Monday, January 30, 2012

Social Networking Before Facebook

Before the advent of the Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and God Knows What Else, social networking involved things like smoke signals, passing notes in class, the telephone party line (and its latter day cousin, speed dial), and, of course, sleeping around.

The photo booth was also a primitive social networking device. Friending someone on Facebook is nothing compared to the 3-D friending that took place in a photo booth. You have to be pretty darned social to cram your network into something the size of a linen closet, partially shielded from the public by a too short deep green curtain. Social lubricants (e.g. alcohol, not KY, a different kind of social lubricant) often helped in Martha Graham-esque movement that passed for the creative process before the flash of the camera. The default option was four small prints, so in theory you could cut the the photos apart and trade them with your friends, as if they were a homemade Boog Powell rookie card.

Some of my best photos came from photo booths. I guess that means that I'm better interacting with a camera hidden behind plate of glass in a space the size of a linen closet than I am with actual human beings.

Yes, I know. That's your surprised face.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Girl in the Party Dress

When I'm being a sanctimonious curmudgeon, which probably occurs more often than is required by circumstances, I tell twentysomethings that the difference between drinking in my day and the way young folks do it today is that in my day, we didn't break stuff when we were, uh, overserved. Hearts excepted, of course.

Speaking of overserved, Facebook friends have already seen this photo from my immediate post-college years:

Yes, I spent those years as a dyed-in-the-wool middle American, doing things like joining the Jaycees, buying a house, and spending time in a cheap motel, wearing a tuxedo, with an attractive woman in a party dress.

Here is the follow up photo:

I am about to lose whatever scant amount of virtue I had.  My tie is undone. In about a nanosecond I will be yelling at the photographer to call 911. Even so, there is no way am I going to spill bourbon from that cheesy plastic Best Western tumbler, previously sanitized for my protection. Like every 110% Wahoo in a rented tuxedo, I don't think I've had enough to drink. Liquor may be quicker, but I'm sure that I'm thinking that it's not quick enough.

And in case you were wondering, no, I didn't call the next day. Not the girl in the party dress, nor the other two guys in tuxedos (one of whose surname I can't even remember), nor the other woman, in a party dress of her own. There wasn't any need to call. They were all right there, looking just as disheveled as I was--maybe even worse--all in a agreement that we had a helluva good time.

I still have, and wear, the shoes (black Alden oxfords) I bought at Bostonian, Ltd. to wear to that event. Classic footwear, like good party photos, never goes out of style.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

My Life in Pictures, Part Two

Do you remember how in the The Wizard of Oz, the movie went from the black and white of Kansas to the bright Technicolor of Munchkinland? Well, that happened in my biographical chat, too. The ancient stuff is in black and white and the merely super old parts are in washed out Kodachrome.

I couldn't believe that I found this photo of my State High Scholastic Quiz team. Where did it come from? That's me, sitting right next to the famous Da-shih Hu. I remember that the opening of the show was "Match wits with the scholars..."  I am sure that you are shocked that they didn't open with "Throw a touchdown pass like the scholars!" or "Hit a perfect three wood like the scholars!"

Who knows which set of scholars we were matching wits with, but the photographer from Channel 6 (serving millions from atop the Alleghenies) did a nice job of showing only the tops of their heads.

Our team made it all the way to the finals before succumbing by just ten points to Bishop McCort High School, the Catholic high school in Johnstown, in the third game of a three game final match. The final question in the last game was how many knuckles a nun teaching driver ed could whack with a ruler while demonstrating parallel parking in front of a liquor store. We never had a chance! Oh well...that's the way the toss up question bounces!

In my talk to my RULE classmates, I represented my college years with a photo of the Rotunda, the centerpiece of the Academical Village. But you already know what it looks like. It's a great example of Mr. Jefferson's genius as a designer, but that hardly makes it blog-worthy.

Instead, here is my close personal friend, H.M. Queen Elizabeth II. She stopped by UVa on July 10, 1976 to help celebrate the U.S. Bicentennial. She came to The University to make a speech, tie on the feedbag, and then learn to do the shag with some fraternity boys from SAE, with music provided by Doug Clark and the Hot Nuts. After the her speech from a stage set up in front of Cabell Hall, H.M. walked up The Lawn with University President Frank Hereford.

Prince Philip strolled along behind them at a respectable distance, enjoying Mrs. Hereford's company. Assorted functionaries and hangers-on brought up the rear of the official party. The Queen looked remarkably fresh in a green and white frock with matching wide brimmed hat. Prince Philip looked quite natty in a grey glen plaid suit. Perhaps attracted by my  Budweiser shirt (all class, I know), the Prince came over and chatted with my friends and me. I ran into a reporter from the local rag, The Daily Progress, later in the day, and was interviewed about my encounter with him.

Compared to today, there was quite a lack of security. Sure, there were Virginia State Troopers everywhere, but there there was just a simple rope separating the the public from the dignitaries. There were no metal detectors, or strip searches. Full body scans hadn't yet been invented. I didn't need a ticket, or need to send anyone my full name, date of birth, and social security number. Those were the days!

College not only meant foreigners coming to see me, but my going to see them in their native habitat as well. Here are my classmates and I posing on an outdoor terrace at the Convito San Filippo Neri, in Vicenza, Italy. We enjoying an especially culturally sensitive evening--a "Come As Your Favorite Italian" party. We had a Pope and a Mafioso making merry with at least one bona fide Italian priest (far right).

I have no clue what possessed me to dress as a sailor, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. Looking back on it, eons later, it was a sailor outfit as designed by Bob Mackie. I borrowed pants from some woman, so they were really, really tight in the painted on style popular in Italy at the time. They were really, really, short, too. In other words, Capri pants. Choice. Capri pants with suede bucks. Even choicer. I stuck an actual banana in my underwear to highlight the "Yes, I am glad to see you quotient" of the outfit.

I tattooed my chest and added what my mother would have called a sweater (i.e. chest hair) with magic marker, since I was conspicuously lacking both a tattoo and chest hair in real life. Here I am talking to Pope Stacie the First. She made her papal mitre from mylar and decorated it with her circle pin, something in many a UVa co-ed's jewelery case. She borrowed the staff from a priest at the convitto.

Our party was August 6, 1978. It's not difficult to remember that date. Pope Stacie the First spent plenty of time leaning over the balcony railing drunkenly blessing passersby. It seemed like perfectly appropriate behavior at the time. Unfortunately when we saw the newspaper the next morning we found out that the other Pope, the actual Pope in Rome, Paul VI, died during the party. In the age of YouTube, this would have qualified as an international incident. In the 1970s, it was just drunken tomfoolery.

Nevertheless, when I returned to Italy a few years later, the State Department advised me to leave my friends, my capri pants, my magic marker, and especially my banana, at home and to bring a book instead.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

My Life in Pictures, Part One

I'm enrolled in RULE, Penn State’s Rural Urban Leadership Program. It’s a two year program, designed to take duds like me and turn us into better leaders, through two years’ worth of intense three day institutes. My classmates are a great bunch of people from all over the Commonwealth. OK, there’s no one from Philadelphia, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise.  It seems as if in any venture I’ve been involved in, from the insurance business to tourism, there’s the rest of the state and then there’s Philadelphia. They get Mummers, Pat’s and Geno’s, and the rest of us get the rest.  Not a bad deal, I suppose.

Our assignment for the last institute was to do a five minute talk on who we are and why we're in the RULE program.We could do something with photos or skip the photos and just talk. I think interpretive dance was an option too, but my leotard is in the shop being overhauled, so I just stuck with photos. I can't imagine how boring my talk would have been without them.

In my quest for visual aids, I looked through my old boxes of photos, and then I looked through my sister’s old boxes of photos too. Oh my. We found some scary stuff. But some great photos, too.

This is my maternal grandfather, Harry Nehrig, a leading citizen of Patton, PA. Since he lost a leg in a farming accident as a kid, he was deemed unsuitable for farm work and became the first member of my family to go to college. IUP, Class of 1916. It was called Indiana State Normal School in those days. The photo dates from the 1920s, I believe. It's in a great zig-zag moderne paper frame. I named the wireless network in Stone Harbor after him. I am sure that none of my neighbors looking to freeload internet know who H.H. Nehrig was.

That’s my paternal grandfather, known by my immediate family as Willis, Sr., on the left in this photo. He's en route to Sumatra where he worked for Royal Dutch/Shell. The photo was taken in 1925, according to my grandmother's writing in pencil on the back of the picture. It takes a certain type of man to wear a pith helmet and a rumpled Ralph Lauren-esque tropical suit. Of course, if you can't wear that stuff on a slow boat to the Dutch East Indies in the 1920s, where can you wear it?

My mother is in her uniform as a member of the U.S. Army Medical Corps in World War 2. I think she was 24 or 25 at the time. I am surprised that she doesn't have a cigarette stuck behind her ear.

Here we have my father, Hawkeye, otherwise nicknamed The Real Willis by my friend Tom. (I'm Willis the Lesser for those of you not in the know.) He was the wold's best fighter pilot. At least that's what he said. I don't know who the two guys on either side of him are, but I think he told me once that one of them was killed in the war. He didn't write their names on the back of the photo. While this is a P-47, it's not my father's plane. His was called Old Saucer Ass, after his uncle's dog. Hawkeye told me that his C.O. wasn't very happy about the name of the plane, and of course, my mother wanted it to be called the Miss Betty or something like that. My parents would have been married (in Nancy, France) not too long after these photos were taken.

Bill Coleman took these delightful portraits of my siblings and me in 1957..or maybe early 1958. I suppose that was before he was on the Amish bandwagon, or gravy train, as it were. He must have owed my father money, I can't imagine my parents actually wanting to have our portraits taken. My mother called to make an appointment to have all four of our portraits taken, but Bill told her that babies didn't have any personality. And he might have even said that all babies look like Winston Churchill, I wouldn't have put it past him. Bill's attitude made my mother mad. Shocking, no? She wanted to cancel the entire photo shoot, but was talked out of it, which makes me think that Bill really did owe my father money and the only way they were going to see anything was to have some photos taken of the evil brood. My mother took me along, since she had no babysitter. Bill Coleman thought I was charming (or at least pretended he did) and ended up taking my photo anyway. Jim would have been about 12, Carolyn about 10, and Rob, 2-ish. 

I put up this photo when I said that my family was very colorful and that more than one of my friends had remarked that the Bryants were right out of a southern novel. I don't recall if my classmates laughed, but I thought it was funny and as we all know, I'm my best audience. It's one of my favorite photos. I don't know who drove the 1959 Ford in the background, but I am going with Robert Villamagna's suggestion that it was the pheasant.

I will post things from the color years a bit later.

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Short Trip

I recently got to spend a couple of nights at the Bedford Springs Resort in Bedford, PA. I'd heard how nice it was from several people, but frankly, I was expecting something cheesy. You know, phony colony this and that, with a smattering of faux Dorothy Draper just for good measure. In my mind that's what resort hotels where one "takes the waters" look like these days.  Well, I couldn't have been more wrong.

The place really is beautiful, and actually historic, too. Ten Presidents of the United States have stayed there. Not all at the same time, of course.

President Buchanan was actually staying at the hotel when he received the first transatlantic cable--from Queen Victoria herself, asking the President if he had Prince Albert in a can.

A few years ago, the hotel was lavishly brought into modern times, and once again you can go there and take the waters, or do as I did, and take the bourbon, and pass on the water.

If the hotel is a little rich for your blood, there are other local hostelries, too.

TV-Air Cond. What more can the modern traveler want?

Morning coffee, that's what. The Coffee Pot, built by David Koontz in 1927, is a great example of programmatic architecture. It sits just outside Bedford along Route 30--The Lincoln Highway--across the street from its original location. After it was threatened with demolition, it was moved and restored in 2004.

When I travel, I always have room for ice cream.

Alas and alack, The Penguin was closed for the winter.

I thought penguins liked cold weather.

Just not this one apparently.