April 5, 2012
By Raymond Vance Olszewski
I was 16 years old working part-time for an upholstering firm in our small town in Western Pennsylvania. I was also a junior in high school, and for me my life was a blast. I was called “class clown” always coming up with ways to gain attention, mostly from the girls. I was red-headed, had a “devilish grin” that captured comments from the opposite sex as “cute.” My hair was of medium length and curly. I combed it straight back on both sides and nudged the idea of a “DA” (Duck’s Ass) in the back. On the top, I finished it off with a straight down across the top of my head to the front of my forehead. This resulted in acquiring a mass of curly hair that covered over my widow’s peak. Thousands of freckles spotted across my face with no semblance of order – some large, many small, but no larger than 1/8th of an inch. They seemed to gather more predominately on either side of my nose placed between my brown eyes and above my cheek bones.
As said, I was a clown, prankster, and just a fun-loving individual. I played tricks on people, unafraid to try just about anything. I’d tell what jokes I could remember, and would at times make up my own to see what would stick or not. I was extremely fond of characters played by television comedians Jackie Gleason, Milton Berle, and a few others. One of my favorites also was Clem Kaddiddlehopper which Comedian Red Skelton portrayed on television. Clem you see was a dim-witted country bumpkin who was loved by all. If I was caught at doing something that I should not have been doing by one of my teachers, well, I would just go immediately into the “Clem” character which would cross his eyes and go into a tongue wagging expressing unintelligible “dum-dee-dum-dum” speak.
I was working one day after school at John Kramarick’s Upholstering shop in Tarentum, Pennsylvania. Fellow workers included: Ed Hype, another Ed, John himself and George; a mentally challenged worker. I mostly stripped furniture taking off the old upholstery to make way for new. I would then place and adhere the webbing with carpet or upholstering tacks to the furniture frame. The tacks we would hold in our mouth and place them onto the magnetic end of a “tack hammer.” The tack would become part of the furniture holding material into the proper place on the wooden frame. One could master holding as many as 25 or so tacks in his mouth depending on the size of the tacks.
Other tools of the trade I learned to use in upholstering furniture included webbing stretcher, ripping chisel, and very sharp and large upholstering shears (scissors). On this particular day, we were all working on various tasks in the shop, and as we worked various subjects were discussed. I always enjoyed hearing the two Eddie’s talking, John the owner was more of a serious story teller. George didn’t say too very much, but when he did we would listen to decipher what he was trying to stay. As I said, he was mentally challenged and was a very loving and wonderful, and gentle person.
After hearing one of Eddie’s funny stories, I decided to take the lead by making a fool of myself and proceeded in doing my polished Clem Kaddiddlehopper characterization. I held a pair of upholstering shears in my right hand as I had been cutting some upholstering materials. As I started the ‘du-due-doo-do’ that Clem did, I crossed my eyes and quickly raised the shears up to my nose where I intended to place the open shears just against the tip of my nose. As I lifted the heavy shears up to my nose, the end of my tongue came out of my mouth, and it laid inside of the shears at its base and clipped the end of my tongue nearly off.
Wow! Blood began to pour out of my mouth, and I immediately dropped the shears to the floor grabbing the end of my tongue with my hand. I ran to the bathroom located in the back of the shop where I gathered up a handful of toilet paper off of the holder and immediately placed it to my mouth to absorb the blood that was gushing out of it. With my hand, I clamped the toilet paper around the end of my tongue, came out of the bathroom to be met by everyone who saw the whole thing happen.
In a muffled pronunciation of an attempt to tell them “I cut my tongue” which came out as “eye duh em cluck.” Or something unintelligible like that. Someone said, “He needs to be taken to the emergency room” referring to the one at the Allegheny Valley Hospital that was located a few miles away. I don’t remember for certain, but I think Eddie Hype was the one who put me in his car and rushed me to the hospital. The whole route on the way to the hospital was Eddie driving as fast as he could and me holding toilet paper over my tongue to keep the blood in check and an extra roll of toilet paper in my left hand.
At the hospital, I walked into the area where the nurses at the ER looked at me standing there in my 135-pound frame, blood all over my t-shirt and dungarees and on my tennis shoes. They couldn’t imagine what had happened and made attempts to find out by asking questions which I tried to answer myself. The best I could do was to speak to them with my hand on my tongue “I dut emm tok.” With concerned looks thinking maybe I was brain damaged as well, Eddie told them what had happened as I stood there with half of my hand shoved inside my mouth holding what was remaining of a piece of my tongue against the place where it needed to be and wrapped in toilet paper acting as a temporary tourniquet. As they were hearing this bizarre explanation, laughter began as they directed to a sterilized hospital room; I wasn’t laughing though.
I was led to a table in the middle of a sterile room obviously an operating room environment where I was told to lie down. The nurse removed my hand and the temporary tourniquet from my mouth. Ironically, the blood coagulated enough so that the medical staff could examine the extent of the self-inflicted wound. I laid there quietly always wanting or trying to say something the staff could understand. I heard the doctor say that I needed to have a shot of Novocain to deaden the nerves in my tongue. What? I exclaimed in muffled unintelligible words coming out as “uh-ah-he” with most of the back of my tongue pressing against the roof of my mouth trying to speak – I sounded like Charles Laughton trying to communicate in the movie “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
I hated shots so much that I told the Dentist who gave everyone Novocain before working on your teeth not to give me the shot – I would do it without the Novocain. Well, I did not have an option as the surgeon who was going to mend the end of my tongue wound needed to sew up the piece that was ready to fall off from the damage that the shears did to my tongue. In spite of it all, the nurse was very professional as she took a piece of gauze which she applied to an area further down on my tongue inside my mouth and grabbed the base of my protruding tongue. As she held on, the doctor inserted the needle into the base of my tongue and almost immediately the numbing sensation began.
The nurse released my tongue to rest her hand while we waited for the doctor to begin his task of placing eight stiches into my tongue. As he worked the needle into my tongue, he drew the black stitching thread through my wound; I could not feel a thing other than the nurse holding on to my tongue with a firmest grip I ever felt. Boy was she ever strong! In a few minutes, the job was done. I just don’t remember exactly, but I think my Mom was contacted and she came to the hospital to collect me. I didn’t talk too much either for a while after that. I remember Mom asking me how it happened, and she just got more frustrated as I tried to explain to her what happened.
After a day, I went to school only to be quizzed by my fellow students about what had happened. I learned to tell the story pretty well, and my speech was getting better as my tongue healed back to normal.
I do remember having fun with it all, especially with the girls. In classes, when one of the girls would look at me, I would stick out my still-infused with black stitching tongue at them, wiggling it on occasion only to launch hilariously laughter from those who choose to look. If the teacher would look towards my direction, I could easily and quickly retrieve my black 8-stitched tongue back into my mouth like a turtle retrieving its head back into its shell.
I don’t do upholstering anymore, but when I do pick up any kind of scissors, I remember the incident very well. My tongued faired very well. No loss of feeling or lost my tasting ability. I may even have enhanced my tasting as I have gained vast knowledge of wines. As for the girls, well, I love to tell the story. I still do Clem Kaddiddlehopper to this day.