Friday, March 23, 2018

A Majority of Students... Aren't

Preface:  Over the course of my life I have had some really fantastic teachers. This includes not only formal classroom teachers but also informal who have passed on their knowledge outside the classroom. In my entire life, just one teacher brings out negative thoughts, not only to what happened in the school but her abusive personality in general. Whereas this entry is about one specific instance that occurred, there were many over the course of the school year which led to not only an unfavorable opinion of her but of the subject she taught as well. One bad teacher out of hundreds is really not such a terrible percentage after all.

My seventh-grade year was somewhat traumatic, as it was for lots of folks. Mine was a little more so not only because it marked an end to my parochial education but because of my seventh grade English teacher at Central Junior High School in Lawton, Oklahoma -- Mrs. Terry.  Note: St. Mary's and San Carlos (Monterey, California) were Catholic schools that provided me with terrific tools that served as a basis for everything that came afterward.  

Coming from Catholic school into a public school was tumultuous because whereas most people had been together since kindergarten only five of us had made the transition from St. Mary's to CJHS. As a result, from the first day, I felt like an outsider. My one respite was a substantial involvement in Boy Scouting.  It provided me with a break from what I was dealing with Monday through Friday, and at least two times a month the troop went camping at the nearby Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. All of this background is just setting the stage, and not really the point of this particular blog entry.

One day, Mrs. Terry announced that has part of our studies on correspondence we were going to be required to write a persuasive letter to our state representatives. Having not been in a seventh-grade classroom in a long time, this particular assignment may no longer be part of the curriculum. This particular letter was not authored by me or anyone else in the classroom. Except for the personal return address, Mrs. Terry provided the exact verbiage we were supposed to use for the letter, as well as the required format. She told us that she was going to take all the letters, once we had finished, put them in a large envelope and send them to the statehouse to see what kind of response it would garner. When I read the letter, I immediately disagreed with its message.

The letter Mrs. Terry had penned asked that the state representative support an initiative that would change the Wildlife Refuge from a publicly run entity to one that was contracted out. Along with that contracting, it forcefully requested the entire park be changed from primitive style camping to paved campsites that included full hookups. At that point, having spent over a year in that park every other weekend and enjoying the primitive style camping that is offered, I was in total disagreement with this letter and took objection to it.

My parents suggested going to the teacher and expressing my disagreement. To this point, my dealings with the teacher were far and few between. She was not the most approachable human being, and the stock answer for any disagreement was -- Well I'm the teacher.  During my conversation with her, I expressed my difference of opinion with hers regarding the future of The Wildlife Refuge.  Surprisingly, she listened and nodded while taking the position that more people would enjoy a park that was overbuilt and had such conveniences as water, electrical, and sewer hookups for recreational vehicles. I was told to complete the assignment as given, with the verbiage provided, because she was the teacher.

Going back to my parents, I told them that I was going to refuse to do the assignment at all and just take a failing grade. Because my parents hoped one day to send me to medical school, they called the school principal and express their discontent.  This led to an announcement in the middle of class that Mrs. Terry would allow anyone who disagreed with her methodology to edit the text of the letter, as long as the word count remains the same and it was grammatically correct. As she said explained this, she walked over to my desk and stood next to me.  Mrs. Terry then informed the class that this accommodation should make it unnecessary for anyone else's parents to call the principal about her teaching methods. Upon finishing, she paused and stared at me, then waited until everyone in the class was also staring at me.

When I composed my version of the letter, I argued against contracting out the wilderness space and converting it into a civilization campground. To fill up space, I also discussed the various places where I'd camped inside the refuge; at the time you could camp anywhere in the park as long as you were within one mile of a bathroom facility. I talked about enjoying swimming, hiking, and rock climbing.  I also mentioned watching the buffalo and prairie dogs that lived or wandered near the campsite. In the end, my word count was exactly the same and since automatic grammar checking had not yet been invented – – I contacted my sixth grade English teacher and asked her to review the letter.  She marked it up, and I corrected the issues before giving it to Mrs. Terry.

A week or so later, Mrs. Terry passed out sheets of paper with the letter grades of the assignment on it, mine was a C-. When I asked why she informed me that I had not only missed the word count but there were significant grammatical errors in the paper. Being the independent-minded young man, I was, I stupidly asked if I could see what mistakes were on the paper. She was incensed that I would challenge her this way.  She explained that the original documents had all been sent to the statehouse, so she did not have a way to go over the actual document with me. I would just have to take her word on the grade – – because she was the teacher.

Time passed, and a letter came in from the Oklahoma statehouse. The representative praised my letter and agreed with me that the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge should be contracted out and civilizing the entire area was part of his plan for the future -- he was convinced after receiving so many letters precisely like mine. To this day, I'm unsure if my letter was sent as written, or of Mrs. Terry took the time to rewrite it before she sent it.  More than likely, the representative read the first letter and assumed they were all the same due to whatever cover letter Mrs. Terry had placed on the stack before sending it. What disturbed me then, and still disturbs me now is the fact that because of this assignment, I was seen as supporting something that I opposed.

Fast-forward a decade or so, and I was driving across the country going to Grissom Air Force Base from Guam. I purposely routed my trip through Lawton, Oklahoma so that I could spend a few days in the wildlife refuge along the way. I wished I hadn't.

I arrived right at sunset and went straight through the main gate without stopping heading toward one of my favorite places in the refuge to camp.  When I got there, I discovered it was barred by locked by a gate. I went to three other locations I had camped before, as the sun slipped past the horizon, and found that they were all locked.  In one case, the turnoff for the camp from the main road had been removed. What the hell it happened?

Going back to the Welcome Center, there was a sign announcing that such and such Incorporated controlled and operated the refuge. There was also a list of hours where you could pay to go camping. There were some primitive campsites, but they were located within the one large organized campground, there was another, campsite but it was for groups and not individuals. I went inside the Welcome Center and inquired about getting a campsite and was informed that they were closed. After a brief talk with the guy behind the counter, I convinced him to allow the late check-in, and I went to the campground.  The staff member also told me that once I was at the campsite, I would not be able to exit until morning because they locked the roads.

I found my spot, set up my tent, and spent the night wondering how responsible I was for what had occurred here. It was less about the disappointment of reliving my memory than it was the guilt that I had destroyed something no one else would ever enjoy the same way I had ever again. I only stayed one night, departing the next morning as soon as the gate opened. It simply wasn't worthwhile.

As I look at what is going on in this nation with students being seen as only having one opinion that she was the teacher. To the entire outside world, I was counted as agreeing even though vehemently objecting every step of the way.
will lead to the destruction of something most are incapable of understanding, I am reminded of my experience with Mrs. Terry.  She buried my thoughts and ideas under hers because

When you hear, that a vast majority of students feel a particular way – – don't believe it. No one has surveyed enough of them to determine a vast majority of anything. Whoever is making such a pronouncement is accepting the word of a teacher (or a few compliant students) that everybody agrees with them.  What you have in the end is that single person's opinion. 

One person does not make a vast majority.  


Sunday, February 4, 2018

Would Be Possible to Get a Quick Autograph?

Me with The Cowboy Poets
I wouldn't call myself an autograph collector, but I can remember the very first autograph I ever got. It was a disc jockey in Lawton, Oklahoma who went by the moniker the Dingbat Cajun.  Unbeknownst to most of his listeners, the Cajun was on active duty at Fort Sill and happen to work at my Dad's office. The DJ thing was only a part-time gig. Anyway, when my Dad was talking about this guy over dinner, he asked if I wanted him to get me an autograph. I told him yes, but I had no idea why.

Within the next year or so, I took it upon myself to send Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In several sketch scripts I had written. Just imagine, if they had accepted those scripts I would've probably been the only 14-year-old writer on their staff. Alas, it was not meant to be.  Eventually, I did perform one of the sketches at an open mic night in St. Louis years later -- it did get laughs – but that’s another story.

Along with the reject letter, from the head writer, I received a black & white, autographed picture of Rowan & Martin.  Then over the next few months, I received autographed pictures of everyone else in the cast. The only thing I could figure was they were passing my letter around, from agent to agent thinking that sending an autographed picture to some sketch writing kid from Oklahoma would be appreciated.  It was, although I don't know what happened any of them. For a long time, a bikini-wearing Goldie Hawn graced my bedroom wall wishing me Peace.

Over the years, I've picked up a few autographs here and there. Mostly performers or writers, with the occasional offbeat person who was important to me -- I went to a Veteran’s Day speech by Adrian Cronauer and managed to get his autograph.  I also have a copy of the Da Vinci's Codex Leicester -- not autographed by Leonardo but signed by President Ronald Reagan.

The thing is, I've never been a worshiper of those whose talent I’ve admired and appreciated. Therefore, the autographs to me are more a record of the fact that I was able to meet them in person and spend a moment with them. Those autographs have never been anything I wanted to sell but have a value that is special to me.

Last year, I was able to add a guitar signed by several of the members of Lynyrd Skynyrd to my collection, and the autographs of the Temptations. 

Since I already had two guitars my collection, the other being a guitar that was signed by all of the members of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, I wanted to get something different when I went on the Southern Rock Cruise this year.  Then I had an epiphany… before I left on the trip I stopped in at a music store and picked up a drum head.  Drum heads are the perfect autographable object.  There is a lot of open clean space that is easy to sign, and they are easy to display because almost any square framed box will do.

During the cruise, I wandered the decks and carried the drumhead. I was asked a few times which band I was the drummer for.... I told a few folks I was with The Black Preacher Rhythm & Cowboy Band. Got some funny looks but no one challenged it.  (See the explanations I gave for carrying around a guitar at the Skynyrd concert here.)  

By the end of the cruise, I had the Atlanta Rhythm Section, Preacher Stone, Black Stone Cherry, The Cowboy Poets, Marshall Tucker Band, Molly Hatchet, LeRoux, and Wet Willie. Each autograph was obtained while having great brief conversations with the signer.

Soon, I will get a wood case to display it with some other memorabilia from the cruise and have a great memory piece. 

I may pick up the occasional autograph but I seriously wonder about those people who collect scarves with Elvis' sweat on them or Justin Timberlake's half-eaten French Toast.  Too far.


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

What Song Is It You Want To Hear? ALL OF THEM!

When I was in the sixth grade, we were studying William Shakespeare. For one of the assignments, we were supposed to write, in Old English calligraphy, our favorite quote from him. My choice was one about music-- If music be the food of love play on.  The quote is from Shakespeare's Twelve Night which, at the time, I had not read.  Many years passed since then, but I still remember the assignment vividly and I also remember I chose the quote because it was the closest quote I could get to what I honestly felt -- music is the food of life.  In the four-plus decades since that philosophy has stayed with me.

There is a soundtrack continually playing in the back of my mind accenting my life on a daily basis. As a result of my strong feelings about music, in my novels often include references to songs which go along with specific scenes because I can actually hear the music playing as I write them. This blog started with me creating a list of the 50 Greatest Motorcycle Riding Tunes and continued as I started attending and writing about live concerts in 2016 during My Summer of Live Rock & Roll.

I am about to head off on my life's most significant musical adventure to date: The Southern Rock Cruise 2018.  In preparation, I have been talking about music online in our group forum a great deal. A lot of what I'm posting is wry commentary along with funny pictures and videos I put together. I was unaware of how much my actual love for music was coming through until I received this from Rick Willis, lead and rhythm guitar with the Marshall Tucker Band --

"I’m not sure if we’ve ever met, but I’ve seen a lot of your posts. I love your enthusiasm and insight about music. I can only surmise that you are, at the very least, a closet musician because this post describes exactly how we feel when we’re on stage. Thanks for your support & love of music."

I have talked before about playing guitar and such,  even performing before an audience  -- but my love for music runs deeper.  The post he refers to talks about one I wrote about how it feels to be in the middle of the crowd during a concert, and looking around at the other people and realizing you’re sharing a universal joy and fulfillment with everyone there to include the band.  It is indeed the greatest high in life.  The first time I really felt and thrived in it was at a Bob Seger concert in 2011.  

I love all genres of music, to include a lot of world music I have been exposed to due to my travels and even Hip-Hop.  But my favorite type of music Southern Rock.

Many people will give you different definitions of what Southern Rock is -- to me it is a blending of Rock & Roll, Country, with the Blues sprinkled all over the top.  I feel its contribution to rock music has been largely ignored by elitist rock critics who choose to ignore its significant influence on everything that came after it.

When my tastes in music started to gel in the mid-to-late 70s, there were several bands which came to the forefront immediately – – the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Marshall Tucker Band, Wet Willy, ZZ Top, and 38 Special.  More bands came in and out during those years --  all contributed to my love for the genre. The sound of heavy guitars, a slight southern twang in the singing, and lyrics talking about things with which I could identify. Those words are ageless and always provide new insight and interpretation -- the lyrics of Simple Man have an entirely different meaning to me now than when I was 17.  Overall, every song released during those years, by any of these bands has a special meaning to me and one I hold dear.

Southern Rock healed and supported me through a turbulent adolescence.  MTB’s Searchin’ for a Rainbow was in the running for the class song my senior year, and when leaned the guitar riff for Fire on the Mountain I was so proud (BTW my current ringtone). Keep On Smilin’ by Wet Willie got me through a few bad breakups.  The Allman Brother’s Whipping Post – a way to express the angst most feel in their teen years. I survived and thrived because of the music.

I can't remember a single high school dance where a live cover band performed, they did not end with Free Bird.  Frankly, the song is the worst choice for dancing. Think about it, your date is close against you, you're holding them -- perhaps stealing a kiss because the dance is almost over and then suddenly the song gets much faster you break apart to dance the fast parts -- but then have to stop because the song accelerates towards the end. Lousy for dancing, but -- damn -- the memories.

No matter where I went in the world, I took the music with me. First on a bad portable cassette player with C cell batteries, then a Walkman, which gave way to a Sony Discman and eventually an iPod.  Today my iPod has playlists labeled things like Southern Rock, Class of 77, Riding Musik, and now Southern Rock Cruise.

Southern Rock is not static, but continuing to evolve. Later in life, I discovered Elvin Bishop, Louisiana's Leroux, The Outlaws and more recently Preacher Stone, Blackberry Smoke,  and Black Stone Cherry.  Are these bands the end?  Hell no. I just heard about the Cowboy Poets and gave them a listen – – love their blues style.  There will always be more Southern Rock bands.
So, as I get ready to board the Brilliance of the Seas, and spend five days at sea listening to the Southern Rock I love -- I am so psyched and ready.

Music is indeed the food of life – – play on...


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Self-Published -- Among the Subpar and Undeserving of Being Read

While reading an article about authors and how best they should get published, I got to a part where it talked about self-publishing and how this was a terrible idea. The writer of the article went in depth as to how such self-publishing projects were for books that were subpar, and as a result more of the author's vanity than work being deserving of being read. I considered what the person had written for a few minutes and then I recalled some stories I had heard about other authors who went the self-publishing route and what the results were.

Mark Twain is among my favorite authors. Not only for the words that he put on a page but the humor that he managed to inject into his entire life. He also worked as both a journalist and wrote factual works as well as fiction. Therefore, I tend to self-identify with him as we share a similar writing CV, although I would never claim to have his talent. 

One thing that many people do not know about Mark Twain was that in addition to being a writer, he also became a publisher.  The book Huckleberry Finn was his first self-published work and goes against both of the rationales that I came across in the article I mentioned. The work was neither subpar nor was it strictly for the man's vanity. 

As far as I have been able to discern, Twain self-published because he was tired of publishers making more money off of his books than he did, so he took on the effort as a business decision. If you have ever read Huckleberry Finn, I think you would agree with me that it is well deserving of being read. 

When author Charles Dickens self-published A Christmas Carol in 1843, he did so out of sheer desperation. He realized that the tale needed to be in print for Christmas and not a single publisher was able to meet that deadline. So, he took it upon himself to make the print version a reality, to include contracting John Leech to provide the four original illustrations within the pages of the book. Dickens worked with a printer, and the first edition of the book came out on December 19, just in time for Christmas. In fact, the first printing of the book sold out by Christmas Eve.

Is there a single soul who would consider the book to be subpar? Dickens, like Twain, had business reasons for self-publishing.  The only way to ensure the book’s commercial success was for it to be in stores on a particular timeline.  A timeline no publisher would agree to meet. That publisher has now joined the ranks of those who failed to realize genius when it was placed in front of them and one who let a historic opportunity slip through their fingers.

I wonder if the writer of the article was even aware of these two examples of self-publishing that disprove his theory that such an effort is either subpar or the result of an author's vanity and undeserving of being read?  I do not doubt that he probably read both works at some point in his life, and enjoyed them as well without realizing that neither would've existed if they had not been self-published.

Reflecting on my efforts in fiction, all of which is self-published, I can tell you that I spent time deliberating over whether what I wrote was worth the time it took me to write – – or the time it would take to read. Once released into the wilds of online and physical bookstores, I sat nervously waiting for the first reactions.  Based on the reviews both from readers and from peer journals – – I am proud to say that they were not considered subpar and were all considered to be a worthwhile read – – with one book being called Unputdownable, which may or may not be a word.

Oh, in case you did not realize it the writer I spoke of – was a publisher.


Monday, January 1, 2018

A Sally by Any Other Name

I have always been about the funny from stand-up comedians to campy movies.  But all of this had its start because I was lucky enough not to grow up in the Golden Age of TV but in the era of the Golden Age of TV Reruns.  Why was it better?  I got to see 5 or more episodes of Gilligan’s Island, or other choice shows a week.  If I had a favorite, I got to see it repeatedly, just by flipping the dial to another channel that was playing the same show in a different timeslot.   These shows also provided a distraction when I was home from school sick.

Even though I was familiar with Lucille Ball, one of my favorite funny women was Rose Marie.  I never saw her stand-up, although I have heard she was hilarious.  I also never saw her in any other role other than Sally Rogers on The Dick Van Dyke Show, I always thought she was the among the best out there. Rose was not in a leading role, but she was a critical part of the show and provided an equal for Morrie Amsterdam to conspire with and as a foil.   She had great timing and to me still came off as feminine even though she was strong and independent.  Physical comedy was not within Rose’s role, but I have a feeling she would have done it well.

At the end of 2017, it was announced that Rose had passed – and I paused for a moment to recall how funny she was and how her comedic skills are still alive within my appreciation of funny.  She was a funny woman who deserves remembrance.

Later in life, when I entered the world of IT, if I was called upon to create an imaginary user for instruction manuals I was writing or to test new networks or programs, I always used the name Herman Glempshire first.  As a result, I would get the occasional question as to who this person was – I am guessing most people thought it was a friend of mine (imaginary or not).  No.  It was a hidden homage to Rose Marie.  Herman was the name of Sally Rogers’ sometimes boyfriend on the show and only mentioned a few times. 


Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Clock Stops for No Man

Regular followers of my blog have probably noticed that there have been no entries since my review of The Rocky Horror Picture Show just prior to Halloween.  This dry spell hasn't due to lack of appropriate topics or lack of observations that I've made during that period, it is simply been lack of contemplation time that I use to mentally prepare these entries.  I call such mental breaks allowing myself to pander to pondering.    I really wish that was all that was going on, but it isn't. I find myself facing the same challenge that many of my generation are as we turn from being independent adults to being the person that our elder parents are turning to for support and assistance as they grow older.

Without going into too many specifics, out of respect for his privacy, many of the issues facing my father are just those of someone who has reached a certain age when the body has started to transition as a result of getting older.   Having spent a good deal of time with him, over several visits in the past few months,  I am mentally and emotionally torn as I see his frustration when he discovers that something he was able to do routinely until now, is suddenly a challenge of dexterity or strength. I know from my own experience that living inside yourself you see time progressing differently and for some reason, you allow yourself the luxury of overlooking your own aging process until faced with the realization that years have passed. So, such realizations and failings take a great toll as you try to grasp onto those things you see as vital to your own independence.

This is the same man who taught me so much in the early years of my life and was supportive of me as I transitioned into being an adult, so I share the guilt of expecting him to be the same as when I left home to pursue my own life. Capabilities and skills that he had then, have now faded away -- not possible anymore – – it is a brutal realization. My brother once told me that he felt that his son was deprived of knowing the man that we grew up with in some ways --  our shared memory is that of a man who had led an infantry company in Vietnam and spent 20 years serving this nation in uniform. I think that some of my father's frustration at his current situation is a result of that military career, one in which he was never allowed to show any weakness or need for assistance because he was there to lead.

What may be one of the most terrible gifts of this time is the realization that what you are seeing is where you were destined. In a way it is frightening and at the same time, it is this knowledge that provides some foresight to help prepare mentally for the road ahead. My grandfather on my father's side died in his 40s of a heart attack, so my father never had to go through what I am. I hope that somehow what I am learning now will be beneficial to me when I reach this point in my life -- when I am faced with these frustrations as the years catching up with me.

Things appear to be at least smoothed out -- or at least smoother -- for the moment which will enable me to once again provide a weekly viewpoint and mental wanderings as I go through my own life. While I may not allow myself the luxury of dwelling too much on memories of my father as I grew up, I will allow myself to remember that my father still has a lot of great lessons to pass on. 


Sunday, October 22, 2017

Ha! I've Seen It

For personal reasons, last night was low-key for me so I will not be posting a regular blog entry reviewing the 21 October 2017 performance of Rocky Horror Picture Show at The State Theatre.  However, I do feel that I would be remiss if I did not mention the shadow cast that performed in front of the screen during the evening.

There are several ways to the view a shadow cast, from exhibitionists who have nothing better to do on a Saturday night to those who take their performance area seriously and try to genuinely add something to the on-screen experience raising it from 2D. I will say that this is the best shadow cast that I have ever seen, based on casts that I witnessed in Georgia, Missouri, and elsewhere in Michigan. They should be proud of the effort that they made and their success in adding that unique dimension to RHPS.  Well done.

In an ensemble performance like the one presented by the shadow cast, it can be a disservice to point out the performance of one of the individuals without considering them all, but failure to acknowledge a truly spectacular performance would be a disservice to that one actor. In this case, that actor was the one who played Columbia -- she is more than deserving of an individual shout out.

This actor was putting her entire heart and soul into her performance and never once allowed a break in the character. The hard work she put forth made watching her embodiment of the character effortless and entertaining.  When someone has the talent to occupy a role down to the most minor detail, they allow the observer to cross the bridge between reality to fantasy and feel they have indeed witnessed the character they are portraying. Every expression, every bit of body language and each speech inflection lived and breathed the character.  

All of last night’s attendees can now say they have met Columbia.

I do not recall seeing the shadow cast names provided anywhere, but I do feel that we will hear from this talented performer again because that kind of dedication to a role is the mark of someone with a level talent that will shine through every time she steps on stage. 

Finally much praise for the much-enjoyed and little-acknowledged part of last night’s performance -- the Kalamazoo State Theatre, the best venue in Michigan.

For more of my own history with RHPS, check out this entry

Post Script, 31 October:  I was provided with a shadow cast list but not by character -- In alphabetical order:  Natalie Burdick, Patrick Hill, Katelyn Langwith, Payton McCarthy, Madison Merlanti, Dayna Palya, Will Porter, Gabriella Smurawa, Ryan Wagner.  Costumes by Evan Petrow.