Don Reed - "The Kipling Hotel"

Jul 31, 2015
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Transcript

GLYNN WASHINGTON, HOST:

A little something something. Now, our first storyteller tonight - this guy, he's an amazing brother. In fact, he was just nominated by the NAACP as the best playwright for a play that he wrote. He's got a current play going on at The Marsh. We're excited to have him on this stage. Please welcome Mr. Don Reed.

(APPLAUSE)

DON REED: I grew up on East 14th in Oakland, Calif.

(APPLAUSE)

REED: When I was like 20 years old, I got recruited to UCLA on a speech and debate scholarship - a partial scholarship. But nobody told me that partial scholarship, loosely translated, actually stands for not enough [expletive] money.

(LAUGHTER)

REED: Yeah, I was suffering bad, bad. I was really excited when I first headed off for UCLA. I hopped on a plane...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

REED: Oh, oh. Oh, oh. (Imitating plane) Landed in LA, starry-eyed and realized I didn't have nowhere to live.

(LAUGHTER)

REED: Hadn't quite thought that part out yet, right? So what I did was every day after class, I went to a different dorm room and I partied, went to a different dorm room and partied every night, party, party, party, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

REED: Dancing white to fit in.

(LAUGHTER)

REED: Hi. How are you? How are you doing? How are you? How are you? And crashed in a different dorm room every night, but they caught on to me. So then I slept in the movie theater, and they caught on to me. So then I got a brilliant idea to sleep in the girls' restroom at UCLA. They have those little couches - you know, those little period couches, those little it's-my-time-of-the-month, you-might-want-to-back-up-I-might-choke-you couches?

(LAUGHTER)

REED: I sleep on those. Now, the building where the speech team met had a lot of those couches - Kinsey Hall - built in 1929, with words of wisdom etched in stone over the doorway. But I never read it.

(LAUGHTER)

REED: So I sneak in there and sleep, but I never got good rest 'cause I didn't want anybody to walk in on me. So I kind of slept with one eye open all night, like (snoring). I didn't want some girl to walk in and say Suzanne (ph), Suzanne, there's a Negro in the women's restroom. Alert the authorities, right? I knew I needed somewhere to live. I needed a job. So I went to the classifieds, and I found an excellent opportunity - seeking neat, clean college students to serve breakfast to the elderly in an upscale environment, Beverly Hills, Hancock Park adjacent - The Kipling Hotel, for your busy, friendly, happy retirement. I waited tables some up here in the Bay. I'm like, I got to get this. I caught the bus over there. It was almost as if classical music was playing in my head as I passed luscious lawns and stunning mansions. This is going to be the next level of my life. We rode by a golf course. People waved at me. I was on the bus.

(LAUGHTER)

REED: But the bus went way, way past all that nice [expletive].

(LAUGHTER)

REED: And I ended up in a nasty area with trash on the ground, heard errant gunshots - pow, pow, pow, pow, pow, pow - (imitating sirens) police helicopter (imitating helicopter).

(LAUGHTER)

REED: A little scroungy dog ran by - (barking) - looked like he gave me the finger.

(LAUGHTER)

REED: How did he give the finger with a paw?

(LAUGHTER)

REED: I stepped off the bus (imitating bus door) and there was the Kipling in all its non-fantasticness. I walked into the lobby, and I was immediately met by the scent of urine and Log Cabin syrup.

(LAUGHTER)

REED: Kind of nasty, but kind of sweet.

(LAUGHTER)

REED: I went through the interview. It went well. They told me they'd let me know. They did let me know - I got it, serving breakfast to the elderly for room and board. Now, every day after you'd finish your shift, you had to kind of rush through the lobby 'cause the old folks would be camped out in the lobby. And they'd try to capture you with a long-[expletive] boring story, the kind...

(LAUGHTER)

REED: ...The kind that destroys your soul, the kind that while you listening, you go, am I dying as I'm listening to this? Did you just reference Custer? How long have you been on the planet?

(LAUGHTER)

REED: So you had to do this little move where you kind of jog through the lobby and point to your watch, like I got things to do. I got things to do. But sometimes I just slowed down, and I got to know some of them. I got to know this one old guy named George (ph). One day, he was standing in the dining room, you know, kind of Catskills-type dining room with a green linoleum floor and cheap curtains that wanted to be much nicer. And George, standing there 5-foot-2 with his little dead finger, he's like Don, Don, hold on just a second. I want to talk to you for a second, Don. I want to talk to you. I have a situation, and you're a smart guy. You serve me my breakfast each morning. I want to know if you think what I'm thinking about doing is a good idea, OK, Don? OK, look over here, OK? Look right there, that's my seat every day. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, everybody knows that that's my seat. But now there's this new guy - this new guy, a old guy - he just plops in my seat. He just plotzes. He plotzes in my seat. He's giving me the shpilkes, this guy. This guy's giving me the shpilkes, OK? OK. I'm thinking about doing something. I want to know if you think it's a good idea, OK? I'm thinking of going up behind him and stabbing him in the back of the head with a fork. You think that's a good idea? Just stab him in the back of the head with a [expletive] fork. You think - look at him, watch him - look - watch the son of a [expletive]. Watch him chew. Watch him chew. Watch him chew.

(LAUGHTER)

REED: I hate that guy. I'm too old for this. I'm 92 years old, OK? My wife died 25 years ago. Every night, I say my prayers. I say, dear God, when I wake up, please let me be dead.

(LAUGHTER)

REED: I wake up - damn it, still alive. So how things going for you?

(LAUGHTER)

REED: I said they're going pretty good, George, but I'm having a hard time staying in school financially, and I really just want to be a comedian. He said you could do that. You can go to school and be a comedian. You know, people can make it through anything. People can do anything. They're resilient. Trust me, I've been through a lot. I've been through a lot. Let me tell you a story, Don, OK? I used to live - I used to live overseas. And one day, they marched into our area, and they say that we're going to be prisoners of war. We're like OK, we're going to be prisoners of war, right? But what they did, Don, is they took us to this camp. And then they tell us that we're - we're just going to be held. Don, you see these numbers on my arm right here? He pointed to some numbers tattooed on his forearm. They put those on me there. And so one day, a soldier walks in dressed in all black, and he says, it's time to take a shower. Now, we knew some folks that headed off to these showers - we don't quite remember seeing them again, didn't know if they were transferred, confusing. But we change clothes. We get in line. It's almost my group's turn to walk inside these showers.

And Allied soldiers - British, American, I don't know - they show up and - pop, pop, pop - they shoot the guys in the black - pop, pop, pop. They shoot the SS guys in the black, and they freed us. And that's why you'll never hear me say an ill word about a soldier that's fighting for good. They try to say all soldiers are murderers; they're all killers. But sometimes you got to do that. Sometimes you got to fight. When someone's trying to wipe out your entire culture, you got to fight. You better fight. You got to fight, Don. But you don't have time to listen to all that stuff. You're real busy, and you got a lot to do. I said, that's OK, George. He said, Don, did I ever tell you - had a beautiful wife? She was beautiful. She had this song - well, I sing it to her. I sing this song to her - hold on, I got it, hold on - (singing) you are the most beautiful girl in the whole wide world. You are a beautiful girl, da-da-da-da (ph).

(LAUGHTER)

REED: It's a short song. I made it up.

(LAUGHTER)

REED: But, Don, I'll tell you I've lived a good life. I treat people well. I keep my word. That's a big thing. You got to keep your word. You got to keep your word, Don. But I've lived too damn long. 92 years old, every night, I still say my prayers - dear God, when I wake up, let me be dead. I wake up - damn it, still here. And you know what, Don? You know what they still give me? I'm 92. You know what they still give me? My driver's license.

(LAUGHTER)

REED: You better watch out for me. I'll run you right down. I'll run you right down, Don.

I lived and worked at the Kipling for five years, serving breakfast to the elderly, and they served me stories. I left the Kipling, and things went very, very well for me. Many years later, I got a big project working with a huge star. Her name rhymes with moperah (ph).

(LAUGHTER)

REED: I wanted to remember being hungry 'cause things were going so well. I wanted to remember being really hungry. So what I did - I swear to God - I went back to UCLA to the very building where I used to sleep in the girls' restroom - the very building. While standing outside, I looked up, and I finally looked at those words of wisdom that were etched in stone over the doorway. They say, nothing is too wonderful to be true. It's a quote from a scientist - Faraday. Nothing is too wonderful to be true. And guess what's etched in stone over the doorway of the Kipling Hotel? Not that.

(LAUGHTER)

REED: I think it's scratched in with a butcher knife and says something like lick my nuts or something like that.

(LAUGHTER)

REED: But nothing is too wonderful to be true. You can be my old buddy George, who grew to 92 and beat the Nazis - he beat the Nazis - and finally, happily, woke up dead. Or you could be me, who grew up in Oakland, headed off to college, was homeless for a while but battled through and ended up here with you on this wonderful night - or something like that.

(APPLAUSE)

REED: Thank you guys so much.

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WASHINGTON: SNAP JUDGMENT Live, the "Breakout" special will continue in a moment. Stay tuned.

Mr. Don Reed, ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Don Reed.

(APPLAUSE) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.