Posts Tagged ‘friendship’

Feeling pretty proud of yourself, are you, Cancer? So you kicked my ass today. I don’t know that I’d say you did it fair and square but it happened and I’ll give you that.

Maybe now you’re sitting around, tossing back a couple of cold ones, laughing about how you gave me the shakes, had me so lightheaded I was staggering into walls, and blurred my vision to the point where I had to take the back streets at 10 mph to make it home. Go ahead. So you beat me today. Big deal.

It’s one day. One day in a long succession of days fighting you. It’s not a winning streak. You didn’t knock me out. One day. Big whoop.

Tomorrow’s another day. And guess what, Cancer? It’s going to be MY day, not yours. Some days having cancer is about hope and prayers and positivity. Some days it’s about anger and fear and frustration. Either way, it’s about one day. The day you’re on and doing whatever it takes to make it through that day.

To my friends and co-workers who helped me today, thank you. For popping into my office to check on me. For offering to give me a ride home so I wouldn’t kill anybody. For saying “we’ll make this work” even if it meant doing something you didn’t plan on doing. Thank you for doing that today, without making me feel weak or helpless or sick or less than the person I was before I got cancer. One day I’ll be that person again, and you’ll have helped make that possible.

One day, Cancer, I’m going to kick your ass for good. Maybe you’ll see it coming, maybe you won’t. But it’s coming. One day. Soon.

Remembering Mickey, a true free spirit.

Remembering Mickey, a true free spirit.

My grandma said Mickey Gulla was mouthy. Mickey said my grandma should lighten up. My grandpa didn’t say anything because he was married to one and liked the other.

Mildred “Mickey” Gulla died last week at the age of 94. She was a fiery Scandinavian sprite who was married to my grandpa’s friend, Joe, a big strapping Italian cop. They all met in the late 1970’s when my grandparents sold their farm and moved to town. I met Mickey not long after that during a visit to my grandparents’ house and saw her frequently when I was in the neighborhood.

Small in stature, big in voice, Mickey was the first adult that I called by name instead of “Mrs. Someone”. That was unheard of for us kids but she told us to and it was easy to comply because she was such a kid herself.

When I left for college, my parents moved and Mickey went from being my grandparents’ friend to my parents’ neighbor. Often when I came home to visit, she’d be puttering around the yard of her big brick house and we’d share a wave and a called greeting. The last time I really talked to her was Christmas of 2010. On a whim, I bought her flowers and my dad and I tramped across the street in the snow for a holiday visit. She was the perfect hostess, serving refreshments, sharing stories and pictures. At the end of the evening, she walked us to the door, squeezed my arm and said, “You’re full of piss and vinegar, just like your grandpa was.”

The following February she sent me a Christmas letter, unapologetically late with a good excuse: she’d tripped and fractured a hip, putting her in the hospital for nearly three weeks. The letter raised a good question (“When you were putting away your Christmas decorations, did you notice when you strip away all the tinsel and glitter, God’s real truth shows through?”), shared her favorite Charles Dickens quote (“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”) and revealed the secret to her long and happy life (“I’m having the best days of my life and I appreciate having everything I need. They are: my faith, family, friends, fun and food – lots of comfort food on cold days! That’s food for thought and thankfulness.”)

The letter ended in much the same way a conversation with Mickey always did, with her hope that I would explore the year ahead with good health and gusto. Like she did, right up until the end. We should all be so mouthy.

“Mr. Fred” would stride down the aisles of the annual KCCR Farm, Home and Sports Show like an A-lister on Oscar night. He’d call greetings to old friends, shake hands with strangers, wave to his fans, and entertain the audience with his wit. We just held the 40th annual show (my 19th) this weekend and his presence was missed, as it has been every year since he left us.

“Mr. Fred” Smith gave me my first full-time radio job in 1988 as the news director for then KCCR/KNEY. He hired me that first time a month before I graduated from college. During the course of our long relationship, he hired me back twice more, once as a full-time announcer and production director, and finally as a part-time announcer after I left the station for other full-time adventures. He was the operations manager, program director and morning show personality at KCCR, and by the time I started there, he was a radio icon.

Community radio is no easy gig. Our market is big enough that announcers have an impact beyond our coverage area but small enough that people recognize your voice if you’re talking in line behind them at the grocery store. Everyone knew “Mr. Fred“; people still refer to him by that name. He generally said what he thought, played what he wanted, and picked on who he felt like picking on, no matter who it was. He riled people up, calmed them down, made them laugh, curse, cry and sometimes, think. He didn’t care if he wasn’t politically correct and when he was wrong, he’d admit it. But only after he was absolutely, positively, without a shadow of a doubt convinced that he was wrong.

When I first started at the station, “Mr. Fred” scared the hell out of me. On occasion, my mouth runs faster than my brain. Which is why my parents told me repeatedly the weekend before I started my new job to be RESPECTFUL of my boss. I lived in fear of blurting out the wrong thing.

As the news director, each weekday morning at 7:10, I did news headlines on the air with “Mr. Fred“. We’d banter a bit, exchange pleasantries, comment on hot topics, and then I’d spend about a minute previewing the stories I had coming up on local news at the bottom of the hour. The first few weeks were fairly pleasant: no zings, barbs, slams, retorts, or digs. I’d heard “Mr. Fred” hack on other people in my short time there and I considered myself lucky that he apparently liked me too much to do that. Then came the red and black-checked suspender pants.

For those of you who don’t remember the fashion trend from the late 1980’s, for God’s sake, don’t Google them to see what they look like. You’ll only embarrass those of us who actually owned a pair. I think the look is best described as “jaunty”.

That morning, I took my seat across the control board from “Mr. Fred“, and waited for my intro. But instead of talking, he just stood there and looked at me. Finally, he adjusted his stethoscope headphones, flipped on the mics and said, “People, you should see this. What are you wearing? Volkswagen seat covers?”

In my surprise, I said the first thing that popped into my head. “Well, I know they’re not as pretty as that flowered skirt you’re wearing, but I like ‘em.”

The honeymoon was over.

I learned so much from that guy, you can’t imagine. Things like in a “come to Jesus” meeting, if you can’t make them see the light, go for the crucifixion. Deliver bad news calmly, good news enthusiastically, and weather accurately. If the community is willing to listen to you, be willing to listen to them and when they ask you to help, do it. If being respected is the paycheck, being liked is an added bonus. And when someone throws a live turkey into the control room while you’re on the air, try not to scare it; most vacuums don’t pick up turkey shit.

The night Mr. Fred died, I was on the air running the board for Monday Night Football. When I got the phone call, someone covered for me so I could go see his wife, Sandee. When I returned later that night to finish my shift, I played Nat King Cole’s “The Party’s Over” in memory of Mr. Fred.

Good mentors do more than impart knowledge. They ignite passion. Inspire greatness. And teach us humility. I never wore those damn suspender pants to work again.

Did you have a mentor who made a difference in your life, personally or professionally? And if you’re mentoring someone else, what are you teaching them?

I was recently called out on a social network by a woman I don’t know who has no clue who I am. It was over a man (isn’t it always?) who was “friends” with both of us. I’ve known “Bob” for 15 years and I’m friends with he and his wife in the real world. In addition to his regular full-time job, Bob is a part-time actor, mostly on a regional basis, but he’s been in enough stuff that he has “fans” (which cracks his wife and I up). That’s why this woman sent him a friend request. Because she’s a fan.

It started as a simple back and forth between Bob and I over what he’s got coming up for projects. Four posts in, the fan (let’s call her Alice) piped in. O.K., social networks are all about NETWORKING, right? Building relationships. So the conversation became a party line and it went back and forth innocently enough until Alice threw in something a bit provocative. Suddenly I’m getting a text from Bob saying, “WTF? What do I say to THAT?” To which I commented online, “I’m pretty sure his wife takes care of that already.” Alice was not amused and WHAP! Virtual bitch slap to the side of my head. The conversation rapidly grew nasty (on her end, not ours) and ended with her announcing “you may have won this time but next time, you won’t be so lucky”. Won? I didn’t even know I was playing the game. Bob has since blocked Alice and deleted all of her posts and I’m pretty sure somewhere in Pennsylvania, there’s an angry little woman who hates my guts.

Relationships. Are they so different in the virtual world? I get that Facebook and Twitter and blogs give us the opportunity to put ourselves out there and interact and engage with people we don’t get the chance to meet face to face. That’s why I participate. But aren’t there any rules in the virtual world? Courtesies? Boundaries? Or do we toss those out the window the minute we send that friend request or start following someone? We’re out there, they’re out there…maybe the gloves are off.

I approach these online relationships the same way I do the face-to-face ones. I seek out interesting, funny, creative, adventurous, thinking people, make that first contact (follow, friend, comment), develop a rapport, and see where it goes. I’m not in their face about it, I don’t comment on their EVERY post, and I sure don’t expect them to comment on everything I say or do. You don’t do that with your friends in the real world, do you?

But there are those among us who seem desperate for that level of attention. In the social network mosh pit, they’re the drunk chick in the middle of the room ripping off her shirt and flinging it over her head, shrieking, “Look at me! Look at me!” (I’ve got a true story post about something like that, better saved for another day). People who are so intent on building the relationship, that they grasp at any opportunity to be noticed. To be more than a face in the crowd.

I know a shrieker and honestly, this person is ticking me off. When they started liking and/or following some of the same people and things I do, I thought, “Great! Maybe I’m influencing someone to try something new.” When it became nearly everything and everyone I was expressing an interest in, I thought, “O.K., that seems sort of excessive and these things have never interested you before but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.” Then they began inserting themselves into one-on-one conversations I was having online and dropping my name to “friends” in an effort to get a response. When I got that first direct message asking “Do you really know this person? What’s their deal?“, that’s when I got pissed. “Get your own life!“ I wanted to scream. “Quit riding my relationship coattails, you leech!“ Then I wondered if I had a reason to be mad. The virtual world is open country; did I have a right to tell this person to get off my land? I don’t know but it’s still bugging me.

I like to think that all this online interaction is about exploring new ideas, sharing opinions, meeting new people, expanding our possibilities. If it’s really just a big battle for attention, for God’s sake, somebody set me straight. Because if that’s what it is, I’ve been hanging out in the locker room not knowing that my match has been called and I’m seconds away from a forfeit. I’m willing to come out swinging; shy and timid are not my words and I can pack a pretty mean punch if I have to. So tell me what the rules are, or if they even exist. Help me out here – we’re friends, aren’t we?

In 1971, singer-songwriter Don McLean penned and recorded the greatest ballad ever put to vinyl, 8-track, CD or I-pod. It ran 8:63 and when it was released in 1972, it became the longest song to hit no. 1 on the Billboard charts (a spot it held for four weeks). I first heard it on the radio during a car trip to South Carolina. It was on every station, mile after mile, state after state, during the two days it took us to get there. I was six years old and it became the first song I could sing all the way through without missing a word. I still can.

“American Pie” is an homage to the great voices of rock and roll that were silenced the “Day the Music Died” – Feb. 3, 1959, when Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson died in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa. McLean says the song is also semi-autobiographical, recalling the people, places and events that shaped his life and his music. It was that aspect that my friend, Jim, and I were discussing in a crowded bar last Friday night.

We were there for a birthday party and the celebratory alcohol was flowing. It wasn’t long before Jim and I were talking about long songs and my need for a lot of them the following morning when I would have to do my radio show with a hangover. “American Pie” was my first pick, obviously for its length but also because it’s one of my favorite songs.

Suddenly, the lyrics were flying back and forth between us, spoken not sung. (When the singing came later, it was Meatloaf’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Lights”. Jim was smart enough not to join in. Call me Stupid.)  But, back to the “Pie”. We had just reached the line “drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry” when Jim said, “That always makes me think of the Rock.”

To the rest of the world, the Rock may be wrestler-turned-actor Dwayne Johnson but round these parts, the Rock is a hallowed piece of ground that is the place of legend. I’m not from the place where I live but even I know the Rock.

By the Oahe Dam, near the emergency spillway, is a place where local teenagers and those just past that used to gather. The Rock. The site of epic parties, phenomenal fights, hook-ups, break-ups, and make-ups, first beers and last joints, a teenage playground open 24-7. Surely, adults knew of the place, you say. The Rock is on Corps land; that’s Army Corps of Engineers for those who don’t speak the language and they clearly knew. I’m told they used to bring trash bags to the partiers so they could clean up after.

I suspect every town has its levee, its Rock. Park, beach, quarry, lake, woods, old drive-in, farm, shelter, field. Different locations with the same purpose – to give you a place to find yourself and lose yourself during those years when you’re just figuring out who you really are. Those who went, never forget it. Those who didn’t, never forgive themselves.

McLean went and remembered and wrote an amazing song about it, giving us each a little piece of the “Pie” so that we, too, can say, “A long, long time ago…I can still remember…”

Got a song or a place that brings back good memories for you? If you don’t mind sharing, I’d love to hear about it!

My friend Tony is a master storyteller. He doesn’t do it for a living or even a hobby; it’s just something he does. He’s always ready to share and his audience is usually willing to listen. That’s because Tony’s stories are the perfect balance between fact and fiction and he knows just how to tell them. My grandpa would have plainly said that Tony is full of crap and he may be but that’s the thing right there – when Tony tells a story, you just don’t know whether to believe him or not.

On the night Daisy Duke strolled into the spotlight on Tony’s stage, everyone was perched on their usual stools and “The Dukes of Hazzard” was on the T.V. behind the bar. Background noise, that’s all it was; nobody really cared what those old Dukes were up to this week. But they did take notice when Tony put down the beer he was sipping and announced, “I took Daisy Duke to prom, you know.”

The reactions were predictable – eye-rolling, head-shaking and a skeptical “Oh, really?” from the end of the bar. Then we waited because there was a story coming.

“Yeah, junior year,” Tony continued. “Faith High School.”

Here are the facts: Catherine Bach, the actress who played Daisy Duke, lived in Faith, South Dakota after her parents got divorced. Tony is from the Faith area. She graduated from high school there in 1971; Tony would have gone there about the same time. Odds are she went to prom and well, somebody had to take her, right?

Tony grew the tale from there, adding whatever details he deemed necessary. This could be the fiction: what the decorations looked like, was there a dinner, what the prom’s theme song was and whether they danced to it. Just enough to keep you wondering. And although Tony’s story sounded plausible, the crowd wasn’t entirely buying it.

The next chapter in the Daisy Duke saga came about a week later in the form of a photograph of a young Tony in a suit with a skinny dark-haired girl in a floor-length Gunne Sax dress and a wrist corsage. The Polaroid was passed up the bar and back for inspection and the general consensus was that the young man was undoubtedly Tony. His date? MAYBE Catherine Bach, pre-Hollywood sex symbol.

It was never resolved whether Tony took Daisy Duke to prom or not but that wasn’t really the point. It was a good story worth hearing, true or not.

Tony and I joke about me compiling a book of his stories and shopping it around to publishers. There’s more than enough material there and we’ve even got a title and the cover art: a faded Polaroid of a young prom couple from Faith, South Dakota. It may not be a future bestseller but it will be one worth reading. And whether you believe the stories or not? That’s up to you.


What Do You Take?

Posted: May 28, 2011 in Weather
Tags: , , , , ,

I ran into an old friend of mine today. She was standing in the entryway of her new home, arms thrown open as if in greeting, the chatter of others echoing from the rooms around her.  She looked shocked to see me and when I walked forward and she gave me a hug, she said, “How did you know we were in trouble?” “I’m intuitive that way,” I said. “Thought you could use some help.”

The “trouble” is the rising Missouri River, which is steadily overflowing its banks, driven by the increasing flows from the Oahe Dam which officials say are necessary because of the heavy snowmelts and record rainfalls coming from areas beyond our state’s borders. Shit may roll downhill but water doesn’t, at least not this water. It hurtles, rages, heaves as it comes out of the tubes at the stilling basin then weaves itself into the river and snakes its way downstream. Now it colors outside the lines, creeping over the edges of the land that normally holds it in check, flowing across lawns, pooling in parking lots, washing away roads. That’s what’s happening in Amy’s neighborhood and that’s why I’m there.

Her shock at seeing me was genuine; we haven’t talked to each other, in person, in a couple of years. Not that we’re fighting or anything (not that I’m aware of anyway); more just busy. You know how that goes. Jobs, family, commitments. Sometimes friendships fade over time, even if you don’t intend for them to. But we’re Facebook friends and when I saw her recent posts about sand-bagging her home, her new home that took years to materialize, I figured it was time for a reunion.

Amy quickly filled me in. They’d gotten the word this morning that the road to their housing development would likely be underwater and impassable by this evening. That meant not only did they have to reinforce the sandbags and quickly construct a berm but they had to get out – now – while there was still a road to get out on.

While I joined Amy’s family and friends in packing, hauling and tossing their possessions, it struck me that there are so many things you can live without that you never thought you could. When push comes to shove and you have hours to decide what has to go in the horse trailer and what can ride out the flood on an upper floor, what do you take?

Family pictures, furniture with history, the kids favorite toys, all find spots in the trailer. A desk too heavy to move, a pantry brimming with canned goods, decorative things that can be replaced, all will ride out the flood in the house. I watched Amy make a multitude of snap decisions today, choices I knew she never thought she’d have to make but when the water’s lapping at the back door and you’re looking out over the sandbag hill in your front yard at a neighborhood hurriedly working to save itself, you make ’em.

The residents and businesses in our area who are being impacted by the floodwaters have been preparing for days but it will be months before it’s all over and who knows how it will turn out? We’re fortunate in a way because we’ve had some advance warning, even if the information we’re getting is constantly changing. I think about the residents in Joplin and other communities devastated by tornados and I wonder: in times like that, when your choices are made in seconds or minutes instead of hours, what do you take? Yourself. Your family. Your faith that you’ll make it through this alive. And your hope that things will get better, however long that takes. If you leave with those things, you’ve got a fighting chance.