When I Was

by Ted King

(Excerpts from Ted King’s book the Diswasher, the dancer, and the Subatomic Particle.)

...a Bodyguard for Lawrence Welk

When I was a bodyguard for Lawrence Welk, I was living in the fast lane.

Maybe some people don’t know this, but after he stopped touring and quit his TV show, Lawrence Welk opened a club on the strip. The Bubble Club. It was a very hip place. Frank, Dino, Elvis, Wayne. All those guys hung out there. That’s when I went to work for him as part of his security personnel.

My job was whenever Mr. Welk was in the club, I should see to his personal comfort and privacy. Keep between him and the groupies, paparazzi, and drunks, and also handle any small disturbances in the club. Make sure the customers were having a good time. As far as his personal safety went, Mr. Welk didn’t need much help. He was a very intimidating indi­vidual, and most times his rep preceded him such that the bad guys knew this was not the place to make trouble. When there was trouble and we couldn’t handle it, he knew how to quiet things down pretty quick.

One time Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones came in with their whole entourage. They were acting up pretty bad, like they owned the place. A lot of our regulars were getting pretty pissed. A couple other guards and I tried to talk them down, but they just flipped us off. Finally Mr. Welk comes out, walks straight up to Mick Jagger, puts out his hand and says, “Hey, Mick, welcome to my club.” Mick shakes his hand and Mr. Welk starts squeezing. Like a vice. Jagger’s eyes grow to the size of turnips. He can’t get his hand free. He starts winc­ing, then whimpering. He’s turning all different colors. The place goes totally quiet. This goes on for about a whole min­ute, then Mr. Welk lets go of Mick Jagger’s hand and says “Have a good time, boys. Just remember to behave yourselves.” All you could hear then was a bunch of Limeys mumbling “Yes, sir, Mr. Welk.”

So, like I said, Mr. Welk didn’t really need any help with physical confrontations. We were there mostly to see to his comfort and protect his privacy.

When the Lennon Sisters were there, for example, it was strictly “Do Not Disturb” and “No Questions Asked.” They’d be back in his private suite partying for days sometimes. That man could outparty any of us, and he was twice our age.

It was a good job. I learned a lot, picked up some good cash, and met some cool and famous people. They don’t make ’em like Mr. Lawrence Welk anymore.

...a Ballerina

When I was a ballerina, life was filled with beauty. Mythi­cal, mystical beauty. Not my own personal beauty. I wasn’t much concerned about that. My vanity was about the beauty of the dance.

It was a time of simplicity, elegance, and hard work. I worked constantly toward perfect expression of movement. I made great demands of my body and in return my body did what I asked.

When I danced people responded with love and awe. Not awe of me personally, at least I hope not, but awe for the expression of beauty for which I was the vehicle. I was doing what the Muse demanded of me. I never judged the value of my dancing. I didn’t worry about whether or not I was contribut­ing to society, doing something practical, or just wasting everyone’s time and being a prima donna.

I danced. I worked at dancing and I danced. And it was the personification of beauty. That’s what I was after. What I was born to do. I was a vehicle for conversation with the Goddess. I carried the muse for everyone to see.

I didn’t spend much time in the world of intellect. I wasn’t stupid, I just wasn’t very interested.

I paid little attention to politics, religion, pop stars, and such. Conversations about these things were boring to me because it was not my world. My world was dance. I danced. I was touched by the Divine and I was blessed. Dancing was a good life.

...a Gandy Dancer

When I was a gandy dancer, I had muscles out to here. Muscles on my muscles. Big arms, strong back, powerful legs—all a reward of hard physical labor. For those of you who don’t know the term, a gandy dancer is a guy who builds rail­road tracks. So named because in the old days the shovels they used were made by the Gandy Company. We worked with shovels, spike mauls, six-foot-long iron bars, and fifty-pound jacks. We laid the ties, laid and spiked the rails, and then lifted each section with those jacks and bars and shoveled rocks under it until it was secure, level, and at the proper grade.

Eight hours a day. Rain, heat, sleet, wind, cold, snow. Eight hours a day, forty hours a week, and on call for emer­gency repairs.

We all did our share of the different jobs. Shoveling, spik­ing, etc. But I also had a bit of a specialty. I was the “tie guy.” A truck would come along piled dangerously high with creosote-laden railroad ties. Some fool would have to climb up there and, using a tool called a pickeroo, slide the ties off the back as the truck crept along. Then guys on the ground would pick the ties up using these big tongs and move them into place.

When I did the job, I would use the pickeroo to grab the edge of the tie then flip the tie sideways, so it landed in almost perfect position, and the guys on the ground only had to tweak it into place. It saved them from some really backbreaking labor, which they appreciated, and the foreman liked that it saved time. So, I became the official “tie guy.” Why no one else ever figured out that throwing trick I’ll never know, but hey, take your status where you can get it, right?

The time on that job was a good maturation process for me. It was for all the young laborers, I suppose. We were strong and tough and boisterous, but friendly and respectful with each other. We learned that hard work was rewarded with healthy bodies and good money. After work we’d usually stop off somewhere for a burger, a game of pool, and way too many beers. We had money, muscles, confidence, and youth. In short, we had everything.

After my third or fourth year, work slowed down a bit and that winter there was a lay off. When spring came I didn’t go back. A lot of the guys did and they soon worked their way off the tracks into some cushy railroad job with job security and benefits. But I’d had my fill of the dirt, the wind, the creosote, and the damn shovels. I decided to become a scientist.

...a Scientist

When I was a scientist, I lived in a world of immense beauty.

You’ve heard this before, haven’t you? When I was a balle­rina my life was about beauty as well. It was the same beauty. Beauty is beauty. Where we find it or see it may vary, but the result is the same.

As a scientist, I found my beauty in the elegance of the “How.” The how of the great system we call the universe and all that it contains and implies.

My special area of study was the fourth law of thermody­namics, also called zeroth. Zeroth attempts to explain how or why life exists. You see, entropy, the second law, demands that order tends to disorder. Then why not constant decay and dis­integration? Why order? Why life? Well, since we know through experience and observation that order and life do exist, zeroth, the theory of the nature of closed systems, seeks to explain this apparent contradiction.

It starts to get a bit complicated for the layman after this, so I’ll dispense with further banter on the specifics. The important point is the intellectual and, in my experience, the spiritual, and even erotic mysteries of nature that engulfed me.

Like the ballerina, I was regarded by many as an odd sort of duck. She with her leaps and spins and pointing toes, me with my lab coat and microscope, tucked safely away in some sterile lab, isolated from the “real world” and speaking in a lan­guage that virtually no one could understand. To Joe Blow Cit­izen I’m sure what I was doing looked like the work of a psycho, or maybe even Satan.

But let me ask you this: How do you like your cell phone? Your iPad? That HDTV? You like that Internet thing? You want a trip to the moon? My friends and I could probably arrange it. The Ivory Tower my colleagues and I lived in made all this technology possible.

Which leads me to the downside. All physicists are by nature philosophers, and there was one great problem with my profession that I could never quite resolve.

Our work was pure. Knowledge for the sake of knowl­edge. But the funding for the work came from people with entirely different motives. To them my purpose was to facili­tate the production of goods for the marketplace. Questions of ethics, harm or benefit, social and health implications were left to social philosophers and poets. And social philosophers and poets were not in the loop. Scientists, technicians, and market­ers were in the loop. It was a closed system that had the ulti­mate goal of profit, regardless of societal well-being.

Eventually the moral dilemma became more than I could bear. I turned my back on that life of infinite beauty to seek another one.

I decided to become a philosopher.

...a Philosopher

When I was a philosopher, my life was bathed in profun­dity and the pursuit of truth. The great mysteries of life could hide from me for only so long. I knew that eventually I would unravel their secrets. I lived for knowledge and learning.

Also, it didn’t hurt that financial success came pretty easy. Philosophy was a hot occupation at that time. Jobs were plenti­ful and my skills were in great demand. I took a prestigious position with IPP, International Philosophy Products.

My specialty was the nature of paradox and I soon became head of the Department of Paradoxical Planning. I wrote a book, True or False–NOT! which received critical acclaim and became a worldwide best seller. Suddenly I was an interna­tional celebrity. Dinner with the president, tea with the pope, parties with the big math stars and all the philo groupies I could handle.

When IPP heard rumors that I was on the president’s short list of nominees for philosophy czar, they were afraid of losing me so they gave me the position of CPO, chief philo­sophical officer. Under my guidance the company stock soared. Books and papers were published, great debates were held, new concepts were flying in faster than we could analyze them. It was high times in the philo biz.

But from my perch I could see there was a problem. A big problem and, for the first time in my life, one I didn’t know how to solve. We were headed for a philo bubble.

I’d hear talk of it in the pubs and see it on the street cor­ners. Creeping empiricism. Skepticism. Hedonism. I knew where it was all leading. Materialism. Unbridled materialism. People didn’t want thought anymore. They wanted things.

I did what I could. The company diversified, trying to feed the fickle public what they wanted. We opened offices that catered to current popular branches of thought. Chaos theory, Newtonian physics, creationism, the incredible oneness of it all, the pleasure principle, the laws of attraction. You get the picture. We tried it all. But it was too late. The wheels of his­tory were turning and we were going the way of the dinosaurs. Following the advice of the sage Polonius, “To thine own self be true,” I decided the best course for me was to grab my golden parachute and bail.

And that was that.

It’s a different world now. Is that good or bad? Well, you can find my thoughts on that in my new book, For Better or Worse–NOT!

Oh well, I take the philosoph­ical approach to the situation. Things change. The pendulum swings. Today people want flat-screen TVs. Tomorrow they’ll hunger for knowledge.

My career advice to young people is to start right now read­ing your Aristotle and don’t stop till you’ve gone through Zeno.

...an Abject Failure

When I was an abject failure, I was at a loss as to what had happened to me.

I tried. I really tried. But somehow things never worked according to plan.

Two things finally convinced me that I was indeed an abject failure. First, I felt like one. Nothing worked. I couldn’t keep a relationship. Couldn’t hold a job. I had none of the signs of success that people around me had. And second, and even more convincing, people treated me like one. They didn’t ask my opinion. They didn’t invite me in on their projects. Never seemed to take me seriously.

I tried to put up a good front. Stiff upper lip, it’ll get bet­ter, and all that. But I just couldn’t seem to catch a break. Then I heard it. I actually overheard someone say it. “He’s an abject failure.” And the others around him seemed to agree.

All this was bad enough, but now I had a whole new prob­lem. I didn’t know what “abject” meant.

I wasn’t about to ask anybody. No way. That’d just be set­ting myself up for more ridicule. I had a dictionary, but I never quite got to taking it out and looking the word up.

Truth was, I didn’t want to know. I was more comfortable with the vagueness, the uncertainty. Not knowing left me some small shred of hope. Maybe “abject” isn’t such a bad thing. Maybe it means something like temporary. Or almost. Or ironic. Or talented.

I clung to the belief that “abject” modified “failure” in a positive way. Like “He’s a failure, but at least he’s an abject fail­ure.” Or “He fails at everything, but he fails abjectly, so it’s actually cool.” I started using abject in sentences, imbuing it with meanings that pleased me. “The Vikes abjectly trounced the Packers.” “In an abject way, this steak is delicious.” “Abjectly interesting movie.”

It may seem strange to you that I was so preoccupied with a silly word. Afraid of it, as it were. But I was sure most people didn’t really know what abject meant any more than I did, and by slowly changing the emotional content of the word I was changing people’s perception of me. And my own perception of me.

And it worked. Not in this suddenly way, but slowly. Slowly things started to change for the better. People started to take me more seriously, invite me to things, ask my opinion, laugh at my jokes.

I started spicing up my speech with other words I liked. “Man, this beer is prodigious.” “The larynx is a type of African antelope.” “Scruples are Bulgarian dollars.” I gained a reputa­tion as an erudite man and an interesting conversationalist. I got a job as a speech writer for the Governor of Alaska. I was on my way, fitting in and doing okay. I became, by my stan­dards at least, a success.

Saved by a word. Saved by a word that many used but few understood. I never did get out the Webster’s and look it up. Things are fine the way they are now. No sense opening a new can of worms.