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Celebrity in the Sixties
 By Randy Bechtel 

Becoming a celebrity is difficult when you are 68. Slim are your chances of becoming rich, rich and famous, or famous for being famous.  This leaves the original but largely forgotten reason for celebrity: People celebrate you.

Nothing inspires—or, at least, should inspire—men, women and children to celebrate a 68-year-old more than his being certified as an “Old Timer” by the Walter Brennan Institute. To qualify, you must identify a photograph of Larry Storch and have gum disease. Next comes the choice of rising to one of three challenges, none of which are for the faint of heart, let alone the heart bypassed.

I chose the challenge called “Floyd’s,” named for the barber on “The Andy Griffith Show.” Here you must loiter in a barbershop every business hour for a week. Old Timers of yesteryear, I learned reading a history of Iowa, loitered in barbershops by gossiping, whittling and playing cribbage and/or dominoes.

Unfortunately, I would discover that barbers of yesteryear probably had little in common with my barber of 12 years, a fiftyish Korean woman who delivers the only $8 haircut within 10 square miles and does it without bugging you to talk. It was the talking, mainly, that made Mrs. Hyun-woo unlike yesteryear’s barbers.  I would learn she appreciated not talking to me as much as I appreciated not talking to her.

Uttering more words in the first minute than I’d spoken to her in 12 years, I explained to Mrs. Hyun-woo my loitering plan. Her face said nothing, but considering my penchant for misunderstanding faces that do, I thought this just as well. Not until I spoke the word “dominoes” did she animate. “You want haircut?” she said. I told her no. “You want shave?”  I told her no. “Wutchoo want?”

I took a new tac. Here you are, I told her, working solo day after day in a shop with three barber chairs and a dozen chairs for waiting customers who never number more than one unless accompanied by a parent. Let me loiter and I will attract other Old Timers who someday are bound to need a haircut. 

Rather rudely, it seemed to me, Mrs. Hyun-woo responded, “Chairs for customers, not crazy homeless people. You go—now!”  A fine how-do-you-do!  Not only did I lose my bid for celebrity, but I lost access to the only $8 haircut within 10 square miles delivered without talk. 

I now wondered whether I should risk the “Prostate Challenge,” which involved spending 24 consecutive hours in the waiting room of a hospital ER. The challenge’s name arose from bathroom breaks being limited to a total of 10 minutes.  I was about to take the challenge when met Lloyd. He had failed the Prostate Challenge despite wearing a bladder catheter that fed a three-gallon plastic bag strapped to his leg beneath a bell bottom. Sleep, Lloyd told me, was an issue with this challenge that no one anticipated.

It seems that people in an ER waiting room who see an aspiring Old Timer with his eyes closed automatically assume he is dead or dying. Physicians treating Lloyd discovered that internal hemorrhaging they believed was caused by a broken leg was actually a three-gallon bag full of piss. More common, however, is the Old Timer wannabe who is awakened in an operating room by a jolt to his chest delivered by electric paddles. On the other hand, there were 3,217 Old Timer wannabes who schemed to remain sleepless 24 hours by taking amphetamines. We know this because autopsies found amphetamines in the blood of 3,217 Old Timer wannabes who suffered coronaries. A fine how-do-you-do!

Not after downing three martinis (if I could still drink) would I entertain facing the third challenge, called “The Gabby Hayes” for the actor who was Hollywood’s icon of the Old West prospector. Born when the Old West was still the West, Gabby Hayes may have been the first actor called “Old Timer” on screen.  His bearded image has its closest counterpart today in the long-in-the-only-tooth Reality TV stars who chase Bigfoot in Alaska or gators in the Louisiana. In any case, the life of the Old West prospector was the inspiration for The Gabby Hayes, which requires wannabe Old Timers to spend a month in the Nevada desert equipped with nothing but a mule, a pick, a jug of whiskey and a burlap bag of beans. 

Daunted by the Old Timer challenges, I have resigned to be an Old Timer celebrator rather than celebrity. After all, someone has to do it to ensure that the semi-superhuman feats of Old Timers are not performed in vein. My talents favor celebrating anyway (at least, when I could drink). And besides, celebrity is fleeting—especially when it begins at 68.  

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Email Randy Bechtel at rkirkbechtel@hollywoodlexicon.com


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