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, May 30, 2008

This is just too much

I'm dumbfounded. It seems that every time I decide I've seen it all and heard it all, something comes along to prove me dead wrong.
This time it's a story about job interviews that Gannett News Service sent to newspapers throughout the country. I read the results of a survey conducted by an outfit called Vault in the Muncie Star-Press. The writer wasn't identified.
As unlikely as it seems, some people bring their lunch to a job interview or answer a call on their cell phone and chat for a while. Nearly half of those hoping to find gainful employment highlight their qualifications with profanity. Some bring along their unruly kids, others show up drunk and a few - God help us all - pick their nose.
Each of these examples of the dumbing down of America brings a vivid picture to mind. First is the guy on the cell phone. "Nah, I'm not doin' nothin', just sittin' here talkin' to some dude about a job. What you doin'? No kiddin', Joe said that to a cop? Look, I think this guy wants to ask me somethin' so I'll see you at happy hour, OK?"
Then there's the guy who opens a brown bag and spreads his lunch out on the interviewer's desk. "Damn it, man, they forgot to put in ketchup for these fries. You happen to have any, sport?"
Or the woman who watches her three kids race around the room and then start messing around with the interviewer's delicate collection of sailing ships. "Johnny, I wish you wouldn't play with the man's toys. Please, Johnny, put that down. Oh, Johnny, now look what you've gone and done."
My favorite is the guy who comes in sloshed. "Jeez, I sure could use somethin' to cut the dust in here. Wanna go down to the corner for a beer? You can tell me about the fringe benefits along the way."
Let's just forget the nose pickers. That doesn't make for a pretty picture. The story didn't say so but I imagine there's an occasional belcher or butt scratcher seeking employment.
The Gannett story ended by saying all these things can be traced to the more casual or informal way of life now enjoyed by members of Generation Y. That was the capper; I didn't even know we had a Generation Y. If I had my way we'd go back to Generation A or B. God, I miss the old days.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

This and That

Why do so many people dislike cops? Here's one reason:
A few years ago one of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio's finest was charged with domestic violence, a felony. The charge was reduced to a misdemeanor through a plea bargain, but he was fired. The Fraternal Order of Police came out from behind the Blue Wall long enough to file an appeal. He was restored to his job with back pay.
Recently he beat up his own kids, a felony. Through plea bargaining the charge was reduced to a misdemeanor. He was fired again so the Fraternal Order of Thugs and Bullies is filing another appeal. Great, he's just the kind of creep we want walking around with a badge and gun. For one reason or another, cops in this town are frequently in the news for unlawful acts. This one may top them all.
Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan's book on the Bush administration is embargoed until next Monday but already ranks No. 1 in sales on Amazon. Every TV news reporter seems to have a review copy and not one of them is observing the embargo. Within a couple of weeks the book will be atop the New York Times bestseller list.
So far Pat Buchanan's book claiming Winston Churchill was responsible for Hitler's extermination of Jews, Gypsies and homosexuals has not attained that lofty status. It may in time, considering Pat's bizarre theory.
Our cup of luck runneth over. Two days in a row we have gotten behind a woman who piled the checkout counter high with merchandise, then decided she wanted to do a bit more shopping. That meant no one else could be checked out, of course. The first time was at a supermarket, the second at a Kohl's department store. Self-centeredness seems to be peaking out.
Jackie bought a new iron. After arriving home and opening the package, she came down the hall to find me. "Do you want to see my new iron?"
"That should be a thrill," I replied.
She didn't care for my response, but what could be higher praise than saying something should be a thrill? Was I being sarcastic? Who, me?
After reading yesterday's blog about paying $4 for a gallon of gas, Peter Puhl wrote from Germany to call me a "lucky guy." He's paying more than $10. Compared to what people throughout Western Europe are paying, Americans truly are lucky guys. Maybe the complaining should end; Americans are starting to sound like crybabies to folks in many other places.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

I'm really steamed this time

Americans can't be trusted. If this isn't true, then why can't I find a gas station that doesn't require payment before pumping 13 gallons for $52.06? Why can I no longer pick up a pouch of pipe tobacco at the drug store rather than summoning a clerk to get it from behind the counter? Because people drive off without paying for their gas and then go to the drug store and steal pipe tobacco, that's why.
I'm that guy on the comic page who sighs and says, "I miss the old days." Days before women sat in a warm building and collected the money while I stand out in the rain and cold to fill the tank. Days when I'd walk into the drug store and be called by name as I passed by on my way to the tobacco aisle.
The station where I spent 15 minutes today trying to get the pump to accept my credit card is at State Road and Chestnut Boulevard in Cuyahoga Falls. That spot was once occupied by Orv Eiber's City Service station. When I'd drive in, Orv or one of his employees would come walking out and say, "Hi, Dick, how much do you want?" I'd usually say, "A dollar's worth," and sit there behind the wheel while the gas was pumped, the oil and water checked and the windshield cleaned. If the car needed some work done it would be driven into one of the bays for an oil change or a little tinkering by the mechanic. Now the lady who wouldn't know an oil change from a hamburger with mustard sits there and collects the money.
A block south of Orv Eiber's place was a Sunoco station run by Bill Haggerty. I worked for him for a while and never once on even the coldest day thought of yelling to a customer, "Pump it yourself and bring me the money." Had I done so, Bill would have fallen over in a dead faint.
Directly across from Bill's station was an Amoco owned by John Mahan. About once a day, Orv would come walking down State Road and Mahan would cross the street and the three of them would talk for a while, tell a joke or two and maybe enjoy a cup of coffee. Everyone there, employees included, would be laughing and having a good time even though hard, dirty work was part of their daily life.
So tell me about all the wonderful stuff we have today. Tell me how we never had it so good. My answer: "You just don't know how much better it once was."
That's not an old guy enjoying a moment of nostalgia. It's cold, hard fact.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day and Military Pay

This, they say, is Memorial Day. For more than a century it was observed on May 30, but then it was decided to make it part of a three-day weekend. To tie it to time off from work seems to diminish its meaning.
In his address at Arlington National Cemetery today, Bush placed special emphasis on those who had died in Iraq, his own personal war. It's unfortunate that service men and women have died there, especially since there was no reason for the war to begin with, but recent deaths are no more meaningful or beneficial to the country than those that occurred in earlier wars. Having had friends die in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, I resent that implication.
CNN devoted a portion of its noon news to pay scales in today's military. I was astounded to learn that a private's base pay is $34,000 a year. Inflation must be considered, of course, but that doesn't account for the whopping increase from the $600 yearly base pay of a private in World War II. Deducted from that was the $76.80 all service personnel were required to pay each year for a $10,000 term life insurance policy.
When a WWII private was shipped overseas he received a twenty per cent boost in pay. That amounted to $10 per month. Some of those with high risk jobs received a little more. For example, earning the Combat Infantry Badge meant another $10 a month for me. All told, I was making $840 a year while overseas. Minus the $76.80 for insurance. By the time I went back to the Army during the Korean War the pay had increased ever so slightly. It had gone up somewhat by the time of the Vietnam War, but but not all that much.
It is good that today a private earns as much or more than many civilians. It is good, too that overseas personnel can communicate with those in the States by email, computer and telephone, something not available during earlier wars.
I was fortunate in being overseas for a mere two years in WWII. Many others I served with had been there three or four years. One of those who had been away from home for fours years had a four-year-old daughter he had never seen. His wife had died in childbirth.
So Bush should not place emphasis on those who have died lately. The roughly 450,000 who died in those previously mentioned wars paid the exact same price.
Nor should a local politician have his way. He wants to change the designation of a highway so it honors two area men killed in Iraq rather than honoring the several hundred from the region who died in Korea. Death is death regardless of what war it came in. None should be honored above another.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Sometimes silence is golden

Hillary Clinton put her foot in it yesterday when she referred to the assassination of Robert Kennedy in June of 1968 as one reason to keep her campaign going. I do not care for Hillary, yet don't think she meant to imply that it could happen again and leave the door open for her to secure the Democratic nomination. On the other hand, she is a calculating person so anything is possible.
Only a week earlier Mike Huckabee, who would like to be included on the GOP ticket as vice president, cracked a truly despicable joke while speaking to, of all people, the National Rifle Association. When a chair or something else toppled he laughed and said it was Barack Obama hitting the floor when somebody showed a gun. Under the best of conditions that was unbelievably tasteless. On MSNBC, Chris Matthews refused to run the clip of him trying to be funny because of the number of nuts who might be watching.
Assassination isn't exactly a subject to speak of in a light manner. It wasn't that long ago that John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. were the victims of assassins. Alabama Governor George Wallace, although hardly a model of citizenship and tolerance, was crippled for life by a gunman. Only poor aim prevented Ronald Reagan from being killed.
There were two presidents from my area, William McKinley and James Garfield, who died from assassin's bullets. And, of course, Abraham Lincoln.
No, it isn't a suitable subject for small talk or cracking jokes. It never is, but at a time when more kooks than ever seem to be wandering the streets and a black man is running for president the remarks of Huckabee and Clinton set a new standard for tastelessness.
Indy car driver Danica Patrick is another who would be well advised to keep her mouth shut on occasion. She always has an excuse when things don't go her way, always has some other driver to blame for her mishaps. Lately she has been blaming Bobby Rahal and his crew because she didn't win the 2005 Indianapolis 500.
Most drivers don't criticize other drivers because they know that the next time they may be at fault. A few immature NASCAR drivers follow Danica's example but the majority just shrug and say, "That's racing," when something goes wrong, as it frequently does.
Danica Patrick has seen many fans turn against her because of her spoiled little girl actions. Like Hillary Clinton and Mike Huckabee, she should learn to keep her mouth shut at times. In her favor, unlike the others her remarks are mere whining.

Friday, May 23, 2008

A day when life was good for racing fans

Every Indianapolis 500 is special, but none quite as much so as that of 1946. World War II was over and the men were home again craving entertainment and excitement. Many found it in auto racing. Four years without racing had whet appetites of both fans and participants so the weeks leading up to the biggest race of all were filled with anticipation. There had been neither time nor money for building many new cars so most were veterans of pre-war races carefully preserved for the day when once again the roar of the engines would be heard on 16th Street.
Many of the drivers, too, were veterans of earlier events including racing legends Rex Mays, Ted Horn, and Mauri Rose along with Emil Andres, Tony Bettenhausen and Joie Chitwood. There were old-timers, men who had raced in many 500s: Ralph Hepburn, Chet Miller, Cliff Bergere and Shorty Cantlon. Rookies included Jimmy Jackson, who defied tradition by driving a green car.
Watching them practice was an eye-opening experience for me. There were no fire-resistance suits and the small helmets of that era did not conceal a driver’s face so they were easily recognizable. Many wore white T-shirts that rode up their backs as their cars ran lap after lap. Others drove in dress shirts or, on race day, special ones of shiny, silk-like material. Most used safety belts across their lap but a few hard-chargers such as Rex Mays scorned even that simple device.
As is still true today, those who qualified on the first day started at the head of the field. For one reason or another, many of the top cars were unable to qualify on opening day. Pole position was won by the veteran Cliff Bergere – pronounced Berz-air. Beside him on the front row would be Paul Russo with Sam Hanks on the outside.
As more qualifying days passed, the fastest time was recorded by Hepburn driving a futuristic-looking Novi. It was one of only a few new cars in the field. He would start the race in the seventh row. The second fastest time was recorded by Rex Mays in his sparkling white Bowes Seal Fast Special trimmed in black and red. He would be in the middle of the fifth row and next to him on the outside would be George Robson, who had been in two pre-war 500s with unspectacular results. His qualifying time had been fast, yet few regarded him as a serious contender to enter Victory Lane.
Memorial Day dawned clear and bright. Two new innovations that would become traditions preceded the race. Opera star James Melton sang “Back Home Again in Indiana” and then the magic words were heard on the public address system for the first time: “Gentlemen, start your engines!”
And they were off. Bergere jumped out to a quick lead with Russo fighting the steering wheel of the odd, blimp-nosed Fageol twin-engined car close on his heels. The veteran Mauri Rose, who had started in the third row, soon overtook and passed both. Other hard chargers – Ted Horn, Rex Mays, and Mel Hansen were battling their way toward the front of the pack. Mays, while passing a car at the second turn, grinned as he slapped his left hand against the tail of his racer in a defiant challenge of, “Let’s race!”
As was so often the case, Mays was stronger and tougher than any car he was driving. After only 26 laps the Bowes Seal Fast Special breathed its final gasp of the day. Russo, who completed only 16 laps before crashing, Hanks and the rookie Hal Cole were on the sidelines ahead of him. George Barringer and Shorty Cantlon quickly followed Mays to the garage.
The grind was a bit too much for many of the old cars and one by one they fell by the wayside. George Connor’s Offenhauser gave up after 38 laps and then in quick order Mauri Rose crashed and Duke Nalon, Tony Bettenhausen and Chet Miller saw their cars fail. Bergere, Duke Dinsmore, Mel Hansen, and Billy DeVore soon followed.
Most exciting for the crowd was the swift move to the front by Hepburn in the Novi. Mays had passed Rose for the lead but Hepburn soon overtook him and it was obvious to everyone that the Novi was by far the fastest car on the track. It quit, however, after 121 laps.
Meanwhile, little George Robson slowly made his way to the head of the pack as one by one the leaders fell by the wayside. Once out front on the 56th lap, he remained there most of the way, taking the checkered flag and the top prize money of a little more than $42,000.
Only nine cars were still running at the end. Among them was the surprising rookie, Jimmy Jackson, who pocketed about $14,000 for finishing second. Trailing well behind were Ted Horn, Emil Andres, Joie Chitwood (Sam Hanks took over as relief driver after 51 laps and drove the rest of the way) and two more rookies, Louis Durant and European racer Luigi Villoresi.
And so it ended, that very special 500. George Robson’s moment in the sun proved brief as he and George Barringer were killed in a horrific crash during a race later in the summer.
Other drivers in that first race after the war would also die in crashes, several at Indianapolis. Among them were Horn, Mays, Hepburn, Miller, Cantlon and Bettenhausen. A crash left Hansen a paraplegic for the final fifteen years of his life.
Countless safety measures have changed racing dramatically for the better since 1946. Having eight of the 33 drivers who started a 500 eventually die behind the wheel is beyond imagining today. Still, there was something special about that rare breed of men who would step into the cockpit of a car and do everything possible to win a race without the aid of fire resistant suits, radios, spotters, electronic dashboard equipment, highly trained pit crews and just concrete walls, no SAFER barriers to protect them. By the standards of the 21st century the purses were meager too, almost laughable, but who was in it merely for the money?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Turmoil on the Home Front

Jackie has a cold. Millions of people catch cold so some would say that isn't big news. Around here, it is. When I'm sitting in front of a computer, everything is fine. When I try to do something the least bit physical, anemia kicks in and I'm next to useless.
That means, of course, that Jackie does just about everything. I clean the bathroom in the morning, dry the lunchtime dishes, sometimes take the trash down the hall to the chute. That's about it. So when Jackie feels bad, life comes to a halt. I believe Sophie the hamster would help out if she could, but in her little world nothing important has to be done outside the limits of her cage. Beyond that, she recognizes the sound of the refrigerator door opening because that often means she is going to get a treat, usually a piece of lettuce or carrot. In a time of emergency, Sophie just peers through the bars of her cage wondering why she isn't receiving the usual attention.
So the job of doing the routine things falls to me. I do my best, aware that the anemia means I wouldn't do well in a distance run but might be OK in a sprint. The problem is I don't really know what needs to be done. Aside from meals, of course. In times of crisis, people become much like hamsters in that they think first about food.
While Jackie sleeps on the couch, I'm making plans for picking up a take-out order at Arby's or Taco Bell. When Jackie wakes up, those plans will be shot down. We have food right here, she'll say, and probably insist on fixing something no matter how much I may protest. I believe that says a lot about the difference in outlook between men and women.
Writing a piece about the 1946 Indianpolis 500 for tomorrow - the big race is Sunday - has left me thinking about that first spring and summer after World War II. I was back home from the war even though my 21st birthday wouldn't arrive until mid August.
I bought a 10-year-old Ford sedan for $300 and set out in search of excitement. For six weeks or so I lived at the Miller Hotel in Tipton, Indiana because I would be close to half a dozen midget auto race tracks and near the big speedway in Indianapolis.
It was a special spring, different than any other. The men were back home again, most of us naively believing there would be no more wars. A whole new world stretched out ahead of us, or so it seemed. Had someone said that in five years I'd be back in the Army I would have moved quickly away in the certain belief that a madman was talking. But nothing really changes, especially in the minds of men capable of starting wars.

Monday, May 19, 2008

An Irishman's View of America

My favorite Irish columnist, Con Houlihan, writes for the Independent in Dublin. I don't think he'll mind if I resort to the Fair Use Doctrine to quote a little of today's column:
"Only America could produce such a roadshow as the OJ Simpson trial and the battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. America is a democracy, kind of. Anybody can be president if he or she can come by a vast amount of money.
"The system of nominating the candidate for the presidency goes back to the days of the covered wagon and the log cabin. It made sense then but it is woefully outdated now. It is a blessing for advertising agencies. That is about its only virtue. The amount of campaigning necessary makes it impossible for someone without huge financial backing to even dream about The White House.
"Barack Obama's mantra is 'Change' but there is something he cannot change: the people who are paying the piper will always call the tune. The men in the street that is called after the wall that was built to keep the Indians out will go on having a major say in American foreign policy. If Obama can change that, he will make the world a far better place.
"The Democrats' candidates are in danger of destroying each other and allowing the Republicans an easy run. The war in Iraq will have a huge bearing on the election: if George Bush can make some kind of a settlement or the appearance of a settlement, his party could win the election.
"To make some kind of a settlement in Iraq seems almost impossible: there are three main forces there who are unlikely to come to any kind of agreement -- the Kurds, Saddam Hussein's followers, and the Arabs in the marshes.
"Whom would I choose if I had a vote? I might tend towards Obama. I have my doubts about Hillary: any woman who christens her only child Chelsea is not to be trusted. It might be worse --it could have been Arsenal."
The reference to Chelsea is a joke few Americans would get. Chelsea is the name of a football (soccer) team in that part of the world. Next to Arsenal, it seems to be Con's least favorite.
I enjoy looking over foreign newspapers because it provides an idea of how others see us. The remark about Saddam Hussein's followers refer to the arming of the Sunnis by the U.S. It doesn't make sense to those in foreign lands. The Arabs in the marshes are the Shiites, Saddam's old enemies we now are fighting. Odd, isn't it?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

I Didn't Raise My Boy to be a Soldier

Yesterday was Armed Forces Day in the United States. I can see no reason for having such a day only two weeks before Memorial Day. When I was trimming down the manuscript of Normandy 1944 - A Young Rifleman's War to keep it under 300 pages, several segments were omitted. Later they were published as an Amazon Shorts. The one that follows illustrates how infantrymen in combat are desensitized to death and killing:

Combat heightens a man’s awareness of all that is around him; small things like sounds and shadows, large ones like the gradual changeover from night to day. Dawn is the hour of attack, a time to be especially alert, but it isn’t like throwing a switch and having a room light up around you. Instead it creeps up, sometimes shrouded in mist and sometimes sparkling clear, but always slowly with shadows becoming objects and bands of darkness taking on the shape of trees and fences and buildings. In Normandy what had been a black mass across the field little by little became a hedgerow with trees and underbrush rising from its top, foliage clinging to its front and men who would remain unseen waiting and watching on its far side. That is a major part of war, men watching from a place of concealment to see what other men will do.At first light on the morning of July 15 near Sainteny, mist swirled in the field ahead and birds hidden in trees and undergrowth chirped tentatively, aware that all was not as it should be in their world. Half the men in G Company still slept while the rest of us leaned against the hedgerow peering out over the field, our rifles lying close at hand.Muscles tensed as a German walked leisurely through a break at the right end of the hedgerow fifty yards away. The young soldier seemed unaware that he had strolled nonchalantly into that deadly stretch of ground that in an earlier war was referred to as No Man’s Land. He had left his helmet behind and his weapon as well. Was it some sort of trick? The Germans were experts at that, doing something out of the ordinary to keep you off balance or to draw your attention away from something more important. But they were not suicidal, so it couldn’t be that. He had to have believed there was another field between him and the enemy and no one had put him the wiser. It was a mistake on his part, a deadly mistake.He ambled along in front of the far hedgerow, pausing once or twice to look at something growing from its side. Why didn’t the men on the other side call to him so he could drop down and try to crawl away while they delivered covering fire? Surely they must have seen him, or had they withdrawn during the night? When he paused again to examine something that caught his eye, the final scene in the movie version of “All Quiet On the Western Front” leaped to mind, but then it had been a butterfly that attracted the attention of actor Lew Ayres in the role of Paul Baumer.Along the line rifles were picked up. For once there was time to take careful aim. No command was issued, yet everyone fired at the same instant. The young German was slammed against the hedgerow before slowly slumping to the ground. For a moment he continued to move a little, then someone put another bullet through his head.Men who had been sleeping leaped up from their slit trenches, grabbing their rifles and joining us at the hedgerow, then quickly ducking down again as the Germans opened fire. They had not withdrawn, so how had they missed seeing their comrade in the act of making a fatal error?It fell silent again as those on both sides of the line realized it was a false alarm and nothing was happening. Men lit cigarettes or broke open gray K-Ration boxes labeled “Breakfast.” Waxed inner containers that burned with neither flame nor smoke were set afire so that coffee could be heated and small cans of processed eggs with apple flakes could be warmed before eating.Jimmy Hewston, a rifle squad leader, brushed the sleep from his eyes and said, “What in hell was that all about?”“A Jerry walked out in the field,” someone told him.Jimmy looked over the hedgerow to where the body of the young German lay. He turned again, grinning, and said, “I’ll be damned. Decided to take a stroll, did he? Crazy bastard should have known better.”


I Didn't Raise My Boy to be a Soldier was a popular song before America entered the First World War in 1917.
Jimmy Hewston was killed two weeks after the incident described. He was 20 or 21 with closely cropped blonde hair and an ever-present smile that made him a favorite with the girls. The number of scented letters in pastel envelopes he received from various places in the U.S. and England attested to this. His death occurred because the Army failed to keep a promise that we were to get a rest after capturing a specific town. He died when he laid down in a partially finished gun emplacement just before artillery shells hit around us. Someone warned, "That's a bad place to be, Jimmy." He grinned a little and replied, "I know. I just want to rest a minute." Like the young German, he should have known better. He did, but he was just so damned weary.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Truly Dirty Republican Politics

While the give and take of politics has never been a model of decorum and fair play, it was in the mid 1970s that I first encountered an attempt to distort the truth with a brazen lie. It was in a mayoral race and centered on a beer can. A week before the election the Republican candidate, a prominent figure in the city, was far ahead of his opponent, a local grocer a bit on the crude side. It was so one-sided that few people were even paying attention.
That weekend a Republican flier was distributed to every house in the city. On Monday morning after finishing my rewrites I walked to a nearby tavern where politicians and office holders drank coffee before heading for work. Before I could order a cup, a Democrat office holder hailed me and displayed a copy of the Miami Herald that featured an Associated Press story on the local election. Miami was a thousand miles away. Included was a photo of the grocer standing at a chopping block while wearing an apron stained with what was obviously blood. His can of beer rested on the block. After I gave it a quick glance the Democrat handed me one of the GOP fliers that bore the same photo. He said, "Take a look at the beer cans."
What I saw was a beer can on the flier at least four times larger than the original. It was turned so the label was clearly visible. It wasn't even the brand that the grocer drank. I asked to borrow both the flier and the newspaper, then walked a block to Republican headquarters.
The receptionist wasn't happy when I asked about the flier and told me I would have to talk to Mr. Davis. Jim Davis, who was soon to hit it rich with his Garfield comic strip, was even less pleased to see me. He said I would have to talk to the owner of an advertising agency. I called him and he readily admitted having substituted a larger can for the original. "We do it all the time in advertising," he said.
"Don't you think a political ad is a little different?"
He conceded that it might be. He was and still is a good man venturing into unfamiliar territory.
I went back to the paper and wrote a brief story on the beer cans. The city editor read it over and took it to the managing editor, who gave it a hurried look and picked up the phone. I knew he was calling the publisher, Jim Quayle, a college fraternity brother of the Republican candidate. A minute later Quayle, father of future vice-president Dan Quayle, read my copy and then called me into the managing editor's glass-enclosed office. "I don't think this is a story," he said. "Do you think it's a story?"
"Yes, I think it's a story."
Quayle threw the copy down on the managing editor's desk and stalked out of the office saying, "Then run it." I've always given him credit for that.
It ran in a single, short column on Page One. The result was astounding. People who wouldn't have dreamed of voting for the grocer flooded the paper with calls saying they now would. Labor unions that had remained on the sidelines rushed to back the grocer. He won without difficulty.
I had always gotten along with the Republican candidate and was surprised that he wasn't angry about the story. He claimed he knew nothing about the enlarged beer can. I believed him and still do.
That beer can was a portent of things to come: Republican attack ads that distort the truth or are just outright lies. Willie Horton, swift boats, so many more. It's already starting again. Is winning an election worth sacrificing integrity? Apparently a lot of people believe it is.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

My Pill Box

I'm sure everyone is as interested in my pillbox as I am so it seems time to write about it. To be truthful about this, I'm not at all interested in my pillbox but I have to fill it every Sunday morning. This is not some puny little pillbox but one with twenty-eight compartments, four for every day of the week. Each day's container can be snapped out so the owner of this device can carry it around all day if he so desires. I do not.
I take thirteen pills a day and have no idea what most of them are for. The doctor says take 'em so I take 'em. Isn't that good enough? I do know about a few. Among them is Lasix, which is supposed to keep you busy looking for a bathroom. The pills don't work, but when you're in the hospital and they have it drain into your arm, that works. Boy, does it ever.
Then there is Dipentum. I know it's for ulcerative colitis because I first took a different pill called Asacol. I'm not sure how much good it did for colitis, but it provided me with an itchy rash all over my body, completely killed my appetite and kept me from sleeping at night. Aside from that it worked fine, I guess.
I take four Dipentums a day. With food. As I don't eat four meals a day I take two at a time. Then there is Plavix and everybody who watches TV knows it keeps little gray balls from bunching up in ugly red tubes. Beyond that I haven't a clue. There are a couple of other pills I've never quite figured out because they have names like Chopthedogup and Metropolitanpolice.
The doctors said I was supposed to take a pill called Norvasc but the VA, which supplies my pills, substituted one called Plendil. Then, believe it or not, a nationwide shortage of Plendil developed so the VA substituted Norvasc. Things like that explain why I don't try to understand this stuff.
The worst thing about Norvasc and one called Zocor is that they come in twice the size I'm supposed to take. That means they have to be cut in two. The VA gave me a pill splitter for that, but I resent the time in takes from important stuff like writing this blog.
I almost forgot the thyroid pill that has to be taken an hour before or two hours after eating. That certainly narrows the acceptable times so I solved the problem by taking it before breakfast, a meal I don't eat. All my life breakfast has been a cup of black coffee and a cigarette. Until now, when I have to eat so I can take the Dipentum. That, however, means I can't take the thyroid pill unless I get up in the middle of the night, something I do now and then although not for the purpose of taking pills.
So that pretty much explains my pill situation. Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I quit taking all of them. Probably nothing. There's no way to be sure of that so should I ever feel suicidal it might be worth a try.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Your Life Expectancy

In recent years I have noticed that when something leaps to mind there is no logical reason for it doing so. For example, there is no satisfactory explanation as to why I suddenly thought about life expectancies this morning. Could it be because I have outlived quite a few of them?
Like so many things, my total lack of interest in life expectancy dates back to World War II. Shortly after it ended in Europe a large number of infantrymen were assembled in a room, always a bad sign because the news is never good under such circumstances. Sure enough, a grim-faced doctor told us that anyone who had been in infantry combat for a few months or longer would have 15 years deducted from his life expectancy of 72 years. This, he said, was owing to an extremely poor diet, sleep deprivation, having slept on wet and cold ground all that time and, above all, extreme stress on the nervous system.
I couldn't argue with a single item on the list, although he hadn't mentioned being downright filthy all the time. Anyway, as I was only 19 the idea of living until I was 57 didn't seem like too bad a deal. After all, for a considerable length of time in the recent past there had, when I opened a Breakfast K-ration, seemed little prospect of making it to supper time.
So the years slipped quickly by without me giving a single thought to that gathering in the spring of 1945. Then one day when I was typing a story the wire editor walked over and dropped a sheet of paper on my desk. "This might interest you," he said. "I'm not going to run it." After reading the Associated Press story I doubted a single paper in the country would run it unless they were desperate for something to fill white space. Briefly, it said the number had been reduced from 15 to 8. As I was 56 at the time that meant I was good for eight more years when I would hit 64.
One day when I was 66 or 67 I realized I had passed another milestone a few years earlier. Then on my 73rd birthday I was aware I had lived past the original time allotted to me.
So when it came to mind today I Googled "life expectancy." To my surprise there were various figures for American males. There was 74 and 77 and one story that claimed it had slipped to 69.3.
Not a word, though, about someone only a few months shy of his 83rd birthday. Does that mean I have no life expectancy whatsoever? I don't know and don't care because all these years I have still wondered when I wake up in the morning if I'll make it to supper time.

Monday, May 12, 2008

A writer who loved to rob banks

This is a story I've told many times before about a mystery writer I knew in his mature years. His name was Al Nussbaum and when he was young he was a bank robber who made the Top 10 on the FBI's Most Wanted list.
When he was hiding out, Al decided the best way to do it was pretend to be a writer because that way he had an excuse for seldom leaving his rented room. He bought a sports coat with elbow patches and a pipe because he thought that made him look like a writer. He also bought a typewriter, a tape recorder and a dozen or more paperback books.
Al made a recording while banging away on the typewriter. Then he played it all day so the landlady would think he was working while he actually was reading the books. One was about bank robbers and it was so realistic he wrote to the writer, Dan J. Marlowe, in care of the publisher. Marlowe wrote back and after a few exchanges of letters encouraged Al to do some writing himself.
Then Al was arrested and sent to Leavenworth and later Alcatraz. He kept on writing in both places and Marlowe would critique it and tell him how to improve. This kept up for years and then Al was released, thanks to some hard work by Marlowe and another mystery writer, Joe Gores.
One of the conditions of his parole was living with Marlowe. Soon after he moved in, Marlowe suffered a stroke that completely wiped out his memory. He couldn't recall ever having written a book or short story. Little by little, Al helped him construct a new memory to replace the one that was gone. In time he was able to begin writing again.
I was a speaker at a mystery convention and so was Al. When he finished his talk and was answering questions, someone asked if he enjoyed writing."It's OK," he said, "but what I'd really like to be doing is robbing banks."

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Memories of a long ago May 11

On this date my thoughts always drift back to my first day on the job at the Muncie Evening Press. I wasn't concerned about my ability to do the work on that May 11 thirty-eight years ago, but I wondered about the things you always wonder about on your first day on a new job: will you like the working conditions, the other employees, the assignment handed you?
I had been hired a month earlier by Harold Trulock, the managing editor. At the time I was county bureau chief for a string of newspapers and a radio station in the heart of the Lake Erie snowbelt in Northeast Ohio. They asked me to stay until the May 5 election and I could hardly say no. By remaining there I also had an unplanned assignment, covering the May 4 shootings at Kent State.
After a nightmarish winter of commuting more than seventy-five miles in each direction I was more than happy to say goodbye to the snow belt. So on a fine spring morning when the flowers were blooming and the blossoms were on the trees I walked a couple of miles to start work at 7 a.m., arriving early enough to have a cup of coffee at a little restaurant half a block from the paper.
The previous Friday I had stopped by the newsroom to pick up a few back issues of the Evening Press so I could spend the weekend studying its style. Every paper has its own way of handling abbreviations, titles and so forth. I also wanted to familiarize myself with the names of the city's office holders and prominent people as well as the major stories of the time.
I had a huge surprise when I walked into the newsroom and a slim man with shoulders stooped from long years of bending over a desk stood up and said, "I'm Jack Richman, the city editor. Jack Richman, whose stories I had read in the Evening Press as far back as the late 1930s when he was a reporter. He turned out to be by far the best city editor I ever worked for.
All went well on my new job. The other reporters were old timers in the field, the atmosphere was noisy and hectic as the 12:30 deadline approached. In many ways the Evening Press was the last of the old-time newrooms found in the book and movie "The Front Page." It was my kind of place and they were my kind of people.

This photo showing a portion of the newsroom was taken in front of my desk. With first-edition deadline approaching, Jack Richman (right front) picks up a late sheet of copy. As usual, his ashtray is overflowing.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

We Brought it on Ourselves

It's a mess out there and we let it happen. We had to do it our way and it wasn't the right way. We had to have our big SUVs and our gas-hungry pickup trucks. We had to have our boats and our all-terrain vehicles. We had to hop in the car to drive two blocks for a bag of potato chips. We had to have houses we couldn't afford, big houses with more room than we needed. We had to have a power mower and a snowblower and that meant driving to a gym to work out because we weren't getting enough exercise.
Yes, we were the guy on the TV commercial who says, "I want it all and I want it now."
So we got it all. We got payday lenders with exorbitant rates of interest because the money runs out too soon. We got huge credit card balances because we couldn't wait until we had the money to buy a new carpet or a big-screen TV. We got foreclosures because we wanted that big house in the suburbs but wouldn't take time to read the fine print. We got high gasoline prices, although they are far lower than you find in many countries. And we got fat because we no longer could afford to go to the gym after using our labor-saving devices.
We got a war costing billions of dollars a week and trillions of dollars of debt to foreign countries because we voted for people who believe such things are fine. We got free trade from the same people so we can buy our clothes from China or Bangladesh and our electronic devices from Japan, China and God only knows where else. We got high unemployment because we didn't complain when our lawmakers gave tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas. We got those lawmakers because we didn't pay attention and didn't bother to vote.
Yes, we got it all and now the chickens have come home to roost. The same chickens that Herbert Hoover said would be in every pot along with two cars in every garage if he got elected. He did, and soon people were saying they didn't have a car, didn't have a garage and didn't have a pot to put the chicken in - if they had a chicken.
We learned a lot from that, though. We learned not to buy something until we had the money to pay for it. We learned to lay a little money aside every week, even if it was small change. We knew enough to live in houses we could pay for. We knew how to push a lawnmower and shovel snow and didn't need a gym to stay fit.
But years went by and all that was forgotten in favor of something called instant gratification. Now we aren't as gratified as we expected to be so we got one more thing, stress.
So indeed we got it all. We have only to look in a mirror to learn who is to blame.
This was to be about transportation but in keeping with the times I got something. I got sidetracked.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

So I was wrong - or half wrong

Barack Obama managed to run a close race in Indiana, losing by less than 20,000 votes out of well over a million cast. I predicted he'd lose by 10 percentage points, but it was only two.
So where did I go wrong? South Bend and Fort Wayne, both with a large population of Catholics. I seemed to forget they also have a great many educated people.
I was dead on target in those rural areas laced with small towns and in the once prosperous larger cities that have lost their industry. There you find the people who want a president who looks like their next-door neighbor. In more precise terms, someone with a white skin. Neighbor is this year's buzzword for "no blacks allowed." In those small towns, farm areas and rusty factory towns they use a less acceptable word than blacks.
Those places also have a high percentage of old people. Racial prejudice runs deep in the majority of them although they'll proudly tell you of the nice black folks they know. They wouldn't vote for them, of course. If Obama wins the nomination, many of them say they will vote for Senator Hothead, John McCain. They mean it, too, so don't look for the Democrats to unite behind Obama as some talking heads predict.
Those older people are near the end of the line. The next stop on the road is the cemetery. Young Americans, at least for the most part, are better educated and far less prejudiced against someone based on nothing more than skin pigmentation. So in the near future, attitudes will be different in this country. Barack Obama is a little ahead of his time, a pioneer blazing a trail for things to come.
We all have our prejudices. I admit being prejudiced against Hillary Clinton. Not because she's a woman - I was for her at the beginning - but because she and Bill are too eager to park their shoes under a White House bed again. Their desperation has become unseemly. Should a former president of the United States be going door to door in North Carolina begging people to vote for his wife? Not if the dignity of the office means anything. Perhaps it doesn't, or shouldn't, considering some of the men who have held the job.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

A Special Breed of Men

Memories of long-ago auto races usually center on the competition itself: who won, was it a hard-fought victory or did it come easily, were there any accidents, did anyone die? Mine are like that, at least for the most part. That is not true, though, for the champ car race at the mile-long dirt track at Bainbridge, Ohio on July 13, 1947.
It was a typical July day for Northeast Ohio with the sky clear and sunny, the air pleasantly warm. The race would be the only “big car” event ever held at Bainbridge and most of the country’s big-name drivers were there, the ones fans saw at Indianapolis and the other major venues. How a race was ever scheduled at the remote village southeast of Cleveland is a mystery lost in time.
There was a lunch break after the morning’s qualify runs, but if you wanted to eat at Bainbridge you had to bring your own food or settle for a lukewarm hotdog on a soggy bun from the concession stand. The drivers and their families seemed to know that and came prepared. That is the memory that first comes to mind when I recall that all-but-forgotten race.
After settling for a hotdog I wandered the perimeter of the track, perhaps to walk off the feeling of having swallowed a lump of molten lead. Along the backstretch I came to a grassy spot shaded by tall trees and there two families were sharing an elaborate picnic spread. It was a familiar sight on any race day with children running around, the wives busy seeing that everything was just right, the husbands talking quietly.
That was what made it different, the two men calmly enjoying their noon meal. Any race fan would have immediately recognized them because Emil Andres and George Connor were two of the best-known race drivers in the country, veterans of many a Memorial Day race at Indianapolis and all the other major events. Seeing them there having a tranquil hour with their families was strangely upsetting. Perhaps it was because during the fifteen months since I had returned from service during World War II so many drivers I had seen or read about had died in crashes. You couldn’t pick up a weekly Illustrated Speedway News without finding that death had shared the cockpit with someone. On occasion there were several stories telling of the final ride of men you had seen racing. It just never seemed to end in those days.
I didn’t enjoy the race that day. Watching the brightly-painted cars speed by, their drivers in T-shirts or dress shirts with the sleeves rolled up, was nerve-wracking. The drivers seemed to have only one thing in mind, getting around that dusty track as quickly as possible with not a single thought given to survival as they went full-throttle down the straight stretches and then let up only a little to broadslide through the turns. I guess my mind was on those two wives and the kids that had been playing their games.

When the checkered flag finally waved I breathed a sigh of relief because everyone, including Andres and Connor, was alive, at least until the next race. A racing legend, Ted Horn, was the winner. A friend had told me of another lunchtime scene: Horn and Paul Russo pretending to have a knife fight that had everyone in the vicinity laughing.
I quit going to races soon after that. The decision came after watching a midget auto driver named Bud Hamilton die when thrown from his out-of-control car and run over by those that followed. It wasn’t until the 21st century that I began watching again, but on TV. It’s a different world today with numerous safety features assuring that drivers rarely if ever are killed.
My concern at Bainbridge sixty-one years ago was for naught. Emil Andres was 87 when he died in 1999 and George Connor lived until he was 94, being the last survivor of the pre-World War II drivers when he ran his final lap in 2001. For them, the story had a happy ending. Not so for Ted Horn, who died in a crash the following year. They were indeed a special breed of men.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Obama is Wasting His Time

A black man campaigning in Indiana brings an old cliche to mind: tamping sand up a downspout. It's a fruitless endeavor and would have been even before that publicity seeking preacher came along.
It is amusing to hear the pundits talking about a close race in the Hoosier State. They don't know Indiana, the place where I was born and spent twenty years working for a newspaper. At the same time I was writing a daily column for the old Muncie Evening Press, I wrote a travel column called "The Wandering Hoosier" on my own time. It ran in many newspapers. We roamed the highways and byways of the state with Jackie taking pictures while I took notes.
So Indiana has a warm place in my heart. It is, however, a state where racial prejudice abounds. It is a state with rich soil where corn, soybeans and tomatoes thrive. It is also a Rust Belt state once rich in industry, much of which has departed. There are dozens of small towns surrounded by farm fields and a number of larger cities that at one time played a key role in the automotive industry. Neither offer hope for a black candidate.
Hoosiers are tolerant of blacks as long as they wear an Indiana University basketball uniform or one of the professional Pacers. Beyond that, every small town has its tolerant, progressive thinkers. For each of them there are a dozen people who see themselves as good, church-going citizens but vote only for people who look exactly the way they look. The same is true of the majority of blue collar voters in the larger cities.
Much of Indiana was settled from south to north rather than east to west. The newcomers brought their prejudices with them and many have been passed down from generation to generation. During the Civil War the state contained a great many Southern sympathizers known as Copperheads.
Indiana is not a state with a wealth of college graduates. Athough it has many colleges and universities it, like Ohio, offers a minimum of opportunity so it suffers from that ailment known as brain drain.
When I first went to work for the paper in Muncie I was handed the assignment no one else wanted, the "do-gooder" beat. Along with social agencies and such it included everything to do with race relations at a time when it was a hot topic. I was accepted in the black community because I never slanted stories either for or against its members. That was all they wanted, fair and equal treatment. They got it from me but not from the many whites in positions of authority who felt I had been duped. That was because I pointed out that the people they felt were responsible for all the problems actually were the solution to them if given a chance. That chance wasn't forthcoming.
Barack Obama will pick up votes in the Calumet Region, that area bordering on Chicago. He will in other places, too, but not in great numbers. If he doesn't lose by at least ten points I'll be the most surprised man around. Too bad, but that's just the way it is - and not only in Indiana.