Merle Haggard…a memory

country music, Uncategorized

HaggardIt’s a memory from my days working in country radio and I hesitate to tell it this soon after his transition….Okay, I’ll tell my Merle story, but I hope no one thinks I’m being disrespectful to him. I sure don’t mean to be; far from it. You could not be a bigger fan of his art than I am.

The radio station in Lakeland sponsored his concert there. As part of the promotion, the station ran a contest for one lucky fan to win a backstage pass and a chance to meet Merle Haggard. This was done in complete coordination with Hags office.

I’ll never know what happened to him that day before the concert, but it was something bad; perhaps an argument the wife or something worse, but he was in no mood to do a concert or meet people.

His manager entered backstage and looked around. He saw all the people from the station, some security folks and the very, very excited man who had won the contest. A man I am quite sure had never met a celebrity in his life. Hag’s manager was visibly nervous. He said that Merle was having a difficult day and then he added, “Just don’t close in around him when he walks in. Give him space…some breathing room, okay?” Everyone agreed.  Now, remember that Hag was a man who had spent time in prison. He was not a person to approach unexpectedly…especially when he was in a bad mood.

A few minutes later Hag entered the room and the contest winner could not contain himself. He leaped to his feet and ran to Hag, grabbing him by his hand in an attempt to shake hands with him. That did it. Merle caught the poor guy with a vicious left hook and several other blows. I mean he put the guy out cold. Hag looked down at him and said, “Don’t grab at my hand, you son-of-a-bitch. Don’t you know I’m a guitar picker?”

The guy sued the station and Hag and was paid off. Now you might think that this means Hag was not a good guy, but wait. The Hag could have filed charges against the man for grabbing him that way…that was illegal. You can’t grab a person that way even if your motive is good. The guy is lucky that Merle felt really bad about it and let it go; and, as I said, even paid the guy. Likewise, the station did nothing wrong but paid the shut-up money anyway.   

There’s only two other things I’ll say about this great poet: I loved his ex-wife Bonnie. She was a sweetheart. And I’ll tell you that I almost fell on the floor laughing the first time I heard the song, “Okie From Muskogee” because of the line, “We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee. ”  Truth: no one loved a good joint more than the Hag. 

Thoughts on Go Set a Watchman

Uncategorized
Harper

Author, Harper Lee

I suppose there is a depth of understanding of the writer, Harper Lee, which can only come from being a true southerner: one who grew up observing the civil rights struggle of the Deep South. And as the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, Daniel Ruth points out, it is a myth that Florida is not part of that Deep South culture as much as Alabama, Mississippi or anywhere along tobacco road. I grew up in Lakeland, FL., and let me assure you that all the racism in the mythical Maycomb, all the hypocrisy and apartheid were very much a part of that town’s culture during my childhood journey there.

Her writing genuinely captures that culture of tradition, fear and ignorance: a South so intricately tied to the old English aristocracy and unwilling to let go. And there were those, even amongst the elite, who like Jeanne Louis in the book, are so far ahead of their time in acceptance and support of needed change that they were like time travelers who went backward and got caught in the past. When you consider that Lee wrote both  her novels in the 1950’s, it is clear that she was one of those who must have felt so caught between the culture of her childhood and the truth: that culture of oppression was wrong and had to change.

I have read and listened to the nonsense about her destruction of the myth: the perfect male role modal. I am most grateful to Mary Badham, who played Scout in the movie, To Kill a Mockingbird: She responded to the criticism of the book’s portrayal of Atticus as a racist by pointing to the fact that “Mockingbird” is Scout’s view of her father while in her childhood, and the new novel is her adult perception and understanding: what do you know, Atticus Finch is a flawed human after all…just like the rest of us. Let’s get over it.

In his insightful essay on the subject titled “What Harper Lee Got Right” another great Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, Gilbert King — the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys and the Dawn of a New America” – points out that the “elephant in the room” in Go Set a Watchman is Thurgood Marshall and other NAACP lawyers who successfully argued the Brown vs. Board of Education decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. They were upsetting the likes of Atticus Finch and other advocates of the status quo vs. government involvement in change. So the myth of a great white savior for black Americans is exposed.

Consider this from Gilbert King’s essay:

In Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee seems to be on the verge of  recognizing the contributions not of white saviors like the Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird, but of men like Thurgood Marshall, who often picked up where the Atticus Finches of America failed in court, saving the lives of innocent men. Jean Louise opines to her father that the South should have tried to work with blacks instead of running from the Brown decision and ultimately resenting the government. “I think we deserve everything we’ve gotten from the NAACP and more,” she tells him.

 Still, there have been “white saviors” who deserve credit and gratitude for their courage: such as Justice Hugo Black and Justice Jackson of the U.S. Supreme Court. They wrote compelling opinions that helped change America for the better. And there were many others. But we have often failed to recognize and adequately document the work of those black Americans who stood so strong against the odds. Consider this additional excerpt from Gilbert King’s observations:

Living, breathing men like Hugo Black and Robert Jackson recognized that Thurgood Marshall and other civil rights lawyers and advocates were risking their lives in pursuit of constitutional equality. They also recognized that as justices on the nation’s highest court, there was no higher duty than to identify and act on the injustices that came before them.

In the heat of the Brown battle, a fatigued Marshall once remarked to an associate, “sometimes I get awfully tired of trying to save the white man’s soul.”

The battle was so daunting, Marshall needed all the white saviors he could find.

Thus, Mr. King pays tribute to both the white and black Americans who took us from the times described so accurately in “Watchman.” And Harper’s books are, in part, a study­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ of those so conflicted by tradition and truth: from the mob brought down by a tomboy called Scout, to a deeply troubled Jean Louis.

 Her writing drips with the voice of the South I grew up in. I hear it and feel it on every page. The symbolisms are moving and paint a picture of change and its challenges of conscience: she stands as the watchman in the balcony of the courtroom where she once observed the courage of her father; now seeing the truth of a mob mentality that even he is caught up in. She recalls sitting on the water tower looking down on Maycomb as a child and again watching over a hamlet full of southern charm and heartless hate and fear.

The book fails in some places; especially by today’s standards: such as when her uncle attacks Jean Louis by hitting her in the mouth and then suddenly returns from brute to the wise old sage who counsels her on how love and acceptance do not deprive one of individuality. But I’m being picky; it is a great read. It is not worthy as a sequel to “Mockingbird.” However, all comparisons are odious.

P.S. As an additional homage to the book, I’ve tried to overuse the colon just as she did. :>)

 

Mariota

2015 NFL Draft, Football, Jamies Wintson, Marcus Mariota, NfL, NFL Draft, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Mariota

Marcus Mariota should be the first pick for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he may not be. Why not?

 

The ridiculous reasons that the Bucs may not choose Mariota:

I still believe the Bucs will choose Mariota. I just can’t bring myself to say that they’re going to make the mistake of not choosing such a leader. But every sportswriter and sportscaster I read or hear is predicting it will be he whose name should not be mentioned. I’ve been a Bucs fan since the first game they played. So it matters to me. I still love football. I don’t love the culture that has grown up around it, but I so love the chess game aspect of football.

Here are the nonsense reasons for picking the other guy:

  • Political decision; there are many FSU fans in the Tampa Bay area and they want Winston because, bless their little hearts, they don’t know any better. Such a decision would ignore the fact that Mariota has won multiple fan polls here in Tampa Bay
  • Mariota is faster but speed doesn’t matter. If that’s true then nothing else matters and they should give me that job. It is a bonus ability that can make a big difference in big games
  • Mariota is more accurate. I guess they think that doesn’t matter either
  • Mariota has no history at all of stupid stuff. None. Nothing. Ever. I know, I know, doesn’t matter, right? Character doesn’t matter?
  • This is one that does scare me: It is possible that Mariota has said, behind the scenes, that he really doesn’t want to come here. He may want to stay on the West Coast…closer to home. Or he may hope to go to the Eagles to play for his former coach. If this is the reason, we may not know it because no one is likely to admit it for many years
  • The daddy complex. Derick brooks, Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith seem to have this ego driven disease. They think that they can mentor and mold the other guy and change him into a caring, conscientious adult (i.e. someone like Marcus Mariota). This is an ego thing; they will save him from himself and then get credit for it. Don’t get me wrong, I hope Winston will become the pro he could potentially be. I just don’t want him to be my team’s roll of the dice
  • He does not have experience in a pro-style offense. This is the number one stupid reason not to pick Mariota. What does it take to adjust to playing in the NFL? Great athletic ability and superior intelligence. I rest my case

Here We Go and There We Went

Life Lessons, Reflections

Je suis Charlie
Recent events in Paris attacking freedom of creative expression remind me all too well of my own battle for freedom of expression and creativity. I was studying writing at the University of Tampa, and while my experience is benign compared to Paris, it is a lesson in the ongoing fight for creative expression.

At the first class we were informed that we should choose who we wanted as teammates because the main project required a team of four students to write a sitcom pilot. Our final assignment at end of the term would be a table read of the script in front of the professor and our classmates. (Should you ever have occasion to try such a creative exercise, I assure you that you’ll come away with a great respect and awe for writers who write such scripts on a weekly basis. And, after my experience in the class, the fact that they often do it in teams is incredible to me.)

I recall thinking that it was a good thing that I could be part of a team because I didn’t want to face such a daunting creative challenge alone. It was a thought I would come to realize demonstrated the utmost ignorance.

What began with friendship, even great affection, ended with visualizations of unspeakable, delightful horrors: As I looked across the table, I could clearly see in my fellow Spartan’s eyes what they were seeing as they looked at me, and my thought was, Right back attcha bitches. I saw my head exploding and the contemplation of ducking so as to avoid the splatter of flesh and blood and bone fragments hurling about the small conference room. And I reached the point of inability to look at any of the three “ladies” without my imagination seeing breasts exploding like over filled balloons, eyeballs popping out and flying around free of gravitational influence while fingers suddenly elongated and launched like rockets while chasing flying eyeballs around, spurting blood throughout the room like spent rocket fuel.

The girls, now with faces featuring large, hideous pinkish red holes where eyeballs once presided, were in my imagined reality, now reaching for their eyes with bloody, fingerless knops while their jaws melted as though figures in a wax museum engulfed in flames. Finally, during our group sessions, my mind would snap reluctantly back to listening to these prissy shits with their petty observations and complaints. In retrospect, I can see that the seeds for the growing animosity were planted on the first day we met as a team….And grew faster than maidenhair fern in Miracle Grow.

My own not so bright idea came when I heard that I must become part of a group. I decided immediately on a proactive approach. I reasoned that my powers of observation would allow me to choose which were the most studious and creative and go after them. Yeah, right.

Perhaps I was subconsciously thinking that, as the oldest student in the class, I would end up like the awkward child on the playground and get chosen last, if at all. Somewhere in the dark corners of my mind I could hear the professor: “Isn’t anyone going to choose poor Vernon?” Then comes the voice from somewhere in the back of the room, “Who wants the old fart?” Stinking thinking was sealing my fate.

My first choice was a girl I knew — an actor who also worked as a waitress at a restaurant I frequented. Surely she would bring the spark of an artist and creative energy with her. Her enthusiastic acceptance grew my confidence. The next two picks were largely via process of elimination. I crossed off students already taken, those that were talking while the professor was speaking and those texting under their desks. I left the class after my team was approved by the professor convinced that I had the best team and the creative energy would flow red-hot and study like lava. Yeah, right. The days of rocket fingers, flying eyeballs and melting flesh were just around the corner.

Our first group meeting began with expressed consternation about the agony of coming up with an idea for a sitcom pilot. My “partners” took their turns bemoaning the great pain and brain drain from idea hunting. Not a single idea from any of them. My naïve anticipation that I would have to compete for my own idea, was just one of my misconceptions about this soon to become torturous collaboration. I had, it seemed, picked a group too lazy to pick their own noses.

Apprehensive as I was to pitch to them, their failure to put forward any ideas bolstered my belief that my idea could rock and get us an “A” in the class. I had already pissed off some prim and proper students by using artistic nude photos as the focus of my ad campaign for the advertising writing class; it was an ad campaign for magazines. I knew there was a chance that my sitcom pitch would kick up some more dust. However, it was my turn, so I jumped in the pool not realizing there was no water to cushion the hard impact to come.

Actually, I had written “Here We Go” as a short story and, I reasoned that we could convert it to a sitcom script and fulfill our assignment. That was the easy part of the pitch. Now came the part that I knew could derail the train to a glorious script breathing life into my characters: George, Evie and Consuela.

The premise of my script idea assured that it would be a pilot for adult oriented cable T.V. Yes, I was willing to collaborate and compromise as part of a team. But I wanted to make sure everyone understood that the one compromise I would not make was the premise. That was my baby and I either wanted to follow through on it or go with something else. I emphasized the point in my pitch.

I explained my idea in detail: Evie and George are newlyweds but she is already five months pregnant on the wedding day. Apprehension and anxiety over impending fatherhood, coupled with his frustrating relationship with a strong-willed mother-in-law, Consuela, fosters hilarity in dialog and action. (I take a deep breath at this point in the pitch because here it comes…here we go.)

The concept derives from the T.V. show I Love Lucy. Lucille Ball and her husband, Desi Arness, were creative geniuses. However, they fought battles with the censor of the day over content. Silly things such as not allowing them to be in one bed together. In those days censors were powerful squashers of creativity.

As I was taught to do by writing professors, I posed a “what if” question. What if the censors were sent home? What if they weren’t allowed any authority? Of course, today this is reality: It’s called cable television with many shows leaving censorship in the dust. So I decided to write a story loosely based on “I Love Lucy” without censors. My short story was born.

I pointed out that, obviously, this concept would involve explicit material – sexual situations and offensive language.

“If you have any problem with that then let’s not do my script. I have no problem with going for something different; let’s hear your ideas. I just don’t want to get in this one and then have any problems with the premise and what it entails; this will be a sitcom for adult cable T.V. audiences. I do not want to change that.”

I was about 90% sure that they would respond to my little speech with a thumbs down and let’s move on with our search.

In retrospect, I should have known there was no way they would reject my pitch. Of course not; this was their chance to avoid doing the work of coming up with an idea. Something I would come to realize they didn’t have the chops to do even if they had the energy and work ethic. The vote was unanimous and work on “Here We Go” began.

We were several weeks along – much too far to turn back or change concept. I was doing almost all the writing with the actor chiming in with an occasional half scene or two. George, Evie and her sharp-tongued mom, Consuela, were alive and creating comical mayhem with censorship left behind. The scenes were delightfully rude, crude and worthy of cable T.V.

My teammates murmured to each other and occasionally offered up a corny line here and there for consideration. I was not expecting Milton Berle, Jack Benny, Lucy or Desi, but I was disappointed when the girls didn’t even seem to try. They apparently became bored with the whole process and decided they would turn our meetings into bad soap operas. But a soap needs a bad guy…I was the bad guy.

One particular meeting felt very different right from the beginning, and not in a good way. It was obvious that some sort of meeting had occurred without me (I suspect the actor initiated this mutiny of Spartans). They agreed that I was “going too far” with the adult nature of the script. They did not want to just modify the script but to take it decidedly in the direction of mainstream, primetime. Exactly what they knew from the start I did not want. Pearl Harbor had been bombed; war declared.

The group began to challenge me at every turn. At one meeting the actor presented a performance worthy of a bad night at community theater. She adopted the most sanctimonious tone. With all the self-righteousness she could muster, I was lectured about the need for standards in content and concept.

Fuck you, I thought as she droned on.

She spoke of her righteous standards as an actor:  She would never, for example, do a nude scene, she claimed.

Okay, so stay in your waitress job and do your overacting in some small, dingy, half- ass production of Music Man or some such shit.

Writer, Stephen King, points out that when one decides to write, that person leaves polite society behind. Of course he is referring to the genres of writing for adults. But writers who have been labeled as unfit for reading and had their work banned and burned (Yes, even right here in the good old USA that my dad fought for) is long and proud: Maya Angelou, Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut and so many others. And, for that matter, the list of great actors who have appeared in nude scenes as part of artistic expression is likewise long and distinguished.

Je suis Charlie.

The animosity was open and the body parts hurled around the room, and the wax figures melted before my eyes (I still had mine). I reminded the “genteel ladies” that they had agreed to the concept and content at our first meeting. Deaf ears fell off and flopped to the round, dark wood conference table like red fish leaping from the aquarium.

“There’s no need for a ‘fuck you’ in this scene.”

“Why are you using the word ‘penis’?”

“Okay, I replied, “Let’s change that to big, giant goddamn dick. How’s that?”

“Why did you decide the baby is a boy? You didn’t check with us first.”

“Well, I had a choice and decided that you’d no doubt like a dick. But allow me a rhetorical question: What the fuck difference does it make to this story? If you want a pocketbook there instead of a pecker, by all means slap it in there.”

“Fine.”

“Fine.”

Let us pause for a moment and take a look at part of the opening scene. Just to give you an idea of what this war was all about:

 

ACT ONE

FADE IN:

EXT. OUTSIDE FRONT DOOR TO LIVING ROOM—AFTERNOON.

GEORGE IS ATTEMPTING TO CARRY EVIE INTO THE LIVING ROOM. HE IS HAVING DIFFICULTY GETTING THROUGH THE DOOR WITH HIS PREGNANT WIFE:

GEORGE

(NERVOUS)

Okay, okay. I gottcha, girl, I

gottcha.

EVIE IS ROCKED BACK AND FORTH AND NEARLY DROPPED.

EVIE

Put me down, George. You’re going

to drop me and this baby. Put me

down. Put us down, damn it.

GEORGE STRUGGLES TO KEEP CONTROL.

GEORGE

It’s okay, I gottcha, I gottcha.

EVIE

(AGGRAVATED)

No you don’t. Put me down!

GEORGE FINALLY MANAGES TO GET THROUGH THE FRONT DOOR AND ENTERS THE LIVING ROOM STILL CARRYING EVIE.

GEORGE KIDS EVIE AS HE CARRIES HER AROUND THE ROOM.

GEORGE

(BOISTROUS)

Okay, my lovely bride, here we are.

Home sweet home. Now, let’s start

consummating this here marriage!

EVIE

(NOW AMUSED)

Just put me down, I think we’ve

done all the consummating we’re

going to do until after this baby

comes.

GEORGE TWIRLS EVIE AROUND, TRIPS AND FALLS BACK AND ON THE COUCH.

GEORGE

Whoa! Come on honey, it’s our

honeymoon.

BEGINS TO SPEAK SPANISH.

EVIE

(LAUGHING)

No Jodas conmigo, tu bastardo

bellaco.

(Don’t screw with me, you horny

bastard)

GEORGE

You know I don’t know what that

means.

EVIE

(KIDDING)

It means “Don’t screw with me, you

horny bastard.

GEORGE

It sounded better in Spanish.

###

I kept writing the way I planned. They made a few changes just to be doing something, and with a priority to bug me. I countered with more content sure to make Larry Flint flinch and provide more material for hot-tempered arguments. Might as well stir the pot and have some fun watching their hissy fits.

And then it was time: Our table read date arrived. Our nightmare war was almost over. As we took our seats at the long table in front of fellow students and the professor, the actor was reading Evie, and I reading George, so we sat down next to each other. To my right and sitting at the end of the table, was a Spanish-speaking student I had recruited with the professor’s permission to read Consuela. Another member of the team stood at a podium with the assignment to read description. The remaining team member was content to do what she had done all along…nothing.

The actor seized on a chance to take a jab before the adventure ended. We were well taught what a table read is. Readers are expected to put forth at least some acting qualities, but it is a read and nothing more. Yet, just before the reading began, she turned to me and with as frigid and indifferent a tone as she could muster said, “You know the scene where George and Evie kiss?”

“Yes, I wrote it.”

“We’re not going to really kiss. Do you understand?”

Tits exploded, eyes leaped out, fingers flew off.

Well, what about the scene where they have sex? Aren’t we going to jump on the table and go for it? You moron bitch from hell. I’d rather kiss a cottonmouth moccasin.

“Yes, I know.”

“Okay, let’s hear it.” The booming voiced professor said in his way to quite the class and bring us all to attention. He was well aware of the arguments between us and had stayed out of it other than to declare that there would be no censorship in his class. (The true God bless him forever.) I suspect he was secretly enjoying the conflict.

The actor had one last whack to take at me:

Just as I was about to begin the read, she suddenly stood up and announced to the class: “We want to apologize in advance for the vulgarity.” She resumed her seat with a dramatic flair and satisfaction that was more than I could bare. Ever mindful of the professor’s presence and desperately wanting an “A” I had strained to keep my wits and use restraint. But now I could not hold myself back. I stood quickly just as she was placing her butt back in the seat as if it were her broom stick.

“No we do not apologize for creativity. If you’re offended, too bad.”

The actor spoke with the authority of a stern parent: “Sit down and shut up.”

I looked directly into an impatient expression on the professor’s face and sat back down.

As soon as we began, everything changed. The actor read with the conviction and talent of a seasoned performer. Her voice rolled out over the mesmerized audience. Her clean articulation was complete with all the right pauses and groans in all the right places. I instantly knew that I needed to hyper focus on George’s antics and frustrations. I had to raise my game to match her. No question, she made me better.

I did the writing, but this girl brought those characters to life in front of the class. From the timing we displayed, the almost musical delivery between us, you would never guess the intense disdain that lurked below the surface. Our Consuela seemed likewise lifted: Her Spanish spiced with a tanginess that held our audience like a just caught fly ball.

When we were done, and the applause abated, I heard the voice of the professor say simply but firmly, “Good read.” The “A” for the assignment was solidified and I was on my way to graduation. I turned to our Consuela and profusely thanked her, waived to the teammate who read description with perfection. Caught in the moment, I then turned to the actor and said,

“Good job.”

“You too,” she said without looking at me.

We turned our backs to each other and walked away.

I’ve said all that to say this:

Never apologize for creativity.

Je suis Charlie

 

Notes on Suicide and Mental Illness

Life Lessons, Reflections, Suicide
My parents on their wedding day

My parents on their wedding day

On this day, January 20th, in 1959, my mother, at age 30, killed herself. She waited until her 13 year old daughter left for school and then took her 3 year old daughter to a neighbor. The neighbor readily agreed to watch little Kathy while her friend got some rest. No one would see Tina Kelly alive again.

My parents had divorced. Originally, Mom had taken me with her to one of her sister’s homes in Alabama. I was 2 but I can still recall the long train ride with its novel excitement and my mom’s distant look as she fed me a tuna ( or was it egg?) sandwich. A few months later she inexplicably brought me back to Florida and left me at the home of another one of her sisters. After a time my dad came and got me. As we drove to Lakeland where I would spend the rest of my childhood and most of my adult life, he explained to me that I would be living with him from now on.

I did see my mother again while she was still alive a couple of times. She had married again and was still distant but not unkind to me. I recall the sound of her voice, the cigarettes she chained smoked and the sight of the fire engine red lipstick that she wore as it rubbed off onto the cigarette filters. I can remember seeing her cry for no apparent reason and my on sadness that I couldn’t begin to understand.

That January morning she took time to write a note saying good-bye and apologizing. Towels were placed under doors and at the windows of the small bungalow on St. Petersburg, Florida’s Delmar Terrace. She put two pillows on the floor next to the gas range, turned on all the burners, put her head on the pillows and went to sleep. Her then husband was on a ship and she was not found until her daughter returned from school to find her mother dead on the floor.

Years later I begged my sister to tell me about that day. I thought I needed to know and that my sister needed to get it out. My sister, as it turns out, had developed a hatred for Mom and, for that matter, everyone else. She told me without emotion that, at the time, she had a pet bird. She came home, finding the place filled with gas and looked in one direction, seeing that her bird was dead and looking in the other direction, seeing her mom dead on the floor. My sister then looked down with distain at her mother and said, “You bitch, you killed my bird.”

In my 8 year old mind, it was some sort of holiday when I was allowed to miss school to go with my dad to my mother’s funeral. On the ride from Lakeland, he tried to prepare me: “Now you understand that your mom is going to look like she’s asleep. She’s not. She will not wake up so don’t try to wake her. Someday you’ll understand all this better.”

I was a small child, even for 8. As I walked up to the gray casket, I had to grab its edge and stand on my toes to see her. My dad tried to pick me up but I protested. It would be many years before I learned why her casket was completely open, exposing her entire body dressed in a pink or pale blue lacy nightgown that covered her all the way to her ankles. Her hair was meticulous, as was her makeup…complete with that fire engine red lipstick. Her toes were exposed showing carefully painted toenails to match the lipstick.

Why was her casket open that way instead of the usual “waist up” view? Many years later, as I recounted this event in my life to my then wife who is an RN, CEN who worked for many years as an ER nurse and pretty much saw and heard it all, she explained the likely reason for the scene to me.

She explained that when women commit suicide, it is common for them to take the time to make themselves up as if they were going to some social event. They want to be found in a state of beauty. This was probably truer in 1959 than today, but I don’t know.

So it is that someone had decided she should be exactly as she had wanted…everyone should see her as she was found on that hard kitchen floor, ready for her graceful exit.

My mother had a long history of mental problems: depression and probably bipolar, based on my dad’s description of her as often appearing as though she were two different people: cheerful and joking to rock bottom depression in a heartbeat. She was a devout Christian and had reached out to the minister of the Calvary Baptist Church in Clearwater, FL. that she often attended. The minister, according to Dad, in all his righteous glory, had instructed her to pray and seek forgiveness for her sins. That is all.

I don’t blame that misguided minister for my mom’s death. I just blame him for being a dumbass. Even then, as backwards as so many things were, there was professional help that could have helped her, if that person she reached out to had known how to respond to such a sick person. If someone needs help and you want to pray, go ahead and pray. In the meantime, get them some professional human help in this life right here, right now. The God you profess to believe in wants the professionals to provide the help they have been given the true God given ability to provide.

Her son was left behind with some of the same challenges she had. I have fought my own battles with depression and suicidal thoughts. But I have also sought and received some help along the way. One of the greatest ongoing problems in our society is mental illness and our collective failure to deal with it in a proactive way without stigma. Hopefully, that will be a next great frontier for us, as a society, to confront and conquer. It takes a village.

R.I.P. Ernestine Kelly. I know you did the best you could to make it through.

TORTURE IS UNAMERICAN

Life, Reflections

water-boardingSenator Dianne Feinstein did the correct thing for the United States and for all of humanity by releasing the report on CIA misuse and abuse of its authority over detainees.

Also, I want to note and express respect and appreciation for Senator John McCain, who rose on the Senate floor to express his support for the release of the report and who condemned once again the use of torture. This is an important voice since he himself was a victim of torture while a P.O.W. during the Vietnam conflict. It is good to see Senator McCain return with passion to his previously held position.

It is revealing to note that CNN carried the remarks by Senator Feinstein and Senator McCain from Washington, D.C. However the Fox Network did not. What does that tell you?

Below is an essay on the matter of torture that I wrote in 2008 during the U.S. Presidential campaign. I still stand by it today. As a volunteer worker in President Obama’s 2008 campaign, I am proud to note that one of the President’s first acts was to make such torture illegal.

TORTURE

waterboarding-420Recently, Vice President Cheney attempted to justify the use of torture by suggesting that the U.S. was successful in getting information from the use of torture, and he said that it was a good thing we found out what they knew.

One is justifiably suspicious that this is another of Mr. Cheney’s lies – like mass quantities of weapons of mass destruction, Iraq’s alleged attempts to secure nuclear weapons, the alleged Iraq alliance with 9/11 terrorists; all lies that passed the lips of Mr. Cheney more than once.

However, even if it were true that the U.S. got information from the use of torture, it still wouldn’t justify the unjust. The “end justifies the means” philosophy is a morally corrupt position. Even Senator John McCain – who shamefully now is modifying his position on the matter in a pathetic attempt to appease the extreme right-wing of his party – has, in the past, correctly observed that torture is not justifiable: “It is not about who they are, it’s about who we are,” McCain has said. He has stated in the past that torture doesn’t really work because of the extreme unreliability of any information victims provide. The truth is that there are better ways.

Those who try to justify torture are really putting themselves in a position of being no better than those they want to torture. We should be able to stand eye-to-eye, toe-to-toe with anyone, anywhere in the world and say that our country does not engage in torture of anyone for any reason.

It’s better to die at the hands of terrorists than live in a nation that justifies torture. Such a nation is unworthy of allegiance. Such a life is not worth living.

There is, however, great hope. There is one candidate for President of the United States whose position on the use of torture has been clear and consistent. He is opposed to the use of torture, period. And his name is Barrack Obama. Obama08!

Notes on In Cold Blood

Life, Reflections
The Clutter Family at home

The Clutter Family at home

I saw the movie and read the Truman Capote masterpiece, In Cold Blood. This was Truman Capote’s attempt to create a new genre – a true story written in the style of a fiction novel. The book tells the disturbing story of two ex-con drifters who murder the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas in 1959.

Killed in that attack was Herb Clutter, a wealthy wheat farmer, his wife and two teenage children. I call the book a masterpiece because Capote’s gift for description is amazing; he puts you there. Of course “there” in this book, is often a place you wouldn’t want to be; but still the writing is profound.

The story of the Clutter murders and the perpetrators does, in large measure, what its author intended: leaves me sad, bewildered, angry and full of “if onlys.” But for all its power, In Cold Blood is missing something. I wish I knew what. I wish I could articulate that empty place that I perceive but cannot pinpoint in the journey through the story that begins and ends in the high plain wheat fields of Kansas. The soul of something.

I want to do mentally what Al Dewey did physically: walk away from that cemetery surrounded by those windswept fields of gold. But I cannot. It’s as if I’ve stepped off a dock and landed, not in the water I expected but in the most soggy, deep, dark, mushy mud. I come up spitting mud and wiping it from my eyes; unhurt but unsatisfied.

The Soul of Something

Undoubtedly the story of the Clutter tragedy haunts many – perhaps even the same aspect of the story that haunts me the most — who’ve read Capote’s book. After embracing that haunting and doing my own peculiar sort of prayer/meditation, I did find the answer to what was haunting me. The “soul of something” about the Clutter family tragedy. The answer is a sixteen year old girl named Nancy.

At least I filled the part of the emptiness that bothered me so much. Here is the bold statement that will make many call me crazy and even, I suppose, hate me for saying it: I know what happened in the Clutter house that night, and it is not entirely as Truman wrote it because it is not as Hickock and Smith said it was.

The story haunted me until one night the truth came to me. Say what you will about my contention, but Nancy Clutter deserves everyone who has read the book or seen the movie to know what the facts reveal; at least to my satisfaction. In my heart I believe I know the truth, and for Nancy, I’m going to tell it.

Nancy

I saw the movie, read the book and then, much later, had a revelation. It was then that I went back to the story to see if the facts support my epiphany. They do.

Nancy Mea Clutter

Nancy Mea Clutter

Hickock was driving that night. He drove up the road to the Clutter home and stopped short of the house. For a long time they just sit there with the car lights off – just watching and listening. They saw the light in the bungalow close to the Clutter house come on and off. It was the home of an employee of the Clutters who lived there with his family. We now know that the light was coming on and off every few minutes because they were up many times that night checking on their sick baby.

Hickock and Smith had no clue why the light was coming on and it spooked them. Still, they stayed there. Watching…waiting. Finally, Smith had enough and wanted to call it off and leave. At first, Hickock agrees but then changes his mind and tells smith that he is going through with it.

Smith could not change Hickock’s mind. Remember this.

So, they entered the house. Fear of someone hearing and calling the police could not deter these creeps. And we now know it was not just the money they erroneously thought was in the house. We know that Hickock was a pedophile. At the same time he was told by one of his prison cellmates that Herb Clutter kept ten thousand dollars in the house, he also told him who would most likely be in the house, including sixteen year old Nancy. Hickock knew she was probably there that night. He even knew exactly where her room was at the top of the stairs. Remember this.

Smith would later say that he stopped Hickock from raping Nancy Clutter. Hickock was physically bigger than Smith and, by Smith’s own admission, had succeeded in convincing Smith that he (Hickock) was a real tough guy. Hickock would later admit that one of the reasons he wanted to go to the Clutters in the first place was that he wanted to rape Nancy. And he said that was another reason he went ahead even after they saw the light from the nearby home and even after Smith had wanted to leave.

So did this sorry excuse for a human named Perry Smith really stop Hickock from raping Nancy just to then shoot her in the head? Did he stop the man so determined that he ignored the presence of a possible witness to enter that house? Did he stop the pedophile with a long history of not caring about anyone but Hickock? Of course not. But Nancy was not raped. Why not?

What really happened that night? Both bastards later admitted much of what occurred, and much of it jelled with the evidence that Al Dewey and the other dedicated investigators found in the case. But what is it that Smith and Hickock would never admit – even after admitting to murder? I’ll tell you what it was: They would never admit that they were successfully scorned, defeated, deflated and brought down by a sixteen year old girl’s resolve, courage and tenacity.

Every member of the Clutter family was unable to speak because their mouths were duck taped shut – everyone that is except Nancy. The killers would later come up with a lame reason why she didn’t have her voice silenced by tape along with the others. What’s the real reason? It was I believe, in part, a thought that occurred in the twisted mind of the killers. They were in a hurry and If her mouth was not taped it would be much easier to facilitate the oral sex that Hickock, and probably Smith as well, planned to force on her as part of the impending rape.

Nancy was tied up and in her bed – brutally murdered but not raped. In fact, there was no evidence of any kind of sexual assault. Why not?  Was there something more about Nancy that pushed these two perverts away as if a strong wall surrounded her? Did she possess an especially deep spiritual connection that she used to repel them?

Yes.

Hickock admits that he went to the room to rape her but then says Smith – the same Smith who couldn’t keep him out of the house – stopped him. They both agreed on that story because they would never want anyone to know that it was Nancy who stopped them with her words. They tried to reassert their power over her by claiming that she begged for her life saying, “No, no, no, please don’t….” But that did not stop her murder and surely would not stop her rape. What did? Was there something else she said?

Nancy, like the rest of the Clutters — was a loyal member of the Methodist Church and a strong believer in God. I believe she told Hickock right there in her bed that God was watching and would deal with him and his partner. And with a resolve in her voice that took Hickock’s feeling of power away, she told him that she would rather die than be touched by either of them. Taken aback and pressed for time, Hickock knew that he would have to fight her if he were going to assault her. He left her and joined Smith as they went to the basement.

After they killed Herb and Kenyon, the murdering duo went back up the stairs. She heard them coming and she had heard the shots, including the one that killed her mother. She knew.

She was the only one killed who was found with her back to the killers. As they entered her room she undoubtedly took advantage, once again, of her ability to talk to them – reminding them that God was watching as she turned her back to the wall and said something like, “Go ahead.” This infuriated the killers – Hickock because his desire to have power over the Clutters was taken away by this young girl, and Smith because her words about God watching were too reminiscent of what those “nun bitches” had said to him as they beat him for being a bed wetter when he was so much younger than Nancy.

So Smith, this incredibly vicious animal, shot her in the back of the head like the coward he was. And like the coward they both were, they later made up an ending for Nancy to hide the extent to which she had won.

Call my contention conjecture; call it just a story. Say that I’m wrong to even bring all this up so many years later. Say what you will; this much I know is true: It was not Smith but Nancy who prevented what would have been, as far as she was concerned, worse than death for her that night.

clutter_grave_nancy_thumb

 

 

R.I.P. Nancy Clutter and the Clutter family.

In Disguise

fiction, Life

 

She was in the bedroom and so quiet that he assumed she was reading or just resting. He walked in quietly to find that she was neither reading nor resting.  She was hard at work; packing. She was taking her time, making sure that each item was folded just right as she filled the big suitcase. He thought to himself how odd that she was packing the big suitcase; the one used only for long trips. “What ya doin’?” he asked. She responded in a matter-of-fact voice so unlike her as she continued to pack, “I’m outta here.” It’s more how she said it that got his attention.

Though her voice was controlled, it was full of what he detected as triumph. You can tell about such things when you’ve been married for a decade and some change. “When are you coming back?” he asked in a voice that was more like a plea than a question. “I mean, where you are going?” he continued.

As he struggled to keep control of himself, she stopped packing long enough to give him a long, silent stare; a stare full of her infamous evil eye that she always threw at him when she was angry. He used to joke that her evil eye could burn holes in the walls.

He knew.There was no need for her to say more. He understood too well. So many little things that he had tried for months not to notice now made too much sense.

He tried to think of something to say, but he knew that she was not going to listen. This was a done deal. There is no force on earth stronger or more determined than a woman who has made up her mind. A man who decides to leave will often change his mind. It usually doesn’t take much to persuade him to try again. But when a woman is going, she’s going, and seldom does she even look back. When a woman is gone, my friend, she’s gone. As an old country song puts it, “Cryin’ won’t bring her back.”

Knowing that words would mean nothing now, he does what most men do at times like this. He does something stupid. He was not thinking now; he was just acting out feelings. He was just doing something.

He reached over and began taking her clothes out of the suitcase and throwing them on the bed; thus, destroying her neat folding job. This did not help.

She stepped back and with a combination evil eye and burst of tears, she spoke with a fury and tremble in her voice like he had never heard from her. “You bastard,” she said. “I’ll call the cops on your ass. That’s what I’ll do. Get away from me. Get out of here.”

He walked out of the room weak and crumbled like the clothes he had thrown around; A beaten and shocked shell of who he was. As she walked out the front door without speaking, he watched her drive off, and looked at the yard between the house and street.

He thought about all the work he had done on that front yard.  It had been a good year for the Virginia dogwoods; one to the right and one to the left of the well kept lawn. They were so pretty with the glowing white petals to the left looking like a springtime version of snow. And her favorite to the right, with its delicate pale, pink petals proudly displayed. The special grass that he ordered, the kind that needs little watering, looked so good and green. It had all been such an important project to him. And what mattered now? Nothing.

He recalled when they first met, and how he thought that she was beautiful. Not a beauty queen kind of beautiful. But golden blond hair, deep, blue eyes and a great smile. Yes, there was beauty there, he recalled. It is sad and strange how those features he found so appealing seem now nothing more than a disguise for ugliness.

Now, as he struggled to find something positive to think of it all, he found himself saying aloud, “Try not to marry an ugly woman.”

 

 

Testing the Power of Intention

Life, Life Lessons, Reflections
I put it to the test

I put it to the test

I was presented with the opportunity to move to a brand new apartment building for seniors that is twenty-two miles from where now live – a much better apartment and location. Of course, I knew I could not move now. Financial and other difficulties were too great at this time. However, I decided to go talk with them anyway. They told me that I had less than 30 days to move in or they would go to the next person on the list. I told them to keep it and walked out.

 

By the time I reached my car, I decided to test what is known as the “power of intention” as taught by Dr. Wayne Dyer.  I turned, looked at the building and said out loud, “I’m going to get that damn apartment.”  My move in day is next week.

I made a few important discoveries that I wish to share with you:

  • Sometimes if you declare that you’re going to test the forces of nature, they declare that they’ll test you back. An incredible number of obstacles were thrown at me to prevent my move. I kept thinking of that great song from the civil rights movement: “Ain’t  Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around”
  • The power of intention is spiritual. It reaches its greatest potential to help you when you connect with your spiritual reality through prayer/meditation
  • But suppose you’re not into the spiritual aspect. No worries: just meditate on connecting to the peaceful place — the joy inside you — and the forces of nature will rally around and embrace you and your intention. Try it
  • The power comes to your assistance as long as you’re on your correct path. If I had declared that I was going to be a linebacker for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the same powers that helped me would have made my life miserable
  • The old saying is really true: God and nature reward action. I wanted the forces of nature to help me, so I had to realize that I am also a force of nature. I did not just pray and say that I was going to put it in God’s hands. I took action

The list does goes on, but I’ll stop there and hope that this information is helpful to you.

 

 

 

‘Round the Rough and Rugged Rock

Broadcasting, Life, Reflections
A scrimshaw depiction of my radio show by the artist Joe Toe.

A scrimshaw depiction of my radio show by the artist Joe Toe.

One of my fellow announcers used to go around the station repeating the line, “round the rough and rugged rock the ragged rascal ran,” in as deep a voice as possible before going on the air. He thought that it made his voice deeper. He said that if he ever wrote a book about his experiences in broadcasting, he would make that his title. So, I used to repeat it too, along with other poems with silly alliteration. I also stuck a cork between my teeth while I practiced reading copy – another common practice. I don’t think it helped. However, I would discover that radio was, indeed, a rough and rugged rock.

My desire to work in radio began because my dad loved country music and he took me to concerts when I was a child. I saw and heard people like Marty Robbins, Roy Acuff, Kitty Wells, Ray Price, George Jones and many others – They performed under colored lights, wearing rhinestone costumes that changed color under the lights every time the singer moved. And I said, “That’s what I want to do. I want to be a country singer and stand up there in a rhinestone suit!”  There was one problem: I can’t sing a note.

So, I decided the next best way to impress my dad was to become a country music disc jockey. I bugged one of the most popular country deejays in town until he agreed to let me shadow him. I followed him like a poodle while he worked and I learned. Several months later, I had my own show on that station – WWAB Radio in Lakeland, FL.

I was terrible, but I was on the radio and, I thought, on my way to a great career in broadcasting.  I had a learning disability and had never done well in school. So, I quit school.  I was functionally illiterate, but who needs school when you’re going to be a great radio personality, right? However, this was still in the day when the deejay running the board was expected to do it all – read news, sports and commercials.

Thus, I gained the incentive for teaching myself to read and write. Along the way, I attended night school, achieved a GED and attended a community college (Eventually, I would become a graduate of the University of Tampa). As I continued to work at small and medium marked stations, I did everything from car sale remotes to taking out the garbage while always thinking that I was just paying my dues for big market.

Big market never happened and its pursuit began to take a toll on my self-esteem. Along the way, however, I had developed a love for writing. I wrote news, sports, weather forecasts, public service announcements and commercials. When I realized the station program director was using my creative talent but not properly compensating me for it, I decided to become a freelance writer in 1984.

During my years in radio, I learned to understand and appreciate the pioneers of the industry. I came to comprehend what I could learn from them and use in my work.

From hearing about, reading about and listening to tapes of the greats from the early years, I gleaned what they had learned through a combination of trial and error.

Here were these great performers, challenged to transfer their talents from other venues to this new way of reaching an audience; a new way of reaching out to an entire nation.  Greats such as Ed Wynn, with one of radio’s earliest comedy shows; the show featured his outrageous puns that he brought to radio from his work in the Ziegfeld Follies. There was Will Rogers, who used his wit and political humor to endear himself to listeners; Ed Sullivan, who became well known in radio for his ability to conduct interviews; Groucho Marx, who brought his comedy to a national audience via radio; as did Bob Hope, Milton Berle and many others.

President Franklin Roosevelt became so good at using radio for what was called his “fireside chats” that he was known as the “radio President.” Bing Crosby, Kate Smith and many other singers became famous on the radio in its early days. Many of these talents went on to greatness in television and movies, but it was radio that propelled their careers.

It was, however, studying the career of Arthur Godfrey more than any other single individual that taught me what all of these successful broadcasters had in common. It was Godfrey who once put it into words that proved invaluable to me as a young person aspiring to a career in broadcasting.  He once observed that the way to reach people in radio is to pretend that you are talking to one person. Listening to tapes of his radio days and the other great pioneers, I realized how well they practiced that idea. Even the singers when they talked, had that ability to take advantage of radio’s potential intimacy with an audience.

Had I not studied the technique of talking to one person and put it in practice in my work, my radio career would have been even less successful.  Applying that advice to actual on-air work is, of course, not as easy as it may seem. It takes practice and dedication. My efforts to emulate the pioneers paid off with my ability to do “color” commentary on high school football games and conduct interviews with even the most famous of guests.

In my career, I had the honor of interviewing Larry Gatlin, Tammy Wynette, George Jones, Ralph Emery, John Anderson, Red Grange, Joe Garagiola, Charley Pride, Florida Governor Rubin Askew and many others. Many times those that I interviewed would tell me how impressed they were that I had obviously researched prior to the interview. They also often commented on what they called my easygoing or happy-go-lucky style. These were the things that I had learned from studying the great pioneers.

I’ve often told people who want to do interviews that if they just do some research, they’ll not only do a good interview but they’ll probably make a friend for life. Years after I worked in radio, I was able to secure interviews for newspaper articles that I wrote because of connections established during my radio interview days.

In addition, I’ve had occasions to teach individuals how to prepare to be interviewed; for example, as a member of the Board of Directors of Paint Your Heart Out Lakeland, I was in charge of public relations and chaired the PR Committee. I wrote a preparation for the other members of the PYHOL Board to help prepare them for radio interviews. We were planning interviews to promote the organization’s non-profit activities.

My years in radio did not lead me to the big market broadcasting career I hoped for. However, those years drastically improved my ability as a public speaker, as well as my ability as a writer and as a reader.  I developed a love for news, history, many different music genres and the arts in general.  And, of course, my admiration for those pioneers in broadcasting increased through all my experiences ‘round the rough and rugged rock.