Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Christmas Work

 I had to make some money, after getting back home from Texas, and not being able to find a teaching job.  I answered an ad in the paper for a writer.  It was a man, who lived in a public housing high rise, who wanted me to write his life story.  I interviewed him for hours.  He said he worked at the old Jefferson Hotel in Columbia, which was at the corner of Laurel and Main.  It was during the prohibition era, and he used to work at a speakeasy.  He would see politicians stop by for a drink and hook up with a prostitute.  He told me all about the Roaring 20's.  The problem with his story was that it was a one-person's account, which couldn't be verified.  I did some research on my own, and his name never came up in any of my research, despite how powerful he said he was.  In fact, he said he was a local gangster and hitman.  It was obvious to me that he was suffering from dementia.  I never wrote his story.  I don't even remember his name.  He didn't want to pay me, until the book was complete.  So, that's why I didn't write it, even though it was questionable to begin with.  He died a year later.
 I did get a job at J. B. White's at Richland Mall for Christmas.  It was part-time, and my job was to restock bags at registers and do some stock work.  I was not the only one doing this job, which was good, because it was pretty hard.  In those days, department stores were very busy with Christmas shoppers.  So, I spent the majority of my time bringing bags out to the departments that needed them.  At first, it was a not so bad, but as Christmas got closer, it got more demanding.  I brought the bags out, and stooped down to put them underneath the registers.  On one occasion, I brought out a pack of really big bags.  The load shifted on me, and I hurt my back.  So much so that I couldn't stand up.  The pain was awful.  I had to quit that job, because my back was more important to me than the money.  Ever since then, I have had lower back problems.  No workman's comp for me.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Willie Nelson

 When I sold records in Ft. Worth, Willie Nelson was the second most popular artist.  The most popular was Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys.  So, when Willie announced he was coming to Columbia for a concert in 1979, I just had to go.
 Delbert McClinton opened for him.  He was great.  Then, Willie came on stage.  He did a killer show.  The one thing that I was amused at, and I know he was too, was that a bunch of guys in the audience showed up wearing cowboy hats.  The hats were nice and clean.  They looked like they had never been worn before.  What was funny about that was what I had seen in Texas.  Any self-respecting Texan would buy a cowboy hat and then run over it with their car or truck before wearing it.  That fashion statement was important, because it had to look used.  It had to be dirty.  And, it had to look beat-up.  None of these guys in Columbia had hats that looked like that.  They weren't real cowboys.  They were showy, fake cowboys.
 So, if you go to a country music concert, be sure to roll your hat over with your car or truck, preferably in the mud.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

FBC Singles

 Just like 1970, when I met some people at Kilbourne Park and changed my life, I did so again at First Baptist Columbia, when I became a part of the Singles Ministry.  The Singles were a group of mostly young professionals who were unmarried.  We began a Sunday School class that grew large over time, and we hung out a lot together.
 One of the first places we went was Ridgecrest, NC over the Labor Day weekend.  It rained most of the weekend, but we stayed in a cabin owned by the church, and we went to an organized Baptist conference on Singles.  I met a girl there named Wanda.  She was not a member of our church and had come there as a guest of another guy in our group.  Wanda was very cool.  She was a writer and very creative.  I gravitated immediately to her.  We had long talks with long walks around the area.  She asked me what I liked to do for fun, and I told her I liked to gamble and play poker.  She told me she didn't like gambling, and that was when I gave that up.  I wanted her to like me, and if that was going to be a stumbling block, then I was willing to remove it.
 Another place we went was to Charleston for the day.  We went downtown and just walked around.  I discovered a store called Prism Records run by an albino guy named Fred (aka Billy).  He was very strange, but he had a lot of cool Beatles things.  He and I became friends over the years, and I will write more about him later.
 Another place we went during this first year in Singles was to White Oak Baptist Conference Center near Winnsboro, SC for the weekend.  One of our group brought his girlfriend for the weekend.  Her name was Donna Rice.  Years later, she got mixed up with Senator Gary Hart and caused a scandal that would cause him to have to resign from running for President of the US.  You never know who you might meet.  One side note was that little did I know that I would be working at White Oak a year or so later, but that story will be left for another time. 
 Also coming up will be the Singles' mission trips.  And the Singles' choir.  Oh, and Wanda joined our church.  I was glad.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Hosea

 While I was at seminary, I wrote a Biblical monologue on the personification of the Cross.  I did the monologue for a class.  It started with me as a seed and growing up to be a tree.  As time goes by, the tree gets chopped down and fashioned into a cross.  The cross does not understand why he is being used for the purpose of killing someone.  The monologue was physically demanding, because I had to hold my arms out straight for several minutes.
 When I got back home from Ft. Worth, I rejoined First Baptist Church.  They knew of my success in drama and asked me to do several things including stewardship promotions and puppet shows.  One day during Sunday School, my teacher asked me to prepare a monologue on Hosea.  Her name was Nezza Howard.  I didn't know much about Hosea, so I went home that afternoon and read the book of the Bible.  I got an idea about his life and what he preached about which was sin.  I read commentaries on Hosea and history about the time he lived.  He was especially upset about the prostitutes in his community.  God tells Hosea that he is to marry, and He wants Hosea to marry a prostitute named Gomer.  At one point, Gomer leaves Hosea and goes back to her wicked ways.  Hosea is distraught, and God tells him to take her back.  There is a some apprehension about doing this, but he eventually comes around to what God wants him to do. 
 One of the things I wanted to do with the monologue was to get the audience involved in it.  I didn't want them to just see what I was doing, but to also experience it.  I also wanted to put it in a more modern flair, because I have always hated the way some actors portray Biblical characters by wearing bathrobes.  So, I created this modern approach to the story.  I also wrote some humor into the piece, because it also allows for the audience to hear and respond.  And, I made it to be about 5-7 minutes to allow the audience not to get bored.  I also wanted to use the monologues to imagine what might have been going on in these characters' lives which are not spelled out in the Bible.
 So, the next Sunday I presented Hosea.  It was very well received.  As a part of the monologue, I did Hosea as an old man reflecting on his life, and also as a young man living his life.  I did it several others times for groups including White Oak Conference Center, the Spartanburg Arts Center, several churches, and even Dock Street Theatre in Charleston. 
 I also wrote other Bible-character monologues.  One was called Saul/Paul on Paul's conversion.  Another was called Peter on his denial of Christ.  Another was called Moses on him killing an Egyptian.  Another was called Peter vs. Paul on who was more important in the early church.  And, my personal favorite was called The Fishing Disciple, which was the story of a fisherman who is mad that Jesus was taking all of his fishing buddies away from him.  That one was the most fun to do.  It also provided me to do some improvisation in the piece.
 But, back to Hosea for a minute.  I would change the monologue a little to the times I would do it.  For example, when God tells Hosea that he must marry a prostitute, Hosea ponders who it should be.  Originally, I used the names Farrah, Cheryl and Suzanne, which were three pretty actresses of the day--Farrah Fawcett, Cheryl Ladd and Suzanne Somers.  These were three names easily recognizable by an audience.  As time went on, the names changed.  The last time I did Hosea, the names had become Paris, Britney and Miley.  The other thing I did in the monologue was to look out into the audience and find a girl or woman that didn't seem to be paying attention.  I would then go out into the audience, point at her, and yell "Harlot".  After all, Hosea was preaching against harlots.  It would also wake up the audience.  I had done it numerous times with no response, other than a little laughter.  So, I did it for a youth camp.  I looked over, and there was a teenaged girl looking off into space.  I went over to her; pointed my finger at her; and yelled "Harlot"!  Her face turned deep red, and she looked like she wanted to crawl under her seat.  Some of the boys snickered.  I knew I had gotten into something pretty bad with her, but I couldn't stop my monologue.  Afterwards, I went up to her and apologized.  She said it was okay, but I knew I had struck a nerve with her.  After that experience, I changed the word "Harlot" to the word "Sinner".  It didn't have quite the same effect, but it saved a lot of embarrassment. 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Blue Mountain

 I was sending letters of interest to all the colleges and universities I knew in the United States trying to find a teaching job.  I got back letters from most of the schools saying no.  But, in late July of 1979, I got an offer from a college for me to come see them.
 It was Blue Mountain College in Mississippi.  They wanted me to come see them, and they would pay for my airfare to fly out there.  I had to fly into Memphis, and the academic dean would meet me and drive me to the school.  Blue Mountain was an all-girl college and affiliated with the Baptists.  They had heard about me and wanted my expertise there.  It was a win-win for both of us.  I would have a job, and they would have me.
 After I got picked up at the airport by the dean, he drove about two hours to get to the school.  It was beautiful.  There were mountains around (hence the name), and the air was cool in mid-summer.  The dean put me up in his house, which was not far from the school.  In fact, everything was not far from the school, as it was a little town.  The college was the town.  I was first amazed at the fact that the dean didn't lock the door to his house, when we left.  I made a comment about that, and he told me that there was no crime in the community, and everyone left their doors unlocked.  He said the only situation they had ever had was a guy passing through town years before and was hungry, so he went into a house looking for food.  He only took some food and left.  It was like being in Mayberry.
 He took me over to the college and showed me around.  Even though it was summertime, there were some students on campus.  They seemed friendly.  I also met some of the faculty.  They seemed nice.  This was going to be the perfect fit for me.  The dean took me over to see the theatre.  It was in an old building, but I could work with it.  He also showed me where my office would be, and the textbooks I would be using.  He even showed me where I would be living.  He really did a good job selling the college to me.  My last visit there was a meeting with the president of the college.  He had to sign off on me, before I was to be hired.  We had a nice chat, although he told me one thing he expected of me that I had a hard time with doing.  He wanted me to direct a musical once a year.  I had done a musical in college, and knew how hard it was to coordinate the drama department with the music department.  A lot of egos.  The president told me that the community expected a musical, so I told him that I would work with him on it.  I thought that once I got established that I could do the productions I wanted to do. 
 So, after a weekend with those folks, the dean took me back to Memphis to get on a plane and fly back to South Carolina.  He told me that it would be soon before he would call me and let me know when to move out there. I thanked him, and got on the plane.  When I got back, I was confident that I had the job.  Two weeks went by, and I had not heard from them  I knew it was getting close to school starting, so I called them.  I didn't want to sound anxious, but I just needed to know.  The dean told me they had decided to go with someone else.  Okay, I was a big boy.  I knew I was not the only fish in the sea.  But, I was perplexed.  Why did they say I was the one, and then I wasn't?  So, I did some checking.  It turned out that they wanted to check with the seminary to see if there was anything that would prevent them from hiring me.  A man in the administration told them that I was a troublemaker, and related to them about the witch hunt that occurred during my last semester. 
 When I was going to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, I was told that I could go anywhere in the world with a degree from there.  That is true, although one cannot get hired anywhere in the world with a degree from there.  I discovered that I could not get a favorable recommendation from the seminary, where I had gotten my Master's degree.  The seminary where I had created the Communications major.  The seminary where I had spent two years of my life there.  It was all for naught, or so I believed at the time. Blue Mountain didn't want to reimburse me for the plane trip out there, and I had to beg them to do so.  The president reluctantly agreed to pay me back. I knew I had to go a different direction in my life, and teaching in a college was not on my radar anymore. 
 I did entertain an option to teach drama in a high school, instead of college, but I found that my courses in seminary would only translate to states where there were other Baptist seminaries--Texas, North Carolina, Louisiana, Kentucky, Missouri, or California.  Otherwise, I would have to start all over again and take Education courses at a school in South Carolina.  I was unwilling to do that.  So, I did get certified to teach in public schools in Charlotte, but I never followed up on that.  I also took the teacher's exam in South Carolina and was given a provisional certificate, but it expired two weeks later, so I didn't pursue that.  I have taught a little since to high schoolers, which will be covered later in my stories, but for now the teaching job door had closed for me.  Another was soon to open.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Datsun

 There is a scene in the movie "The Blues Brothers".  They had been evading the police on a long chase to Chicago.  The car had been through a lot, but they were on "a mission from God".  At the end of the chase, they stop in front of a building, and the car falls apart.  That pretty much happened to my Ford Maverick.
 It had survived a wreck; a beer run; 2 1/2 round trips from Columbia to Ft. Worth; and numerous other ailments, but it had gotten me home.  Then, it fell apart.  My father and I got it to the Dick Smith dealership, and the first words out of the salesman's mouth were:  "How did you get back home?"  It was on a wing and a prayer.
 It was time to trade it in for another car.  They were willing to take back the Maverick for parts.  I looked at cars and found a Datsun 210.  It was sort of an orange/brown color.  It was smaller and lighter than the Ford, but it was perfect for me.  My father had to cosign the loan for the car, and I had to make monthly payments of $167/mo. to start, but it was so worth it.  It had 4 doors, which was 2 more than the Maverick, and an AM/FM radio.  The Maverick only had AM.  The only downside was that the air conditioning dripped water into the passenger seat.  The carpeting squished a lot, but that only happened on trips.  In town, it was fine.  Also, I was used to a six-cylinder car with a lot of pep.  This was four-cylinders, and I had to learn to get a running start in going up steep hills.  I also had to get used to the automatic transmission selector on the floor between the seats.  The Maverick had it on the steering column.  Once all that was ironed out, it was great. 
 When I got home from Ft. Worth, I found my parents needed help with the house and their lives, so I agreed to stay at the old homeplace and become something of their caregiver, while they gave me a free place to stay.  It was a little confining, as I couldn't drink there, nor do other things, but I made do, and I was their caregiver for the next 15 years.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Au Revoir FW

 It was 1979, and I was trying to find a job in my field of teaching Theatre in a college.  I had sent out a lot of letters.  I had gotten some positive responses, but nowhere that I would feel comfortable.  Then, Lander College in Greenwood, SC said for me to come see them.  Greenwood was the town where my father was from, and where my Grandmother still lived.  I even have a street named allegedly after me (W Durst Street) that runs next to Lander. 
 I had to think about leaving Ft. Worth.  I had a good job that I enjoyed at Sanger Harris.  I had a girl who I loved named Kare.  I had a great apartment across from TCU.  All of those things made it harder to leave.  I made the decision that I had to go.  I quit my job.  They understood.  I terminated my lease from my apartment.  They understood.  I had to tell Kare.  That was more difficult.  We talked about her moving with me to South Carolina.  She was in college at UTA and liked the courses there.  She said she had an uncle in Atlanta, and we could meet up there, when she visited him.  Our last time together was when she picked up my Stearns & Foster mattress from my apartment.  I asked her to sell it for me, as I couldn't take it with me.  It was incredibly sad.
 I also needed to do something about all of my records and books, as I had accumulated a lot, and they wouldn't fit in my car.  A friend told me about shipping them on the train back to Columbia, and it wouldn't cost much.  I got everything boxed up and took it to the train station.  When the boxes arrived in Columbia, my father picked them up.  Somewhere along the way, a handler had stuck a metal rod into the side of each of the boxes, which put a dent into the cover of most of my records.  I was not pleased.
 I left Ft. Worth with my car and clothes.  I drove to Vicksburg, MS which was my standard stop on the way back.  I couldn't sleep that night, as I was missing Kare and the other people I had left behind.  I got up at 3am, and left Vicksburg at 4am.  I got to Atlanta around 5pm and called home.  I told my parents that I was going to try and get to Columbia.  By the time I started on that last stretch of highway on I-20, I was very sleepy and very wired.  I didn't know anything about anything.  My mind had cut-off, but I was still driving to Columbia.  I had on the radio full-blast to try and stay awake.  I had the window down to get fresh air.  About halfway there, I realized I was running out of gas.  Anyone who has driven on I-20 between Atlanta and Augusta knows that there aren't many gas stations on that stretch.  I passed an exit where one was, and stopped.  In my stupor, I backed up on the interstate to get back to that exit.  I know it was stupid to do so, especially at night, but thankfully there were no cars coming.  I got the gas and moved on.
 I got to Columbia around 9pm and went to my parents' house.  No talking.  Some hugging.  A lot of sleeping.  After a few days, I contacted Lander about coming there for an interview, and I was told that they had changed their minds about me coming to teach there.  I was back home.  If I had known about Lander's decision, I could have had more time with Kare.  God had other plans for me.