Fri., April 6, 42 A.B.

Ed Winter is dead.

Exactly one week after I heard that '30s "Goldwyn Girl" Toby Wing had passed away, I now learn that Ed Winter has passed away, too.

When will the madness end?

You knew Ed Winter - we all knew Ed Winter - even though we might not have recognized his name.  He played the paranoid CIA officer on the M*A*S*H TV series - Colonel Flagg.

He was only 63 - some 22 years younger than Toby Wing - yet tonight the two are pretty much interchangeably deceased....


I always liked Colonel Flagg.  He was, after all, almost certainly based on E. Gordon Liddy, and I always liked to think Liddy was a relative of mine - maybe my father's brother, say.  Why?  Because I never met my father's brother, and rather than feel bad about that, I prefer to think of my father's brother as an asshole I can be glad I never met.  Liddy sure fit that bill, and by extension, so did Colonel Flagg - the only persona of Ed Winter I ever knew.  I never got around to thanking Ed for helping me cope with my absent, unknown uncle, but I do always overtip at restaurants in part because I'm not bitter over never having met that uncle, and I like to think of that as a kind of living thanks that makes a real difference in the lives of waitresses, some of whom might well be aspiring thespians themselves; which is another way of saying that I guess it all works out ok in the end....

On the other hand, of course, there's a sense in which Ed's death can never work out for the best.  I mean, besides the immense personal tragedy I assume his death must be for him, it makes it that much harder for me to continue to believe that no one I lay eyes on can die.  I mean to say, after several hundred people I have laid eyes on have quite obviously gone on to die, the only thing that keeps me believing in the power of my vision to bestow immortality on others is sheer will power.  It's not something I like to talk about, though, for fear that everyone who hears about this power of mine will start sending me photographs, banging on my door, and even bizarrely calling me up all hours of the day and night (as if my merely hearing their voice had the power to bestow anything at all), so let's just pretend I didn't say anything, ok?  Thanks.    

Ed Winter died of Parkinson's disease.  Oddly enough, I'd just read about Parkinson's in a book by Dr. Harold L. Klawans called Newton's Madness: Further Tales of Clinical Neurology.  If you ever want to determine if someone has Parkinson's, just tell that someone to relax and then lift their arm.  That's all you have to do.  If they don't have Parkinson's, their arm will lift smoothly and easily.  If the arm feels like it's catching on something or ratcheting - i.e., if the muscles are displaying cogwheel rigidity - Parkinson's is probably the reason.  (NOTE:  Although Parkinson's is not contagious, you just might catch hell if you apply too much force when lifting the arm and the limb falls off altogether.)

Sorry - that last comment was uncalled for.  It's just that I keep hoping that if I make fun of the dead or what they died of enough, one of these days they'll get so mad that they'll resurrect themselves just to come back and kick my ass.  And you know, I'm willing to sacrifice my ass if it'll bring someone - anyone - back....

But my heart just isn't in it tonight.  I simply don't feel like making fun of the death of Ed Winter, or anybody else.  Maybe it's a sign of aging, I don't know, but instead I just want to sit here, savor my memories of Winter's portrayal of Colonel Flagg, and then write thank you letters to all the newspaper obit writers who resisted penning headlines like "Winter Ends As First Spring-like Weather Arrives" or "Winter Made Korean War Fun."  I really hate cutesy headlines like that even when they're attached to the best or most innocuous of stories.  They would be downright intolerable if used to introduce death notices - which of course makes me wonder why we've not encountered them long before now.

I think what's really thrown me off-stride tonight isn't aging (and certainly not any sudden rise in my maturity level) but the fact that Charles K. Johnson passed away within the last three weeks as well.

Don't I just have the worst luck of anybody you know?

Charles K. Johnson (not to be confused with Russell Johnson, the actor who played the professor on Gilligan's Island and might well have worked with Ed Winter at some point) was president of the International Flat Earth Society for nearly 30 years.  "We have studied the Earth," he assured anyone who would listen, "and found it flat" - exactly the way I myself am famous for saying "I have studied the dictionary and have found it extremely short on plot development considering how long it is."

Even now, there is something oddly comforting about a man who insisted that the Earth was not only flat but infinite in size, a rock-strewn disc with the North Pole in the center and impenetrable Arctic ice 150 feet high all the way around.  The sun and moon, in Mr. Johnson's view, were each 32 miles in diameter and circle this disc at a height of 3000 miles.  Their so-called "rising" and "setting" are mere optical illusions - not unlike the optical illusion perpetuated by all those baby-delivering storks who dress themselves up as the so-called "female reproductive tract."

I often find myself wishing that something like Mr. Johnson's world actually existed.  Imagine: No more sleepless nights spent worrying about whether the people in China and India really are avoiding falling off into space thanks to the gravitational pull of our planet or not.  No more wars because of too little living space - those rampaging hordes of Huns could just go rampage off into infinity.  Instead of the "Final Frontier" we'd have the "Endless Frontier."  Instead of all the nuts in the country heading west and collecting in California, they could just keep right on going west....

Alas, our rational age has been hard on worlds like Mr. Johnson's.  Although NASA keeps right on looking, the sad fact of the matter is that scientists from at least Lassie's peak years on have proven time and again that there are no Candylands, no Shangri-La's, no interstate exits that'll take us through the looking glass (at least not outside the deepest South).

And if George W. Bush has his way, soon there'll be no more Munchkinland.  Oh, I know he says the little people who call it home can go on living as they always have even with big derricks dotting the rolling countryside, pipelines criss-crossing the main square, and 16-wheel tankers barreling down the Yellow Brick Road, but let's get real, Mr. President - Exxon's given you so much money over the years that you'd let 'em turn Eden itself into one big tar pit if doing so would put one more drop in the Tin Man's oil can.  The Wicked Witch of the West has a name for people like you, you know - "Idol."

Ack.  That's it.  I'm outa here.

It's time to go mourn in the privacy of my own mind before someone comes along and nationalizes it in exchange for 30 pieces of silver and the promise to end our natural gas shortages once and for all....




(© Once Upon A Time in a place far, far away by DJ Birtcher)