Buzz Kill

Early during my freshman year in college, I took notice of a beautiful girl walking down the sidewalk.  In fact, I took notice every time I saw her after that.  I was dating someone at the time, so it was nothing more than admiration from a distance.  (I would have been too scared to introduce myself, anyway).

Over the following three years, I saw her almost every day.  Yet even when I became a single guy again, I was too afraid to introduce myself.  Because of her beauty, I had immediately classified her as out of my league, although I really didn’t know anything about her.

Somewhere along the way, I learned her name, as well as a few bits and pieces of information about her.  (I’ll call her Jenna in this story, but that’s not her real name).  She was even in one of my classes once or twice, but I never spoke to her.  I spoke about her to my closest friends, though.  They agreed she was beautiful.  They also agreed that I was a chicken.  And they absolutely agreed that she was out of my league.

For three years, I watched from a distance.  Not stalker-watched.  Just watched.  Over time, it became a joke with my friends. Whenever we talked about girls, they brought up Jenna.  (Or maybe I did?)  When it was time to find a date to a party, they suggested I ask Jenna.  Then they would laugh, knowing I never would.

For three years, I had created the perfect woman in my mind, and it was Jenna.  Yet I never spoke to her.  Until this happened…

I was in the cafeteria, walking my tray to the trash, and there she was.  Jenna.  Walking straight toward me, and even looking right at me.  My heart started pounding just a little bit.  Could she be coming to talk to me?  She waved.  I didn’t want to take my eyes off of her, yet I needed to see if she was actually waving to some really cool guy behind me, so I slowly turned my head enough to see behind me, but still keep her in my peripheral vision.

There was no one behind me.  My heart started to pound a bit more as she continued to walk toward me.  I’m not sure, but I might have been frozen in place as she walked right up to me.  She stopped just inches away, looking me right in the eyes.  Her sweet voice said, “Are you Keith Kirkland?”

This is what I said in my mind.  YES!.  YES!  I am Keith Kirkland!  You actually know my name?  I can’t believe that you are talking to me!  I’ve noticed you for a long time and I’ve always wanted to introduce myself.  Are you really talking to me?

This is what I said with my (cracking) voice: “Yes”.

I waited for what seemed like an hour. Waited for whatever sweet words were going to come out of her mouth, now that she had finally noticed me after three long years.  I looked into her eyes as I relived all those moments of watching from afar.  I thought about what I would tell my friends, thinking that the joke is really over.

She finally broke the silence, and the long-awaited words out of her mouth were this:  “You bounced a three dollar check to our sorority when you bought a balloon-a-gram from us last week and I need to get that three dollars from you.”

You know those downward-moving musical sounds you hear on game shows when someone loses?  Yeah, that’s what I heard right then.

I never got to talk to her again.

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C’mon Get Happy

I was a kid in the 1970s. One day I’ll get around to writing down all the fun (and funny) things that the 70s bring to mind. The clothes and the hair probably warrant a few stories by themselves. 

This one is about the music. In particular, the music of The Partridge Family. My brother, two sisters and I would enjoy watching the TV show. But we really loved the Partridge Family record album we had. The real thing, too. A 33 1/3 LP record album, complete with hisses and skips that we knew as well as the songs. 

We loved the songs so much, that we didn’t just sing them. We would perform them. We set up in my sister’s room with a record player and homemade instruments. An old wooden tennis racquet was the guitar. A cardboard box and some sticks formed the drums. A small toy electronic keyboard was the piano. 

The best was the microphone. This was a wooden xylophone mallet with a red head on it. Taped to the end of the mallet stick was a long piece of yarn to make the microphone cord. The other end of the yarn was taped to a plastic leg taken from our Toss Across game. It had a groove in it that held the “microphone” just like a microphone stand. This leg was taped to the dresser within easy reach of Keith Partridge. 

We all wanted to play the part of Keith Partridge. (Who wouldn’t?) I recall some hefty battles over this issue. I, of course, believed that I should be Keith…because my name is Keith. My older sister, Amy, thought that she should be Keith, just because she was the oldest. Joy and David wanted to be Keith, too. (This sometimes led to someone running to Mom for a resolution. Upon returning from the talk with Mom, the answer to the inevitable question “What did she say?”, was always: “She told us to work it out ourselves.” My mom is wise, because we all learned early in life how to work out our differences).

After deciding who would be Keith (we took turns), we would all get into position with our instruments and freeze until the designated record starter dropped the needle on the LP. 

That initial crackling sound of the record was exciting. The show was about to start! The microphone sat in its Toss Across stand until the perfect moment when “Keith” grabbed it to begin singing. 

Sometimes we would perform the whole album. Sometimes just a song or two. But oh, what great times we had making such great music together!

I have that Partridge Family album in my music library. Every now and again, when I put my library on shuffle, one of those songs pops up. “Rainmaker”, or “Echo Valley 2-6809”, or “I’m on My Way Back Home” (my favorite). I always sing along. 

And I’m always Keith. 

In the Limelight

In a previous post, I told you about my college campus job in the concert hall [See “This is the Pit(s)”].  This is another fun experience from those days.

One of my early jobs in the concert hall was to work a spotlight.  It was an important job because whenever the spotlight was on, it usually meant that all the other lights were off, and the only way the audience was going to see the person/people on stage was in the light of the spotlight.

You couldn’t slack off when operating the spotlight.  If you stopped paying attention, the performer could quickly move out of the light and it really upsets the flow of the show.  (The performers really don’t like it when that happens).

I’ve shined a spotlight on some cool people:  Ray Charles, Rich Little, Survivor, The Romantics, Don Knotts, Hal Holbrook, Russ Taff, David Copperfield, and some others that I can’t remember right now.

For several years, a local mega-church would put on their annual Christmas pageant in the concert hall.  For reasons I can’t remember, we moved one of the spotlights to the President’s box, and I had to work the spotlight from that location during the performances.  Not a big deal under normal circumstances, except that important people were sitting a couple feet away from me all night.

The spotlights that we had back then were ancient.  There was no bulb.  You didn’t just flip a switch and the light comes on.  The light in these spotlights was created from an electric current flowing through carbon rods.  The carbon rods looked like copper pencils and were about eight inches long.  Two carbon rods had to be installed into clamps with the ends pointed toward each other.  (Imagine two pencils with the sharpened ends pointed toward each other).  A rotating handle on the outside of the frame allowed me to move the ends closer to, or farther away, from each other.  When the power is switched on, an electric current would flow through the rods.  I would rotate the handle so that the ends would almost touch.  If you let the ends touch, the whole thing would burn out.  But when they almost touch, that’s when the magic happens.  The arcing of the current that occurs between the two rods creates a green glow of light, which is somehow projected and magnified through the lens of the spotlight, and white light shines down onto the stage.

That green glow is called “the limelight”.  If you’ve ever wondered where the phrase “in the limelight” comes from, this is it.  Anyone in the light of these old spotlights was literally in the limelight.

Carbon rods would burn down over time and they needed to be changed when they were too short to be useful.  That’s not a big deal, except in this particular show, the spotlight was used almost constantly, which meant that I had to change out the rods multiple times during the show.  The timing of the changing of the rods was challenging, too.  I could only do it during periods of time when I had at least one minute.  Those carbon rods were incredibly hot, so I had to put on thick welding gloves in order to remove them.  I had to put the burned rods in a special tray while they cooled, and I had to install the new rods.  Doing all of this within one minute was tough.

That’s what makes this story funny.

The first funny thing is that whenever you initiate the limelight, the sound created by the electric current is a pretty loud buzz that lasts for a few seconds.  Each time I activated the light, the spotlight would buzz loudly, and all of the important people sitting in the President’s box would turn and stare at me, wondering what the heck I was doing.  (I don’t think they understood carbon rods and limelights).

The second funny thing happened during one of the quick rod changes.  In this particular part of the show, I had maybe thirty seconds to complete the rod change. In my haste to get it done, one of the flaming hot carbon rods touched a worn place in my glove, and it burned my finger.  I flinched, which caused the carbon rod to bounce off of the special cooling tray and onto the floor.

I didn’t have time to deal with it, so I let it go, thinking that I would just pick it up later.  What I didn’t think about was the fact that the rod was still extremely hot….and that the floor was covered with carpet.  Within a few seconds, the carbon rod started to burn the carpet, and smoke started moving across the entire President’s box, all in the middle of the Christmas spectacular.  Yeah.  That happened.

I was able to get to it before a real fire started, but needless to say, I was in my own limelight for a minute there.

When I graduated, the burn marks were still in the carpet of the President’s box.  I wonder if they are still there today.

This Happened

I was standing in a hotel lobby, having a nice conversation with the hotel clerk as she checked me in. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a sweet old lady enter the hotel and slowly make her way toward the desk. She looked like the perfect grandmother. Maybe even a great-grandmother. 

As she got closer, I noticed that she had a black eye. Purple, really. And very swollen. 

She walked right up to us, stood next to me, and with teary eyes, said in a trembling voice, “My husband kicked me out of the house, and I’m looking for a room. He popped me in the eye.”

I was stunned. Then I was outraged. Then sad, all in just a few seconds. I couldn’t think of any words to say at first, so I reached out and put my hand on her shoulder in an effort to do “something”.  

As the clerk and I struggled in silence with what to do next, this sweet old lady smiled, and in a normal voice said, “Actually, I’m just here to see Beth. She’s my niece and she works here. Nobody popped me in the eye.  Is Beth in?”

I was silent again as I processed the sudden change of events. The lady watched my expression, put her hand on mine, and started laughing as she said, “I got you!”

She sure did. She went on to tell us the real story of the black eye (which was some kind of blood vessel thing and had nothing to do with violence), and how she pulled the same trick on another clerk at that hotel a couple of days before. She said that when she walked in and noticed someone different at the desk, she thought she’d try it again. 

She was giggling at herself pretty good. After I told her I was going to pop her other eye for making me feel like that, I laughed with her. She gave me a little hug, and I went on my way. 

Sweet, devious, funny old lady. I’d like her as my grandmother. 

With Warm Regards

The closing line of an email probably isn’t noticed much anymore. It’s usually part of the automatically inserted signature, created when a person first set up email and never thought of again. 

I read an email today and actually noticed the closing. It struck me as funny:  It was “With warm regards”.  

Not just “regards”, but warm regards. What are warm regards?

I looked through my inbox today and made a list of the closings I found. A lot of them are things we would never speak when ending a conversation, and it struck me as randomly funny. 

Here are a few of them:

Regards. Kind regards. Best regards. Best. All the best. Warmly. Sincerely (does that reinforce the sincerity of your words?). My best warm regards. Entrepreneurially Yours. 

Some form of “regards” wins as the most used. The funniest is “warmly”, and my favorite is “You’re the Best” (until I realized that apparently everyone that guy sends an email to is “the best”).

Hope you enjoyed my random thoughts for today. 

Warmly,

Keith

Watch Out. Wazers Wazing Ahead. 

You are probably familiar with Waze, the popular GPS app. It’s one of my favorite apps, and I always use it when I’m traveling. 

Many times, I even use it around town, because it has the best re-routing technology I’ve seen. In Atlanta, there is often a need to re-route. 

I have a love-hate relationship with the interactivity functions, however. Drivers can notify other Waze users about traffic problems, accidents, and even policemen who are lying in wait for speeders. I love that stuff. 

Here’s what I hate. Drivers can also identify potholes, vehicles on the shoulder of the road, and other hazards. 

Actually, I don’t hate those functions. Let me rephrase. What I hate is that I always seem to be driving along just behind, but on the same route as, Mr. Hazard Notification Man. 

I don’t know why he feels the need to identify every single vehicle that is on the shoulder of the road. I don’t drive on the shoulder, so unless a car is sticking out on the road, I really don’t care. (I am now very aware of just how many vehicles are sitting on the shoulder of roads, especially in Atlanta. Hundreds of them!)

Mr. Hazard Notification Man also points out every small bump in the road as a pothole. I know it’s just me, but if it’s not going to pop my tire, I can handle some bumps. (Again, Atlanta. Lots of bumps).

This guy must drive with one hand on the wheel and the other poised above his mobile phone screen, anxiously waiting to tap yet another notification. 

So…because I can’t speed up while I’m driving and somehow locate Mr. Hazard Notification Man and have a little talk with him…and because Waze won’t let me turn off the alerts I don’t want…I’m passing this along to you in case you see him. If you do, please tell him to stop it. 

Sleep Stories: The Pre-Alarm

Sleep does funny things to your brain.  It makes you dream.  It makes complicated things simple, and simple things complicated.  It makes you say and do things that don’t make sense.  And much of it is very funny, if you can remember it.

I have to give full credit to my friend, John, for this story.  It is completely his story, but it has made me laugh for 25 years.  It happened when we shared an apartment pretty soon after we graduated college.  It goes like this:

My first professional job was at a big bank in Atlanta.  My friend John and I both worked there, and in order to deal with the crazy Atlanta traffic, we got up pretty early so that we could get to work on time.  His alarm usually went off before mine every morning, and I could hear it blaring in the bedroom next to mine.

One particular morning, his alarm went off and I heard him hit the snooze button.  That’s not unheard of, but on this day, I heard him hit the snooze button many more times than normal.  After five or six rounds, I heard the slap on the alarm button and his voice yelling “crap!”, and lots of scrambling in an effort to get ready.

As we were driving to work, I joked about him sleeping late.  He explained how it happened:

“When the alarm went off, I thought to myself, Man, I’ve got to get up now.  I’m tired.  Then I realized that this wasn’t the real alarm, this is the pre-alarm.  I don’t have to get up yet.  Yay!  I slept a bit longer, and when the alarm rang again, I thought it through and determined that it was still the pre-alarm.  I still don’t have to get up!  That’s just the pre-alarm, getting me ready for the real alarm that’s coming up in a little bit.  Well, I did that a few more times, and when the alarm rang the next time, I guess I was finally awake enough that it dawned on me.  That’s not the pre-alarm!  There’s NO SUCH THING as a pre-alarm!  That’s the REAL alarm!  Crap!”

Hence the scrambling I heard shortly thereafter.  The pre-alarm.  That’s funny.