Sweeping Up The Editing Room

Oct 12, 2017   //   by bwilber   //   Bob's Blog  //  Add a Comment

Yet another Thursday Blog Day is upon us, and I’ve got a good idea for this one. I have no race from the prior weekend to report on, and I leave tomorrow for Dallas, so there’s no “breaking news” to lead off with. Instead, a few details about life and plans, and then I’ll finish the majority of this blog with some good stories that almost made the book. As Secret Agent Maxwell Smart would say, they missed it by “THAT much.”

In terms of travel, I don’t fly to Dallas until tomorrow afternoon, arriving at DFW close to 6:00 p.m. if the flight is on-time. And then I won’t be leaving DFW until Saturday morning. Because I had a great thought. The hotel rates down near Ennis and Waxahachie go up a great deal during the race weekend, and some of those roadside motels are not exactly The Ritz, although most of them are nice enough. Realizing I didn’t necessarily need to stay down there, since I’m only going to the track on Saturday, I booked a room at the DFW Hyatt, right in the middle of the airport, for Friday and Saturday nights. I’ll get my bag, ride out to the rental car center, get my car, and then drive back into the airport to the Hyatt. Then down to Ennis for the day on Saturday. When I return that evening, I’ll turn the car in and take the shuttle back up to the airport and the hotel. Sunday morning, I can walk to my flight. Fingers crossed this plan comes together seamlessly.

In terms of overall health, I can present the following to you. This head and chest thing is everywhere, so it’s hard to not be around people who have it. For me, it came on very quickly. I was fine when I went to bed on Friday night in St. Louis, then woke up with that nasty sore throat on Saturday. By Sunday, I was feeling awful. Monday was my “lost day” where all I did was rest and blow my nose a lot. By Tuesday, I was on the upswing and thinking “This wasn’t so bad, I’ll be all good in 24 more hours.” ┬áNot so fast, Mr. Wilber.

Here we are the next Thursday, a full nine days after I thought it would be all gone in 24 hours, and it’s still hanging on. I feel OK, in general, but the nose, sinus, and chest stuff is scratching and clawing in an effort to, potentially, never leave my body. Barbara is experiencing the same slow retreat, and she heard from her brother Tim, in Pittsburgh, that he’s entering his third week of this crud. It’s just an inconvenience now, but it’s a nagging inconvenience. We both feel well enough to go on walks, go to the gym, and eat nice meals (when it’s at its worst you have no tastebuds and hence no appetite) but we’re still going through Kleenex at an astonishing rate. I find the Neti Pot is the best approach to keeping my sinuses clear. That thing is magic. It’s gross, at first, but I’ve gotten used to it and it clears me right up.

So there. I feel fine in general, but I’m still coughing and sneezing and blowing my nose a lot. It’s great fun.

Now, on to more stories that were left on the editing room floor. This first one is more about a guy than a specific story. The guy is Bob Mitchell, and he is in the book because I did recount the big “trip around America” we did after our senior year at St. Louis U. High, in my powder-blue VW Beetle.

Section 1: Mitch

Mitch and I were good friends throughout much of high school. We met as freshmen, and by sophomore year we were pretty much best buddies at SLUH. Even then, before we had driver’s licenses, we managed to get driven to a number of concerts or special events together, seeing many of our favorite bands of the time. I remember going down to Kiel Auditorium in downtown St. Louis, to see the Dutch band Focus. Remember them? They had a big hit with a gimmicky song called “Hocus Pocus” and the gimmick was the fact keyboardist and “vocalist” Thijs van Leer really didn’t sing, so on “Hocus Pocus” he yodeled.

That song was enough of a hook to persuade Mitch and me to both buy the album (“Moving Waves”) and that’s when we discovered Side 2. It was a side-long epic jam called “Eruption” and it was incredible. I remember Mitch excitedly telling me, “You’ve got to listen to Side 2. Over and over again. It’s unbelievable!” It was the sort of thing that reinforced what Yes was already telling us; that there was a lot more to rock music than the hits.

On their next album, creatively entitled “Focus 3” I discovered a song called “Sylvia” which also showed me how creative rock music could be. The structure and arrangement of the song begged for vocals, but since van Leer had no hope of singing those vocals, guitarist Jan Akkerman used his enormous talent to make his guitar, in effect, sing the song. Amazing stuff, and it was cool that Mitch and I were experiencing it all at the same time. The show at Kiel Auditorium was mind blowing and eye opening, although we were part of a crowd that had to number no more than 2,000 people in the 10,000 seat arena.

Another great tradition for Mitch and me was Wiffle Ball. We played it in the driveway at my home, on Woodleaf Court, and our games were nearly endless and very competitive. Home plate was right in front of the garage, although at the time we had converted the garage to a family room with big windows and a sliding glass door. The pitcher threw from right next to where the basketball goal was. The rules were as follows. There were no walks or called strikes (who would be the umpire?), but three swinging strikes or fouls and you’re out. Any ground ball fielded cleanly by the pitcher was an out. Any fly ball or pop-up caught was an out. With an imaginary runner on base, any line drive caught by the pitcher was a double-play. Any batted balls that left the driveway surface before passing the pitcher, were considered foul balls. Ground balls past the pitcher were singles. Over the years, we moved the boundaries for what constituted a double, triple, or home run until, at the end of high school, a home-run had to clear the midpoint of the street. That was quite a wallop with a plastic Wiffle Ball. Then there was The Green Monster.

Batter by the house. Pitcher mid-driveway. Home run, half-way across the street. Looks like The Monster taketh away even more these days… (Click to enlarge and throw a pitch)

A huge oak tree stood near the end of the driveway, on the right side of it if you were looking at the house from the street (the left side of the drive looking at it from home plate) and it’s still there today. Actually, here it is. I just discovered that Bing.com maps now have street-side views! The oak tree’s massive branches extended out over the drive, almost halfway across the asphalt, and it came into play a lot. Any ball hit into the tree that was caught before it hit the ground was an out. Sometimes, we’d crush a ball that was easily going to be a home-run, but the tree would get in the way. Other times, we’d hit little bloop pop-ups, but a branch would deflect the ball and cause the pitcher to miss it. Our motto was, “The Monster giveth, and the Monster taketh away” and it did just that. Oh, and my sidearm slider was unhittable.

Section 2: Pickfair

I recounted in “Bats, Balls, & Burnouts” how, when I worked for my brother at DelWilber+Associates, we put together a big sponsorship for M&M Mars and their 3 Musketeers brand, with the Major Indoor Soccer League, and we took the 3 Musketeers guys out to L.A. for the MISL All-Star Game at The Forum. What I didn’t have room for, in the editing process, was the tale of our night at a legendary Beverly Hills home, as part of the festivities.

The Los Angeles Lakers of the NBA were owned by Dr. Jerry Buss. He also owned the L.A. Lazers, of the MISL, and they would be hosting the All-Star Game at The Forum. On the night before the game, team owners, players, officials, and our small contingent were all invited to the fine doctor’s home. He did not live in a normal kind of place. He lived at a place called Pickfair.

As seen in 1937. Imagine us in a big white tent on the lawn…

In the early part of the 20th century, movies were silent. That didn’t keep the movie stars of the day from being very famous, though, and very rich. Around 1919, movie star Douglas Fairbanks bought a hunting lodge atop a hill above Hollywood and over the course of five years he turned it into a 25-room mansion. He’d bought it for his equally famous silent-movie actress wife, Mary Pickford. He named it Pickfair. It was one of the most well-known Beverly Hills homes for many decades. Mary Pickford died in 1979, and the house sat vacant until Buss bought it a year or two later.

Our reception and party were in a big tent on the lawn, but the Buss family opened the home and allowed us to walk through as we wanted. It was pretty surreal, actually. I’d never been in a movie star’s home, and have not been in one since. Sadly, as a footnote, Buss sold Pickfair to actress Pia Zadora who, along with her husband, stated it would be renovated and brought back to all its glory. Instead, they demolished it and built a new mansion. Zadora later admitted she regretted that, but she felt the house was clearly haunted and she couldn’t live in it. I’m glad I had the chance to be there, with a bunch of indoor soccer folks and a few B-List movie and TV people.

Section 3 – The Wizard of Oz

Today’s final section is about one of the overall stars of the book, and it’s a story that was in the manuscript right up until the final edits. It’s about my dear friend, former teammate and roommate, James “Oscar” Noffke.

Oscar was then, and still is now, one of the funniest people I’ve ever known, and not in a sort of stand-up “tell jokes and make people laugh” sort of way. He’s just extraordinarily witty and 100% sarcastic. We laughed a lot then, and we laugh a lot now when we do our “Wilb, Lance, Oscar, and Radar” reunions each summer.

One of the most wonderful things about Oscar was his deep love for the movie “The Wizard of Oz.” He seemed to know every single line in the movie, from start to finish. All of us on the SIUE baseball team were, of course, completely familiar with the film, and we liked it a lot. Oscar loved it.

On at least a couple of occasions, the movie would run on network TV while we happened to be on a baseball road trip. Picture 12 to 15 SIUE Cougar baseball players, all in their 20s, crammed into one motel room watching Dorothy, Toto, and the Wicked Witch, while Oscar accompanied the show by reciting every line. It was the greatest thing I could imagine. “She is not just merely dead, she is most sincerely dead!” We’d spend the rest of the road trip, in the dugout and on the bus, reciting lines to each other and laughing uncontrollably.

So that’s about it for this week. No real photos today, just the two screen grabs, because there really aren’t any that would fit the storyline. I’ll make it up to you next week, with plenty of stories and pics about the Dallas race. Can’t wait to get down there.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t exercise my right to shamelessly self-promote. “Bats, Balls, & Burnouts” amazingly continues to sell at a steady clip, so don’t be afraid to recommend it to a friend. Or if, heaven forbid, you haven’t bought it yet yourself, now is a great time. Winter is coming, and you’ll need a solid book by the fire. Don’t take my word for it, we’re up to 22 Amazon reviews now and they continue to all be 5-Stars.


And, of course, if you read this blog installment and thought it was groovy, or cool, or rad, or the single greatest piece of writing you’ve ever laid eyes on, please hit the “Like” button at the top. Even if your name is Bob Mitchell.

Bob Wilber, at your service and remember, “Orders are, nobody can see the Great Oz. Not nobody, not no how!”

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