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.

Wordsmith failure

I am a word mechanic. I work at my craft. But sometimes I have my failures at wordsmithing.  In the early 90’s I was a Realtor with Prudential Decker Realty in Virginia Beach, Va.  Later known as Prudential Towne Realty. Now known as Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Towne Realty. Follow that? I am still thriving there.

So the agency was trying something new. Normally on Wednesday’s all the agents form a car caravan and go out to tour the new listings.  Instead each agent had prepared a walking video tour of the property. These videos were shown at the Wednesday sales meeting. The agents in the meeting were to fill out feedback slips commenting on the price and adding any suggestions. Just like they did on the caravan tours.

I had a new listing and prepared my script for the walk-thru video. My new listing was in Lake Shores a community built in the 60’s. Most of these homes have beautiful heart-of-pine floors. But in the 60’s wall to wall carpets was the style so the floors were covered. I had my sellers take up the carpet to reveal these beautiful wood floors that had never been walk-on.

In my video I kept referring to these floors as VIRGIN hardwood floors.  I received my feedback slips and the comments were as follows. Doug- What are virgin hardwood floors? Are they floors that have never been laid? Doug- What are virgin hardwood floors? Are they floors that have never been nailed?  Wordsmithing failure! I have been chastened. Just like my floors.

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.”

You don’t get it back

My stepfather was from Baton Rouge, Louisiana and was a story teller. Shortly after he married my mom he was rear-ended while sitting at a traffic light. His back was broken and effectively made my mom the chief bread winner for our house hold of four to five teenagers depending on which one of us was boomeranging out and back.  John became head chef and chief consoler. His shrimp jambalayas’ and etouffees’ was our household staple.

My family was always in a rush so we sometimes cut him short when he launched into a story. One night we had finished our meal at a restaurant and we are all ready to go when my stepfather starts like he always does. “That reminds me of a story….It’s about a woodpile” he goes on as we say “Not now John, we are ready to go!” “Alright” he says, “You are never going to hear the story about the woodpile” as we all roll our eyes.

For years after that we would tease and prod John “Tell us the story about the woodpile.” “Nope” he would reply. “You are never going to hear it” he would say stubbornly. John became very ill with a pulmonary diagnosis. He was in and out of the ICU many times. Always surviving what we thought was the end. I visited him at Virginia Beach General’s ICU. He was laboring to breathe thru a tube inserted in his throat. I cleared his throat hole with the suction as I was shown. His eyes were glazed but he was awake. I tried one more time, “Tell me the story about the woodpile John.”  His lips curled into a slight smile. He shook his head. “No” he mouthed.

The next day I was on my way to show property to a client when my mom called. She said she was at the ICU and I should come there. We gathered around and John labored heavily to breathe. Fighting it. My mom held John’s hand and said quietly, “John…it’s okay..you can go now.” John heaved one last heavy breath and died.

I don’t remember what we were all in such a rush to do back at the restaurant but I sure could go for a story about a woodpile right now.

C is for Crazy

All you had to do to get a mortgage was breathe on a mirror. If they saw your breath then you could get a loan.

There is a back story to every real estate sale. Marriage and a first house start a new chapter. A second house with kids adds to that chapter. Parents move to assisted living or pass on and something needs to be done with their house. Job losses or job promotions and business success’s open new doors literally.  Empty nesters strive for a new life style. Changes in health require new digs. And then there is just crazy.

This is a story about crazy.  I got a call from a woman who said she was referred to me. She said she was a navy nurse and was stationed aboard a navy ship. She said she was calling from outside the country but said she wanted to buy a specific condo along Shore Drive in Virginia Beach. She had rented that condo so she knew it well. If it was still available when she got back into port she wanted to see it. We made an appointment for a month later on a Saturday. I pretty much wrote this off but sure enough I got a call from her on Friday. The property was still available and vacant.  The buyer was attractive and very charming. We looked it over and wrote an offer after I got her approved for a loan.

The closing date was set two months down the road. We did the walk thru and then I got a call from the buyer’s lender. He said they just did a final verification of the buyer’s bank account and found the funds to close had been withdrawn. We were closing the morning. I called the buyer and she assured me she would have the certified funds to close.

This would never fly in today’s mortgage environment. But this was back when the mortgage application process was minimal to say the least. All you had to do to get a mortgage was breathe on a mirror. If they saw your breath then you could get a loan.

So we closed. Around nine at night I get a call from the City of Virginia Beach jail. A man from the jail says my buyer wants me to come bail her out of jail. What are the charges? I ask.  Assault and Bigamy.

It turns out this navy nurse was married to two men. She would tell one of her husbands she had to go to sea and then lived with the other husband. She had borrowed the first down payment from husband number one but then spent it. She borrowed the second down payment from husband number two. But this nurse was not done. She got a boyfriend so she wanted a place of her own. Apparently all three got wind of her plans and a brawl ensued at the condo that afternoon. I didn’t bail her out of jail.

A cherry on top of this story. The nurse never made a payment and a year later the property went into foreclosure. It was listed with my company and I sold it again.

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.

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