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ralph robert moore


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ralph robert moore

Copyright © 2015 by Ralph Robert Moore.

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mashed potatoes
april 1, 2015

1. I was a choir boy. I used to sing at High Mass every Sunday at 11:00 a.m. St. Mary's Church in Greenwich, Connecticut. There was a boys' choir and a men's choir. We'd sit together in the balcony at the back of the church, looking down at the congregation. About six boys and six men. Our choir master was Mr. Donleavy, a thin, nervous man with an immense bald head who was extremely conscientious about making sure we gave the best performance we possibly could each Sunday. One time, we all travelled on a bus to somewhere in mid-Connecticut to compete in a choir sing-off. I never knew such things existed. I was actually on a stage, behind tall, wide curtains that swept left and right when it was our turn, a huge, seated audience of strangers in front of us, all of them with white programs in their hands or laps. Mr. Donleavy, holding a thin baton, conducted us through our performance, a rousing rendition of "This Is My Country", the poor man sweating so profusely after its completing high note that coming up from his forward bow, still holding his baton, he had to tug a white handkerchief out of his trouser side pocket, wiping his face, then wiping his entire head. We lost.

2. I was held up at knife point. I was seventeen years old, in Central Park after dark. And I didn't notice that the crowds were gradually thinning away from the park bench where I was sitting. I heard a voice in my ear, opened my eyes, and there was this knife blade angled down against my throat. About five or six guys around me. Would they have killed me if I didn't turn over my money? I honestly don't know. I would hope not. But I did realize that it was important for me to remain calm, and to not act scared. To put that natural reaction to this kind of threat to one side in my thoughts, until I was safe. I asked them to just take my money and give me my wallet back, and to also return my train pass to me, so I'd be able to take the train from Grand Central Station back to where I was living back then, in Greenwich. And they did oblige. Which, all things considered, was rather nice of them. As they turned to leave, the shortest member of their gang turned back to me and said, "Don't say nuthin'." Which even back then, in the moment, struck me as funny. But of course I didn't smile or laugh at the time. I just watched their backs melt into the shadows of the paved path.

3. I wore the gabardine suit Bob Dylan wore for his TV special with Johnny Cash. This happened while I was working at Brooks Brothers in Manhattan. Brooks Brothers was a highly regarded men's wear store. There was even a movie called The Man in the Brooks Brothers Suit. Anyway, one of the salesmen I knew told me Bob Dylan had come in to be fitted for a custom suit. I couldn't believe it. Bob Dylan? Really? Brooks Brothers got a lot of famous people because of its reputation, and I loved being able to meet and talk to quite a few of them, but Bob fucking Dylan? Why would that train-hopping troubadour want a suit? But he had come in. I spoke with the store's head tailor for customized suits, Vito, and he showed me the suit, marked with chalk slants where adjustments needed to be made. He had no idea who Dylan was, and could care less. Once the suit was ready, I slipped into the special room they had for customized suits, and took Dylan's suit into the back, taking off my own suit, putting Dylan's suit on, looking at myself in the three-way mirror back there. The suit was too small for me, but even so. I'm wearing Bob Dylan's suit! Before he is! A few months later, there was a TV special with Johnny Cash and Dylan, and Dylan was wearing that same gabardine suit! It was a nice feeling.

4. I pet a tiger (and a stingray). Mary and I were on one of our cross-country trips, just driving around, living in a long succession of motel rooms, and we decided to go to the San Diego Zoo (which is a great zoo, by the way.) We're walking around, having fun, and at one point I notice there's a tiger padding by on the paved walk. A real, classic orange and black stripes tiger. Not in a cage. Just out in public, tethered to the young guy walking with it by a leash. I touched Mary's shoulder. "Look!" She reared her head back. "Oh my God!" So we walked over to the guy. "Can we touch it?" "Yeah, but wait a minute." He brought the tiger's huge profile against the outside of his thigh, so it couldn't see us. "Okay." We both ran our hands over its rough fur. The tiger was huge. So large it was frightening. But it remained calm. And so did we. It was such a beautiful thing to do, full of wonder, to be able to reach out, reach down, and feel our palms rippling over the striped fur. I'll never forget it. At another zoo, in Florida, maybe Busch Gardens? they had a petting zoo for stingrays. I mean, why not? A large, above ground pond where they'd circle endlessly around the perimeter, so that it wasn't that hard to reach over the edge, down past the cold water surface, and let your fingers pass over the stingray's back as it swam by. It felt like wet velvet. Leaving that area, walking side by side, looking at each other, Mary and I both raised our shoulders, laughing. Talk about cool.

5. I was a male model. I was a teenager working at Cuff's Stationery at the time. A middle-aged man came in, bought something, I don't remember what, and turned his profile in such a way around me that I realized he was looking at my face from different angles. He asked me if I had ever done any modeling. I'm thinking, Huh? He gave me his card, asking if I'd like to model for him, he was a painter who did a lot of illustrations for women's magazines and paperbacks. So I'm intrigued. And I have to admit, I had some concern what his motives might be. But it turns out he was legit. So I modeled for him a couple of times in his home, his kids running in and out of the room he used for his studio. The pay was great. Two hundred dollars for an hour and a half. And that was back in the Sixties. He'd take photographs of me from different angles in a pose, then work up a painted illustration based on those sessions. As I remember it, I was used as the illustration for a story in one of those women's short fiction magazines, True Confessions or Redbook or whatever, and then for a cover of a Fawcett paperback women's romance novel. I never sought out either appearance to save a copy, which I now regret. But it was the Sixties. It was so easy to get distracted back then. After a few modeling sessions, I told him I wouldn't be doing any more. I wanted to be a writer. Not a model.

6. I watched a man get stabbed to death in Grand Central Station. I was about seventeen, eighteen. I was waiting for my train to arrive, to take me from Manhattan back to Greenwich. They had a lot of windows back then (maybe still do) to buy tickets, and it was not uncommon once the windows closed for the night for kids like me to sit up on the marble ledge (was it marble? I think so) of the shuttered ticket windows while we waited for our train. As busy as Grand Central Station is during the day, it's kind of semi-deserted late at night. Anyway, I'm sitting on the ledge, probably reading a paperback, maybe Nabokov, and I hear this shrieking, coming from the wide passageway leading to the forty-second street entrance to Grand Station, which consisted of row after row of wooden benches, where prostitutes and pimps and the homeless and crazy people, I mean really crazy people, and occasionally me would hang out, and as I look up from the serenity of the text in my paperback, I see one man chasing another man, punching him repeatedly in the back, the pursued man's knees eventually giving out, him falling, the pursuer finishing him off. Turns out the punches were stabs with a knife. The screams were so large in that enclosed ,marble space. I hopped off my ledge, looking around, and I saw a cop, he was hiding around a corner, back pressed against the wall, so he wouldn't be seen, so he wouldn't have to confront the murderer. What a coward, I thought. He's a cop! He has a gun. Decades later, I was talking to a U.S. Marshall, just an idle conversation, and he said that one thing people don't understand is that a police officer's greatest concern isn't protecting citizens, it's protecting himself. He will let a citizen die before he'll risk his own life. Which makes sense.

7. I used to scuba dive. This was while I was living in California. I had to go through a long, arduous training course, one day a week in a classroom, one day in a special, extra-deep diver's pool, for months. Once we got in the pool at the beginning of each lesson, we weren't allowed to stand up in the pool, or hang onto the sides, for the four hours we were in the water. Testing our endurance. The pool was heated close to body temperature, which was uncomfortably warm when you first slipped in, but by the end of four hours, we were all shivering. Nearly everyone I took the class with dropped out at some point. Because you'd be underwater, something wouldn't work right, and you'd be far from the surface with no air. I saw a lot of what were called "bug eyes" during those times. People panicking, silently afraid at the bottom of the pool that they were about to drown, and it was rare that someone who went through that would ever get back in the pool. Scuba diving was a lot of fun, though. Exploring the sandy bottom of the ocean, watching fish flit by, even though I'd always get sharp pains in both my ears (I guess there was something wrong with my eardrums), and the pressure would cause the black neoprene of my suit to scrunch up painfully around my crotch. But hanging suspended in mid-water above the shadowy ripples of an ocean's floor? It was a nice feeling.

8. I was a repo man. This was in my early twenties. I was working in Bridgeport, Connecticut, which Paul Newman once referred to as the "armpit of New England", at People's Savings Bank. I had been the head teller for the main office and all the branches across the state. I'd routinely handle up to half a million dollars in cash, all of it bundled in paper bands, stacks of those bundles held together by large rubber bands, but it really didn't mean anything to me. It was just a big bulk of paper I had to somehow fit into the shelves of the main office's large steel vault. I applied for a promotion to the loan department, since it paid better. Because I was young and male, one of my duties was going out with some of the older bank officers to repossess cars when the owner had stopped making payments. They were almost always in the worst sections of the city. And Bridgeport was a tough town back then. I remember one day walking a few blocks to the nearest McDonald's to get some lunch, and across the street, on a corner, a woman was tearing off her clothes, screaming in Spanish. She kept disrobing and screaming until she was stark naked, standing on a busy city corner at noon, sobbing. I took Spanish in high school, but I always regretted I couldn't make out what she was so upset about. Anyway, we'd travel in one of the bank's cars to the address of the latest automobile we needed to repo, the guy behind the wheel would sit there in case a fast getaway was needed, the rest of the men in the car would hop out, and me and one other guy would locate the car, open the driver's door, I'd fold myself in, and take off, hopefully before anyone in the neighborhood knew what was going on. One time, a car owner banged out of his front door with a baseball bat, running towards me as I backed up in his car and took off. But that was the only really dramatic incident. Other repo men were shot at, but luckily I avoided that through sheer dumb luck.

9. I saw Psycho during its initial release. It had just opened in theaters. No one knew what it was about, because Hitchcock had insisted that viewers and critics not reveal the plot. At that time, Hitchcock was known mostly for romantic comedies and stylish thrillers. So that's what my parents expected (as well as everyone else in the theater) when the three of us (me just a little kid) took our seats. The lights dimmed. The film started, and I could see my parents, and a lot of the other adults in the audience, were a little uncomfortable with the opening love scene. Today, of course, it would seem tame, but back then, it was pushing the boundaries of what a major motion picture would show. But then the film appeared to settle into familiar Hitchcock territory. A woman steals money, drives through the rain to get to her lover, but has to stop for the evening at a motel when the rain storm becomes overpowering. She talks to the motel owner, even has a light dinner with him, goes back to her room, decides that in the morning she's going to drive back home, return the money. As a part of metaphorically cleansing herself, washing off her sin of embezzlement, she decides to take a shower. We view her from different angles as she stands under the shower's spray. From one of the angles, we see the door to her bathroom open. A dark shadow moves towards her shower curtain. At this point, the audience from so many years ago was chuckling. It had to be the shy motel owner (and although we were misled in this scene, an hour later we discover it was in fact the owner.) The shower curtain is yanked to one side, the naked, vulnerable Janet Leigh exposed, and then the last thing anyone in the audience expected happened. An old woman started stabbing Leigh's poor, naked body. Knife blade, bare body parts, blood everywhere. It was like a bomb had gone off in the theater. People in the audience got up out of their seats. Started milling in the aisles. Shocked. It's impossible to convey now how stunned the theatergoers were. No one had ever shown that degree of savagery in a big Hollywood movie before, or killed off the lead halfway through the movie. I loved it. It was new.

10. I once had to fly a thousand miles to give a speech in a hotel. The company I worked for had been acquired by another company (once again). A lot of the people I enjoyed working with were laid off. I was informed I'd have to fly from Dallas, Texas up to Columbus, Ohio to give a speech during a conference the acquiring company was holding in some big hotel up there. And it was let known to me that how my speech was received would pretty much determine whether or not I stayed with the company, or joined all the rest of my friends in the unemployment line. So, I hate giving speeches. I really do. Speaking out in a meeting, no problem. Standing in front of a large room of people, everyone staring at you, not so much. It's like the worse sort of dentist visit. Plus it's not like once the speech is over, I can just pick up Mary, and we can drive back home. I had to take a taxi back to the fucking Columbus, Ohio airport, which is really kind of ugly, wait in the terminal for a few hours for the next plane back, then sit in the fucking plane for two or three hours until it landed back in Dallas. Plus I knew almost no one I'd be speaking to. Plus I forgot to find out what gate my plane left from. Which didn't occur to me until I was on the highway, at five o'clock in the morning, everything dark. So I got to terminal A, found a place to park, then found out my plane actually left from terminal C or D (I forget which). So I had to fast walk through all these terminals, which was my own fault, the backs of my calves starting to burn from so much fast-walking, and barely got through my flight's gate before it was closed. In the dismal Columbus airport I was taken by cab through the streets of Columbus to the hotel, found the auditorium where the speeches were being given, had for lunch one of the blandest sandwiches I've ever eaten, then after lunch was introduced from the stage, and walked down one of the aisles as people stared at me. Once I reached the brightly-lit stage area, turning around to face the podium, the microphone, all my stage fright went away. Weird how that is. I gave my speech, got a lot of applause at the end, and the head of the conference said, "You're in."

11. I was held up at gun point. California. Mary and I had moved from Santa Barbara to the San Francisco area, and we both got jobs at banks (on the same day) as tellers. And it was a fun job, because you really got a sense of the community where the banks were located. Each day, the same depositors would come in, the same retirees, the same merchants. We were a part of the town. Everyone knew us, and we'd often see them outside work, in supermarkets and restaurants. It was an enjoyable experience. One day, I beckoned over the young guy at the front of the line waiting for service, and once he got to my window he said, "This is a hold-up." The words didn't really register. Then he stood a step back, looking sideways, and showed me the gun he had tucked in the front of his waistband. I followed procedure. Opened my money tray, pulled out a band of hundred dollar bills that were clipped inside an electronic monitoring device, so that once I removed the bills the electronic sensors connected, sending out a silent alarm to the police, and activating the bank's cameras to start taking pictures. I had a lot of bundled bills under my counter, but only gave him my bundled singles, figuring the bulk would be enough to fool him. Which it did. I received a commendation from the bank for not panicking and following procedure. A couple of months later, the Operations Officer, Andy Boyer, an old guy nearing retirement and a real shithead, was held up himself. He didn't give the robber the marked hundreds because, he said later, he was afraid that would mean he gave that robber more money than I gave my robber. Plus he got into an argument with the robber, refusing to turn over any more money, to where the robber threatened to shoot the New Accounts woman. Like I said, a real shithead. He was fired after the incident. Bank robberies were getting more and more common in that area of northern California then, to where the local papers started printing editorials asking the police to do something. The next robbery, the police waited outside the bank, and when the robbers emerged into the parking lot, shot and killed all of them. After that, no more robberies.

13. I saw a flying saucer. This was when I was around eleven or so. I was walking with my friend John along a dirt road, I had a sense I was being watched, and turned around. Above the road behind me, at tree top level, was a large flying saucer. It was the classic shape, made of very bright metal, looking like aluminum. It hovered absolutely motionless in the air, absolutely silent. The right side of it was behind the treetops. I immediately knew I was looking at something extraordinary. I stared at it a long time, told my friend John to turn around. He wouldn't. I kept insisting he turn around to look at this absolutely incredible sight. I don't believe I told him that it was a flying saucer, only that he should turn around, but he kept facing forward, refusing to turn around. I know how this sounds, and I am well aware nearly everyone reading this will conclude I didn't actually see a flying saucer, I'm either making this up, or misremembering, or I misperceived something ordinary as being a saucer. But I did in fact see it. It was quite close, and very distinct, like looking at a bus in the sky. I have a very clear memory of it, and in fact remember it more clearly than I remember many other incidents from my childhood. This was not something I saw in the middle of the night, after "waking". And it was not some vague bright light I saw in the sky that could be anything. It was broad daylight, late morning, I had been up for hours, and it was close enough that I could make out details. I saw a flying saucer hanging motionlessly, silently, in the air in broad daylight at treetop level. It happened.

14. I made a 90-minute movie. Mary and I moved from California to Maine (I had previously moved from Connecticut to California), and after a few years in Maine, we decided to move again, taking enough time (as it turned out, 80 days), to motor across America and Canada, and up to Alaska, deciding where we'd live next. And we wanted to document our journey, so we bought a camcorder, which back then was still somewhat new. We actually bought it about a year before we'd be quitting our jobs in Maine and going on the road, so being creative types, we figured, why not make our own movie? There was some precedent for that. While we were living in California, we had recorded about five or so "Rob and Mary Radio Shows" on audio tape, different comedy sketches we'd write and perform. So we decided to film "The Rob and Mary Show - The Movie." It took about a year to do. For each segment, we'd write out the basic scenario, key lines of dialog, create any props we needed for that skit, work out camera angles and movements. Then film the actual segment. Each minute of air time took about an hour of preparation, rehearsal, etc. And the results aren't that bad. You can see lengthy excerpts of our movie by going to my website, and clicking to the Gallery page. Mary and I both had an enormous amount of fun, as a couple, making the movie. It's something I'll always remember fondly.

15. I had several exhibits in the Bruce Museum. Ever since I was a little boy, I've had a love for true science. And by true science I mean the honest effort to better understand our world. To explore a love of nature, understanding and cataloging it. I don't mean the unfortunate fake science with its agenda, for example, to "prove" animals don't have emotions, or "prove" love is only a predictable chemical reaction. Fake science, to me, is anti-science, anti-knowledge. It wants to pretend everything is black and white, with no gray areas. The town I grew up in, Greenwich, Connecticut, had a great, gray granite museum at the bottom of Greenwich Avenue, the Bruce Museum, which if I remember correctly was once the mansion of Somebody Bruce, who stipulated in his will that after his death it should be turned into a museum. For a relatively small town museum it had some terrific exhibits. I used to bicycle there probably once a week. One time I found a section of thick tree limb about a yard long, with three woodpecker holes in it to establish a home. I brought it to the museum, about a mile away from my house, asked to meet with the director, and after examining it, he decided to put it in one of the museum's nature display glass exhibits. Imagine my thrill when, a few weeks later, I saw it on display, with a small white card giving my typewritten name as the donator. It was like seeing a story of mine published in print. The next Summer, I found a huge quartz rock. About the size of a really large pumpkin. My friend Peter and I had to roll it a mile down the sidewalks of Greenwich Avenue to the museum, adults wearing hats asking us what we were doing. The director loved it. A few weeks later, it was up on its own pedestal in the museum, with a white placard announcing it had been donated by "Boby Moore". Oh, that typo depressed me! But then I realized, nothing's perfect, and it doesn't have to be.

16. I bought my mother perfume. When I was a little boy. My family lived about half a mile from the business center of Greenwich, Connecticut, and every morning during Summer vacation I'd walk by myself into town, maybe seven or eight years old. I had a paper route back then, so I usually had some coin in pocket to spend. My favorite places to visit were the different stationery stores on the downward-sloping avenue (my grandparents' house and the Atlantic ocean were at the bottom of the slope), because they always had display cases filled with magazines and paperback books (paperbacks, also called pocket books back then, were about thirty-five cents. Quite the bargain.) When a new book would catch my eye I'd pull it down and examine it like a scientist examines a new bacterium to see if it's contagious. The shop owners didn't mind me reading for such long periods in their stores, because I would usually wind up buying something to jam in the back pocket of my trousers as I continued my travels. Sometimes I'd come across a friend (I didn't have a lot of real friends back then), and we'd walk together to one of the pharmacies, get up on the green leather stools, and order a couple of vanilla ice cream sodas like we were big shots with oil wells. One time when I was all by myself, though, in one of the pharmacies (which also had displays of paperbacks), on one of the shelves I saw this big, globular bottle of green perfume. I forget now, so many decades later, how much it cost, but I do remember it was more than a paperback book. But I bought it anyway, for my mom. I was so happy as I left the pharmacy, projecting in my mind, like we all do, into the future, where I'd unbag it for her, Surprise, Mom! And she'd be so happy her son had been thinking about her, even though he was so far away. Like I said, this was the Summer, and on the long, hot trek home, at one point the bag slipped out of my hand, and fell to the sidewalk. I got really scared. I got down on my knees, right in front of people walking by, and fearfully opened the top of the white bag, much like, so many decades later, I fearfully cleared my throat holding the phone to my ear, as a nurse a thousand miles away at the care facility my father checked my mother into once her Alzheimer's got too bad went to bring my mother to the phone (she didn't sound like herself at all, her voice was too deep, she had no idea who I was, and that's the last time I ever "talked" to her), and looking inside the white bag, I saw the bottle was unbroken, all that beautiful green perfume still in its round glass, but the black cap atop was cracked, so the top no longer screwed on properly. I was trying to keep myself from crying all the rest of the long way home, a good discipline to learn at an early age, and when I did arrive, I went straight from the street door to the back, the kitchen, where my mom was, and I held the bag up to her. Once she opened it, and pulled out the bottle of green perfume with its busted black cap I burst into tears, and told her I had dropped it, I had not been paying enough attention and I dropped it. She comforted me. Hand on the side of my hot face. "It's fine, Bobby." Later that evening, when we all sat down to dinner, and I was still upset, she leaned sideways towards me in her chair. "Doesn't it smell nice? It's the best present I ever received." I decided that I would not punish myself, I would eat my mashed potatoes after all, and they tasted really good. My mom made them.