Three Reasons Why Sacramentans Are Called Turkeynecks
Randy Bechtel
Three Reasons Why Sacramentans Are Called Turkeynecks

Down to earth as opposed to up in the clouds. That is the difference between Doug and Eddie.  

Yesterday Doug mused: “I wouldn’t want to live to be 100—unless I lived to be 99—in which case, I wouldn’t want to live to be 101.”

Just then Eddie entered my backyard gate and approached us saying: “There are 50 billion wild birds on earth. So why, walking 4 miles a day, can’t I remember when I last saw a dead one?”

Such a question was known as an “Eddieism.”  Eddieisms require pausing for thought unless you answer, “Because you’re insane.” Which Doug has done from time to time, although not this time. This time he silently emptied the last of a bottle of Pinot into glasses he and I were drinking, then began to uncork another bottle to pour a glass for Eddie.

This was the first late afternoon in weeks that the weather had allowed the three of us to drink wine outdoors together. A cooling ocean breeze had finally romped up the Sacramento Delta to rustle leaves and play wind chimes. Counting the two bottles that Eddie brought, we had six bottles of vino to make up for lost time.

Eddie raised his glass to me and said, “Thanks for subbing as host on my podcast.”

Doug said to Eddie: “I didn’t know you were still podcasting whatchamuh-call-it.”

 “My podcast is called: “Not All Sacramentans Are Turkeynecks,” Eddie replied huffily.

“Ah, right. What’s with that title?” Doug said.

“Maybe he just liked the sound of it,” I said.

“No, no . . . “ Eddie said. “There’s a story behind it.”

I picked up my glass and slumped back in my chair.  Doug flashed me a smirk.

Eddie continued: “When I was a kid, I always watched wrestling at Memorial Auditorium every Saturday night on TV. Most every—”

“I thought you grew up in Iowa,” Doug interrupted.

“We moved to Sacramento in ’62 when I was 12,” Eddie said. “Although I watched wrestling every Saturday in Iowa. That was broadcast from Chicago.  The world’s champion in Chicago was Big Moose Cholak of Moosehead, Maine. When I came here, the world’s champion was Ray Stevens. People would say: ‘I wonder why the champion of the world spends so much time in Sacramento.’ Even at 12, thanks to Chicago, I suspected the truth.”

Doug said: “But what does that—”

“Hold on and I’ll tell you!” Eddie snapped. “After every match, Ray Stevens would be interviewed. He’d look straight into the camera and call the TV audience ‘turkeyneck Saramanentans.’”

“That’s it?” Doug croaked.

“Isn’t that enough?” I said. “Look, Eddie, maybe on your next podcast you should interview Doug about his anthology of 100-year-old jokes.”

Eddie flashed a look of surprise at Doug and said: “You finally finished it?”

“I’m looking for a publisher,” Doug said.

“Well, I can’t give you an interview until you’re published,” Eddie said. “My podcast does have standards.”

 “The authors I interviewed were published by Ed’s E-Books,” I said.

Eddie ignored me and sniffed his wine. He always sniffed his wine. Had the wine been six-buck Chuck, Eddie would have sniffed it.

“Just what are the demographics of your podcast’s listeners?” Doug asked Eddie.

“It’s varied,” Eddie obfuscated.

I said: “The three guys I interviewed said they were triplets. One had red hair, one was blonde and the third looked Japanese. All three were named Mark Ellis. Judging by the podcast's guests, I’d say one audience demographic is the lunatic fringe.”

“That’s not fair!” Eddie erupted. “I mean . . . the Ellis brothers are interesting guys.  For one thing, they’re published. Not to mention all three are certified Old Timers!”

“Who or what certifies old timers?” Doug asked.

“That’s old with a capital ‘O’ and timer with a capital ‘T,’ Eddie huffed.

“The Walter Brennan Institute,” I said to Doug. “Which . . . which Eddie! . . . I googled and came up with squat.”

“That’s because the institute doesn’t have a website,” Eddie said. “You’ll find them on Facebook.”

“Why am I not surprised?” I said. “So tell me, where is this institute?  I’d at least like to know that!”

Eddie muttered into his glass: “Ionia.”

“What was that?” Doug asked.

“Ionia, Iowa,” I said. “One of Eddie’s Iowa relatives is probably behind this institute—right Eddie?”

“My cousin Larry is on the board. That’s all,” Eddie said.

“Eddie, the Walter Brennan Institute is a scam!” I said. “The Mark Ellises paid $100 each to be certified and are paying $250 each a year to be members of the so-called Old Timers Club. And for what?”

“Larry is not a crook! There are legitimate benefits!” Eddie said.

“Such as?”

“A monthly newsletter. Events. Counseling.  Listen, certification only starts you on a path to a higher plain—a path to becoming what Old Timers call ‘A Real Character.’ You go from obsessing about how you’re not the man you once were to focusing on the man you can become. But first you must realize that, using their metaphor, you can no longer be a leading man, but must become a character actor. It’s a psychological hurdle for anyone to go from thinking of himself as Rock Hudson or Paul Neman to accepting he’s now Danny DeVito or Larry Storch. But with that acceptance comes tremendous liberation. While before you were embarrassed by farting in public, you can now eat all the beans you want! While before you could only wear your Sergio Romo baseball jersey to Oakland A’s games, you can now wear it to funerals and weddings! While before you demanded your medical records be private, you can now tell everyone you meet about your hemorrhoids!”

Doug said, “Wowser!”

“Look, I’m not here to judge what the Institute does,” Eddie said. “But I do know that what it does is regarded valuable by its Old Timers.”

I said: “I still think you should interview Doug. He doesn’t need to be published to prove to your audience that he’s an authority on old jokes. He could fill three of your podcasts just talking about his methodology and research.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of!” Eddie said.

Doug said: “First of all, I have my sights set on publishers a little more prestigious than Ed’s E-Books. In any case, if I did consent to an interview, of course I would tell jokes and do it whether it was before or after publication of my book.”  

“And if I did consent to interview you, I’d first like to hear a few,” Eddie said.

“Okay, okay. As they say, I gotta million of ‘em!” Doug said. “But can I first give a little intro? Just a sentence or two about background.”

Eddie shrugged.

Doug said: “Okay, before television and radio—when comedy was performed only on stage, everyone could—and did—steal jokes from everyone else. The jokes that we get from various historical sources are ones that drew the biggest laughs for multiple comedians across America or England or both a century or more ago. Among the most popular were jokes set up by a straight man for a comedian to deliver the punchline. The utility of these jokes is that they could be told as part of a two-man act or incorporated into a comedy skit with multiple players. Now, the original version of the joke I’m about to tell pre-dates the telephone. It involves a messenger sent to the home of a candidate to tell him he lost the election for governor.

Messenger:  I was sent to tell you who won the gubernatorial race.

Candidate: No need. I already know.

Messenger: You do?

Candidate: Sure. The fastest guber.”

Silence.

I looked at Eddie and said: “On second thought, maybe you should call your cousin and get the name of A Real Character for your next interview.”

Eddie said: “I don’t know. Doug may not be certified, but anyone who’d tell that joke should be.”

Doug sneered: “You sing the praises of nut-job Old Timers and I’m the one certifiable?”

“Why Doug, whatever do you mean?” Eddie gasped. “I was only praising you as having the potential to be A Real Character.”

“Don’t be so defensive, Doug,” I said. “Try another joke.”

We waited as Doug inhaled the wine remaining in his glass. The closest Doug came to sniffing wine was having it gush up into nasal cavity from his throat.

Doug said: “Versions of this joke date back to mid-19th Century English music halls. It’s an exchange between a husband and wife.

Wife: We stood in a line and each of us introduced ourselves to the new vicar as he shook our hand. I doubt, though, he’ll remember me.

Husband: Sure he will. You have an unforgettable face.

Wife: Do you really think so?

Husband: I know so. I’ve been trying to forget it for years.”

Eddie threw up his hands and yelped: “That will be a big hit with my female audience!”

Doug threw up his hands and bellowed: “What audience? What audience?”

“I kinda liked it,” I said. “But then, I belong to the lunatic fringe.”

Petulantly Doug topped off our glasses with what remained in the second bottle, then began uncorking a third.

Eddie leaned toward me and said: “Truth be told, you’re the one I’d like to interview.”

“Me? What about?”

“Fantastic Fritz.”

I grimaced. Doug froze.

“Fantastic Fritz” Schicklgruber was a popular magician who had appeared in the first and only performance of a dinner mystery theater I had scripted. That performance was aborted when it was raided by real police who tried but failed to arrest Fritz for being the kingpin of a crime syndicate.

 “Fritz Schicklgruber has reappeared?” Doug asked.

“The police suspect his gang pulled off the Mayor’s Ball robbery!” Eddie said. “Makes sense. Strip everybody in the ballroom of their jewelry and wallets, pop a smoke bomb and disappear in the chaos.”

Doug said: “It did seem magical. Cops outside every ballroom door and still they couldn’t collar a single robber.”

“Because the robbers didn’t escape through any of the doors,” I said. “They went through a small trap door they secretly installed in the center of the ballroom floor. Then they escaped the building through the basement’s service entrance.”

“Jesus Randy! How do you know that?” Eddie said.

“Because I’m a member of the gang,” I said.

Eddie regarded me round-eyed with his head cocked back like a cobra’s. Doug rolled his eyes.

I said: “It was on the news this morning, Eddie.”

Eddie smiled sheepishly. “I wanted an interview, but not that good of one.”

“What wasn’t on the news,” I said, “was that the police suspected Fantastic Fritz. How do you know that?”

“Jane told Mary that two detectives questioned you the day after the robbery,” Eddie said. He was referring to his wife Mary and my wife Jane, both of whom were now at book club.

“So you really are a suspect?” Doug laughed.

“Yeah, and the police have staked out my house,” I said. ”So now you are too.”

It was Doug’s turn to cock back his head.

I stood up and said, “Jane secretly taped the interview. I’ll let you hear it.”

I went into the house and found the old but still operational small tape recorder I had once used as a reporter. I keyed the tape to the beginning of the interview and returned outside.

“The detectives are named Kawasaki and Sanchez,” I said. “Kawasaki looked to be in his early 30s and Sanchez about 40. You’ll know Sanchez by his gravelly voice.”

With that I clicked play.

Det. Kawasaki: "What were you doing last Wednesday night between 5 and 10 p.m.?”

Randy: "What were we doing? Wednesday would have been what? –six days ago?". . .

Jane: "No, today’s Wednesday. Seven days ago."

Randy: "But Ben was here yesterday. We always pick him up from school on Monday."

Jane: "Except Katie worked from home Monday and picked him up herself. She did the same last Monday." 

Randy: "But why was Ben here this Tuesday?"

Jane: "The Bustamantes were visiting Susan in Oakland."

Randy: "Let me think . . . Okay . . . Today . . . Tuesday . . .Monday . . . Blah . . . Blah . . .  Thursday was the night the Giants beat the Padres in overtime. Or was that Wednesday?"

“We can pass on some of this,” I said as I switched the tape recorder on fast forward.  When play resumed:

Randy: ". . . because I think that was Friday."

Jane: "Friday your mother spent the night."

Randy: "You sure? I remember we watched 'Lawrence Welk,' which is all we watched because she wanted to play Parcheesi. And I’m pretty sure “Lawrence Welk” comes on Saturday night."

Jane: "That’s right. Because your sister was supposed to bring her Friday, but her bridge club was postponed to Saturday."

I fast-forwarded the tape again.

Randy:  ". . . on the barbecue because it was too hot to use the oven."

Jane: "No, that was the Tuesday not the Wednesday before last. And not because it was hot. It’s been hot all month. It was because of smoke from the forest fires."

Randy: "You’re saying last Wednesday we roasted a Turkey breast?"

Jane: "Remember, your kid brother called to tell us he was retiring."

Randy: "Oh, yeah. We talked about the Giants-Padres— Wait a second. That was a Thursday day game!"

I fast-forwarded the tape again.

Randy: "What day did they install our new dishwasher? Or what night because they didn’t show up until 5 o’clock."

Jane: "Maybe that was why we barbecued Tuesday night."

Randy: "I know one night last week we had home-delivery Chinese. It couldn’t have been Monday because the Ming Palace is closed on Mondays."

Jane: "It was Tuesday because— "

I fast-forwarded the tape again as I said, “We’re getting close now.”

Randy: "Wednesday had to be the night we watched 'Charlie Chan on Treasure Island.'”

Jane: "No, because we were eating Chinese food. Remember, you’d taped the movie and had the brainstorm to order Chinese."

Randy: "So Wednesday was either the day I barbecued the turkey breast or the day the air was smokey. Because I wouldn’t barbecue if it was smokey outside."

Det. Sanchez: "Stop! Please . . . Let’s—let’s rephrase the question. Where were you last Wednesday between 5 p.m. and 10 p.m.?"

Randy: "Where? That’s easy. At home."

Jane: "We’ve been at home every night since I was at my last book club, almost a month ago."

Randy: "Although it could be we went to Cosco sometime just after that."

Det. Lowrie: "Can anyone corroborate you were home last Wednesday between 5 p.m. and 10 p.m.? "

Det. Sanchez: "No need! No need to answer that now! You’ve said enough! . . . Here’s my card. If you think of who can corroborate you were at home, let me know. But don’t call! An email will do!"

I clicked off the tape recorder and said: “That was more or less it.”

“From “Law and Order” to “Monk,” Eddie said, “I’ve never heard a TV detective say, ‘Email me your alibi.’”

Doug snorted and said: “My guess is Detective Sanchez left with only one unanswered question: Who would want to live to be 70? Randy, you should send him an email with the answer: Someone who is 69.”

Copyright © 2021 by Randy Bechtel

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Email Randy Bechtel at rbechtel@rkbechtel.com