For nine of Bay Weekly’s 25 years, from 2003 until 2012, Dick Wilson had local thespians praying for his approval. Theater-going readers trusted him as their judge. His applause helped fill houses, and his boos (and rare hisses) not only hurt egos but also dampened sales.
Dick had far more good than bad to say about theater. Dick was smart, quick, observant and droll, and he could spot a faker a mile away. An avid theater- and movie-goer as well as reader, he loved a good story — and he knew a good one when he saw it. But he was tender hearted and careful of people — in his reviews and in life.
“All who knew Dick were touched by his gentle manner and kind ways,” his wife Ellie Wilson wrote in his obituary. Those are true words.
In retiring as our play reviewer, Dick used the excuse of deafness. That, too, was true, but perhaps not relevant. He’d been hard of hearing most of his life, and it had seldom stood in his way. (You’ll read about that in his words below — if you can see though tears of laughter to read).
Restlessness — and Ellie — had brought Dick to Bay Weekly. Back in 2002, we had advertised for proofreaders. Ellie had seen the ad and, eager to get her recently retired husband out of the house, sent him to us.
Dick had never spent much time on the printed page except as a reader, but he had better qualifications for the job: He’d been an air traffic controller. I figured that a man who could keep planes from collision could keep words in good order, too, as well as bear the stress of newspaper deadlines.
For nine years, all those mistakes you didn’t see were caught by Dick. He was especially good at making sure a writer had used the right word — no hare for hair, for example — and that typists had struck true keys — avoiding, for example, the awkward mistyping of pubic for public.
For all Dick’s devotion, we were used to his long absences to pursue his other loves. He was going to college when he was with us, finishing his Bachelor’s Degree at the University of Maryland at the age of 72.
A SCUBA diver for 50 years, Dick converted Ellie to the passion, and they’d be off diving for weeks at a time.
He was 80 before a doctor took away his tanks.
That’s when Bay Weekly lost Dick Wilson.
He left us for bridge. Season in and season out, by the hour, day and week he played, achieving the rank of Advanced NABC Master.
Miss him though we did, we couldn’t be very jealous, for he loved it so.
Only now are we bereft, when he has slipped out of our ken into the great unknown where, I can only hope, all that was Dick Wilson engages all that is, was and ever will be.
What’s That You Said?
by Dick Wilson
I turned on the TV last month, and there was the weatherman telling us what kind of weather we could expect. It happened, he said, that we were going to have some “friggin’ rain.”
I thought that maybe the TV stations were getting a bit too informal in their presentations. Maybe the executives had decided to get down to street level so that we would feel the weatherman was one of us.
Or maybe this guy doing the reporting was just fed up with his job, and this was his way of sticking it to the man.
I entertained such thoughts, but I’m used to this kind of thing.
Where others might be taken aback by such language, I take no umbrage. Instead, I wonder what the guy really said.
This time, I finally figured out that he was forecasting freezing, as opposed to friggin’ rain.
Because I wear two hearing aids, I’m accustomed to hearing strange things. In my world, a lot of people are wandering around muttering stuff that, at best, makes no sense at all. At worst, the things I hear show that society is plummeting into a steep downward spiral.
For example, I overheard two toddlers in what seemed to be a serious discussion. One said he liked ‘Wreck.’ The other, his voice rising, said he liked ‘Bud Light’ better than Wreck. The one who liked Bud Light got my attention. I didn’t know what Wreck was in this context, but I’d heard of Bud Light. Where were these kids’ parents?
In fact, the kids were debating the relative virtues of a couple of kids’ movies: Shrek and A Bug’s Life. After my initial outrage had subsided, I determined, again, that I should not jump to conclusions (or “bump in confusion,” as I once overheard.)
For some reason, the word duck seems to figure prominently in my misunderstandings, as, for example, when I overheard an acquaintance declare that he was allergic to “duck bites.” Yeah, me too; I haven’t yet been bitten, but I can imagine how someone who is duck-bitten would have a pretty severe reaction. Of course, if you’re only allergic to dust mites, all you get is a few sneezes.
I’ve had some other (printable) duck-misunderstandings that don’t even sound like duck, such as when I heard a poker player declare that all he wanted was a “duck fast.” Thinking that a duck fast might be some new kind of poker hand, perhaps ranking between a straight and a flush, I paid close attention. When he won with two pair, I asked another player what it was that he had said. “He said he wanted ‘another chance’.” So much for duck fast.
A friend invited me to his house for dinner once, with the enticement of duck soup as the main course. I hesitantly accepted the invitation, thinking that people have curious tastes when they can look forward to a main course of duck soup, a dish I had heard of only in the context of an old Marx Brothers movie title and which I had, in any case, never tasted. You’ve probably already guessed: We had stuffed shells, not duck soup, much to my gustatory delight.
My earliest recollection of a misunderstanding alerted me to the danger: As a young man, I worked part-time in a gasoline service station. I served customers, fixed tires and did general light automotive stuff like oil changes.
It was noisy in the work bay, a lot of clanking and banging, when a middle-aged woman got out of her car, leaving the door open, and approached the open bay.
Over the din, I heard her ask for a “whisk broom.” Apparently, she wanted to sweep something out of her car. Ever helpful, I replied that she should just “back up over here and I’ll blow it out with the air hose.”
Her jaw dropped; her face went pale, her mouth sort of worked for a minute or two, her eyes glazed over. She turned without answering and stomped back to her car, got in, slammed the door and left the premises. I figured it out later: She was looking for a rest room, not a whisk broom.
I don’t know if the woman ever recovered from the trauma of this episode, but it was beneficial for me. I’m wiser for the experience. It’s been a valuable lesson that has served me well over the years.
Whenever anyone says anything to me, my answer is “Huh?”
Dick wrote this for Bay Weekly’s April 13, 2006 edition.