Writer’s Workshop: Another Bizarre Childhood Fear

It’s 1968, and I’m minding my own business watching cartoons in the afternoon when, all of a sudden, this shows up on my TV screen…

Now, I’m scared half to death, having run out of the room or buried my face in the cushions of the couch…

No particular reason; it just scared me half to death. Why? I don’t know. Maybe it was the Civil Defense logo sitting fixed on the screen, staring at me like a big eye. Maybe it was the long wait between "this is only a test" and the beeping noise. Maybe it was the implication that one day we would see this and it will be the real thing: the ICBM’s would be in the air and about to explode somewhere, destroying everything and everybody, all going up in a huge mushroom cloud.

Or maybe I was just being a weird kid.

When I was a freshman in high school, there was a scare one Saturday morning. The guy at Strategic Air Command in Colorado who ran the test on the Teletype network every Saturday morning at 8:30 AM Central time accidentally used the paper tape (yes, it was all the way back in those days) for an actual activation through the system, setting off bells in every newsroom in the nation informing them that the President of the United States had activated the Emergency Broadcast System, and that we were to prepare for a nuclear attack. The guy who made the error (whose face was probably red as a beet) made up for it by canceling that message and sending the right tape through, and all was well.

After that little misadventure, I was no longer afraid of the test.

When Wikipedia became a thing, someone wrote a whole article on the Emergtency Broadcast System. I was happy to see that I wasn’t the only kid in the US who was scared to death of them…

Writer’s Workshop: Strike A Pose!

The request is to share an old class photo of myself. Here are four….

This is my picture from fifth grade. This was taken in the days before color photography. Don’t know what’s going on with my hair here.

This is me in sixth grade. I look like I’m about to throw up.

Seventh grade. I think I was voted the “best-looking in my class picture” that year. If you saw the rest of them, you’d understand why.

Finally, eighth grade. The goofy look on my face was courtesy of a friend of mine yelling, “HEY HOLTON, SAY PROVOLONE!” before they took the picture. I shared this one on Facebook, and a woman friend of mine said that if I had been in her eighth-grade class, she’d be all over me, because she loves redheads. While I had reddish highlights, the truth is the colors have probably faded to that color. That’s true for all of these. Except the first, where you really can’t tell.

I was a cute little bastard, wasn’t I?

Writer’s Workshop: The Three And Me

I figured out today that I’ve been watching the Three Stooges shorts for sixty years. WGN used to show them during the hours between getting home from school and dinnertime. That was, they showed them until a group of mothers got together and decided that it was “too violent” and that we would soon be slapping each other across the face, poking each other’s eyes out, hitting each other over the head with various tools and blunt objects, and, of course, hitting each other with pies. None of which actually happened, because we weren’t stupid enough to do any of those things.

(Okay, maybe one of us hit a classmate with a slice of pie. From his description of why he did it, the kid had it coming and it was unfortunate that the only kind of pie the cafeteria had left was blueberry and not lemon meringue or banana cream. Still, he says it was the best 25 cents he ever spent.)

Anyway, the exploits of Moe, Larry, Curly, Shemp, and Joe were pulled off the air in favor of The Flinstones and reruns of The Mickey Mouse Club (where the boys could watch Annette Funicello, the only legitimate Disney Princess, and feel the early rumblings of puberty). The rights to the Three Stooges shorts were picked up by WFLD, who started showing them at 10 PM, when the adults could see them and the kids (presumably in bed by then) could not. They became a cult classic and inspired the local Jump ‘n’ The Saddle Band to write “The Curly Shuffle.”

Within the past couple of years, MeTV has obtained the rights to show The Three Stooges shorts, which they do Saturdays from 6-8 PM Eastern time (check local listings). And while I’ve seen the shorts umpteen times over the last 60 years, I still find them hilarious, maybe at times for different reasons than originally…

I discovered that Larry was hilarious. He was usually the guy taking the brunt of Moe’s punishment, but as I watch the episodes, I realize he dished it out as well as he took it. He was especially good in pie fights.

I also developed an appreciation for Shemp. Shemp had left the Stooges before they started making films, but rejoined in 1947 when Curly, Moe’s and Shemp’s youngest brother, had a second stroke that made it impossible for him to continue. Both he and Moe were in their 50’s by this time and, while there was still plenty of physical comedy, the scripts were better and physical comedy was used less. Of course, in Brideless Groom, Shemp’s first short with Moe and Larry, there was still plenty…

Finally, I started to appreciate the contributions that other actors made. Vernon Dent, Bud Jamison, Kenneth MacDonald, Emil Sitka (the Justice of the Peace in the previous short), Christine McIntyre (who played Miss Hopkins in the short), Dudley Dickerson, and Connie Cezon, to name just a few, added their own comedic talent to the films and made them that much better. (Lucille Ball even makes an appearance in at least one of the shorts.)

What else can I say? Sixty years later, I’m still a fan.

Writer’s Workshop: Liar, Liar, Pants On Fire…

I’m sure most of you know all about impostor syndrome, which Wikipedia tells us

is a psychological occurrence in which an individual doubts their skills, talents, or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud. Despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenomenon do not believe they deserve their success or luck. They may incorrectly attribute it to the Matthew effect, or they may think that they are deceiving others because they feel as if they are not as intelligent as they outwardly portray themselves to be. Impostor syndrome can stem from and result in strained personal relationships and can hinder individuals from achieving their full potential in their fields of interest.

In other words, the fear of being outed as a fake, a phony, a bullshitter, whatever.

I’ve mentioned before how I think my unwillingness to write a résumé kept me from leaving a job that I had held for 20 years, even though there were reasons almost every year of that period of time that I really should have. A big part of my reluctance to write a résumé was the pangs of guilt I would have when I would put down when I said I had done something. I might very well have done the thing, and have the documentation to prove it, but I would start questioning just how well I had done it.

It was as though one of the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus had imbedded herself in my brain, and every time I would write down an achievment, she would say “Now, Mr. Holton, how are you going to prove that you had done that?” It’s that whole “Permanent Record” thing, that somehow, locked in a file cabinet somewhere (probably in the fallout shelter under Loyola Avenue) was the real story of Holton, John C., DOB 3/25/1956 which had somehow continued to update itself after all these years and which anyone but me could see and get the real story on who I was, warts and all, and what I had really done.

I figured out long after I was forced into retirement that everyone pads their résumé to a greater or lesser extent, and that it’s quite common for someone to say they can do something on their résumé and in their interviews while simultaneously teaching themselves how to do that thing in their off hours.


Writer’s Workshop: A Dozen Lines On Peace, Love, and Understanding

There’s something I’ve meant to talk about for some time now, and while it might (no, will) ruffle some feathers, I’m going to go there.

I read somewhere (might have been Ancestry or 23andMe, maybe Wikipedia) that every blue-eyed person in the world is a descendant of an African man who, through genetic mutation, was born with blue eyes.

The fact that nearly everyone who has blue eyes (me included) can trace their roots back to a Northern European country should make you wonder how that happened.

Sarah Hoyt wrote a very interesting article about the whole subject of race and what she calls “reading racial tea leaves.”

I found it interesting because I had been thinking along the same lines recently.

When you come right down to it, race as we’ve used it all these years is really meaningless; it’s an invention of people who consider it relevant, no matter how irrelevant it is (yes, I’m talking about anthropologists and sociologists).

There has been so much mixing and blending and swirling between people of different races and ethnicities that race and ethnicity don’t matter anymore.

I think we need to stop treating them like they do.

The only thing we can say for certain is that we’re all human beings, capable of giving and receiving love, needing to love and be loved (so sue me if I sound too ’70’s).

I’m not saying not to address past wrongs: I’m saying that reconciliation doesn’t happen until we recognize the common bond that we share, our humanity.

As Sarah says in the above article, we have more in common than not, and to pretend otherwise is “arrant [sic] nonsense.”

Let’s make it happen.