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The Instigator -Thomas Calabrese

By   /  April 28, 2018  /  18 Comments


The Fanatic Phonetic Troublemaker

Thomas Calabrese — Robert Ralpheson, sometimes called ‘Ralph’ but often referred to as the ‘Instigator’ because his behavior fluctuated between strange, different or just plain instigating. He was a regular patron at the 24 Fitness center in the Carlsbad Mall where he loved to interject phonetic reversal’ (Phonetic reversal is the process of reversing a word or phrase.) into a conversation at any given time, just to throw everybody off their game. If that wasn’t bad enough, Ralph had a mild case of Asperger’s Syndrome which affected his social filter, but instead of controlling his impulses, he readily gave in to them and took great pleasure in the process. Ralph was addicted to his behavior, much like an alcoholic who loved the taste of vodka or a drug addict who couldn’t live without the high, Ralph thoroughly enjoyed his behavior and wasn’t about to change, so it was up to everyone else to either deal with it or ignore him.

He would be carrying on a normal conversation with several members, then take their statements completely out of context and walk over to another group of individuals and relay excerpts that he knew would aggravate them, then attribute the statements to someone else. Ralph had a higher than normal intelligence, was well read and knowledgeable about history and current events. He could also speak intelligently on a variety of subjects; sports, music, movies, science and would often go several days until he learned enough about a person so that he could use their personal preferences and biases against them.

It wasn’t malicious or mean spirited and for those who were familiar with Ralph knew that there were three different ways to play his game; one, do not tell him anything that they did not want repeated, two, do not react emotionally when he tries to illicit an emotional response from you, three, make outlandish statements hoping that the Instigator’ will pass them on, then stand back and see what happens.  On any given day at 24 Hour Fitness, you never knew what you were going to get from Ralph, whether he was going to play you for the source or the target.

On one occasion Ralph walked over to Fred, a retired engineer with particularly strong beliefs and opinions about everything and grinned mischievously, “You know, Mike said that they should confiscate every gun in the world and shoot anybody who refuses to give them up.”

Fred growled, “I’ll give up my guns when I can a get a license for laser guided bombs!”

Ralph rushed back to Mike and embellished Fred’s statement, “Fred said that he wants to bomb everyone who believes in gun control, wipe them off the face of the earth.”

The Instigator went about his workout while watching Mike and Fred to see if the two men would succumb to their natural instincts and get into a confrontation with their diametrically opposed positions or if they would avoid each other during the rest of their workouts. The perfect scenario for Ralph was a situation when he was able to pit an outspoken progressive liberal against a staunch libertarian conservative, with him in the middle to misinterpret their beliefs and relay distorted facts and opinions.

On this particular day Ralph was into language trivia, “Hey Craig, there is a word in the English language that can be a noun, verb, adjective, adverb and preposition. Do you know what it is?”

“No,” Craig answered and didn’t know where this was going so he continued with his leg exercises.

Ralph took a deep breath,” This two-letter word in English has more meanings than any other two-letter word; at a meeting, why does a topic come UP? Why do we speak UP, and why are the officers UP for election and why is it UP to the secretary to write UP a report? We call UP our friends, brighten UP a room, polish UP the silver, warm UP the leftovers and clean UP the kitchen. We lock UP the house and fix UP the old car.  People stir UP trouble, line UP for tickets, work UP an appetite, and think UP excuses. To be dressed is one thing, but to be dressed UP is special.  A drain must be opened UP because it is stopped UP. We open UP a store in the morning but we close it UP at night. We seem to be pretty mixed UP about UP! If you are UP to it, you might try building UP a list of the many ways UP is used. It will take UP a lot of your time, but if you don’t give UP, you may wind UP with a hundred or more. When it threatens to rain, we say it is clouding UP. When the sun comes out, we say it is clearing UP. When it rains, the earth soaks it UP. When it does not rain, things dry UP. Does that clear it up for you?”

“How long did it take you to memorize that?” Craig asked.

“An hour maybe,” Ralph answered with a mixture of pride and playfulness.

“And you couldn’t find anything better to do with your time?” Craig shook his head in amazement.

“I probably could if I had to,” Ralph said, “Who was the only pitcher to pitch two consecutive no hitters?”

“Sandy Koufax,” Craig answered.

“Meer DerVan Johnny,” Ralph said.

“Never heard of him.”

“Johnny Vander Meer,1938,” Ralph said the name correctly then added, “Do you know what team he placed for?”

“St. Louis Cardinals.”

“Close, Cincinnati Reds,” Ralph smiled, “Speaking about Cincinnati, do you know what Rock Hudson’s real name was?”

“How does the Cincinnati Reds have anything to do with Rock Hudson?” Craig asked.

“Rock Hudson was born in Winnetka, Illinois, of course back then he was called Roy Harold Fitzgerald.”

The fact that Illinois and Ohio were in the same geographical vicinity was enough for Ralph to connect baseball and acting as a part of his natural progression of conversation, his mind was always taking the nearest off ramp from the freeway of reasonable and logical.

Mona was on the elliptical bike and reading the daily edition of USA Today when Ralph approached her and started up a casual conversation, “How are you feeling today?”

“I’m doing alright, thanks for asking,” Mona replied.

“How is your daughter doing in San Francisco, is she still at the same job?”

Ralph had an excellent memory and a couple months earlier he had overheard Mona talking about her family with Barbara, a retired school teacher. He filed the information away for further reference and now seemed like a good time to bring it up. Ralph could be engaging, empathetic and seem genuinely concerned when he wanted to be, ten minutes into the conversation he interjected, “Paula said that she’s gets really aggravated when members don’t wipe off their machines when they finish, did she ever mention that? She probably didn’t want to upset you.” Before Mona could respond, Ralph began speaking in phonetic reversal for the next few minutes then said, “Have a good day,” and walked off.

Ray was working on the New York Crossword Puzzle while riding the recumbent bike, “Hey Ralph, what’s three letters for early maker of color T.V’s?”

Ralph quickly responded, “ACR.”

Ray was momentarily confused then inverted the letters, “RCA, that works, thanks.”

Mona finished her usual twenty minutes of cardio exercise then walked over to the leg extension machine where Paula was just finishing her last set. Mona made a flagrant exhibition to wipe down the machine before using it and afterwards. Ralph snickered from his location by the arm curl machine. When Maury walked back, Mona called out, “I just had a conversation with Ralph, have you ever seen me not wipe down a machine after I used it?”

Maury smiled, “Sounds to me like you’ve just been ‘Ralphed.’

Before they could continue there was a loud commotion at the front of the club and at first the members thought it was just a group of powerlifters grunting and yelling, but soon realized that it was something out of the ordinary and much more serious.

A young man in his early twenties, thickly muscled and standing six foot five inches tall and weighing two hundred seventy pounds was enraged and confrontative. He had added forty pounds of muscle to his frame, but the performance enhancing narcotics played havoc with his moods and mental stability. He was all over the emotional scale; one moment he was docile and agreeable and then with the slightest provocation or if things didn’t go his way exactly, he would rocket to angry and combative.

When the young girl realized the dangerous road that she was going down by dating this volatile man, she texted him several excuses for discontinuing their relationship. With any other person, she would have been courteous enough to break up face to face, but she had a fairly good idea how this young man would react to the news, and she didn’t want to be within striking distance when he read it. She had seen him smash his hand through a plaster wall when his favorite television show was cancelled due to a news event. When she told him to calm down, he picked up her up and threw her across the room. She would have been seriously hurt if she had hit the coffee table instead of the couch.

The young man screamed at the manager, “Where is Michelle!”

“She doesn’t want to see you.”

The young man reached into his gym bag and pulled out a Glock 19 semi-automatic  pistol and placed the tip of the barrel against the manager’s forehead, “Does she want to see me now?’ The young man screamed out, “Michelle come out, come out wherever you are!”

The female trainer cowered behind a desk and did not know what to do, her eyes darted back and forth as she searched in vain for an escape route. The young man fired two shots into the ceiling and a light shattered and sprayed glass on the patrons below it. One male member decided to make a break for the front door and the young man instinctively fired and hit the individual in the leg and he went down in a heap. The member screamed out in agony as he clutched his bloody leg.

“Does that prove that I’m serious!” screamed the armed man, “This is all your fault, Michelle. I don’t want to hurt anybody else, but I will if you don’t come out.”

Everybody else inside building instinctively backed away, everyone but Ralph who walked right up to the armed man who was five inches taller and one hundred pounds heavier than him, “Hey Ron, is that the gun that you want to sell”

“Who the hell is Ron and who the hell are you?”

“I’m Ralph, we talked on the phone, but I thought we were going to meet at Red Lobster for all the you could eat shrimp special.”

“Get away from me,” The armed man ordered.

“Let me see the gun, I’m not going to buy a weapon without holding it first. You’ve already demonstrated that it works,” Ralph smiled and reached for the weapon and the armed man pushed him away. “If this is your way of negotiating for a higher price, it won’t work, three hundred dollars is my top price as long the gun is untraceable.”

By now, Ralph had completely the diverted the rage of the armed man away from Michelle to himself, which was always his intention. He spoke normally for one sentence then switched to phonetic reversal with such flawless transition that the armed man was thoroughly confused.

“What did you say?” The Armed Man said

Ralph spoke clearly and distinctly, “About what?”

The Armed Man became more frustrated as Ralph bounced around from sports to entertainment and then to politics and each subject had its share of coded language. Someone must have called the Carlsbad Police because several cars with their lights flashing pulled up to the front entrance. As soon as the Armed Man saw them, he panicked and once again Ralph interjected, “Aw hell, the cops are here, don’t tell them you saw me.”


“You don’t think they’re here for you, do you? Ralph asked, “I’ve got a dozen parking tickets and I recently got caught eating smoked almonds out of the bin at Sprouts. I didn’t expect them to catch up to me so soon. I’m going to have to make a run for it.”

When the Armed Man momentarily diverted his attention to the police outside, Ralph disarmed him with a lightning quick maneuver when he grabbed the man’s wrist with one hand and turned the barrel of the pistol up with the other. Ralph kicked the man in the knee, came around behind him and performed a textbook chokehold. The muscular man struggled for a few seconds then lapsed into unconsciousness and fell to the floor. Ralph popped out the magazine, cleared the chamber and casually set the weapon on the front counter.

When the Police interviewed Ralph, they also didn’t know what to make of him, especially when he started comparing the current Blue Bloods television show to Starsky and Hutch and Miami Vice.

One officer turned to his partner, “What’s with this guy? Do you think we need to call it in as a 5150” (Section 5150 is a section of the California Welfare and Institutions Code authorizes a qualified officer or clinician to involuntarily confine a person suspected to have a mental disorder that makes them a danger to themselves, a danger to others, or gravely disabled.)

The other officer showed him his tablet and both men read it. It seemed that Ralph was a decorated Marine who served six combat tours and sustained a traumatic brain injury during a rocket attack while leading his men to his safety. He was awarded the Silver Star for his heroic actions and received a medical discharge.

Of all the things that Ralph talked about, which were numerous and diverse to say the least, he never mentioned his military service or experiences. Things remained confusing around 24 Fitness whenever the Fanatic Phonetic Troublemaker was around, but it also made a lot more sense to the members once they knew a little background about the Instigator.

The End

Also written by Thomas Calabrese and available for purchase.

Some of The Best –  by Thomas G. Calabrese
Kindle Books – Price 2.99













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  • Published: 12 months ago on April 28, 2018
  • By:
  • Last Modified: April 26, 2018 @ 7:22 am
  • Filed Under: The Back Page

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  1. John Michels says:

    Tom you pretty much covered most of the folks you know at the gym. It was a very bizarre story but it turned out well.

  2. Craig says:

    Highly entertaining story Tom.Especially for those guys at our gym who actually know ‘Ralph’. Your description of him in the first few paragraphs of the story was spot on !And I really enjoyed the ending: the “King of Phonetic Reversal” triumphs as a hero and saves the day at the gym. I only hope that the local PD doesn’t bust Ralph for the unpaid tickets and eating out of the bin at Sprouts !!
    Please keep these stories coming Signore Calabrese.They are great fun !


  3. Pat Madden says:

    Great change of pace story.

  4. Joe says:

    That’s a great twist from you normal stories. Bet Ralph got a lifetime membership to the gym after that.

  5. Guy says:

    A fun story to read…humorous with a twist at the end

  6. Kyle says:

    The Ralph will go down in history

  7. Dan says:

    It seems like I know someone like the Instigator.

  8. Clyde says:

    A different and refreshing change of pace…humorous without being heavy handed

  9. Kyle says:

    Fun story

  10. Mike says:

    I enjoyed it..like noted, very funny

  11. Robert says:

    Another enjoyable story by Tom with some great dialogue and humor. Another winner!

  12. Mona says:

    Tom, you hit the nail on the head this time! I’m thrilled to know about Ralph’s past military service…. no wonder he’s a mental mess!

  13. Josh says:

    You don’t want to get ‘Ralphed’ , that’s for sure

  14. Ralph says:

    Yes the 24hr fitness is a great place to do some convoluted comedy. Tom created a humorous conversation based on actual dialogue. The real instigator is better looking than the cover illustration. Actually was a corpsman in the navy. Well, time to watch some Editulgalude commercials.

  15. Janet says:

    You always surprise me with your stories…can’t wait for the next one

  16. Jeremy says:

    Why is it that the comment from Ralph seemed like it came from the inspiration who was actually the main character of the story

  17. Joceyln says:

    Great story Tommy. Ralph and yourself seem awfully similar in many aspects

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