Thursday, December 29, 2011

Myron Roderick

I was sad to see that Oklahoma State wrestling legend Myron Roderick died. (Click here for an obit from the Oklahoman.) I had a chance to meet him while I was in college....
   It was early 1985, and I needed a story. As a journalism major at OSU, I found myself in a required, upper-level feature writing class, taught by Professor Harry Heath, the brilliant curmudgeon who had been the head of the whole journalism school at one time. After mulling over one mundane idea after another, I decided to write about the rebirth of the OSU football team.
   The Cowboys had just gone 10-2 in Pat Jones' first season, and everyone on campus was giddy about the football team. (It would be the early 1990s before everyone realized that Jones couldn't coach a lick.)
   I don't remember why, but I decided that I needed to interview Roderick, who was the athletic director at the time. Early one afternoon, I looked up the phone number for the athletic director's office and called it.
   Roderick answered the phone himself, catching me off-guard. After stammering around for a beat or two, I told him who I was, and what I wanted.
   "OK, I'm not real busy right now," he said. "Why don't you come by my office?"
   Try to imagine a major-college athletic director today doing something like that.
   I dashed across campus to the athletic offices, which were in the east end zone building attached to Lewis Field (what we now know as Boone Pickens Stadium). A secretary led me into a not-large office, and there was Myron Roderick, who smiled and shook my hand. Strong grip, not surprisingly.
   We talked for probably 45 minutes, about the football team, about the athletic department (and, like an idiot, I didn't ask him a single question about wrestling). I don't remember most of what he said, although I do recall him saying, in not so many words, that Jimmy Johnson was not the friendliest guy and that no one in the athletic department missed him. (Johnson left in the spring of 1984 to coach the University of Miami.)
   Then Roderick said, "Hey, you want to talk to Coach Jones?" And we were walking down a hallway to the football offices, where I spent about 30 minutes interviewing Pat Jones.
   Later, as I walked back to my dorm, I shook my head in amazement at how I had spent my afternoon. I wrote the story for my class over the next several nights, and I don't think I got a very good grade (Professor Heath was tough), but I didn't care. From that moment forward, I was a big fan of Myron Roderick.
   Everyone will remember his wrestling accomplishments, the NCAA titles, the fact that he hired Eddie Sutton. What I will remember is how he took the time to help a mostly-clueless journalism student with his homework.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What the Bell Ringer Saw...

  I spent last Saturday afternoon ringing a bell for the Salvation Army kettle drive. My son’s Boy Scout troop manned the kettle at a local Macy’s as their monthly service project, and my wife is the troop service project coordinator, so there was no way for me to worm out of it. As a result, I was able only to see the first half of the Baked Potato Bowl (or whatever that was on ESPN).
  You know all about the bell ringers. You see them every year, standing in front of nearly every store you visit. Hopefully, you drop a few coins in the kettle as you pass by. Sometimes you silently curse the incessant ringing (you know you do).
  When I donned that red Salvation Army apron and hefted that bell in my right hand, I became witness to all the faces of the Christmas season. I saw anger, stress, indifference and, perhaps surprisingly, lots of good cheer.
  There were the Avoiders - these people try not to make eye contact as they pass to enter the store:
  • Some look down at the ground;
  • Some will reach into their pockets and fumble around as if looking for change, only to pass on by;
  • Some pretend to talk on their cell phones.
  There were the Apologists:
  • “I just don’t have any money on me.”
  • “I put a bunch of money in a kettle yesterday.”
  There was the Candy Man, who walked up to me and held out a wrapped hard candy for me. With my left hand in my coat pocket, and my right hand ringing the bell, I smiled at the man and said, “No thank you.”
  The Candy Man gasped and took a step back, seemingly unable to believe that I had refused his piece of candy. “Don’t take candy from strangers” is good advice for adults too, I think. He stalked off in a huff, without putting anything in the kettle.
  An elderly Asian lady tried to convert my son to Buddhism. She handed him a card and then spoke to him in Japanese for what seemed like a really long time. Then she told him in English that she had given him a Buddhist blessing. He thanked her, and kept ringing his bell.
  A middle-aged man dropped a dollar into my kettle and then asked me if I knew Jesus Christ. Just as I was about to say, “Yeah, I think he’s working the kettle over at Wal-Mart,” my wife stepped in and had a nice conversation with the man. She knows me well.
  I’ll admit I had been dreading doing this. I know, I know. But standing all afternoon and not being able to get away from the ringing...the Baked Potato Bowl seemed awfully enticing.
  Then a funny thing happened - the smiles of the children were contagious. Children love to put money in the kettle, and they beg their parents for quarters, dollars, anything. Once I realized that, I began to ring the bell with more gusto. I even sang a little bit (but not too much, because I didn’t want to scare anyone).
  Here’s Christmas for you: A large family (mom, dad, 6 kids) emerged from Macy’s, a blur of packages, sacks, animated chatter and untied shoes. The dad was harried, focused on getting his brood to the car intact.
  And then, one of the children, a little boy maybe 6 years old, stopped. “I want a dollar!” he cried out. His father, clearly feeling the holiday stress, bellowed, “No!” and tried to keep walking. But now all 6 children had stopped. They looked at the shiny red kettle, and then at their father, who was now scowling. I thought we might have an ugly scene...
  ...Until the mom opened her purse, and the spirit of Christmas came spilling out of it, in the form of nickels, pennies, dimes, all manner of coins transferred to the sweaty hands of those 6 children, who grinned from ear to ear as they deposited their largesse in the kettle.
  “Merry Christmas!” I called out. The father stood silently, watching his family, and though his expression never changed, I pictured his heart growing a size or two like in the Dr. Seuss Grinch cartoon.
  At home, later in the evening, I felt like I could still hear the bell ringing. And I was glad.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Cecil Deuteronomy Johnson: 1996-2011

Cecil chose us.

Over the years Jennifer and I have had cats that we picked out of a “free kittens” box and cats that we adopted, but Cecil was the only one who picked us. He took up residence in the hedges in front of our house in Yukon sometime in 1996, I think it was. We don’t really remember the exact date or year, which is why we could never remember exactly how old Cecil was.

Cecil was, more or less, feral. I could see him peek at me from the cover of the bushes, two great big eyes, always wide like he was scared. Then he would hide. This went on for most of a year, and I actually thought there was more than one gray striped cat living in the bushes. But it was only Cecil, growing up.

Later, Jennifer admitted that she had been feeding him secretly most of that year.

When we formally welcomed Cecil into the family, it consisted of four cats, Jennifer and me. William came along in 1999. Cecil got along with Jake, Elwood, Tara and Miss Kitty - and they grudgingly let him join their odd pack. Miss Kitty was his surrogate mother, teaching him important things like how to climb up on the roof, and which trash cans had the tastiest stuff.

I remember many nights when Jennifer and I returned home to find Cecil and Miss Kitty on the roof. Miss Kitty would sit regally atop our chimney, silhouetted against the night sky, while Cecil prowled around the edges of the flat roof over our kitchen.

Cecil always forgot how to get back down, and we would have to coax him to the back of the garage, where he could jump down easily. And then hide from us.

It was years before Cecil would let us pet him. I always said he was the most cautious cat who ever lived.

When William was born, Cecil took little notice at first. Being an outside cat, he had no idea what was going on in the house. But he did notice that his weird little herd of cats was dwindling. First Jake died, then Tara (who Cecil thought was pretty, resulting in a trip to the vet to get “fixed”). Then one morning Miss Kitty, Cecil’s surrogate mom, died. Our herd was down to 2 cats: Cecil and Elwood.

We moved to Oklahoma City in 2000, and there was no question that Cecil would accompany us. Trapping him in a cat carrier ensured that it would be another couple of years before he would let us get close enough to pet him.

Our first night in Oklahoma City, Cecil disappeared. I figured that he was trying to walk home to Yukon. Jennifer searched for him all over the block, and in the cemetery behind our house, crying, certain that Cecil was gone.

By suppertime Cecil was back. He always knew where his supper dish was.

When William was four, Elwood died, leaving Cecil as our only pet. Cecil lived in the garage, where he had a box, a heater and his food dish. You could pet him if he was in his box (mainly because he couldn’t get away).

Gradually, Cecil realized that petting was a pretty good deal, and he relaxed enough to adopt William as his Pet Boy. And from that day forward, Cecil slept on William’s bed and sat in his lap whenever possible. It was as if Cecil was making up for all the years he ran away and hid.

Cecil became Cecil Deuteronomy Johnson one day when William decided that all his stuffed animals needed last names. Cecil needed one too. I threw in the middle name, Deuteronomy, because I thought he needed a cool middle name.

Cecil made us smile. He was affectionate, he was entertaining, and he kept the house and yard pest-free. Here’s a list of some of the things he caught and ate:
  • Birds
  • Baby birds (his favorite)
  • Bunnies
  • Some poor kid’s hamster
  • Mice
He never caught a squirrel, and he never climbed a tree. He liked to have us rub his tummy, which we discovered was spotted, in contrast to the stripes on his topside. He liked breakfast cereal and milk, which he would then barf up on the floor.

He purred really loudly.

Almost two years ago, he started having occasional seizures. He stopped catching critters. He slowed down, gradually lost weight. He was mostly deaf, and didn't see well either. He never stopped purring.

Cecil passed away on December 19, 2011, leaving behind a very sad Pet Boy and family.

Cecil was the best, and we were unbelievably lucky to have him. We will miss him.

Cecil chose us. Thank you, Cecil.

Thursday, November 03, 2011


Old Zeke was a jerk, there was no doubt about that. A list of his redeeming qualities would be shorter than his temper, shorter than his nose hair, and certainly shorter than his rap sheet.

But here was the thing: Zeke was the best pest-removal man in the county, the best I’ve ever seen. Folks would tolerate his limited people skills and disgusting personal habits because they knew they could count on him to get rid of everything from ‘possums in the attic to mice in the kitchen. And the critters never came back; I don’t know what he did, but it was effective. It was not something you wanted to watch, people said.

For years, I was able to keep my distance from Zeke. My place was mostly pest-free, nothing I couldn’t handle myself. Our paths rarely crossed, and when they did, I tried my best to avoid eye contact, or anything else that might set Zeke off.

Everything changed last week, when something ate my dog one night. Beau was a good dog. He slept on the porch, and he was a better security system than any alarm. I had just drifted off to sleep when I heard Beau start to bark. I think that’s what he was trying to do. It was a weird sound, and then it just stopped. I could hear something moving around on the porch, and then out in the yard, so I grabbed my shotgun and opened the door.

I think of myself as a pretty tough guy, but I have to admit I wasn’t prepared for the carnage I saw in the front of my house. Suffice it to say that there wasn’t anything left of Beau to bury. I knew right away I was gonna have to call Zeke.

As I explained the situation over the telephone, Zeke interrupted. “Don’t touch nothin’. I’ll be there in 20 minutes.” And he was, rumbling up in his ugly, old green pickup truck. He stepped out of the truck, and I could tell by the smell he’d been drinking - and not bathing.

He limped around my yard, pausing now and then to lean down and pick up a piece of Beau. He’d sniff whatever it was in his hand, eye it closely, and I’d swear he licked one piece. Finally, he sat down on the porch steps, coughed into a red bandana for about five minutes, then looked up at me.

“Zombie ate your dog.”

That’s not what I was expecting to hear, let me tell you.

“Zeke, what the Hell are you talking about? Zombie my ass!” I hissed. “Wolves, maybe. If you’re not gonna take this seriously...”

Zeke stood and stared me in the eye so long that I blinked and looked away.

“You don’t have to believe me,” he said quietly. “I’m not gonna explain it to you. Not gonna tell you about the type of punctures left behind in the dog meat. I know it was a zombie that done it.

“You want me to take care of it or not?”

I nodded my head, feeling a little too freaked out to speak.

Zeke nodded too.

“I’ll come back tomorrow night,” he said. “You make sure everything’s locked up tight, and don’t come outside ‘til the next morning. Then you can go get yourself another dog.” Without another word, he got back into his truck and rumbled off.

As you can imagine, it was hard to concentrate on work the next day. I kept thinking about what Zeke said.



Night finally rolled in, and I did like Zeke said. I locked all the doors, made sure the windows were shut tight and the curtains drawn. I sat in a chair with my shotgun to keep me company, waiting.

Just past midnight, I heard Zeke’s truck coming up the drive. He killed the engine, and I could hear the rusty hinges of his door swinging open and shut. Then, nothing. Crickets, for a long time. Pretty sure Zeke was sitting on the front steps.

The next sound I heard will be with me to the grave. A moan? Was that what it was? It was low, and sounded painful. Did Zeke make that sound? Or something else? Pretty soon I heard it again, only now it was coming from the side of the house, sounded like. Then there were two moans at the same time, and it was all I could do to keep from screaming myself.

I’ll always be glad the curtains were drawn, because I did not want to see what made the sounds I heard next. The moans were replaced by scuffling sounds, and something that sounded like a ripe melon hitting the ground. Then ripping noises for a long, long time.

When morning finally, blessedly, came, I slowly opened the front door and peeked outside. It looked a lot like it had the night before, so I went around back to get the hose. There were scratches all over the front of the house, and Zeke’s truck still sat in the driveway. Blood soaking everything, of course. I tripped while rounding the corner of the house, and when I looked down, I saw a hand. Just a hand. Clutching a red bandana.

We never saw Zeke again, but no one in the county could truthfully say they missed him. Come to think of it, everyone’s pest problems pretty much went away about the same time. So maybe Zeke’s still out there.

Me? I went and got another dog.


Postscript: This was another exercise in Flash Fiction, directed, in particular, to the Three Word Wednesday blog.

They Wore Short Shorts

Once upon a time, basketball players wore really short shorts. 

...That's the message you'll probably take away from this photo, which I dug out my archives on the eve of college basketball season.

But there's more to the story.

Fresh off a season of photographing Oklahoma State football from the sidelines, I decided to try my hand at basketball photography.

Dec. 10, 1987 was not just another home game for Oklahoma State. It was the home opener, and the debut of the newly-renovated Gallagher-Iba Arena. (Note to OSU fans: this was the refurbishment that spiffed up the old Gallagher Hall, but retained close to the original seating capacity. The massive overhaul came much later.)

The Cowboys were in the second season of Leonard Hamilton's tenure as head coach. It was Hamilton's first head coaching job after serving as a Kentucky assistant, and at that point in his career he could recruit...but that was about it.

Notable players on the 1987-1988 squad included talented drug flame-out Richard Dumas and future New York Knicks stalwart John Starks. Naturally, I didn't get a single good photo of either one of them.

The arena looked great, with shiny brass railings and new seats that were more comfortable than the old ones, but still afforded leg-room only to children and amputees.

With my trusty Minolta in hand, I grabbed a piece of floor along the baseline. I quickly learned that basketball photography would be more uncomfortable than football had been. That hardwood floor is brutal on the knees, and you really can't stand up during the game and move around. You're surrounded by other photographers, and you have to watch out for stray basketballs and players flinging themselves out of bounds.

I focused on the space in front of the basket, and hoped for the best. This photograph was the best I had at the end of the game -- which OSU won over Tulsa University, 66-65. It would also be my last basketball photograph until I became an actual sportswriter in 1990. I'll leave those stories for another day.

Even though it was a close contest, plenty of Cowboys got into the game. This photo features backup guard/forward Mike Peterson scoring one of two baskets he recorded in 9 minutes of action. Also in the photo are starting center Sylvester (Sly) Kincheon (#42) and backup center/oddity Alan Bannister (#43). Bannister was from England, and because he was taller than 7 feet OSU gave him a basketball scholarship. He was the most un-coordinated human being I've ever seen. I remember watching him walk across campus, thinking he looked like a marionette - his limbs seeming to be under someone else's control. He played basketball like that, too. Finally, that's Derrick Davis (#11) in the background, who I don't remember at all.

And yes, they all wore short shorts -- because we didn't know any better yet.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Any Landing You Walk Away From...

He was coming in hot, no question about it. Colliding with that silvery thing (A balloon? So high up?), whatever it was, shortly after descending into the atmosphere, rendered his craft’s steering and air-braking ability almost useless.


He pulled with all his might on the stick, and he could feel the craft begin to level off...or, at least, not plummet quite so crazily toward the landmass growing ever-larger in his view screen. Populated areas appeared fairly small and scattered about; there was plenty of green to aim for a landing. He figured that he needed an area at least five times the diameter of his ship to put it down safely. Was that evidence of agriculture on the horizon? That might work....

Still too fast.

His options were dwindling. Eject? No. Too close to the small population center now presenting itself on the edge of the agricultural area. A good pilot, and he was a good pilot, would never punch out and let his craft plunge, uncontrolled, into innocent victims. It was time to ride it out, for better or worse.

Impact alarms sounded in his ears, an unnecessary reminder of what was about to happen. At the last instant, he released the stick and covered his face with his hands, anticipating the worst.

His craft struck the ground hard, but flat, tearing a furrow through the tall, green vegetation as its speed dissipated. As it came to a stop, after what seemed like an eternity but was only a few heartbeats, he dropped his hands away from his face. He was alive, and with only a few bumps and bruises as souvenirs of his crash landing.

The ship was another matter. It would be a total loss, definitely not space-worthy anymore. Getting home was going to be difficult.

He worked quickly to extricate himself from the wreckage. Standing atop the remains of his craft, he could see that he had landed almost exactly in the middle of the field for which he had aimed.

Not bad.

Tall stalks, bristling with seeds, surrounded him and his craft. The vegetation was taller than he was, but it was perfect for his next task.  Using a dislodged support beam from his craft, he began to flatten the vegetation around him in an ever-widening circular pattern. It was the distress signal his people always used, and it would be visible from a great height.

He made his way to the edge of the field and sat down on the flat ground. Rescue would, hopefully, come soon.


Postscript: This was another exercise in Flash Fiction, directed, in particular, to the Three Word Wednesday blog.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Everybody Polka!

Larry Hettinga's Little Czech Band featured
a dual-accordion attack.
As a one-time newspaper reporter/photographer in the 1980s, I loved taking pictures of polka bands. Great visuals: an assortment of musical instruments like accordions and tubas, some interesting characters (playing and dancing), and the slightly run-down settings of Czech Hall and Ernie's Polka Palace in rural Canadian County, Oklahoma.

Taking good pictures was tough, because the dance halls were usually pretty dark, and then my flash would pop and temporarily blind the musicians. (Which I thought was funny. They did not agree.) I also learned to watch out for the (usually) elderly dancers flailing around after one octogenarian couple nearly knocked me down.

These two photos came from an actual Polka Festival hosted by Ernie's Polka Palace in the late 1980s. I remember being shocked at the crowds, and all the out-of-state license plates in the parking lot. Polka is big in certain circles, apparently. The hardcore polka-ers (ists?) wore a lot of polyester and had special dancing shoes that they would not wear anywhere but the wooden dance floor.
Pete and the Polkatimers: Music-marketing synergy. 

Still, the bands themselves held the most fascination for me. Some had matching outfits (volume discount for Sans-A-Belt slacks in many cases), some wore awesome hats. The multi-generation bands were interesting. The band on the left had it all. Pete and the Polkatimers! There's a lot to see in this photo. These guys are rocking the matching outfits with Sans-A-Belts, and they're multi-generational. But it's their marketing savvy that kills.

"Happy Music for Happy People": How strong is that? Also note that they are selling postcards and vinyl records right there on the stage. Oh, and also Pete's old accordion is for sale. This band was a self-contained business unit, ready to dominate. I wonder whatever happened to them....

Full disclosure: I'm one-quarter Czech, and I can do the Chicken Dance (if my wife makes me).


Postscript: I don't remember if either of these photos were published. If you look closely at the upper left corner of the bottom photo, you can see that these guys chewed on it.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Daylight Fades

There was magic in the feel of the wood in his hands, 33 ounces of perfection from the barrel to the knob. He smiled as he gripped the bat in both hands, feeling the tackiness of the pine tar sucking at his batting gloves. A few quick practice swings, and he could feel the catch in his right shoulder, a now constant reminder of thousands of previous swings, a ledger of games and times at bat that stretched back more than 30 years.

He could hear his name now, echoing from the speakers scattered around the ballpark. There was a smattering of applause, an uneven sound so unlike the roar of frenzied crowds that had once chanted his name. Late afternoon shadows covered home plate as he stepped into the batters box. The catcher gave him a nod as he dug into the soft dirt with his right foot and raised his bat above his right shoulder. With a tilt of his head, he eyed the pitcher standing atop the mound, bathed in the fading light of the last day of the season. His bat twitched as he breathed deeply of the cool autumn air.

This was so familiar, this ritual.

“C’mon, Jimmy! Take it for a ride,” his father shouted, and he was seven years old again, his batting helmet sliding up and down on his head as he waited for the pitch from a kid who seemed to be twice his size. It was his first organized baseball game, his first time at bat, and that feeling in the pit of his stomach - what was it? Nausea? Butterflies?

He saw the pitch all the way in, that was the thing that amazed him. He swung, and he knew (knew!) he would hit it. With a ping, the baseball jumped off his aluminum Little League bat (the red one with the black rubber grip), and he was running, as fast as he could, toward first base. Safe! And as he turned around, he could see his father and mother standing in the bleachers, shouting his name and clapping.

“Strike!” called the umpire, his right hand firing out to the side for emphasis. He hadn’t seen that one well at all, the collision of shadows and sunlight masking the speed and slight movement of the fastball. Now that was unfamiliar; doubt. Where once the baseball had seemed as fat as a basketball coming toward him, more and more it seemed to disappear, as if taunting him.

He stepped out of the batters box, pounded the bat on the ground and then swung, hard. His bad shoulder barked at him, and he grimaced. The pain, he hoped, would help him focus as he stepped back in. He smiled grimly at the pitcher, crouching in his stance.

“Hey rookie! Don’t smile at the pitcher,” the manager yelled, the words piercing the cloud of tobacco juice spewing from his mouth. Why not, he wondered to himself. The answer came as a fastball aimed just behind his head, sending him sprawling in the dirt.

So many rules to learn in rookie league ball; so many of them unwritten. He didn’t know yet what he didn’t know, but there was one thing he could guarantee: he would hit. A lot.

Now the pitcher was smiling, as he stepped back to the plate, his white jersey now striped with dirt from the brushback. His bat quivered over his shoulder, barely able to contain his anticipation, his raw energy as he awaited the pitch. Fastball, dancing over the inside of the plate.

Crack! and the baseball arced high and was over the right field wall before he could drop the bat and run. “Not bad, kid,” the manager said as he trotted back to the dugout. He felt an afterglow of pure joy as his new teammates slapped him on the back, a feeling he would know again and again across the years.

“Strike!” His swing, a thing of beauty, compact, powerful, was now a beat or two slow and came up empty as the ball popped the catcher’s mitt. He cursed himself, silently. He’d seen the ball well that time, but missed badly on the slider, which had been so easy for him to hit for so long. Stepping out of the box again, he pulled off his batting helmet and wiped the sweat from his brow with a forearm. He paused for a moment, squeezing the bat in his hands. He still felt the magic, but now there was something else there. Was it fear?

He carried this new feeling, along with his bat, back into the box. One last chance.

“We did it Jimmy!” He heard his teammate Andre’s voice, but couldn’t see him with the champagne stinging his eyes. “Champions, baby!” And he had gripped the trophy like it was a life raft. Was he floating? All he could feel, there in the midst of the clubhouse celebration, was the joy, and a feeling of certainty that all this would last forever.

And now he was swinging, the certainty gone, chased away by fear, and the realization that he was overmatched by this young pitcher. His shoulder screamed with pain, and he cried out as the ball thumped into the catcher’s mitt again.

“Strike three,” called the umpire, needlessly. He stood, almost in shock, in the batter’s box, and all those cherished moments, all those triumphs came rushing back, an athlete’s life flashing before his eyes. He looked down at his bat again, and he knew the magic was gone.

He walked back to the dugout, and sat quietly for a long time, his eyes staring but seeing nothing.

It was over.


Postscript: This was another exercise in Flash Fiction, directed, in particular, to the Three Word Wednesday blog.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Presidential Contenders: Dumb, Dumber, Dumbest

If you’re like me, you’re already sick of the 2012 presidential election. The near-perpetual campaign season is tiresome, and it’s only going to get worse. I’m on record as blaming Iowa and New Hampshire for a lot of this foolishness, but let me also say that Fox News and the rest of the cable news operators are doing their best to dumb down an important election into something akin to Dancing With the Stars.

As a public service, I give you my assessment of the candidates, and a prediction of how it will all turn out in 2012. With this as your guide, you can quit watching candidate debates and devote more time to American Idol and Biggest Loser.

Herman Cain - This guy is exactly the kind of fringe candidate who used to get ignored by the national media. He doesn’t understand the Constitution. He doesn’t understand what separation of church and state means. How did this jackass ever run a successful company? He will be gone after the first caucus, if not before.

Michelle Bachmann - Another fringe candidate. Honestly, how is she any different from the “Rent is Too Damn High” guy from New York? She is aggressively stupid, and has been saying aggressively stupid things for years. This may seem sexist, but if she was ugly, she would be ignored.

Mitt Romney - First, the negatives: He stands for absolutely nothing. He will say anything to get a vote. Now, the positives: He has the best chance to be the GOP nominee by simply appearing to be more normal than the rest of these clowns. He should offer to debate Rick Perry daily. Will the fact that he’s a Mormon matter?

Rick Perry - Talk about aggressively stupid. If the national media covered the campaign with any sort of depth or insight (I know), they would know that Perry is essentially a figurehead in Texas government. All the power in Texas resides in the Senate, and the Lt. Governor. Perry has been along for the ride for 10 years as governor, but the more he speaks outside Texas, the more people see that he is a male Michelle Bachmann. Imagine the evil, monstrous offspring those two would have...

Is anyone else running? Seriously?

Oh, yeah.

Ron Paul - He's entertaining, I'll give him that. Maybe someone will make him an ambassador to Oz, or something.

Newt Gingrich - His succubus wife torpedoed his campaign before it even started. Gingrich's ego is so big he doesn't realize that everyone hates him. Literally everyone.

Jon Huntsman - Who the hell is this guy? He was Obama’s ambassador to China? He was governor of Utah? Why does anyone like this guy? Or listen to him?

Rick Santorum - Who is this guy kidding?

I have not listed Sarah Palin as a candidate, because she is not one. She’s also not a politician; she is a media personality, little different than a Kardashian. Palin is all about money and the spotlight, and she can get that without running for President.

The Esteemed Incumbent
Barack Obama - What a tremendous failure. Jimmy Carter could kick his ass. How does a guy take office with a filibuster-proof majority and piss it away so quickly? Not once has Obama acted like he was in the majority. He may be the worst political negotiator of all time. I would love to play poker with this guy. I remember thinking during the 2008 campaign that he sounded good, and would maybe make a good President in a few years, with more experience under his belt, but not now. It’s easy to see now, the lack of executive experience, the gullibility. Still, to his credit, he didn’t pick Sarah Palin as his running mate.

Here’s what will happen: All but Romney and Perry will fall by the wayside early in 2012, leaving those two to fight for the nomination. It will be close, but Romney will win the GOP nomination, because he will say fewer stupid things than Perry. Conventional wisdom will say that Romney is the Republican with the best chance to defeat Obama, and everyone except the Tea Party fanatics will swallow that whole.

A few Tea Party lunatics will break off and try to run a third party candidate, but they won’t be able to get on enough state ballots to mount a serious challenge. They will, however, cost Romney a couple of states in November.

President Obama will be re-elected, because he will make a series of mesmerizing stump speeches, and he will absolutely obliterate Romney in the televised debates.

Four years later, no one will admit to ever voting for Obama either time.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

We Made a Deal With the Clowns

Clowns indoctrinate a little girl, replacing her
brain with a paper chain.
It was a dark day in El Reno, the day the clowns came. At first, we attributed the rise in clown sightings on the circus, which had come through town the week before. You'd turn down an aisle in the grocery store and find yourself face to face with a clown - red ball nose, curly green hair, impossibly large shoes. The greasepaint on their faces would crack slightly when the smiled or yawned, and then you caught a glimpse of their fangs.
Family pets began to disappear, then the elderly. We didn't make the connection for weeks, and when we did, it was far too late.
   A clown moved into the apartment next to mine. Every night, as I returned home from work, the clown would stand in his open doorway, staring at me as I walked up the stairs. He never spoke (none of them did), but he would squeeze the bulb on his little horn and give me a honk as I went inside.
   People started attacking the clowns, trying to run them out of town. Turns out it's really hard to kill a clown. You can hit them, you can run them over with a car, you can fire them out of a cannon -- nothing. By the time we found out how to get rid of them, it was almost too late.
   As a reporter for the El Reno Daily Tribune, I covered the city government beat. I'll never forget the night I attended the City Council meeting and the Mayor was interrupted by the squeak-squeak-squeak of clowns marching into the council chambers. Someone told me later that he counted 20 clowns climbing out of a beat-up Ford Pinto that pulled up outside City Hall. They presented their list of demands to the mayor; it was written on a 200-foot long handkerchief that the Head Clown (who liked to be called Skeevy) pulled out of his pants pocket.
A little boy is transformed into a clown in front
of his horrified classmates.
   "We want your children," the list began. "Because no one will knowingly marry a clown, we must take children to replenish our numbers. We will select one girl, and one boy, from the elementary school once a week.
   "In return," the note concluded, "we will let you live." After the Mayor finished reading the demands, the clowns began honking their horns rapidly, in unison. All over town, the townspeople heard honking horns. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of clowns.
   We didn't know what else to do. So we made a deal with the clowns.
  Starting the next morning, clowns methodically examined all the children at the elementary school, and culled out two and took them away in front of their horrified classmates. Attendance plummeted.
   This went on for months. Eventually, clowns occupied 7 of the 9 city council seats, and they also took over the largest bank in town. A dull blanket of dread settled over El Reno, as clowns on unicycles raced back and forth on the streets at all hours.
   Our salvation came by accident. One afternoon a clown strode into the Texaco convenience store (squeak-squeak-squeak) to buy candy. They always bought lots of candy, paying with colorful pieces of paper that they insisted were as good as money. On this particular day, the clerk was playing a Michael Bolton CD. The clown cocked his head to one side, and his quizzical expression quickly transformed into a mask of pain. He opened his mouth and screamed silently, pink clown saliva glinting off his fangs. The clown pulled off his round red nose, and tried to stick it in his ear to silence the awful sound coming from the boom box on the counter. Where the nose had been, was now a gaping hole in the clown's face. Realizing too late what he had done, the clown tried to put his nose back. With a slight whooshing sound, his head caved in, and he fell to the floor, dead.
  Word spread fast. Michael Bolton CDs sold out at WalMart in 20 minutes, and soon the dreadful sound of his music was everywhere. Clowns died by the score.
   We managed to turn off the music before regular people started killing themselves. The horrible spell was broken, the town was saved. The clowns who weren't already dead quickly left town.
   Except for the clowns on the City Council. They served out the remainder of their terms.


Postscript: This is clearly not true. No children were harmed. But admit it: clowns are scary as hell, aren't they?

Friday, September 09, 2011

I Got Nature All Over Me

Jeremiah screamed as the tarantula scampered across his chest. His heart pounded so hard he swore he could hear it. Clearly, there would be no more sleep tonight.

This wilderness survival exercise seemed like a lark; how hard could it be to survive one night in the forest, with no tent, no sleeping bag, no camping gear? Very hard, as it turned out.

He forgot the bug spray, and less than an hour after the group dropped him off along the trail, he was itching like crazy. Mosquitoes orbited his head constantly, their high-pitched whine never leaving his ears, no matter how he waved his hands and swatted. It was the chigger bites that itched the most.

He lay down in a crease near the top of a ravine, less than 20 yards from the trail. Other members of the group talked of building rudimentary shelters out of tree branches, but Jeremiah thought the best course was to go minimal and just get through the night.

The tarantula was proof that he was wrong.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Standing in the Way of Barry Sanders' March to Glory

Barry Sanders was a transcendent, once-in-a-lifetime football player. He won the Heisman Trophy and turned in the greatest rushing season in NCAA history, and followed that up with a Hall of Fame career with the Detroit Lions.

But in 1987, he was a backup tailback and kick returner for Oklahoma State.

That year's Cowboy squad finished 10-2 and were led by senior tailback Thurman Thomas, himself a future Hall of Famer. I had the great good fortune to score a sideline pass for the OSU home games that season from my employer, the El Reno Daily Tribune, which gave me my first opportunity to try sports photography (see previous post).

Saturday, September 03, 2011

No Flag on the Play

Back in 1987, I got to try my hand at sports photography for the first time. My newspaper, the El Reno Daily Tribune, had a sideline photo pass for Oklahoma State games, and that year I got to go. I think maybe I won a drawing.

I'd been shooting pictures on a regular basis as reporter/photographer, but that was mostly around town. Football, I quickly learned, was a whole different ballgame (pun intended).

1987 was a good year to cover Oklahoma State football. They finished 10-2 and won the Sun Bowl over West Virginia. The only blemishes on the record (and this will sound all too familiar to Cowboys fans) were losses to Oklahoma and Nebraska. That's how it was in the old Big 8 Conference. 

That OSU squad featured senior tailback Thurman Thomas, a future Hall of Famer, and a sophomore quarterback named Mike Gundy. Oh, and the backup tailback was a guy named Barry Sanders (more about him in a future post).

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Listen to the Beat of the Doldrums

At first Dave thought he was sick, or something. For going on two weeks, he felt listless, always tired, and noticeably irritable. Normally very active, Dave was content to lie on the couch, for hours on end. His life ground to a virtual halt, with the annoying exception of his job.

“I don’t know what it is, man. Don’t feel like doing anything,” Dave confided to Marv, the man in the next cubicle. “Maybe I’m coming down with something....”

Marv stood up so he could look over the partition that separated his desk from Dave’s.

“Dude! You’re not sick; if anything, you’re completely normal,” Marv said. “Look around this you see anyone jumping for joy?”

Dave shoved a foot against his desk, causing his desk chair to glide into the aisle. He looked around, listened. A low mumbling seemed to emanate from every cubicle, an almost mournful sound that would have screamed “blah” if only it could muster the energy.

“It happens like this every year, at the end of the summer,” Marv said. “This is your first year here, so you haven’t been able to adapt completely.”

Dave scooted back into his cubicle, and sighed as he stared at his computer monitor.

“So ennui is contagious around here?” he said, mustering a dry chuckle.

Marv stood up again.

“If you can muster the strength to make a joke, then you’re not as far gone as the rest of us,” Marv said. “Seriously, you’re wearing me out.”
“So when does everyone snap out of it?” Dave asked. He knew he was about to lose Marv’s attention, and the closest thing to an interesting conversation he’d had in a week.

“What? Who says we ever do?” Marv forced out a sigh of his own, popped in his ear buds, and melted into the background.

Dave sat for a while, pondering Marv’s words, thinking about the lethargic environment that threatened to trap him, like an insect in amber.

I probably could own this place, this whole town, Dave thought. All I have to do is fight off the creeping torpor...stand out in the crowd...make a name for myself. He stood, stretched, enticed by the opportunity that awaited him.

Eh, he thought. Maybe later.

Dave slumped back into his chair.


Postscript: This was another exercise in Flash Fiction, directed, in particular, to the Three Word Wednesday blog.