Sixties blog by Randy Bechtel
Walkin’ & Talkin’ ‘Bout Nick Adams,
the Elks Club & Nothin’ at All

I do not want to live to be 90, unless, of course, I turn 89, in which case I will regret not having taken better care of myself. In light of this, some might wonder why I walk four miles a day. I walk not to live longer, but to avoid pain from an arthritic back. Since I turned 60, avoiding pain has been #1 on my bucket list.

Before age led me to take up walking, I jogged five miles a day. I believed that going from jogging to walking would be easy, but soon discovered more was involved than a physical downshift of gears. Jogging requires a suspension of thinking to cope with physical exertion; walking involves so little physical exertion that you must cope with thinking. And a two-mile radius from my house offers only so much to think about. 

The obvious solution is to find a walking companion. This I did by enlisting Eddie Herzog, a fellow Rotarian residing a few blocks from my house. In the course of four miles a day, three days a week, two retirees quickly learn what makes the other continue to tick. Eddie was writing a book titled Playing Against Type, a look at the careers of various Hollywood actors who fell short of leading-role stardom because, according to Eddie, they played roles against type. How much of Eddie’s talk was committed to type is anyone’s guess. I suspect Eddie so enjoyed the process and had so little expectations about a glorious end that he did not set himself a deadline. Anyone who waits until retirement to write a book must realize that by the time it is completed, accepted by a publisher, edited and published, he might be occupying an urn.

I best remember Eddie’s treatment of Nick Adams, who was one of four stars of early TV Westerns expected to make it big in movies. The other three were Steve McQueen, James Gardner and Clint Eastwood.  I am probably one of the few people today who remembers Nick—or, to be exact, is unable to forget him—even though I was not particularly a fan of his Western “The Rebel.”  Rather, I associate Nick with a terrible disappointment.  Miscommunication about what I wanted for my 10th birthday resulted in my grandparents sending me Johnny Yuma, a novelette for kids based on the “The Rebel,” instead of the album I so longed for, “Jose Jimenez in Orbit.”

For all of its powers of illusion, Hollywood could never disguise on screen Nick’s real-life persona, which was that of a man who grew his hair long on the sides and slicked it back with Brylcreem, and whose customary wardrobe consisted of blue jeans and a T-shirt with a pack of L&M cigarettes rolled up in one sleeve. Nick’s persona fit his TV character of Johnny Yuma, a former Confederate grunt now homeless who roamed the Old West having adventures.  Unfortunately for Nick, it clashed with movie roles such as a Harvard phi beta kappa in “Pillow Talk,” a physician in “The Interns,” and a scientist in “Die Monster Die.”

Eddie treated me to the beginning of “Die Monster Die” on DVD to illustrate his book’s premise. Wearing a trench coat and bare-headed except for a coat of Brylcreem, Nick walks out of a rainstorm into a stately English mansion to be confronted in the drawing room by lord-of-the-manor Boris Karloff. Karloff demands to know who Nick is and why he is there.  A young woman appears and exclaims something like, “Oh father, this is Nick Adams! We studied together at the university!” Karloff surpasses himself in acting by eying Nick with an expression that combines shock, disbelief and revulsion. Resounding but unsaid is the question: “Studied what?  Auto transmission repair?”

Although neither of us said so, I think both Eddie and I came to realize that walking together three days a week was too much. I suspect this was the main reason why Eddie began canceling our walks to take up bicycling, although he claimed his physician urged him to bicycle for its aerobic benefits. Glaucoma made bicycling impossible for me, but then, bicycling on suburban streets in tandem with Eddie would have been impractical. Understandably I had a twinge of guilt when, bicycling for his third time, Eddie was hit by a bus, bounced off the hood of a car and was run over by a sixteen-wheeler.

This should be a lesson to all of us, if only that we should not walk with anyone more than once a week. That would become my arrangement with my next walking companion, Miles Bunt, even though I knew that Miles, like me, walked several days a week. He did this, he told me, as a substitute for taking an antidepressant. I understood his thinking having once been medicated for depression with Prozac. I had thought an antidepressant would be uplifting, but instead found it made me so apathetic I was not even moved by the backstabbing of skanks Phyllis and Summer in “The Young and the Restless.”

Miles Bunt cared deeply about his Elks Club, something I could identify with somewhat being a Rotarian. During one walk I mentioned how the average age of my Rotary club’s members had been rising steadily in recent years.  Not so at Miles’ Elks club, Miles said. This impressed me until Miles added that the average age of his club’s members corresponded with the national mortality rate. During the previous six months, Miles had attended twelve funerals of club members and delivered eulogies at three.  It was then that I suggested he might be less depressed if he associated more with people who did not have one foot in the grave. I have not seen nor even spoken to Miles since. I did hear that he is out of town following the concert tour of Taylor Swift, who hopefully is not an Elk.

The lesson here is that even once a week is too much when walking with a fanatic. Miles’ babbling about Elks-this-and-Elks-that was bad enough. Frightening is the possibility of walking with a religious fanatic—a possibility not far-fetched if the fanatic’s religion is politics, such as a Conservative or a Liberal. The ideal walking partner is knowledgeable but not opinionated, educated but not pedantic, informed but not closed-minded, generous but not broke, masculine but not inconsiderate;  someone with a pleasant, subdued, deferential personality—someone like my new partner, a Canadian whose name will remain anonymous in case he’s an illegal immigrant.

In a perfect world I would be able to walk with a different Canadian every day of the week. In an 86% percent imperfect world a voice from another world was needed to tell me how to walk without a different Canadian six days a week. Doing the talking in a dream was Eddie Herzog.

I am now writing a book titled Playing to Type, which is about Hollywood actors who never made it big because they played to type. The beauty of this project is that I can write in my head as I walk without researching anything. There are so many such actors I can generate copy simply by relying on memory. Like carbon dioxide in champagne, names bubble up in my head: Clu Gulager, Larry Storch, Regis Toomey, Huntz Hall, Eartha Kitt, Whitt Bissell, Red Buttons, Zasu Pitts, Lyle Talbot, Chad Everett, Spring Byington, Ned Beatty, Keye Luke, George Zucco, Carl Betz . . .” The list goes on and on!  I estimate a paragraph per actor will result in a manuscript comprising three volumes minimum.

Copyright © 2019 by Randy Bechtel

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