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After ‘Dear John,’ a Loving Expletive

Compiled by John Dreyfuss

It was love at first sight for a skinny, 25-year-old book salesman named Mickey Houghton when he sighted Juliette Thompson, a comely, 20-year-old musician.

That was 48 years ago, in a hotel where both of them lived in Galveston, Te Mickey and Juliette were an item, more or less, for four years. Then came World War II, duty in Europe for Mickey, and a “Dear John” letter from Juliette.

The war ended and Staff Sgt. Houghton came home. Juliette was married. “I didn’t want to disturb her world,” he said the other day. “So I just disappeared.”

Mickey married and divorced, but Juliette “never left my mind at any time.

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Meanwhile, Juliette became a widow. And she thought about Mickey. Sitting at home in Ocean Springs, Miss., she mulled over her distant past and her immediate future, which included plans for a trip. “I was coming out West just for the heck of it, so I thought to myself, ‘Dammit, where is Mickey Houghton.’ I said ‘dammit’ out loud; I remember vividly.”

Juliette got on the phone and started calling information in major cities. She found Mickey in Los Angeles.

That was in March. They were married in April.

For Mickey, “It is just like we’d never been apart.” “It is,” Juliette said, “truly a love story with a happy ending.”

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Mad About Memos

Daniel C. Jones, a 40-year-old civil servant from Sonoma, had seen one memo too many. “I live with memorandums,” he said. “I was having nightmares about memorandums. One day I woke up screaming and said, ‘I can’t take it anymore.’ ” It was, he said, “time to strike back.”

Jones hit upon an idea: “There’s a liars’ club,” he reasoned, “and there’s a procrastinators’ club and there’s a dull men’s club. Why not a memo club?”

The Memorandum Club was born. Now, six months later, Jones reports a mushrooming membership--"By golly, I think we’re up to 13"--including an incurable memo writer from Van Nuys.

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Jones said a $6 membership fee entitles memo writers to a parchment certificate of special proficiency and puts them in the running for the Memorandum Writer of the Year Award, for which Jones hopes to offer a very modest cash prize. Criteria for the winning memo include that it “take 10 minutes to read and then you don’t know what you’ve read.” The writer may specify a category, such as most wordy, most confusing, most jargon, most pointless, biggest cop-out or worst timed.

Perpetrators of bureaucratic gibberish may send a memo to the Memorandum Club, P.O. Box 979, Eldridge, Calif. 95431.

Unblocking Orpheus

Ye writers and poets, all hark!

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Your art is becoming a lark .

Now those who can’t rhyme,

Or are blocked for a time,

At last can come out of the dark.

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Note: The above verse was penned with incredible speed and without the aid of a computer, which may account for its quality.

Take heart, writers and poets. A state university professor says he has discovered the cure to writers’ block, and a Northern California poet has written a computer program to make bards of one and all.

Prof. Russell Travis, who toils in the sociology department at Cal State Bakersfield, was trying to write a paper. But he was stymied by writers’ block.

“I was blocking, and I was meditating on the block, and a picture of a block came into my head,” he said.

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One block led to another, and today Travis is selling Writers’ Blocks: nicely crafted cubes of walnut (or laminated oak and walnut, if you want the deluxe deblocker), 2 5/8 inches on a beveled edge, engraved with the words “Writers Block.” Where’s the apostrophe? Well, nobody said an unblocked writer can punctuate.

In any event, Travis swears the hunk of wood works. “It can be described,” he said, “as a refreshing spoof with endless possibilities for satire, but it is also a formidable writer’s tool to add to one’s arsenal.”

When it comes to building literary arsenals, poets may be winning the arms race, thanks to Michael Newman of Woodside.

Newman, who sends out literature describing himself as “the microcomputer’s only dedicated world-class poet,” soon will be marketing a floppy disk called Orpheus. “The computer’s powers offer the prospective poet a halfway house to creativity,” announces Newman’s literature.

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Orpheus provides exemplary poems, a poetry spread sheet “on which any kind of poetic form can be custom tailored,” a “Prosodic Text Editor, which utilizes the computer’s counting power to count all the things that poets measure. . . , " a Poetry Processor that employs color to indicate which lines rhyme, and sundry other pointers toward poetic success.

All this high-tech creativity can change your life, according to a proposal mailed by Newman. “People have always had problems,” it says, “and poetry writing and reading have always made people feel better. This can be explained scientifically, in terms of endorphins and other brain reward chemicals that poetry delivers to the brain; i.e., the reason poets have always been willing to suffer for their art is that it has the power of a drug. (Orpheus) takes the suffering out of poetic technique acquisition. The poetry produced by the user will take the sting out of life.”

Of course, if Orpheus doesn’t instantly transform you into a poet laureate, you can always put a Writers’ Block on top of your computer.

Clowning for Safety

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Mike Lewis is a clown with a message. The message at this time of year is “Beware of fireworks.”

Lewis, an 18-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Fire Department, doffs his working uniform to dress up in a baggy fire chief’s suit, oversized shoes, a bright red wig and a bright red nose “in order to be more approachable to kids.”

He figures the circus get-up will make the messenger less intimidating when the messages sound like this:

“One of the dangers of fireworks is losing fingers or eyes.”

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“Firemen see a lot of bad burns from sparklers when children grab the hot metal.”

“There’s been a lot of fire damage from bottle rockets.”

“Fireworks are definitely illegal in Los Angeles County.”

The 46-year-old fireman said that since he’s taken to clowning to warn children about the hazards of fire and fireworks, he’s spent about 400 hours of free time a year in his baggy suit speaking to tens of thousands of kids in schools, on television shows and through public service announcements.

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“I get a lot of satisfaction from what I do,” Lewis said. “And I think it saves some lives.”


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