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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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Ken Bucklew - A Most Remarkable Man

In the course of a lengthy career a newspaper reporter meets and talks with many men and women. Some are good, some are bad, a few are truly evil. On rare occasions, if he's lucky, he may even meet someone downright amazing.
Take Ken Bucklew. He's an artist, but there are a lot of them around. Not quite like Bucklew, though. He paints birds and animals and landscapes and all include every tiny bit of detail. Not the Thomas Kincaid type of idealized pictures but the kind with warts and wens - leaves with holes eaten by insects, trees misshapen by time, boards withered with age. It's a rare Bucklew painting that doesn't include a bird, a butterfly or an animal because at heart he's also a naturalist. If he finds a feather he files it away so his colors are exact.
A great talent, obviously, but there's a lot of talent around so why is Ken Bucklew amazing? Because when I wrote a story about him for Outdoor Indiana magazine back in 1984 he said, "I drop my brush a lot."
Ken Bucklew was paralyzed from the neck down as the result of a diving accident the summer after graduating from high school. He had already shown remarkable ability as an artist, but after the accident neurosurgeons told him his plans for a career in art were an unattainable dream.
So he spent every possible minute in physical therapy sessions. Eventually a little movement returned to his arms and hands. He asked for his brushes and paints and created some child-like daubs on paper. He kept working at it until he was able to take a few steps on his own and over time even became able to drive a car.
But the feeling never returned to his hands and feet. "I can tell if I'm touching something," he said, "but in the dark I have no idea what it is." Touching a gooseneck lamp, he added, "I would know this was metal from the clanking sound."
And yet he paints with unbelievable detail. Good enough to have his work on duck stamps and to have sold paintings to commercial firms, including McDonalds. We bought one that is typical of his work - an old barn with a few deer nearby on a misty morning. He drove a hundred miles from his home in Spencer, Indiana to deliver it personally.
Call up his name on Google and you'll find more than 27,000 entries. Click on the first few and you'll see some examples of his work, see the remarkable detail that makes it seem you could step right into the picture. Remember one thing, though: Ken Bucklew wants to be known as an artist, not a handicapped artist even though he drops his brush a lot.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Laws - Why Bother with Them?

An old law came to mind this morning, one I read about a few years ago when it was still on the books in some remote state. It stated that if you were driving along a road in an automobile and met a horse-drawn wagon or buggy coming toward you the thing you had to do was stop your car, dismantle it and place the pieces in the side ditch. When the horse was safely past you could reassemble the car and go on your way again until you met another horse.
Now to say that this would be one helluva inconvenience is an understatement of monumental proportions. What would you do first? Take off the doors, I suppose, and maybe the hood and trunk lid. I don't even want to think about the rest of the steps.
Even a hundred years ago when cars had a lot fewer parts it would have been a terrific imposition. Imagine it, you invite your best girl out for a ride and you are cruising along humming "Come away with me Lucille in my merry Oldsmobile" when a horse appears up ahead. I guess you'd say, "Excuse me, my dear, would you please get out for a moment while I dismantle the car and place it in the ditch."
Yeah, sure you would.
I'll bet that law wasn't obeyed even one single time. A lot of laws aren't obeyed. Take those federal laws covering illegal aliens. For the most part they are neither obeyed nor enforced and the Democrats want to pretty much do away with them. Aside from the Idiot in Chief most Republicans disagree and I'm with them all the way on this.
But suppose you do try to enforce them the way those two Border Patrol agents did when they confronted an illegal alien smuggling drugs into this country. In a scuffle he was shot in the leg. So a federal prosecutor in Texas granted the drug smuggler immunity so he could testify against the Border Patrol agents who were doing their duty. They are now in prison.
Does that make sense? Even less than dismantling your car and placing it in the side ditch.
Check it out on the Lou Dobbs show on CNN.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

I'm Glad That's Over

That sound of wind rustling through the treetops you may have heard last night was my sigh of relief when my second of two appearances on The History Channel drew to a close. After being interviewed for the programs I began to wonder if I had either made a fool of myself or come across as a big mouth trying to sound like a hero of the Normandy Campaign. I wasn't a hero, just someone who tagged along with the others and did the best he could. But film editors can take a sentence here and another there and the result may not be what the speaker intended.
So I held my breath, but it turned out I had nothing to fear. The editors of the two episodes of "The Lost Evidence" did a fine job. It did seem that I had a lot to say but I don't think it sounded like boasting. At least I hope not.
It came as a real surprise that they dramatized a couple of events I mentioned, one in each episode. In "Normandy 1944 - A Young Rifleman's War" I wrote about a German SS soldier wearing a pink shirt and hopping around like he was having the time of his life as he fired a machine pistol. It was a shock to see it unfold before my eyes again last night.
The producers never resorted to Hollywood foolishness. In their dramatizations men who were shot just fell to the ground without theatrics and that's the way it was. The majority of the scenes of actual combat were from the German prospective because most American cameramen hid out back at some headquarters well in the rear.
For some reason they failed to mention that my regiment of the 4th Infantry Division joined with the French 2nd Armored Division in liberating Paris on August 25, 1944. That was OK, though, because the French did the bulk of the fighting. They also showed the 28th Division parading through Paris three days later and people who don't know better think that was the liberation. But that's OK too because a good share of those men in the 28th Division later died in the Hurtgen Forest. You can read about it in the book "Follow Me and Die."
So I was pleased with the result and feel the producers and editors did as good a job as possible in dealing with war on the front line. They never resorted to the "Saving Private Ryan" nonsense. There is no way to depict that war as men lived it, as it was seen by them, as it was smelled by them, of course. You can't portray the fear, the hopelessness, the very real horror of it all. You had to have been there and if you weren't, be thankful. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The State of the Union Address - Not My Cup of Tea!

Like millions of Americans I did not watch the State of the Union address last night. Not just because I don't believe a word the man says, although that would be reason enough. Not just because it would be a rehash of things said many times before, although that too would be reason enough. Not just because I sense that Dick Cheney's ugly mug would be peering over the Idiot in Chief's shoulder the entire time, but could there possibly be a better reason? Not just because that smirk is enough to make a man . . . well, you get the idea.
In fairness to someone who probably has never heard the word and certainly doesn't know its definition, I never watch a State of the Union Address. There is so much about them that is boring, that reeks of hypocrisy, that cause you to wonder if you have died and that this is the hell you will forever have to endure, that makes you think spending an entire day in a Wal-Mart and eating three meals at a McDonald's would be preferable - but wait, that is my idea of hell.
Those mandatory standing ovations after every couple of sentences are enough to gag a maggot. Half the people in the room hate the speaker's guts but still they would rise up and clap their hands on cue even if he announced the world was coming to an end in five minutes.
So you might just say I don't care for State of the Union addresses. You would be right. I would rather be forced to sit through an entire NASCAR race. I would rather have to play one of those moronic video games they advertise. I would rather drink a pitcher of warm British beer. I would rather have the bird of paradise fly up my nose. I would rather . . . well, it's time go take a nap.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Life is Hard and Then You Die

Among a stack of writing projects I keep chipping away at every day is the piecing together of a collection of excerpts from columns I wrote for an Indiana newspaper in the 1980s. I turned out five a week along with a few other duties and if you think that's easy just try it sometime. Anyway, I decided to stick a portion of one of them here just to make life easy for a change. Considering the season, it's timely. Here it is:

To my surprise Stubby has made it halfway through the winter. Stubby is a gray squirrel, given his name by Jackie because a stub is all he has for a tail.
Lack of a tail is a tremendous handicap for a squirrel. A full and bushy one serves as a blanket on cold days, does duty as an umbrella when the summer sun falls mercilously upon the flatlands. But more important than either of these is the role played by the tail as a stabilizer. It acts as a balancing pole when a squirrel runs from danger or walks a precarious tightrope, something a squirrel insists on doing even when an easier route is available.
During the bitter cold spell in late December I prematurely announced Stubby’s demise. The others, gray ones and red ones and chubby fox squirrels, came around for breakfast, lunch and dinner even when the thermometer read 20 below. Not Stubby. Day after day he was missing.
“Stubby didn’t make it,” I said. “He’s dead.” A logical assumption considering his lack of a blanket at night.
“You don’t know that,” said Jackie. “Why do you always look on the dark side? Why can’t you ever be optimistic about anything?”
“I’m a realist,” I told her. “No sense in kidding yourself. It’s like they say, life is hard and then you die.”
That’s the way it is, too, but anybody can be wrong once in a while. On a day that seemed downright balmy with the temperature about 5 degrees on the positive of zero, there was Stubby having lunch with the others.
“Stubby’s back,” I called to Jackie.
“See, she said. “See, I told you so”
So I was wrong for once. Big deal . That doesn’t change anything in the overall scheme. But if Stubby made it through December it’s hard to imagine that he’ll face a more difficult challenge during the coming six weeks. I was glad to see him. It was a little like having an old friend come back to the outfit from the hospital after others had told you he was dead when the litter bearers carried him away.
I wonder, though, do animals know when the weather is ready to turn unusually cold? On the relatively warm days before the arctic blast hit Muncie one fox squirrel worked feverishly on padding its nest. All day long, time after time, it would fill its mouth with leaves and take them up the tall oak that serves as home.
While this was going on its mate frolicked at the base of the tree, fleeing from some imaginary threat, dodging and weaving about, running back to the oak and using it as a springboard in changing direction. Putting on a real squirrely act in other words.
We watched as this routine continued day after day.
“That busy one,” I said, “he sure is fixing up a warm nest.”
“It’s a she,” said Jackie.
“How do you know that?”
“It’s obvious,” she said. “The one that’s playing, that’s the male.”
Well, maybe. And maybe not.

Monday, January 22, 2007

"The Old School Yell" Finally Made It

I always figured "The Old School Yell" would eventually see the light of day. It did last Friday morning when it showed up on Amazon Shorts, but it took a while. To be exact, 27 years before an editor was intelligent enough to appreciate its merits. The problem was it didn't fit into any niche so while other editors claimed to like it, none could use it.
That reminds me of a night in the 1980s when we were having dinner with Percy Spurlark Parker and his wife Shirley. Percy's mysteries are as good as those of any writer in the field so I always hesitate in saying he is the best black mystery writer I know. He doesn't need any qualifier in front of his name.
Anyway, Shirley said he had been grumbling because no one would buy a story he felt was as good as any he had written. "Every writer I know," she said, "has a story collecting dust in a desk drawer that he thinks is the best he has ever written."
The words were scarcely out of her mouth before "The Old School Yell" leaped to mind.
So time passed by until a couple of months ago I blew the dust off its folder, updated the beginning and now it's available for the world to buy for a mere 49 cents. I hope a few people do so that I can find out if anyone else likes it. The story is based on an actual yell high school boys, but not the cheerleaders, would give at football games in Cuyahoga Falls back in 1936. The rest of the story, aside from a few other factual events, came from what passes for my mind.
Friday was a busy day. "The Old School Yell" in the morning, that show on The History Channel in the evening, and in between an e-mail from the editor of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine saying she was buying the latest story in the Jack Eddy series. It isn't as long as some of the others so the check will be for only $730. I'm not complaining because they pay by the word and that's $730 more than I had when I woke up in the morning.
But I digress. The subject was "The Old School Yell." It's about a couple of offbeat characters, although the narrator would not see himself that way. However, any man who spends every afternoon at the same table in a tavern reading books, playing solitaire and working jigsaw puzzles qualifies as offbeat. The fellow he befriends after he wandered in one day to get out of the rain definitely qualifies. They share some happy times together until the night when . . . wait a minute, if you want to know the ending you'll have to dig into your pocket and spend a whopping 49 cents. After all this is a business, not a charity bazaar, you know. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, January 20, 2007

About that History Channel Program

Well, I'm glad that's over. I mean the program on The History Channel, the one about the breakout from the Normandy hedgerow country. Right at the start Jackie said, "I knew it was you even before your picture came on. I could tell by the voice."
"What? I said. "That old guy that sounded like he was gargling at the bottom of a well?"
"Nonsense! I don't look like that. I don't talk like that."
As usual, though, she was right. I had to admit it after I showed up a second time. However, I still contend I don't sound that way. They must have used one of those voice-overs with somebody else doing the talking.
No, Jackie insists, it sounded exactly like me.
Well that's a kick in the butt. Water flowing over rocks - that's what I sound like? From now on my lips are sealed.
So aside from that, what did I think of the show? They did as good a job as possible, I guess, in trying to compress three months of brutal fighting into 40 minutes. I was a little surprised when they didn't even mention the capture of Cherbourg, the first deep-water port to fall. I felt too much time was devoted to the failed attempt by British troops to take a hill. The show was made by a British production company, though, so it probably was justified.
I wasn't pleased to see Patton strutting around. It was the 1st Army's 7th Corps that made the breakout. Patton arrived later and just walked out. But he did know how to grab the headlines and pose in front of a camera.
All that's just nitpicking and doesn't matter. The only thing I really objected to was some old guy talking about German prisoners. It didn't ring true and I certainly never was around prisoners that said anything even close to what he claimed they did.
Another old guy wearing a red shirt was just the opposite. It was obvious to someone who was there that he knew what he was talking about.
The one surprise came when they showed a dramatized version of a German hitting me in the head with an entrenching tool. I said shovel, but I guess it amounts to the same thing.
A former German soldier mentioned our far greater supply of men, ammunition and equipment. During the fighting our division commander put it this way: "The Germans are staying in there just by the guts of their soldiers. We outnumber them ten to one in infantry, fifty to one in artillery, and by an indefinite number in the air."
Fair is fair so it is good they included that comment by the old German soldier. The people responsible deserve credit for not producing another of the many "weren't we great" shows.
They managed to maintain balance and that's the way it should be. So in my opinion they did a good job for the amount of time they had to work with and I'd give them an "A."
I even admit that really was me and not some imposter, but that voice like the sound of shaking gravel in a pan of water . . . come on, guys, tell me that couldn't have been Ol' Stodg.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Ol' CBS and a Magical Birthday Present

Well, I put my foot in it this time and led people to think Wednesday was my birthday. It wasn't, but I appreciated all the good wishes. Thinking about birthdays reminded me that I can recall very few of them. The one that always leaps to mind my was sixth. I woke up that morning elated because now I was all grown up. Not completely, maybe, but being six certainly meant I was a man, not just a kid anymore.
That was in 1931, about as bad a year as you can get unless . . . well, 1932.
We had been going from town to town as Ol' CBS pursued a fruitless search for work. So were millions of other men and they weren't having any better luck than he was. If you weren't there to remember it you can't begin to imagine how bad it was during those early years of what has become known as the Great Depression.
So we were in Lansing, a place like all the rest had been, meaning we stayed until the rent came due. A few days before my birthday I was sent to the corner grocery for a quart of milk in a glass bottle. I tripped on the outside wooden stairs leading to our second floor furnished apartment. The bottle broke, of course, and my mother came out on the landing to see what happened. Her words remain fresh in my mind: "Oh, Dick, that was the last dime."
There was a little park not far away where I spent most of my days. A pond seemed to divide the haves from the have nots. On the far side - and it wasn't very far at all - kids there with their mothers or nannys had little boats they'd pull along the water with a string. On our side there were no mothers and no boats and that's what I wanted for my birthday - a boat.
Obviously there was no money for one, but Ol' CBS came home one day with the bottom half of a cigarette tin he had found. At that time you could buy Lucky Strike and Head Play smokes in either a pack or a flat tin about eight inches wide and ten inches long. The sides rose only as high as a cigarette, a little under half an inch. Ol' CBS managed to fasten a stick to the tin and that was the mast. He used a piece of an old rag for a sail. Finally, he punched a small hole in one end and tied a long piece of string to it.
That was my birthday present. I headed down the street to the park, proud as could be, and launched my boat in the pond. On the other side those kids with their store-bought boats watched what was going on, then one by one they came over to the "poor" side of the pond to admire my boat. Yes, it was a proud day indeed for me.
I suppose there is a moral to the story but for the life of me I can't think what it would be. We soon left Lansing behind and after another town or two Ol' CBS lost his ability to talk landlords into believing the check really was in the mail and we had a new home for thirty days. After that for a while "home" was the back seat of an open-sided Model-T Ford. And by then winter had set in and somewhere along the way that magical boat disappeared. It was great while it lasted, though.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Annoyances of Growing Older

Yes, there are annoyances that go with being 81 and nearly all of them concern health. For the most part they are not major issues, just little things that come at you like bullets from a German high speed machine gun when you are trying to run across an open field. In other words they never stop.
The diabolic part of all this is that no sooner do you get one thing cleared up when another one strikes. The backache . . . ah, at last it has gone away and now . . . oops, here comes a kidney infection. And on and on to the point of ad nauseum. I'm not completely sure what that means but it sounds impressive. It sounds like being 81, it sounds like something you can't do a darn thing about, it sounds like me.
So what do you do about all this? You work. Keeping busy is the best medicine of all. And you complain, of course. Not that anyone really listens. Jackie has heard it all before so she nods her head and goes, "Ummm." In English that means, "Shut up and go away." I tell her that all I want is a little sympathy and she says that's exactly what I'm getting, with the emphasis on little.
Complaining to the hamsters does no good at all. You could get as much satisfaction by complaining to the stove or the refrigerator. Joey and Mr. Zip-Zip just yawn, stretch and go into their "have you got a treat for me?" routine. I usually give them one. No need for all three of us to be unhappy.
So far be it from me to complain to the world in general. Far be it from me to tell anyone else of my troubles. Far be it from me to do anything other than fall back on the best cure of all - get back to work. While suffering in silence, of course. Well, maybe not complete silence. Where's the fun in that?

Monday, January 15, 2007

A 1952 Bus Ride in Georgia

Twenty years ago I was the speaker at a Martin Luther King Day ceremony at a church with a nearly all-black congregation. This was because I was a reporter who always remained objective and in the black community enjoyed the reputation of being fair. I mingled with the ministers and the church goers and the young men that followed a circular route that took them to and from prison and back again. I listened to them, wrote about them, sometimes sympathized with them and sometimes gave them hell. But I always worked at remaining objective, at being fair.
My talk concerned a 1952 bus ride in Georgia. It had been a rough week of infantry training at Fort Benning so I slipped away early on a Friday afternoon, hitched a ride into Columbus and boarded a Trailways bus headed for Atlanta. A couple of nights in a good hotel, a meal or two at a nice restaurant, that's what I had in mind.
I took a seat about halfway back on the right side of the bus and then sat back and relaxed, not paying much attention to anything other than the scenery outside the window. We made stops in the dusty little town of La Grange and a few other places. People got on the bus, others got off. None of the comings and goings aroused my interest.
Then out in the middle of nowhere we pulled to a stop beside the road. Looking ahead I could see a black woman and two kids, a boy and girl about eight and ten, that had flagged down the bus. They stood there for a minute or so rather than climbing aboard and then out of the corner of my eye I saw the driver standing beside me. He said, "You wanna move forward so those people can get on the bus?"
For the first time I looked around me. There were plenty of empty seats ahead but all those to the rear were filled, every one of them occupied by a black person. I looked back to the driver and said, "There's a lot of empty seats."
"Look," he replied, "either you move up front or they don't get on the bus."
So there it was. Stick to my principles and leave the woman and her children standing in the blazing Georgia sun or get up and move forward.
Back at Benning the man in the next bunk was a black sergeant who had a car. At the end of the day he often gave me a ride into town, but asked me to slump down in my seat when we reached the outskirts of Columbus so there wouldn't be any problem. I did so, although it seemed so hypocritical that we shouldn't be seen riding side by side when in a couple of months either or both of us might find ourselves being shot at in Korea. And now there was this.
I got up and moved as far forward as possible, seething inside at the stupidity of it all. Did I have any choice other than to change seats? Not really. Not unless I wanted to make a real ass of myself. But it was wrong, so very wrong.
All that began to change in a few more years. Not without turmoil and strife - grown men spitting on little girls trying to go to their newly-integrated school, displays of ignorance like that.
Today I could board a bus in Columbus, ride north through LaGrange and Newnan and sit anywhere I damn well pleased. That's better. Not perfect, but better. Integration, unfortunately, has brought a whole new set of problems. Maybe sometime in the future people will be smart enough to solve them all. Or maybe not.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Does Anyone Know the Answers?

Why do they call the Boston Celtics basketball team the SELL-tics when the word is pronounced KELL-tics?
Why isn't something done about the fact that 90,000 Americans die every year as the result of being confined in dirty hospitals?
Why do some people continue to believe that global warming is just a normal cyclic change when most scientists say otherwise?
Why do people searching for a nice climate for their retirement move to Florida rather than the San Diego area?
Why don't Americans object to the loss of so many freedoms compared with . . . oh, say 1946?
Why at a time when so many people claim to be religious have morals in this country sunk to such a low level?
Just for example, a gracious lady sent me an e-mail comparing the Oscar winning songs of 1936 and 2006. Boy, have we come a long way in 70 years. In 1936 the winner was "The Way You Look Tonight." Fred Astaire sang it to Ginger Rogers in the movie "Swingtime." Even many callow youths have heard the tender melody and those moving words: "Sometime when I'm awfully low, and the world is cold, I will feel a glow just thinking of you, and the way you look tonight. . ."
Just reading the words, can't you hear the music in your mind?
The audiences in 1936 consisted of genuinely tough men and sturdy women. They had to be after six or seven years of struggling to survive the Great Depression. No swaggering, no tough, boisterous talk, just an appreciation for what little they had and an inner strength resulting from hardscrabble living. Fred and Ginger let them escape the grim reality of what awaited for so many once they left the theater, made them feel good about life again.
Now fast forward to 2006. No more Great Depression. Luxuries enjoyed by the majority of Americans that were undreamed of when Fred was singing those gentle words. So what upbeat, joyous song were the movie audiences applauding the most?
How about "It's Hard Out Here For a Pimp."
No need to print the words. Among them are just about every four-letter word you ever heard. A woman is a bitch. Nothing about that will make you feel a glow. Nothing about it will bring Ginger Rogers to mind. It's sick and it's symptomatic of a society that somehow has gone terribly wrong during the course of those 70 years.
Why? That's the biggest question of all. Why, when life is so much easier, when people have so much more?
Maybe that's the answer. Maybe what this country needs is another Great Depression. It might instill some old fashioned, down to earth values that seem to be a part of having to struggle just to survive, that make it hard out there for everyone, not just a pimp.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Ol' CBS and the House Next Door

When I was writing a daily newspaper column I sometimes included little tidbits about my father. I always referred to him as Ol' CBS because writing father or dad grew tedious. That title fit Clyde Bauer Stodghill a bit better anyway because wherever possible he put his initials on everything he owned.
I recall writing about the day he decided to teach me how to punt a football. I was 10 or 11 at the time. He drove us to the Akron airport where there would be room for his booming punts. I went out about 30 yards but he waved his hand and called, "Back, back!" So I withdrew another 10 yards or so. He held the football out in front of him and let fly. The ball dribbled along the ground 10 feet, perhaps 15, but I wasn't paying attention because Ol' CBS's leg had locked high in the air. Fortunately he was close enough to the car to fall back against it as I rolled on the ground laughing. End of my lessons about football.
And then there was the house next door. By then I had been in a couple of wars and was living up on Irish Hill on the other side of the river, the Canadian side as it was called by those living in the nicer parts of town. One day as I was driving by his house I noticed a moving van at the house next door and furniture being carried inside. I stopped to see Ol' CBS and ask about his new neighbors.
He didn't seem to want to talk about it. When I asked about their name he changed the subject. When I persisted he said, "You wouldn't know them."
"I might. I know a lot of people in town."
Still he hesitated, but finally said, "Their name is Hare."
"Hare?" I said. "That's a funny name. How do you spell it?"
He gritted his teeth and said, "H-O-E-R."
I thought for a moment before saying, "Come on, that's not Hare, it's Whore." Then at the thought of the fun that lay ahead I began laughing. Ol' CBS did not.
From that day forward whenever I drove past his house and saw cars parked in front I would go inside. He seemed to know all the puffed-up people in the area and was always trying to impress them. Because of that he was never pleased to see me while he was entertaining. He knew what was coming: as soon as there was a lull in the conversation I would say, "How's everything at the Hoer house next door?"
Ol' CBS would try to explain to his startled guests who were beginning to wonder if he was quite as important as he made out to be if he was living in that kind of neighborhood.
This went on for several years. Then one day a "For Sale" sign was in front of the house next door. I stopped to ask Ol' CBS about it. He was exuberant. "You've had your fun but now it's over. I guess you won't be stopping by as often as you have been." He was right, of course.
So one day after a "sold" sign was added to the other in front of the house next door another moving van was parked there and furniture was being carried inside. I pulled into Ol' CBS's driveway and found him unusually displeased to see me. I was suspicious, naturally, and asked him who had bought the house next door. He refused to answer, pretending to be busy fooling around with tools he was sorting. I wouldn't be put off and finally he said, "You wouldn't know them."
"I might. I know a lot of people in town."
There was more stalling on his part but I persisted. At last he said their name is Cott."
"Cott? That's a funny name. How do you spell it?"
He sighed, apparently having decided that sooner or later I'd have my way and it might as well be sooner. "You spell it," he murmured, "K-A-T-T."
"Katt? That's not Cott, it's Katt."
And then it hit me. The odds must have been a million to one, maybe a billion to one, but the house next door had gone from the Hoer House to the Katt House. So my fun wasn't over after all.
Poor Ol' CBS. He deserved a serious, thoughtful, upright son but had to settle for me. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Cops - Some Good, Some Bad

Well, the boys in blue here in Cuyahoga Falls outdid themselves this time. One of them driving five miles over the speed limit - or so he says - without his flashing lights turned on managed to run down a pedestrian. He "darted out" in front of the cruiser, or so the cop says.
Before I go any further let me say that any newspaper reporter who has covered the police or crime beats has seen some good cops and some bad ones. Remembering the bad ones is easiest. There was the fellow named Policeman of the Month by a service club in Muncie, then was arrested a few weeks later because he was part of a burglary ring. They quit making the award.
Or the detective who investigated a burglary at the house next to ours. He did it without getting out of his car. Soon after he departed the loot was discovered at the far end of the back yard awaiting pickup from the next street and the neighbors joined in to carry everything back to the house.
Then there were those testifying in trials I covered who admitted they had followed none of the standard procedures in investigating a crime. Quick acquittal, of course. Or the detective who shoved a phone book across the desk to a man from out of town who asked for a lawyer. He faced a charge of murder, but it was thrown out of court.
But the cops in Cuyahoga Falls are in a class by themselves. In recent years there have been arrests and shake-ups for various kinds of corruption and several weeks ago one of them was charged with beating up his wife. It's a department with far more than its share of bullies.
Take Jeff Hill, for example. A year ago this month a young woman parked in a clearly marked fire zone. When my wife told her she shouldn't do that the woman said, "Mind your own business, old lady!" A short time later I saw the car still there so I went over, leaned down and told her to watch the way she spoke to my wife.
Her boyfriend at the time was this off-duty cop, Hill. He shouted, "Take your hand off the car!" I did so, then he shoved the door open, leaped out and gave me a hard stiff-arm to the chest. Hard enough that I had to take a nitroglycerin tablet that I'm required to carry with me. "Get out of here, old man," he said, although I lived there and he did not. Anyway, it was the only time I've ever had to take a nitro tablet while outside our home. That's how hard the blow was.
I had no idea who the man was but found out later in the day from someone who saw him still in the car and had had an earlier unpleasant encounter with him. I filed a police report and that evening both my wife and I were called down to the police station and interviewed separately by a sergeant and a detective.
What came of it? Nothing, of course. The Blue Wall was in operation. Now suppose it had been the other way around and it was my stiff-arm that connected with the cop's chest - would anything have come of it? You'd better believe it.
When nothing resulted from my complaint I laid out all the details in a letter to the mayor and didn't even receive the courtesy of a reply. Too busy thinking about confiscating private property by eminent domain so some entrepreneur can develop it for his own use, I suppose.
So now I have no respect for anyone wearing a Falls police uniform. They don't deserve it. I am leery when I see a Falls police cruiser that's on the street rather than parked in front of a convenience store that sells coffee and doughnuts. I don't feel that way when driving in Akron or other nearby cities.
It wasn't always that way here. In the past I have known some fine men who were policemen in Cuyahoga Falls. Very fine men who wouldn't have dreamed of engaging in corruption, beating up their wives or stiff-arming an 80-year-old citizen.
Yes, I've known good cops and bad cops. This is a new experience, though. Now I've encountered an entire department that seems to be on the wrong side of the fence. Or rather than fence should I say Blue Wall? Whatever, when someone in this inner-suburb of Akron has a serious problem I would never advise them to "call a cop."

Friday, January 05, 2007

When Losing, Send in More Men to Die

George W. Bush said of his private, personal war: "We're not winning, but we're not losing."
Well, let's see. We've lost more than 3,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. Permanently. Most were men but quite a few were women. We've lost more than 20,000 to wounds and injuries. We've lost billions upon billions of dollars that could have been spent wisely to benefit American citizens. And Iraq, it has lost men, women and children in the hundreds of thousands plus anything even resembling a decent way of life.
Now to me that sounds like we're losing.
So next week - and you can bank on it - this man who comes dangerously close to being a clone of Adolph Hitler will announce that he's sending 20,000 or 30,000 more troops to Iraq. How will he do this with a military stretched close to the breaking point? By telling men already there, "Sorry, you can't go home on schedule. You're due for a discharge? Sorry, forget that for now." And by sending units back that haven't had sufficient time to regroup and retrain since their last tour in Iraq. By calling up members of the National Guard and Army Reserve, many whom have paid a previous visit to Iraq. They didn't sign up for those organizations expecting tour after tour of active duty.
Now there's talk of allowing foreigners to join the United States military because not enough Americans are eager to do so. Sort of a French Foreign Legion you might say. And while these overtaxed members of our military are being asked to do more than they should, has anyone heard about either of Bush's daughters rushing to a recruiting station? Of course not.
Does Bush really care about Iraq? That merits another of course not. He cares about his legacy. But he waited too long; his legacy was shot the day he started talking about all those weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Then, while people were dying there, he cracked jokes about it, pretending to look under a table to see if those elusive weapons were there. When warned of a possible insurgency he said, "Bring it on."
Well, they took him at his word and brought it on. So while he will be spending vacations at Crawford, Texas and weekends at Camp David, weary men and women who have already seen enough of Iraq will get to see a bit more of it. And more targets make it easier to hit someone. But will it be anyone from what is know as the First Family that dies there or is in danger of dying there? Of course not. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

My Final Basball Blog - At Least For Now

A few weeks ago a couple of my old Little League ballplayers paid us a surprise visit. The Miller brothers, Gary and Greg, had changed a bit because they played back in the 1950s. Gary started right off by telling Jackie that I had changed his name, which was true, and ever since that time a lot of people have called him by the one I gave him, Mike. We already had a Gary on the team when Mike arrived and two Garys would have been one too many.
The Miller boys found themselves in big trouble one day because they didn't show up for a game. It rained most of the day in the north end of town where they lived, but not a drop at the ball field a mile or so away. No excuse, I told them. That's the way I was back then.
At a practice session when I felt the team had been a little listless in the last game I lectured them for 10 or 15 minutes on the need for enthusiasm, a word I used at least a dozen times. Mike raised his hand when I finished so I asked him what he wanted and he said, "Dick, what's enthusiasm?" That's the way it used to go.
Greg was a catcher and like all catchers he was tough. Used to block the plate when a runner was coming in to score and he didn't care if the ball was still somewhere out in left field. A few years earlier we had another tough catcher named Jerry Jeter. One day I gave another of my lectures, this one on the need for parents to quit riding the umpires because they were volunteers and it wasn't easy to find people like that. At the next game Jerry's dad was riding the umpire. He took off his mask, walked over to the backstop and called, Dad, be quiet. These umpires are hard to find." It not only hushed up dad but everyone else in the grandstand.
We had another tough catcher named Dave Good. He broke a finger in a game so we put a sewing thimble on it, taped it up, and he didn't miss a single game. When he was younger and still a substitute it turned out an older player had been giving him a rough time without me being aware of what was going on. In the dugout one day, Dave walked up to the other kid and said, "If you ever say another word to me I'll bust your nose." Problem solved without me even having been aware it existed.
Mike, who used to play first base, named every other player, position by position. One was Kenny Payne, the shortest boy in the league but hard as nails and a real competitor. While on first base one day he decided to steal second and his legs were really churning as he raced down the line, then made a picture perfect slide. The problem was, he was still fifteen feet short of the base. He got up, ran some more and slid again. He was safe, too.
So now Mike is a retired school teacher. Retired - boy, does that make me feel old. Sometimes Mike helps out Greg, who is a trainer of race horses that run at Thistledown in Cleveland. If you happen to run across the Miller boys some day make sure you call Gary by his real name, which is Mike.

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Baseball On My Mind

I've still got baseball on my mind. The team pictured in Monday's blog was not a Little League team. It played in the Greater Akron Baseball Federation. There were softball teams in Cuyahoga Falls but ours was the only one playing baseball. The quality of play was higher than that of Little League, but we enjoyed none of the advantages of that organization. Our home games were on a school playground that received no care other than what we provided. For road games we boarded a city bus that took us to downtown Akron, where we transferred to another going to Goodyear Heights or Firestone Park or wherever the game was to be played. When it was over, we reversed the procedure. No parent ever attended a game. They were for the boys, and that's the way it should be.
Then Little League came to town. Great, I thought. No more buying balls, bats, uniforms and all the other equipment needed by a team. I embraced the idea, signed on as a team manager. Now there would be 120 boys playing baseball rather than 15, but a baseball coming off a bat is a dangerous missile and some of those kids had no business being near a baseball field.
I began having serious doubts the evening the season opened. The grandstand was crowded with parents living vicariously off their kids performances. Most knew little about the game but that didn't keep them from opening their mouths at every opportunity. I could see what was coming so I told the boys on my team that they were finished if a parent ever questioned how much time or what position they were playing. They knew I meant it and over the years only one parent ever phoned with a complaint. I drove to his house and picked up the boy's uniform.
I had retired from the game long before a group of idiots decided every kid should play in every game. Just like it is in the real world. Just like it is in school where you get an A in every subject merely for showing up. It was unfair to the older boys who had worked their way up to being a starter and wanted to win. If you don't play to win, why keep score? And it was unfair to the younger boys who weren't ready yet to be on the field and could blow it for the older kids.
We did it better. Once a week we had a game in the morning without the six 12-year-olds. The older boys joined in teaching the younger ones how to play the game. No 8- or 9-year-old ever had to feel that he had let the team down. Then when a boy grew older and became a starter he appreciated it because he had put in a lot of hard work to earn his job. He was on the field through his own effort, not because mommy or daddy said he should be.
Little League was founded with good intentions. It would be a great organization if one more rule were added: No parents allowed at games.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Voices From the Past

What a great way to start a new year. First a message on my website's guestbook, then a phone call from three of my old ballplayers from the late 1940s. The message from Bob Greer read: "Bill Hershiser, Dave Hess and I all played on your baseball team when we were about 10 years old and spent many hours at your old hobby shop. The three of us are spending the day together and we all agreed that you had a very positive impact on shaping our character. We are just starting to read your book. Mark us as three admirers and friends."
It's hard to find words to express how much that means. The years slip away, you lose track of people, and when you look at the team photo on your office wall you can only wonder if any of the kids remember those days as vividly as you do. Where are they now, what have they done with their lives? Learning that three of them are still close friends is especially meaningful. That one traveled from Ohio and another from Florida to get together at the house of the third in Georgia makes it even more remarkable.
A couple of hours after I read that message they called on the phone and I was able to talk to all three. Then they sent a photo via e-mail. They all look in good shape but if I had passed any one of them on the street I would have just kept walking, totally unaware.
Bob Greer retired as a lieutenant-colonel after twenty years in the Army. I sent an e-mail thanking them for the picture but warning that if Bob and I ever met I would refuse to salute and call him sir.
But what the heck, maybe I would. Bill, Dave and Bob, you made your old coach very happy.
(Bill is on the left of the front row, Bob next to him. Dave is second from the right in the second row. Vic D'Andrea on the left of the second row is a retired lawyer. Phil Knopp on the right in the front row is deceased. The others I don't know about.)