Randy Bechtel, the Gray Geezer
A Fine How-Do-You-Do!

I’ll put it this way: One close friend nominated me and another seconded my nomination for president-elect of the Sutter Rotary Club. Of the club’s 124 members, 106 were present to cast ballots. Of 106 ballots cast, I received two votes. Of those two votes, one was mine.

I wondered:  Why would people I’d known so long have forsaken me?  I would finally accept the wisdom of Jean Renoir: “The real hell of life is everyone has his reasons.”

Some of those reasons are becoming apparent to me.

Reason One

The club’s annual Bowlorama fundraiser, whose committee I chaired, netted 5 percent less than it did the previous year. Never mind that revenue from this 64-year-old event has steadily declined for two decades. Or that my committee worked tirelessly to promote the event, even staging a skit at a club meeting in which four of us, complete with costumes, portrayed two teams of bowling icons—Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton of the “Honeymooners,” and Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble of “The Flintstones.”  Our skit even climaxed with the unveiling of this year’s Bowlorama trophies—bobbleheads of Dude in the movie “The Big Lebowski.”

Pearls before swine. I was criticized for being too old fashioned. Someone even suggested a more modern approach would have featured Charlie Sheen as the icon with trophies patterned after bowling shirts Charlie wore in “Two and a Half Men.”   

As resplendent as Charlie was in his bowling shirts, I cannot imagine him bowling—unless, of course, he was in a league in which any strike or spare required a team to take a shot of Jack Daniels. But by that standard, our Bowlorama disappointed not because it was old fashioned, but because it was not old fashioned enough. In the 1950s and 1960s, the heyday of bowling leagues, few players driving home could have passed today’s breathalyzer tests. Today, when humankind is the soberest it’s been in history, we forget that our ancestors endured life by frequently being intoxicated, drugged or both.

Reason Two

No club member could ignore E. Godfrey Hurlbut blaming me for his son-in-law Ted’s performance in a televised debate of candidates for the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors.  The fact is, I met with Ted for lunch all of an hour and, for no fee, advised him only on technique, not substance. For instance, I told Ted that he should identify three campaign messages and prepare to segue quickly to those messages regardless of what he was asked.

Ted chose to run on only one message which he originated and voiced at the debate’s get-go: “I believe it imperative that Sacramento County residents band together to form a grass roots movement calling for the colonization of Mars.” With a message like that, Ted should have benefited more by going off-message than on, which he did more often than not. But aside from Mars, what everyone remembered most about Ted was his response to another candidate asking him: “Did you know that the jobless rate in Sacramento County has doubled in the last year?” To which Ted replied: “Gadzooks!”

Gadzooks? If you must admit ignorance of an issue, say, “I was not aware of that,” or something—anything—but, “Gadzooks!” No one forgets, “Gadzooks!” The headline of the newspaper story covering the debate, print and online, included “Gadzooks!”. A TV news station teased its report of the debate with the line, “’Gadzooks!’ a board of supervisors candidate exclaimed tonight. ‘The biggest issue facing Sacramento County voters is the need to colonize Mars!’”

I suppose it’s no coincidence that in our respective elections, Ted and I both received less than 2 percent of the vote.  

Reason 3

However, subtract my vote from my total and I received less than one percent of the vote—a 0.9 percent return to be exact. The frosting on the upside-down cake came courtesy of a thumbs-down I received from Past President Wally Berger—again for a reason no fault of my own.

Wally and my falling out came as a result of my mentioning that a troupe of amateur actors—the Vannucchi Players—was desperately searching for a twenty-something actress to play the femme fatale in a dinner theater murder mystery. Wally recommended his 21-year-old granddaughter Matisse so enthusiastically that I assumed Matisse’s looks had to be more fatale than femme. Not true. She was so attractive that she won the role without anyone caring whether she could act or not.

Frankly, I would have been satisfied simply by Matisse being in her twenties. In a troupe founded by retirees, my position was that of utility man, which included the Herculean task of recruiting people to play characters younger than 40. For instance, I had a hell of a time finding anyone who could play Drift Marlowe, a 30-something international playboy. I finally recruited Rollie Ronk, a  33-year-old banker of Filipino descent who was all of 5’5” and 120 pounds. Still, Rollie made a better Drift Marlowe than the youngest of our retirees—Chick Altdorfer, a 49-year-old former Marine who, to borrow words from Raymond Chandler, had a face like a bucket of mud.

My other main function was rewriting a film noir script originated by an author who normally penned Old West novels. The script was scenario only, so my revisions amounted to modifying action to accommodate our actors and venue—and eliminate anachronisms, such as reworking a scene that involved a spittoon in a nightclub. All dialogue was left to the actors, something that worked at rehearsals and would have worked at the premiere but for two screwups by Dino Vannucchi.

Dino was the cousin of our producer Vinny Vannucchi and owner of our dinner theater venue, Dino’s Steakhouse. His first blunder was to tell everyone opening night that the producer of the CBS soap opera “The Bold and the Beautiful” was in the audience. This was a lie intended to inspire—and inspire it did, making hams of everyone. Well, everyone but me, but then my character only sat silently at a table, sipped a martini, dropped dead and played dead until carried away. Even Chick Altdorfer, who was cast as “Big Eddie’s Thug,” had visions of being discovered--as if there were words the producer of “The Bold and the Beautiful” could find to justify to his corporate sponsors why he liked Chick Altdorfer’s face. Anyway, the result of everyone grandstanding was that the night’s performance was on track to be an hour longer than dress rehearsal. I say “on track” because the finale went off track.

Which brings me to Dino’s second screwup, one born of pure greed. Dino received 60 percent of our ticket sales plus all profits from the sale of food and drink. Even though the murder mystery sold out all the restaurant’s tables but two, Dino told his maître d’ to fill the two remaining tables with customers off the street. The maître d’ was to alert the parties that a murder mystery was taking place, but not charge them for it.  After dining, one of the two parties lost interest in our performance and left. It was replaced by a party of three women who were not told a murder mystery was underway. One of the three women was a firefighter whom my grandmother would have described as “big-boned.”

Now, the finale called for Matisse to pull out a toy gun and in a verbal exchange with private eye Johnny Diamond reveal how she had murdered her father (played by me). She would then back out of the room and flee. Johnny Diamond would telephone the police, then fill in any plot gaps for the audience by talking to other characters until finally a call from police informed him that Matisse had died in a car crash trying to avoid capture. A tame ending admittedly, but one Dino wanted in order to avoid any mishaps.

The ending Dino got was co-authored by his screwups, to wit: Seconds after Matisse brandished her toy gun, the firefighter sent a text to the police saying a shooter was loose in the restaurant. Matisse’s scene with Johnny Diamond then ballooned to almost eight minutes before she finally turned to flee. As she turned, the wrist of her gun hand was grabbed by the firefighter’s left hand and Matisse’s nose was flattened by the big-boned knuckles of the firefighter’s right. Matisse’s head had barely bounced off the floor when policemen, guns drawn, charged into the room and rolled Matisse on her stomach and handcuffed her hands behind her back. This prompted the audience to rise and begin applauding—even Wally Berger and his wife, present to see their granddaughter, clapped, although hesitantly at first until convinced by the audience that our long-winded murder mystery had earned the price of admission by staging a slam-bang ending. That conviction fleeted when the policemen lifted a woozy Matisse to her feet with her squashed nose oozing blood. Her grandmother screamed and rushed across the room toward her only to be intercepted by two big-boned arms that put Mrs. Berger in a headlock.  Wally then went to his wife’s rescue by smashing a dinnerplate over the firefighter’s big-boned skull.

At this point I went to the bar and ordered a double scotch neat. By my second double scotch a policeman interviewed me briefly, then said I was “free to go” only after I called Uber, which he remained to witness me do. When I wandered outside, several people from the audience had remained in the parking lot to gawk at the loading of three ambulances—one for a concussed and nose-broken Matisse, one for a neck-wrenched Mrs. Berger, and one for a concussed and major bump-on-the-head firefighter. (Fortunately for the firefighter, her skull was thick and Dino buys the cheapest dishware.) Also of interest was Wally Berger being escorted to a police car. Wally and I briefly made eye contact before he was forcefully turned so his back was to me, whereupon he hesitated, bent over and, with one of his handcuffed hands, flipped me the bird.

A moment later I was half-blinded by a light beneath which I barely made out a camera lens, then the bulblike head of a microphone, then the face of a woman who said, “As co-author of this murder mystery, what’s your reaction to the violence that erupted here tonight?”  I don’t remember what I said. Nor will I ever know because the TV station scrapped my interview in favor of interviews with Dino and Vinny Vannucchi. Which was only fitting because Dino and Vinny are the ones being sued by the Bergers and the firefighter.

As for me, I continue to have a nightmare in which I see a light, camera lens, microphone and the face of a woman who asks, “What’s your reaction to the violence that erupted here tonight?” To which—God help me!—I  reply, “Gadzooks!” My one consolation is that I did not say that in my interview. This I know because had I said, “Gadzooks!”, the public’s need to know would have compelled the TV station to make my interview the focus its report.

Epilog

I’ve debated whether to reveal this and decided what the hell, why not? Six days after the dinner theater debacle my Rotary club held its election. It was announced that of the four nominees, two had tied for the most votes—Katie Gubser, a commercial real estate broker, and Karl Klotz, a cosmetic surgeon who, by the way, recently re-inflated Matisse Berger’s nose. However, a recount and a second recount found that Klotz had actually won the election by one vote. Not announced was that the first count had mistakenly awarded one vote for Klotz to me. Which means that if you subtract the vote I cast for myself, my return was 0.0 percent. A fine how-do-you-do, I must say!

Copyright © 2020 by Randy Bechtel

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Email Randy Bechtel at rbechtel@rkbechtel.com