11 Years Ago 2 of My Favorites Left Us (Part 2 Johnny Cash)

david carroll BeaverDamUSA.comFlashing back to that sad morning of September 12, 2003, NBC’s “Today Show” and the other network programs had to scramble their lineups, and in a hurry.  John Ritter had died the night before, and then came word that Johnny Cash had passed away in the wee hours of the morning.

Most major news operations have an “obit piece” nearby when a famous person dies.  You can bet that NBC, USA Today, the New York Times and the other big media outlets have someone responsible for making sure they can react quickly when a celebrity passes away.  If that person is elderly, or has been ailing, those pieces are prepared with some urgency.  It might be needed at any moment.  I’d venture a guess that when Anna Nicole Smith, Farrah Fawcett, Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson died, their obituary stories were ready to run.  All had either been ill, or known to have personal problems that could adversely affect their chances for a long life.  I’d say obit pieces for Billy Graham, Nelson Mandela and Muhammad Ali are within easy reach.  All have been in poor health for years.  There’s no reason for good journalists to be caught by surprise when that call comes.

Occasionally, you get a shocker:  Princess Diana.  James Gandolfini.  The young star of “Glee,” Cory Monteith.  Going back a few years, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and John Lennon.  The causes of death are various, but all left us too soon, and in some cases, surprisingly sudden.

Johnny Cash’s death was somewhat expected.  He had been in failing health for a number of years.   He hadn’t toured since 1997 due to complications from diabetes and a neurodegenerative disease that robbed him of his strong voice and sure hands.  His wife of 35 years, June Carter Cash had helped care for him, and according to family, watched over him like a mother hen.  While Johnny was recording his late career “American” albums, it was June who made sure that her ailing husband wasn’t overdoing it.  He needed something to do, but not more than he could physically handle.

That’s why the real shocker involving the Cash family occurred on May 15, 2003.  June was in the hospital for heart-valve replacement surgery.  With Johnny’s health problems getting so much attention, June’s condition had received little or no press.  There were complications, and June died following surgery.  Press reports say Johnny was in a wheelchair at his wife’s funeral, “looking somber and composed.”  It’s generally believed Johnny was fading quickly anyway, but June’s sudden death may have accelerated Johnny’s decline.  He died four months later.

I always felt that Johnny had a connection to the Chattanooga area.  He even recorded a song called “Chattanooga City Limit Sign.” He was famously arrested for drug possession in Walker County Georgia in November 1967, while reportedly in a drunken/drugged stupor, looking for Civil War relics, eventually knocking on strangers’ doors.  Sheriff Ralph Jones had a long talk with his prisoner, who later credited him for “turning my life around.”  Around the same time, he was said to have driven to Nickajack Cave in Marion County, Tennessee where he intended to commit suicide.  The incident was captured in song by Gary Allan in “Nickajack Cave.”

As much as I enjoyed Johnny Cash from his Sun Records days in the 1950s, to his Columbia hits of the early 1960s, his “Folsom Prison”/”Boy Named Sue” rebirth and TV show of the late 60s, and the Highwaymen supergroup of legends in the 1980s, the most lingering image will always be the song and video that capped his career: “Hurt,” written and recorded years earlier by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails.  The Cash version isn’t easy to watch, even to this day, but is it ever powerful!

Considered by some to be among the best music videos ever made, it was filmed in Cash’s Hendersonville home in October 2002.  By this time, the Man In Black was unable to walk, and legally blind.  You see the once-strapping man in all his trembling frailty, contrasted with photos and videos from his hell-raising younger days.  When it was released in February 2003, the scene that choked me up was when June was looking at her sick husband, with a mixture of love and concern.  When she died in May of that year, the video took on added poignancy.  As is often the case in life, the caretaker did not survive the patient.  In September, Johnny’s heart gave out too.

Johnny’s exit from this life was somewhat gradual, even prolonged by some standards.  But the emotional jolt of this song, this video, and the sad series of events that followed seemed to happen quite rapidly.  It’s hard to believe that ten years have passed since we saw the last of Johnny Cash.  According to interviews shortly before his death, he was proud of his final work.  I think he knew he left us something special to remember him by.

11 Years Ago: Two of My Favorites Left (Part 1, John Ritter)

david carroll BeaverDamUSA.comOn the morning of September 12, 2003, I got up to help get the boys off to school.  Chris was a junior, Vince an 8th grader.  Like every day, I went back and forth a few times trying to rouse them from that deep teenage-boy sleep, and during the moments in between, I sat down at the computer, signed on, and waited for five minutes of pre-broadband eternity for the home page to pop up on the screen.  On most days, the MSNBC site would feature whatever happened overnight in Washington or some foreign capital.  That unforgettable morning delivered a double whammy though:  not one celebrity death, but two.  Johnny Cash and John Ritter.  Cash’s death, while very sad, was not terribly unexpected.  He was in his 70s, and had been quite ill for a number of years. But John Ritter?  He wasn’t even 55.  He was still active and vibrant.  He was starring in the ABC sitcom “8 Simple Rules,” which seemed headed for a long run.  Then suddenly, shockingly,  he was gone.

He had been working on the second season’s fourth episode, and reportedly did not feel well that day.  He was taken to a nearby hospital and died of an aortic dissection, described as an abnormal separation of tissues within the walls of the aorta, the large blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body. The weakened blood vessel may burst, which usually results in death if not treated immediately.  Evidently that’s what happened.

Occasionally a TV star becomes ill, or is involved in an accident, which leads us to wonder, “What would happen to (name a hit show) if (name a big star) died suddenly?  It hasn’t happened often.  Freddie Prinze of “Chico and the Man” committed suicide in 1977, and the show couldn’t recover without its beloved title character.  In the original “Dallas,” the family patriarch “Jock Ewing,” (Jim Davis) died.  In the 2012 update, son “JR” Larry Hagman died.  In both cases, the show went on, with tributes and new plot lines about the deceased stars.  Same with Tony Soprano’s mother (played by Nancy Marchand), who was a major figure in the early years of HBO’s “The Sopranos.”  In the upcoming  season, “Glee” will deal with the recent death of young star Cory Monteith.  Other supporting cast members and soap stars have died during the production of their series, but few hit us as hard as the death of John Ritter.

The Best Elvis Song Elvis Never Recorded

david carroll BeaverDamUSA.comWe have some terrific oldies radio stations in Chattanooga.  A couple of them specialize in hits from the 1960s-80s era, and a few others feature classic top-40 songs as well.  This morning one of them played Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” which according to legend, lead singer Freddie Mercury wrote in the bathtub.  (I’ve had million dollar ideas in the shower too, but they seem to swirl down the drain).  His bandmates say it took him all of ten minutes.  He had to dry off quickly, grab his guitar and get the notes down before he forgot them.

It became a huge hit in England in late 1979, and a few months later some US stations got a hold of it, forcing Queen’s record company to release it here in the states.  By that time, the band had become famous here for intricate harmonies, multi-layered vocal tracks and bizarre lyrics, so its management was concerned that Queen fans in America would be turned off by the song’s retro sound.

But within weeks, the song zoomed to number one on the charts (the band’s first ever), and it was one of my most requested songs on the KZ-106 morning shift.  Then, and now, some people think it’s an Elvis Presley song.  In 1980, some people swore to me that Queen had re-recorded one of Elvis’ old songs.  Remember this was pre-Internet, you couldn’t look this stuff up.  I’d say, I know a lot of Elvis songs, and I’ve never heard this one.  “Oh it wasn’t a hit,” they’d say, “but Freddie Mercury must have found it on an old Elvis album.”

Truth is, Queen recorded it in the style of Elvis’ early rockabilly days, and even filmed a video that most of us never saw; MTV wouldn’t come along until a year or two later.  Elvis and his fellow 1950s Sun Records artists (Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash) influenced many young British musicians of the 60s and 70s, and this was Freddie Mercury’s way of paying tribute to the masters.  In the last years of Elvis’ life, most of his recordings were ballads and country-flavored songs, and the closest he came to his old rockin’ sound was “Burning Love” in 1972, five years before his death.  We’ll never know how the King would have sounded performing “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” but I’ve always believed he would have nailed it, in his prime anyway.  So sit back and enjoy this video.  I think it’s one of the best-produced, best-performed records of the rock-and-roll era, and despite the band’s fears, it actually expanded their fan base worldwide.  Ready Freddie?

 

“I Don’t Remember What Day it Was”

david carroll BeaverDamUSA.com“I….don’t remember what day it was…”

First, it’s the brass section.  Those horns sound great!  Then, it’s that pounding bass…thump, thump, thump.  Those dynamite drums.  Finally, there it is:  that voice.  The voice of AM radio.  Sunshine, summertime 1969.

“I…didn’t notice what time it was….”

We didn’t know what stereo sounded like on a transistor radio all those years ago, and FM stations only played elevator music.  But this was as good as it gets on AM.  We heard it blast out of that little speaker right after some cool jingle:  “W-F-L-I!” they would sing.  Or “Super-GO” they would shout.  If it was late at night, we’d pick up a faraway top-40 powerhouse: “The Best Music, Eighty-Nine, W-L-S, in Chicago!”  And boom, there was that song, from under the pillow. Don’t wake up the parents…

“All…I…know..is that I fell in love with you…”

Some of us thought it was Stevie Wonder.  He too, had a high-pitched voice (he was just a teen, and had already recorded a bunch of big hits).  Others thought it was a girl singer.  Not many guys could hit those high notes.  No AutoTune here.  It’s the real thing.

“And if all my dreams come true, I’ll be spending time with yooooouuuu”

Did you see the footwork of that bass player?  Not only does he rock the world’s greatest mustache, but the dude can dance!  Some radio station did a survey a few years ago, and listeners proclaimed “More Today Than Yesterday” their favorite oldie of all-time.  As Kanye West would say, “THE BEST OF ALL TIME!”  Not a Beatles song.  Not an Elvis tune.  Not even Motown!  It’s by…the Spiral Starecase.  The group of Air Force buddies formed in Sacramento, California and called themselves the Fydallions.  They played the clubs and Las Vegas for a few years, and got the attention of Columbia Records.  The record execs said, “You sound good, but you’ve gotta change that name.”  They chose the title of a 1945 movie, changed the spelling of “staircase” just for fun, and lead singer Pat Upton set out to write some songs.

“Every day’s a new day….in love with you..”

Pat Upton is, a guy.  A nice guy whose soaring voice you hear quite frequently in that wonderful three-minute dose of aural sunshine.   In 1969, it blended beautifully with the Grassroots, who would “wait a million years, just to have you near me,” and Marvin Gaye, who was so busy thinkin’ about his baby that he “ain’t got time for nothin’ else.”  Pat’s song only got up to #12 on the Billboard charts, but sold a million anyway.  It was a perfect fit between the fading bubblegum sound and the futuristic “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin.  Yes, long ago Pat was tagged with that dreaded label, “one-hit wonder.” Like so many radio bands of the 1960s, there were management problems and when the band couldn’t come up with another hit, they soon went their separate ways.  Pat played with other musicians and eventually opened his own club in Guntersville, Alabama.

“With each day comes a new way…of loving you…”

In 1991, with oldies fever in full swing, Pat played the Riverbend Festival in Chattanooga a part of an all-star 60s and 70s group, made up of several guys who had scored a hit or two.  I told him how his song made me smile every time it came on the radio…when it was fresh and new, and even decades later.  I thanked him for writing and singing such a happy love song, in an era dominated by psychedelia, a bad moon rising and suspicious minds.  It sure was a nice counterpoint to creepy stuff like “In the Year 2525,” which (ugh) was the #1 song that summer.  When that song got me down, Pat’s song brought me back up.

“Every time I kiss your lips, my mind starts to wander….”

He was genuinely appreciative of my compliment, although I’m sure he’d heard it a few thousand times before.  I’m sure it was too often followed by, “You’re so great!  Why didn’t you have more hit records?”  As if they were that easy to pull out of thin air.

“And if all my dreams come true, I’ll be spending time with yooouuu..”

He seemed especially pleased to learn that my kids loved his song.  At the time they were 4 and 1.  I told him that a few weeks earlier, as a surprise to my wife, I had the boys lip-synch “More Today Than Yesterday,” while I recorded it on the clunky old video camera.  It’s a masterpiece of amateur clumsy-dad filmmaking, but my wife loved it.  Even today, it appears on our TV to embarrass my young adult sons when girlfriends are in our house.  (It has not yet shown up on YouTube, but don’t dare me).

Ohhhh…I love you more to-day…than yes-ter-day…(horns!) …but not as much…as too-morrr-ooowww”

I sent Pat a copy of the video a few days later, and his wife called to tell me how much they enjoyed it.  A few years later, I found a video of Pat from 1999, thirty years after his big hit, performing it solo in front of his musician friends on a show called “Rock ‘n Roll Graffiti.”  It was minus the big Columbia Records production team, but The Voice still sounded great.

I thought about this song in the middle of another endless rainy day during this damp 4th of July holiday week.  Wrecks everywhere, fireworks shows cancelled, celebrations postponed.  I’ve seen a lot of frowny faces this week, even in the mirror.  But on the way to work today, guess what came on the radio?  And for the thousandth time, conservatively speaking, it made me smile.  Now it was in crystal-clear stereo, with every word understandable, every instrument shining, and that bass sounding better than ever.  It was raining on the outside, but inside my car it was sunny, and I was a few decades younger.  If you were on Dayton Boulevard around 10 a.m., yes that was me straining to hit those high notes.  It’s always fun trying, but nobody can do it like Pat Upton.

“I love you more to-day….than yes-ter-day…but only half as much…as too-morrr-owwwww.”

It’s the ‘Principal’ of the Thing

david carroll BeaverDamUSA.comFor twenty years now, I’ve been the “School Patrol” guy on Channel 3.

In all honesty, I don’t remember the date I was assigned to that beat.  But believe me, it’s somewhere around 20 years.  The first few years I worked at the station, I covered a little of everything, mostly lighter stories, which was fine by me.  One day the boss called me in and said, “We want you to specialize in something, you know,  your own beat.”  I agreed, with one condition.  “Look,” I said. “I’m not a confrontational kind of guy.  Could you give me something with no politics, no controversy, no violence?”

They said, “How about schools?” Little did I know….

But to coin a phrase, it’s been educational.  Most of the time, I’ve loved it. I go into more schools than the milk delivery guy.  Twenty different counties and school districts, more than 100 schools every year.  The rich ones, the poor ones, the new ones, the crumbling ones.  I’ve attended the groundbreakings and dedication ceremonies for just about every new school that’s opened in the past 20 years, and that’s always fun.

While reminiscing about School Patrol, I thought about a lot of principals.  I’ve known hundreds of them.  Some of them like me, others not so much.

Most of them understand my role.   If their school has great test scores, or wins a big award, I should cover it.  But if their school is vandalized, or a teacher gets in trouble, I should cover that too.  Early on, a few principals hit me with this painful accusation: “You only come here when it’s something bad.”  Sadly, too often they were right.  I pledged to visit them when something good was going on too, to give them positive coverage.  It’s still my goal, yet try as I might, I fail far too often.

As you might expect, being a TV news guy, I get plenty of parental complaints.  They used to arrive by letter, a few still come by phone, and now they’re most often by e-mail or Facebook.  Many of the complaints are about bus drivers, quite a few are about teachers, and the majority are about principals.  I look into each one.  Most are the result of poor communication, and when the two sides actually talk, the problem resolves itself.  However, some of them are valid complaints which turn into news stories. If I do my job well, the problem either gets solved, or becomes a story in which the public is informed about an issue that could affect them.

There are a few red flags.  When I see a complaint about a “principle,” I sigh and keep on reading. In this era of spell check, I seem to sigh a lot.  And besides, I’ve had a few complaints about principals myself.  Some principals I’ve known were sure that I was out to get them. There have been a few cases in which my news coverage may have played a role in a principal being demoted, transferred, or even dismissed.  I can remember another situation or two when a stubborn superintendent would resist moving a sub-par principal, just to avoid admitting a mistake.  No doubt about it:  there are unqualified, poor performing principals, just as there are poor performers in every occupation you can name, even news reporters.  Still, I sympathize with principals, particularly those in public schools who feel like they’re wearing huge targets on their backs.

The best principals are the ones who understand what I believe to be the three most important parts of their job.  I tell them they should spend 40% of their time on academics, 40% on discipline and 40% on public/parent relations.  Yes, that adds up to 120%, but any principal will tell you they have to put in that extra time.  Especially the high school principals;  the money is good, absolutely.  But who among us wants to unlock the door at 6:00 a.m., be responsible for the safety of 1500 or more teenagers in this post-Columbine, Facebook-frenzied world, and attend every athletic event, PTA meeting, dance and fundraiser?  Folks, they earn their money.

 

I’ve known some duds.  There’s the guy who threw me out of a high school during my KZ-106 radio days.  Some cheerleaders invited me to give away prizes at a pep rally, and I was happy to do so.  I no sooner got on stage when the secretary tapped me on the shoulder and said “Mr So-and-So wants to see you.”  Assuming that he wanted to thank me for generously bringing a box of Journey albums, I strolled down to his office, expecting the red carpet treatment.  He promptly yelled, “What do you think you’re doing?  Are you trying to take over my school?”  As I started mumbling something about my cheerleader pals, his neck turned beet red and he bellowed, “You’d better get out of here!”  I thought that was good advice.  A few days later, one of the lovely cheerleaders called and said, “What happened to you?  You left before the pep rally even started!”  I guess the kindly old principal just let the matter drop.  I wish I could.  To this day, when I see his scowling face on the school’s wall of principal portraits, I growl at him.

Oh, I’ve been tossed out of schools since then, but you never forget your first.

I’m glad to say though, that most principals I’ve dealt with have been terrific.  Some, past and present are among my best friends.  Most of them know they’re the face of their school, and the good ones know how to set the right tone for their particular campus.  One of my favorites is at a rural high school.  Walking down the hall with him one day, he spotted a 9th grader out of dress code.  “Boy, you get that shirt tail in, or I’ll whup your ass,” he said in a stern tone of voice.  He could tell I was a bit startled by his colorful choice of words.  “Aw, that’s nothing,” he said.  “I grew up with that boy’s daddy.  That’s the only language he understands.  And he knows I’m not really gonna whup his ass.  I’d let his daddy handle that.”

Such is the life of a high school principal.  Middle school principals deal with raging hormones.  Elementary principals get a lot of hugs, but have to wave off clingy parents.  Above all, my School Patrol experience has taught me this:  I’d rather report on principals than be one.

Motorcyclists: Let’s Make a Deal

motorcycle sign

Signs like this have popped up on freeways across the nation.  A few days ago, I saw one on I-24 in Chattanooga with this overhead message: “Please drive safely.  Look twice for motorcycles.”  A few moments later, a motorcycle came out of nowhere, zooming to my right at more than 100 mph, weaving in and out of each lane, and then taking off into the distance.  The next day as I was driving westbound on I-24, about to merge on to Highway 27 north into downtown, traffic was a bit heavy.  I was behind an ambulance in the right lane.  The ambulance was not on an emergency trip, everyone was traveling at average speed.  Again, a motorcycle suddenly appeared a few feet from my bumper in a big hurry.  He was unable to pass, so he whizzed by on the shoulder, going around the ambulance and beyond, soon to terrorize other motorists.  I remember thinking, “I’ll probably read this guy’s name on the news tonight.”  As you know, motorcycle fatalities are a regular part of newscasts in Chattanooga and beyond.

I thought again about that sign.  I really do look for motorcycles.  But if you’re zooming up behind me at 100 mph or more, and you’re switching lanes every second or so, I can’t see you.  If you’re on my tail, and I have to brake suddenly, nothing good will come from it.

I love motorcycles.  My wife will tell you, I wish I still had one.  In my teens and twenties, I had the basic Honda 350, capable of going about 60-70 mph comfortably, or 75-80 on the freeway if needed.  I worked seven days a week back then, and had little time for recreational riding, but I loved every minute I was on that bike.  Well, except when it was cold or rainy.  When we got married, my wife had no interest in riding, so I sold it.  It was a great 15-year hobby for me, and I still miss the wind, the freedom, and frankly the gas mileage.

I can’t understand why motorcycles (or any vehicle for that matter) that can accelerate to 160 mph or beyond are legal to drive on our highways.  The so-called “crotch-rockets” are the ones involved in most of the motorcycle fatalities, according to my police officer friends who work those accidents.  Oh, the stories they tell.  Like the one about the recent crash victim who bet a friend that he could make a round trip from Chattanooga to Atlanta in two hours.  That would involve an average speed of 120.  He made it down to Atlanta on I-75, turned around and headed north.  He didn’t make it back home.

They tell me about the riders with no helmets.  The riders who lose their lives due to a combination of speed, reckless driving and impairment (drugs, booze or both).  The ones wearing t-shirts, shorts and flip-flops, with absolutely no protection from what they can run into at high speeds.  And they tell me about the families of riders who either die, or are permanently disabled.  Someone has to break the news to them.  They always ask “Why did it have to happen?”

The cops tell me there are two kinds of riders.  The majority of course are responsible.  You don’t notice them because they observe the speed limit and obey the laws.  They’re just going to school or work, saving some cash in the process.  Then there are the thrill-seekers.  No amount of overhead signs, public service campaigns or cautious car and truck drivers can save them.  “There’s nothing we can do about them,” an officer said.  “You can’t get their tag numbers, they’re too small.  We can’t chase them, a high-speed pursuit would be even more dangerous.  Besides, we can’t go that fast, we’re basically driving taxi cabs with blue lights.  The only way we catch them is when they kill themselves.  We just hope they don’t take anyone else down with them.”

He continued, “The state wants you to believe that car and truck drivers are responsible for most motorcycle fatalities, because they don’t look for bikes when they’re entering the highway or even changing lanes.  That absolutely does happen, but I can tell you that most bike fatalities are caused by the riders themselves.  They just don’t have the right mindset.  They think they’re indestructible, but from what I’ve had to clean up on the highway, I can tell you they’re not,” he said.  “They don’t have air bags, seat belts, or a few hundred pounds of sheet metal protecting them.  Often it’s them vs. an 18-wheeler, and they’ll lose that battle every time.”

Another officer who specializes in reconstructing accidents placed some of the blame on YouTube.  “We’ve had some guys who either try to copy the stunts they see, or are trying to shoot video to put on the Internet,” he said.  “There are some loose-knit groups here in Chattanooga who try to out-do each other, and then act surprised when one of their members loses his life.  It’s not just kids either, some of these people are old enough to know better.”

Again, the majority of motorcyclists are responsible, good drivers.  I know this.  I also know that some car and truck drivers are just as irresponsible, fast and reckless.  Their weapons of choice are larger and more dangerous to others, although they have more protection for themselves.

So yes, as the sign says, I want to drive safely, and look twice at least, for my motorcycle friends.  I had some close calls myself back in the day.  So as much as anyone, when I’m entering a highway, I’m not just checking to see if a car is coming, I’m looking for motorcycles too.  I hope everyone does that.  But when I see those signs telling me to look for motorcycles, I want to tell my two-wheel friends, “Let’s make a deal.  I’ll look twice for you, if you slow down so I can see you coming.”  I really don’t want to read your name on the news tonight.

 

I Feel Good; I Knew That I Would

david carroll BeaverDamUSA.comNot too long ago, I walked out of my allergist’s office, and realized, “I feel good.”   Now, why waste valuable Internet space on my (knock on wood) good health?  Because I’ve made four lifestyle changes that have made me feel better than I did years ago.  Who knows, there may be someone reading this who wants to feel better, and maybe I can help.  I’m no doctor, but I have stayed in a Holiday Inn Express, and my first two initials are D.R.  Close enough.

1)  I finally went to the allergist.  Ever since I was in my twenties, I sneezed a lot.  I have vivid memories of spring softball games, with my beloved KZ-106 Foul Tips, sneezing my brains out.  My wife Cindy would suggest I see someone about it, but in typical male fashion, I’d blow it off (pun intended).  I remember telling her, “It’s no big deal, I sneeze every day of the year.”

True, but it got to the point that I was miserable, just downright sick every May.  The tree and grass pollen overwhelmed me.  Then in October the leaves would fall, and my misery level would rise again.  Twice a year, for several weeks at a time, I’d trudge on to work, on radio and TV, stuffed up and sore-throated.  It was just part of life, I thought.  About four years ago, I had the “scratch test” done, the allergies were identified, and the weekly shots in the arm began.  Soon they were bi-weekly, and now they’re monthly.  Easily the best doctor’s visit I ever made.  Relief was immediate.  This was a life-changer.

2)  I finally went to the dermatologist.  Being of fair skin and English/Irish descent, the sun is not my friend.  No one told me this when I was a teen, sunbathing constantly in a futile effort to look as good as my bronzed friends.  No one said anything about it when I was playing softball on blistering weekend afternoons, with no “protection.”  I kept thinking that painful beet-red burn would magically peel into a skin tone somewhere between Bob Barker and George Hamilton.  No such luck.  The only thing it turns into is melanoma.  About ten years ago, a good dermatologist looked first into my family history, then deeply into my skin and laid down the law.  “Hey Knucklehead,” he may well have said.  “You shouldn’t even get the mail without smearing SPF 55 sunscreen over your exposed skin.”  Done!  Much of the damage was inflicted long ago, and it never goes away.  But at least I’ve fended off any new damage in recent years.

3)  I finally started getting an annual physical exam.  A good friend and former boss of mine scared me to death when he was about 40, and I was in my 20s.  He was telling the tale of the prostate exam portion of getting a physical, and made it sound like torture.

I never forgot that, and adopted (again) the stubborn male philosophy of, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  My dad was among many who would say, “If you go to the doctor when you’re not sick, they’ll find something wrong with you anyway.”  So unless I was deathly ill with a stomach virus or something, I stayed out of doctors’ offices.  Finally, I gave in to spousal pressure, and made the annual date with the doctor.  No excuses.  That uncomfortable little exam I had so dreaded wasn’t so bad after all.  It only lasts a few seconds.  And the good doctor has monitored my once-high cholesterol levels, and introduced me to the wonderful world of colonoscopies.

(That reminds me of a story.  My first colonoscopy was about 7 years ago.  During one of my many visits to the bathroom the night before the procedure, I looked at the bottle of liquid laxative I was chugging.  It was called “GoLitely.”  On the floor was a bottle of bathroom cleanser, labeled “KaBoom.”  I remember thinking “KaBoom” would have been a more appropriate name for the laxative.)

4)  I finally visited a sleep center.  Throughout our marriage, Cindy often expressed amazement I was still alive each morning, after enduring sleepless nights of my high-decibel snoring, the rattle frequently interrupted by me gasping for breath.  Of course, I had no idea this was happening.  All I knew was, I would awaken bone-tired, like I had worked in a cotton field all night.  I would often lumber out of the bed wondering why I was so achy and exhausted.  Eventually I’d snap out of it, but mornings were not pleasant.  I endured a sleep test, with all the sticky electrodes and uncomfortable gear making it darn near impossible to sleep.  But evidently, the doctor acquired enough data and video evidence to prove that I had sleep apnea.  The solution:  that lovely C-PAP device that covers your nose, keeping your airways open.

nixon 007

(My kids nicknamed the device “Nixon.”  I have no idea why, but the name stuck.  A salute to our 37th president.)  The happy ending:  almost immediately, I slept better, stopped snoring, and have since felt great when I wake up each day.  Another life-changer!

Nothing I’ve written here is revolutionary, or considered a recent medical breakthrough.  Certainly, I’ve been blessed to work for a good employer with a health insurance plan that allows me to make regular doctor visits and undergo these treatments.  I wish everyone could do the same with no hassle or financial worries.  But if anyone reads this, and is able and willing to get their allergies under control, regular physical exams (and if appropriate, colonoscopies), skin cancer screening or sleep apnea testing, it might make their life better too.   As for me, 20-30 years ago, there was no TV news guy on the Internet passing along these little self-improvement tips.  If there had been, I would’ve been singing this song a long time ago:

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Colonoscopy is all Behind Me Now

david carroll BeaverDamUSA.comMy latest colonoscopy is behind me now (sorry) and I wanted to share the best part of the adventure with you.  I’ll chat briefly about the prep and procedure, but I want to begin with a celebratory photo of the much-anticipated “First Meal After.”

Due to some family history, I’m in the “every five years” category, which is better than some folks have it, but not as good as others.  As you may know, colorectal cancer — cancer of the colon or rectum — is the second-leading killer in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Removing precancerous growths spotted during a colonoscopy can cut the risk of dying from colon cancer in half. More than 95% of tumors are detected during a colonoscopy.  Quite honestly, had my family doctor not made the first appointment for me about ten years ago, I would have never gone to the trouble.  Sure, I’d seen the Katie Couric procedure on live TV, and I’d read the ominous headlines, but you know what I was thinking:  “Oh, that happens to other people, not me.”
food
As I’ve shared a few Facebook comments, Tweets and face-to-face chats with folks about my colonoscopy, I’ve been surprised by the number of my friends who are squeamish about it.  Although it is strongly recommended for adults 50 and over (and younger folks with a family history of colon cancer), people hear the horror stories about an all-nighter on the john, the nasty liquid mixture you have to guzzle, and being probed from behind by total strangers.  So they just say no.  Or they say, “I’ll get around to it, someday.”

The definitive humor column on colonoscopies was written by Dave Barry in 2008, and nothing I could write will top that.  So I’ll just list a few random observations that may be helpful should you decide to take the plunge (there I go again).

1)  If your procedure is scheduled for say, Thursday morning, start tapering off on your meals around Monday.  Lighten up on your portions a little bit.  Let’s just say by Wednesday night, the more is not the merrier.  You’ll thank me later.

2)  The “nasty liquid mixture” you’ve been hearing about is so, 2000-ish.  Most docs now prescribe a clean-out potion that isn’t all that bad.  You can either mix it with clear Gatorade, or take tablets as I did (with LOTS of clear liquid), with no taste at all.  The end result is the same (I never stop, do I?) but getting there isn’t as bad as you’ve heard.  Just don’t stray too far from the bathroom for a few hours.  If you go out to get the mail, you might soon be running in with an express delivery.

3)  Schedule your appointment first thing in the morning.  You do the dirty work starting at 5:00 p.m. the evening before, sleep from about 12:30 to 5:30 a.m. and they do the deed around 7:00.   The anesthesiologist works his magic, you drift off into dreamland, and the next thing you know you’re sipping a cold drink and they send you on your way.  You never feel a thing.  You’re home by 8:30.  You sleep it off for a few hours, and it’s chow time.  What can you eat?  Anything you wish.

My lovely wife warmed up the goodies you see above for my post-colonoscopy homecoming.  It had served as dinner for her and my son while I was otherwise occupied the night before.  It was the forbidden feast while I was on the all-liquid, in-and-out diet.  I was most envious at the time, but I looked at it as my eventual reward for not whining about it.

By the way, I’m happy to report a successful outcome (that’s enough). When the doc inserted that thin, flexible colonoscope up into its intended target area,  the tiny camera sent images back to Earth that showed no polyps, no problems, not even that piece of gum I swallowed when I was in 2nd grade.  I got to hear those magic words: “We’ll see you back here in five years.  Now go get something to eat!”

So if you’re among those who’ve been putting it off, give me a call and I’ll talk you into it.  I enjoy having you around to read my blogs and watch my newscasts.  The folks who perform these colonoscopies are saving lives every day, and yours could be one of them!

We’re Not Ones to Go ’round Spreadin’ Rumors

david carroll BeaverDamUSA.comI’ve been a news guy for 26 years. On the education beat, I meet a lot of school people. Some of them like me, and some don’t. I’ve never been that “gotcha” type who is always looking for the worst in people, yet I’ve never hesitated in reporting those stories. I’m a competitor, I want to get the story first, and I want to get it right. I’ve succeeded in some attempts, failed in others. Through it all, I’ve made some observations I’d like to share.

Despite what many believe, most of us news types don’t wake up saying, “Gee I hope something awful happens today!” I’ll admit, I’ve had that suspicion about some in the news biz. It’s widely known that “Entertainment Tonight”-type shows get a ratings spike when bad things happen to the Anna Nicole/Michael Jackson/Whitney Houston circle of stars. I can’t help thinking they secretly, or perhaps openly rejoice when a juicy scandal lands in their lap. At least, that’s the impression I get from the gleam in their eyes and the tone of their breathless promos. But at the local level, we don’t go around high-fiving when there’s a tragedy or a scandal. We know we have to report it, but we’d have a better day if the mayor won the lottery and bought nice homes for the poor. Honestly we would. And we’d lead the newscast with it.

Not too long ago, I was informed that the principal of a local high school, and one of his assistants had been suspended for “allegations of improper conduct.”  As you would expect, the school was abuzz. Teachers were talking about it, students picked up on it, and within minutes parents were receiving (and forwarding) texts, Facebook was blowing up, and the 2013 method of news/gossip distribution was in full viral glory. This is when a reputable news outlet should do its job: separate fact from rumor, and put the truth out there under its banner with “just the facts.”  I cornered the superintendent, he said what he could say, didn’t say what he couldn’t say, and promised to release more at the conclusion of his investigation.

I’ve been assigned this task many times over the years, with predictable results. In olden days, the complaints would roll in via snail mail and phone calls. Now of course, the Facebook/Twitterverse erupts in seconds. “You’re only putting this on the news because it’s (My Favorite) High School! This wouldn’t make the news if it was (Our Rival) High School!” And this: “Typical tabloid journalism. You’re only telling part of the story. If they did something so wrong, why aren’t you reporting it? We want to know details!”  And finally, “This happens all the time, in every workplace. What makes this newsworthy?”  I can only imagine the complaints we would have received had we chosen to ignore the story (not an option). “Why are you covering this up?” would have been the frequent, and rightful question. There are no winners in these incidents. Everyone involved in the story is paying a huge personal price, and as for the media, we’ll get criticized no matter how we cover it.

By now, you know the rules. I didn’t establish them, but I must follow them. If a public figure (vaguely defined as a person of authority, fame or civic responsibility) is arrested, dismissed or suspended, he or she will make the news. Elected officials, cops, firefighters, attorneys, doctors, educators, athletes, business leaders and media personalities are among those under this umbrella. The guy who painted your house, or the lady who bagged your groceries are usually exempt. Those who aspire to be superintendents or school administrators are told (or should be told), “We’re placing you on a high pedestal. You’re going to be a leader of students and teachers. One false step in your personal life, and boom! You’re on the news.”  The same could be said for teachers and school bus drivers. They’re paid, with taxpayer money, to be an example for our kids, and to keep them safe. This is why their indiscretions (DUI, etc.) often become front-page news, while your hairdresser’s escapades do not.

hee hawSo when this story broke, it got a lot of reaction. Unfortunately Facebook, the “Hee Haw” clothesline gossip service of this generation, is a news source to many. “Well,” usually goes the post, “my daughter’s niece knows someone who used to go to school there, and she knows for a fact that those teachers were out last night…plus they did it in the school…and they did it out of town….blah, blah, blah.”  Some news outlets were no better. One online publication cited “an incident occurring on school time, sources said.” Really? Where’s the proof? How reliable are the “sources?”  This, just moments after the superintendent told me that his ultimate decision would rest on the answer to that very question: was the incident “on school time?”  The superintendent did not yet know, but a news outlet was passing it along as fact, according to “sources.”

A broadcast media personality was carelessly quoting unnamed “sources” who had sent texts and e-mails to him with all sorts of inside information, so it had to be true, to hear him tell it. Could you make up a screen name, make up a story, and have it broadcast as fact? It has happened.

I know one of the educators in the center of all this. I consider him a friend who has done good things for his schools for many years. It gives me no joy to report bad news that affects him and his family. Nor do I celebrate the misfortune of perfect strangers. Every time we report a story like this, I know that we’re showing a picture of someone who has a family, a mom who is proud of them, a spouse who loves them, kids who adore them. It hurts, but we can’t pick and choose. Above all, we can’t cover it up. Despite the frequent accusations of media negativism, we have proudly reported many good things that have happened at that school, and others. Sadly, those stories don’t seem to stick with the public quite as much.

I just hope that those of you who look for accurate news information will demand that media outlets report only the facts, and leave the rumors to others. If responsible journalists don’t stick to the facts, the rumors really get out of control. People should be able to count on us to separate the two. Otherwise, we’re no better than the gossip girls on “Hee Haw.”

 

When ‘Seinfeld’ Was Must-see TV

david carroll BeaverDamUSA.comI caught a “Seinfeld” rerun the other night.  Between the laughs, I remembered how NBC was reluctant at first: the show was too Jewish, too New York, and of course, it was about nothing.  After the first four episodes aired in the summer of 1989, NBC lost interest for a while. The show was offered to Fox, and in a decision I bet they’d love to have back, they turned it down.  In 1991, NBC gave it another chance and the rest is TV history. I scoured the archives and found this interview I did with Jerry Seinfeld right before the show was re-launched on NBC.

It took a couple of years to really catch on, but from 1993-98, “Seinfeld” was consistently ranked among the top 3 shows on TV.  It gave us George Costanza’s hopeless schemes, Elaine’s bad dancing, nagging parents and the great physical humor of Cosmo Kramer.  There were the unforgettable recurring characters like Newman, Uncle Leo, the Soup Nazi and “George Steinbrenner.”  Endless catchphrases live on to this day: “Yadda yadda yadda,” “No soup for you,” and “Not there’s anything wrong with that,” to name a few.

Jerry Seinfeld is not an actor now, nor was he then, and you won’t find his name on any list of Emmy winners for acting.  In many scenes, it looks like he is struggling to keep a straight face.  He is a stand-up comedian, a great one, and was smart enough to surround himself with excellent comic actors:  Jason Alexander, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Michael Richards created iconic characters, and it could be argued that Alexander and Richards still struggle to escape their “Seinfeld” identities.  They were that good.  They became George and Kramer.  Somehow, Louis-Dreyfus has gone on to other roles, although I still see a little “Elaine” in all of them, don’t you?  From what’s been written over the years, Richards was a perfectionist, and would get frustrated when his cast mates would mess up a scene.  Unlike his Kramer character, he was indeed organized.  But like his Kramer character, he may have been a little, well, off-center.  Here’s a brief, but great blooper reel that shows the cast in full, glorious dysfunction:

One thing I admire about Jerry: he knew when to call it quits.  His show was on top, and he felt like there was nowhere to go but down.  He’d made plenty of money, he knew the reruns would keep the cash pouring in, and he could afford to work when he wanted. He could simply take his stand-up act on the road.  You haven’t seen him try to update the series with a new version (which nearly always fails), there’s been no reunion movie (usually a bad idea), and there were no second-rate spinoff series, like “George” or “Kramer.”  Unlike some TV comic actors I could name, he didn’t go on to make the same bad movie over and over.  He seems comfortable with who he is, and what he accomplished at a particular point in time.  “Seinfeld” was once in a lifetime.  He had seen others who couldn’t stop chasing the fame, trying to stay on top.  In all but a few cases, they weren’t able to recapture the magic.

I’m glad someone at NBC decided to roll the dice and take a chance on some unproven actors and writers who wanted to do a show about nothing.  Unlike today, the network had the patience to endure a few years of unspectacular ratings until it finally came together.  “Seinfeld” reruns hold up well today because they weren’t particularly topical. They were about mundane everyday problems like waiting on a table, or finding your car in a massive parking garage.  Just like “Lucy” having a baby, these shows will still be funny generations from now.  “Seinfeld” could push the envelope at times, but it was never out-and-out gross like almost every current CBS sitcom except “Big Bang Theory.”  Plus there’s a certain nostalgia watching Jerry and his friends navigate the world just before the Internet era exploded.  It may have been our last big sitcom before everyone was attached to a cell phone, blogging, net-surfing, tweeting and texting.  In fact, someone has created a popular “Modern Seinfeld” Twitter account with 653,000 followers speculating on what “Seinfeld” episodes would be like today.  It’s very amusing.

In 1998, the “Seinfeld” cast filmed the show’s final episode, and a photographer captured this moment at the end of the day.  I’m sure they knew it was time to go, but that didn’t make it any easier.

Photo by Wally Gobetz (NYC – Morningside Heights: Tom’s Restaurant) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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