Don Surgenor

Don Surgenor as an adult, even in his fifties, retained an impish streak. Some of the situations he got into, especially those he also got me into, are worth recording. Don was good at being a bad boy, the kind that Mark Twain wrote about.

For example, at a meeting of naval architects in Harrison Hot Springs, British Columbia, Don awoke on a Sunday morning with all of the characteristics of one who was the life of the party the night before. He was heading out of the lobby when he grabbed my arm and said, “I need air. Let’s go for a drive.”


I should have known better than to go along in his Karmann Ghia sports convertible that could seat three abreast provided none showed signs of middle-age spread. Don drove around the lake and went north on a narrow paved road that soon became a gravel road in densely forested foothills. A map showed that we were headed nowhere. Don drove with his nose up like a pooch sniffing for air.

When Don spotted someone walking in the direction we were going, he stopped to give the “poor guy” a lift. It turned out that the poor guy was an Indian who had a snoot full, and who before long let out a war whoop and attacked. The fight wasn’t anything to speak of because no one can throw a punch inside a Karmann Ghia. Don braked, I managed to get the door open and we shoved out chief man-who-drinks-booze-for-breakfast.

Another time, Don and I had to attend a conference at the Navy’s Bureau of Ships in Washington, D.C. We planned to fly together except that, in Chicago Don would divert to Hartford in order to visit his parents. For a similar reason, I would head for Brooklyn. We were to meet again in Washington, D.C. where we would both participate in discussions relating to shipbuilding progress. As a third-tier manager in the Seattle Division of Todd Shipyards Corporation, Don didn’t rate a first-class ticket. As a Navy commander, I did. However, I got a coach ticket just so we could sit together. That turned out to be a big mistake.

Afterwards, Don said he missed his plane to Hartford because he was preoccupied with reading various documents as preparation for the meeting. I accused him of girl watching at O’Hare Airport. Regardless, he arrived in Hartford late and, in order to compensate so as not to shorten time with his parents, he grabbed a later flight to Washington, D.C. than the one shown on his original schedule. Don didn’t know that when one leg of a flight was missed, reservations for future legs were automatically cancelled. He did not encounter that problem when leaving Hartford because he changed from his original itinerary for the second time. Thus, it was when we both arrived at National Airport in Washington, D.C. to board a red-eye flight to Seattle, that we discovered that he had no reservation and than the coach section was filled.

Don, true to his Scottish heritage, would rather give blood than spend his own money; he had no option. Recalling how he moaned and groaned when he coughed up the difference for a first-class ticket is the only satisfaction I get when I think of what else happened that night.

In the role reversal that I didn’t anticipate, I was in coach and Don was in first class, a situation that would not have mattered much to me except for the peculiar type of airplane we were in. The wing was high on the fuselage and the piston engines were slung beneath it, that is, the incredibly noisy engines were immediately located on both sides of, and close to, the coach section. Because of the extraordinary noise, the first-class compartment was jammed into the tail end of the plane.

Before the drape that separated the two cabins was drawn, I noticed that the seat next to Don was empty. Thus, after the meal was served, and when most of the coach passengers were numb, I slipped aft and sat next to Don. I wasn’t there ten minutes when a stewardess told me to go back into the noisy torture chamber forward. I applied Latin charm but it didn’t work. She insisted and as I reluctantly went forward I kept asking her to make an exception so that I could sit next to my friend. She was immovable. I vowed to try again as she disappeared back into the first class cabin.

Within minutes she reappeared, and walked slowly past, favoring the far side of the aisle, while staring at me with a worried frown on her face. I though it peculiar, but nonetheless I said, “Why can’t I go back and sit with my friend?”

She took a quick step backwards, pointed at me and hysterically shrieked, “You be quiet or I’ll call the pilot!”

I became puzzled, frustrated, and mad all at once, “What’s the matter with you? All I want to do is sit by my friend.”

This time she screeched louder, “I’ll call the pilot!”

I slouched in my seat because other passengers were staring at me. She then disappeared into the first-class cabin and returned again after about five-more minutes. This time she was smiling through obvious embarrassment as she offered a highball and said, “This is for you. It’s OK if you want to go back and sit next to your friend.”

I was furious, I felt like dumping the drink on her head and telling her what the airline could do with the entire after part of the plane. But, the noise in the coach was intolerable so I said nothing, indignantly snatched the drink, and, in a huff, stomped aft where I discovered Don laughing with tears streaming down his face. When he became coherent, he confessed. Just after the stewardess kicked me out fifteen-minutes before, he said to her very convincingly as only he could be in such situations, “Am I glad you got rid of him! He’s one of those and he has been bothering me ever since we left National Airport.”

I vowed to get even. The best way, I knew, would involve an assault on Don’s wallet.

The opportunity for revenge fell into my lap during another meeting of naval architects, only this time it was at the beach in Gearhart, Oregon. The facilities were perfect for combining a professional society meeting with a family vacation. Most rented condos.

One evening, many of us, including Don and his wife Dorothy, went to the condo where a shipyard subcontractor was hosting a party. Each condo was a separate unit that was ideally arranged inside to take maximum advantage of the ocean view. There was a paved two-car parking space on the inland side. The entry from the parking area was directly into the largest of two bedrooms that provided the only access to a huge day room on the ocean side. Thus, anyone cooking, dining, or just visiting had the same fabulous view through large picture windows. People coming and going had to traverse the large bedroom that contained something that most of us at that time were not accustomed to seeing, a king-size bed.

When Rhoda and I were leaving, Don and his wife Dot elected to depart also. As the four of us were maneuvering around the foot of the huge bed, the naughty-boy gleam appeared in Don’s eyes, he grabbed Dot’s elbow and quickly turned toward the bed as he said, “Wow! Look at that, let’s go!”

Dot’s heel caught in a snag in the rug she tripped and pulled Don off balance so that both crashed upon the bed simultaneously. The slats supporting the bedspring broke and the spring and mattress slammed on to the floor. They were up in a second and the four of us spent the next ten minutes in the parking area doubled over with laughter.

During the four-hour drive back to Bellevue, I devised a scheme to get back at Don. I could hardly wait for the start of work on Monday.

There was no problem enlisting Bert Elder’s help. Bert was Todd’s construction superintendent and happy to assist because he and Don always had a flap going about whether the quality of engineering’s drawings or production’s failure to adhere to them, caused day-to-day problems. Neither Bert nor I could fill the role I had in mind so we pressured Bert’s unwilling office assistant, Earl, to become part of a hoax.

Bert’s assistant was older than any of us and had recently been hired by Todd. He was not yet accustomed to the boisterous waterfront crowd and was nervous about impersonating the manager of the Gearhart Hotel. His voice quavered a bit when he spoke, making it perfect for my script. Bert and I were glued to the only other phone like Siamese twins sharing one ear.

When Don’s secretary answered Earl said, “May I speak with Mr. Surgenor please?”

“He is now conducting a meeting. May I take a message?”

“It is important that I speak with him now.”

After a minute or two Don’s secretary returned to her phone and advised, “I just told Mr. Surgenor what you said. He wants you to leave a number, and he will return your call following the meeting.”

“Tell Mr. Surgenor that it is in his personal best interest to answer the phone now!”

Don finally came to the phone, obviously very displeased, and said in a contrived gruff voice, “This is Surgenor.”

At this point Earl was at his best. He was manifestly nervous as the character he was impersonating was apt to be, “My name is Gerald Johnson, I am the manager of the Gearhart Hotel and I also manage the nearby condos.”

In a normal tone of voice Don said, “Oh.”

Earl continued, “This past Saturday night we sustained damage in one of our condo units; a new king-size bed was broken.”

Now a bit weak, Don repeated, “Oh.”

“I obtained an estimate to have the bed repaired and it came to one-hundred and twenty-four dollars.”

For the third time, weaker and as if he was in pain Don said, “Oh.”

“We understand, Mr. Surgenor, that you caused the damage and we expect that you will make payment accordingly.”

Don meekly replied, “Yes I will, I don’t have my checkbook with me, but as soon as I get home I’ll write a check and mail it to you. You can be sure Mr. Johnson that you will get it soon.”

Bert and I were both biting our knuckles in order to keep from being heard.

Rattled Don mumbled a repeat of what he had just said. Bert and I were then positive that the full weight of having to cough up a hundred and twenty-four dollars was registered in his Scottish brain.

Earl said, “Thank you Mister Surgenor, I’ll expect your check soon. Goodbye.”

In that instant Don suddenly realized that only the Chirillos were present when he broke the bed. Quickly, before Earl hung up, in a conciliatory manner Don asked, “Mr. Johnson, do you mind telling me how you found out that I broke the bed?”

With my free hand, the other was still jammed in my teeth, I signaled to Earl that he should tell Don that I was the informer. By this time Earl was becoming confident and seemed to be a candidate for an Oscar when he improvised, “Well I asked many people and a number of them suggested Commander Chirillo. I talked to him and he told me it was you.”

Don again said, “Oh,” only this time it was a groan just as if he was kicked in the belly. With his voice quavering a bit, he repeated, “You can be sure Mr. Johnson, that you will get a check soon.”

Just as Don was about to hang up I interrupted, “Hey Don. This is Lou.”

I could hear him gasp with a tremendous sigh of relief. There was a pause and he then said, “Where are you?”

“I’m in Bert’s office.”

“Come on over here and see how wet my armpits are.”

I got him!


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