Duke's personal life vignette #1 (what a ride it's been)
"Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing"


So all of us great scholars, men of courage and integrity, sat at the long dining table in Mrs. Pepper's boarding house, a converted Seattle mansion up on 17th Avenue, probably built around 1890. The year was 1968, and Pepper employee Ron Smith prepared our breakfast. It was a tense morning, because all of us, having crammed the night before, were facing quarterly exams at the University of Washington.

Mrs. "Pecker", as a clever boy had dubbed her, was nowhere to be seen. No doubt, she was sleeping in her bedroom with a few of her flea bitten dogs, which regularly left huge wet turds in doorways and near chairs. One had to step carefully. Mrs. Pepper was around 70, with hair dyed carrot orange, with convex spectacles that made her blue eyes appear enormous, and with thin lips adorned by bright red lipstick that she smeared beyond labial borders and onto her skin. Pecker never threw anything away. The main floor of the big dump we all shared was crammed with old couches and moldy whatnots out of the 20s, 30s, and 40s.

We didn't see Pecker often in the big old mansion, but we saw employee Ron at least twice a day during mealtime. Rumor had it, and Ron often insinuated it, that his night job was as a burglar. Ron was a bouncy guy who always looked a bit soiled, who often grinned, whose eyes darted about rather than gaze directly at a person. Ron also liked to play with a guitar. He was enamored of the Surfaris' production of Wipe Out.

One student, an older, divorced man named Leo, did not like Ron, and showed it. Ron also spoke ill of Leo. The rest of us were extra nice to Ron, because we all believed instinctively he was capable of damn near anything.

On the fateful morning of the quarterly exams, Ron stood at the big black stove tossing on fried eggs, bacon, and sausages. He put the food on a large tray, and dropped portions unceremoniously onto our plates. We looked at one another. Ron seemed quiet, maybe even sullen, as he delivered the grub.

"Where"s Leo?‚" he growled. "He gonna eat this morning?"

Just at that moment, Leo thumped down the stairs, glanced sharply at Ron and said ‚ "Yep. Lay it on me."

Ron looked at Leo with a smile, nodded his head, and returned to the stove. He broke open a couple more eggs, and dropped them onto the grill. Then Ron hocked a large chunk of yellow mucous from his mouth onto the eggs and folded it in. Several of us noticed. Not Leo, whose back was to the kitchen. Ron glared at the rest of us. His look said one word to Leo and we all would share the same fate when we least expected it.

"Hurry up, Leo said. "We all gotta get on campus for exams today."

Ron, still a bit soiled and sullen, dropped the gooey mass onto Leo's plate, spun on his heel and headed back into the kitchen. He turned to clean up the surface of the stove, and one could make out a malicious grin on Ron's face.

Leo scarfed up the entire yellow blob with toast, stood up, put on his jacket, grabbed his books, and made for the door. "Better hurry up, you guys," he said to the rest of us. We looked at one another. Some were visibly ill. One kid ran upstairs to the little bathroom we all shared.

At this point, Ron's mood turned expansive, almost jubilant. He was still soiled, but not sullen. From somewhere he produced his guitar, climbed up on a chair at the end of the long table, and started abusing the instrument with a hideous version of Wipe Out. Just then, as fate would have it, the real Wipe Out floated from the little brown radio near the dining table. The radio had been turned down low, but one of the kids turned it 'way up.

"Is this what you're tryin'‚ to play, Ron?‚" the kid said.

In a split second, Ron's face turned a Satanic red, and twisted in rage.

Holding his guitar aloft with one hand, he reached behind his cook's apron with the other, produced a .38 revolver, and‚ BANG! He wiped out the radio and the competition. We all looked on in horror as smoke poured from a jagged black hole in the dial.

"Anything can happen around here" Ron said.

"Well, I'm takin' off," I said, as the smoke cleared. "Take care, Ron. Thanks for breakfast, man."

I loped down 17th Ave. south toward the U-dub campus, past the fancy houses on Greek Row, and wished I could be one of the rich frat guys who enjoyed paid lady cooks and maids, who didn't have to work his way through college, and who had time and money enough to take in Udub Husky games.

Had that crazy sonofabitch really hocked a lung booger into a man's eggs? Had he shot the radio with a .38? Could I still smell gunsmoke in my nose? Yep.


The guys--all of us--did fine on the exams. It took more than a pistol wielding booger head to stop us, because we were all poor boys determined to make it. We all graduated about the same time.

Click to read vignette #2