Friday, June 28, 2013

The Paula Deen Syndrome

Here’s a test for you.  I want you to think back to sometime in 1984 to 1986…to a time when you were speaking flippantly or angrily.  You didn’t hold back.  You let the ugly words fly.  Got it?  Remember that time?  It's a little embarrassing, isn't it? 

Now, I want you to remember what words you used?  Got ‘em?

Good.  Now, don’t ever tell anyone what you said because it could just maybe ruin your life!

Consider the case of Paula Deen.  She admitted in a deposition…something that forces you to be truthful to avoid perjury…that she used the “N-Word” some three decades in the past.  As a result, her corporate sponsors are dropping her like a hot potato and the news media is eating it up.  The Food Network started the feeding frenzy and now everyone from Walmart to Sears has piled onto the carcass that was her business dynasty.

Don’t get me wrong.  I detest the use of the “N-Word.”  I have ALWAYS felt it was a terrible word to use to describe another person.  It is a hateful, ugly word.  But, we have gotten so incredibly paranoid about the use of this word that we cannot even use the word when describing the USE of the word!  Good grief.  Even the “F-Word” doesn’t get that level of reaction!

Someday, some random person from the future is going to be doing research on news reports and articles from our time period, and they are going to scratch their head and wonder….Why were they so weird about this one word?  Or, maybe:  What in the world was this N-Word that they kept talking about?

And now, folks are ostracizing a 66 year old woman because she admitted she used it nearly 30 years ago….almost 3 decades in the past!  Folks, that’s simply ridiculous.  If she had used it last week…or last month…or even a couple of years ago, well then you’ve got a case.  But, come on!  30 years ago?

One of my Facebook friends posed the question:  “How many of those corporate executives that are dropping her could pass the same test?”

Excellent question.  I wonder.  Maybe some brave news reporter could ask them for us?

We are so good at throwing stones, aren’t we?  We put up with so many things in our world today, but we just can’t stomach a woman who used that especially notorious word some three decades ago.  Really?  Are you serious?

You may think she’s too sappy of a southern lady.  You may think she promotes unhealthy eating habits.  You may think she’s terrible for having a struggle with a smoking habit.  She’s been a bit heavy.  Maybe she’s even difficult to work for.  Fine.  Take her to task for those CURRENT issues, but folks let’s not be so stupid as to judge someone in 2013 for something they said….words….in 1985.

In the meantime, I think I’ll go out this weekend and get me some fine southern cooking.

So says The Caaamper.

As an addendum, you may want to check out the article thru this link that has more CURRENT accusations:

And, here is another article giving yet another perspective.  The one above is more anti-Paula and with apparent merit, but the one below is grace-filled.  Both come from prominent African Americans.

Monday, June 24, 2013

A Muncie Boyhood-The Dream of Baseball

The glove I bought at Retz Sporting Goods to try out for Muncie Southside's baseball team in 1977.  I still have it and it hangs on a wall in our home.
I fell in love with baseball during the World Series of 1972.  Before then, I knew about the game.  My dad taught me how to throw and catch at a young age, but for some reason it didn’t catch on with me until I was ten years old and was watching the Series at my Uncle Clint’s house.  It was a sort of turning point in my childhood.  Funny the random things you can remember. 

Not only did I fall in love with baseball, but I also fell in love with the Cincinnati Reds.

By the following June, I had practically memorized the entire roster, their batting averages or ERAs, number of homeruns, and even the stolen bases.  Johnny Bench became my hero with Pete Rose, Tony Perez, and Joe Morgan close behind.  Not only did I love to listen to them on WLBC on those warm summer evenings in the backyard, or catch them on TV once in a while on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, but I became determined to become one of them.

I became determined to become a Cincinnati Red.

I just knew that one day Marty Brennaman would be calling my name and ole Joe Nuxall would be interviewing me after the game….before “the old left-hander rounded third and headed for home.”

So, I began to work on my skills every chance I got.

First was playing catch with dad.  That was sometimes problematic because he worked nights or afternoons and often wasn’t around to work with me…and, when he was, he wasn’t always the most patient.  One time, we were on the back walk tossing the ball back and forth.  His back was to the back gate and the garage.  My back was to the house…the house with my mom’s bedroom window above my left shoulder and our basement window behind my left leg.

Dad said:  “You better make sure you catch this ball because if you miss and it breaks a window, I’m gonna beat your butt.”  (He didn’t say “butt.”)

His next throw was low and to my left.  It slipped under my glove and made quick work of the basement window.

I think he knew it was his fault with an errant throw because despite his cussing and yelling, he didn’t beat my….uh….butt.  He just fixed the window.

Second, there was playing ball with all the neighbor kids in Cecil’s field.  I’ve mentioned this field before in a previous story, but it was an open field that took up the center of the space between Cecil French’s house on 21st Street and Odie Belle’s house on 22nd Street.  It was about three normal lots wide and seemed huge to me at the time.  I go back now and wonder how we ever played any kind of baseball in that small space.  Most of my buddies preferred football, but fairly often I could talk them into baseball.

When sixth grade came to a close, I got my first real taste of organized baseball.  It was the Buddy Closed League...or was that Buddy Open?..., and Roosevelt Elementary had a team.  Real baseball at last.  Real fast pitch.  Actually nine players on the field and a whole field too.  I couldn’t wait.  My pal Tony and I signed up.

For practice, we went to the ball diamond behind Roosevelt.  I can’t remember my coach's name, only that he was huge…way overweight...rotund.  He would stand at home plate and hit balls to us, but didn't move around too much.  He had a couple of guys helping him, and one of them was a real player.  We were so impressed with that guy because he could pick up the ball in deep center field and throw a strike at home plate.  Wow!  Of course, to us it was “deep center.”  To him, it was probably more like just behind second base.

For games, we met our opponents at TV field.  The baseball diamond behind the WLBC radio station, sort of between 26th and 29th streets.  I would ride my red Schwinn Stingray bike to the games, and I can still remember the first one very well.  I wasn’t chosen to be a starter…I just knew that was a mistake….and one day my coach would regret it…because I was going to be a Red someday.  Instead, I warmed the bench.

We were terrible.  We were getting blown out.  It got down to the last inning they were going to let us play and we had zero runs…

Coach:  “Okay, Mike.  Go in and pitch hit.”

The adrenaline shot through me!  I was going to bat…in a real game…against somebody throwing fast pitches…and with an umpire calling balls and strikes!  I wasn’t worried though because I knew I could hit…I always hit the ball really well in Cecil’s field.

I don’t know what the ball/strike count was when I took my cut.  I just remember that the ball kind of dropped and I whacked it!  My friend Robert Bertram told me later:  “Mike, that ball dropped like it fell off a table, but you hit it!”  Yes, I did!  I hit it hard into left center, high and deep.  It wasn’t a homerun, but it ended up being a good double.  And it was the first real hit we had gotten.  Two batters later, I sprinted for home from third base and slid in on my backside to score our first run.

We didn’t win that game, but I had sparked a little rally where we scored three or four runs.  After that, I was the primary pinch hitter.  I don’t think I ever out did that first at bat, but it was cool to realize that my coach had some confidence in me.

Unfortunately, that season was the highlight of my baseball career.

In seventh grade, I moved up to Wilson Middle School.  This school was much larger and pulled kids from several elementary schools.  I had a lot more competition, but I was still determined…and I still knew I was going to be playing in Cincinnati someday…so, I tried out.  I wasn’t without some skill and I did pretty well in tryouts, so when the first exhibition scrimmage game was arranged, I was asked to participate. 


Two terrible things happened in that scrimmage game.  First, I went up to bat and got a walk.  Not too bad, right?  Well, it was all good until I got caught looking the wrong way and got picked off first base.  Second, I was playing third base…my position of choice at the time…and some kid hit a little pop up between third and home.  It was my ball to catch.  An easy one.  A no-brainer.  I had one problem:  Nerves!  It seemed that someone had nailed my feet to the third base line.  I froze!  It was like someone had taken liquid nitrogen and sprayed me with it just as the kid swung the bat.  I watched the ball go up.  I saw it sail in my direction.  I watched it fall easily to the ground.

I was cut from the team the next day.

Oh well.  That was disappointing, but I was an optimist.  There’s always next year, I thought.

That was positive thinking, but the seventh grade coach was the assistant eight grade coach, and apparently he had a pretty good memory.  Despite the fact that I did pretty well in the 8th grade tryouts, and made very few mistakes, I got cut again the next year.

Now, all along, I still kept working on my skills any way I could.  My dad even got me one of those Pitch-Backs.  It was a taunt net inside a metal frame.  You’d throw the ball at it and the net would throw it right back.  I spent many hours in the back yard throwing at that thing and fielding its return tosses.  I was still determined.  I may have been cut at Wilson, but what did they know?  I’d make the team at Southside!

Spring of my freshman year rolled around and I tried out again.  This time, the workouts were a lot harder.  Lots of running.  Weight-lifting.  Batting cages.  Overall, I didn’t do too bad.  I don’t recall any glaring mistakes.  But, I had even more competition…from even more schools that fed into the high school.  Ultimately, I think they looked at me and saw a kid who didn’t really excel, and who didn’t play in middle school, and decided to use someone else.  I was cut for the third year in a row.

One other detail to share was that I had been a “manager” for the Wilson 8th grade football team and the 8th grade track team the year before.  A manager is a glorified servant.  I carried equipment.  I carried water.  I cleaned up after the players.  One year of that was enough.

So, when I got cut in 9th grade at Southside, Coach Lewis came up to me after the roster was posted and my name wasn’t on it and said:  “Mike, we need a team manager.  If you’ll be the manager, you can hang with the team and do some practicing, and maybe you can become a player next year.”

I’d had enough with being the flunky waterboy.  I asked my mom to tell me that I couldn’t do it so I could tell the coach that my parents said no.  She complied and I told the coach that “Mom said no.”  (I’m pretty sure that Coach Lewis was sharp enough to see through such a lame excuse.)

Anybody else would have thrown in the towel already, but not me.  I decided to try out again in 10th grade.  After all, Johnny Bench was once cut from his high school team.  Surely, I thought, the coach will see my abilities and add me to the team the next year.


I wish this story had a happy ending.  I tried out four years in a row and I got cut four years in a row.  After being cut in the spring of 1978, I finally gave up baseball as a career and took up girls as a hobby, and here’s another way that my life turned in the summer of 1978.

I have often wondered how my life would have been different if I hadn’t been picked off of first base and if I’d caught that pop fly between third and home in that scrimmage game in 7th grade.  I really think that I would have made that team.  If I'd played in 7th, I would have played in 8th grade too.  If I had the extra experience in middle school and all the extra practice, I could very well have made the high school team.  Who knows where it would have gone from there?  Cooperstown?  Well, a guy can dream, can’t he?

Anyway, I went on to have a pretty doggone good life without baseball.  I continued to follow the Reds until the strike of 1994, and then I gave up on baseball altogether.  The little boy who could name the whole roster has grown into a man who can’t even name a single player today.  That’s sort of sad, I think.

However, I replaced my idol of baseball with more important things.  I focused on growing in my faith in God as a teenager, and ultimately that led me to meet the woman who would become my wife and the mother of my children.  While things have not been always perfect and I’ve made some mistakes along the way, I’ve really lived a pretty wonderful life over all.

All’s well that ends well.

Still, there are days when I have fleeting thoughts of how nice it would have been if I could have experienced that dream of having a baseball card with my face on it.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A Muncie Boyhood-The Trudging Turtle

When I was a tiny little guy, I had a pet turtle.  Its whole world consisted of a little island of aquarium rocks in the bottom of a fishbowl.  I can’t remember his name…I don’t even know if “he” was a boy or girl.  I just remember that my sister killed him.

About once a week, one of my supervising adults would clean my turtle’s bowl, and that entailed filling it with water and scooping the rocks out for cleaning.  Meanwhile the turtle would swim…swim…and swim.  As it turned out, my sister was the responsible supervising adult to whom the bowl cleaning fell on one fateful day.  So, she filled the bowl with water, scooped out the rocks, and left my little reptilian friend to swim.  Then promptly forgot him.  He swam…he swam…he swam,…and he swam.

He eventually wore himself out with all that swimming around that glass bowl and drowned.

I buried him in my little animal graveyard out behind my dad’s garage.  If an archaeologist dug up and sifted through the soil behind that garage, he or she would find any number of animal bones:  the turtle, Peppy my parakeet, Fonzie my hamster, Sugar my dog, and any number of dead birds I found around the yard.  I even sometimes erected little markers, all of which are long gone now, of course.

I think I always sort of resented my sister for killing my turtle, but that didn’t stop me as a teenager from being excited when her son came home from a few days at some guys house in the country with a large wild box turtle.  It was about six inches long and very docile.  He found it near the White River while he and his mom were staying with this guy for a few days, so he picked it up and took it home as a pet.

My sister had met a man after her house burned…a man she ended up marrying…and a man who turned out to be abusive.  Despite that, she married him more than once and allowed him to live with her even when they weren’t married.  Theirs was a troublesome relationship and he was often just plain mean, both to my sister and to my nephew.  It was during one of their break-ups that my sister took up with this other guy who had the house in the country.  It didn’t last long, but it gave me the following turtle story.

David brought it home and for some reason painted it white, probably my sister’s idea.  Regardless of who thought of it, the poor thing got painted.

I think this little guy had a cat’s set of lives.  First, to even get to be six inches long meant he had already lived for several years, maybe decades despite the perils of the White River.  Eastern box turtles in the wild can live to be up to 100 years old and be only about six inches long.  I don’t know for sure what kind of turtle my nephew’s painted turtle was, but I think he had the potential to be quite old.  Secondly, he survived being painted and the return of my bad-attitude brother-in-law.

After the little guy got painted white, he also fell into tooth range of my nephew’s dog, Smokey.  Smokey was a great dog, but he didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to try to eat a box turtle.  So, when he got the chance, he snagged the reptile up and chewed around on him, leaving multiple scratches in the white paint on his shell.  Even so, the turtle was rescued before he could suffer death by dog.

Eventually, as I’ve said, my sister reconciled with “Sicko.”  (That’s the name she ultimately gave her sometimes husband.  When they finally broke up for good, the bitterness he left behind hung around for many years.)  Anyway, when he returned to the house and found the turtle there with the crazy painted and scratched up shell, and when he learned where it came from, he was having none of it.  He took the kidnapped fella out the back door of my sister’s house on south Monroe Street and tossed it all the way across the backyard and into the alley.

Gone.  David’s turtle was gone.  Thrown by a grown man hard enough to fly thirty or forty feet in the air and land hard in the gravel alley.  My nephew was not allowed to retrieve it.  And, it was nowhere near any body of water.  We assumed that he didn’t survive the hard landing.

Okay, so let’s recount the abuse this turtle faced:

1.        Kidnapped by a twelve year old boy from its home

2.       Removed from its normal food sources

3.       Had its shell painted white

4.       Chewed on by a large dog

5.       Thrown forty feet out a back door

6.       Abandoned miles from any natural habitat

When I heard about all this, I was upset.  I had always had a hyperactive sense of empathy even toward animals, and I was especially sensitive toward cruelty.  I couldn’t believe what had happened to this poor helpless turtle.

In thinking back on this series of events, this must have been the spring or early summer of 1978.  It was quite an eventful year for me, and this just adds to the character of that special year.

The reason I say spring or summer was because about a week later, my dad was out mowing the lawn.  We lived about four or five blocks east of my sister.  She lived at about 20th and Monroe; while we lived at 21st and Hackley.  Anyway, it was a nice sunny day and my dad was cutting the grass in the side yard near the road.  As he was mowing along, he happened to glance over at the pavement on 21st Street and he spied our little turtle friend just trudging along, headed east…like he knew where he was going.

My dad must have heard the story of the plight of this little guy because he stopped his chore long enough to pick the turtle up out of the road and put him in our yard.  When I got home, he asked me about David’s turtle. 

“Did you say they painted it?” he asked. 

“Yeah, they painted it white,” I answered.
"Well, you won't believe this," he continued, "but..." 

Then, he told me the story…I went out and looked…and sure enough…it was David’s painted turtle all right.  Safe and sound.  In my backyard.  He was right.  I couldn’t believe it!

But, what to do with it?

I kept it around for a couple of days.  I needed to think about what to do.  Could I keep it?  Maybe.  I considered it.  It couldn't go back to David.  What else could I do?  That’s when my empathy kicked in.  If I were the turtle, what would I want me to do? 

I figured he’d want to go home.  I figured that was where he was headed as he meandered down 21st Street.  So, I decided to fulfill that desire.  I would return him to the White River.

I put him in a box, loaded him up in my dad’s ’68 Chevy Nova, and he and I took a drive.  We went out Burlington Drive to Inlow Springs Road.  I found a pull off along the river and parked the car.  I then carried my little friend to the water’s edge and let him go.

It was an odd parting really.  You’d think that the turtle would simply swim off into the water and be gone, but that’s not exactly how it happened.  He did scuttle right into the water, but instead of simply diving into the depths, never to be seen again, he came back up and looked at me.

He surfaced and looked right at me.  Then, he went down again for a few seconds before returning once more to the surface to look at me.  He did that three or four times before he finally swam away.  It was almost as if he appreciated what I had done for him and he was saying “thank you.”

I want to believe that anyway.

Now, here’s a thought for you:  Box turtles can live to be 100 years old.  This story occurred in 1978.  That was, as of this writing, only 35 years ago.  There is a reasonable chance that my little friend may still be swimming around the White River out east of Muncie.  So, if you happen to come across an old box turtle with what seems to be the residue of old white paint on his shell…first, leave him be…second, tell him hello for me.