Wednesday, December 30, 2015

BD and Me

Hi Bill

Today I’m thinking about my good friend BD. I’m pretty sure that you never met BD, but he was (and is) an interesting character.

During my fourth year of college (it took me about 5 years to graduate) I moved out of the apartment that I had shared with three of my friends because I wanted to be able to have some private time. I also needed to lower my rent costs and I found a very inexpensive one-room apartment in another building owned by the same rental company.

I moved into my basement (studio) room, which provided a bed, refrigerator, dresser, and closet. I had to use a shared bathroom in the hallway which serviced other small (studio) rooms. There was no running water in those rooms. Water was available in the bathrooms and the laundry room which was at the beginning of the hallway. A locked door in that hallway also led to a game room with a pool table and stairs up to the larger apartments. My new room was not luxurious, but it worked for me after I bought a hotplate and a small toaster oven.

Shortly after I moved in, I met the guy who lived in the room next to me. His name was BD and he was also a student at Pitt, where he was pursuing a mechanical engineering bachelor’s degree. BD introduced himself to me and then sort of told me how to cope with living in a small studio room with amenities in the hallway. He also showed me the cracks in the wall that I should plug up because he could see into my room and I could see into his. These rooms were newly built in that basement and there were problems that we eventually had to work out.

BD in his kitchen in Fall 1970

BD was from Johnstown PA, which you know is not far from Altoona/Hollidaysburg where we grew up. Therefore BD and I had similar backgrounds and we became friends. I quickly realized that BD was somewhat socially challenged and sort of a loner. However, I (and other tenants) in those basement rooms eventually accepted BD as our friend. Probably the most obvious characteristic that I (and others) recognized about BD was that he was extremely intelligent, which unfortunately did not help his social status. He did not walk around intending to show how extremely intelligent he was, but he just couldn’t prevent his brainiac self from surfacing when he interacted with most people.

BD playing pool in the game room early 1971

I don’t understand why, but his superior intelligence did not bother me, not because I was a braianic (I certainly was not, and am not). However, I was curious and fascinated by, almost anything that I didn’t know much about. Also, I was not intimidated by BD’s knowledge, and I came to know him very well in a fairly short period of time. Almost everyone who lived in those studio rooms were very tolerant and friendly and I believe we all came to know and like BD, even though we had to tolerate his eccentricities sometimes.

BD and I became very good friends and we also became good friends with most of the other people who lived along that basement hallway. One of the great things about living there was the symbiotic group of people. BD and I became good friends with Janice T and her friend Betty, Jorge N (from Venezuela), Robert G (from Jamaica), and others wonderful people. When you share bathrooms you get to know people pretty well.

Jorge was a party animal and he hosted many great parties that we held in the hallway, and in any rooms with open doors. At first BD did not participate in the parties. He was not a big drinker, unlike most of us. However, eventually he participated more often in those parties. Although he certainly liked women, he was not particularly debonair with members of the opposite sex. I remember one party, which BD spent with a woman. They were both drinking and soon they were hugging, kissing and having a very nice time. Those of us who knew BD were surprised and pleased that he was having a good time. The next day we mentioned it to BD and asked him about the woman. He said she was very nice and he enjoyed her company. We asked him if he remembered anything unusual about her and he said no. We tactfully mentioned that she was missing one arm. BD was flabbergasted because he had no recollection of that. I don’t remember whether they ever got together again. Anyway BD was part of that basement life for almost two years. He had good friends there including the love of my life, Pat, who had moved in during my senior year. BD really liked Pat, but I was very happy that she decided to date me.

BD was a very thoughtful and helpful friend. I remember that I brought a car from home during the 1971 fall semester. It was a 1967 red Opal Kadett that my father had bought used a few years earlier. Mom couldn’t drive a stick shift so after Dad died I talked her into letting me use it. I decided to drive it from Pittsburgh to visit you, Bill, just north of Philadelphia. Unfortunately it stalled about thirty miles east of Pittsburgh and I could not get it started. I didn’t have any money, so I just left it by the roadside and hitched my way back to The Burgh. BD was surprised to see me back in my room. I told him what happened and he took a bus to somewhere near where I abandoned the car, got it started, and drove it back me. BD was a very good mechanic.

BD took me to his family’s house near Johnstown a couple of times where I met his parents and sister. His older brother had already moved out of the house and eventually became very successful in Silicon Valley. BD’s family were very nice people and they lived in a wonderful home on a large wooded lot. Those were fun visits.

BD and I stayed in that basement for almost two years. However, for some reason that I don’t remember BD moved to a different room down the hallway. His new room had no windows. We often referred to it as the cave. I suppose it was slightly cheaper than the other windowed rooms. Later, I think he tired of the cave and we decided that he could move into my room for a small fee. He used 2x4s to construct a bunk bed over the existing bed in my room. He slept on top and I slept on the bottom bed. Of course he had to move some of his possessions into my room also. It was extremely crowded and that led to some friction between us, especially when I wanted to entertain in my room. Unfortunately, one of the building maintenance workers discovered the bunk bed and told us that it had to go immediately. He cited one of the building codes and informed us that it was not legal and we would both be evicted if BD didn’t get out of my room soon. We tore down his bunk bed and he moved to a very rundown apartment in a rough neighborhood in the Bloomfield area of The Burgh, where he feared for his life at times, but survived. However we remained good friends and BD visited us basement tenants often.

After I finally finished my Bachelor’s degree, I moved to Philadelphia during the summer of 1972. Then in September I married Pat at the Lutheran University Center in Pittsburgh near the Pitt campus. BD would have been my best man, but after he had graduated he had joined the Peace Corp and was building irrigation systems in Kenya.

BD and I continued our friendship after he returned from the Peace Corp. He went back to school at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh and he earned a Master’s degree and became a Physics teacher somewhere in North Carolina – I’m not sure about the location. Unfortunately, BD’s high expectations for his students exceeded their abilities and/or their desires to meet those expectations. He quit that job and moved around to several other teaching positions, but his students could never meet his expectations. Eventually he went back to Pittsburgh and worked with an investment advisor to develop an investment computer program that made them both fairly wealthy. However, their partnership did not last.

I remember Pat and I met him in Pittsburgh when we were there to visit Pat’s parents. We went downtown to a movie with him that night. When we were walking in a downtown area after the movie we didn’t feel very safe. However, BD showed us the revolver that he carried with him everywhere and told us not to worry. That was a surprise, but we did feel a little safer. One other time he visited us when we were at Pat’s parent’s house in the Pittsburgh area. We then went to dinner with him and our kids. It was a fun evening.

BD and me at Pat's parent's house
in West Mifflin PA , near Christmas, early 1990s

BD and me
Pat, Rayna, and Zeb
At Pat's parent's house near Christmas, early 1990s

BD has moved through several jobs in several states. He has had some good times and tough times over the years, but he has kept in touch with Pat and me. He visited us when we lived in Philadelphia, when we lived in Omaha a couple of times, and when we lived in Cincinnati. Unfortunately, he has never visited us since we moved to South Dakota in 1983. We have tried to get together but have not been about connect yet.

I am very happy to say that BD finally found a compatible and enjoyable job working in a prison in California. No, he is not a guard. However, he does interact with prisoners, because he manages the activities and equipment that are part of the rehabilitation process. He has been doing that at the same prison for over ten years. He earns a good salary and has good benefits, including a pension. He has also been a longtime active member of Mensa International (the high IQ society), which enables him to exercise his high IQ with other brainiacs.  He intends to remain in California and to keep doing what he does for as long as possible. I hope that turns out to be a long, long time.

Now, I think I will give him a call just to say “Hi” and gab about what’s happening in our lives.

Bill, I wish BD and Pat and I lived closer to each other. I also very much wish Pat and I lived closer to you. However, for some very strange reason South Dakota seems to be our “Home on the Range” and we have no plans to leave.

I hope you and your family had a wonderful Christmas and have a Happy New Year.

Sincerely Clark

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Random Act of Kindness

Today I am happy to present my favorite guest blogger: Pat Hallman

A Random Act of Kindness

The holiday season!  This is the time of year when you hear of people giving to others in random acts of kindness.  Well, we received one and I just needed to share the story.

I’m opening up the blinds in our library/den where the landline phone is kept and the phone rings.  Now, we screen calls on the landline because that number attracts all the callers for insurance, the newspaper and just about anyone selling anything.  The answering machine picks up and I hear “Hi, my name is Bill and I’m looking for Zeb.  I found his class ring at a farm auction and wanted to know if you know him and whether he is missing a class ring?”  Bill begins to leave his phone number and I grab for the phone -  hello, hello.  “Hi”, he says, “Do you know Zeb?”   Yes, he is my son.  “Did he lose his class ring?”  Yes, he did many years ago.  Bill responded, “Well, I went to a farm auction in Colman and it was very muddy.  As I was walking through the farmyard I was looking down to make sure I didn’t slip in the mud.  I spotted a shiny round thing and thought it was a washer or nut and slipped it on my finger and into my pocket.  Didn’t think anything of it.  When I got home and looked at it, I realized it was a class ring.  The name Zeb was on the side of the ring and it was from Sioux Valley HS.  My wife noticed the engraving inside for Zeb Hallman, and we thought we would try and find him.”  I answered - How in the world did you find us from that?  “Well, my wife is good on the Internet - isn’t that the darndest thing?”  Yes, it is!  Bill continued to explain, “She found Zeb’s Facebook page and sent him a message but never heard back.  So, we saw on Facebook that his relatives were Clark and Pat and she did a search for you.  We found your phone number and called to see if you want the ring back.”  Yes, we do!

By this time, I am just stunned.  I don’t know what to make of this and Bill told me that the ring was in excellent condition.  He described the ring and what I could remember of it sounded right.  We exchanged phone numbers and I told Bill that I would get back to him and arrange a time to go out to his farm and retrieve the ring.

Now, for some background information, I texted Zeb that his ring was found and he called me back in disbelief.  Zeb bought the ring in his sophomore year of high school (I had long ago forgotten all this).  The school had the students buy early so they could wear their rings all through high school – school pride and all.  But, Zeb had his ring for one week when he lost it.  He had told us that he lost the ring while swimming with some of the guys at a pond or swimming hole on someone’s farm.  But now we got the truth.  He was partying (yes, drinking beer underage) at a farm in Colman.  At the time, he had been dating a girl, Sarah, from Colman and the farm were the party took place was her friend’s home.  Zeb knew he had lost it there back in 1998, he looked everywhere for it that night, and told his friends if it ever turned up to get in touch with him so he could have it back.  Now, 17 years later, the ring appears!  This story is beginning to seem like a “Lord of the Rings” episode! – my precious! – but I digress.

I called Bill back and arranged a time to meet and he provided directions out to his farm to pick up the ring.  Clark and I drove out there on the same day as the call, that afternoon.  The weather was beautiful, sun shining and I was really anxious to see this ring!  I still could not believe this was happening.  We found the farm and met Bill and his wife Jackie.  Such very nice people.  And sure enough, they had Zeb’s ring.  We talked about how Zeb was dating the Colman girl, how he was at a party (Bill guessed this!) and how he had lost the ring.  We also talked that the ring had been buried in the mud/dirt for 17 years.  How it was found in the farmyard by the driveway where cars, trucks and all kinds of farm machinery had driven over it through the years.  And yet, the ring is perfect. No wear or tear and the stone is not chipped or anything!  Amazing!  Bill found it and he and his wife did the kindest thing possible.  He and Jackie decided to find us (Zeb) and return the ring.  Zeb said to offer them a reward and we did but they turned us down.  Bill said he didn’t do this for a reward and Jackie said that she viewed this as a mystery, an adventure, to try and solve.  We said our “thank you’s” and Merry Christmas.  Jackie asked if Zeb would be home for the holidays and to give him this as a Christmas gift.  I told her he was not coming home due to work but we would make a trip because he had to get this ring.

I have to say I am still reeling over this. I keep looking at that ring, and the enormous kindness of these strangers.  Zeb has said he didn’t get to wear the ring much back in high school but he intends to wear it now.  When I told our daughter about this adventure, she stated “Only in South Dakota are people so nice and kind to do something like this.”  I think she is right, and that’s why we enjoy living here so much.  May a random act of kindness come your way soon OR please pass one on like Bill and Jackie!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Grandpap's Swimming Hole

Hi Bill

Today I was thinking about the property that Grandfather Hallman “Grandpap” owned in Clearfield County. No doubt, you remember that he had some relatives and friends near Curwensville in Clearfield County, PA, which was 45 miles north of Altoona on the West Branch of the Susquehanna River. During the early 20th century, coal mining, tanning, and the manufacture of fire bricks provided employment in that area. Some of his relatives and friends worked in the coal mines, which was an extremely dirty, exhausting, and dangerous job. They were strong, loyal and hard workers. However, you could recognize a retired coal miner when you saw how sick and crippled they were. They were good people, and Grandpap kept in touch with some of them and would drive up to that area to visit them every once in a while. It wasn’t a long drive, but back then the highways and local roads were not as efficient as they are today. Anyway Grandpap visited them fairly often and sometimes my parents, you, and I would accompany him. 

Grandpap William S. Hallman and me

I’m sure you remember that Grandpap especially visited Pauline and Cleo and their son Eddie, who was a few years older than me. They lived in a large farmhouse on a large piece of ground with some beautiful old and huge trees. While Pap (as my father referred to Grandpap) and our parents visited with Pauline and Cleo, you and I would hang around with Eddie, and we would climb trees, throw a ball around and generally act like bored idiots. At least you and Eddie were bored. I was usually too stupid to be bored and was often fascinated by some bug and stone that I spotted. Actually, that still happens to me.

For me, the best part of those trips came when Grandpap drove us to the nearby land that he owned in the country. Somehow he inherited, or maybe he purchased, that land in the country in the Curwensville area. It was a large area of wilderness, which included woods, weeds, water and wildlife. My recollection is that a river ran through that property and there was a wonderful area within the property where the river filled a pond surrounded by large trees, weeds, poison ivy, critters and bugs that were there to fascinate little biped critters like me. Yes, I loved to run among the insects, four-legged creatures, snakes and infectious plants. At least I loved it until the insect bites, scratches, cuts and poison ivy became too painful or itchy to tolerate. Or until I irritated some four-legged furry critter that didn’t want me on their turf. Then I would come running to you, Grandpap or Dad for protection and/or treatment.

While the wildlife was exciting, nothing could beat the water. We always had our swim trunks on under our clothing when we went to Grandpap’s wildland, and the swimming was great fun. When I was little you or Dad or Grandpap would chaperone me to make sure I stayed in the shallow areas of the pond. However, you always kept me happy in that area by splashing around with me. Of course, you also were able to frolic in the deeper area near where the river left the pond to continue its journey to wherever it went. That pond area had some large trees on its banks and there were some ropes tied to branches above the water that you used to swing over the water and then plummet into it with huge splashes. I wasn’t allowed to do that (and probably wouldn’t have been able to get to the rope anyway) when I was young. However, I remember as I grew a few years older I was able to jump off the riverbank into a little deeper area. Those trips to the “Swimming Hole” were great fun. 

Unfortunately, we didn’t make that trip very often. Dad and Mom both had jobs and they could not take the time off to go to Clearfield County very often, and Mom was never thrilled to go to the “Swimming Hole” anyway. I do remember that Grandpap took us in his 1952 Oldsmobile sometimes, but not very often. I also remember Pauline, Cleo and Eddie visiting our parents once or twice, but we had no “Swimming Hole.”  

Grandpap, me and Timmy

Years after those trips to the “Swimming Hole,” when I was in Junior High, Grandpap wanted to visit his property in Clearfield County again. We hadn’t made that trip for several years and he was getting older then and I reckon he knew that his travelin’ time was running out. Therefore he decided to make another trip to his river property. I seem to remember that Dad and Mom were not happy about him making that trip. They did not want him to do it by himself and neither of them wanted to take time off work to make that trip. I’m fairly sure that you made that trip with Grandpap and me. You were driving then and you probably helped as a driver. In addition, I decided to invite one of my friends along on that trip. Unfortunately, I can’t quite remember which friend I invited, but I think it might have been Frank A, although I can’t be sure. Anyway, I told him about the “Swimming Hole” and how much fun it was and he decided to join us. We had our swim trunks on and were eager to act like idiots in the pond when we got there. However, when we arrived, we did not see a river. Instead we saw a very small and shallow creek that wondered through the weed covered ground. We looked everywhere for the pond but found only a mud hole with a few inches of water in it, or maybe a foot of water in some areas. I was quite distressed. Where was our river? Where was our deep pond swimming hole? Where was the large tree that enabled us to swing over the pond and plummet to the water? 

I don’t know if those vivid memories of the river, the deep pond, and swinging over the pond from the tree were accurate or not. Maybe the river, and pond, dried up during the years before our last visit there. Or maybe my recollections were informed by my very young vision and very active imagination. Anyway, poor Frank (or whomever endured that boring drive to Clearfield County to frolic in the mud hole) was very disappointed and irritated. 

I’m sure you remember that Grandpap eventually sold the land that he owned in Clearfield County. However, he retained the mineral rights to that property, which provided small gas royalties to him for many years. He was a very wise man and a great grandfather. 

Grandpap on our Farmall Cub Tractor

Did you make the final trip to Clearfield County with us, Bill? I can’t remember for sure. Please let me know your memories of those trips to the “Swimming Hole.” 

I hope you and your family are well and happy. 

Take care. 

Sincerely Clark

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Get A Job!

Hi Bill

Today I have been thinking about the jobs that I had while I was in high school and college. As you know, when I was in high school Dad had some severe health problems and had to retire on disability. That meant that our parents did not have much extra money for me to throw around. Therefore, I had to find work to pay for gas, movies, restaurant food, etc. Today I was trying to remember some of the jobs that I worked, or tried to work during high school and college. Thinking of them made me realize that I wasn’t always a very good employee when I was young.

My HS Senior Photo

Less than successful job experiences:

Gas Station: I got a part time evening job at Frank Rabit’s (or Rabitts or Rabbits- I can’t remember how he spelled his name) gas station (Esso) and service/repair shop in Altoona. Dad knew Frank very well and also knew most of the employees, including Eddie, who was a very good friend of yours. I took the job because I needed the money, even though I didn’t know squat about automobiles and their mechanical problems. Working evenings at a gas station during the winter was not fun, especially back in the days when there were no self-service pumps. I quickly learned to use the gas pumps and how to check the oil (which was important back then), and check the tires, etc. However, beyond that I was inept. Early in the job I was “helping” change the oil of a car and I opened the drain for the transmission fluid instead of the oil. Luckily one of the other guys saw what I did and quickly closed the drain while bitching me out about how expensive transmission fluid was. I also remember accompanying guys who luckily knew what they were doing on road service calls. One night, when it was very cold (like freezing), I went on a service call that required lying on the ground under the car trying to help do something that I didn’t know anything about and didn’t care to learn about. I really did not fit in the auto repair business and I did not last long at the service station.

Sandwich Shop: I landed a job at a small restaurant/sandwich shop on Logan Boulevard in Altoona for a short time. I don’t remember much about it because I was sort of there for the blink of an eye and then gone. All I remember about it is that I worked evenings until closing (maybe at 10pm or 11pm) and my duties included washing and cleaning. That’s all I remember, washing and cleaning and grease everywhere - all over me, and everything in the place. I quickly decided that I never wanted to eat anything in that place and warned my friends and family to enjoy their repast elsewhere. Obviously Clark must have been prissy back then. Anyway, it was another short employment experience until I slid right out the door on the grease.

Knitting Mill: I also landed a job at the Puritan Sportswear Knitting Mill in Altoona. My good friend Frank A’s father was a honcho there and Frank somehow convinced him to take a chance on me, which didn’t pay off for him in the end. I worked full-time evenings until midnight and that really messed up my social life, which was the reason I wanted a job, i.e., so I would have money for a social life. I quickly realized that problem, but I was determined to stick with this job. Of course that didn’t happen either because I discovered that I was a pathetic knitter. I had to keep three or four big knitting machines operating continuously feeding out flawless sweater material. Well Clark was not even close to flawless on the knitting machines (or anything else). I probably ruined a mountain of sweater material/fabric (or whatever it is called). I couldn’t seem to figure out how to do it properly. I quit after a few weeks as my boss was about to kick my ass out of the building.

Puritan Knitting Mill Logo

Puritan Sportswear

Okay, believe it or not, I eventually landed some jobs that I could handle fairly well, and that I actually enjoyed:

Rivoli Theater: One of my favorite jobs during my high school years was working as an usher at the Rivoli Theater on Logan Boulevard in Altoona. My good friend Frank had gotten a job there and told me about it. So I quickly applied and was lucky to get hired. The theater furnished us with black tuxedos and one of our most important duties was to help ticket holders find seats. We had to be especially helpful to older people and/or people with disabilities. In addition, when the more popular movies were showing, the theater would become extremely full and we had to quickly find seats for viewers and even ask people who were already seated to move a seat or a few seats within their row to fill empty seats and make room for others. In addition, we had flashlights to help late arrivers find seats after the movie had begun. We also changed the marquee when the movie changed. In addition, we got to hang out in the projection booth sometimes. It was a fun place to work. The other employees were great to work with and we got to see many great movies, including Doctor Zhivago, Thunderball and others. We could almost recite the dialogue word for word from many of the movies that were shown while we worked there. Another perk from this job came from Francis S who was an older gentleman (in his late 50s or early 60s) who was a ticket taker among other duties. We liked to BS with him and we got to know him well. I should be ashamed to admit that he was our liquor supplier. Of course, we gave him extra money for that service and we somehow survived lots of good times. I’m not proud of that now, but back then it was a great thing and sort of prepared me for my future college life.

Rivoli Theater 

Demolishing the Rivoli Theater 1980

Holiday Inn: My friend Bob M helped me get a job at the Holiday Inn in Altoona for a summer. His Mom was in charge of the restaurant and she hired me as a busboy. I have good memories about that job, which involved bussing tables, delivering room service and miscellaneous other duties. They taught me how to create fancy napkin displays for the table settings and how to refill water glasses and lots of other important stuff that didn’t seem too serious to me at the time. However, I enjoyed working there and was grateful for that job. I was not the brightest bulb back then. (I’m still not a very bright bulb and I am becoming even dimmer as time goes by.) Anyway, I made some stupid mistakes including one unfortunate room service delivery early in that job. I was told to take a room service order to a certain room on an upper floor. Of course I eagerly agreed and carefully carried the order to the correct room. However, for some reason I just used the room key to open the door and walked in with the tray. The couple in the room were very surprised and displeased to see me just open the door and walk into the room instead of knocking. I too was shocked and embarrassed and apologized profusely. I thought I would get fired when that happened, but Mrs. M was too nice. She warned me to never enter another room again without knocking and announcing room service. I came to like that job very much, mostly because of the people I worked with, and I stayed for a whole summer.

Weis Supermarket: I landed a job at a Weis Supermarket in Altoona during the summer after my first year of college. Amazingly, it was a full-time job which I held until I returned to Pitt in September. I was the guy who stocked the soap and detergent aisle. I did the ordering and stocking of the products in that aisle and I loved the job. At first it was a little rocky. I didn’t know how to calculate how much product to order and I ordered way too much of some products (especially for my first order) and not enough of others. When we were unloading the truck with my first order on it, I got bitched out big time because it was difficult to find space in the storage room for all the Tide and Cheer etc. that I ordered. The objective was to order just enough to keep the shelves in my aisle filled until the next truck arrived. I soon learned how to order more precisely and how to keep my aisle looking full and inviting. We all had to help unload the huge semi-trailers when they arrived and most of us enjoyed that very much. One person would be in the trailer throwing the boxes on the rollers and the other guys would be on either side of the rollers that extended into the storeroom. It was always a competition with the guy in the truck trying to overwhelm the guys on the receiving end of the rollers. I especially enjoyed working in the trucks. I was young, competitive and liked the challenge. I also worked the cash registers occasionally when needed and there were no price scanners back then. I worked at that Weis store for two summers and enjoyed it very much.

Heinz Hall: I also worked as an usher at Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh when I was an undergraduate. If you are interested, you can read more about that job in my blog post: “My Evening With Charlton Heston” published on April 29, 2015.

I’m sure you have read enough about my jobs back in the day. However, I just remembered that I occasionally delivered newspapers for my good friend Pat H when he was out of town or otherwise unable to make the deliveries. That’s it!

Bill, I’m amazed when I think about all the experiences (good and bad) that we have gone through. Some of them I wish I could undo, but they all contributed to a great life so far. I’m sure you had some interesting jobs when you were in high school and college, and I would be interested to hear about them.

Take care Bill.

Sincerely, Clark