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.