Friday, November 29, 2013

Getting Old Ain't ALL Bad

For example, you get to go to your children's house for Thanksgiving Dinner instead of you and your spouse having to cope with all the hassle of cooking, etc. You served your "time," now let others handle it.

This allows me to play the part that grandfathers were born to play; pontificate, dispense wisdom (gained from experience) and tell stories.

Well, in my case, one out of three ain't bad. I can tell stories.

"Hey, Grandaddy, remember when you used to tell us those wild tales you made up?," said grandson #1.

Practice Field next to Elizabeth School
"Yeah, like seeing the Detroit Lions playing football on the Elizabeth School playground during recess
one day?  By the way, Detroit is playing Green Bay on TV today!" chimed in grandson #2 ...(followed by laughter.)

Yes, of course I remember, but what you kids don't understand is that all of those stories are true. but you guys don't hang around long enough to hear "the fine print," or as Paul Harvey used to say, "The Rest of the Story."

For example, around 1967 or so I was about to begin the first round of a boxing match.....

"Oh, no, let us guess,  you were boxing the World Heavyweight Champion, right?

Well, as a matter of fact I was. I'll never forget it. I was bouncing on my toes, in my best fighting stance, swinging imaginary punches...and know, like boxers do when getting ready for the fight to begin.

Muhammad Ali
My opponent, Muhammad Ali was doing the same.

(More laughter as both boys exited to the Den to watch the football game on TV)

Now, for the fine print:

As the host of one of only a couple of  local interview shows on the four Television stations in Washington back then, I basically had my choice of celebrities who were in town for one reason or other.  Ali was here in connection with his controversial decision not to be drafted for the Vietnam war.
We videotaped the interview the night before the show and Ali was in a jovial mood. The serious part of the interview didn't last long as Ali began reminiscing about his childhood growing up in Kentucky and what got him interested in boxing (when he was 12 years old, he said a boy stole his bicycle.)

Ali/Liston Fight
I got him talking about the Sonny Liston fight and how his insults seemed to get under Liston's skin.
Some reporters thought Ali's taunts were really the result of his fear of Liston.  Ali called Liston a "big ugly bear," and declared that he was going to donate him to the zoo. He also uttered his famous, "float like a butterfly and sting like a bee" comment before that fight.
Ali's win was probably the biggest upset in boxing history.

He was obviously enjoying the interview and so was I.  I don't remember exactly what all was said, but we started throwing good humored verbal jabs back and forth toward the end and with a lot of laughter he pretended to be insulted and promised the audience that he and I were going to settle our differences "outside" after the interview.

Float like a Butterfly...
And that's how I found myself "shadow boxing" with the Heavyweight Champion of the World.

Before the "first round" was over, he dropped his hands to his sides and gave up. "Don't hit me again,  You win...... I know when I've been whupped," he said.

"However, I out talked you!"

Of all the interviews I've done in my many years in the radio and TV biz, none were more memorable or more fun than that one.

The Rich and Famous

And yes, meeting famous people was one of the "perks" of my chosen profession. I never got tired of that, although a few were real jerks. Steve McQueen was the first to get on my list when way back in my WSOC-TV days, he refused to be interviewed because the car we had sent to Douglas Airport to pick him up was not a Cadillac!  There were others along the way, but I've been very successful in erasing them from my memory.

At my age, I have to save what brain cells I have left and not clutter my mind with negative stuff.
Sometime in the mid 80's I believe it was, my little company was hired to produce the radio and TV coverage of some special Presidential Initiative honoring the greatest sports stars of our time. It was a big deal. Everybody you ever heard of was to be there and we were selected to provide interviews for the electronic (Radio and TV) media. I recall that Joe Paterno, who was one of those selected was the nicest to me of all the stars I interviewed.

Anyway, a lot of planning was involved and the day before the actual event, when the President would be introducing the stars, my team and I were in the lobby of the Mayflower hotel discussing final arrangements with the crews, when I noticed an old man shuffling toward the check in counter. Many of the celebrities had been arriving at the hotel all day, usually with flurry of fans and "hanger-ons" not far behind.

I guess that's what got my attention. Just one chubby old man doing the best he could to get a hotel room. No one was paying any attention to him including the clerk behind the counter. I felt sorry for the fellow, because not only was he barely able to walk, apparently he was having difficulty being understood. But he finally got checked in and slowly made his way to the elevator.

All of a sudden it hit me. I was the only one in that big hotel lobby that day who eventually realized who that man was.

 It was Muhammad Ali.

Still fighting, but in the early rounds of a bout he won't win; his opponent; Parkinson's Disease, brought on, no doubt, by too many blows to the head,

Now I'm glad my grandboys didn't hang around. They don't like unhappy endings either.