They were operating twenty-four hours a day combat patrol. That old catapult was going up there every ninety minutes as another flight would take off. The flight that was out would land and you’d hear the arresting gear. You’d hear that bullhorn: “There is a banjo in the groove. Banjo in the groove,” and you’d hear that SHROOOOOM! you’d hear that bounce and a plane had landed. Thirty seconds later they’d start launching. The launch is a special sound. You hear this thing cocking itself. It’s a great, steam-operated slingshot! An enormous piston that literally hurls the planes right off into the void, right down the carrier deck.
As a pilot, I must say, you have never really experienced the ultimate flying thrills until you have been in an aircraft that is landing on the deck of a tossing carrier in a spanking wind—oh, wowee! And I have done this on several hairy occasions. Holy Smokes!
Here it is, two o’clock in the morning. We’ve been up for maybe eighty hours. Sweaty, hot, and I’m lying there in nothing but skivvies and T-shirt. Just drenched, the bunk is so wet that it was like sleeping on a sponge. You can feel that water all over, just clammy and at the same time you are so hot.
I’m lying there in the darkness and everything is fine and you hear this SHHHHHH GEROMOMOMOMMMM! That’s the sound of a plane being launched. A long pause between the cocking of the mechanism and then GEROMOMOMOMMMM!
Catapult and plane on an aircraft carrier.
GEROMOMOMOMMMM! Off she goes and another guy has been hurled out into the night.
We’re now in the immediate vicinity of Lebanon and there’s a lot of enemy action going on. There’s a lot of stuff happening. Lying there, everything is kind of funny to me. You reach a point when you’re so tired that you can’t sleep. You’re physically tired, your mind keeps running on and on like some kind of giant flywheel that won’t stop, and I had been trying to sleep now for about half an hour.
This is down in the junior-grade officers’ quarters where every bunk had a tiny light above it and I turned on the light. I reached down into my seabag, looking for something to do, something to read, and I pulled out a book and started to read, and I started to laugh—I couldn’t stop. It was a hysterical, tired laugh, and I looked across the darkness and there on the bunk across this little stateroom, lying in the dark and sweating like hell was Bob Gaffney, the man who committed the Frankenstein Meets the Spacemonster epic movie disaster that was made a few years later.
Bob is half asleep, and he says, “What are you laughing at?”
I say, “I don’t know, Bob, just everything.”
He says, “Yeah, I know what you mean.”
And then SHOOOOONK! AAAAWUUU! Off it goes again. We both start to laugh—at the sound of the planes being shot off. Then we begin to ad lib a giant movie script in the darkness. We’re laughing like hell—can’t remember a word of it next morning. We’re ad-libbing a movie script at two in the morning in the heat and sweat, and all of a sudden this clanging bell goes through the ship DOING DOING DOING. It’s General Quarters. We jump up out of our bunks and run through the dark corridors, which are lit with these dim red lights, to our battle stations down below in the intelligence department, where they have the great radar screen. We’re down below and we can’t stop laughing, and the Lieutenant Commander is looking at us. “What? What? What’s up now? Take it easy, guys.”
Uncontrollable laughing. We’re in the big navy helmets and all. And that night is just one long, involved, curious nightmare, with the heat and the script and all the sounds of the planes being launched high above us on the flight deck and we’re hurling through the night off the coast of Lebanon and Syria, we’re at General Quarters and the radar screen keeps whirling round and round. A fantastic, total nightmare.
After they called off GQ, Bob and I are sitting in the ward room soaked in sweat and drinking navy coffee, trying to remember the script we just invented. I saw pieces of it in the Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster movie years later, I really did. That strange, nightmare quality to it. These are things that even Stanley Kubrick would never under understand. No way!
[Note above, Shepherd’s sound effects made by his voice alone. He loved sounds of all kinds and he loved to produce replicas of those he heard–and he was very good at doing so. My printed word attempts can’t possibly produce and elicit the pleasure of hearing him do what he did with his voice. On a few of his programs he played the actual sounds of various machinery (such as vintage airplane engines). He once commented that such sounds should be preserved as much as should the actual objects from our past.]
Village Voice, “Night People,” Jean Shepherd, October, 1957.
“In Beirut When It Was on the Hit Parade”
Jean Shepherd begins by stating that he arrived in Beirut with five or six other passengers in a 15-year-old Navy transport plane by way of Naples and Crete. Apparently the Carrier Essex dropped him off in Naples after he’d completed his work on the documentary film on board. He comments that Beirut was at this moment at the top of the news media’s hit parade, but would not be there for long when the public got tired of its temporary celebrity. At the moment, with a headline including the important word “crisis,” Beirut was it.
Seeing a man with an ice-cream cone in the airline terminal, Shep is pointed in the proper direction, and soon has his own frozen custard cone just like those a New Jersey Dairy Queen ladles out daily. He is happy, ending his column by exulting, “By God, I was in Lebanon. I caught a bus and went to town.”
“Trouble in Beirut? Not Before Dinner.”
The Village Voice comments that Jean Shepherd has just returned from working on a movie in Beirut, indicating that he was there during the crisis. Shepherd tells how he has just gotten his room in an elegant hotel in Beirut, describing the place as having the aura of a class B spy movie, with people coming and going who would do well in Hollywood if found by a good talent agency. He describes Beirut as being the Riviera of the Middle East, with rich shipping magnates surrounded by brown-skinned girls in pink bikinis.
Rushing toward the elevator in his swim trunks, he asks the bellboy what he thought of the current troubles. “Oh,“ the bellboy responds, “that doesn’t start until 8 p. m. every night at dinnertime.” Shepherd enters the terrace, feeling like “a bit player in a Sydney Greenstreet movie.”
Bye, bye, Beirut.
Shepherd exhibited antagonism toward his engineers, sponsors, radio administrators, but he was not alone in expressing such antagonisms in public. Fred Allen took vigorous jabs at his station executives with unabashed hostility. Radio humorist Henry Morgan, among his many snipes at his sponsors, once ironically criticized Life Savers for cheating the public by putting a hole in its product. One might remember television showman Arthur Godfrey once commenting about Lipton, his sponsor, that no one could find pieces of chicken in their powdered chicken soup.
“Television is a medium because
anything well done is rare.”
“Good evening, anybody.”
“I claimed that if the manufacturer would give me
all those [Life Saver] centers,
I would market them as Morgan’s Mint Middles….”
[Personal eb anecdote–When Morgan was on TV with his own live show
(black and white, probably in the late 50s when I was in my late teens/early 20s),
he frequently complained that before/after his show,
an announcer would make a statement to the effect:
“The comments made on this program are not necessarily
those of this station or any of its sponsors.”
Morgan said that it annoyed him that the station was so timid that it had to
apologize for everything he said or would say.
I sent him a suggested retort, which, within a week or so, he read on the air:
“The comments made on all the other programs on this station
are not necessarily those of myself or any of my friends.”
He laughed, and on came the commercials.]
“Where’s the chicken?”
These were funny lines that could obviously hurt the sponsor. Here’s a comment Shepherd made a year before he left radio, when commercials were beginning to seriously overwhelm the program—it was said near the end of a broadcast, not so much in a hostile tone as with a sense of relief:
Is that it?! Am I through with all my commercials? Oh wow! (April 6, 1976)
It seems as though he’d lost his patience and was just fed up with the whole damn thing. Considering his resentment over the years, it’s surprising that this comment sounded as though it were made with amused amazement–not disgust.
Yes, many people over the years have expressed hostility toward the hands that fed them or toward those who controlled their shows. Most of this is mere kidding around, even if, to some extent, it represented true feelings and was done with some frequency. What made Shepherd’s negative comments different and especially hurtful is that no one else that I know of denigrated others with the persistence and intentional hostility that he communicated on the air for decades.
Regarding sponsors, in public talks he gave in the 1970s, Shepherd claimed that he had contractual rights to accept or reject any commercials and that his estimated listenership was between 800,000 and 1,900,000. Another figure sometimes given is 60,000. If these high figures were close to the truth, maybe it’s why he felt comfortable lambasting the enemy. (What the heck was his listenership, anyway? It seems that nobody knows.) Recently heard is an audio with this comment, after he’d asked for a phone call responding to whether anyone was listening to him. He refers to his boss, Bob Leder, the general manager who had fired and re-hired him during the “less talk, more music” and Sweetheart Soap altercations nearly a decade before.
Mr. Leder’s on the phone, you said? I’m not talking to Mr. Leder
‘cause he never talks to me by the water cooler. I’m not interested. (January 1964?)
Like anybody in show business I have done many curious things. And many things that I have done have no relationship to radio or television, but they’re all deeply involved in show business.
Shepherd was part of a film crew for
the documentary “Summer Incident.”
This is why he is on the carrier
heading through the Mediterranean
toward Beirut and an American invasion.
I remember one night in the Mediterranean, deep in the bowels of an American aircraft carrier. Temperature down below decks in that carrier one-hundred-fifteen, maybe. I am lying in a bunk and the ship is hurtling its way through the nighttime sea and we’re off the coast of Turkey and we’re heading around the great golden horn, it’s two o’clock in the morning and I’m lying in the bunk sweating my head off. Have you ever been so hot, so sweaty and so tired that you’re kind of out of your head? Most people in their lives haven’t. Most people have never driven themselves to the total limits of human endurance. Most people work their eight-hour day, come home, drink their beer, and go to bed, and that’s about the extent of it. So they don’t necessarily find themselves ever really driven to the limits—which are beyond your control.
So here we were, on the aircraft carrier that was out doing its sweaty job. This particular carrier was the last remaining World War II carrier that was on active fleet duty as a carrier—an attack carrier. It was not air-conditioned below decks, which the later ones were. Hotter than the hinges of hell, barreling through the sea and I was way below decks, lying in a bunk which was about the width of your average bookshelf and about that softness—and hot. You put your hand on the bulkhead, which was armor plate—steel, and water would drip down the walls. Very humid in that part of the world anyway. And way out to sea it’s very humid and salty. The drinking water out of the little faucets was brackish and lukewarm. This was on tropical duty and they had it laced with salt.
So we were lying in the bunk there, hotter than hell, and up to this point we had been working so hard—this group of guys I was with—this particular mission we were involved in, so involved and so long that we had gone maybe seventy-two hours without sleep. I’d say, close to four days without sleep. This produces a peculiar psychological effect. That, coupled with the heat, and everything started to seem funny. And directly up above us was the steam-driven catapult. Sleeping under the catapult was an experience.
Part 3 of the Beirut/carrier story to come
Shepherd many times commented on his delight in trivia and how it could sometimes be an indicator of more important matters. Harold Bloom, in his How to Read and Why (2000), quotes Oscar Wilde telling a friend that the philosophy of his play, The Importance of Being Ernest was “that we should treat all trivial things very seriously, and all serious things in life with sincere and studied triviality.”
Sara Topham, David Furr, Brian Bradford in
“The Importance of Being Ernest.”
Regarding trivial pursuits, an older woman (shown above?) asks the young suitor of a sweet young thing if he has any bad habits. He says that he smokes, and she comments that a young gentleman has to have something to occupy himself.
Shepherd would undoubtedly have agreed with the first half of Oscar’s comment, although he might have decided that the second half was a bit over the top. Time magazine’s Lev Grossman, in his September 25, 2006 review of Brainiac, the 2006 book by Jeopardy television quiz program champ, Ken Jennings, commented in a way that Shepherd would undoubtedly have approved: “There’s something touching about the world of trivia. It’s a place where minutiae have a paradoxical grandeur and no fact is meaningless.” It amused Shepherd that he remembered such seemingly unimportant information:
Is there anyone out there who can give me the name of the man—now why should I remember this—you know, my vast storehouse of garbage in my mind, the trivia, you know. I see my mind sometimes as a wastebasket—full of all kinds of pieces of crumpled-up paper—with little torn pieces and little labels and stuff—all in there. It’s just a big wastebasket. It’s all full of this stuff. And why do I remember this, man, I don’t know. (July 6, 1966)
Only three weeks later (July 27), he again commented on his retention of such information, repeating the wastebasket metaphor and expanding it to “a garbage bucket, a city dump of total impedimenta.” A garbage bucket, where no fact is meaningless.
Meaningful facts–most everything
in this dump must have had meaning to the person or
organization before it became for them
of no use.
The sweet smell of decay–gulls like it.
Jean Shepherd has a special affinity for the Middle East, which he visited on several occasions. In 1966, when he returned, he devoted the better part of a half-dozen programs to describing his experiences there.
In all his travel programs his style varies considerably, but more than usual when describing his Middle Eastern experiences. He describes sensitively and graphically what he has seen and done.
He waxes lyrically and with some purple prose in these broadcasts, especially when describing the music. He plays quite a bit of pre-recorded song to give a strong sense-of-place, and he talks about that music considerably, but, of course, in print one can’t replicate its sounds and effects. Although he perhaps unjustly suggests a sameness of sound to all Middle-Eastern music, its strange, exotic effect and insistent pulse obviously have him in its thrall. In addition to the music, he is obviously captivated by Middle Eastern aromas, and by the young women. And also, by the sheer amount of time devoted to them, he is obsessed with the Negev Desert, the nomadic Bedouin who roam its desolate sands, and Beersheba, its dominant city.
Unusually, he several times departs from his standard factual descriptions of his travel tales, going to considerable extent into erotic fictional and comic fantasies to suggest the romance of Middle Eastern sensual clichés as they have become a part of Hollywood-based American illusions—the lore and lure that has influenced our psyches.
In the summer of 1958, political and religious conflict in Lebanon and potential interference by nearby regimes, led to a limited invasion of the Beirut area by U. S. forces starting on July 15. The successful show of force, titled “Operation Blue Bat,” resulted in the withdrawal of U. S. forces on October 25, 1958.
Film producer Louis de Rochamont contracted Jean Shepherd to do the narration of an official U. S. government documentary regarding the then-developing situation, later to be titled Summer Incident. WOR Radio, in a news release dated August 4, announced that Shepherd would be gone on this assignment for three weeks.
Years later, in short portions of several broadcasts, Shepherd described his experiences aboard the aircraft carrier Essex as it was approaching the site of the “incident.” He described the activity as “this particular mission we were involved in,” which was obviously, with several others, the filming of the operation for the eventual documentary.
Of course, his trip on the aircraft carrier on its way to Lebanon came first, but his most immediate response to his experience appeared only a few weeks after his return to New York, in his “Night People” columns for the Village Voice, not describing his carrier experience, but after he’d gotten off the carrier, giving his observations about Beirut before U. S. troops had departed. This story begins on the carrier, at the beginning of his adventure.
Trouble in Beirut
I spent one brief, curious period of my life on duty with the Navy. It was on the cruiser The Springfield, and particularly on the carrier Essex in the Mediterranean.
Up on the bridge there is a microphone that connects to the PA system that’s heard all over the ship. “Now hear this! This is the Captain speaking. In seventeen minutes we will engage the enemy. Good luck, men.” You’ve heard this in numerous Alan Ladd movies. Not any guy walking by can use the microphone—you have to be authorized. So every morning at o-eight-hundred on would come a voice and the voice would say the following—in this case it was my voice—I did this a couple of days: “Good morning to men of the Essex CVA9, here is the morning news as reported by the ship’s information officer, the wires of the Associated Press, and the United Press….”
Speaking of this problem of adventure, I was sitting on the deck of the carrier. The operations were about to be launched and it was dark and it was the Mediterranean and we were miles off the coast. Turkey was off there somewhere in the darkness and the Greek Islands had gone past, and ahead of us was the Middle East. The moon was hanging over the whole scene, millions of tiny stars.
The guys are all out there with the planes up on the launchers, topside. I’m way up there near the top of the island. The little iron protective rail all around me there, wearing a big, fat helmet with earphones , listening to the conversations going on between the bridge and the pilots and the guys who are waving the planes off. Everything all a big mish-mash and I’m standing up there looking out into this ocean.
The wind is blowing over the deck of the carrier. She’s whistling along at about thirty knots into the teeth of a gale. A4Ds are taking off with the big plane launchers with the catapult knocking them off one after the other. The wind is screaming through the radar tower above me. Sticking above the bridge is the smokestack pouring all this junk out in back of us. The fallout of ashes coming on top of your head and you’re coughing, the wind is whistling and I’m up there eating a baloney sandwich. A great big one made out of rye bread and baloney and four pounds of mustard, gnawing away on this salami and baloney sandwich and there’s a guy in the darkness there next to me, a commander or something. He’s in charge of nefarious activity aboard the ship and he has a big helmet. And we are going on and on and on.
RAWAAAAAH! off goes another one into the darkness. And it goes on and on and on and on and on. This went on for about four hours and I’m getting tired. And you see the little red lights, one flight returning and another flight being brought up to the outside to be fired off and another coming and making a big circle back and it’s long, long hours and the guy looks at me and says, “Do you know that half of the red-blooded guys that read through a magazine would give their left foot to be right here now—if they could read about it?”
I say, “Yeah, yeah.”
Jet plane approaching the Essex
Twenty minutes later we’re back down in the mess hall having some coffee. I can’t describe to you the dullness. I just can’t describe it to you. Everything is just going dudududududududududu and shaking. I can’t describe to you the dullness.
More coming on Beirut, without the dullness,
which Shep chose not to describe.
Two recent articles have appeared in the New York Times regarding the truth/falsity of our memories. I posted an article on it, “Imagination and Memory” on 1/31/2015. I quote part of it:
…the December 2, 2014 New York Times. The article, by two psychology professors, Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, is titled “Why Our Memory Fails Us.” They begin by describing errors in memory by George W. Bush and Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist director of New York’s Hayden Planetarium, and host of the TV series, “Cosmos.” The writers comment:
“Erroneous witness recollections have become so concerning that the National Academy of Sciences convened an expert panel to review the state of research on the topic….
“When we recall our own memories, we are not extracting a perfect record of our experiences and playing it back verbatim. Most people believe that memory works this way, but it doesn’t. Instead, we are effectively whispering a message from our past to our present, reconstructing it on the fly each time. We get a lot of details right, but when our memories change, we only ‘hear’ the most recent version of the message….
“It is just as misguided to conclude that someone who misremembers must be lying as it is to defend false memory in the face of contradictory evidence.”
The second article, by Tara Parker-Pope appeared on February 10, 2015, a teaser titled “Fact vs. Fiction”on page 1 of the Science section, the article inside titled”False Memory vs. Bald Faced Lie.” (The name “Parker” I’m sure, pure coincidence) That the two articles appeared within just over two months of each other in the Times leads me to believe that there is some special, recent interest in the subject of memory, what it is, and how it relates to “truth.” Of course, one returns to the question of what is memory and what is fiction in Shep’s stories (and in the rest of his radio monologs). We see that what appears as fact is in reality, some indeterminate mix of fact and fiction. I’m reminded of my EYF! in which I quote his friend Bob Brown: “He had the ability to weave things that really couldn’t possible be true–in conversation He was a difficult guy to know where reality stopped and fiction began.”
That second article begins:
How reliable is human memory? Most of us believe that our memory is like a video camera, capturing an accurate record that can be reviewed at a later date.
But the truth is our memories can deceive us–and they often do.
Numerous scientific studies show that memories can fade, shift and distort over time. Not only can our real memories become unwittingly altered and embellished, but entirely new false memories can be incorporated into our memory bank, embedded so deeply that we become convinced they are real and actually happened.
The article mentions the recent case of whether Brian Williams, TV news anchor “lied,” and whether, equally, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Mitt Romney “lied,” in the not-too-distant past. The suggestion is that they may have been hornswoggled by their memory-imperfections. The article continues, commenting that our memories are fragments of information to which other related input may recombine: “This process essentially creates a new version of the event that, to the storyteller, feels like the truth.” It’s almost impossible to know where the truth lies in these instances of Williams, Clinton, and Romney. [My emphasis.]
Where does that leave us with Shep? Additional uncertainty. Can we depend on what he said about it? Can we depend on what he wrote about it? Might there be any unambiguous truth? Each of us can tend to believe what part of the enigma seems most likely to be true. I tend to vote for mostly fiction–but. We can believe what we think is reality, but we can’t know. Very annoying, that!
And once again I am alone. I quickly attach another flatfish, since I have just lost one on the bottom of the log after watching that airplane, and I try another cast. Whhooooooooooo-powwww! Oh wow! Oh wow! Hardly a cast do I lay in that cove without something hitting it! Pow! Another smallmouth! He somersaults, he leaps, he glares at me, he swears, he tells me dirty jokes and then he tries to yell ‘sing to me a little bit—Yes sir, that’s my baby’—Pow! and ten minutes later he joins his fellow in my creel.
Oh, I’m drifting now, I’m just enjoying the beautiful, beautiful way it is. The world that I’m in. The water, the green trees, the fleecy white clouds, the remoteness, the alone-ness. And then I hear a strange sound approaching—from somewhere off-stage! A sort of gung, gung, gung, gung, gung. It is no boat—I know that. It is no train—I know that because there are no railroad stations around. It is no Hupmobile with bad valves, gung, gung, gung. I turn around and look behind me and not more than fifteen feet from me, I cannot believe it, is an airplane! He is coasting right up to me on floats. Gung, gung, gung, gung, gung. My boat starts to bob up and down and I see, sitting in the front of that plane, a man—in a uniform.
I look up at him. You know, you’re very small when you’re in a rowboat and you’re looking up at an airplane—that is coming right up on you with a pair of floats hanging out. And, capagung, gung, gung, gung, gung, he floats right up to me. What magnificence in this sylvan glade. It is romantic. I think to myself, well, he’s had a forced landing or something.
And then that uniformed head comes out of that cockpit. “Hey, bud, lemme see yer license, bud. Lemme see yer license there.”
And then it hits me. My god, no! I had left my license back in the cabin! Four thousand miles away! I brought that license and left it on the table and here I am! Oh no! No! I am down on my knees in the sylvan glade, in my rented rowboat. “But, but! No!”
He says, “All right, mac. Turn that boat around. You say it’s in your cabin? Turn around and I’ll follow ya!”
I am the first guy you ever heard who was followed home in a rented rowboat by a Piper Cub flying at twelve-hundred feet in circles above me. With the entire lake watching him. This was undoubtedly the most public pinch that has ever been made in the state of Maine.
That guy had everything but twin fifty-caliber sub-machineguns mounted on that little cockamamie plane. He followed me all the way back to the cabin. I went in and I got my license and came out on the shore. He landed his plane. “Okay, mac, carry it with ya. Where do you think you are—in the woods?”
And that little airplane went rrrrrrrrr down the lake and took off and I knew then that the long arm of the fuzz can never be totally escaped and I knew then also that there are people to whom things don’t happen, and there’s us. And there’s us.
The lower lake is Snow Pond, where Shepherd,
not discouraged about Maine,
still lovin’ it,
will one day buy a home and spend many
good times on vacation there with Leigh Brown.
Maybe there’s a lot of “true” Shep experience here?
A combo of travel, army, and transportation.
Shepherd often exhibited his fine sense of observation in extended riffs. This one has been titled “Three-day Pass Almost in the Slam.” Although most of his Army stories take place at a military facility, here is one about getting on a train on a temporary leave from duty. Maybe special environment justifies such a riff.
He talks about being a kid and seeing all the trains that pass through Hammond, Indiana, the sounds of the train approaching—the roar and the whoosh and the bells, using his great vocal ability with sound effects to create a mood.
One might wonder if he remembered all he talks about here from his days as a kid and Army days. Maybe he incorporated his memories of childhood into his Army story.
One got but a “tiny glimpse of that fantastic world outside—where people lived in streamlined trains, and they have green windows that light up. I always remember those green windows with the lights behind them.” He talks about being in the Army near Washington, D. C., getting a three-day pass and buying a train ticket to go home to Hammond. “So here I was. I was actually going into a train. And here she was sitting on the track.” He describes it—“those silver sides, you know, those fluted sides, those flat flush windows….” And he is ready to board, having found his car:
Oh, there it is, there’s a little black card in the window— 427A. And I walk in with a thousand other people— it’s air-conditioned! I mean air-conditioned! Boy, they didn’t air-condition nothin’ in the Army. And it’s air-conditioned. I could see all those green windows and those plush seats.
Individual seats, like bucket seats, and they’re green and they tilt back and I see these distinguished-looking people with long thin cigars sitting there and a couple of lieutenant colonels. Oh boy, really official guys.
So I get my ticket and I look at “seat number 19C.” I’m walkin’ around lookin’. Ah! There it is, 19C. And I sit down. I edge myself into the seat. I’m all excited and here I am, Pfc Shepherd. I’ve got my bag—stick it under the seat. People are coming in. Beautiful girl goes past me and I could smell the smell of the—you can just smell opulence, you know. Just smell it. This is not a troop train. Not at all. Very official train.
And I sat down for about five minutes—and the doors start to slam shut. And you get that tight, sealed-in feeling that you get when a train is about to go. And then—you know that strange feeling all of a sudden? It’s as though the ground on either side of you begins to slide. You don’t even have a sense of the train itself moving. It’s like the ground itself is suddenly going. There’s a brief moment of dizziness. Oh wow! Oh gee, we’re really going, oh! We’re really going.
And she began to slowly gather speed, and all of a sudden we’re out of the shed. And you see these lights going past gutapump gutapump gutapump! Faster and faster and now we are out into the night and that baby is rolling along! Broowww! She’s out there in the Virginia countryside goin’ seventy miles an hour. Faster and faster and faster and I’m settling down. Oh! Oh gee is this great.
And I bought myself a magazine, see. And I’ve got it. Got my magazine, I’ve got my ticket, I’m checking everything over. Get my wallet out. I’m all excited. And I’ve got my three-day pass. I look at that. Everything is here. I take my book out. Gee that’s a great feeling, you know, that wonderful feeling of—it’s all out of your hands now. You can’t do anything and you’re in their hands. (September 28, 1966)
So there it is, not by any means a story, but a nice little riff
with no more in it than the pleasure of listening to Shep
at play with words, sounds, and memory.
People aware of my transcription/editing techniques for Shep audios–discussed in the introduction to my Shep’s Army transcribed stories, know that I do the minimum necessary: I don’t change or add to Shep’s words. I only do a tiny bit of silent adjustment for grammatical or other unintentional glitches on his part, and any changes in order and repetition are only done so that no meaning is changed.
Upon getting further into Shep’s travels, I’ve encountered that, for Internet reading (as opposed to reading of the more tolerant print-on-paper medium), a few of Shepherd’s laid-back commentaries, fine for listening, benefit from a couple of judicious cuts. Any cuts of more than a few words (as noted above) I will indicate with 4 dots (….). I believe the blog post format of Shep’s talks will benefit in this computer medium. Anyone wanting to listen to every single word of the broadcasts in question, I highly recommend that as the supreme way to get Shep’s message.
I would venture to say that nothing would rival a Maine lake at the right kind of light and the right air—everything has to be right. And the moment it is right—oh, there’s nothing like it! It just comes together and the water dances, the sun sort of bounces off of it and just ripples. It looks like it’s all made out of silver and gold. Just fantastic! And then that fringe, that rough fringe of pine that you see just kind of lying on the horizon off in the distance. You always see this in Maine. Off in the distance there is a sort of green, dark purple hill rising up and down. That’s Maine! Always!
So here I am, I’m a very innocent guy, I’ve never been on a Maine lake in my life and I’m just drinking this in—just beautiful, and I’m nudging this little boat, I’m exploring, I’m nudging it along in these little coves. A big lake, it has thousands of little coves and islands and all day long I am going further and further down the shoreline. Further and further away from what could be called the heart-line of civilization, which meant the Esso station and Charlie’s Bait Store.
So I’m getting way down there and I’m floating among these lily pads and the reeds, and now I am quietly drifting in to one of the most beautiful little bays I ever saw in my life, and hanging over the bay are these gigantic pine trees. Just hanging over at maybe a ten degree angle, and this great green shadow drifting all the way out to the middle of the bay. There she lay. Talk about Bali Hai—this is it.
I just drift quietly in with the current. And I’m putting my rod together and I reach down and I very carefully open the top of my tackle box and I spin the reel a little bit, clean the oil, I spit down on the nylon line and rub it in. Then I look in my tackle box. What shall I try? Let’s see. How about a River Runt maybe, heh? How about a half-ounce flatfish? Let me try that. How about maybe a little surface bass-plug, yeah, a little popper. I’m drifting in, see.
And so I just lay it out, my first cast whooooooooooo, it lies next to a rock. There’s a ripple and I see a fin just lay flat in the water. Oh, this is it! This is it!! What I’ve been looking for all of my life! Then I reel it in slowly. Slowly, slowly. I see a few little bubbles. Slowly I reel in, and I pause again and I see a log hanging off the shore, drifting down into the water and reaching down deep into it. My little boat is now skittering sideways, slowly all by itself and spinning whoooooooooooo. And I lay that plug a quarter of an inch—just a quarter of an inch from the edge of that beautiful log. Kweowoooogh, and down it goes—wow! A smallmouth leaps out of the water!
Have you ever seen a smallmouth silhouetted against dark green pine trees? It just clears the water, he’s fluttering along on his tail. He goes up again! Flips into a somersault and I play him, oh boy, with that two-ounce-tip rod with my three-pound test line. Fifteen minutes later that speckled beauty is in my landing net. Ahhhhh.
I quickly detach my hook and now I lay another one out there. And then, high overhead I hear—the sound of a motor owwwwuuuuweeeeeeowurrrw. Ah, what peace! What beauty! I see a tiny airplane high up in the sky, maybe three or four-thousand feet above me, like a small, beautiful, gypsy moth caught against the firmament of all of creation! Floating high above me. And he drifts out over the horizon.
Stay tuned for the unexpected conclusion to this story.