Thursday, June 21, 2012

The California Lunch Room—Where Stylish Woman Shop

Fiction 500 recently ran a contest for short  stories. The prompt for the 500-word story was a picture of a house bearing the sign, California Lunch Room. I didn't win but from the judge's comments, I seem to have made an impression.

The California Lunch Room, Where Stylish Women Shop

This is a picture of my first business venture—where it all began.

I’ve been an entrepreneur all my life—a creative genius if you will, whose ideas have always been both on the forefront and on the edge.

I came up with the metric clock when metrics were all the rave. Everyone felt it was only a matter of time before the whole world would go metric. Soda was being marketed by the liter and foodstuff (I wish I’d invented that word) was coming to us by the grams. Yardsticks suddenly became meter sticks and the whole world seemed to be aglow in ten and the powers of ten.

I didn’t care one way or the other but I did see an opportunity.

No one was looking into the time situation. No one was breaking the day down into the morning ten hours and the evening ten hours. No one was looking into hours composed of a hundred minutes, minutes made up of a hundred seconds, or seconds broken into milliseconds—okay they were doing that but why not the other stuff, too, I wondered.

Unfortunately, that idea went right into the 500-liter trashcan.

But I never gave up. I simply went looking for a better idea.

The good thing about ideas is they usually come at you a kilometer-a-centihour.

I was watching the Michigan/Ohio State game on TV one cold Saturday afternoon. Being inside I wasn’t affected by the cold but more importantly my brain was able to keep functioning. None of the frozen brains in Ann Arbor that day were even pretending to still be functioning. 

That’s when I invented the ear sock.

You are probably saying, “What about earmuffs? We already have earmuffs to keep our ears warm.”

Get real. No one wears earmuffs. They’re embarrassing for men and most women find them unattractive. 

As I watched the tuba player march across the field to famously dot the “i” in Ohio, I noticed the tuba had a covering over it, a sock if you will, with Ohio written across it. An idea was born.

College students would be able to purchase my ear socks with their school logos imprinted on it and not only keep their ears warm but also support their team.

Ah, but getting ideas is easy. Backers are another story.

So what about the California Lunch Room? Was it ever a restaurant?

That would have been too easy.

Back in 1947 I was a newly discharged soldier with enough ideas in my head to drive a sane man crazy. I bought this little house and began selling my newest invention—Tobacco gloves.

Everyone smoked in those days but no one liked having yellow fingers. My glove was the answer to a stylish woman’s nightmare. With my gloves she could smoke like a chimney but her hands would always look like pure white porcelain.

Of course to make money I still had to sell snacks, candy and caps and eventually even lunches.

Never Mess Around With a Nun Named Leo

It began as a casual observation, thrown out in haste—possibly, with little or no thought given to the consequences—obviously. The four of us had been called to the front of the room to explain our continued misbehavior after having spent the last hour standing in the back of the room for previous transgressions. We were clearly digging that hole that people are always talking about.
The question we were asked was a very simple one.

“What do you boys think you’re doing?”

Schoolboys have been asked this from time immortal and the correct response has always been the same. You look down at your feet, shuffle them around a little, shrug your shoulders and shake your head from side to side and then say, “I don’t know.”

That is the only acceptable answer. No one really expects you to incriminate yourself. The teacher is only interested in getting that question out of the way so she can move on to the next phase—the punishment phase. The question is only a formality and should be treated as such. That’s what the smart kids do.

Looking back, I realize our response didn’t even answer the question that she had posed and reluctantly I must admit that I was the one who answered the question but you can’t go back and rewrite history.

“The other eighth grade is better than ours,” I said, in response to the question, “What do you boys think you’re doing?”

Monday, June 11, 2012

America's The Greatest Ride of All

Roller coasters are great fun. Merry-go-rounds are great fun, too.

But merry-go-rounds are kind of old European fun. When I think of merry-go-rounds I think of Vienna, Austria. I think of organ music and mirrors and faces with masks.

Roller coasters are more American—Palisades Park, Coney Island, and King’s Dominion.

The theory behind the merry-go-round is to create a sort of pleasant monotony.

The idea behind the roller coaster is a thrill a minute. Speed.  Sharp turns. Scary drops. Yes, the roller coaster is definitely more America.

A nice thing about a roller coaster is that a lot of people can enjoy it together. In fact, a lot of people should enjoy it together. If you go on a roller coaster alone you might just as well go to the cotton candy booth and make something out of nothing, because when your ride is over, you’ve got nothing.

You have to have a crowd to do it right.  But that doesn’t mean everyone gets the same amount of fun or thrill. For some people, the roller coaster can’t go fast enough and they long for more. For others, it goes too fast but that’s all right because they want to push themselves to the limit for a short time. For some, it’s the challenge. For other’s, it’s the noise. Everyone has his or her own reason for riding the roller coaster.

While everyone has his or her own reason for riding a roller coaster, I’m sure we all would agree on one thing. A roller coaster should be safe. It shouldn’t go so fast that it falls off the tracks. There should be a safety bar to keep people from flying out of their seats. Imagine the irony of going on something to have a good time and winding up flying through the air and—well, you get the point.

So while it is important that a lot of people ride the roller coaster, it is also true that the most important people are the ones who design, build, and operate it. That is why it is almost mind boggling to think that the kid wearing the tee shirt and baseball cap with the tattoo on his arm and the cigarette dangling from his lips is in charge. But it’s true. Perhaps, that’s the scariest part of all about roller coaster rides.

What would happen if a small group of riders wanted the roller coaster to go faster and faster? What if it couldn’t go fast enough to please them? What if this kid in charge—this kid who doesn’t know anything about physics or gravity or centrifugal force; this kid who doesn’t understand that the purpose of the roller coaster in the first place is for a lot of people to have fun; this kid who is so insecure that all he wants is to be liked by the few people who want it to go faster and faster—what if this kid allows the roller coaster to go faster and faster?

The Frogs and My Magical Mandolin

The rainy season came to Vietnam shortly after I arrived and it didn’t seem like it was ever going to end. The reason that Lin said every Vietnamese song was about the rain was that it never truly went away. There was the season when it rained all day and all night and then there was the season where it got hot as hell every day and only rained around four in the afternoon to cool things off. I never minded being caught in that rain because it felt so good and I knew that a half-hour after it stopped I would be completely dry.

The period right after I arrived in Vietnam just seemed to a very damp and monotonous time. The only sounds permeating through the bleak, gray sky was the alternating whirring and whacking of huey rotor blades and the constant slamming of raindrops onto the metal roofs of the barracks.

On one of those rainy days Tony and I rode a bus into Saigon to take some pictures, play around with the tea girls on Tu Do Street, and just do our Hemingway thing, which boiled down to getting away from the structure of Long Binh and into the helter skelter of the city with absolutely no rules—or a lot of rules that everyone seemed intent on breaking. The object was to interact as much as possible with the locals so as to feel that the war, and our year in it, didn’t become just an exercise in keeping our noses clean. When we went to Saigon we were looking for trouble—not big trouble with a capital T but maybe mischief with a small m.