The set of tales you are about to read is the chronological sequel to The Pig That Had No Babies, some stories from my earliest memories and continuing through high school, in Versailles, Missouri. It had a few stories tossed in from my freshman year at Missouri University, in Columbia. The sequel's stories begin at MU in about 1961, continue through my move to California in 1965, and end a couple of years ago, today being February of 2001. But mostly, they come from before about 1980. Like "The Pig," this is a bathroom book -- a "few pages a night" book. My advice is to read it twenty minutes at a time.
You've Done It Again, Robin is rated R (Sex, gambling, drugs, alcohol, rock & roll, adult language and criminal behavior).
(The source of this book's title is under the story with the same name, by the way) A month or so later, I moved from Missouri to California to attend graduate school at Stanford. This would be the most significant move I ever made, in shaping my future.
As freshmen at MU, we began to learn new card games. One of the best was "Screw Your Buddy," or "F--- Your Buddy," as it was almost always called. We played it endlessly, but especially the nights before exams. I've also heard it called "Oh Hell," or "Oh Heck."
Another name for the game was Seven-Card Diminish. That's because you deal seven cards to each person, play the hand, deal six cards and play that hand, then five, then four, etc., down to one card, then two, three, and back up to seven.
After a hand is dealt, each player declares the number of tricks he or she plans to take, and the scorekeeper writes down everybody's bids. So during a hand, you try to make YOUR bid but "f--- your buddy" so that he doesn't make his. You try to make him take fewer or more tricks than he bid.
If there were girls around who might want to play, as was often the case in the student union, instead of "F--- Your Buddy," we'd say, "Would you girls like to play Seven-Card Diminish?" Then they might say, "You mean F--- Your Buddy?"
"What are you doing Saturday night?" we'd ask, giggling. "Nothing with you," they'd say. Then we'd play.
The summer after my freshman year at MU, as fate would have it, all my applications for summer jobs went unanswered. So Uncle Peter Hilty told me he was going to replace the barn that was struck by lightning and burned down when I was a kid. And would I like to help? He'd pay me two hundred dollars a month, plus room and board and give me the use of his car when I needed it. It sounded like fun and I did it. Uncle Pete was still single at the time. We were -- two wild and crazy guys.
It was one of the best summers of my life - being introduced to tropical fish (angelfish, swordtails, neon tetras, hatchetfish, zebras), classical music (Handel's Water Suite and Dvorak's New World Symphony), dominos (double twelves), ice tea breaks, great body conditioning, and KCMO radio out of Kansas City. And we built the barn. Today, whenever I hear "New World," I have to call time out and listen, providing some quiet, additional "tuh tun tuh tuns."
Uncle Pete had purchased barn plans from Missouri University, and they included a new metal ring reinforcement system to make the trusses last nearly forever.
Bill Edeleman was a bachelor who lived at the end of the lane and who must have been terribly bored with himself, because he came up every few days. Uncle Pete was polite - he'd stop work and listen to the guy for a while, even though Bill didn't have much useful stuff to offer. He always had stories about people he knew who had built barns in the past, who had screwed up. I'm sure he thought he was helping us build our barn right.
One night we had put up most of the roof trusses with temporary boards holding them in place, when a big windstorm came and blew them all down - like dominos. We got up, Uncle Pete looked out at the mess and said, "Let's go to Kansas City," so we took off in his green '57 Pontiac.
Uncle Pete had won this car in an essay contest (can you imagine?), and sister Shirley reminded me that in one place on the car, the name was misspelled "PONITAC," a fact I had forgotten until she reminded me. A cousin on the Lutman side, Judith Hufford, sent me a newspaper clipping, with the details.
Peter taught at Park College - a private school in Kansas City in that summer of '62. We drove up, picked up some stuff he needed, visited some of his friends and students, went to a local play in a barn, had some pie at the airport one evening with one of his students, then came back home in a couple of days and set to re-doing the trusses.
When we had the barn ready to begin putting up the roof panels, Bill Edeleman came up the lane again and told us about this guy who started the first row of roof panels at the top instead of the bottom, then worked down. When the first rain came, every joint leaked because the overlaps were backwards. Well, we laughed but were pretty careful that we started the panels at the bottom. We didn't want to become part of Bill's future stories.
Cousin Doris Hilty was our housekeeper. She fixed our meals, cleaned the house, ran errands and did a great job. It was the best summer you can imagine.
Uncle Pete introduced me to the rhyming game: what do you call it when the plaster in your house starts falling on your head? A peeling ceiling. We used to lie in bed at night with the lights off, just before going to sleep, and toss a few back and forth. Sometimes we laughed so hard our sides hurt. One of us (I won't say which one) came up with what you call a dollar a prostitute makes. As I was going to sleep, I'd try to think of a few for the next day.
Every time I visit Versailles, I make a special trip out to see the barn. It takes me back.
I had met this girl from Kansas City while she was staying with some friends in Versailles. Uncle Pete also met her, and I asked him what he thought of her. "I thought she was a pig," he said, in direct, Uncle Pete-type words. I had written her a letter and Peter was away with the car for the evening. So I decided to walk the half-mile or so down to the end of the lane and put the letter in the mailbox, to be picked up the next day. That's how it was in the country. You drove down to the end of the lane to mail your letters and pick up your mail. The flag up or flag down was very meaningful, since the lane is so long.
A storm was brewing and the electricity had gone out, AND it was totally overcast. It was as dark as a cave. Halfway down the lane on the left was a vacant house, but all the way down on the right side were fields, separated from the lane by fence. Except for the last 100 yards or so up by Uncle Pete's house itself, where there was no fence.
I was partway down the lane, near the halfway-down house, using the grassy patch in the center of the gravel lane as my guide for direction. I could feel whether I was walking in the middle, on grass (swish swish) or near the edges, on gravel (scratch scratch), and I'd adjust accordingly. But I couldn't see diddly.
Suddenly, sheet lightning illuminated the countryside. I was facing straight down the lane, but my peripheral vision gave me a sudden, cold chill. I had seen a big black animal - like a wolf, across the fence, about five yards away. He had apparently been paralleling me, as I was walking. I stood stock still and faced where I had seen the image, waiting for lightning to strike again - my heart pounding, eyes wide. It took about five seconds, and when the next lightning struck, the animal had moved back up towards the house about ten yards, towards the area where there was no fence dividing the field from the road. But again I had not been looking right at him during the short illumination, so I wasn't sure what he was.
"Get out of here," I yelled as loud as I could - my voice cracking, and I picked up a handful of rocks and threw them towards where he was. No more lightning, but I was crackling with fear. What to do? Go down to the end of the lane and then come back? Go back to the house now? The animal was heading up towards the house, where there was no fence dividing me from him.
What was it? Probably just a dog. What about those stories of wolves I had heard as a small boy, where a man had disappeared, and all they found were his boots, with his feet still in them? Cringe!! First I decided to whistle really loud to scare him off. Then I decided that I'd walk down and mail the letter, because I sure didn't want to go back up to the house, side by side with him, up to where the fence ended! And I didn't feel much like standing there a couple of hours. So I walked down, mailed the letter, walked back to the house, checking carefully, and keeping two hands full of rocks. I never saw him, and I still don't what he was. Maybe an escaped black panther.
When I came back to Missouri as a sophomore, there was a new group of freshmen, of course. Wally Williams was unique. He was good-looking, short, made me laugh all the time, lifted weights, and was extremely strong. A couple of summers, he rode bulls in rodeos, just for fun. When we walked to the library behind the Arab engineering students, of which there were many, Wally would look at me and talk very loudly, "Gobba, gobba gobba," so they could hear him. When we went to a movie or a place where you were supposed to be quiet - like the library, Wally would bend over like he was going to whisper, but then speak in almost-a-yell, "Do you guys wanna take a break?" to crack us up. Which he did.
One of our friends invented the "library glance." Four of us would be sitting at a library table, when someone across the table from you would say, "There's a gorgeous girl wearing a yellow sweater right behind you." Then you'd take a big stretch, still sitting in your chair. But you'd look over and notice something on your right shoulder. You'd look a little closer, rotate your body slightly to the right, reach over with your left hand, and brush it off. Then you'd rotate just a little more, and steal a glance. That way, she wouldn't know you were looking.
Only Wally would brush his left shoulder for a moment, then whirl around to his right with a flurry, making lots of noise, and just stare at her. If she looked at him, then he'd give a great big smile.
He used to come into my dorm room, taking a study break and have a dime stuck to his forehead - not glued, just stuck there. I watched him put those coins up. He would emit a karate grunt-scream as he pressed the coin very tightly against his head with his index finger, and it would stick for five minutes or more - sometimes for an hour. One night when we were coming home from drinking at a blanket party, Wally walked up to the corner of our dormitory, bent over and stuck his head against it and began his grunt-scream, trying to stick Cramer Hall onto his forehead.
Then we all ran around finding stuff to stick on our heads. I tried a bush, Mike Deeter tried the sidewalk ("Hey look, guys, I've got the world stuck to my head."), Kerry Kohring tried a car parked in front of the dorm. We were blasted karate ninjas, grunting and screaming.
The summer after my junior year at Missouri, I got a job at Monsanto Chemical Company in Creve Coeur near St. Louis, and I lived with Wally, his dad and his brother. His mother had died of cancer a few years earlier. I slept in an in-between room - in between the kitchen and the living room. It had doors that closed, and a roll-a-way bed. I paid Mr. Williams - Wallace was his name too - room and board, and had a blast that summer with Wally. He, Kerry Kohring and I used to play marathon games of Risk - the game of world domination. Now I play my computer Risk game with Sharon's two sons (Pete and Matt), and with Pete and his wife Sarah's two sons (Josh and Sieren), when they come over. They love it, and I still do too.
At MU, Wally used to come into my room, walk up to about three inches from my face and say in a sort of a nasal voice, "Nice Day," meaning absolutely nothing, as near as I could tell. One day we were waiting for a solitary Arab student to finish shooting pool on a table at MU so we could play, and Wally asked him if he would like to play a game with us (so we could get the table). The guy answered, "No thanks, I'm just training," in sort of an effeminate voice. So Wally said that phrase for the rest of the time I knew him. If I asked Wally to do something he didn't want to do, he'd say, "No, I'm just training," in a nasal, whiny voice.
He had been a high school wrestler. He'd come up to you and in a very slow, deliberate action, get you in a soft headlock or forcefully grab you around the knees and drop you to the floor. If you just let him, he wouldn't hurt you, but if you tried to resist, he'd use just enough force to get done whatever it was he wanted to do. He wasn't a great student - I think he got mostly B's and C's in interior design. But man, he had a great way with girls. In the end, that's what counted the most, of course. There was this beautiful sophomore blonde girl named Karen Corey that we would see and talk about all the time - she looked like an actress, maybe Kim Novak. That sort of thing never counted with Wally. He walked right up and started talking to her one day, and she even went out with him for a while. We double-dated one springtime afternoon, going swimming at a nearby lake, and they came to at least one of our blanket parties.
Another of my freshman friends when I was a sophomore was Clarke Garry, from Kansas City. He was really cool. He wanted to be a veterinarian, but I believe he wound up as a Ph.D. insect expert in Wisconsin. How many of us wind up being what we originally set out to be? Not many, in my experience.
That's Clarke standing in front of my 1960 Ford Falcon (worst car ever made). Notice the flashlight and muddy sweat shirt. We had just emerged from a cave when I took this, near Columbia.
He had a Triumph TR-3 sports car - dark blue and very nice. He kept it in perfect condition, with lots of attention to detail. The big thing about Clarke was that he NEVER EVER swore. He said darnit, and goshdangit and stuff like that, but while the rest of us were in an undeclared contest to out-swear each other (I'd seldom win, but then, I didn't really put my mind to it), Clarke never swore. I really admired him for that. Sort of like the perfect attendance record my nephew Denis Lutman had all through grade school and high school.
Clarke's mother's maiden name had been Clarke. She had a brother named Gary -- Clarke's uncle. His mom happened to marry a man whose last name was Garry. So they gave my friend the reversed-name of his uncle - Clarke Garry from Gary Clarke. Confused? Me too.
He told me once that his uncle lived in Sunnyvale, California, and had a couple of hamburger eateries called Clarke's. I found one, ate there many times when I was going to Stanford, and it was excellent. But it turned out that Clarke's uncle had already sold it before I ever got there.
When I was a sophomore, I lived on the same floor of Cramer Hall that I had as a freshman. I started the year with two new roommates, and I even lived in the same corner room I had as a freshman. My roommates were Mike Deeter and Ricky Joe Green.
Mike was about two inches shorter than I, great-looking, had a square movie-star jaw like one of my freshman roommates had, displayed one snaggle tooth and paid great attention to how he dressed. He was from West Virginia, was enrolled in Naval ROTC (all freshmen and sophomores had to take one of the ROTC regimens - Army, Air Force or Navy, in those days), and looked sharp in his Navy whites. He was ALWAYS chasing girls, so he was a good guy to hang around. And, as opposed to all of us other confirmed "dorm rats," he was intent on pledging one of the fraternities. Those were the years of Bass Weejuns, no socks, Madras shirts and being ultra cool.
I went on many double- and group dates with Mike and his girls, and everybody liked him. I brought three or four of my buddies home to show them the town of Versailles that year, and Mike was in that bunch.
After I left for Stanford, I kept in touch with Mike and another college buddy, Kerry Kohring, who said that Mike had flunked out of school (from too much partying, I'm sure), and got drafted. In those days, getting drafted was a sure ticket to Vietnam.
I opened a letter from Kerry one day, and he said, "Did you hear that Mike
was killed by a mine in Vietnam?" My senses shut down, my ears started ringing,
and my vision just turned to black as I stood there, holding the letter. Mike?
Not Mike, no way.
I was looking on the internet the other day and found this record from the Vietnam Memorial Wall:
VIETNAM VETERANS MEMORIAL
PANEL 37 EAST
ROW 78 MICHAEL ALAN DEETER ...
Every once in a while, I'll see somebody that looks like Mike, and I'll hope maybe the guys in the dorm played another trick on me, and Mike is still alive. I have the same thought about Andy Kaufman too, hoping that he might be playing the world's biggest, meanest trick by pretending to be dead.
Another freshman was Terry Lich, from St. Louis. Like me, he had never had any significant amount of alcohol before. Our housemate George Sotira, also from St. Louis, had a car. So one Friday night, George agreed with our request to take us out on a controlled drinking experiment. Our big plans were to get a bottle of something (George chose rum as I recall), park behind a downtown McDonald's Restaurant, buy some cokes, and consume the mixed drinks in his car, in the parking lot.
George was in charge of the amount of rum in each coke. We got three cokes, and George poured some rum in each. "Drink them slowly. Just take small sips and we'll get you guys high." I started drinking mine like cool water on a hot day. "Slow down, Bob," George said. Nothing was happening, and in that special logic displayed by neophytes, I thought I should hurry it along a little.
Soon we were out of drinks, or I was anyway, so I went up to get more cokes. No effect whatsoever yet. But when I stepped out of the car, suddenly the world rotated about 20 degrees. Kawhang! What was going on? It was the weirdest feeling. My immediate thought was, "Oh my gosh. Every person who sees me is going to know I'm drunk. I have to be very casual, getting those cokes." So when I walked up to the order window for more cokes, I tried to be cool. I doubt that anybody even looked at me.
We had another rum and coke, then went home and hit the sack. A moderately pleasant experience, as Terry and George got more and more talkative during the session. Well, me too.
After our parties, we had to have the dorm girls in at 11:30 PM or somewhere around then - curfew. Then we guys would pile into cars and drive out into the woods by a creek and keep up the party. We often built a bonfire.
One time after we had driven to Moberly, where Ricky Joe's cousin's father had thrown us all a party, we came back to Columbia, bought some beer and headed out to Hinkson Creek.
Ricky Joe Green, Mike Deeter, Wally Williams, Kerry Kohring and Clarke Garry, as I recall, were the guys. After about half a beer, I'd be high, but everybody else needed about three beers. So I was always good for a show while everybody else was still trying to get high. I would later become famous in California for this.
One night, after several beers, Kerry Kohring started complaining about the military and the fact that he could get drafted. He grabbed a couple of beers and tromped off into the darkness. "F---," he yelled. He repeated that about every ten seconds - his voice further and further away each time. "F---!" "F---!" "F---!"
So we got a little concerned and started shouting out to him - everybody yelling on both sides of the conversation. It reminded me a little of the time I had to go to the bathroom in high school, but the bathroom door was closed so I just walked downstairs, where Mom yelled down similar questions to me. I had been sleepwalking, back then.
Us: "Hey, Kerry, are you OK?" A little time delay, then "F---." Us: "What's the matter?" A little more time delay, then "F---" again. "Come back over here!" After a while, "F---." "Kerry, what are you doing out there?" About ten seconds of silence, then "F---." "Is that all you can yell?" we yelled. About ten seconds of silence again, then "F---." We started giggling and rolling on the ground. And then "F---," we yelled at him. "F---," he yelled back. As we were rolling around, Mike and Wally started wrestling. Wally had been a wrestler in high school, and Mike loved to challenge him. They rolled around on the ground, and started rolling towards the fire. We got in their way and shoved them back. They got up and locked up again.
This time Wally pushed Mike, who fell down and rolled into some bushes. He jumped out and they resumed their wrestling. It was my own personal experience that I could never box or wrestle without getting mad at the person I was "fighting" with - I never saw it as a sport. Besides, I always seemed to get punched in the nose. They continued their friendly tussle. Mike didn't even feel it at the time, but he had rolled into some stickers and had about a million little barbs in him. Later, when they stopped, he said, "Man, what IS that? Something stung me." We got him by the fire, and got our flashlights and began to see these stickers all over his hands and arms and neck - everywhere. Next day we took him to the emergency room where they took several hours to pick them all out. He was swollen up real good for several days.
But back to the party. With all the beer we were drinking, pretty soon we had to go to the bathroom - or take a leak as we called it. It so happened that we had chosen a spot on a small cliff, next to Hinkson Creek. There was a wonderful old tree which held some of its branches out over the water, maybe ten feet below. So the thing to do was crawl out on a limb and whiz into the creek below. It was a little trouble trying to unzip while staying in the tree, but that made it funnier, which was the whole point of everything anyway. Why didn't somebody fall into the creek? It never dawned on anyone to try it, I guess.
After another hour or so, we decided to go back to the dorm: "Hey Kerry, we're leaving. Come on." About ten seconds of silence, "F---!" Kerry, we're not joking, we're leaving. "F---." We had to go get him and bring him back. "F---" he kept saying during the ride back to the dorm. "F---" I said to him. "F---" he said back. "Dang?" I said to him, giggling. He looked at me, thought about it for a second, and said "F---."
Kerry got drafted, but in one of those unbelievable things that seems to happen only in movies, was one of five or so out of several hundred that were sent to Korea instead of Vietnam. He was trained as a medic. It made me think of M.A.S.H. Last I heard, he was in some newpaper journalism job in Rhode Island.
When I was a sophomore, my roommates were Mike Deeter and Ricky Joe Green. Mike was from West Virginia and was a truly cool guy, I thought. He was in naval ROTC, and they gave him a monthly check, since he had signed up for four years, to be followed by a stint in the Navy. Ricky Joe was in Air Force ROTC (everybody had to be in some ROTC), and just ate it up. These two guys could not have been more different. Ricky Joe was a very straight guy, very little nonsense. But I liked him. I dated his cousin Judy Copeland, the next year. Everybody made fun of him, because he let it get to him. Mike and I used to bug Ricky Joe after we all three were in bed, with lights out, just because we could get such a rise from him.
"Huh?" I'd start it off. Two seconds of silence. "Huh?" Mike would say, drawing it out. Three seconds of silence. "Huh?" I'd say, drawing it out about four seconds, and raising the pitch at the end. Two seconds of silence. "Huh?" very staccato, from Mike. "Huh?" even more staccato. "Will you guys shut up so I can get some sleep? I've got ROTC tomorrow at 7:40." About twenty seconds of silence. "Huh?" whispered Mike. Ten seconds of silence. "Huh?" from me as loud as I could whisper. "Huh? Huh? Huh? Huh? Huh?" as fast as Mike could talk. "Shhh," from Ricky Joe. "Huh?" immediately following from me. "Huuuuuuh?" taking about ten seconds to say it from Mike. On and on a couple more minutes. "God----it, you guys," from Ricky Joe. About a minute of silence. "Huh?" from me. "Huh?" from Mike immediately following. Then we'd let Ricky Joe go to sleep. Meaning, of course, that we'd go to sleep.
The floor of our dorm wasn't just the third floor of Cramer Hall. It was called Stewart House. The collection of guys on this floor, during these two years surely set a record for the most unusual cast of characters ever assembled in one time at one place. We were rebels. Instead of doing conditioning exercises, we patented a new isometric routine that we did in the room doorways, as pictured here. That's me hanging over the door. Already being smart, I stayed out of the pile.
Skip Hughes was my friend from Versailles. The Tesdale (TEZ-dull) brothers - Tet and Jet, as they were known even before they came to MU - were from St. Louis. Terry's initials were T.E.T. and his brother Jerry's were J.E.T. In high school, they were Tet and Jet.Being the dorm rats we were, somebody gave Terry a new nickname - Tits.
Everybody had nicknames: I was Snowy in the dorm, because of my pre-Head-and-Shoulders dandruff, Roger Moffet was Jaw, and I just told you about Terry Tesdale.
Dick Wilson just got out of the Marine Corps, and was a 22-year-old freshman. He had been the center for three years on the famous football Jeff City Jays, who at the time had the U.S. record for most consecutive games won by a high school team. I think it got to 58 before I left for Stanford. Another high school broke their record in the seventies, and still another one (in the Bay Area) broke THAT in 1999.
Howard Kessler was also from St. Louis and had won the campus Ugly Man contest two years in a row.
"Little Al" Owen was about four feet six inches. He fervently wanted to be a marine and it was all he talked about. He was very muscular, a good wrestler and was constantly having hallway wrestling matches with Wally Williams, another good wrestler and sometime bullrider. Ultimately, there was a special exemption made by the Marine Corps, Al got in, and somebody sent me a picture of him in the Saturday Evening Post, as the shortest man ever to be a marine. I don't know what became of him, but he was a big man in our eyes.
My high school friend Bill Kaufman just recently told me that Al did two or three tours in Viet Nam, then came back home. He became a parachute jump trainer somewhere in the northwest, and was killed in a parachuting accident up there years ago.
Almost every night when I was a sophomore, this guy would come around with a pencil and piece of paper, "I'm taking doughnut orders." This would be about midnight or twelve-thirty. I'd think, "OK, two chocolate-covereds and a custard-filled and a couple of pints of milk." We all knew exactly what everything cost, so I'd scrounge up exactly $1.26 or whatever it was. Then I'd keep studying, knowing that relief was on the way. Boy would we be frosted when about a half hour later, we'd take a bathroom break, walk out into the hall and find the doughnut-order guy talking to somebody - he hadn't left yet!
"Hey, what are you doing. Go get the doughnuts," we'd yell. "I'm going, I'm going," he'd say. We couldn't really do anything to hurry him along except act like we were upset, because he was the only guy with a car who'd go.
When I was a sophomore, my second semester, I had a roommate named Ramon Laos, like the country. He was from Lima, Peru. His mother was Spanish, his father was Chinese, and he had 21 brothers and sisters. He hadn't met all of them yet, and they were spread out all over the world. He was about two-thirds of the way down in birth order.
He and I hit it off immediately because we had similar views of the world. You could look at his face and see both Latin and Oriental influence. He worked as a busboy in the student union, and totally LOVED American girls. He took accounting courses, although I never saw him study very much. I had about ten Pogo books, which I re-read all the time for fun, and he nicknamed me "Pogo."
He told me this great joke, which reminded me of when my sister Shirley was born. A mother said to her little son, "If you were going to have a baby brother or baby sister, which one would you want?" The son thought a second and said, "Well if it wouldn't put you too much out of shape, I'd really rather have a pony."
One Friday night I wasn't doing anything in the dorm. Ramon dressed up to go to International Night, at the student union. He figured there would be lots of helpful American girls there, to make the international students feel at home. He wanted to collect on their helpfulness. I said 'see ya later,' and continued doing whatever it was I was doing - probably studying. After about an hour, he came back. "How'd it go?" I said. "It was terrrr-eeble," he said, the way he always intentionally accented his own accent. "All there was was a buncha dam' foreigners."
When I had graduated from Stanford, and was working at GE, I got a call one day from Ramon. He had graduated from Missouri, and was on his way back home. But first he wanted to take an American vacation. He wanted to come to California, see me, see the Bay Area, and go to Las Vegas. I was short on cash.
"How about Reno?" I said. "Nobody in Peru has heard of Reno," he said. "Everybody knows Las Vegas. We have to go there." So off we went - me with about $20 and my Mobil Oil credit card. We drove there in my gray-brown '63 Volkswagen sunroof, and had a great time reminiscing. We painted the town, well, sort of light-red. I played the penny slots, and hit a jackpot of $2.50. We stayed in a cheap hotel near Boulder Dam and saw some burlesque show, then came back home. I have a faded photograph of us in front of The Mint, in Las Vegas.
So he knew I was working in San Jose, and I knew he was heading back home to Lima, Peru, to work for Anderson Accounting, as I recall.
Flash forward to 1967 on Staten Island. I had been transferred to New Jersey for the Oyster Creek Nuclear Power Plant startup, and this was my second trip to New York City (Somebody broke into my car and stole my radio, the first time I went. You know, 'Welcome to New York,' so I decided not to take my car into the city this time. I'm funny that way). I parked in the ferry parking lot in New Jersey, and was casually walking toward the next ferry, when the gate keeper yelled, "Hurry up and you can make this one." I jogged through the gate, and headed toward the front of the boat, so I could watch the Statue of Liberty as we approached.
What the? There, at the very front of the boat was my friend Ramon Laos. When we had been roommates, I tried to learn some Spanish from him, and I started with the dirty words, of course. Poop was "merde" (pronounced MEHR-duh, but the exaggerated way Ramon said it, it came out MEE-ERR-duh). "Mi-er-duh" I yelled at him. "Pogo," he yelled even before he turned around.
We had a great day running around New York City, but at the end of the day we said goodbye and I went back to my car. He didn't have a car, so didn't have to go back. The double crazy thing about this day was that on the way back to getting my car, I bumped into Tim Points, still another dorm-mate who knew both Ramon and me. "Tim Points, what the heck are you doing here?" He had a navy uniform on. "Hey Bob," he said, and he told me his story.
He was from St. Louis, and had married the daughter of somebody in the St. Louis Mafia, not that there is such a thing. They had thrown an enormous wedding party for the couple - Tim said their wedding present was a new house, two cars, and a one-month vacation around the world. "But," he said shrugging his shoulders, "I never really loved her, and I just can't stay with her, so we're getting a divorce." I didn't know what to say to that, so I just said, "Mi-er-duh," and told him I had bumped into Ramon earlier that day.
When I was a sophomore and it was winter, Ricky Joe Green and I were walking home from the library with another friend. The roads were icy, and cars were slipping all over. Ricky Joe and I gave our books to our friends to carry on back to the dorm, and we hung around a stop sign between the library and the student union. When a car came up and stopped, we ducked down behind the bumper, grabbed on and waited - sort of like we were water-skiing. The car took off, or rather, tried to.
He couldn't get a good start, with us hanging on, and he began to slip off the road. Ricky Joe let go whereas I hung on. The driver got his traction then and slowly began to do a normal takeoff. Ricky Joe ran up and grabbed on again. This time, because the car was already moving, we were off. We hoped the car would take us up by our dorm, where we would just drop off. Instead he made two left turns and began heading towards Stephens College. He was going pretty fast, so we "had to" hang on and see where it'd take us.
It took us right past a policeman, who watched us go by from the warmth and comfort of his car. We dropped off and acted like we were normal. Nice try. He motioned us over, and gave us a ticket. We were required to be in court in downtown Columbia a few mornings later.
We dutifully went, and the Judge scolded us for our activity. "That is very dangerous. You could get hurt," he said. "Well," I thought in that special logic of young boys, "I knew it was dangerous. I just didn't know it was illegal." I think we each got a $20 fine, and that was that. Almost.
A few days later, Mom called. Our story was on the second page of the Columbia Missourian newspaper, and some kind soul had given Mom a copy. Awwww, thanks. The story headline read, "Two Students Arrested For Cavorting In Snow." Moms always find out.
I hadn't met any girls my freshman year who had turned my head, and I had no big expectations beginning my sophomore year. There was a linebacker on the MU football team named Jack Harrison*. Linda Richesin, a girl from Versailles I knew and had taken out once in high school, began her freshman year at Missouri. It turned out that Jack Harrison's' cousin was a dorm-mate of Linda's. I made great friends with the new freshmen in my dorm. We used to study together in the library and take Pepsi breaks in the student union. I bumped into Linda one time, and she was with this beautiful girl. "Jean, this is Bob Lutman. He was student body president at Versailles, and is a sophomore here. Bob, this is my friend Jean Harrison." "Hi," I said, trying to stop the shaking in my knees -- the same shaking I would encounter four years later in Tijuana.
"Hello," she said, coolly. I was knocked out, over the fence, outta the park. How come I couldn't breathe? This was the first girl I had ever met who I really (and I mean it this time) wanted to like me. I would see her around the campus and I'd say hi, and she'd say hi, but basically she ignored me.
One night I was in the student union sitting with her in a booth with lots of guys and girls, when she told a joke - the one about the 'dirty word game.' In this joke, you explain that you will start it off by saying a mildly dirty word. Then the person next to you has to say a word just a tiny bit dirtier than that, and so forth, on around the table. The art is supposed to be the incremental jump in dirty words. You must leave space for the next person. But all of this is a setup, because to start it off, you say the dirtiest word you know. And the word she knew coincided with the one I knew.
I fell immediately head-over-heels in (what I'll call) love. Whereas I thought she was an angel before, now I knew she had a little devil in her. I loved her bravado, and the fact that after she told the joke, she hid her face in her hands and said, "I am SO embarrassed."
I tried to get her to go out with me, but without success. Then after Christmas vacation, I asked her out and she agreed -- it must have been a slow weekend or something. We went to see "Dr. No," a James Bond movie. We discovered that in high school, she dated a guy who had been my roommate at Boys State. Boys State and Girls State are an honor thing they have during your sophomore year in high school. I had been selected, along with several other classmates, to go. I walked her home from the movie and kissed her goodnight. It was the first time in my life I looked FORWARD to a goodnight kiss instead of worrying about it. It was the best kiss of my young life. And it's still in the top 100.
We started dating. She said it was that first kiss that got her attention. Now I knew why my eighth grade teacher, Bonnelle White, used to tell me I'd get married, in spite of my strenuous objections. At that time, I thought that baseball was the whole world. I felt so privileged to be admitted into the back room at the I.V. and dance to the juke box music of Major Lance ("Um, Um, Um, Um, Um"), the Drifters ("Up on the Roof", "Stand By Me" , "On Broadway") and the Contours ("Do You Love Me?").
As we began to see each other every day, one of her girlfriends, Sharon Scott or "Scotty" nicknamed me "Bobby Muffin," from a character in a movie we all went to see together. We talked about getting married. I wasn't little Bobby any more - I was grown-up Bob. Or at least I was a different Bobby. I was full of plans for the future.
I brought her home to meet Mom and Dad and show her around the Lake. The problem (lucky stroke for my future daughters) was that she was Catholic and I was Presbyterian and there was trouble at home in Versailles. Brother George had just recently met his future wife, Loretta Heffner, and was going to convert to Catholic. The folks were still in a huge upset about that, and in fact, they went sort of nuts for a while - both of them, but mostly Dad.
And I did too, but not over George's impending religious conversion. I was torn apart because I couldn't stand to see them so upset, yet I desperately needed their approval of my new Catholic girlfriend. "What the hell's wrong with Catholics?" was all I could think.
But regarding George's situation, you know what time does - they eventually got over it, especially when the grandchildren started coming. I was jealous of the inner strength and certainty George had during that early time, to go against their arguments. The problem was resolved over a soul-searching weekend, because Jean said that she would change to Presbyterian. Her mom was Catholic, but her dad wasn't, so she decided that she could do that.
After I thought I had lost her because of the religion thing, then got her back, I was the happiest guy in the world. "Dow Jones Average loses 2000 Friday, gains 2500 Monday." I floated through the rest of the school year in a dream world. We never did become lovers. Kissing was too much fun and I guess there was still too much Bobby in me.
One spring Sunday afternoon, we double-dated with one of the twins on her dorm floor and her boyfriend. He had a red convertible and we decided to ride around and find a place for a picnic in the country. After the picnic, we started making out and decided to see how long we could kiss. The sun was bright, so we laid down on one blanket, and pulled another one over us. It was during this time, I solved the problem of how you breathe and kiss at the same time. Neither one of us would give up - or wanted to. When we finally parted lips, we flipped the blanket aside - and it was dark. We must have kissed continuously for at least an hour. Anyway that's how I remember it.
Finally, summer came, Dad came to pick me up and I said goodbye - for good as it turned out. We exchanged letters over the summer, but finally she stopped responding. I sent her flowers once, after not hearing from her for a while.
Early my junior year, when I went to pick up my slide rule she had borrowed for one of her finals, she said that she had changed her mind and couldn't change her religion. My first heartbreak. So the world changed again, but this change was awful and caused a terrible knot in my stomach that nothing would cure, I was sure. "World Ends -- Film at 11." As high as I'd been when we were in love, that's how low I felt then. From the top of the Himalayas to the bottom of the Mindanao Trench. If Skeeter Davis hadn't written "Why Does The Sun Go On Shining?", I would have.
What I got out of this experience is that no matter how bad things seem, they will eventually get better (be ready for them get a little worse first). So just hang on and spend as much time as possible with your friends. I heard from Scotty that Jean married somebody named Jackson pretty soon after that. I used to wonder what going down that other fork in the road would have been like. But I haven't thought about that for a long time. I like the story just like it is.
I think of the things in my life that I would never have known - my two daughters -- Tara and Shandra, their sister Maureen, Shandra's four kids, my wonderful wife Sharon, her two great sons -- Pete and Matt, Pete's two boys, Matt's son, California, skiing, my friends, my nuclear engineering career, my computer software testing career, travel to Japan and Italy, then birding the world with Sharon, and lots more. But I will always understand stories about first loves.
I seemed to be attracted to girls with names that start with J. Sort of like Johnny Carson, who was first married to Joan, then Joann, then Joanna. Somebody said he never had to get rid of the "hers" towels. Just add a new letter after each marriage.
When I was in high school, I had a quiet crush on a girl named Joy Williams. I took her home from a date one night and talked with her on the front porch for two hours before I got up nerve enough to kiss her. ALL of my crushes were quiet till I met Jean Harrison at Missouri University. The next girl I dated after Jean, as a junior, was Judy Copeland, from Moberly, Missouri. She later moved out to UC Berkeley to graduate school, where she died from viral pneumonia. As a senior, I dated Joy Derbyshire, from Grosse Pointe, Michigan. I moved to California and dated an airline stewardess named Joanne Hudson, who I was attracted to because of her sophistication. I kept asking myself, "Why do all these girls have names that start with 'J'?" A few years later, I learned that "why" questions drive you nuts because they are by definition unanswerable. So I stopped asking. But off the record, I think there is a hummingbird that does a mating flight that is the letter 'J'.
I hated ROTC - Reserve Officer Training School. When I was a freshman, I thought it was pretty cool, but after a while the novelty rubbed off. So coming into my sophomore year, it was merely something to get through, because we didn't have to take it as juniors and seniors.
ROTC always consisted of two classes every week - a one-hour classroom session, and a one-hour drill exercise, in full uniform. The drill thing was Friday morning at 7:40 AM for me. So you'd see guys running around all day Friday in their khaki uniforms, because they wouldn't have time to change between classes.
During roll call at the first drill session of the second semester, they didn't call my name. That's how you get an "absent" mark - by them calling your name, you not responding, and them marking your name down. Well, guess what happens if you're name's not on the list - they don't write your name down as absent.
After the session, I reported to one of the captains, and said, "Nobody called my name." "What's your name?" he asked. I told him, and he said, "It'll be on the rolls next week." Next week, same thing. Again, I reported it. Again, he said, "You'll be on next week." The third week same thing. I didn't report it this time, but went the fourth week. And they didn't call my name again. So after the drill that week, I hung up my ROTC gear, and never went to another drill - I only went to the classroom lectures. Does this sound like the "Scruples" game?
At the very end of my sophomore year, on the last day of ROTC class, and at the beginning of the hour, the instructor said, "Bob Lutman, report to the colonel." "Uh oh," I thought, "They found out!" I slowly walked to the colonel's office, living the nightmare I often dreamed - you know the one, about forgetting to go to a class all year. Only I had done it intentionally. "Have a seat," he said severely - not looking up. I sat in the silence for about thirty seconds. Finally he looked up, stood up, walked over to where I was, stood in front of me, and started yelling, "Everybody in Army ROTC with a grade point above 3.5 has signed up for advanced ROTC except three people. How come you haven't signed up?" Then he ticked off the names of some guys I knew.
"Huh?" I thought. "This is it? This is what he wanted to talk to me about?" If you signed up for the second two years of ROTC, then you would go into the army as a second lieutenant, and get some pay while you were in college. I think you had to serve two or four years - I forget which. If you didn't do this, and were drafted, then you'd go in as the lowest grunt. Pretty good leverage.
"I'm in chemical engineering, and I expect to get a job deferment," I said to him. He quickly came back, "Those are not gonna last forever, Mister." Hey, he called me "Mister." Things were looking up. "Well, I thought it over, and I'm going to take my chances." He tried some more, but he could tell I had made up my mind.
When I was a graduate student at Stanford, I received notification of a 1-A classification. That meant "heading for Vietnam" in those days. If I hadn't had Crohn's Disease (which was misdiagnosed initially as Ulcerative Colitis), I would have been off to Vietnam. I could just imagine being in a fire fight with the Viet Cong: "King's X, time out, I have to go to the bathroom. No shooting till I get back."
When we were sophomores, and I was dating Jean Harrison, we were all under-age, and couldn't legally drink. So that's what everybody tried to do. One Friday night, Mike Deeter and his date, and Jean and I went dancing at the P-Club, as we called it. Mike was trying to impress his date, because she was in a sorority. This was a rowdy place, with lots of tables and benches - sort of like a pizza parlor. There was a raised stage and a medium-sized dance floor. Missouri didn't sell alcoholic drinks, and so everybody brought in a bottle in a paper bag, and bought mixers, ice and cups at the joint.
You had to be 21 to drink, and I'd estimate that maybe a quarter of the people in the club were of legal drinking age. There was an on-going conflict between the drinking bars in Columbia and the ABC - Alcoholic Beverage Control, or something like that.
At the P-Club, the deal was that whenever an ABC guy came in - and the owners and bartenders knew all the undercover ABC guys - the band would switch from whatever song they were playing to "You Can't Sit Down" - a great dance hit that we all loved. "Hey Pretty Baby, You Can't Sit Down... ." The agent might stay there a half-hour, during which everybody in the place danced. Then he'd leave and we'd all sit down and have a drink, patting ourselves on the back at geniuses we were.
The other great song of the time, for me, was Do You Love Me (Now That I Can Dance)? Others were Spanish Harlem, Gina, and Up On the Roof. I loved the Motown Sound.
I was taking a break from studying in the library stacks at MU one evening, and I found this wonderful book about stories little kids wrote in school, describing their summer vacations.
One boy wrote of his summer experience, staying a while with his grandparents on their farm. He was alone with them and was accustomed to entertaining himself. This little boy tried to make friends with the animals, and named one of the chickens Gene Autry. He'd go run around with him and chase him and feed him and stuff like that. One summer day his grandma said to his grandpa, "Go get us a chicken for dinner and ring its neck." Well, you know who they had for dinner of course - old Gene. The little kid felt quietly terrible as his grandma fried up the chicken for Sunday dinner. He said he couldn't eat very much of Gene Autry, he felt so bad. Then he said, "And the moral of the story is - never get personal with a chicken."
The summer before, I had helped Uncle Pete build a barn on his place in the country, but I didn't have anything going for this summer. Dad asked if I'd help him at the gas station he was leasing. I saw an opportunity to spend some time with him, and I said OK.
He ran an APCO station west of town. It was near the intersection of Highway 52 and 'D' - a county road. From this intersection, kids would prove how powerful their car or truck was by turning around at this intersection, coming to a dead stop, then flooring it - heading for town. The highway went over a bridge and crested at the top of a hill before dropping down, on its way into Versailles. The big thing wasn't the time, but the speed - "110 at the top of the hill" was an indication of a hot car. I think I hit 55 in our gas-efficient '57 Chevy.
The Lake of the Ozarks is the summer playground for Kansas City families. Many had boats stored down at the lake, and many more trailered them down for the weekends. Some would fuel up on the way down Friday night, but most would wait to fill up on the way back to KC.
As I recall, gas was about 29¢ a gallon - maybe 39¢. We'd read the meters every night about 7 PM or so, then by comparing with the night before, we'd know how many gallons we sold. I don't recall the exact range of volume we did, so I'll make up some approximate numbers. If during the week, we sold 700 gallons a day, then on Fridays, we'd sell maybe 1000, and on Sundays we'd do 1800. That was fun, seeing how many gallons we could pump.
Here's three of my favorites stories of the summer:
A car with out-of-state plates drove in, and the guy drawled, "Do y'all sell Am-a-lain?" I didn't understand him so I asked him to repeat. He said exactly the same thing, and I was embarrassed not to know what he was saying. So similar to the "Pig That Had No Babies" story, I decided he must have said Havoline (pronounced HAV-uh-lun, or HAV-uh-leen by some). So I said yes. "Run me in a quart," he said. I opened a quart can of Texaco Havoline and started putting it in. He came running up when he saw the unfamiliar can, "No, no, AM-a-lain! Cain't you unnerstan' Aingleesh?" So he didn't pay for it, and drove off in a huff. I still don't know who makes Amoline.
Flash! Update, June 19, 1997. While Sharon and I were on a 30-day RV and Birding vacation, we happened to drive through the town of Ft. Davis, Texas. It was a Sunday and most stores were closed, including an auto parts store. There in the window was a poster display of Amoline Oil products, being pointed to by a sunbathing cardboard cutout bikini lady. It was a very high quality oil, and cost a little more, but also apparently, it had not made its way out of Texas, at least back then in 1963. Actually, the sign in this window, and that guy back in Versailles were the only two times I've ever heard of it.
I believe that Salmon Moore was the subject of this story - the same man whose house was convertible-ized by a tornado during my high school days. He had an old black Chevrolet - very similar to the one my brother had once - a '48. Every single time he drove in, he'd say, "Fill 'er up." I'd get the first couple of syllables of "Regular or Ethyl" out, and he'd interrupt me with "Whut?" This was pronounced "huh-WUT?" - with the rising inflection of a question on the second syllable. He was really hard of hearing.
One day I saw him driving in and I was ready. I had thought about this, and had worked out the exact phrase I was going to say to him - I was going to ask him what he always said to me - "Fill 'er up?" before he had a chance to say anything. I was going to say it loud and strong and very quickly, so he couldn't help but hear. I was going to almost yell it. I had been practicing.
He pulled in and I was waiting: "Fil-" I managed to get out before he yelled back "Huh-WUT?" even louder.
One of Dad's gun-trading pals had either built or bought a thing they all called a bullsh-- grinder. The contraption all by itself was an exercise in absolutely nothing. You turned the crank, and the little runners went up and down and back and forth in their grooves, but nothing ever happened. In context, when somebody came in and started spinning a tale about the last fish they caught, or the gas mileage they got on their last trip to KC, or how much they were going to buy a new shotgun for, one of the guys would invariably get the bullsh-- grinder from on top of the file cabinet, where we kept it, and start cranking. This, of course, was a polite way of saying to the proclaimer - well, you know what it was saying.
When I was a junior at MU, I shared an apartment with two other guys in chemical engineering - Randy Knapp and Harold Swindell. The funny thing is that Randy's girlfriend had given him the brown helmet (slang for the subject of the fine Paulette Carlson country song I'll Start With You) just like mine had. And seeing him so down and out made me feel a little better. Misery loves company.
Our apartment was actually the entire attic floor of a four story house on College Avenue in Columbia. The last time I drove through to see it, it was a university parking lot.
When we would walk past the third floor on the way to our apartment, we could occasionally see through the open door of one of the residents. He was not a student. He was older - I'd say 65 or 70. He always wore overalls, and always wore those overshoes that you put on over your shoes, then buckle up. Only they were never buckled up. He wore this outfit year-round.
When we'd meet him, walking home from classes, he would be walking toward us and carrying one or two paper grocery bags. He'd actually step off the sidewalk onto the grass - maybe three feet off of the sidewalk. He'd mutter, and look all around, but never directly into our eyes. He never said a word to us, and after a couple of unsuccessful attempts to say hello, we stopped trying. When we were past, he'd walk straight back to the sidewalk, then resume his direction, still muttering.
One day, as I was walking down the stairs, his door was open and I could see into his home. There was a row of open grocery bags, lining his entire apartment, as far as I could see into it. I guess he used them to store things in, or as trash containers, or something. It was the weirdest thing.
The landlady who had signed us all in and collected each of our $25 deposits passed away while we were still living there. Her husband, a gruff man, contacted us and said to just keep paying the rent. When we moved out, we requested our deposit, but he said, "I don't have a record of deposits from any of you." I sent him Xerox copies of the front and back of the check, with his wife's signature, but he never returned my deposit.
Dad's back was bothering him, managing the APCO gas station on the west side of Versailles, so he decided to quit that and do something else. He took a correspondence course, where he was going to learn to repair watches.
They sent Dad some instructional manuals and several broken watches, and he was off. I never talked to him much about it, but Mom wrote me that he didn't just ace the course - he revolutionized it. The book would say, "Fix the watch this way", and Dad would study it a while, figure out a better way, fix it and send it in
I think they wanted Dad to take over running the course. He set up shop in a little booth of the corner drug store. Only now it was a jewelry store, managed by Charlie Davenport and his wife. He kept a journal of every watch he fixed, and I have it now. Looks like something I'd do.
I completed my last day at Monsanto in St. Louis, and went back to Columbia a couple of days early. As a senior, I felt it was my duty to help the freshman see what life was going to be like for them. I had my green '60 Ford Falcon, and three other guys and I decided to drive around the town and countryside, to see what was happening. Also, one of the guys had a six-pack. I was driving, and don't like beer very much, so I was drinking a Pepsi.
We wound up on the road in front of the brand new research reactor that MU had completed. Nobody in the car was 21 yet. It was a warm late summer evening, we had the windows down and we were having a good bull session. Suddenly headlights popped on right behind us. A man got out of the car and walked up beside us, next to me. It was then that I noticed the uniform. Campus police.
He saw a beer can next to the car. "What are you guys doing here? This area is restricted. Have you been drinking? Is that your beer can in the road?" Nobody said anything. "Let me see some ID." So we all gave him our IDs. He was fairly decent about it. "Open your trunk," he demanded. I opened it, but there wasn't anything in it of interest. He had another look in the back of the car and found a couple of unopened beers. "Hand those to me," he said. Then he started his fifteen minute lecture, while we thought, "Is he going to arrest us?"
He ended with, "I'm letting you boys go, because you seem like good kids, and I didn't actually see you drinking. I'm going to take this beer though." "Thanks, officer," I said. He walked back and got into his car. "Let's go back to the dorm," I said, and everyone agreed. I started the car, and just as I shifted to first, the guy sitting behind the front seat passenger flipped his lighted cigarette out into the dry, grassy field next to the reactor.
"Slam," went the car door as the campus cop walked back up to our car. "Who threw that cigarette?" he demanded. "I did," admitted the flipper. Then we sat through another fifteen minute lecture. We all wanted to pound the stupid smoker, but we didn't, because the policeman let us go again.
Lucky start to my senior year.
Sometime around my late junior or early senior year at MU, I suddenly realized that I hated chemical engineering. What was I going to do? We had a new professor in nuclear engineering who had just earned his Ph.D. from RPI, and he encouraged me to take Introduction to Nuclear Engineering - a graduate course which he was going to teach, and he thought I would do fine. Well, I loved it. The problem was that I had no money to go to graduate school, and the National Science Foundation Scholarships eluded me. My professor suggested that I sign up for an Atomic Energy Commission Fellowship, and thought I had an excellent chance to get one. I did and holy cow, I got tuition and fees plus $200 a month, wherever I could get into graduate school. I narrowed it down to Stanford and Michigan. That amount is the 1997 equivalent of about $1000-1500 a month. Tax-free too.
The new head of MU's nuclear engineering department had gone to Michigan, and strongly recommended it. My decision was automatic as I was trudging through the slush on my way to a class one March morning. It was like a cartoon, walking through that slush and thinking, "Michigan or Stanford? Hey wait, I hate this weather, I hate this slush, I hate this cold. How come I'm thinking of Michigan?" And that was the deciding factor. That and the oranges that grow near Uncle Calvin's.
As senior engineers during Engineers' Week at MU, we felt it was our duty to play a prank. A famous MU landmark is the line of six columns remaining from a building which burned down long ago.
We decided we should get two balloons, fill them with helium, tie them onto a wire ring around one of the columns, and let the balloons carry the ring up to the top of the column, where it would stop at the upper supports. That way, it would be visible to all, but would be difficult to get down. Looking back on it, I'd have to say we lacked imagination. Pretty lame. Anyway, it was what we came up with.
I was in charge of ordering the balloons. I sent in our money with a request for two huge red balloons, made of extra heavy material, so they wouldn't burst just by rubbing against the rough columns. I also rented a helium tank.
Our chosen night arrived. I took a break from my studies at about 11 PM, and drove to our rendezvous spot to meet the other guys. We filled our balloons, constructed the ring, fastened them together, and sneaked across the engineering campus to the columns. After opening the ring, running it around one of the columns, and reclosing the wire ring, we let them go
They didn't want to rise. The ring kept hanging up on little jagged microbumps on the columns. We finally got them about halfway up and could see that the wind was our ally - it jiggled the balloons around enough so that it would eventually work the ring to the top of the column. We were getting nervous about getting caught - an unacceptable thought - and we split
I lay in my bunk bed before sleep, thinking of my friends in high school painting "RHB" on the Versailles water tower, and of our aborted attempt to burn a cross in the high school principal's yard. The great part of THIS little venture is that no one would know who did it. We'd walk around the engineering campus between classes, watching everybody admiring our handiwork. I went to sleep, dreaming of good things.
Next morning, I sprang out of bed, dressed, got my books, skipped breakfast and hightailed it across campus. I rounded the last building blocking the view of the columns. I knew exactly what I would see! And there it - wasn't.
No balloons! Students were walking around the campus, going from class to class, and there weren't any balloons in sight. No wire around the column - nothing. What a gyp. We never did find out what happened. We couldn't ask, you know: "Dean Johnson, what happened to those red balloons that, uh, somebody may have put up on the columns last night?" Ah, life's mysteries.
Dad's mother - Grandma Lutman - had been a widow since my earliest memory. Dad and his brother, Uncle Byron looked after her, although she always lived alone in apartments and houses. During her last years, they bought her a mobile home and parked it in the yard beside Uncle Byron's house in the country, so they could spend more time with her and keep a better eye out in case she fell or something.
They bought Grandma her first color television. I was home from college, with my girlfriend Joy Derbyshire, and we went out with Dad so I could see Grandma's new place. It was noon on a Saturday when we knocked on the door. "Come in," she said. We hugged and Dad said, "Mom, show Bob your new TV." There wasn't any remote control, so she went over and turned it on. There were two stations in central Missouri in those days - Channel 13 was the CBS station, in Jeff City, and Channel 8, the NBC station, was in Columbia. Channel 8 had affiliation with Missouri University, being in the same city and all, and rotated communications students through to serve as news readers. On this particular day, an African-American man was delivering the noon news.
"Look Claud, there's a n----- on TV," Grandma said. "I hear they're gettin' 'em in the government too." Grandma! Makes me weak in the knees to remember it.
Spring of my senior year, my life took another significant change. I contracted Crohn's Disease. No known cause, no cure. It was a long-term contract, with no signing bonus. Imagine that you have a stomach-ache that never goes away.
I'm sure my brother saved my life when I was living with Bill Kauffman, Skip Hughes and Ed Fulton in "Gary's Basement," a converted basement in a house in Columbia. I could barely get off the couch to go to the bathroom the required 30 times a 24-hour day, let alone go to class. I had lost about 35 pounds and all I could think of was that it had to get better. But once you get to that condition, with that illness, it doesn't get better by itself.
George called me one day, and after realizing I hardly had the energy to talk, he arranged for me to go into the Missouri University Hospital immediately. Following a battery (as in assault and battery) of tests, Dr. Smith diagnosed Ulcerative Colitis. Several years later, in California, it was determined to be Crohn's Disease, a close relative.
I had to drop a couple of classes, and I had to cancel my great summer job with Humble Oil (now Exxon) in Baytown, Texas, near Houston. But I was able to finish the year with a reduced schedule.
I went to summer school and graduated at the end of the August.
Next Chapter - Stanford
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