“THE OUT-OF-TOWNERS!”

Post & Mail newspaper publisher Rick Kreps accidentally locked himself inside our bathroom 20 years ago.  Obviously, we eventually released him with the help of a credit card — or was it a kitchen knife?  I forget.  After about a half hour of socializing with other guests on our front porch, we all began to notice Rick’s absence.  We initially offered to shove food under the door in case our feverish attempts to respond efficaciously — to his plaintive cries of “help” — failed.  DÉJÀ VU!  Columbia City native and realtor, mortician, U. S. Army vet, preacher’s kid Keith Kleespie nearly suffered the same fate a couple of weeks ago.  Returning home from Ann Arbor, Michigan, we three senior citizens — Don, Keith and I — stopped at a Big Boy near the border of the Wolverine State and good ole Indiana.  Mr. Kleespie, snoozing all sprawled out filling up the back seat, had seat-belted himself so cozily and thoroughly that we almost summoned a SWAT team to extricate him.

What a stupendously adventurous afternoon we had all just shared…rolling into Ann Arbor to a divinely open-minded cultural arts center tucked inside a wooded residential area and holding an impressive audience of folks ranging in age from four to at least 97. I immediately hugged Pam Simmons — perky organizer of the day’s events — and Facebook animal activist pal Kim Elizabeth Johnson as well as several Penny Seats pals o’ mine!  Michigander Roy, transplanted from Hoosierland, sang his heart out:  “The Music of Home” originally  crooned by Tony Perkins in the musical “Greenwillow”; “This is the Life” from “Golden Boy” starring Sammy Davis, Jr.; “Ben” a super sensation about a kid and a rat — made popular by Michael Jackson; “Send in the Clowns”; “Little Tin Box” — dealing with political corruption — from “Fiorello”; “Corner of the Sky” a wistful “Pippin” number, and John Lennon’s “Imagine”.  His introduction of his Ma, “The Old Type…Writer”, included all of those glorious melodies with which he masterfully summarized my life and likes.  Stunning, talented Rebecca Biber accompanied him on a Clavinova.  Bravo!

Next!  My turn!  I hobbled to the podium and introduced my “props” (and “characters“!) which included both Keith and Don for starters…then pulled from my pocket a beaming Shirley Jones button and lanyard.  I read aloud my rather (gently) acerbic  essay, “Me and Shirley…Shirley Jones”, praying that Ms. Jones, in the exact same vicinity for her own book signing, would be nowhere nearby to stumble onto my performance!  Honestly, the two of us “dueling divas” — as Facebook friend Beth Kennedy (author of the blog I Didn’t Have My Glasses On) dubbed Shirl and Susie —  in the same place at the same time for a second occasion within two years?  Now what would be the odds of that?    My 2011 piece, published in the Post & Mail, alleges that Shirley treats her female fans a bit brashly and dismissively while charmingly batting her false eyelashes at the “gentlemen callers” lining up to “meet and greet”!

Little did I realize that I’d be video-taped for posterity by a delightful artist named Richard Reeves.  I — and LOTS of human beings — have watched and re-watched that recent posting on Facebook.  I ain’t viral, but I have attracted a bit of a following, including Neil Simon?  No, not THAT Neil Simon —  but a writer nonetheless.  Since I may be the love-child of Jonathan Winters and Bob Hope, it took me 20 minutes to wade through my seven paragraphs.  I offered up outrageous faces, wildly gestured, and  seemed to be channeling pianist Victor Borge who’d regale audiences with a couple of measures of a tune, then prattle on about something or other only to reclaim his piano bench, flip out the tails of his tuxedo jacket, and resume another measure and a half prior to wandering repeatedly toward the microphone to gab and gesticulate further.  Guess what?  Accidental stand-up improvisational  comedy is far more thrilling than living out one’s life poised in front of a keyboard of whatever variety.

“How ya gonna keep ’em down on the farm, after they’ve seen Par — ee?”  Not that I don’t respect and revere the community into which I got born and have inhabited on and off — for what may be centuries –, but once I get invited out of town to enjoy a ripple of applause, to witness several sincere encouraging smiles, to acknowledge what might be categorized loosely as “gales” of laughter, and to top such revelry off dining at Paesano’s Italian Restaurant, it’s tough to concentrate on “patching the roof, pitching the hay…feeding the turtle and walking the pig” (lyrics from the “Pippin” musical, again!)  I admit I love the bright lights of show biz, even though my “opening act”, deftly delivered by brilliant baritone/impresario Roy “Mario Lanza” Sexton, outdid my concoction of an offering by a country mile, to be perfectly honest!  As theater critic Walter Kerr once wrote, I “had delusions of adequacy.”

Postscript:  During our giddy afternoon replete with Roy’s and Susie’s dual performances/book signing ably assisted by John Mola/ introduction of my next book “More Secrets of an Old Typewriter — Misunderstood Gargoyles & Overrated Angels” available  October 31st (www.susieduncansexton.com) /, a glorious outdoor sign and clever indoor posters/ a scrumptious personalized cake courtesy Marla Rondo and a variety of cheeses, I met a charming fellow named Michael “Chuck” Madigan who’d published several of my poems in a magnificent anthology “Poetic Resonance Imaging: Behind the Door”.  I shook hands with a handsome “Detroit Free Press” reporter!  In addition, I was overwhelmed that Terry Branoff, the son of Ronald Reagan’s White House secretary, brought a gift of top ‘o the line jelly beans to thank me for my previous “Post & Mail” column entitled “Reagan’s Jelly Beans Result in Treasure” and asked that I provide an autograph for his mom!  Book signings can be a hoot!  Hopefully, across town, “Mrs. Partridge”, allowing bygones to be bygones, enjoyed as delightful an afternoon as I did!  This just in:  My book’s press release gained an early honor as one of “Broadway World’s” … “hottest articles” overshadowing “Duck Dynasty’s Si-Cology”, an Ayn Rand related treatise, a discussion of Jim Henson’s art and life, and a movie starring Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep herself?  Mercy, the month of September treated me quite well indeed!  Hopefully, Meryl won’t be too disappointed…

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