Archive for July, 2011

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Learning the Hard Way

July 31, 2011

The Glen (Kenny still clinging , upper right)

I’m not sure how many folks have actually had near drowning incidents, but believe me, it’s not likely that they would ever forget it. My own near drowning incident occurred at Boy Scout camp when I was twelve.

Attending summer camp for two weeks at Camp NoBeBoSco in northwest N.J. was a given for the many members of my very active scouting group, Troop 176 in Bergenfield. The anticipation for this yearly sojourn was great and filled with much packing and repacking and last-minute reviewing of the outdoors section of the Boy Scout Handbook. I had always assumed NoBeBoSco was the name of some great Indian warrior for whom the camp was named, but in reality it turned out to be an acronym for North Bergen Boy Scouts. I’m glad I didn’t know that back then. It would have taken some of the edge off the experience.

On that particular day, a group of us went on a special hike. The destination was a storied location several miles from the campground area itself. It was simply called The Glen. This was a large mountain stream that flowed over broad sheets of moss-covered granite that sloped into a deep pool of water to make the perfect natural water-slide-equipped swimming hole.

The hike to get there was probably not that demanding, but for some twelve year olds, it might just have well been the ascent to Everest.  One such twelve year old was Eric, the bespectacled egghead of the group. He was certainly game enough but just didn’t have the physical capacity to do the job. As the rest of the bony, energetic scouts surged excitedly ahead, Eric lagged far in the rear, stopping often to rest or drink water or adjust footwear. At one point, he plopped himself down by the side of the road and dramatically proclaimed, “Just leave me here to die!” Apparently he watched quite a few movies. I don’t recall how the leaders finally got him there, though we heard rumors of an Indian travois being hastily lashed together.

Once The Glen was reached, the prospect of plunging into cool water after a long, hot hike was too much to bear for any group of sweaty young boys, so equipment was quickly shed and a mad dash ensued to the water’s edge.

Now, this was not a bone-fide recreation area; there were no lifeguards on duty, only several older scouts in the group who happened to be adept swimmers. All appropriate safety warnings given to us by the adults before leaving went by the wayside during the charge to the stream, followed by the joyful sounds of splashing and yelling. But at least all of the scouts could swim.

All, that is, except Kenny Malouf and me.

Kenny, an introspective sort, quietly found himself a small rock jutting out from the granite midway down the rock slide. He sat himself down in the rapidly running water, grabbed hold of that rock, and held onto it like dear life itself for the remainder of the afternoon. Every photo taken there that day shows him in that same spot.

I remember gingerly stepping out onto the mossy granite shelf, cool water rushing over my feet, and, seeing Kenny apparently so content, considered finding myself just such a spot. Before that thought could even settle, I felt myself sliding. Uh-oh, this is not good. Upright seemed like a rather bad position to be in, so I executed a rapid squatting sit down maneuver that I thought would restore balance and security. Instead, gravity and the rushing stream took the momentum of my movement and simply followed it through, resulting in me sliding, now in a layout position, feet first into the waiting pool. The one with water over my head. Not at all an ideal situation for a non-swimmer.

I immediately began doing what all near drowning victims most likely do: thrashing and screaming. Only problem — that’s exactly what a dozen or so other boys were doing in that pool. Except they weren’t doing it because they were in the early phase of drowning.

Luckily for me, one of the stalwarts of our troop, an athletic high schooler named Bobby Hoberg, happened to see me, and recognizing the difference between enjoyment and panic (I think he had the merit badge), dove in and pulled me the few feet to safety. Again, luckily for me, no one really noticed what had just happened in the havoc swirling around the waters of The Glen that day. Bobby was the modest sort, so he never mentioned it, realizing the importance of saving face to a gawky twelve year old (exceptional work, considering that he never was one himself; guess he had that merit badge, too).

After regaining my composure, I nonchalantly strolled back upstream, carefully surveyed the sliding area, and located myself a rock to cling to much like the one Kenny had found. The water ran safely over me, soothing both my bruised body and psyche.  The hike back to camp at the end of the day was uneventful, partly because it was downhill and Eric could handle it and partly because my mind kept replaying what had occurred. I don’t recall exactly my thoughts other than that twelve-year-old brain of mine trying to contemplate my brief flirtation with mortality. My one brilliant conclusion was that I had better learn how to swim.

However, that did not occur, and the following year found me back at NoBeBoSco still lacking that vital skill. It just so happened that my father had signed on to be the adult leader for the second of the two weeks. The year that had passed had diluted my resolve to become a swimmer, so my first week at camp was merrily spent doing other things.

When my father arrived, his first question was, “Did you learn to swim yet?”

“Ummm, no, not yet.”

“Not yet? What are you waiting for?” This, as it turns out, was not meant as a rhetorical question. I was signed up post-haste to begin my lessons first thing Monday morning.

After breakfast on Monday, My father walked me down the gravel path to the lakefront dock where the swimming lessons were to be conducted. He left me there with a wave good-bye and made his way back to our troop’s campsite to oversee it as was his duty. I watched as he disappeared over the crest of the hill and then made a U-turn away from the swimming area. I headed for my favorite spot: the small stream that fed into the lake a little way down from the docks.

I spent the swim class hour there hunting frogs and newts along the banks of the stream. It was great fun, and although I had a few pangs of remorse, they were quickly forgotten as I involved myself in my amateur biological pursuits. This process was repeated each day, and since my father was a taciturn man with no reason to doubt my whereabouts, I didn’t even have to lie about my swimming progress.

Friday came, the final day of swim classes, and for the last time my father walked me down the hill. When I thought the coast was clear, I started to make my way towards the stream. I just happened to look up the hill and saw my father reappear, heading back down the hill. My heart leapt to my throat. I sprinted to the dock. There, the beginning swim instructor was idling away the time on the dock, all the kids having already advanced to the other areas for more advanced instruction.

Out of breath, I was barely able to mutter between pants, “I’m here for lessons!” He looked at me quizzically, then shrugged and hopped into the shallow water alongside me. He started to explain the rudiments of the dead man’s float just as my father arrived at the water‘s edge. I shot a quick wave and tried to look like a really involved beginning  swim student, but I was scared out of my wits that I had been found out. However, he merely sat on the shore and watched.

The instructor tried to cram several days worth into that one hour, and by golly, he did enough for me to overcome my fear of the water. I came away knowing that it was indeed okay to stick my face in the water (“Just hold your breath!”) while doing the dead man’s float. I learned how to kick and add in a simplified crawl stroke. The hour ended before he had a chance to show me how to breathe correctly, a skill which has eluded me ever since, though I got good enough to eventually achieve Swimming Merit Badge (which also almost was the death of me, but that’s another story).

My walk back to the campsite with my father had little conversation but much reflection on my part. This would have been so much easier (and less anxiety-filled) had I gone about this the right way. This was a lesson well-learned that day, though its continued application over the years has been less than stellar.

I came away from this experience knowing how to swim, though, and that has proven to be both enjoyable and valuable. So armed, perhaps I should even add to my to-do list another visit to The Glen.

Hey, Kenny, are you doin’ anything next weekend?

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Johnny

July 30, 2011

Johnny at Kitty Hawk

The population of Hill City, South Dakota, is 948, one less than it was a few years ago. The one less is my friend Johnny. That he is gone from this life is a staggering thought. He was a kind-hearted and fun-loving person, and I’m sure he  left his mark on many people. He began his journey to the Spirit World, as the obituary in the Rapid City Journal put it, on February 24, 2008. The circumstances were cloudy; he was found dead in a hotel room after not coming home from a doctor’s appointment.

Johnny was a huge part of my life growing up from elementary school through college. I spent countless hours playing at his house with him and his older brother Ted. We shared the experiences of Boy Scout camping trips, church choir and youth group, playing sports as kids for hours at a time at Memorial Field and later on our high school cross country and wrestling teams, early misadventures with the opposite sex, and all the craziness of college breaks in the late 1960’s. After I left for the Peace Corps, his were some of the funniest letters (unintentionally, usually) I received while in the Philippines.

I wrote a little memorial for him on our high school web site in which I said that Life separated us, but that’s hogwash. I let it happen, and I am most unhappy about that. I had not seen or spoken to Johnny in probably over twenty years. I found out (from another great friend who I let lapse the same twenty years) in an e-mail that awaited me when I came home from school. I called Rob (with whom I had lived my last year at Seton Hall), and he told me what he knew. Johnny, who had lived in Pittsburgh since college with his wife and two kids, had gotten divorced and moved out to South Dakota where he learned herbal medicine and worked as a maintenance guy at Mt. Rushmore. He had remarried out there (with three step kids) and started a new life. He was cremated shortly after his death, and half his ashes were being sent to Pittsburgh for a memorial gathering of family and friends.

I did not go. I am most unhappy about that. I could say (and did) that I found out too late, that it was logistically difficult to get out there, that I needed to stay home with Bernadette who was sick with hemmoragic conjunctivitis. On the phone with Rob, who was packing his car to head out, I fumbled with my excuses. He, in his unchanged straightforward way, just said, “I have to go. It’s Johnny.” I should have gone too for that very reason.

I would have thought I’d have done differently. It’s bothering the heck out of me. Rob told me that the one good thing to come of it is that it finally reconnected us. But it shouldn’t have taken this.

So, Johnny, thanks for all the good times, and I’m sorry I didn’t keep up on my end. The world may little note your passing, but you made a difference in my life, and I will not forget you.

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Teacher, Retired (An Epilogue of Sorts)

July 29, 2011

room 26, my second home

I have been retired for a year. Retired. The word itself smacks of weariness. Retired. Used up. Out to pasture. Tired.

I don’t feel that way. I feel more like a goldfish released from its bowl swimming free in a sea of possibilities. Yeah, I know goldfish don’t swim in a sea. I know all about the myriad predators out there even in a small pond. Hey, we’re talking metaphors here.

Metaphors were my life, or at least a large part of it. I was an English teacher. This triggers raised eyebrows for many. Teacher. Not a very popular profession these days, especially in New Jersey.

But a teacher I was, and a teacher I am, and I am proud of that.

Students sometimes asked me why I became a teacher in the first place. I don’t know the statistics, but I’ve always had the feeling kids either gravitate toward what their parents do or as far from it as possible. In my case, I don’t think either of those applied. During my early childhood, my dad worked several jobs to make ends meet and was home very little. I really didn’t have a strong idea about exactly what he did other than the ever-present sense that it was grinding him down. My mom took in home typing from Parents Magazine, which was located a few blocks from my house in Bergenfield. I learned much about geography as she typed up the addresses on those envelopes (Corpus Christi! Saginaw! Eureka!) but knew that type of work was not for me.

But something happened at school that happened nowhere else. Yes, there was the fear and anxiety that accompany this journey for many kids. There was the rejection and confusion the “odd” kids all experience. But also there was…magic! The joy of discovering all manner of strange and unusual facts. The fascination with words and all the various combinations they produce: stories and books and poems, oh my! The opening of worlds unknown and improbable. And it made a profound mark on me. This is what I wanted to do. I wanted to be the one who could open these worlds to kids, the one who could dispense magic. And I’d do it without all the pitfalls I encountered along the way. I’d do it better!

Well, forty years down the road and having seen this school world from both sides (with more than a few rude awakenings along the way…Oooh, so THAT’S why they had to do that!), I still believe in that magic. It is and has been my Holy Grail, and like the original (Indiana Jones aside), it is a constantly challenging and often impossible pursuit. I must say that at some point of every one of those forty years I asked myself if I had made a wise choice in doing what I was doing. But at the end of every one I came to the conclusion that there was nothing that I would rather do.

There have been the inevitable peaks and valleys, of course, but the rewards have been too numerous to count. I always think of a J. D. Salinger line delivered by Seymore Glass in which he says, “I feel like a paranoid in reverse in that everyone is conspiring to make me happy.” I feel the same way. I have had the great fortune to have worked with such wonderful colleagues, teachers and administrators and support staff alike. Pierrepont School has become like another family to me. There have been so many students that have had a profound impact on me. I will remember them always. I can only hope I gave them something worthwhile in return.

I am at peace with my decision to retire. I am not about to don the white shoes and belt and head off to Florida.  Though I have left my teaching career behind me in one form, part of my resolution was the realization that I did not have to cease to exist as a “teacher” just because I retired from my formal position. There is a world of opportunity available, and a world of need, so I will be changing the where and when and perhaps the how but retaining the essence of who I think I am. This was perhaps the biggest piece for me. Even if it doesn’t turn out to be “teaching” in the normal sense, if I am to be useful and of service, I believe I will be content.

Being a teacher was not just a job for me. It was a passion. I am thankful that I got to live it out for forty years.

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The Long Walk Home

July 28, 2011

a moment of innocence at Nana and Grandaddy's

The weekly visits we made to that big old house on Columbus Drive in Tenafly took place with clockwork regularity each Friday evening throughout our childhood. My Nana, as we called her, would be taken food shopping at the local Grand Union by my mother and father while my Grandaddy would sip wine in his rocking chair on the porch to keep a supposedly watchful eye on us.

This arrangement allowed the two of us to have a wide range of activities at our disposal from playing in the stream down the road to poking around in the rhododendron bushes which were big enough to pretend were forts to making improvements to our bottle cap tree.

Now it was a surprise to me when I later learned that every kid didn’t have a bottle cap tree. What exactly is a bottle cap tree, you ask? Well, in our case it was a giant old oak tree at the end of the gravel driveway by the root-heaved sidewalk on Columbus Avenue. How it started I don’t recall, but it was a very big deal through all those years. Laraine had one side and I had the other, and we would take all the soda bottle caps we collected at home, were given by kind relatives, or found on the street and would nail them in rows to the trunk. I’m sure it wasn’t that healthy for the tree, but it was so old and its bark was so thick that I don’t  think it had any effect. We had scores and scores of them, and as the years passed, the rows would rise as the tree grew and the earliest would eventually be swallowed up by the bark. There were Nehi, A&W, Canada Dry, White Rock, Hoffman, Dad’s, and virtually every other brand available in row after row in various stages of rusty decomposition. My grandparents probably were not  crazy about the public defacing of their tree, but  it kept us out of trouble, so I think that was the overriding factor.

However, it was getting into trouble that became our most memorable activity during those weekly trips. On one occasion we (meaning of course my sister, the perpetual ringleader) got the idea of replacing grandaddy’s glass of wine with a concoction that we made up from ingredients found in the kitchen. Grandaddy was from England, and he drank a somewhat syrupy dark wine, most likely port or sherry of some kind. He had asked us by about the fourth glass to refill it for him, and that’s when the plan was hatched. The refrigerator had an array of condiments: catsup, Worcestershire sauce, beet juice, salad dressing. We busied ourselves like two chemists, trying to match the color and consistency to the wine as best we could without taking a suspiciously long time. We ended up with a vile brew that was in the general vicinity of deep red, so we returned to the porch with the glass and scuttled away, barely able to contain our giggles.

We hadn’t thought beforehand about any adverse reactions our grandfather might have, like being poisoned or gagging on the horrible fluid. But nothing happened. We strained our ears and peeked as best we could, but there was no reaction at all. In retrospect, he could have very easily smelled that it wasn’t his usual but figured discretion was the greater part of valor since he wouldn’t have had that extra glass had nana been there to monitor him. Wisely not willing to tempt fate, this shenanigan was never repeated.

Playing with matches was one of the distinct no-no’s for young kids, which of course, along with the natural attraction to fire, made it all the more tempting. Somehow Laraine was able to procure a book of matches, not too difficult considering both my grandfather (cigars) and father (Pall Malls) smoked. After anxiously awaiting the shoppers’ departure and grandaddy’s settling in, we snuck off to the garage. This garage was more like a small barn with a very high peaked roof covered inside with immense cobwebs spanning the inside beams. There was all manner of old fashioned gardening implements and boxes and barrels inside. We generally were not allowed in there, but it was perfectly secretive for this latest mission.

After a few furtive test lightings, we spotted a bale of peat moss in a hemplike sack. The strands of hemp sticking loosely out at the top looked so much like the fuses on those round black cartoon bombs that we couldn’t resist. We lit a strand. Before we knew it, the flame spread rapidly to the rest of the hemp and then the peat moss itself until we had a major conflagration on our hands. Panic escalated as the flames shot upward, igniting the webs and threatening the structure itself. Beating the blaze with brooms contained the fire enough so that we could drag the bale out the door to the neighboring florist’s field next door, now fallow, luckily for us. The smoldering peat finally submitted to our pounding, and when the last wisps of smoke dispersed and the charred remains were safely buried, we surveyed the damage.

Other than the gaping holes in the webs and the lingering smell of smoke, there wasn’t much evidence of a fire after sweeping and dispersing the ashes, but the problem was  one of the now-missing peat moss. Could such a large item be overlooked? We had no way of knowing, nor was it within our control, so we headed back into the house to lick our wounds. Up in the bathroom, after washing up and calming down, my sister sat me down on the edge of the bathtub. As I stared blankly at the chick on the can of Bon Ami cleanser next to me, she made us both swear an oath to never, ever touch a match again for the rest of our natural lives. I don’t think we did, either. Again, somehow, much like the wine incident, nothing ever came of it.

That was most definitely not the case with our biggest escapade, however. The funny thing is, this one was the most innocent of the bunch.

There was a very odd candy store around the corner and a few blocks down to which we would sometimes walk. It was strange because it was really just some lady’s house, and in her living room there was a glass counter with candy that she sold. One afternoon after going there, Laraine got the idea to walk farther down the street. Upon arriving at an intersection, it excited her to realize that this was one of the ways our father would sometimes drive to Tenafly. The spirit of exploration swept over us, and we continued walking.

After quite some time, we realized that we had gone very far from nana’s house. Another bright idea: since we knew where we’re going, why not walk all the way home to Bergenfield! Won’t Mom and Dad be surprised!

Oh, boy, were they. Except surprised is really not quite the right word. Perhaps irate? Incensed? Livid? It was getting dark by the time Laraine and I walked the last leg of our journey down New Bridge Road to our house. Only one problem. We had no key. These were the days before the ubiquitous cell phone, so what do we do now? A knock on the neighbor’s door, a phone call, and a nervous interim while awaiting our doom.

Other than the thunderous waves of parental tirade we endured that evening, I don’t remember specifically what our punishment was. I believe I played up the innocent-little-brother angle to save myself. I was confident that Laraine, experienced as she was at this business, had the wiles to make her own escape. This, though, signaled the end of our misadventures at Nana and grandaddy’s house, but our long walk home would eventually take its place in the family annals of infamy, the crown jewel of all our childhood capers.

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Lounge Socks

July 27, 2011

Lounge Socks

I was abandoned by a cat today. Actually, a kitten, a small black ball of fur we named Lounge Socks for his white paws and a joking reference to the socks I wear around the house. He arrived on a Monday courtesy of Socks, so named by neighborhood kids, a grey mother cat with white paws like her offspring, deposited in the garden outside the front window of our kitchen. But today, Friday, the first day of my summer vacation, Lounge Socks is gone. A sadness that I would not have anticipated hangs over me as I occupy myself with my chores, stopping often to look out the front door hoping to get a glimpse of this little kitten sleeping or hunting bugs or swatting merrily at the leaves as he did all week long. But he’s gone.

Several weeks ago we started seeing Socks in and about the yard of our recently deceased next door neighbor’s empty house. I saw her one day with two kittens at the end of the block in the shade of some trees. I then discovered that her lair was in a wood pile under the deck of my neighbor. It seems the people on the other side (whose grandchildren named her Socks) had been leaving milk out, a good reason for staking claim to that spot along with the relative solitude.  I watched her hunt, gracefully stalking the plentiful chipmunks who populate the area.

I was drawn to the little guy from the start.  I was in the process of trying to finish up all of my end-of-the-year-pain-in-the-behind paperwork for school, but I would get up every few minutes to see how the kitten was doing; one time curled up napping under the young evergreen, another chasing after bugs in the mulch under the lilac, another nursing in the shade of the peony when mom had returned from a foray. Bernadette was also entranced. Each night when she would call telling me what train she was on, the first question would be “How’s Lounge Socks?” followed by “What’s he doing?” and “Is his mom there?”    Each evening, through supper and up until bedtime, the both of us would look in on the little life that had taken up residence under our noses. We worried when mom seemed to be gone for too long (“Should we leave him something to eat?”).  We fretted when a rain storm rolled in. We obsessed over his well-being, his choice of sleeping spots (“Oh, no! He’s on the edge of the retaining wall!”) We took such pleasure in seeing him, head nestled on his little white paws, snugly settled in for the night under the drain pipe at the corner of the garden.

Last evening, the last time I saw Lounge Socks, I was going to the car to pick Bernadette up at the train station. Socks was sitting halfway to the street on the retaining wall with Lounge Socks next to her, his content little head resting against her side. She eyed me warily as she always did, poised for flight, Lounge Socks oblivious to the “danger” of my presence, but Socks seemed to relax again as I pulled out of the driveway and departed. My last glimpse was of them together in that spot.

When I arrived home again later, black storm clouds gathering ominously, he was nowhere to be seen. Bernadette wanted to conduct a thorough search under the other plants; I wanted to leave him be, convinced that he’d simply found another spot for that night. Soon the thunderstorm struck, a booming deluge that had us constantly peering outside. The storm finally passed, but still no sight of the kitten, a fact confirmed this morning when we looked all over for him. My heart jumped at each blotch of darkness, falling again when it was not a black furry kitty, but merely a shadow.

Bernadette is at work. I am puttering about, getting my summer life organized. I go outside, hoping against hope that it was only a temporary move because of the storm, but I’m wrong. He’s gone. I am hard pressed to explain the tears that well up as I stand alone in my front yard. It was only a wild cat. It was only here a couple of days. Why should I care so much? But there is no mistaking that this tiny creature stirred up something deep within me, some connection with life or hope or wonder. I suppose this is a good thing. But I know each time I leave the house, I’ll have my eyes peeled for a small black cat with white socks who captured my heart.

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Center Field vs. Lawrence Welk

July 26, 2011

My father was a very handy man but also very traditional, so when he was finishing my little room in the dormer he built atop our house, I was surprised when he installed the accordion door.

All of the other doors in the rest of the house were the traditional swinging wooden kind. So why an accordion door? In hindsight, it made good sense. The opening to my room was at the very top of a steep staircase. A traditional door swinging out would clobber any unsuspecting person at the top of the steps or block off the only window on that side of the upstairs. There was little room for it to swing inward, the end of my bed reaching the space by the opening on one side and a bookshelf filling the other. The accordion door did not swing either way. It folded up sideways. Problem solved.

Another created, however, at least in the eyes of a twelve year old in search of a private life. Space saving though it may be, the accordion door was noisy. Its unmistakable rumbling sound could be heard throughout the house, making it impossible to enter or exit without announcing it to the rest of the family or any guests who may have been present. Especially in the quiet of the night. Every bathroom run or late night refrigerator raid could be detected from the start because of that door.

There was no way to prevent this racket. The tracks would not accept any kind of lubricant (I tried). Speed would only alter the tone and duration. There was no way around it. It was like having those peacocks that guarded the Turkish prisons, innocent looking until you tried to get past them, and then the squawking alarm would sound. Now, I was not really doing anything so surreptitious that I should worry over this, but the mind of a twelve year old boy is a strange thing indeed.

What made it worse was that I actually played the accordion back then. I absolutely hated it. One could not ask for a more dorky instrument to play. Well, I take that back. My sister played the glockenspiel for a time. That had me beat.

My mother was a huge fan of the Lawrence Welk Show, and one of her favorites was the accordion player, a straight arrow named Myron Floren. Myron! What was his mother thinking! He was destined to play the accordion (or the glockenspiel) with a name like that. Anyway, it is my belief that my mother wanted her ugly duckling son to grow up to be the next handsome young accordion star of the airwaves. I, on the other hand, had my mind set on being the next star center fielder for the Yankees.

For better or worse, neither came to pass. But I’ll bet you one thing; Mickey Mantle never had any accordion doors in his bedroom.

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The Daughters of Satan

July 25, 2011

The Methodist Youth Hostel on Adriatico Street in Manila, a compound of small ordinary-looking buildings, had become the place that most Peace Corps Volunteers would stay when in from the provinces. Both its location close to Peace Corps Headquarters and cheap rates made it ideal. Even with its shared bathrooms and barrack-style sleeping quarters, it was a luxury compared to most of our in-country abodes.

Little did I know that this was to be the unlikely site of the beginning of my short-lived movie career.

One seemingly ordinary Friday in March of 1972 found me spending a weekend there along with a fellow volunteer, Bob Johnson. Bob had the semblance of a California surfer from his blonde Beach Boy hair to his laid-back demeanor, except that he happened to be from Brooklyn. We went through training together in the same group back in the states but saw each other infrequently since we had been assigned to different islands. This accidental reunion presented a welcome opportunity to catch up a bit. We had no idea what was in store for us.

The producers of the many B movies that were being made in the Philippines at the time apparently knew that this was the spot where young Americans tended to lodge. Whenever the need for extras of this type arose, this would be their first stop.

One such gentleman showed up on that Friday and spotted Bob and me. He asked us if we would be interested in making a little money by being in a movie. Having nothing in particular scheduled, we looked at each other, shrugged, and said, “Why not?”

At that time we had absolutely no idea what the movie was about, what kind of roles we would be playing, and most of all that this was to be the now-famous Tom Selleck’s film debut.

The movie folks drove us to the location in Manila where the scene we were to be in was being filmed. We soon arrived at Intramuros, a landmark of great historical significance. Built by the Spaniards during their colonial reign, the cave-like fort became infamous for its use as a Japanese prison during WW II.

And what were we going to be doing on this hallowed ground? Filming an R-rated scene for a trashy movie about devil worship!

The title of this movie masterpiece was Daughters of Satan. Our one and only scene consisted of the flogging of one of the Daughters whose path had strayed from the coven, thus leading to her punishment. Bound spread-eagle and topless, she was faced with the choice of returning to her Satanic family or the prospect of some vile form of torture and death.

Bob and I played the roles of the “enforcer” warlocks. We sat on either side of the stone throne of the head witch who conducted the malevolent proceedings. And what an odd pair of warlocks we were! Bob was well over six feet tall, fair, and built somewhat like a lumberjack. I was dark, scrawny, bearded, and five-foot-eight.

Scan 112050001

Type cast perhaps?

We were dressed as we normally would have been: jeans, T-shirts, and flip-flops, not very warlock-like in my opinion. No matter. As the gathered coven, mostly Filipino extras trying hard to look evil despite their excitement at being in such close proximity to the naked bosom of a starlet, chanted “flog her, flog her,” Bob and I looked on, glaring with our sternest Satanic stares. My appearance was brief; after the opening part of the scene, there are but fleeting glimpses of me partly hidden in the shadows behind the flogging scaffold. I fear my bet shots were left on the cutting room floor. I don’t recall exactly how many times the scene had to be repeated, but it turned out to be a lengthy affair with much waiting around in the tropical heat between takes.

At the end of the shooting we were asked to make up stage names (mine was Donald Wilborn, the best I could come up with under the hasty circumstances) and then paid seventy-five dollars for our troubles (not bad considering that equaled our Peace Corps salary for a month). Since he didn’t appear in our scene, we never did get the chance to actually meet Selleck.

Bob and I went back to the hostel with unanticipated money in our pockets and an unusual tale to tell. We finished up our Peace Corps lives over the next few months and then returned to the United States later that summer. Bob got married and moved to Colorado, and unfortunately I lost touch with him.

As time passed and I resumed my stateside life, I didn’t give much thought to this strange episode, at least not until one ordinary summer evening back home in Bergenfield.

My friends Johnny, Rob, and Chuck sat around the kitchen table at my house, once again reenacting the old “So, what do you want to do tonight?” routine from the classic film Marty. As I perused the movie listings, there I saw it: Daughters of Satan! Playing that very night at a theater in Englewood, the next town over!

We excitedly piled into the car and headed to the final showing of the night. Johnny tried to talk the older disinterested-looking woman at the ticket window into letting us in for free since one of the “stars” of the movie was in our party, but she only looked at us askance and asked if we wanted to buy tickets or not. My scene flew by in a couple of minutes, but we all had quite a hoot anyway.

Decades passed until Daughters of Satan unexpectedly resurfaced once again.

Lunchtime in the teachers’ room at Pierrepont School evoked conversation amongst my friends and colleagues during which virtually anything could —  and usually did — come up, including stories exchanged of our varied and often wacky experiences. I related the story of the making of my warlock scene, and it thereafter became kind of a running joke, culminating in two unique Christmas presents.

One year it came in the form of an original movie poster — somehow procured online — in which I can be seen, an illustrated extra looking for all the world like a young Charles Manson, to the far left of the half-naked starlet who was, of course, the main attraction.

 

Another year not long after, I received a DVD of the movie. I henceforth had the ability to view this awful piece of cinema in the privacy of my own home whenever I so chose. Normally it sits in its dust-covered glory in the bottom of a cabinet, but I do admit that I take a peek at my sixty seconds of “fame” every so often. But otherwise, The Daughters of Satan has fittingly faded away into the twilight of the past.

Unless, of course, Selleck calls to do a sequel.