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Robert A. Mills

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Blogs by Robert A. Mills

RADIO HALL OF FAME
3/3/2010 7:35:16 AM
Neal Boortz (WSB, Atlanta) is a self-proclaimed Libertarian talk show host whose politics is somewhat right of Genghis Kahn. He was recently elected to the National Radio Hall of Fame, and I voted for him solely because it was the only way his sidekick, Jamie Dupree (WSB’s Washington correspondent) would ever be aligned with the NRHF, even if only by osmosis. Jamie, of course, will never achieve membership, his superior analytical talents and unbiased perspectives notwithstanding. But my duplicitous rationale for voting for Boortz nonetheless gave me great pleasure. Assumptive action based on pure rationale is an American way of life.

Many years ago the civic repertoire theater in our town cast me in the lead of a Crouse/Lindsay play called “Remains to be Seen.” My main reason for taking the role was it gave me the rationale for growing a beard.

A year later I was asked to recreate the Cyril Ritchard part in Gore Vidal’s blockbuster hit “Visit to a Small Planet.” Again, I saw the chance to embellish my façade with glorious whiskers, much in the fashion of Broadway’s musical comedy star, Alfred Drake.

The TV affiliate on which I appeared in those days was not overtly jubilant over my goatee and moustache, because having been a towhead as a youngster, my light brown/blondish growth, in its earlier stages, was too pale, too fragmented to be visible on camera. It was, as my exec producer stated, “little more than a scraggly outcropping of Iowa corn silk.”

The problem was quickly solved when one of our technicians suggested we collect remnants from assorted ashtrays (everyone smoked back then) and apply the smut liberally on my chin and under my nose. It worked to perfection! And it washed off easily, along with the Max Factor Pancake balm we were required to wear for black and white TV.

Consequently, during my lengthy tenure on the tube, I frequently grew beards as the spirit moved me, but it wasn’t until my youngest daughter came along that the rationale dispelled the myth I was master of my own fate. I think she was five or six when the decree was handed down that further periods of shave-less glee were henceforth strictly forbidden. This dictum remained in force until she was a senior in college.

My most memorable beard was the hedgerow that preceded the current one. I grew it in the winter of ’72, and it wasn’t long before I began receiving mysterious phone calls before our 11 PM News, Weather, and Sports segment.

“I know where you are,” the sinister, anonymous caller informed me, “and if you don’t get rid of that beard, you’re going to be sorry. Dead sorry.”

After he reached our switchboard the fourth night in a row, I nervously called a detective friend downtown. “Next time he calls,” instructed the police officer, “keep him on as long as possible. We’ll install a special tracing line on your PBX over the weekend.”

Sure enough, the deranged phantom called again Monday night. “If you keep that filthy beard on your face, I’m going to kill you.”

“Why are you doing this? What did I ever do to you?” I whined, keeping him on as long as I could.

“I hate guys with beards,” he said. “You hippies make me sick. Keep yours and I’m going to get you. This is your last warning.” After a few minutes of inane questions by me and drastic threats by him, he suddenly hung up.

The next day we had a terrific, typical snowfall, and that night I parked on the circular driveway near the studio’s front door. I asked the switchboard gal if she’d had any calls for me; her reply, as she chomped on her Dentyne and shook her crimson ringlets, was negative. Three hours later, show done and makeup washed away, I left the studio.

The storm had not abated; in fact, snow was coming down even harder and, with my head bent against the wind, visibility was nil.

As I approached my car, a shot rang out.

Instantly, I felt the hot wound explode in my belly, and the impact sent me sprawling in the deep snow. I lay there, in shock, knowing I would be dead before I was found in the growing drift.

I don’t know how many minutes went by before I was aware the pain had subsided. I reached inside my parka and slipped my hand under my belt, expecting to come away with a coagulating mess of blood and gore. But—nothing. Gingerly, I explored the area of my still-throbbing mons pubis, and my hand came back trembling, but dry.

As I lay there, I heard two more shots—but I somehow knew they were not from rifles or handguns. Beyond a row of pines to my right was the parking lot of a huge food distribution warehouse, and many were the times I’d heard various 18-wheelers backfire as they revved their engines for late night departures.

Crawling to my knees, I touched the cold steel of a painted sign that had blown off its three-foot-six-inch phallus. Good grief, Charlie Brown, it was all so instantly clear! I had blindly walked into the iron pole precisely as a truck parked next door had backfired! I was not shot! I was alive! At best, I had nothing worse than a secret bruise! I was not going to die! I would live be on the air again tomorrow!

The snow had let up, and I was able to see the naked iron rod jutting waist-high, just above the drift. Beside me, face up in the snow, was the sign that had blown off: Driveway Parking Is At Your Own Risk!

The following day I spoke with my detective friend downtown. “Yeah, we got him. He was from the Psych Ward on Elmwood Ave,” he said, his tone one of practiced boredom indigenous to police work. “He’s a nutcase. Off the wall. Totally harmless.”

“Who is he? What’s his name?”

“You don’t need to know. We got him in custody ‘til they come for him. He’ll never bother you again. Just another wacko out there. World’s full of ‘em.”

I shaved that beard off a few weeks later, and after Alex showed up I didn’t grow another until fall of 2006. I will probably keep this one until
1.) she tells me to shave it off, or
2.) he calls again.



Copyright©2010 by Robert A. Mills


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