I love the first amendment. I’d swap the Magna Carta, bowling night, and the “right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” - all for that golden guarantee to freedom of expression. Oh, it’s true it breeds a little vulgarity in our reading material. But it also safeguards this struggling writer when he needs to defend himself versus the censor. Like when I wanted to entertain my dwindling readership about the time Aunt Tilly, with a brick of Roquefort in her
purse, was arrested at the cheese counter at Krogers. Never heard that story, did you? Well, the censor in this case was Aunt Tilly’s niece - my wife.
With a red pencil in one hand and an eraser in the other, she insists on reading everything I write - before publication. So do her three children who in respectful moments call me “Father” or “Pop” or “megamouth” depending on their mood.
This is a helluva limitation on an unimaginative humorist who lives in the bosom of a family full of good-natured flakes - a library of material.
“Heck, if I could make up plots,” I tell ‘em, “we’d all be in Hollywood swimming in organ-shaped swimming pools and driving Bavarian vehicles. And I’ve just got to use that story about Sarah’s first date.” Sarah’s my granddaughter who, at the time, had just swapped her pigtails for a perm. Her crayons for lipstick. She liked boys like I like the first amendment.
The aborted story of her first date never got past the wife’s red pencil. An innocuous tale of young love - or attempted young love. In fact, it reflected on the high-toned morality of our family - even in our younger members.
It turns out the suitor’s car had no heater. It’s December. Get the idea? But then, just to magnify opportunities of huggin’ and kissin’, the sinister male lead in this true epic ran out of gas, had a flat, and suffered some suspicious engine problem in this obsolescent vehicle. Get it NOW? There’s a lot more that I can’t tell you because “Red Pencil” took it out. But my granddaughter extricated herself from this tender trap with womanly maturity. We gave her a round of applause when she got home that night and told us her tribulations. Naturally, we were all waiting up. The escapee is blessed with a nosy, but supportive family – including me. I considered asking her to wear a wire next time.
So that’s the tale I wanted to spin. But as usual, the wife objected.
“What if I change her name to Elvira (clever?) and describe young Quinton’s 4-wheel meat locker as a 1965 Dodge instead of a 1983 Buick Special? And the whole episode takes place in Zurich, Switzerland?”
“No dice,” says the editor, who’s checking account I share.
“OK, here’s my last offer. We move the story to San Francisco – turn of the century – the 1983 Buick Special becomes a horse drawn carriage and the female lead is a forty year old widow lady from Yugoslavia.” That did it.
But this wasn’t my first tussle with the censor. I had suffered Army censorship during my stint in our Armed Services. Real professionals who’d “X” out a line in a letter like, “The only creatures who love West Central Texas are scorpions and horned toads. And they’re not happy when the sun goes down”.
See, we weren’t supposed to shout that we were training in West Texas since that would obviously betray the fact that we were going to Korea (I’ll tell you why later.) That was the real secret; Korea, our destination. That’s why they called the war the KOREAN War, but who
knows the way military minds calculate. Maybe the American forces would be sent to Venezuela. Brilliant. Then the enemy, who lived in North Korea, would have to ship their total forces to South America in order to engage us. AND THEY DIDN’T HAVE A NAVY. See what I mean? They’d never show up - they’d lose by default. The score would go in the books as U.S. 2 - North Korea 0. And nobody would get hurt.
But to get back to West Texas. If enemy ears heard we were in Texas, they’d know we were going to Korea because you train a unit in a similar geographical area to that of the ultimate battlefield. And even though West Texas is flat like Aunt Tilly and North Korea is like
Madonna, they have one hugely common feature. They’re both windy. And that’s why we couldn’t mention Texas. Because every big-eared, letter-reading spy in town would know we were going to KOREA - not Venezuela.
But these days I have to worry about the wife - not the military censor. If we’re going to the Shanahan’s wedding reception at 2:00, the wife wants a dry run at 1:00.
“So what do you plan to say to the Shanahans, Loose Lips?”
I give her one of my best cocktail party smirks because she thinks I’ve forgotten they just bought a new Italian sports car that cost them more than their daughter’s college education.
“I’m gonna congratulate them on their powerful new 8-cylinder, 12-valve, 60-payment Marinara.”
“It’s new OK, but it’s a Mary Ann, not a Marinara. A NEW BABY.”
I hate it when she shouts in my good ear. I recover quickly and offer a new script. “Then I’ll tell him that I’ll bet Marinara looks just like him.”
“Oh that’s great,” says my instructress, “since it’s an adopted, Oriental baby. And don’t ask Bruce about his new job – he’s been canned.”
We finally agree that I can use a 4-word vocabulary of “Hello”, “Please”, and “Thank you”. And just to make sure we’re in tandem - so I can’t operate independently - she’ll tie her sash to my belt. It won't look at all like a leash.
The humor of Ted, the Scribbler on the Roof, appears in newspapers around the U.S., on National Public Radio in Huntsville, Alabama and numerous web sites.