HOME SWEET HOME IN BLACK & WHITE – Garry Armstrong

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Signs

We have a new sign. Well, not new. It’s almost 20 years old, but it has been down for a couple of years after being knocked over by a snowplow. Owen propped it back up this year, so we have our new (old) sign back again.

I took a few pictures.

Home again home again
Forget not the dogs!

Cee's Black-White

NOT A HINT OF FALL BUT THE CANAL IS BEAUTIFUL – Marilyn Armstrong

We went out looking for a hint of autumn but all we saw was summer. Usually, by the end of August, you can see yellow leaves and bright colors in the vines. You can usually see changes in color in the maple and aspen trees.

Not this year. It’s as deep green as a mid-July day.

On the positive side, it was beautiful weather with a shiny river and canal that looked like a mirror. The sky was something special. It looks almost unreal with that deep blue sky and puffy little white clouds.

GAFFES OF AN ICONIC NAME DROPPER – Garry Armstrong

About the title of this post: “Gaffe” sounds nicer than “mind-numbing stupidity.” On the other hand, “iconic” doesn’t resonate well with “name-dropper.” A bit of sarcasm, a hint of irony.

Just trying to make sure you’re really reading this one. I usually offer stories about celebrities I’ve been fortunate to meet in my 40 plus years, toiling in the cotton fields of TV and radio news. It’s always an ego boost for this retired old news fart to spin yarns about time spent with the likes of John Wayne, Mother Theresa, Katherine Hepburn, Robert Mitchum, The Boston Strangler, Queen Elizabeth, Presidents Johnson through Clinton, Whitey Bulger, Tip O’Neil and Princess Cheyenne, The Queen of Boston’s notorious “Combat Zone.”

How’s that for an eclectic bunch of names dropped? There are lots more to come depending on the retention power of my aging brain. Maybe it’s because of the fading hopes for my beloved Bosox who apparently won’t be chugging World Series Championship champagne this year. Maybe it’s the pollen and floating dog hair that impairs seeing and hearing.

It’s time for, as my former employers told me as they showed me the door after 31 years of faithful service, “To go in a different direction.”

A different direction. Instead of the heady celeb stories, how about some of the things that went wrong in my long, award-winning career (see, more name and fact dopping).  Lots of hinky stuff is stored in the locked chambers of my brain.

Figure it this way. If you do a minimum of half a dozen interviews a day, 5 or 6 days a week, 350 weeks a year, then spread it over more than 40 years. There are bound to be some stinkers, duds, and bombs mixed in with the celebrated stories. There’s no sequential order or grading of my gaffes. Just a handful to give you a glimpse into the not-always-successful days and nights of a TV/radio news reporter.

Embarrassing Gaffe 1

We were assigned to interview a couple who had been burgled and had their home invaded. The husband had chased the bad guys out with minimal injuries sustained. He was a hero. It was a “good news” story to sandwich in between the other “if it bleeds, it leads” stories.  Invited in, I quickly surveyed the house, looking for video possibilities to enhance the story which seemed to be “talking heads” and some file video of uniformed police responding to the initial 911 call.

I refocused my attention to the couple. He appeared to be middle-aged, maybe in his early 50s. His wife seemed to be in her 20s.  It was an immediate distraction, furthered by what also appeared to be a woman, well along in pregnancy. It set up an immediate log jam in my brain.

Before getting to the interview, I wanted to politely congratulate the couple. The words flew out of my mouth, unedited. “Let me offer you my congratulations – in the middle of this harrowing situation.” The husband stared at me. No smile. Just a very angry stare. “Mr. Armstrong, what do you mean by congratulations?  Is it because I chased the G.D. thugs out of my house? Punks! No guts, Mr. Armstrong. So, why congrats?”

I instantly sensed I was in hot water. I squirmed while offering my “nice guy” TV smile. The husband held his angry stare. I tried my best, “Um, er, I just noticed how your daugh–I mean your wife is absolutely glowing. These must be heady times for you”. The stare widened into anger. “Mr. Armstrong, are you implying my WIFE is pregnant?  If so, How DARE you? You reporters are all the same. No respect! My WIFE — is NOT pregnant – so what are you implying, Mr. Armstrong?”

I mumbled some apologies, visually telling the crew to pack their gear and get out quickly.  The guys were giggling and I was the joke. The husband was furious now, telling me he would call the TV station, their lawyers and his lawyer. “I’m gonna sue all your asses, especially yours, MISTER Armstrong” he fumed as we fled the house.

Long story short, back at the station, I pled ignorance, thought the wife (who looked like his daughter) was really pregnant. No, I never implied she was obese. No way.

The executive suits and the corporation lawyers had a field day with me. My “attitude” never sat well with them. However, the lawyers worked their magic and the threatened litigation disappeared like smoke from yesterday’s big fire story.  I never asked about it again. I may have been something of a smart ass but I wasn’t stupid.

Embarrassing Gaffe#2

Lunchtime at one of my favorite bars. Liquid lunch with a hot dog appetizer. I was on my 3rd or 4th Long Island Tea when a sultry voiced young woman struck up a conversation. The air was THICK with cigarette smoke, the jukebox was blaring Irish folk music that probably deafened all conversation including mine. Sultry voice complimented me on my clothing and said she was a fan of my work.

I nodded and repeated my thank you. I glanced at George, the bartender who owned the bar. He was leering — not grinning — at me. The sultry voice said she found me “exciting” and wanted to be alone with me.

I still hadn’t been able to see her through all the damn smoke. The one-sided, very complimentary conversation went on for maybe ten minutes as I ordered another drink from the leering George who was also giggling. I noticed some of the other bar regulars were staring at me and sultry voice.

I could finally feel the Long Island Tea working on me. I was repeating myself a lot. Sultry voice handed me a slip of paper with a seductive goodbye, “See you soon, honey.” She disappeared like Marlene Dietrich through the smoke. I still hadn’t gotten a clear view of her.

George came over to me, leaned over the bar, and spoke so I could hear him. He knew I had hearing problems. “Garry, my friend,”  he started, “Be CAREFUL, buddy”.  I stared at him — probably stupidly. George smiled a friendly smile, not a  leer.

George shook his head, “Garry, that’s a HE, not a she, Pal. Just be careful”.  I could feel the embarrassment shooting through my body. The impact of the Long Island Teas vanished as if I’d never drunk them.

I looked at my watch. Lunchtime had ended half an hour ago. I pulled out some money to pay my tab. George looked at me, smiling. “It’s on the house, Pal. Get back to work. Have a good day. Be safe”.

I returned to work. I did a couple of stories for the evening newscasts. No, I don’t remember anything about the stories.

WHERE IS STEVE McQUEEN WHEN I REALLY NEED HIM? – Garry Armstrong

It must be payback. Karma, hubris – or both.

For more than 30 years, I drove a succession of fully loaded convertibles with Steve McQueen in my brain. Once, I was racing to a story in the dead of night when a State Trooper pulled me over. He asked the traditional question. He smiled when I told him I was heading to a fire. After being cautioned to drive responsibly, I sped on to the scene. Steve McQueen was with me.

Nothing fazed me. Not Boston crazies or New York cabbies. Oh, hubris!

My convertible days are behind me. Thanks to retirement, an income adjusted to social security, “wonderful” pensions and too many tickets from my Steve McQueen days, I drive like a normal guy, more or less. You’d think I’d paid my dues, atoned for my sins.

Not hardly, Pilgrim.

I’ll admit I still drive too fast, even if I’m doing the speed limit. That’s because I wasn’t born in the Valley and I don’t have Valley in my blood, so to speak. You see, in the Valley, driving is a leisurely business. Very leisurely. Twenty miles an hour is fast for a lot of our local people and not only in school areas. We are talking normal stretches of road with no special considerations or construction.

Not a racing car exactly!

I’m convinced there’s a legion of slow drivers waiting for me to pull out onto the street. I’ve been targeted. Wherever I go, they are waiting. It’s particularly frustrating when I’m heading to an appointment. These days, it’s usually a doctor appointment for my wife or me. We usually allow extra time for possible traffic jams, construction, weather delays, and accidents.

The X-Factor is the slow driver. (Drum-roll.)

They usually appear just as we are pushing up to the speed limit and think we’ll be able to make good time. We’ll get to our destination and have time to relax. I’m beginning to think about playing some music for the drive.

That’s when they show up. In the blink of an eye, they appear. The dreaded slow drivers. A whole conga line of slow drivers. No way to maneuver around them because our local roads are two lanes. One in each direction and narrow to boot. I can feel the anger and frustration beginning to boil up inside me.

If I’m driving alone, I allow the profanities full volume. If my wife is with me, I mumble, tighten my wrists and think evil, vile things. The slow drivers sense this and slow down even more. It is torture. What would Steve McQueen do?

Photo credit: RolexMagazine.com
Photo credit: RolexMagazine.com

Sanity and common sense kick in only because I know we can’t afford accidents with me as the culprit. That makes it more infuriating. They slow down, even more, sensing my plight. Could it be worse? Never ask that question because the answer is always yes!

It gets personal when I realize nature is calling. Home isn’t that far away but it could be an embarrassment if I don’t get there in time. The drivers drive even slower.

I whisper a prayer, forgiveness for my wild days on the road. I turn onto the road home. I can do this. I can make it. Traffic slows to a halt. What would Steve McQueen do?

Gritting my teeth, I see two cars ahead of me. They are staring at the road. They are texting. They are not old but rather part of the legion of slow drivers targeting me. All seems lost as I swing and sway to delay disaster, traffic begins to move again.

Slowly.

Minutes that seem like hours go by until I reach home. I pull down our long driveway. I race into the house with personal shame just narrowly averted. I calm down before returning to the car to collect my things.

I look up at the street. There’s no traffic. The slow drivers have disappeared. Is it a conspiracy?

What would Steve McQueen do?

A VINTAGE FARM TRACTOR AS GARDEN ORNAMENT – Garry and Marilyn Armstrong

Weekend Writing Prompt #120 – Vintage

This is getting to be a very vintage house. Two vintage owners, three dogs, two of them vintage (13). The house isn’t new either. Of course, I collected (now re-homing) ancient Chinese porcelain from Neolithic to Qing. Anyone want to start a collection? I’m not asking for money, just a good home and you pay the shipping costs. They don’t weigh much.

I’m just worried that they need a safe place to continue their very long lives and won’t wind up in a dumpster after I’m gone.

My favorite vintage item is still my 1928 Fordson tractor. It’s not repairable but it does make a nice garden decoration. Highly photogenic!

OLD MOVIES, NEW EYES – Garry Armstrong

Those of you who are regulars on “Serendipity” know I love old movies and watch them frequently. I grew up with “Old Hollywood” having seen my first movie at a theater in 1946.  I was four. “The Best Years Of Our Lives” has its place in my sense memory because my Dad had just returned home from Europe and World War 2 as an Army Sergeant.

Armstrong family portrait

We have a large picture of Sgt. William Armstrong, His Wife, Esther, and their firstborn tot, Garry.  It’s the way we were. That 1946 night at New York City’s movie mecca.  Radio City Music Hall is covered in a silver-gold haze in my memory.

From that first movie night, I would go to see films now regarded as classics on a regular basis. We’d go to the movies three times a week. It could be the local second-run house like the Carlton or a first-run theater. For the first-run houses, we had to take a bus to Jamaica Avenue in Queens.

Those were the days when film studios still owned theaters.  The theaters only showed studio made films. Valencia with its star-filled ceiling ran MGM and Paramount movies. Across the street, the RKO Alden ran RKO and Warner Brothers films. Down the avenue, there was a Fox house which ran nothing but 20th Century Fox movies.

The Valencia Theater in Jamaica, Queens

Marilyn and I have shared memories of seeing films like “Shane” in 1954 at the Valencia. Diminutive Alan Ladd seemed larger than life as gunfighter Shane, righting wrongs on the screen beneath the celestial ceiling. It was an experience within an experience. You couldn’t duplicate it with the new medium television.

I came to know all the stars, directors, character and bit actors with as much knowledge as I did with my favorite baseball players helped by info on bubble gum cards.

As a grade-schooler, I knew the likes of supporting or character actors like Thomas Mitchell, Edward Brophy, Jerome Cowan, Eugene Palette, Zazu Pitts, Franklin Pangborn, Barton MacLane, Charles Lane, and James Gleason as well as the major stars like Bogie, Tracy, Gable, Grant, Hepburn, and Cooper.

My Mom, a huge Gary Cooper fan, named me after “Coop.” A clerical error on my birth certificate turned Gary into Garry. That spelling gaffe would reoccur decades later in my career as a TV News Reporter.

I loved the fantasy life of the black and white movies of the ’30s. The stories about the rich, carefree, trouble-free White millionaires who lived in ritzy mansions or mega large Park Avenue apartments with sparkling floors, gleaming walls, and tables kept in pristine condition by domestics who were usually minorities.

Blacks, Asians, Jews or Italians always portrayed in a blatant stereotyped fashion. As a kid, we laughed at the bug-eyed Black actors who were comedy foils in Charlie Chan movies. Chan, although the “hero,” was also portrayed in stereotyped fashion by White actors.  My middle brother and I giggled at the antics of Chan and his aides. They seemed like the clowns we saw at the circus.

Laugh riots! The stars – White actors and actresses — laughed or smiled broadly at the buffoonish behavior of the minority characters. They provided comic relief from heavy moments in the films.

My love of these old movies and their cliche characters didn’t diminish over the years as I became a self-proclaimed movie maven and impressed people with my knowledge of obscure actors, forgotten films and terrific lines of dialogue.

A friend once called me at three o’clock in the morning, woke me up to ask about the names of a certain movie and its stars. I grumbled and then laughed as I fed him the info while still half asleep but always razor-sharp with trivia.

My movie knowledge helped in numerous encounters with stars from old Hollywood when I became a Boston TV news guy.  I could skip jump from local reporter to film expert talking with stars about their personal, often lesser-known movies. I could insert stuff with people like Gregory Peck who told me he didn’t do comedies because they were not his forte.

I reminded Peck of his film, “Designing Woman” with Lauren Bacall which was a remake of the Tracy-Hepburn classic, “Woman of the Year.” Peck shot me a “you sonofagun, you got me” laugh and all was fine.

In retirement, I like to watch as many old movies as possible – no longer saddled with my murderous TV news schedule. I usually go to bed, wearing headphones, and watch an old movie as my sleepy time tonic. Marilyn usually is listening to a book or watching her own favorite film or show on her computer.

A strange thing has happened to me.

Marilyn has had lengthy conversations with me about the blatant racism in those beloved scatterbrained 1930’s movies. She also has discussed her discomfort with my beloved westerns. Cowboys versus Indians, a staple of my life from youth to senior citizen. Marilyn cites the blatantly unfair portrayal of the Native American in most westerns. Truthfully, my bluster rose in defense of the oaters.

My heroes have always been cowboys.

“Buchanan Rides Alone FilmPoster” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

My personal favorite interview was with the Duke, John Wayne. I can quote, chapter, verse, scene-by-scene dialogue in movies like “The Magnificent Seven.” One of my all-time favorite films is “The Searchers”,  probably John Ford’s best western in a career defined by westerns and the rugged, southwestern landscape.

John Wayne’s dark, brooding and racist Ethan Edwards is, in my mind, the Duke’s finest acting work. The movie focuses on racism and hatred of the Red Man, portrayed as villains by White Men. Supposedly the good guys trying to take the Native American’s land.

Ford – who made his directorial life on this theme – was, perhaps too late in his illustrious career, trying to balance the scale with the White and Red men. I’ve always loved the film for its depth, its hauntingly honest depiction of the Wayne character. A man you wouldn’t invite in for dinner.

Ford’s dark movie is still lighter than the original novel in which Ethan Edwards really has no redeeming character values.

Tombstone

I’ve come to understand Marilyn’s strong feelings about not watching this classic western. But I still watch it whenever I can because it’s a beautifully made film with excellent acting, great script and dialogue and a memorable closing scene — no happy ending for the Wayne character. It’s all bittersweet. The stuff of life.

I now also view some of my other favorite westerns with new eyes. The White hero, in nice, fancy clothing with a beautiful horse is not necessarily the good guy. The Indian Chief with a muddy face and perpetual snarl is not automatically the savage. Clothes don’t make the man.

Likewise, I look back at some of those wonderful, frothy 30’s comedies and say “No, thanks” when the bubbly blonde announces “I’m free, WHITE and 21”.  I’ve heard and seen this countless times before but now with new eyes and ears.

That’s a wrap. PRINT IT!

THE WILDFLOWER GARDEN AT RIVER BEND – Garry Armstrong

Wildflower Garden at River Bend – 08/05/19

River Bend is all about “wild.” So, not surprisingly, the gardens are entirely made up of wildflowers. I took a few pictures of them. The gardens are peaceful and the bees are always busy within.

The wildflower garden at River Bend