The Day Larry Flynt Ran Me Over

On the occasion of Larry Flynt’s passing I thought I’d pass along a brief anecdote of an even briefer, but painful, encounter with with purveyor of porn on a day I was um, hustling, to cover his latest endeavor.

It was back in the 1990’s and Flynt decided to open a Hustler store in downtown Cincinnati–a town once derided by some as “Censor-nati” for its intolerance to the type of content folks like Mr. Flynt promoted.

As you might imagine, Flynt’s new store was not appreciated by many of the Queen City’s conservative subjects, who staged a mighty protest in front of it. On this day Flynt was due in court a few blocks away and that’s why I was there, covering the story for CNN.

We heard Flynt would make an early morning appearance at the store when it opened so my camera crew and I wedged ourselves in the tight space in front of the door so we could get a good shot of the man as he entered and perhaps a comment or two.

As you probably know, Flynt was confined to a wheelchair after he was shot leaving a courthouse in Lawrenceville, Georgia. Ironically, that’s the town where I lived before being transferred to Detroit as its bureau chief by CNN.

Of course Flynt didn’t just have a run of the mill wheelchair. His was gold plated and heavy as hell. I know this because when he finally arrived, he ignored our questions and rolled right over my feet and on into the store. When I complained to him that he ran me over, Flynt, the sensitive guy, laughed and muttered, “tough shit. You were in my way.” wasn’t porn he was perpetrating that morning. It was pain. Mine. But it was my solid gold story to tell when the time was right. I guess this is it.

One epilogue to the story. After the court hearing we returned to the Hustler store to get some shots. While we browsed a bit, we enjoyed the patter between an elderly couple and a store clerk on the merits of certain sex toys. They ended up selecting a boxed assortment of which I won’t describe. I’m not sure either was in shape to use them for any length of time, but Gd bless ’em for trying!

Meanwhile, my producer found a copy of Architectural Digest among the porn. The store stocked some non-smut stuff in order to look legit. When she brought the magazine up to pay for it, the grizzled guy behind the counter gave the glossy periodical featuring balusters instead of boobs a curious look, shook his head and mumbled, “can’t say we’ve sold too many of these.”

Remembering Larry King and the Night He Stole My Interview

In the mid-1970’s I was working at radio station WMBO in Auburn, N.Y., about a half hour west of Syracuse. Our station was affiliated with the Mutual Broadcasting System which announced it was launching a national live call-in show with a guy named Larry King. Never heard of him but they way they were promoting the guy you had to believe this was a smart move. Until then the only other live coast-to-coast call-in/opinion radio broadcast was something called “Nitecap” with host Herb Jepko which aired briefly on Mutual. 

Nitecap host Herb Jepko

The network dropped him because Jepko didn’t do controversy. He was based in Salt Lake City, let people say what they wanted, as long as it was nice. He even let them sing. So along came this King character, a transplanted New Yawkuh who did a talk show in Miami Beach that featured celebrities who often played the showrooms of the big hotels there. He was  a character. Brash, blunt and fun to listen to. His show was a hit locally, and then Mutual picked it up and King was a national star landing even bigger celebrities and getting them to spill whatever it is King was after.  

In 1985 I had been working at CNN for four years. The young network struggled to fill the 9 p.m. eastern time hour with anything that pulled in viewers, but then someone had a bright idea of putting Larry King on TV. He had made his name hosting a successful national radio interview and call-in show. It worked. His show, basically a TV version of his radio show, was a mainstay on CNN for 25 years, landing the biggest stars, powerful government leaders and other influential people from all walks of life. 

If there was a breaking story, King had no problem breaking in to put a newsmaker or a CNN correspondent on the air. That’s where our lives intersected ever so briefly.

After the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, federal authorities descended on a farm in what’s known as Michigan’s “Thumb” about 90 minutes north of Detroit. The farm was owned by a guy named James Nichols. The feds got a tip that Nichols’s brother Terry and Timothy McVeigh, the chief suspects in the bombing, had practiced building the kind of bombs they used in Oklahoma City and that James may have also been complicit. Indeed, they arrested him and searched the farm and its buildings for evidence. 

As Detroit Bureau Chief and correspondent, I was dispatched up there and spent three days doing live shots. On the first night of became known as the “siege” of the Nichols farm, everyone was trying to figure out who the hell James Nichols is and how he may have been connected with the bombing. Turns out he wasn’t.

We found a guy who knew Nichols and Larry King’s producer wanted me to interview him during Larry’s show. Big time! I was told to “take it slow and draw him out. Really dig into what this guy is all about.” 

Ha! I figured I had plenty of time so when we got on the air I methodically interviewed the guy who said he knew Nichols from the times they spent at the local grain elevator. After about two minutes of establishing how the guy knew Nichols to build his credibility before digging in further, King jumps in. He was having no part of this slow walk into James Nichols’s psyche and barked, “Hey! Just tell me this. Is the guy a nut job?”. 

My guest blanched and took a breath and insisted he did not at all think so, although Nichols did complain rather regularly about the government. King didn’t care for that and kept after this poor farmer trying to get him to say James Nichols was a crazy man who hated the government and could very well have been part of the plot. 

All I could do was stand there. My role obviously over. The guy just kept looking over at me with a look that pleaded, “make this end!”  

Well, it did when King tired of his insistence that Nichols seemed like an ok guy to him who would never be part of such a horrible crime and the segment ended.

Once we were off the air and clear,  all I could say was “sorry” but then the guy surprised me by just smiling and saying “I was on the Larry King show! That’s big!” 

Yes he was. RIP Larry King. A broadcasting legend. 

Senior Moments in the COVID Vaccine Struggle

New York Times

For once it’s great to be an alta cocker. My age makes me eligible to receive a Covid-19 shot. But easier said than done. I’ve discovered when given the opportunity to be inoculated against a deadly virus some senior citizens suddenly become crazed lunatics that look at the process as a mortal combat.

The problem is, even if you’re eligible, you have to make an appointment. But there’s so much competition for the limited number of slots it’s tough to get one, so some serious gaming is going on. 

Oh no, you can’t just ring up your doc and say, “hey, I’m old. I want my shot. When can I come in?” You actually have to score an invitation, fill out a form, get on the list, then pray you don’t get infected before being granted the potentially life-saving first poke, then making another appointment for the second. 

So far I’ve received several such “invitations” from two health care systems, a discount store chain and my county. I’ve dutifully responded hoping my wife and I will be granted slots by the Vicar of Vaccines or whoever is making such decisions. 

What’s really pissing me off are the smug old farts who have somehow received their firsts shots already. I got on social media where I’ve read several posts responding to someone desperately looking for info on how to make an appointment saying something to the effect of “Ha! Me and Shirley got ours yesterday. It was easy, loser. We knew what to do and where to go. We already have appointments for our second shots! Nyahhhhh, nyahhh! Here’s what ya shoulda done…”  

I hope they received placebos. 

Then there’s the absolute disconnect with just who the hospitals are dealing with. There’s an app some of them use where patients can register, monitor their accounts, make/cancel appointments, read their charts and pay their bills. I’m fine with it and use the app successfully all the time. Ha! I was just a smug old fart. But a lotta seniors aren’t comfortable with technology and so they’re completely disenfranchised when the email from the heath care system screams that the only way to register for, and make an appointment is on the app. What’s with this app? I need a nap! 

I was relieved to see, when picking up a prescription yesterday at a big discount store you could actually sign up for an appointment in person at the pharmacy, but even that’s fraught with danger. You ever see a group of seniors vying for a shot at a shot that’ll extend their stay on this planet in the same place at the same time? It’s like Roller Derby–a lotta bony elbows and shouts of “what?” 

Well…I’m hanging in there, anxiously awaiting the magic moment when we’re told the Grand Inoculator will grant us a presence. I figure we’ve got a decent chance since I’m now registered in four different places. Should we score multiple invitations, perhaps there’s a secondary market…yeah…shot scalping. Like old time outside Yankee Stadium when I was a kid.  “Hey! I got two at county health!” Could be an economic shot in the arm. 

Yeah…I Got Screwed in an Election Too

Our deranged POTUS has got me thinking. Hmm…maybe I was the victim of a rigged election. If my fifth grade teacher is still alive I just may have to give her a call, or at least send a strongly worded email. 

Here’s how it went down. April, 1963. I was overwhelmingly elected by my fifth grade class to be its representative on the P.S. 186 Student Council. I had campaigned hard, on the “no more navy bean soup for lunch” platform but already earned popular support and name recognition for my performance as the Cowardly Lion in our class’s production of “The Wizard of Oz.” 

There were smiles all around as the class president read the votes. I had won by a landslide, 32-1. 

Only the guy who played the Tin Man voted against me because he felt my over-the-top delivery of “If I Only Had the Nerve,” clearly upstaged his rather plaintive interpretation of “If I Only Had a Heart, depriving him of the attention of the class cutie, who, incidentally, knocked it out of the park playing Dorothy’s dog, Toto. 

I modestly thanked the class for its support and promised I would be a strong advocate in Student Council, fighting like hell for the right to use Number 3 pencils when Number 2’s were unavailable. That got a big round of support and a ceremonial rubbing of gummy erasers. 

Yes, I was clearly relishing my big victory but the scowl on my teacher’s face merely telegraphed the bomb she was going to drop on me. 

“Edward! I am vetoing your election,” she spat at me. “You talk too much in class and are generally disruptive and that disqualifies you from this honor!”  

It’s true I liked to chat with my classmates and occasionally pull the chair out from some of them as they sat, causing much laughter in room 202 as the poor schlubs splatted their asses on the slick tile floor. After falling for the third time one kid whined at me, asking “why you keep doing that?” I could only reply, “why you so dumb you keep falling for it?” I’ve since had similar conversations with a handful of work supervisors, some of whom took my actions as “bold, out of the box thinking.” 

Well…of course I was incensed at this injustice, as was the class which implored my teacher to reconsider, but she wasn’t budging. I even played the “Lion card” saying my stellar performance bailed out her butt in front of the principal who thought her previous class plays suffered from “tedious treatments of the Industrial Revolution and the invention of lint, blah, blah, blah.” But the production of Oz was so kick ass it drove one parent to exclaim, “A class play that kept me awake!” 

I stewed on being screwed and wrote several notes to the teacher complaining of the injustice and that she had no right to override the class’s clear choice. She just tossed the notes in the waste basket and warned if I kept sending her my strongly worded missives in her next play I would be relegated to a non-speaking role of “Guy tossed by Washington into the Delaware to make room for more salt pork in the boat.” 

Since the Tin Man came in second in the voting, teacher appointed him to the Student Council where he failed miserably..indeed not having the heart for the position nor for the fight against navy bean soup. 

Should I look up my teacher, and if she’s alive, give her a call giving her hell about depriving me of my duly elected position? Probably not. So long ago. Plus, the very next year my sixth grade class elected me to council and I won the school-wide election as Student Council Vice President. But still, I wonder how that call would go…if I only had the nerve….

Making Misbehaved 2020 Go Back and Get it Right

If 2020 was a kid we’d never let him/her get away with myriad of misbehaviors it exhibited over the past 366 days. No…we’d first have a long talk with the kid, make sure there’s an understanding of how badly they screwed up, then make the kid go back and correct those mistakes. If that fails, the errant child is this case, the naughty year, meaning no new year for, I dunno, a year. 

You see, it royally ticks me off that 2020 is allowed to skulk into history without any sort of accounting or retribution. Is it fair to a world that has had to endure a deadly pandemic, loser’s tantrum from a roundly rejected POTUS and an all-too-soon ending to Schitts Creek? Sure…just tear off a page from the calendar, ball it up and toss it in the trash and that’s it? 

The parent in me says to order 2020 to think about its utter disregard for the health and well-being of the entire human race, then go back and do it right! No COVID, extend Schitt’s Creek another 10 seasons and send the sulking lame duck home…in silence. But that’s just for starters. Bring back all those lives lost to the pandemic, restore the businesses that went under, reduce Zoom usage to occasional meetings and family reunions or non-contact blind dates, and let our kids go back to school and workers back to the office…safely. 

Bring back hugs and visits that aren’t bisected by acrylic or glass barriers. Abolish pandemic-induced loneliness. Don’t bother restoring hand shakes. Those needed to go anyway. 

We love our sports, but not without the sounds of fans in stadiums and arenas cheering or booing or vendors hawking beers and peanuts. 

No matter how you feel about the presidential election, 2020, you need to go back and teach the loser to take it like a mensch and set an example for our kids that even if you fail, as we all do at some points in our lives, instead of pitching a fit, accept the outcome and move on. 

Of course my vision of forcing a major “do over” on 2020 is impractical since time is a one-way process. But I hope while 2021 was waiting to march in, it was watching and learning and listening…because we won’t accept another year like 2020 and there’s no option for a time out. 

So let’s hope the next 365 days offer the kind of healing and humility so sorely lacking in the previous 366, and the cast of Schitts Creek blesses us with a reunion, and perhaps a bebe.

Happy New Year everyone. I wish you all the best! 

Remembering Phil Niekro and Lessons of Retirement

Sporting News Photo

Every time I’ve thought about the concept of retirement, my thoughts would drift towards the great Atlanta Braves pitcher Phil Niekro. Those thoughts are especially vivid after hearing the sad news he passed away this weekend. 

Why Niekro? My wife and I were in the stands on Sept. 27, 1987 when he pitched in his last game. It was at the old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. CNN employees at the time were granted tickets to two Braves games each season because the company owned the team. Atlanta was as much in love with Niekro as he was with the city and team, for which he pitched for a quarter century. That’s why it hurt so much when the Braves released him in 1983. He ended up with the Yankees, Indians and Blue Jays for but longed to return to the Braves. When he was 48, the Braves, maybe feeling guilty for their premature jettisoning the pitching legend and fan favorite, offered Niekro the chance to pitch one last game as a Brave. 

It was the last game of the season for the non-contending Braves and we knew this would be it for Niekro regardless of the outcome. He started fine, but the game rapidly got out of hand against the playoff-bound San Francisco Giants. Then, in the third inning, Braves manager Chuck Tanner slowly walked out to the mound, put his arm on Niekro’s shoulders and told him he didn’t want him to be the losing pitcher. There was a long ovation, but it was over. A man’s life’s work done, and that always got to me. 

Throughout my working life I always thought what that would be like to punch out, walk away, say goodbye and never again do what I’d done for so many years. Would I be sad relieved, feel bereft, rudderless, miss the routine, miss the people, miss the work, become a pain in the ass to my wife who was used to me being away during the day, and many, many nights on the road? Did Niekro have those same thoughts as he took in the crowd’s long ovation wondering what the hell was next? 

It turns out, that when I retired in 2016 I had none of those thoughts. The truth is, I was glad to walk out of Fiat Chrysler’s Auburn Hills, Mich. headquarters for the last time. Oh, I would miss my wonderful team, because any success I had during my 11 years there I had because of them, their friendship and support. But I felt like I’d completed my task, Had many successes, overcame tons of challenges and more that anything, owed my family time I spent away chasing stories as a reporter and on business trips for the automakers. Bottom line is, I felt great. Swiped my badge for the last time, took a deep breath, called my wife and told her “we’re retired, let’s have some fun.” 

The one thought I never had, though, was that I would never again do the kind of work I always enjoyed. I love writing, and learning, and writing about what I’ve learned in both my careers as a reporter and corporate communications team leader. I just didn’t love doing it full time anymore and so I’ve spent the last four-plus years taking on some freelance work in both camps working as much or as little as I like. I don’t do it to make a living, I do it because it’s fun, stimulating and natural.  Indeed, Niekro continued to contribute to the Braves as a mentor, allowing him to stay around the game. 

No one put their arm around me as I spent my final moments working full time but I did enjoy a very heartfelt send off that I will always cherish and think about more than you might believe.  

But that day, July 28, 2016, when I left the building and headed for my car in the parking deck, I guess that’s sort of equivalent to the late Mr. Niekro walking off the mound heading for the clubhouse. Thoughts of what we both just left behind fresh and raw, but knowing neither of us was washed up. Sure, we walked away, but not too far. 

RIP Phil Niekro. 

Stonewalling Against The Granite Countertop Infatuation

It seems the world’s gone mad for granite or anything that resembles the hard rock and if your house doesn’t have large slabs of it in the kitchen you may as well figure on living there forever because it won’t sell. 

When we tried to sell our beautiful home three years ago it sat on the market for almost four months because the sheep watching too much HGTV whined it had no granite. Oh, the kitchen counters were clean, flawless and decent looking butcher block but the lookie-loos with rocks in their head demanded rock over the cupboards. 

Even our agent tut-tutted to us we had made a fatal mistake not shelling out thousands of dollars to “update” our kitchen. It was plenty up to date…it just wasn’t up to the current fad hawked incessantly by the producers of House Hunters and other similar programs that completely stage the fake “surprise endings” where the couples “reveal” their decision that had already been made before they rolled one frame of video. 

Ya gotta have granite, and a certain kind of ceiling, and don’t even get me started about hardwood floors. I love that. The couple whines they must have hard wood floors. What’s the first thing people do when they move into a place with hard wood floors? They cover most of it with area rugs and other bits of carpeting! 

What else? Oh…the shows say appliances must…MUST be stainless steel. Another useless feature. Stainless steel isn’t magnetic, yet it attracts every sort of smudge, nose and fingerprint, which means you spend half your day wiping the damn things, when you should be using that valuable time to raid the fridge for beers and fatty snacks. For awhile, appliance makers built the stuff with a sort of textured material that resisted all the things I mentioned above. No..that was too effective, and probably cost a lot less than smudgy stainless steel. 

You see, that’s the other angle. All these useless “must haves” cost a bundle compared to more practical and budget-friendly surfaces. 

We’re in the process of selling a small condo our daughter and partner lived in for six years. Knowing the game, we replaced the carpeting on the first floor with vinyl planking that looks a lot like wood, but is much easier to maintain. The upstairs and finished basement are fully carpeted and are cozy as hell and the entire place has a fresh coat of pain. But NFW we were replacing the perfectly fine laminate counters in the small, galley kitchen. There’s nothing wrong with them and they look pretty damn good. Most importantly, like granite…they’re flat. 

Of course, when discussing the listing price our selling agent fawns over all the stuff we did to make the place attractive, then suddenly her face drops and in a scolding tone informs us, “you could ask so much more…if only you’d put in granite.”  

Not gonna happen. It’s just a matter of principle now–digging in against an overpriced, overhyped igneous intrusion. 

UPDATE 12/23: The condo sold in one day after only two showings. Someone obviously appreciates luscious green laminate!

When PR People Are Rockin’ the Oldies

I like oldies as much as any grizzled Boomer, but that only pertains to music and maybe fashion styles. Ever see my wardrobe? Hey…stuff comes back! Anyway, oldies for which I have no appetite are news stories, but this week that’s what I’ve been served up in my email.  Since I’m both a journalist and PR consultant I’m claiming rights to offer this brief observation.

I recently received a pitch from someone offering me an interview with the CEO of a company that’s doing digital auto sales with a bit of a twist. my attention. But then it lost my attention after I took 20 seconds to do a search on the company and discovered the company actually launched last summer, winning excellent coverage from Bloomberg and Automotive News. The reason they call it “news” is because stories are supposed to be about something, um, NEW, not an exercise in nostalgia. Being the nice guy I am, I politely informed the PR person of the total UN-timeliness of such a story and suggested she should have pitched me the story when it was fresh, and not as smelly as a four-day old carp. I’ve yet to hear back from her but I imagine my response elicited a murmured “screw off old man,” or something more NSF.

Earlier this week I received a pitch for another stale story and politely declined, explaining my publication is not an oldies station. The PR person was temporarily stymied by my snark before replying inexplicably, “thanks for the update!” HUH? Update? No….DATED!  

Since you’re all smart and accomplished pros I won’t belabor the point with more examples of which I have no shortage. The point is, if you’re going to pitch a story please do a quick search to see what’s been previously reported about the company, then come up with fresh angles to give the reporter a reason to write another story about the business. Pro hint: just offering a profile of a company is often a loser unless that company is segment-buster or the CEO’s work station is an actual shark tank. 

I Gave Up Turkey to Save My Neighbors

I won’t be eating turkey this year. Perhaps I’ll never eat it again…at least until I move to a different neighborhood.

Oh, I’m not against turkey per se. I’m just against eating my neighbors. Shortly after moving to our current location a little over three years ago, we gradually got to know the folks who live in our small subdivision. A few came over with well-wishes and even bottles of wine to welcome us.

We got became familiar with others during our nightly walks through the sub, often stopping to chat or making a fuss over someone’s dog. It’s a small community so it didn’t take long to take complete inventory of who lives where. Then one night we discovered a family we hadn’t yet met.

As I looked out my front window I saw them sauntering in the street and entering a neighbor’s driveway, perhaps to offer holiday wishes and trade non-poultry-based recipes. I managed to capture some of the rather large clan’s approach on video while inviting them to waddle over some time.

A few weeks later I noticed a lone member of the family in the woods behind my house with his feathers fully extended. The object of his flamboyance was about a hundred yards further in the brush out of camera range. The poor Tom was hoping to score a little Tammy on that crisp fall morning. It took him awhile to get there. I don’t know if they did, indeed, hook up, but our whole family was in his corner hoping at least one of them enjoyed some stuffing.

All in all, they’re pretty good neighbors. They pretty much flock together and don’t make much noise except for occasional squawks of pleasure or recognition. Once in a while if a mischievous squirrel or raccoon pisses them off the squawks will take on a little more urgency, but who can blame them.

Look, I’m not a hypocrite. I eat meat and fish and poultry and understand the process, but in this case, I have to put my foot down at eating my neighbors. Besides, if you gobble them, you never know who’s gonna move in next.

It’s Time For the NFL To Pull the Detroit Franchise

Call it a coincidence but the Detroit Lions embarrassing whitewashing 20-0 to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday was exactly 57 years to the day Pres. John F. Kennedy was assassinated, thereby ending the idyllic era that became known as Camelot. It was also on that fateful day the franchise came under the sole ownership of the late William Clay Ford, ending the era of hope for Detroit Lions fans.

Since the Ford family took ownership of the team more than a half-century ago, the Detroit Lions, the City of Detroit and the National Football League have suffered unending embarrassment and futility. Indeed, the startlingly inept management of a lucrative franchise over such an extended period of time is more than enough justification for the NFL to invoke Section 8.13 of the league’s constitution and bylaws which states the commissioner can determine if an owner or any other official “has been or is guilty of conduct detrimental to the welfare of the League or professional football.”

While the rule is generally cited when seeking to punish a franchisee for a serious breach in personal behavior or business ethics, a more liberal construction of the rule would certainly include devaluing the NFL’s brand through an extended period putting forth a grossly inferior product through poor management decisions related to hiring team officers and coaches that led to boneheaded moves both on and off the field that make a mockery of the level of professional football expected by the NFL and Detroit Lions fans.

The closest the Detroit Lions have been to a Super Bowl came in 2006 when the big game was played in its building, featuring two other teams.

It hasn’t mattered which Ford has owned the team. After Mr. Ford passed away in 2013 ownership went to his wife Martha who talked a good winning game but in the tradition of Ford family stewardship hired a coaching staff that’s emulated even less success than another branch of the Ford family did with the Edsel. Martha Ford, in her 90’s, has now put the team in the hands of her daughter Sheila Ford Hamp. In her first year running the hapless show, the Lions suffered its first shutout in 11 years, to a team that had only two wins this season going into Sunday’s horror show.

Think about it. What if, for example, a McDonalds franchisee consistently served up rancid burgers and treated its customers like lepers? McDonalds would summarily pull the franchise and disassociate itself with someone whose actions threatened the company’s good name and reputation.

Detroit Lions’s customers, aka fans, have been served rancid burgers for almost two generations. Isn’t it time for the NFL to end its association with a perennially poor performing franchisee to protect its reputation and value of a team in a major market? We fans have been more than patient but with Sunday’s utter inability to exhibit even a hint of a professional football product the NFL must make its move.

Honestly, who wants to be served rancid burgers every Sunday?