My Date with Christine Lagarde

My wife thinks highly of Christine Lagarde and can see why I would want a date with her. So she laughed and said “OK, you get a hall pass and can date Christine Lagarde”.

I have a crush on Christine Lagarde. I told my wife that Christine was coming to a Norfolk, Virginia speaker’s forum and I wanted a date with her. She is quite charming I said. And she is one of the most powerful women in the world. My wife thinks highly of Christine Lagarde and can see why I would want a date with her. So she laughed and said “OK, you get a hall pass and can date Christine Lagarde” never thinking I was serious.

Let me fill you in on Christine. She is a French lawyer and Chairwoman and Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund. Prior to that she led the international law firm of Baker and Mckenzie and also held various posts in the French government including acting as the French finance minister.  This was a first for a woman. She was elected and then reelected to a second term as the IMF Chairwoman. Another first for a woman. She is a vegetarian and rarely sips alcohol. She was once on the French swim team. She is a global banker, politician and humanist with a warm heart. Her intelligence and playful wit are mesmerizing. Yep, I’m smitten!

The Proposal

I’m a cunning linguist myself. Especially when stimulated by well-educated company. Most educated people display a quick-witted sense of humor that I enjoy. I read that Christine likes a good story.  Nothing brings out a good story like being in the cockpit of a sailboat. So, I decided to invite Christine for a day sail on my trimaran. As Sherlock Holmes would say, “The game is on!”

Christine was speaking in Norfolk in June, so I had three months to make this happen.   I found her Facebook page and, knowing that she likes a good story, posted a link to a few of the short stories on my publishing site. Not long afterwards, I noticed that I had a new subscription from France. Was it her? Maybe! Maybe not.

I decided to reach out to Madame Lagarde directly on instant message and offered to act as her concierge while visiting the Norfolk area. I said I could arrange for her to stay at the Old Cavalier Hotel and explained that presidents and celebrities have stayed at this elegant hotel over the last hundred years. The hotel is perched high on a sand dune overlooking the ocean in Virginia Beach. Of course, I offered to make sure she arrived in time to speak at The Forum….and then offered to take her sailing the day after the forum!

A month went by and I decided to not pursue Madame Lagarde any further.. Then I saw a notice from my publishing site. Someone had added a comment at the bottom of my essay titled “The Extremely Rare Sound of Silence.” It was from Christine Lagarde! “Bravo” she wrote. “Well expressed and very true.” “CL”. That made my day.

May was here. Warmer days and the bright yellow cacophony of daffodils and pink cherry blossoms made me forget my proposal to Christine Lagarde. Then one day, my cell phone caller ID lit up with a call from a private number. Normally I would let a call like this go to voice mail.  However, I was waiting for a business call so answered my phone. It was Christine Lagarde!

She Called!

“Hello Douglas,” she began. “This is Christine Lagarde.”

“Hello Madame Lagarde,” I exclaimed. “I am flattered you called me!”

“Please,” she said in her French-accented English, “call me Christine.”

“Christine it is.”

“I want to acknowledge your offer to take me sailing when I am in Norfolk. I do love the water,” she explained.

I replied, “I know that about you. I follow you on the Web.  After seeing several of your speeches, you strike me as a banker who encourages a healthy capitalism around the world –  not just for growth for investors, but for the good of societies and the health of the earth.”

“Nice to be noticed –  you sell real estate, yes?”

“Yes, I do.”

“I can see from your writing you are more than one thing.”

I realized I was on the phone with the chairwoman of the International Monetary Fund. She has met with presidents, kings, queens, and spoken at countless G-7 summits. And yet she seemed so down to earth.  I wanted to be on my best game.

“Yes, I replied, like most people am more than one thing. I have many questions about the economic forces that rock my world. How can you have infinite growth in a finite world? How can capitalism keep from eating itself as it has done over centuries? As it did in 2008? If money is the only thing that is universally sacred, how can we use that to motivate companies and governments to preserve the air we breathe and the water we drink?

Christine stopped me before I got too comfortable on my soapbox, “What do you mean by universally sacred?”

“You interviewed a futurist writer Yuval Noah Harari. He pointed to the Isis fighters in Iraq who blew up an 800-year-old mosque and destroyed priceless art yet when they came upon pallets of cash brought into Iraq by the Americans, they didn’t burn them. They saved them. All those green colored paper rectangles with pictures of American presidents were sacred to them. Money is the only thing that is universally regarded as sacred.”

“Christine,” I continued, “I have admired you from a distance for some time. I think you are one of the good guys…no, let me rephrase that.”

“Please do,” Christine interjected.

“… one of the good women on the planet. That’s why I reached out to you when I saw that you were coming to Norfolk,” finishing my sentence.

“Tell me about your sailboat” she said.

“If you really want to get a guy talking, ask him about his boat,” I laughed.

This is going well I thought as the voice in my head shouted out, “you are talking with CHRISTINE LAGARDE!”

I composed myself.   “My boat is a 37-foot trimaran. She is 30+ years old and a beautiful sailor. She is very stable, sailing flat and fast. Very suited to the Chesapeake Bay and June is a perfect month to sail the area. We can sail the Elizabeth River and I’ll show you the waterfront. I know you love the water. I promise safety and good conversation if you will honor me with your presence.”

There was a pause. My heart started beating faster. Then Christine replied, “My staff has taken your recommendation of the Cavalier Hotel. You needn’t worry about my transportation to the Forum. I have a day free after that and I would be delighted to go sailing with you.”

“Fabulous!” I exclaimed.” I will pick you up at 9 A.M. at the Cavalier Hotel.”

“I look forward to our sail,” she replied with smile in her voice.

We hung up.

I texted my wife. “I have a date with Christine Lagarde!”

I got an emoticon back from my wife. It was a face with one raised eyebrow followed by !?

The Date

The day of my sail with Christine just happened to land on the same day that the City of Norfolk holds its Harborfest celebration. Tall ships from around the world sail in a long parade along with US Naval Warships and warships from other countries. It is quite the international event. Norfolk doesn’t look any finer than during Harborfest. A large spectator fleet sails along with full colors flying. Now, Christine Lagarde and were going to be a part of the spectator fleet.

I met Christine in the lobby of the Cavalier. We are both in our early 60’s. She has a beautiful coif of short silver hair and is very fit looking.  Her apparel consisting of a black one-piece bathing suit over which she had donned blue khaki shorts and a light blue windbreaker. I focused on her shoes.. You need to have shoes that won’t slip on the deck. She had perfect sailing sneakers had a great warm smile as we shook hands.

“Delighted to meet you Douglas,” she said.

“The pleasure is mine! And please call me Doug.”

“Doug it is,” she smiled.

We arrived at the Rebel Marina where I keep our boat. It was a churning with activity as people readied their boats for the Parade of Sail to downtown Norfolk. The lead boat in the parade is the Norfolk Rebel based at the marina. She had all her flags flying and I could hear her big diesel engine purring. I got a few sidelong glances from those I knew on the docks as they checked out Christine. Sailors are the biggest gossips. “Where is the Queen Admiral?” they asked referring to the nickname for my wife.

“She’s not going today,” I said.

“Hmmmm,” was the reply. Mostly from the female crew members.

I had previously prepared the boat for today’s sail and packed some sandwiches, hummus dips and a selection of teas for lunch. Just in case I also packed a split of Champagne to celebrate at the end of the day. Feeding a Frenchwoman puts a lot of pressure on a guy! I read that Christine rarely drinks alcohol, but I am a sailor. Always prepared.

I noticed right away that Christine was light on her feet, easily stepping onto the boat and up into the cockpit. She asked, what could she do? I explained how she could help tend a line on a cleat as we backed out of the slip. It was not lost on me that Christine properly wrapped the cleat. This lady knows her way around a boat!

“You’ve sailed before?” I asked.

“Of course, I am French!” she said with a twinkle in her eyes.

Cast Off

We got the mainsail up and motor sailed to join the spectator fleet in the Elizabeth River. The Norfolk Rebel had already started leading the parade, so we fell in with the fleet.

On the portside are the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier piers. And stretching for quite a distance are the U.S. Navy destroyer piers and submarine piers.

I pointed to the long row of piers and ships, “That is the largest naval base in the world.”

Christine took it all in and replied, “That base is one of the results of the United States becoming the world power and leader it is today.” After World War I, the U.S. pulled back and became isolationist. But the world’s troubles are persistent. No country is an island and World War II changed the whole world order.”

“The isolationists all disappeared after we were attacked at Pearl Harbor,” I replied.

“And the world has been intricately connected ever since the war ended,” said Christine. “Especially from a banking perspective.”

“Speaking of wars and banking let me get on my soapbox for a minute,” I began.

“Uh-oh,” said Christine as she settled in the boat’s cockpit.

I was steering the boat and starting to wave my hands around, “In the United States when Greatest Generation (as they are now called) went to war, the government raised taxes to pay for it. They also sold around $180 billion in what were called war bonds. The tax rates varied from 23% for lower income earner to 94% for higher earners. It was a shared sacrifice. Today we go to war and lower taxes! The Iraq war is a great example. The tax rates were lowered to 10% for lower income people to a high of 35% for higher income folks. We started the war with a budget surplus from the dot com economy. But we immediately blew though almost 2 trillion dollars in deficit spending during the war. The ME generation had arrived. And we are still doing it!”

I took a breath, “The public no longer shares the financial sacrifice of any war their country is fighting. I think that any leader who declares a war should be required to declare a war tax to pay for it. That way the public would feel the financial sacrifice of going to war and could debate if this war is warranted.”

“Bravo!” said Christine.

“I relinquish my soapbox, for the moment anyway,” I bowed.

Trading on the River

We continued up the river along with the colorful flotilla of tall ships, their uniformed sailors singing in the rigging. It was magnificent! On both sides of the river the Ports of Virginia International shipping terminals loomed. Huge ships bigger than aircraft carriers are tied up underneath the loading cranes in a well-coordinated ballet of international trade. More goods are being brought in than are going out. Most goods are coming from China.

“So, Christine, you have a unique perch as head of the IMF. You monitor national economies and their fiscal policies. And the IMF steps in to help fund an economy that threatens the world economic stability. What are your worries?”

“How many hours do we have today?” she replied.  “You are spot on describing the commitment of The Greatest Generation.  The IMF was created from the Breton Woods Agreement in 1944. It set in place an international foreign currency exchange to prevent nations from using the value of their currencies as a weapon against other nations. The purpose of the IMF was then, and still is, to promote widespread and stable global economic growth.  For almost 80 years, it has fulfilled its mission.”

We turned to wave at another boat crew motor-sailing just off our starboard side. Boaters do that. We all wave no matter how big or small the boat. There is an egalitarian brotherhood on the water. We are all in the same boat.

“But you asked me what I worry about,” Christine continued. “I worry most that governments spend way more than they take in. Greece is just one of the more glaring examples. The U.S. is treading into deeper waters in that regard. The U.S. is not Greece by any measure. However, the large deficit numbers the U.S. and other nations are accruing will make it very difficult to weather the next economic storm. And there will always be another storm.”

“It seems as if there are always those who tear at the fabric of institutions that provide the stability we all count on.”

“Oh yes!” exclaimed Christine, “From the very beginning there have been two primary competing camps of economic theory. Economist John Maynard Keynes was in one camp and Milton Friedman in the other. Each has had their followers since the 1940’s. Keynes was one of the architects of the IMF.  It is among other institutions that the world leans on for peace and financial stability.  His macroeconomic theories are the basis for liberal capitalism and have been adopted by almost all capitalist governments.”

“What’s the main difference between the two theories?” I asked.

“In basic form Milton Friedman was a supply sider who felt markets will level themselves. Capitalism will ride booms and bust and occasionally just crash, but private market forces of supply and demand will eventually cause the market to find some equilibrium. Government should not intervene.”

“Hmmmm,” I said. “I don’t like that model. I lost 40% of my invested retirement funds in the 2008 financial meltdown. President Clinton should have never teamed up with Newt Gingrich in repealing the Glass-Steagall Act.”

“Right,” said Christine. “That act was put in place in 1933 after the Great Depression market collapse. It separated commercial banks from investment banks. The repeal of Glass-Steagall allowed those banks to take deposits and invest them in risky derivatives.”

I started waving my hands around again, “It was pure greed on the part of banks!  I had a front row seat selling real estate then. Mortgage lenders were offering interest only loans at 110% of the value of the property. They charged big upfront fees and then sold the loans as derivatives. Investors bought the derivatives thinking the collateral was safe American real estate.

“Yes,” Christine replied. “And when America gets a cold, the world gets the flu.”

“America got more than a cold,” I said using Christine’s analogy. “It took almost 7 years for my portfolio to recover its value.” Had there been well regulated banking laws in place to prevent this meltdown, I figure my net worth would be double what it is now. This really hurt the country. The bankers made millions of dollars. Some of the CEOs got $20 million dollar bonuses. The rest of us got caught in their web.”

“So, Christine,” I asked, “Was the repeal of the Glass Steagall Act a rejection of Keynesian macroeconomics and an embrace of Milton Friedman’s Supply Side economics?”

“Yes, and the recovery employed by President Obama was an application of Keynesian macroeconomics. Just as it was employed by FDR after the Great Depression,” she replied.

I remarked, “There is saying from WW II that “There are no atheists in foxholes.” I guess another saying would be “There are no Supply Siders during a depression.”

“Not so,” Christine replied. “The Supply Siders are always there.” Both in the Great Depression of the 1930’s and the Great Recession starting in 2008 there were the Supply Siders who argued that any institution should be allowed to fail including banks, the auto industry and the insurance industry – meaning even people with savings accounts could lose their money.  The supply siders see opportunity in those failures.”

“So why do governments do it?” I asked. “Why do they lower taxes and force government to borrow money to pay for them?”

“There is a sugar high for the economy from lowering taxes,” she replied. But it is typically short lived, and the data is pretty sketchy on the longer-term stimulus to the economy. “It’s called the “trickle down” theory.. The reduced tax rates benefit the wealthy the most. The spending by the wealthy is supposed to trickle down through the economy.”

“So, the investor class cashes in, but the country is left with a huge deficit to pay,” I remarked. “This I know. If my government had not bailed out the banks and industry, I would never have recovered in time to save enough to retire. And we would not be sailing on this boat today.”

Christine replied “Your investments were not the only thing that recovered. The auto companies repaid the bail-out money and thrived. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac who were bailed out to the tune of $180 billion, paid it all back and are now a cash cow to the U.S treasury. $88 billion was added back into the U.S. Treasury so far.  Additional billions are still being added each year.”

I decided to get up on my soapbox again, “It frosts me when I see greed triumph and tear down my country. The combined policies of past six presidents created the largest, most prosperous, middle class the world has ever seen. FDR created Social Security, the Federal Housing Administration and the 30-year mortgage. Before that almost no one could afford to buy a home. Truman integrated the military, spreading prosperity. Eisenhower created the interstate highway system investing in the country and seeding future prosperity…..,”

“I like IKE!” Christine jumped in repeating Eisenhower’s campaign slogan.

I wasn’t done yet, ….“Kennedy and the space program. Johnson and Medicare. Richard Nixon signed equal housing laws further adding to the middle class. All these Keynesian macroeconomic programs make me proud of my government. So, it really got to me in the 1980’s when Ronald Reagan campaigned on the slogan ‘Government is not the answer. Government is the problem.’ A huge disservice to this country. He sowed a lasting cynicism that is still hurting the country today.” Now, I yield my soapbox”.

Music from a boat next to ours floated across the water. It was a vintage Sonny and Cher tune.

“The beat goes on”, she said.

“The beat goes on”, I replied.

Roll play

The Norfolk Southern Railway coal export piers were on our port side as we rounded the final bend towards the skyline of downtown Norfolk. I offered Christine the wheel of the boat. She jumped right in and took command. I watched her pilot our ship and saw she had it.   I sat back and pointed to the coal export piers receding in our wake and asked, “Care to role play with me?”

“What part do I play? Christine replied.

“You are Madame Venture Capitalist looking to invest in the energy business. Here is my pitch. I propose to open coal mines in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Ohio. Mostly surface strip mines. I will build a rail system to transport the coal to power plants and to export terminals 300-500 miles away. The coal will load on ships and travel 12,000 miles to power stations overseas. Questions?”

Madame Venture Capitalist replied. “How much do you pay coal miners?

“Average $60k a year,” I replied.

Madame VC: “And do you supply benefits like health insurance?”

Me: “Yes. We pay into lifetime health insurance and pension fund.”

Madame VC: “Lifetime? Isn’t mining very dangerous? Many of them get black lung disease?”

Me: “True. But if the insurance pension fund runs dry, the federal government steps in and funds it.  It is called The Promise. It’s an exchange for providing a stable energy source.”

Madame VC: “What are the environmental costs? Don’t these mines create a big toxic mess?

Me: “Yes. Mining obliterates the area. Chemicals like mercury, arsenic, sulfur and uranium drain into the waterways for decades. But all we must do is put up a bond that says we will clean up the area. We clean the best we can, then get an inspector to sign off and we get our bond money back.”

Madame VC: “So, you transport the coal by train and by ships. That’s a lot of power to generate power? Seems inefficient.”

Me: “It is. But the consumers will pay the cost.”

Madame VC: “The power plants also generate air pollution.”

Me: “Yes, the smokestacks emit arsenic, lead, mercury, nickel, vanadium, beryllium, cadmium, barium, chromium. You get the picture. But we don’t have to worry about the cost of those. Not on our balance sheet.”

Madame VC: “What about the ash generated by the power plants?”

Me: “We store it. Pretty much forever. Of course forever means it leaks into the waterways.”

Madame VC: “What about the Co2 generated by the power plant? I read that the build up of Co2 is contributing to the climate changing.”

Me: “Again. Not our cost. Not on our balance sheet.”

Madame VC: “To summarize your proposal. Your business model extracts coal, transports it, and burns it to generate power. The Full Cycle Accounting of this business plan does not include the full health cost of the miners, does not include the real cost of maintaining a clean mine site, or the full cost of restoring the mine site. It does not include the cost of pollution to the air and water. So, your business profits from the upside and the tax payers pay for the downsides. Sounds like a good return on the dollar.”

Me: “Yes, the sacred dollar.”

The spectator fleet of boats had arrived in the harbor between the cityscapes of Norfolk and Portsmouth, Virginia. Christine went to the bow of the boat to take in the waterfront panorama. Thousands of spectators were crowding the festival to watch the parade of boats pass by. Horns and whistles were blowing. Tugboats spouted big water plumes from their firefighting cannons. Tall ships, with crews in the rigging and bands playing on deck added to the cacophony in the harbor. Everyone waving to everyone!

Lunch at Anchor

We dropped anchor in Crawford Bay in order where to watch the activity along the Norfolk waterfront. I set up the cockpit tables for lunch and passed Christine some caprese sandwiches. From the galley I produced a tray of olives, cut carrots, radishes and some spicy pickles. We sat opposite each other and took in the view of the Norfolk.

“Norfolk is a beautiful city,” I said. “It’s going to be facing some serious challenges due to the changing climate.”

“Most areas around the world are in the same boat, some are flooding, some are drying up, some areas are getting hit with super storms they have never have experienced before,” replied Christine.

“This city is dealing with continually rising water. It some areas a regular high tide on a nice day is flooding properties. I worry that people are taking 30-year mortgages on properties that will be uninhabitable at the end of the loan term,” I said.

Christine remarked, “There is a financial case to change the way we generate energy and the way we construct buildings.”

“Explain the building construction part.” I said.

Christine replied, “Even though the way we generate energy gets all the attention for adding greenhouse gases to the biosphere, it’s only 35% of the story. Population growth and the building boom will add an area the size of New York City every 40 months doubling the world structures footprint by the year 2060.”

“It will take a lot of energy to build and power all that. They better be net-zero buildings, or the planet is going to get really hot!” I exclaimed. “Is there a financial incentive to build that way?”

Christine answered, “Until there is a universal agreement that this needs to be done, it is a big challenge. Bill Gates’ investment fund Breakthrough Energy Ventures is teaming up with the European Commission to help companies solve these issues. There are many others working in that direction.”

“My country is not leading on this,” I said, “We pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement.”

Christine cheered me up, “Yes, but it’s a global market for transportation and energy. Companies are bringing energy efficient vehicles and energy production solutions to satisfy the demand in the 185 countries that did sign the agreement. Due to market forces, the U.S. will follow along anyway.  As you said on the phone, those green paper rectangles with presidents’ pictures on them are sacred even if the environment is not.”

“What about financial incentives to keep other countries from destroying essential forests like the Amazon rainforest? 20% of the planet’s oxygen comes from there. The new president of Brazil says he will allow it to be forested. Can the world banking system establish a monetary value on a forest and create a fund to pay them to preserve the rainforest?” I queried.

“Chaos from climate change is the challenge of this century,” replied Christine.

I replied “Let me challenge you. There are climate models that show we may be heading to a 4 degree raise in global temps by the year 2100. That’s in the life span of millennials and their children. At 4% warming we may reach a tipping point releasing huge amounts of carbon and methane from the artic permafrost causing a caustic environmental feedback loop. The displacement of millions of people due to flooding and extreme heat would cause a financial disaster for the global economy. The state of Florida would be swamped up to Tallahassee. Washington D.C. and New York City would be under water. And that pretty city we are looking at would be gone.”

“Pretty grim,” remarked Christine.

“So,” I continued, “I noticed on the IMF webpage there is a Capacity Development Agreement with the European Commission to deal with exogenous shocks. Meaning shocks from outside the organism or developing from external factors. Would preventing the displacement of millions of people and loss of billions of green paper rectangles with presidents’ pictures be an exogenous shock?

She replied “That reminds me of a quote from H.G Wells. ‘Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.’ Would you like to convince your Congress and President to step up to the challenge?”

“I’m afraid the pockets of my country’s politicians are lined by mining and fossil fuel corporations who can support them anonymously with unlimited sacred cash. It’s called the Citizens United Ruling.  The only thing us citizens can do to combat it is to vote. And the big corporations do everything they can to gerrymander the vote in their favor.”

The Sail Home

We finished lunch and I noticed the boat had swung on her anchor. The tide was running in our favor for the sail back down the Elizabeth River. And we are going fly back down the river! The wind came up to a perfect 15 knots from the west. I started the diesel engine to motor us out of the anchorage. Christine worked the mainsail halyard and we raised the sail. I could tell she enjoyed the activity after our lunch.

We let out the headsail and I shut down the diesel. The engine noise was replaced by the satisfying sound of the boats three hulls picking up speed down the river. I was standing next to Christine at the wheel. We both had our hands on the wheel. I quickly realized she was not about to yield piloting our ship to me. This woman is used to being in charge. I let go and adjusted the sails to the course Christine set. Looking aft, I saw that we were picking up speed. Where we once had three wakes from the three hulls, we now had just two wakes. The windward hull was now out of the water. We were in perfect trim.

“Christine, you are one of the few women in positions of power and leadership around the world.”

Yes, it’s raining men,” she replied sardonically.

“I grew up with three sisters. My mother was ahead of her time in the 1960’s. She was smart, articulate, well informed and had a career. She passed her intellectual curiosity on to all of us.”

“I would have loved to meet her.”

“In a way she is here now.”

Christine smiled, “Your mother would like that I and others have shown that by bringing women into the fold the world economy would benefit from their talents, skill, perspectives and ideas. Bring women in boosts GDP and leads to higher wages for all. One study shows that adding one more woman in senior management or a corporate board adds a return on assets by 10 basis points.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Women on banking boards result in greater financial resiliency and stability. They don’t bet the house! They require larger capital reserves to ride out rough periods than men do.”

“You mean like not loaning 110% of the value of a property?!”

“Good example,” replied Christine.

We were really flying now. We made the bend in the river passing the coal export terminal. Christine set a new course and I adjusted the sails to her new course. Soon we were passing the International Shipping Terminals where we had to alter course to dodge one of the huge ships. Our windward hull was still flying, and the leeward hull was kicking up spray as we approached the Naval Base. A security boat with its blue light bar flashing came roaring out to defend its territory around the aircraft carriers. We made the entrance to Willoughby Bay and jibed the sails for the final leg back to Rebel Marina.

Christine had a broad grin on her face that you only get from a perfect sail. “Well done!” she said.

“Bravo!” I replied.

We put the boat away and I drove Christine back to the Old Cavalier Hotel. We didn’t touch the split of Champagne. Who needs Champagne when you are already high?

In the lobby of the hotel I turned to Christine, “Thank you for spending your precious time with me. You can’t invest time and get more time in return. You can’t build or manufacture more time. Time is the rarest of all things. You chose to spend your limited time with me today. I’m honored.”

Christine leaned in to kiss me on the cheek, “It was an honor to be with you today.”

We parted and I went home to my wife. She looked at me and saw that I was glowing.

She smiled, “You know that hall pass was not free. You owe me a two-week cruise on the boat.”

Pirate Radio

Once we were on the air our radio station frequency would wander around the upper end of the FM dial and sometimes just fall right off the dial.

After the prosecuting attorney finished his case against me it was my attorney’s turn to defend me in the United States v Jesse Douglas. The charge? Operating a Pirate Radio station.

My attorney began, your honor and ladies and gentlemen of the jury. As you hear the testimony and read the case before you, I hope you will consider the amount of time that has passed since the defendant committed his crimes. We realize the punishment for this crime is up to 5 years in jail and a maximum of a $25,000 fine. The defense points to the fact that every seven to ten years all cells in the human body are completely replaced. This crime occurred more than 30 years earlier. So, the defendant Jesse Douglas has no connection with those cells that committed this crime and is therefore innocent. I looked at my attorney. I’m toast.

So began my trial for the crime of Pirate Radio. Let me explain how I got here. In the late 1960’s I would spend summers at my grandparents’ home in River Edge, New Jersey just across the Hudson River from New York City where I listened to Wolfman Jack at WNBC in New York. My grandfather had an old tube type radio that rested on the bed stand. It was about as big as a bread box and made of mahogany with a beautiful dial labeled with AM frequencies of 55 kHz to 1600 kHz. The dial had a warm amber glow when you turned the room lights down low. This was before FM radio.

I brought the radio back home to Alexandria, Virginia where at night in my darkened room I tuned into worlds far away. When the sun goes down AM radio signals bounce off the earth’s ionosphere and travel great distances. I still listened to Wolfman Jack at WNBC in New York. I listened to WLS in Chicago, the first station in the United States to play the Beatles. It amazed me that at nighttime the power of WLS reached 38 states. From Northwest Washington D.C. just up the river from me came WRC and The Joy Boys. WRC was where Willard Scott who later became Ronald McDonald and the NBC-TV Today Show weather man launched his career. His partner Ed Walker who was blind had a variety of character voices. They would improvise skits for hours and sounded like they were having the kind of fun I wanted to have.

I was always interested in how things work. Particularly electronics like tape recorders and radios. My dad gave me some small reel to reel recorders that had been used in the newspaper business to record interviews. I tore them apart and rebuilt them as an electronic organ for a school project. The assignment was to make a musical instrument. Other kids made drums out of oatmeal containers or banjo’s out of cigars boxes. My organ was crude, but it made synthesized sounds that approximated a music scale.

I later rebuilt it to bug a tent where some girls I knew were camping out in their parents’ back yard. That’s the first time I also learned how to build a small transmitter. It was fun listening to the girls play truth or dare. The girls dared each other to run around the block naked. Us boys were ready. We hid in the bushes at the corner. The neighborhood was dead silent at 1 in the morning. That silence was broken by the unbelievably high pitch sound of young girls shrieking as we jumped out of the bushes. It scared the hell out of us. Everybody ran in different directions.

I didn’t have much of a plan at the end of high school, but I saw a course description offered at Northern Virginia Community College. Introduction to Broadcast Radio. I was in. The course was taught by two guys working in commercial radio. One guy was the morning host at WWDC in Washington. The other guy whose name was Bob worked at WOL in D.C. He was called Bobbis. Bobbis eventually became my housemate where we had the Pirate Radio station.

After several months of hanging around radio stations I decided this was it. I wanted in. At the time there were two required broadcast licenses you needed to be on the air. There was a 3rd class license that allowed you to be a radio announcer. Then there was a 1st class broadcast engineers license that allowed you to be on air and to work on commercial transmitters. I decided to go for the 1st class engineer’s license.

There was a technical school in Sarasota Florida that specialized in broadcast engineering. I was self-studied in electronic circuitry. Heathkits were big with electronic nerds back then. I had a Heathkit that taught circuitry and I learned how to calculate voltage, current, amps, wattage and resistance. What interested me most was RF. Radio frequency. I wondered how on the transmitter end do you generate a frequency, attach an audio signal to it and on the other end have a radio grab that frequency and strip the audio signal off it to get music?  It’s called the superheterodyne principle and it still fascinates me. So, I enrolled in the Radio Engineering Institute.

REI was housed in the Old Will Rogers Theater in mid-70’s sleepy Sarasota. I had a dorm room with the other students behind the balcony on the second floor of the theater. On Sunday we woke to the Southern Baptist congregation that used the theater for their service. There was no sleeping through it. There was fire and brimstone coming from theater. I would sometimes slip into the balcony to catch my dose of dogma. “The dark stain of Islam will sink in the wake of the ship of Christianity” the minister exalted as he pointed to the heavens. The Munich massacre of the Israeli Olympic team by Palestinian terrorist was still fresh. I guessed then that religions are going to fight each other until our sun is a cool burnt ember. Science will settle this dispute.

School was intense. I teamed up with a guy name Marty from Ohio. His family owned a radio station in Canton. We made flash cards with the circuitry formulas. We carried them everywhere and we chanted the formulas as we made our way to the beach each day after school. We made up prose like this. In Electronics Please Read Instructions to Repair. The first letter of each word represented part of a circuitry formula. P equals power. R equals resistance and so on. I can still do those formulas from that experience. The goal was to pass the Federal Communications Commission 1st class engineering test. We did.

I headed back to the D.C. area and immediately got a job at WPRW in Manassas, Virginia. And I fell back in with the radio guys. I was now one of them. Soon I moved on to WINX in Rockville, Maryland where I did the six to midnight shift. I was having fun and getting paid. Not much but still getting paid a whole dollar an hour over minimum wage.  I knew many of the guys who were on air at other stations in the same time slot. We would talk to each other on the phone while we were on the air and listen to each other do jokes and bits between the records. If you were driving around the D.C. beltway switching from radio station to radio station it would not be unusual for you to hear the same joke in succession on each station. Shameless!

The meager pay forced us radio heads to rent a house together. I found a house high up on Beacon Hill overlooking Alexandria and the Potomac River. There were three of us in a four-bedroom house in a suburban blue collar neighborhood called Groveton. There was Bobbis, the Italian American from Baltimore. And Sky King, the heavy-set Virginia redneck and me Jesse Douglas, a skinny guy just out of high school. All of us were employed on air at radio stations around the area. Sky King and I held 1st class engineers’ licenses. This is pertinent for the court case as we embarked on building a Pirate Radio station in the house.

An engineer friend tipped us off that NBC was rebuilding their radio studios in Northwest D.C. He said we could have any of the old broadcasting equipment they were tossing. We loaded up vans full of 1950’s mixing boards and audio racks. Reel to reels and huge turntables that were as big as washing machines. Our living room décor was early American broadcasting. We built a broadcasting studio and now we needed a transmitter. Sky King and I went to work building one from a schematic. Since we were scrimping, we didn’t buy high quality components. There is a huge difference in components that have a 1% tolerance from those that have a 10% tolerance especially when you start adding them together. Once we were on the air our radio station frequency would wander around the upper end of the FM dial and sometimes just fall right off the dial. This was due to changing temperature and humidity. No matter. We billed our selves as the wandering radio station. We ran the transmitter antenna way up a tall oak tree high atop Beacon Hill. The effect was impressive for a low power F.M. transmitter. Our station signal covered the George Washington Parkway into Alexandria and across the river just into D.C. Not wise, as the Federal Communications office is pretty much on the riverfront.

We named the station WBKS, South Alexandria. We played anything we wanted. The neighborhood started to tune in. We were naive enough to give out the station phone number for music request. If we ran out of groceries, we would play your favorite tune if you brought us a gallon of milk. Soon we were getting brownies and all kinds of food.

To cut our expenses even more we rented out the fourth bedroom to a friend of mine named Penny. She had long brown hair and had a mystical air about her. She was not in the radio world. From the start there was friction. She didn’t care for all this male radio bravado. Bad things started happening to Sky King. He developed food poisoning and was admitted to the hospital. He recovered and was back on the air at WWDC but then ran his car into an iron beam that extended out the back of a truck bed on the beltway. The beam went right through his windshield missing Sky Kings head.

Sky King was very superstitious. He thought Penny was a witch and had cursed him. He and Bobbis went for a drive on the GW parkway to talk about it. They were listening to our pirate radio station. Sky King cued up KC and the Sunshine Bands album on the station before they left. I came home while they were out. I couldn’t stand K.C so I put on an old Fats Waller tune called The Girl I Left Behind Me. Sky King was sitting with Bobbis in Sky Kings freshly repaired car overlooking the Potomac River along the parkway. He heard the Fats Waller tune and blew his temper. Sky King yelled and punched the air. He missed and hit his new windshield. It shattered with a lighting crack across it. See Bobbis! She’s a witch! Somehow attributing all his bad luck to Penny.

The next week Sky King was at work on the air when he said one of the seven dirty words comedian George Carlin joked you cannot say on the air. Sky King was fired. Somehow that brought scrutiny to our pirate radio station. Or it might have been the Christian radio station that we trampled across when our frequency drifted.

The jury heard the evidence presented by the Christian radio station attorney. How instead of listening to the lord’s word the listeners were subjected to Shake Your Booty, Sympathy for the Devil and Fats Waller. The jury couldn’t help themselves. They tried to control it, but they snickered. Even the judge couldn’t contain a glint in his eyes. My attorney didn’t dispute the station and that as licensed engineers we should have known better. But she emphasized the low power and short term the station was on the air. And she noted no one has claimed financial damages due to lost advertising revenue.

The jury returned the next day with a verdict. Guilty. On sentencing the Judge said the 5-year prison term was too harsh for what was clearly young male stupidity. He suspended the prison term and imposed a thousand dollar fine. Then commented he was a Fats Waller fan.


He even said your sex life will be enhanced by being a vegetarian. Then Dr. Jerry said there was a downside to being vegetarian and that the has found a way to overcome it.

I worked for a small technology company in Norfolk, Virginia. One day the owner of the company announces he hired a corporate motivational speaker to give a talk on team building and better customer relations. The speakers name was Dr. Jerry or something. Dr. Jerry at first focused on good communication practices for working with customers and each other in the company. Practices like being an active listener. Acknowledging what the person said by repeating it back to them. And then responding with your thoughts. We often assume the other person is in sync with our thoughts only to find you are in different worlds. Like this.

First person: My wife and I were at the game this weekend.

You: I was there! I can’t believe the Hokies won!

First person: Not the Hokies! The Hoos playing Duke!

You: Oh. I was at the Hokies game. They played the Blue Devils.

You can see where this conversation could have ended up as an Abbot and Castello routine. Hoos on first?

Dr. Jerry talked about being in the moment. Every moment. When you are talking with someone, be present. Don’t think about the future or what happened an hour ago. As you work with another person thru a dense contract or a technical issue find the joy in the moment.  Is there any comedy in this moment? Any absurdity? Any way to make this so-called work turn into play? People start creating a language of two as they work with each other. The language of two builds a larger lexicon as time goes on. This creates a bond.

Dr. Jerry said this works for all relationships.  He said there will be conflicts and differences of opinions but acknowledging what the other person said goes a long way to resolving problems. Then Dr. Jerry took an abrupt turn.

Dr Jerry said he looks at things holistically and that means staying present in your own body. By staying healthy you are being a good team member, whether in a marriage or as a coworker. Dr Jerry said he is a vegetarian and touted the benefits as having more stable energy throughout the day. He even said your sex life will be enhanced by being a vegetarian. Then Dr. Jerry said there was a downside to being vegetarian and that the has found a way to overcome it.

Dr. Jerry opened a box and started handing out small bottles to everyone in the auditorium. I received my bottle and looked at the label. BEANO. The anti-gas treatment you can take before a meal.

I’ll have to hand it to Dr. Jerry. We found the absurdity in the moment. The whole company shared a code word that bound us together. Whenever there was a problem to overcome, we could reach for one of the many bottles that stood on the desk around the office and say BEANO!

Throwing My Weight Around

My “Spidey sense” says something is about to happen. I paced the hallway outside the brokers office door. I heard some raised voices and then a loud crash.

Master Ed. A Tai Chi master lived and taught Tia Chi in a Baltimore row house. It was a peaceful sanctum with hardwood floors, exposed brick and mature bonsai plants. Master Ed was huge. He looked like an Irish Catholic sumo wrestler. It was amazing to see how powerful and graceful he was.

So, I was his student.  From the start I arrived without wearing my right arm prosthesis thinking my right hook would not be useful in learning Tia Chi.  I learned to feel my center of gravity and to feel the weight of my extremities as they moved through the motions of “The Cat.”  Master Ed asked me to wear my hook to the next session.

When I arrived wearing my prosthesis Master Ed ask me to remove it. I did, and Master Ed took it and then held it up to his arm so that my right arm prosthesis was parallel down the length of his right arm. He began to move through “The Cat” feeling the weight of the hook at the end of the arm.  As he spun on his own axis the inertia forced the mass of the hook outward. He felt the arm shudder as the elbow joint stopped the range the arm would bend. He spun again and used that force to impact the hook on some padded bars used in sparring. He smiled.

Master Ed asked me to put the arm back on. Then he and I went to “push hands” a two-person exercise where each pushed the hands of the other testing and deflecting the weight and balance of the opponent. Master Ed showed me how I could throw the mass of the stainless-steel hook. He showed me how to turn in any direction throwing the mass of the metal unit while keeping a calm center of balance.

After most classes Master Ed would walk us down to a corner neighborhood bar. We got to be regulars there all decked out in our black Tia Chi uniforms. We were a bunch of guys lined up at the bar drinking Heinekens dressed in black Gi’s. Even though it was a rough area at night in 1970’s Baltimore somehow we never had a problem.

26 years later I am in my real estate office when a couple comes in. They are not my clients. They seem disturbed and ask for their agent. I watched them closely as their agent lead them into the managing brokers office and the door closed. My “Spidey sense” says something is about to happen. I paced the hallway outside the brokers office door. I heard some raised voices and then a loud crash.

I pushed open the door to see the agent had been slammed against the plate window and had blood coming down her face. My broker was reeling back in her chair and looming over her was a very large sumo wrestler of a woman who had grabbed a long gold pen from its stand on the brokers desk. The women’s arm was raised in the air using the gold pen as a dagger, her back to me. With a calmness and no fear, I swung the mass of my stainless-steel hook and caught the neck of the women knocking her off balance. She tripped backward towards me. I deflected her weight. As her husband came towards me, he eyed my hook. Hookie! he yelled. I served in Viet Nam! You people can’t treat us this way Hookie!

By that time others were in the room and the man and his wife backed out of the room. The receptionist had called the police and they quickly escorted the couple into two separate police cars. I don’t need to explain why the couple was there. Nothing they did could be justified. The woman would spend some time in prison. I spent some time thinking about my time in Baltimore with Ed, the Irish Catholic Sumo Tia Chi Master.

Down with the Civic Ass

Our signs were a mix from slogans we had seen over the years. Like “In your guts, you know he’s nuts.” That was from the opponents of presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. (Maybe this one should have been recycled for the 2016 campaign.)

It was 1968. The world was protesting. Martin Luther King led the civil rights march on Washington and changed the world. The anti-war protest at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago cost the Democrats the White House. There was Flower Power and The Black Panthers.

And there was the injustice of the Riverside Estates Civic Association cut to Halloween Trick or Treat hours!

My three sisters and I had learned a lot by tagging along with our parents. My mom was way ahead of her time in the 1960’s.  She was a campaign manager to elect the Justice of the Peace in Fairfax County.  She worked on congressional and senator campaigns. In 1968 she had us kids stuffing envelopes at Democratic Party National Headquarters in Washington when Hubert Humphrey ran against Richard Nixon. Nixon wouldn’t debate Humphrey on T.V. so my mom came up with the idea to dress someone as Nixon in a chicken suit. She alerted the T.V. stations and the newspapers and we went over to Republican Headquarters with our chicken Nixon and had him lay an egg. It was a paper Mache balloon with the face of Spiro Agnew, Nixon’s running mate on it. That was great fun and an education for us kids.

What we learned was we could fight the power. This Civic Association rule limiting Trick or Treat time to 7 p.m. would not stand! We organized our friends who were more than happy to join the cause. We made protest signs. The plan was to hold a protest march at the entrance to the neighborhood right when the adults were getting home from work. Then we would march to the home of the civic association president.

Our signs were a mix from slogans we had seen over the years. Like “In your guts, you know he’s nuts.” That was from the opponents of presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. (Maybe this one should have been recycled for the 2016 campaign.) Other signs said “Fight the Power.” And “Learn Baby! Learn!” Each sign had the tag line DOWN WITH THE CIVIC ASS! We were kids running this revolution.  But we didn’t know the correct way to abbreviate the word association.

So we marched to the home of the civic association president each with a sign that read DOWN WITH THE CIVIC ASS! We brought truth to power. We fought the man. And we won! Trick or Treat hours were extended to 9:30 p.m. Viva La revolution!

Unarmed man

It was the 1980’s and I was dating a girl who lived with her parents on the North End of Virginia Beach. Their home was like the Kennedy compound. It was more than one home surrounded by a brick garden wall. I never quite knew where I stood with her parents. They spoke with a sophisticated southern drawl and were very protective of their close multi generational family. Outsiders were regarded with some muted amusement.

I said my hellos to the mother Mary and picked up my girlfriend also named Mary and went out for the summer evening. We returned late and everyone had gone to bed. Mary and I went swimming in the pool. I wear a right-arm prosthesis and remove it to go swimming. I stashed my arm under Mary’s bed. We didn’t swim long as I had to get up at 5:30 the next morning to make a meeting.

Shaking off the morning fog with a shave and shower I towel off and reach to put on my prosthesis. In a literal sense pulling myself together. Crap! I left my arm under Mary’s bed! It was 6:30 and I couldn’t wait. I called Mary’s house.

“Hello?” said the voice. “Mary!” I said. “I left my arm under your bed.”  There was a dead pause. Then a southern drawl from Mary’s mother. “You must want young Mary.” Young Mary comes on the line and she tells me to hit the intercom button outside and she will let me in.

I speed over there and push the intercom button and hear “Hello?” I still can’t tell the difference between Mary’s mother and Mary’s voice. I say “It’s me and I am unarmed.”

The muted amusement had worn off and we didn’t last much longer.

Know When to Fold Them

David had just completed his pilot’s license and had never flown this distance before or into the mountains of West Virginia. We were both in our early twenties. Sometimes youth just prevails.

We were a big deal. Or so they thought at WDTV in Clarksburg, West Virginia. My friend David Drew, which was his on-air name and me, known on-air as Jesse Douglas landed in our rented single engine plane at the Clarksburg airport. The T.V. stations main office was at the airport and the station manager named Dusty greeted us as we came in the door.

Dusty had placed an ad for on-air talent in Broadcasting Magazine. It’s a trade mag for the industry that everyone follows to see what other gigs are out there. David was working on-air part time at WPRW in Manassas, Virginia just outside Washington, D.C. I was working on-air full time at WINX in Rockville, Maryland. Both of these were radio gigs. Neither one of us had any T.V. experience. No matter. David saw the ads and said let’s go outside the D.C. market and get some television experience. So we put on our 1970’s wide lapel three-piece pin stripped suits and flew to West by God Virginia.

David had just completed his pilot’s license and had never flown this distance before or into the mountains of West Virginia. We were both in our early twenties. Sometimes youth just prevails. We got hired on the spot. It turned out Dusty the manager had no television experience either. He was married to the station owners’ daughter. Dusty had been the sales manager for a car dealership the station manager owned. When the owner bought the station he needed someone to sell advertising and run the station. So Dusty pretty much turned running the station over to us that day. We looked like big deals from D.C.

We set up shop at the station a month later. We had no idea what we had bitten off. The actual station was located 15 miles away from Clarksburg high on top of Fisher Mountain. Most days it required the stations four wheel drive Blazer to climb the rock strung trail to the top. The building itself was a huge World War II surplus corrugated metal structure that had been hauled up there piece by piece. The studio, the mixing board, and camera equipment were vintage late 1950’s with a smattering of newer video tape machines wired into the mix.

David took over the production side of things. He edited the station promos and paid advertising. I was the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. World News Anchor. Not that there was very much news to report. I quickly found out this was a pretty sleepy place. We were given the green light to hire some on-air talent. Again from Broadcasting Magazine came a guy name Roger fresh from the University of Pittsburg. He had a little college radio experience. He was a sports fan so we asked him if he could do sports. We didn’t have enough money to hire a weather person so we had Roger double as the weather guy. He was a big outgoing husky guy and was game for anything.

We wanted a female news anchor to toss story lines with me on the 6 and 11 p.m. news program. We hired Linda, a petite recent college grad from Uniontown, Pennsylvania. So that was our WDTV “Big 5” News Team. No television experience at all. But we had all seen it done on T.V!

In the mornings we would spread out with a couple of locals hired as camera men. Roger would scrape up footage from a high school football game. I would cover a coal miners’ strike. Or a glass workers strike or a brick makers union strike. It seemed there was always a strike somewhere. Linda would do a story from the science lab at the University of West Virginia.

We spent the afternoons editing the videos and then went on the air at 6 p.m. The 6 p.m. newscast was like dress rehearsal for the 11 p.m. newscast where we pretty much did the same show all over again. My friend David became disillusioned pretty quickly. He spent his days editing bad car dealer ads and then our less than thrilling stories from the field. So he quit and left me in West Virginia.

I stayed but I was not happy. I found I hated being on T.V.  Radio was way more fun. I wanted to go behind the scenes and produce. Maybe we could make this more interesting. So, I placed an ad in Broadcasting Magazine for an anchor to replace me. We got a demo tape from a guy in his 50’s that had a Mr. Broadcasting air about him. His name was Lyle Richards. He had been a news reporter in Pittsburg years earlier but hadn’t worked in T.V. for a few years. He worked selling home insurance at his wife’s insurance agency. He was going through a mid-life crisis and wanted back in the game. If you remember Ted Baxter from The Mary Tyler Moore Show, that was Lyle. Perfect hair puffed up and vain as hell.

We hired him. During the news I sat in my producer’s chair, headset on calling the shots to the camera guys on the set and to the guy running the mixing board. Each night became routine. We would end each newscast with Lyle and Linda doing 30 seconds of what I call happy talk. Then roll music and credits. The pompous ego of Lyle Richards was driving me crazy. Everything was beneath his standards. That included young me. I was bored, restless and not making much money.

The station owner also owned an easy listening radio station. It was an automated station meaning no one was there on the air. It was just a studio with tape machines called carts playing easy listening music and commercials.  The owner needed someone to program the station so in addition to my producer duties at “Big 5” I made a few extra dollars as the voice of “Feeling Good” radio. Every couple of days I would run over there and shuffle the machine music mix of Barry Manilow and The Carpenters’ among other bland background noise. Every 15 minutes my voice would boom out “Feeling Good!” on 93.7 F.M.

Anarchy was breeding in me. Was anyone watching my T.V. station?  Was anyone listening to “Feeling Good?” I never really knew but wanted to find out. The next day was Halloween. It seemed like a good time to mix it up. I used the stations 4 wheel drive truck to pick up some bales of hay at a farm stand. I also picked up some tall dried cornstalks some gourds and a very large pumpkin. I drove all this over Linda’s apartment. “What’s all this? She asked as I carved a Jack O Lantern on her kitchen table. “Does this look like Lyle?” I grinned. We need to add some corn silk for hair” she giggled. “I’ll get some glue.”

On Halloween I parked the 4x 4 at the bottom of the mountain for someone else to drive up to the station. I loaded the pumpkin and hay bales in the hatchback of my Volkswagen Rabbit. By now I had outfitted the front wheel drive car with oversized studded tires. That car could climb a tree. I figured I might need my VW to get away. This may be my last night at the station.

In the corner of the news set I constructed a fall cornucopia scene. Hay bales first, then a scattering of gourds and dried cornstalks. The centerpiece was the large Lyle Richards look alike Jack O Lantern. The camera guy and I set the lighting and a camera on it. On the mixing board we superimposed the WDTV Big 5 logo over it. All day long we used this scene as our station I.D. I recorded a new audio track using funeral dirge organ music and my best Dracula voice. “You’re watching WDTV, channel 5, Clarksburg, West Virginia. BIG FIVE.” And then let out a Dracula maniacal laugh! No one called the station. Not even Dusty the manager.

The 6 p.m. newscast went fine. No glitches. Lyle looked at the cornucopia scene but not too closely. The 11 p.m. newscast preceded the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. So I figure our audience was highest then. It had to be. The only bar and restaurant in Clarksburg closed at 8:30 p.m. There was hardly a soul on the streets past 9 p.m. They had to be doing something.

As the 11p.m. news cast was about to end I moved from my producers chair and tapped the guy running the mixing board on the shoulder. I told him I wanted to run the board. Happy Talk was coming up. Each camera on the set was displayed on a bank of monitors in front of the mixing board. The guy on the mixing board decides which shot goes out over the air. Right now that guy was me.

Over the headset I asked one of cameramen to give me a very tight shot of the Jack O Lantern. I saw the Jack O Lantern appear big on one of the monitors. We had two other cameras. One was for a big wide shot of the whole set. The other was to focus on the two news anchors. Happy Talk time. As Lyle turned to Linda I used the mixing board to superimpose the Jack O Lantern head in place of Lyle’s head. Out of the corner of Linda’s eye she caught sight of the on-air monitor we have on the set. She belted out a laugh. Lyle caught on. He was incensed! He got up and I shouted into the headset. “Camera one, follow him. Even if he goes off set!” “I always hated this guy” the camera guy replied and followed Lyle off set. I had locked the production room door and Lyle was now shouting at the door as I ran the news team theme music and rolled credits. We rolled into the Tonight Show with Lyle pounding on the door.

The production room hotline rang. It was Dusty. “That was the funniest freak’n thing I’ve ever seen! I hated that guy since you hired him!” My heart sank a bit. He must be drinking. I’ve got to go back to D.C. I can’t even get fired from this place. I’m wasting my time. I told Dusty I’m done. He told me we would talk tomorrow. In the mean time I needed to escape down the mountain.

We got no phone calls. Not one. No one was watching WDTV.  I wrote Dusty a note and dropped it at the airport office.  I packed up my apartment into my VW. I had one last task at “Feeling Good” radio. I re-recorded the station I.D. and shuffled some more mediocrity. Anarchy was still in my blood. It was way past midnight. A snow storm was blowing in from the Great Lakes. I was the only vehicle making tracks down the mountains. The landscape lit up in my hi-beams. I was happy. I turned on the radio. 93.7 F.M. I had shuffled in Kenny Rodgers “The Gambler” in the stations playlist and it was playing now.

You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em.

Know when to fold ‘em.

Know when to walk away.

Know when to run.

When the song was over my station I.D. came on, “Feeling good! Right down to my gonads! On 93.7 FM.

It’s okay. Nobody was listening.

If the glove fits

I tell the sales lady behind the counter I want to buy the left glove and show her my hook on my right hand. (I have a nice smile)

Here is a winter story.  In 1965 I was 10 years old and spent a quarter to ride the bus from the Mount Vernon Estate to the J.C. Penney’s store in Alexandria, VA to buy some leather gloves. I spy a nice pair of gloves in the glass case. I tell the sales lady behind the counter I want to buy the left glove and show her my hook on my right hand. (I have a nice smile) She says they are sold as a pair. I explain I don’t have a use for the other glove as I am a right arm amputee. (Smiling again maybe batting my eyelashes a bit) She calls someone and then a well-dressed man appears at the railing that overlooks the store at the second level. He is the store manager. He comes down and I explain I only have use for one glove. He looks at me over the sales counter. I smile back. He reaches for the gloves and separates them. Sell him one glove he says to the sales lady. I never tried that again and have ended up with a box of all kinds of gloves for the right hand just waiting to run into someone missing their left hand. I finally at age 60 ran into a left hand amputee and gave him a lifetime supply of gloves.

It just happens

She looked down at her hands and realized she had my right arm prosthesis that was sitting across the push bar in her hands.

The elevator door opened and more office workers filled the already crowded lobby of the Bank of America building in Norfolk, Virginia. It was Friday. The weekend called to each worker pressing for the doors. I stood by one of the exit doors reluctant to push the bar to open the door because it was pouring down rain outside. A woman came up next to me. She was in a hurry. She didn’t look at me and starred straight out into the rain. She was going for it. She reached for the push bar and leaned her body into the door. Only the door did not unlock. She repeated her motion only this time with more effort and still the door did not open. She looked down at her hands and realized she had my right arm prosthesis that was sitting across the push bar in her hands. We locked eyes for the first time.  “I’m so sorry” she said. “It’s okay” I reply. “I make a better wall.”

Morning misunderstanding

She screamed and ran to the boardwalk as fast as she could. It took me a second to puzzle what the hell?

It was already hot this August morning as I ended my run along the Virginia Beach boardwalk.  The sun popped up and spread the colored light over sand and sea. I was very fit running almost 40 miles per week for a couple of years now. On summer mornings like this I liked to take a swim. If the tide was going out I would swim a mile south. If the tide was coming in I would swim my mile going north.

The tide was coming in so left my shoes near the board walk at 24th street and waded in to swim north. It’s very common to see dolphins in this area. The Virginia Beach oceanfront is at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. Bay creatures and ocean creatures mix here. Hunters and the hunted. As I neared the end of my swim I was surrounded by a pod of dolphins close in to the beach. I know dolphins are friendly. I also heard that if dolphins are around there are probably no sharks. Even so they are really big when they are right next to you in the water.

I was spooked so I swam as fast as I could to the shoreline. I came crashing out of the surf and out of breath. There was an elderly woman in good shape head-down power walking right along the water line. Our two worlds met. She looked at me. Shirtless. A right arm amputee. Dripping. And then she looked at the fins in the water from where I had just come.

She screamed and ran to the boardwalk as fast as she could. It took me a second to puzzle what the hell? The life guards had just arrived at their stands. I was surrounded immediately. The rescue squad siren could be heard. After putting it altogether and confirming I was okay everyone laughed. I don’t do this anymore. I haven’t grown a new arm yet to stop this kind of thing from happening. Maybe next year.

%d bloggers like this: