Wednesday

CATCH 22?


Exactly 30 years ago this month my wife Teresa was somehow tricked into marrying  a devil-may-care slob pilot and writer of books… me. Yet, someone tried to throw a last minute monkey wrench into our turbofan. Here’s the story…

WEDDING CATCH 22




I was up in Michigan and Teresa was in Sterling VA working for Presidential Airlines just a few weeks prior to our wedding date. To tie up a few loose ends in at my parents house was my chore as all of the other pieces had already been moved toward their proper positions while the wedding date approached. Some guys think of their wedding day as “the end of their freedom” but not me. I wanted to be married to Teresa in a big way. I’d been single for three decades and as far back as high school I detested it. I like being a “couple” and I’m hard wired to be in a relationship. Teresa is the best thing that ever happened to me- a perfect fit. My only hope was that I could be good enough for her and that was the only thing that made me nervous. Now the tux’s had been fit, the invitations ordered, received, sent back, corrected and received again then sent out. The ceremony had been scheduled and people were literally flying into Daytona Beach from all over to witness us get married.

Originally, we had scheduled the wedding to be in Michigan in the summer of 1989 so that my huge extended family could all attend… but there was a problem. Teresa, who was born in Japan had very few relatives to sit on her side of the aisle… in fact she had none other than her mom and dad, because her cousin and sister were both bride’s maids. Awkward? Oh yeah.

While at an alumni event at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University we were standing with some faculty as well as the director of Alumni Relations and this problem was mentioned. It was then that Phyllis Salmons, the physics teacher whose class Teresa and I were in when we first got together, came up with a formula that solved the problem. 

Phyllis

She suggested that we move the wedding up to homecoming 1988 at the university, get married on campus and then we could have family and alumni attending- thus filling both sides of the aisle. Brilliant! Tom Arnold, who was the alumni relations director immediately chimed in saying we could hold the service in the atrium of the new administration building. Tom and I had worked closely together to further student and alumni relations. In fact, in 1987, with his help I founded the first ERAU Student/Alumni Association and Teresa was the first SAA president. 


 Student Alumni Assn. President Teresa conducting the "Day In The Life Of A Pilot" forum


So, this was great because both students, alumni, faculty and staff could all attend the wedding. Even the university’s co-founder J. Paul Riddle said he would attend. We were off and running… until that one day a few weeks before the wedding.

I was down in the basement of my parents house clearing some more of my stuff out when the phone rang. Mom answered and shouted down that the call was for me and it was Tom Arnold on the phone.

“Wes I have some bad news,” he began in a somber business-like tone, “you can’t hold the wedding in the administration building’s atrium.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“Because it’s already been reserved,” he sighed.

“For who?!” I barked

“Well, that’s the tough part. It’s been reserved for you by me so you can’t have it. You see [PERSON’S NAME CENSORED TO PROTECT THE GUILTY] is in charge of all buildings during homecoming and since we didn’t ask her for permission before booking the event, she feels we went over her head. So now she says you can’t have it because we reserved it. She’s also concerned because there is expensive artwork on display in there at the same time.”

“Does she know that many of the guests will be faculty and administration?” I asked pointlessly.

“It makes no difference, she says you can’t use it and that's it. I’m really sorry Wes, but I’ve been told that this is completely out of my hands.”

“Nice catch 22 eh?” I quipped.

“Like I said Wes, I’m really sorry, but there’s nothing I can do.” Tom sounded deeply troubled about the situation.

“Don’t worry Tom,” I assured him, “I’ll handle it.”

“Okay, you can try, but this is really final.”

“I’ll handle it Tom.”

Apparently this middle level administrator who had just decided to go on a fun little power-trip had little or no idea who she was messing with. In one of my sit-downs with President Hunt, way back in my early days as the cartoonist, he said  to me, "You have no idea how much power you have," and of course I scoffed. When he made his point clear to me, however, I was struck with a huge sense of responsibility. Being the campus cartoonist of a hugely popular strip read by pretty much everyone at the university was like walking around with a phaser in your pocket... there is a lot of power at hand, but you have to be damned careful where you point it. I once had to go through three layers of administration just to get an unofficial transcript that I needed to apply for some financial aid. Why? Because they were scared shitless that I had walked into their freaking office!! Finally I ended up talking to the director! He said that he just wanted to make sure his office wouldn't end up in next week's cartoon strip. I told him that if he simply gave me that little sheet of paper he was holding I could assure him they wouldn't... but after that circus I was tempted. Yet, in all of the years that I held the pen to the throats of the self-important little Napoleons on campus at ERAU and all of the times that I found ways both in print and behind the scenes to squash them I never did so on my own behalf. It was always for the greater good or in the defense of someone held defenseless. In the face of this bullshit game, however, I didn't hesitate to use that accumulated influence to step on the neck of a weasel for myself and perhaps for anyone else she may decide to screw with in the future.

After I hung up the phone I went and got my little black book… the one where I had my really important phone numbers. Thumbing through it I located the number for University President, General Ken Tallman. NOT his office number mind you… but the private one that would ring right at his desk. You see, I was one of the first students that General Tallman had been introduced to when he first came to ERAU. Subsequently we got to know one another on a first name basis… well that is… he called me “Wes” whenever I strolled into his office and I called him “General Tallman”… always.

General Ken Tallman... whose signature is on my diploma BTW

I remember this conversation as if it happened this morning…

“Ken Tallman,” the general answered his phone.

“Good afternoon General, it’s Wes Oleszewski.”

“Hello Wes,” he answered pleasantly, “hey, I’m sorry I won't be able to attend the wedding. They’re sending me out of town that weekend.”

“That’s okay sir. I have a bit of a problem on my hands sir.”

“What’s that?”

“Well sir CENSORED says that we cannot use the administration building’s atrium for the wedding because it’s already been reserved.”

“Reserved for who?” The General asked.

“Reserved for us sir.”

“You’re kidding?” he groaned.

“No sir. Apparently she feels that since we didn’t clear it with her first, we somehow went over her head and stepped on her toes in the process. Tom Arnold says the matter is completely out of his hands and there’s nothing anyone can do sir.”

There was a brief pause as the man who has dealt with countless military catch 22s spooled up his turbines.

“Don’t worry Wes, you’ll get a call back within the next half hour and this will be taken care of.”

“Thank you General Tallman.”

“No problem Wes, have a great wedding and kiss the bride for me.”

“Yes sir!”

I’d like to say it took 15 minutes, but it was probably more like 10 minutes before the phone, at my parents house and not at my home in Virginia, rang. It was CENSORED’s administrative assistant telling me that we could now use the atrium. I asked her if CENSORED was in the office and she replied that she was. I said I wanted to speak with her and not her assistant. The administrative assistant tried to argue, and I firmly insisted. I was on hold for about 20 seconds…

“CENSORED,” she answered in a forced pleasant tone.

“Yes, this is Wes Oleszewski,” I replied calmly, “I understand that our problem with using the administration building for our wedding has been cleared.”

“Yes,” she snapped, “you can do whatever you want.”

“You would do well to keep that in mind when dealing with alumni,” I retorted, “good day.” And I hung up.

My mom said later that I should’ve invited CENSORED to the wedding just to rub it in. But I replied that then I would have given her the satisfaction of turning me down.

That evening I called Teresa and told her about the little catch 22.

“How long did it take you to fix that one?” she snickered.

“About as much time as it took me find General Tallman’s number in my book.”

Teresa just laughed.

Friday

TWO PICTURES


With consideration that in this month of November 2018 my wife Teresa and I will be celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary, I’d like to share… hold it! “Share?” Ugh… I loathe that mushy-mouth kindergarten sort of speak. I’m a frigging story-teller! I’m gonna TELL you this story and it’s gonna be both fun and amazing… because that’s what I do for a living these days. I write stories that people pay to read and enjoy… yer’ gettin’ this one for free… it’s my pleasure. And yes- this really happened…

TWO PICTURES

It was about a third of the way into the autumn trimester at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach and the Avion newspaper was having a staff party. Now, I’m not much of a party animal, don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t do drugs, so I was never one to go looking for the trademark college “parrrdeee!” This one, however was being put on by the Avion and as the staff cartoonist it was important for me to attend. I had arranged for my girlfriend of the time to meet me there after she got away from work and it would be a nice evening spent with my family away from family- the Avion staff.

Arriving at the event by way of a standard “approach plate” (a map-like invitation drawn up to look like an IFR approach plate) I quickly blended in with the with the folks that I knew so well. There were long time senior staff as well as new staff members floating around in the house. Food, drink and laughter were the way of the evening. One senior staffer, Joe Elm, had brought a date to the party, convincing her to go with him because he would introduce her to the guy who drew the cartoon strips. A beautiful oriental freshman she was a new staff member but had never met me as I’d been a bit scarce in the foregoing weeks as I tended to my new girlfriend, Laura.

Of course since this was a student newspaper party a staff photographer was moving around in the crowd shooting candid photos. He closed in on me just at the moment that Joe introduced me to his date; Teresa.

“Wes,” Joe motioned as he got my attention, “I’d like you to meet Teresa, she’s Japanese.” Pointing toward me he informed her, “Wes is the guy who does the Klyde Morris cartoons.”
Teresa smiled, but didn’t say a word.
“Yer’ Japanese?” I asked rhetorically.

“Yes,” she responded meekly.

I pointed my finger at her and acted suddenly angry.

“Well I’m still a little pissed off about the ARIZONA!” I half shouted.

For a moment she had no idea how to respond, but the rest of my Avion family knew me far better and burst into laughter. Then Teresa laughed a bit and said, “Well… I’m sorry,” and then smiled realizing that I was making a joke.

At that moment I heard someone call my name from over my shoulder. As I turned, there was the Avion photographer and he took a photo of us. Then he asked us to pose closer together for a second shot. 



For me this was the standard “getting your picture taken with a reader” deal. When you get your name published, especially when it’s attached to a product that gains some popularity, folks often want to have their picture taken with you. So, thinking nothing of it I leaned in toward Teresa and he took a second photo. Then I politely told her to have a good time and excused myself to go and rejoin my friends on the staff. As it turned out my girlfriend never did show up at the party. She was very tired after work and decided just to call it quits for the day.

On the following morning I rode my bike over to campus and headed up to the Avion office. For some reason I had the urge to check out those two pictures. Although I’ll always put on a good front and look happy to have my picture taken with a reader, I normally dislike posing for a photo. The camera does not like me and I usually come out looking like a dork. One of the hardest parts about publishing a book id selecting an author’s photo to go in the back. I normally ask Teresa if she has a candid shot of me where I don’t look like a dork- here standard reply is “Can’t be done dear.” That was probably part of why I went up to the Avion office that morning, but for the most part it was a compulsion that to this day I cannot put my finger on. In the office that Sunday morning was just one person- our staff photographer. I asked if he’d developed those photos that he took of me and that little Asian girl at the party. He said that he’d just taken them out of the soup and they were in the dark room hanging up to dry. He also said I could have them both if I wanted, because he had no real use for them. I went in and took a look at both shots- I liked the one of us posing together, but if I kept that one and Laura found it she’d probably knife off an important part of my anatomy. So, I decided on the more candid one- because if I got caught with it, it’d be easier to explain. Thus I nabbed that one, told the photog. “thanks” and peddled my bike back to my apartment where I stashed the photo in among the pages of one of my Great Lakes books and promptly forgot that I had it.

Two years passed and Laura and I broke up long before the time that Teresa and I finally got together. We were engaged three days after our first date. After another two years of engagement we were married, twice, (that’s a whole nother story folks) in November of 1988. One day, while weeding out our single person belongings to combine it into a married couple’s pile of stuff, I found a picture of Teresa and I at that party stashed in HER photos!

“Whoa!” I crowed, “I’ve got this same picture!”

“No you don’t,” she argued, “I got the only one of those.”

Rooting into my library I found the Great Lakes book that had hidden my photo for the past four or five years. When we put the two together we found that they were different shots. What had happened was that shortly after I’d left the Avion office, Teresa, under the same compulsion as I had, went up to the office and got the other picture! 



The photographer never let on that this had happened.

If anyone tries to tell you that some things are not meant to be, or that some couples are not directed together by something that we cannot explain- they’re blind. I was totally happy with my girlfriend the night of that event and we remained together for several more months. I figured that meeting Teresa was just me meeting another reader- one of about 5,000 at that time. Most of all I could never have imagined that the girl I met that night would be the one I would wed, raise a family  and grow old with. Yet that next morning something drove me to go over to campus and get one of those pictures. The same thing caused Teresa to go and get the other one. Think about it- how many married couples have photos taken of them at the exact moment they met? We’ve been married now for 30 years, and we’re as happy as ever. By the way- Joe Elm, the guy who introduced us, also was a groom’s man at our wedding. Of course, I think Joe stood up in just about everyone’s wedding. If you’re an ERAU alum. or just in the aviation business and you get married, it cannot be done without Joe in attendance. He was indeed instrumental in putting Teresa and I together.

Some things, however, are simply destiny.