2005 Highlights: An Oregonian, A Hungarian & A German Walk Into a Bar

My 2005 year-end letter about my first comedy club routine and doing research about World War II Women Airforce Service Pilots while Eisenhower and Khrushchev were downstairs.

2005 WASP Fly In

Me and Heid (dog as my co-pilot)i at the WASP Fly-In

December 2005

Dear Friends & Family,

The year started out with a cliché. One especially cold morning I followed a trail of glistening slime to its end and there was a slug frozen in its tracks. Frozen solid. So solid that if I tapped it with a hammer it would have shattered. If I was a better person than I am, I would have done mouth-to-gill resuscitation, but I was more concerned about my reputation than the slug’s well-being. You know how tongues wag after EMTs rescue a single woman whose lips are frozen to a slug. I wasn’t about to endure such humiliation, so I walked on. The next day when it was warmer all that was left was a puddle of goo.

It doesn’t matter how cold it is, my adopted niece and best little buddy, Katie, loves to go to the beach. Within minutes she’s stripped (you can get away with that when you’re five) and playing in the waves and laughing with pure joy. I let her because I was the same way when I was a kid. I think the only common sense hormone that kicked in when I hit puberty was the one that said: “Gads, this is cold.” When Katie turns blue I roll up my pant legs (no stripping for this aging body) and try to pull her out of the ocean. She screams and tugs so much that I’m sure anyone watching must think I’m trying to drown her.

The biggest news this year is that I’m about to become a real aunt. My brother, Peter, and his long-time traveling companion, Anne, are expecting a baby any day now. Dad’s American, Mom’s Norwegian, and the baby’s going to be born in India with the help of a black German midwife. This is a global event. I’ll let you know if three guys with frankincense, myrrh and gold show up.

This year I fulfilled a fantasy of mine: doing a comedy routine at a nightclub. Well, not exactly a nightclub, but as close to a nightclub as you can come in these parts. The Drift Inn Pub owned by Linda, my former boss at Heceta Lighthouse, had open mike comedy on Halloween. After a little pre-traumatic stress syndrome, I got on a roll and people laughed, although maybe they were sympathy laughs. An example of my material: “Why do they find only one hair at a murder scene on crime shows? One hair! And they find it using flashlights. Do the victims spend so much money on incredible cleaning services that they don’t have enough to pay their electric bills? If my house was a crime scene and cops were picking up one hair at a time with a pair of tweezers and putting them into plastic bags–after determining it’s hair, and not cat or dog fur–they’d be there for the rest of their careers.”

In the spring I woke up many a morn and said to my dog, Heidi, “Good God, Toto, I think we’re in Kansas.” That’s because we were in Kansas. Although sometimes I may have said this when we were actually in Texas. What were we doing in the red states? Doing research for my book tentatively titled, The Right Stuff in the Wrong Body: The Women Airforce Pilots of WWII. Eisenhower and Jacqueline Cochran, head of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), were great buds and her papers are archived at his presidential library in Abilene, KS. I also made a pilgrimage to Sweetwater, TX where the women trained and to Denton, TX, home of Texas Women’s University (TWU) that has hundreds of oral histories, letters, diaries and other stuff donated by the WASP.

I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. Cochran’s collection at the Eisenhower is in about 400 boxes and takes up 228 feet of shelf space. I tried to console myself by saying: “It’s not even the length of a football field.” Much of the collection is mundane things like laundry lists. No joke. Laundry lists are preserved in a locked vault and protected by armed guards. There were also lots of great nuggets, though. For instance, Cochran always claimed she was orphaned and adopted. When this story was printed in Life Magazine it must have come as quite a shock to her mother. Thus began my love/hate relationship with one of the main characters in my book.

Between the Eisenhower and TWU I took 50,000 digital photos of documents. As one of the archivists said: “I wouldn’t want to sit through a slide show of your vacation.” It’ll take me years to go through the material. Sometimes I felt as though I was in a spy movie. Voice over: “While Khrushchev spoke in a marbled hall downstairs, I took photo after photo of classified documents, glancing every now and then at the clock and over my shoulder to see what the Hungarian and German intelligence agents were up to…” All right, my imagination was running wild. What else you going to do while taking 50,000 photos? The Khrushchev downstairs was Sergei, Nikita’s son. He and Susan Eisenhower, Ike’s granddaughter, were speaking at a conference. The documents I photographed had been declassified in the 80s, I was clock watching not because I feared discovery by other spies, but to see how long I had before the library closed and the Hungarian and German were professors doing research that I had become good friends with.

“A German, a Hungarian, an Oregonian and her dog walk into a bar in Kansas…” It sounds like a perfect set up for a joke, but there we were sharing a pitcher and I, an up and coming comic, couldn’t come up with a punch line. Sixty years earlier we might have been enemies, but now all we fought over was the check. It’s hard to imagine that sixty years from now the Bush twins and Saddam’s children (if any are left) will be speaking on the same platform at a presidential library in Crawford, TX while Afghanis, Iraqis, Iranis, Palestinians, Israelites, Koreans, republicans and democrats do research and think nothing of becoming friends. But, it doesn’t hurt to dream. May it take less than 60 years!

Hope all is well with you and yours.


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