Saturday, September 16, 2017

Saturday morning videos -- 5

To Richard Crowson

Here I am sitting in a booth at Freddy's Frozen Custard on a Saturday night in Salina. I had business to take care of. That's what brought me here. Nothing illegal. Just stuff. I can't believe a Journalism King -- Dan Rather -- stopped through here earlier this summer on a road trip with his grandson. Years ago, my conservative, non-press understanding Dad (God love him) thought, held the weakened thinking that Rather was too tough on George H.W. Bush in that interview on TV. I took the view that a journalist -- and Rather, dark and hard ass, was a Journalist -- could ask a guy running for president damn near anything he wanted.  In his hillarious, piss-in-a-beer-can book on press coverage '72 campaign, The Boys on the Bus, the young writer Timothy Crouse mentioned a then young hot shot Dan Rather getting awed at by all the nearby women and how he turned around and pointed his finger "reminiscent of Elvis Presley." I knew an old guy in East Texas who saw Elvis and the Blue Moon Boys at the Lousiana Hayride in Shreveport, Louisiana (circa 1954). "That kid," the man said. "When he left, the stage was still vibratin.'" 

The old man in East Texas had his basic training for the Air Force in Salina, Kansas.

                                "September Gurls" -- Big Star

They originated in Memphis. Southern, but untraditional. Not rockabilly, southern rock or soul. Just jangling power pop that evoked seeing you at the pool with life where rock n' roll will never die, a thinking man's band bordering on nihilism. They emulated the harmonic and songwriting style of the Beatles, the rhytym mode of the Rolling Stones. They were Alex Chilton, Chris Bell, Jody Stephens and Andy Hummel. Lead singer Chilton was only 6-years-old when his older brother brought home a Coasters record "but by 1959, Elvis was syrup and Jerry Lee was over." The next wave, a tide from across the pond, would signal the picking up of guitars. At 16, Chilton sang lead on The Box Tops' hit, "The Letter." A few years later. 1971. Big Star was born in Memphis's Ardent Studio. Their album, Number 1 Record sold fewer copies than The Velvet Underground's debut, but was just as influential. Without Big Star, there would be no REM or Replacements. But that was years into the future. Unforseen. Circa 1972, it was fist fights, betrayal, break-ups with girlfriends, depression and hospital psych wards.

My musician and cartoonist friend, Richard Crowson, himself from Memphis, is a Big Star fan and it's only one of the reasons to love Crowson. He highly recommended seeing the documentary about the band -- Nothing Can Hurt Me.

Of the four original band members, only Stephens survives. Big Star. They will break your heart. Beautiful.

                                       "On My Way" -- Split Lip Rayfield

1996. It was September. I was in the Pecan Grove with my reporter's notebook and pen in my back pocket and I was kind of drunk. A new band, built by members of Scroatbelly -- a Wichita band I'd loved -- were on the renegade Stage 5 at the Walnut Valley Flatpicking ("bluegrass") festival. A young lady at a table told me her boyfriend played in the band. They were thrashing rock accoustical bluegrass. Dark outside and they were outstanding. The Wichita band was Kirk Rundstrom-guitar, Eric Mardis-banjo, Wayne Gottstiner, Mandolin & Jeff Eaton, bass. Eaton played a one-string bass called "Stitchgiver," built from the gas tank of a 1978 Mercury Grand Marquis, a piece of hickory and strung with one piece of weedwhacker line.

In 2007, Rundstrom died of esophogeal cancer. The documentary, Never Make it Home, directed by Echternkamp, portrayed the founding group member's illness. Every show the band performs now is dedicated to Rundstrom. Split Lip Rayfield played the town festival in Burden, Kansas last night, but as I was in Salina, I was unable to attend. I'm sure they rocked it. And Burden is Gottstiner's hometown, which is cool. Glad to call these guys friends of mine. The above track is from their most recent album, On My Way.

                   "Blue Monk" -- Thelonious Monk

I'm just getting into jazz iconoclast Thelonious Monk. Dean of Rock Critics Robert Christgau lists Monk, as one of his favorite artists of all time, along with the Louis Armstrong, Chuck Berry, the Beatles and the New York Dolls. When my wife was pregnant with our first born, a baby book I was reading suggested the music you play for your child in the womb should be melodic -- which Monk's didn't. His sound was of dissonance and abrupt percussive piano. One reason I like Monk is because he battled mental illness and was prescribed drugs like Lithium. It's too bad the quality of help we have today wasn't around in Monk's time. Check out the documentary film, Straight No Chaser, which attributed his quirky behavior to mental illness.

 "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" -- Johnny Cash

Forget any other versions. When Johnny Cash covered your song, it wasn't your song anymore. This love ballad, of course, is beautiful on its own, but interpreted by Cash's weathered end of life voice, it's lyrical and layered with vulnerability. A man wrote this song for his lover, while married to another woman. Don't misunderstand me, I believe fidelity is everything in a relationship, but there's something dark and intriguing about something so beautiful being born out of illicit origins. British folksinger, communist and labor activist Ewan MacColl wrote it for American folk singer Peggy Seeger (sister of Mike and Pete) a woman 20 years younger than he was. They later married.

Cash took the song back to its folk origins on his American Recordings IV: The Man Comes Around album, my favorite of the Rick Rubin recordings. Truly a desert isle pick. I wrote a review of this album on a napkin one Saturday afternoon, while sitting at a table by the window with my then wife, Maria, and two, then, small children. What I wrote must have been beautiful because Maria read it and started crying. I like making people cry. Like breaking hearts.

The Pusher -- Hoyt Axton

The late Hoyt Axton is underrated as a songwriter, but he wrote many songs that became hits for other artists: "Greenback Dollar" -- The Kingston Trio and "Joy To the World" and "Never Been to Spain," which were huge hits for Three Dog Nite. "The Pusher" is mostly known for Steppenwolf's version from the film, Easy Rider. But it's Hoyt's version that I love. He wrote the song in 1963 when he'd become addicted to cocaine and recorded it in 1970. Listening to his voice, you hear an angry, addicted man. His growls are mean and bring to mind the agony of jonesin'. You know this guy's been there. And the lyrics are somethin' mean.

You know I've smoked a lot of grass
O'Lord, I've popped a lot of pills
But I mever touched nothin'
That my spirit could kill
You know, I've seen a lot of people walkin' 'round
With tombstones in their eyes
But the pusher don't care
Ah, if you live or if you die
God damn, the pusher
God damn, I say the pusher
I said God damn, God damn the pusher man 
You know the dealer, the dealer is a man
With the love grass in his hand
Oh but the pusher is a monster
Good God, he's not a natural man
The dealer for a nickel
Lord, will sell you lots of sweet dreams
Ah, but the pusher ruin your body
Lord, he'll leave your, he'll leave your mind to scream
God damn, the pusher
God damn, I say the pusher
I said God damn, God damn the pusher man
Well, now if I were president of this land
You know, I'd declare total war on the pusher man
I'd cut if he stands,
And I'd shoot him if he'd run
Yes, I'd kill him with my Bible
And my razor and my gun
God damn, the pusher
God damn, the pusher
I said God damn, God damn the pusher man
Written by Hoyt Wayne Axton • Copyright © Universal Music Publishing Group

Coltohatta" (I think that's the name of the song) -- The Voluptuals

Chicago's own Voluptuals. Saw 'em playin' a favorite dive bar in Wichita. I'm not sure if they're signed, but man, they rocked. After the show, they had a few beers, went outside for cigarettes, mingled with the crowd. I talked to the lead singer, Matt. Nice guy. They hadn't booked a hotel yet. There was this tall blond girl, the same girl I overheard saying, "There's that picture of me sitting on the toilet smoking a joint." She was pretty cool. She was calling her roomate, asking if the band could crash at their place for the night. "You'll like 'em," she said. I think they're all right. And may they continue to benefit fro the kindness of strangers as they play bars across America.

                     "My Old Man" -- Joni Mitchell

Back in 1994, I was at Kirby's, a dive bar behind WSU. There was a box of record albums on the counter. $10 for the box. I bought it. There was great stuff like Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life, Frank Sinatra's Only the Lonely and Blue by Joni Mitchell. A recent NPR list of what experts considered to be the 100 best albums by women put Blue at #1. My Old Man is a fun song. It's about the joy of domestic life, yet a reservation about marriage. It may have been about her relationship with live-in lover Graham Nash. I love that line, "We don't need a paper from the City Hall." It's a fun little Joni California-esque 1970 song.

"A Nice Girl Doesn't Stay for Breakfast" -- Julie London

You never hear about Julie London anymore. You'll hear tracks from her if you buy some of the Cocktail Lounge series albums, but you don't hear about her the way you might hear about the Doors. Possibly because her music was pre-rock pop and jazz. But she was huge in the '50s and '60s. Her signature song was the 1955 hit Cry Me a River. I like the above selection because listening to it, you knew the husky-voiced sensual Julie London was saying she wasn't that nice girl and she didn't care. If she stayed for breakfast after a one night stand, by God that's what she did. The song is sex and London was around 42 when she recorded it, which is a damn sexy age for a woman.

                   "Oklahoma Sunshine" -- Waylon Jennings

In his final years after his popularity had waned, I kept waiting for Waylon Jennings to be re-discovered and enjoy an end of life career resurgance like Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and Glen Campbell did. But it wasn't to be. You'll just have to search out the old Waylon stuff on your own. In this song from his 1974 Ramblin' Man album, Jennings is singing about how he needs to get away from New York and this woman he's been laying down with -- a  woman who's holding him down and return home to Oklahoma country, to folks, family, a blue-eyed girl for whom he'll dry her tears.

Also I picked this song because Oklahoma sunshine may play a role in one of my upcoming blog posts.

                       "Amanda" -- Don Williams

Saturday 6:40 a.m. September 10. I read the news on Facebook that country music's gentle giant had died. RIP, the messages read. I don't usually place videos of people who'd recently died on these kind of posts because there's so many of them, but I was planning on posting a Don Williams video anyway. He had a beautiful voice and it made you feel he was a beautiful man. You couldn't help but love him. My ex-mother-in-law was a big fan. She, her husband and kids, including my future ex-wife, saw Williams perform at a club in Wichita years after his 1970s and early '80s popularity had waned. They got to talk to him and he was a pure gentleman. In the early 2000s, I was in Branson, Missouri at the old Hillbilly Inn with my mother, infant son and then wife, Maria. There was an old guy in the diner, playing country music on his electric guitar and taking requests. Maria asked him if he knew any Don Williams. He did. The song, was of course, Amanda.

How many parents named their daughters Amanda after this beautiful song? A lot.

                      "Promised Land" -- Chuck Berry

Probably my favorite song by the Father of Rock n' Roll -- Chuck Berry. About a poor boy leaving Norfolk, Virginia with Los Angeles, California on his mind. He wrote it while in a Midwestern prison on a railroaded charge of violating the Mann Act. He used a map from the prison library to mark cities he would write about on the cross country journey of his rock n' roll story -- and Chuck Berry was a story teller. In the song, he hints at the travails of a black man traveling through the deep south in the early 60s. Boarding a Greyhound bus past Charlotte and Raleigh, North Carolina, bypassing Rock Hill, South Carolina and heading into Atlanta by sundown till the bus gets stranded in downtown Birmingham, Alabama. He then takes a train across "Mississippi Clean" and "smokin' in the New Orleans", into Houston where the folks care a little about him and "won't let the poor boy down." They buy him a suit and tie and plane ticket to the Promised Land. Los Angeles was, in Berry-esque mythology, an American Eden. Highways, sky scrapers, fast food diners, cool cars -- it'll never be like that again.

Of course the song was derivative of Homer's The Odyssey and the Biblical pilgrimages of Abraham and Moses. The words "Promised Land," like Berry's reference to the Gospel song, "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," evoked the Bible, Exodous, freedom, the original Civil Rights movement. And the Promised Land is where Berry's journey has finally taken him. The end of the road.

Los Angeles give me Norfolk Virginia
Tidewater four ten O nine
Tell the folks back home this is the promised land callin'
And the poor boy's on the line

            "Wake Me Up When September Ends" -- Green Day

Green Day exploded in 1994 as a post-punk group. They still create abrasive rock in songs like "Brain-Jaded Stew," but, under Billie Jo Armstrong's songwriting craft, the band has also created melodic radio friendly, mainstream songs like "Time of Your Life" and this one -- "Wake Me Up When September Ends." The song is about the painful transition from youth and loss of innocence. It's pop, but not in a sweet way, and it's beautiful.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Life in television hell

We sit at a rustic black wooden table at Maggie O'Malley's Irish bar in the Delano district just to the west of downtown Wichita. I drink from a tall, frosty-chilled glass of Guinness, hanging with my buddy and TV producer, Reese, and sipping the beer made me think of my friend Suzanne whom I've known since childhood as a world-beating kicker of ass. Nowadays, Suzanne is into California-style spirituality and tells me I should take up yoga to re-center my energy and tell myself positive mantras to shake off all the doubt, fear and hyperventilating panic attacks. She reads a lot of the same ribald authors I'm into -- Kesey, Sedaris, Burroughs -- and ostensibly Reese and I are there as part of a two-man book club, but neither of us read much of the damn book so we just retreat into our thick beers and barroom bullshit under the glare of Neon, electric panties and a huge screen TV tuned to ESPN.

"Lately, I've been watching Californication on Netflix. Catching up on all those seasons I missed," I say.

"A dysfunctional writer who's creatively blocked and still in love with his ex," Reese says. "Yeah, I can see why you'd be into that show."

"I may love the girl, I may not, but fuck her," I said harshly into my beer. "I ain't in love with her. That's the past."

I can tell by his body language Reese isn't buying it, but screw him. Just let it go. "And I don't have writer's block. I just posted on my blog a few days ago," I say, then go back to talking about the original glass teat.

"Anyhow," I say, "They show some girl's tits in every episode. It's not like Mad Men where there was sex all over the place, but the act was left to your imagination. I mean, it's an all right show, Californication, but it will never be up there with the modern classics -- The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men, Breaking Bad. 

"Well I guess the idea of showing a sexaholic's life in graphic form has its function,"Reese responds, pensively. "You see the excess and emptiness."

"I think it's a technique directors sometimes use," I say. "It's like Oliver Stone's movie about the Doors. There was gratuity, but at the end when you were sick of it all, I think the film did its job."

"Like the pagan scene in the movie -- the witch wedding ceremony with the high coven priestess and Jim Morrison cutting themselves?"

"Oh fuck yeah," I say, assuredly. "You're supposed to flinch at that."

Story life

The earliest TV show I can remember? Sesame StreetMr. Rogers' Neighborhood. That kind of thing. At 4 and 5 years of age, I acted out little dramas I imagined in my head. Stuff where the people in my family who didn't get along in real life were all friends and they were all cowboys or lived on a farm.

At 8-years-old, I'd figured out the shows I watched on TV had stories with problems that always got resolved in the end and people said clever things. Why couldn't life be like that? I'm still trying to arrange life into a plot, a narrative.

In those years before DVR, Netflix, Facebook and texting -- I was hooked on TV (the plug-in drug) the way other kids were Kool-aid addicts. And like any addict who plays the self-destructive game long enough, I got my ass in trouble.

It was around 7:30 a.m. A Friday morning in May, 1980. I was trying to get my shit together to make it to Hattie O'Mattfield Elementary School by 8. I was 11-years-old, in fifth grade. Had just found my shoes. That was always a battle. "Why don't you put your shoes by the door at night?" Mom would say. I was trying to gather my homework into my backpack where I should have placed everything the day before after completing the class work like a normal organized person would do.

"Sonofabitch," I exclaimed in a moment of early life stress. "I lost my goddamn spelling book."

"If you find my spelling book, can you bring it to school?" I asked Mom as she drove me and my siblings to school.

"I can't come in and save you every time," she said. "It's your responsibility to have your stuff ready. Besides, I have to go to work." She was wearing her Wal-Mart vest.

This particular day, completing the work in my spelling book was especially important -- a point of pride. Thursday, the day before at school, my teacher, Mrs. Sauers had seen the spelling book on my desk, picked it up and flipped through the pages of this week's unit and saw that I hadn't done anything in it all week.

"This is really interesting, Jeff," she said. "You haven't gotten any of this done."

I usually put off doing my homework until around bedtime, but that day I made damn sure I completed all the assigned sections in my spelling book as soon as I got home. (Of course I did it, while watching Batman.) The next day, I was going to present it to Mrs. Sauers as if to say, "Take that, bitch."

But it wouldn't happen. She'd never believe I finished my homework. I'd lost my goddamn spelling book.

I sat there, feeling small and stressed as Mrs. Sauers prepared to read the answers to students grading their spelling books. "I don't have it," I said, nervously.

Her face turned an angry, sweaty shade of color. "I should've known," she said. "Till he's 105, he'll never change."

The next thing I knew she had me standing uncomfortably before her at the classroom door as every one of my classmates watched uneasily. Thankful to God it wasn't them.

"What did you do when you got home from school?," she asked me, hotly. The beginning of what seemed an eternal grilling.

I told her I did my spelling. I didn't tell her I did it while watching Batman.

"Do you expect me to believe that?" she said. "You aren't prepared with your spelling book today."

"But I finished it yesterday," I said in desperate self-defense. "Only I lost my book."

i lost my goddamn spelling book

"I looked through your spelling book yesterday and you didn't have anything done."

Christ, I knew she'd bring that up. Sadistic bitch.

"But I finished it all at home yesterday, I swear."

"You're not supposed to be swearing. Ever!" She got calmly quiet. "So what did you do after you, uh, 'finished' your spelling? You didn't have your math assignment ready today either."

"I watched Bonanza."

"It never occurred to you to finish all your classroom work first."

"I was going to, but I couldn't stop watching Bonanza. There was this gunslinger in a saloon who challenged Little Joe to a duel and Ben and Hoss Cartwright were worried and I had to see if Little Joe would get killed."

"Did you actually think they were going to kill a main character?" she asked me as if she thought I were the stupidest sonofabitch in the world.

"No, but the thing was I didn't know."

I loved watching the plot thicken. I had to see how the story would resolve itself. Why didn't I say that?

Then, what did I watch? She probed further.

I told her everything in the evening around dinner time was a blur, but that at 7 p.m., I watched Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.

"Then I watched Different Strokes."

"You just had to watch Different Strokes," she said, derisively.

"Yeah, I think it's funny when Arnold says, 'whatchoo talkin' bout?"

"And then what did you watch?"

I got really nervous. Scared. There I was, exposed before the entire shitting class.

Softly, looking at the floor, I confessed that I watched Johnny Carson. It wasn't like it was the late night version. This was a prime time special -- the 18th anniversary show.

"You had no business watching Johnny Carson," she lectured, then addressed the entire class. "You children should be in bed before any of his shows come on."

That's all I remember of being in Mrs. Sauers's star chamber. It seemed like a hell that would never end.

In no way, was I ever going to tell Sauers how my family had recently got cable TV -- HBO -- rated R movies -- and I'd sneaked up during the night when everyone was in bed, turned the TV on and volume down, hoping to catch boobs.

                                 "Green Acres" theme song

Pulled into Nazareth

You drive on North Broadway in Wichita past the hot colors in the windows of Mexican shops and restaurants. Make a left turn on 21st Street. Cop cars pass with authority in the summer heat index. A shitty-assed dollar store across the street and you pull into the parking lot of the local Public TV Station.

Reese is behind his cubicle wall, doing producer stuff. Arranging for media passes and the like. As a young man, following his graduation from the University of South Dakota and a couple of years as a reporter at a Rapid City TV station, he went to a theological seminary, the famous Union Theological Seminary in New York. The seminary is affiliated with Columbia University.

Then he left. Found out he didn't have the calling.

Saturday morning. Driving westbound on U.S. 54. Southward onto U.S. 183 as the great Western Kansas sky swallowed me and my car into the yearning dream it was having. The road growing barren. Clouds bigger, whiter over the empty spaces that are supposed to fill in for my life. I make it into my first town -- Little Feat, Kan. (pop. 800) I've been listening to the Stones' Exile on Main Street for the past 2 1/2 hours. We're in the country. Let's find an AM country station. Then. Country classics station. Hank Snow singing about a little orphan.

I'm nobody's child, nobody's child
I'm like a flower just growing wild
No mommy's kisses and no daddy's smiles
Nobody wants me, I'm nobody's child

Up around a green bend, I drive straight into Principle, Kan. (pop. 350) There's a cafe, a rinky dink post office and a white door with the paint peeling off that leads to the City Library. It's next door to City Hall/Cop Shop on the Main Drag in town. Wide. A single traffic light hanging by wires, blowing in the late spring breeze. I had a vanilla shake, burgers and fries at a place called Don's Cafe. This young lady named Casey served me. She was really nice.

Me and Casey
GPS don't fail me. It leads me down the southern way, by way of the big road out of town. Water tower and train tracks lead to a mixed up swath of back roads and dirt in the country. When I see the green fields and hear the electronic voice on my iPhone, I feel my destination nearing as if I'm returning to a home I've never been to. Then the sign --

Higley Farm (Big letters)

Big dogs greet me on the front porch. I like big dogs. I meet Mrs. Higley first. "Call me Alicia," she says. She and Mr. Higley met, while attending K-State. She was a school teacher in the early years of their marriage. Now she stays home and helps out the business as the face and voice of the farm. Safe within the harmony of the Higley Family for the past 130 years. Their two girls come out. Pet the dogs. And the pater familias. "Lyle Higley," he says and gives me a firm handshake.

Mr. Higley takes us down the road apiece. A ride safe within the family binding and scriptural underpinning of his pickup truck. I set up my iPhone on the tripod and record the cattle. They're grass fed from birth 'till death. Makes for healthy beef. So country tasty. A few restaurants about the way buy beef from Higley Farm.

Back at the Higley house, we go into his shed from which meat is stored in the locker and business is conducted via Alicia's sweet voice over the phone. I wanted to film the interview here instead of out in the field. I tell them I wanted to spread the story around. Like seed. I reach into the pocket of my jean shorts for the TV microphone to attach from my phone to the collar of Mr. Higley's rough shirt. Microphone's not there. I thought for sure I had it with me back in the truck. I excuse myself to go get it out of my car.

I search frantically. Not in the glove box where I faithfully store it. Not under the seats. I search the back seat through paperback novels and clothes I've taken off. i lost my       spelling book  I don't want to look like a fuck-up to Reese, but these are desperate times in the country. So I text him, tell him my dilemma, ask him if he has another TV microphone I can borrow (i can't come to your rescue every time) and he's nice as can be about it. Texts me back. "Just come by my apartment tomorrow. I'll have one you can use." I go back to the Higleys and they say, sure, it's just fine if I come back tomorrow, that it would probably be better anyway.

Sunday morning. I'm getting a late start. I leave funky Liberty Apartments in a section called The Village at the low end of this freaky town I'm living in. Painters, musicians, many of them, druggies, pass along the steps outside my door. It will be close to noon before I get to Wichita. Head east, Man. I hope you find a microphone and peace in your life.

Nearly two hours of driving. I ring the bell at the apartment in the Riverside section of Wichita. Reese's girlfriend, Janie, answers the door. She's holding a black bag with the microphone in it. Tells me Reese is out playing golf. Reese and Janie have been living together for the past couple of years. Her 7-year-old son from a previous relationship lives there with them. And I think they have a dog.

Reese and Janie got together about a year after he got fired from the local CBS affiliate. The anchors had just signed off on the 10 p.m. news. "Let's get the fuck out of here," Reese said, unaware that his mic was still on. The video went viral. Reese's guffaw became nationally known. Jay Leno showed the clip with a bleep inserted on The Tonight Show. The job offer Reese had been offered in St. Louis was rescinded.

But recently the Wichita PBS affiliate gave Reese and his talents a new birth. And Reese is pretty damn talented. I saw his special story on the 10th anniversary of the Greensburg tornado and wished I could produce something that good. Janie also gave Reese a new handle on life and isn't that the kind of thing we all need?

The morning's coffee was working hard on me. I didn't know Janie well enough to ask to urinate in her house. I could've stopped in a gas station, but it was just past noon on Sunday and the Barnes and Noble bookstore at 21st and Rock Road had just opened. I rushed in the store doors and was soon standing at the urinal, pissing the Missouri River. It was a damn excuse to go inside the bookstore. Time was moving on, but I couldn't pass through without looking at a few books.

There was a graphic novel version of Kafka's The Trial that was killer. And Rhinehard Kleist's graphic novel about the life of Johnny Cash, I See a Darkness. It was a story about addiction, regret and spiritual struggle, named for Cash's winter of life recording of the same name, originally recorded by Will Oldham, who sang back-up vocals behind Johnny for the Man in Black's cover.

Then I made my way to the theology and philosophy sections. I was looking at Sarte's Being and Nothingness when some kid about 20 came up to me. He had scarlet-colored hair. Wore a black shirt and lip ring. "Excuse me, Sir, do you know much about philosophy?" he asked me. "I'm just getting into it."

"I know a little bit," I answered. Then I pulled out T.Z. Lavine's book, From Socrates to Sarte. "This is a good beginner's book." Told him I had it for a textbook when I took philosophy at Grossmont Community College. I looked for Will Durant's The Story of Philosophy, but didn't see it. I did find Bertrand Russell's The History of Western Philosophy.

"Oh this is a must," I said, taking Albert Camu's The Myth of Sisyphus from the shelf. "This gets into my favorite school of philosophy -- existentialism. Existentialism's a big tent. You got a theologian -- Kirkegaard, an atheist -- Nietzsche, a novelist, Dostoevsky. Rollo May was an existential psychologist. His book, The Courage to Create -- the title was inspired by Paul Tillich's The Courage to Be."

Tillich -- he fled Nazi Germany in the '30s. Settled in the states and taught at Union Theological Seminary where Reese briefly matriculated.

In another life.

"I'll take this one," the kid said, grabbing Kirkegaard's Fear and Trembling.

"Great choice," I said. "That's where existentialism started. As a companion, you gotta read the Genesis account of Abraham when he was gonna sacrifice Isaac."

"Thanks mister," he said, shaking my hand. Told me I'd been a big help. "Do you work here?"

"No, I guess I just get evangelical about the written word. It gets to where I have a bookgasm & I'm a whore about it all," I said.

Following that exchange, I knew it was best that I split. Make the big drive back to western Kansas and Higley's farm.

The route out of Wichita led me down different roads than I'd been on the day before. Passed county lines on the southern back roads. Little Kansas towns like Pretty Village, Banjo Crossing, Delbert...

It was Sunday afternoon. I turned to the AM country station again and listened to a Pentecostal preacher. "What I wanna ask is, 'Have you found Jesus?'" he said in a sweet Mississippi drawl. Then he played a gospel record -- "Precious Memories" as sung by the Stanley Brothers.

In the stillness of the midnight, precious, sacred scenes unfold

This was the version I heard on the fourth season premiere of The Walking Dead.

Along the last lap, the GPS on my iPhone failed me. Had to text the Higleys for directions. In the end, I found my way and ultimately, I was squatting on the family porch, video recording with my phone atop the tripod and interviewing Lyle and Alicia about the soil health and prairie grass as they sat in the porch swing.

"There is a big growth with people who want to know where their food comes from," the family patriarch said.

"Thank you very much," I said after clicking off the record button.

"That's it?" Lyle said.

"That should suffice. We'll edit it, use the best soundbites. We might only end up using 10 seconds."

Driving all over hell's half acre for 10 seconds. Ah hell, it was worth it.

It would be a high caliber story. I'd also filmed vendors at a farmer's market in Wichita's Old Town on a brisk Saturday morning. Talked to an area organic farmer about the connection between her Christian faith and working the land.

And I'd recorded my new friend, Jessie, who was instrumental in reviving the local food market in her little town of Blushing, Kan. (pop. 5,000) She walked down the verdant path in her backyard, wearing a white straw gardener's hat, gloves, holding a spading fork in her right hand, the left hand pulling the handle of the red wooden wagon her three small children sat in. They would help her dig in the garden. Bountiful, high yielding rows of radishes, tomatoes, squash...stood high and healthy.

Back at the TV station, I worked with Reese on writing a script and gathering still shots for the piece. Reese added snippets of the Green Acres theme song. The story would lead the next week's episode of Kansas Personalities.

The Weight

"You outdid yourself, friend," Reese says early in the evening and tapped his glass of Guinness beer to mine as we sat at Maggie O' Malley's Pub. "Since neither of us finished reading the book, we'll just make this about you. What made you go after that story so hard anyway?

"I don't know, part of it is that I want to keep topping myself. Part of it was -- well, there's something spiritual about mother earth and sustenance, the whole regeneration process."

Talking about the earth makes me think of my childhood friend so I say, "The next time we go out like this, I'd like to invite Suzanne to tag along."

"That's the fifth time you've mentioned her."

"Really? I thought it was only the second."

"You got a hard-on for her or something?"

"Nah. She and her husband split up three or four years ago, but I'm only attracted to her intellect. Maybe her glasses. Possibly her tattoo."

"I guess we could bring her on board, teach her some new tricks, Reese says, the mischief in his face lifting his mustache.

There's stubble on Reese's face that has yet to form into a full beard, and above his lip, he has this dark jumbo mustache. No lie, the thing is a submarine. He and Janie plan on getting married soon. The mustache could walk her down the aisle.

"Oh yeah, almost forgot," I say as I take Reese's microphone out of my pocket and hand it to him. "The Higleys texted me a couple days after I'd been there. Said they found my microphone on the floor of their truck. I gave them my address and they mailed it back to me."

"See, you worried for nothing," Reese says.

We talk about that documentary our friend Adam is making about the old Wichita Wings. About Postman and McLuhan. About loathsome 45 tweets (how I mistakenly call them twats) taking us down a dystopian "shitterverse." How I often watch TV on my iPhone, while in bed at night.

"Been watching Shameless," I say, adding that Suzanne turned me on to the show -- the American version. "It's something, the mother is bi-polar, attempted suicide and abandoned her kids. Father's a no-count drunk, cheating the government. Fiona had a downfall, went to jail after her little brother ingested the cocaine. It's like a train wreck and you don't want to watch it, but you can't help yourself."

Reese weighs in on Shameless. "Whenever she (Fiona) gets close to pulling it all together, something inside her wants to fuck it up because a normal or routine life to her is foreign so she goes out and fucks things up because that's all she knows...things being fucked up."

After a while, he stands up. "Well, I'm gonna go out and have a smoke."

He starts to go outside, then turns around, still tapping a Marlboro Light on the lid of its flip top box and asks what we should read for our next book club meeting.

I suggest we take on a graphic novel or a comic book. I mean, hell, who says we can't? Is it our club, our solo and duo identities bearing down or what? I mention how that show, Preacher, on AMC is based on a comic book from the '90s. Reese says he hasn't seen it.

"He's a two-fisted Texas preacher," I say. "Teams up with his ass kicking ex-girlfriend and an Irish agnostic vampire. They battle evil supernatural forces in their quest to find God.

"It's pretty existential."

                           Television -- "I'm Gonna Find you"

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Reckless words

You're not supposed to joke about assassinating the President.

I realize it's been two days since Johnny Depp made his distasteful joke and in the ever changing news and political cycles, that makes it old news. But over eight years, I called out the hatred hurled at Pres. Obama. The cruel, racist caricatures – I remember a Facebook image of Obama with a noose around his neck. And there were people who called for his assassination, as well. The severed head mentality aimed at Trump isn't cool either.

I could see wanting to kill someone like Adolph Hitler. But Trump, no matter how bad he is or how much people dislike him (and I don't like him one bit) is not Hitler.

Do I think Trump is a threat to a free press and civil liberties – basically democracy? Do I think he does unconstitutional things every day of his life? Yes. Do I think he colluded with Russia in rigging the election? Probably, but so far that hasn't been proven.

No, I don't think he's a good person and like anybody in America, I can criticize him all night long because criticism and threats aren't the same thing. One is “political speech,” which I learned in communication law class at WSU, is the most Constitutionally protected speech. The other, the courts recognize as “fighting words” – words that are threatening or likely to incite violence.

I don't think Depp meant his words to be threatening. I think it was stupid and reckless. But saying those words against Trump is just as bad as when people said that kind of thing against Obama. And anytime somebody says something like that, it has to be looked into by the Secret Service. In today's world, we don't know if words like that will drive someone to do something terrible. Words are powerful.

It's a thin line between Constitutionally protected hate speech and fighting words. I think when people let emotions overrule reason, lose their filter, don't put on the brakes, there's that danger of their words being a bridge to violence.

But we never learn. After the shooting that put GOP Congressman Steve Scalise in critical condition, there was talk of the two sides, Democrat and Republican, toning down the hostility and “coming together as Americans.” That lasted about two days.

Last week, you had Nebraska Democratic official Phil Montag saying, “I'm fucking glad he was shot...I wish he was fucking dead.” He was rightfully fired. Sure, he apologized. The whole “that's not me thing.” But it's just like when Republican congressional candidate (now Montana Congressman) Greg Gianforte apologized for beating up the reporter. Insisted he's not really like that. BS. I think that's exactly who they are.

I knew all the togetherness wouldn't last. I remember all the talk of Americans uniting after 9-11. That didn't last. And if 9-11 couldn't change people, I don't think anything will.

That doesn't mean we should stop trying.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Mother's Day 2017

I haven't written about my mom in a few years so with Mother's Day today, it's time I re-visit her in this blog. A lot has changed since I first wrote about her six years ago. At that time, her dementia was just starting and was so slight she could actually hide it. In a few years, however, her condition advanced to the point where she was no longer safe at home. My siblings and I had to place her in a facility that caters to people with dementia/Alzheimer's.

But this person her caregivers see -- that isn't really my mother. What would she be like if she still had her mind? Well, she'd probably be on Social Media by now, but might still be using a flip phone. She'd still be reading self-help books. She'd be going out with her girlfriends, laughing and joking. Mom never did like bullies and obnoxious blowhards so, let me tell you, she wouldn't like Trump at all. We'd be on the phone to each other (because in this age of texting and FB messaging Mom would still be a phone talking addict), knocking the Orange Menace. She'd let it all fly when she talked to me because she'd abstain from getting into arguments with Trump lovers. Mom used to tell me what her parents told her and what I now tell my kids: "Never get into an argument with anybody over politics or religion." She'd likely be involved in both, still volunteering at her local precinct on Election Day (where she'd respect that law about keeping her strong-held opinions to herself). And she'd still be helping out at her church -- with Vacation Bible School, Church Council and Sunday School where she would enjoy getting into intellectual discussions about the Bible. She'd tell me about those discussions over the phone or when we saw each other in person. 

Mom was always excited whenever a new grandchild was on the way ("You mean I'm gonna be a grandma again"!), so she'd be thrilled with the recent birth of her first great-grandchild, buying her clothes and offering to watch her. It is what it is, though, and Mom doesn't know she has a great-granddaughter to the north and west in Kansas. She doesn't know she's a mother, doesn't even know what a mother is anymore. She no longer knows my name, but still recognizes my face when I visit her. I'll take that. A few days ago, I asked if she knew her own name, aware that there was a 50/50 chance on whether she'd remember.

Mom and me
"Victoria," she answered.

She was named Victoria Lou, after her two grandmothers. Her paternal grandmother, the one named Victoria, died in the 1930s -- years before Mom was born. The only memory she retained of her maternal grandmother, Lou, was of riding on a train from Colorado to Kansas at the age of 5 to attend her funeral.

Mom's parents had been married for 16 years before they had her. Her dad worked in oil fields, among other things, and her folks moved a lot -- living in Kansas, Colorado and Texas. They finally settled in Jett, Kan., which had a population of only 3,000 in the '50s. She remembered that her family first bought a television in 1954. She and a girlfriend at school used to talk about what they'd seen on The Red Skelton Show the night before.

As a kid, she thought the most beautiful building in the world was her hometown movie theatre, the Bijou. Built in 1935, it was the first building in the world to be entirely illuminated with neon lighting. It had Aztec designs on the double doors and European looking murals on the walls inside the movie room. She recalled her family taking her there to see The Ten Commandments and being dazzled by the special effects, which now look so primitive. She also remembered going with her friends to see a film about juvenile delinquency, Blackboard Jungle. The film, which introduced the revolutionary song, "Rock Around the Clock," would have been somewhat adult for a 10-year-old in the '50s. She raved about seeing the epic film, Giant, starring Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor -- two sex symbols of their day. It was James Dean's last film.

She had a slew of 45 records so I'm guessing music, TV and the movies must have been an escape from her miserable home life. People thought they were a nice little church going family, but they were what we today call a dysfunctional family. Mom thought she was in love with my dad when they started going out, but years later, she realized marriage had been a way out of her home situation. He was older, had been in the Army, had a cool car (a 1958 Pontiac Chieftain). A man of the world. They divorced when I was just a little boy in the early '70s, and knowing them later in life, it's hard to believe they were ever married to each other. But I guess individuals are different people when they're young.

Her second husband, my step-dad, was really the love of her life. But they were probably doomed from the start. Mom started acting manic and drinking more. I think their marriage could've been saved with counseling, but that wasn't as common then and there was more of a stigma about it than there is today. Today, fortunately, there are a lot more medications for anxiety and depression, but that kind of help wasn't there for Mom back then. There never were any "good old days."

I didn't hear the word "bi-polar" until 1990 when Mom told me she had recently been diagnosed with it. Also, around this time I found out her "secret" -- that she'd been sexually molested when she was a kid. Over and over again by someone her family had trusted. I wouldn't tell anybody about that if Mom wasn't eventually open, herself, about it. She really tried to help people who had been through effed up stuff like she had experienced.

My kids, daughter, Gabby, and son, Max, with Mom.
Between that time and the onset of her dementia, Mom really enjoyed the best years of her life. She seemed to have better peace of mind and she let go of any bitterness she'd had before in life. She was a forgiving person, even forgiving the man who violated her. Church was really big in her life. You really can't underestimate the power of faith. 

For a while after I placed her in the home, I continued to take Mom to church. But when I'd take her back to the facility, she'd get irate. It became more trouble than it was worth so I had to stop. She can't tell you anything about Jesus anymore, but groups do bring church services to her facility and I'm sure she gets something out of that, just as she enjoys the musicians who occasionally perform there.

She wouldn't have wanted to end up with dementia and living in a home, but she knew it was a possibility. Her dad had Alzheimer's. There's never enough time.

On Monday nights at 6:30 p.m. (Central time), for a couple of years in the late '60s, Mom, without fail, would watch The Monkees on NBC-TV. (The show fared well in the ratings, opposite Gilligan's Island on CBS.) That's how I like to think of Mom. Young, full of vitality, liking rock n' roll and all that good stuff. It's a good song, "Daydream Believer." Hopeful sounding.

And aren't we all in need of hope today?

                         "Daydream Believer" -- The Monkees

Monday, April 24, 2017

Meeting a fellow blogger

Rachel Held Evans

I  was at the Crossroads Church of All Saints and Sinners in my hometown of Jett, Kan. (pop. 4,000 in the '70s). I laid my books on a plastic table in the adult Sunday School class while I refilled my coffee.

"Oh Rachel Held Evans," Sandy, the children's Sunday School teacher said when she saw Evans's book, Searching for Sunday lying in my spot. I returned to my spot and Sandy said, "Oh, it's Jeff," as if she were suddenly no longer surprised. I think she might've initially thought the book belonged to a more conservative member of the church. There is a mixture, which I think is great.

"I met her," I told Sandy and showed her where Rachel signed my book. "She was in Wichita this weekend."

For those who don't know her, Rachel Held Evans is a blogger and New York Times best selling author who writes about God and Christianity from the perspective of someone who questions and fights doubt. Born in 1981, she comes across from the viewpoint of a millennial, albeit one of the older ones. (I'm a Generation Xer.) She has been featured in the Washington Post, the BBC, NPR and been a guest on The Today Show and The View. Rachel makes appearances across the country. I saw her give a lecture Friday night at College Hill United Methodist Church in Wichita.

She's both loved and reviled. I don't go for labels such as "liberal Christian," or "conservative Christian." I'd like to say, simply, Rachel is Christian and Episcopalian. But in today's polarizing climate, I guess we have to make distinctions. There are people who take literally Paul's statement about how women should stay silent in church. To them, she is downright heretical

Rachel was born in the buckle of the Bible Belt in Alabama. Her father taught theology in a Christian college, her family attended an evangelical church and she and her younger sister attended a Christian school. As a child and through her teens, Rachel was "on fire" for Jesus. Every year, her school gave out a Best Christian Attitude award and Rachel contrived a strategy in which she would receive it.

Her family later moved to Dayton, Tenn. where her father was hired to teach at Bryan College, the evangelical school where Rachel would go on to get her degree in English and journalism.

Dayton is known as the town where the "Scopes Monkey Trial" took place in the 1920s. In the first so-called "Trial of the Century," high school science teacher John Scopes was put on trial for teaching the "heretical" science of evolution in the classroom. Today in Dayton, there is a statue of William Jennings Bryan, the famous orator who prosecuted Scopes.

Rachel began to have doubts and questions in college after she'd seen on TV, a Muslim woman in Afghanistan who had been persecuted and executed. Was this woman, who had suffered so much on Earth, going to hell for not accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior? Were Ghandi and Anne Frank in hell? Rachel couldn't accept the "God's ways are higher than Ours" idea.

She and her husband, Dan, made a painful separation from the evangelical church she had attended since childhood. The doubts and questions had been simmering in her mind for some time, but for her, the final straw came when a sign was posted in front of her church (as it was at nearly every other church in town) -- VOTE YES ON ONE. Marriage = 1 Man + 1 Woman."

Recently, Rachel tweeted, "Too many stories of LGBT people & their family/friends/allies getting treated like crap at their churches. Too. Many. Stories."

Meeting Rachel

I walked into the gymnasium of College Hill UMC. There were rows of fold-up chairs on both sides with a walking path down the middle, leading toward the lectern and microphone from which she would be speaking. People were standing in line to shake Rachel's hand.

"Hello Ms. Evans," I said, shaking her hand. (It was a petite hand.)

"Rachel," she said.

She was quite affable. Later, she got into a conversation with a fifty-ish couple sitting a few chairs from me. I tried to focus on reading her book and not listening in. After she left and made the rounds, talking to other people, I talked to the couple, told them I'd kept Rachel's first book, Evolving in Monkey Town, overdue at the library. Their names were Larry and Jenny. He was a Nazarene pastor. They had driven two-and-a-half hours from Oklahoma City to see Rachel Held Evans.

When she spoke to the audience, Rachel talked about "keeping the church weird" -- about maintaining the traditions of the sacraments -- communion, which Episcopalians call the Eucharist.

This is Christ's body, broken for you

Churches didn't have to market to young people by being hip -- the pastor wearing skinny jeans and T-shirts with Christian messages used ironically, the rock band, the fog machine, the coffee shops.

"I'm not saying, 'don't have a band,'" she said. "I love praise and worship music. I love coffee."

But if having those things isn't compatible with a church's personality, that church would be better off just being itself, she said.

"Millennials have been advertised to our whole lives," she said.

She had kind words for the evangelical church she'd grown up with and broken from.

"These are the people who first told me I'm a beloved child of God," she said.

She read from Searching for Sunday and talked about her book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood in which she would separate from people while going through the "manner of womanliness" as commanded in the Old Testament.

Rachel said she has been invited to talk to teenage audiences and was worried about what she would say. "Teenage boys aren't my audience," she said. "I've written about menstruation."

A church cannot have social justice without Jesus and cannot have Jesus without social justice, she said. A church is wrong to quote Jesus's words about caring for "the least of these," then to turn its back on refugees.

Then there are the politics that have given Christianity such a bad name in America.

"The people who taught boys sexual morality supported a man for President who bragged about sexual assault," she said.

With all the problems, all the doubts, Rachel could just hang it up and not believe. I can hear the cynics saying belief in God is like believing in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. But Rachel needed to connect with something divine and bigger than herself. She had to believe there is a just God in the universe. For me, I guess my reasons are selfish. I can't make it through life without a Higher Power. I've accepted that it's all right, not having all the answers. Rather than a severe father who sends people to eternal damnation, I choose to believe God is love.

After her presentation, I was like, the third person in line, to get books signed by Rachel. I had Searching For Sunday, which I'd bought at Wichita's Watermark Books and A Year of Biblical Womanhood. I'd peeled the .50 cent sticker off the cover of that one so she couldn't see I'd bought the book at a thrift store.

"We met earlier," she said. "What's your name again?"

"Jeff. And I'll tell you, Rachel, I was a mischief making kid. There was no way I was ever going to win a Best Christian Attitude award."

She laughed. "You've read my books."

She signed Searching For Sunday, then A Year of Biblical Womanhood.

Personalized autograph

"I read about menstruation," I said, almost apologetically. "Of course, I'd first read about it in the Old Testament. I read the book, The Year of Living Biblically. Don't remember the fella's name."

"Oh, A.J. Jacobs," she said. I'm sure she knows him.

"Yeah, A.J. Jacobs. I just thought your book would be a good companion to that."

"Getting the woman's perspective."

I told her I'd been divorced for around a year. "I'm so sorry," she said.

"I could've never made it without my faith and belief in God."

Not one to pass up an opportunity, I told her I was a blogger too and handed her a manila envelope filled with print outs of five blog posts I'd written that somehow touched on faith.

"My blog isn't specifically a faith blog and it's not a political blog, but I'll write about those things if that's what's on my mind," I said. "I'd be remiss if I didn't ask you, would you be willing to write a guest piece on my blog?"

"Oh, you'll have to ask me that after my next book is finished," she said as if she were exhausted.

I wanted to get a selfie taken with her, but there was a long line of people behind me and I felt I should go on. I accepted that she might not have time to ever read my blog or respond to me on social media. Rachel communicates with thousands of people online.

"Keep in touch," she said as I walked out.

                                           Rachel Held Evans

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Out here in Kansas

                          First trailer for Out Here in Kansas

Last night, I finally made it out to see a documentary film that's been making the rounds in Kansas and has been entered in film festivals in this state as well as in Colorado, Oklahoma and Missouri. The film is Out Here in Kansas and it marks the directorial debut of a good friend of mine and friend to this blog, Adam Knapp.

To summarize it succinctly, and as Adam might put it, the 30-minute documentary explores the often conflicting worlds of Christianity and homosexuality. But it's more than that. Adam captures the good, bad and ugly of the Kansas ethos as only a born and bred Kansas boy could do. The hard working-worship God-meat and potatoes ethic and red state stubbornness. But our world is changing.

People of LGBTQ persuasion are asserting their rights to be who they are and to enjoy the freedoms and legal protections others take for granted. As much as old school Kansans might want to live in denial and bring back the early ages, LGBTQ individuals are not going back to the closet. Adam doesn't steer away from the elephant in the room. He confronts it and does so using the clever story telling skills he honed in more than 20 years as a working journalist.

Adam is a long-time newspaper and online reporter. For around 20 years, he covered sports for The Wichita Eagle. His idea for the film sprang from two stories he had written about Burt Humburg, an All American football tackle who distinguished himself on the gridiron, first for Andover High School in the early '90s, then for Southwestern College, a small Methodist liberal arts school in Winfield, Kan. As a student athlete, Burt came to the realization that he was gay and came out to his coach, his fellow players and his mother.

Growing up, Burt and his family attended Central Christian Church in Wichita, then led by Pastor Joe Wright. The pastor was a calming presence on the Humburg family. He was there for them after their home was destroyed in the 1991 Andover tornado and he officiated over the funeral of Burt's father. He was strong influence and respected figure to Burt.

Pastor Joe would also lead the fight against same sex marriage when it came to a ballot referendum in Kansas in 2005, well before the federal Supreme Court would have the final word on the matter.

In the film's climax, Burt, now a physician in Iowa, and his former pastor have a debate. They cover such matters as scripture, religious legalism and most predominantly whether homosexuality is a lifestyle choice or a trait one is born with. The exchange, filmed in the studio of Wichita public TV station KPTS, took place for 90 minutes, but was whittled down to five minutes for Out Here in Kansas. In today's shouting, name-calling culture, it's a huge credit to these two men that they aired their differences in a civil, rational manner.

This guy is serious

It was around four or five years ago. Maria and I had bought a new sofa and were giving the old couch to Adam who was moving into a new place in Andover. It was a Friday night, and Adam, who was editor of the now defunct Andover American told me about the story he was working on for the next week. The woman working in his office as an ad rep would come up with the crackerjack headline, "The Doctor is Out."

"He came from this Christian fundamentalist family and he discovered he was gay," Adam said, while we sat, drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon after moving the furniture in. I wound up staying all night at his house that night.

"The poor bastard," I responded.

It was both an inappropriate and appropriate response.

Inappropriate because when you meet Burt you'll find that he's no poor, pitiful character. This is a man who is secure in his own skin. He possesses admirable self-confidence.

Appropriate because Burt went through personal hell, coming to terms with his sexuality. He tried to pray the gay away as it's called, but there was no changing who he was.

Adam told me about Burt's connection with Pastor Joe.

"I thought how I'd love to be a fly on the wall in a debate between those two," Adam said. "Then I thought, 'I don't have to be a fly. I can get them together and make a film."

I'm ashamed to admit it now, but I thought it was just a momentary thing and he'd soon forget about it. A few weeks later, Adam, myself and former Eagle reporter Bud Norman (man, I loved his writing) were having a few beers at Kirby's Beer Store, a little dive bar behind Wichita State University. Adam's interest in making a film hadn't abated.

"I just ran into Pastor Joe yesterday and that's another sign that I have to make this film," he said.

This time I knew he was going to do it. This guy is serious, I thought.

Although he'd written a couple of screen plays, Adam plunged into this project, not knowing anything about film making. He was smart enough to surround himself with people who could help bring his vision into reality.

Burt Humburg, Pastor Joe Wright & Adam Knapp

Stellar directorial debut

There was a lot of hard work with fundraisers, driving across the country and tracking people down to get film footage, but Adam and his crew made it happen. Out Here in Kansas had its debut last Oct. 11, National Coming Out Day at Wichita night club, Roxy's Downtown. Local TV personality Sierra Scott was emcee for the event. I intended to make it -- after all, a film only has a world premiere once -- but, due to my work schedule, I couldn't be there. There have been several other showings in Wichita and other Kansas communities, but for one reason or another I always had to take a rain check.

Until last Wednesday night. At long last, I finally saw the film at WSU's Campus Activities Center Theatre. It was playing at our alma mater where we'd learned journalism at the Elliott School of Communication under Les Anderson.

Wichita radio personality and local legend Greg "the hitman" Williams introduced the film.

"My daughter was gay," Williams said. "And it's the hardest thing to say that word, 'was.' She committed suicide at the age of 29. I'll be grieving for the rest of my life."

It was the first time Williams had spoken publicly about his daughter's suicide.

Then it was time for the movie. It was riveting, you could almost feel the Kansas wind throughout. I liked how Adam put himself in the film as narrator. It reminded me of Michael Moore, who does the same thing. I also liked how he put his kids -- daughter Stellar and son Dallas -- in the film.

A lesser talent might've vilified Pastor Joe, but Adam and his crew humanized him. Adam merely presented both sides and let the story tell itself. If anything, Pastor Joe comes across as a good human being with a lot of love to give, but who is held back by Biblical legalism.

And Burt -- well he seemed to me like  a knock-you-on-your-ass guy who will be analytical about doing it.

I'd been told that my name was listed in the credits. I merely helped as a grip one day, but to be fair, it was during the filming of some key scenes. Anyway, I went in, waiting to catch my name, but I forgot to look. As the credits were rolling, my head was down as I contemplated the film's last scene. It was a surprise twist that brought the story full-circle. I didn't catch my name on the screen, but that just gives me an excuse to see the film again.

Jon Pic, Greg "the hitman" Williams, Adam Knapp, Danielle Johnson and Alicia Sanchez
After the film showing, Adam and Jon Pic, who produced the film, held a Q & A session with the audience. At one point, Adam talked about getting ready to film a scene in our hometown of Augusta, Kan. and getting into a conversation with this old lady about the film and how she said she didn't like "the gays." It was funny because I was with him during that conversation. It was the day I met Burt.

"She went to the church I went to as a kid," Adam said. Also, my childhood church.

When it was over, I turned around & talked to Adam's 16-year-old daughter, Stellar, who was sitting by a friend in the row behind me.

"I guess you've been to a lot of these things," I said and she nodded her head in a yes motion. "I'm chagrined to say this is my first time to see it. I'm late for the party."

There are plans to eventually put Out Here in Kansas online. I told Jon how cool it would be to see a DVD or Blue Ray of the film in our hometown library. That's something that will have to wait for after the film festivals and contests. Oh, and I've told Adam how cool it would be if the film were shown at the Augusta Theatre. The greatest movie house in the world!

As the film becomes more accessible, the out-of-state readers of this blog will get a chance to see it and know what I'm talking about.

I'm all for every artistic endeavor Adam takes on. He's supported this blog right smack from the beginning when I didn't have any other readers and didn't know what I would do with it. For that, I'll forever be in his debt.

I want you to know that Out Here in Kansas has its own blog where you can keep abreast of the film as well as people and events related to it. There's also a Facebook page, a Twitter site and you can find them on Instagram. I encourage you to follow these sites if you're not already. And if you haven't already, when you get a chance, you've gotta see this movie.

I'm sure you'll come away with something good.

                        Second trailer for Out Here in Kansas

Sunday, April 16, 2017


It was Good Friday. Afternoon. The 1970s. My cousin, Jed, and I were sitting at the table, painting Easter eggs in Grandma Mac's kitchen. We occasionally looked back through the living room passage way where her Admiral box TV, a black and white early '60s model with a big fat gold-colored round knob, was tuned to The Flintsones. Grandma was drinking coffee, made from a metal percolator on her gas stove, white as the kitchen walls. Jed and I were drinking Kool-aid from wooden cups with ice cubes inside that came from metal trays.

Earlier that afternoon, I'd cried like a baby when I dropped the Easter egg I'd painted on to the sidewalk, shattering it into a million little pieces. I had painted it in Mrs. Alley's kindergarten class at Hattie O' Mattfield Elementary in my hometown of Jett, Kan. (pop. 4,000 in the '70s) My mom, sitting at the wheel of her fire brick colored Ford Pinto, tried to console me. "It wasn't a real egg. It was just an egg shell," she said. But that was all forgotten and I was happy again as I sat in my grandma's kitchen, applying colored dye to eggs. Somehow, the table conversation turned to my cousin explaining the Easter holiday to me. Jed was a month older than me, hence bigger, tougher and smarter. I deferred to him.

"You see, Jeff, Easter is when Jesus died," Jed said.

"No, Easter is when he arose," Grandma corrected.

"Oh yeah," Jed said. "Easter is when Jesus rose." from the grave

Years later, I would learn how Easter eggs, like the Easter bunny, originated in pagan fertility religions and were incorporated by the Christians. The eggs came to symbolize an empty tomb.

A couple of days after we painted the eggs, on Easter, Grandma would hide them outside and us kids would go looking all over her big yard for them. Later that Sunday, my siblings and I would do the same thing at my grandma and grandpa Guy's house in Marshallville, Kan. (pop. 700)

I guess it's significant to add that in those years of what the psychological experts call "middle childhood," I became a Christian. In Sunday school at the Bible Baptist Church when we sang "come into my heart, Lord Jesus," boy, I meant it. I was never any model kid and after a week of mischief at school and home, it seemed like I was always playing catch-up on Sunday mornings, but there was no doubt I was Baptist, I was Christian, I'd accepted Jesus into my heart and that was that.


Last Friday night I went for a couple of beers at Maggie O' Malley's Pub. Like such other city watering holes as the Monarch, the Anchor, Hopping Gnome and that little dive bar, Leroy's, across the street from my beloved WSU, Maggie's is a premiere Wichita alehouse. You should see the place on St. Patrick's Day. It gets wild, and Maggie takes to her iPhone 5S, calling cabs and uber drivers for patrons to impaired to drive, much like spitfire waitress Carla used to for Dr. Frasier Crane and the gang on TV's Cheers. And if a person is too impaired, she won't serve them anymore. I never drink too much when I'm out, at least not if I haven't secured a ride first. I lost my friend Dusty to a drunk driver.

"Okay, I shouldn't speak so profane and hateful especially on Good Friday," I said, while drinking a Guinness Stout.

(But hey, that's what I come to the bar for, right?)

"There's a guy out there in the ether. I've heard it said that in another world we might be friends and have a few beers together. Maybe go fishing. But this is the real world and I hate the motherf___ with every last fiber of my being."

Then after telling my friend, Janie, how I was mad as piss, I said I had an idea for a blog post.
"But I'll have to wait a few days after Easter to publish it 'cuz what I got on my mind ain't nothin' holy," I told her. I was almost bragging. Like I was going to spew out some lurid tale of sex and drugs.

"You know I'll read it," she said.

Janie has a special place in my heart because she's a big fan of this blog. In hindsight, her praise of me just makes me feel more guilty. Writing -- not even the praise you get from people, but the technical act, itself -- is ego food, a mood accelerator. A writer has to be careful not to live off that, to know there's more to life and to be straight in his, or her, mental health.

The next morning, I went on Maggie's Facebook page, said I felt better and that I didn't want to be a hater. I'm glad there's non-judgmental people at Maggie's. I made jokes that night to Maggie about how I'd have to do penance like saying Hail Marys, drinking Shirley Temples or something.

Maggie is fourth or fifth-generation Irish-American and a devout Catholic. Her ancestors settled in the East Coast, but through migration, as people are apt to do, she came to be born in the San Joaquin Valley of Northern California. She got an associate's degree in business from Bakersfield College and after living in Albuquerque, New Mexico, she wound up owning a bar in Wichita, Kan. When she started brewing her own beer in the back of the bar, Maggie invited Father Kelly from the Wichita Catholic Diocese to say a blessing over the stainless steel vessel with the decorative copper. I wrote a 12-inch piece about the event freelance for the entertainment/lifestyle section of The Wichita Eagle.

The father sprinkled holy water over the vessel and bowed his head in prayer. "Our Father, we thank you for the blessings of this beer for the refreshment of our souls."

Help me in my weakness

My ex-wife, Maria, private messaged  me Saturday. It was in the 3 p.m. hour. She told me I needed to download the app to NewSpring, a non-traditional, megachurch on the east side of Wichita and listen to Senior Pastor Mark Hoover's Easter sermon. He gives about five sermons in a row to different crowds on Saturday afternoon/evenings and Sunday mornings.

Pastor Hoover talked about the Disciple Thomas, also known, probably unfairly, as Doubting Thomas because after Christ rose from the dead, the disciple said he wouldn't believe it until he touched the holes in his hands and on his side.

I'd stopped going to church by the time I was in junior high. My friend at school, Conner, used to try to get me to go back, but I didn't care for it at the time. If anyone led me back to God and the church, it was Maria.

She worked in the Jett Public Library when I met her. I used to hang out there all the time in those days. One day while there, I picked up a Bible -- I'm sure it was more for educational than spiritual reasons. Next, Maria walked by to stack books when she caught me sobbing in the back of the library. I told her how I'd read that verse, Mark 14:65.

Some began to spit at Him, and to blindfold Him, and to beat Him with their fists, and to say to Him, "Prophesy!" And the officers received Him with slaps in the face.

"How could anyone be so cruel?" I said.

"Come to church with me, Jeff," she said intently, looking deep in my eyes.

Maria has long forgotten about that exchange, but I remember it as vividly as if it happened 10 seconds ago.

Years later, I would feel like Judas Iscariot. Fighting these horrific, hellish temptations to cheat on my wife. I was driving in the 500 block of North Woodlawn in Wichita just before the Central intersection, telling it on my phone to my sportswriter friend, Seth. As always, he was calming.

"Well, you're a Christian, Jeff," he said.

Flash forward again to this weekend. I didn't feel like a Christian after I'd shown anger and hatred at Maggie's pub. It's not the way I want people to see me. I'd say I'm mostly a mild spirited person, but when I do lose my temper, it's pretty bad. It's one of my biggest downfalls. There's those verses in the Gospels about how a good tree bears good fruit, a bad tree bears bad fruit and how the world will know you're a Christ follower if you have love for people. I do love people, I really do. I'm really sorry I have these problems with anger and jealousy. I'll never stop striving to do better.

I received a text message from Maggie, Easter Sunday.

"You know you're forgiven," she said.

                                            Jesus -- Glen Campbell