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I’m Gonna Go

Published on July 10, 2015 by in Stories

Many years ago, when my beautiful niece, Kim, was about five or six years old, we were on a family camping trip near a shallow creek in the Oregon sand dunes. Kim was playing in the water, when she looked at the adults on the shore and said,

“I’m gonna go potty in the water.” No one responded.

“I’m gonna go.” Still no response.

“I’m going.”

“I went.”

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Go Bed

Published on March 3, 2015 by in Stories

Shortly after we moved to Topeka, I became involved with Topeka Civic Theatre. While I had always had an interest in theater, work and family duties had taken precedence. But when I discovered I was staying home to be with a son who wasn’t there, I decided I could once again engage in a very time consuming hobby. I auditioned for a couple of shows, and when I wasn’t cast, signed up to assist off stage.

One of the first shows I worked on was I do, I do, the musical. I was assigned to run the light board.

At that time Topeka Civic Theatre was performing at the Warehouse on The Levee, a wonderfully funky theatre venue created out of a warehouse.

I do, I do has a scene in which the actors are seated on a revolving bed. To create this effect, the tech director had put the bed on casters welded to a pole which was attached to a capstan in the basement. All of the tech crew were on headsets, and when it was time for the bed to revolve, the stage manager would call “go bed” to the two crew members stationed in the basement, who would dutifully turn the capstan which would turn the bed.

The show also has a scene in the snow, and on cue phony snow would rain down on the set. The show had a pretty long run, and before long the casters on the bed became clogged with “snow.” As the bed became harder and harder to turn, we added more and more crewmembers to the basement bed turners. I left the light board, the follow-spot operators left their spotlights and we now had about six people assigned to turn the bed.

One day, without telling anyone, the tech director changed the casters on the bed. You can imagine what happened when the stage manager called “go bed” and six enthusiastic crewmembers leaned into the capstan.

Fortunately, no one was hurt, but that bed did spin.

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Published on February 5, 2015 by in Stories

It is disturbing when you first discover your children are smarter than you are. I don’t know when the realization fully hit me, but one event stands out.

When the boys were about seven and five, we were playing together in the back yard when Becky called us in for dinner. We headed to the bathroom to wash up, and Glenn, then about five, came up behind me and said, “Boo!”

“Did I scare you Daddy?”


Joel and Glann ca. 1976

“Why not?”

“Well I knew you were right behind me.”

“But I wasn’t right behind you.”

“Well, I knew you were following me.”

“But I wasn’t following you.”

By this time we were in the bathroom. He was standing on a stool in front of me and we were both washing our hands. I was watching his face in the mirror.

“Look,” I said, “In order to scare someone you have to surprise them. I know you were somewhere near and I wasn’t surprised therefore I wasn’t scared. Now I’m not going to argue with you.”

“Yes you are.”

“No! I’m not!”

I’ll never forget the look of triumph on his face.

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Exit Please

Published on November 19, 2014 by in Stories

Anyone who has been a stage actor for any period of time has probably missed an entrance, at least once. But how many people do you know who have missed exits? Well I did.

It was in the mid nineties and Topeka Civic Theatre and was producing Arsenic and Old Lace. On the last weekend of the show, the actor who was playing Teddy, was hospitalized with a kidney stone. At 11:00 a.m. the director called me and asked me if I could fill in. Never one to turn down an opportunity to appear on stage, I immediately agreed.

When I went to the theatre to get fitted for my costume, the director told me he wanted me to go on off book! So I spent the balance of the afternoon trying to memorize lines.

Fortunately, the role of Teddy, while fairly substantial, exists in several short scenes. I would stand back stage and study the next scene; go on; do the scene; and exit to begin studying the next one.

All was going well until I overstayed my welcome on stage. Marc Penny and Ted Shonka were onstage with me, and tried to signal me to leave. I didn’t take the hint. Finally Ted said, “Teddy, why don’t you go in the kitchen and get yourself a cookie?”

Brilliant. It sounded like something Ted’s character would say; it told me to leave the stage; and even directed me to the proper exit.

“Bully idea!” I shouted and got the heck off the stage.

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Acceptance Speech

Published on November 18, 2014 by in Stories

Every year Topeka Civic Theatre hosts a Volunteer Appreciation Night, popularly known as The Rennas, after the Renna Hunter awards that are presented to actors in several categories. It is a great honor just to be nominated for a Renna, and an even greater honor to win one. (In the more than 30 plays I have appeared in I have only been nominated three times.) My first Renna Nomination was in 1996 when I was nominated for best performance by a male in a supporting role for playing Warnie in Shadowlands. That same year my daughter-in-law Tawny was nominated for best performance by a female in a supporting role for her role in I Hate Hamlet.

It was, as always, a gala affaire. Most everyone was decked out in their finest, including Tawny, a lovely young woman always, even lovelier than usual in her party dress.

They announced best performance by a male in a supporting role, and it went to Cliff Alfrey, one of the best actors I have ever known. I was a bit disappointed by not surprised. Cliff deserved the award.

Next, best performance by a female in a supporting role was announced, “And the winner is: Tawny Stottlemire!”

Tawny went to the podium and made a gracious and quite proper acceptance speech, until she concluded with, “At times like this, I’m always reminded of something my old grandma used to say, and well, this is for you Marv: Nyah Nyah Nyah Nyah Nyah Nyah!”

Gotta love that girl.

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Looking Foolish

Mingus Pa

I like explaining things to people. It’s probably why I‘m in the teaching profession. But sometimes when you don’t know what you are talking about explaining things can make you look foolish. Sometimes even wild animals get involved.

When I was in high school in Coos Bay, Oregon, I took my little sister, Jo Ann to Mingus Park Lake to feed the ducks. We took some stale bread and were having a great time throwing it to the ducks. These lovely white ducks were quite tame and before long they were taking the bread crumbs from Jo Ann’s hands. Now there were some mallard ducks in the area, and Jo Ann approached them saying, “Here ducky ducky,” while extending her crumb laden hand.

“Now, Jo Ann,” I pontificated, “Those are wild ducks. They won’t take bread from your hand. See the white are tame ducks, those colored ducks are wild and they won’t take bread from your . . . dang it!”

I’m sure there are other cases, but the next one that comes to mind was several years later when I was teaching at Louisiana State University-Shreveport. It happened while I was fishing with my then seven year old son, Joel.

You need to understand what fishing with a seven year old involves. Mostly it’s untangling line and changing lures. This particular day we were on a small lake in East Texas. I had a small kayak and we were fishing from it, without much success. After one or two unsuccessful casts, Joel would demand a different lure. I’d change it. When he asked for a Tiny Torpedo, I refused. “That lure won’t work on a windy day,” I said. He insisted, I refused. We fished a while unsuccessfully. After unsuccessfully trying several other lures, he renewed his request for the Tiny Torpedo.

“All right!” I said as I tied it on. “But I’m telling you it won’t work.”

He cast. “The reason it won’t work,” I explained, “is because the Tiny Torpedo is a top water lure. It works well when the water is calm but today the water is rough because of the wind and . . . damn it!”

Fish gave its life to make a fool of me.

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Thoughts on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks

As I reflect on our memorial of the terrorist attacks of 2001, I remember the special service at Grace Episcopal in Topeka on the tenth anniversary of the attack. Father Lipscomb invited a Jewish and Muslim congregations along with a rabbi and an imam to collectively remember that day. His remarks resonated with me, and I posted them on my blog. Because they are still relevant, I’m repeating them today.

On September 11, 2001, a group of religious extremists hijacked four passenger planes. Two of those planes were crashed into the World Trade Center towers, another into the Pentagon and another, with a suspected target of the Capital Building or the White House, crashed into the ground in a field in Pennsylvania after some of the passengers tried valiantly to take back control of the plane from the hijackers. 

In all, over 3000 people lost their lives that day and hundreds of others since have died from injuries and exposure to the event—from the dust and debris and poisons that filled the air around the wreckage of the buildings.  Policemen and firefighters and EMTs and volunteers sifting through the carnage to search for any possible survivors as well as the bodies of loved ones lost; the many persons who gave their lives or their health in service and duty; the grieving and heartbroken whose lives were torn apart and forever changed by their loss; they are all to be remembered on this day of commemoration—this 10th anniversary of 9/11/01. Perhaps the single most tragic day is U.S. history.

 And so we gather here today for this interfaith memorial service. Representatives of the three great Abrahamic faiths have come together to remember. But we also gather as God’s people to call the faithful—all God’s people—to peace and unity and prayer. 

God never intended for us to be the same. He does call us to be one people—his people—but part of the wonder of God’s creation is in its diversity. All three of our faiths from their beginnings have been trying to tell us that diversity is a divine gift from God. Through sacred scripture, through tradition, through God’s blessed gift of reason we are told to love one another, to welcome the stranger, to respect differences. When this country was founded, a main tenet was in its acceptance of all who seek God’s gift of freedom.

 Yet, there are those, in all our faiths, who hate freedom. That is another tragedy we must remember today. There are many in all our faiths who would be appalled that such an interfaith meeting as this would occur. There are many misguided people in all our faiths who see sameness and control and religious domination as God’s will and the only end goal of religion. These are the ones who judge and condemn and hate (and even kill) in God’s name. These are the things that God has specifically told us not to do, but instead to love and forgive and welcome (and give life to) one another.  

These that distort and subvert God’s words and God’s will are religious (and political, really,) extremists, fanatics that will have no other than the destruction of their neighbor, whom they see as their enemy and, therefore, God’s enemy. 

We can see this kind of religious extremism every day in Topeka with people who hold up brightly colored signs that say, “Hate,” “Separate,” “Condemn,” “Judge.”  –Yet, these people, too, we must and will remember and pray for today. 

What brought us to this day, when we remember the tragedy of 9/11 is the tragedy that we cannot / we will not live together in peace. It is the tragedy that our religions of love and acceptance and peace can be twisted and used to promote hate and destruction and war in God’s name. 

So, today, together, in this place, in God’s name, we—faithful Jews, Muslims and Christians—gather to say, “ Enough!” Enough of hate; enough of destruction; enough of war. We gather to say: we will have peace. We will have love. We will have acceptance and respect for one another as God’s children. 

We will walk together in a spiritual discipline that involves all of us, not attempting to subdue the other or become just like each other, conforming to one mindset, personality, political identity, belief or religion, but journeying alongside each other with respect for each other, becoming comfortable with each other by getting to know each other, learning from each other, all of us staying the course even in difficult times, because we know, and understand, that we are brothers and sisters and children of one God. We are citizens of the same nation, stewards of the world and subjects of kingdom of God, walking together a path that encourages a shared journey.

 We need not fear the extremists in our faith who call us to separation and hate, violence and oppression. They cannot win. They have never won. For they do not speak the truth. They do not walk in light. All that they do is in vain. For, in the end, it is God’s truth and God’s light and God’s people that will prevail. In God’s time justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

 Today, we pray for those who have died and we remember them in joy. Their mortal bodies may have fallen to senseless acts of darkness, but their spirits live in the light of God’s eternal kingdom –and love and peace and care.

 We pray also for all who live.

 Let us today commit ourselves to God’s ways for his people: the way of love, not hate; the way of hope, not despair; the way of truth, not lies; the way of belief, not doubt; the way of faith, not certainty; the way of tolerance, not arrogance; the way of diversity, not bigotry; the way of freedom, not oppression.

 The way of peace, where we can beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks, and nation shall not rise up against nation. And we will study war no more.

 In the Name of God,

Let it be so.

Amen. Amen. And Amen.


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With Friends Like These . . .

Published on September 12, 2014 by in Stories

In 2011 Guy Forbes died. Guy was the head of maintenance at Topeka Civic Theatre. He was a sweet, gentle man, and greatly loved by the theatre community in Topeka. He was gay, and, so far as we knew had no immediate family in Topeka. He did, as we were to learn, have distant relatives, and apparently most of them were preachers.

At least half of those who attended Guy’s funeral were his theatre friends. The service was terrible. Only one person so much as mentioned Guy, and that was to say he died for a purpose. That purpose apparently was to give at least three preachers the opportunity to preach! And preach they did;  full 20 minute to half hour sermons. One even went so far as to invite all of us to bow our heads and give our hearts to Jesus.

The service went on for what seemed like forever. Looking back on it, my guess is that some of those preachers were assistant pastors at their respective churches and didn’t get much a chance to preach. For whatever reason, it was way too much preaching.

The following Sunday at Laughing Matters workshop, we were discussing Guy’s funeral and funerals in general. I opined that I didn’t want any preachers at my funeral. As a matter of fact, I said, I want Laughing Matters to perform.

“Sorry, Marv,” said Shannon, our director, “We have a conflict that night.”

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Published on September 5, 2014 by in Stories

In the late 1990’s both my wife and daughter-in-law, Tawny, were in Jazzercise. As usual, I was struggling with weight/fitness issues, so when they kept urging me, I joined.

This was not a good fit for me; I was clearly one of the oldest people in the class, and one of only two or three men. Besides that, I am probably the most uncoordinated person you will ever meet. I found it very difficult to keep up and was usually going left when everyone else was going right. But, it was good exercise, and I kept at it for nearly a year.

The class met in a community building, and like most of the members, I wore a sweat suit over my exercise togs, and when I arrived I simply slipped out of the sweats, and was ready to exercise in my gym shorts and tee shirt.

Except this one day.

This one day, when I slipped my sweat pants off, the air seemed a bit cooler than usual. I looked down to discover I had forgotten my gym shorts. Fortunately, I had on underwear, but it was still embarrassing.

Now I was accompanied by two women, both of whom profess to love me, so obviously, when they noticed my distress, they came to my rescue and held their towels around me while I got back into my sweat pants.


No, they both burst out laughing and got as far away from me as they could.

Alone, embarrassed, and feeling slightly unloved, I put my sweatpants back on and completed the exercise program.

Sometimes, the Jazzercise instructor would tell what I suppose were meant to be inspirational stories while we did our cool down exercise. This particular day, as we were lying on the floor, she told the story of a little girl who was always clutching the waist band of her panties. When asked why, she said her panties were hand-me-downs from her big sister and the elastic was so stretched she had to hold them up.

“Now,” asked the instructor, “have you ever taken time to be thankful for panties?”

I glanced over to where Tawny was lying and she was literally shaking with laughter.

It’s so nice to be able to bring a bit of humor into peoples’ lives!


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Code Blue

Published on September 4, 2014 by in Stories

Have you ever had a moment when you wished the earth would just swallow you up and you could disappear forever? A time when you do something so incredibly stupid at a time when the whole world knows:

a.) someone just did something incredibly stupid, and

b.) that someone is you?

I have had many such moments, but by far the most dramatic occurred in cardiac rehab.

I suffered a heart attack in 1996. I was fortunate in that I didn’t require bypass surgery, and the doctors were able to open the blockage with balloon angioplasty. I did, however, have to go through rehab.

Rehab was actually rather pleasant. There were several of us in the room, all of us more or less happy to be alive. The exercises were not strenuous, and there was a good bit of camaraderie both among the patients and between patients and staff.

Most of the exercises were timed, and there was a large clock on the wall, with only a minute and second hand.

One morning, while for some reason no staff were present, the clock wasn’t running. Well, I’m a sort of “fixit” sort of person. When I see a problem I can fix, I’m inclined to fix it.

So I looked at the clock. There was no cord coming from it to plug it in, so I deduced it was probably hard wired into the facility’s electrical system. This belief was reinforced by the presence of an ordinary toggle switch immediately below the clock. I mean, and ordinary toggle switch exactly like the switch you use to turn the lights on and off in a room. No special markings on the switch; just an ordinary white toggle switch.

I turned it on.

It was the code blue switch.

It was effective.

I wanted the earth to swallow me up.

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