Home » Army Life and Stories » JEAN SHEPHERD–Missing in Action Part 2 of 3

JEAN SHEPHERD–Missing in Action Part 2 of 3



(See my post “Missing in Action Part 1”)

What follows, in this and the following post, is a rough idea of the contents of a program–it would need to be put in a spread-sheet format and tweaked.

The description would begin with certain basics:

Jean Shepherd WOR broadcast, SEPTEMBER 16, 1969;

Length of iTunes recording: 0:39:16 (about 5 minutes missing);


Theme music=BAHN FREI.

The program description would begin with 0:00-0:52, opening theme music; Shepherd begins speaking over theme about “sneaky people;” he warns that the show will be “real bad;” he indicates that it is a Friday night and he feels like indulging himself.  Card catalog titles and subtitles for this first segment would include:


0:2:04 Theme ends.  Somebody in the control room apparently indicates that it’s not Friday, but Thursday, and Shepherd kiddingly calls them “old fashioned.”  He says that any modern person insists that his weekend starts no later than noon on Thursday.  Says today he saw a WOR executive going off with tennis rackets under his arms and another executive with a secretary under his arm.  He says that the weekend doesn’t end anymore until roughly eight P. M. on Tuesday. Says that the engineer wants to hear him play his jews harp.

0:05:24-0:07:33 Rinky-tink piano begins and Shepherd plays along on jews harp, joined by other Dixieland instruments doing “In the Good Old Summertime.”  Says that playing/listening to the jews harp helps clear the sinuses.

0:08:15 Comments on walking around town listening to people talking about the Mets.  “Maybe sports is far more subtle than we think.”  “Everything in New York wins.”  Talks about being in a waiting room for an appointment.  Do people subscribe to National Geographic, or is it only sent to doctors’ offices?—he says it’s a philosophical question.  Now he’s reading the Times. Encounters article about smallest particle in universe: the “quark.”  Says it’s a cute word, its sound suggesting a duck running around in a kiddy cartoon.  A major category here would be SPORTS, with a subcategory of BASEBALL, and a sub-sub-category of METS.  Of course QUARKS needs to be noted, as it will become an element in the fistfight story.  Etc., etc.

0:12:20 Reads about elections and mud-throwing (we all start in life making mud pies, etc.) Sees a sign for John V. Lindsey’s mayoral campaign for reelection.  Shepherd refers to one of his own recent predictions.  Says that when we refer to sin, it’s always about sex and comments that “This is a limited view of sin.”  Discusses Fellini’s film, Satyricon, saying it’s about all seven sins and WOR will send a brochure as a public service: “How to Get More Out of the Other Seven Sins.” He discusses the advantages of other sins.  “Why don’t you get up tomorrow morning and just do it.  Stand by your bed and swear about the other ones.  Just get mad.  Break the windows.  Now this is all philosophical.  Understand…”  Again mentions his reading about the quark.

0:18:50  Says he watches TV and what’s always happening on TV is fistfights. Says that Kirk Douglas in a movie says, “You said what?!” and a fistfight breaks out.  “How many have you ever seen in your life?”  More fistfights in movies than love scenes. One never sees ordinary events in a movie such as a guy waiting for his cleaning. Shepherd segues from fistfights to ordinary events.  In retrospect one can see that he is beginning to telegraph his punches regarding the forthcoming fistfight story.

0:20:10 He’s in the waiting room waiting for appointment where he’s going to be charged a lot by the dentist.  He asks if you have ever seen the W. C. Fields short titled “The Dentist”?  Shepherd describes it.  “That is the essence of humor—to play it the way it is.”

0:22:58  Again mentions sitting in waiting room reading about the quark. “The smallest particle known to man!”  Asks the engineer for Japanese koto music. (“Contemplating-the-navel-music.” He nastily criticizes either Leigh Brown or engineer for having trouble finding the music in the control room.)

“The most violent side of man” he says, “is not the violent side, it’s the contemplative side.  It’s the side of man that sits there and contemplates the infinite.  And makes fantastic generalities out of it.  And I thought to myself, where did I hear ‘the smallest particle known to man.’?  Where did I hear that before?  Yes, yes indeed.  And then the doctor’s office faded out and I see the whole scene before me.  The only time I ever saw a full-blown fistfight.  Just like the kind they have in the John Wayne movies.  It did not come about in a bar, which is where everybody likes to think is where the fights happen.  Like arguing over some chick, which is the way they always are in the movies.  It came about over the totally nutty, irrational side of man.

“I wish you now, friend, to look into the incense of your mind, yes, you see that little old Buddha sitting there with the smoke coming out of his nose?  You can hear the sound of the temple chimes, can’t you?  As man counts those bits of straw and rice, those fish bones and those dry tea leaves of philosophy.  And contemplates what it’s about.  The smallest particle known to man.  Now if you take an atom and you divided it up it has to be smaller, there has to be smaller.  You can bust anything.  And you get molecules, and then you break the molecules down and the thingies down and the radons down and the quasars down and the protons down and you’re left with what?  A quark?  Indeed a quark.

[Educational Interlude]

quark diagram

Study this. It will appear

in the next bluebook quiz.

“Reminds me of the poem ‘The Hunting of the Quark.’  No, they picked that name seriously.  You think that’s a bad joke.  It’s not a bad joke.  It is a bad joke only to those without humor in their soul. [He laughs ironically.]  You may now remove your seared ashes from the premises. Heh, heh.  The quark, the smallest particle known to man.  That’s it, drift it out now, Keith [his engineer should fade out the koto music] and I will describe the scene.

“Now the only fistfight that I ever saw, really a genuine one.  Now I have seen guys push each other around, I have seen guys belt each other once in a while, but I’m talking about…”

0:27:12  Now he segues into his main story!

I telegraph my punch here by indicating that

the story is only superficially about a fistfight–

it’s not only about boredom

but about how we perceive time!

clock Dover Castle 1348

Clock from Dover Castle, 1348.

Flash! Top 4 songs in the USA on 9/16/1969 (date of “Army Fistfight” broadcast.)

1       The Archies – Sugar, Sugar

2       The Rolling Stones – Honky Tonk Women

3      The Temptations – I Can’t Get Next To You

4     Johnny Cash – A Boy Named Sue




1 Comment

  1. B. Barker says:

    Song #4 by Cash…A Boy Named Sue…was written by Shel Silverstein…Shep’s friend.
    How’s that for a connection?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

%d bloggers like this: