February 14, 2014

Old soldiers tell excellent stories

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 1:26 pm

When two members of the United States Marine Corps, getting away temporarily from the rigors of combat on Guadalcanal, were put in a jail cell in New Zealand and told to sleep it off, they couldn’t shut off the adrenaline flow and so they spent most of the night telling each other their life stories.  Norm W. was impressed by the other guy’s determination to tell his story in a book that would be written “after the war.”  In the mid-Fifties, Norm noticed the publicity about the release of the film “Battle Cry” and headed straight for the nearest theater showing it.  He just had to see the new flick because the back story of the life of the author Leon Uris was the same information he had been told in New Zealand .

Norm told many wonderful stories about his experiences.  Once when a group of Marines wanted to have a sing-a-long in a New Zealand tavern, they were temporarily stymied by the fact that the place didn’t have a piano.  Luckily a near by gin-mill did have one so the Marines “borrowed” it and proceeded to have an impromptu songfest.  Norm’s stepson recorded one of his tales and just like in the movie “Big Fish” only regretted the fact that he hadn’t recorded more after Norm passed away.

Alan Lomax went around the USA recording and transcribing folk songs and earned a place in the Pop Culture Hall of Fame.  Why then doesn’t an enterprising film school student tape the every shrinking supply of World War II vets telling their stories?  There are plenty of excellent stories lurking inside some old infantry men who are very anxious to pass their stories on to future generations.  We don’t mean interviews such as featured in the Ken Burns films that discuss the overall strategy for WWII.  Where are the interviews that record for posterity the day to day events that get told at various reunions?

For example, once, many moons ago, the World’s Laziest Journalist was in the stacks at the Santa Monica Public Library trying to do some fact checking on WWII.  An old guy asked us why we were looking at the books in one particular section.

The 109 Regiment from the 28th Division, from our hometown of Scranton Pa., had been involved in the Battle of the Bulge.  The old guy pointed to the group of books on that particular topic and told us about the time he had seen a quiet empty café and (despite the fact it was against regulations) he parked his tractor trailer and had a quiet, memorable lunch.  He spoke enough French to get his food and pay the bill.  The village seemed to be a ghost town.  The next day he learned that Bastogne, where he had stopped for the meal, was in German held Territory.

One neighbor in Scranton told a story about talking to a German POW and discovering that the Kraut knew most of the popular bars in the North Eastern Pennsylvania town.

When we were young, we were strongly cautioned to realize that the slapstick comedy of the Three Stooges was not to be imitated or taken seriously because it was unrealistic.  We were told that an uncle in the Seabees had been attacked (on Guadalcanal) by an enemy soldier and had defended himself by killing the guy by hitting him on the head with an empty bucket.

Last year, on December 7, we heard news reports that the number of people who had survived the attack on Pearl Harbor had fallen to such a low number that the annual reunions in Hawaii were too impractical to continue.

While living in the Hollywood area, if we had collected a nickel for every time we heard the offer “we’ll write the script together and split the payoff,” we’d have enough today to buy a very fancy coffee latte.

We had a co-worker in Santa Monica who had a neighbor who had been one of the “Red tailed devils” (i.e. a Tuskegee airman).

Didn’t Tonight show host Jack Paar tell a story about the captain of a U. S. Navy ship that hid his girlfriend as a stowaway in the captain’s quarters for an entire deployment?

In Paar’s era, late night talk shows featured some fine examples of storytelling, but when the bean counters discovered that talk shows could be used to hawk Hollywood’s latest films, the talk show format became a series of disguised sales pitches which we call “promobabble.”

A once sentence synopsis of a plot for a potential movie is called a “pitch” in tinseltown parlance and Bo Zenga, who was the King of the Pitch became a movie director, so he would be a great potential audience for one particular WWII nurse’s story.  She was captured, became a P. O. W., escaped and made the journey to a neutral country and spent the rest of the war in that location.  It was “the Great Escape” with a woman protagonist.  Yeah, we know where Zenga’s office is.  Should we send him a query letter asking if we can “pitch” the old pitcher or what?  Should we contact a member of the Writer’s Guild and offer him half the proceeds if he can get his agent to make the pitch successfully?

Has the life story of combat photographer Dickey Chapelle ever been told in a movie?

Once, on a flight from Los Angeles to NYC, we expected the woman next to us to display snapshots of he world’s greatest grandchildren for our approval.  When we questioned her she said that she had spent WWII working in Washington D. C. as a secretary for a member of the government bureaucracy named William Donovan.  Wait just a darn minute!  We had heard Wild Bill Donovan, the founder of the group that became the CIA, called many things, but we had never heard him be labeled as a member of the government bureaucracy.  We often wonder if she ever got around to writing her autobiography.

Obviously not all tales from WWII have commercial movie potential but with all the film schools turning out all the next generation’s award winning documentary film makers, why aren’t those youngsters doing the Leadbellly act and interviewing on camera the continuously diminishing supply of WWII veterans?

In the past, we did some online fact checking and found that in the San Francisco Bay Area there are some storytelling competitions.  When we went back to recheck that fact for this column we learned that there is an annual storytelling event which will be held

Recently Coach John Madden told KCBS listeners that golf tournaments that get rained out are the best because the golfers get to hand out in the clubhouse and tell their best stories (again).

There are a bunch of Irish bars in the San Francisco Bay Area and one, the Starry Plough,  offers Irish dancing and songs, but there doesn’t seem to be one fooking bar where an open mike is available for a real storytelling opportunity and/or competition.  WTF?  What would happen if an Irish bar had a storytelling competition?  Jesus, Mary, and Joseph it would be “Katie bar the door” time, eh?

[Photo editor’s note:  The Berkeley artist, known as “Hardley Notee Sayahblay” on Facebook, is renowned for his digital images, but only a few get to know his ability as a raconteur who voices an Infantryman’s complaints about the Korean War.  We tried to select an image of him that implies an underlying back story.]

Robert McKee’s book, “Story,” is an excellent look at the art of storytelling from the scriptwriter’s point of view.  In it, McKee wrote (page 196):  “In essence we have told one another the same tale, one way or anther, since the dawn of humanity, and that story could be successfully called The Quest.  All stories take the form of a Quest.”

We asked the disk jockey  to play songs that tell a story and he selected the Bill Parsons (AKA Bobby Bare) song “All American Boy,” Tom T. Hall’s “Forty Dollars,” and Red Sovine’s “Phantom 309.”  Our DJ will include a memorial spin of Shirley Temple’s “Good Ship Lollypop.”  We have to go see “Monument Men.”  Have a “they all lived happily ever after” type week.

August 16, 2013

“ . . . do you look in the mirror and wish you had hair? . . .”

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 12:29 pm

Will next year’s defending America’s cup champ be New Zealand? 

If the mainstream media is ignoring the plight of the Los Angeles county assessor, the story of how San Francisco taxpayers got hustled by the yachters, and any potential link between a California Senator’s husband and the bullet train that voters don’t seem to want, shouldn’t the World’s Laziest Journalist extend an example of interline courtesy and join with the big names in journalism by blowing off those topics?  We won’t harp on the idea that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors seem to be envious of the situation in Marina del Rey that has critics of the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors alleging that the unique situation there handed the politicians a cash cow for their reelection campaigns.  Mum’s the word.  Why spoil the surprise for the voters in the San Francisco Bay Area if they are in for an expensive example of “getting blind sided” (again!)?

There is an old folktale (which we just made up) that tells the story of a columnist from the Leprechaun Journalism tradition, who is driving late at night in the industrial section of a large university town and sees an automobile accident occur.  He rushes to the car which is starting to burn and pulls a beautiful damsel from the wrecked vehicle.  Since she has magical powers and she doesn’t want to demean his integrity with offers of numerous writing awards, she makes him an offer that cuts to the very core of his being.  She says he can either win the lottery but must never write again or he can have a very limited online audience which will include the newsrooms at the New York Times, the Columbia Journalism Review, CBS Evening News, and the Berkeley Barb.  If he chooses the latter, he will see some of his most unique insights into national politics in rewritten form used by those august news media but he won’t get any royalty checks.

The World’s Laziest Journalist was reminded of that grim fairytale recently when he noticed that Jalopnik ran a story about taking a flight in the Goodyear Blimp and, a week later, another about a taking a flight in a B-17 G WWII bomber.  We had written about experiencing both modes of transportation many moons ago while functioning as a staff writer for “Just above Sunset” online magazine.

It might seem foolhardy for a columnist, who can wonder if his newest offering will be read by folks at the Sydney Central Backpack Hostel, a film critic in Great Britain, and the 1961 SPHS Scranton Pa. guy, who is one of  the Vice President’s best friends, and, if we send him the link, one of the top editors at Playboy Magazine, to mention the possibility that the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) may go on  strike because they would have the Rhett Butler reaction to such a remote labor dispute.  If, however, the columnist goes to extensive lengths to provide evidence that bolsters a contention that a continuing effort to bust unions and reduce wages is exemplified by that very local bit of labor strife, then such a hypothetical effort might, at least, get a closer read by the denizens of the New York Times newsroom.

Back when the pundits were discussing the possibility that President George W. Bush would order troops to go to Iraq, some wags mentioned “the Pottery Barn” rule.  Now that things in Iraq are spinning way out of control again, we await the resurrection by the war hawks of that principle and a debate about urging President Obama to send some new troops back to Iraq to insure Democracy for the Iraqi people there and to uphold America’s commitment to that country’s freedom fighters.

After noting that Edward Snowden did not seem to reveal any information that was new and heather to, completely unknown by the American public, we have started to wonder if a pundit on the Internets could get into hot water by commenting on facts already known to the American public.  There was a small item online that indicated that Snowden had accused America’s Free Press of complete dereliction of duty after 9-11.  That story was ignored by the mainstream media.

With all that in mind, the World’s Laziest Journalist is starting to think that it might be prudent to search for other more innocuous tidbits of information that would be much less likely to instigate patriotic American Republicans to bandy about the word “traitor” and the phrase “war criminal.”

Would it be an example of irony if some over zealous American Patriot recklessly labeled Edward Snowden as a war criminal for doing what the lead American Prosecutor at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trails, Robert Jackson, said must be done when an individual perceives that his country is perpetrating some immoral actions in world affairs?

Wouldn’t a columnist be much better off using items such as the information that the San Francisco Beard Papa outlet is a local franchise for a company in Japan that specializes in French pastry and that they are on the verge of expanding into the Hollywood section of Los Angeles?

Folks who regularly read the material produced by the World’s Laziest Journalist know that the columnist has a high regard for the events that took place 79 years ago when Ernest Hemingway and thousands of troops for the Allied Forces liberated Paris might expect that after he finishes reading Michael Neiberg’s new book “The Blood of Free Mena:  the Liberation of Paris, 1944,” a full column review may follow.

This book describes the scoop columnist Alice Moats scored when she sneaked into Paris more than a month before D-Day.  Hemingway got much more publicity for claiming that he arrived in the City of Light a day or two before the other soldiers.

Speaking of WWII, fans of the fifty year old novel “Catch-22” will want to consider reading the new book by Patricia Chapman Meder titled:  “The True Story of Catch-22” (the real men and Missions of Joseph Heller’s 340th Bomb Group in World War II).  The author was the daughter of Willis E. Chapman, who was “Col. Cathcart” and she provides the fact finding keys for the classic war novel romain a clef.

Fans of Heller’s novel may well want to learn all the background information knowing that this new book will increase their enjoyment of the half century old classic and, perhaps, inspire them to go back (to their college days?) and reread Heller’s book.

That reminds us, we should go back and search for the passage that explains how Yossarian bought eggs for a nickel each and sold them for three cents each but still made a profit.

The Occupy the steps of the Berkeley Post Office Building effort was still continuing as this column was being posted.

Recently, we bought a used bargain copy of “Beyond Coincidence” by Martin Plimmer and Brian King.  Chapter two, which is a series of examples, opens with a story of a woman in Berkeley CA, who went outside her home and became locked out.  While fretting about her dilemma, the postman arrived and handed her a letter from her brother in the state of Washington.  He had visited recently and sent the letter to return a spare key he had been using.

Speaking of obscure but influential, one might think that there would not be an example of the concept “an obscure recording by Elvis Presley” but since these are the dog days in the news (and punditry?) business when the Congressional summer vacation means that there won’t be much political news and since Friday August 16, 2013, is Elvis Memorial Day, we’ll try to listen to the laughing version of “Are you lonesome tonight.”

While a performance in Las Vegas was being recorded, Elvis changed the lyrics and broke himself and the band up with laughter.

The musical group Daddy Yankee has posted a video on Youtube for their song about gasoline.  Since the anniversary of the day Elvis Presley (supposedly) died will coincide with the publication date for the next World’s Laziest Journalist “the week in the rearview mirror” column, we found that the Elvis track, allegedly proclaimed by Paul McCartney to be the best recording ever by Elvis, had less views than the ditty about what makes cars go.  The laughing version of “Are you lonesome tonight” was at the 70,000 hit level when we checked.  “Gasolina” has racked up more than 38 million hits.

New words for 2013?  How about “selfie”?  It means a self portrait and usually referrs to something of the kind of tourist snapshot plus mug shot combined that are posted by young folks on Facebook.  It seems like a gimme to think that this word will land on the list of new words for this year.

[Note from the photo editor:  The sports world extravaganza known as the America’s Cup Yacht Races is being assessed as a fiasco for this year, but the media is overlooking one important aspect of the minor sports news story:  taxpayers in the Bay Area, thanks to some contract lawyers who earned their fees, will be obliged to cover any financial shortfall.  News photos of the sporting event may have some stock shot value for political pundits if the citizens ever decide to make a retroactive fuss over the fact they have been hustled.]

“Kim” Hubbard said:  “Now and then an innocent man is sent to the legislature.”

Now the disk jockey will play a song that tells the story of Elvis set to music in Bill Parsons’ (Bobby Bare) song “The All American Boy,” Elvis’ saddest song “Old Shep,” and the laughing version of “Are you lonesome tonight.”We have to go see if we can purchase a Kangaroos Football Club t-shirt.  Have a “do you look in the mirror and wish you had hair” type week.

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