Saturday, December 31, 2011
It's sad to watch this video and think of how far backwards we have regressed.
Dynamic leaders like Dr. King were silenced long ago and society has overall failed to pick up the baton and continue in the race. Politics and religion have hopped in bed together and become one in preaching a message of hatred, intolerance, racism, nationalism, exceptionalism, nativism, hegemony, hawkishness, violence...
Entertainment, technology and societal fragmentation have, I feel, become our masters, leaving too many of us in a state of somnombulance and self-destructive apathy. There are beautiful people all over the world standing for principles bigger than themselves, the Occupy Wall Street individuals, for example. Still, I don't feel the social cohesiveness or collective will exists to enable a strong, shepherding voice like that of a King or Cesar Chavez.
Where is the moral courage, today? Where have all the leaders gone?
It's significant that in words delivered from a pulpit, Martin Luther King, Jr. was championing the principles of Muhammad Ali (formerly known as Cassius Clay) in refusing to pick up arms in a war he morally could not support. While King was a preacher of the Christian gospel, he did not use his position to cast aspersions at Ali's Islamic faith. He acknowledged that, whatever people in the congregation might personally think of his religion, they would be wrong impugn his character. (Actually, King was perusaisively critical of Christian ministers who advocated complacency and accomodation, rather than direct action to effect progress.)
How many leaders -- religious, political and otherwise -- do we see today, saying, "I may not agree with your politics or beliefs or what you do in your sex life, but I respect your right to be who you are?"
It's interesting how in his final years, King's Civil Rights message of racial equality had broadened toward speaking out against imperialism and the rights of people worldwide. But what many people don't realize today -- when even pharisaical politicans quote King at prayer spectacles and perfunctory anniversary celebrations --- is that from the beginning of the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and even before, labor unions worked hand in hand with black churches and progressive organizations.
The rights of the working man and woman were co-mingled with the cause of racial equality as if they were one, and in a way they were -- and are. Once freedom is allowed expanded breathing space, it can more easily take root and bloom in other corners.
It is quite troubling today when demagogues find power in the politics of polarization. But haven't they been around forever? They were there cheering on Bull Conner as he unleashed attack dogs on peaceful dissenters in Birmingham, Ala. They were along the sidewalks of Dallas, Texas on Nov. 22, 1963, passing out leaflets calling Pres. John F. Kennedy a "marxist" and "socialist dictator." And they live today, disseminating crude racial caricatures in their Tea Party banners and facebook posts.
But the message of social justice, of the true value God has placed in every human life, has also been alive throughout history. Ministering to the poor and least among us, of championing those who have trampled upon and oppressed -- that is in line with an ancient tradition recorded in the Gospels of Jesus Christ, stretching backward to Old Testament prophets further back to Moses leading a people out of bondage.
I'm realistic. I know Jan. 1 is really just another day and calendars are created with a certain amount of arbitrariness. As of this writing, my wife and daughter are feeling weak, possibly feverish and probably will tomorrow as well -- New Year or not. We're competing with a lot of ignorant people, the tide of history and all that. Still, let's do all we can to make 2012 excellent.
Some of my favorite people in this world are the World War II veterans I interact with at the local senior center. For those who endured the Depression and Second World War so their offspring could have a better life, let's do something great.
Sunday, December 25, 2011
"1893 never heard of him, 1492 was too busy discovering things to even talk to us, 1965 was too noisy." -- From the 1976 ABC television Christmas special, Rudolph's Shiny New Year. The song Eve of Destruction started climbing the charts in Septmember of 1965.
Saturday, December 24, 2011
(singing) “Jeff’s nuts roasting on an open fire.”
Merry Christmas, all my pretty ones. Love, love, love you, but only with the joy that is Christmas and not in a homosexual way like they’re trying to teach in the public schools.
Of course, my children are thriving academically – a beacon of light and Christian charity in this Godless world and throughout our holiday season. You know that parent who slaps a sticker over her back windshield or paint job? The sticker bearing the words: “Proud parent of an honor student!” Well, I’m that parent.
My son, Max, is flourishing with the fury of a Maine snowstorm. His reading scores are off the charts as he has moved beyond Captain Underpants and the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.
Presently, young Maxwell is reading a study tracing the origin of the claim that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, should be credited with authorship of Shakespeare’s plays. Young Max stuck the fat book in my face and said, “Dad, guess how many AR points this is!”
My boy has been assiduously reading the book in between playing with his 3DS and making stop motion videos of his Legos. Maria and I are molding him into a little gentleman with imperial manners and grace.
Last night, the phone was ringing.
“Max, will you answer that?” Maria said.
“My butt will answer it,” he replied, followed by a ground swell of a fart.
Our daughter, Gabby, who also likes farts, has generated a bonanza of achievements herself, this year. She’s an excellent reader (Walter the Farting Dog, for example) and she has distinguished herself in the arts of cheerleading and stage performance.
Maria and I were wowed by her singing at the at the school’s annual Christmas program. You know, there are only about five or six songs that really are Christmas. All music teachers, in true spirit of this marshmallows and manger season, should stick by that formula, brooking no deviations from this most sacred of shopping holidays.
Oh no, instead of Decks the Halls and Silent Night, the modern public education system promotes a lot of liberal hippie peace and love crap. My sweet little daughter is on that stage with impressionable children ranging from kindergarten to second grade, and they’re singing this hippie commie song, You’ve Got a Friend. Wonder what it will be next year? Some song about imagining there’s no heaven, hell or religion?
Ahh, so this is Christmas and don’t worry too much about the growing paucity of values in our world as the family and I will be spreading much Christian tradition of the Yule log and consumerism. We’ll be in front of Kober Brothers supermarket in that redneck town to the east of us, ringing bells for the Salvation Army. We always like to help the less fortunate like those condemned to living in the trailer park on the other side of the railroad tracks to the north of us. Not everyone can live in a nice manufactured housing community like we do and we like to remind people of that this time of year as we broadcast our charity works to lovers of Christmas across the land.
Yes, it’s been a very good year. And in other news, my brother, Perry, just returned from the hospital for procedural work related to his gastrointestinal tract. We were just talking to Perry about it over a dinner of green chili at the El Torito bar and grill. (There was a picture of green chili on the menu next to the establishment’s other fine dish – Intestino Amigo, translated Bowel Buddy.)
Great family, great friends – what more on earth can we ask for? A friend tipped us on a wonderful bread and breakfast establishment – Schrute Farms in Honesdale, Pa.
It was a rustic treat as we were invited to join in the beet harvest work with “Cousin Mose” at 6:30 a.m. We enjoyed a sweet breakfast of goat jerky and were treated to lavatory facilities in the bucolic mode of an outhouse with Battlestar Galactica posters adorning the walls and complimentary cornhusks to accommodate our sanitary needs.
Guys, are you taking lessons from the King of Romance?
I must go now, leaving you with the sweet holiday dreams of a child. May peace and goodwill guide you in the New Year, your troubles miles away. And remember that in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.
Peace be with you,
J. Guy & family
P.S. “1893 never heard of him, 1492 was too busy discovering things to even talk to us, 1965 was too noisy.” – From the 1976 ABC television special, Rudolph’s Shiny New Year, a sequel to the 1964 special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Originally airing on Dec. 6, 1964 on NBC, this children’s Christmas special was sponsored by General Electric.
Thursday, December 22, 2011
She looked through the clothing racks while I rummaged through the used book shelf and record bin. There was a Diary of a Wimpy Kid kid book – one more for me to pick up for Max. Our boy can never have enough.
I flipped through the LP’s standing in a crate. There were possibilities: Tom Jones Live in Las Vegas, a Mitch Miller sing-a-long (wasn’t there a reference to him on Season 1 of Happy Days?), Englebert Humperdinck. Possibilities. True potential.
While knelt down, staring at a Partridge Family album, circa 1970, I felt her presence. My eyes grazed the silver metal of a shopping cart and I saw her.
I tell Maria that County Seat was a good store, every man needs cord and it’s fitting that I should do this (buy the thing).
Dressing room experience
“Man, I’m so sorry,” he said. “I thought it was empty.”
Sunday, December 18, 2011
This is the stuff like we were listening to down in the dungeon they called the Sunflower newsroom at the old Wilner Auditorium building at Wichita State University, circa 1994.
Front (from left) Kollen Long, Duane Frazier, Adam Knapp, Sandy (West) Graham, Jeff Guy. Back: Amy (Pray) Schoon, Stephen King.
We were standing there, waiting to proceed out the aisle at the end of the service. As always, when I attend these things, Maria was beside me for moral support. The minister talked about how one life had brought all these people together. My friend Adam Knapp looked back at me from the row of seats in front of us.
“You all right, Jeff?”
I looked at the floor. Lips tightened. Eyes shut, holding back. No words.
There was a pat on my shoulder.
Outside the auditorium, a flock of friends and former students of Les Anderson covered the lobby of the Wichita State University annex – the Hughes Metroplex at 29th and Woodlawn streets. I was a reporter at the student newspaper, the Sunflower, when Gene Hughes was named the new WSU president.
Making it through college and writing for the campus newspaper. That was a trip through fear and loathing. It paid off, though, as I was reminded.
“Oh Jeff,” the woman said as she threw her arms around me.
It was my old friend Shannon Littlejohn. I’ve had a warm place in my heart for her these past 17 years because she was part of the committee that awarded me a scholarship.
Surrounding us, there were reminders of Les: the legendary Anderson family Christmas cards, the mosaic filling up with remembrances, copies of his book Never Take a Snake For a Ride…The book is a collection of nearly 40 years of columns the man wrote for the Ark Valley News.
I met back up with Adam and some other guys who had Les as a teacher. We were trying to think of a place to go eat and Adam is something of a leader in these kinds of decisions.
“How ‘bout,” he said without a lot of confidence in his voice or facial expressions, “Apple Bees at 21st and Rock?”
I was hesitant to break the reverence of the occasion. So I held back from saying what was on my mind.
Knapp, you bastard, is that the best you got??
My cell phone rang. I saw the name of my former classmate pop up – Amy (Pray) Shcoon. (Nearly 20 years ago, I was the only journalism student in the Elliott School of Communication more neurotic than Amy.) I clicked the ok button of my beat up Verizon phone.
“Amy Pray?” I said. She asked where I was, and I peered out the glass windows of the Hughes building. “Hey, I see you,” I said while walking outside, Maria close behind me.
She gave me a light hug and I wonder if she noted I no longer smelled like cigarettes. Gave em’ up 11 years ago.
Maria and I took out for Applebees with Amy following in her Honda. The hostess grabbed a couple of menus, and was about to seat us when Adam called and said with characteristic politeness, “We changed our mind. Could you meet us at Larry Bud’s?”
That’s more like it, Knapp.
Backglass, beer, panties
We walked into the sports bar and grill – Amy, Maria and me. Years ago, it was Tanner’s. Last time I was there it was November of 1993. It was a Thursday night, the final meeting of our 301 Business and Professional Speaking class. Everyone in the class had become pretty tight with each other and at the suggestion of Tony Duesing (now a respected media personality in Wichita) we all met for drinks at Tanner’s.
The beleaguered waitress seated us at a round table underneath a pair of thong panties stapled to the ceiling. Boy, I would see to it that the girl -- probably a struggling college student – got a 20 percent tip or more from Maria and me. To the left of the NCAA basketball pinball machine, I saw a backglass marquee dedicated in memory to The Sopranos.
born under a bad sign with a blue moon in your eye
Stephen King sat by me at the table. No, not that one. Poor bastard gets that crap everyday of his life. Early in his career as a college journalist, Stephen asked Les if he should change his name.
“No, people will notice it. They’ll remember it,” he recalled Les telling him.
His words didn’t indicate any partiality, but the look in his eye did reveal a healthy dose of criticism when he asked me what I thought of the preacher’s eulogy.
“At first, I thought, ‘Who is that scrawny little guy?’” I said. “He looked like Sammy Davis, Jr. But I liked how he quoted Shakespeare. Always good when a preacher brings Will Shakespeare in. And I liked how he actually found a soothing passage from Revelation to read from and didn’t fall back on some lovey stuff from Corinthians. But when he started talking about the one leaf ---“
“That’s what I’m talking about,” Stephen said. “The guy walks around the Les Anderson farm and only one leaf is remaining on a tree.”
“I wasn’t buying it,” I said.
“So one leaf is remaining for him to conveniently tie into Les’s life.”
“Yeah, I was skeptical.”
Amy ordered a Rum and Coke. Overhead TV screens were fixed on ESPN and Amy cheered when Iowa State scored a touchdown over the Sooners. One of the first things I asked her about, upon resuming contact, was about that private college she’d been working at in Iowa. I thought it was so cool that one of our own was working in a university environment.
She informed me that she left that job and now does copy editing for Pearson Education, a publishing and technology company that specializes in textbooks and other multimedia learning tools. Penguin Books is a subsidiary of Pearson, she told me.
That made me bolt upright. Penguin! That company that publishes Shakespeare, Homer, Dante, Sun Tzu, Dickens, Oscar Wilde, Steinbeck…Don’t get me wrong, I still hate the Corporate Media Industrial Complex and I loathe how Pearson bought the company in 1970, but, hey, it’s still Penguin.
I asked Stephen what he’s doing these days and he said he’s a strategic analyst for –can’t remember.
“What the hell is a strategic analyst?” I asked.
Not actually knowing himself, he gave a BS answer. Like me, Stephen was recently helping out Adam at the Andover American newspaper. We only do it for kicks because Adam doesn’t pay jack.
He recently hung it up with the American after moving to Atchison, Kan. where his wife, Monika, took a job as principal of Maur Hill-Mount Academy – a parochial school steeped in Benedictine Catholicism.
Amy’s first job after college was at the Atchison bureau of the St. Joseph (Missouri) News-Press. Adam worked the sports desk from the St. Jo newsroom, and Adam, myself and Sandy (West) Graham, another Les Anderson student, all worked at the Arkansas City Traveler.
Ark City. Atchison. St. Joseph.
Backwater, blue collar, bullshit towns.
We started talking about the semester project, required of all Les’s Advanced Reporting students – the small town profiles.
“Now, you covered Piqua, Kan., right? “ I said to Stephen. Piqua (pronounced Pick-way), pop. 80, is an unincorporated town off U.S. Highway 54 and 10 miles east of the Woodson County Seat, Iola. A museum in Piqua promotes the most famous person ever born there. Vaudevillians Joe and Myra Keaton were touring with Harry Houdini as part of a traveling medicine show, when on Oct. 4, 1895, Myra went into labor. Silent screen legend Buster Keaton was born.
That historically documented gem aided great vibrancy and authority to Stephen’s piece. The remainder of his profile? Not so factual.
“It was all made up,” Stephen confessed. “I had a wife and family, classes, a job. I was staying up till 4 in the morning every night. There was no time for research. I only went to that town twice.”
“Oh man,” I said. “I practically had an office in the café of the town I was doing (Leon, Kan. pop. 700). They saw me smellin’ around all the time.”
Turning to Amy, Stephen said:“They probably called the cop shop when Jeff came around. ‘He’s baaack.’”
Anyhow, Stephen received an A on the project and Les was so impressed he called the editor of the Iola Register about running the story. Fortunately for Stephen, the editor said they had just run something like that a month prior.
Backs of his fingers brushing with relief over Stephen’s forehead.
That was Stephen’s true confession. Almost to the second I opened my mouth, he said, “I don’t even want to hear what Jeff’s dark secret is. I can only imagine.”
Next excellent adventure
Maria leaned over to me and said, “I think I’d like to do some shopping in the plaza. I’d like to go to shop for some wall art for my office.”
After telling my friends how nice it was to meet everybody (except Adam, whom she already knows), she excused herself and went shopping at nearby Tuesday Morning.
Somehow, the conversation around the table turned to the subjects of raising kids and helping aging parents.
Upon arriving at the bar, I had told Stephen, “It’s like how Sherwood Anderson was the father of Faulkner and that whole generation of writers. We’re all here because of Les. We’re all his kids.”
Later as the beer poured and the conversation tone took on a deeper key, Stephen motioned to the bodies in that backroom, drinks in their hands, laughter emanating from their nostrils.
“They’re all here from the funeral, all here for Les,” he said. “Everyone in this room, you have a connection to.”
Funny. At the funeral, the minister was talking about how a high school teacher was impressed by Les Anderson’s writing. That teacher encouraged young Les to attend his alma matter, Fort Hays State University, and pulled strings to make it happen. Even Les had a Les Anderson in his life.
Feeling the urge to let the beer flow from without me, I sauntered to the gent’s room, past the signs, reading “pointers” and “setters,” leading the way to the respective men’s and ladies restrooms. I stood at the pisser, gazing at sports stories clipped from newspapers and pasted to the walls as I thanked God Almighty that this hallowed ground had not been desecrated by ads for Genesis Health Club and other such obscenities.
Walking back to grab my jacket and fedora hat, I saw a fellow raise his glass: “To Les Anderson,” he said. “The reason we’re all here.”
We shook hands -- phone numbers, emails and blog sites programmed into each other’s phones. Those still not “friends” with each other, yet connected, committed to making contact via that shitting facebook. I gave Amy a quick hug.
“You grew up pretty damn good,” I said.
“So did you."
I walked into the light outside the door of the bar. Made contact with Maria at Tuesday Morning, even helped her shop a little.
“Did anyone think I was rude, cutting out like that?” she asked.
“No, they understood,” I told her. “They were all quite impressed, thought you were pretty cool.”
“That was really boring,” she said.
As an afterthought, she said: “Only journalists would critique a preacher’s sermon at a funeral.”
I’d never thought of that, but she could be right.
“I know,” I said. “I can’t expect you to like all our shop talk. I’m sure if I were around you and other non-profit administrators, I’d be bored.”
“Oh, you couldn’t sit still. You’d be texting and writing on napkins.”
“It may be so, Little Girl,” I said. “But I belong to you and the kids for the rest of the day.”
“Will you go to that home decorating consignment store in Andover with me?”
"Sure. Let’s go on to the next adventure.”
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Way back in the summer of 2009, I decided to join this hip, happening thing. Yes, I decided to be a joiner. I had been steadfast in my refusal to join that ghetto alley known as myspace, but this thing seemed different, cleaner.
Some of the thirty-something women in my Math 501 (Teaching Math to Elementary Students) class would go wild over 15-minute breaks, checking their walls with enthusiasm and the kind of pull that once drew me outside to the alley outside the newsroom for three minutes of sucking down a Marlboro.
With any big sale, there’s always that moment that will make or break everything, the definitive phrasing and word play that will seal the deal. A few years back, this gal wrote me a note on library stationery, saying, “If you want someone who will stick with you through thick and thin, I’m it.”
Sure I was non-commital, emotionally elusive and clandestine, but this young lady threw a sales pitch at me, uniquely marketed to my needs and desires. Not everyone in my sphere is to be trusted and somehow this pretty young thing had detected that loyalty and perseverance were highly valued commodities in my world.
I’ll marry you
It was a similar, if not quite intense situation in 2009when I started my illustrious blog – you know, that expression of my inner energy which I launched and hold to with fierce obstinacy and manly control even though my wife calls it the “bane of her existence.” So I was reading an on-line article about how to promote “jguywrite.”
If you want your work to be noticed, you must join Facebook
So I joined up as it was the practical thing to do. Naturally, I didn’t mention this to Liana right away. But there’s always someone breathing at my heels, a hell-hound on my trail – an insatiable little woman who will probe into a life with journalistic devotion and shamelessness and hold me accountable for every little decision I make.
“I see you’ve joined Facebook,” she said.
“Yeah, that’s right,” I answered.
“I thought you were a rebel,” she said. “I thought you didn’t go with the status quo. Now, you’ve sold out and joined The Establishment.”
“Well hell, I gave over my soul to you as well, didn’t I?”
“Never thought I’d see the day,” she continued. “J. Guy, the rebel, the non-conformist jumping on the bandwagon.”
“I see your point,” I responded. “But, good or bad, facebook is an excellent resource for promoting my blog.”
Eye rolls from Liana.
Initially things are fresh and inviting. Lost connections from high school and college are friending me and I’m doing the same for them. The largest giant leap for mankind takes shape in the form of a special request from Adam, my old buddy from the outside whom I have recently reconnected with.
“Will you write for me on my new website?” he asks. “I’m crossing my fingers that you’ll say yes.”
FB initiated opportunity mixed with shameless appeals to my vanity. Sonovobitch knew how to play it.
I agree to it. The opportunity revives the youthful energy I held dormant so long in a world of marital concessions, sterile jobs, in-laws and twenty-something hung-over guilt. Adam and I communicate frequently by social network. We’re messaging back and forth one day when he informs me – emotional understatement in his text – that wife number 2 wants a divorce.
In the meantime, my own wife is asking who the woman is (from high school, college, my so-called working life) wanting to be my “friend.” It’s any woman I might be a “friend” of on the lost highway where all faces look before you from an impersonal glass screen, nightly companions blaring into your life like a dysfunctional family.
“Who’s that woman?” she asks. “And why is Adam Knapp friends with her?”
“Adam Knapp’s friends with everybody,” I respond. “The man has more ‘friends’ than some D-list celebrities. You know he’s a facebook whore.”
Family dysfunction, both deep-seated and manufactured by technology, seeps through a viral pipeline.
“Why won’t you friend your step-mother?” asks Liana, who long ago caved into lamebook and invited people from her family and mine to be constantly in our lives via social network.
“She’s a sweet old lady,” Liana says. “Do you have some bitterness toward your step-mother.”
“I like my step-mom just fine,” I say. “Wonderful lady, but facebook was not invented for 70-year-old women.”
Meanwhile, there is my mother-in-law – a woman only in her mid 50s. “Mom” is a sweet lady (not that step-mom is not; she’s just old) so I gave her the privilege of making her a friend.
“Are you doing okay,” she asks me. “You sounded a little blue on facebook the other day.”
Her 20-year-old son did not de-friend “Mom,” not even when he grew weary of the matron figure commenting and dispensing maternal wisdom over his every post.
“How can you Christians say there is a God of Love when you are a bunch of hypocrites who talk up some bullshit deity I’ve never seen and condemn anyone who doesn't agree with you to burn in hell forever?” the angst-filled young man posts.
“Wyatt, I’m so proud that that my son is so open in expressing his opinions,” Mom, never far behind, writes back. “While I wish you could grasp how much God loves you and wants to enter a personal relationship with you, I will respectfully accept that you are a growing young man with his own opinions, searching for his own way in life. Your mother is with you all the way as you go about this journey of self-discovery. I appreciate the young man you are becoming and I value your honesty and openness.”
Within a week, he told “Mom” he was deleting his facebook account, then started another one under a different name the sweet woman did not know about.
Meanwhile, I befriended a young man from the university who wears his heterosexuality on his sleeve like a 20-year-old Jeff Guy. One of the “likes” on his profile is a site devoted to the cause of safe sex. Penciled drawings of females and males, respective reproductive organs blowing in the wind for physicians and nurses to examine.
Listen. I’m all for safe sex (“There is no safe sex except in marriage,” my mother would say if she were on lamebook, which – thank GOD, she is not.) but I don’t want a picture of a guy’s schlong hanging out on my fb wall for God, Grandma and the damn world to see. Of course, neither of my grandmothers are going to see my lameass profiles because they’re not on fakebook. Also, they’re dead. But it’s the principle of the thing.
"Playboy magazine named Ablah Library at the university one of the top 10 college locations in America to get busy in,” young testosterone-driven man posts.
“My family does not want their names mentioned in any more of your blogs without first reading what you have written,” lovely wife tells me. “And Mom wants Wyatt’s name taken out of that blog you wrote last week about the murder.”
Face tightening. Eyes shut as I sit before a glass teat, hands fixed in a motion I learned long ago in a high school typing class. A crescendo of volatility building up in me, such as has rarely been seen since I was quite young, student-like and trying to maintain on a testosterone-fueled Jim Beam and cigarettes rage.
“Okay, I will take the name out,” I said. “And I will never breathe their names into one of my columns again, but one day – one day! (voice builds into a serrated staccato rhythm) they will be begging me to write about them.”
I say something about how I’m happy to have “Mom” as a “friend”, but I’m going to hide all fb posts from her and if she wants to see my blog, she can google it.
“I hate your blog,” this beautiful woman says.
“Well I don’t see why,” I answer. “You know I love love love you.”
“What am I going to do with you?” she asks, shaking her head.
“I don't know,” I say. “You know I love the shit out of you.”
Somehow, as if through waves underground, I feel our relationship maturing in ways I never imagined possible with anybody when I was early twenty-something, perpetually drunk and living on libido – years I’m glad were never chronicled on facebook, twitter or youtube.
But I won’t get into that here as I’m not one to wear my emotions on my sleeve.
Monday, December 12, 2011
Well it's officially the little girl's birthday today. Seven years. That is the age of my youngest -- my daughter Makenzie Jo Guy. Kenzie was born in Wichita's Via Christi-St. Joseph Hospital, Dec. 12, 2004. There was some difficulty with her lung capacity and she spent a week or two under the care of the excellent nursing staff of St. Jo's Natal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). There was a nurse named Roseann, a fellow named Chris. Wish I could remember all the names as they were the most caring, conscientious group I've ever known. It was the beginning of the end of my employment with the Sedgwick County Dept. on Aging, but the start of something a hell of a lot better.
I meant to write a longer, more substantial piece about Kenzie, based on something I wrote in my journal last spring. (You know, I've been keeping a journal since English Comp II in college.) It will have to wait as I'm busy with four jobs, trying to spend time with Liana and my kids while they're still young and I might have damn jury duty this week. But if it takes till March, I'll write something more.
Cannot say enough good things about Wayne Newton or this song. Can you believe a time when you could saunter on to the record shop and buy a 45rpm of this guy? I really wish he could've collaborated with the Beach Boys and perhaps worked with Brian Wilson, looping tapes and expanding harmonies to Pet Sounds and Smile. But we could be here all day talking about what is and what could've been. My ol' friend Brookman back at Aging said, "I prefer not to play the 'what if' game."
Must leave for work. One last thing: At the start of the video, the man wrote, "To my family who I love dearly." It should've read, "whom I love dearly." It's my only qualm with an otherwise excellently produced video.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Song lyrics quoted on the girl's page.
Writer's note: The title was taken from a post on the girlfriend's facebook page.
Roughly 7:30 a.m. I was about to leave the house for work, teaching school children. Liana, her head just up from the facebook of her Android phone, told me there had been a murder in our hometown. The 69-year-old woman was the grandmother of a young man Liana’s 20-year-old brother, _______ , had known since childhood.
Some summer days, they would play together every day. This boy with a diagnosis of ADHD and a few other things like ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder), was one of several kids in _______'s inner circle. Like a revolver, this boyhood friend was among a recurring set of actors who dropped in and out of that gang of kids occupying the trailer park.
“I wonder if he did it,” Liana said.
“Please tell me you don’t think the kid is that f'd up,” I answered.
Cops saw the woman’s car burning at the corner of 120th and Hopkins-Switch roads. The kids were in another car and a police chase with speeds in excess of 100 mph ensued into the next county. If I were still a reporter at the daily newspaper where I cut my teeth on journalism, anger and beer, I would be covering this story. Fueled on cigarettes and frustration, I would be calling, leaving messages for and interviewing law enforcement officials from three jurisdictions and the prosecutor’s offices of two counties. That’s how it was in Arkansas City.
How was the woman killed? By what method? Is there a weapon in evidence? What charges are being filed? What is the motive? How did the car catch fire? How did they get the other vehicle? Who did it belong to? Was it a robbery? A robbery gone bad? A crime of passion? What was the relationship between the two subjects? Was there any relationship between the suspects and the victim?
The officials would give me their stock BS answer: “It’s still under investigation.” Or they would tell me they didn’t know, another piece of bullcrap they were taught to say in cop school. I would get a few bits of information beyond the press release, and if I was lucky I’d make a successful end run around a stonewaller and get some piece of information someone else was holding back on.
That was one of my other lives, one I lived back when these two homeless teens were toddlers.
Love and stability
Around 4:30 p.m. I’m pulling into the Andover public library. (I have a side job, writing part-time for the weekly newspaper in this town. The editor, my friend Adam, would tell you I’m helping him out. I feel he’s the one helping me.) Cell phone rings. The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” – that’s my ringtone. Liana’s name flashes across the marquee of the screen.
“Well, he did it,” she says. “They arrested him and his girlfriend. They were both homeless, living in the Tulsa area. I hope it comes out that the girlfriend did it and he didn’t know what all was going on.”
I want everything to make sense
“Think it will come out that she abused him when he was a kid or something and that prompted this?”
People who know this 19-year-old say grandma’s house was a safe haven. His life was so messed up and she was the one person who gave him love and stability.
“So the young man may have killed the one friend he had in this world?” I said.
The woman was a special needs teacher in the Wichita school district. She was active in her church and community.
“I didn’t know you would get so depressed,” Liana said over the phone as I walked into the library, preparing to print off some of my blogs and check facebook, thinking about my Grandma Mac, whom I lost when I was in high school.
Thinking about some of the sins I’ve committed in my life.
“I always enjoyed the thrill of being a reporter and going on the trail of sex and murder,” I said. “But I also went home, dejected, questioning the decisions I’d made and if I’d done the right thing and served society and the First Amendment and all. I liked the dichotomy – the fun, the rush, but also the sadness and wrestling with my conscience.”
We ended the conversation with my telling her I would be holding her and the kids a little tighter when I got home.
Back in my car. Westbound on K96, toward Wichita and visiting a client for my second job. No way I can resist calling Adam.
“Yeah, it’s like our ME at the AC Traveler would say, ‘Any day you have a murder, it’s a beautiful news day. When you have murder and sex, it’s a gift from God,” I said.
Adam is back at the office of our flagship paper, multi-tasking between work, talking to me on the cell and my wife on facebook.
“It’s totally killer,” I say, caught up with the young man rhythm of the reporter life. “What an ironic word to use. Oh! And speaking of killer, I got this awesome CD in the box, Jerry Lee Lewis.”
“Nice transition,” Adam says.
“Transition?” I respond. “Brother, I learned writing and reporting under Les Anderson at Wichita State. I was baptized in the fires of Ark City.”
More laughs from Adam.
“This CD rocks,” I say. “Guest appearances from Mick Jagger, Kid Rock, Willie Nelson. They cover that old tune from the Stones ‘Sticky Fingers’ – ‘Dead Flowers.’”
I'll be in my basement room with a needle and a spoon and another girl can take my pain away
Laughs and black humor will roll ceaselessly into the night until early hours when existentialist drama hits slap-dash upon my face like the ghost of Jesus meeting me on a Carolina road.
Sons of Adam, daughters of Eve
I was sprawled over the bed with my son, Sam, reading the second installment of C.S. Lewis’s “Narnia” books. We would put another chapter away before I tucked him in, before saying prayers for the night.
“And that’s why the Witch is always on the lookout for any humans in Narnia. She’s been watching for you this many a year…”
I stopped after the paragraph, asked my boy if he had any ideas on what the symbolism meant. Then I told him what my grandpa Mac told me as a boy, quoting the book of Job, talking about how the devil went to Heaven, God asked where he’d been and he answered, “From roving about the earth.” I told him how the Bible says satan is after you like a roaring lion, yet my boy felt no discomfort. He’s so at ease, as if he could walk through the valley of the shadow of death, confident that he would return safe and whole.
Years ago, it was my resolve that if I had kids, I would impart to them that sense of peace so elusive to me. No mindfucks about eternal damnation and some archaic vision of hell below us to alienate him from God. My grandpa told me about this medieval hell, but he meant well. The old man is totally in my heart now.
In pre-dawn hours, I exchanged several facebook messages with my friend Jackson, an old reporter friend in South Dakota. He told me about meeting the reporter, by this time an old man, who wrote this book – a play-by-play of covering the Charlie Starkweather killing spree over the badlands, alongside a girl he saw twirling a baton on her front lawn.
Ride of a lifetime
I had watched “Glee” with Liana and Kenzie that night, while folding socks. Two of the characters tracked down a transferred student, hell-bent on bringing him back to the fold.
“Even homeless people are on facebook,” one of the characters said.
The homeless girlfriend’s facebook page was public. Said she’d been arrested for
“perifanelia and posession haha.” There were pictures of her boyfriend, glazed-eyed, lit joint fixed between fingers, smoke emanating from his lit up mouth. Her stash – sprawled over several pictures.
“So first and hopefully last run in with the jail spent a whole five days hahah it sucked but it opened my eyes,” she wrote.
Someone tried to make connection with her.
“U need to call me”
“You need to learn to call your sister. Grandpa said he got a call from the county jail yesterday but, he couldn't understand the phone system and it hung up before he could pick an option.”
"Im ugly, fat, uncaring, selfish, stupid, ungreatful , a bitch, whore, cunt…And many more (: anyone wanna add to my list."
She wrote about depression, beat herself up with other people’s words, listed vampires as an interest. Religion: “idk what is right.”
":had a ride of a lifetime.... of course like everything else it was CRASH AND BURN!!! :) i hope you burn in hell :) a ride of a lifetime.... of course like everything else it was CRASH AND BURN!!! :) i hope you burn in hell :)"
Monday, November 28, 2011
I was over 30 when I met Liana. My friend, Andy, was over 40 when he married his wife, Martha. I understand he was a pretty lonely man for many years. My mother was lonely, when at age 17, she married my dad. She told me Dad, who was just out of the Army, was also lonely. Said he was lonely again 20 years later when he married my step-mom. "How could that be?" I wondered. "How could a tough guy like my dad feel lonely?"
Saturday, November 26, 2011
Publicly tell Kansas Governor Sam Brownback he sucks and catch the blowback. It’s all the national news now. Emma Sullivan, a senior from Shawnee East High in Topeka, was on a class trip to the statehouse in Topeka when she sent this message via Twitter: "Just made mean comments at go Brownback and told him he sucked, in person. #heblowsalot."
The girl sent the tweet to 60 of her friends. That was three days ago. She has around 1,000 followers now – people, who like the rest of the country, know 17-year-old Emma Sullivan thinks the governor of Kansas sucks.
Sullivan didn’t actually tell Brownback he sucks. That was just a line she threw in to get a laugh from her friends. I would’ve done the same thing.
Yes, it was juvenile and disrepectful, but there are worse things she could have done on a class trip. I recall one high school field trip back in '80s in which a couple of guys snuck outside to smoke cigarettes. My friend Steve used a pay phone and randomly called some woman out of the phone book, pretending to be a local disk jockey from KICT-95 and telling her she'd won tickets to the AC/DC concert that night.
"I'll pick 'em up after work," she said, excitedly.
Disrespectful? All right, but isn't it less embarassing than making duck lips to look "sexy" and taking a picture of one's self in the crapper to post on lamebook?
The apparatchiks in Brownback’s world, however, did not find Sullivan’s teenage rudeness to be funny. (They learned of Sullivan’s inflammatory remarks when they were monitoring the social media activities of everyone in her high school class.) Sherriene Jones-Sontag, Brownback’s director of communication, expressed reaction from the governor’s office. Shock – shock! How shocking that a high schooler would speak rude and disrespectfully of a respected public figure, perhaps in expression of a political opinion, but possibly more motivated by a desire to make her friends laugh. Oh no, a teenager would never throw her own parents under the bus to get a reaction from her friends.
My reaction to this blatant show of disrespect by one of our nation’s young people? Well, I take a different view than Sontag and Brownback’s other lapdogs. I’d like to say I’m surprised. But I can’t. Nope. Having worked in the thankless role of a substitute teacher, I have felt first-hand the slings and arrows of adolescent disrespect for adults.
“Mr. Gay,” this snot-nosed girl called me. Oh, I was fit to be tied. It was all I could do not to lash out: “Yeah, well my wife is one happy woman.” But no, I decided to let that go like water off my back. Although I did respond quietly by filling out a PBR (pupil behavioral report) citing this young woman for breach of public manners for sexually harassing me.
So what is it with conservatives being so thin-skinned? Remember when Pres. Bush and his henchmen looked from the windshield of Shrubby’s limousine and caught sight of a school bus driver, middle finger vertically in the air. Boy, somebody got on the horn and had that man fired. You don’t disrespect OUR president.
Ronald Reagan seemed so much more secure in his mental health. Not that I’m a fan, he’s not my favorite guy in the world, but I loved that story Ron Jr. shared at his father’s funeral. (The eulogies rolled for about a week.) Regan was restoring confidence to the American psyche, appealing with a warmth and sense of humor that people found ingratiating. His gipper-like thumbs up sign helped communicate that feeling. So when a deranged man stood before the 1980 candidate’s limousine, middle finger invectively stuck in the air, Ronnie just turned to his family members in the car and said, with a grin, “See, it’s catching on.”
Modern conservatives fall at the feet of their avuncular savior, Reagan. So why would Bush and Brownback be so serious and hard, when catching a little backlash? An African-American bus driver? A young lady attending public school in hayseed Kansas? Who would’ve thought these nobodies would pose a threat to The Establishment? Well, we have to be proactive and preserve – what was the term that guy, Tricky Dick Nixon used? – law and order. What’s going to happen to these people who express “disrespect” for the governor? They gonna’ wind up on an Enemies List?
Singling out a harmless tweet, I’d say, is taking pro-active to an extreme. I’m surprised because the GOP is made up of tough, flag waving, hawkish real Americans. Last people I’d expect to be thin-skinned. Not like they’re a bunch of godless, jihadist-loving, Barry Hussein Obama groupie, Teddy Kennedy cocktail, Berkley-esque commie pinko Democrats.
Cracking the whip on a high school senior and reporting her to the jurisdictional powers of school administration -- that seems inconsistent with the GOP platform. Doesn’t Brownback have better things to do like taking government the hell out of people’s lives and bring a prayerful restoration of Judeo-Christian principles upon the Land?
It’s shocking that the governor’s office would use precious time and resources to launch a counter-offensive on a disrespectful teenage girl. Isn’t that a bit like aiming missiles at a third-world village with children and old people?
I’m sure a fiscal mind like Brownback’s can find more creative uses for state funds. The whole country knows how he’s trimmed the fat by eviscerating the Kansas Arts Commission. Kansas was the only state to obliterate its public arts vehicle. This was a pragmatic gesture as the foundation was eating 0.005 percent out of a $13.8 billion state budget?
Brownback is into saving financial resources. He sent a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and asking that the Clean Water Act (you know, that liberal rubbish signed into law by Richard Nixon) be scrapped.
He also is for cutting back on Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation staff so he can hire private out-of-state corporations, faith-based organizations and other groups of people who didn’t major in social work during college. Brownback’s vision would include utilizing local service organizations like the Junior League and Lions Club to take care of those functions.
Lions Club? AKA the 80-year-old man club? My old grade school principal, Mr. Bergen, is a Lions Club member. I know this because Mr. Bergen spent two hours trying to talk to my friend Marie’s crazy uncle Jett into joining up. This transaction occurred when Mr. Bergen rented that house to Jett and his agoraphobic wife, Betty.
“Thought I’d never get rid of that old man,” Jett said.
I love Mr. Bergen, but he retired back in the 80s. It’s been a long time since he had to deal with things like an 8-year-old girl coming to school with bruises and bizarre sexual behavior because mom’s boyfriend gets a little rough and weird when Sugermama’s on the night shift, waiting tables.
Aren’t Republicans supposed to be preservers of the status quo? Experts on matters of fiscal responsibility, the Constitution and morality? Let’s hope Sam and his eliminationist friends aren’t launching a rollback on 200 years of constitutional progress.
Because that would suck. Like waving a big “Fuck You” at the Constitution and that would totally blow.
Monday, November 21, 2011
Posted this originally at 3 a.m. Mind racing, no sleep. Writing like Sylvia Plath on a manic binge. Should go back to bed. Text a friend of mine. He says coldly, "What do you want?" Then, perhaps realizing his brusque telephone demeanor, texts me back, "Just read some of your old blogs. Keep fighting the power, my friend." All this and I still have not completed all my columns. So much life and lamebooking like it's a crack pipe. Perhaps I should curse Sir Walter Raleigh and smoke another cigarette, but I hate cigarettes. Nasty. Have not smoked since 2000.
Friday, November 18, 2011
When I was a young journalism student at Wichita State University, I knew there was one man who had my back, someone I regarded above all others in that institution – Les Anderson.
I was in between wrapping up a book review for one of my blogs and bantering with a reporter friend on facebook when I glanced to the side and saw the message: “The world was a better place thanks to Les. Rest in peace.”
The next morning I was alone, pacing around the children’s’ room of Life Church where I was to help with KidzChurch that Sunday. I’m glad I arrived early so I could take time to compose myself because all I could think of was Les.
It was around 8 a.m. I called my friend Roz.
“Please tell me it’s not true,” I said, hardly able to get the words out.
“I know, that’s what I thought,” she said with sleep in her voice.
Less than a month ago, the Elliott School of Communication at WSU had established an endowment fund for Les and held a banquet for him – quite an honor for someone who at that time was still alive. A Friends of Les webpage was launched on facebook. Several of Les’s friends did a double take upon seeing the page and expressed relief upon finding out it wasn’t a eulogy.
I hoped a similar mistake had occurred this time. Perhaps the news media had gotten it wrong. Maybe the reports of his death were premature and he survived the heart attack.
“It feels like a big gaping hole in my world,” Roz said, expressing almost verbatim the words circling my mind.
Good things will happen
I got to know Les Anderson in the fall of 1992 when I was enrolled in Media Writing 301, the class he team taught with Dan Close, one of his former students. Although I got a B in the class, I was actually a lousy writer until the following semester when I took Les’s Beat Reporting class.
Initially, I got scores in the 80 percent range on stories I handed in for class. By the end of the semester I was turning in 99 percent work. I handed in a story about a ballet dancer, which was also published in the campus newspaper, the Sunflower. Les gave my story an excellent grade, but marked it down a bit because I wrote “compliment” when I meant “complement.”
I’ll never forget the difference now. “Compliment” means to give praise. “Complement” is used to describe two or more items joining together to create a better overall effect.
Les spurred students to use precise grammar and punctuation. He helped transform aspiring journalists into good writers by demanding clarity and the telling detail. By sending students out to chase down stories, he gave them the freedom to hone their reporting skills.
Nearly every year, the Ringling Brothers/Barnum & Bailey Circus would come to town and Les would send his Beat Reporting students out to the Kansas Coliseum to find and interview a circus worker and write a feature story on that person. Some uptight circus official told me I would have to leave. Reporters wanting to interview circus personnel would have to go through public relations, fill out a form and receive official clearance before an interview could be granted.
One of my classmates, a young woman who went on to become a stellar journalist, was in tears as two officious management lackeys escorted her outside the gate. Fortunately for me, I was able to sneak past the bullies and talk to a woman who designed costumes for the performers. She was married to a trapeze artist from Russia. I was more afraid of not scoring the story and getting a bad grade from Les than anything those jerks could do to me.
I was extremely neurotic and fearful that I would not find the success I craved, which reminds of something somebody said at the candle light vigil outside Elliott Hall Sunday night. This graduate student recalled Les telling him, “Don’t take yourself too seriously.”
One day I walked crestfallen into Les’s office. My friend Chris Strunk and I had written an important article for the Sunflower and I was afraid I had inadvertently written something inaccurate in the story.
“I’m such a goddamn loser,” I said, dejectedly.
“Oh Jeff,” Les said, perturbed.
He told me it wasn’t a big deal and talked me off the ledge. Later, I found I hadn’t made a mistake after all. At the end of the semester, Les told me, “You’re such an intense, high energy guy and my goal is to get you calmed down.” I’ve been working to help him achieve that goal ever since.
Les told me I needed to get experience writing for publications other than the Sunflower. He connected me -- as he did for many other students – to jobs writing for little publications around the Wichita metropolitan areas. He was a reference for me when I got internships with small-town newspapers.
It all paid off for me when I received a scholarship from the Society of Professional Journalists in 1994. With the award, I received two tickets to SPJ’s Gridiron show at Wichita’s Century II in which local media personalities performed in satirical skits to raise money for journalism scholarship.
Again, I was sitting in Les’s office in the old Wilner Auditorium -- home to the communication department before Elliott Hall was built. I told Les how I was taking a girl, now long forgotten, to the show.
“Best week of your life, Jeff,” he replied. “I told you, ‘Keep hanging in there and good things will happen.’”
In the past few years, I’ve been thinking how I would feel sorry for students who come in after Les retires. I sure didn’t expect we would lose him so soon. If I did, I would have paid him a visit and told him everything he was to me.
I am convinced that the reason he got so much out of his students is that they wanted to please him. In contrast to the popular image of the dark, angst-filled reporter, Les was easy going and down to earth. This past year, he was awarded at a banquet and a scholarship was established in his name, quite an accomplishment for someone who, at that time, was still alive. He was named one of the distinguished alumni by Fort Hays State University where he received his bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1970. (He earned his master’s degree in English from the University of Missouri in 1971.)
Although I never told him in person as effusively as I would have wished to, I did once send Les a letter, thanking him. The semester project for his Advanced Reporting class was a story with side bars, profiling a small town. I chose the town of Leon, Kan., population 707. While researching and conducting interviews, I talked to my elderly grandparents and learned things about their young lives that I’ll cherish forever. They have since passed on and I thanked Les for giving me the opportunity to learn such enriching things about…myself, really.
While I didn’t see him in person, I did call him. I felt a little guilty as I was calling to ask a favor. Again. I asked if he had a few minutes. He was about to sit down to dinner so I said I’d call back, but he insisted that I tell him what I was calling about.
It turned into a short conversation, and I told him how happy I was to be writing for Adam Knapp at the Andover American weekly newspaper. http://www.andoveramerican.com/I told him I’d tried living conventionally, but writing stories was all I ever really wanted to do.
“Well, you’re good at it,” he said.
I had a great teacher.
When I was getting ready to attend the national SPJ conference in Nashville back in ’94, someone tipped me off to a University of Kansas journalism professor looking to split the cost of a hotel room with someone. I gave Dr. KU Journalism Professor a call and he brusquely said, “Who gave you my name”?
I wanted to say, “What’s the matter? Are you ashamed of your name?” I guess he took himself too seriously.
Well Douchebag got his way. I don’t remember his name.
Nobody will. I bet you a million dollars nobody ever launched a facebook page filled with people happy to say they were his friends. The Friends of Les page was launched a couple of months ago when Les could still see it.
I have known people who have taught for 40 years -- yet lack in their deepest selves – that sense of decency and goodness that Les embodied to the core. I used to talk about him to my mother.
“Mom, I really want to be like that guy, Les Anderson,” I’d say. “He has a great family, he’s in church every Sunday and he’s an asset to his community.”
Over the years, I’ve tried to help Les reach his goal of getting me calmed down. I have conquered most of the demons that haunted my life, I married the best little woman ever and I have a couple of bright kids who are going to kick the ass out of this old world.
I’m respecting myself a little better these days, and Les would appreciate that. He certainly had self-confidence, starting his own community newspaper – the Ark Valley Newshttp://www.arkvalleynews.com/web/isite.dll?985991279873 -- from scratch and printing news that held the powerful accountable even though it might occasionally lead to awkwardness with someone he saw at the local gas station or in his Sunday school class. And he even sold ads. Les was all over that community.
A man of his talents could have started a chain of newspapers and become a corporate whore. Instead he stayed true to his principles and chose to be a nice guy. He ran his small town weekly paper and allowed a few students to cut their journalistic teeth, writing for it.
They’re everywhere. So is Les.
When Adam refuses to deviate from proper grammar and punctuation, even when texting; when I refuse to place a comma before the word “and” because it is not AP style; when Stephen King (not the horror writer, just a lucky guy who got to write for the Ark Valley News) dispenses sage advice on the craft of writing – Les is there.
Then, there’s Chris, who bought the paper from Les a few years ago.
What a great gang!
When I started college, I thought maybe I’d want to become a school teacher. But writing and reporting held, for me, a thrill I couldn’t pass by. I thought it might be a good way to take in life experience. Kind of like that guy I met that day with Ringling Brothers/Barnum & Bailey Circus. He got out of a Texas prison one day and ran off with the circus the next.
“If you want a life, you have to get a life,” he said.
I’m a lucky guy. At a young age, deep down, I knew myself and I followed my own path. Writing has given me the life of kings, and Les Anderson facilitated that.
I kept telling myself I would stop by and visit my favorite journalism professor. Just let me become more successful first. It never occurred to me that les might be happy just to see me. Don’t be like me. Don’t let vanity and insecurity cut you off from meaningful human connection – the kind you won’t find on lamebook. If there are people you value in life, keep them with you.
And remember: keep hanging in there and good things will happen.
Sunday, October 2, 2011
Even if it’s true that Sarah Palin inquired into banning library books in Alaska, even though I find her repellant, I would never want a book she has authored (or had ghost-written) to be banned. I am a diehard First Amendment advocate and I support wholeheartedly Miss You Betcha’s right to freely express her uninformed opinions and make a fool of herself all she wants.
I support free speech even for people, who given the power, would deny that right to others. The Islamic extremist, the Christian extremist, whatever, they have a right to speak their minds and publish their opinions over the print, broadcast or digital medium.
It’s true, I spoke critically of the “gay bashing” right-wing evangelist in my last column. Even if what these preachers say is abusive, however, they still have a right to say it. If that’s how they exercise their freedom of religion, fine, and I have the right to accept or reject what they say. As long as they don’t act on their intolerance and violate someone else’s rights, they’re in the clear.
Also, what I call “gay bashing,” someone else may interpret differently. Merely condemning or calling such lifestyles “sinful,” doesn’t, in my view, make someone Fred Phelps. Now the leaders who go around beating a dead horse and inveighing ad nauseum against the “homosexual agenda,” a term I first heard as a young, small-town newspaper reporter in the ‘90s, I would call bashers or Phelps-lite. Yet even Phelps should enjoy his right to free speech; of course, it should be tempered with the rights of funeral mourners, a sticky constitutional issue.
Then if some straight-gay alliance or patriotic motorcyclists assemble to counter-protest Phelps’ bigotry, it’s all cool. We need parameters, in which to protect everyone’s rights, while maintaining order, but the Supreme Court has defined a method for keeping those safeguards in place.
No doubt most people of the right-wingnut philosophy don’t share in hatred as incendiary as Phelps’s. Or at least they won’t until they do something stupid like electing a Michel Palin-Perry-I-don’t-masturbate-Obama-has-666-in-his-haircut to the presidency. Such a demagogue would stir their shit faster than you can say mob rule.
It would be a shit-storm of cyclonian proportions. Like a grand wizard at a KKK rally. Much like that scene from O Brother, Where Art Thou? where Ralph Stanley’s haunting O Death played and the broom-sweeping gubernatorial candidate, along with the midg – er height-challenged person and their lynch-mob brethren chased George Clooney and his friends (such as the African-American blues guitarist who may have sold his soul to the ol’ prince of darkness) into the woods before a falling lit cross thwarted their plans.
Oh, I am a man of constant sorrow.
Anyhow, as I was saying, most people aren’t that incendiary, barring any nuclear pushing of their emotional hot buttons. Many sincerely believe they are protecting children from bad things.
A lot of people have had good intentions behind their desire to censor. It’s just that their remedy would cause more harm than the problems they seek to cure. Of course, we want to put the kibosh on racism. It’s a vile, ugly, evil thing, but banning The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is not the answer.
Mark Twain had his main character say “nigger” because that’s the way a white boy living in Missouri during the 1840s would have talked. (By the way, J. Guy does not use pussified phrases like “the n-word.) One who actually reads the book will find that Twain produced probably the most morally indignant social critique against slavery created by a dead white man in all of American literature.
Sadly, a high school English teacher recently told me that Huck Finn, you know the Great American Novel, would likely be above her students’ comprehension level. Maybe the well-meaning people wanting to censor the book don’t get satire either.
I don’t know. A school principal told me that reading – books – are the life preservers that will gets kids out of poverty, you know, some Godsend that will open up to them a world beyond their cramped apartments, set them on a learning path and save them from a life of economic inequality?
When your whole life, from the time you were still in the womb, has been a “controversial issue,” maybe some “un-godly”, “un-American”, “sexually explicit” book will speak to you in a personal way. Isn’t controversy what great art is about, anyway? Aren’t writers, like composers, painters and all other artists the antennas of the race that look at war, religion, sex, love, politics, philosophy, family…and say, “Whoa, wait a minute. Let’s take a look at what we’re doing. Are we so sure we’re right? Could we be wrong? Let’s have a dialogue.”
Such abstract concepts would be beyond the comprehension level of a Sarah Palin. However, if unlike her, we respect that the marketplace of ideas is not a gated community and that Palin’s America by Heart and Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope can exist side-by-side on a book shelf without heralding the apocalypse, then we can promote a quality learning environment for all kids in America.
Kids who will grow up to have a good comprehensive grasp on a thing called freedom.
First heard this song at the Walnut Valley Festival, circa 1995. Winfield, bluegrass and drinking a beer in Rick Horn's backyard on South A Street on a Saturday afternoon that should go on forever -- that'll always be heaven to me.
Saturday, October 1, 2011
It was the 70s and I was 8-years-old when I heard a reporter on the 5:30 p.m. “Nightly News” say a book was banned from some school library because it called Jesus “a man with no connections.”
Boy, I was positive they did the right thing. That was a lot for my virginal, Sunday school trained ears to take. I was shocked that anyone would write such a terrible thing.
It was near the end of the week before I even learned it was Banned Books Week. I listen to NPR, my primary news source, every day and I was bound to find out there sometime. Or was that on fakebook? Maybe now I’ll store it in my long-term memory – last week of September.
As a teenager and twenty-something college student, I was always filled with intrigue, walking by a shelf at the front of Walden Books or B. Dalton and seeing the toy chains and prison imagery surrounding titles like: Native Son, Slaughterhouse Five, The Grapes of Wrath, The Sun Also Rises, Go Ask Alice, Brave New World, The Color Purple…Books have been banned because they contain horrific words like “whore,” “bastard” and “sonovabitch.” Fahrenheit 451, a short novel attacking book burning, was banned for using the word, “God damn.”
I once interviewed a guy who challenged his high school library because it contained no books by Kurt Vonnegut, one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. Vonnegut is always a target for book banning. It’s all that sex and profanity in his works. Plus, he was a goddamn atheist. Some might say the ideas of peace and tolerance in his works comes closer Christ’s sermon on the mount than what you’ll find in a gay bashing evangelist’s right-wing rant, but shouldn’t people be left to judge?
So they want to ban Vonnegut from school libraries? What are they afraid of, that kids might actually hate war and cruelty? They want to save our white “real American” youth from subversive ideas like that.
Just like back in the 1950s when a Montgomery, Ala. Public library banned the children’s book, The Rabbits Wedding by Garth Williams. This book was highly offensive to prevalent, moral standards in the community, what with that picture of a white and black rabbit holding hands on the cover. Some communist plot to indoctrinate our children into accepting interracial marriage.
Today, they’re trying to push the “homosexual agenda” on our kids. Who wants their child bringing home a book about two male penguins holding hands and raising a baby? (And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell)No, you won’t see teachers in small-town Kansas classrooms educating students who have two moms or two dads.
Oh no, the teachers will never deal with the grade school boy getting his ass kicked every day on the playground because he might like boys and prefers playing house with the girls to kickball with the tough guys. A book like King and King (Linda De Haan and Stern Nijland)about two princes who fall in love – we don’t want this book to actually help this kid feel secure in his morally deficient identity.
Nor, do we want 12-year-old girls reading about (gasp) menstruation – in a Judy Blume book. Or a 15-year-old girl with body image and burgeoning sexual issues (surely teenagers don’t have those) reading Carolyn Mackler’s The Earth, My Butt and Other Round Things.
Then there’s the plethora of books in the
YA (Young Adult) genre, which groups are banning or trying to ban because they take on stuff like drug abuse, racism, rape, dating violence, sexual abuse…Perhaps, the writer has an audience in mind. Maybe, there is a demographic that can relate to those books. If that’s the world teens are living in then, seems to me that should be the focus.
This world isn’t the well-defined place I thought it to be when I was 8-years-old and my grandparents took me to church every Sunday. It’s a complicated place, filled with people who bring to life a far different frame of reference than what I had known from my experience.
There are people who don’t accept Jesus, are gay or lesbian, communist, take drugs and were born in countries where they view my native land – a place I was taught to believe was like God’s country on earth – is the great satan. I’ve come across such views in books and will continue to do so. Maybe, I’ll like that book and maybe I won’t. Regardless, I feel that book should see the sunshine of day so others can make up their own minds.
We have a thing in this country called the First Amendment, which protects freedom of speech, press, religion and all that good stuff. A book by John Steinbeck might be condemned for being “anti-American,” but America is all about the free expression of ideas, anti-American and otherwise.
Sooner or later, I was going to grow up and see the world wasn't a neat, tidy place. Reading and examining life from the perspectives of others has been a pretty good deal for me.
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
My favorite boy in this world turns 10 today – Samuel Morris Guy.
Sam would play Nintendo Wii all day if you let him, and he can’t ride in a car without bringing his DS player along. He loves Star Wars, Nerf Super Soakers and sharing arcane facts from his books about dinosaurs. Lately, he can’t get enough of Harry Potter books.
Weren’t we reading If You Give a Mouse a Cookie together about three minutes ago?
Sam was born at 11:37 p.m., Sept. 27, 2001 at the Wesley Birth Center in Wichita, weighing 7.5 pounds. Minutes after he was born, in between his being weighed and having his Apgar scores recorded, I started telling him the facts of life.
“Always change your oil every 3,000 miles. Strive to get good credit. If you ever buy a new car, negotiate up from the wholesale price, not down from the sticker price.”
A few people asked if we picked the name Samuel from the Bible. While I think it’s neat that the name is Biblical, that wasn’t our motivation for picking the name. I don’t know, we had recently seen the movie, Shaft and I thought Samuel L. Jackson was cool. Maybe that played in my mind on some subconscious level.
There was no question about how we chose his middle name. Richard Morris Guy – that was my grandpa. People just called him “Rich.” Roughly a week after our baby boy was born, the old man called the house and said, “When are you ‘gonna bring that little cowboy over here?” It’s a good feeling, knowing that within the past 10 years, Grandpa was not only still alive, but living independently and dialing the phone.
We did take him to see the old man, of course. After a week of getting this newborn settled at home, we felt it a good time to gradually introduce him to the world. The first eating joint we ever took him to was Squeek’s Donuts on North Waco just near downtown Wichita. I remember a cop came into the place and the ladies at the counter called him by name.
Sam looked tiny and fragile, bound up tightly in blankets and lying awake and wide-eyed in a baby carrier. Two old ladies having coffee at a nearby table took note of him. One of them – I remember she was a smartly dressed woman with a sort of stylishness about her – asked if he was a boy or girl. A boy, we told her.
“Good,” she said with a smile, tilting her head and lowering her voice a bit. “There’s enough of us girls.”
Sam had a bumpy start when he started attending Sonshine Pre-School at the Methodist Church. It’s an 85-year-old building at the corner of 4th and Main streets in our little town. His teacher, Mrs. Costello, told Liana that she had told Sam to come in with the rest of the children after recess and he said, “No, I don’t have to do what you say.” Also, he hit his friend Jaden after he called Sam a girl.
Liana was worried. “What if he turns into a bully?” she asked. But I knew if we hung in there, our boy would be fine. And he was. Mrs. Costello later told me that Sam was a leader in getting the other kids to sing when practicing for the Christmas program. The class nicknamed him “Bible Man” because he was so good at answering questions over the Bible stories Mrs. Costello told the class.
There was another rough start when he started attending regular school. Sam was homeschooled in kindergarten, but after a year of that, Liana and I knew we didn’t have the time or patience to keep that up. Sam had some growing pains, re-adjusting to being in a classroom with other kids. He would hum, sing, talk when he shouldn’t and at one point, he and another boy got in trouble for hitting each other in the crotch.
Sam was the one who had insisted he wanted to go to public school, but after a week or two, he was discouraged.
“Maybe I should do homeschool again,” he told his mom. But I remained confident that he was going to prevail and things would turn around.
A day later, his teacher, Mrs. Swilley, reported that Sam had a fabulous day at school. He was all smiles and said he wanted to stick with public school.
Since then, Sam has always made super grades and been respectful of the adults and fellow kids in his school. His second grade teacher, Mrs. Smith, told us “I wish I had a whole classroom full of Sams.” One of the counselors at his school noted the way he was always smiling when he walked down the hall and gave him a citizenship award. I’m sure my boy wonders why I made a bigger deal out of that than any other prize he’s gotten.
I sure never got any citizenship award, but it’s okay. I’ve done something right to have a kid like this, but the truth is I’m not half the man my 10-year-old son is.
Saturday, September 24, 2011
A little something the band might have played at one of Jay Gatsby's parties while they all got drunk on bootlegged gin.
Happy 115th birthday, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Hope its been radiant.
And here's hoping that somewhere you and Zelda were drinking gin on Gatsby's lawn and living it up like it's 1924.
Only about four people showed up for your funeral in 1940. Poor son of a bitch. But I'm telling you, Old Sport, writing like yours only comes around about once in a century. If we're lucky. And in a world where everybody's a writer --
You're worth the whole damn bunch put together.
Sunday, September 11, 2011
I was driving to work in Wichita, the morning of September 11, 2001. It was a Tuesday, around 8:15 a.m. and I was on K-96, nearing the Hillside exit. My car radio was at 105.3 KXLK and I was listening to Kidd Craddick in the morning.
An unexpected report came in of a plane striking one of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York. I thought it was a terrible accident, but a few minutes later, it was announced that a second plane hit the other tower. And I knew.
Upon arriving at the office, I told my co-workers at the Sedgwick County Dept. on Aging what I had heard. They had been bantering, drinking coffee, unaware. We would watch the TV news for much of the day.
My wife, Liana, called, crying and begging me not to drive downtown. A plane hit the Pentagon; another crashed in a Pennsylvania field. Who knew where this would end? How vulnerable where we? Wichita has airplane plants, an airport, an Air Force base, a federal building. I was consoling, but remained adamant that I was going to go about my work just like any other day.
Nine months pregnant, Liana was already feeling more emotional than usual.
“Our baby will never know what it was like before 9-11,” she told me.
Ten years later, the world is – in some ways, different, in others, the same.
People made Christ-like sacrifices that day, laying down their own lives, while saving others. The 9-11 tragedy brought out the best in humanity.
Monday, September 5, 2011
I learned of songwriter Nick Ashford's death the same day I learned Jerry Leiber died. They died on the same day. Heard about both on NPR, the source from which I get most of my news. Ashford and his wife wrote Motown hits like Ain't Nothin' Like the Real Thing, and You're All I Need to Get By. Writing a 1980s song for Chaka Khan, to me, sucks. Glad they returned to the old style, writing Tears Dry on My Own for Amy Winehouse.
Guess I could do the conventional thing and post Ain't No Mountain High Enough. But there are no hard, fast rules in J. Guy's world. I'm posting their first hit, Let's Go Get Stoned. Ray Charles made the song famous, but I'm posting the first version recorded by the Coasters in May, 1965. Leiber and Stoller wrote many songs for the Coasters so I like how this song ties Ashford and Leiber together.
Also, I like having something on my blog about getting stoned.
My favorite Leiber-Stoller song. My favorite version of the song. The first place where I ever read the names, Leiber-Stoller, was on an an Elvis Presley 45 record of Hound Dog that had been my mom's as a kid.
Cool-sounding names, I thought. Even the names evoked the '50s. Later, I learned Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller were East Coast Jewish kids who loved black rhythm and blues. In 1991, Leiber said, "I was brought up in a black neighborhood in south Baltimore. And we really felt like we were very black. When I was a kid growing up, where I came from, it was hip to be black. To be white was kind of square."
The music was rooted in cool black style. The lyrics showed a sense of humor. Meshed together, the rebellious sound gave youth a voice and upset the establishment forever.
Kansas City. Yakety Yak. Jailhouse Rock. Charlie Brown. Spanish Harlem. Rock n' roll.
Last May I wrote a column on what would have been the 100th birthday of Delta blues legend Robert Johnson, who according to folklore, traded his soul for his superior guitar skills. Black blues musicians playing Mississippi Delta roadhouses in the 1930s seemed almost as distant to our day as serfs tilling the soil of Medieval England.
Almost as distant.
I felt this sweet, good feeling, knowing one of Johnson’s contemporaries was still around, still with his faculties, still – at 96-years of age – in possession of his blues guitar and showmanship talents. David “Honeyboy” Edwards was 17 when he left home to hop freight trains and play fish fries and roadhouses with Johnson. Edwards was with Johnson at a Greensburg, Miss. Juke joint on the fateful night in 1938 when he drank from a bottle of whiskey that turned out to be laced with poison.
Edwards carried on. He was part of the Great Migration that brought African-Americans and the blues to the urban North where the old black folk music was amplified. Long after Robert Johnson, had receded into history and mythology, Edwards remained on stage – a fleshly, living connection to a time gone. He lived to see a world that Johnson could never have believed, real.
In the Jim Crow South, a black man caught after dark was at risk of being lynched. When Johnson supposedly sold his soul at the Crossroads, the real devil on his trail was the racist white man. A black man caught in daylight, not working, was also in danger of the rope. That’s why Edwards waited until sunset to go out playing for the folks.
However in January of 2009, he was welcomed and cheered on at Washington D.C.’s Black Cat nightclub. It was the eve of Barrack Obama’s inauguration as 44th President of the United States.
“I never thought I’d live to see the day a black man got elected president,” Edwards said.
This past spring Edwards was back in the Mississippi delta, celebrating his old friend’s centennial birthday bash in the land where blues was born. Honeyboy didn’t know that the show he gave at a Clarksdale, Miss. juke joint on April 17 would be his final performance, but it turned out to be so.
In July when Edwards’s manager Michael Frank announced he was retiring from touring due to health problems, I knew what would probably come next. The performance he would have given in Chicago on Aug. 29 was cancelled and Honeyboy Edwards died peacefully in his sleep.
The last man to have known or played blues with Charley Patton, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Sonny Boy Williamson, Tommy Johnson, Sunnyland Smith, Peetie Wheatstraw, Son House and Big Joe Williams returned naked and to the dust from which he was born.
“That piece of history from that generation, people have to read about it from now on,” Frank said.