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Close Encounters -- The Entertainer

For throwback Thursday -- from 2010.

My junior year at McMinnville High School, Yamhill County, Oregon (1963-1964) was an interesting one. Besides the Kennedy Coup, my introduction to physics, my introduction to motorcycles, and the fading away of my quasi-romantic relationship with a neighbor girl (very painful), there was another event that at the time seemed of no consequence, but later proved to be extraordinarily relevant, especially during my tour in Vietnam. And in a less significant way, the event was central to the following account.

For, during my junior year in high school, the school’s foreign exchange student was from India. She was A strikingly attractive female, petite by American standards of the day, very dark-skinned, black hair. And though she seemed, to many Americans, wise beyond her years, she also was child-like -- mostly because of her small size, but also because of an innate, I suspect culturally derived innocence that’s impossible for me to describe in the space allotted here.

We seldom spoke, her and I. But, one day, at lunch, we sat across from one another in the school’s cafeteria. And over servings of Beef Stroganoff with noodles we had a long conversation concerning the subjects of vegetarianism and Hinduism.

So anyway, I grew used to passing by this girl in the corridors there at McMinnville High School, mostly while we hurried in opposite directions to get to our next classes. And since we barely knew each other, we rarely, if ever, exchanged greetings. But she always had a smile for me, a bright smile –- lotsa teeth showing, and in shocking contrast to the dark skin.

Now remember, dark-skinned, petite, child-like, going in opposite directions in the hallways. Remember, because such plays a role in the furtherance of this account. Remember.

The winter of 1966-1967, and into the following spring, I lived in Stateline, Nevada. I lived on the California side of town, but worked on the Nevada side.

The Company I worked for, Automatic Electric Company, was a subsidiary of GTE, and had been contracted to the California Interstate Telephone Company to add some equipment to the telephone exchange there in Stateline.

In addition, we were to also install more equipment to the PABX (private automatic branch exchange) at the Sahara Tahoe Hotel and Casino.

The PABX was in the basement of said Casino. Since many of Automatic Electric Company’s workers there (myself included) were under the age of 21, working in a Casino presented a problem at coffee break times –- underaged, we were not allowed in the Casino.

My supervisor found a small snack bar near the elevators that was slightly removed from the Casino proper, and we took our breaks there, always on the alert for security personnel.

So anyhoo, one day my supervisor gave me the task of troubleshooting some two-way local trunks that had been recently installed. Said trunks worked perfectly fine on incoming calls, but failed on outgoing calls.

I just about had the trouble figured out when the rest of the crew took their afternoon coffee break. I stayed behind to make more progress on my problem -- I almost had it resolved.

But when the crew returned, I figured I needed a break myself. So by myself, I elevatored up to the little snack bar, and since I wasn’t yet into coffee, gulped down some orange juice.

Still deep into thoughts of the problem I was solving, in complete anticipation of shortly resolving the issue, fueled by the orange juice, I hurried back down the corridor to the elevators.

On the way down the corridor, though I was very deep in thought, I did make some slight notice of a very attractive blond headed in the opposite direction.

Her hour-glass, exaggerated figure encased in a much-too-tight, off the shoulder, sheath dress; the pale-skinned blond, her long hair done up in a pony tail, itself long enough to lay forward over one shoulder, sashayed past me with no eye contact.

Used to being ignored by such women, I did however take notice that the blond was accompanied by some little kid from India.

Focused as I was, upon the blond, the impression of the kid was peripheral, slight and perfunctory -- dark-skinned, petite, bright and toothy smile.

Forgive me my conceit, dear reader. For I am sensitive in ways that are beyond the coarse sensory organs of most of us. Can such be explained? Not here, not now. But believe me, as the blond and the child passed by me, I could feel the essence of the child’s spirit. There was an innocence, an innocence and joy to its spirit. I could feel it, such was its power.

I rushed to an elevator going down, an elevator with open doors.

The elevator was near full. I turned to face the doors as they closed. I pushed the button for “basement”. An older woman, to my right, addressed me.

She said something, but I was deep in thought, still working on my problem with the two-way trunks, while at the same time, processing my impressions of the blond and the kid.

“I beg your pardon?” I loftily and distractedly replied to the woman.

“Did you see him?” she asked.


“Sammy Davis Junior,” said the woman. “Sammy Davis Junior was on this elevator. He got off just before you got on.”

I was greatly amused. I began to laugh.

It started with a restrained chuckle, became an hysterical laugh.

The people on the elevator all looked at me as if I was some kind of nut.

Go figure.

Gonzo Chuck -- at ease on a cruise ship outside U.S. waters.

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Close Encounters -- The Entertainer


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