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NOVEMBER 2011

Suzanne Lloyd.Two people I remember well are Suzanne Lloyd (right) and Burton Gilliam. Had the pleasure of Tip Toein’ ‘round the two lips of the beauteous Suzanne on a “Sugarfoot” or two—don’t have the exact figures with me—I’ve reached that stage in life where I have to ask my wife Babs to explain the plot lines of TV commercials to me. (“The Gitanos” and “Welcome Enemy”—ed.)

Burton Gilliam.Burton “Bubba” Gilliam (left) and his sweet wife Susan are pals of ours. They live in the Lone Star state and have smiles as wide as the Rio Grande. Bubba’s a former boxer, having chalked up more victories than any other pug in the history of the amateur ranks. Nowadaze, he occasionally works in the ring as a top notch referee. Back in the ‘70s, Bubba was a Texas fireman. Somehow, Mel Brooks discovered him and offered him a part in “Blazing Saddles”. One a-yawn Mel told Bubba to forget all the dialogue he’d memorized for the day’s shoot—Mel said, “Today we’re going to improvise on a brainstorm I had last night. You’ll be a star, my son!” True enough. Bubba is prominently featured in the most famous sequence in the flick—the notorious bean-eating moment. Do you recall the setting? Let me rekindle the memory. LOOK!—at all them cowpokes hunkered down on logs ‘round the campfire. FEEL!—all them splinters pokin’ through their chaps. TASTE!—all them mouth-waterin’ vittles. HEAR!—the bacon fryin’ in the pan. SMELL!—the coffee brewin’ in the pot. And there’s our pal Bubba smack dab in the middle o’ the mix, laffin’, jawin’, puttin’ away all them little beans. Man, he was a gas!

Babs and I attended a Film Fest back in the ‘80s with Jocko and Autumn Mahoney. Flight from L.A. to Charlotte, fine as frog hair. Flight from Charlotte to Asheville, strictly from Hell! Flyin’s an unnatural act at best, and this puppy was white on white—Babs’ knuckles on mine. Babs whimpered, “Help!” I tried to comfort her, but she wasn’t talking to me. She was talkin’ to God. Someone once asked Einstein to explain his theory of relativity—Albert said when a guy sits on a hot stove for five seconds, it feels like an hour. When the guy’s with his gal for an hour, it feels like five seconds. Our half-hour journey felt like eternity. Wayde Preston sat across from us, casually thumbin’ through the biography of Amelia Earhart. He noted our flight plight with a snicker through his moustache. He was a soldier of fortune—been there, done it all. Wayde likened our jaunt to a ride on the merry-go-round. “If you wanna talk scary,” he said, “One time our plane flew into a violent thunder ‘n’ lightning storm. Before you could say Wiley Post, the plane was flyin’ upside down. That was scary!” I yelled back at Jocko, “Are you a’feared?” Jocko fired back, “I ain’t a’feared of nothin’ but a bad script!” I told the stewardess, “OK, we’ve seen the pilot’s dipsy doos, now, could we please see his soft, three-point landing?” Jocko rated it HOT!

You’ve all observed whatta beautiful country America is. We have such a wide variety of wonders that you really don’t have to travel anywhere else. You could never possibly discover all the treasures our land has to offer in one lifetime. Babs and I strongly encourage you to see the USA in a car or train or bus or boat—motor scooters can be fun. Twenty-one speed bikes are nifty—don’t forget your helmet.

Asheville’s a picturesque area nestled in the North Carolina mountains. The fabulous Biltmore estate is there. Novelist Thomas Wolfe’s house is there. Wolfe said, “You can’t go home again.” Shucks! Babs and I passed by four or five times.

Back in the ‘20s, during baseball spring training, Babe Ruth was a patient in the Asheville hospital. He almost died from downing way too many beers and hotdogs for lunch. The Babe’s gastrointestinal grand slam came to be known as “the stomach ache heard ‘round the world.”

One lovely night bluegrass music wafted through the air, luring the Mahoneys and the Hutchins into a local hot spot. The joint was jumpin’. The bandleader shouted, “Everyone on stage for square dancin’!” The tables emptied pronto. Babs and I stomped till stars ‘n’ sparks shot out from our boot heels. The band leader shouted, “Folks, we have special guests up here tonight!” Shucks! I turned all red. The band leader shouted, “Come on, y’all, let’s show southern hospitality to world famous visitors to our fair Asheville—Let’s hear it for members of the travelin’ Russian International Folk Dancin’ Troupe!” What beautiful creatures they were. They sure didn’t know much about square dancin’. Neither did our fearsome foursome. We all joined hands, looked into each other’s smilin’ eyes, and faked it. Hands across the sea. Dancin’ fools. No yanks and Russians that night. Just folks acceptin’ an invitation to the dance. Dogies! There was a whole lotta whoopin’ ‘n’ hollerin’. There was whole lotta love. Not long after, the Berlin wall came tumblin’ down—Say! Do you suppose if we taught the Al-Qaeda how to square dance?… Well, it wouldn’t hurt!

Jock Mahoney.Back in the ‘70s I worked 9 to 5 for the city of L.A. puttin’ on clown shows. Saturday and Sunday were for takin’ sun on the patio, watchin’ the guy next door paint his house. Jocko (left) jump-started my weekends. He got me out of the mothballs, into my ol’ cowboy duds, out onto the nostalgia trail. I wasn’t much for parties—I’d hide behind potted palms. Jocko pulled me away and made me join the big party. Thanks to Mahoney, I started getting interviews and photo shoots again. TV, western conventions, flicks, gym khanas, rodeos, gunslinger shows followed. Later, Babs joined in on all the fun. She loved Jocko. She said when she looked into his eyes she saw Santa Claus. On a typical sally forth to another adventure, Jocko would spot me in the lobby of the airport in his 20 gallon hat and horseblanket coat and let out a hugely loud, “Yahoo! Sweet Toes, honey!” Then he’d roar across the room, grab me, and plant a wet one on my cheek. Jocko was an extrovert’s extrovert. One day he had a stroke. He re-habbed himself by walking clock-wise ‘round the indoor track at the Hollywood YMCA. His left side was weakened, and he kept hitting the wall, but he didn’t fall. Before long, he walked tall and straight and strong again.

One fourth of July weekend found us at the steamboat races in Portsmouth, OH. One steamboat captain was a splendid lady who reminded me of Tugboat Annie. We were invited to a tree-shaded backyard for a Bar-B-Q. There was Tarzan Mahoney in the swimming pool keepin’ cool on a humid, 100° afternoon. Later, I challenged him to a friendly game of croquet. His eyes turned steely. My teeth clenched. I played well and was just about to polish him off. As I was forming a modest victory speech in my mind, Jocko invoked a little known and long forgotten rule and whupped me by a whisker. My pleasure, ol’ pal…the years move along apace. Oh, how we miss a feller name of Jocko.

   —Adios!