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A Tale of My Father: The (Almost) Burning Man

26 Mar

March 26, 2018

My father was a man who had quite a lot of stories, and I can vouch that they were true. Stuck in a rioting hoard of women on Black Friday, calling Macy’s to complain about their Santa at the Thanksgiving Day Parade, or refusing to take off in a small plane from the shortest runway of an airport high on cliff, he had some interesting things to talk about. 

This one is short, and though it happened long before I was born, it could have had a dramatic impact on my life.

When he was younger, my Dad-to-be and some of his friends took a road trip. The details of when and where aren’t important and I’ve long forgotten them if I even ever knew them. I want to say they were teenagers but knowing Dad and some of his friends, they were probably in their twenties but acting like teenagers. 

So they were driving and it was getting late and they stopped for gas. One guy got out and was pumping while Dad and the others took the opportunity to stretch their legs. Well, they guy pumping the gas thought it would be a hysterically funny joke to turn the nozzle on Dad and soak him with gasoline. And another friend thought it would be even more hysterically funny to chase Dad around the car with a lit cigarette lighter. 

You can see where this is going.

Almost, almost!

Natural selection nearly took a hard left turn that night but either Dad was a faster runner back then, or his cries of “what the FUCK are you doing?” got through this friend’s thick skull and Dad escaped immolation and lived to laugh about it later.

It’s a wonder I’m here to write about this.

.

 

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1976: Groucho Marx Visits Welcome Back Kotter and Makes Everyone Sad

13 Mar

March 13, 2018

I wrote a frankly excellent post back in 2010 about Groucho Marx and his cultural impact in the 1970s. It is possibly my favorite post and it is constantly being reblogged and linked. 

Briefly, it is the story of a man whose famous past has outlived him, and the sorry way he was treated in the fast-declining years of his life. One of the saddest, but true, stories is about a visit Groucho made (or was forced to make) to the set of Welcome Back Kotter for a guest spot. Everyone was shocked at his fragile body and mental deterioration. He was such a shell of himself that some people in both the cast and audience shed tears. Groucho was unable to do the part, the spot was canceled, and even the publicity photos were never released.

Now flash ahead to 2018.

I was listening to the truly laugh out loud funny Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast, episode 191 with guest Mark Evanier. It was hysterical, and right in my wheelhouse because Evanier knows everyone in comedy from Jack Benny to Sergio Aragones, and guys like Jack Kirby as well. During the show, he told an extended version of Groucho’s visit to the Welcome Back Kotter set. Mark was there, and saw it all, first hand. He worked on the show. Here’s his account from his blog, and it fleshes out my version, which I am happy to say is verified as accurate.

There are big points revealed in his post and his podcast appearance.

First, that the whole reason the guest appearance came about was apparently so Erin Fleming could wrangle a guest spot in a future episode. Poor Groucho should not have even left his house in the shape he was in.

Second, he was in such poor, confused shape that he was not able to talk and they first changed his guest spot to a silent cameo, then finally canceled it altogether.

Third, and even more interesting, the photos were not only never released but they were claimed to have been destroyed.

But at least two weren’t. Someone sent them to Mark and they can be found online now. They weren’t there in 2010 when I first searched.

grouchokotter01

Honestly, I was expecting far worse.

But this is not the way to remember this great man.

This is.

 

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