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Not Everyone gets a Trophy

    During a grade school assembly, I was demonstrating the sounds of different organ pipes. I added an extension to one pipe, then asked a question about how the sound would be different; the correct answer being, "It would be lower." I called on a child and she answered, "higher."
    I said, "That's a good guess; you were very close: it's actually… lower."
    Some of the teachers thought this was funny, but a very annoyed 3rd grader, goaded beyond civility, piped up, "She wasn't close! She was wrong!"
    I admired his sense of justice, but he should have raised his hand.


     I've been in a few interesting shows, and the first time I was in a big one, I had been told that there would be a car waiting for me at the airport. So I was looking around for a van or something. A man wearing fancy livery, holding open the door of a gleaming stretch limo, said, "Mr. Solomon?"
I was in my jeans and flannel shirt, looking around, confused; "Me?"
     A group of people on the platform looked over, and began gesturing and whispering: "Look; he's Someone. I think he's Someone."
      So, there was my 15 minutes of fame. Literally, as it turns out, because my 15 minute set was featured on national TV. For a short period of time after that, I would get recognized in unexpected places, but it didn't last, of course. A few weeks later, I was back to performing at backyard barbecues and church suppers for 15 people.
     But getting back to that limo ride; there might have been champagne in the limo's bar, but I have no idea. Since there were no groupies, I didn't feel like rolling around by myself in all that empty space, so I asked the driver if I could just ride up front with him.
     "Whatever you want, sir." he intoned. (I wanted groupies, but, whatever.) So we rode along to the hotel, with the cavernous pleasure-dome of extravagance, following hollow and vacant behind us.
     There's glory for you.

Another Skeptic

     I used to do some illusions in my act; mostly while gathering a crowd for my street show. One time, I had just finished my version of the cut-and-restored rope, when a small boy piped up,
     "So what? You just cut the knot off."
     The boy's mother, who herself had been baffled by the illusion, tried to explain to her boy what made the trick astonishing, but he was too young and literal-minded to be properly impressed. So I had to sac my rope just to prove a point. I let the kid take the scissors and cut the rope in half. I helped him tie it back together, and then I let him "just cut the knot off." Which he did, whereupon, of course the rope fell into two pieces.
     The boy's response was, "Well, you were just more agile than me." That was a pretty good word, since the boy was only 6 or 7.

Pound Sand

    I was pleased to get a request from a British film company, asking me to let them use one of my short videos in a TV show they produce. The fee was modest, but why not? Free mailbox money for me, and they get a non-exclusive license to use the video, which doesn't limit my own use of it at all.  And, the money was to be paid in English pounds, which seemed terribly exotic.
    The problem was, I didn't get paid. Of course, once they've used the video, it's easy enough for a big company in London to forget about a small operator like me; the money I was owed wasn't enough to warrant my bothering with legal proceedings, so there wasn't really anything I could do but write it off.  With, of course, a few I-told-you-so's from my friends.
    Even so, I would periodically email my contact person a polite reminder that they still hadn't paid me, and I would always get back a graciously-worded apology, with assurances that it was an unintentional oversight, and that the matter would be speedily resolved. I would usually wait for a month to go by, and then I would send them the next polite reminder. Then I would get another gracious apology, accompanied by a brief explanation of what had gone awry in the accounting department, which had now been resolved, and I would be hearing back from them shortly.
    After many months of this, I waited a little longer than usual to send my polite reminder, and to my dismay, the email got bounced back: addressee unknown. Such a shame to lose my contact, after the lovely correspondence we had been having. Well, it was time to move on, I had to admit. But as a last-ditch attempt, I found  an address for general inquiries, on the company's website. I wrote To Whom it May Concern, and I briefly explained the problem, and outlined the general details. Against all expectations, I actually got a reply from a staff person: the usual graciously-worded apology, with explanations and assurances. So we were back in business. I was content.
    I waited another month, and by now I was persuaded that they had never intended to pay me in the first place, so I thought I would at least have a little fun with it. Writing to my new contact, I fired my best shot:
Re: Payment for my video -
Hi Laura.

The Mill of Destiny grinds slowly, but exceedingly fine. Your account team has done a great job so far, unraveling the labyrinthine coils of our stalled business arrangement, concerning the use of my video Hungarian Dance #5 which aired on your TV show [blank blank] in November 2014.

But in fact, I still have not received as much as a ha'penny, nor a copper farthing nor even a clipped brass groat, of the payment specified in our contract. Please inform the powers that be, that I am confidently expecting a satisfactory conclusion to our contractual agreement of ₤200 for their use of said video. The principle of the matter would suggest that this obligation should be honored without further delay.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Best regards,
Len Solomon
    I didn't hear anything back from them for many days, so I figured that my sarcasm had made them mad. No more polite apologies would be forthcoming. But then, to my astonishment, I received this:
Hi Len

I do apologize again that this still has not been paid out to you. We are currently checking with accounts as to if a cheque was sent out but it did not reach you. Can you just confirm your correct address, and also give me the following account information and we can get the payment to you the quickest way:
Account Name
Bank Name
Bank Account Number
Bank Address
Swift Code
Sort Code (if applicable)
Iban number/Routing Number (if applicable)

Kind regards
    Now, for the first time, I was angry. This is the exact sort of thing that the Nigerian Prince always asks you for, when he wants to give you 7.5 million dollars because you are the only one he can trust out of all the others. I was honestly puzzled. The film production company had seemed like a real company. And why had they waited all this time to try to spring a scam on me? I wanted to just stop wasting time trying to figure it out, but I couldn't stop thinking about it. Several angry responses occurred to me, then some humorous ones; finally I just decided to give them the benefit of the doubt one more time. Figuring that even if I was being made a fool of, one can never go wrong being a gentleman. So once again, I thanked them kindly for pursuing this matter, told them they had my address correct, but I regretted that I could not provide them with the additional information they requested; a cheque in the mail would be perfectly acceptable.
    Wonder of wonders, 2 weeks later I received a check in the mail! Mailbox money! I treasure it, as if it were a fortune presented to me by the Royal Exchequer of the Crown.

Cabin Fever

    When my brother and I would visit our Mom down in New Jersey in her latter days, we would need to find places to stay in Toms River. It's a weird feeling having to stay in a hotel, in a town where you grew up. I had always noticed The Cedars motel on Rt. 9; the place had always looked picturesque to me; charming little cabins nestled under the trees, each with its softly glimmering porch light. So I decided I would give it a try on this trip; but there was a No Vacancy sign lit up in red neon, which was discouraging. But when I phoned the next morning, I got the welcome news that a cabin would be available that night. I made a reservation without delay.

The Cedars Motel, Toms River, around 2000-
   The door is stuck. I'm jiggling the key, twisting  the door knob, and finally I lean in with my shoulder and give a powerful shove; the door bursts open. It is a bare, shabby room before me; not even an end table by the bed or a chair to put my clothes on. The paint is fresh, though. That's why the door was sticking, and why a powerful smell of turpentine is mixed with the strong odor of disinfectant and decay that greets me.
    I am surprised at how sparse the room is. The only furnishing besides the sagging bed is a rickety dresser with a broken TV on it. The TV is not plugged in, and there are a few of its parts lying on top. No phone, either, which is inconvenient, as I don't have a cell phone. I get some tissues from the bathroom, and ball them up to wipe off the top of the dresser, so I could make a space for my suitcase. The tissue comes up black.  I have to throw the used tissues in the corner, because there is no trash basket anywhere. (Actually, it's toilet paper I'm using; there are no tissues.)
   I remove two drawers from the dresser, and turn them on end to place by the bed. This makes a cozy little end table, so I have a place to put down my watch and clothes, and a book. That's nice and convenient.
   Curiously enough, the bathroom amenities, besides soap, include a new comb, toothbrush, and razor. I would rather they had given me a bath mat, though, to cover the uneven linoleum where the corners are sticking up. Anyway, I have to leave my shoes on, because the carpet around the bed is wet. It seems that they had just been trying to clean the carpet, but there are still grimy tracks through it, and a powerful musty smell like an old dog. And the carpet is too wet for walking on in socks.
    Earlier in the day, when I had called about the room, the man had quoted me $55. for the night, but when I arrived, he informed me that he had forgotten that the summer rates were in effect; it was going to be $75. He was very apologetic; he would let me have it for $65.  
    Then I took out my wallet to pay, and the man informed me that he can't take credit cards: the machine is busted. He showed it to me. Then he also told me he can't take a personal check either; it's cash only. I finally came to the realization that the usual clientele of this establishment consists of indigents, who are provided with a State Welfare check. Those are good. The man told me that when the credit card machine broke years ago, they just left it like that, as it was no longer needed.
    I did have cash on me, but just a few dollars more than 65.  The man generously agreed to waive the sales tax, and make the price 65 even, so I wouldn't be flat busted. What a deal. He seemed like a nice guy, but I could tell he was wondering what I was doing here.
     So finally I got checked in, and now I find myself lying on the hard bed, in the glare from the naked ceiling bulb. Over my head, the broken smoke alarm is dangling by one wire, and through the thin wall I can hear a man shouting at someone in the next cabin. He sounds drunk and furious. That's surprising, in a nice place like this.
    It is late. Eventually, I will have to put on my shoes, so I can get out of bed without getting my feet wet. I'll walk across the sodden carpet to switch off the light. Then I will lie back on the sagging bed, in the glare of red neon gleaming through the thin curtains, and the rumbling of trucks down Rt. 9 will eventually rock me to sleep.


    I emailed this story to my brother.  He had also seen this motel many times, and he had thought it looked interesting too. He emailed back and said, "Thanks a lot for letting my wife see this story. Now she'll NEVER agree to let us stay there!"


    When I was 5 or 6 years old, I found a test tube in the back room of our house.
It was nestled in a jar among some old pens, pliers, and odd junk in my mother's collections. I held it up: a real test tube; such a treasure! The sight of it conjured up exciting thoughts of scientific experiments, danger, and unknown worlds. I considered the object for a few moments, and then I put it carefully back where I'd found it.
    Later that day, my friend Corky wandered over from next door, and we were playing in the yard when I remembered my discovery. I told Corky, "Wait here. I want to show you something," and I went into the house.
    I retrieved the test tube from the back room, took it into the kitchen, and put some water into it. Then I pushed a chair over to the cabinet and got down the little bottles of food coloring, and I put a drop of yellow into the tube, then a drop of red. The test tube now contained a fine and rare-looking orange liquid, which I thought looked rather impressive. This was going to show my friend that I was not to be trifled with, and I carried it outside to the yard where he was waiting.
    "Corky, this is a chemical!"  I told him ominously, holding the test tube up for him to see.
    "No it isn't. You just put some coloring into some water," he said, narrowing his eyes at me in his annoyingly skeptical way. I was astonished at his ignorance.
    "It's a chemical," I repeated, a bit weakly.
    "No, it isn't."
    I withdrew back into the house, stung at Corky's lack of appreciation, and dismayed that he didn't believe me. I was lying, but so?  Couldn't he see that this was a real test tube? I poured the useless orange water down the drain.

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Hold-Up Man

     I really don't like to bother anybody, let alone to hold up an entire train. But here we were, immobile for two hours so far, and the mood of the people had gone from simple curiosity, to an agitated buzz like a hive of bees that's been stirred up with a stick.
    "Why are we not going?" the people were asking, but no one knew. I circulated among them, going from dining car to coach and back to my cabin, nodding to everybody and listening to their excited murmurings.  If you had been me in that situation, I'm sure you would have done what I did. What I did, was to say nothing.
     No, I hadn't pulled the emergency brake or something stupid like that. I was having a problem, and I was as concerned as everybody else, but for a completely different reason.   

    I was a passenger on that train, returning to Boston from performing a show in Chicago. Thanks to my gracious sponsor, I was traveling in a first-class cabin, and I had been enjoying the restful luxury of it on the return trip. The ride had been like a dream, gazing out the window at the endless miles of factories in the outskirts of Chicago, rolling along under a fantastic sunset.
    The next day, for some reason we had stopped at an unscheduled station in NY state. I had just been thinking of settling down for a nap after lunch, and I was taking off my shoes when I looked out the window onto the platform. There, gray in the drizzling rain, I saw a baggage cart came wheeling by my window, heading towards the front of the train. The baggage cart was piled with luggage, including some very large distinctive cases. They were my cases, containing all my hand-made instruments. This was a very bad sign.
    The cabin I occupied was in the first car of the train, right behind the locomotive. Way back at the rear of the train was the baggage car, in which all my instruments had been carefully stowed. So why is my stuff now being pushed forward on a cart, through the rain, at this unscheduled stop?
    All thoughts of napping were now banished as I feverishly put my shoes back on. I ran out of the cabin and dashed forward down the aisle to the end of the car, unhooked a chain and made an unauthorized exit out the door onto the platform.
    I ran up to the retreating cart, now heading forward past the locomotive. "Where are you taking this?" I panted. "This baggage is supposed to be on the train."
    "We're losing our baggage car here. These will have to be transferred."
    "These cases contain my homemade instruments. It was clearly stated in my contract that these were to arrive in Boston along with me. I made sure of it."
    "Don't worry. These will go out with the next train that comes along."
    What next train? "No." I said, "That won't be acceptable." I had already engaged a van to meet me when the train arrived in Boston, to bring all my stuff home from the city. This sudden development wasn't just an inconvenience; it brought up a vivid memory of a previous trip, in which one of my cases had been misplaced and had been lost for three days. I was never going to risk having that happen again. Plus, it was raining, and I was quite concerned that everything was getting wet. It's a lucky thing that I had looked out the window when I had!
    Meanwhile, the conductor had come out into the rain to inform me, "Sir, no passengers are allowed on the platform."
    "These cases have to come back aboard with me."
    "There is no place to put them."
    "My contract says they have a place. That's what we arranged. Why are we losing our baggage car?"
    By this time, more men had congregated in our little group, and anxious conversations were being conducted into big wireless devices that looked like walkie-talkies from a World War II movie. I suggested that we could bring my instruments into our cabin car; there was enough room. The suggestion was not considered. Soon we were told that another baggage car could be switched to our train from a yard only about a mile away.
    "Sir," the conductor insisted, "you'll have to re-board the train while we wait."
    "Can you please put my instruments under cover? These cases are not waterproof."
    That would never have occurred to them. One man pushed the cart down the platform and under a very scant overhang in a baggage area., while I reluctantly allowed myself to be ushered back onto the train. From there, I uneasily peered back through a window towards my precious cargo, which was only partially protected by the overhang, and still getting rained on. We waited.
    After a while, I sought out the conductor, and asked for a progress report. "We're working on it." he told me. Then again, somewhat later, "It looks like we won't be able to get that baggage car."
    "We have to find a place on this train," I told him. "What will we do?"
    "I don't know yet, sir."
    Meanwhile, I had been trying, in my anxiety, to get back out of the train to go over to the rain-blown cart with my instruments on it, to try to move it to a dryer place. But now I found that all the doors to the outside were locked. I had gone up and down the whole train trying doors; seven or eight long cars with a door at each end. It was in these wanderings through the train that I had heard the people voicing their curiosity and concern at our delay. None of the officials had told the passengers anything about the reason we weren't moving, and that's all everybody was talking about: trying to figure out what was going on. As I mentioned, I certainly wasn't going to tell them.
    Now and then, I could see men moving along the platform outside, sometimes talking into their walkie-talkies. I had made the conductor swear several times that he would not let the train leave the station until we had this sorted out. Everyone was in a fine buzz.
    At last, what they decided to do, was to bring my large cases into the passenger car where my cabin was. That's what I had suggested in the first place; but no, they had said it wouldn't do. Now they decided it would do; although it did mean stowing them in the aisle itself, and partially obstructing it, though not badly. At this point, we had been at this station for over two hours; we were over two hours behind schedule.
    The passengers, seeing these cases coming in to our cabin car, were naturally curious. So was the steward who served my cabin, and whom I had gotten to know a bit. Now he was surprised to notice that as the cases were coming aboard, I was helping to handle them myself.
    "You seem to have some direct knowledge of what this delay has been all about." he ventured.
    "Yes, I do," I told him, as I wiped down the outside of a case with a towel. I felt a bit awkward, but I was greatly relieved to get my instruments out of the rain and safely aboard again.
    "Yes I do; it was all about me."

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