Stodghill Says So

An opinionated posting on a variety of subjects by a former newspaper reporter and columnist whose daily column was named best in Indiana by UPI. The Blog title is that used in his high school sports predictions for the Muncie Evening Press.

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Location: Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, United States

At the age of 18 I was a 4th Infantry Division rifleman in the invasion of Normandy, then later was called back for the Korean War. Put in a couple of years as a Pinkerton detective. Much of my life was spent as a newspaper reporter, sports writer and daily columnist. Published three books on high school sports in Ohio and Indiana. I write mystery fiction for Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and others. Three books, Normandy 1944 - A Young Rifleman's War, The Hoosier Hot Shots, and From Devout Catholic to Communist Agitator are now available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other booksellers. So are four collections of short mysteries: Jack Eddy Stories Volumes 1 and 2, Midland Murders, and The Rough Old Stuff From Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine.

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Friday, September 29, 2006

Ross H. Spencer - A Writer's Writer

Eight years have gone by since my friend Spence shut down his word processor for the last time and began The Big Sleep. He was a husky man, Ross H. Spencer, with the weatherbeaten face of a man who'd been around the block more than a few times.
Some of that came from growing up and maturing in Youngstown, one of those Industrial Valley cities where men worked hard for a living, drank hard to forget those long days in the steel mills, played hard because they didn't know any other way of going about things. It was the same from Cleveland to Pittsburgh and down along the Ohio River to Wheeling. In Akron, my hometown, the only difference was they worked in rubber factories instead of steel mills. Tough jobs for tough men.
Spence enjoyed spending some of his leisure time in the Ohio National Guard. Then along came a war and Spence and his buddies found themselves fighting in the South Pacific, islands called Guadalcanal, Bougainville, New Georgia. He was awarded a Bronze Star medal.
After getting out, Spence decided to live in Chicago so he'd be close by when his beloved Cubs won all those pennants he was sure they'd win. When he headed back to Youngstown forty years later he was still waiting for that first one. In Chicago he was a railroad man on the Milwaukee Road. He met a girl named Shirley and she became his lifelong companion.
Spence read a lot, a couple of books a week or more, so one day Shirley came home with a mystery for him, a book about a character names Spenser. Spelled differently, pronounced the same. Spence read it and decided he could write one just as good as Robert Parker's. Over the years a lot of people came to agree with him.
Spence had a couple of dozen books published by the top names in the business. All but one, a kid's book, were mysteries and all contained a great deal of wry humor. So the name Ross H. Spencer was big among writers in the mystery field, but he never made much money from writing. We never discussed dollar figures, but I'd bet he made more in a couple of years on the Milwaukee Road than he did from all those books combined. That's the way it goes for most writers.
No one ever left Spence's house with a thirst. His bar was as well stocked as any in town. It was in a finished basement where he did his writing. There was a model railroad, too. The Milwaukee Road, of course. And a computer football game. He would have loved those of today with their colorful graphics. There usually was music in that basement. He could play just about anything depending upon his mood, big band, jazz, polka, country, classical, everything but rock 'n' roll. That wasn't music, he said, it was sound. He could sit there telling stories by the hour, a beer or something stronger in his hand, a fat cigar in his mouth. Most of all, though, he enjoyed listening to the stories others had to tell.
I never read anything that Spence wrote that I didn't enjoy. Stories about characters with names like Itchy Balzano and a minor league baseball team called the No Sox. But the thing that impressed me the most was the dedication to one of his books:
"To the dreams I have lost and will never retrieve,
To the jungle of thoughts where I hid.
To all of the people who didn't believe,
And to Shirley R. Spencer, who did."
It says a lot about the man, or at least it does to me. Then there was the inscription he wrote on a book he gave me: "To Dick, bird of my own feather - (a sitting duck, probably) - Spence."
I think he was right about that.
A good man, Ross H. Spencer. Look him up on Amazon sometime. Shell out a few bucks for one of his books because some of them are still listed there. You won't be disappointed.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A Blogger's Lament About Blogging and Stuff

This blogging hasn't worked out quite the way I intended. I planned on doing three or four a week, a light load of writing. But then other things intruded. The book on the Normandy Campaign was published, another is in the process of being published, I'm at work on two more, a short story was accepted, two more submitted, three in progress. Then there are two web sites to keep up to date. To sum it up, I'm usually too damn busy to blog.
I try to keep up on the news, too, although not the way I would like. I also like to read books. There are a couple of TV shows I enjoy. If the days were thirty hours long instead of twenty-four there might be time for everything.
I read where a law was passed making it easier for the government to engage in wiretapping. And another permitting the arrest of people opposed to the government. A camp was set up to accomodate them.
No, I'm not talking about the latest news from Wolf Blitzer. I'm talking about the Enabling Act of 1933. It did a lot of enabling. It enabled Hitler, Himmler and the rest of that bunch to listen in on telephone calls. It enabled them to arrest dissidents, and that included anyone less than thrilled by the regime in power. It enabled them to take an old industrial complex and turn it into a camp for all those bad guys. The camp was on the outskirts of Dachau. It soon became overcrowded so other camps had to be built. Time marches on.
Some bright boys who ducked out of taking part in a shooting war are dead set on clarifying the rules laid down by the Geneva Convention. They are clear as a bell to any intelligent sixth grader, of course. But apparently not clear enough to allow for torturing prisoners.
Having at times been so close to enemy soldiers that only a dirt hedgerow stood between us I kind of like the Geneva Convention just as it is written. There was always the possibility of finding yourself in an untenable position that left you with only one option: surrender. We treated them pretty well when they surrendered and they returned the favor.
I would not have liked to have found myself surrounded by enemies and having to say, "Hey, we may not treat our prisoners too kindly but you have to be nice to me." They might not have thought that was a fair and equitable way of doing business.
No, I don't like some of the things being done by the people in Washington. Their way of doing things are not the old American way of doing them. If they get their way about everything it will place the men and women in uniform in grave danger. By that I mean danger that can lead them to the grave.
And one by one the rest of us are finding the freedoms we enjoyed slipping away. It will make us safer, they say. Will it? I doubt it. And it poses a question: Would you rather be safe or would you rather be free? And doesn't surrendering freedoms mean the terrorist have won?
But some people contend that those fellows in Washington, those that made sure they never were in danger of being shot at or captured themselves, aren't bad men. I agree. They're evil men.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A Limousine Ride to Niagra Falls

That's right, we traveled from Akron to Niagra Falls and back by limousine. This was not a honeymoon excursion or a hidden desire to shuffle off to Buffalo or even a trip to watch water go plunging over a cliff. Jackie and I didn't even see the falls or much of anything else.
I've done a lot of traveling in my time - by land, sea and air. I've done it on foot, by bicycle, automobile, Jeep, truck, bus, streetcar, train, airplane, boat and ship. Even a couple of short jaunts by limo. But never in my wildest fantasies did I envision a 475 mile round trip in a chauffeured limousine. People like me don't do things like that.
Need I say that someone else footed the bill? You'd better believe they did. In this case, "they" was a British TV production company making a documentary that will air on The History Channel sometime next year. A thoughtful person might well ask, "So what's that got to do with Ol' Stodg?" Well, this is a documentary on the Battle of Normandy during the months of July and August of 1944. That led them to me in a roundabout way because of the book "Normandy 1944 - A Young Rifleman's War."
After being invited we checked the schedules: plane, train and bus. None were of interest and we had no intention of driving. Sorry, I said, I can't make it. So that's when they decided to send a limousine.
The interview was interesting and lasted well over an hour. That probably figures out to about five minutes after the editing and cutting, although they did point out that I was the only one that had much to say beyond, "Man, it was rough." A guy with a memory that dates back to the events of 1929 and wrote about the war and all that stuff most of his life has a big advantage when somebody starts asking questions and wants specific answers.
As for the ride itself, you don't see much on an interstate highway. Oh sure, you see fields and trees and truck stops, things like that, but you don't see the main streets of small towns or anything truly memorable. Ashtabula or Erie or Dunkirk, New York are just names on signs.
We did pass through Buffalo, but even when you do go through major cities you just see their backside. I will say this: Buffalo has one of the ugliest backsides I've seen.
So that's about it. We left at 7:15 a.m. and were dropped off at the front door at 7:15 p.m. It was a comfortable ride and sure beat driving, but when I set foot in our living room I vowed never to leave home again. It just ain't fun no more.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Slobs Have Taken Over Our Country

I have a head cold and I'm mad about it. It's the first in years and I want to know why and how it happened. My nose isn't a leaky faucet, it's a faucet turned on full blast. Rudolph would turn green with envy if he could see this nose and my eyes are a pair of crimson marbles set in a slab of putty. The lining of my throat has been sandpapered, I use up a large box of tissues in ten minutes and I'm mad at the world for allowing this miserable affliction to invade my body.
I looked to Jackie and asked, "How could this happen to an innocent person like me?"
She laughed. She actually laughed and said, "You've never been innocent since the day you were born."
"I expected a little sympathy."
"That what you got - a little sympathy."
Well, that does it. So much for compassion when confronted with suffering of a magnitude that would astound medical science. And she was the one who gave me this cold.
So I'll suffer in silence. Except for moaning after every sneeze. And coughing and hacking whenever she's within hearing distance. And yelling at the hamsters for being able to peacefully sleep all day while nearby I'm stretched out in agony.
So what better time could there be for lashing out at the slobs that have taken over the country. It's the perfect follow-up to the blog on the way Americans act while abroad.
Have you visited a mall lately, or a doctor's office or anywhere else that people can be found? Just look at them! Unbelievable. Or look at the kids going to or from any public school. Flip-flops on their feet, pants drooping down to their - well, you've seen it for yourself. They spend their parents' hard-earned money for expensive jeans with ragged holes in the legs, wear wrinkled T-shirts emblazoned with words once heard only in Army barracks or on ships that had been at sea for months.
But they're just pathetic kids attempting to look like all other pathetic kids because originality is taboo, something to be avoided at all cost. It's the adults that are inexcusably offensive. Take shorts for example. No self-respecting adult over the age of twenty-five should be seen wearing them in public. Man or woman, they look ridiculous. Especially men wearing black socks with their shorts or women with legs resembling uncased sausages.
The word casual has come to mean sloppy. Casual for men is a sport or polo shirt with a pressed pair of slacks. It's much the same for women, but an attractive dress could be substituted. It does not include halter tops over bulging bellies.
If you think it has always been the way it is today, think again. Look at a photo from the era of my boyhood, the years of the Great Depression. Not one of those showing Okies on the road to California but a street scene or a shot of the crowd at a World Series or a football game. You'll find the women in neat dresses, the men in suits with a tie and usually a fedora on their head. Then think about it. That was a time of genuine hardship, a time when money was scarce and people watched every nickel and dime. But they had pride. Nothing could have forced them to appear in public dressed the way the majority of people dress today.
I have pictures of my sixth and eighth grade classes as just two of the photos serving as my screen saver. There were forty-four of us in the class, half of them living at the Children's Home. They were a tough bunch accustomed to hard times but by comparison with kids today they look like fashion plates, like models ready to walk out on a runway to display the latest in clothes for kids. Parents, or room mothers at the Children's Home, would never have allowed us to head for school dressed as kids do now. It was the same with high school boys and girls. Neatness and cleanliness, those were the hallmarks of personal pride.
Those qualities have been replaced by grunge. Personal pride - you must be kidding.
Why? That's what I would like to know. Even more than I'd like to know why I'm suffering with this miserable head cold.

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Thursday, September 07, 2006

Why do Americans behave obnoxiously when abroad?

On a message board I read regularly there was a post referring to a young child who wondered why people in other countries hate America. There were some good responses, then the post was deleted because hate is a taboo subject. Don't ask why because I can't figure it out myself.
If I were talking with that little girl I would tell her that America is hated only in certain countries, those in which politicians in Washington have acted in ways to make them feel that way. Most Europeans don't hate America although many also feel this country has too many heavy-handed policies, too many politicians with a we-know-what's-best-for-you attitude.
However, while they don't hate us a great many people in Europe can't stand to have Americans anywhere in the vicinity. Why? Because so many Americans that travel abroad are rude, arrogant, critical and far too noisy. You might say that they act just as they do at home. They dress like slobs, have loud, forced , unnatural laughs, expect everyone to treat them as if they were special and have little regard for the wishes or desires of anyone else. You can't walk down a street or enjoy a cup of coffee in a restaurant in this country without encountering that type so why expect them to act differently when overseas?
On a visit to old friends from World War II in the French-speaking area of Belgium we were treated like royalty. Patrick Daubie, a younger member of one of the families, served as our guide on a day-long sightseeing tour. He was a hotelier and as part of his apprenticeship spent six months in each of his employer's hotels in London, Paris, Rome, Athens and another city that doesn't come to mind. He was fluent in English and several other languages. He encountered many Americans wherever he went, of course. We had a great time that day, lots of fun, lots of laughs. At the end of the day Patrick said, "You two aren't like Americans. You're nice." Too bad, but that's the way it is far too often.
In Lucerne, Switzerland we were wandering the back streets as is our custom when at noon we saw what seemed like a nice restaurant. We always looked for one patronized by the locals, not tourists. This one was especially nice: white tableclothes, excellent service, for each of the regulars his favorite newspaper and personal napkin awaiting at his table. Dogs lying quietly under many tables, too, because European dogs are well trained and ignore all other dogs in restaurants. After a fine meal the owner came out from the kitchen and asked if he might join us fora moment. It turned out he was a graduate of the University of North Carolina. He asked how we happened to find his place and then said it was a pleasure to have had us there. "But please don't tell anyone else about us," he said. "We wouldn't want other Americans coming here." Too bad it has to be that way.
At the hotel in Bayeaux, France where we headquartered for eleven days the owner and his staff were friendly and cordial. The hotel restaurant has been in business for more than four-hundred years. They serve a highly regarded appetizer - although that may not be what they call it. It wasn't something we cared for so we ate a few bites and left the rest. Near the end of our stay an American couple just passing through town was seated at the table behind us. The woman tried the appetizer, then loudly complained that it was awful. Everyone in the place could hear her. The headwaiter, who had gotten to know us, walked by our table, grinned and winked his eye. After talking to her for a few moments and hearing her repeat again and again how awful it was the owner politely said, "It may be awful, but it's famous." All she had needed to do was not eat it. Too bad that wasn't enough to satisfy her.
We spent most of our evenings during our seven weeks in Europe relaxing in one quiet cafe or another. All too often we joined the locals in groaning when the door opened and several loud, boisterous people walked in. We'd look at each other and say, "Oh, no, not Americans."
But why should they behave differently abroad than they do at home? Too bad that so many Americans that travel overseas seem to be that type. Everything about it is too bad. So they don't necessarily hate us, young lady, they just hate having us nearby.

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Mickey Spillane - a Writer for the People

I haven't been keeping up with the news lately, at least not the way I once did. I wasn't even aware that Mickey Spillane had died until I read a tribute to him by Bill Chambers in the latest issue of The Third Degree. If you don't know, that's the official newsletter of the Mystery Writers of America.
I met Mickey Spillane just once. That was at a Bouchercon in Milwaukee and if Bouchercon is also unfamiliar to you it's an annual convention of mystery writers and readers, the biggest of them all. It's named in honor of the late Anthony Boucher, himself a mystery writer and a renowned critic. I was one of the speakers at a couple of Bouchercons but we haven't attended one in recent years because traveling isn't as easy as it once was or, like keeping up with the news, as enjoyable.
Mickey Spillane was just what you would expect the creator of Mike Hammer and a World War II fighter pilot to be. Rawboned, tough, unpretentious. He was a writer and didn't like to be called an author because he felt that title was pretentious. He wasn't impressed by the literary world, not at all. Bill Chambers wrote about the time a literary sort of person told Mickey it was disgraceful that of the ten top selling books of all time seven were written by none other than Mickey himself. He replied, "You're lucky I've only written seven."
While sitting at a table one night with a group that included Mickey I was amused when he was asked about something in one of his books. He said he didn't know because he didn't remember the book. Like a lot of writers, it seems that by the time a book was finished he was so sick of it that he never wanted to see it again. Not that he usually took a lot of time writing one. His first, I the Jury, was written in nine days.
Bill Chambers told a couple of other interesting stories about Mickey Spillane. One was about Ayn Rand, beloved by the literary world for her philosophical novels. She shocked those types when she said that her favorite author was Mickey Spillane. He might have been more pleased by the compliment had she referred to him as a writer. And when some of the writers you'll find hanging out at the Author's Guild criticized his work Mickey said, "Those big-shot writers could never dig the fact that there are more salted peanuts consumed than caviar." Thanks, Bill, for those little tidbits.
Bouchercon will return to Milwaukee next month. Mickey won't be there this time and neither will I. But I can still see him, necktie loosened, fedora pushed back a little on his head, grinning as he told a few of the kind of stories you hear around a table in a bar. Funny stories, often self-deprecating. Mickey Spillane, unique in many respects, in others typical of a rapidly-dying breed. The type of men that aren't likely to pass this way again.

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Saturday, September 02, 2006

Religion - A Topic Always Certain to Cause Controversy

I was reading comments on a message board this morning and found something irritating. Hardly a newsworthy event because I always find something that sets me off. This time it was religion. That's a topic guaranteed to set someone else off and it doesn't matter whether your words were good, bad or indifferent.
This morning's subject was books. A few people wrote that it was God who would decide if their book was a successor not. They themselves had nothing to do with it, God would handle everything. To me this is a big cop out. It doesn't matter if they write well or poorly or if their topic is timely, it's all up to God.
In other words, God micro-manages every event in everyone's life. He has all the time in the world so He goes from ball park to ball park making sure that certain players receive fat pitches so they can trot around the bases with a finger pointing skyward. He's at football stadiums too so that specific running backs can score touchdowns, then kneel in prayer. Forget about the guys that blocked opponents out of his way, or did God have a hand in that, too?
Doesn't that trivialize their God, this belief that He cares about who makes the best seller list, who hits the homeruns and who scores the touchdowns?
I don't buy it. If God is this micro-manager who inserts Himself into the unimportant, then doesn't He do the same with the important? If He decides the fate of a book, doesn't He also decide the fate of a mother killed when a drunk driver crosses the centerline and hits her car head-on? If He influences the course of a pitch so a ball player can hit a homerun, doesn't He influence the course of a bomb so it kills a few kids in Lebanon? If He determines who scores the touchdowns doesn't He also determine who scores with the drug pusher and who scores with the young girl that had knockout drops inserted into her drink?
No, I don't buy it. If God really does decide whether a book is a success or not, then what happened to free will? Does it mean the woman who works from dawn 'til dusk promoting the excellent book she wrote stands no better chance of making sales than the person that wrote a potboiler and then sits back waiting to cash her royalty checks? Not in my opinion.
I don't see God as the Great Micro-Manager in the Sky. I don't believe He cares a damn about books or base hits or touchdowns. I don't believe He decides who will live and who will die when a plane crashes. I don't believe He decides which kid will walk close beside a land mine and which one will step on it. Nor do I believe that He decides the baby born over here will live to do great things and the one born over there will grow up to be a serial killer.
Certain people disagree with all this. They say, "It was God's will," regardless of whether they are talking about something good or some great tragedy. That is a convenient way of looking at life, of course. It makes Him responsible. It frees the individual from taking that responsibility upon his own shoulders. It makes life easy.
Religion can be a good thing and for many it is. But it also has been responsible for a good share of the wars since the beginning of time. That's as true today as it was in the Dark Ages. Whether it's Christians in Northern Ireland or Muslims in Iraq, it's true. For some people their religion is the one bright spot in an otherwise dreary life, and that's wonderful. But I bristle when people lay everything, good or bad, on the lap of God. Nothing anyone can say will make me believe other than I do. Most religious people don't use their faith as a cop-out that frees them of responsibility. Those that do need a reality check.

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