Thursday, January 26, 2017

Clouds vs. Sunshine: The Plague of Social Media

I dislike dark clouds. I much prefer sunshine. I don’t care for the gloom of dismal outlooks.  I am weary from the apocalyptic posts of a society getting its information from quips and memes.  I am so tired of seeing so many posts and comments by people claiming every morsel as “fact.”  And because their facts don’t fall in line with your facts they are clearly idiots.  And it has gotten to the point where social media is nothing more than a giant dark cloud.

Both sides are guilty, and I personally believe it is this very platform of social media that is at the root of most of the vitriol and anger and hatred out there.  It’s hiding behind a keyboard and lashing out.  It’s assuming you are right and anyone who doesn’t agree with you is not just wrong but stupid, or somehow less educated, less worldly, less cosmopolitan than you.  It’s being able to slam and slander someone else because we don’t have to face them or, indeed, have any obligation to prove our points. It’s the “I have free speech and I’ll punch you right in the throat with it,” but if anyone dare take another side, you are compelled to shut them down and try and minimize their own free speech.  Because they disagree with you?  Really?

People post memes that are utterly untrue and dare anyone to disagree with them.  They make themselves out to be fools by publicly posting what they think are killer slogans and signs without bothering to determine whether or not they are true.

We’re all guilty.

I have never before seen so many political experts—some of whom have never voted in any election.  So many champions of every constitutional right that they agree with, while stomping on anyone else’s constitutional rights if it is in conflict with whatever talking points they picked up that morning from their favorite (only trusted) news source.  Seriously, I have never seen so many people perfectly willing to swallow whatever their biased news outlets dish out, unquestioningly.  “If blah-blah-blah news said it, it’s true, and if you listen to blah-blah-blah news, you’re an idiot.”  They believe THEIR news source is right because THEIR news source is obviously the only truthful news source out there.  Do they try and verify it before posting?  Of course not.  Oh—unless they run it through a “truth mill” website, which itself has been proven to lean strongly to one side or the other.

I have never witnessed so many people throwing out falsehood after falsehood about things that are simply not true, with no more motivation than that’s what someone in the public eye told them to believe.  And those same people refusing to even bother to learn whether or not the things they are saying are true!

“I don’t believe in your cause.”
“Well you’re an idiot and a pig.”

“I don’t recognize YOUR president.”
“Well you’re an idiot and a pig.”

“My scientists say the world is melting.”
“My scientists say your science is wrong.”
“Well your scientists aren’t really scientists, they’re idiots and pigs.”

Eric Hoffer once said, “In times of profound change, the learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”  In terms I can more easily understand, I say “If you think you’re green you’re going to grow…If you think you’re ripe, you’re already rotten.”  We do need to learn.  To grow.  But we need sources of truth, not opinions and educated guesses.

I believe a large part of the problem is that most news sources are themselves slanted and no longer try to hide their own bias.  Journalism has given way to sensationalism. They create the news rather than report it.  Or at the very least try and shape it to reflect the world view to which they ascribe.

I always thought that journalists didn’t become journalists in order to change the world.  But today, that seems to have changed.  Television correspondent Alex Thomson says “People should want to be journalists because of anger…”  He went on to say that journalists he admired “were doing it because they were angry at the way things are and they had the power to make it better.”  Writer and Playwright Tom Stoppard said, “I still believe that if your aim is to change the world, journalism is a more immediate short-term weapon.”  Shouldn’t that scare you?  It does me. It scares me to think that the ones responsible for informing the world of up-to-the-minute happenings actually want to shape those happenings.  See, I always believed that one doesn’t become a journalist to change the world, but to chronicle the changing world.  You report what is happening.  You don’t report what you want to be happening or why you think it’s happening.  That’s not journalism!  Or at least I believe it didn’t used to be.  It is my opinion that we have too many of these kinds of journalists and not enough reporters of news.

Too many people confuse commentators with reporters; opinions with news.  Walter Cronkite once said, "Objective journalism and an opinion column are about as similar as a Bible and Playboy magazine."  But today, the line is too often not clear---if there is a line at all.

(If one thinks that media bias is all paranoia and conspiracy, perhaps reading "Bias: A CBS Insder Exposes How the Media Distort the News" by Bernard Goldberg. Or "Stonewalled..." by Sharyl Attkisson will at least offer some perspective.)

Another key factor is that no one seems interested in finding common ground anymore, or even trying to understand what anyone else is saying.  They seem only to be interested in making their point in any way possible.  Especially if it berates people who don’t buy into their own ideals. They seem only interested in belittling the other person.  As one meme stated, we don’t listen to understand—we listen to reply.

Once, in a disagreement about a particular political philosophy, when it was clear that we were at an impasse, I tried to close it out with the old saying, “Well, we will just have to agree to disagree.”  The other person would not accept that.  “No, but it’s important that you understand why you are wrong!”  And then on he went, rehashing his arguments.  He would not—could not let me disagree.  When I again attempted to simply let it end with us not agreeing, he finally resigned with, “Keith, I hope you will educate yourself better.”  So, you see, the problem was not that I simply had a different view, based on my own research and knowledge.  The problem was that I was not smart enough to see how right he was and come over to the side of enlightenment.  And that’s the problem we have with communication today in a nutshell.

Where does it end?  I am deciding right now to simply no longer fall into the traps.  As much as I would like to straighten out some of these lies, I can now see that it will not end until we choose to make it end.  I cannot change your mind.  I cannot force you to see my side of things with catchy slogans and soundbites and memes.  Nor can I change your mind by belittling you. 

Someone said that social media is the new “front porch” of the old days, when people would talk to their neighbors and friends in their yards.  I don’t believe that’s quite accurate.  The difference is, in those “old days,” people rarely talked about politics and religion, simply because it never solved anything and more often than not strained or even ended relationships.  Today, with the relative anonymity of social media, all restraints and filters are off.  Our front porch conversations with neighbors are usually arguments with people, some of whom we have never met, whom we are happy to vilify and degrade as morons simply because they believe differently than we do…or get their news from a different source than us.

So I’m laying out.  I’m biting my tongue until it bleeds if I have to.  I will continue learning—I will be a learner—I will think myself green…But I will no longer contribute to the problem.  I will not be a part of the slow-but-steady decay of civilization.  If it means I have to, I will unfollow, block, hide, or even unfriend whomever I need to in order to maintain some degree of civility and see the positive. 

That’s my revolution.  My revolution has already started.  For one day, I simply scrolled, unfollowed, blocked, or hid things that would normally make me lose my mind.  At the end of the day, I was amazed at how much less stressed I felt, and how much better my outlook was!

There will be some who will read this and determine that it is over-simplistic and doesn’t recognize the importance of their cause du jour.

Click. Scroll.

There will be some who read this and assume I’m talking about everyone on the other side of the issue.

Click, click.  Scroll, scroll.
I’m gonna be a sunshine guy.  You can keep your clouds.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Humanity Revisited

Christmas Day + 3, Monday, 5:30 am - I get up to let the dogs out, because--well, because it's 5:30, according to their clocks.  I hear tremendous wind. I look at my weather app. Windchill 21 degrees, rain (of course). The driving wind made me think about my trash, which we had put out the day before. I peeked out the front window. Not what I wanted to see at 5:30 am.

I can see by the streetlight that my trash barrel has blown over. There is trash all over my front yard, all over the street, up into the yard of my neighbor across the street and down the street.

Trash pickup comes early. So, I get dressed, grab a couple of extra trash bags, and head out into the frozen monsoon to try and gather it all up before the truck arrives. Wet, nasty, garbage and discarded Christmas wrapping, soggy cardboard, and the remains of a box that contained a young child's toy---wait, we don't have young children...

Hmmm, I don't recognize that wrapping paper...or that cereal box. I take a closer look at my trash. It's all intact! The barrel has blown over but all trash bags are intact, including the extra one I had placed outside the barrel!

I look across the street at the neighbor's trash barrel.  Under the glow of the streetlight, I can see that his barrel is overturned as well.  Actually, as I look more closely, it looks like it exploded. Yep, it's his trash, not mine, spread out over his yard, my yard (all the way into my far side yard), down the street, in the street, everywhere. I don't know how many extra bags he had put out, but I found one of them, half-emptied, in my front yard. And the remaining contents scattered nearby.

Of course, all the trash and garbage is soaked, causing some of it to come apart when touched. That always helps the pickup process. It was almost overwhelming, looking over the massive amount of mess strewn over my yard and the street.

Right about then, a pickup truck pulled up and two ladies stepped out into the frigid, early morning wind and rain, and began picking up the trash with me. No gloves, no scarves, no heavy coats. Just helping.

Humanity. Revisited.

It occurred to me that, given the current climate of social media, it's almost surprising that these two Samaritans didn't say, "Before we help, tell us, are you a Christian or non-Christian? Are you Conservative or Liberal? Where do you stand on abortion? Gun control?"

No, there were no questions asked. They didn't even ask if I had any spare gloves. They simply pitched in and helped.

Job done, I'm back inside, warm and dry, with fresh hot coffee. And a little better feeling about people in general.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Why Springfield Drives Me Crazy

“You said you watched me! That was a yellow light back there!”
“I watched you very carefully. Red light, stop. Green light, go. Yellow light, go -- very fast.”

This is my favorite line from “Starman.” The movie is about an alien who crash-lands his spacecraft somewhere in Wisconsin. He takes the identity of a woman’s dead husband, and with her to guide him, sets out on a road trip to find a good spot for his retrieval. He learned to drive her car by watching her drive. He learned pretty well, I guess.

Now, if the alien had crash-landed here in Springfield, he would have learned a lot more about driving. You see, here in Springfield we have a phenomenon even more unusual than a crash-landing, dead-husband’s body-stealing, car-driving alien. It is this: in Springfield, everyone always has a green light. At the same time. Just check the police records in the newspaper and you’ll find that every party involved in any given accident will say, “I had a green light.” The next line invariably says, “No tickets were issued due to conflicting reports.”

Actually, it’s just part of what I call the Cycle of Driving in Springfield. Here’s how it goes:

At 15, you’re in driver education class. You have to drive a car with a big STUDENT DRIVER sign on top that signals to everyone that you are a trainee. You drive like my grandmother. However, the minute you get your license, you become an Invincible Party Machine on Wheels. Unfortunately, you’re not a very good driver. This is because you have very little experience. All you have is a license. And gas money.

Ten years later, you have more experience. However, you are becoming increasingly bored with those annoying little rules. You know, turn signals. Speed limits. Stop signs.

By your mid-40s, you have so much driving experience you can put on makeup, smoke a cigarette, talk on the phone, make obscene gestures to other drivers, and still be paying close enough attention to effectively run red lights and turn without signaling.

Now you’re in your 80s. You’ve been driving for some 70 years. You have plenty of experience, but now you only drive to the buffet -- often. Then one day, as you’re straining to peer above the steering wheel across the 2-acre hood of your gigantic automobile in an attempt to marshal it into a parking place at the buffet, somehow the gas pedal moves to where the brake pedal used to be, causing you to ram into a car driven by a 16-year-old Invincible Party Machine on Wheels, thereby giving him his first ‘real world’ driving experience. And so the ‘cycle’ continues. You, however, should really consider storing the Buick at this point.

I have an idea. I propose to build a vehicle specifically designed for driving in and around Springfield. I’m going to call it the Springfield Town Car. (I know some of you would like to pursue the obvious Lincoln reference, but let’s move on.)  Here are the basic design concepts for The Springfield:

The Springfield will have:
1. No turn signals. Nobody ever uses them anyway.

2. No headlights. Only parking lights. I realize that this ignores the basic premise of PARKING lights, but that’s what people seem to prefer unless it’s totally pitch-black dark. 

3. Wipers that will only work when all lights are turned off.

4. Rubber bumpers that surround the entire car. Like bumper cars. This is for Veterans Parkway driving, mall parking, and parking anywhere near a buffet.

5. An automated loudspeaker system that announces to other motorists that you are preparing to go through the intersection at full-speed, since you obviously have the green light, regardless of its actual color.

6. Full-size lighted makeup mirror--on the driver’s side.

7. Jogger whistles. These are not only attractive, but they will alert these pinheads who refuse to use the shoulder that a 4,000-pound vehicle is approaching rapidly and they need to move from the middle of the road.

8. A crash sensor with built-in cell phone relay. This will automatically disconnect your text and dial 911 for you when you smash into the car in front of you, which you didn’t see because you were busy texting.

9. A ‘mood’ steering wheel made of the same material used in mood rings. This is to combat ‘road rage.’ If you’re stuck behind a student driver at a non-synchronized light in Springfield, and the steering wheel changes to any color besides blue, stop the car immediately and try to find your ‘happy place.’

I believe The Springfield will perfectly suit the Springfield driver. Just imagine how people will talk when you glide down Veterans Parkway in your beautiful new Springfield Town Car!

Do you see that car?”“You mean the big bumper car tailgating that student driver?”
“Notice anything unusual about it?”
“Yeah, it has no headlights -- and the steering wheel seems to be changing colors.”

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Wide World of Bad Sports

I was listening to some disembodied voices on ESPN radio this morning, talking about an incident involving a star athlete.  What happened was, Star Athlete did something not very sportsmanlike. 

Now, before I launch into the meat of the story, let me take a little side trip to address these talking heads.  Who are these people?  Why do they demand my respect as “experts?”  For the most part they are not athletes, but reporters who have made the move from newspaper to the more lucrative radio and TV, and yet they speak as though the world is waiting on the edge of our collective seats to hear them spout their irrefutable wisdom and prophecies on all things sports.  

Now back to our regularly scheduled rant.

So, one of the talking heads says he doesn’t believe that what Star Athlete did or said was all that bad, because as he put it, “Look…(they always say “Look…” before erupting in uncompromising intellect)…it was just Star Athlete being Star Athlete.”  And it struck me that what he was saying was that because Star Athlete is a jerk, it’s not bad sportsmanship.  Because, after all, that’s just the nature of Star Athlete. So he defines bad sportsmanship as actions coming from someone who is not a star athlete. 

How pitiful are we that we must accept childish, boorish, rude, offensive, unsportsmanlike behavior from someone because they are a Star Athlete?

The other talking head read an email from a listener.  “This guy asks, ‘Is this the sort of behavior you want your kids to model?’”  And the first talking head (quickly establishing himself as the Alpha Talking Head) responds, “Look…these aren’t kids…they’re professional athletes…let’s treat them that way…”

Huh?  Wait, he went on to admonish parents to be better at parenting and to tell their kids, “Look…these are professional athletes…and professional athletes act differently than you do.”

At the risk of being redundant—again, Huh?

Are we so enthralled by Star Athlete and all star athletes, that we are to ignore bad sportsmanship—no, not ignore, ACCEPT bad sportsmanship, because these people are, after all, Star Athletes?  And it’s up to us to simply teach our kids that what Star Athlete did is NOT bad sportsmanship, it’s just Star Athlete being Star Athlete, and they act differently?  Seriously? 

Look…(see what I did there?)…it’s not about Talking Heads and Star Athlete.  It’s about what we are willing to put up with in the name of professional sports entertainment.  It’s about what we want our kids to learn.

I remember not long ago when another star athlete with a reputation for bad sportsmanship was asked about being a role model.  He said, “I am NOT a role model!”

Yes you are, Star Athlete.  Whether you like it or not, you ARE a role model.  

You’re just not a good one.

Friday, May 18, 2012

40 Years...It's Apparently Official.

In honor of my Class of 1972, I've put together a bullet-point list of what was going on our senior year, from September, 1971 to June, 1972.  With the help of Wikipedia, which, if we've learned ANYTHING from Michael Gary Scott, we know is faultless, here are a couple of bullets from each month of our senior year.

Our last couple of years in secondary education were momentous times for the world in general.  We were truly part of an amazing generation; the tail end of what is now referred to as the "Baby Boomers."  For a time, we ruled marketing and television programming.  Then came Y.  And they ruined everything.   I don't even want to TALK about X.

But we had our moment in the sun.  For we were seniors once, and young.

(Disclaimer: I've chosen not to dwell on the negatives, and focus more on the less dark moments from that year.)

September 8, 1971 (Wednesday)
•        In Washington, D.C., the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is inaugurated with the première of Leonard Bernstein's Mass

September 12, 1971 (Sunday)
•        A concert by Funkadelic is recorded, to be released 25 years later as Live: Meadowbrook, Rochester, Michigan – 12th September 1971

October 13, 1971 (Wednesday)
•        Born: Sacha Baron Cohen, British comedian, in Hammersmith, London

October 16, 1971 (Saturday)
•        John Lennon and Yoko Ono move to 105 Bank Street, Greenwich Village, New York City.
November 8, 1971 (Monday)
 •        Led Zeppelin release their officially untitled fourth studio album; it goes on to become the biggest selling album of the year (1972), the band's biggest selling album, and the fourth best-selling album of all time

November 24, 1971 (Wednesday)
•        During a severe thunderstorm over Washington, a man calling himself D. B. Cooper parachutes from the Northwest Orient Airlines plane he hijacked, with $200,000 in ransom money, and is never seen again (as of March 2008, this case remains the only unsolved skyjacking in history)

December 4, 1971 (Saturday)
•        The Montreux Casino burns down during a Frank Zappa concert. The event is memorialized in the Deep Purple song "Smoke on the Water". The casino is rebuilt in 1975

December 28, 1971 (Tuesday)
•        In the final of the 1971 Tangerine Bowl, held in Orlando, Florida, the Toledo Rockets of the Mid-American Conference defeat the Richmond Spiders of the Southern Conference 28–3

January 4, 1972 (Tuesday)
•        The first scientific electronic pocket calculator, the HP-35 was introduced by Hewlett-Packard and priced at $395. Although hand-held electronic machines, that could multiply and divide (such as the Canon Pocketronic) had been made since 1971, the HP-35 could handle higher functions including logarithms and trigonometry

January 25, 1972 (Tuesday)
•        In a nationally televised address, President Nixon revealed that Henry Kissinger had been secretly negotiating with North Vietnamese leaders, and announced "a plan for peace that can end the war in Vietnam". North Vietnam rejected the proposal the next day

February 12, 1972 (Saturday)
•        TIME Magazine won the right to publish excerpts from Clifford Irving's "autobiography" of Howard Hughes, a day after cancelling declaring that it was a hoax. TIME had discovered also that much of the work had been plagiarized from author James Phelan

March 10, 1972 (Friday)
•        Broadcaster Larry King was cleared of charges of grand larceny that had been brought by a former business partner. His arrest in December 1971 nearly ruined his career, and King would work at various radio jobs before getting a nationally syndicated talk show in 1978. In 1985, he would launch Larry King Live on CNN

March 11, 1972 (Saturday)
•        Carnival Cruise Lines made its very first voyage, as the Mardi Gras departed Miami for an 8-day cruise ... and ran aground on a sandbar. The 530 passengers, most of whom were travel agents and their families, continued to enjoy themselves until tugboats dislodged the ship the next day, and the new company received national publicity from the incident

April 12, 1972 (Wednesday)
•        The table tennis team from the People's Republic of China arrived in Detroit to begin their tour of the United States

April 25, 1972 (Tuesday)
•        Photographs that developed "right before your eyes" were introduced when Edwin H. Land of the Polaroid Corporation demonstrated the SX-70 film and camera

May 13, 1972 (Saturday)
•        Weeks after the Apollo 16 mission had departed, an 1,100 kg meteorite crashed on the Moon and left a crater "as large as a football field"
•        Died: Dan Blocker, 43, actor ("Hoss" in Bonanza)

May 27, 1972 (Saturday)
•        The Opryland USA theme park was opened in Nashville, Tennessee. The park, which attracted more than two million visitors annually at its peak, operated for 25 years before closing at the end of 1997

June 1, 1972 (Thursday)
•        459 Seniors from Jefferson City Senior High School in Jefferson City, Missouri, completed the walk around the track bordering the fabled football field of that high school to receive their diplomas.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

40 Years, Give or Take: Senior Year, Part II

My senior year was a blur of activity.  Football games, marching band contests, jazz band contests, and—well yeah, school work.  But what a time it was to be a Jeff City Jay! 

Musically, when we entered our senior year at JCSHS, Paul McCartney had launched a successful solo career apart from The Beatles, and “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” was number one the first week of September in 1971.  By October, Don McLean’s epic “American Pie” took over the number one slot.  Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” followed in December.  America’s “Horse With No Name” came next, and Roberta Flack provided the ultimate makeout song our senior year in 1972, with “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”. 

Going into our senior year, at the theaters we were watching “Billy Jack”, “Dirty Harry”, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”, “Play Misty For Me” (the screen debut of  Roberta Flack’s “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”), and “Summer of ‘42”.  By 1972, and the last few months of our time at JCSHS, we saw the now-classic “Godfather”.  There was John Wayne’s “The Cowboys”, and Ryan O’Neal and Barbra Streisand in “What’s Up, Doc?”  We saw Liza Minnelli in “Cabaret”, and Woody Allen’s “Play It Again, Sam”.

And there were memorable moments in the halls and classrooms at JCSHS.  These are some of my bullet point memories, in no particular order, from my senior year, 1971-1972. (Your bullet points may vary.)

  • Talent show with Jeff Devereaux’s dance team – I played trumpet in the band that played “Shaft” for the dancers, and it was reported in the Red & Black as “backed up by some members of the Jazz Band.”  I gave Jeff grief over that, but all was forgotten when Jocelyn King gave me a kiss when the winners were announced.  In fact, a LOT was forgotten with that kiss from Jocelyn King!
  • Winning the Traveling Trophy at the SMSU (now MSU) marching band contest in Springfield, MO. – It was a trophy the approximate size of Jerry Hoover himself, and if you won it 3 times in a row, you got to keep it.  We kept it that year.
  •  The Aida 8 Trumpets – These were the Herald Trumpets that began each half-time show with fanfares from trumpets with long bells and banners tied to them.  (“The Aida 8 Are Great!”)
  • Carl Burkel asking me why I never tried out for Chorale – During a graded audition, he heard me sing and sat for a moment with his mouth open, then asked me that.  Singing was just something I did, like in church for most of my life, and I never thought much about it.  To this day, I consider that one of the biggest compliments I have ever received.
  • Paul Adams and I doing a Vaudeville act for the band’s entrance in the school festival fundraiser – The band put on a sort of Vaudeville nightclub show, with the Jazz Band as the “house band”, the Majorettes  (?) as dancers, and Paul wrote a comedy duo for he and me, based on old Vaudeville comedy with purposely bad jokes like “I was born in Chicago.”  “Before the fire?”  “No, in back of a barn.”  Then Nancy Basinger would do a Barrump-Ching on the drums after each really bad punchline.   For one joke, I was supposed to say “Do you have a fairy godmother?”  And Paul would answer, “No but I got an uncle I’m not too sure about.”  Barrump-Ching.  However, during one of the shows, we stumbled, lost our timing, and I forgot the line.  Paul looked at me and said, “Ya know, I have a fairy godmother.”  Well at that point, timing was lost, the line was lost and there was nowhere to go.  I looked at him and said, “Really?”  And he said “Yes.”  Barrump-Ching.   Side note: while trying to drum up business for the band room’s entry in the festival, Paul and I stood outside with our Vaudeville costumes on, chewing on cigars (real ones, and I was sick as a dog by the end of the evening), and Paul was trying to coax in a couple of kids, about 9 or 10.  Paul said, “We’ve got magic, comedy, and dancing girls!”  This kid looks at Paul and says, “Do they strip?”
  • Mobile, Alabama Jazz Band Contest (Spring Hill Junior College, Mobile) – That was just an incredible time, actually beginning after graduation, and from which a good portion of the 1971-1972 Jazz Band album “What’s Goin’ On?” was recorded.  One of the amazing moments was Pat Coil winning the outstanding soloist award.  In addition to everything he did with keyboards, during a free-form improv number, he improvised on Tuba and Fender Rhodes---at the same time.  In harmony. 
  • New Orleans – The Jazz Band’s first stop on the way to that Mobile, AL contest.  Standout moments included playing in Jackson Square in the middle of the day, being seen there by Gregory Hines and invited to their show (Hines, Hines, and Dad) that night at the Roosevelt Hotel as their guests; playing at Preservation Hall with saxophonist Al Beletto at midnight.
  • Buzz Watts class –  On the first day of his class he said to us, “…and don’t ever argue with me.  You will always lose.”  I raised my hand, and said, “Why?”  He never liked me much after that.
  • Miss Bish typing class – I had my first encounter with technology: an IBM Selectric typewriter
  • English class with Mrs. Brakke – Lana Enloe sat in front of me, and after her PE class, she would have baby powder in her hair.  I liked English class. 
  • Carousel Musical – I was in the pit orchestra, and rehearsals were just stupid fun.  That was my first introduction to Pringles.  Neatly stacked potato chips in a tube.  How cool was that?
  • Laura Burkhardt actually spoke to me.
 These are just a few of the bullet points from 1971-1972 at JCSHS.  This is a snapshot of my senior year.    It was a great time of growth for me, and a year of experiences I would never forget.  Obviously.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Cataloging Christmas

Signals. . .Wireless. . .What On Earth?. . .Brookstone. . .Orvis. . .Sharper Image. . .Hammacker—Hamhock—Hammock-Slimm----L.L. Bean.  At my house, these are the signs of the season.

The catalogs start coming in September and pick up through October.  By the middle of November I’m getting 2 and 3 a day.  It’s my own fault.

I can’t seem to resist buying something from these catalogs.  And not just silly stuff.  I mean, sure, I was sucked in by the soap dish shaped like a frog—and I don’t even use bar soap.  And who can resist the complete DVD collection of the lost episodes of “Blossom”?  Maybe a visor with the built-in spiky hair wig, and a Christmas ornament in the shape of the human brain.  But there are some good gift ideas in there, too!

So, I buy a cool electronic gadget to give as a gift.  Next thing I know, I’m on yet another catalog list.  And sure enough, when another catalog shows up, I look through it.  And then, before you can say “opt out,” UPS brings me a yard ornament shaped like Spock.  And another catalog.

I must say, though, that all those catalogs have helped me get on top of my Christmas shopping.  I used to be really bad.  One year I gave my family pictures of what I was going to get them in February.  Or March.  Now, I can actually get shopping done before the holidays are over.  And, bonus, I don’t have to go to the mall.  I haven’t been to the mall since 1989.

It’s good to get my Christmas shopping done early for a change.  I still can’t compete with one of my sisters.  I remember one year, I met her in February while she was shopping for the next Christmas, and I was shopping for the gifts that matched the pictures I gave my family the previous Christmas.

Catalogs can be good.  There are just so many of them.  And if you don’t order anything from one for say, 7 years, they send you a note with the next one saying “This could be your last catalog!”  It never is. 

But with so many catalogs, you can usually find that one unique gift for that person who is really hard to shop for.  Like last year, for example, I got my sister a fake rock that hides a spare house key.  The look on her face said it all.  She was speechless. 

This year, I got one of my other sisters something special from one of those catalogs, but I don’t want to say what it is in case she reads this.  But, I can tell you that it---well, let’s just say she won’t be needing to buy a winged cat gargoyle garden sculpture!  Plus, I signed her up for the catalog.  So, guess who’s getting extra family points this Christmas?

And for those of you who are wondering, the answer is yes.  I do keep the SkyMall catalogs when I fly.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

40 Years, Give or Take: Senior Year, Part I

I now had a year at JCSHS on my resume.  I was a Jay. 

The summer between my junior and senior year was busy.  Jerry Hoover, band director, had pushed me to do more musically; to at least try; to learn more; to stretch my musical boundaries.   I’m still not sure what he saw or heard in me, but for some reason he made it his business to help me achieve more.  

So, that summer, he had me taking trumpet lessons from Mike Matheny (brother of renowned jazz guitarist, Pat Matheny, and an incredible musician in his own right).  At the same time, Mr. Hoover had me teaching trumpet to an incoming freshman.  I was learning.  I was stretching.

He had arranged a “scholarship” for me to attend Lakewood Music Camp that summer.  Wow.  Talk about guerrilla training!  We had approximately 6 hours of music rehearsal each day.  I was learning jazz styles, symphonic styles, and also picking up some very useful tips in some of the greatest stunts ever pulled in the name of mischief by young teenaged boys in a summer camp environment.  I learned from the best. 

Before long, it was time for early morning marching band rehearsals.   I had done most of the previous season as part of the marching band my junior year, and I was never more proud in my life.  Not only because of the legendary band, of which I was honored to be a part, but because I was a part of something much bigger.  I was a Jay, and as such I felt a part of every good thing that came out of the school system.

I can still feel the cold early fall wind on my face as I drove my ’66 Volkswagen Beetle to school to get there before 6:30 every morning, my head hanging out the window like a Retriever because the windshield was still frosted over.  (Anyone who has ever owned one of those old bugs can tell you that the heaters never worked in the first 30 minutes of driving.)

I can still see King Shollenberger, hands in his pockets to ward off the brisk morning air, walking along the top of the ridge above the parking lot that served as our practice field, smiling as usual, and encouraging us, sometimes with a wink to me personally that said, “Aren’t you glad you decided to march?” 

All the while, Mr. Hoover gave directions through his ever-present megaphone, and guided us through formations and step-two drills.  I swear, I will not be surprised if “knee-lift and swagger!” are my dying words.

During my “Integration Period” late in my junior year into my senior year, I was introduced to more musical styles than I knew existed.  It was during this time that I became aware of a burning desire to learn more musical styles.   If a song had a trumpet, I wanted to be able to play it.  If it had lots of guitar, I needed to learn the chords.  If it had trumpet and guitar, well…that was heaven.   Then came “Chicago”, and “Blood, Sweat, & Tears”, and “Chase”.   I was OD’ing on music! 

I mean, think about it…has there ever been a time when music was in such transition as 1971-1972?  There was Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young, and John Denver.  There was The Who with “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, but also in the same Top 100 was Perry Como’s “It’s Impossible”.   There was Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May” in the same Top 40 as Tom Jones’ “She’s a Lady”.  The Billboard Top 100 was occupied by both Rare Earth’s “I Just Wanna Celebrate” and the Carpenters’ “Rainy Days and Mondays” simultaneously.

I was growing musically, maturing as a person, and discovering who I was amidst a climate of an unpopular war and a generation dedicating itself to changing things. 

School started and I could not wait.  I knew who Jefferson City Senior High School was now in the world of high school sports.  I had learned who Pete Atkins was and what he had built there.  It was my senior year and Stan Horn was to be our starting quarterback.  It was my senior year and I knew what a Concert Eb scale was.   I was no longer scared.   And I no longer felt alone. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

40 Years, Give or Take: Junior Year

Feeling alone in a sea of new faces, I tried my best to blend in during the first few weeks of my junior year at JCHS in 1970.   I was so confused by the order of things and all the extra processes involved, that when “M through Z” was called to come down for class pictures, I walked up to the photographer, gave him my name, and ended up in the 1971 Marcullus with the rest of the---sophomores?  Yes, I had my school picture taken with the sophomores instead of the juniors. 

Music was my common tie from Eugene to Jefferson City, so I decided to immerse myself in the band program.  But as I have said, I felt like I was starting out several yards behind the other band students.
The first day in the band room, during warmups, director Jerry Hoover called for a "concert Eb scale."  I had no idea where to even start playing that scale on my trumpet!  I had never even heard the term "concert Eb scale!"  Then, Mr. Hoover stopped the entire 180+ member band, looked at Jon Scott (class of '71) seated next to me, and said, "Show him the concert Eb scale."   So much for blending in.

I opted out of marching band, not because I didn’t want to be a part of it, but because I felt completely inadequate.  For one thing, there was the whole move-from-tiny-school-to-big-school thing.  But I also have this thing with my leg.  One leg is a bit smaller than the other due to a slight case of polio when I was a baby.  (Remember, we were born prior to the Salk vaccine!) I have this limp, and that made me somewhat self-conscious when trying to march in a band I considered as close to professional as a school band could be! 

But Mr. Hoover wasn’t having any of it.  Where I thought I was doing him a favor, he was determined not to let me miss out on an opportunity.  That would be a pattern with him for the next two years. 

So, I ended up in marching band.  And what memories I have from those experiences during my junior and senior years!    The band trips, the early morning marching practices, Mr. Shollenberger pacing the sidelines with that ever-present grin.  Some specific memories from Jazz Band and the Marching Jays will be covered in the next few installments of this blog.

My junior year was a blur.  There were so many firsts, it’s hard to pin them all down.  Not to mention that the passing of 39 years has crowded a lot of memories together.  And I’m old…er.

There was my first high school football game.  Now, how cool is it that the very first high school football game I ever saw was as a Jeff City Jay?!  Then there were the Majorettes!  (sigh)  The first band contest, practices, school musicals, the Jayettes, and of course walking 2 miles farther between classes than I ever had to at Eugene.  And then there were the Majorettes! 

I picked up guitar, thanks to the inspiration of Paul Duke (class of ’71), and became involved with a folk group from First Baptist Church with Paul and Jim Ailor (class of ’71), Greg Morrow, Greg Hernandez, Donna Haldiman, and several others.  It was a great time!  

I was actually beginning to improve my musical skills, so I felt less inadequate.  I was actually growing!  And there were opportunities there at JCHS that  I would never have had in a smaller school.

I slowly began to fold in to the rest of the school, and the more I became involved with music, the more I felt I belonged there at Jefferson City Senior High School.  I was becoming a Jay.   

Thursday, September 1, 2011

40 Years, Give or Take

I have recently been informed that June of next year, 2012, will mark 40 years since I graduated high school.  That sentence is huge in terms of "bulging with back-story."  (For those uninitiated in literary terms, that's a literary term meaning "bulging with back-story.")

First, I received this news via a postcard from the reunion committee.  Secondly, I reconnected with these people via facebook.  Wow.  Hello, 19th Century meets 21st Century!  I mean we went from stamp to social networking in the blink of an age-dimmed eye!

Of course, all this contact with folks whom I hadn't talked to or seen since 1972 brought back a flood of memories--and a few traumatic life experiences--from those formative years.

There were 459 young idealistic souls who graduated that year.  True, there were many of those whom I never had contact with during school, and most of them probably didn't know me from Adam.  Nonetheless, we walked the track together, and we graduated together, on June 1, 1972.

With that in mind, these next few blogs (note the current, trendy, and somewhat hip terminology I now incorporate into my everyday spoken language) will be devoted to those life-shaping years, leading up to my graduation from Jefferson City Senior High School.

Please note that any and all names used from this point forward have NOT been changed to protect the innocent, nor anyone else who may have wandered into that era.

Let's begin where it all started. It was the summer of 1970.  I had just finished my sophomore year at Eugene Cole R-V High School in Eugene, Missouri.  Now, my family was moving into the Jefferson City school district. Three years earlier, my father had resigned his position as high school principal and Social Studies and Speech teacher there at Eugene and taken a position with the State Department of Education as Transcript Review Supervisor.

By 1970, he had moved his family closer to Jefferson City, and the Jefferson Building in which was his office. And of course, I would be attending Jefferson City Senior High School. Thus was I initiated into the "big city" school system of Jefferson City Public Schools.  I turned 16 just a couple of weeks before school started the first week of September, 1970.

I had one major school activity to which I could tie my Eugene and Jefferson City school experiences: band.  I was a trumpet player.  I went from a school band with 20 members to one with 180.  That was about three times the number of my entire sophomore class.

I went from a school in which the music teacher made me play 3rd trumpet because there weren't enough players to cover the parts, to a school that had way more than enough to cover all parts, with several students left over.

I went from a school band in which I was taught music by the teacher singing my trumpet part to me (and so I learned music more by ear than by theory), to a school in which my grades were dependent upon my reading music.

I went from a school that had such a small band that, when we marched in the Jefferson City Christmas Parade, I was asked to play cymbals because there weren't enough students in the percussion section to cover the cadence.  I declined because I was a trumpet player!  (That year, by the way, the Eugene Cole R-V Schools Marching Band was placed in the parade between the Jefferson City Senior High School Marching Band and the Lincoln University Marching Band.  As I recall, we played a lame arrangement of "Good King Wenceslas", and I lost my mouthpiece somewhere between humiliation and embarrassment, and wished I had agreed to play cymbals.)

I went from a school that, during registration, handed out a sheet of paper for the student to fill out to choose classes for the coming year, to a school that used data punch cards, and had a labyrinth of different lines to go through to register for classes.

The first day of classes came, and I didn't have a clue. I roamed the halls trying to find my locker, Rex Adams looking at me like the principal in Napoleon Dynamite looking at Pedro.

I had no idea what was in store for me.  But I knew I was scared.  And alone.