Friday, March 28, 2014

Opening Day ... let's play (better than last year)

       I love baseball a lot, more than most people, but Opening Day a national holiday? No, that's a bit much.
       Unlike Ozzie Smith, a Hall of Fame shortstop whose backflips became a charming part of the game's promotion, I am not doing backflips over this idea.
       Ozzie and a certain beer company identified closely with the St. Louis Cardinals were promoting a petition for people to present to The President to declare the game's Opening Day a national holiday. I don't  think this has been an overwhelming project, and POTUS probably has a few other things to do.
       But, Opening Day(s) -- the real ones, not the two showcase games in Australia a week ago -- is a fine day, a long-anticipated one for us baseball fans.
       Locally, it's Monday afternoon when the Texas Rangers are host to the Philadelphia Phillies. For me, it's Tuesday night when my team, the New York Yankees, play in Houston. Am I ready? You know it.
       It's been six months since I cared about a baseball game. Once the Yankees were eliminated from playoff contention last year -- only the second time in the last 18 years they missed the playoffs -- I paid scant attention to the game. I don't even know who won the World Series (just kidding, Red Sox fans).
       I've been counting down for weeks, and now it's down to a couple of days. I know from the familiar anxiety, nervousness, speculation. When it's time for the Yankees to play for real -- I don't care about the exhibition season -- it's time to focus.
        This devoutly following a sports team -- be it, in my case, the Yankees, Cowboys, Mavericks, LSU and Louisiana Tech or the Dutch national soccer team -- is a bit silly. It's not like I have any personal influence on any of it, or it greatly affects my life or my family's life.
         But it's what we do, it's what we sports fans do. It's what I've always done.
         I like it. Ah, that's too mild. I love it.
         Following the daily adventures of a team -- the games, the personnel moves, the drama, especially relishing in the wins and not sleeping after tough losses -- there's nothing in my sports world quite like it. For me, it's especially true in baseball.
          I don't follow the overall game as closely as I once did, or as many people do. Don't even watch all that much on TV anymore. I'm strictly a one-team guy, as I wrote on Opening Day two years ago ...
          And when it's like last year, there are days when I don't even want to think about it.
One last season for Derek Jeter, and let's hope it's a
 great one for the Yankees (photo from
          This will be my 59th season as a Yankees fan, but only my 58th Opening Day (I'll explain in a moment). This, as you might have heard, will be Derek Jeter's 19th Opening Day as a player with the Yankees' major-league team -- and his last.
           That is one year than Mickey Mantle had as a Yankees player. In my time as a Yankees fan, no player other than Mantle has been more popular, more of an icon, more of a leader than Jeter.
            So, yes, we hate to see him retire. But we also hate to see him play at a diminished level (as Mantle did for his last four seasons).
            The hope is that Derek, during this season when he turns 40, can stay healthy and play near the level he played two years ago (.316 batting average, 216 hits) before the broken ankle suffered in a playoff game.
             Recovering from that, and subsequent other leg injuries, limited him to 17 games last season, and it was a miserable season for him -- and for us.
             When the high point of the season comes on May 25 (12 games above .500), when you finish 12 games out of first place, when you never had much of a shot at a playoff spot (stayed in contention until the last couple of weeks, but not really close), that's a bad year. Especially for the Yankees.
              I had a friend suggest to me -- yesterday, in fact -- that maybe the Yankees can buy their way into a wild-card playoff spot this year. As I always tell people, the Yankees don't aim for a wild-card spot. We are accustomed to winning our division, our league, and the World Series.
              We know and expect, as Yankees fans, that our team will contend for a championship. Some franchises, and their fans, know they have little chance, year-in and year-out. You know who you are.
              I'm sure Derek Jeter will enjoy his "farewell" tour, as Mariano Rivera did last year. But he probably won't relish it as much as Rivera did; Jeter is more private than Mariano. And although I don't know the young man personally, I would guess he would much prefer to end his career in the playoffs and World Series. That's been his biggest stage.
             Mo would've like that, too, but last year's makeshift Yankees team didn't provide that for him, despite his own typical great season.
              Last year's team was the poorest run-producing Yankees team in two decades. But reinforcements -- yes, bought free agents -- will help cure that, and we'll be without another problem, the everyday drama brought by the highest-paid player in the game who is suspended for the season. I forget his name.
              (I'm fine with that suspension, in case you're wondering.)
              I became a Yankees fan in 1956, a few months after arriving in this country. Opening Day of that season, I was barely aware of baseball; it was a new sport to me. I was a soccer/bicycling/speedskating fan ... my Dutch heritage. 
              By the summer of '56, though, I was a baseball fan and a Yankees fan. Which explains the 59 years of fandom, but only 58 Opening Days. 
              It is better, on Opening Day, to be a fan of the defending World Series champions. I know that feeling ... 11 times. Or the defending American League champions (19 times). But we haven't been in that situation for the past four years.
              On Opening Day 1956, the defending World Series champions were our then-biggest rival, the Brooklyn Dodgers. That was the only time in history that was the case (and my friend, Pete Alfano, and the long-suffering Brooklyn fans rightly relished it.
              This Opening Day, the honor belongs to our biggest AL rival. Great for them and their fans; their team had a magical season last year. Let's see if they can do it again because repeating is a difficult task (although the Red Sox did it ... 98 and 99 years ago).
               Of course, one franchise has won five consecutive World Series (1949-53) and  four consecutive (1936-39) and even three in a row (1998-2000). Only one team -- the Oakland Athletics, 1972-74 -- can match any of that. 
               Right now, I'd settle for an Opening Day victory. Then we'll see about the remaining 161 regular-season games.
               Don't know that Jeter can stay healthy or play like the younger Jeter. Don't know how Mark Teixeira will recover from his injury and surgery. Don't know how the free agents will work out, or if the older Yankees players can still perform at a winning level. Don't know about second base (good-bye, Robinson Cano) or third base or the bullpen, especially closer (without Mo). Still many questions to answer about this season's team.
               The answers come over a long, long season -- six months of glory and agony. Glad it's finally here again.
               It's not a national holiday. But it's time to play ball, and it feels just right.                

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A kid to remember; a special school name

     You meet thousands of people in life, so many unforgettable. In my business, all those athletes and coaches/adminstrators, fellow journalists -- and I can still see a lot of them and remember.
     You write hundreds -- no, thousands -- of stories and columns, don't remember all that many in particular.
     Some people, some stories/columns are special. Donnie Bickham fit those categories. He is a kid I always remembered -- and the memory is sweet but also painful.
     It has been 42 years and a couple of months since that awful day in January 1972 when, just back from a trip to East Texas on a couple of days off work, I received a call from the office: Donnie Bickham had been killed in a head-on collision, also somewhere in Texas, two days earlier. He was coming home to Shreveport from Blinn College, a junior college where he was a star football and baseball player.
     He was 19 years old; I was only 24, in my third year as a fulltime sports writer at The Shreveport Times. I had known him for five years, first met him when I was about to go to college; he was about to be an eighth-grader.
     Didn't matter that I was supposed to be off the day I received the phone call. I got to the office as soon as I could and began working on a column.
      It was the first time in my professional career I had written an obituary column. Obviously, I never forgot it. It meant a lot to me then; it means a lot to me today. He was that good a kid.
      As I read it again last week, there was some awkward phrasing and some repetitive thoughts. Two of the people I quoted, Coach James Farrar and Francis "Bear" Grigsby, are gone now.
      But when I read about that "little freckle-faced kid who grew up to be an all-stater" -- as I wrote in the first paragraph -- I still get choked up. I've written quite a few obit pieces since, but that one was more heartfelt than any and I never put more emotion in one as I did that day.
      Here's how much the people in Blanchard -- the town just north of Shreveport proper where Donnie and his family lived -- thought of him. A few years later, when a new middle school opened in that area, the Caddo Parish School Board approved the name:
      Donnie Bickham Middle School.
      What a great tribute. How deserving.
      The Bickhams always have been among the First Families of Blanchard. A history of the town on the website begins with this: Francis Bickham was the first settler to buy land in the area in 1843.
      Some 120 years later, another Francis Bickham -- Donnie's father -- was a prominent Blanchard and Caddo Parish resident. Mr. Bickham for many years was the chief administrator of the Caddo Parish Police Jury (which became the Caddo Parish Commission). The Francis P. Bickham Building in downtown Shreveport now is where the Commission offices are located.
      Mr. Bickham died in 1994. Donnie's mother, Donna, was a longtime secretary at the Blanchard-area high school (Northwood) where Donnie was a star student and athlete. She died two years ago.
      I got to know the Bickhams through Donnie's older brother, Greg, who was playing baseball at SPAR Stadium in Shreveport when I first met Donnie. Greg went on to play football and baseball at Fair Park High School and -- full disclosure -- for many years was my Dad's financial advisor and then ours. Greg and his wife, Christy, remain our friends.
      When I think of Donnie's death and writing about it, it also brings back the shock 11 years later of Joe Delaney's drowning, and The Times and our staff at the Shreveport Journal did numerous stories and columns on that. And just four years before Donnie, there was the death of a good friend and a star athlete, Trey Prather, in Vietnam.
      All tragic. Delaney was a bit older, a college and NFL star. Trey barely made it to 20. Donnie didn't.
      I have never been to Donnie Bickham Middle School, and that's my fault. It's a visit I should have made years ago. I know that my mother, in her Holocaust education speaking mission, several times spoke to students there -- and I remember my father talking about the memorabilia honoring Donnie.
      At one time, I believe that a copy of my 1972 column was included among that memorabilia -- it might still be there -- and I'm honored by that.
      Because that kid was memorable; he meant much to a lot of folks. He wasn't all that big, but he was talented and, more importantly, he was so focused and so determined. And he was as nice a young man as I ever would meet in a lifetime.
      In his short time, he left a legacy not to be forgotten. People in Shreveport and Blanchard made sure of that.
      (A link to my column of Jan. 9, 1972 -- with a few edits -- and a copy of a letter from one of Donnie's friends to The Shreveport Times ...)

A 1972 column on one of my favorite kids

      Column from The Shreveport Times, Sunday, Jan. 9, 1972:
      Bickham: A Champ
      Life Was Too Short ...  
      Donnie Bickham was the little freckle-faced kid who grew up to be an all-stater.
      In 1965, my summer occupation was the public address announcer for junior baseball at SPAR Stadium. One of the teams playing there frequently was Blanchard's Jr. A team and I remember how one player's little brother would come to the press box and sit and talk.
      That little brother was Donnie Bickham.
      He did it quite often that summer, and sometimes he'd be in his own baseball uniform, having just played a game in another part of town. He was a kid full of enthusiasm and life, and somehow you knew then that he had quite a future.
      And there he was again in 1969, my first year at The Times. Only he wasn't the little kid anymore. He was at Northwood High School and he was a senior and he had, indeed, turned out to be quite an athlete. And quite a person, too.
      The game of life ended for Donald Thomas Bickham on Thursday evening, snuffed out by a head-on car collision on a Texas highway.
      And suddenly you find yourself groping for the words that sum up your feelings about Donnie Bickham. And you know deep down that you can't ever say enough. That you were fortunate like so many others, to have known him, to have watched him play, to have seen him in his times of glory and in his times of defeat, and of the latter there weren't many.
      He was, if we could sum it up, a model athlete-scholar.
      Think of Northwood High School and Donnie Bickham comes to mind. He came with the school. He was there when it opened in 1967 and he became a leader on the school's first championship teams in football and baseball. He ran track. He earned all sorts of honors in other fields, too.
      Then it was more of the same at Blinn College in Brenham, Texas, for the past 1 1/2 years.
      Just look at some of his many accomplishments.
      All-district and all-state in football. All-district and all-state in baseball. "Player of the Year" in District 1-AAA baseball. "Player of the Year" on The Times' All-City American Legion baseball team in 1970.
      At Northwood, an A student, Key Club president two years, Mr. Northwood, National Honor Society. At Blinn, a 9.3 scholastic average out of a possible 10, the Dean's List three times, "Who's Who in Speech," etc.
      He was 5-foot-9, 170 pounds, blond hair, sparkling eyes, always happy ... unless he was int he midst of a game. Then he was serious and concentrating.
      He wasn't a big man and we remember how, after his senior year in football when he scored 92 points and helped Northwood to a 9-2 record, not many colleges wanted to recruit him. Oh, he could have had his pick for baseball. But Donnie wanted to play football.
      Blinn was willing to give him a chance, though, and off he went with a combination football-baseball scholarship.
      We kept getting reports on how well he was doing, and we'd see him here at home for the holidays and he was happy at Blinn. He did well enough to earn a football-baseball scholarship to Baylor University for his final two years. And he was to have transferred there at mid-term.
      And now, there are only memories ...
      ... for 'The Thumper'
       They called him "The Thumper" and I never knew why.
       "He liked that name," recalled James Farrar, who coached him in football and baseball at Northwood. "He had a lot of pride in it."
       But that was the Bickham way. He had a lot of pride in everything he did. And he did it with class.
       "I can't ever remember him saying anything bad about anybody," Farrar said. "He made fun out of working and, man, he worked. I can remember hitting him a thousand ground balls, and he'd never be satisfied. He'd always want to do more.
       "There are a thousand things that fly through your mind," Farrar added. "I remember our first football game in 1967 at Logansport. He ran back the opening kickoff and he got tripped up by one of our players. And he came off the field saying, 'I could have scored, coach.' "
       And Farrar recalled, too, a moment after Donnie's junior football season. "He didn't make all-district and he should have," James said. "And I called him in the office and told him he hadn't made it.
       "He had big 'ol tears running down his face and he said, 'Next year, I'll make sure. There'll be no doubt.' "
       And, next year, there was no doubt.
       His closest friends at Northwood already have made plans for a painting of Donnie to be hung in the school foyer above the trophy case.
       One of them, Francis Grigsby, has a fond last memory of Donnie. It was a touch football game two weeks ago when many of the ex-Falcons were home for the Christmas holidays.
       "We were on the same team and we're behind by two points and the other team is on our 2-yard line," Grigsby recalled. "It was getting pretty dark, too. So they tried a pass and Donnie intercepted it and ran 101 yards. That was the end of the game.
       "That's the last time I saw him and I'll never forget it ... 101 yards and 101 percent effort. That was Donnie Bickham."
       Oh, there are so many memories. How he scored the winning touchdown on a spot pass in the last minute at Springhill in 1969 and how one week later he scored a touchdown and intercepted a last-minute pass in a 14-6 win at Bossier. He disappointed he was at losing in a state playoff game on a bitterly cold night at Tallulah. His senior season in baseball when he helped Northwood win its third straight district championship and he batted .435. That summer when he hit .478 and got a city-record 33 hits for Miller's Drillers of Blanchard in Legion baseball.
       And how I called him one night when I could reach the coach and said, "Well, Coach Bickham, who are you starting tomorrow?" We laughed about it together.
       "Boy, he was some kind of baseball player," recalled Perry Peyton, who pitched against him. "I figured that for a career he was 10-of-13 off me. One game, I got him to pop up on a change-up with the bases loaded. The next time he came up, he had fire in his eyes. And he hit a smash. I think it was a double. He was a great competitor."
       Those are the things to remember about Donnie Bickham. He had ability, and he had pride, and he was humble. He always remained the same, even as the honors kept coming. He was a champion in every respect.
        Maybe James Farrar, who knew him better than most, summed it up.
         "Donnie Bickham," he said, "was the type of young man you want your son to be like."       
A letter to The Shreveport Times ...
      I recently found a letter from Jim Jamar, a Shreveport resident, to The Shreveport Times, not sure of the date.

     This letter is to congratulate the first student body at Donald Thomas Bickham Middle School! And to tell you what I know about your namesake.
     I knew Donnie Bickham when I was fortunate enough to be on the same "termite" baseball team with him. The very first baseball I was ever in we lost (and it wouldn't be the last). But what I remember most is instead of allowing our team to wallow in the misery of defeat, Donnie rallied us all around the pitcher's mound and led us in a spirited cheer of "we lost, by golly, we lost!" That was Donnie -- defeat did not beat his determination. I never forgot that lesson.
     I knew Donnie Bickham when he was a middle-schooler at Blanchard Junior High School. I remember him sinking countless 30-foot-plus baskets in front of an appreciative home crowd, game after game. But I don't remember him ever mentioning anything about it. I remember Donnie that same summer hitting during batting practice. He called every pitch and wherever he said he would hit the ball, it went. That was Donnie -- not talking about what he did, but doing what he said he would. I marveled at his matter-of-factness.
      I knew Donnie Bickham as a high-schooler at Northwood High School. He was a leader, a scholar, a supreme athlete and bubbled with enthusiasm and personality, and more. That was Donnie, he knew the sky was the limit, and he reached for it. I looked up to him.
      Donald Thomas Bickham is gone, but Donald Thomas Bickham Middle School is here and going strong! If the students at Bickham Middle School will set as standards the one that Donnie Bickham lived by, they too will not be beaten by defeat. Accomplishment will be a way of life. And they will reach for the sky.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Cheering in the Press Box (but not out loud)

         "We [sportswriters] have a tendency to write about the past, to let time telescope on us. We live through so many generations of ball players, they all get mixed up in our minds. We do not judge time at all. A sportswriter is entombed in a prolonged boyhood."
          -- Jimmy Cannon, from No Cheering in the Press Box
        In the past week, I have spent much time thinking of sportswriting -- my career and those of others. It's one of my favorite topics, naturally, and always was.
        It was a career for some of my favorite people and, yes, some of my least favorite. Made so many good friends and encountered a few people I wish I'd never met.
        Over the past couple of weeks, I've been cleaning out files, scanning in stories/columns from my early days in sportswriting. And I read the book No Cheering in the Press Box, a collection of oral histories from 18 of the greatest sportswriters in America over a 70-year period (early 1900s to 1973).
        I was nowhere -- nowhere -- near those legends, in ability or in person, but reading their stories -- recorded and edited by Jerome Holtzman, a legendary Chicago baseball writer, in 1973 -- helped me gain perspective on my life's work.
        My material from June 1963 -- my first bylines in The Shreveport Times when I was a high school junior-to-be -- through much of my time working in Shreveport ... some 25 years. It was a nostalgic trip and my wife, of course, likes to remind me that nostalgia is one of the best/worst attributes.
        There is -- modesty aside -- some good work in there, pieces that brought back emotion and memories. Great games and thrills, great athletes and average ones, controversy, sadness (several columns on young men who died far too soon).
        After I scanned in some clippings I thought my interest friends, I sent them via e-mail or Facebook messages. And I came across a full Shreveport Journal sports page from 1985 that I mailed  to a once-young man now grandfather whose games I covered when he was an unbeaten, state-championship high school quarterback and six years later became a co-worker at the Journal.
        To get his reaction was fun; he, too, found it a nostalgic trip. One of his points I identified with -- he never liked going back and reading something he wrote, at least not right after it was published. That's exactly how I always felt; I wasn't one of those types who scrutinized every word before I turned it in or right after it ran.
        Even now, as I read some of my early work in the 1960s and early '70s, I cringe at how much I had to learn.
        But, as he noted, going back and looking at it now, much of our work reads well. And it's good to know that people appreciated it.
        At times, it was hard work -- harder than the people might think. But mostly, it was fun. Can't think of anything else I'd rather have done. Plus, they paid us for it.
        A prolonged boyhood, as Jimmy Cannon suggested? Oh, yeah, and I had plenty of company.
        "I never felt that I was a bug-eyed fan as such. I wasn't one of those who dreamed of being a sportswriter and going around the country traveling with ball players and getting into the games free and, oh, dear diary, what a break. I'm not pretending that I haven't enjoyed this hugely. I have. I've loved it. But I never had any soaring ambition to be a sportswriter, per se. I wanted to be a newspaperman, and came to realize I didn't really care which side of the paper I worked on."
        -- Walter "Red" Smith, from No Cheering in the Press Box
        Red Smith, considered by many the best sportswriter there ever was, said he wasn't a "bug-eyed fan" nor that he had "any soaring ambition to be a sportswriter."
        At times, I was very much the fan and, from age 16, I did want to do this job. Where I do very much agree with Mr. Smith is that "I have loved it."
        My favorite two chapters of No Cheering in the Press Box were the one on Red Smith and the final one on Jimmy Cannon, also considered one of the greats. The book's title is derived from Cannon's discussion of sportswriters' demeanor covering events.
        "We were talking about cheering in the press box," he said. "It goes on all around the league. It's one of the great boasts of all journalists, and especially baseball writers, that they are not influenced by their relationships with people off the field. This is an absolute myth."
        Cannon goes on to say, "... But I never cheered out loud. I've heard guys cheering. Most of them do. They're in every town. Most of the guys traveling with ball clubs are more publicists than reporters."
        Cannon, who died in December 1973, was talking about sportswriting 50-60-70-80 years ago, so I don't think the "fandom" applies much these days.
        But, from a personal standpoint, I can tell you if a team from my area -- whether it was Shreveport, Jacksonville or Knoxville -- or the team I was covering (say, the Cowboys) was playing a team from elsewhere, I wasn't impartial. And neither were the writers covering the other team.
        I remember the writers from Baton Rouge openly cheering their teams at football and basketball playoff games. And anyone who was ever around the great Jerry Byrd knows he was not only loud but also outlandish at some games. 
          I honestly tried not to be too demonstrative at games -- yes, I know you might find that hard to believe and I'm talking about my sportswriting days, not my sports information time. But, yes, I did my share of complaining (that's a nice way to put it) about officiating.        Sure, personal relationships with coaches and athletes I really liked and my longtime ties to schools affected how I felt about covering games. But the thing to remember -- always -- was that I was there as a reporter, whose job it was to provide an impartial story.
        But, again, if you were covering a certain team, the story was slanted that way. I find that especially true these days in the coverage of the Cowboys, Mavericks and Rangers here in the Dallas-Fort Worth papers -- and if you're a Yankees fan, you won't get their slant in these papers.
        Another Jimmy Cannon view:
        "Sportswriting has survived because of the guys who don't cheer. They're the truth-tellers. Lies die. ... Telling the truth -- and writing it with vigor and clarity -- that's what makes it exciting."
        And later on, he said, "... The worst thing a sportswriter can be is a fan. I was never a fan, not since I was in short pants. ... I don't want sportswriters being fans. I want them to be the guys who neither love nor hate the sport and whose life is not wrapped up in the sport and who remember they are working newspapermen and not baseball people. ... What I care about about, what I hope I care about, is, 'Is it good for the paper? Is it a good piece?' "
        I am reminded, though, that as sportswriters, we tended to gravitate to the teams that won the most. It's just part of the business. Some coaches and fans didn't like that, felt like their teams -- perhaps not as successful -- were being ignored or picked on.
        Part of it, really, was not "rubbing in" a team or coach's misery, especially at the high school level. College and pros, that's a different game -- people are being paid (stretching it to college kids on scholarship, for instance) to be successful.
        Here is a story I always liked, one that Coach Jerry Adams tells about the 1960s days at Woodlawn High, when our football team was always among the best in Louisiana. Jerry Byrd, who covered the high-school scene as well as anyone ever has, used to spend a lot of time at the school in that era.
        Before a really big game one week, as the coaches headed out of their office to the practice field, Byrd left them a note.
        "If you win Friday night, have the boys carry you off on their shoulders toward the south end zone, for pictures and interviews," he wrote.
        Below that, he wrote, "If you lose ... see you next week."     

Friday, March 21, 2014

Not a "dream" job, but a good life

       A couple of years ago, I traded messages with an old friend/acquaintance who obviously hadn't stayed in touch when he asked, "How did you get to be a sportswriter?"
       From my sophomore year in high school,  I was always headed that way. Maybe you could trace it to when I was 4 or 5, back in Holland, when it was obvious I was going to be a sports fan/nut.
        It was a long road from Holland to Fort Worth, and career-wise, from Shreveport to points far west (Honolulu) and east (Jacksonville), with a few more stops, and finally a home for 10 1/2 years at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. 
        As I've written previously, at the end of my career, I was satisfied that I always did the best I could. I can't say it was a "great" career because I screwed it up so many times, had too many conflicts and made more mistakes than I wanted. But I got the chance to do something I loved, to be involved in something I loved.
         Let me clarify that.
A still-young sportswriter in Honolulu
covering the Aloha Classic in 1982.
        Was sportswriting my "dream" job? No, it wasn't.
        My dream job: Running the New York Yankees. That's right; I wish I had the job Brian Cashman has now: general manager. I'm a few billions short of owning the team. But if I could have put together the teams to win 15 consecutive World Series titles, I would've fulfilled my dream.
         I was never going to be an athlete, I didn't have the skills to be a coach. I could've involved in running, say, a city recreation program or a kids' athletic organization.
          But where I ended up was in sportswriting. From early on, I always had a skill for keeping statistics and for reading -- studying -- books on sports history. I learned to score baseball games when I was 10; one of my parents' greatest gifts to me, at age 12, was a typewriter. I soon learned to type -- correctly, by the book, not hunt-and-peck -- and that would be invaluable.
        From the September 1960 day that coaches Ellace Bruce and Leonard Ponder handed me a letter from The Shreveport Times making me the correspondent who called in results of Oak Terrace Junior High's home football and basketball games, my career path was set.
        The summer after my sophomore year at Woodlawn High -- where I phoned The Times with the box scores and highlights of basketball and baseball games that weren't covered by a writer -- my first newspaper job became writing stories on top players in the SPAR summer baseball program.
         That was arranged through Jim McLain and Ed Shearer, The Times sportswriters I'd gotten to know when they covered Woodlawn games. In my junior and senior years, they also took me with them several times to Louisiana Tech when they covered games in the old Tech football stadium.
         Along with three of the coaches on the Woodlawn staff, those were my first connections to what would be four wonderful college years at Tech. But the most important part of that connection was the sports information director, T.H. "Pete" Dosher, who gave me a job there and taught me more about journalism -- and life -- than just about anyone. (Pete will be the subject of a future blog.)
          As mentioned in a previous blog, I made my first visit to The Times and got my first bylines in the summer of '63 with those kids' baseball stories. Still have the clippings and realize that, even after editing, they were the work of a 16-year-old. (To my friends, save the smart remarks here.)
          Later that summer, when Ed Shearer went for his two-week Army Reserves duty, I filled in for him covering American Legion baseball at SPAR Stadium -- my first Legion bylines.
           For the next 11 years, I covered Legion ball ... it was one of the earliest (and most fun) parts of my days with The Times. Four games every Saturday -- 2, 4, 6 and 8 -- and we had to fill out box scores by hand, then call a cab to take the boxes from the first three games to the newspaper. After the final game, it was a rush to get to the paper and wrap all four games in one story.
            (No cellphones, no computers, no telecopiers, no fax machines, no time to phone in and dictate the boxscores, which had to be set in type on the old linotype maches in the composing room downstairs. Yes, the old days of newspapers.)
            In my junior and senior years at Woodlawn, I wrote sports (and edited stories) for the school newspaper and was co-sports editor of the award-winning yearbooks. Great experiences, but not the same as working for the morning newspaper, and dealing with daily deadlines.
            From there it was four years in the sports information office at Tech, the last three years of which I ended up running the office when the SID left before the school year ended. Before I graduated, Bill McIntyre -- The Times sports editor and certainly one of my mentors -- offered me a fulltime job ... they expanded the staff (five fulltimers) to make a place for me.
             A fortunate break for me. It was already home, and I wasn't anywhere ready to live in the world on my own.
             You might surprised to read this: I did not love newspapers, I did not love writing. I do love reading newspapers and great writing, but -- unlike many people I worked with -- I didn't get great joy from working for newspapers or from writing.
             My passion was for sports, being involved some way with sports and sports people. Newspapers were just a venue for that; I wouldn't have wanted to work in any other department. I was people get transferred out of sports to, say, the state desk -- and I hated that for them.
             As for writing, I felt I improved a lot. Early in my career, I was far too statistics-oriented, too caught up in play-by-play. I didn't pay enough attention to the "people" aspect of writing.
             I spent far too much time researching sports history (on microfilm, for instance) and wasted too much time just reading newspapers from the past. Should have been working on how to improve as a writer.
              And I never found it that easy. Now, I could write on deadline, and write quickly, compose routine, fact-oriented stories in a hurry. But to write what I consider deep, analytical, think columns, or outstanding "feature" stories on people, that wasn't me. I worked with many, many people I felt did that better, and more easily.
               So I wasn't going to be a big-time writer; I knew that early on. I did get to cover many good events -- a Super Bowl, an Ali fight, good college bowl games and NCAA basketball and baseball tournaments, some NFL -- but I was just as happy covering North Louisiana colleges and especially covering high schools in a number of states.
               I never wanted to be outworked. Started out as a workaholic (didn't have much of a life then), but I burned out, had to pull back and I reformed. I learned it was more important to work smart than to work all the time.
               I did aim to become a good all-around journalist -- editing copy, writing headlines, designing pages (formerly known as "layout"), reporter, columnist, statistics keeper -- and I'm satisified I did that.
               I'm not looking for plaudits; this is more self-analysis. And while I don't want to do any more newspaper work, I would be open to editing sports books (I edited a couple of Louisiana-related books last year for friends).
                That is, unless Brian Cashman calls and wants me to take his job with the Yankees, or make me his assistant.


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Follow all the bouncing balls (it's madness)

       It is March Madness, has been for a week or two now, and frankly, I'm not that excited. Sorry, basketball fans.
      There was a time in my life when I was a basketball savant of sorts, when I would watch whatever game was on TV. Basketball was, other than baseball, my favorite sport for years and years. But that time has passed.
The Louisiana Tech Bulldogs won't be in the NCAA
Tournament (and I'm disappointed). (Tom Morris photo)
       Honestly, the NCAA Tournament is a helluva lot more fun if you have a team to root for. I don't.
       No, Louisiana Tech missed out -- just as it has for 20-plus years now. The Bulldogs had an exciting, well-coached, competitive team that wound up as the No. 1 seed in their conference, but they didn't have it in the one last game they needed to win.
       LSU missed out, never really had much of a chance, in my opinion, with an underachieving team.
       When you have a team in the tournament, it is so much more exciting. The greatest moments in Louisiana Tech men's basketball history -- we'll get to the women's game in a bit -- were in 1985 when the Bulldogs (including Karl Malone) beat Pittsburgh and then Ohio State and reached the Sweet Sixteen, only to lose to Oklahoma on a last-second shot by Waymon Tisdale that is still bouncing on the rim at Reunion Arena in Dallas.
        (Reality is that Tisdale and Reunion Arena are both gone. Sad.)
        The prospect of Louisiana Tech one step from the Final Four was a dream ride. That was fun.
        LSU's men have given us some fun -- three Final Four trips (1981, 1986, 2006) since the NCAA Tournament became a national pastime (the first Final Four team, in 1953, was when the NCAA Tournament was still pretty much a secret).
        The Tigers two other times (1980, 1987) got to the Elite Eight and two other times to the Sweet Sixteen (1979 and 2002 -- Stromile Swift's team). Say what you want about LSU basketball, and say that it plays second string to LSU football, but there have been some good times.
        Selection Sunday usually brings some surprises, and some silliness, and some sadness. Used to be that the NCAA Tournament field was announced just by being posted on the wire service and/or schools receiving phone calls. Now, of course, CBS makes a production of the selection show.
         There is always going to be some controversy about the selections and the seedings, and all the speculation/analysis is a bit much for me. So is the silliness of the players at the "watch parties" who dance and chest-bump and scream when their team's selection is announced. For most of them, they knew they were in the tournament ... why all the commotion?
          Reminds me of when we were watching the selection show one Sunday in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram sports department, and we were making fun of the players' reactions.
          And then a first-time NCAA Tournament participant was announced and Mark Finley cracked, "Hey, act like you've been there before ... Oh, that's right, you haven't been."
           Had to feel sorry Sunday for the "watch party" group at SMU, which CBS showed several times. At the end of the selections, there were a disappointed group -- left out of the Big Dance (don't like that term, incidentally; it's so overused).
           I am of the opinion that the college basketball season, like most seasons across sports these days, lasts too long. I think they should do away with the week of the conference tournaments and let every team, all 341 NCAA Division I teams, play in the NCAAs, beginning with, say, 16 regionals. Seed the top 64 teams, award first- and second-round byes, and start playing. It's still one loss-and-done.
           (Of course, because the tournaments in the major conferences are huge money-makers, this idea will never happen).
         Anyway, this season the NCAA didn't happen for LSU or for a Louisiana Tech team I followed more closely than I have in some years (yes, I jumped on the bandwagon). Can tell you that the loss to Tulsa in the Conference USA tournament title game was a real letdown.
         So "my" teams are in the NIT, which frankly is a runner-up tournament. I care -- and I'm glad that LSU and Tech are in opposite bracket and wouldn't have to play until the final two rounds reach New York City -- but it's not like I'll stop my world to watch.
          Nor will I watch that much of the NCAAs. And I have received several invitations to fill out brackets and spend my valuable money for my entry. No thanks. I haven't done that in years, and back when I did, I was a miserable failure at it. Couldn't make myself take chances and try to pick upsets.
         But those upsets are what makes the NCAA Tournament, especially the first week, such an attraction. A No. 16 seed has never beaten a No. 1 seed in the men's tournament, but that day is coming. When a No. 15 seed beats a No. 2, or a 14 beats a 3, etc., that's worth watching.
          When, as happened last year, a No. 15 seed you've never heard of -- Florida Gulf Coast University -- reaches the Sweet Sixteen, or when schools such as George Mason or Virginia Commonwealth reach the Final Four, you know there is hope for the Louisiana Techs. It's a beautiful prospect.
           So I will watch some games, as time permits (and someone at our house is not watching her Dallas Mavericks). I do have some teams I like, such as Tennessee (because son-in-law cares) and Florida, Oklahoma and Texas because I like their coaches and their style of play.
          And I won't root for Louisville, Duke, North Carolina or Kentucky because I think their coaches have had enough of their share.
          Might tune in some -- or tape -- some women's games because LSU is entered, and so is Northwestern State, which draws the unenviable first-round visit to Tennessee. Having lived in Knoxville for six NCAA women's tournaments, with the Lady Vols winning the first three (1996-98), I know all about the power of the Lady Vols.
           I can root for Holly Warlick, the Lady Vols' head coach who in following Pat Summitt knows what it's like to follow a legend, plus Holly is a graduate of Bearden High School (as was my daughter, about 20 years after the coach-to-be).
           I also can root for Baylor because coach Kim Mulkey -- a two-time national champion with Baylor and three times as a player/assistant coach at Louisiana Tech -- is a friend. And I can hope that some team upsets Connecticut and prevents it from winning its ninth  national title. But it probably will.
             Still, though, I only care so much. I'm many years from the kid who each year drew up the NCAA bracket -- this was from 1959 through 1965 -- at a time when the field was 24 teams at the most, games were never on TV, and newspaper coverage was minimal. I sometimes had to dig to find the teams in the bracket and the game results.
            I remember the NCAA championship game, I think it was Ohio State-Cincinnati in 1962, being a three-paragraph story on Page 2 of the Sunday Shreveport Times sports section. I'm not making that up.
           But, gosh, I loved basketball then. I would listen to games on radio, and watched any NBA game that was on (if I had time and rights to the TV), and I was like some of the writers I would come to know -- Joe Rhodes, Steve "Tiger" Richardson, Wendell Barnhouse and the late Don Bowman -- who knew and cared as much about college basketball as they could.
            This time of year was Bowman's time. Here was a guy who -- as soon as the Maryland men's team's season ended -- would begin the countdown to "Midnight Madness," the start of the next season's practice. Bowman was never happier than when the Maryland men and then the women won national championships.
            He'd be pleased to know that the Maryland women again had a fine season and are in the NCAA Tournament. But he'd be very unhappy that the men not only missed out on the NCAAs, they missed out on the NIT.
             At least, I have the teams to root for in the NIT. But I'd rather care a lot more about the real March Madness.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Auschwitz had a whorehouse in it!

Block 24, the prostitute house ... right by the front gate at Auschwitz
(photo from
 (18th in a series)
     For more than 2 1/2 years, my father -- Louis Van Thyn -- never spoke to a woman, never got close. That's the way it was in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.
     The men prisoners knew there were women in the camp; that was obvious. They had arrived on the cattle-car and regular trains going in; in Dad's case, in October 1942.
     Once there, though, the men went one way; the women and children went another way. In both cases, many went immediately to their deaths in the gas chambers.
      The men were housed -- as it were -- in one part of the camp. The women they could see far away through the seemingly hundred fences surrounding the prisoners. You know that if you've seen the photos of the camps.
       What the men also knew because word got around was that there was a building that housed prostitutes. But certainly, they weren't there for the Jewish prisoners. When the Nazi officers -- and perhaps the SS guards -- weren't having their fun beating the crap out of prisoners or berating them or working them beyond imagination or, well, killing them, they had their fun in another way.
       Yes, to make a bad line out of it in a takeoff of the theme song for a famed play and 1982 movie starring Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds: Auschwitz had a whorehouse in it!     
        Not only Auschwitz, but several of the Nazi concentration camps. My Dad talked about it in his 1996 Holocaust interview with the USC Shoah Foundation.      
         "... There was a prostitute house in Auschwitz," he told the interviewer, and referring to the kapos -- the trustee inmates who oversaw the prisoners at the satellite camp where Dad was located -- "they had coupons and the [Nazis] picked them up in a truck and they could go to Auschwitz for a day. The German and Polish inmates, not Jewish, they got special treatment. They could go to the whorehouse in Auschwitz."
         He remembered that "[just] as we came in there, in Auschwitz ... they built a whorehouse right by the [main] gate where you come in. ... Yeah, we knew that. We saw the women, too; they were walking over there in the yard, over the street, going to Block 10."
        And here is a connection. My mother [Rose] -- who was not yet his wife; they lived in the same neighborhood in Amsterdam growing up, but weren't really acquaintances -- was a prisoner in Block 10, the infamous medical experimentation "block" for women.
        "She was telling me," Dad said in the interview, "they [the prostitutes] lived in Block 10 the first couple of months before they come over there [to the whorehouse]."
        From a "Women in Auschwitz" web site:
        "German prostitutes could also work in the camp whorehouse, which was located on the first floor of Block 24 in Auschwitz I and which had been established for specially 'honoured,' usually 'Aryan' prisoners. Some SS officials ignored all prohibitions of the racial laws and took up relationships with female prisoners, who -- to a certain extent --  could benefit a while from such relations. But mostly, SS guards would not hesitate to kill their lover if she endangered him."
         Dad's recollection was that "they were German girls, but they were not Jewish. ... Yeah, they were prisoners," he answered to a question. "Now what they have done before, if they were already prostitutes, I don't know that.
         "I don't know that," he repeated. "But there were about 20 there, in the [house] right by the 'Arbeit Macht Frei' sign [over the front gate]. On the right side was the orchestra [house] and on the left side, they made a new block, a new barracks. Don't know what they called it, but that was built especially for that [the prostitutes]."
         The interviewer asked Dad: "Did you ever talk to any of them?"
         "No, no," he replied. "We no have talked. After I go off the train coming to Auschwitz, we had some women in the train, that was the last time I talked to a woman until after Janina in 1945. I no see or hear nothing from a woman until that time."
           Only from a far distance did he see any women.
           "We saw the women come into Block 10," Dad remembered. "Found out later that a cousin of mine was there, and his wife, too -- later they lived in Israel -- and she saw Rose and said that is a cousin of yours walking. She fed her husband -- don't know how she did it -- but she helped keep him alive."
           And there, that last point, is one of those memories Dad had that is not quite clear, one of those I wish -- oh, how I wish -- I could've cleared up with him. But because I had no idea that I would one day transcribe his testimony tape and write this series for a blog -- a blog? -- I have to leave it as it is.
            So Auschwitz had a whorehouse in it! Not quite as entertaining as the play or the movie, is it?
            (Next: The camp guards and some horrible sights)


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

When you're a winner, life is good

        Sophie and Ellie are cute, red-haired 11-year-old twins, and they see their grandparents in Ruston, La., almost every day.
        That's the best it can be for Leon Barmore these days. Being a grandfather is what most motivates him now. Basketball, other than on television and the local games he attends, is a secondary interest.
        Life is good for the Barmores -- Leon and his wife since 1967, Rachel (one of my favorite names).
        "We've been to Disney World six years in a row with them," he says. "They're our lives."
         Daughter Shannon gave birth to the twins shortly before Coach Barmore was inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tenn., and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame ... yes, the big one in Springfield, Mass.
          That two of the six Hall of Fame honors for Leon, plus among many other honors is the Tower Medallion as one of the distinguished alumni of Louisiana Tech University.
          And, of course, it is as the women's basketball coach at Louisiana Tech that most people will remember Leon Barmore.
          For those of us in school at the time, we knew him first as a terrific and willing-to-shoot guard -- a leader on state championship teams at Ruston High School and conference championship team at Tech. 
          Before his college coaching career, which spanned more than three decades and which can only be described as "legendary," sportswriters, players and coaches knew him as a winning boys basketball coach at Bastrop and then back at Ruston High.
          We also know him as a terrific friend, as a person who has led an exemplary life, who has been a winner -- a big winner -- at every stage. If that sounds like I'm pouring it on, well, maybe. But I wouldn't write it if I didn't mean it.
           It's a good time to write this piece because these are championship weeks in women's basketball, March Madness in full bloom. This was always the month for which Leon Barmore prepared his teams.
          And he prepared them as well as anyone ever has. When I think of women's basketball, two coaches come to mind first -- Pat Summitt of Tennessee ( and Leon. 
          Perhaps some people will include the brash Gene Auriemma of Connecticut -- the current king of the game -- in the group, and someone tied closely to Leon as a player/assistant coach and then head coach who enticed him to come out of retirement and serve as her assistant coach at Baylor, Kim Mulkey.
           In my view, Leon was as demanding, as intense, as much of a perfectionist, and a brilliant teacher of every phase of the game as any of them.
Was Leon Barmore an intense coach? Take a look.
(photo by Bill Haber/The Associated Press)
          Mostly because of his influence -- but he will tell you also because of other people, too -- Louisiana Tech was at or near the top of the women's game for a quarter-century.
           I could fill a page with all of the Tech achievements with Barmore on the coaching staff (first as an assistant coach to program founder Sonja Hogg starting in the 1977-78 season, then as associate head coach in 1980, as co-head coach in 1982 and finally as the head coach in 1985).
           But here is a quick summary: Three national championships (it could've been for, except for a last-second 3-pointer by North Carolina in 1994), five national runner-ups, 13 Final Four trips in 21 years, 36 conference titles (20 regular season, 16 tournaments), 321-48 conference record, 19 conference Player of the Year awards, 16 Kodak All-Americans, Barmore was the first Division I women's coach with six consecutive 30-win seasons.
          Tech remains second only to Tennessee in all-time victories and is third in best winning percentage (behind Tennessee and Connecticut).
           Two significant facts:
           (1) Summitt's 1,098 wins are out of sight, but the top winning percentage in the game belongs to Barmore (86.9) ... although Auriemma, with UConn's 34-0 record this season, is at 86.8, and he'll still be slight behind Leon with a 6-0 NCAA Tournament run.
           (It should be noted, too, that Barmore did not receive credit for coaching records in his first five years at Tech; that went on Sonja Hogg's record. The record for those seasons: an amazing 163-18 (90.1 percent). Add that in to Barmore's "official" record, and you have 739-105 (87.6). Chase that, Geno.
           (2) Few coaches ever got the best of Summitt in games matching their teams; Aurieumma is one. In games with Barmore on the coaching staff, Tech was 17-17 against Summitt and the Lady Vols. Tech won 11 of the first 12 meetings.
            And that's a noteworthy point because Tech, with its president Dr. F. Jay Taylor, was among the nation's first schools to put financial resources -- for salaries, recruiting, travel, etc. -- into women's basketball ... before many of the major universities. Perhaps that happened at the expense of other sports, but doing so -- and hiring Barmore to handle on-the-floor coaching while Hogg ran the overall program and headed up recruiting -- paid off big-time in national exposure.
            At the old Shreveport Journal in the 1980s -- and The Shreveport Times did this, too -- we had several stories/columns on the unique Hogg/Barmore coaching combo. In those stories, and any time I heard Leon talk about the program (publicly or privately), he was always -- always -- complimentary of "Miss Hogg," as he politely called her.
           Because Sonja handled much of the recruiting, and the counseling of the young women in the program. And as Leon always pointed out, when he became part of the program, there were assistant coaches who were tireless and effective recruiters, several of whom became prominent head coaches -- among them, national-championship winners such as Mulkey and Gary Blair, plus Nell Fortner and  Kristi Curry.
            In the past few years, Tech's program has slipped; the current team is the No. 14 seed in the 16-team Conference USA tournament. This is painful for all involved, and it must be especially so for Barmore to see the program falter, especially because one of his greatest and most favorite players (and then longtime WNBA star guard), Teresa Weatherspoon, is the head coach.
           Meanwhile, at Baylor -- where Leon came out of retirement and helped coach for a couple of years at the start of the Brittney Griner era, commuting often and making the 300-mile trip from Waco to Ruston and vice versa -- Mulkey has one of the nation's best programs. Reminds one of the good days at Louisiana Tech.
            Unlike Summitt and Auriemma, whose relationship was dicey at times, Barmore and Summitt always got along. They had a ton of mutual respect and were friends to the point of visiting each others' homes and Pat giving Leon and family access to a time share in Florida.
            Maybe it's because they were a lot alike; as coaches, they drove hard bargains. Pat had her infamous stare; Leon had his infamous scowl.
            Anyone who has been around Barmore for a time knows this: He could be difficult. Yes, he had his moments when he ran hot. He had a temper.
            He was the kid who, if things didn't go right, took his basketball and went home. He was the player who could be aloof and moody. I've heard the coaching stories of him kicking players out of practice, sending assistant coaches home, booting balls into the bleachers, throwing objects, drawing technicals (he was ejected a couple of times), dressing down players, demanding attention for his program with a tunnel-vision approach, even being point-blank critical of media people.
Naismith Hall of
Fame induction photo,
2003: That's Leon
 Barmore in front of
Robert Parish.
              Personal experience: A game at Tech's old Memorial Gym in the early 1980s, and the Lady Techsters -- in a rarity -- being pushed in a tight, tough game. Of course, they won. But Leon didn't like the way his team played. Being interviewed by a Journal reporter afterward -- I was a bystander -- he was short and snappy with a couple of answers. Then he turned, said "good night" and walked out of the gym.
              But he was upset with his team, not us.
             (And please understand, I am not one to be critical of anyone with a temper or acting out. I am among the world record-setters.)
              I have a friend who, during a round of golf, teased Leon about the NCAA title loss to North Carolina and the last-second shot. Suffice to say, it was not a teasing matter.
              Here's what I knew, what I know, here's what his friends and certainly his players and assistant coaches and opposing coaches know: He is one of the great competitors. The games, the striving for excellence, mattered -- a lot. It was a big part of his life, always.
              Here's what else: He is a good friend to have. He is loyal, kind and considerate, and compassionate, asking about family and friends. He is such a sports fan with a knowledge of sports history, an superb golfer for an amateur whose game is much improved since retirement. Sure, he can be outspoken, but I've found him to be diplomatic even when criticism is warranted.
              Our longtime friend O.K. "Buddy" Davis -- the Ruston Daily Leader sports editor/legend who has covered and written about Leon for 50 years -- has been battling with after-effects of a stroke since last July. Buddy was a couple of years behind Leon at Ruston High and Tech.
              Leon has been one of his frequent visitors at the rehab facility where Buddy is housed, making weekly stops and always bring him a malt to enjoy during the visit. Last week Buddy began talking about his favorite scene in his favorite movie, Blazing Saddles -- the campfire scene in which the cast members frequently and loudly ...uh, pass gas. Buddy knows the whole scene and was reciting it for Leon.
              "He was doubled over laughing," Buddy told me.
               Can you imagine that, Leon Barmore doubled over laughing ... in March, at tournament time? No pressure, no scowling. Basketball isn't consuming anymore; Sophie and Ellie, Rachel and Shannon and Karl are what it's about. Life is good for the Barmore family in Ruston.    

Friday, March 7, 2014

When your kid is 40, where are you?

       Our son turned 40 this week and while he likely did not spend much time reflecting on that, his parents certainly did.
       Jay is too busy to do much reflecting on the past. He's a do-now, look-ahead person -- and we think that's wonderful. He has a pretty full life, lots of responsibility.
       So does our daughter, who is five years younger and who sent Jason a Facebook message on his birthday that read, in part, "Hope you have a wonderful day and a long, slow, enjoyable slide down that hill."
Jason Key: Our boy, now 40
       Oh, gosh, if Jay is starting the slide down that hill, where are Bea and I now? I'll get to that in a moment.
        First, though, here is the note that Gary West -- the horse-racing writer/expert and writer extraordinaire, period, and our old buddy from Shreveport Journal and Fort Worth Star-Telegram sports days -- sent on Jason's birthday:
        "This morning when I got up, I felt a little stiffness and soreness. When I wheeled out of bed and placed my feet on the floor, my knees sounded like two bowls of breakfast cereal. For no good reason, I was tired. In other words, I felt old. And now you tell me this:
        "J-Man is 40.
        "I'm going back to bed."
         So that makes West feel old, and he's a few years younger than Bea and me. So how do we feel about our young man turning 40?
          Pretty darned good, that's how.
          First, we're just happy to be here. A lot of parents don't get to see their kids turn 40. Even more sadly, a lot of kids don't get to be 40.
          Put this in perspective. When Jason's oldest son, Jacob, turns 40, Jason will be almost 75. We are a few years from that point.
          Secondly, we look at Jason's achievements, and Rachel's, and we're proud of where they are -- good families, good careers, lots of opportunities to have fun in whatever they choose to do.
           They've made lives for themselves. I like that they both still lean on their mother for support, not so much financially but as their sounding board. They don't always comply with what she offers, but they listen and they consider.
            Sometimes they even want my input.
            They both set goals, with their spouses, and go after them. Occasionally, it takes time and effort -- and help from family and friends -- but, as I noted at the start, they don't look back all that much.
             They leave the looking back for this blog writer. And I'm looking back at the year I turned 40 (1987) and how unsettled I was, how much turmoil we had in our lives. It was a year of job change and uncertainty.
             So to see Jason, at 40, go at almost everything he does at full speed -- his regular job as a plumbing construction company vice-president, his second job as Ann's assistant/guiding force in the Cajun Tailgators food truck and restaurant business, his most important job as father/hero/counselor to the two little boys -- draws our admiration.
             He has the gift of being people-savvy, the understanding what it takes to do business and get along.
             He even manages some fun time -- an occasional round of golf, a game of indoor soccer. In a rare moment of flashback, he called one night a few weeks ago and was very excited. "Broke my drought -- scored my first goal in three years," he said, laughing. "It was like one of my goals in high school, just kind of a cheap rebound shot."
             Then, after we hung up, he sent a text: "Had an assist, too."
             Good to know that the young kid in him is still there at times.
              So do we -- like Mr. West -- feel old? Yeah, sometimes we do. Physically, things don't happen as easily. I don't sleep well many nights, my left shoulder aches these days, after I walk and then come home and sit for a while, I'm awfully sore when I get up. Bea has her aches and pain, too.
              But, as she reminds me, feeling old -- mentally -- is a mind-set, and our mind-set is to think young. So we try to keep active, do our physical exercise, find things of interests and stimulation.
              We are not that tired. And we don't focus on our son being 40, it does not faze us.
              Yes, we are sliding down that hill, as Rachel suggested, but it is a long, slow ride, and it is enjoyable -- and we're not looking for the finish line.                


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Oh, those noises: Love 'em (or not)

Love the sound of Andre Rieu and the Johann Strauss Orchestra (from
     A sound I love: Bea softly says to me, "I love you" -- and she means it.
     A sound I don't like at all: Leaf blowers. Especially early in the morning when they awaken me (and the neighborhood).
     Another sound I love: birds chirping on a beautiful, blue-sky, sunny day.
     Another sound I don't like: Car alarms going off, any time of day. Bad enough if it's for 10 seconds, but how about five minutes ... in the middle of the night?
      Love the sound of an orchestra -- classical music, popular, or the big-band era. Watching Andre Rieu and his Johann Strauss Orchestra on YouTube videos has become a favorite pastime. But just about any orchestra or big band will do.
James Lipton: He asks the sound/noise questions
      Do not like the sound of incessantly barking dogs, big or small. Especially if they are barking at me, such as during my walks.
      Inside the Actors' Studio on the Bravo network. When James Lipton, the erudite, odd-looking, old (he's 87) host gets done with his questions/background info from his infamous stack of notecards, he gives the guest the Pivot questionnaire -- as he always explains, from a French series, "Bouillon de Culture," hosted by Bernard Pivot.
This idea for this piece was inspired by one of our favorite TV shows,
       If you've seen the show, you know these questions. We are focused here on No. 6 -- What sound or noise do you love? -- and No. 7 -- What sound or noise do you hate?
      (Here are the other questions: What is your favorite word? What is your least favorite word? What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? What turns you off: What is your favorite curse word? What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? What profession would you not like to do? If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?)
        I kind of like the "favorite curse word" question ... but never mind. I'm writing about sounds and noises today.
         I'm not going to use the term "hate." Just prefer to use "don't like."
         So believe me when I tell you that I don't like the sound of cars with engines/mufflers that roar, the kind that wake us up many mornings here at the apartments.
          Don't like -- as a friend pointed out on Facebook a couple of days ago -- cars with their music blaring so loud they can be heard in Aledo, the car bouncing with vibration and also our car (and our ears) vibrating.
           Love the roar of a big crowd at an athletic event ... especially when the cheering is for the home team that is my team. My favorites: Tiger Stadium at LSU, Yankee Stadium, the Amsterdam ArenA (cq), American Airlines Center. (Doesn't happen enough at JerryWorld.)
           Don't like: A crowd booing, anywhere -- athletic events, concerts, political rallies. Not necessary. Bad form.
            Love (thank you, Simon and Garfunkel) the sounds of silence. Sometimes, after a noisy outing or a few hours with the grandkids, silence is very good.
            In the same vein, love the silence fishing provides. Sure, you might talk some with your fishing partner(s), if you have any, and the surroundings might provide some sounds, but I like the little "plunk" of your line/bait going in the water ... and then the waiting game.
            Already covered some of this, but don't like loud noises, especially sustained ones: lawnmowers, even more so wood-chippers, long train whistles (seemingly every 10 minutes here at the apartments, in the middle of the night). The volume-up-high movie trailers in a theater. TV commercials on high. How about those sonic booms in the 1960s?
             One awful sound I heard here last week outside our apartment: Two cars colliding.
             Love the sound of a wood baseball bat hitting the ball -- "thunk" -- but not a metal bat hitting the ball -- "ping."
             Love the sizzle of a steak on the grill. Just don't leave it there too long.
             A difficult sound that's impossible to escape: A baby crying during an airplane trip. If you have had kids, you should be sympathetic. We know from experience because once that was our baby, and it's a long way to Hawaii.
             Love the sound of just about any Beatles song. Or most anything sung by Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, Frank Sinatra, Andy Williams, Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis. I love "crooners" and great performances, period.
             I can listen to hours of '50s, '60s and '70s pop music. That is now "old fart" territory, true.
  Heck, I even like '40s numbers. And I've gained a recent appreciation for classical music.
             Can't do rap, or hard rock, or much of what's popular today. I'm not with the times on this.
   Haven't even heard of many of today's top artists.
              Back to sports: This doesn't happen all that often, but I like the distant roars on a golf course. You know something good is happening.
              Best roar I've heard/seen: When Phil Mickelson made the putt on the final hole that won him his first Masters. Second-best, but I only saw it on replay, not live: When Justin Leonard made his putt to clinch the Ryder Cup for the U.S. in 1999. Not only the crowd going wild, but the U.S. team members racing across the green and teeing off the European team faithful forever.
             Conversely, the idiots who scream when a golfer tees off. You are not da man. They deserve an eviction notice.
              Love the sound of a college band at a football game, or in LSU's case, before the game, as the Golden Band From Tigerland marches through campus and finally reaches Victory Hill.
              Love, or maybe respect, the playing of Taps, although it also is a sad and dramatic tune.
              Don't like the sound of a siren, or sirens. No matter what, a police car, fire truck, emergency vehicle, not much good has happened when you hear a siren. Only exception: When they arrive in time to save a life.
              A sound/noise I love ... well, because this I like to use good taste and decorum in my blogs (laugh if you want, but that's the goal), I will demure and let you guess.
              Don't like the sound of bodily functions in public, especially if it's mine in a crowd. How's that for good taste?
               Don't like being yelled at; more importantly, don't like yelling at someone (and I've done far, far too much of that in a lifetime).
              A noise I don't mind, if it is at a distance: kids playing on a schoolground during recess.
              Which brings me to my favorite sound/noise: Listening to my grandkids (even when the two grandsons are battling each other). Most of all, I love listening to their laughter. It makes life worthwhile.