The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

August 22, 2010

MICHELE M. BENDER | Tiptoe through the town with Tiny

Michele Mikesic Bender

— Late August finds teenagers bidding summer jobs goodbye as they prepare to go back to school.

Some are “fond farewells” ... others, not so much.

At 15, I disgraced my paper hat, unable to put curls on cones at a soft-serve stand.

And I hated my job at a bakery in 1966; every surface was sticky.

However, the job that introduced me to pop oddity Tiny Tim probably bottomed out my world of teen summer employment.

In 1970, I worked at a small downtown motel.

Tiny Tim, born Herbert Khaury, skyrocketed to gag popularity. He strummed a ukulele and sang “Tip-toe Through the Tulips” in an annoying falsetto voice, proving conclusively that it didn’t take much to entertain ’60s audiences. In 1969, he peaked when he married Miss Vicky, a 17-year-old Jersey girl, on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show.”

As his career floundered, Tiny played small clubs and fairs in the early ’70s.

A gig at the former S Club on Franklin Street brought him to Johnstown.

One Sunday morning our phone rang.

“Please send your hotel limo to the airport,” the caller instructed. “Tiny Tim and his manager have arrived.”

“The hotel WHAT?” said the shocked desk clerk.

“My boyfriend Fred has a pickup,” volunteered one of the housekeepers.

The club had reserved two second-floor rooms for Tiny and his manager, Marvin.

We unloaded five cosmetic bags from Fred’s F150, along with sequined, beaded and plumed costumes and three ukulele cases, and lugged all the junk upstairs.

Tiny’s performances began at 10 p.m. He filled his days running up long-distance charges phoning Miss Vicki (Mrs. Vicki then, I presume.).

By Wednesday of the first week, Tiny and Marvin rented a car and drove out of town, searching for privacy while they imbibed. They were frequently “over-served.”

One afternoon, I answered the phone. “Lee Hospital,” the operator announced, then told me the rest.

“Call Fred. We need the pickup,” I sighed. “Tiny broke his leg.”

In Tim’s room, the housekeeper and I rummaged through dozens of pizza boxes, beer cans and burger wrappers to find costumes, makeup and ukuleles. There were no bellboys or elevators.

We toted it all to the first floor, in record heat and humidity, for his final show.

Tiny and Marvin departed a day later.

One manager chased Tiny by mail for month until the entertainer finally paid for “reaching out and touching” Miss Vicki.

Several weeks later, a fruit basket was delivered with a thank-you card.

That surprised me. I thought he’d send tulips.

Michele Mikesic Bender is a Johnstown resident and a member of  The Tribune-Democrat’s Readership Advisory Committee.