Blind Mumbling

A compilation of writings that never got anyone excited.

Name:
Location: N. Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, United States

Former teacher, co-editor of Total Football and the author of more than 20 books and over 200 articles, most about sports history. His credits include Pro Football: When the Grass Was Real, The Hidden Game of Football (with John Thorn and Pete Palmer), Baseball Between the Lies, The Importance of Napoleon, and the Battle of Stalingrad. He is presently Executive Director of the Pro Football Researchers Association.

Friday, February 24, 2006

A Penis for Your Thoughts

I’d like to say a word about penises. This is not a word that I have had many occasions to utter in the past. In fact, I’ve used it so seldom that I’m unsure whether the plural is penises or penisi. I’ve settled on the former here only because the latter looks like something that would served along with sushi. I just don’t like that mental picture.

Nowadays they teach little kids to say penis instead of euphenisms like weewee or Little Joey. When I was growing up and had to mention mine to my parents, I used a grown-up word – thing. Not that I had to mention it very often. Actually just once – the day I had to dress in the same room with a very sneaky, mean duck.

By the time I got to high school, I’d learned some grown-up words for it. Those were so grown-up that I’d never dare use them in front of my parents, teachers, or other grown-ups. The only people I could say those grown-up words to were my teenage friends. Lord knows I couldn’t say "weewee" to them. "Penis" would have been worse.

As I grew older and older, the rules I’d learned as a teenager continued to apply. Certain words – the childish, the grown-up, or the scientific – were not to be used in talking with anyone who was a close friend of the same sex. But the words I could use with friends were to be abandoned when talking with anyone who might report me, slap me, or pray for me.

You could always tell what was okay and what was no-way by watching network television. If they said it on Friends or Seinfeld, you could say it to your minister.

Then one night I was watching Drew Carey and he said "penis"! The audience roared. Before the program ended, he said penis thirty-four times.

I don’t think Carey was the first to say "penis" on network TV, but he was in the vangard. As they say in France, "Apres vous la deluge de penis!" From that first "penis" on Carey, it got so you couldn’t turn on the TV without someone blathering about a penis. And I’m not counting Bob Dole. For a couple of months, television had more penis-talk than commercials. Well, almost more.

Eventually the excitement over "penis" wore off. Audiences stopped laughing at its mention and simply accepted it as another word in a conversation. For shock laughs, comedy writers dredged up "vagina." Sometimes "penis" and "vagina" were together on the same program.

I haven’t been watching much television lately, so I’m not certain what the latest shockword is. Recently, while channel-surfing, I swear I heard someone say "fellatio." Of course I may have hit a cable channel.

Sometimes I speculate about what words will be common on television in ten years if things keep going the way they are. Naturally I don’t speculate out loud if there are grown-ups around.

Friday, February 17, 2006

WAY, WAY OFF-BROADWAY

Let me make an analogy. When I was hired as an actor by the White Barn Theater, it was like a baseball player being promoted from Class D to Class C. The ballplayer still has a long way to go to get to the majors, and I was nowhere near Broadway, but it was a definite step up.

Then, within a week after I arrived at the Barn, I wanted to chuck it all and go home.

I’d been acting in our local community theaters for several years, everything from "Here’s your package, sir" to leads. I’d been paid a few compliments, but the White Barn actually paid its actors in real money. Not much, but a little. And when, through the intersession of a friend, I was hired for the summer as the theater’s regular "character actor," it meant I’d receive a weekly paycheck. As a West Virginia high school teacher, I was paid only ten months, so that paycheck – tiny though it might be -- was important. But most important was the ego-boost of actually being paid to act. I was a professional!

I arrived at the Barn on Friday evening and went into rehearsal the next day. Except for me, our cast was made up of amateur actors who had real jobs in the real world. Community theaters usually rehearse over a six-week span. The summer playhouse follows a shorter schedule. The cast first meets on Saturday, rehearses ten times -- usually three-hour sessions at night until the show opens Tuesday-a-week.

This was the first play I’d ever done at a summer theater with its short rehearsal schedule. Still, I was a professional. I could handle it. I was supposed to play this little character role of a doctor. Two scenes and a curtain call. Nice. School was out. Instead of teaching, I could devote all my time to learning my lines.

Four days into rehearsals our lead handed in his script. Tommy, our director, explained, "He said he couldn’t do it in the time he had." The part had been written for Henry Fonda. He had every other line. He was always on stage and everyone talked to him. Worse, he answered them. Some of his answers went on and on for half a page. The man never shut up!

"Nice of him to figure that out after wasting four precious rehearsals!," I harumphed. I tossed my script on the table by Tommy. "I guess this means no show."

"Au contraire, Meester Pussy Cat," Tommy explained in her best Mel Blanc impression. "We just recast."

I laughed. Where would she find a genius who could learn this monster role in half the time? Despite my anger, I could well understand why our former lead went former. And then I wondered why she was smiling at me.

For the next six days, I learned lines. From the time I woke up in the morning the only moment I didn’t have the script in my hand was at rehearsal when I was fumbling to get through a scene without it. My fellow cast members were encouraging, but they seldom looked me in the eye when they said it would be fine by opening night. By Saturday, there were still large chunks of verbiage I couldn’t navigate without some cues from offstage. Sunday was technical rehearsal, and with the constant start and stop for lighting and sound, everyone was missing lines.

Dress rehearsal was Monday. I got through it by being cued only twice. My confidence was growing. I spent the whole of Tuesday going over lines. About half an hour before curtain, I went to the dressing room for make-up. Several actors were already there.

"Well," the actor playing my son-in-law said, "Tommy told me they almost never review a White Barn show this early in the season."

"Then why is he reviewing tonight?" the stage manager asked.

Reviewing?

I couldn’t believe it. Suddenly I knew I’d forget every line. My mistakes would be trumpeted to all the world. I could see the review: "Tonight the White Barn audience was treated to long minutes of silence while the lead actor struggled to remember his lines."

A few minutes later, the stage manager looked at his watch. "It’s magic time!" he said. We made our way to the stage. I hoped I wouldn’t throw up when the lights came on.

Amazingly, the whole show went smoothly. I did’t miss a single line. I was perfect! It was almost disappointing it was so easy. An actor would speak to me, and I wouldn’t even have to think about it. The line came tumbling out of my mouth. The letter-perfect line.

The next day I raced to the theater. The newspaper had already arrived. I tore the paper apart getting to the review.

The headline told little more than there had been a play performed at the White Barn. The first paragraph was devoted to the girl who played my daughter. That was okay. She really was very good. She deserved all the praise the reviewer lavished on her.

The second paragraph gave a nearly equal rave to the actor who played my son-in-law. Wait a minute, I thought. The son-in-law was a much smaller part. And he wasn’t that good. What about ME? I was the one who carried the show. I was the one who learned all those lines and SAVED the show! I was Henry Fonda!

The next couple of paragraphs dealt with telling the story so readers could skip attending. The reviewer revealed two of the funniest lines in the show.

I read the reviw to the bottom, and there I was. "Also in the cast were . . . ." He named four actors. I was the third.

Friday, February 10, 2006

THE REWARDS OF POETRY

(Or About Those Four Words That Can’t Be Rhymed)

A poet can seldom earn silver.
Still ver-
Ses with with no style nor range
Writ in orange
Or purple
‘Bout hero or twerp’ll
Elicit a lisping cheer each month
At least oneth.

Friday, February 03, 2006

THIS WEEK'S QUESTIONS

Should someone who spreads manure on a flower bed be arrested for giving aid and comfort to the anemone?

A recent poll showed that teenagers who do not have sex are "happier" in their relationships. Will they survey the boys next week?.

Why do people say "you could hear a pin drop" when they talk about how quiet it was? Have you ever been in a bowling alley?

From his funny hat down to his knee socks, everything the football fan is wearing is new, with this year’s version of his team’s logo on every item. He had to pay double to get the jersey with the right number. How come his wife’s coat is gray, five years old, and has a raveled sleeve?

When the choice is between water and whiskey, I always ask, "What would Jesus walk on?"

Did Miss Muffet perform fellatio in northern Iraq?

When did your local TV newsteam begin to spend less time giving you the news than they do telling you how good they are at it?