Patsy Porco

Archive for June, 2012|Monthly archive page

Posthumous WWII Remembrances

In Humor, WWII on June 18, 2012 at 2:22 pm

Several years before he died, my father started writing about his life. While I knew about his memoirs, I didn’t get a chance to see them until I inherited a copy. I always knew that my father had a great sense of humor; however, I didn’t know what a droll storyteller he was.  

In honor of Father’s Day, my father will be writing my blog post, albeit posthumously. This is one of my favorite passages from his memoir, written about living during World War II in Philadelphia.

By H. Richard Bahner

My mother, Betty, was always active in the Parent Teacher Association. She served as president a couple of times, and was always asked to take part in various charity drives. I remember one period during which my brother, Ted, and I were introduced to soap sculpture. We did a hell of a job on a lot of large-sized cakes of P&G’s Ivory Soap. Jack Griffith, who was the husband of Aunt Marion, my mother’s sister, sold for P&G in Cincinnati, Ohio. Maybe he shipped us samples? The unusual thing was that some of our creations looked pretty good.

At that particular time, Mother was soliciting for The Red Feather, which was The Community Chest, and later became The United Fund. The badge given to contributors that year was a single, red-dyed feather which men and women pinned to their jackets, blouses or dresses.  I don’t know if our neighborhood, Uptown, was especially short of philanthropists that year, but Mother had a lot of extra cellophane-wrapped packets containing a contribution receipt card, a small red feather and a folder describing the plans of the association. I remember how the red feathers jazzed up our simulated marble objets d’Ivory, especially my handcarved Ozzie Ostrich. Our soap sculptures would have been a hit at any Communist exhibit.

While Mother was PTAing, Father was the Air Raid Warden for almost the exact area that Mom had collecting rights over. For Dad’s Air Raid Warden headquarters, the Civil Defense Office rented a storefront previously operated by Joe No-Last-Name, who sold cigars, cigarettes, candy, soda and magazines. Joe looked like an ex-convict, or at least how I imagined an ex-convict would look, and when he left the store one night and never came back, I figured that he was locked up again and back in jail.

The storefront was used by the Civil Defense people as the office/meeting place/storage room for the Air Raid Warden’s official emergency equipment. Ted and I served as messengers. I was underage, as the regulations said 14, but Dad was the Head Warden of our post and in charge of giving out the cumbersome-looking, white-painted helmets, armbands, flashlights and whistles, and no one questioned his judgments as there were more warden candidates than equipment. My Boy Scout membership helped ease my intrusion as, with all Scouts, first-aid training was mandatory.

The manufacturers of hand-held spray equipment made an automatic killing from the Civil Defense procurement people. Four- to five-gallon-capacity tanks with hand-operated pumps were the first line of defense against German or Japanese firebomb attacks. I couldn’t see any benefit from pumping water on a magnesium-fed incendiary fire, but a little knowledge from a freshman chemistry class is guaranteed to bring doubt upon the wisdom of the acts of your elders. Shoveling sand on the area around the incendiary would probably smother it out, but water was available, and sand was 60 miles away at the Jersey shore.

The chance to display their naked power came to the wardens during the actual air-raid drills. Following the clarion call of the air-raid siren, all available wardens would report to their posts to collect their equipment and any special orders. Then they would report to their assigned neighborhoods and render assistance. Since anyone remaining on the homefront who wanted a job got one, most of the workforce was involved in the war effort, or serviced it. Thus, the most effective time to hold an air-raid drill was in the evening, as this provided the experience to the greatest number of people, and it also gave the Civil Defense people an idea of the level of blackout compliance practiced by their subjects. Most of the air-raid drills occurred between 9:00 and 10:00 at night.

I well-remember running important messages between post headquarters and the wardens of our sector. This would put me right out in the dark of things, on the scene, to observe the wardens flying up and down the streets notifying transgressors of their flagrant blackout violations, resulting in the flagrant violators shouting back 1940’s vintage riposte from within the faultily blacked-out houses to the pompous-ass wardens, who particularly resented being called pompous-ass wardens.

Watching someone attempting to write down names and addresses in the dark is a sight to see at anytime, but especially when the transcriber is an incensed officious official in a state of rage who is determined to cite the wrongdoer in his report. When that official would attempt to conceal his person in an entranceway and dispense just the slightest bit of light from his flashlight, he would often be discovered by neighbors of the culprit, who would loudly question, from behind their blackout shades, just whose ass was going to the slammer.


Headless Guests and C-Sections

In Humor, TV Shows on June 9, 2012 at 5:31 pm

The other day, my son and I were in the very last row of the balcony of The Ed Sullivan Theater in Manhattan, attending a taping of  the Late Show with David Letterman. Generally speaking, every seat in that theater is fairly decent, since it’s not a huge theater. Specifically speaking, our seats couldn’t have been worse. We would have had a better view of the stage from our house in Connecticut.

From our vantage point, we were looking directly down onto the stage where Dave’s desk was. In between us and his desk were enormous monitors and lights hanging from the ceiling. The only way to see Dave was to crook your head to the left and try to catch a glimpse of him between the giant lights and monitors. Forget about seeing the guest who sat next to him.

On this particular day, we were the second audience. Prior to our seating, there was a taping of  the episode that was to air that night. We were there to view the next night’s show. By the second show, our show, Dave was spent. He came out looking energetic and enthusiastic, so we were initially psyched. However, the staff had booked only one celebrity, Bill Murray, along with a musical guest, so even Bill looked bored by the second segment. By that point in the interview, Dave was killing time by reading a list of every major movie that Bill had ever made and was commenting on each one. Bill tried to make clever comments, but he was mostly bemused. We, the audience, who had been repeatedly reminded—while being held hostage for two hours prior to the show in a bar around the corner from the studio—of our obligation to laugh and clap at every opportunity, did our part. But it was hard. Especially if you were sitting in our seats.

While Bill sat in the guest’s chair, next to Dave’s desk, he was only visible to me from the neck down. I could see his head and body on the ceiling monitors, but when I looked down onto the stage, all that I could see were his torso, legs and arms. From my vantage point, he had no head. It was like watching a disemheaded body on the stage. I’m used to disembodied heads, but a disemheaded body kind of freaked me out.

Naturally, it also got me thinking about C-sections. I had a C-section when my son was born, but I wasn’t thinking about mine. I was thinking—while I should have been laughing and clapping—about my sister’s.

When my son was air-lifted from me, my husband was in the operating room. A curtain was hung below my neck and my husband was told not to look over the curtain. He willingly obliged, so all that he saw was my head, and we were able to talk throughout the delivery.

When my sister had a C-section, her husband couldn’t resist looking behind the curtain. I don’t know if he regretted his decision, but I know that he was shocked by the disparity between what was occuring on one side of the curtain and the other. He later said that, on one side, he was talking to an animated puppet head who wouldn’t shut up about the impending birth of their daughter, while on the other side, all he saw was blood and gore. It was hard for him to mentally connect both sides of her body.

Excepting the blood and gore, I could relate, while watching Bill Murray’s body. I kept looking at the monitor to see if his head’s actions were matching his body’s actions. And, to complicate matters, he introduced a hologram of himself in the chair next to him. Of course it wasn’t really there, so everyone, no matter where they were sitting—Dave and Bill included—could only see it on the monitors. That was a relief. Seeing a disemheaded hologram would have sent me straight back to the bar that we were imprisoned in earlier.

Chuck Smith, Virginia Author

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