Monday, November 29, 2010

Burgers for My 84-year-old Friend

A couple of weeks ago, before the cold weather and the rain moved in, while the trees still held on to a few straggling leaves, Mary Lee and I celebrated a Major Birthday. Hannah, our Golden Retriever, was 12 years old. As is our custom, we bought her a hamburger on her birthday. Not a White Castle burger, but an honest to God Hamburger. We used to go to Steak'n Shake, but that was before the economy took a dive. So this time we grabbed a couple of Doubleburgers at Mac and headed for Weldon Spring Trail, where we followed the trail from the parking lot on Hiway 94 to the bluffs overlooking the Missouri River. The day was warm and the dogs were excited. Sadie, who is only 3, covered the entire area, checking for slow-moving squirrels or sociable deer. She found none.

We got to the bluffs abut 2:00, and gave the dogs their burgers. Hannah moves a little more slowly now, but what the hell. At 84 you can't expect someone to leap and dash and do back-flips anymore. She still sits and shakes. Her paw, not her body. The view from the bluffs is quite relaxing. You can almost hear Lewis and Clark urging their men up the river, singing their songs of exploration, slapping at the millions of mosquitoes and gnats that came to feast, telling mean jokes about Tom Jefferson.

But enough history. Oh, wait. One more tidbit. Weldon Spring was first settled by a frontiersman named John Weldon from North Carolina. That's it.

One more fact: A MacDonald's Doubleburger stays hot in a styrofoam container placed inside a backpack for 45 minutes. We didn't get fries with that. Not good for dogs.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

And justice shall prevail. Kinda.

Buried in a recent NY Times edition was the sad story of Bruce Karatz, former chief exec of KB Home. It seems the law caught up with Bruce and dragged him to justice after he went into hiding. Bruce, you see, had been found guilty in April of hiding backdated stock options from auditors and regulators. To the tune of more than $6,000,000. 

Now I'm not financial whiz, and don't understand how the markets work, but I do know that hiding stuff from the Feds if you're a chief exec is not a good idea. Unless you already have your ticket to Costa Rica. 

So they dragged poor Brucie in and administered proper punishment. He must pay a $1,000,000 fine. Do the math: that's a $5,000,000 profit. And now comes the hard time: Ol' Brucie was sentenced to serve 8 months of detention - at home. "Home" in this case is a 24-room mansion in Bell Air, California. That's one of the better 'hoods in LA. 

My personal opinion? I think the law could have taken a tougher stance. They should have restricted him to the use of only one bathroom. Kept him from spending more than 1 hour a day in the billiards room. Put the entire East Wing off limits, except on holidays. Made him vacuum his swimming pool once a week. And forced him to eat all his meals alone, at the long dining room table in the spacious dining room, then do his own dishes. 

Bruce, however, takes a positive view of the situation. "I won't get over to the links for a little while, but I can keep my swing in shape on my private driving range." Maybe the Feds should've taken away his clubs, at least his driver. But that would be deemed "cruel and unusual punishment." 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm 95

We sat in the yard next to his house that was built in 1864. That's the year before the war started. Not WWI, but the Civil War. The house overlooks the Missouri River and the Great River Road, on the outskirts of Alton. His name is Erwin A. Thompson and I was there to do a video interview of him, at the request of his daughter and my friend, Janet Riehl.

Erwin will be 95 this coming Tuesday, Nov. 9, and he shows no signs of slowing down. We talked for over an hour on a warm day in October. He read poems he had written, sang songs he had composed, talked of his life before this day, and what he had planned for the future. He knew the songs by heart, remembered all the lyrics. He read the poems without reading glasses. He sang in a strong, vibrant voice, occasionally interrupted by a deep cough. His mind was as clear as the sky above.
A line from one of his poem still resonates with me:
"But no matter where or how I seek, I never hope to find
Music that will thrill me like what echoes in my mind."

Erwin spoke of the Second Mile. How it meant doing more than what is asked of you. It's a concept he believes and has lived. Here is a man who has met some tough times in his 95 years, but persevered. More than once in WWII he stopped to help others at the risk of his own life. He encourages others to do more than what is expected. He thinks not of the past, but of the future. When I asked him what his plans are in the time ahead, he gave me a one word answer: "Music." I know he'll keep singing, and playing a fiddle, and going that Second Mile, in the months and - hopefully - years ahead.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

"Shadow and Substance: My Time with Charlie Chaplin" Novel Accepted by Chaplin Archives

Available at
I've just returned from a 3-day Charlie Chaplin International Conference, at U. of Ohio in Zanesville. (My first time in Zanesville. Never imagined I'd go there.) I brought copies of my new novel with me, "Shadow and Substance: My Time with Charlie Chaplin," even sold a few. But the best part was giving a copy of the book to Evelyne Luthi-Graf of the Archives de Montreux, in Switzerland, for the Chaplin collection. I don't know if this is the equivalent of eternal life for me, but it's close enough. And I'm in good company.

The conference was incredible, with participants from Italy, Japan, England, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Holland, Canada, and Finland. Plus from universities around the U.S. And two guys from St. Louis, me and Joe Delmore. For 13 or 14 hours a day, we saw films, restorations, presentations, discussions, on almost every aspect of Charlie's life and career. I even got to hold his derby and cane. 

Me and Joe
At this point I pause to say "Thank you" to Dr. Lisa Stein, at the U. of Ohio, for having the imagination, courage and energy to put this conference together. And have it come off so smoothly. Even the coffee and pastries were excellent. And I got to meet David Robinson, from London, the acclaimed expert and high priest of all things Chaplin. He signed my 1985 edition of his book, "Chaplin: His Life and Art." I also spent time with Chuck Maland, author of "Chaplin and American Culture." 

Back to the novel: it's available now, through Amazon, B&N online, or - preferably -