Friday, March 23, 2007

Samson Doggie Moves

Samson Doggie has moved to wordpress. The new address for all of the news about 911 Urban is

The site is different, Samson Doggie remains much the same.

Monday, March 12, 2007

who does have it?

I spent the summer of 1994 covering the goings on of Boone County, Missouri. It was my auspicious beginning as a news reporter, working at the Columbia Missourian. We were a large staff for a small college town in the summer -- maybe 12 photographers along with a limitless score of news reporters from J140.

My first assignment involved the Boone County Fair, but that summer I would also find time to witness bigger things: Olympic Qualifying Games in St. Louis, the primary elections for County Commissioner. I remember writing an assignment on how fill flash and a red filter gave extra value to the readers who caught my coverage of the overturned port-a-potty on Route 65N. Yes, it was only the beginning.

But it was still summer in Mid-Missouri. That means being caught in a battle between the forces of heat and humidity, with an occasional respite for a flood or a tornado. I lived in a one bedroom apartment. It cost $265 per month with utilities. Like most, I had no air conditioner. Prayer is waiting for a breeze to cool your wet chest at 1 am in a Missouri June.

My granddad visited it once. Once he was back out in the air condish of the Cadillac, he let me know what he thought of it.

"A place for tramps!," he said, "What if your grandmother saw that? Come on!"

Actually, it was one of my better pied-a-terres in the Show-me-State. Certainly my basement apartment ($230 per month, free cable tv) in Marshall or my first place right next to I-70 (Jake Brakes no charge, rent $250 per month) could not compare. It even had a back yard and a front porch.

I followed a strict diet to keep up my energy for all of this reporting in the heat. That usually meant yogurt, granola, blueberries, honey, strawberries and about a quart of espresso for breakfast, followed by whatever they were serving at the Boone County Fair for lunch and then a few slices at Shakespeare's for dinner. I could eat for a week for under $50.

But I digress. The point of my story is the people I worked with. None of us actually came from Boone County, or even the Midwest. Short of two friends from Arkansas and St. Louis, we were a pretty bi-coastal crew. What we all shared was a curious passion for photography. Not just any kind of photography, but the photojournalism we saw in Aperture monographs of Roy Stryker or Robert Frank. I swooned for Eugene Richards. I had leafed through photos from the best years of Barney Cowherd.

We were young people with heroes.

Those heroes were real forces. We moved to the epicenter, and staked our young twenties not to the frivolity of a place like the tv show "Friends" but instead to at least two or three years in Columbia. That our initial sacrifice required further humiliation was hitting us all hard. Photography is a hard field to break into -- its not really work like a textile mill, almost anyone can learn to operate a digital camera, and it doesn't follow that someone with high SATs or an ordered mind will prove worthy of a job.
"Let's rent a movie," offered Sarah, always the leader in our group's social calendar. Sarah had a black coffee mug from Texaco that was taller than the length of her forearms. It could hold half a gallon of coffee. I think Sarah might have used that capacity a few times.

"Yeah," I said, "sounds great. We can meet over at my place and make a pasta before." I was real cool, not calling spaghetti by its grocery store name, but instead by my fancy waiter terminology. "A pasta..." Good thing I had "a pot" to cook in.

I put on water. Someone got a movie. The night was young.

Soon enough, Reggie, Thorne, Toby, Michael, Janet and Melina were there. I did have a television. It made a loud popping noise when you changed the channels. There was no remote. Someone had to get up. My apartment had a front porch with a swing and a back exit with a three step stoop. Because the stoop side was closer to the darkroom, most people came in through the back. It meant that you could leave both doors open and actually get a breeze.

After eating, we set down on my fold out bed to watch the film. We were decent people. Everyone took off their shoes. Sarah had socks with Mickey Mouse. They got some attention, but people were quickly taken with the enormity of my toe nails. It is true, they were big boys.

"Adam," said Thorne, "your feet are disgusting. "

"Ooh," said Sarah, turning impatient with my disgusting interruption, "I will not let you make me think about that!"

"No really, Adam," said Thorne, "what is the story here?"

These were friends, I felt like I could reason with them.

"My honest opinion," I said, and I know I said it but that doesn't mean I can explain it, " is that being in graduate school and all, with so many assignments, well, who really has the time, you know, to cut toenails?"

They promptly locked me out of my house. Someone threw some clippers out the back window.

Saturday, March 10, 2007


In Fairfield, you had two choices for Pizza: Mike's and Luigi's.

Mike has a small shop. It butts out of a parking lot on the Post Road. It shares space in a commercial building with a trading card store and a watch repairman. It is very small - four tables lined up against each wall. At the end of the corridor created by those tables is a counter. In the 30 years that span my visits to Mike's, the walls have never grown out of their wood paneling. To this day, the decor still consists of an RC Cola sign and a ficus plant. The ficus plant is about to die.

Mike made great pizza. He had a lot to learn about customers.

There was only one door. It served as the vent for the oven at the opposite end of the building. Diners were caught in the cross wind. You could drink extra RC to slake the thirst from the dry air. You'd have to buy that, Mike didn't do any refills.

When you come in, you don't notice all of that decor because you immediately notice that Mike is already glaring at you. Like, as if you are just another one of those kids come over from the trading card shop, just want to loiter good for nothing in my shop again. Are you going to order, or what?" is what I think he means to say.

I am a macher. I can make it happen. I will order.

The sausage, in my opinion, stands out. No matter what you order, you get that crust. It must be made with a lot of egg, because it is very thick yet also very crisp. Couple that with loads of mozarrella and you have a great slice. I would say that each slice probably ships 500 calories across your tongue -- to eat a pie would sate most for two days or more.

Mike had these wide forearms. If it wasn't for the kudzu-like black hair adorning them, you might miss them. I suppose the effect is like kudzu-in-winter: they remain under several layers of flour.

Here I am, consuming pounds of cheese, slowly drying out while sipping on a twelve ounce can of RC.

I want to tell Mike that I relish his pizza from my youth. I wonder how I can let him know that a visit to Mike's was the respite against the harrowing days of middle school. I want to tell Mike that I ate my best pies ever, here, with my Dad.

"You know, it is great you have had this place all these years..." I begin to say.

"Yeah," says Mike, "great to who?" He turns around. "This guy thinks his five dollars gets him a shoulder to cry on," he says to the assistant in the back, also covered with more of the same flour. "What do you want? Another RC?"


Every year Mike went on a summer vacation for two or three weeks. The sign would say "Closed," as if that was normal for a restaurant. I suppose Mike could have hired an employee to make the pies while he was gone, but Mike didn't work that way. Mike had a sisyphian-burden.

Luigi was the opposite. There were waiters at Luigi's. There was air conditioning. You could get mints and toothpicks after you paid your bill at Luigi's. You could get refills. A waiter would bring them.

Luigi always made Perfectly Normal Pizza. It had a thin crust and the cheese was a little greasy. You could get pasta or salad or things like antipasto, too. There were forty tables at least in his store. The oven was in the back. We never went there. Why?

Today, Mike is still breaking his back making pizza. I have never met Luigi. His store has its own parking lot now, and I think he opened a second restaurant in Black Rock. I think Luigi probably made so much money that he never even has to come to work.


Today (March 10), the first tulip bloom appeared in our yard.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

I see yellow on your belt

This morning: "Maybe what would be best is if you could get him to channel his energy into something like karate," says Louise.
It could hardly be a different diagnosis than the one that led me to martial arts twenty five years ago. I was the kid who was getting bullied, usually by either Alec or Matt, at Fairfield Country Day.

The solution was Mas Oyama, the worlds' most powerful practitioner of martial arts. Actually, I did not train under the master himself. I suppose he was busy. I trained with the guys who had decided they wanted to be like Mas Oyama. It should have been an omen, but who reads school mottoes: It was not "to serve, not to be served," or "in truth there is life," but to learn 'techniques that would be good in a real fight."

My mom would drive me down to the martial arts center after we got out of school. Country Day let out at 4:30, so that was already pretty late. It took 20 minutes to get to the dingy corner of Tunxis Hill where the pack of Oyama fighters trained. You parked in the front, then ascended some concrete steps that wrapped around the building and reached an entrance on the second floor in the back. There was a drainage ditch running just past the door, from the Cal-Dor parking lot up on the hill. The drive down would go something like this:

"Mom, I've been thinking that maybe I'm not meant for martial arts."

"Well, you can finish the 26 lessons we paid for, and then you can drop it. What about Matt and Alec?"

I had no defense against the dual logic of spent costs and genuine need.

"I don't think I'm that worried about Matt and Alec anymore," I persevered, "but I could maybe quit now." I tried another gambit:

"I wouldn't mind coming home straight from school."

My mom would not be listening anymore. She'd pipe up: "Did you see that crazy driver?" then go back to charting our Jeep Wagoneer on its unchangeable course to the second floor torture den.

I was always a white belt. I have seen kids getting yellow and green belts, nowadays, but the world is softer. Grade inflation, green belts, its all part of the same illusion. White belt until you can go a minute against the instructor. That's the rule.

Our instructor never spoke to us directly. We repeated the same workout every time. But when he looked at me, I could tell that he was thinking about a belt.

"Ha," I bet he was thinking. "You can think about a belt stained with yellow. You surely have a lot of yellow stains. Your mommy can help you with that."

He was like that because his mentor, Mas Oyama, was tough. He killed three bulls. He chopped the horns off of forty nine others. Oyama had a technique, the "Godhand," where he could break the fists of any one who hits his bicep.

Class consisted of learning a few basic kicks and a arm swirl that was ended with a punch. That was fine. I could do that. Then we'd spend the last few minutes of the lesson working as a group to conquer the wanna-be Mas Oyama.

That was a problem. If your goal was wanting to be Mas Oyama, spitting nails was only a beginning. His philosophy was "One Strike, Certain Death," if that helps to frame a picture of the situation. When he wasn't fighting bulls, Mas Oyama would fight men in succession. In the 1950s, he fought over 300 challengers during three straight days, one at a time.

So that is what we did. All twelve kids would simultaneously take on the instructor, who was taking us on with Oyama's spirit in his heart.

It was a bit like All Quiet on the Western Front. We were comrades. My ally was Cam. Cam was from my neighborhood. He'd been bullied by the same enemies. He was also my size. But we both realized our fear had gotten us into bigger trouble now. We were together, if only because we were equally struck with terror.

We made a deal: Cam, I'll kick the instructor. You approach from the other side. Maybe one of us will hit a kidney.

I approach. I rock back, bringing my leg up and flexing my knee. It is the basic kick he has taught us for a month now. I guess he sees it coming. It might have been a laugh, or some kind of primal scream. Something like a guffaw comes out of his mouth, his first words that I feel are directed at me. The instructor grabs my instep and locks my thigh against his tricep. At this point, my kneecap is torqued backwards. I hop on my other foot, hoping to maintain a straight posture so that I won't crack it against the steel of his arm.

Its over in a second. He spins me, then lifts and throws me to the floor. I think this is known as The Flying Triangle Choke.

Gradually, the game would get more serious. I think we did it at the end so that lessons would end promptly. Our hope was not armistice, but rather the appearance of one of those Jeep Wagoneers or Plymouth Volares that heralded at least another two days of healing. Oh, let me just do some Algebra!

The Wagoneer came bit after seven. My dad liked to eat dinner at six. It didn't always have to be at six. He was willing to eat at 6:05, too. By then, the instructor would be sated with his devastation of our motley band of middle schoolers. But I hid anyway. I mean, he could always come back.

"What's the matter," mom would say when she arrived, "why are you lying on the floor underneath that sack of sweaty towels? Did you take your pills?"


About Alec and Matt, I did do some weight lifting next year. Alec became a lacrosse player at a Methodist University in the South. I learned to wrestle. That is a great sport.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

nifty guy

I am a nifty guy. The kind of nifty guy who demands a superb handheld communication device.

Yep, I must admit, those shiny treos and blackberries have been catching my eye for quite some time. Now they are nifty. They don't just make calls, they have calendars, they have sotware, they've got a whole bunch of stuff. Some of it, I don't even care about -- like maybe I can do without sending emails. I need a calendar, though. Carrying around a thick dateminder is fine, but why have both a phone and a calendar? Why not be nifty?

I'm not one to be caught paying too much for something like that, though. I prefer to spot a value. I found just such a value, on a blackberry 6710, on ebay. I think I paid $19.

Now, unfortunately, it is hard to set up a blackberry. You have to attach your serial port connector to the scsi device, and then attach a series of chargers, before establishing your pop3 connection. Ugh, I hate it. So when my blackberry came, i let it sit there.

I am going on a trip tomorrow, though, so I need my phone. I had to get down to business. I open up the box. Its been up in my office/smelly workout clothes room for quite some time. Its in a box, next to my We are the World Live Aid album. (You have one, too, right? With Lionel Richie and Kenny Rogers?) I open it, and immediately I see that this is going to be harder than I wanted. It has battery chargers for the handheld port and for travel, and the chargers have four different outlet choices -- US, UK, European, and, I don't know. The only one I can figure out is the handheld port charger. I install it in my computer. It has to go through the serial port connector, pretty fancy.

It powers up. There's a little lcd picture of an hourglass. That's a good sign. My blackberry is that it has an amazing keyborad. It has the entire qwerty set up. Deluxe. Funny, I bet there is going to have to be some strange method for dialing numbers. Or that I have to enter the numbers and then save them as names. That is going to be a real hassle with no numbers. Back to the manual.

Whoever wrote this manual, they deserve to read their own dreck. Yech. "A wireless email solution", what is that? Right, I know its got email, that's nice, but it does a hundred other things. Like make phone calls. Where is that section? I page through. Gee you can send emails or recieve them or set up forwarding. Great, but I want to make phone calls. Oh here it is--list of applications, page 21.

The blackberry 6710 provides a variety of email choices.

Er, no phone.

If you ever find a value like this, with your own nifty guy instincts, tell me.