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, October 31, 2007

Jackie's Mad and I Have a New Story Available

Jackie was in a bit of a snit a couple of days ago. For a week or so she had been checking the stores for shoes but couldn't find any she liked. Then she came across two pairs that suited her and she bought both.
When she arrived home she was more than a little happy about her good luck. She showed them to me and I made all the appropriate comments that men keep stored away in their minds for such occasions.
Next Jackie decided to slip on a pair and make the rounds of the building seeking compliments. She stopped at the apartment of a friend and received the hoped-for reaction: "Oh, those are cute shoes."
This pleased Jackie no end, of course. Then the friend added, "They look like bowling shoes."
Another example of not knowing enough to quit while you're ahead.
* * *
"Panic On Portage Path" is the title of a story of mine in the January/February issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. It's a double issue, thus the two months named on the cover. The story is about a kidnapping on Akron's most prestigious street, the one where the rubber barons used to live. Among them was Frank Seiberling, the founder of Goodyear as well as another tire company bearing his name. The palatial home, Stan Hywet Hall, is now a popular tourist attraction.
The fictitious kidnapping down the street from the Seiberling residence seemed to be the perfect crime until private eye Jack Eddy entered the case. He solved it, naturally, but only after a little gunfire in the night.
If that isn't enough to make you rush out and buy it, there's a true account about tie-in writing on the pages just ahead of "Panic." If you've ever wondered about those books that appear shortly after a movie or TV series, this will tell you how it's done. The recognized King of the Tie-In Writers is Al (Max Allan) Collins, a fellow I know through the Private Eye Writers of America. Like most professional writers, he's a workaholic. Proof of that is the number of books he has listed for sale. Now he's preparing to direct a movie. That's a challenge because he lives in Muscatine, Iowa. To make his life a little easier, the film will be shot in Muscatine.
I like to work, too, and am usually at it seven days a week, but I can't imagine how Al Collins accomplishes as much as he does. Could it be because he doesn't write a blog?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Section Sergeant's Quiet Afternoon

For no particular reason I've been thinking about a sunny summer day in Louisiana when the prospects for a pleasant afternoon were bright for the mortar section sergeant, meaning me. My work was finished so I picked out a shady spot under a tree, checked it for snakes, lizards, scorpions, tarantulas, black widows and other forms of life found in abundance at friendly Camp Polk.
My mortar crews had set up on a long ridge overlooking a wide valley where a lone wooden shack was visible about fifteen-hundred yards in the distance. I had noticed on a number of occasions that firing ranges for mortars were always on a long ridge overlooking a wide valley where a lone wooden shack was visible about fifteen-hundred yards in the distance. This was so the wooden shack could be blown to smithereens and the mortarmen could enjoy seeing it happen.
So with my work finished - to be honest about it I hadn't had to do a thing - I rested my back against the tree, lit a cigarette and relaxed. I had taken a couple of puffs when one of the men (Army terminology for anyone lacking bars on his shoulders or stripes on his sleeves) came running over and while gasping for breath managed to say, "The shell didn't come out of the tube."
This, of course, was not news I wanted to hear. It meant the shell had been dropped in the tube, hit the firing pin and . . . nothing. It also meant the section sergeant with the help of the squad leader had to get it out. Unless it decided to come flying out on its own while they were at work.
So I walked over to the offending mortar, waved all the others back to where they could stand watching from a safe distance, and then for a minute or two the squad leader and I stood staring down at the mortar as if we had never before seen anything quite like it.
Finally accepting the fact that the shell was not going to come out on its own, the squad leader knelt down and unfastened the thingamajig that held the tube to the base plate. He then began lifting the tube. Up - up -up until we heard the grinding sound of metal scraping against metal. The shell was coming out.
This was the signal for the section sergeant - me - to cup his hands around the mouth of the tube. Carefully. Very carefully so that not even a stray hair was in front of the tube. More grinding and still more until there it was - the silver-colored point-detonating fuse. The thing that would cause the shell to explode the instant it touched anything whatsoever.
Needless to say, the section sergeant allowed it to pass untouched. Then the dark body of the shell appeared and that meant the section sergeant's cupped hands were quickly squeezed together. Naturally the section sergeant then held the shell proudly in the air for all to see while the squad leader slipped the safety pin (a cotter pin to civilians) back into place and bent the ends so it couldn't slide out again. The shell then went into its cardboard container and the container was marked for ordnance to pick up. Mission accomplished.
So I went back to my tree, checked to be sure that nothing had come crawling over during my absence, sat down, gave a long sigh, lit a cigarette and had taken a puff or two when one of the men came running over calling out, "Christy dropped the shell in in the wrong direction."
While this was not as serious, fooling around getting a mortar shell out of a tube never qualifies as a fun way to spend time. I got up, said a word or two to express my feelings about the world in general and the men in my mortar section in particular, and this time walked over to a different mortar. Silently vowing along the way that for the rest of the week Christy's life was going to be a living hell.
That's how it's done in the military because of an oft-repeated axiom: R.H.I.P - Rank Has Its Privileges. Christy had spoiled my quiet afternoon so I would spoil his week. Fair is fair and that's just the way it is, both today and back in 1952.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Morton's of Chicago, a Big Guy Picking On a Little Guy

Well, it's finished. Almost finished, at least. I'm speaking of the four month writing project that made me recall why I prefer doing short stories. It kept me from blogging so Jackie has been giving me subtle reminders like leaving newspaper clippings where I'm bound to see them. It's her way of saying it's time to blog so after just pushing them out of the way a few times I actually read one. It happened to be about Morton's Pub and Grub in Muncie.
It seems that one of those generic-style chain steakhouses with a generic-style name, Morton's of Chicago, doesn't think Ty Morton is entitled to use his own name on his business.
Everyone who opens his eyes once in a while knows that chain steakhouses are a dime a dozen. Within a mile of home we have Longhorn, Outback and Ponderosa, perhaps more if I really thought about it. I've never heard of Morton's of Chicago and as they have a mere 60 outlets I doubt if the folks at Outback and Ponderosa are shivering in their shoes.
So anyway, being a good Irishman Ty Morton replied, "Pog mo thoin." That's Gaelic for kiss a certain part of my anatomy.
If this goes to court I'd love to be on the jury. I'm sure a lot of other people feel the same way.
This is not the first time I've run across nonsense like this. Back in the 1950s I was working at a small radio and TV repair shop called Radio Shack. Some outfit in Boston that none of us had heard of at the time told the owner, Walt Dickerson, to knock it off because that was their name and it was properly trademarked, copyrighted and all that kind of stuff. So Walt changed the name to Walt's Radio Shack. End of story.
Later in that decade I worked for Pinkerton's National Detective Agency's branch in Cleveland, one of 33 the legendary firm had throughout the country. Some guy whose last name was Pinkerton opened a detective agency of his own and when the dust settled there wasn't a thing the genuine Pinkerton's could do about it because that was the man's lifelong name.
So maybe the law has changed since then because common sense has all but vanished during the past half century. Whatever, I say up with Morton's Pub and Grub and just keep driving past Morton's of Chicago until you come to a local steakhouse because one like that will beat a chain every time.
Reminds me of Bob's Hamburg that has been doing business in Akron since 1931. It's a dinky, unprepossessing place off the beaten path but it has the best burgers you'll find anywhere So McDonald's opened up directly across the street. Figuring, no doubt, that Bob's Hamburg would soon fade away into history like Ptomaine Tommie's, the Spotless Spot and some other great local eateries. Well, Bob's is still there and is still serving real hamburgers. McDonald's? It's now a day care center for kids. Obviously people in Akron have good taste. While munching a luscious burger at Bob's you kind of feel like looking across the street and saying, "Pog mo thoin."

Monday, October 15, 2007

Talk About Weird

If you believe a story written in German by a German science fiction writer named Armin Moehle I'm the pilot of a space ship. That in itself is a little bizarre, but it gets worse. I'm referred to as heavyset.
This space ship is named the Shenandoah. That in itself is enough to make a lot of people, especially Ohioans, a bit leery about setting foot on it because the Shenandoah was a Navy dirigible that crashed in Southeast Ohio. The captain was from Greenville, Ohio.
So sure enough, the space ship I'm piloting crashes. Someone is killed. Someone else, a nurse named Sybille, is trapped inside. The owner of the spaceship waves his arms around and says he doesn't understand. The pilot - me - stands there smiling. One translation claims I'm laughing.
But now to the weird part. The owner of the space ship is Loren Estleman. The assistant doctor who is lying there dead is Stuart Kaminsky.
In real life, not German science fiction, Estleman and Kaminsky are leading American mystery writers. I dabble at it myself. Kaminsky has been named a Grand Master by Mystery Writers of America. Both he and Estleman make enough money by writing to work full-time at the craft and not too many people can make that claim.
Stuart Kaminsky is a quiet, friendly man who did not deserve to die in a space ship crash. I can't imagine him even climbing aboard one of the things. My favorite of several series he writes is one with a Russian detective as protagonist. Loren Estleman is a dignified, sober individual who writes wonderful stories set in Detroit. It's impossible to visualize him waving his arms in the air while saying he knows nothing.
So why did this Armin Moehle decide to use our names? He didn't pick them out of thin air, that's obvious. I will say this, I'm in good company. And I ended up in better shape than the others.
The name of the story is "Twins," but only four of us were aboard the space ship and none of us were related so what does the title refer to?
A man I have come to know in Germany, Peter Puhl, is doing a complete translation and perhaps then I will understand it a little better. Until then all I can say is this is one weird story, even for science fiction. Perhaps someone should sue. Not me; I came out in better shape than anyone else. Smiling, even laughing, while poor Kaminsky lies there dead. Yes, it's a strange story.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

MADD Mothers take note - I'm steamed again

A topic guaranteed to make my blood boil is back in the news again. Should the legal age for drinking be lowered to eighteen? You'd better believe it should.
If someone eighteen, nineteen or twenty isn't old enough to walk into a bar and order a drink, why should they be considered old enough to walk down a street with a rifle in hand while wearing an Army uniform?
You can't have it both ways. If they are mature enough to do one, they are mature enough to do the other. Those who contend they are old enough to be sent off to fight a war but not old enough to drink are the worst sort of hypocrites badly in need of a reality check.
This is very personal to me. At eighteen I was handed a rifle and told to take part in the invasion of Normandy. I had fought in two campaigns as an infantryman before my nineteenth birthday. After that had someone told me I couldn't relax with a beer, that rifle would have been turned in their direction. Seriously, I mean it.
In the cemetery a few blocks away I sometimes stop beside the grave of an old friend. He was a rifle squad leader when he died on a battlefield in Germany at the age of nineteen. Would these MADD mothers or anyone else have stood in front of a tavern door to prevent him from entering?
In any event, someone under the age of twenty-one who wants to drink is going to drink. No law is going to stop them. Telling them they can't will merely make them determined to show you they can. Remember Prohibition? Men and women who had never taken a drink suddenly found visiting a speakeasy exciting because the government said doing so was forbidden.
The current law has resulted in young people binge drinking on a scale never before seen in this country. Allow them to walk into a tavern and much of the appeal of drinking to excess will be removed.
But that really isn't the point. The point is this: if you are old enough to die in a war you are old enough to drink. Ask yourself these questions: 1. Is someone under twenty-one old and mature enough to fight America's wars? 2. Is someone under twenty-one old and mature enough to drink?
If you answered yes to both you are a realist. If you answered yes to the first question and no to the second you will see a hypocrite every time you look in a mirror.
If you are a MADD mother or share their beliefs but aren't spending as much time campaigning against "under age" men and women fighting in wars as you do against their drinking you have gone beyond mere hypocrisy. You can't believe in one and not believe in the other unless you are delusional. That's just the way it is, always has been and always will be.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Our Little Friend Joey

From the first day he came to live with us, Joey was a happy little guy. He explored all four floors of his cage and you could see that he was thinking it was a great place for having fun. There even was a little house that was all his own and wouldn't have to be shared with those other hamsters back at the pet store.
We discovered right away that he was a little showoff who loved to run up and down tubes and dart from place to place, stopping every little while to make sure someone was watching. He knew what his potty was for, too, and began using it that first day. And like all hamsters, he took a lot of baths because he liked to be clean.
Joey was pleased when Jackie would pick him up and talk to him very quietly. He enjoyed having his back gently stroked, too. Sometimes as he listened to her soft voice his eyes would slowly close and he'd be fast asleep in the palm of her hand.
Rolling around from room to room in his plastic ball was a favorite pastime. When he was off somewhere and Jackie would call, "Joey, Joey," he'd come rolling down the hall as fast as his little legs could propel the ball, then stop at her feet and look up to see why she wanted him.
There was a circular tube extending out from the top floor of his cage and that was his favorite place for playing games. He'd look over to where I was sitting, his little Mickey Mouse ears straight up so he could hear everything. He wouldn't move until I'd say, "Go, go, go Joey!" and then he'd race through the circular tube as fast as he could, usually three or four times. Then he'd sit and watch me as he had before until I'd tell him to go, go, go again.
But hamsters provide an accelerated view of human life because at best they live a thousand days, usually a couple of hundred less than that. Joey has been part of the family for more than two years now. One day in early July we noticed that his right rear leg seemed to be just dragging along behind him as he'd run about. After a couple of weeks the other one began dragging, too. He still could climb the tube to the top floor but the go-go tube was too much to even try. Sometimes he'd sit looking up at it as if wondering why it seemed so much farther away.
The day came when even getting into his little house was too big a challenge so Jackie fixed a wide-mouth plastic coffee container for him. Then even that became too much for him and he began sleeping in the open. He didn't notice that the top three floors of his cage had been removed. Jackie put extra bedding on the floor so he could burrow into that and be comfortable. He still always used his potty and took baths but sometimes he'd fall on his side or back and have to be helped up.
For the past few days he hasn't been able to even do those little things, and his eyes won't open so he can't see. He runs one front paw over the side of his face, that's about all the washing up he can manage, and he can't make it to the potty. Jackie cleans him up and talks to him very softly and you can tell he appreciates it. He still loves to eat, though, and gets thirsty so Jackie holds his water bottle for him.
Watching him curled up sleeping, I believe he thinks that when he wakes up everything will be okay again and he'll be able to see and run up and down like he did before. Little creatures don't realize they have been allotted such a short time to live, or at least I don't think they do. Joey may not think he has become a burden and if so he is right about that. The good times he provided for us, the joy he brought to our lives, keeps caring for him as the end nears from being a burden at all.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

It isn't the same America I knew

Nothing stays the same forever but I didn't expect to live long enough to see this country become what it is today. Had I died at 75 I wouldn't have. Change is inevitable, of course, and sometimes it is for the good and sometimes it isn't.
The old live-and-let-live way of American life faded away many years ago. People began having agendas, personal and group crusades, and more often than not the changes they favored trampled on the rights of others. At first we didn't pay much attention until gradually it became the norm and now is seen as an accepted part of life. "My way is the right way so everyone should do as I do and act as I act," that attitude has become so commonplace that people believe it has always been that way. It hasn't.
To me the most disturbing change is the government's way of treating prisoners. We don't torture, the president says, so apparently he has coined a new word for the practice. He says Americans expect nothing less than what is being done so they will be safe and secure. From whom? Not from ourselves if we use terrorist methods.
We didn't have to resort to torture in the past even though our enemies may have. Three former World War II soldiers who had the job of interrogating German prisoners were on the TV news yesterday. To a man they were appalled by the methods used today. How did they do it? By gaining confidence, by quietly talking, by playing games of chess and ping-pong until the prisoner was ready to provide accurate information. Torture leads a man to say whatever his tormentors want him to say. At best the information is suspect.
Anyone who believes today's prisoners are worse than those Germans needs to study history. Members of the Gestapo could have given lessons in methods of torturing. Other Germans were operating death camps where millions of innocent people died. They were far worse than any of America's present enemies. But valuable information was gained from German prisoners by treating them well, gaining their confidence and even playing games with them. We didn't resort to using their methods.
If you employ the means used by your enemy you are no better than him. You may claim to be right, but if you resort to torture you are wrong. You may claim to hold the moral high ground but you don't. You have stooped to his level and any fight has become a matching of one evil against another. That isn't, or never was until now, the American way.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Exciting Times in the Buckeye State

Been some excitement around Ohio this week. Down in Cincinnati they want to pass a law that will fine kids a hundred bucks for playing in the street. No matter that most kids who play in the street don't usually carry that amount around with them. The fines keep going up for repeat appearances in Playing-In-The-Street Court.
Well, I suppose most residents of the Queen City believe something must be done about these vicious criminals. They might wonder, though, if the kids - probably a bunch of rowdy boys - might be playing stickball and football in the streets because the upstanding citizens being delayed in their fancy automobiles and SUVs haven't provided them with enough places to play OFF the streets.
But the real excitement came over in Norwalk and if you want to get right to the bottom of things it probably was another bunch of rowdy boys who blew things all out of proportion. It seems some big shot from the State Legislature down in Columbus was giving a talk in a Norwalk school and to keep it from being mind-boggling boring he was showing slides on a big screen. Kids like big screens. So the fellow was talking away and clicking the gadget in his hand so new slides would appear when what should pop up on the screen but a naked lady. Now I imagine this unexpected treat caused a bit of whooping and catcalling on the part of the boys who should at least have had the decency to close their eyes.
Naturally I have tried to imagine what this event would have been like had it occurred at my old school in the heart of East Akron's industrial area. There were 44 in my class and half of them lived in the Childrens Home and a good percentage of the other kids came from homes where the father was unemployed, it being the Great Depression and all. When I arrived in the sixth grade things were a little rough and by seventh grade were pretty much out of hand and by eighth grade it was total chaos. I've mentioned before about Dewitt Russell receiving the American Legion Good Citizenship Award a week after he punched out the teacher and broke her glasses. This probably said something about the citizenship of the rest of the class.
So in my mind I'm trying to visualize the effects of having a naked lady suddenly appear on a big screen in front of the room. It isn't a pretty picture. I can see the shocked looks on the faces of the girls. The prevailing conditions had made them a bit rough around the edges and yet they had managed to retain their femininity. Well, some of them had. Later when no boys were present so they didn't have to act like they were shocked to the core there would have been a lot of whispering and giggling.
But the boys - their reaction doesn't bear thinking about. Let's just say that the good times would have rolled right along.
All this will turn out OK, I'm sure, because an investigation has been launched to discover how such a dastardly deed could have been allowed to happen. As we all know, investigations solve everything and this one, I'm sure, will find the state legislators taking a close look at the evidence.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

You Just Can't Beat An Army Hospital

On a Saturday morning more than half a century ago I was sitting on the ground at Camp Polk while an officer was lecturing on one boring military subject or another. As usual I wasn't listening because that would have interfered with thinking over my plans for the afternoon in town. Then I realized I wasn't feeling quite right. The feeling intensified so I spent the afternoon in my bunk rather than a bar in Leesville.
By Sunday I was in really bad shape. You weren't allowed to be sick on Sunday so I couldn't go to the dispensary. The other guys in the barracks feared that I wasn't long for this world so every couple of hours someone would go to the mess hall and get the cooks to fix a bowl of soup for me. I couldn't even look at it, let alone consume it.
I was even worse Monday morning and by then knew it was a throat infection, an affliction that hit me every year or so but never before in the Army. I had another problem along with the infection: before you were allowed to go on sick call you had to turn in all your equipment including your footlocker and even the mattress off your bunk. No one was allowed to help. Well, the other fellows ignored that and carried everything down to the supply room for me.
At the dispensary I ran up against another rule. If you had a 103 degree fever you had to go on full duty, do all the regular infantry training. If it was 104 you went to the hospital. Nothing in between. No taking medicine and resting up in the barracks for a day or two. Luckily my temperature was 104. Rather than having to walk back to the company and go out in the field with the rest of the boys I was placed in an ambulance and driven to the hospital.
In my ward there were 12 or 15 beds along one wall, 12 0r 15 on the one opposite. A couple of men had broken legs, a couple had broken arms, the man in the bunk next to mine must have wallowed in poison ivy because his face was just a big red ball without eyes. But many of the problems dated back to World War II. Several guys had malaria, one dengue fever and one a severe case of jungle rot.
Doctors are officers so when one entered the ward he was preceded by an orderly shouting, "Ten-shun!" Then we all had to get up and stand at attention at the foot of our bunk, even those with broken legs and the poor fellow with jungle rot. I had to guide the man next to me to the proper place because he couldn't see a thing.
I never saw anything like the gadget they used to pump penicillin into me. It was about six inches long, as big around as a quarter and filled with thick, cream-colored stuff. Each time it took ten minutes for all of it to flow into my arm. The needles were huge so an orderly told me they put something on them to ease the pain. It was called procaine or something like that. They happened to be out of it at the time. I was told how much penicillin they pumped into me and later mention it to a civilian doctor. He was stunned. It was 10 times what anyone should receive but it sure did kill that throat infection and I've never had another. It also left me allergic to penicillin.
They kept me in the hospital until Saturday, but after two days quit bringing me a tray and said if I wanted to eat I'd have to walk to the mess hall. I didn't mind that; it got me out of the ward. I spent a lot of time in what was laughingly called a library. I read every paperback mystery they had and wished for a few more.
Late Saturday morning while the company was still out somewhere I carried my clothes, my footlocker, my mattress and the bedding back up to my bunk on the second floor. After that I was too tired to go into town so two perfectly good weekends were ruined. Now, 55 years later, I just have to hope I don't get an infection calling for penicillin. But if I should, it's comforting to know I won't have to carry my mattress anywhere.