A close friend once described Fred Rochlin as the guy you would avoid in line at the post office. Shuffling into a room in sneakers and a worn cap, he had a raspy, high-pitched voice, reminiscent of Walter Brennan. If he engaged you in conversation, the first thing out of his mouth might be: "Do you believe in God?"
Rochlin supported no organized religion, but he was spiritual. He saw life as a never-ending search for meaning, which he pursued through World War II as the navigator of a bomber, then by building a successful architectural firm in Los Angeles and finally the discovery--in his eighth decade--of an improbable second career as a spellbinding monologuist.
His show, and a subsequent book, was called "Old Man in a Baseball Cap: A Memoir of World War II." It was a series of monologues about his wartime experiences, full of sexual adventures and chilling confrontations with death, that he performed at theaters around the country between 1996 and 2001.
"The monologue, about an ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances, has the elements of an epic: love and death, honor and betrayal, vengefulness and martyrdom, and ultimately, the fortuitousness of survival," New York Times cultural critic Bruce Weber wrote in a glowing article after seeing Rochlin in 1998 at the B Street Theater in Sacramento.