Monday, October 5, 2015

I Was Wrong!

Larry Fine
In my last blog, Is It Just Me?, I asked, “Is it just me or do men appreciate the brilliance of the Three Stooges much more than women?” Based on the feedback that I received, evidently it was indeed just me. Judi, Jayne and Sharon all made it a point, that in no uncertain terms, they not only appreciated the brilliance of the Stooges, but also were all longtime fans.

By no means am I exaggerating when I use the term longtime, especially with Jayne. She has been a fan of the legendary comedy act since she was a child. In fact, she had the privilege of meeting one of her idols at a young age.

When she told me this, I asked if she would be able to send me a recap to tell me about her experience so that I could use it in my blog. Her response was, “But of course! Anything to promote my guys!”

Here is Jayne’s touching tale:

I was but a mere child, around 12 or 13 years old. My stepdad was the manager of the Winnebago County Fair, and we lived in a big old house on the fairgrounds itself.

Every year my stepdad would let me see the “list” of acts within the price range that were available to appear at the fair. One year the Three Stooges were on that list! Woo hoo! I mean, woo-woo-woo!  With a tiny bit of encouragement, he arranged for their appearance.

The day of the show arrived, and I was working the grandstand as an usherette, as I did every year. It was a sunny day, about an hour and a half before show time and I was sitting alone in the huge grandstand, about halfway up. There were very few people there yet, so I was just hanging out, watching the workers putting their finishing touches on the stage on the field down below.

It was then that I noticed this funny little man climbing up all those steps toward me. He was wearing a suit, and had curly, fuzzy hair sticking out of his head. There was no mistaking him for anyone but LARRY!!! It was Larry Fine of the Three Stooges!

I couldn’t believe my eyes. I knew he was heading for me, as I was the only one in the area. He had a lot of steps to climb to get to me, but he was agile and it didn't take him very long.

I was extremely shy back then (yes, really I was), and I mean extremely. He smiled at me as he sat down right next to me. I was mortified. It was just Larry and me. I was so taken aback and embarrassed at myself that all I could do was giggle. I was speechless.

He just kept smiling at me. And when I didn't say anything and continued to giggle, he started laughing too and asked me “Are you laughing at me or with me?” I finally got the courage to speak and said, “With you!” Then I asked him if my stepdad had put him up to this and he admitted that he had, pointing out my stepdad down below. Who was also laughing.

We shook hands, exchanged pleasantries, and said it was nice to meet each other. And then he was on his way back down the steps. The whole thing only took a few minutes, but I could tell during that brief encounter that he had the mannerisms of a very kind and gentle man. What a guy to do that for a kid. He made my day!

Thanks for sharing that heartwarming story, Jayne.

Remarkably, Jayne wasn’t the only person to send me a recollection of a personal experience with one of the Stooges. Believe it or not, Mike also had an encounter with Larry Fine. Thing is, this story isn’t nearly as uplifting. In fact, it might be better if Jayne doesn’t read it.

I will let you judge for yourself. Here’s what Mike had to say:

First a little background, my friend Bob and I were longtime phone pranksters. We almost always worked as a team, from our early teens well in to adulthood. We had a pretty impressive body of work. Several celebrities that most people have heard of were among our victims.

We hit Larry Fine circa 1973.

Bob was a close friend of longtime radio personality Chicago Eddie Schwartz and because I was Bob's oldest friend, Schwartz and I sort of became “friends-in-law”. When he did the all night show at WIND, Bob and I would often bring our dates up to the studio at 625 N. Michigan, hoping to impress them and Eddie would let us sit in on his show.

Due to his closeness with Schwartz, Bob got the telephone numbers of various celebrities that Schwartz had interviewed. Um, big mistake, Eddie.

One evening, Bob and I decide to call Larry. He was living at a “home for retired actors” and was very easy to get on the phone. Bob and I decided to play a little prank on the famous Stooge.

My role was to get him on the phone for a fake "radio interview". Bob was playing the role of a representative from the B’nai B’rith who was bestowing an award on Mr. Fine.

The prank call went something like this:

Fine answers. His trademark, nasally voice was very distinctive. It sounded the same, but in slow motion. I replied in a booming, morning-zoo like radio demeanor, “Hey, it's an honor to have the great Larry Fine with us on the air tonight. Good evening Mr. Fine, I'm Bob Rouse.”

It was the first name I could think of. Rouse was the assistant manager of the bowling alley I patronized in Chicago. I went on, “With me is Sid Meyers and he has some wonderful news for you, Larry”. I wanted to use a Jewish name and I thought of Sid, a security guard at the Polk Bros. store that I worked at in high school.

Bob then took over. “Larry, it’s great to talk to you. I’m a longtime fan of you guys, except for Curly Joe. Anyhow, Larry, it's my great privilege to tell you at this time that you are the winner of our organization’s Golden Age of Comedy Award and we would love to have you receive it in person at our annual banquet in September”.

Larry finally spoke. Slowly, but distinctly he said, “I’m afraid I can't travel, I’m in a wheelchair.” Bob, without breaking stride, came right back with, “Larry, not to worry. We are sending you two first class round-trip airlines tickets for you and your caretaker. And, oh yes, Mr. Fine, I almost forgot. There is a $10,000.00 honorarium that comes with this award.”

Larry immediately changed his tune and replied, “Really?!? Okay, send me the details, I’m definitely going to make it there!” Bob then told him, “A registered letter will be sent out to you on Monday.” He paused and suddenly blurted, “Larry, excuse me, please hold on for a second. It seems that Bob Rouse has to do an FCC thing.”

My friend Bob handed me the phone because he couldn't control his laughter anymore. It didn't help when I said, “It's 8:00 pm straight-up here in the Windy City. I’m Bob Rouse here with Larry Fine. It's 83° at Midway and 16° at O'Hare.”

At this point we both lost it and went in to convulsions, laughing hysterically. We ended up just hanging the phone up on Larry Fine. He was probably sitting in that wheelchair until the day he died wondering when his plane tickets were going to arrive.

I warned you that Mike’s remembrance of Larry Fine wasn’t quite as cheery as Jayne’s.

Maybe I was wrong about women appreciating the Three Stooges, but there is no questioning their popularity. Hopefully these two very personal accounts satisfied the many requests for more Stooges.

Until next time…from the booth.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Happy Anniversary Alfie and Elsie

This is posted in honour of my friends across the pond. I wrote it five years ago.

Today a very special dinner took place around noontime in England. The dinner was to honour Alfie and Elsie Taylor’s Wedding Anniversary. Among those in attendance were their children; Sue, Hazel, Christine, Margaret, Beryl, Carol, Debbie, Barry, David, Don and Keith. That’s right – eleven children! That alone should indicate that this was no ordinary anniversary celebration. This gathering marked the 60th Anniversary of this charming couple.

Because Great Britain is six hours ahead of us, the historic event had already taken place when I went on Facebook at 7:00 this morning. However it didn’t take long to be reminded of the event.

Granddaughter Louise Cooper wrote “Celebrating my Nan and Granddads 60th wedding anniversary today with a surprise meal. Can't wait to see the look on their faces when a quiet meal for 4 turns into the usual Taylor madness! xxx”
To which daughter Margaret replied “Housework done, garden done, showered hair washed. Already for Mum and Dads 60th anniversary surprise meal, and yes Louise they will be shocked when a quiet meal for 4 turns into a Taylor outing ha ha…”
Another daughter, Sue chimed in with “Looking forward to seeing Mum and Dad for their surprise 60th Anniversary lunch and to seeing ALL my sisters and brothers. Roll call in the restaurant before Mum and Dad arrive!”
Here is a picture of the guests of honour. 

As Husband and Wife, after 60 years

you still say, "I love you" in many different ways.

May your lovely family remind you,

you share a special happiness life gives to very few.
It was evident by these Facebook remarks that the event was a success.
Louise said “Safe to say Nan and Granddad were very well surprised; wasn't a dry eye in the room! Happy 60th anniversary Nan and Granddad!
Daughter Beryl added “They cried, so shocked.”
Brother David commented “7 daughters and 4 sons all together for the first time in 9 years.”
Saying “May God bless you” would seem redundant, because it is obvious that Alfie and Elsie Taylor already have been; with eleven loving children and many adoring grandchildren. And those children and grandchildren have been blessed with two incredible parents and grandparents. Happy Anniversary Alfie and Elsie Taylor.
Today would have been their 65th Anniversary. Elsie has since passed on. I still have the thank you card she sent me after I wrote this and will always cherish it.

Until next time…from the booth.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Jackie Cut Her Finger Off!

As I diligently plowed through the mountainous pile of paperwork, I glanced at my watch. It read 6:30 PM. “Wonderful, at least it’s Friday”; I thought out loud, “48 hours down and only 15 more to go.” Such was the life of a second shift production supervisor at American Air Filter in Zion, Illinois. I let out a deep sigh as I reminded myself that at least I had a job, it could be worse. Ten minutes later this self-fulfilling prophecy came to fruition with five words.

“Jackie cut her finger off!”

Those chilling words would turn a tedious and mundane evening into a hair-raising night of drama and mayhem. But not initially.

When Kathy burst into the small cramped office and shouted those horrifying words, I looked up from my work and said, “Kathy, don’t f*ck with me, I’m in no mood.” I honestly thought she was messing with me. Perhaps subconsciously I didn’t believe her, knowing what chaos would ensue if it was true.

She then shrieked a second time, this time much louder, “Paul, I’m serious, Jackie cut her finger off!”

Before I could respond, a quivering Jackie appeared in the doorway holding a blood covered left hand. A multitude of crimson splatters covered her white top and were an extreme contrast to the ashen hue of terrified face.

Evidently, while Jackie was adjusting the plastic film in a packaging machine, Kathy thought she heard her say to turn it on. When she mistakenly started the machine, the tip of Jackie’s left middle finger was chopped off.

I immediately guided the injured employee to a chair in the middle of the office. She was trembling and sobbing uncontrollably. Steve, my maintenance man, came rushing into the office and murmured, “Oh my God.”

As I attempted to get Jackie to hold her bloody hand above her heart, I told Steve to call 911. By then, a small crowd of employees had gathered outside of the office, trying to see what the commotion was all about. I quickly told them to take an early break.

Steve hung up the phone and told me that the rescue squad was on the way. Still doing my best to calm the panic-stricken Jackie, I directed Steve to go to the front entrance so he could guide the paramedics to our department when they arrived. As he was scurrying off, I barked, “Tell Victor to get over here!”

Moments later, Victor, the supervisor of the high-speed production area, skidded to a stop on his golf cart outside the office. “Holy shit” were the first words out of his mouth. My glare made him aware that I needed help, not added drama.

Kathy was providing all the extra drama I could handle at the moment.

While Jackie bawled hysterically and tried to catch her breath, Kathy was screaming at her, “It’s my fault, I turned the machine on!” Tears smeared her mascara as she continued to screech, “It’s all my fault, hit me, Jackie, hit me!”

Obviously this wasn’t helping the situation at all.

I instructed Victor to take the distraught Kathy to the lunchroom, get her a Coke or something and calm her down. I just wanted her out of there. Jackie was frantic enough without Kathy adding to the turmoil.

Thankfully, the paramedics showed up as Victor was escorting Kathy from the office. As one asked me for details, the rest of the emergency medical crew began administering first aid to Jackie.

As the EMTs tended to her severed digit, they also attempted to control her frenetic breathing. Seeing that they no longer needed my services, I grabbed a piece of gauze and I excused myself from the office.

As I briskly walked over to the machine where the accident had occurred, I kept my head down, eyeballing the shop floor. A quick inspection of the east side of the machine proved fruitless. Determined, I continued my search to the other side, just hoping…

Yes, there it was! I had found what I was looking for.

Bending over, I used the gauze to carefully scoop up the small portion of jagged pale flesh from the dusty floor. Wrapping it up, I noticed that the fingernail was still intact. Nice.

When I got back to the office, I asked one of the medical techs to step outside, making sure not to draw Jackie’s attention. She was somewhat more composed and I didn’t want to do anything to change that.

Outside the office, I discreetly handed the paramedic the small package containing the tip of Jackie’s middle finger. Somewhat surprised, he said, “Wow, you found it.” He then packed it into a small cup of ice and told me he would see what they could do, but it was probably too small to reattach.

Somewhat disheartened, I returned to the office. Jackie’s left hand was now heavily bandaged and she was being helped onto a gurney. Although her breathing was now under control, she was still trembling and had tears streaming down her freckled face.

As the EMTs wheeled her out of the office, Jackie asked me if I would go with her to the hospital and stay with her until Roger could get there. I said sure I would. Roger was her fiancé and worked in Racine, Wisconsin. It would him at least an hour to drive to St. Therese Medical Center where she was being taken.

The emergency people told me to follow them in my truck, that way I could return when Roger arrived. Before leaving I made sure that Roger was contacted and asked Victor to keep an eye on my crew until I returned. As harrowing and gruesome as this situation was, I was surprised that I had remained so composed.

That all changed the moment I got in my truck to follow the ambulance to the medical facility in Waukegan.

The gravity of what had just transpired finally hit me. It hit me like a brick. I didn’t cry. I didn’t puke. I didn’t pass out. But I did feel that I was about to do all three. I did hyperventilate for most of the 15-minute trip.

After I arrived, I was able to regain my composure and stayed with Jackie until her fiancé showed up. Thankfully, the remainder of the night was event free. On their way home, Jackie and Roger stopped by the plant to let everyone know she was okay. No one was happier than Kathy to see her.

Sadly, the doctors were not able to reattach the piece of Jackie’s finger that I had recovered. She did, however, receive a considerable compensation check from American Air Filter’s insurance company. Shortly after the accident, Jackie married Roger, albeit with a left middle finger that was now 1⁄4” shorter.

When all was said and done, I guess Kathy was right – Jackie cut her finger off.

Until next time…from the booth.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Rock ‘n’ Roll All Night

It was Friday morning at Koos Inc. and later that night I would be attending my very first Rock concert with Harry, Munk, Weber, Sluga and several other Koos luminaries. We were going to see KISS at the MECCA Arena in Milwaukee. The only problem was getting our supervisor to allow us to leave two hours early at 3:30 so we could cash our checks and wash off the Koos stink before the show. After much pleading and a promise that we would definitely be at work at 6:00 a.m. the next day, we finally got the okay. We were going to see KISS!

I wanna rock and roll all night and party every day…

Weber picked me up promptly at 5:00 in his small blue sub-compact with Harry and Munk already stuffed into the backseat with a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon. As I attempted to squeeze my large frame into the small vehicle, Munk shouted at me, “Where’s your wine Puddles?”

Smiling, I reached inside my jacket and produced a chilled flask full of Boone’s Farms finest. “Oh, you already put it in the flask!” was the response I received. With that, we made our way up I-94 with Munk and Harry attempting to pour wine into their flasks as we all chugged ice cold PBR.

I wanna rock and roll all night and party every day…

Forty minutes later, with the all the flasks filled and the case of beer consumed, we pulled into the enclosed parking structure just west of the MECCA Arena. With all that beer in my bladder, I needed to make quick work of the three-block journey that separated me from a restroom in the Arena.

That problem was immediately eliminated when I noticed that Weber, Munk and Harry were standing over a drain in the corner and were in the process of unzipping their jeans to relieve themselves of their Pabst. I instantly followed suit, shrugging my shoulders, wondering what I had gotten myself into.

I wanna rock and roll all night and party every day…

Feeling much better, we made our trek to the Arena in record time and found our seats just as a nondescript opening act started playing some rather mediocre music. That was okay; this gave us an opportunity to get to the concession stand to buy some  (you guessed it) more beer!

Back from the concession stand, we eased back into our seats, with the strong aroma of Cannabis permeating the air, and were bombarded with extremely loud music, brilliant pyrotechnics and Gene Simmons’ bloody tongue. Enjoying the show, we filled our now empty beer cups with the wine we had smuggled in. Beer, my first concert, more beer and now wine. What more could an 18 year old guy ask for?

I wanna rock and roll all night and party every day…

After the show ended we stepped out into the cool Milwaukee night and met up with Sluga and his “uncle”. After a quick critique of the concert, it was decided that it was much too early to go back to Kenosha and that we were going to a trendy local nightspot. Having no say in the matter, I wondered to myself how we were going to make it work the next day.

The club was an enormous 2-story structure whose name escapes me. Hey, it was 34 years ago, what can I say? I do remember Sluga’s “uncle” challenging another guy to a game of foosball and ripping his shirt open, causing the buttons to fly everywhere. Oh yes, and we also drank some more beer.

I wanna rock and roll all night and party every day…

After a couple of hours, the four of us had had enough and we said good-bye to Sluga and his “uncle”. Glancing at my watch I noticed it was 1:30 a.m. hopefully I could get three hours of sleep before work. That idea was quickly put to rest when Harry announced we need some more beer for the ride home. I just shook my head as Weber obediently pulled off of the Interstate in pursuit of a new supply of alcohol.

Finding a neighborhood tavern, Weber hopped the curb parking on the sidewalk just outside the front door of the establishment. He quickly jumped out and ran inside. With a six-pack under his arm, he ran out just as quickly, screaming, “They’re rednecks! They’re going to kill us!” Our small car sped away into the darkness just as a large contingent of angry locals emerged from the bar, shaking their fists.

I wanna rock and roll all night and party every day…

Relieved that we had escaped the wrath of the hayseeds that didn’t appreciate our ‘70s hairstyles, we laughed at our good fortune. There was only one problem – we didn’t know where the hell we were!

Trying his damnedest, Weber could not find his way back to I-94. He turned left and we nearly ended up in Lake Michigan. When he turned around and headed west we ended up in Greenfield, but we still could not find the Interstate. Something told me the chance of me getting any sleep before work was rapidly diminishing.

I wanna rock and roll all night and party every day…

Realizing that we needed help getting our bearings, we pulled into a George Webb restaurant complete with its two clocks on the wall. Inside there was a cook, a waitress, a truck driver and a young couple who promptly departed when they saw us stumble in. We opted to get something to eat as long as we were getting directions.

Harry, Weber and myself chose to have breakfast. So did Munk. Along with breakfast he ordered a double cheeseburger, French-fries, a chef’s salad, a milk shake and a large bowl of chicken soup. Evidently he was hungry. Unfortunately he didn’t like the shade of green that the soup was, because he threw it all over the front window of the diner.

The rest of the “meal” must have agreed with Munk because upon completing it he proceeded to emit one of the largest belches that I have ever been witness to. The colossal burp obviously impressed the truck driver because he responded with, “That’s nice.”  To which Munk sprung up from his seat and barked out, “Oh ya! If you don’t like it, step outside with me and my friends.” Where were we, the old West?

I wanna rock and roll all night and party every day…

Luckily cooler heads prevailed and armed with our directions we were finally heading back to Kenosha. We were going home. Or so I thought. Even though we had just filled our bellies at George Webb’s, we had a more than an ample supply of alcohol sloshing around in us as well. The ride home was going to be adventurous to say the least.

It was at this point that I realized that I was the only one not in some various stage of unconsciousness. Regrettably, I wasn’t behind the wheel, Weber was. At one point he came to long enough to see me looking terrified, clutching onto the small grab bar located above the passenger door. He merely mumbled that if we crashed, that wasn’t going to save my ass. I knew he was right, I just prayed that I didn’t die.

I wanna rock and roll all night and party every day…

Well, happily I didn’t die and we miraculously made it home safely sometime after 4:00 a.m. As you can imagine, none of us made it to work. Not me, not Munk, not Harry, not Weber, not Sluga. Not even Sluga’s “uncle” made it. Wait, he didn’t work at Koos, so he was okay. We all caught hell and because of our irresponsible actions, nobody was allowed to leave work early for the next thirty years. Management at Koos was tough.

However, when I eventually did wake up (sometime around noon), I make it over to Midtown Records and purchased the KISS Alive! album. Until next time…from the booth.