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.

My Photo
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.

Powered By Blogger TM

Sunday, August 30, 2009

You never know about people

The other day I switched channels and was fortunate enough to see Dick Cheney talking tough and displaying his usual swaggering arrogance. You wouldn't think that would remind me of a nervous, frightened kid of 18 who was summoned from deep in the Kentucky hills to serve in the infantry way back in 1943, but it did.
Russell couldn't do a thing to please the sergeants so they were on his back from sunup to midnight. He tried his best to please but he messed up everything he did so they just rode him all the harder. It was their job, their responsibility to get him ready for combat so he might have at least a glimmer of hope of staying alive. He never stopped trying but guns scared him to death so he couldn't even qualify with the M-1 rifle. They took him back to the range time after time but he just couldn't make the grade. Even so they shipped him out to Europe.
You just never can be sure what a man will do when all the chips are on the table. Russell, the least likely of men to do anything, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for bravery, for action above and beyond the call of duty. The DSC is the second-highest award of all. Only the Congressional Medal of Honor ranks ahead of it. So it might have been well hidden, but Russell had it in him all that time when he was bumbling along and failing to please.
Funny, though, that tough talking Cheney showed yellow when he received a similar summons during the war in Vietnam. Not once but six times. He explained it away by saying he had other priorities. It wouldn't be surprising if some of the more than 50,000 men who died there had priorities of their own.
I guess it goes along with something I noticed back in 1944 and '45. The replacements who came up to the line talking tough always, and I do mean always, either shot themselves in the foot when things turned mean or just managed to disappear and weren't seen again. They say that talk is cheap. Tough talk is even cheaper.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Privacy? Forget it

Remember privacy? Maybe you have a shred of it left so you don't have to remember. Enjoy the feeling because it's about to go the way of the dodo bird.
The latest gadget that makes it possible to invade the privacy of another sells for $5-10 a month and involves inserting a chip into a cell phone. A column by a woman named Kim Komando (OK, I don't buy it, either) begins: "Did your kids make it to school OK? Is your spouse late because of traffic, or was there an accident? These kinds of worries can plague you. But new tracking tools can put your mind at ease."
You can bet a lot of nosy people and control freaks will rush out to get those chips. The big question is do you want to live that way? Do you want someone cyber-stalking your every move?
I sure don't. From the age of six I would have been in a constant state of rebellion. Not because I was out robbing a convenience store or visiting the neighborhood cathouse but because I have the right to stop for a cup of coffee at Joe's Diner without anyone knowing about it or asking why I did it.
Whether it was a mother, a teacher, a wife or a city editor snooping on my whereabouts I would have devised ways, devious ways, of fooling them. I would have made it my life's work, might even have gone into the business of helping others lay down a false track.
Cell phones can be deceiving, of course. The fact that it's at school doesn't mean little Johnny or Susie is there. Just because the chip in hubby's cell phone shows he is working diligently at the office doesn't mean he isn't down the street at the apartment of his mistress.
So what's next? Chips installed in the human body at birth. To make the system effective immediately, everyone will have to report to a clinic and have one installed. Failing to do so will be a felony. At the jail one will be forcibly inserted. Then criminals on the run will commit murder to grab someone else's chip. A new step will be necessary, a chip hooked up so its removal will be fatal.
Far fetched? Don't kid yourself. It isn't science fiction, it soon will be reality. I'm glad I won't be around to experience it, glad I'm not a day younger than 84.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

How do you find yourself?

A couple of people went on a two-year quest to find themselves and one of the pair wrote a book about it. This, I think, proves that anyone can write a book about anything and sometimes it seems that just about everyone is doing it. Computers, the Internet and free publishers have a lot to answer for.
I'm not really sure what finding yourself means. I visualize this as a mind drifting around in space because it's body has been misplaced somewhere and can't be found again. Otherwise couldn't a person just look downward and say, "Oh, here I am"?
After giving it more thought I realized the United States government once sent me on a two-year quest. Not realizing I was lost, although at times it seemed all was lost, I failed to find myself.
To be honest about it, I did lose myself a couple of times during my quest and it seemed to me the best place to do it was England. There you could always find someone willing to help. Without fail they ended by saying, "You simply cawn't miss it, mate." You then proved them wrong by missing it.
France was a good place to lose yourself and Belgium was even better. In either place an attractive young woman would come up and ask if she could be of service. At least I assumed that was what they were asking but there is such a thing as a language barrier you know.
None of this probably matters in the overall scheme of things. However, since hearing about the book on finding yourself I have made a point of looking in a mirror the first thing every morning. It's reassuring to find you are still there, but damn depressing to see the changes wrought by Old Man Time.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Have I mentioned . . .

"Far be it from me to beat my own drum."
I never should have said that aloud because Jackie overheard. "Yeah, right. Except at every opportunity that arises."
"That's not true. I was thinking of The Broken Drum, a bar I once frequented in Leesville, Louisiana. Its slogan was 'You can't beat it.'"
"I might have known it had something to do with a bar."
"That's not funny. While we're on the subject, though, did I mention that my story Panic on Portage Path was nominated for a Shamus award?"
"Not since breakfast ten minutes ago."
"Some people are interested. They said they hope to meet me at Bouchercon."
"We're not going to Bouchercon. Anyway I thought you already knew everyone in the business."
"Some have retired. Some have passed away. New ones have come along."
"And they're all dying to meet you."
"I wouldn't say all."
"How many?"
"Three or four."
"That many, huh? For that you think we should go to Bouchercon?"
"I don't want to disappoint my fans and . . . Why are you laughing?"
"Your fans? Are you talking about the one beside your desk or the one over the kitchen stove?"
"I told you you're not funny. Bouchercon would be timely. It's in October and I have a story in the November issue of Hitchcock. It's called Deathtown."
"I know. I proofread it when you wrote it. I brought the free author's copies in from the mailbox. I read the story in the magazine. All that and now you tell me its name."
"I thought you might have forgotten."
"Fat chance. The cover doesn't even have anything to do with your story."
"It might have. A guy gets shot in it. That just happens to be Amos Walker getting plugged."
"Plugged. That's the first time anyone expressed it that way since 1937. Are you saying Loren Estleman killed off his protagonist?"
"Of course not. Amos wasn't really shot. Well, maybe a little."
"I didn't know a person could be shot a little."
"What I meant was . . . wait a minute, we're talking about Deathtown, not Amos Walker."
"At least Estleman gave his protagonist a name. You didn't bother, did you?"
"I forgot. Anyway, Amos is a series character. Mine isn't. He didn't need one."
"It might have been nice to know. He would have been more memorable."
"Look, Bill Pronzini has written dozens of books and stories without giving his protagonist a name. I do it one time and you make a big thing of it."
"Why is it Estleman and Pronzini have written all those novels and you haven't?"
"You know I hate writing long stuff. I have the old newspaper reporter syndrome. I like to start at 7 a.m. and be finished by noon."
"Speaking of which, isn't it time you got back to work?"
"I am, I am. I just wanted to ask if I'd mentioned that Shamus nomination . . . hey, quit throwing things!"

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Tale of Two Viruses

Being the easy-going, even-tempered guy that I am I took it like a man and didn't swear much at all after being struck down by a virus. That changed completely when my computer was struck down by a virus. I can live with being sick but turn into an angry bear when my computer has to go the shop. Like that simpering wimp on TV commercials says, "It's your lifeline." The computer is my lifeline. Without it I can't write scintillating short stories or wisdom-filled blogs.
It turned out I didn't have a virus, just my semi-annual kidney infection that returns on schedule as precisely as the buzzards return to Hinckley the first day of every April. The computer, however, had not only a virus but 234 things that needed fixing. So it's fixed, and I'm $109 poorer than I was at this time yesterday.
Being computerless for a few days gave me time to ponder the strange nature of Americans. They want everything and they want it now. They want every pothole in town fixed up and they want super highways when they travel. If they go by plane they want skilled air-traffic controllers guiding them safely through the sky. They want the FDA to keep their food supply in perfect shape and the EMS to rush to their aid if they get sick or hurt. They want firefighters standing by if they set their house afire and cops to charge after the bad guys who rob them. They want schools that are at least on par with those in Zimbabwe and a military force to fight multiple wars in countries no one can find on a map. All that is just the tip of the iceberg of their many wants.
But there is one thing they do not want. They don't want to pay for any of this.

Monday, August 17, 2009

He missed the lesson on giving up

A gangly, uncoordinated fellow played four years of high school football a few decades back. Freshman team, junior varsity, two seasons on the varsity squad. Not once in all that time did he miss a practice session, not even one.
He also never got into a game. Not for a minute, not for a second. Not even when his team was ahead by six touchdowns.
One of his teammates went on to play professional football in the NFL. Later he returned to town for a class reunion. Others hurried to gather around, to be by his side. He was polite enough, tolerant of people he once had known and some he hadn't. His face lit up when saw an old teammate across the room, the man who had never gotten into a game. The pro called his name, elbowed his way through the crowd until he was able to shake the uncoordinated fellow's hand and throw an arm around his shoulder. They went to a table off by itself, talked and laughed together for a couple of hours.
Later a man who had never gone out for the team took the old pro by the arm and said, "Why did you spend all that time talking to him of all people?"
The pro shot him a scornful look. "He was the most important man on the team."
The other man laughed. "Important? He never even got in a game."
The pro jerked his arm free and walked away. Over his shoulder he said, "He taught us never to quit."

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Thoughts on being 84

On his eighty-fourth birthday a man should have profound comments to make, wise words of information and inspiration to pass along. I don't.
I did not make it this far through any effort on my part. I have never done any of the things that supposedly insure longevity. Just the opposite, actually. I have always had a pipe or cigarette in my mouth throughout the day. I have heard "last call" in bars from New York to Los Angeles and in more than a few across the sea. I have taken chances when there was no need to do so. Unless it has led me to somewhere I wanted to go, exercise has been conscientiously avoided. Doctors orders have been used as a guide to doing the opposite. I often wrote of having no fear of dying too soon but a real fear of living too long. Yet here I am.
Were someone to ask me for advice - no one has - I would say do the things you enjoy, avoid those that you don't, never work at a job you don't love, pursue any goal with no holds barred, and never take life or yourself too seriously.
I'm one of the few who remember the Wall Street Crash of 1929. When people were talking about it I thought they meant an automobile accident. That may be as good a description of it as any given by economists and other wise men. I had the real advantage of growing up and maturing during the Great Depression. Believe me, it was an advantage. I have taken part in some of history's great battles, experienced the fun and excitement of being a private eye and a cab driver, worked as a newspaper reporter during the prime years of the business when it was very much like you'll read in The Front Page and other stories of the old days.
I haven't done it all but I've come close. The world being what it is today, I wouldn't want to be a day younger than I am. It has been a great ride, an exciting, adventurous journey and that is good enough for me.
Thank you for your kind attention and don't do anything I wouldn't do. That leaves you with a wide-open field ahead.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

In one of his more lucid moments my brother-in-law Mike Taylor, whose brain was fried by too many years spent under the Florida sun, sent me the cruel and uncalled-for photo at the right.
Far be it from me to criticize someone, but Mike's idea of a gourmet meal is biscuits and gravy at a Golden Corral. He always carries a camera so he can catch people unaware and take a candid shot when their mouth is agape or something is hanging from one nostril.
How it ever came about baffles me, but Mike has a lovely wife named Annette who comes from close by here in the Western Reserve Territory. He also has a nice sister and a fine brother so what happened with Mike is just one more puzzle.
We met under strange circumstances. He and Jackie were in a car and she was telling him about the wonderful man she had met. I happened to be walking from one bar to another at the time so she said, "There he is now."
I have always made a point of emphasizing the fact that I was walking, not staggering as Mike likes to claim. It happens that I just have a poor sense of balance.
Because of his relationship with Jackie I have decided against taking legal action over this defaming picture. The time will come, though, when a suitable response leaps to mind.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

You just never know

On an October evening in 1964 I drove to Barberton, the city adjoining Akron's south side, to watch the Cuyahoga Falls High School Tigers play the Barberton Magics. The Tigers were having a down year but that was just one of the reasons they stood little chance of winning. The big one was Ken Sennett, Barberton's All-District quarterback. The Magics had never lost a game with him in the starting lineup.
He was in good form that night 45 years ago so no one was surprised when Falls lost 22-0. With that out of the way, Barberton players and fans eagerly awaited the following Friday night's game with a powerful Alliance team. It would have been difficult to find a resident of the Magic City who wasn't confident the hometown boys would win.
The following Thursday, Ken Sennett laid his head down on a classroom desk and died. The entire area was stunned. How could it happen? An autopsy revealed it had nothing to do with football. Sennett had a rare heart defect that would not show up on tests.
The following night Barberton lost to Alliance. The winning streak was over for the Magics. Ken Sennett's remains perfect to this day, of course.
You just never know. People make plans, go to great lengths to do everything right and then suddenly without warning. . .
At the time of Ken Sennett's death a fellow named Bo Rein from nearby Niles was the star of the Ohio State team. He became a college coach and had just taken the job at Louisiana State when he boarded a private plane one night. It was to land at Baton Rouge but it just kept going and going until it finally ran out of gas 100 miles out over the Atlantic.
You just never know, but life goes on. In two weeks the Cuyahoga Falls Tigers go down to Barberton to play the Magics.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I didn't need another reason not to buy a GM car

I've been stung three times by General Motors and crossed the company off my list long ago. Hard as it is for me to believe, they have come up with yet another reason to ignore their plaintive cries that now they are making really good cars. It's far too late for me to dance to that tune.
The capper came in the news today and it is so GM. They said they will not participate in the effort to properly dispose of mercury switches in the old beaters turned in on the Cash for Clunkers program. Why won't they take part? Because the cars with those mercury switches were made by the old GM before the firm filed for bankruptcy. In the company's perverted way of thinking the new GM that has been given every break possible by taxpayers isn't obligated to pay for the crap made by old GM.
This, I suppose, is their way of thumbing their nose at average Americans who spent hard earned money helping to bail them out. Financial institutions have done it by paying huge bonuses to those responsible for their troubles and now GM has found a way of doing the same thing.
If the survival of GM is up to folks like me it is on its way to join Hupmobile, Hudson, Packard and so many other brands confined to the junk heap. That would be a fitting end considering the junk they sold me in the past.

Friday, August 07, 2009

How Do Women Do This?

Jackie came into the office with a small packet and said, "Did you send for this?"
"What is it?"
"Men's' deodorant. A free sample that came in the mail."
"Do I look like a man who would send for a free sample of deodorant?"
"It's got your name on it."
"They probably sent one to every man in the country. Gimme it."
I opened it up and took a sniff. "Whee-ough."
Jackie examined the box. "It says seven out of ten men prefer it to Old Spice."
"Well I'm part of the ninety-nine percent that hate 'em both."
"It's free so you should use it."
"What, you want me to smell like I just stepped out of a Parisian cathouse?"
"I don't know how a man smells at a time like that. Apparently you do."
"I do not. It's just an expression."
"But you were in Paris, weren't you?"
"I was in Paris on August 25, 1944, the day it was liberated, but I didn't see any women."
"Oh, really? I've seen pictures of that day. Women were everywhere. They were climbing all over GIs, kissing and hugging them, things like that."
"That was when guys came along later. We were being shot at. Once in a while, anyway."
"So you didn't see any women?"
"I saw one woman. She was wearing a white medical coat. Somebody got shot so she came running out of a pharmacy to help."
"So that was it. Out of the entire population of Paris, you saw one woman."
"I wasn't counting, you know."
"No, I'll bet you weren't. Too busy, huh?"
"Dammit, I was trying not to get shot."
She began walking away. "If you say so. Don't forget to use the free sample you sent for."

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Another typewriter silenced

Time ran out for a good man the other day. Lane Rogers was a writer and like most writers he didn't get rich but he lived a good life and made a lot of friends along the way. He wrote books and he wrote for newspapers and the latter job meant he was blunt and straight to the point. In the old days of hot metal and typewriters instead of computers there wasn't time to be any other way, not when you started your day with nothing but blank sheets of paper and had to fill every inch of that white space in five or six hours.
Most people would have found it an alien way of living, a pressure-cooker job where life wasn't measured in hours or days but in minutes. It didn't allow for idle moments or wasted words, not even for a please or a thank you. Those could come later when the pages were filled, the presses were running and someone in the newsroom would always say, "Well, we did it again."
Academics in their slower-paced world would sometimes say, "Oh my, he should have used 'were' instead of 'was' because they never had to pump adrenaline just to get those words on paper. No time for leisurely rewriting, looking things up or sitting back to ponder. Not when the minutes were ticking down to deadline. It was a wonderful way of life, but only for men and women without nerves or tender feelings. People who thought they were rude or lacked empathy or sympathy didn't know the nature of the job.
The majority of those I worked with have made their final deadline and now Lane Rogers has joined them. None were the sort of people who appreciated compliments because their praise came in a weekly paycheck. As long as those kept coming it meant they were doing OK. I'm sure, though, that none of them would mind hearing, "Good job." So good job, Lane.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Doctor's Orders

This was the morning for my once a month shot of energy and vitality juice so the doc and I had our usual exchange of ideas. He said, "Yesterday was nice and sunny so did you do some walking?"
I thought about it and told him, "Yeah, I walked out to the kitchen a couple of times to freshen up my cuppa tea."
He shook his head, something he does quite often, and mumbled a sentence or two about the benefits of fresh air and sunshine. I wasn't exactly sure what he was trying to say so I said, "If it comes down to walking or writing, I'd rather write."
The subject then turned to a prescription one of the nine docs who work for him gave me last month for vitamin D pills. It cost eight bucks at the pharmacy upstairs which seemed OK until we got home and found there was one pill in the bottle. I said, "Staying alive isn't important enough for me to lay down eight simoleons a month for one lousy pill."
He shook his head and said, "If you'd get out and walk in the sunshine you wouldn't need the vitamin D pill."
I said, "No, if I got out and walked in the sunshine I'd have to come back and have you cut out some more skin cancers. You're determined to get me out there one way or another, aren't you?"
He shook his head again and said, "You never listen to anything I tell you anyway."
We agreed on that particular point so we switched over to talking about Marlon Brando motorcycle movies. All this time Jackie was sitting over in a corner shaking her head. I guess there's something about that particular office that affects people that way.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Always Please a Woman

Jackie said I should write about it because it was the only story I told her in more than 20 years that she hadn't heard before. It wasn't much of a story but it never is a wise move to ignore something a woman tells you to do. Especially if that woman happens to be your wife, so I'll write about it.
The lead up to this story came when for the fortieth time I mentioned a couple of Irish relatives in Connecticut back in the 1920s. The matriarch, the Irish Mammy, made apple dumplings but no one would eat them, including her son who was about 12. He was the only one dumb enough to tell her the apple dumplings were too hard and not fit to eat. So she sat him down and made him eat the whole dozen.
Then we got talking about a restaurant in Muncie where the owner's mother came down from South Bend once a year and cooked spaghetti. It was watery and pretty bad so Jackie said it was a good thing I never said that at the time or Mama would have come out of the kitchen and made me clean my plate. That led me to say it had happened to me in the Army. Jackie said, "You never told me about that," so I told her and she said I should write about it so here goes.
It was at a camp in England where there was a sign like you found in a lot of mess halls: "Take all you want but eat all you take." That was ridiculous because I never was in a mess hall where you took anything. You just walked down the chow line and KPs would slap stuff on your tray.
On the day in question it was spaghetti. Awful stuff not even fit for the garbage can where I tried to dump it. The mess sergeant stopped me and told me to go back and eat the rest of it. I went back to a table, but wouldn't eat. The mess officer came over, sat with his butt on the next table so he could look down on me from a position of authority. They cleaned up the mess hall and everybody left except the officer and me. Hours went by, but I wouldn't eat. Finally about 9 o'clock or a little later the officer stood up, gave me a good cussing and told me to get out. I figured he had a hot date lined up with an ATS girl or something.
So that's it. Jackie wanted me to write about it so knowing which side my bread is buttered on, I did.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Give 'em what they dish out

I've really been down on people lately. I may have to either give up reading the news or start a campaign to make the Gilbert & Sullivan tune Let the Punishment Fit the Crime become federal law.
Earlier in the week we got to read again about the loving father in California who a number of years ago avoided paying child support by hurling his 4-year-old daughter off a cliff into the Pacific. Don't send the guy to prison, that same cliff is still available.
Today there's the story of a woman in her seventies in a Cleveland suburb using a shovel to beat a baby deer to death. The doe, who hadn't been taught in deer school that humans always come first, had the audacity to stroll into the crone's garden. She claimed she was frightened by it. Yeah, sure. After her upcoming trial that same shovel could be put to good use.
(The photo above was taken by a lady willing to share with a pair of does and their mother that pay a daily visit to her yard in West Virginia.)
In a local court a man was handed a two-year prison sentence for possession of cocaine. He wasn't selling it, he wasn't a pusher, he just possessed a small amount. Now had he been a nice young man from an upstanding middle class white family he would have been placed on probation and sent to a rehab facility. But he made the mistake of being black. Now he has two years of studying the art of being a real criminal ahead of him at taxpayers' expense. Another great victory in the war on drugs.
But does the punishment fit the crime? Was this even a crime, or is it an example of why we have more people locked up than any other country? Maybe we need to rethink our entire approach to drugs. The present one doesn't seem to be working all that great.
Then there's the woman who locked up a boy of three in a stifling hot, vermin infested attic or the teenager who microwaved a kitten. The attic would make a fine place for the woman but it would take a big microwave for the kid. I imagine there is one somewhere.