Monday, November 28, 2011

45 RPM: The Everly Brothers - When Will I Be Loved

Hey, night swimmers out there. It's 3:45 a.m. and I ain't had NO sleep. Yesterday -- Sunday morning, I brewed coffee and fixed a Mediterranean omelette while Liana and the kids slept in. I was thinking about life. For years I was on my own. I thought nobody gave a crap about Ol' J. Guy. There was a young woman, a copy editor at my campus newspaper, the Sunflower. She was newly married and I asked her: "I'm 23-years-old. When's it 'gonna happen for me?" A week later, she brought pictures from her wedding to show me. Thought it would lift my spirits. Her heart was in the right place and that's what counts.
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?"

Anyhow, here is something from my friends, the Everly Brothers -- that's Phil and Don. Sent over the land to you.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Sucking into civil liberties

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

The Beatles "I'm So Tired"

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

In Memory of Les Anderson by KAKE-TV

The Les Anderson Story

We love you, Les

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.”

Please no!

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.

gaping hole

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.’”

Lucky guy

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. 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 News -- 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.

The American Way of Dying

                                              "Vehicle" -- The Ides of March My Nissan sitting in the parking lot of Fairview...