Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash is being blamed today for making a bonehead move that probably contributed to his team’s loss in the World Series. You see, he pulled the team’s ace pitcher, Blake Snell even though he was tossing a great game…surrendering to the endless babble of numbers, acronyms and abbreviations known as Sabremetrics…or as I call them….”WTFetrics” Cash just didn’t want Dodgers batters to get a third time at the plate against the guy, even though Snell was basically mowing them down.
As a lifelong fan of the national pastime I was content with knowing a batter’s average, a pitchers earned run average and other stats like how many homers a guy hit, bases he stole and runs he batted in.
I get that things have moved along and we now know esoterica that help managers, owners and players supposedly make better decisions on the field and off. Therefore, I’ve decided to go with the flow and adapt this development to my own life.
I started today at noon with my midday repast. As I lifted my ham sandwich to my piehole I asked my meal mate to take some video on their phones that I could later examine to better understand what I have designated my “Lunch angle.” Could I more effortlessly ingest my ham on rye by reducing the angle at which it enters my mouth? By adjusting my lunch angle, I might be able to keep my mouth shut longer, thereby allowing me to listen to the gossip being offered before taking another sloppy, noisy bite. I love anything that improves cognition.
Another stat I find useful is how I measure and regulate complaining. I’ve set a hard and fast limit by establishing a firm Bitch Count. When I find myself getting too whiny, I cut myself off after four complaints within an 8-hour period. Then I engage in a self-enforced cool-down cycle by swilling two fingers of Jack Daniels on the rocks. The same goes for anyone I happen to be with. Hit the Bitch Count and you’re cut off–forced to join me for happy hour until you calm down. Could take several rounds.
The one baseball stat I find mind-numbing is OBP, or on-base percentage. Here’s now the pros figure it: On Base Percentage (aka OBP, On Base Average, OBA) is a measure of how often a batter reaches base. It is approximately equal to Times on Base/Plate appearances. The full formula is OBP = (Hits + Walks + Hit by Pitch) / (At Bats + Walks + Hit by Pitch + Sacrifice Flies)
In real life one can use a similar formula to measure a person’s inability to use tact or diplomacy or Obtuse Bile Percentage. The formula would be expressed thusly as: OBP= Swear words + Corporate slang + Inappropriate hand gestures / Text messages with angry emojis + Selfish demands + Supportive References to Sean Hannity. A perfect score of 1.000 wins the designation as PTB or Perfect Trump Boor.
My final example is the fascinating, yet polarizing stat known as the WHIF…or Wife plus Husband per Issues Fought. It’s fairly self-explanatory and is considered an important predictor of future evenings bereft of connubial connection.
That’s just a start but I’m sure by the end of the season I will have established a new benchmark for UNR or Useless Numbers Referenced. Play ball!
I know there are plenty of weighty things on everyone’s minds, but a recent story I read in the Detroit Free Press has me really bewildered. I can only describe it as a misinformed, unfair and disappointing diatribe against a completely innocent element of long-standing tradition. Have you read it? I’m actually still reeling from the vicious attack on something that has a potential lifespan longer than obsidian and just as impenetrable. Yes…we’ve all found some in the folds and recesses of our trick or treat bags, car seats and oral cavities.
Yes, in this period of social and political polarity, let’s come together on the benefits and joys that can only be derived from one diminutive source: candy corn.
Sure, the multicolored confection will rot your teeth and expand your gut but man, that’s so half-empty. Let’s start with the whole teeth rotting thing. So what? Your natural choppers erode from the twin forces of attempting to chew the unchewable and being bathed in pure sugar? No problem. Skip the dentist, reach into the bag and as fast as you can say “high deductible” you’ve got an entirely new set and you’ve avoided the cost and pain of the traditional substitutes. Besides, orange and yellow are so much more fun than the boring all white. It’s 2020 man! The year where normal doesn’t exist.
Now let’s address those who advocate for the Second Amendment. Personally, I’m not a gun guy. When I was in the Boy Scouts I was so bad at the shooting range I could use the same paper target over and over again. Not even close. For sure, the targets were safe. Not so sure about my troop mates. Now, be open-minded about this. Swap those hollow-points for Brachs white tips.
Instead of putting holes in a person or animal, they might merely cause an annoying welt before disintegrating. I think that amounts to reasonable stopping power in self-defense situations. I imagine any charges filed would have be reduced from those related to using a “deadly weapon” to merely “firing fattening projectiles.” The use of candy corn rounds won’t provide meat on your table but I find the best hunting in the wild aisles of Costco anyway.
Personally, I always keep a few bags of the stuff in my workshop. Candy corns are small and strong enough for use as shims and for temporarily filling holes in drywall until I can get around to spackling them. The added advantage is, when they’ve outlived their utilitarian uses you can just pop ’em in your mouth—no waste. I love the environment!
An important consideration when discussing sweets is the mess factor. Candy corn doesn’t make one because they don’t melt like chocolate or marshmallow. In fact, they’re fairly indestructible. Little known fact—candy corn is a favorite among those carrying out testing of thermonuclear devices due to their ability to withstand blistering temperatures. The folks I’ve spoken to who work in that field really appreciate the quick jolt candy corn provides after a hard day of testing the stuff that could result in the end of humanity. Come to think of it, eating too much candy corn could pretty much be anyone’s final meal.
All I know is, as a kid growing up in Queens, I never turned my nose up when a neighbor tossed a bag of candy corn in my trick or treat bag. Maybe that’s because I knew they were awesome slingshot projectiles, I could use them as little door stops or to terrorize my parents by sticking a bunch in my mouth, getting my brother to play act that he was slugging me in the face and then I spit them out as if he broke all my teeth. Fun! As a parent I’ve been repaid for my idiocy many times over. Wouldn’t change a thing.
So don’t discount the value of much maligned candy corn. Sure, it tastes like sugary wax but as Jerry Seinfeld once told his father when he thought The Wizard personal digital assistant was merely a tip calculator…….
Some title, huh? That was the subject line of an emailed story pitch I received this week. I was tempted to reply, “thanks, but I already had crabs for dinner last night.” But that’s just a joke I saved for myself.
One of the best reasons for being a reporter is the free education you receive. Over the course of 47 years at this I’ve learned everything from how to genetically alter tomatoes to the “joys” of consuming sautéed bulls testicles to steering cockroaches to, yes, information related to sexually transmitted diseases. Such is a the life of a so-called “general assignment” reporter.
However, when you’re on a specific beat, as I have been for the past 30 years that’s the focus of your efforts and that should also be the focus of a PR person’s story pitches. Light research into what a reporter covers can save everyone lots of wasted time, effort and disappointment.
Here’s another example of an actual pitch I received recently, obviously from a PR person who has no idea that my beat is the auto industry.
“Hello…I understand that you may be inundated with similar requests, but truly hope that you’ll find the time to review and write about TAIMI – the world’s largest LGBTQI+ platform that features dating and social networking.”
Being the wiseass I am, I was poised to reply with something like, “thanks a lot for reaching out to me with your story idea. Since I cover the auto industry exclusively, do you have information regarding LBBTQI+ dating and social networking activities that take place in vehicles?”
In the past month or so, I’ve received similarly mis-targeted pitches including one promoting a story on an “expert” who could expound on the “wonders of dust-free ceramic tile.” I have to admit I was pretty fascinated by that, but since we’re only on this Earth for a relatively short time, I chose not to spend even a moment of that time pursuing a story I would not be permitted to write.
Oh, and just this morning I received this one: “New data: Consumers are adjusting behaviors to avoid public restrooms.” I guess that could be relevant to autos if I worked it into something regarding the paucity of places to pee during long car trips.
Indeed, time spent is at the crux of the issue. Time must be spent researching the targets of your pitches to make sure the reporter or news organization actually covers the subject matter, and reporters don’t have time to wade through pitches that have no relevance to their coverage area or beat. But man, I keep wondering about how great that dust-free ceramic tile story coulda been…and maybe I could have worked a lead on how the large back seats of full-size SUVs contribute to activities related to the contraction of herpes.
Hah! Maybe I just need to be a little more open-minded.
As we were leaving our subdivision for a family outing this week we saw six police cars parked in front of a neighbor’s house with several officers conducting interviews with a couple of residents to help crack the case. This being a rather unpleasant election year, it didn’t take long for us to figure out what was going on since no weapons were drawn and voices weren’t raised. There were some slackjawed cretins looking oh, so concerned…and confused.
Here’s the setup. As we were walking around the block the other day we noticed a number of homes displaying Trump for President signs on their front lawns. That alone had us wondering how much we could get for our house. But OK. This is America and the First Amendment guarantees the right to publicly display support for a misogynistic, egocentric, lying cheater who is so inept he drove several casinos into bankruptcy.
Don’t get me wrong. In front of a few homes we did see signs supporting someone who is old enough to celebrate his birthday by carbon-dating. Having your birth certificate engraved on two stone tablets isn’t a good look, but a handy paperweight.
Anyway, a day or two after our eye-opening walk we noticed all the Trump signs were gone–obviously stolen in the dark of night by someone who either doesn’t approve of our incumbent incompetent, or needed some paper on which to jot down their Yahtzee scores.
But just like an octopus’s severed arm, the signs miraculously regenerated…and then re-disappeared. The neighbor who had handed out the signs indignantly huffed and puffed up and down the street taking photos of the houses that had displayed the purloined posters, as if that evidence would cause the cops to, um, give a shit. No police cars could immediately be seen investigating this ex poster facto case…until they were.
Yes…the signs sprouted once again, although this time, the forever Trumpers got wise and started situating them really close to their homes and a few plunked them down right next to signs warning intruders the home, and Trump posters, were protected by a security system. I can only imagine being a dispatcher at Al’s Security Service receiving an alarm triggered by a Trump poster heist…and quickly going back to eating my bean burrito.
Now here’s what I always wondered. Why the hell bother going through the motions of a secret ballot if you’re gonna tell the whole world who you’re supporting anyway? I can see attending a campaign event or volunteering to support your candidate, but plastering your choice on your front lawn not only reveals your “secret” but makes your house a target for poster nappers and worse.
I’m simply not demonstrative in that way. I don’t display bumper stickers since I can’t imagine anyone being influenced by a sticky sign ruining the finish on a costly car. I also don’t put up lawn signs for, well, anything, because I live in a house and not a billboard. Besides, you want me to push your brand you’ll have to consult my rate card and pay up. That’s also why I’ll never buy a car from a dealer who insists on placing a decal or medallion with their name on my vehicle.
Well, I’ve noticed the Trump signs are back and the number of Biden signs has increased to where it’s running about 50-50 for each guy on my street–but don’t look at me to break the tie with a sign of my own. I’ll let my neighbors on both sides think I’m with ‘em. But if things get really scary I might consider planting a sign after all–For Sale.
In the past week I’ve been approached by a PR person professing he knows I’m “in the auto space,” read treatises on companies operating in various spaces and seen job descriptions requiring candidates have experience in a specific space. I have now made it my irrevocable practice to put a wide swath of space between me and anyone who uses the word “space” or any other permutations of it instead of an actual word related to the object of their deflection.
Oh yeah, it’s just another one of those obnoxious terms people latch onto such as the most hideous of all, to me, “staying in one’s swim lane.” My reply to that one is always a hale, hearty and utterly sincere, “fuck off!” along with my fervent wishes they will have to ingest their meals through a snorkel. Enjoying that swim lane?
Do people use these terms to seem sharp, superior, in the moment? If so, they come across as arrogant, lazy and ignorant.
The word “space” is not a Scrabble blank. You have to use it, like any other word or term, correctly. I do not work in the auto “space.” I do cover the automotive “beat.” You can also use “industry.” To me, “space” in the automotive context means gaps between body panels on poorly manufactured vehicles. Perhaps the person using “space” related to my beat has a gaping one in their training or preparation.
Companies do not operate in spaces. They operate in various industries, businesses, services or products. Honestly, would you say NASA operates in the space space? If you did you’d be operating in a vacuum.
I’ll keep this short because I’ve made my point ..and I don’t want to unnecessarily take up more than my share of..uh…space. There. I’m done occupying it.
Been reconsidering the hashtag #wfh—“work from home” and it spark something my late, great father always told my brother and I when we were kids. “Whatever you choose as an occupation, don’t choose a job where every morning the first thing you say to yourself is, ‘oh shit.’”
Both of us heeded that admonition and ended up in careers for which we have passion, skills, satisfaction and enjoyment. Since retiring, sort of, four years ago, I’ve been doing a few freelance gigs, for the most part, yep, #WFH. Now, during the pandemic, it’s all #WFH.
But here’s the deal. #WFH isn’t enough. I’m a firm believer those three letters should mean more than simply working from home. You see, if you’re just working from home, it’s just work. So permit me to offer some additional suggestions—ones I’ve been practicing no matter where I happen to earn a paycheck.
Work From the Heart: Love what you do and everything seems a little easier. The results will be a lot more satisfying too.
Work From the Head: That softball size pile of gray matter in your noggin’ isn’t technically a muscle, but if you don’t exercise it the results are the same—it just doesn’t function as well. So allow yourself the luxury of giving your brain a challenging workout and watch the great ideas, more logical reasoning and personal enthusiasm take you into the zone where it all makes sense.
Work From Humor: Sure, we are all faced with tasks and situations…and pain in the ass co-workers that can stand in the way of a great workday. Filter it out with a little bit of humor to neutralize the tough stuff. A good laugh, even to yourself, is good for your heart and mind. Your work will turn out better too.
Work From Handling It: You’ve got this. You’re in this job because you have the skills and experience to do it. Regarding of where you are physically, you should go into every task with the confidence you’ll succeed.
Work From Hell Yes!: I once had a boss with a thick accent and quite often had no idea what he was asking me to do. At first I’d say “could you please repeat that?” Well, that pissed him off. So I got in the habit of always saying “sure!” Then I’d run the conversation over and over again in my mind to see if I could divine exactly what my orders were. More often that not, my positive attitude carried the day and the boss was satisfied. Don’t get me wrong. It makes sense to be clear on your marching orders, but sometime just telling yourself “yes!” puts the rest of your mind and body in the right place to do succeed.
So there you go. #WFH all you like. It doesn’t just have to only mean “work from home.” That just happens to be where you’re sitting. Working from different mental and physical venues can keep you from waking every morning, thinking “oh shit.” In fact, you’ll feel better traveling that mental journey from “H” and back.
It’s been a few days but I can’t stop thinking about Brayden Harrington. He’s the brave young man who spoke during the Democratic National Convention despite his stutter. He appeared because he was encouraged, and given the confidence to overcome his speech impediment during an encounter with Joe Biden. The former vice president revealed to young Brayden that he, too, stuttered, and knew, through his own experience, it’s possible to sublimate it.
Brayden has stayed with me because I spent most of my school years in speech clinics and with speech therapists attempting to rid me of my terrible lisp. Ironic, huh? A kid whose tongue couldn’t figure out how to articulate without spraying people with spit ends up in broadcasting…but it’s true.
I didn’t know I had a lisp until a visit to my father’s cousin Doris and her husband Lou when I was about 7 or 8. Lou was a cool guy who always had the latest electronic gadgets. He was the first person I knew that owned a TV with a remote control. He was also the guy to introduce me to what my voice sounded like to others, when he whipped out his shiny new tape recorder.
I was appalled, and embarrassed by what I heard–a toneless drone where every s sounded like a th. The family thought it was funny, tormenting me by saying, “Hey Eddie, what-th goin’ on? It’s a nith thunny day day out thide!” Real funny. No wonder I avoided tape recorders for years.
My grade school teachers quickly detected my problem and assigned me to weekly sessions in speech clinic. Was there really a way to rid myself of this embarrassment? Thanks goodness there was Mrs. Hohensee. Looked like a granny with wire rim glasses and braided gray hair piled on top her head, and an attitude that said, ‘kid, we’re gonna do this..together.” I attended speech clinic with Mrs. Hohensee for three or four years…every week. She’d hand me a little metal mirror so I could see what my tongue was doing. As we went through various exercises I saw my tongue less and less, but I wasn’t yet cured.
I was assigned speech clinic in junior high and high school and then I graduated believing I’d finally learned to properly articulate.
The odd thing was I loved to be in school plays and was not shy about auditioning for lead roles or even singing parts. True. I played the Cowardly Lion in 5th grade and sang all the songs…I had the nerve!
In high school, I had a part-time job as a stock boy in a department store, but when the “bargain broadcaster” quit, I forgot about my lisp and quickly volunteered to make the in-store sale announcements. There were no complaints until I was a wiseass and made the announcement, “Ladies….hop on this in-store sale on bras. If you don’t know your size, come up to the booth and I’ll measure you!” I was dis-invited to make the announcements for a week or so but the manager didn’t hold a grudge for long and some of the shoppers actually laughed…and bought bras…without taking advantage of the service I had offered.
One thing I had always known how to do was hide my New Yawk accent. I was brought in Queen and tawked like every New Yawkuh. During my freshman year at SUNY Oswego, in Central New York, I joined the campus radio station and wiped off my accent when I was on the air. But when I had to give a speech during my public speaking class, I got a little lazy and my prof…Kansas-bred Dora Lee Dauma, busted me and said I had to meet with the speech clinician until I got rid of my accent. Still a wiseass I shot back at her, “Ms. Dauma, there at 18 million people in New York State and 15 million of them (accounting for NYC and Long Island) speak like me…so who has the accent?” She wasn’t impressed. I’d get an incomplete in public speaking until any verbal vestiges of my home town were erased.
When I met with the speech clinician I put on a show for him. Speaking naturally in New Yawkese, then the same passage without my accent. He sighed, then signed my release and Dora Lee Dauma had to admit defeat. I went on to a successful broadcasting career in radio and at CNN as a correspondent and anchor and was never once told I had an accent or a lisp.
In fact, the geniuses at CNN once took me off the air for a short while not because of how I spoke, but because I simply looked young for my age. Fake News!
The fact is, a speech impediment is brutal. It can sap you of your confidence an self-worth, if you let it. Thank goodness for Mrs. Hohensee for her wisdom, encouragement and her little metal mirrors. I’m sure my future would have been much different without her. Just as I’m sure Brayden Harrington might not have had the courage to speak on the biggest public platform without the encouragement of his family..and Joe Biden.
It’s so important to speak with a strong voice, even if it’s technically flawed. As I’ve learned through my own experience, in the end it’s not how you say it, it’s what you say that matters the motht…er…most.
This is me in my closet with the dozen suits and sport coats that helped create “the uniform.” Remember, all the way back to February or January, before the pandemic hit and people still schlepped into the office wearing this stuff? Since semi-retiring four years ago, my uniform pretty much has been put out to pasture except to infrequent forays to business meetings or funerals.
Oh, they served me well over the years. Especially the one Brooks Brothers suit I splurged on when I was still a TV reporter. It pains me that BB, like other men’s clothing chains is going bankrupt, because, in the era of Zoom meetings, we not only don’t wear the uniform, we barely wear pants.
I have a lot of ties. See them whipping around on the little merry go round in my closet? Some, I’ve never actually worn. They are instruments of torture but pre-pandemic, they represented an often-compulsory punishment to our respiratory system in the name of adhering to a “dress code.”
Ah…the dress code. I also kinda got that wrong. When I joined CNN in 1981 I had come from a TV station in Tucson, Arizona where I was producing newscasts. Since I wasn’t on the air, I could dress like shit. I was joining CNN in a similar capacity and assumed “dressing like shit” was the dress code there too. On my first day I showed up in corduroy jeans, a buttoned-down sport shirt and scruffy shoes. I made an instant first impression because everyone else was wearing “the uniform.” My boss, who wore his own version of the uniform, featuring a crumpled white shirt and suspenders, kindly took me aside, smiled and informed me “we kinda have a dress code here.” Would have been nice to know in advance but with most of my wardrobe back in Arizona, I had to do some fast shopping.
Many years later it worked the other way. When I made the jump from journalism to corporate communications at then DaimlerChrysler, which is now Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, I show up the first day in a pressed blue suit, white shirt and red tie. Damn! Missed again! Sure, there were a couple of guys with a shirt and tie and sport coat hanging on hooks, but I looked more like one of the German taskmasters looking to take over the company.
A couple of years later, the company was sold by the Germans to a U.S. capital management slumlord company from New York City. They all dressed up while they fired a large percentage of our staff as the company headed towards bankruptcy. I suppose it’s appropriate for the executioner to at least show some respect for the condemned by throwing on a decent tie.
It all changed again when the late, great Sergio Marchionne and Fiat took over the company. He never work a tie and rarely a jacket. His uniform was a black sweater or golf shirt, depending on the season and dark pants. He once explained it made his busy life less complicated by not burdening himself with daily wardrobe decisions.
From then on we felt we had permission to dress down a bit, but didn’t take it to extremes. I may not have always worn a tie but at least had a jacket handy in case we had an important meeting. I’d wear it into the office, then immediately take it off and hang it up until it was needed, or it was time to go home. You could always tell who the visitors were in the building–they were the suckers who were wearing suits and ties.
In my semi-retirement I’ve been working from home since I walked out of FCA for the last time on July 28, 2016, so there was basically no adjustment for me when the pandemic hit. I don’t mind Zoom or Google Meet meetings, and the only concession I make sartorially is wearing a decent shirt, but don’t ask me what’s covering my lower regions. To put your mind at ease, it’s, um, something, but I assure you it’s not the pants from that abandoned Brooks Brothers suit, nor is it a pair of pressed Dockers. It’s just something, okay?
Once this is all over and we’re compelled to meet in person again, I’m not so sure many folks will revert to a version of the uniform, having gotten used to being dressed more comfortably, and probably less expensively.
I do feel sorry for the abandonment my old work wardrobe must be experiencing. That’s why every once in awhile, I’ll go to the section of my closet where they suits and jackets and pants are hanging, thank ’em for their service, then hit the switch, watch the ties go round and round and round and round, hoping those now-useless instruments of torture are starting to feel a little nauseous. Payback is sweet.
Aside from the foolishness of trying to conduct a Major League Baseball season during a pandemic, I can’t help but take issue with the little logos staring at me from the back of the pitchers mounds. It’s a curveball I didn’t expect and not sure I’m swingin’ with it.
At first I thought some company actually bought the space and had their logo etched or physically placed on the back of the mound just to the right of the resin bag. Then I noticed the logo changing every inning or so and realized they were just super imposed in the spot. It’s the same way company logos are supered behind NHL goal nets. For some reason I don’t mind those ads.
What I really wonder is how much of an impression a little logo that looks like it accidentally blew onto the field makes on a viewer.
The one for Ball Park hot dogs would seem to make sense, but seeing the logo that small would only have me hankering for a pint size pig in the blanket wiener.
But then there was the one for a regional health care system. I suppose if the batter hit a hot smash back to the box and nailed the pitcher I might wonder, “hmm..where will he get his stitches?” But I’m not sure that message will stick with me long enough to make much of a difference if I suddenly black out waiting in the Chick Fil A drive through.
The one for a big box chain is also a little problematic. What’s the message here? Hmm..if the pitcher reaches back to that area of the mound to pick up the resin bag, will that remind me I need to stop at that store to pick up some milk or sandals? That’s more than subliminal…it’s deep hypnosis.
The bank logo sitting on the back of mound confuses me.
I suppose there’s a connection if the pitcher tosses a gopher ball and the batter DEPOSITS the ball in the left field bleachers. Oh yeah! I gotta go to the bank! I’m getting withdrawal symptoms..but losing interest.
I’d love to see some research on the effectiveness of mound pitches. Maybe I’m completely off-base with my skepticism. But if you asked me if I’m swayed by them….I’d balk.
I didn’t watch John Lewis’s funeral. I didn’t go back to view any of the eulogies. That’s because I have my own. One that’s haunted me for decades. Oh yes, as a young reporter for CNN in Atlanta I had the opportunity to conduct a brief interview with Rep. Lewis shortly after he was elected. But this story reaches further back.
I was a school kid on Bloody Sunday. The images of John Lewis and the other brave souls who were violently stopped by the thugs who masqueraded as law enforcement officers flickered on our 19-inch Zenith black and white TV. It was the first time I’d ever heard of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in a town called Selma, Alabama. Indeed, for most of us, these are scenes that seem remote—something you see on TV or read about in the paper but certainly well out of our sheltered sphere.
Push the clock ahead to 1986. Working out of CNN’s Southeast Bureau in Atlanta, I covered the Deep South, as well as any other place I was sent. But on this day I was assigned to a story in Selma. Those past images played back in fast-forward as we neared the town. Indeed, our entire crew was tense. We knew the history.
Our assignment was to profile Lutheree Reese a Black woman who had lived for 16 years in a fetid slum known as Slave City. No electricity, no running water. Basically…one-story garrets. Concrete block shacks. The news was Slave City was finally being shut down and the remaining few residents would be moved to living quarters at a closed Air Force base.
Without the benefit of today’s navigation tools, we got lost and stopped to ask someone on the street to direct us to Slave City. The slack-jawed redneck just stared at us, then twisted his pasty face into a shit-eating smile and responded in his big ol’ drawl, “y’all wanna know wheah Slave City eeees? Just follow the (love juices.)” He used a much more graphic term. We rolled up the window and worked it out ourselves. Had Selma really changed since the 60’s? Did the efforts of John Lewis and Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesse Jackson and all the others fighting for basic civil rights go in vain?
When we met Lutheree at her Slave City shack she was gathering a few remaining items. She almost seemed wistful about leaving. It’s all she knew. Within 15 minutes we arrived at her new home. A tidy apartment. We captured her tentative entry through the door. She wasn’t quite sure how to proceed. Lutheree took a slow look around. When she found the first light switch she didn’t really know what it was for. After being told she flipped the switch on and off and on and off and on and off and watched the table lamp’s correspondent actions.
But the best was yet to come.
She found her way to the bathroom. After being told how the hot and cold faucets worked on the sink Lutheree twisted them a couple of times. Then came the toilet. Oh my, the toilet. We had to explain how that worked. She’d never used one of those before after a lifetime of squatting over holes in an outhouse. Lutheree lifted the lid on the toilet seat so she could see the bowl, and then she found the flush lever. She pulled it down once and stared at the action it triggered. Then she looked at us and asked if she could do it again. Of course. And she did. One, two, three, ten times she pulled that lever and every time her smile grew broader and broader and tears came to her eyes….and ours too. Such a simple thing, but so monumental when you’ve lived your life to that point deprived of even the most basic convenience.
After leaving Lutheree and still crying/smiling about her first, triumphant flush toilet experience, we ventured downtown to interview Selma Mayor Joe Smitherman. The same Joe Smitherman who was in office on Bloody Sunday—a then segregationist who later came around and appointed African-American citizens to various positions in city government.
The way to city hall took us over the Edmund Pettus Bridge. We drove slowly, taking in the significance of an infamous historic venue and imagined the horrific scene that took place on the span 20 years earlier.
Smitherman welcomed us, very comfortable with TV crews, and couldn’t help mentioning he’d once tangled with Dan Rather so a 34 year old kid like me wasn’t going to intimidate him. That wasn’t the point. I just wanted to know why—why was a place like Slave City allowed to last that long? He just sort of smiled, and with a straight face said Slave City just perpetuated the city’s infamous reputation but that “Blacks have made more social progress here than elsewhere in Alabama.”
On the ride back to Atlanta things were quiet for a bit as we let it all sink in. Now it’s risen to the top of my mind again as I think about the late, wonderful, brave John Lewis.
He gave everything…his body, his freedom, his life’s work fighting for the simple concept of equality for all of us, for someone like Lutheree Reese. Oh, Lutheree. That giant smile, those wide eyes, those appreciative tears…as she flicked on an electric light, turned the faucet for running water and flushed a toilet for the first time. The opportunity to finally live in simple, human decency…isn’t that what John Lewis was fighting for during his magnificent life?
That’s my eulogy to him.