a broadcaster, pilot, writer, and our Guest Columnist!
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If thirty-five years in radio broadcasting didn’t teach me anything else, I sure learned how to pull pranks and practical jokes. There is a code of ethics in pranking; it’s only funny if no one gets hurt, and if you’re going to dish it out – you have to be able to take it, as well.
Mark Denny was our news man at that time. He was a nice guy; well informed, polite, and maybe a little bit bashful in those days. Mark was a bachelor, and I used to give him a bad time for eating out every day. “Don’t you ever eat at home?”
“Nope,” Mark replied, taking a bite of his sandwich, “Only if all the restaurants are closed.”
Our FM studio and newsroom were separated by a large glass window, double paned to keep sound from transferring. Mark had just finished reading the eight-o-clock news. Bill Bishop was our morning announcer at the time. After the news, I would join Bill from the newsroom desk for our “Morning Show.” The morning show in those days only ran twenty-five minutes.
I had a large coffee mug that I made in a ceramics class. It was white with a black lightning bolt on the side. It read, “Mr. Cool,” from the Snoopy cartoons. But I messed up when I painted the cup. Snoopy’s character was “Joe Cool.” Not Mr. Cool.
I filled the cup with java, but forgot it by the coffee machine. No problem, I needed to run to my office for some show material, and grabbed the cup while I was there. As I was coming back, Bill started the bumper music for the Morning Show, and I took my seat in the newsroom. I adjusted the microphone and was ready to go. Bill opened the show, “Good morning, everyone…”
Bill and I shared a little chit chat, then he rolled into the first story. By now, my coffee had time to cool a bit. I could tell from the feel of my coffee cup, the beverage was the perfect temperature. I took a good size gulp of coffee. HOLY THUNDER BUCKETS! WHAT IS THIS?
There was so much salt in my coffee, my mouth was burning. At the same time, I nearly gagged on the sickening amount of sugar that was added into the mix. I desperately needed to cough, but couldn’t with the liquid in my mouth.
There was no time to hit the “cough button” that would have cut off my mic. I pressed my lips together as tight as I could. Unsuccessfully trying to suppress the cough, coffee shot out my nose, all over my papers in front of me. I could no longer contain the pressure. A cough and sneeze happened simultaneously. Coffee projected from my face, all over the glass window in front of me.
On the other side of the glass, Bill and Mark nearly died, rolling with laughter. Mark literally had tears rolling down his cheeks from behind his glasses. I had been wondering why Mark was hanging out in the FM studio with Bill.
The window, the desk, my face and shirt were all covered with a brown spray. It was a mess! After a raging fit of coughing, and trying to clear coffee from my airway, I told Bill we needed to take a break. Through his laughter, he said, “Well, Tom, we’re not scheduled to take a break yet.” He and Mark shared more laughter. Finally, Bill announced, “We’ll be right back after these important messages.”
Bill and Mark came to the newsroom, still laughing. “What’s the problem in here,” Bill asked with innocent curiosity? I reached inside Mark’s desk drawer and grabbed some napkins.
Mark always had a stash of napkins, plastic tableware, and straws; packets of salt and pepper, parmesan cheese and hot peppers. There was catsup, mustard, and mayo; taco, BBQ, soy sauce, sweet and sour sauce, and every condiment you can imagine, in his desk drawer. I think there may have even been an old hamburger in there. “A man never knows when they’ll forget to put something in your bag at the drive-up,” Mark would reason. With a wad of napkins, I attempted to clean my shirt, the window and desktop.
Now this was a good prank; no one got hurt and the coffee stains would probably come out of my shirt in the laundry. Bill adamantly swore he had nothing to do with it. “So, this was all you, Mark?” Mark was too innocent to pull a prank on anyone, let alone his boss.
Mark tried to compose himself, then said in a dry tone of voice, “I thought that was funny. Don’t you think that was funny Mr. Palen.”
“It was a riot,” I said, dabbing coffee off my shirt. “Now go rinse out my cup and get me a fresh cup of coffee; hold the sugar and salt this time.”
Mark refused. “It’s not in my job description to wait on you, or go get your coffee.”
“It’s not in you job description to sabotage my coffee either,” I told him. “Now come on, we have to get back on the air, go get me a cup of coffee.”
Mark refused, “Why should I go get your coffee?”
“Because you ruined my coffee,” I justified. Mark still refused, claiming I had no proof that he did it; at least no proof that would hold up in court.
However, Mark was willing to negotiate, “If I go refill your cup, will you buy a Mountain Dew for me?”
“No, I’m not going to buy you a bottle of pop. I didn’t do anything to your Dew.” Mark stood firm on his decision.
Anyone who has ever worked in radio, knows the importance of having a beverage with you when you’re on the air. “Fine,” I said. “I’ll get my own coffee,” then reminded Mark, “But remember what they say about paybacks!”
I went to the back of building, and got a fresh cup of coffee. I noticed more than a dozen empty salt and sugar packets in the trash can. I looked a little closer, “He put five packs of soy sauce in my coffee, too?” Revenge would be mine.
The morning show ended at eight-thirty, the same time Mark had to be on the AM station to host the Buy, Sell, and Trade Show. With only thirty minutes to orchestrate my own gag, I had to work fast, and that I did.
With just a few minutes left in the show, Bill rushed into the AM studio, giving Mark the time out signal. Mark started a commercial. “Don’t waste anytime wrapping up the show,” Bill said. “There’s a fire at the high school and you need to get up there right away to cover it.”
Mark dismissed the incident, “It’s probably just some smart aleck kid that pulled a fire alarm. It happens all the time.”
Bill reassured him, “No, it’s real. I checked it out. The fire started in the basement and has already spread to the third floor. The whole building has been evacuated. I’ll have the equipment ready when you wrap up.”
Mark quickly closed the Buy, Sell and Trade show. Bill met him in the studio doorway with the cell phone. (An original Motorola bag phone.) “Get going man, we’ll simulcast your reports on both stations.” Mark, took the phone, ran to the newsroom for keys, then out the front door, taking the twenty-seven steps down, two or three at a time. Bill and I ran to the FM studio to watch out the front window.
Mark’s truck was parked right outside the front door; a bronze-colored Nissan pickup with a topper on the back. Mark jumped in the truck and started the engine. We could hear him revving his motor, and slipping the clutch, but his truck wouldn’t move. He tried in reverse; no luck. He stepped out of the truck for a moment, then got back in and tried again. Still nothing.
An elderly lady was watching the spectacle from across the street. Trying to be helpful, she pointed to the back of his truck. We could easily read her lips as she said, “There’s something under your back wheels.”
Mark stepped out to the middle of Main Street, bent down and looked under his truck. He stood up, looking up to the FM studio window where Bill and I (along with the rest of the staff) were watching and busting up laughing. Mark just shook his head. I smiled as I held up my Mr. Cool coffee cup in my right hand, and pointed to it with my left index finger.
Mark came back upstairs. “Very funny, Mr. Palen. Now go take my truck off those jack stands.”
I could only remind Mark, “You don’t have any proof that I did it – at least no proof that will hold up in court.” I smiled with a vengeful, ornery grin. Then offered, “I’ll take your truck off the jack stands if you’ll go get me a cup of coffee.” Mark refused, and so did I.
Mark’s truck sat on the street all day. Marge the meter-maid, started putting parking tickets under his windshield wiper at ten-o-clock; adding another ticket every hour until five-pm. The next morning, Mark’s truck was still there on the jack stands, drawing another ticket each hour from ten to five.
The following morning, Mark’s truck was off the stands, and parked on the other side of Main Street. I suppose he parked there to keep watch on his truck in case another vandal, or prankster should return.
The jokes had ended, or so I thought. Later that day I asked Mark for the jack stands. “Jack stands,” he replied innocently, “What jack stands?”
“Come on Mark,” I explained, “I have to return those to Goodyear.”
Mark insisted, “I have no knowledge of any jack stands, but if you buy a Mountain Dew for me, I might do some investigative work to see if I can help you locate your jack stands.”
“Never,” I declared!
A few days later, I asked Mark again for the jack stands. Once again, he denied knowing their whereabouts, then asked if I wanted to buy a bottle of pop for him. I went to Goodyear, confessing to Gary that I wasn’t going to get the equipment back that I had borrowed for the prank. These were commercial grade jack stands, that cost a hundred bucks a set. I told Gary I would pay for the jack stands out of my next paycheck.
When I went in to pay Gary, he asked, “What about the floor jack?” He said Mark had borrowed a two-hundred-dollar floor jack to get his truck off the stands, but never returned the jack.
“Man, this prank is getting expensive.” I said, then told Gary I would pay for the floor jack from my next two paychecks. “I would rather buy a new floor jack for you, than to cave in and buy Mark a twenty-five-cent bottle of pop.
Gary started laughing as he handed my check back to me. “Mark brought the floor jack and stands back the same day he borrowed them,” Gary admitted. “He asked me to play along with it to see you squirm.” Hmm.
The next morning, Mark and I called for a truce. I bought a Mountain Dew for him, and he brought me a cup of coffee. I took a skeptical sip of the coffee. “Just as I suspected,” I said, “That rat fink salted my coffee again!”
From the AM studio, I heard Mark coughing, “What the heck? Palen!”
As if Mountain Dew didn’t already have enough sugar.
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My wife caught me surfing the internet, checking out sites I wasn't supposed to be. "We're not ready yet," she declared.
"I know," I said in rebuttal. "I was just looking to see how full the animal shelters are." But unfortunately, it had only been a few weeks since our dog June passed away, and the house was way too quiet.
"Uh-huh," she replied with suspicion. "And why does your search bar read 'border collie, blue heeler?'"
"It's therapeutic for me, looking at pups that resemble June when she was a puppy. Look at this little girl," I said, switching screens. Melissa gave me a scornful look. "I'm just looking; it doesn't hurt to look."
"And we were 'just looking' when we found June." Melissa cautioned, "You're swimming in dangerous waters, Mr. Palen. You'd best stay away from those sites!" I agreed and closed my tablet. We went to bed, where Melissa quickly fell asleep. I slithered out from under the covers and went to the dining room table to open my computer.
A couple of days later, I walked into the dining room. Melissa was on her computer with her back toward me and didn't hear me come into the room. "Ah-ha," I blurted out, breaking the silence. My wife nearly jumped out of her skin. "So, I'm not supposed to look, but it's okay if you do?"
"My computer popped up with a suggested site for me. You know how these smart devices are always spying on us; they must have listened to our conversations."
"Uh-huh," I replied with suspicion. "And why does it say, 'matched your search criteria?"
"Look at this puppy," Melissa said, pulling up another screen.
"That dog is in Mississippi," I protested.
"Well, you were looking at one in Washington, eighteen hundred miles from here," Melissa pointed out. "This puppy is right on the border of Mississippi and Louisiana; that's a lot closer than Washington." All I could do was shake my head. (But I must say, in those three photos, the puppy was quite attractive.)
The next day, Melissa called me to the dining room. "The three photos the shelter posted didn't really give a good look at the dog. But look at these," she said, turning her screen my way. "I sent a message, and they sent me these." So, I guess I wasn't surprised that Melissa had messaged them. "Tasha told me about the lady who surrendered the puppy."
"Tasha?" I questioned? "You're already on a first-name basis with the people at the shelter?"
"Well, I had to call to ask a few questions," Melissa stammered. "Besides, I'm just looking.” Then added, “Her name is Diva."
I wanted to mimic my wife, "And we were 'just looking' when we found June. You're swimming in dangerous waters, Mrs. Palen. You'd best stay off those sites!" But instead, it came out, "We would have to change her name." There's nothing wrong with the name Diva - it just wouldn't be our choice. We looked at the photos together. She was a charming puppy.
We both had more questions about the dog. I suggested, "We could call them now on speakerphone." Melissa noted that the shelter was already closed, so we agreed to call in the morning.
The following day, Tasha answered the questions she could. We wanted to know more about the sire and the dam, but Tasha, understandably, didn't know the answers. Finally, Melissa gave her permission to forward our contact information to the person who surrendered the puppy. Then, we told Tasha we would think it over and call her back.
When we hung up, Melissa seemed like she was trying to talk herself out of this idea. "I don't know; maybe it's too soon," she said. I suggested it wouldn't hurt to go just to look. "But, it's fourteen hundred miles; that's twenty hours of driving each way," she said.
I countered, "Well, that's closer to Bellingham, Washington. Besides, we're due for a road trip anyway." Melissa pointed out that we had a lot to do at home.
I was trying to support my wife, but it wasn't easy. "Look, I have to sing at church Sunday and have a commitment Sunday night, but we could leave Monday morning to go get her." Melissa gave me a puzzled but stern look. "I meant, go LOOK at her. We could leave to go look at the puppy on Monday."
We called the shelter to ask if they would hold the puppy, giving us a few more days to think it over. "The only way we can do that is with a pre-adoption on file," Tasha explained. "If you change your mind and decide not to come or get here, and you're not completely sure, we'll refund your adoption fee; no questions asked."
We gave them our information, then hung up the phone. I looked at my wife and said, "We just got a dog; you know that, right?"
Melissa was adamant; we were going just to look, which caused me to query, "Have you already got her new name?"
Melissa admitted, "I've thought of a few names, but I will not tell you until we've decided if we're going to take her." Over the next couple of days, we spent a lot of time reviewing photos of Diva. Finally, I persuaded my wife to tell me the name. Melissa looked me square in the eyes, "Nova Mae."
I didn't laugh, but I firmly said, "No."
Melissa explained, "Nova means new."
"I know what it means," I said. "Like Nova Scotia; New Scotland."
"The Hopi Indian name Nova, means, chases butterflies," Melissa added, with a twinkle in her eye.
"No." I was firm, then justified, "If you're trying to tell her no, which puppies hear a lot during training, she'll be confused: No. Nova. No. Nova. It'll sound the same to her. Besides, Nova is the name of a car, not a person."
Melissa fired right back, "I'll have you know I had a great uncle named Nova. It's a family name!" Oops. I'd forgotten about that.
"Well, we'll have time to think about the name," I said, but I wouldn't change my mind.
Monday got too busy, and we weren't able to leave. But Tuesday, we drove ten hours, stopping in Hannibal, Missouri, for the night. Along the way, I suggested, "What if we named her Louise since she is coming from Louisiana?"
"She's in Mississippi," Melissa said, adding, "I like Nova Mae."
Wednesday was a real booger, weather-wise. We traveled through eleven hours of continuous heavy rain, lightning, severe thunderstorms, and extreme winds until we reached Laurel, Mississippi, about an hour short of our destination. "What if we named her Stormy after the weather we drove through to get her?"
"That would be a negative name," Melissa replied. "Nova means new; that's a positive name; one who chases butterflies is happy and carefree. I like Nova Mae."
Thursday, we enjoyed a casual morning. We planned to arrive at the shelter in Picayune, Mississippi, around noon. "What if we named her Miss Picayune? We could call her Miss Picky, or Pic for short?"
"No. That sounds like Miss Piggy," my wife said, I like Nova Mae.
"What if we named her Pearl since she's coming from Pearl River County," I suggested.
"No," Melissa said. "My best friend already has a dog named Pearl," then she queried, "Why don't you like the name, Nova Mae?"
I didn't have a legitimate or arguable reason. "Fine. If you want Nova Mae, we'll go with Nova Mae." Then to agitate my wife, I added, "But I'm going to call her Chevy, for short."
Melissa rolled her eyes, "No, you won't."
I softly rebelled, "I will if I want to," but I must have muttered a little too loudly.
"What did you say," Melissa asked?
"I said, the animal shelter is just ahead," while silently thinking, "Man, that woman has sharp hearing."
We turned into the parking lot at the Pearl River County SPCA. Inside, the lady asked if she could help us. Melissa spoke up, "We're here to pick up Diva." A couple of moments later, a lady with a big smile came through the door with an eleven-week-old border collie/blue heeler puppy. She was stunning – I mean to say the puppy was stunning. The pup so took me I couldn't even tell you what the lady looked like; I think it was a lady.
It felt like the old days of television when the father paced back and forth in the waiting room until a nurse came through the doors to hand him the new baby. “It’s a girl,” she would say. I was filling out some paperwork for the adoption, but I set the pen down as soon as I saw the puppy. My heart melted when the lady handed me the little bundle of joy, and she nestled right up to my chest.
I gave her a heartfelt hug and said, "Hello, beautiful; I've been anxious to meet you. How about a little kiss?" (I said this to the puppy, not the lady.) Melissa snuggled right in with us.
Tasha asked, "Would you like to spend some time with her in the viewing room." Then she gave me a couple of kisses. (The puppy, not Tasha or Melissa.)
I looked at my wife, and she looked at me. As far as we were concerned, those kisses, and that sweet puppy breath, sealed the deal. We thanked Tasha but declined her offer. We were ready to walk out the front door and take her home. "You have to finish initialing and signing the adoption form," Tasha reminded me, "and we have to weigh Diva before you can take her."
Melissa finished the paperwork while I followed Tasha to the scale, which was very close to the door to the kennel room. Thinking she was going back to her kennel, the puppy started to shake as we walked that way.
Lord knows the people at the shelter try to make these animals as comfortable as possible. Still, all the barking dogs have to be stressful on a little pup like this. I stroked her soft back. "Oh no, baby girl," I whispered, "you'll never have to go back there again." The pup seemed to understand and calmed down.
I set her on the scale, "Fifteen point five pounds," Tasha said.
Before we left Picayune, we got in touch with Belinda, the lady who took accepted Diva's pregnant mom as a stray. We asked if there was a pet wash where we could bathe the puppy. "You're more than welcome to come by our house. You can bathe her in our laundry room. I have towels and everything you'll need, and you'll be able to meet her mom, Daisy." That was a generous offer, too good to pass up.
Daisy greeted us in the driveway. The puppy ran right to mama, sniffing around her belly. Mama (recently spayed) grabbed the pup by the nape, pushing her head to the ground. "There will be none of that business, little girl," Daisy said disciplining her offspring. The two romped and played and had a good old time.
I bathed Diva in the sink. She was very gentle and cooperated well.
Belinda told us she and her husband took Daisy (a border collie) in as a stray who hung out in the neighborhood. They planned to have her spayed, then give her a permanent home. But, before the spay happened, Daisy gave birth to seven puppies under their shed. Surprise! Their plan was on temporary hold. Her father was a blue heeler that belonged to a neighbor down the country road and had been visiting their house and Daisy often.
We thought it was pretty cool for Belinda and her husband to find homes for the pups and keep the sweet mother. They rehomed all but two of the beautiful puppies, mostly with family members. Then took the two remaining pups to the shelter in hopes of finding good homes – and that's where Melissa found Diva online.
The pup picked up a large stick, too large for her to carry. She found a smaller stick in the yard and ran with it. I threw a tennis ball, and the pup went right after it. (Although we need to work on the 'bring it back to me' part.)
Diva had some similarities to June's appearance when June was a puppy. She showed several movements and characteristics that reminded me of June. But, of course, this didn't surprise us at all. The traits were common to most blue heelers and border collies.
Although these traits were charming to watch and rekindled some very fond memories, it was important to remember that Diva is not June. She will change in appearance as she grows and develops her own personality. She will become her own dog; we just need to decide on a name.
A yellow leaf fluttered in the breeze like a butterfly tumbling sporadically through the air just a few feet above the ground, catching Diva's attention. The new puppy chased the leaf, jumping in the air, trying to catch it - the new puppy.
Nova is Latin for new; the Hopi Indian name Nova, means, chases butterflies, and Melissa's birthday is in May. So, I smiled, "Nova Mae."
I gave the puppy a rub on the head and a pat on the rump. Her tail wagged like a fast paintbrush. "Come on, Chevy. Get in the car."
"What did you say," Melissa asked?
"Oh, I was just telling the puppy we need to get going," I replied while silently thinking, "Man, that woman has sharp hearing."
This Mississippi dog says, “Arf, arf, ya’ll.” In Minnesota she’ll learn to say, “Arf, arf, eh.” Let the next chapter begin.