APTITUDE/ATTITUDE

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Back in the day when Cretin High School was it’s complete name, and it’s only students were teenage boys, and it was affordable to working class families, and the great majority of it’s teachers were Christian Brothers, the school had a program to help steer the students toward a good vocation in later life. This program was the bailiwick of a kindly, soft spoken, elderly Brother we fondly referred to as Brother Aptitude.

During your first three years of schooling, Brother Aptitude would periodically pop into your Home Room and give aptitude tests. During your last year, he would have three private sessions with you in which he would explain the results of the aptitude tests and combined with your academic achievements, would try to steer you towards a good vocation in life that would also interest you. I never got passed the first few minutes of the first session with Brother Aptitude.

I often thought that if I had completed the program, I wouldn’t have wandered from job to job until I finally found a good paying one I was suited for and interested me. Like the one that I worked at for 45 enjoyable years, some of them past the time I could have retired.

And why didn’t I complete this important program? Because I was a smart-alec who spoke before I thought!

For three years I had looked forward to my enlightening sessions with Brother Aptitude. I liked him and his tests. I liked his smile when we passed in the hall. I admired the old man. And finally when the day of the first private session came, I was so excited.

Brother Aptitude’s ‘office’ was in a far corner of the Principal’s outer office. Like all the desks of the Christian Brothers, his sat on an 8” riser with the front of the desk about 6” from the front of the platform. The building’s wall was the his back wall. His one side wall was the wall of the main office, with enough space between it and the platform to allow for entrance and exit. The front and 4th side were just bamboo screens. It wasn’t much of an office, but it did provide a small measure of privacy from the work that went on in the rest of the main office.

At the first of my sessions, Brother Aptitude met me at the outer office door and escorted me to his private domain. I sat in a chair on the floor in front of the platform and his desk, which was piled high with stacks of aptitude tests. He began by telling me what the tests showed what I was most interested in.

I placed highest in ‘literary appreciation’, which was no surprise. I always like to read books and write stories. Next he pointed out that I also placed high in ‘music appreciation’, which was also no surprise to me. It was the 50’s, the beginning of Rock & Roll. Not only did ;we teenagers have tour very own music, there was actually radio stations dedicated to play it. Elvis was King and the Top 40 our playlist.

Brother Aptitude made note of the fact, that I even though I liked music, I was not in the school band. I said that I was into sports. Plus, I had never learned to play a musical instrument.

He argued and told me that I shouldn’t be modest about not playing an instrument just because I might not play one as well as I would like. And he asked again what instrument did I play. This time he was much more forceful.

‘Well, Brother,’ I answered, with a smart-alec quip, ‘I do fool around with the phonograph.’

‘There now,’ he said, looking down at his notes on me, ‘I knew you played an instrument. Now if you are going to get anything out of…’Suddenly it dawned on him what I had actually said.

‘A phonograph!’ he shouted. For such a soft spoken old man, he sure could yell when he wanted to. ‘A phonograph!’ he shouted again.

He leapt to his feet and slammed his hands on the desk, trying to push his chair back at the same time. The slap was more of a push and the front legs of the desk fell off the platform which caused the stacks of papers to spill all over the floor, which caused more yelling from Brother Aptitude, which caused me to stand and jump backwards, which caused the screen behind me to fall over, which caused the side screen to follow suit, which caused the principal’s secretary typing away behind the big office counter to scream and jump up, which caused the principal to rush out of his office, and stand there, hands on hips, staring at the mess.

Poor old Brother Aptitude. His face was beet red. He wasn’t screaming anymore but he was stammering trying to explain his anger. The secretary brought him a glass of water, which caused him to cough and choke and spill on his robe as he tried to get it down.

I just stood there shivering, afraid that my action might trigger a heart attack or a nervous breakdown in the old man. I glanced sideways at the principal waiting for whatever he had in store for me. Corporal punishment and/ or tons of homework were a way of life in the school. Finally, the principal spoke in a calm, low voice. He told me I had better go back to my home room. Then he took Brother Aptitude’s arm and led him slowly into the Principal’s office.

Needless to say, my first session to help me find my vocation, ended. And needless to say, the other two sessions never happened. And needless to say, it took me years to find a vocation I was suited for. Three years of taking aptitude tests right down the drain. I never did receive any type of school punishment for my actions except whenever I happened to meet Brother Aptitude in the hall, he looked the other way. That hurt. I really liked the kindly old man and I never even got a chance to apologize to him.

It wasn’t the first time, nor the last, I must admit, that my smart-alec tongue got me in trouble. Sometimes you live and you still never learn.

Published – BB and Beyond  3/12/17

One of the readers wanted to know what occupation I worked at enjoyable for 45 years. Stage hand.  I figured it out that I had worked a mixture of thousands of happenings in those years, most of them in the field of arts and entertainment, although there were some that were in the fields of politics and athletics. In addition I worked on some movies that were filmed locally and did a bit of touring. While I would never say that everyone of those events were enjoyable, as a whole it was an occupation that I liked very much. And Brother Aptitude did steer me the right way when he said that my interests were in literary and musical appreciation.

There was one big downside, the long hours, the having to work weekends, robbed me of watching my  5 sons grow up. I was so fortunate to have a wife who raised them right, with so little help from me.

There was one big upside though, as soon as they reached the age of being able to work as stagehands, I got to work with them, teach them, learn from them, both as a father and a coworker. The 3 oldest paid their way through college as stagehands and have excellent professions. The 2 youngest stayed in the business, their specialty is high steel riggers..

In addition to working with my 5 sons, I also worked with a daughter-in-law, 4 nephews, and a young cousin. Like they say, nepotism is alright as long as you keep it in the family.   

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WHERE’S ‘EDDY’?

            Stagehands come in all shapes and sizes. They come from vastly different backgrounds and educations. Some specialize in one aspect, such as sound, lighting, building sets etc.. Some take pride in being jack-of-all stagehand trades. Some are content to push boxes, pull cable, work in trucks, etc.. Some try to learn as much as possible about the show or project they are working on. Others are content to concentrate only on what concerns them at the time.

            The last group puzzles me and very often gives me great amusement.

 

Joey B and I were on spotlights for a rock concert. The cue caller told Joey to swing over and pick up the bass.

“What?”

“The bass player. Pick him up!”

“Look,” Joey, who was a second generation stagehand with over thirty years in the business, explained, “I know a piano and drums and a guitar. I don’t know nothing about basses.”

“Okay,” the called sighed, “Pick up the ‘black guitar’. Ah, forget it! His solo is over.”

From then on, he used me on the solos.

 

I was working a spotlight at Orchestra Hall for one of the Oldies group.(Four Lads, Four Freshman,?) Hollywood, another stagehand, was on the other spot. Dick N was backstage working the light board. Since the group didn’t bring a cue caller with them, they gave Dick a cue sheet and asked him to cue the spots. Instead of cueing them as they came, Dick just read all the cues to us before the show started.

For the most part, they were simply fade out at the end of the song. Count to three and come back up. They did have one special cue though. During a certain song, when the quartet hits the bridge, the spots were to switch the gels to red and then to switch back to white at the end of the bridge.

“Dick,” Hollywood asked, “Where’s the bridge?

“How do I know?” Dick answered. “You can see the stage. I can’t.”

“Well,” Hollywood said, “There’s  gap between the key’s platform and the drum platform. Do you think that’s what they call the bridge?”

“Sounds good enough for me,” Dick said.

I cracked up. Since my mic was off, neither Hollywood nor Dick could hear me laughing, but customers sitting in the seats in front of my lamp could. They turned around and glared at me. Luckily, I got control of myself before the show actually started. Between Hollywood and Dick, they had some sixty years in the business and had no idea a song had a bridge. Basically, it is verse, chorus, verse, chorus, – bridge – chorus again.

The song came. I counted the verse and chorus twice and went red. Hollywood looked over at me, gave me a dirty look, and stayed in white. Since the quartet never did go to the gap between the two platforms, he never did switch to the red gel.

 

The-Beach-Boys In fairness though, there are some cues given stagehands that make no sense. For instance, Jimmy R came in to run a spot for a show of the Beach Boys at the Guthrie. He wasn’t there for the In, or the sound check. It was that dormant period where the Beach Boys were no longer hit makers and had not yet been designated America‘s Band. Jimmy was too young to have been a fan.

Cue caller – ‘Spot 2, (Jimmy), stand by to pick up Carl.’

Jimmy – ‘Which one is Carl?’

Cue caller – ‘He’s the one that was wearing the cowboy hat at sound check.’

 

Of course, it’s not just some stagehands that have tunnel vision in doing their work, some actors operate in the same manner.

One of my favorite actors was Ollie C. He excelled in taking a small role in a play at the Guthrie, and getting all he could out of it. He never fluffed his lines; but he never bothered to read any of the play other than his own part. And I doubt if he ever read much of anything else, like books or newspapers.

For instance, he came bounding in to the rehearsal for BECKETT, in which he had a small part as usual. ‘Guess what!’ he said to the director, ‘Do you know Beckett was a real person?’ The director just smiled and thanked him for telling him that fact.

Ollie’s cameo in KING LEAR occurred in the early part of the play and then he left the theater, never bothering to stick around for the curtain calls. One matinee though, he came up in the lighting booth and sat in the chair next to my lighting board.

‘I never saw it through to the end,’ he explained. ‘You don’t mind if I watch it from here, do you?’

‘Of course not,’ I said. And then I wisecracked, ‘Spoiler alert! He dies.

At the end, Lear dies. Ollie jumps up and looks at me. ‘He does die!’ he shouts. For the life of me, I never thought that Ollie, with all his years in theater, had had no idea of what happens to Lear.

 

To get back to Dick N. Dick was a very funny person, only he didn’t know he was funny. He was such a nice guy that you didn’t want to laugh when he came out with some wild statement and hurt him.

For instance, Dick and I were sitting in the stagehands’ room and Terry, Orchestra Hall’s sound man, walked in. Dick asked where he had been for such a long time.

‘I was down in the smoking room,’ Terry said. ‘Had a cigarette and then played some Solitaire.’

‘Playing Solitaire – by yourself!’ Dick said.

Each summer, the Minnesota Orchestra holds a Sommerfest. This particular year the theme was Vienna’s music. An Austrian flag was hung on the stage right and left wall of the orchestra shell. In the second week of the festival a patron pointed out that the two Austrian flags were hanging wrong. The imperial eagle’s head was at the bottom of the body. Tim E. told Dick to rehang the flag the right way. He showed Dick a picture of how the flag should look, the same picture he showed Dick when he told him to hang the flags in the first place.

‘I don’t remember seeing any flags with eagles on them when we toured there last winter,’ Dick commented. The Orchestra had made a tour of Australia the previous January.

‘Dick,’ Tim explained. ‘We went to Australia. These are Austrian flags.’

‘I know,’ Dick snapped. ‘I still don’t remember any flags with eagles on them in Australia when we were there.’ Then he muttered, ‘Eagles! You think they’d have kangaroos on their flag. I seen plenty of them down there.’

 

         gorme_320x245The recent death of Eydie Gorme got me thinking about the stories in this post. I have always enjoyed her singing ever since I first saw her on The Tonight Show starring Steve Allen. 

        She came to Orchestra Hall for a benefit. Dick had gone down to the smoking room after we had the stage set up; and either he smoked a whole pack or he took an afternoon nap, because he was gone for quite a while. He looked out on stage, where Eydie was doing sound check, and then he marched into the stagehands’ room.

         “Where’s Eddy? What’s that woman doing out on the stage? Get her off! Tell Eddy to get out there and do his sound check! That goofing around and we’re going to miss our supper break.”

         Dick needed his supper break. When he was just an ordinary stagehand, his supper was always two or three whiskeys and waters. Since he got the steady job at the Hall, he got refinement. He switched to vodka martinis.

         “Dick! She is the main act.”

         “Where’s Eddy? He get sick?”

         “Her name is Edyie. She’s the main act. Look, Dick, go take your supper break. We’ll take care of things here. If she takes too long, we’ll send out for some food.”

         “Oh! Okay.” He changed his attitude and put on his jacket. “She doesn’t look like an ‘Eddy’ to me. Probably short for Edna or something. I have a cousin we call Phil, short for Philomena.” He was almost out of the room when he stopped. “But my cousin looks like a Phil. That girl on the stage don’t look like an ‘Eddy’ to me.”

         The show went well. The audience finally came in from drinking in the lobby and bidding on the silent auction. There was the usual speeches and awards that are always a part of a benefit. Finally, Edyie came on and sang like an angel. She was only on for about 45 minutes. The audience still had to go across to the Hilton and dine and dance.

         Edyie and Dick had spent a long time waiting for her to go on and sing. On the Out, Dick did nothing but talk about what a nice person ‘Eddy’ was. A real nice person!

         “We talked and she asked me what we did up here in the winter. So I told her how we go deer hunting and snowmobiling.”

         Dick was one of very few stagehands who ever went deer hunting. And his idea of snowmobiling was to transport his sled and ride on his favorite trail. It was his favorite trail because it was never more than a 15 minute ride to the next bar.

         Somehow I don’t think that Edyie was interested in either deer hunting or snowmobiling. And, if she sat there and listened to Dick going on and on about them, she must have been the ‘real nice person’ that Dick thought she was.

         “So, Dick,” I said, “Did you ask her if ‘Eddy’ was short for Edna?”

         He frowned at me. “Of course not,” he said belligerently. “You think I want to embarrass her?”