Friday, September 5, 2014

Sweet Bull of Youth

Trying My Hand at Rodeo Riding Seemed Like a Great Way to Deal with My Midlife Crisis. That’s What I Told the Surgeon By Hank Nuwer

After my marriage of two decades blew up, I chucked my living room furniture and put in a gym complete with treadmill, metallic torture contraptions, and pancake stacks of Olympic free weights.

Careerwise, things hadn’t changed much with the divorce. With four books out on hazing and a college teaching position I loved, I was, at 58, still moving up the career stepladder. In fact, I was looking forward, on successive days, to delivering a keynote address to the U.S. Department of Education in Washington and appearing on the NBC Today Show.

So what could be bad? Well, nothing and everything. That’s the beauty of an abandonment crisis at any age. It strikes hard, tears the roof off your comfortable digs, plants a pitchfork inside your soul.

My colleagues in the small journalism department at Franklin College and IUPUI where I teach seemed to sense my restlessness. One—owner of a Miata convertible--suggested that I buy a small sportscar.

But I’m an old-boy deep down, tweed sportscoats notwithstanding, and I like my repainted ‘88 Dodge Dakota just fine. My grandfathers owned farms, and at age four I herded cows and winced as my grandfather Josef wrestled a ring into a bull’s nose. I nixed the convertible, but caved in and assented when Cleo Sutherland, my 26-year-old weightlifting partner, suggested I accompany him to a rodeo to ride a live, twisting Brahma bull.

“Eight seconds, Hank,” he said one night at his father’s restaurant in Fairland as we scarfed 25-cent tacos. “That’s how long you got to stay on.”

Muscular and bald, Cleo resembles a young Ken Kesey. He’s been riding bulls for months and even paid tuition to attend a bull-riding school, leaving with an armload of videos of himself perched like a pickle atop one snorting ton of hamburger.

He was just goading me. Later, in the emergency room, he admitted he’d never really expected me to say “OK,” but that’s the word that came out of my mouth.

Two days later, I found myself in Cleo’s red rig, a Dale Earnhardt memorial license plate on the front bumper, and Waylon Jennings’s voice boiling out the speaker as we bolted down an Indiana back road: “I’ve always been crazy but it’s kept me from going insane,” sang Waylon, and who was I to argue?

Dale and Waylon were dead, after all, and I was a healthy old cuss attempting a new adventure.

Leaving 67 in Portland, Indiana, for Ohio, I phoned my platonic friend Thelma, thinking that because she was pretty and 38 and sported a new tattoo on her shoulder that somehow she’d understand. Lord knows I hadn’t told anyone at Franklin or IUPUI what I was sneaking off to do as an alternative ride for that Miata.

“You’re cell phone is cracking up,” she said. “It must be. I just heard you say you’re in Ohio on your way to a rodeo.”

Getting no reassurance from Thelma, I hung up. Cleo pulled his rig into the pickup-filled parking lot at Mack Arena in Celina, Ohio.

Cleo threw on his spurs. He was dressed Stetson to boots in wrangler chic. I had no western wear in my closet and made do with hiking boots and a short-sleeved shirt, looking more ready to tangle with student term papers than to cowboy up on a raging bull.

We skirted an ambulance at the entrance and entered, paying our admission fees and an additional $15 to ride a bull. I paused to read, then sign, a release form.

Cleo had all his equipment, but I needed to buy and borrow all mine, because his head only reaches my shoulder. What I needed first was a glove. At a combination souvenir stand, coffee shop, and dry goods store, I encountered a pear-shaped man in a pearl-buttoned shirt. He added my $25 to the fistful of dollars he held in one paw.

“You righty or lefty?” he asked, and I held up my right.

“Only one?” I asked as he pushed a deer-hide glove at me.

“They don’t come in pairs,” he said.

I remembered that Cleo said I would have to keep one hand in the air. Touching the bull or grabbing the rope with the free hand was prohibited.

I inquired about a protective leather vest and a braided rope and winced at the prices the hawker quoted me. Cleo came up behind me. “Wait until a rider your size finishes a ride, and then ask him for his.”

We pushed past men in bleachers who were tearing beers off piles of six-packs. At that point there was an intermission, and music started blaring and high school girls marched into the middle of the arena to line dance. When that ended, all the men took off their hats, and the crowd sang “God Bless America.”

The announcer delivered a patriotic speech, and the bull riding restarted. Most riders were thrown well before the eight seconds were up. Those who managed to stay the eight before getting tossed or leaping free earned cash prizes. The crowd was appreciative, and applauded every performer.

Most riders were small and far more wiry than my broad build. Finally, one good-sized rider hopped on his bull, but was thrown roughly after five or six seconds. Two rodeo clowns in flapping, baggy clothing chased away his bull while he dusted himself clean.

He came out of the arena, and Cleo and I stalked him. I made my request for his equipment. He sized me up and spit.

“You fellers first timers here?”

We nodded.

“Your girlfriends know you’re here?”

Cleo’s love life has been about as bad as mine.

“That’s good,” he said. “Sooner or later you always get hurt, and your old lady would be telling you not to come no more. Mine never comes.”

I laugh aloud, thinking about a famous line author Ernest Hemingway penned in A Dangerous Summer, a true-life story of bullfighting. “Pamplona is no place to bring your wife,” he wrote.

He told us a bit about himself. He drove semis during the week and lived in New Castle, Indiana. He came here every week. I pulled on his vest. He had a gut, and it hung loosely on me. “If you like riding, you can buy your own,” he said.

He broke off a chunk of resin and showed me how to put some in the center of my glove and work it up and down the rope to make the surface of the glove as sticky as possible. “Don’t push up and down,” he said. “Do it real vigorous like you’re jerking off.”

I did my best Portnoy impression. I wanted any edge over the bull I could get.

The money events were over, and we novices were up. We found an older female spectator who seemed cooperative. We gave her Cleo’s video camera, asking her to film our rides.

Cleo’s turn came first. He nodded, and his gate opened. He had a good five-second ride, but then slipped off to the right. For a second, he was attached to the bull by the rope, but then the weighted part broke free, and he tumbled onto the soft-packed arena dirt. Had he hung up, he would have been dragged. Still, he paid a price for the mistake. The bull swung its hips past him and a flashing hoof caught him in the meat of his leg. He’d be taking home a big bruise.

A couple more contestants went. I was last, and the crowd was no longer a crowd. Cleo limped up and handed me his rope. He and a teenager helped me get settled in the pen.

Unfortunately, there were no more smaller bulls for me as an amateur, and I drew a beast. The bull was big and mostly white. The announcer said his name, but I didn’t catch it. The other bulls had creative names such as Nasty Boy. He pushed back his huge flat head and looked at me with one big white eyeball. I spread my legs wide over him and rested the heels of my boots on each of the two gate panels. He tried to dig me in the fleshy part of my leg with one horn.

“Don’t let him get you,” the kid said. I put my leg out of reach.

The two tied down my rope, and had me pull—hard.

“Make sure it’s tight,” said Cleo. “Harder.”

The kid agreed. “It has to be tight.”

I had on a Hofstra baseball cap. I handed it to Cleo.

“What about them specs?” he asked.

“I’m blind without them.”

“They could get crushed,” said Cleo. I jerked them off and handed them to him.

The thought clearly went through my head that I ought to be afraid, but I was too busy taking care of ticking off the details of things to be done.

Cleo backed up on the gate.

“When you hit the ground, get up and run like mad for a fence,” he said. “Don’t lay there or you might take a horn.”

“You ready?” the kid asked. I raised my left hand and held it high as the announcer blasted “My Sherona” by the Knack over the speakers. It's an awful song, and I never liked it.

I gave the head nod and the gate peeled open into the arena. I was sitting on a one-ton powder keg, and he exploded. I kept my eyes on his head just visible over his broad hump. He gave a big kick with his back feet.

I have had some nice sporting thrills but weathering that first leap equals any of them. My bull made a short run, and to my horror, I felt my knees slipping away from his shoulder. I was off balance and sliding backward toward his hind end.

He gave a second explosive buck, and I let go of the rope. I felt my body being launched straight up, way up.

When I awoke it was in an ambulance, and a female EMT was holding my hand and talking soothingly to me.

I tried to sit up and sank down. My back felt like it was broken. My first thought was of Christopher Reeve and his paralysis. Reeve’s dad, F.D., had been a poet and contributed back in the 1970s to a literary magazine I edited. I remember talking to F.D on the phone and learning that Christopher had been awarded the part of Superman.

“Don’t move,” the EMT told me. “We’ll soon be at the hospital. You were the last ride. I thought for once I’d get to go home early.”

“Is my back broken?”

“I don’t think so. A bunch of cowboys tried to hold you down. You threw them all off and were gasping for air.”

At the hospital aides transferred me to a gurney. Cleo was in the waiting room. He’d followed the ambulance. The video camera was in his hands.

“You want to see your ride?”

It was short and horrible. On the way down it looked as if my free hand were coming down like a hammer, and I drove my left elbow into my ribs. My legs and chest hit the ground. I crumpled, rolled once, and was still. The tape stopped there.

“You scared the lady,” Cleo said. “She stopped filming.”

“Did you see me fall?” I asked.

“I went and killed Hank—that’s what I thought,” said Cleo.

“I didn’t do what you told me,” I said. “I didn’t keep my knees dug into his shoulder.”

A doctor came into the room and separated us. He ordered several CAT scans and a ton of X-rays. He came in with a sheet of film. “The good news is that you don’t have a head injury,” he said. “Your head is pretty cut up, and I thought you might have one. But the bad news is that you’ve broken seven ribs, and some of them are broken right off.”

The medical team released me at 6 a.m. that Sunday. I left with Cleo, my arms bulging with pain killers and a breathing device.

The next day I taught my classes and then I drove to the airport in Indianapolis, and a wheelchair dumped me at a gate where Thelma was waiting for me. My keynote address for the U.S. Department of Education was on Tuesday, and Thelma was assisting me with video and sound.

The talk went well, but foolishly I took my friend Thelma on a walking tour of Washington because it was her first time to the Capitol. After our walk, I headed to the Reagan airfield and flew to New York alone.

A psychologist friend met me at the Essex House, and after a dinner I couldn’t eat because of the pain, she brought plastic garbage bags and filled them with ice. She wrapped me in them and left, mumbling that she hoped I didn’t die like John Belushi, while police searched New York for her as a mystery lady.

When my alarm rang at 5 a.m., I awakened, climbed out of a wet bed, and went downstairs where a limo whisked me off to the Today Show. The makeup lady recoiled when she saw the cuts and bruises on my head, but she managed to cover up most of the debris. On set, interviewer Matt Lauer was waiting for me, and I chatted with him about hazing for three-minutes.

A limo took me to the airport. I flew back to Indianapolis and tried to meet my afternoon classes at Franklin College. A secretary and a fellow professor intercepted me. My chest, the left side, was swollen to three times its normal size, engorged apparently with blood. They made me check into the local hospital.

I had internal hemorrhaging. I stayed inert in the critical care ward the better part of four days. My entire department came to visit. The highlight was when my editing class showed up en masse. “We weren’t going to let you cut class,” said the spokesperson for the group. I could have hugged them all. Maybe I would have if I knew I wouldn’t scream in pain.

I’m back in my school office as I write. My ribs are little better, and I seem to be living on a diet of pain killers and muscle relaxants. But today I’m less sore than yesterday, and the purple bruises are fading to yellow. I’m behind on my grading, and that leaves little time for self pity.

My colleagues seem to have taken my departure from sanity in good spirits. I’ve heard every conceivable bad pun on “bull.” A homemade poster depicting a butt getting speared by a horn now hangs from my door. “We missed you, Hank, but too bad the bull didn’t,” it reads.

I received dozens of notes from the college president to the campus janitors. My two grown sons were ticked off at me, and each recited the same speech about thinking about consequences I’d harangued them with as they grew up.

In addition, I can’t tell you how many times a student or prof has come up and asked what I was thinking when I agreed to ride a bull, and maybe out of self protection I have been trying to come up with an intellectual rationalization to justify my irresponsible behavior.

But so far I haven’t devised one.

“So what’s next? Running ahead of the bulls at Pamplona?” a colleague asked me.

My hands gently moved over my rib cage. “I think I’d better quit while I’m behind,” I said.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Breakfast "Nice Conversation" with Singer Kate Lamont and Writer Hank Nuwer

"Yeah, a hero always beats against the current. I guess I still want to be a hero." --Kate Lamont
         
         A Breakfast "Nice Conversation" with Singer Kate Lamont and Writer Hank Nuwer


Born in England while her father studied for his doctorate at the University of Birmingham, singer Kate Lamont came back to the States and spent her teen years in Anderson and Muncie. After 15 years singing with Hoosier bands MabLab and Blueprintmusic, she just has released “After the Traffic,” her first solo album with the online digital distribution label Audio Reconnaissance.  

         

Nuwer: I hope this one is going to work because it's a new Marantz.
This other is my old one. You're my my first interview [on the new one].

Lamont: OK.

Nuwer: Christening it.

Lamont. All right, stereo. Whoo-whoo. Recording.

Nuwer: Let's jump right in.

Lamont: OK.

Nuwer: There's a danger in listening to music and trying to interpret it just as there is with poetry. A critic once wrote about poet Hart Crane that you could miss the whole poem by listening too closely to the lines. Having said that, I think there is a theme that runs all the way through this album. What would you say that theme was in terms of vision?

Lamont: The quote you said explains the first track entirely, because if I listen to the lyrics too carefully I don't know what it means myself. The title ["After the Traffic"] came during the recording of the very first song. You'd have to have a good stereo and good headphones to hear the background noise for Track Five. That's the only song we recorded off site. We recorded it at the Earth House Collective downtown, a 130-year-old brick German church [Lockerbie Central United Methodist Church] downtown. Well, I wrote that song half an hour before a friend's wedding because I was supposed to sing something. We recorded it and it's right in the middle of the day at East and New York downtown, so every forty seconds you have this huge slue of diesel trucks going by. My recording engineer would say, "OK, I'm ready, go," and I would say, "After the traffic?" He'd say, "Yeah, after the traffic."

Nuwer: That's neat.


Kate Lamont next plays the Chatterbox in Indianapolis on August 10, 2010
Photo by the Rev. Rebecca Craver

Lamont: That's where it came from. I heard that [conversation] when I played it back and I thought, this is the theme of the whole album. When I heard that quote I thought, well, it represents where I am after 15 years of performing and now embarking on my first solo project. After all this energy and synergy and creativity and collaboration comes this other thing that still means something.
Nuwer: Then there's old church. From oxcarts to diesel trucks going by. There's a lot of time passing in this album also, forward or backwards, and in one song, someone missing a connection by four or five years.

Lamont: That's true and maybe you did just touch on the theme there--in track three on "Adeline." I wear a class ring my grandmother gave to me. In 1922 she graduated from high school. That song is about the generational connection between me and my grandmother and then her relationship with her Aunt Adeline, which was so strong. This ring is the most fun conversation piece because it has a B in the center and everyone wants to know what the B stands for. Well, rubbed off in the top right hand corner you can almost see a 2. So it's B Square and that was their class motto. It meant be strong, be solid, be a rock.

Nuwer: That's interesting, the culture they had back then. You knew her?

Lamont: If I knew her it was as a baby; I don't remember her. But because I have such a strong connection with my grandmother I feel like I know her. I have a lot of her things. [Adeline] was like my grandmother's mentor. When my grandmother was 14 or 15 she took her on a trip with her to South America. Adeline, and what the song represents too, lost her fiancé in a boating accident. Actually, her fiancé and her brother went out on a boat and only her brother returned. She never married and she kept the same job as an accountant-bookkeeper in Philadelphia. But every year she would travel for three weeks and she went all over the world. Se took my grandmother with her when my grandmother was about 14. That spurred my grandmother's love for travel and she traveled here entire life. That in turn inspired my dad's love of travel….Likewise, I have that traveling spirit.

Nuwer: Did you write all the songs on this album?

Lamont: Oh, yes, yes.

Nuwer: What was the time frame in which they were written?

Lamont: Pretty much within the last two years. I had a son in 2005 and while I didn’t quit doing music—in fact the Blueprint heyday for my music was after he was born—but your life changes really drastically.

Nuwer: Sure.

Lamont: I started playing piano a lot more. I started teaching piano. That really changed my view of myself as a piano player. I’ve always put more stock in my voice. But when I started teaching small children, they made me a better player.

Nuwer: Because they asked questions you didn’t think of?

Lamont: Yeah, but kind of pounding those basics back in my brain reminded me that I did know everything I needed to know fundamentally. I used to give myself a hard time: you know, you’re not that great of a piano player because I didn’t excel at sight reading. Pounding those basics back into my brain made me know that I knew what I needed to know fundamentally…to be a good piano player. I just got better, and that’s when I started writing these songs on the piano.

Nuwer: Your album reminded me of spiritual or churchlike music. Which is interesting because of your connection with the church.

Lamont: Well, I’ve spent the last two years at this church as a founding member of the Earth House Collective. The Vonnegut connection is huge with us…We’re all big fans because of his connection to theology. Last year’s service was really great. I did a bunch of music for that. Yeah, I’m glad [the church sound] comes through, but it wasn’t intentional to make this album sound like gospel or like a church. I like the fact that it’s coming through naturally.

Nuwer: [In the album] there are so many lines that are so poetic, so literary.

Lamont: Thanks, I'm glad you liked it. "Warm bodies, crushed dried leaves, were gathered like children under heaven."

Nuwer: It's all metaphor. "The voice of God--

Lamont: "The voice of God comes sometimes when I listen to the people who breathe music like it's oxygen."

[Conversation goes off track to a time when Lamont and Nuwer were part of the same Kurt Vonnegut memorial celebration, him reading and lecturing and her singing].

Nuwer: Where did you go to college?

Lamont: I went to Ball State for architecture for two years. I joined a band the summer after my freshman year. I loved [architecture, I adored it, but I joined a band and just couldn’t go back.

Nuwer: But architecture is so creative.

Lamont: Architecture gave me that first year an understanding of composition that transferred to music like butter on toast. It shaped my songwriting.

Nuwer: If your music were a single building, what would it be? A cathedral?

Lamont: I hope it would be like the Guggenheim, always growing as it goes up. It’s a fabulous building. I’m constantly evolving.

Nuwer: You’re a born storyteller and you also love the first-person—the number of times the word I appears.

Lamont (laughter): You could also say I’m self-centered. I like how you said that. Next time I’m feeling self absorbed I’ll say, “It’s just that I have an affinity for the first-person.”

Nuwer: (laughter) There is no more grassroots coming up in the music world. Cliché and the banal seem to rule our lives.

Lamont: That’s what my music is about. It’s a reaction to the state of everything—the music business, the corporate world. It’s all the same.

Nuwer: Part of a culture? Do you suffocate and go along with it or beat against the current with your oars?

Lamont: The hero always beats against the current. I guess I still want to be a hero.

Nuwer: I like the purity of someone alone listening to music or reading a book at night—a one-to-one connection of an artist creating and someone actually being moved by the creation of your words.

Lamont: Kurt Vonnegut is a great example. When you read Vonnegut you don’t see him with chest out, chin up, a leader of the revolution. He’s an everyday man, slumped with his Pall Mall and coffee, talking to you like he’s just sitting across the table from you. Musically speaking, that’s what moves people too.  Eric Brown gave me a compliment on this album. He said, “When you listen you can’t help thinking she’s speaking to you or for you.”

[Lamont says something about NPR on end of tape that is unintelligible.]

Nuwer: Disappointed with NPR? Especially with the news?

Lamont: Yes, and it's not that I don't think they have some good programs on NPR, and certainly it's the best mainstream news there is. But for me, I realized it is still a mainstream news source. It's like going to church on Sunday and thinking that's what Christianity is about. Feeling good about listening to NPR because it's the best news source out there for getting the story? Well, guess what folks, it's still not getting you the story. If you want something a little closer [to true news] and you have a satellite you can get Link TV. They actually give you programming from the Middle East and all around the world.  The problem is that NPR still has that American filter.

Nuwer: In my investigative journalism class [Franklin College] we use Open Secrets to look at political donations. Look at it sometime and see who from NPR is donating to which political parties. And they are supposed to be objective?

Lamont: It's not really "public" radio.

Nuwer: Well, let's talk a little about music and marketing. Going back to Adam Smith, you can be a manufacturer making the best hand-produced pins but [consumers] are going to buy mass produced pins, not perfect pins. Whether it is music or books, the industries are all about mass production now.

Lamont: For me that's no different than the flow of American culture and why were backwards. It's no mystery to me how we got buried under all these layers. Honestly, the marketing piece of the puzzle is not something I'm interested in. Right after I had my son I came to these huge realizations that motherhood or parenthood teaches you what you didn't know before but needed  to know to get things done. But now you know what you need to do to get things done, but now you have this huge responsibility and time commitment to someone else. So you do learn how to be more efficient, how to get things done quicker, because you've only got 30 minutes to get it done.  I feel like I've gotten a hundred times better at all these things but it is still a juggling act to try to promote yourself.

Nuwer: You take a [musical gospel] group like the Gaithers up near Anderson and they are so good at self promotion.


Lamont: They are. Frankly, the kind of music I write doesn't really sit well with being great at promotion. The two aren't necessarily married. I guess my point is that Eric Brown--who I still play with on a group called Mab Lab --he started an online digital distribution label called Audio Reconnaissance. My album is being released through him. He has distribution outlets all of his channels go through and you can also buy them through Rhapsody, Amazon, I-Tunes, and all the online music distribution sites. That's the label I'm putting [the album] out on. So whether it's your new book or my music, things have changed and we have to adapt to new marketing. We have to learn from the past but we also must do something completely different. Things aren't always obvious. I feel like it's taken me like seven or eight years to accept that I was in the end of an era. When I first started performing there were shows where there were A & R reps from BMI. We'd have conversations with these people afterwards. They thought we were great, but then they were going back home to their jobs and getting fired the next day. People were moving around and the music industry was on fire. It took me a long time to realize that the musicians who had quote-unquote made it in the way we wanted to make it by making a living playing music --well that world no longer exists in the way we saw it.

Nuwer: Now there is instant success through American Idol. It isn't a grassroots coming up. It's the cliché about new books that bothers me whether it's a series like Twilight or one on vampires. Clichés rule our lives.

Lamont: That's what my music is about. It's a reaction to the state of everything. The state of the music business. The state of the corporate world. It's all the same issue.

Nuwer: So do you go along with it or beat against a current with your oars?

Lamont: Yeah, a hero always beats against the current. I guess I still want to be a hero. There are a lot of heroes. I used to be cynical.

Nuwer: You weren't cynical?

Lamont: Oh, yes, I was. Maybe it didn't show in the music but I was for quite some time. Yeah, I think so. But I realized there is no future in cynicism.

Nuwer: Especially if you have a kid.

Lamont: That's why I feel every single human still has that power to go against the grain. We thought we felt that with the Obama campaign. A lot of people got real excited about this idea that we can stand up and have a voice. Now let us not get into the politics and what is really going on now, but that is a fact….People still have the power. They're just not using it.
Nuwer: I like the purity of someone listening to your music at night or reading a book all alone--a one-on-one connection--between the artist's creation and someone actually being moved by it. Take [the late] Kurt Vonnegut as an example, where he actually moved people with his words.
Lamont: Vonnegut is a great example. When you read Vonnegut you don't see Vonnegut with his chest out, chin up, leader-of-the-revolution type. You see him sitting back, an everyday type of man, slumped, with his Pall Malls and his coffee as if he were sitting across the table from you. Musically speaking, that's what moves people too, I think. When it feels like a conversation. Eric gave me a compliment on my album. Said that when you finish this album you can't help but think she's singing to you or for you.

Nuwer: This was perfect for a friend of mine who listened to the album yesterday after her stepmom died. She was so moved by it.

Lamont: I tell you I want to get into the funeral music business.

Nuwer: When you think of it, so many great compositions were written for funerals.

Lamont: Yeah, ok, well it's almost as if in this life, this culture, where no emotion is allowed for everyday stuff, we're still allowed to show emotion during times of death and birth. And even with birth, we've taken all ceremony out of that. But yeah, death--someone dies and that's the saddest thing anybody's ever heard. Take the guy who flew off the luge during the Olympics. That's all anybody could talk about was how sad that was. I'm quirky. I didn't think it was sad. The guy died doing what he loved, and he died instantly. What's sad about that? To me, nothing. But there is that notion that we're allowed to have that feeling emotionally and collectively as a people to express certain things still.

Nuwer: He [Nodar Kumaritashvil] knew all the risks, as did I when I went bullriding four years ago.


Hank Nuwer riding on the bull, Celina, Ohio rodeo


Lamont: Oh, wow. I'm trying to think of anything I've done that is remotely as crazy as that. I jumped off a cliff once.

Nuwer: You did?

Lamont: Yeah. Into a quarry. Into water, outside of Muncie. It was 40 feet, which doesn't sound like a lot--

Nuwer: --Did you do it alone or?

Lamont: No, there were tons of idiotic college students there.

Nuwer: So, what was the feeling as you went down? Amazing?

Lamont: Yeah, it was great until my ass smacked the water at a bad angle.

Nuwer: Oh, no. Could have been a belly flop.

Lamont: I started straight and I went in at an angle. That may have been the craziest thing I've ever done.

Nuwer: What about your job at Earth House Collective? I read its goal is reaching peace, wellness and culture?

Lamont: To be more specific, it's developed into an organization that hopes to provide space for people who are trying to listen to "that" voice. Who are trying to shed layers. Who are trying to do something outside nine-to-five…

Nuwer: Who are trying to do something as traffic passes?

Lamont: Yeah, exactly. I think that sometimes just as protesting war gets into an anti-soldier conversation, I think there's very much a spirit of that in this cultural problem we have, too. When you protest against a corporation or protest the system, people feel you're attacking the nine-to-five worker. But that couldn't be farther from the truth. I think my music and Earth House and everything I'm involved with and my close friends are involved with is all about liberating people.
Nuwer: But now were back to capitalism and getting the maximum amount of profits whether it's the music industry, a book company or Bill Gates. The way you maximize profits is to get people at the bottom to get the lowest amount of compensation unless you also want those people to buy your products.

Lamont: Well, it works.

Nuwer: Capitalism?

Lamont: Oh, yeah, capitalism works well. It's a well-oiled machine. But it's not about being Democrat or Republican, it's about self expression.

Nuwer: That's what it was supposed to be about in the 1960s. I covered Woodstock as a reporter.

Lamont: Nice. But just like any movement, there are things that get tagged on. Like "Oh, that was just a drug-induced whatever." Well, that was tagged on. Yeah, I think it is our responsibility to go against the grain. Usually the current is not where it's good for the people. It would be nice if it was.

Nuwer: It's so interesting how we've never had so much communication in terms of email, Facebook. People walk out of a class and their hands go automatically to a phone.

Lamont: Well, I don't think you can call all that communication. I think we need a different word.  Seriously, we need a different word because it's not communication. I don't know what the word is, but it's not the same word communication. We have to come up with a new word for whatever this technological thingie is. Communication has gone way down since all of this has come about. People are working on their laptops during a meeting, on their I-Phone, which is a computer, a full work station. I mean, email started when I got to college, and now I do have a cell phone, though I didn't have one the whole time I was pregnant with my son, right up to the point he was three-and-a-half or four. Texting I actually like because you don't have to get on the phone. Even with texting you're missing something. Someone is trying to talk with you and you're trying to write. It's distraction, not communication.

Nuwer: Maybe that's the word we're looking for--distractification.

Lamont: Distractification?

Nuwer: Distractification.

Lamont: All this new-fangled distractification. Sounds like a hip-hop lyric.

Nuwer: Well, how should we end? Do you want to ask yourself a question?

Lamont: Hey [Kate], how do you feel you did in this interview? Well, I think I did pretty well. I had a real nice time talking to Hank. I stopped thinking about what was the right thing to say or how to market the album, or how to make myself sound cool, and I just had a nice conversation over some coffee with white sugar.

Nuwer: With Jesus looking on--in velvet.

Lamont [looking up at a velvet painting to her right] Oh, we have a blond Jesus on velvet. Walking on water.


A small portion of this interview appeared in the May 2010 Indianapolis Monthly.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Born August 19, 1946? Me too

August 19, 2009

On Aug. 19, 1946 I (Hank Nuwer) turn 63, as does William Jefferson Clinton and NASA administrator Charles Frank "Charlie" Bolden, Jr. Swiss conductor Beat Raaflaub; 1968 Boston Marathon winner Ambrose (Amby) Joel Burfoot; Green Bay Packer lineman Freddy Carr; Azymuth bass player Alex Malheiros (born Niteroi, Brazil); Cincinnati Bengals center Bob Johnson (his #54 was only one retired); and Boston Bruins left wing Rod Graham (1974-1975).

--Then there’s cinematographer Randall Robinson who survived that infamous helicopter crash on set for director John Landis.
--There’s the noted Bulgarian graphic artist Ivan Ninov.
--There’s the great Tennessee State long jumper Martha Watson. She also represented USA in the 1972 Olympics in the 400 m relay.
--There’s a New York City fire captain named John Michael Kostynick.
-- Dead is the late TV network exec and producer (Top Gun, Fatal Attraction) Dawn Steel (born Dawn Spielberg, died of cancer 1997).
-- There’s the late Coach Dennis Garth Stone, a high school coach in Kansas for 33 years for the Goodland Cowboys. New York Giant Mike Friede played linebacker for him. He passed away January 9, 2008.
--There’s the late outdoorsman Stanley Grell who operated Artic Char Lodge, northernmost hunting lodge in the Arctic.
--Armando Albarran was a respected pilot with the 173rd Airborne.
--The late Eugene "Blair" Conrad Jr., was the city of Dayton's director of aviation.
--There’s the renowned pianist and composer Frédéric Meinders from the Hague, Holland.
--John Anthony is the son of child star Jackie Cooper.
--And let us not forget Australia cricket star Daniel McEvoy.
--I’m sure your remember Luis Barrancos Alvarez, soccer referee in Spain during the 1982 FIFA World Cup.
--If you live in Austria you were familiar with the name of Hans Maximillion Ferlitsch, Municipality Association President and Mayor of St. Stefan, Austria (1993-2003)

And though he's too young to make the list, Happy Birthday, Werty

Sunday, December 14, 2008

I Brake for Turtles

I advise the student newspaper at my college. Now you have to understand that primarily I am a writer and that's how I got my job. I have an honorary doctorate from the State University of New York and a master's from a college in New Mexico. But I don't have a Ph.D., and so I think students tend to think of me as their mentor and editor, not some starched-shirted academic.

So last week I drove one of my editors (Evan) to North Carolina to pick up a national award he had won.

As we drove along a busy Ohio highway I saw something and  slammed on my brakes and pulled on the shoulder. As Evan gaped in amazement, I slipped between the semis and plucked a box turtle off the highway. I was afraid he or she was going to get turtle waxed for sure.

Wide-eyed lest I end up with tire tracks on my white tee shirt, I tucked the terrapin under my arm like Randy Moss sprinting for the goal line.

I jumped the guardrail on the opposite side and scampered down the embankment to leave Mr. or Ms. Turtle (we never were formally introduced, and I am biology-challenged when it comes to terrapin sexual parts) on the side of a stream.

When I returned to the car I saw Evan was in shock.

When we returned to our college Evan told a few people and now I have a nickname, "I Brake for Turtles."

It's been all in good-natured fun.

But I can't help hoping that I sprinted in the direction that the
turtle wanted to go. Can you imagine if I took him or her back to where he or she started from?

Imagine the turtle explaining this to a spouse. "Yes, dear, I know I'm late to that delicious repast of bugs and flies you made but some 230-pound monster swooped down on me, put me under his armpit ("I think he uses Right Guard") and set me on the ground. ("What do you mean, a likely story, my dear. It's true.")

A “Hell on Wheels” Christmas Dinner




by Hank Nuwer








In Memoriam and Remembrance, Christmas 1941, Fort Benning, Georgia

Sixty-six years ago my dad (Hank Nuwer, Senior; 1915-1984) was a Private First Class and training at Fort Benning for what became his five-year stint with the Hell on Wheels outfit, the Sixty-Sixth Armored Regiment (Light). 2nd Armored Division. *

I guess it's the time of year, but I lost myself this morning contemplating the few military souvenirs my father brought back from World War II combat. Why few? When he docked in New York after years spent as a light tank driver under General Patton in North Africa, Belgium, Sicily, France and Germany, he stopped at a pay phone to call my mother. After he hung up, he discovered a thief had waltzed with his duffel bag.

"Welcome home, Dogface," he remarked about the incident in his laconic way, when I asked what he thought after seeing the empty spot on the concrete.

He refused to say much more, just as he refused to say much more about such matters as the death of his tank mate and best buddy who was blown away by a shell while they were on a break. My dad's tank was nicknamed Lonely, and that's what's printed on its side in one surviving photo my mother has.

My Christmas thought for you is to think of my dad and all those other beloved Dogfaces sitting down to a formal Christmas dinner just weeks after Pearl Harbor. My Dad had been drafted and in uniform about one year.

Here is the menu from his Christmas Dinner, 1941, printed in a beautiful red, white and blue booklet:

Appetizers: Oyster Cocktail, Hearts of Celery, Mixed Pickles, Olives, Cream of Celery Soup Main Course: Roast Turkey, Cranberry Sauce, Oyster Dressing, Giblet Gravy with Rice, Candied Sweet Potatoes, Asparagus Tips, Creamed Peas, Creamed Cauliflower, Apple and Date Salad Dessert: Mince Pie, Ambrosia, Pound Cake, Ice Cream Beverage: Coffee, Lemonade Breads: Crackers, Hot Rolls Fruit: Tangerines, Oranges, Apples, Grapes, Bananas
Well, because mincemeat pie was my Dad's favorite, I don't have to wonder what his dessert selection was. By some crazy coincidence, I found mince pie yesterday at Wal-Mart, and it is in my fridge now. I had not so much as a slice of this dessert since scarfing down my late Aunt Marion's unbeatable mince pie many, many years ago in my dad's hometown of Alden, New York.


So here's to our men and women in Afghanistan and Iraq and you for a beautiful holiday, as I give thanks to all the veterans (God Bless the Ordinary Troop-level Dogfaces), beloved family, friends, students, colleagues and casual readers of this web site.

Dad, if somehow you're reading this... "Welcome, home."

You're going to be a Great-Grandfather for the second time. And for the second year, I’m going to throw my diet out the window and invite friends over to enjoy the same meal you had at Fort Benning.

We'll lift a thin stem with lemonade and say, "Thanks, Dogface."

*In December 1941, the Commanding Officer at Headquarters was Major C. P. Amazeen and the Commanding Officer was First Lieutenant George C. Spence. In Dad's Third Battalion, the Commanding Officer was Lieutenant Colonel Malcolm B. Byrne and other brass included Major Leonard H. Nason, Second Lieutenant Robert C. Atwood, and Staff Sergeants Harold S. Bauver and Henry A. Hudson. The other Army men (in case their survivors are reading this by chance or Google) in L Regiment were George Gannon, Josef Kastl, Gordon Morrow, Andrew Theoful, Robert Chandler, Willard Lackey, Charles Meagher, Warren Portwood, Louis C. Rendina, Marion Russell, Henry Sydlo, James Tainsh, Charles Walters.