Monday, April 16, 2018

Jelly Beans

 I was looking for a real job after leaving White Oak.  There was a lot of retail experience in my background, so I succumbed to applying for those kind of positions.  One job I applied for was a customer service post.  I went to the interview in my three-piece suit and found it was a call center, and everyone was wearing jeans and t-shirts.  I was WAY overdressed.
 I did not want to work in another mall.  I really can't say why other than it seemed rather confining.  You worked and ate in the same place.  However, I had to find a job soon, so I went to Columbia Mall.  Since I had worked for Belk a couple of times before, I went into that store with the hopes that they would let me fill out an application and thus fulfill the requirement for getting unemployment funds.  They saw my application, and I was hired to work in the Books and Candy Departments.
 I had a lot of experience with Books, having worked at both Belk and Sanger Harris in the Book Department.  I did not have a lot of experience with Candy, except for eating it.  I expected to spend most of my time in Books, but I found myself most of it in Candy.
 We had a really good Candy Department, selling boxed as well as loose.  We had Brach, Sweet Shop and Godiva, and we also sold nuts.  For the boxed area, it was mostly Russell Stover.  We also sold Jelly Belly jelly beans.  When I was hired it was just before Easter, and folks were buying jelly beans.  We had a machine that would weigh the candy.  All I had to do was to punch in the price per pound and then weigh the candy to the desired ounce or pound.  The bad part about all of this was that I was not trained on my first day about how to use the machine.  A man came in and wanted a pound of jelly beans.  They were $3.99/pound, but I punched in $.39/pound.  He got a whole big bag of jelly beans and was very excited.  After that sale, they showed me how to work the scale.  The next day the same man was back.  He ordered the same amount, and I punched in $3.99/pound.  This time he got a handful of jelly beans rather than a big bag.  He got very angry.  I told him the jelly beans had gone up in price.  He never came back.
 I also had a theory that I had to know what the candy tasted like in order to sell them, at least that was my rationale.  The store didn't want the employees to eat the candy for free, but it made sense to me to be honest with the customers when they asked if it was any good.  I especially like Maple Nut Goodies and Chocolate Covered Peanuts.  Both were by Brach.  I really didn't care much for the more expensive candy, although Godiva Truffles were good.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

CIA

 As I was looking for steady employment after leaving White Oak, I came upon an ad in the newspaper from the Central Intelligence Agency.  They wanted interested people to come to a local hotel about possible employment.  Having worked for a week with them in Israel in 1973, and with the Dept. of Commerce in 1980, I thought I might have a chance.  It would require moving to the DC area which also enticed me, so I went.
 There was a woman handling the meeting who worked in Human Resources for the CIA.  She did not sugar-coat the work they were offering.  She said that she lived in West Virginia and drove into work in Washington every day.  She said it was important not to live near where you worked for fear that someone might follow you.  She also said that one would need to park far away from the Langley headquarters, and a bus would take you to work.  They were afraid of car bombs.  She was deadly serious.  She also told us that we couldn't tell anyone what we did.  We would have to make up a cover story that was a lie.  No family or friends could know. When asked what I wanted to do with the CIA, I said either analyst or courier.  I felt with my knowledge of several European and Middle East locations, I could easily do either one.  So, she gave me an application to take home and mail back in to them.  She said not to lie about anything on the application, because they would know.
 The application was 30 pages long.  It started at birth and went up to the present time.  They wanted to know who my friends were at my earliest memory; where did I live; friends from school and where they lived; any experience with drugs or alcohol; any political party affiliations; any subversive activities; and much more.  It was quite extensive.  It took me a week to fill out.  Much of it I didn't know, as this was many years before Google, so I couldn't find out where my early friends lived now.  When it got to the part about alcohol and drugs, I had to be honest, and I was.  I also shared my experiences in Israel with the CIA, and my anti-war activities.  
 I sent it back, and I waited.  A few weeks later, I got a letter back from them that said that I was not chosen for a position, because of some past experiences.  I wrote them back to ask them if it was because of the anti-war activities, as I would renounce all of that if it would help.  They wrote me back and thanked me for renouncing that stuff, but they said that the decision was also based on what happened in Israel in 1973.  They felt I could be blackmailed by a foreign power for what I did in the past.  They weren't kidding.  Much like they weren't kidding when they threatened to revoke our passports in Israel and send us home, if we did not comply to what they wanted us to do back then.  I kind of wanted to be a spy, but it was not to be.  

Monday, March 26, 2018

Back Injury & Phone Books

 1984 has come.  I don't have a job, as White Oak phased out my job there in 1983.  I was looking for some money when SCETV called.  I could always count on them, if they needed someone for a film.  This time, it was an industrial film called "Back Injury".  I knew about that subject, as I had lower back problems since that cursed play "The Breaking of Bread" back at Anderson College in 1972.
 This film was designed to be shown in factories on how not to get a back injury and the ways to treat a back injury.  It was very technical.  They brought in a doctor to show the ways to treat the back.  I played a factory worker.  There were two other actors who also played factory workers.  The scene was in an office with chairs.  We went through several exercises from sitting up straight in chairs to standing straight against a wall.  I actually learned something for my own back's treatment.  We also learned to lift with our legs, not our back.  That came in handy later in life for me.  The film ran about 20 minutes.  I have never seen it, but I hope it helped someone else.
 Another job I had at this time was delivering phone books.  My area was South Beltline and Fort Jackson.  I had to deliver them in the rain, as they had to be given out on a couple of days.  I put them in the trunk of my car which weighed it down to a point that it did a number on my shocks.  It also seemed that everywhere I went had speed bumps in the road, which didn't help my shocks at all.  The South Beltline area was mostly apartments.  It was a lot of walking in the rain, but not all that hard.
 Fort Jackson was another story.  I got to the front gate and told the soldier I was going to deliver phone books to the residences at the fort.  He told me to go to the headquarters building, and they would give me directions to the houses I needed to go to.  I did what he said.  I asked for a map of where the houses would be.  They didn't have a map, but they did give me verbal directions.  Then, they told me something that I dreaded:  "You can't miss it".  Well, of course I did miss it.  I drove all over the fort looking for these houses.  I found myself at the rifle range.  I drove by the hospital.  It was raining, and I couldn't see the street signs.  Finally, quite by accident, I found a street on my list.  The houses were surrounded by fences.  No one was home.  I was able to throw the books onto the porches of most of the homes.  That was until I came to one house.  They had a ferocious dog in the back that didn't want me to get anywhere near their porch.  I tried to reason with the dog.  I tried to be nice to the dog.  But, the dog didn't want any part of that.  He just wanted a part of me.  I was afraid that if I tossed the book over the fence that he would get it and chew it up.  So, I decided to avoid delivering that book for my own personal safety.  I drove back to the headquarters soaked.  I told the guys there that I couldn't deliver one book because of the dog.  They all laughed and said that was the colonel's house.  I didn't care whose house it was.  I gave the colonel's phone book to those guys at headquarters and told them to deliver it themselves.
 I got paid pretty well for the delivery of the phone books.  They were so impressed with my work that I was offered a job selling ads for the yellow pages.  I didn't take that job, because it was on straight commission, and I needed steady pay.  I also didn't need to get back out there with bad shocks.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Neighbors

 South Carolina ETV was filming a PBS program on race relations in the South during the 1950's.  It was called "Neighbors", and I had a role as a bus rider.  This was in the fall of 1983.  There was a director, and then there was a consulting director.  His name was Laszlo Benedek.  His name might not be familiar to you, but he directed many Hollywood movies.  Probably his most famous was "The Wild One" which starred Marlon Brando in one of his early roles.  Mr. Benedek was called in for two reasons.  First, his work during the 1950's.  Second, he was a stickler for details.  I dare you to find a mistake in "Neighbors".
 They put me on a city bus, which was also from the 1950's.  I was dressed in a short-sleeve white shirt and dark pants.  My hair had to be short, too.  I was placed near the front of the bus and told how to sit.  They then took a Polaroid picture of me to see where my hands were, and where I was looking.  Each day of the shooting, they referred to the picture, and I had to sit that way again.  They also trimmed my hair each day, in case it had grown overnight.  We went all over town in the bus, but the most tedious scene was the bus going over the Gervais Street Bridge.  Either it was too fast or too slow.  Or, someone had moved out of position.  We did that one scene for the better part of one day.
 After my scenes were done, I was asked one Saturday to watch their movie equipment, while they were filming elsewhere.  I became a Production Assistant.  I was at a church on River Drive guarding their things.  It was a long wait, because they were gone for hours.  Fortunately, my brother had given me an assignment, too.  He was hired to do the five-year plan for the Columbia Urban League, but he didn't have the time to do it, so he farmed it out to me.  I did a lot of research and wrote the plan, while waiting on the film crew to come back.  Later that day, I gave my report to my brother.  He put his name on it, and gave it to the Urban League.  I don't think they liked it, as I suggested they reach out to the growing Asian population in Columbia.  But, I got paid twice that day--sitting around in a church parking lot and writing a report that I don't think was ever used.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Smyrna #2

 We had such a good time in Smyrna, TN in 1982 that they wanted us back for Vacation Bible School in 1983.  They also wanted us to bring some people to do some construction work on the church, so more people came with us.  The girl I had working with us with the puppets couldn't go this year, so I asked for a volunteer who could do puppets.
 A woman came to me and said she could do that job.  She taught Drama and Speech at a local university.  I gave her the scripts to look over and to become familiar with.  She had them a week before we left.  I added a script to the group, because we were supposed to do a show for the children's Sunday School the day before VBS started.  It was just one page, and it was to get the kids excited about VBS.  It was part of the package.
 As we were going up to TN in the van, I wanted to get some sleep.  There were some girls in the seat behind me who had a boom box.  They wanted to listen to contemporary Christian music.  They set it up on the back of my seat and played it full blast.  I told them I wanted to sleep.  They said they wanted to listen to the music.  They won, and the trip went downhill after that.
 When we got to the church, we found out that we would be sleeping there instead of the campers from the year before.  That was a good call.  No more bothering from mosquitoes or deputies.  The church had a kitchen, and we had people from our group who could cook.  Another blessing.
 On Sunday, just before going in the Sunday School class to do our show, our puppeteer woman told me that she didn't like the words she was going to say.  One thing that I don't like is criticizing my writing, especially when I put a lot of thought and research into it.  She especially objected to my use the word "lucky".  The line she was to say was about how lucky we were to be back at the church.  She said she didn't believe in "luck", so she wasn't going to say it.  So, I changed it to "fortunate", although the kids would understand "lucky" more than "fortunate".  I was pretty mad, because she had the scripts for a week and didn't bring up any complaints until right before the show.  It was obvious to me that she hadn't read them.
 When Monday came around, she brought up more issues with my scripts.  These were the same scripts we had used for two summers in Philadelphia and the year before in Smyrna.  No complaints from anyone before now.  She took every line and wanted to change it.  I tried to be nice, but I told her that she was not speaking those lines.  Her character was.  She still was uncomfortable, but she did it as written.  Tuesday was a different situation.  She had rewritten her entire part.  I was livid.  My other puppeteer and I were scrambling to keep up with her, as she was changing her part as she went on stage.  It was a disaster.  I went to our tour leader to complain about her.  She couldn't change my scripts without telling me.  The tour leader said he would talk with her.  She told him that she found my scripts not to be Biblical.  The problem was that she knew we had to have her to do the part.  No one could step in.  I was about to change the scripts to a two-person show, or I would play both parts--male and female.  I sat down with her and told her that I had to have her do it the way it was written.  She said okay.  However, when we got on stage, she would change a word which would throw the rest of us off.  It was almost like we improvised the last three days of our shows.  We never knew what would come out of her mouth.  I am a perfectionist in my work.  She didn't help.
 One nice thing about being there was the construction aspect.  I was given the job of helping our carpenter install sheet rock.  How hard could that be?  It was very hard.  I had no idea sheet rock would be so heavy.  I got my frustration out from the puppets by working on construction.
 We went into Nashville one afternoon and stayed into the evening.  We went downtown and toured the Ryman Auditorium.  We also went to Ernest Tubb's place and Music Row.  I found a cool movie poster shop, but the posters were way overpriced.  It was a good day despite all the hassles.
 On Saturday morning, we left Smyrna to go home.  Someone suggested we take I-75 back.  Anyone having gone that way will know it is quite scary.  Most of it is downhill with winding curves.  We got to Chattanooga at 11:11 that morning.  My ex-puppeteer noted that is a sign from God.   I just thought we got there at 11:11.  We had lunch at the Chattanooga Choo-Choo Restaurant.  Overpriced and very touristy.  I was very glad to get back home.  I guess the kids liked it.  Not so much for me.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Smyrna

 The Singles at First Baptist in Columbia had spent two summers in Philadelphia doing Vacation Bible School, and it seemed they both had been success stories, so we were asked to do the next summer in another part of the country--Smyrna, TN.
 So, in 1982, we went to Smyrna and the First Baptist Church there.  Nissan had built a plant there, and the church wanted us to come and do some outreach with the children of the workers, and thus VBS for preschoolers through six graders once again.  I took my puppets with two other puppeteers.  Our group consisted of fun-loving and committed young people.  Each morning, we did three shows for the kids.  We used the same scripts I had written for Philadelphia, but I changed some words to fit a more Southern audience.
 Some man donated some campers for us to sleep in at night.  They were parked in some woods off of the road.  The campers slept 3-4 people in each, and of course they were not co-ed.  After the first night of roughing it, a deputy showed up at our campsite.  It seems that someone was not informed about our presence in the woods, so he came out to check on us.  Even though he didn't like us camping there, as he thought we were trespassing, we convinced him that we were doing God's work, so he reluctantly let us stay there.  It was only after the man, who owned the campers, said something to the sheriff, and we could stay.  The deputy did make it clear to us that we needed to clear out by Friday, which was good for us, because we left Friday night.
 In the afternoons and evenings, we had some free time, so we explored the area around Smyrna.  For those who don't know, Smyrna is close to Nashville.  Nashville would say that Smyrna is a suburb of that city.  Smyrna would take exception to that notion.  At any rate, there was a lot to see and do.
 One place we went to was a Civil War battlefield.  That was kind of spooky, because you could almost hear the cries of soldiers on both sides.  I even thought I saw their blood on the rocks.  We also did some shopping near there.  The highlight though was our two trips to Nashville.
 The first was to Opryland and the Grand Ole Opry.  Opryland was an amusement park much like Six Flags.  Everywhere you turned, there was either country or gospel music playing.  I enjoyed Whack a Mole.  We rode most of the rides, but the best was the flying swings.  I must say for a church group, there was some profanity let out on that ride.  It got to be rather funny.  At the Opry, we saw Tom T. Hall and Jerry Clower.  Jerry had me falling on the floor laughing.  My stomach hurt from laughing so hard.
 The second trip into Nashville was to see the headquarters of the Southern Baptist Convention.  I had never been to Nashville before, but it was like going to Mecca for me.  My father had been in denominational work all of my life, and my mother had written Sunday School lessons and devotionals for the Convention.  I had been to several Convention meetings, and countless numbers of conferences at Ridgecrest and Glorieta, but Nashville was where all the bigwigs worked.  We toured the Sunday School Board, where all of the music and educational work was based.  We saw where the printing of the literature was done.  I also walked across the street to the First Baptist Church and saw how huge the sanctuary was.  It was a special place for me, so I could go back home and tell my parents what I had seen.
 We left Smyrna that Friday night to return home.  We left in two vans.  One of the vans had some trouble, while we had been in TN, but we had gotten it fixed, so we thought.  The plan was to take the two vans down to Spartanburg, and meet up at one of our group's parents' house for breakfast.  Each van had a walkie-talkie to communicate with the drivers if anyone wanted to stop along the way.  So, down I-40 we went.  Some of us wanted to sleep, so the decision was made to cut off our radio.  We passed someone stopped on the side of the road, but since it was night, we didn't know who it was, so we kept going.  When we got to Spartanburg, we rolled into the driveway and found the parents frantic.  It seemed that the vehicle that we passed on the highway was the broken down van.  Someone from the van had connected with a highway patrolman, and he had phoned the parents to say they were stuck on the highway.  Our van driver went back a couple of hours to pick up the rest of our group.  The breakfast was good though.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Reconstruction

 As I wrote earlier, I was part of a group of actors that did stuff for SCETV.  One program I was involved with was called The Palmetto Special, which was for 8th grade History classes.  The episode I did earlier was called "The Charleston Tea Party", and now was another one called "Reconstruction".
 It was mostly filmed in the studio at ETV on Millwood.  They were experimenting with a new technique called chrome key, which allowed one to be filmed, and then they would fill in with artwork to make it appear as somewhere else.  My scene was to be at Trinity Episcopal Church in Columbia, while we were in a studio instead.
 The actual studio was made up of some folding chairs in a row, and a pulpit for the minister.  There were three of us, dressed in period costumes, sitting in the chairs.  A man, dressed as a general, walked in front of us to appear he was going down the pew to a seat.  I wore the same coat that I wore in the tea party show.  I really loved that coat.  I wish they had let me keep it.  I got the idea of moving a little on the chair, as the general was moving in front of us, to simulate him squeezing in front of us.  In actual fact, he was a few feet in front of us, but filming is all about illusion.
 The guy playing the minister could not get his lines right.  We went through several takes of laughing and frustration.  Finally, the crew wrote out his lines on cardboard and placed them in front of the pulpit for him to read.  If you see the show, you will see him look down and read fast.  He was reading the cue cards and not looking at us in the "congregation".
 When the program aired, the matte artwork was filled in and it looked like a church, sort of.  It really was a little hokey, but I guess 8th graders wouldn't have noticed as much.