Character is one of those euphemistic buzzwords that is thrown around a lot. It’s a well-worn favorite of preachers, coaches, scoutmasters, politicians and self-help gurus. One better “have it” if one wants to amount to anything….. “they” say. Describing what “it” is gets murky. I prefer Character as a Who rather than a What. …. I lost one this weekend. Lucky for me I have plenty of others. …….
Kevin “Zero” McGee was a “bellhop” at the Crown Center Hotel in Kansas City in the late 70s. He was in his mid 20s when our lives intersected. Kevin “Zero” McGee could recite entire scripts of most, if not all, Marx Brothers movies. Sure, you probably know Groucho’s line about “joining a country club”. “Zero” was waaaaay beyond that.
There was a time in my life when I was around a lot of “bellhops” but “Zero” is the only one I remember by name. Bellhops survive on tips. “Zero” saw his job as performance art. Every new guest was a new audience to perform for. He wasn’t a smart-aleck or obnoxious in any way. Zero was a hustler.
The bane of Zero’s life were “billy goats”. That was Zero’s name for guests who rebuffed him when he hustled up to help them with their luggage. “Welcome to Crown Center, may I help you with your luggage?” …… “Naaaaah” would bray the billy goat “I got it”. Too many “billy goats” make for an unhappy bellhop.
No clue whatever happened to Zero. But 35+ years later I still remember him. “Zero” McGee was “a character” I met along Life’s highway.
For kids of the boy persuasion (I guess for girls too) coaches / teachers are a primo field to plow for “characters”. Adolescence is a formative rite of passage period for pretty much everyone. If one’s life is a strip of flypaper, not too many flies (“characters”) have attached themselves in that second decade. The ones who do tend to stay for the duration.
Whenever we take periodic breaks in our hustling and bustling to take stock of “what’s it all about, Alfie?” we reencounter those characters who we have carried along in our memories the longest. “Physical Ed” Emory was such a character for a buncha kids in Kinston in the early 60s. Ed Emory died on Friday.
Ed Emory is being rightfully eulogized as a sports celebrity of some reknown across the state of North Carolina. Along with 100s of victories as a high school football coach, Ed Emory had a memorable, albeit short, stint as Head Coach at his alma mater East Carolina in the early 80s. He assembled arguably the most talented team in ECU history. They went 8-3 with the three losses to national powers – Miami, Florida and Florida State by a total of 15 points. But I, and my pals, knew him as “the biggest man we had ever seen” (…..250 lbs with calves the size of barrels) as the assistant football coach (and tennis coach and Drivers Ed instructor) at Jesse W. Grainger High School from 1960-62.
“I’ll never forget that time Coach Emory…..” e-mails were flying thru cyberspace this weekend. Most were true. Some apochraphal. With “a character” the mythical is allowed to intervene whenever embellishment is apropos.
Coach Emory had been Little All-American at ECU as an offensive guard. We were his first stop on a coaching career that would crisscross North & South Carolina high schools and colleges over 40 years. I feel safe in saying that no one who ever encountered Ed Emory as a player / coach, opposing player / coach, fan or in a barber shop in Wadesboro, Brevard, Clemson or wherever likely forgot him. Ed Emory was many things to many people. Some of those “things” were charming. Some where controversial….. but, by golly, Ed Emory was “A Character”.
By my definition “A Character” is not necessarily the most inspirational individual in one’s life or even embodied with a plethora of positive qualities. Encountering “a character” does not have to be seminal moment in one’s life. Many of the most fascinating “characters” are rogues, rascals and scallywags of the highest/lowest form. “Pycho” boy/girl friends /ex-spouses and pure eeeevil and incompetent “bosses” make excellent character fodder.
A lot is made of “inspirational” icons in one’s life. The teacher, preacher, boss, parole officer, cellmate, therapist, Internet legend etc that detoured you off of from some wayward path of self-destruction and inspired you to follow the glory road that has brung you here in the now. Hopefully you have such a valued coterie of caring souls in your rucksack. But this is an ode to the Ernest T. Basses of this world.
“Ernest T” was, of course, the town character of Mayberry. In a small town well-stocked with worthy competitors such as Barney, Otis, Floyd, Gomer, and Goober; to be that town’s official character is worth a tombstone inscription –
Mayberry’s Town Character
“Thank you Mrs Wil-eee”
You can embody your “characters” with whatever arsenal of qualities you wish. Characters are like pizzas in that regard. Pile on whatever ingredients you wish. Mine all have an extra helping of “idiosyncratic credits”. My characters oozes eccentricies.
I might remember them for what they said….. or a special skill they possessed….. or maybe a physical attribute – a wooden leg….. a glass eye….. a handlebar mustache.
Eric Lowder’s dad had a glass eye. He took it out at night and set it on the kitchen counter. I never knew why he set it there. Often “a character” doesn’t really know why he/she does what they do either.
Sidney Hughes memorized the entire Rhyme of The Ancient Mariner in high school. It is one of the longest poems in the English language. He would be paraded around to all the English classes to recite it. As with Zero, I have no clue whatever happened to Sidney. Maybe he helped AlGore invent the Internet ??? …… “water water everywhere, and all the boards did shrink”.
Every UNC Football fan knows “the famous players” from Choo Choo to Gio. But only a slice of fellows know, arguably, one of the most memorable “characters” to ever trod the Kenan greensward “amid those lofty pines” – Marion “The Barbarian” Barnes. Marion was part of “the Rocky Mount gang” that accompanied Danny Talbott to Chapel Hill in the mid 60s. Marion loved being a football player; but, on the collegiate level his love of the game and lots of want to” could not compensate for his modest speed, strength, agility et al.
Marion Barnes, like over 50% of the young men who fill out team rosters, was never a Saturday hero BUT encounter anyone who was around Kenan Field House back in the day and the conversation will invariably get around to “that time Marion Barnes did………. whatever happened to Marion?”
Marion returned to Rocky Mount and actually became a quite successful (AND quite semi-respectable) businessman. Does he still eat jell-o with his hands? Don’t know. Think the John Belushi character in Animal House. A memorable character for sure.
This website has accumulated its cast of colorful (and semi-colorful) characters over the years. Prince Albert…. TheRealBobKennel….. George Whitfield….. Prince Tassel Loafer….. Ol’ Roy….. Burly John….. CNR (Oh Boy! If you only knew !!)….. Thailand….. Princess Fairmont….. Chancellor Doogie….. BubbaTheRealAD….. FrauYow….. TheFabulousComparatoTwins….. #23FromGardenCity….. LittleRicky. To name just a few.
If “this” serves no higher purpose that as a repository of colorful characters; then ‘twas a worthy service.
Have you accumulated your life-cast of colorful characters? Better yet…..
Are you listed among anyone else’s cast of colorful characters?