Monday, July 16, 2012


I remember it just like it was yesterday. Another rock with a mysterious note attached had been thrown through the front window of the home at 23 Elm Street in Bayport located on Barmet Bay.

My youngest son. David, started snickering first, then unable to keep a straight face any longer, I put the book down and joined in laughing at the much overused technique of beginning a new mystery that teenage detectives Frank and Joe would solve about 50 pages later.

My laughter was bitter sweet, though, as I realized one of my favorite activities, reading Hardy Boy Mysteries to my sons had just come to an end. My youngest had just outgrown me.

I tried to convince myself that perhaps it was for the best, because this was the early 80’s and parents were being inundated with “experts” spreading guilt in the form of buzzwords like, “Quality Time with your kids,” “Bonding” and stuff like that.

Anyway, perhaps I was a little lax in some of the serious things a Dad is supposed to teach his kids. I decided then and there to do some research and see if I could change my slothful ways in the Daddy Department.. Until then, I would just keep on winging it and discuss more serious things as I thought of them.

One of the first things that came to my mind was a shortcoming that I personally had. On more that a few occasions I had been totally unaware of the background and history of the people I ostensibly knew quite well…until their obituaries appeared in the newspaper. One of my bosses at the TV station was a highly decorated fighter pilot in WW2 and the man who was the head of the “Art Departmant”was a British fellow who had been a spy behind enemy lines during the war.
I was totally unaware of either of their backgrounds.
It was embarrassing.

Laurel and Hardy
I tried bringing up the subject of concentrating more on your friends and people around you and less on yourself…etc, but David was more interested at the time in watching Laurel and Hardy movies with me and attending the first meeting of the Washington chapter of the Laurel and Hardy Club. We had both become rabid fans of the old L and H movies and had jumped at the chance to be charter members of the first fan club of its kind being formed in Washington.

We joined about 20 others at the Arlington Library for our first meeting, presided over by a man named Walter Boyne, whose idea it was of starting our chapter. Boyne told us the history of the Clubs (see below) and asked us to be thinking about a “Name” for ours which would be voted on at the next meeting.

Sons of the Desert Movie

As I recall, we named our “Tent” “Saps at Sea.” All chapters were named after one of the L and H movies.

After about six months, Walter called the house and told me that the library had a scheduling conflict so he changed the location of our next meeting to a building in Suitland, Md and he gave me the address and directions and mentioned something about a “Silver Hill” building.

"Silver Hill"
It turned out that Silver Hill is where the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum restores aircraft, spacecraft, and other artifacts.
It was created in the early 1950s to store, protect the museum's growing collection of World War II aircraft and provide space to restore them.

It was an adventure to remember!  We had the facility to ourselves, 15 or so of us talked about Laurel and Hardy for about 10 minutes and then spent the rest of the evening wandering aimlessly among priceless artifacts of history.

Walter Boyne
Until that night I had no idea that in real life, the founder of our club was the head of the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum. I was also totally unaware that Walter Boyne was in the Aviation Hall of Fame having flown 120 hours in Vietnam and had written 50 books and over 1,000 magazine articles.

On our way home that night David and I stopped at an old fashioned Diner on Route 29 for a late night snack. I took the opportunity of my bad example of not knowing anything about Walter Boyne to be a good jumping off point for my fatherly lecture about the importance of learning about others…instead of concentrating on just yourself.

I was on a roll, sounding as fatherly as I could muster, “Take for example our waitress,” I intoned, “I’ll bet she’s worked behind this counter for years and who knows what stories she could tell about all the people she’s met in this Diner. “There are 8 million stories in..."

(Whoops, now I was sounding like the opening to the “Naked City.”)

"This diner has been here for years," I continued,  'in all that time, I’ll bet she even waited on some famous people.
I’ll show you what I mean when she brings our check around. Watch this.”

As the lady placed our check on the counter, I commended her on the excellent service and gently asked a few questions. Sure enough she had been at that same job for almost 15 years.

“I’ll bet you’ve even waited on some famous people during all that time, haven’t you….”

She paused for a few moments…then thought some more…and finally said, “Yes…”

I glanced knowingly at my son and smiled.

"Yes, as a matter of fact, there was one famous person who came in one night. I waited on him at that table over there…” pointing to the table right behind us.

“And who was it?” I asked.

“It was Buck Owens’ bus driver.” She replied.

Then I heard that sound again. It was the same snickering sound that I heard the night that rock went through the window of 23 Elm St in Bayport.


The Sons of the Desert is an international fraternal organization devoted to lives and films of comedians Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. The group takes its name from a lodge that Laurel and Hardy belonged to in the 1933 movie Sons of the Desert.

In 1964, a few years after the book biography "Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy" was published, author John McCabe formed a small group of Laurel and Hardy admirers including Orson Bean, cartoonist Al Kilgore, Chuck McCann, and John Municino. McCabe created a mock-serious “constitution” that satirized the formalities of many social organizations. Stan Laurel endorsed and humorously revised the document; he suggested that members might wear a fez or blazer patch with the motto "Two Minds Without a Single Thought." Founding member Kilgore created a logo with the motto in Latin (in the spirit of Laurel’s dictum that the organization should have “a half-assed dignity” about it) as Duae tabulae rasae in quibus nihil scriptum est (literally: "Two blank slates on which nothing has been written").

The first public Sons of the Desert meeting was held in New York City in 1965, shortly after Stan Laurel's death. McCabe's group quickly spread to other American cities, and then to other countries. In keeping with the tongue-in-cheek “desert” theme, each local chapter of the society is called a “tent,” and each is named after a Laurel and Hardy film. There are over 100 active tents worldwide,[1] and members meet regularly to enjoy Laurel and Hardy movies in an informal atmosphere. Many chapters formed in the 1960s are still active today.

In addition to local and regional meetings, Sons of the Desert holds international conventions, every two years since 1978. Most have been located in the United States but some have been held in other countries. Actors and technicians who worked with Laurel and Hardy are frequent guests, and rare films and memorabilia are exhibited.