AND THEN THERE WAS THE TIME ...
THE NAME'S GORDON, ROGER GORDON
It was headed straight for the store – my car, that is – and I was as close to being in a state of shock as one could be without having to be life-flighted to the ER. Not more than 30 seconds before, at the end of a hot summer day of my book sales job in 1994, I was exiting a Spee-D-Foods convenience store parking lot in Canton, Ohio, when I realized something was awry. What’s goin’ on?
My brakes had failed me, and before I knew it, my beautiful, burgundy Honda CRX was motoring across the street, then up the hill of someone’s front lawn. Bushes stopped the vehicle from heading down the opposite end of the hill, into the crossroad on the other side (but also inflicted on my car some minor dents and scratches). I then took perhaps the worst course of action possible – I shifted into reverse (whereas neutral likely would’ve been the preferred choice). Seconds later, I was heading backwards, across the street, directly in the path of the store.
With my mind a blank, thus oblivious to the obvious – the emergency brake – my instincts took over. I did the first thing to enter my mind – I opened the door and plunged out, smack onto the pavement of the store parking lot. After flipping over a few times and absorbing some minor bumps and bruises, I watched in horror as my tiny, shoe-shaped – and, most importantly, DRIVER-LESS – car head straight for the window-front building, with patrons inside!
Staring in stunned silence, a feeling of relief swarmed over my shaking body, when instead of crashing into the store, the car slammed into an automobile parked in front. Imagine that. Relieved that my car had hit another car! In actuality, I was even more fortunate, for the auto could’ve struck a child, as several youngsters were scattered about. As I rose from the ground – my face likely glowing as red as a beet (from the utter embarrassment) – bystanders rushed from in and about the store to see if I was alright.
Me? Hell, I was worried more about impending insurance and repair costs.
I noticed a young woman hovering over the ... well ... target car, and nervously approached her.
“Are you the owner (of the car)?” I inquired.
“Yes I am,” she answered, smiling.
I was taken aback by the woman’s friendly demeanor.
“I’m really sorry,” I said with a hint of glee, doing my best to make light of the situation.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I said, stunned to say the least at her caring attitude considering her automobile had just been hit by mine.
“Don’t worry about the car,” she said, pointing out that there were only a few slight abrasions (there was little damage to my vehicle from the collision, as well). “It’s had it anyway. … It’s a junker.”
“Are you sure?” I asked, hoping I wasn’t just hearing things.
“Wow! I really appreciate that, and again, I’m really sorry.”
“No problem,” she said. “The important thing is, no one was hurt.”
I turned around and walked away, eyes to the sky. Thank you, God.
Moral of the story: The emergency brake was devised for a reason.
WHO TO ROOT FOR?
Holy crap. I was numb, terrified to leave the room. I stayed there for two hours, and with good reason – my football team had just won. Why, one might ask, was I scared to step foot out of my bedroom just because the professional football team I rooted for was victorious in a crucial game? Because my older brother Bruce, who was home from college for holiday break, happened to be in the vicinity – the same house I was in. That’s why.
The Oakland Raiders had just beaten the Cleveland Browns 14-12 in an NFL playoff game in Cleveland. Oakland’s nail-biting victory was all but clinched when Raiders strong safety Mike Davis intercepted a pass by Browns quarterback Brian Sipe with less than a minute to go. The Raiders simply ran out the clock. Sipe’s floater closed the book on what’d been a thrill-a-minute “Kardiac Kids” season for Cleveland. Oakland, in turn, went on to win Super Bowl XV.
Not only were Bruce and I on opposite ends of the rooting spectrum – me for the Raiders (I’m now a Cleveland fan), he for the Browns – but were also on opposite ends of the house that day, me upstairs, he in the basement. Had we watched NBC’s telecast together, not only would it’ve been an unpleasant situation, but quite possibly an unhealthy one. The scene could’ve turned ugly – especially for me – due to the final result. My brother, five years my senior, could’ve inflicted serious damage on my frail 13-year-old body.
For years, Bruce and I would argue about who was better, the Browns or the Raiders, Sipe or ex-Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler, my favorite athlete of all time (who actually had been traded by Oakland prior to that 1980 season). It was an ongoing battle, especially on days when the league statistics were published in the newspaper.
“Sipe’s got more touchdown passes,” Bruce would say, doing his best to irritate me.
“Yeah, he’s also got more interceptions,” I would retaliate.
Our little family feud came to a crashing climax the Sunday of the Browns-Raiders game – January 4, 1981 – an afternoon in which Northeast Ohio, along with the entire northeastern region of the country, was in a deep freeze. The tension inside 907 Twenty-fourth Street NE in Canton, Ohio, likely rivaled that inside mammoth Cleveland Stadium some 60 miles to the north, where the wind chill factor made the one degree temperature feel like minus-thirty-seven at game time.
The contest was not surprisingly a defensive struggle. With little more than two minutes left, Oakland had a fourth down and a yard to go for a first down deep in Browns territory. The Raiders chose to eschew a field-goal try and instead went for the clincher. All they had to do was gain one yard – actually, less than that ... inches – and the game, for all intents and purposes, would be theirs. The much-maligned Cleveland defense stopped Oakland, though, and the Browns gained possession of the ball on their own 15-yard line. Sipe, the NFL MVP in 1980, drove his team to the Raiders’ 13-yard line in what the entire city of Cleveland hoped would turn out to be yet another Kardiac finish.
The Browns called time out with 49 seconds remaining. By this time, my nerves were gripping me. This tension, though, was different than most kinds. Here it was, less than a minute to go, my beloved Raiders up by two, and ... He’ll kill me if they (the Browns) lose.
Football clearly wasn’t the only thing on my mind. Knowing full well Bruce would be in a nasty mood if the Browns lost, and even more so since he knew I was pulling for the Raiders (or was I?), decision time had arrived. It boiled down to this: If the Browns won, my team would be eliminated but I’d live; if the Raiders won, my team would advance to the AFC Championship Game a week later in San Diego, but I may not be around to see it.
After Sipe’s errant pass, I was unsure of my emotions. I did know one thing, though – silence was the word of the day.
Moral of the story: Root for the home team.
AN APRIL FOOLS' GAG FOR THE AGES
He was crazy about her. He’d never met her but he was her number one fan.
My buddy Brad was infatuated with Jennifer Grey, and had been ever since the release of Dirty Dancing on August 21, 1987. Grey co-starred with Patrick Swayze in the popular movie. Brad was so smitten by the young actress, he mailed her a fan-club letter, which he allowed me, an aspiring writer, to proofread prior to sending it. Brad gave all of his pertinent information in the letter, such as his age, height, weight, etc., and listed his interests and hobbies. He also enclosed a photo of himself, and of course, his phone number and address. Not in his wildest dreams, though, did he think he would ever get a response.
The date was April 1, 1989, not long after Brad had mailed the letter, and I was home in Canton, Ohio, that Saturday evening when it occurred to me just what day it was – April Fools’ Day. Then it hit me ... like a lightning bolt. I’m gonna write Brad a letter and sign Jennifer Grey’s name to it. He’ll think he got a response from her!
Pressed for time for it would soon be April 2, I had to work fast. I wrote the letter, typed it, sealed it, then addressed it (I glued on it a stamped date from a used envelope from that day’s mail, attempting to make it look as authentic as possible). I drove to Brad’s house, slipped the letter in the mailbox, then rang the doorbell and walked in as usual (I only did the latter when I knew his parents weren’t home). Brad was watching television with his identical twin brother Bret. Yearning desperately to be present upon Brad opening the envelope and reading the letter, I had to get either him or Bret to check the mailbox without sounding obvious. How can I do it?
After waiting awhile I subtly asked, “Who’s checkin’ the mail while your parents are out of town?” hoping upon hope they’d forgotten to check the mail that day.
The twins gazed at one another, and just as I would’ve scripted it, Brad exclaimed, “We forgot to get the mail today!” Yes-s-s!
As Bret returned with the mail, he bellowed, staring squarely down at the envelope, to his brother in a deep, disbelieving tone – sounding as if he were in shock – “Brad, you’re not gonna believe this. ... It’s a letter from Jennifer Grey.”
Brad didn’t believe it, even upon seizing the envelope.
“I don’t believe it! I don’t goddamn believe it!” he screamed with joy. He was instantaneously made a believer when he opened the envelope, and voice trembling, read aloud the following:
Thank you very much for the sweet letter you sent me. I do read every single fan letter that’s sent to me. I will admit, though, it’s just impossible to handwrite notes back to my fans. I just don’t have the time. My personal secretary types my dictation. I return every one, though.
Your letter was very special, Brad. The way you put everything makes it seem like you really appreciate my acting skills, as well as my looks (I think I’m ugly, though). You’re a sweetie and definitely a cutie (I want to see that swimmer’s build you have). I don’t get much fan mail, but of the notes I have received in my short career, yours is one of the most believable of all of them. If I wasn’t seeing Matthew at the moment (Grey was dating actor Matthew Broderick at the time), I would honestly think about giving you a call sometime when in the area. As a matter of fact, I’ll be in Youngstown, Ohio, in December to begin the filming of Dirty Dancing II. I don’t know how close to Canton it is, but maybe I’ll give you a call anyway.
God bless you, too.
All my love,
By this time, Brad was losing it. He was so bewildered, he could barely formulate his words. He couldn’t believe what he thought he’d just received in the mail. I was loving it, barely keeping from bursting out in laughter. It worked! ... Should I tell him?
When Brad announced he was going to call his grandmother to give her the news, I muttered to Bret what I’d done.
His whisper-like response? “Yer kiddin’.”
I shook my head to the left, to the right, to the left, to the right.
“Oh-h-h-h God,” he said.
With Brad dialing away, Bret and I agreed the truth should come out before his brother gave their grandmother a heart attack by telling her he may have a date with a movie star. I was forced to interrupt Brad, his grandma already on the line. “Brad. ... Brad. ... BRAD!” I shouted the third time after he failed to acknowledge me the first two.
“Wait a second, grandma,” he said into the receiver. “What?” he asked me, disturbed I intruded on his moment of glory.
“April Fools,” I said softly with a slight grin.
It took a good hour for Brad to recover from the shock. I really thought he was going to cry. He whimpered for a week or so but got over it.
I accomplished two things with this wonderful April Fools’ gag: I fooled Brad, but also gave him quite possibly the most glorious 10 minutes of his life.
Moral of the story: Have fun on April Fools.
These look good. As I gazed in the mirror while trying on a pair of blue jeans in one of the many dressing rooms in the men’s division of Kohl’s department store in North Canton, Ohio, on this autumn evening in 1996, something suddenly crossed my mind. I verified the price tag. Eighteen fifty. I should have enough ... even with tax.
I changed back into the jeans I wore into the store. Waiting in one of the checkout lines, I pulled my wallet from my rear, right pocket and slid my $20 bill out. When it was my turn, I laid the jeans on the counter.
“Hi,” I said to the female employee behind it who looked to be in about her mid-40s.
“Hi,” she said in a solemn tone, face down.
Waiting for the woman, who looked to be in somewhat of a hurry, to ring up my purchase, I handed her the twenty.
“Twenty dollars and four cents,” she said.
“Uh, you know what?” I asked her rhetorically with half a smile. “I only have a twenty. I didn’t think it’d be more than $20.” There’s gotta be one of those penny things (for customers who are short a penny or two ... or four in my case).
“It came to $20.04,” she said grimly.
“Oh ... well ... I don’t have any change, uh ... .” C’mon, what the hell’s four cents?
“Don’t you have a checkbook?” she asked in a rather testy tone.
“Yeah ... but ... .”
“Well, you have enough in their to cover the jeans, don’t you?”
“Uh ... no,” I said, hoping no one heard me and thinking maybe I was on Candid Camera.
This’ll do it. “My checkbook’s out in my car. ... I suppose I could go out and get it ... and write you a four-cent check,” I said with sarcasm oozing out of me. I couldn’t believe this was happening and was sure this little bluff would bring this dame to her senses.
The woman said nothing. She just sighed. She may as well have had a sign on her forehead that read, “Beware, I’m PMSing it today.”
So out to my car I went. As I walked out of the store, I was dumbfounded. I can’t believe this bitch is actually lettin’ me do this. ... It’s fuckin’ rainin’!
After fetching my checkbook I sloshed back into the store, rainwater dripping from my head. I laid the checkbook on the counter and asked the woman, who by now looked so irritated with the matter that I honestly thought she was going to explode, for a pen. She handed me one, but not without an attitude.
“Thanks,” I uttered half under my breath in a tone intended to make the woman believe I thought I was burdening her by simply requesting a writing utensil. By now, there was a line behind me. Let’s just get this over with and get outta here. As I was about to write the amount of the check in the space that called for spelling the sum out, I looked up at the lady.
“Uh ... I’ve never written a four-cent check before,” I chuckled. “I don’t know how to do it. ... Do you?”
The woman – er, witch – offered a sigh that could be deciphered in one way and one way only: @%#$&*! Then, suddenly, I heard a soft, sweet voice from behind me. “Need four cents?”
I’d never been so happy to hear any three words my entire life. They’d come from a young woman waiting in line directly behind me.
“Yeah! ... I appreciate it,” I said, happily accepting the young lady’s kind offer.
“Here you go,” I said to the female worker, handing her the pennies. “Hope it wasn’t too much of an inconvenience.”
Again, the sarcasm was simply gushing.
She took the money, placed the twenty and the four pennies in the register, bagged my pants, and virtually chucked them at me, nary a word ... nor glance. She was sick of me. But guess what? I was fed up with her, too.
I waited for the nice girl who’d come to my rescue to complete her purchase. As we left the store together, I again acknowledged her kindness, and then glancing back at Ms. Bad Mood, uttered half under my breath, hoping she heard me, “She’s prob’ly just havin’ one of those days.”
Boy, do I hope it continues.
Moral of the story: Always carry change.
A PEN NAME TO FORGET
“Hi, is Dan Williams there?” asked the male voice on the other end of the line.
“Uh, you’ve got the wrong number,” I said.
“Sorry about that.”
Thirty seconds later, the phone rang again.
“Is Dan Williams there?” It was the same gentleman.
“Uh, you’ve got the wrong number.”
The man identified himself as Steve, a sports writer for The Canton (Ohio) Repository. “I’m sorry to bother you again,” he said, “but we have a letter to the (sports) editor signed by a Dan Williams with this phone number. Does he live there?”
Then I remembered. “Ohhh! ... Uhhh ... hold on a second, okay?” Stunned, I lowered the receiver. I don’t believe it. ... What do I do?
Flashback to a week or so beforehand: I respond to a colleague of Steve’s opinion that I disagree with from a December 7, 1994, column by writing a letter to the sports editor of “The Rep,” where I’d been employed on a part-time basis – in the sports department, no less – just two years prior. Due to outside circumstances, I’d resigned without giving proper – or for that matter, any – notice. Fearful the letter would not appear in the paper if I sign my given name, I use a phony one – Dan Williams.
Back to the present: Problem was, I completely forgot about my little white lie – that is, until Steve was on the other end of the line. After quick and careful thought, I lifted the receiver, and what I uttered into it proved one thing – that one lie leads to another: “I’m sorry, I’ve been gettin’ some prank calls and I thought this was one of ‘em. I’m Dan Williams, and yeah, I wrote the letter.”
“That’s no problem,” Steve laughed. “I’m just callin’ to confirm it.”
“When’ll it be in (the paper)?” I asked.
“Okay, thanks a lot.”
A few days later, my letter did appear – with the name “Dan Williams” at the bottom. In the end, everything turned out alright. I nearly blew it, though.
Moral of the story: You can fib, but don’t forget you did.
HOW OLD AM I?!
As we pulled into her driveway soon after Saturday, June 21, 1986, had become Sunday, June 22, 1986, toward the end of our second date, I was preparing to meet her – her mother, that is. As we approached the back door of her family’s side of their duplex in Green Township (Ohio), about halfway between Akron and Canton, Beth whispered to me, “Oh, by the way, you’re 17.”
“Huh?” I asked.
“You’re 17; my mom’ll never let me go out with you if she knows you’re 19,” Beth, who’d recently turned 17 herself, said.
I was hesitant and panic-stricken, yes, but after quick and careful thought, went along with it. I can’t believe I’m gonna lie to her mom the first time I meet her.
After regrettably telling her mother (and stepfather) I was two years younger than I really was, the dreaded where-do-you-go-to-school question came up. I couldn’t tell them the truth. If I did – that I’d be a sophomore at Ohio University in the fall – they’d probably have gotten suspicious, and might’ve suspected I was some sort of honors student who finished high school early. On it was to plan B. Think, Rog.
I came up with a good one (well, maybe not good, but it was something). Fully aware that Beth would be receiving mail from Athens, Ohio, some four hours away, come September, I told her mother and stepfather that after attending public high school for two years, I would be spending my senior year at a private secondary institution called OhioUniversityBoarding School (say what?) in Athens. Our little whitey worked for awhile – or did it? Both her mother and stepfather worked in the education field and likely knew we were lying. In any case, everything came crashing down a few months later when Beth’s mother discovered my college ID.
Moral of the story: Don’t leave your wallet lying around.