You just never know when funny is going to happen in your life... sometimes it's appreciated, sometimes not
At Oak Ridge Military Institute, where I graduated prep-school, practical jokes reigned supreme.
It was quite the thing at 17 years of age to dress up like a soldier-boy with an issued combat-tested ‘O3 Springfield rifle. It was something else entirely to push the door open from your room, all crisp and uniformed up for retreat, and have a full paper cup of water come down on your head, messing up all the cool military school stuff you were wearing.
Buildings were old at Oak Ridge; doors were wide. A bed could be taken out of a room, into the hall, down the hall and out into the parade field without the young cadet sleeping ever knowing… until he woke up the next morning to the irrigation system sprinkler.
Or a young cadet would go to bed early, to have the lights in the hall turned out and a big lawn mower size buffer rolled into the room, and then out in the hall, plugged in. Cadets waking to this suddenly energized, but un-attended buffer had to fight flying furniture to get out of those dark rooms from hell.
And always there were the farters in formation at retreat. Often at the most reverend moment. Or that one time when a young cadet obviously was pushing to fart at a certain time, realized, when it happened, that it was not dry… you had something sounding sort of fartish, but soggy, and then a young voice, “….ohhhh nooo.”
Then this: Late one rainy afternoon we fell out for retreat in our raincoats and stood in formation in a light drizzle. The colors had already been struck, so immediately after the announcements the cadet corps marched the short distance to the mess hall and began filing in.
The rain started to come down harder. Lightning struck and thunder rolled across the campus. Those waiting in line were dismissed to seek shelter. My roommate, Johnny B. (“Good”) Anderson, and I got inside and we went through the cafeteria line. We had chili and beans. Again. Picking up our salad, chili and beans and crackers we made our way to a table by the front door. The rain was hitting the roof with deafening impact and as we took our seats lightning suddenly struck right outside the mess hall, and almost at the same time, mean, loud and angry thunder.
The lights went out. Everything was pitch-dark and for a second no one spoke. All we heard was loud, pounding rain outside. Then, near the cafeteria line, one of the staff military officers was saying that there were candles in the closet near the front door. He would get them.
He kept talking as he made his way in our direction. He stopped in mid-sentence and said, “Hey, who threw this on me?”
In the dark, his voice suddenly made him a target. Military school cadets pick up on things like this faster than your everyday kid.
Chili flew at him from all directions and he yelled “HEY!” every time he got hit. It was like he was keeping score.
The mess hall went wild. Food, water, Jell-O, salad, crackers, chili and beans filled the dark.
People were yelling. The permanent party guy was still crying, “HEY, HEY, HEY.”
The lights came back on.
The mess hall was a wreck.
The officer, still looking mighty surprised, was slimy with chili and Jell-O. Salad lettuce stuck out here and there like leaves. His large eyes stood out on his multicolored goo-covered face.
He was struck still with surprise. It was like he couldn’t believe that these particular boys threw food at him.
To his great credit, the gooey blob finally just waddled out into the rain, and walked home.
I don’t care who you are… now that was funny.
More recently, this visual: And stay with me on this until the end…
We went to Europe with close friends in the spring of 2011. Arriving early in Athens, Greece, Brenda and I visited the Acropolis our first day.
We were still getting used to rambling around with Brenda in a wheel chair… necessary because of her stroke the year before… but somehow didn’t think it added any insurmountable problem to our planned Acropolis assent, or dissent. We were told at the hotel desk, in fact, that there were handicap facilities there…
We never looked back. Should have. Didn’t. We headed out that morning in a taxi for our Acropolis adventure with a song in our heart. As we got closer that rock got bigger and bigger and bigger, so that when we arrived at its base, it was so huge and imposing our hearts weren’t singing so much anymore.
Brenda in her wheel chair and me the only means of power looked up in awe.
But we were not put off… OK a little bit. We went to the nearby museum first, maybe in hopes the mount wouldn’t look so awesome if we sort of got use to it first.
Finally we started the assent, Brenda chatting all the way about this and that. We reached a landing where horse drawn buggies and especially tour buses came to discharge their millions of healthy tourist to climb to the top, and I went looking for the “handicap facilities.”
Seems we had to go half way round this thing in a gradual climb to reach the elevators for the final lift to the top.
Yea right, gradual climb… if you are a mountain goat. For a 67 year old out of shape man, pushing a load, it weren’t no gradual climb. It was something that reminded me of basic training in the Army. Some endurance exercise. I’d push until I got tired and then we’d rest and I’d push again. Brenda, bless her heart, was very sympathetic, and if you knew her, you would know that she was sincerely sorry that I was having to go through this physical ordeal to do this thing we had talked about for months.
Finally we got to the elevator, as seen in the picture here to the left. Brenda who would normally be a little apprehensive, did not say a thing about this mountain scaling, death defying, man thing. She knew what I had done to get this far. She was going to do her part and take this thing to the top… and she did.
It was not as solid and sure a ride up as you’d imagine. Sort of swayed. And that ramp at the top I thought could use a little more duck tape.
But we got to the top and there before us was the Parthenon. From our 8th grade history class, there within the distance of a football field was something that went back thousands of years. Most people live their lives and never see this up close.
We looked in amazement for some time, didn’t move forward… and the people reading this who have been where we were then, know why.
There wasn’t any well paved walk ways. Just little paths between the rubble all around that magnificent marble-columned old thing.
So we started to pick our way here and there. It’s what we had come to do, and we were just so amazed at the people, from all points of the globe who had converged on this spot, who wanted to help us. There was no common connection among the people other than a human desire to help an old man and a woman in a wheel chair get around these giant clunks of marble litter. We almost had no time of our own, warding off offers of help from everyone it seemed we came into contact…
Now years later as I write this, I wonder how much strain I was showing in my power-to-the-wheel chair mode, that so many people volunteered to help.
However once at the top and the around the area a little bit, I was reassured about the rest of this particular adventure, because I knew from here on out that it was all downhill. And downhill’s easy.
And finally we had seen enough of the Parthenon… surprising how you reach a point of diminishing returns on enjoying up close looks at old Greek structures.
So we started down. We made it to the death defying lift. We made it down the death defying lift and we started the walk back to the base of the Acropolis.
I did not know how tired I was from the day’s excursion. But it felt so good for the wheel chair with my wife of these many years, sort of going on in front of me, all by itself. The “gradual” climb down was so very welcomed.
But then there was a stretch of the path that went down a little more than what we had been on, and it took some effort to actually keep the wheel chair from speeding on. I was holding it back, Brenda was chatting away like she does, and we are – despite my efforts – gaining speed.
Brenda notices, and says I ought to slow down.
And I’m almost in a run now. Still trying with each bound to hold the wheel chair.
And Brenda says OK that’s really fast enough. No need to be silly here, we aren’t in that much of a rush.
And I’m leaning forward trying to break this fucker from going any faster and it ain’t slowing down.
It’s going faster and faster and faster in fact.
And my eyes are getting bigger and bigger and bigger, ‘cause I can’t get the Brenda-born wheelchair to slow.
And…. and I can’t think of anything to do. It‘s a big drop off on one side and it rock on the other.
People are now jumping out of the way in front.
Brenda is saying OK, Jim, this is good, but really that’s fast enough.
I don’t answer. My eyes are big, my mouth is open, my ol’ legs are pumping.
It’s crisis city…. almost to the point where it’s a runaway wheel chair with a 67 year old woman, unaware that she’s on the front end of a disaster just moments from happening.
Dire, sure. But that must have been a funny sight. Wasn’t funny at the time to me at all. But to a professional photographer, it would have been a priceless moment.
Like a picture of a picture of a run away train coming into the station, that kind of priceless.
Fortunately an international rescue squad was formed of people we were blowing past and they came, the fastest did, two or three ran up behind me, reached around and grabbed the wheel chair, and we came to a stop.
Brenda thought that it was another act of general kindness like we had enjoyed so much up on the top, and she was thanking the huffing/puffing people who suddenly appeared at her side.
And then she looked around at me, drawn, out of breath, white, eyes still wide, and And she had the most puzzled look on her face.
Four or five people from all over bent over trying to catch their breath, me near death with exhaustion and Brenda, the only one not stressed, in the middle looking around like “What is goin’ on?”