Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Music Man

Another Life’s Lesson

It was about a month after I left college and I found myself selling shoes in a small town in southern Iowa. The year was 1970 and I was oblivious to how my life was going to change because of my being “asked” to leave college. I was living on my own earning $75 a week writing poetry about living alone. One of the bright spots was my old high school speech teacher was living and teaching in the same community. She was one of my favorite teachers in high school who I secretly had a crush on. (I suppose it’s not a secret any longer.) I was pleased to discover she was living in the same town teaching speech and drama at the high school.

The high school drama department was putting on the production, The Music Man, and my friend asked me to help her with the production. How could I say no? I was still clinging to the dream of becoming famous in New York and Hollywood and had most recently been a theatre major in college. I was experienced. At any rate, I volunteered and we worked diligently for a couple of months preparing scenery, coaching the actors, and hanging drops (painted scenery which drops from the ceiling). It was quite the set.

Opening night was successful. The second night…was not so successful. About mid way through the production a scene had to be changed by raising one of the drops. There were about 4 drops suspended by rope and pulley stored in the 80 foot ceiling. As the drop was being raised the rope came off the pulley. There were 5 of us trying to pull the drop up, but it was stuck. About 25 feet up the wall was a little balcony and I figured that I could climb up there and gain some leverage on the rope and perhaps get it back on track. The theory was working well and with the 4 guys pulling from the floor, combined with my leverage the drop was raising. We had managed to get it up about half way. And, then…I began to learn some life’s lessons, combined with a physics lesson.

The rope was old and it broke between where I was holding it and the 4 guys on the floor. The drop was heavier than I was so as it started to fall the rope I was holding went up. It pulled me out of the balcony. Now, I did a quick computation and figured that if I continued to hold on to the rope it was going to take me 50 feet or so to the top, strain me through the pulley and then I’d fall a total of 80 feet. I figured that was a bad idea – so I let go.

It did feel like time stopped and I was moving in slow motion. I was falling onto to the stage from the height of about 25 feet (without a parachute) and I was sure I was going to die. I was falling head down hearing, “76 trombones lead the big parade…” Then I hit – luckily for me I landed on an actor who was delivering his lines. He didn’t know what hit him. Unlucky for him when I hit him I cracked his neck. Lucky for me I hit him because he slowed my fall. If I hadn’t hit him I probably would have broken my neck.

We did bring the play to a screeching halt and I remember hearing “Is there a doctor in the house?”

We both survived, his neck hurt, and he had to wear a neck brace. My back and kidneys hurt, but we weren’t dead and the show did go on. This was another encounter I had with gravity and as I learned from the horse and the windmill I confirmed that gravity rules.

© 2006 Robert Allen Hill

Monday, October 30, 2006


This “Blogging” just might be ok. I’ve told myself frequently that I should start a journal and record some of my random wonderings...even wanderings. I’ve even gone as far as to purchase a nice journal - one of those leather bound books you can get at Barnes & Noble. I’ve got a couple of those now, and they’re so eloquent. I still haven’t written in them because I think I should have something really profound to say before I write in them. I’m waiting for a profound thought to come to me.

This Blog is better because I can always hit the DELETE key and start over if I need to. I can even start without a profound thought...

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Bubble Bath

The Fountain

It’s been 37 years since I graduated from High School and I suppose I’m like a lot of people who ponder the life I’ve lived, the choices I’ve made, and the lessons I’ve learned. Upon reflection – one of Life’s Lessons I learned is that we are never aware of the ramifications of the choices we make in life, because we simply cannot see into the future. To illustrate...

After high school graduation, I decided that I was going to attend a private school (name not released in case they’re still mad at me – as you will learn), one which was expensive, and perhaps out of my reach financially. I was going to be a theatre major, get a fine arts degree, go to New York and then on to Hollywood, fame and fortune. I ignored the advice of my parents, who suggested that a junior college closer to home, would be a better choice. To heck with parental advice, I was now an adult! I went to the private school, majored in theatre, and was prepared to make my mark on the world.

Trouble started almost immediately when I rebelled against taking a “regular” gym class. I though I was done with that ... I ended up signing up for ballet – something recommended by my counselor.

Ballet didn’t turn out too bad – it was a class filled with 10 women and 2 men. This fed right into my other majors in college, wine and women. I excelled...

One Friday evening, while I was studying the “wine” part of my education, I ended up consuming an excessive amount of vodka. This led to my acquiring a box of Tide; why, I have no idea, but I found myself standing in front of the college’s very colorful fountain. There were water sprays, and different colored lights – it was so inviting.

I discovered that an entire box of Tide makes a nifty bubble bath – it was a warm evening, the bubbles were inviting, so, I stripped down and jumped in ... most would think that this was my biggest mistake, but no! After my nice bubble bath, I walked around campus au naturel and introduced myself to the couples who were sitting on the benches. This was still not my biggest mistake!

The biggest mistake came when I introduced myself to the local campus security person. That was the mistake that changed my life.

He invited me, okay, took me, to his office and called the local police. To my good fortune, the policeman who showed up was the brother of a friend of mine, so he escorted me back to the dorms with the admonition about never, ever, doing something that stupid again.

Little did I know that my “bath” would affect the entire rest of my life. It was 1970, and the school authorities invited me to leave the school. As a result, I lost my student deferment from the draft. It wasn’t too long before I won the only lottery I ever won – the draft lottery! I was drafted, but I fooled them -- I joined the Navy. That one bubble bath, that one moment, that one box of Tide, put me on path which saw me completing 30 years in the Navy – who knew?!

© 2006 Robert Allen Hill

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Horse and the Cliff

The Horse Posted by Picasa

I had received my draft notice and pretty much decided that my life was over. I was sure I was going to be inducted into the Army, sent to VietNam and die. I just knew it...

Some older friends of mine decided that I needed one “last trip” before that fateful induction day arrived, so they took me on a trip to Colorado. We stayed with some of their friends in town, but went up into the hills to visit another couple they were friends with. It was quite a drive up the mountain, a few scary curves, and more than one bump in the road. When we finally arrived at our destination, it was a trailer parked on the side of a pasture.

Actually, it was quite picturesque, with horses grazing in the field and the pine trees off in the distance. We were met by the man of the house and were invited in to visit. The trailer was packed with “stuff” – cowboy stuff, boots, belts, spurs, guns, ropes and cats – at least 100 - okay, it seemed like a hundred, but there were at least 10 cats. They were everywhere! When we sat down to eat, so did the cats and no one but me seemed to mind that a cat was “tasting” the mashed potatoes ... yuck!

After lunch we were asked if we’d like to take a horse ride. Well, I’d never been on a horse before, so I was a bit reticent, but I ended up in the saddle, with my friend sitting behind me.

We were on a spirited horse who did not take direction well. The horse seemed content on letting us know who was boss, and it wasn’t me. My friend, not exactly an experienced horseman himself, encouraged me to kick the horse to let him know who was boss.

Kick I did, and the horse took off like a shot ... actually, it was a fairly smooth ride, until the horse got to the cliff. Now, the horse knew the cliff was there; we did not. The horse stopped dead in its tracks; we did not. I went sailing over the horse’s head and the last thing I saw was “little cars” on the road below.

I hit something soft. I figured I was dead, and was surprised that dead felt “prickly”. I was up-side-down in a pine tree! It took the better part of an hour to extract me from the tree.

The Life Lesson(s) I learned ... gravity rules and stay away from horses ...

© 2006 Robert Allen Hill

Friday, October 27, 2006

Life's Lessons Learned From Parachuting

The Windmill Posted by Picasa

Before you get impressed, thinking I had the courage to jump out of a perfectly good airplane, let me explain…

I had to have been 8 or 9 years old and I had just finished watching a John Wayne movie where parachuting was a main aspect of the movie. Now, I was an imaginative child and I just had to find a way to emulate my hero, John Wayne. I lived on a farm and not far from the farm house was a very tall windmill. Now the one thing I knew was that, in order to parachute, one had to jump from some height. So I determined that the windmill was going to be my platform.

Now for the parachute... Well, in the movies they are big and white and wide, and what was on the farm that I could use for my chute? A sheet … that is, a double sheet. A single sheet would never do. A double sheet would work quite nicely. Now, how do you attach a sheet to your body? I concluded that heavy-duty strong string should do the trick.

I manufactured my parachute, complete with my heavy-duty string tied to each corner, and the string then attached to me. I climbed the windmill. I thought that the very top was a bit high to try an untested chute, so I climbed about half way up and jumped. This is where I began to learn some life lessons…

Life lesson number one: heavy-duty string tied to the corners of a sheet doesn’t work so well for a parachute!! The string came off my chute.

Life lesson number two: survey the area below the platform before jumping. It seems I jumped on the side of the windmill that had a fence. I landed on the fence, gashing a pretty good hole in my arm (a scar I carry to this day). After getting patched and stitched and consoled, and, as I recall, yelled at after my folks determined I was going to live, I redesigned my chute. I allowed as how since the string didn’t work tied to the chute I would use twine (much heavier) and put it through the sheet at the corners.

I climbed a bit higher for the second jump. Having learned life lesson number 2 from the first jump (“look before you leap”), I went to the other side of the windmill.

I jumped. I immediately began to learn some additional life lessons: twine didn’t work either, design didn’t work (as the sheet ripped), and the little shed at the bottom of the windmill was wider than it appeared. I didn’t hit the fence, but did manage to rip out all of my stitches when I hit the roof of the shed.

The big life lesson I learned: let John Wayne jump out of airplanes. I decided to play “soldier” on the ground.

After my parachuting accident it was several years before gravity and I had another encounter with heights...and, well, that’s another story...

© 2006 Robert Allen Hill