have been relieved. However, he didn’t change his behavior. The prince suspected Jorge had not learned any moral scruples. In any case the prince thought the playboy would allow confidential use of his house in exchange for the assurance the reports of his violent criminal act on Jessie would not make it into the British newspapers.
After the ceremonies David and George were about to enter Jorge’s limousine when a messenger intercepted them. He wore a tan service uniform. David was confused. If the messenger were military he would have had insignia and stripes.
“My employer wishes to have a word in private with the two princes.” A slight Bahamian accent infiltrated his English articulation.
David pushed George into the car. “And who is your employer?”
“He wishes to keep this meeting, shall we say, clandestine? But I can assure you that once you have met him you will recognize him.”
David sensed danger in this situation he did not mind for himself but felt George was not up to the challenge. He shut the car door and waved the driver on.
“Very well. Lead on.”
The messenger lead David on narrower and darker lanes away from the lights and music of the trade exposition. The sun was setting which heightened the urgency of the situation. He had to jog to keep up with the man in the uniform.
“How long have you known your employer?”
“I don’t know him.”
“But you said—“
“He called the message agency that employs me. They told me to seek you out and take you to a certain address.”
“Have you been here before?” David began to pant.
“I follow directions well.” In a few moments he stopped in from of a dark two-story office building. “First door at the top of the stairs.”
David took the first step up and look at the man. “Aren’t you coming with me?”
“Why should I?”
David hoped he would remember the route back as he climbed the steps and knocked at the door.
“Come in.”
The voice sounded familiar. When he opened the door, he saw four men sitting at a table playing poker. A nearly empty bottle of tequila sat between them. One of the men was James Donohue. He looked up and smiled.
“What took you so long? Where’s your brother? This isn’t what I wanted. I wanted both of them—George to have fun with and Edward to be reassured I hadn’t really kidnapped George. I don’t want to play poker with Edward. You know what I’m trying to say, don’t you, Edward?”
“Poker’s not our game.”
“It’s not mine either.” He threw down his cards and looked at a short stout man. “How much do I owe you?”
The man muttered in Spanish an amount that even the Prince of Wales found exorbitant. James pulled a wad of bills out of this pocket and tossed it on the table.
Muchas gracias,” James slurred. “Now adios.”
After the men left, James waved at a chair opposite him. “Oh, I guess I should show proper respect to the Prince of Wales and bow.” He stood, bent over while trying to keep his balance and fell back into the chair.
“You’re drunk.”
“Like you don’t get drunk.” He pointed at the bottle. “And your brother’s a drunk. And worse.”
James reached for the bottle to empty its last drops. “I want to have fun. George and I were having great fun last fall. Everybody likes to have fun with George. I mean, everyone. Even your little friend Jorge has designs on your brother. Anyway, I like the way George tangos. Then my wife tugged on my rope and I had to go home.”
“Why did she let you come here?”
“Trade expo. Business, you know.”
“How much money will it take to make you leave George alone?”
“You buy me?” James spat tequila across the table. “The Wales family is a five and dive operation.” He had a crooked smile. “Get it? Five and dive? Woolworths? Five and dime?”
“You do know I represent the British Empire. We are a mighty killing machine.”
“Killing me?” James turned up the bottle, found it empty and threw it at David. “Get in line. My wife has already said she’s going to kill me. I am a dead man.”
The door swung open and the man in the tan uniform strode in.
James blinked his eyes and had trouble wrapping his lips around the words he wanted to say. “Who are you?”
“I have a message for you.”
“What?”
“Time to go home.” He punched James in the gut then delivered an uppercut to his chin which knocked him out. The man in the tan uniform threw him over his shoulder and marched downstairs. David followed. The man in the tan uniform whistled. A car pulled up. He opened the back door and laid James in. “To the pier. His boat sails in an hour.”
The car pulled away, and the man started walking away.
“You do this for a living, don’t you?” David called after him.
“Yes.”
“Do you take on quick side jobs? I pay very well.”
He stopped and turned around. “What do I have to do?”
“First, get us a cab to take us to Jorge Ferrara’s house. I’m beginning to think it’s not as safe a house as I first thought. Then wait for me outside. If you don’t see my brother and me in in five minutes, do what you just did. Knock out anyone who gets in the way, pick up my brother and get him out of there.”
The man smiled and whistled. A few minutes later the taxi arrived in front of Jorge’s mansion. David knocked at the door and the butler let him in.
“The master, Prince George and a guest are in the royal bedroom.”
“A guest?” David trotted up a marble staircase and went to the last door on the left. He knocked. “George? Jorge? Who’s in there with you?”
“It’s me!” A female voice sang out. “Join the fun!”
Damn. It’s Kiki. David opened the door to find all three of them naked in bed. He stopped. “What are you doing here?”
Kiki held up her silver syringe and squeezed some clear liquid poison through it—cocaine, heroin, morphine, whatever.
“I thought the Windsor family told you to leave George alone.” David sounded as imperious as his father.
“You said in London.” Kiki giggled. “This is Buenos Aires.”
David switched his attention to Jorge. “When I wired you about our visit I told you it was confidential.”
“I am only an Argentinian,” Jorge replied, running his fingers through George’s light brown hair. “What is this confidential?”
The man in the tan uniform stormed into the room. He went to the side of the bed where Jorge lay. Grabbing the playboy by the arm, he swung him off the bed. Jorge tried to rise and punch the intruder but the mercenary smashed his fist into Jorge’s nose. Jorge became preoccupied with stemming the flow of blood with the silk sheet now strewn on the floor.
“Kick the bitch out of bed.” David felt his face burning in righteous indignation.
The man looked at the prince. “I don’t hurt women.”
With fury in his heart, David stepped to the bed, wrapped his fingers around a clump of Kiki’s hair, pulled her off the bed and dumped her on the floor. “Don’t come hear my brother again, or you will regret it.”
The man in the tan uniform reached over, grabbed George’s naked limp body, tossed him over his shoulders and headed for the door. “Get his clothes,” he called back to David.
As they came down the staircase, the butler stood agape and opened the front door.
“Your royal highness—highnesses—and guest, are you leaving so soon?”
David followed the mercenary who carried George out the door.
“Gather our personal things together and pack them like a good chap. I’ll send someone—eventually—around to pick them up,” David called out to the butler.

Story From a Friend–Grandma’s Tomato Tub

Note: The author of this story is my new friend, Clyde J. Hady of Brooksville, Florida. His business Facebook is Hometown Electric. Check out his latest invention on You Tube.

Grandma was a big woman, at least that’s how I remember her. She was as tall as most of the men I saw, and more rotund. I don’t think she was really oversized, but she did a lot of what was termed as men’s work at that time. Her stern ways fit well with her build, and her disposition fit easily into the hard routine of everyday life. When Grandma whispered she was as gentle as any person I have ever known, but when Grandma spoke, I swear the whole town could hear, and the smart ones listened. She had a reputation that demanded respect from most men, and fear for most women. But she was gentle, honest, and fair. Unfortunately the only thing Grandma could ever bank on was her word, she never had anything else.
Life wasn’t easy for a woman on her own, and to this day I’m amazed at how well she did.
By the time I showed up, Grandma was working on her second set of children. There was me, I don’t remember where my parents were, and a whole passel of cousins. There were three cousins whose parents had died in a car accident, and two whose Momma went crazy after their Daddy had died in the war. We were there all the time, but there were others too, who would show up for days or weeks at a time. I never did know why, but I suspect Grandma was helping to ease the burden of unwanted responsibility. I never did hear Grandma say anything about the missing parents who weren’t dead, but she was always saying that we had to learn to be responsible, because she wouldn’t be around to help us. In retrospect, I feel a terrible shame for not fully understanding how much she was helping us at the time, but as children we just understood that others were not going to be responsible for us.
Grandma didn’t have real running water, just a pump in the front yard and the only hot water she had was the water she put over the fire. She had this kind of fire pit with a wall of stones around it, just the right size to set her tomato tub on. She called it a tomato tub because when tomatoes were in season she used it to can tomatoes with, but most of the time it was used for washing and cleaning. Once each week everyone took their turn in the tub, whether you needed it or not, no talking back either.
I remember when Tommy came to visit, it was during canning season and Grandma had been canning all week. But when Saturday came round she readied it for baths. We had a heck of a time finding Tommy. Seems someone had told him that Grandma liked canning things at some point during the week and he was bound and determined that Grandma was not going to can him. He didn’t care how fresh it would make him feel, he was not going to be canned.
When she finally got him into the tub and finished getting him cleaned up, she asked him, “Now that wasn’t so bad was it?”
His only retort was “I don’t like being canned!”
Grandma just smiled, but that was the last time Tommy spent the whole week with us, so I guess you could say he was only canned one time.

Into Himself

(Author’s note: For the record, I have nothing against pot and I like hippies. This story happens to be true however, and the person in question was a bit pretentious which I found funny.)
I once knew a pot-head hippie who lived in a tent on two acres of pine forest just outside of Austin, Texas. He had a pile of wood on the property which he claimed he was going to use to build a music studio, but I think he was more interested in cultivating his garden of marijuana plants instead. He had a nasty scar between the eyes which I tried not to stare at or ask any questions about.
He was the musical director of a play I was in, and after rehearsal one night he asked me for a ride home because his car was in the garage for repairs. When we arrived he invited me to walk through his woods to the tent for a glass of rotgut whiskey on the rocks. As he was pouring the cheap liquor he said he always gave something to anyone who did him a favor so they couldn’t accuse him of being ungrateful later. We discussed the possibility of writing an opera based on a play of mine which ended with my father snoring. He swore a snore was in the key of G flat. I swore I would never let myself get so bored that I would have this type of discussion with a pot-head hippie again.
“I guess you wonder where I got this scar,” he finally said.
Admitting my curiosity, I expected a story of a fight with a bunch of bikers. He wasn’t a biker himself. He was kind of puny but had a real sarcastic mouth on him. Most people smart enough to belong to Mensa usually do, which can provoke bikers to want to beat them up. But no, he responded, it happened right there on his happy two acres of wilderness.
“If you notice,” he said, pointing with his full glass of whiskey, “I have my phone attached to that tree over there. It didn’t used to be so close. Originally I had it on a tree by the road. I thought the longer it took for me to answer the phone the more likely unwanted callers would just hang up.”
I nodded. I had learned not to argue with a man who had an outdoor john, showered with a garden hose and bought a bag of ice every night to keep his bacon and eggs fresh. It was easier that way.
“Anyway, one night I heard the phone ring and I jumped out of bed and ran to answer it. I sleep naked so there I was at one with nature, the moon shining, the crickets chirping and me just as God made me. I felt at one with nature, running just like a wild animal through the trees. The only thing was, I forgot there was a low hanging limb between the phone and me. I hadn’t cut it because I figured anyone who really wanted to see me should have to go to the trouble of lifting the branch as he came down the path. It caught me right between the eyes. I couldn’t afford stitches so I just let it heal on its own.”
I guess he also forgot he was a whole lot taller than the average wild animal running through the woods at midnight. Actually, the average wild animal would have had enough sense to let the phone ring.

Story From a Friend–Shimmers of Memories

Note: The author of this story is my new friend, Clyde J. Hady of Brooksville, Florida. His business Facebook is Hometown Electric. Check out his latest invention on You Tube.

Debbie and I had discussed this possibility many times, but never really understood it. I’m not sure that it can be understood, prior to the experience itself. Perhaps because there are too many variables, perhaps because we are mere humans.

For us it began on a hot humid afternoon. My first vivid memory is of Debbie standing in her mother’s kitchen, among a multitude of boxes, arguing with her mother about which boxes would go along. Debbie looked at me as if to suggest that I should help to convince her mother about the logical thing to do. I was never good at suggesting logic to people concerned about feelings. I started carrying boxes to the car.

Debbie looked at me as though to suggest that I had just undermined all of her authority. Mom looked at Debbie as though to suggest that she could still demand the respect she deserved, even if Debbie didn’t want to give it to her. I carried boxes.

As I neared the end of the boxes Dad entered the room and began mulling around as though he expected to find something. Dad was in his late 70’s and looked every bit the part. He seldom noticed his untied shoes, his unbuttoned shirt, or his matted hair. His slack personal hygiene had not diminished his energy, and he was usually into something that Mother would scold him about. Mother was also in her late 70’s and although she looked tired and worn, there was a stateliness about her that suggested she had aged before her time.

“Now what are you looking for?” Mother snapped. Debbie, ever watchful of her father, gently pulled his arm back and proceeded to button his shirt.

“I already did that once!” retorted Mother. “He just doesn’t care.”

“I can do it again, Mother,” Debbie replied. Those were the last words that I heard spoken in Mom and Dad’s house. This was the day they would move in with us.

As we left Mom refused to look at the house; Dad wouldn’t have noticed anything if he had looked. Debbie watched the house even when it was no longer in sight, hoping that somehow watching would reverse the situation, hoping that watching would turn the memories of yesterday into the wishes of today, hoping that somehow watching would reverse the ravages of time.

As we all settled into the new situation, most of the boxes, which caused so much discussion, remained untouched. They were mostly trinkets and somehow seemed inconsequential. No one seemed to miss them; Dad didn’t miss anything, and Mom had not yet finished hurting.

My biggest job when I was home was to try to keep Dad busy, which to my surprise was easier than I would have imagined. We chanced to find out one evening that Dad became mesmerized by the same programs I enjoyed watching. I admit I am a learning channel nut. I find the programs fascinating and so does Dad.

It was about three weeks into the change that Dad sat down with me to watch another of our discovery programs about mountain sheep. Dad said, “We had them once.” That was the extent of the conversation that evening. It wouldn’t be hard to recall the revelation. There were so few that they were easy to remember.

About four days later upon seeing chickens running free in some third world country Dad said, “We had them too.”

It struck me immediately that he had some conception that I would automatically remember the start of the conversation four days prior. So it seemed only natural to ask, “How many did you have?” But I received no answer.

I had been listening to Dad’s revelations for about three months when it so happened that Mom ended up watching with us. She had watched with us before but this was the first time Dad spoke when she was there. It was a program about pigs in China, again Dad decided that he had raised them before.

“You did not!” retorted Mother. “They looked nothing like that!” With that she stormed out of the room.

To my surprise she returned with an old coffee can. She promptly sat next to Dad and opened the can. After a couple of minutes searching, she took a picture and said, “These are the kind we raised.”

Dad smiled and took the picture. “I liked them.” he said.

They spent the better part of two hours remembering the better times. Dad’s conversation was no more coherent than before, but his smile was. Mom didn’t even notice that he wasn’t always with her, she was too busy remembering when he was. For that small measure of time, life was as happy as it had ever been.

We’ve unpacked the glimmers, so that we might enjoy the shine. For Mom, Dad and all of us privy to the stories of a rich full life, time has allowed special moments to be remembered again. And a life once packed away, now shines for the world to see. Glimmers of memories brought into focus through Love, Patience, and the chance of a word.

Camping


(Author’s note: In honor of the summer camping season for families, the long weekends, the smells of grilling, the setting suns, the whistling and the laughter. Ah, the memories.)
After a long day of camping I lay in my tent alone looking through the flap at the navy blue sky filtered through patterns of oak branches. The family had walked down to the campground store to buy candy for the kids.
Whiffing, I knew the next campsite over was roasting hot dogs. On the other side someone else was grilling hamburgers and across the way the aroma of toasted marshmallows floated my way. We had been lazy and stopped at a restaurant for dinner after a long day of hiking a mountain to see a waterfall.
My legs still ached, and I thought I was getting a blister on my big toe. I didn’t want to complain because my wife had twisted her ankle last night after she tripped on the way back to the tent from the campground toilet. She made the trip up and down the mountain limping so I couldn’t say much about a little blister.
Cricket song was deafening among the trills of the birds. Most of the campers around us were keeping their voices down, which was a good sign for later. A couple of nights ago, one guy drank a few too many beers and sang out loudly, “I’m going white-water rafting tomorrow and the damn Little Pigeon River!” My wife sent me to the office the next office to complain but the manager said he had refunded their money and told them to leave. I was glad I didn’t have to listen to them anymore but I resented the jerk got a free campsite for a night. Maybe on our last night I could scream obscenities and get a refund too. I dismissed the thought. It wasn’t worth losing the sleep.
I stared at the leaves against the sky. If I could draw, it would make a great abstract painting of shades of blues. Then the stars started twinkling adding to the composition. Wouldn’t that make a nice painting for your bedroom wall? You could just stare at it until you drifted off to sleep. But with my luck it would look like a mess and I’d stay awake wondering why I thought I could paint in the first place.
Rolling over on the air mattress I searched for the bag of candy from out visit to Aunt Mahalia’s Kitchen. I hoped there would be some fudge or chocolate covered cherries left. No fudge but plenty of cherries. Life is good. I bit into the chocolate mound and slurped up the cream, saving the actual cherry for last. The soothing, mellow milk chocolate made me forget about the blister, and the tart sweet cherry made me forget the chocolate, if that were possible.
I heard familiar laughter come up the path. The family was back. I hoped they bought more fudge. My son was whistling the music to Star Wars. Anytime he was happy he whistled the entire score of the movie. My daughter giggled and talked at the same time. I never knew how she could do that. My wife said, “Let’s hurry up and get back. My foot is killing me.”
I paused to take in everything and store it for future reference. This was one of the good times.

Ireland and England with Jerry and Josh–The Best Tour Guide Ever


On our last morning to roam London, we got the best tour guide ever to give running commentary on the sights passing by the bus windows. If my memory serves me correctly—which it rarely does anymore–his name was Stuart. He matched from head to toe in shades of green, blue and gray. Even his shoes. I was hoping he would break into song and tap dance down the center aisle of the bus. But he was a proper gentlemen, and they don’t exhibit their choreography on public transport.
At one of our first stops he let us hop off the bus to examine the massive statue of Prince Albert. It was in a beautifully manicured park across the street from Royal Albert Hall. Unlike most people preserved for posterity in the many parks, squares and circles about London, Albert received full Olympus treatment. U.S. General Dwight Eisenhower was honored with a life-sized replica; others were remembered with a head and shoulders bust, and most were in bas relief plaques explaining who they were and why they were honored. But Albert, the royal consort to Queen Victoria and father to so many children I cannot begin to remember all their names, sits high, broad and proud. I do not know if the statue is gold or bronze, but it shone for all to see. This is magnificent memorial of a woman’s love for her husband.
Back on the bus, our elegant guide directed the bus driver past the monument to Lord Wellington. “Does anyone know what Wellington did?”
Josh piped up, “He beat the crap out of Napoleon.”
Stuart appraised my son a moment looked at our long-term guide and said, “I think I like him.”
A little while later we drove by a monument to King Henry VIII, who, Stuart pointed out, “had six wives. Do you know what else he had?”
“Syphilis,” I replied. Now I honestly was not trying to be a smart-ass and ruin the man’s monologue which was filled with wit and wisdom. But Henry did have syphilis and that was why the last years of his reign were so unfortunate for his subjects.
This time Stuart did not miss a beat and went on to explain that King Henry had a difficulty with forming long and loyal relationships. But surely in his mind Stuart must have thought that we two clowns were related. Yes, we are connected genetically and were born without proper filters.

Coming up on the right, he told us, was one of the many lion statues on the banks of the Thames River erected during the reign of Queen Victoria. Upon inspecting it, Victoria realized this lion was quite obviously a male, so she ordered its gender identifying appendage removed for propriety’s sake. When one looked at the face of the lion in question, one could surmise he did not agree with Her Majesty. His eyeballs are perpetually bulging in surprise and discomfort.
At one point we left the tour bus and followed our elegantly dressed Stuart on a saunter through Green Park, a serene space stretching out in front of Buckingham Palace. Ducks and geese glided across the serene surface of its lake. Locals jogged along its backs and lay on the grass, soaking up blessedly warm rays from a late-March sun.
Stuart had our stroll perfectly timed to end at the entrance of Buckingham Palace and the changing of the guard. As a mere former colonist, I thought the changing of the guard consisted of a hand full of soldiers in their bright red jackets and giant black fur helmets; but no, it was a full-fledged parade with horses, drums and rifles.

Stuart was careful to point out these were not just young men and women who were chosen for their proficiency for formal procedures. These were soldiers who had served their country in Afghanistan and where they might serve again in the near future.
When the last soldier had moved on, we broke up into separate groups to explore more bits of English historic lore. This was when had to wave a fond adieu to Stuart. I wish he could have stayed with us, but I am sure he had to address another bus filled with impertinent American tourists.
I really wanted to know who his tailor was, although I was quite sure I could not afford his wardrobe.

Ireland and England with Jerry and Josh–I’ve Seen Than Place Before


The movie fan in me had a great time in London. It was like being on the set of an Alfred Hitchcock movie.
Josh and I saw Royal Albert Hall, which like Big Ben, had scaffolding over half of it. Of course that means London is taking care of its architectural wonders so they’ll be around for years to come for American tourists to photograph. Royal Albert Hall was one of the big stars in the Hitchcock 1950s movie The Man Who Knew Too Much. The man in question was James Stewart, and he didn’t know too much. The bad guys just thought he knew too much. The big climactic scene was in the performance hall. When the man clashed his cymbals, a prime minister was to be shot and killed. I don’t want to give away too much in case anyone hasn’t seen the suspense classic, but Doris Day foils the bad guys when she doesn’t keep her mouth shut.

The next landmark featured in a Hitchcock movie was a tall church with an unusual red and white brick pattern to it. I instinctively recognized it but could not remember where. Josh, who was our official photographer of record, quickly took the picture but then went on to his next subject without helping me think of the movie title. It was only after we came home and were watching Foreign Correspondent one night did we make the connection. The foreign correspondent played by Joel McCrea was about to break a big story about German spies in a pre-World War II peace group when an assassin tried to push him off the church tower. The assassin went on to play Santa Claus in Miracle on 34th Street. Now that’s what I call avoiding being type cast.

The third landmark from a movie actually goes back to a famous stage play. I rested in Covent Garden in the shadow of the portico with massive pillars featured in the opening scene of My Fair Lady. If my theatrical trivia serves me right, the same façade is used in the stage versions of My Fair Lady and the George Bernard Shaw play on which the musicals were based, Pygmalion. In the movie and the plays, the building was supposed to be a concert hall, but in actuality it is part of the front of a church.
Now it is the scene of street performers. The entertainer I saw was very talented but he needed some lessons of audience appreciation. First he laid out a red rope at the perimeter of his performance area on the church steps and the cobblestone street in front of it. Woe be unto anyone who walked across the rope once the act began. One woman walked across it three times, and each time the acrobat with the wooden pins and sharp knives became more vituperative (it’s a British word; look it up) when she broke the rules.
“She’s so rude,” he announced to us, “that she doesn’t even know she’s rude.”
And I don’t think she did either. I know I was so scared by this point I didn’t dare scratch my nose. After his big finale I thought we spectators were safe from his acid tongue but I was wrong.
“I’m forty-eight years old and got a family to support here, so you can let go of some change,” he yelled. “Hey you! You mean you’re going to watch my show and walk away? You didn’t even applaud! The least you can do is toss a few coins in my hat!”
I took a fist of coins –I don’t know how much they were worth—put them in his hat and quickly exited stage right.
If Eliza Doolittle had been that aggressive in selling her flowers she wouldn’t have had to take those elocution lessons.

Ireland and England with Jerry and Josh–Touring Crazy Town


If you are going to one of the most exciting, eclectic cities in the world, go ahead and jump out of the bus into the heart of crazy London town and go for it.
The tour bus dropped us in Piccadilly Circus, and the guides told us to try to keep up. I knew immediately this was going to be difficult because how can you follow two typical English people in a crowd of a hundred thousand typical English people.
For the first thing, I was distracted by this building that had four gorgeous bronze statues of young nubile naked women diving into the center of Piccadilly Circus. Perpetually with their arms extended, up on their tippy toes, backs straight, tummies tucked in and chests proudly puffed out. I may be 70 years old but I’m not dead. By the time I realized I was supposed to be following the group, they were already across the street.

This presented me with my second problem. By nature I am always the one to step back with a smile and allow the cross pedestrian traffic to proceed. I have been known to hold open a door so long, people thought I worked for the store. If I did that in the middle of Piccadilly Circus, I would lose sight of my group and never see the Spanish moss draped live oak trees in downtown Brooksville, Florida, again. Then I remembered the grumpy old Irish woman with her walker in Dublin. I put a scowl on my face, hunched my shoulders and bulled my way forward. Before I knew it I was back with my group and I don’t think they had realized I had gone away.
This was very important to me. I’m old enough to be the grandfather of the young people on this student tour. The last thing I wanted was to have them interrupt their good time to see if the old man was lost, gasping for air, or fallen over with a heart attack. I didn’t want anyone to say, “Somebody call 9-1-1 and get the old geezer off our backs.” (Okay, they were all nice polite young American citizens and they would have never said that—thought it maybe. It’s a joke.)
Speaking of jokes, on the other side of Piccadilly was a street performer who looked just like Mr. Bean and for a modest price you could have your picture taken with him, hug him or pinch his bum. Twenty years and fifty pounds ago I was told I looked Mr. Bean. If I had moved to Piccadilly back then, think of the money and I could have made, and the bruises. Never mind.

Finally we arrived on Carnaby Street where the tour guides told group members to be back in two hours to eat at an authentic English restaurant featuring Indian cuisine. First Josh and I walked down the street to the largest toy store in London. The entire basement was filled with Star Wars stuff. My son Josh, by the way, goes to Star Wars convention everywhere, so he was in hog heaven (an old Texas expression). I, on the other hand, had reached the end of my tether and decided to go back to Carnaby Street while he explored the other three floors of toy heaven.
For the first time that day I felt entirely in my element. I ordered a nice lemonade, sat on the café patio and watched beautiful people go by as though they were on a runway. Unattractive people were beautiful in their high fashion clothes and perfect hairstyles. Even the boys. I wanted to see Twiggy walk by. Beatle tunes lingered in my brain. Everything was the same as when I was a teen-ager in Texas, except nothing was the same. I was old. And all the fashionable folk had smart phones stuck in their ears.

After dinner, the tour guides took us on one last marathon hike through Wellington Circle, past the National Museum and an establishment called Sherlock Holmes Pub. The tour guide said he used to work there. Finally we arrived at the Millennium footbridge over the Thames River where you could see the Eye (big Ferris wheel whose lights were down for the night) and Big Ben (which was covered in scaffolding and couldn’t be seen even if the lights were on.)
Don’t get me wrong. I had a great time. Who gets to walk the streets of glamorous London at night and not get lost? I didn’t have a heart attack. For someone my age that’s a great confidence booster.

Ireland and England with Jerry and Josh Stratford-on-Avon Except We Never Saw the Avon


I always like me some literary insight while I’m having fun.
Our tour bus stopped at Anne Hathaway’s cottage in Stratford. We had to wait in line because we arrived a little before they unlocked the door. We could have been distracted by beautiful blooms in the garden but the plants hadn’t budded yet.
I think everyone has seen a picture of the Hathaway house but we took one anyway. Yes, it has a thatched roof. Yes, it is a long two-story house. Yes, it is bigger than you thought, but not that big. For the sixteenth century it has a lot of nice things, including beds.
Speaking of beds, the guide explained the whole thing about how William Shakespeare left his wife his second best bed in his will. Admit it, we all thought Will was a cad for leaving his wife the second best bed. Just like most sound-bites in history, there’s much more to the story.
Back in those days, there weren’t very many inns in the countryside, and many people in the country, whether they liked it or not, had to take the trip to London once in a while and had to stay somewhere along the way. To make a little money, most people rented out a bed to weary travelers. And which bed would you want a stranger with money to have? The best bed in the house, of course, so it had to be empty and clean at all times just in case someone knocked at the door.
So the head of the family used the second best bed, which probably was the marriage bed. A romantic gesture to leave to your wife, when you think about it. Also a financially sound one too. The best bed was still available to rent out to travelers, which continued to be a source of income for the widow.

We also thought Will was some illiterate ragamuffin who spied the girl in the big house down the road and decided to marry her. Then we saw his birthplace house. It wasn’t all that small. His father was a successful tradesman, so the ragamuffin theory went out the window. We did see the bed where Will was born and it was as nice as any bed in the Hathaway house. Both houses had lovely gardens.
Josh and I walked a few blocks away to the site of the house that Will built for Anne. It had burned down and the lot is now a playground with a nice marker in it. Will always said, “The play’s the thing….”
This is when I realized why Will left his family in Stratford when he went off to work in theater in London. If you had a choice of living in a pretty country town with a nice house and garden or in rat-infested, plague-ridden London with all sorts of unnamable waste in the street, wouldn’t you want to be in Stratford too?
So instead of being this lowlife scum who abandoned his poor family for a glamorous show biz life in the big city, he left them safe and happy among friends and family to try to make a living from the only talents he had, writing and acting. And he could only do that in London.

After I got mired down into university course Shakespearean Tragedies 303, I saw a statue of a court jester in the middle of the street. Will had a buddy in his acting troupe who was really funny so he wrote a role for him in every play, whether it made any sense or not.
To get into the spirit, I had Josh take a picture of me trying to imitate the pose of the jester who had both hands in the air and one leg up. But I lifted the wrong leg so it didn’t make any sense at all.
Mission accomplished.