Thursday, October 31, 2013

How my dad won the War of the Worlds

It's that time of year again.
You know, the season when pint-sized revelers dressed as ghosts, goblins and Miley Cyrus roam the streets looking for tasty treats to gather, as well as dastardly tricks to play.  But while those tiny terrors might be delighted to pull a good one on an entire block, town or neighborhood, or even the wacky old couple down the street who insist on test-marketing obscure brands of cakes, candies and sticky buns every year, we all should be impressed with one guy who played a trick on an entire nation 75 years ago, on Sunday, October 30, 1938.
I guess Orson Welles was kind of like the Tom Hanks or Johnny Depp of his day. He was an charismatic actor, writer, director and producer who worked in theatre, radio and film, and was probably best remembered for an iconic 1941 film classic called "Citizen Kane.."  But in my mind, at least, the coolest thing he did was when he presented "The War of the Worlds" on the popular Mercury Theatre program. The radio play was an adaptation of H.G. Well's 1898 sci-fi novel, and bore no particular resemblance to the 2005 Steven Spielberg/Tom Cruise movie extravaganza  or even the far-superior 1953 version. Instead, the 60-minute broadcast was presented as a series of simulated news bulletins telling listeners that an actual alien invasion by Martians was currently in progress.
Thing is, the nation was ripe for a good hoax. The country had been struggline through the Great Depression for nearly a decade, while over in Europe, a man named Hitler was beginning to make his evil intentions clear. There were no commercial breaks, which added to the program's realism.
The play began when a program of dance music was interrupted by a faked "special bulletin" announcing that a professor at the Mount Jennings Observatory in Chicago reported seeing explosions on Mars. The dance music resumed until it was interrupted again, this time by a news update in the form of an interview with an astronomer, Professor Richard Pierson at the Princeton Observatory in Princeton, New Jersey.  Soon, another news bulletin announced, "It is reported that at 8:50 p.m. a huge, flaming object, believed to be a meteorite, fell on a farm in the neighborhood of Grovers Mill, New Jersey, twenty-two miles from Trenton." The program went on to describe a full-scale invasion by Martians.
A lot of people fell for it, despite the fact that all you would have had to do to check it out was switch stations. After all, it stands to reason that if Martians had really invaded the earth, it would have gotten coverage all over the radio band.
That's what my dad did.
But not Uncle Bob.
Uncle Bob was one of those guys you kind of thought about when someone repeated that old adage: "You can pick your friends, but you can't pick your relatives."
Actually, he wasn't really that bad, and we all loved him. But he had one rather off-putting trait:
He knew absolutely everything about everything.
Or at least that's what he thought, and he had absolutely no problem expressing his views--long and loudly--on any topic, whether it be political, religious, cultural or current events.
This, of course, made him the polar opposite of my dad, who, besides actually knowing a little about a few things, was quiet, unassuming and in no way determined to make anyone hear and agree with his thoughts and opinions.
So, while dad checked the other stations, then sat back to enjoy the program, Uncle Bob bought it hook, line and sinker. Apparently, he set about to single-handedly organize and lead Galva's first-line defense against the oncoming Martian hoards.
I never got all the had-to-be-hilarious details, because dad was never unkind enough to share them.  But when I'd ask about that long-ago Halloween happening, I'd always ask if it was true what I had heard about Uncle Bob that night.
"Uncle Bob?" he'd say. And then he'd stop and smile a small, quiet, private kind of smile.
"Yep," he'd say. "Good old Uncle Bob."
And he'd smile that quiet smile again.


At least the doctor is good looking.
After a few weeks of tests, scans, pokes and prods, they tell me I have cancer again. Not the same kind as before. In fact, they haven't actually figured out the source of it, but it has spread here and there and needs to be attended to. So I am embarking on a treatment plan, starting with chemo this week.
We are confident and hopeful, and mostly resent the interruption in our grandkid time. I feel pretty good, though it's in my spine and hurts sometimes. Luckily, modern medicine mostly takes care of that.  Plus, my Chicago oncologist is drop dead (oops, bad choice of words, I know) gorgeous and I'm pretty sure if I lose any more weight, my wife is going to let me have doughnuts whenever I want.
So things could be worse.
And anyway, here's one thing I know for sure:
God is good. All the time.

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