The Phillip Long Story: The Graduate was Hot! KOMA was King!

The Graduate was Hot – KOMA was King!

One more class to go on a Wednesday afternoon at Pampa High School in February 1968. I had a secret trip planned for the night, but really didn’t want to go it alone.

I’m standing by my locker when Phillip Long walks by. Phillip and I were friends, but in the pecking order of school cool Phillip was arguably in the top 10 and I wasn’t even in the top 10% . . . so I was a little intimidated by Phillip. I tried to never let it show.

“Hey Long,” I got his attention. “Wanna take a road trip tonight to Oklahoma City? We will be back in time for classes in the morning.

“What for?” he quizzed.

The Graduate” I explained “is showing at a theater there. Plus I talked last night to the midnight DJ at KOMA and he told me we could come out and he would show us the station.”

He responded with a line I became very fond of hearing from Phillip.

“Webster, You’re crazy!”

Arriving at Lloyd Center in Oklahoma City a little after nine there were tickets available for the late showing of “The Graduate”. For two high school juniors from small town Pampa, TX the seduction of Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) by Mrs. Robinson (Ann Bancroft) was nothing less than the hottest thing we had ever seen. Intertwined with songs by Simon and Garfunkel like Scarborough Affair and the ever present Sound of Silence was the constant “plastic” conflict of the forces between two generations and the values (or lack of) that bounce back and forth like a tetras ball.

Benjamin finally ends the affair he was seduced into, but when he starts dating Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, Elaine, he discovers Mrs.Robinson’s treachery has no limits. The affair is finally made public when Ben tells Elaine in an effort cut off Mrs.Robinson’s threat to reveal the affair herself.

Throughout the movie the Sound of Silence soundtrack haunts each pivotal scene as Benjamin, Elaine and Mrs. Robinson work their way through the tangled web they have woven. In the end Ben goes on an 1,100 mile back and forth journey to rescue Elaine from committing herself to another man her wealthy parents have intervened and set her up to marry.

In the final scene, Elaine, still in her bridal gown, and Benjamin,grubby and unshaven, flag down a passing municipal bus while laughing at their triumphant victory. They rush to the rear seat and look out the rear glass window, amidst puzzling, stern and cold looks from the other elderly passengers of another generation. The Sound of Silence is reprised. They ride in the final image staring silently ahead,uncharacteristically silent toward each other and not even looking at each other. Do they actually love or really care for each other? They are very well aware that their futures are wide-open and very uncertain.

Phillip and I left the theater and headed for KOMA. I don’t remember us talking much about what we had just seen. Perhaps we were both hearing the Sound of Silence. Perhaps we were reflecting on our first lesson in Adultery 101.

KOMA Transmitter

Studio of KOMA Radio in Moore, OK

Throughout our high school years, KOMA was our favorite radio station. We would eagerly await sunset when the mighty 1520 would come booming through with the newest hits of  the day. We would sit in our cars, turn it up at parties, or fall asleep with the radio next to our beds as we listened to Chuck Berry, the Supremes, Paul Revere and the Raiders, and the Beatles.

For me, an aspiring disk jockey, getting to go inside the studios of KOMA was a dream. The station was ten miles south of downtown. We arrived and pressed a button on the building to alert the midnight DJ we were at the front door. He soon let us in. I was totally awed . . . both by the station and the personality.

He showed us the transmitters that were putting out 50,000 watts of power (legal maximum for any AM station in US) on a clear channel that went all the way to the west coast at night. “Soldiers in Vietnam even report tuning in KOMA to give them a little feeling of being back home,” the DJ said, “when conditions are just right.”

Then we stepped into the control room. There were buttons everywhere on the control board. “Watch this,” he said as he pushed one of the buttons and the KOMA “Kissing Tone” played. I thought how somebody at Caldwell’s Drive In probably just made out and we were standing right there at control central watching it be orchestrated. Wow! KOMA was King!

Phillip and I soon headed back. It was nearing two in the morning. We had 250 miles to drive. I saw the blinking red lights of the KOMA towers in my rear view mirror as we left and said to myself  “I’m going to work there someday.”

We rolled into Pampa with an hour to spare, but wondering how we were ever going to make it through the next seven hours of classes. “Drop me off at home,” Phillip decided without much thought.”I’m cutting today.”

“Me too,” I quickly agreed.

Even though we had chosen to cut school and crash we still had pulled it off. We had completed a 500 mile road trip in sixteen hours during the school week and gotten away with it. The thrill of the adventure would remain with us for the rest of our lives.

As I dropped him off I asked, “What was the best part?”

I meant the entire trip, but he thought I was just talking about the movie and said “the part where she was naked.” He smiled a big smile.

“And you?” he asked.

“KOMA” I replied.

Phillip laughed.

“Webster, You’re crazy!”

50,000 Watt KOMA

50,000 Watt KOMA

The Phillip Long Story: Buddies Until Abandoned

  1. The Graduate was Hot! KOMA was King!  <- You are Here
  2. In the Navy – We Want You as a New Recruit
  3. Basic Training – First Abandonment
  4. To the Girl Who Loved Me
  5. A Cantina in Mexico – Second Abandonment
  6. Vanished In Tijuana – Fear and Panic
  7. Phillip Needs Help – We Can’t Tell the Truth
  8. Thanksgiving Day – A Time for Healing
  9. The Captain’s Mast of Seaman Apprentice Webster
  10. Conclusion – Too Much Living to Do

Posted in Phillip Long | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

PFC Rickey Marson Remembered by Fellow Marine

“I have your name tattooed on my arm.” – Jim O’Brien

At the corner of 23rd and Price Road in Pampa,Texas is the grave of Marine PFC Rickey Marson. A small military marker competes with thick bermuda grass to remind us a hero rests there. The dates on the sides of the dash say he died young (19) and has rested a long time (since 1968).

Rickey Marson was a party animal. After he finished basic training he came home on leave before going to Vietnam. I met up with Rickey at Caldwell’s Drive In one night and he asked me to go partying with him at the club in the basement of the downtown Pampa Hotel. I couldn’t believe they would serve alcohol to minors, but who was going to turn down a US Marine in the late sixties in Pampa? “Old enough to die . . . old enough to drink.” Right?

Well, maybe not, but he also was good friends with the female bartender. Rickey had a lot of good friends who were females. He was like a big brother looking out for his little sisters . . . and he looked out for them well.

He was proud to be a US Marine. He told me story after story of his training. He related how he was repeatedly asked “Why are you here, Private Marson?” and how he was expected to stand at attention and shout out as loud as possible “To go to Vietnam and kill Vietcong, Sir!”

Four weeks later he was killed in action.

Rifles rang out 21 times. The bugle echoed taps. An honor guard folded the flag with precision. His decorated body was lowered into the ground.

A few years later we lost the war.

They placed his name on a memorial in our nation’s capital. There, by proxy, we continue to salute him and the 58,177 others (as of 1997) whose names line those marble walls.

Caldwell’s Drive In is gone. The Pampa Hotel was closed and reopened decades later as the Schneider House providing assisted living to elderly.

Hero Marine Rickey Marson still rests.

I recently visited TheWall – USA, an online complement to The Vietnam Veterans Memorial.  I searched for Rickey Joe Marson. Amidst many messages from friends and relatives who have paid their respect over the years I found one particularly touching.

“I was there with you that day 04-07-68. I was by your side when you slipped away. I think daily of you my friend. I have your name tattooed on my arm with in memory of. I will never forget you and that day.One day we shall meet again. Semper Fi my friend.- Jim O’Brien

Hometown hero Rickey Marson from Pampa, TX rests at the corner of 23rd and Price Road. His Marine friend Jim O’Brien wears his name.

Day is gone. gone the sun.
from the lake from the hill. from the sky.
All is well. safely rest.
God is nigh.

Posted in Fallen Heros | 8 Comments

How a White Rabbit Seduced Us . . . In Technicolor

Should Alice in Wonderland Be Rated PG-13?

God put me on this earth in 1951 . . . the same year Walt Disney put Alice in Wonderland.

A few years later my parents held my hand as we ventured to the Lenora Theater in Pampa, TX to experience our first family movie.

Velvet curtains flowed from ceiling to plushly carpeted floors. I was marveled by the biggest candy shop in the whole wide world. I smelled popcorn and butter and . . . I smelled everything. It was awesome and we were still lined up outside.

Dad purchased tickets and bought Mom and me some treats. Mom told me years later he went without because we didn’t have enough money for all of us to splurge. My heart was beating in anticipation as a lot of stuff reeled by in black and white and then. . . the lights went completely out.

In Technicolor . . .

On the bank of a tranquil river a little girl grows bored listening to her sister read aloud from a history book.

She sees a white rabbit carrying a large pocket watch. She follows him and tumbles down a rabbit hole. At the bottom, she tries to follow the rabbit through a tiny door, but she is too big. “Mr Rabbit!”, she calls out.

I’m spell-bound.

Alice with bottleThe doorknob suggests she drink from a bottle marked “Drink me.”

The contents shrink her to a tiny fraction of her original size, but she can not enter because the door is locked. The key appears on a table, but she is now too small to reach it.

The doorknob directs her to a cookie marked “Eat me.”

My heart is about to explode.

The cookie makes her grow so large her head hits the ceiling. She cries and her massive tears flood the room.

The doorknob points out the “Drink me” bottle still has some fluid inside. She finishes the last drop.

She becomes so small she drops inside the bottle. In the bottle’s safety she drifts through the keyhole out to a sea made from her own tears.

This is probably the greatest experience to date of my early years on earth and I have just witnessed a little girl drink from a bottle and get small, eat a cookie and get big, drink some more and find safety in a bottle . . . then escape into a sea of her own tears that will soon become a wonderland of illusion, song and magic.

By 1966 a red-hot San Francisco group was defining the new acid rock era of music with “White Rabbit” a song written by Jefferson Airplane’s lead singer, Grace Slick.

The above video combines the music of Jefferson Airplane with the animation of Walt Disney to help demonstrate the point.

Think of the influence this talking white hare who was obsessed with time and his large ticking pocket watch had on us as children in America.  We learned we could eat and drink our way into a wonderland of illusion, song and magic from an imaginary friend who also introduced us to a deck of 52.

hookah smoking worm And last, but not least . . .

I was taught how to take a toke at a very early age by a hookah smoking worm.

. . . in Technicolor.

Posted in Things That Influence Me | 3 Comments

Born Under a Wanderin’ Star

In “Paint Your Wagon” Lee Marvin sings “I was born under a wanderin’ star” as he is leaving town. The town was destroyed when he and Clint Eastwood’s tunnel plan collapsed representing another dream “which with any luck will never come true”.

Addiction

Most of my adult life I have been zig zagging like a wanderin’ star in an infinite universe of hope and dreams. Before one dream would have time to come true I would be roaming on down the road reaching for the next.

Until recently risk was my life and somehow interwoven into every dream. I spent most of my time seeking the thrill of victory and gambling with the agony of defeat. Money games provided an easy fix for my gambling addiction.

It all began at a small home poker game in 1983. We played every week . . . “just for fun”.  When football season kicked off I decided I would start taking small wagers on game outcomes from my poker game friends . . . “just for fun”. Our poker group broke up after about a year, but I continued to take bets on sporting events.

Ten Years Later

In March 1993 what started out “just for fun” was only hours away from a surprise visit by government authorities possessing interstate gambling and  racketeering search warrants.

I received a tip via a third party the planned raid would take place the next day . . . the day of the NCAA national basketball championship game.  Ironically, the person who delivered the tip to me was a member of our original home poker game whom I hadn’t seen in a long time.

After 10 years “just for fun” had become a very profitable full time business and the NCAA Championship game was second only to the Super Bowl in sports wagering action. Shutting down would mean an end to the easy money.  I had no choice. It was time to roam.

Starting Over

When I returned the next week I was a retired bookie with no pension plan. I was very lucky to have avoided the front page of the Pampa News and embarrassing my parents and other family members . . .not to mention the possibility of spending time in a place where”roaming” would not be allowed.

I stopped gambling for six years and built a respectable health insurance business, but after a divorce, deaths of 3 family members (a daughter and both my parents), and a business failure I started roaming and found myself again playing games with money. This time it was a card game called Texas Hold’em.

Pampa High School Class of 1969 – 40 Year Reunion

I started playing “just for fun”, but stakes soon escalated to provide the needed fix for my addiction. By the time I attended our Pampa High School Class of 1969 Reunion in June 2009 I was spending 12 or more hours a day playing online as well as traveling to play in live games. Nothing else was important. My life was controlled by an addiction to taking risk.

My 40th reunion was an awesome experience. Over half of our living graduating class returned. I was forced to stop and smell the roses (actually hamburgers and steaks). Some returning classmates went all the way back to first grade. I had a shot of Patron with the girl I had my first Saturday afternoon coke date with half a century ago.  We were just kids and our grandmother’s took us to a movie.  She had forgotten about it until I reminded her.

A Classmate Passes Away

The last day of the reunion one of our classmates who was not at the reunion passed away of a heart attack. I knew him in 1983 as a man of integrity. He was a member of our original home poker game. My “just for fun” business began the night he and I made a small private bet on a televised football game. I hadn’t talked to Ronnie Parsley in over 25 years, but the memories were as vivid as if we had talked yesterday.

The timing of Ronnie’s death (the exact time as our reunion) had a stunning impact on me. I came home and emptied my online poker accounts. I sold a $2,100 seat I already owned in a scheduled live tournament for a $500 discount because I no longer wanted to play money games. It was an amazing spiritual experience that not only stopped me in my tracks, but set me moving in a new direction.

Today I am committed to creating and developing websites as places to share touching stories about people we love in common. Researching and writing content keeps my thoughts away from my addiction and at the same time helps me discover secrets I have been hiding from myself. Remembering friends I have said “goodbye forever” to like Phillip Long and Rickey Marson helps me see how very fortunate I am to have lived this long . . . all things considered. Reflecting on things that influenced us growing up helps me know now what I didn’t know then. Sometimes I write “just for fun”. (I try to be careful with that one.)

Wanderin’

Today I am roaming again.  I never know what story will weave itself onto these pages.

Three days mingling with classmates at the 40 year reunion of Pampa High School Class of 1969 was a joyful event, but stories can take a lifetime to live . . . a long time to remember . . . and sometimes a shot of Patron.

Posted in Trash | 8 Comments