Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Another meme question revealed...

This is an old story that comes from the meme about five outrageous things that have happened to me – four of which were true.

It was the summer of ‘68, a time of extremes. At one end, the Vietnam War colored everything with anger, pain, and despair. At the other end, young people were exploring the boundaries of…well, anyway, they were exploring boundaries.

I was a journalism/philosophy/creative writing major at Northeastern University in Boston which was known at the time for its excellence in engineering. Why I was there was another story since I was also a high school dropout. And while I attended Northeastern, I lived near Harvard Square because it had a more diverse mix of odd people, cute girls, and drugs. It was the year that “streaking” – running naked in public became popular. Hint hint.

There were major protest marches against the war and for racial equality. This is irrelevant to the story but I recently ran across some old photographs I wanted to add so I add this fact as a digressive segue.

While I did not like the war and while I could not fathom why people treated other people differently because of skin color, I participated in lots of protest marches more, to be egotistically honest, so I could take pictures, score marijuana, and meet girls.

The meeting girls part might not quite be true because I was really involved with one girl, Betsy…but Bagman was alive and well by then so the meeting girls part might have been a bit true anyway.
But back to the story, that summer, I drove down to Florida to see my father, the Hermit of Panther Key. We spent a couple of weeks on his island and then I drove back to Miami where Betsy was going to fly down to meet me so we could drive back together. I had three days to kill.

Cruising around in my VW “Hippie” Bus (I’d pulled out the seats and had a bed and some crates that served as a writing table for my Royal portable clickity-clack typewriter), I passed a building with a sign that said “Associated Press.”

I thought it couldn’t hurt so I went inside without stopping at the reception desk and wandered around until I found the photo department and walked into some editor’s office unannounced and asked if they needed any freelance help.

Amazingly enough, the guy threw me a handful of rolls of Tri-X pan film and wrote some notes on a piece of paper and said, “Come back if you get anything.”

Looking back on that, I realize it could have been crack in a door of amazing opportunity. But I just saw it as a way to kill some time and maybe make a couple of bucks.
I had three Mission Impossible assignments. The first was to get some paparazzi shots of a recluse boxer preparing for a championship fight in a ritzy Miami Beach hotel. That assignment was quickly ended by two very large men with Italian accents, blue suits, and sunglasses.

The next mission was to shoot a feature on people who lived on boats. I think this assignment was the one the AP guy liked because I no longer have the film and he eventually paid me $125 for something. But the best part was I met a fascinating guy who designed and built full-scale models of old ships for maritime museums and lived on a ¾ scale model of a Spanish pirate ship. He was also fascinating because he had great pot. We got stoned together, sat on the pirate ship’s plank at midnight and fed slices of bread to giant manatees who had learned to visit him every night and rose out of the water like blimps with blubbery mouths. We became friends for two days and I ended up sleeping on his boat.

He even invited me to join his crew in ten days to sail an 18th century tall ship he had built to England. Even more than the AP job, I regret that I walked away from that one. Dumb ass! I remember saying the stupidest thing I’ve ever said: “I’d love to sail to England with you but I have to go back and take a final exam in English Lit.” Butler was only a fetus in my life then but I’m sure he was behind that decision.

And my third assignment was to shoot pictures of some University of Miami students who had been told by the school that they couldn’t keep their pet lion cub in their dorm room. (Aha! Now you know one of the true meme statements!) Unlike the students, the school administrators understood that lion cubs don’t remain cubs forever.

I found them easily enough. Five feet onto the campus, I only had to ask, “Anybody know where they guys with the lion are?”

They were overjoyed that the Associated Press wanted pictures and immediately gave me a beer and rolled a joint. Journalism was a great career in the 60’s if you didn’t take it seriously.

I actually found a couple of the negatives but I remember taking many many pictures so either the AP guy took some of them as well or – after the beer and pot – they were so out-of-focus or abstract they made no sense.

To bring it to a close, however, I remember thinking it would be cool to shoot the lion cub from behind the leather recliner where it would run and hide and chew on things. It really was a cute little bugger, just a golden, fat, oversized kitten.

So I lay on the floor and slithered half around the leather chair and began calculating aperture and speed – since this was a bit before auto-everything cameras. While I was pondering, the lion cub was also pondering and I looked like too much fun to be left alone. So she suddenly jumped up to the back of the couch, bounced once on the seat, and landed on my legs which were stretched out behind my couch-covered torso.

The difference between a kitten playing and a lion cub playing is the lion cub breaks skin. What hurt more was banging my head on the couch springs when she sprung. The four tiny evenly spaced holes in my left calf did not really hurt or bleed much. And the beer probably helped.

I think the AP must have taken some of the shots because these were the only negatives I could find and they were in rough shape.  Very little depth of grays. 

And I think the picture above does justice to the maxim that "He who laughs last, laughs best."


  1. A VWbus, a protest joiner, a penchant for adventure: a true hippy in the making. What happened to you?

  2. I knew it, all the trouble started in the 60's.I knew it , I just knew it, I remember it.l

  3. You are brilliant, a simply brilliant story teller! I could easily love you!

  4. Great stories. I'm surprised you remember them!

    Then again, having a lion attached to your leg, would be a memorable experience no matter how many drugs you'd taken! lol

  5. Always entertaining. Your audience is clapping and saying, "Groovy Show, Man".

    Love it.

  6. B&B,
    You've been around the block a few times haven't you? Pirates and lions and bare, Oh my!
    You could do a book that could become a movie just about your associated press experience. Throw in some Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel tunes and take it to broadway too. This is way funnier and better story than the movie about the guy stuck in the airport that Tom Hanks did. Getting into the character development (especially the pirate ship bit) would be incredible. It has the Mafia, your dad and Betsy. This story is crying to become a book. You can even include a Sophia Loren cameo bit. If I stay on this comment page, I will have it written before you. Over and out!

  7. so when's -your- book coming out?
    Barry isn't the only one who should write one!

  8. You know I am enjoying these photos. Black and white and a blast from the past.

    You should have jumped the boat to England and stay with the AP.

    In 1986, the owner of a car dealership wanted me to go to South America with him and his crew for some kind of across South America race. Can't remember the name.

    I met everyone for dinner one evening, along with the wife of the owner, who wanted to check out the chick who would be traveling with her husband on those backwoods roads.

    Two days later, I went into my office which was near the circulation department and the circulation manager was rolling in the floor.

    Evidently, in order to get the approval of the wife for me to go along, the owner told her I was gay. I immediately called him and told him I had changed my mind. But looking back, I wish I had gone. What a great opportunity. But I figured if the guy was such a liar, he could not be trusted.

    Dorothea wants you to get rid of FU and get a VW bus for her and Bagman.

    Great story. I love it.

  9. Re: you being a high school drop-out - You are so modest!!! The story I heard from the principal at graduation was that you were accepted into Northeastern at the end of your junior year in high school as part of their Early Entrance Program for the Academically Gifted!!! Or are you trying to burnish your street cred.....