On guns, and tragedy, and the media, and responsibility

It was the worst kind of way to start a work day in journalism.

Before the coffee is brewed, and before you’ve wiped the sand from the corners of your eyes, a phone call to tell you that two colleagues have been gunned down, and it was shown live on television, and they are both dead, and the gunman fled.

There are times as a journalist when a big story hits and there’s no time for personal thinking. There are phone calls to be made, loads of reporting to do and words to write, and something akin to organized mayhem often arises in a newsroom as people get their assignments and do them as quickly, as well and, sometimes, as delicately as they can.

We might not allow ourselves to think too much about what has happened, but most seasoned reporters develop a way to talk to the grieving in a way that soothes them.

The idea is to tell the story, and to tell it accurately, and without any bias.

That tunnel vision mode proves valuable on many occasions because to try to comprehend 33 dead in a massacre at Virginia Tech, or 26 dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School, or two journalists killed on television could be quite paralyzing.

And this popular blaming of the media for everything makes it much harder

When you ask a student at Virginia Tech if they’d like to share their thoughts or feelings on the massacre, and they look at you like you just offered to molest them, that’s brutal.

When you call a family who has just suffered loss, your goal is not just to get quotes for the story, but to get context and to try to tell the world who this person was and why they should care that he or she was lost. That happened seemlessly today because the people getting those phone calls were journalists, too, or the parents of very good journalists, and they welcomed the chance to tell us why. Many other act like they are being violated.

One of the huge differences in the way the public perceives all this, and draws its conclusions about “the media,” is television, specifically 24-hour television like CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and others, and the way they scramble to get to the scene to appear to be reporting the story. In reality, they spend more time in makeup than reporting, and wind up telling viewers, on the fly, things other people who are actually doing the reporting, or not, are finding out and sharing on the internet. And they disclaim by calling it a “fluid situation.”

In Newtown, Connecticut, I saw a local NBC reporter on MSNBC “report” that she “was hearing” that all the shootings happened in the first grade. It turned out that she was wrong, but that doesn’t help the thousand people or more nationwide who had a loved one in that school in first grade who became despondent before the true facts were sorted out.

That’s not “the media,” friends. That’s irresponsible television, and when you hear a reporter say “we’re hearing,” they are telling you stuff that is unconfirmed because they are on TV and there is pressure to forward the story, true or not, and so they share.

Then there’s the “sources tell (insert 24-hour cable news outlet here) that …”

I saw a Fox News guy tonight use that phrase repeatedly before giving information that had been on The Associated Press wire for hours, and attributed to people with names, not “sources.” They play games to make themselves seem like they are on top of the story, even though the reporter in question had spent four hours driving to the scene.

I did not know the two people killed today, but on days like this, we are all colleagues. By all accounts, they were young and enthusiastic journalists, and the world needs more of those. Alison Parker, the reporter, had just finished an in-depth series on child abuse. And Adam Ward, the cameraman, was said to be always ready to go shoot important news.

I grieve today for these families, and for the TV station, and the people that loved them.

But more than that, I grieve for our country, and for the days ahead, where people will use this incident as proof that their pro- or anti-gun control stance is right, and where the lives and achievements of Alison Parker and Adam Ward will be lost in the discussion.

Ode to Walter

Hi everyone. I’d like to introduce my friend, Walter.


And I’d like to assure you that this will be a happy story.

Walter showed up in my life last March, oddly enough, at the suggestion of my ex-wife. He had arrived a few months earlier in the neighborhood with a collar but no tags, and when she scooped him up and drove him around, trying to find someone that knew where he came from, she struck out. She was actively searching to rescue a dog to go with the one she had at the time, so keeping him wasn’t on her agenda.

Instead, she got the people across the street to keep him, the ones with two grown sons living there, each with drug or alcohol habits, and one with a dog. And to say they “kept” him is something of a stretch. Several times a day, they would let him out of the house, and he would wander around, crap in someone’s yard and then stay close to where he was getting food. It wasn’t an ideal circumstance, and the son without a dog reminded her of this regularly, between drug deals, when he would see her on her morning walk and ask “Find a home for this effin dog yet?”

The tipping point came when she saw Walter, then called “Buddy,” chained to a resin chair, which he then dragged into a busy road nearby. He survived that encounter, returned “home” and she applied the heat.

“You should take this dog,” she told me.

After a few days, I agreed, largely because while I love dogs, my work schedule often requires me to be gone for well over 10 hours. On those days, she said, you can bring him here, and I thought that a perfect solution, knowing nothing of this dog’s tendencies, house training history, temperment beyond a few brief encounters or anything else.

That night, I went and picked him up from the neighbors.

Two days later, I took him to the vet to see if he was micro-chipped, which would make finding his owners easy, and was actually relieved to learn that he wasn’t. The dog had grown on me very quickly, and I actually crossed my fingers hoping he would not have a chip.

Heck, I had already decided to rename him, to Walter.

He did not, but what he did have was fleas, a minor case, and so the doctor gave him some meds for him, asked me for about $200 and off we went, my instructions being not to bathe him for 3 or 4 days. So Walter now had a file at the vet, fleas, a name and a new owner.

He was such a pleasant and trusting dog who loved when I sat on the floor with him and played. He loved being petted, and while he initially had no idea what a Milkbone treat was, he quickly learned to like them.

We walked several times a day.

I set him up a Facebook page – Walter – because he was too cute not to share, and asked Facebook friends to help me with food choices. I had fast decided, after blindly buying food for family dogs for years, that I needed to look into good vs. bad and opt for good. The response was overwhelming with every one of my dog-loving 1,000 (mostly work-related) Fb friends weighing in and making to clear that my real love for Walter would be determined by what I decided to put in his gullet.

I also had to admonish my ex for feeding her dog, and Walter when he visited, garbage food, much of which I had purchased pre-Walter.

I went to the store and got a tag proclaiming him as mine, complete with his name on one side, my phone number on the other, and bought him some toys. Okay, so I also took him for a walk in their plowed parking lot and let him poop twice because overnight snow was deeper than his legs are long and, well, a guy can’t do anything when his business is encrusted in frigid ice or snow, especially not if he is a little dog.

On the night of the third day, I gave him a bath, and while he didn’t walk voluntarily into the bathroom, he gave no resistence when I walked out, picked him up and placed him in the tub. I sat on the edge of the tub, half in and half out, bathing him, and he buried his head in my crotch, as if to tell me that as long as I was there, he was good, and me, inspired by the amount of flea crap the vet’s comb had found, washed him and rinsed him very well, delighted that he was so accommodating.

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I became fascinated with Walter’s origins: How many names had he had? How had he ended up roaming the streets despite being house-trained, neutered and while knowing some basic commands? And mostly, why did he duck every time I petted his head from above?

But I loved so many things about him:

How he backed up a step to get a running start before jumping into the front seat of my Honda C-RV before standing there like a boss.

How he threw both front legs out to start a run.

How he had to be lifted into my bed at night and always started on a corner, but also always moved to be against me after a little bit.

How his eyes rolled back when he stood to get my attention.

How he would bring his rope toy and drop it on my foot when I was working at my desk and he was tired of waiting for some play time.

As far as that last one, Walter hated me working, and how do you explain to a dog that even though you are there, you’re not always there for his amusement, and daddy has to pay the bills to buy the food that you sometimes eat and sometimes walk away from like, “try harder.”

Journalism is an unpredictable game and sometimes stuff happens. Wives can be made to understand, and kids too, sometimes. But when a dog looks at you like you are way past due, it can tear your heart out.

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But Walter had ways of exacting his revenge.
Have you ever seen a dog sniff the same spot on a tree for 3 minutes? I would stand there wondering if he was not only searching out how many other dogs had peed there, but what they ate and if it was better than what he ate.
Have you ever seen a dog with a full bowl of water in his home try to drink from a parking lot puddle covered in an oil slick like it’s the first access to water he’s had in 2 days when that is completely untrue?
We also dealt with a neighbor with a completely antisocial daschund who, I am convinced, was the one who threw the chicken bones, lobster shells and other stuff into a spot where she knew Walter would find them, and find them he did, and each time it made my eating plan a joke. Soon, he started rutting around for things, and the only time he ever messed in the house was after I was only gone for a few hours, but after he’d eaten a yellow thing he’d dug up that was too much to hold in.
He was verklempt, and when I got home, sheepishly apologetic.
Once, I tried to grab from his mouth something he’d dug up and was eating, and was horrified to discover it was covered in dogsh#t. He looked at me as I tried to pry it from his mouth like it was my fault.
Walter is a curious dog, and with me, he learned to like to poop on a leash. I think he liked it because he liked that someone was actually paying attention to him, but he’s a dog. I’ll never know. At the house, he only pooped in the yard where the weeds might have tickled his bits when it was really urgent, like `Gonna poop in the house’ otherwise.
He’s kind of a camel that way. There were days when I was working, and he could hear me, that he wouldn’t get out of bed until 3 or 4 p.m. and I always knew this was a “ready to poop a few times” moment, and he did, eventually. After sniffing a tree for a few minutes, or more.
He liked to sniff out a spot, sometimes near a pile of poop, and drive his face into the ground, as if it needed scratching, and then roll around.
On walks, especially after a long work session, he would have “air wees,” where he sniffed out something worthy, lifted his leg and then thought “nah” and lowered his leg and marched on. It was like he knew I was paying attention, and he wasn’t about to give me the satisfaction.
He was a worrier. I once took him to see my son at college, about 75 minutes away, and he stood on the passenger seat the entire trip, up and back, like he was afraid I might fall asleep or something. In between, my son found a friend to keep him while I took him out for dinner and shopping, and the friend said he was great, but had bad gas. I had never noticed.
So, this weekend, Walter moved to Alabama, where my ex now lives. The great job offer she got there made it impossible for her to say no, and when I struck out finding someone to keep Walter when I was traveling, it made the most sense to send him to a stable place, with Lucky.
I was emotional when my son and his girlfriend pulled out of the driveway, Walter had ever-so-trustingly jumped into the backseat when I beckoned him to do so, and I knew he would eventually adapt. Lucky was with him, though, and they are true buds.
I am grateful that he is going to a place where his life will be stable, his address constant, which he ultimately deserves, and I know he will be fine. Moments after they pulled away, my son having heard the quivering in my voice and seen the tears in my eyes, he texted me: “I’ll love this little guy just like you did dad. I love you.”
And I knew, right then, that Walter would be fine.

Let’s talk about … Black Lives Matter

It has become the hashtag of 2015: #BlackLivesMatter.

And it’s true, and there have been countless incidents that show, unequivocally, that in many parts of this country, that hasn’t really been the case in the least.

Oddly, this all started with the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson. Mo., where the black population, as it turns out, has been very poorly treated by city officials and law enforcement, and racially discriminated against in horrifying ways that are beyond inexcusable. But it’s also where the shooting of a 6’4, 300 pound man who had just conducted a strong-arm robbery on video and then was scuffling with a police officer was a poor rallying point because the circumstances of his death were his own doing. If I’m losing you here, look it up, because I want you to continue reading my words.

I quibble, by the way, with describing a man that size, and just 24 years old, as being “unarmed” even if he’s not carrying a gun. One well-delivered punch to a man’s face by a man that size could kill him, without question. But “unarmed” is sensational, for sure.

But the Michael Brown shooting, and the rioting reaction that cost countless business owners that serve the populations most offended by the shooting their businesses, spawned a movement that has gone berzerk, doomed by being poorly applied so as to strip protestors and rioters of any chance of being taken seriously as civil activists.

I keep wondering what Martin Luther King Jr., a proponent of non-violent protests, would say about what has happened in the last six months in this country, and all in the name of black lives mattering. I believe he’d be rolling over in his grave, to be honest.

There was , for example, a black man in Baltimore who had 20some felony arrests on his record, and the fact that we know that is the first indication that people are scrambling to justify things that are wrong.

So the guy sees cops, and runs, and winds up in a paddy wagon because, I guess, running from the police is a clear indication you have something to hide. Please note the sarcasm. Police know their repeat offenders, like this guy, and gave chase, caught him, put him in the paddy wagon, failed to buckle him in and then drove recklessly to the station. It’s apparently a not all that uncommon thing police in high crime areas do to people in custody, but this time, the guy slammed his head and died. And the dude’s only apparent mistake was running, and the police who took him into custody had no idea what his current status was. For all they know, he could have legitimately found Jesus since his last arrest and vowed to spend the rest of his life helping those in need and ministering to those in trouble about better ways to deal with their anger, their poverty, and to to find ways to rise up from their miserable circumstances.

We’ll never know, because he’s dead, and when he died, the black mayor of Baltimore essentially gave angry citizens carte blanche to destroy things, including a CVS and surely other businesses that had been serving their community for many years. That brought TV crews to the rioting, and like in Ferguson, those crews almost encouraged it to go off the chain, so to speak, because it makes for good television and gives Maury Povich journlists like Geraldo Rivera a reason to come save the world on TV.

In reality, what the mindless destruction and violence and inane chanting did was cement in the minds of racists that angry black people and the way they behave in crisis are the reason for their own poor circumstances and that they deserve to be treated like animals. Does stealing a TV really make anything better in any way?

Lost is all this, of course, is the fact that Baltimore hasn’t elected anyone from the reviled Republican party in more than a half century, so this has all happened under a “friendly” government, but it’s still easiest to blame “the man,” even if he’s also black.

Oh, and the six cops that were charged with killing that dude with the rough ride to jail? Three of them were black, a fact overly sensitive newspapers and news outlets hoped you noticed, but didn’t tell you. Do you think the rioters noticed, or the mayor?

Before this gets pegged as an apology or excuse for the behavior of white people, understand that the shooting of a black family man in South Carolina who had broken no laws was egregious, as have been the treatments received, and recorded, by countless black motorists pulled over by white cops and treated like child molesters and rapists. I’m sure I’m missing a few police shootings, too. There have been many.

A ticket for failure to signal a lane change? Really? Needless to say, the facts on how she ended up dead should be viewed very scrupulously.

But in the world of #BlackLivesMatter, the problem is that people deciding to spread that message keep picking the wrong places to do it. Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, a socialist by many standards, had a well-attended rally in Seattle end prematurely when two black women approached the stage, demanded time to speak or threatened to shut the event down. They succeeded, and instead of hearing what Mr. Sanders had to say as a presidential candidate that might be of interest to their concerns, they heard nothing and, again, reinforced to the racists that people who think they are taking a social stand are more intent on getting on TV than actually hearing what a possible leader has to say that might help them make an educated choice on election day. Theirs was civil disobedience, to be sure, but pointless..

Martin Luther King Jr., if they cared to look him up and read about him, didn’t need to raid and ruin other people’s events to share his message; he held his own events.

He didn’t need to show anger by looting and shooting and rioting; he brought people together, asked them to be peaceful, enunciated a plan and asked for their support.

He didn’t see injustice as a chance to get a free TV; he used it as a chance to highlight the injustice knowing that reasonable people would eventually hear his wise words.

I know a black man who is an entrepreneur, happily married with a young daughter, and every time someone posts a video of a white cop mistreating a black person, he shares it on facebook with angry words about what is depicted as though nothing has changed in this country, and the cops are still out to get black people and his life is miserable. And, as I said, he’s an entrepreneur doing pretty well for himself by all accounts, and his anger makes me wonder about his daughter, and if he is teaching her all this hate too, and how that will impact her future and the mix of people in it.

There are racial problems in this country, some of them having gotten progressively worse when Barack Obama was elected, and then re-elected, as people try to hide their racism behind a veil of political disagreement or anti-Muslim chatter.

There are bad cops, black and white, and racists everywhere.

I have often said that I can’t fathom what it is like to be black and to fail my car inspection because the inspector is racist, or to have a white person that was speeding, like in Texas, get off with a warning while a black person winds up tased for failure to signal a lane change. It’s wrong, plain and simple, and we should hold these people accountable. But by the same token, I can’t imagine being black and seeing the looting and rioting in Ferguson, or Baltimore, or anywhere else and not think that it is setting things back instead of moving them forward, and that Martin Luther King Jr. would weep if he saw what way too many inner city blacks have adopted as their form of civil disobedience. He was an iconic figure for a reason. We need another one soon.

Thanks for reading.

On Confederate history, its importance, and the flag

I’m a Yankee, New Jersey born and raised (though to me being a “Yankee” has nothing to do with the Civil War and everything to do with birth origin). I have now lived in Richmond, Va., the capitol of the Confederacy, for 20 years and I have a compromise:

Let’s stop flying that flag — the one whites and blacks call a “battle flag” for completely different reasons — and take it off state flags and any official flags that fly over capitols out of respect for people who (rightfully) view it as a slap in the face. But at the same time, let’s not remove it from everything under the sun in some knee-jerk reaction.

I’ve learned since moving to Virginia that some view Robert E. Lee as a racist for fighting for the South and some view him as a hero for enjoying communion with a black man when no one else knew what to do after the Civil War ended.

And this debate about Lee’s racism or greatness will never end, but indecency can.

In a society that mostly strives to be harmonious, it makes no sense to ignore a history as rich for white people as for blacks, but it also makes no sense to rub the harsh part of that history for one side in the faces of the other. It’s simple: Don’t discard it from history like it never happened, nor celebrate it today like you did 150 years ago.

Both are bad solutions.

The Confederate flag is what it is, and was what it was, and to act like it still is what is it is as repugnant as to ignore suddenly that it ever existed as a founding element. The Civil War happened. It’s part of what made America what America is supposed to be.

Show it appropriately in museums and shadow boxes. Foster discussion among kids who see it on class trips. Let it stand for what it stood for then, for both sides, as part of history but not as part of today. Stop celebrating yesterday like it is some solemn piece of history still revered and relevant today, That does nothing to further was we need.

If we can do these things, just maybe there can finally be some needed healing.

Of Baltimore, anger and foolishness

Baltimore, I get it. You are angry. I am angry. Lots of people are angry.

People without weapons are being gunned down and suffocated and killed by rogue police officers, and in the Freddie Gray case in Baltimore, it was for making eye contact with police officers and attempting to flee. It hardly matters that he had an arrest record as long as his arm. There are laws against killing even bad guys.

How he wound up dead has not been explained, which is a little bit too much like Ferguson, and any explanation will be insufficient. By all means, protest. You should.

Martin Luther King Jr. would have supported that. But that’s where the logic ends.

Chanting “No justice, no peace” incites delinquents to ramp up the “no peace” part like it’s time to do Ferguson, as if that model made any sense or was helpful to the cause. Smashing police car windows and storefront windows? What does that help? What did those store owners do to you to deserve that while they were serving your community?

Why do the Gray family’s pleas that the violence stop do nothing?

Why do the words of a real civil rights leader like King, who always asked for peace, get lost in times like this?

Why do the pleas of others in the community for peace mean nothing?

Why must things be destroyed?

Who are these preachers proclaiming that “someone must pay?” They are going to get the people they are inciting killed. The people offended by what happened to Freddie Gray are black, white, and every other color. The people rioting are helping no one.

I am sick about what is going on in Baltimore, and I am sick about what happened to spark it. When the police kill you, they need to explain how it happened, and why. It’s where their credibility and authority come from – the transparency is important.

Saying nothing has allowed this to simmer to a boil, and the mayor finally, inexplicably, threw her hands up and gave them a “space to destroy.” That’s leadership?

I feel especially bad for the business owners unlucky enough to be in that space.

The comments of others sicken me, too. There’s so much racism that comes out in times like this, and broad brush painting, and it only makes every angle of this worse.

There are people in Baltimore legitimately and peacefully protesting what happened and demanding answers, which they are most assuredly entitled to, and a bunch of kids of all races using this unrest to loot, riot and destroy, as if it is an earned right.

And sadly, I bet only half those thugs know Freddie Gray’s name.

I pray for my friends and coworkers who live in the area, and those who are there working to bring us this story.

I also pray for this country to do a better job of enforcing the law without prejudice, which clearly isn’t happening all too frequently, and for this melting pot country to find common ground built on values and respect for all people, races and creeds.

There were 33, dammit!

Today marks the eighth anniversary of the massacre at Virginia Tech, and the remembrances are rampant. It was a horrible day, and I was there, sparring with Katie Couric and others in press conferences trying to get the answers everyone wanted.

But there’s a huge void for me in these remembrances, and yes, even in the elegant memorial arranged permanently on the side of the drillfield closest to Norris Hall, the building that Seung-Hui Cho secured with chains before killing his last 30 victims.

The void? Thirty-two people didn’t die that day. Seung-Hui Cho was No. 33. He killed himself as the police moved in, more than likely sparing them of having to do the deed, and I remain troubled by the idea that ignoring his presence because of what he did speaks to a misguided America, one where mental illness remains a voiceless secret.

Seung-Hui Cho was someone’s kid, too, and while i can’t fathom doing what he did, I think it speaks volumes that we try to obscure him rather than to help him.

When the hound became the pet

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Dixie was an obstinate little hound in her early years, favoring a couch in the other room over some floor space in the room where her people were congregating.

She took playing fetch away from Ginger, our older, playful and happy to please in every way Golden retriever, by beating her to the ball and then carrying it to some far corner of the yard and dropping it there, then prancing back boldly as if to say, “There’s a new sheriff in town, and we don’t play your exploitative games any more.”

When Dixie barked ferociously at passers-by and threatened to clear the fence, and Ginger just barked as though it was time to bark, Dixie would pause from being menacing along the fence line to bark in Ginger’s face, as if to tell her she didn’t even know what her job was and she had no respect for Ginger’s sweet, playful ways.

Dixie tore through an aging fence that would have kept Ginger in the yard for years and got hit by a car while crossing a busy street nearby. She required three surgeries that tallied the cost of a Hawaiian vacation to repair, but was good as new once fixed.

She once tore into the yard at 1 a.m. and was back in the garage within 10 seconds, dropping a wounded possum off on the floor in front of the crate where Ginger wasn’t quite sure she wanted to get up yet. Had it been a raccoon, Ginger was trapped.

She plucked another possum off the fence when, despite her repeated warning, it foolishly climbed up onto the fence anyway, and Dixie snatched her off first try.

She sometimes asserted her dominance by climbing up on Ginger’s back and dry humping her after domineering something like a male dog might, which was puzzling, but in the end, it was clear that Ginger was the queen, and Dixie an ambitious serf.

And when Ginger reached the end, and we took her to get put down, Dixie was on point the minute we got home, as if to say, “Where’s my friend?” But she knew, and when I held Ginger’s collar out and let Dixie sniff it, she laid down and audibly cried.

She never drank from the water bowl they shared again, and that heart she showed in that moment was more and more evident as the years went by (except for when we brought Lucky home and Dixie, having noticed that he had different equipment down below, in her curiosity spent the better part of 24 hours trying to lick him there).

We picked her from a big, unexpected litter because she was the one that fell asleep standing up on her way to the food, which became ironic because I believe she routinely broke one pee into three, just to triple the number of biscuits she got.

No morsel of food on the kitchen floor ever went undetected, no bag of cold cuts being opened ever went unnoticed, no bowl of unprotected cat food ever went unconsumed and no trip outside ever ended with her not standing near the treats waiting for one.

Today, as she did with Ginger, the vet laid down in the floor next to Dixie, gave her a sedative to calm her, and then a shot to allowed cured her pain and blindness, but in a place far away, where there are probably treats all the time, and dogs playing fetch.

Dixie and Ginger are together again, and this obstinate hound will be missed.


Sharing: Two people, two stories

I got a haircut the other day, and a gift.

The woman cutting my hair at GreatClips was very chatty, and kind. I get a No. 2 buzz all over, so I’m pretty easy, which she mentioned, and also available to chat.

As we were talking, I mentioned that I had overheard her talking to her previous client about sports, and mentioned that I am a sports writer. In an instant, she changed. She looked at me with trepidation, and hope, and said “I want to show you something,” then tried moving toward the counter, but stopped, as though she needed my permission.

“Please do,” I said, and she opened her drawer, reached in and pulled out her phone, clicking quickly until she handed it to me with a video ready to play. As I hit play, she explained: “I have twin boys at (insert high school name here). One is the quarterback, one is a receiver.” The video was showing me touchdown plays, with a quarterback throwing long strikes to a wide receiver, who then dodged tacklers to score.

“I’ve been a single parent almost all their lives, until 18 months ago,” she continued, seemingly thrilled to be sharing. “Two and a half months after they were born, their father went to a party with his buddies, there was screwing around with a gun and he was shot in the head. It’s been hard, but almost better they never knew their dad.

“I’ve raised them ever since. They are both straight A students, very respectful, great kids, never been to the principal’s office, and hoping to play football in college.”

I asked if they’d had any bites yet, or if they had plans.

“Not yet. We’re still hoping,” she said, her eyes watering at the sharing.

I asked if I could tell her a story. She said yes, almost relieved.

“I have two sons,” I told her, “and the second one is taller than me. He was born with cancer and had surgery when he was 10 days old.”

She gasped.

“We were lucky,” I continued. “It was encapsulated in his adrenal gland. They removed it, and he never had to have chemo, never had to have radiation, is smart as a whip and enormous. We were very lucky. He’s playing baseball at Hampden-Sydney.”

It’s an abbreviated version of the story I have told many times, but by this point, there were tears about to burst forth from her eyes, so much so that I patted her arm and told her that it was okay and that we had been incredibly fortunate, incredibly lucky.

My haircut was finished, and when I stood, she hugged me and tears emerged.

I thanked her for sharing her story, and she thanked me for sharing mine.

I left hoping her kids get scholarships. I hope they do great in college, too.

I knew their mom for 10 minutes, tops, and she is clearly a special and deserving lady.

You, too, can make Smack Yo Mama good turkey chili

OK, so upfront, I don’t really measure a lot when I cook. I “create,” but so many people have asked for this recipe once they try my turkey chili, I figured I’d just share.

It started as a crock pot chili, and had among its ingredients allspice and cinnamon. I don’t know about you, but I prefer chili to taste more like chili than, say, pumpkin pie, and when chili can be done in 40 minutes, why wait all day for the crock pot?

I’ll do my best to approximate measurements, but if you cook, you’ll understand.


1 medium onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, diced or pressed

3 lbs of ground turkey

I can Rotel Original diced tomatoes and green chilis

I or 2 14.5 oz cans fire roasted diced tomatoes

1 8 oz can tomato sauce

1 14 oz can reduced sodium chicken broth

3 15 oz cans of beans (I typically use three different ones from the following – always black beans (undrained), and two of the following, drained but not rinsed: red kidney beans, pinto beans, great northern beans, or chili beans)

2 tbs ground cumin

2 tbs chili powder (it’s not generally hot, but colorful)

1 tbs ground black pepper

salt to taste (you can always add it, but you can never take it out)

A handful of chopped cilantro at the end, which I do sometimes, but not always.
If you like spicy, you can add any, or all, of the following:
1 or 2 tbs red pepper flakes
1 or 2 tbs chipotle powder
2 or 3 diced chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
2 or 3 diced fresh jalapenos (removing the seeds and inner ribs make them less hot)
A few good spritzes of sriracha
If you like spicy, but want to add something to balance it, I usually add a few handfuls of frozen sweet corn, which not only sweetens it, but adds another bright color
Put 2 tbs or so of olive or vegetable oil (Hey, not on the list!) into the bottom of a large dutch over and add the diced onion and, if using, the diced jalapeno. Hint: if using jalapenos, your nose or eye will invariably itch at some point after you have been dicing. DO NOT GIVE IN. Touching your face now will have dire consequences. For hours.
Let cook for 3-5 minutes until onions are translucent, then add the garlic and cook for another 2 minutes. By now, you should already be thinking, “This aroma is going to make the neighbors sooo envious.” Remove all with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Crumble the turkey into pieces and brown in the pot. Might be best to do in two batches, since it is a lot. Once all is browned (read: not pink), add the other turkey and the onions and garlic back into the pot and stir together. Let cook together for a few minutes, then begin adding the spices, stirring to incorporate and disperse. This is how we reincarnate the blandness of turkey into the joy of culinarianism (my word). It’s like turning balsa wood into black walnut in three easy steps. Oh, and if adding any of the hot spices, or the chipotle peppers and adobo, do that now, too. You want all those flavors blending.
This is a very important step. Grab a jar with a tight fitting lid, and hold upside down over the pot. After 30 seconds, place the lid on tightly. You will want to return to this moment again some day before going to all this effort again, and a jar full of sealed aroma that whets those taste buds can be just as memorable as vacation photos.
You now have a pot of simmering meat which smells great. If you wanted to make tacos, you can add salt and stop right here. If you are more ambitious, continue on.
Add the tomato products, all of them undrained, including the Rotel, and stir together. You could eat this now, too, but don’t. Beans are good for you, good for your digestive system and have gotten a bad rap for causing “Blazing Saddles” gassiness for years.
Addd (three d’s for 3 cans) the beans (black undrained with fluid, and the others mostly drained, but not rinsed). If this is bad in some way, please tell me. It has worked for me.
Stir again, and admire the pot suddenly bursting with color like a fine autumn day with a stocked picnic basket in a cool breeze in Maine. Or Virginia, if you got a late start.
It looks like this:
If you are using the corn or cilantro or both, add them now.
Now is a good time to taste to see if you need salt, but add judiciously. You can always “make it snow” on your bowl, but it’s best to let the consumers salt to their own taste.
The last thing to add is the can of chicken broth or stock, and you should do that now, and stir. The liquid should be almost to the top of the ingredients. If not, no biggie. My recipe originally called for draining all the tomatoes and beans and rinsing them, then adding more stock, but I like using the juices of the ingredients more. I think it gives a much deeper, richer flavor. Think Bing Crosby music vs. New Kids on the Block.
I like to let this big masterpiece simmer for 20 minutes or so to blend flavors, but do taste it and see if it’s missing something. You can always add more heat, or you can say, `Holy smokes that’s hot!” and run to the store for sour cream to serve on top.
This may seem like a lot, but trust me, it goes fast, especially if you are of the frame of mind to serve over corn chips, or tortilla chips, or rice. I eat it just as is, and it’s heaven.
Good luck, happy cooking, and enjoy.