Category Archives: A reporter’s life

Link to my articles in the Columbia Daily Tribune.

Re-creating a live Tweet of today’s colonoscopy

I’d planned (threatened) to live Tweet this morning’s medical procedure that Dave Barry refers to as A HORRIBLE THING. I still wonder how many would have tuned-in for that play-by-play.

So I’ll re-create that for you now. I’m pretty sure this is how it would have gone.

9:45 a.m. – My appointment in the GI/Endoscopy unit at University Hospital was at 9. Waiting 45 minutes after the previous 12 hours of “prep” is inexcusable. I tell the sign-in desk person that I’m nauseous and uncomfortable. I’m admitted by an RN, Martha.

9:46 a.m. – Martha is awesome.

10 a.m. – Another nurse, Erika, starts my IV and another RN, Megan, gives me some nausea medicine.

10:05 a.m. – Erika and Megan are awesome. I fall asleep – not from the nausea meds, but from my typical reverse anxiety mode that kicks in at times like this. My blood pressure is something like 100/70. Chillaxed. (Oh, and a warm blanky from Martha).

11:10 a.m. – A young doc introduces herself as I wake up. I’m thinking the procedure must be over. She asks me if I’m excited for my first colonoscopy. My restrained response probably indicates that I am not. She tells me that the second half of the “prep” is the worst part. That I agree with. The young doc asks me what procedure I’m getting. I’m half-tempted to tell her something bizarre, then I remember that, in my estimation, a colonoscopy is fairly bizarre. She goes over the risks and a few details of the procedure. I sign a consent form. She tells me it won’t be long.

11:40 a.m. – An RN, I think her name is Debbie C., wheels my bed into another room where the young doc awaits. Another nurse/tech person (sorry, I wasn’t keeping notes) dons rubber gloves and has me turn onto my left side and pull up my right knee. I tell the med folks that I don’t bend very well. Never did. Nurse Debbie says it’s fine. She’s holding two or three thick syringes and I ask her when I’m getting the happy juice. “As soon as the doctor says we’re starting.” To be as well-informed as I can be, I ask what’s in the syringes. She tells me fentanyl. I’ve heard of this stuff. I think we’ll get along just fine.

11:45 a.m. – A second doc comes in and introduces himself. He tells nurse Debbie to begin and she begins administering the first big dose of fentanyl into the IV port on my right arm. As the drug goes into my vein, I asd erjlkj eoir and start to feel a dj elkjr ad d sdaijmj did i tell you the one about the elephant and the clown that cdwqe lkjd fdsaef. there is a bog huh i meant to say fog did you see that penguin but anyway i see a screen and the doc mumbles something about xdf l;kj;wer jkljdf er ferlug medilei byeice butterflies lincikme skerdrocrumlkj there and right there. ther’s blieab arkable baby unicorns schtingle ploratimum.

1:30 p.m. – I wake up in the recovery room. The end.

In conclusion: Absolutely amazing nursing staff. And the docs were so amazing that I hardly noticed them. (See: fentanyl).

Most of all, my awesome youngest daughter, Natasha Myrick, who took me – and came back for me. Then spent the afternoon with me at home while I returned to a state of semi-consciousness. Natasha’s awesome heart is a warm blanket.

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Filed under CoMo Health Beat, Family, medical procedures

A little Rowling here, a little Twain there

If you ask a question often enough, you’re bound to eventually get the answer you want.

Today one of the members of the Columbia Missouri Novelists Facebook page posted what could be either the most instructive, inspiring link or the most vanity-laden, time-wasting link.

I Write Like … You paste a sample of your work into a box, click “analyze,” and within seconds you find out your word choice and writing style compares favorably with — which famous author. I quickly yielded to temptation, certain that I could embrace or reject any conclusion.

I encourage you to give it a try.

First I submitted two samples from my current work, “Dixieland,” the 2012 National Novel Writing Month project. Both analyses determined the word choice and style compared favorably with H.P. Lovecraft. That was baffling, because I neither read nor write science fiction or “weird fiction,” the genre that Lovecraft basically birthed. So I copied and pasted another “Dixieland” sample that compared favorably with Stephenie Meyer.

The Twilight Saga? What? Flattering as that was, I have to confess that I also don’t read — and really have zero interest in — paranormal romance, vampires and werewolves, and death-pale young men and women.

So I sought additional analysis. Next to copy-and-paste was a dialogue-heavy scene from “Chasing The Devil,” my 2011 NaNoWriMo project. (Still unfinished, still unpublished). The analysis reported: J.K. Rowling. (Here’s the link if you think I’m fibbing). Again — sorry. I’ve read maybe six pages of the Harry Potter series. Wizards, sorcery, Harry himself — just not my cup ‘o tea.

Or is it? Meyer has made a gazillion bucks with her Twilight series; Rowling has made a trilabilagazillion bucks from Harry Potter. Hmmm?

Let’s try some more. Two selections from “Gone” (2010, NaNoWriMo). Different conclusions but familiar results: Meyer for one, Rowling for the other.

Still not satisfied, I reached into the archives of Jackson’s Journal to one of my favorite blog posts, Aug. 17, 2012, the conclusion of a three-part story of the time I almost drowned in the Gasconade River. Surely this would break the Lovecraft-Meyer-Rowling spell?

I pasted the copy, hit “analyze,” and this time the answer didn’t come right away. I laughed out loud at the conclusion.

“Mark Twain.” Ahhh! A kindred spirit, a fellow journalist.

So I had to check one more time, pasting the copy of a news story from April 2009. (It’s a horribly tragic story if you care to read it). The story was awarded second place for spot news reporting in that year’s Missouri Associated Press Managing Editors annual competition.

The analytic conclusion? “Mark Twain.”

twain and friends

It was a fun exercise in vanity, but more than that, as I perused my unfinished, novel-length works, it was a stark reminder that I have too many unfinished, novel-length works screaming to get out of their desktop folders, out of my noggin and into the hands of readers.

And that’s where any real or imagined similarities with famous authors end. They’ve actually finished a book or two.

Excuse me, then. I have some work to do.

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Filed under "Dixieland", "Gone", A reporter's life, Chasing The Devil, Living Write, MIP: Memoir-in-progress, National Novel Writing Month 2012, WIPs

Be nice, give blood

NEEDLES ARE NEEDLES
I’ve got a co-worker, Catherine, who won’t get a flu shot, so I was especially intrigued this afternoon when I saw her making a donation at the Red Cross/Tribune blood drive. Fascinating, I thought, because I assumed that perhaps she was fearful of needles. But no. Miss Martin is simply opposed to getting a flu shot; she’s sure that her young’ish immune system will ward off influenza and its many incarnations. However, I tried to convince her that we get the flu shot for the people we love, not for ourselves. While she might not get sick because of her (hypothetically) superior immune system, she can still carry the “bug” to, oh, an immune-compromised grandmother or a small child.

The guilt trip didn’t work. So instead I told her that the size of the needle they used to drain a pint of our blood was waaaaaay bigger than the needle that injects influenza vaccine. That made her face get a funny yet queezy look.

YEAH, ONE MORE THING
I was in the pre-jab position on the blood drive bed (it’s more of a chaise lounge) as the above-mentioned co-worker slipped off her bed and headed for the delightful blood drive snacks. As Catherine passed, I asked her to sing “Soft Kitty.” She didn’t, but I think she understood the reference.

When my pint-sized donation was finished, the blood tech who got the life-giving liquid flowing from my arm with one stick –kudos to Olivia for that — asked if I needed anything. I replied, “Will you sing ‘Soft Kitty?'” She didn’t.

So here’s “Soft Kitty” for everyone.

REVIEW
One more thing to think about. We have the technology to produce vaccine to ward off influenza. (Although not 100 percent “guaranteed” to keep you from getting the flu, it does an amazing job of averting potential pandemic outbreaks.) By some estimates, influenza has killed more people throughout human history than any other disease. It was the ninth leading cause of death in the United States in 2010.

By contrast, science and medicine cannot produce a synthetic product to replace blood. The only place where blood is “manufactured” is in our bodies.

Be nice, give blood.

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Filed under A reporter's life, MIP: Memoir-in-progress

NaNoWriMo Day #18: Cracking the 40,000 word mark

For those of you who are wondering if/when you’ll ever see a short blog post in Jackson’s Journal, this is for you.

National Novel Writing Month is almost two-thirds finished. I’m now just under 10,000 words from reaching the 50,000-word goal, which I expect to hit Thanksgiving night. Even then the story will be far from over. I think it will take 60,000 to complete the arc and the story “spine.” After 60,000, give or take a few hundred, I’ll take a breather and then embark on polishing the first draft. It might be mid- to late-January when that’s ready. I know many of you are anxious to read “Dixieland.”

I’m going to say now I think it will be worth the wait. I’m really proud of this story, and I can’t wait to share it. Be patient.

UPDATE: I received the Journalism Award Friday night from the Exercise Tiger National Commemorative Foundation. I walked past 89-year-old David Troyer on the way to and from accepting the award. That was an indescribable honor, because HE is the living embodiment of heroism, sacrifice and bravery. Mr. Troyer is one of the few living survivors of Exercise Tiger, which was followed five weeks later by D-Day, where Mr. Troyer was in the first wave that landed on Omaha Beach. His introduction included this: “David Troyer fought in five different campaigns against Hitler’s army.”

And there he was. Living history, my friends. Not a commemorative stone or a name in a history book, but a living member of The Greatest Generation.

He deserved more than the many awards and the multiple standing ovations that he received on Friday. He deserves and has earned the admiration of every American. Here’s the story I wrote in April  that included a brief interview with this incredible man.

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Filed under "Dixieland", A reporter's life, Inspiration, National Novel Writing Month 2012, World War II

Throw them under the bus

One of the many interesting aspects of my job is the role of unofficial cliché and jargon czar in my part of the Columbia Daily Tribune newsroom.

“I need a cliché ruling,” city reporter Andrew Denney announced this morning. The cliché that popped up in a story he was writing: “Behind the curve.”

My immediate ruling: No.

(Let’s chase a rabbit here for a moment — oops!, there’s a cliché — and talk about the fifth word of this post: interesting. The word has become cliché simply from overuse and laziness. As in: “Election Day will be interesting.” “I don’t know who the Cardinals will try to sign this winter, but it’s going to be interesting.” “It’ll be interesting to see how much snow we get this winter.” I think “interesting” has become tired, a word we throw in to complete a sentence to avoid actually completing the sentence. I’m not suggesting we ban the word, but what do you think? Is the word overused and abused? I’ll be interested to hear what you think. I also don’t like the word “robust” for the same reason. Not everything is really all that interesting, and not everything is robust, as in, “the results of a robust study,” “we had a robust breakfast of toast,” or “we need a more robust definition of robust.”)

I mean, some words just ooze with pretentiousness. For instance, “robust.” I just don’t like it.

And did you catch my lead-in to that last sentence? “I mean.” It is NOT a robust phrase, but it is horribly, grossly overused, and is more of a nervous mannerism these days, you know? Once upon a time, “you know” was the phrase of mockery. Athletes are the worst offenders.

Reporter: “That was an incredible performance. You seemed to put your team on your back.”

Athlete: “Well, you know, it’s like this, you know. Coach says we just, you know, we take it one game at a time, you know. And that’s what I do, you know.”

Reporter: “What is it that you do?”

Athlete: “You know, I give 110 percent, you know. It’s like coach said, ‘We’re not gonna hit a five-run homer, ya know.’ It’s like that. You know.

Reporter: “But this is basketball.”

The new annoying speech mannerism is “I mean.” I so wish someone would teach athletes to stop saying it. Listening to their interviews is brutal. Maybe athletic directors can say, “Here’s your full-ride scholarship to attend our prestigious university. Now play hard and, oh by the way, never ever say ‘I mean’ again.”

Reporter: “How are y0u approaching the homecoming game against Kentucky?”

Athlete: “I mean, we know they have a great team, they have a great coach, and, I mean, they’ll be prepared. I mean, they’ll bring their ‘A’ game and we better bring ours. I mean, they won the national championship last year, so, I mean, we’ll have to give it one-thousand percent.”

Reporter: “Um, this is football.”

Athlete: “I mean — yeah.”

Clichés, repetitive phrases and jargon fill the air, and when it comes to jargon, I have quite a collection. Unfortunately, it often creeps into my reporting, especially when the topic is health care or business. “It was a win-win situation.” Another reporter heard someone at a board meeting refer to “strategic strategizing.” Today I heard a brand-new one: “It’s not either/or. It’s and/and.”

Huh?

I shared that with city editor Lora Wegman, the one who removes the jargon from my stories with surgical precision, and she immediately tweeted that “and/and” must be eradicated immediately. Now, if I can just use “and/and,” “stakeholders,” “collaborative strategies,” and “low-hanging fruit” in the same sentence, I bet I could make her head explode.

Now, moving forward. Two more and then I’m done.

“At the end of the day.” My ruling: Stop it. Just stop it.

“Moving forward.” As in, “Moving forward, we will recognize lazy speech and lazy writing,” or “How will the Cardinals react to blowing a 3-1 game lead, moving forward?” OF COURSE! we’re moving forward!

I’m done now, because no matter how much I talk about this, I just can’t wrap my head/brain/mind around it.

I mean, really. You know.

What are your favorite/most despised clichés or examples of jargon? Please comment.

 

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Filed under A reporter's life, Living Write

Me and my big head …

THIS REALLY, REALLY HAPPENED …

Saturday afternoon Kelly and I attended the matinée performance of “To Kill a Mockingbird” at the Lyceum Theatre in Arrow Rock. It was a great show, Delaney Jo Sauer did a remarkable job as Scout, and if you missed Amy Wilder’s preview of “Mockingbird,” please see her story in Sunday’s Tribune. (Amy is the newest member of the Tribune staff and she has the (mis)fortune of sitting near enough my desk to hear the interesting phone calls that tend to come my way).

Kelly and I arrived in plenty of time to find our seats for the Lyceum’s “Mockingbird” debut. Just before the lights dimmed, I overheard the woman behind me tell the man she was with, “I’m sitting right behind Jodie’s big head.”

Big head. Hmmm. The tone wasn’t denigrating – more matter-of-fact – and was one of those situations we all find ourselves in. I wondered if I’d really heard what I heard. Should I glance behind me and say “Hi?” Did she intend to say it loud enough for me to hear? Did we know the people behind us?

It was unlike me, but I was hesitant to look. Besides, maybe I misunderstood, although I am, by trade and by curiosity, a world-class eavesdropper. There was no doubt in my mind she said, “I’m sitting right behind Jodie’s big head.”

At intermission, when the house lights went on, I glanced behind me, but the man and woman were gone. I couldn’t wait to ask Kelly if she’d overhead the same thing.

Yes. She heard the same thing. But, no, she also had no idea who the woman was. Later we wondered if perhaps we should have known them, and that it looked like we were rude for not saying “Hi.” The man and woman took their seats after the lights were dimmed for the second act and they were gone when the lights came back up.

I’ve been wondering in this big head of mine who she was. In the off-chance that any reader has talked to a woman who said, “You know, I saw Jodie Jackson Saturday at the Lyceum Theatre. Sat right behind his big head. And he didn’t even speak to me,” please tell her I’m sorry.

THIS DATE IN HISTORY

Yesterday, Sept. 10, was the fourth anniversary of the final edition of The Northern  Boone County Bullseye, the weekly newspaper that I owned in Hallsville, Mo. The Bullseye lived almost four years – 202 editions – and I have honestly given it very little thought since shuttering the office the last week of September 2008 and going to work for the Columbia Daily Tribune.

I’m going to spend the next few days reminiscing about The Bullseye and the other newspapers where I have worked.

Stay tuned …

Here’s my final column from the final edition:

THIS DATE IN HISTORY II

From the pages of “My Senior Drear,” the day-by-day account of my senior year at Belle High School:

Friday, Sept. 12, 1980 – Rode bike to Kelly’s before school. (Eds. note: Kelly had a car, a ’73 Impala. I didn’t). Kevin went to Jeff City last night with me. We went to eat at McD’s with my brother and took his cat back with us. Cloudy and mild this morning. Pleasant, lazy Friday weather. Kelly and I are going to Rolla tonight to see a movie.”

First hour (Drama) – Mrs. Ammerman, the ageless substitute, is in for Mrs. Sharp. Assignment: Read pages 3-28, answer questions 4 and 5. Of course, I’m writing this rather than doing the assignment.

Second hour (Ecology) – Mary Hart wrote obscene things about me on the blackboard. I emptied an eraser on her though. Plan to do so again Monday.

(Fast-forward)

Lunch – Hot dogs, mashed refuse, cherry-flavored filth.

(I won’t do this to you every day, but I plan to start providing snippets of the journal I kept throughout all four years of high school).

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Desperate for justice: conclusion

This is the conclusion of story that I covered on July 9, 1984, while working for the Belle Banner and the Bland Courier, sister papers of the three-newspaper Tri-County Publications. (Part 1 appeared on Monday).

Police, neighbors and a distant relative put together the following narrative: Seven hours before the auction was scheduled to begin, Christial – who actually went by her middle name, Veneda ‑ dumped 30 gallons of gasoline and 30 quarts of motor oil throughout her wood frame house. The tinder box that was once her paid-in-full haven included piles of old newspapers, a cord of wood, some old tires and $30 worth of fireworks. She was apparently sitting in a recliner in the living room at 5:30 a.m. when she struck the match.

 

The explosion immediately flattened the house, blew out windows at Bland High School just a block away and dozens of other windows through the little town of about 600 people. The explosion blew Veneda right out of the house. A step-cousin raced to the scene and found Veneda – conscious but badly burned and incoherent – laying on the side of the road. An ambulance took her to the University of Missouri hospital in Columbia (called the MU Medical Center back then).

Local police got a call from the Bland Post Office at 8:30 a.m. Someone found a letter taped to the wall inside the lobby, along with copies of the canceled and endorsed check that Veneda had written to the contractor, the signed agreement with the contractor, and the legal notice of the sheriff’s auction. The next day a duplicate of the letter arrived at the Gasconade County Republican, the 3,500-circulation weekly newspaper in Owensville where, incidentally, I would go to work in April the following year.

There’s really no way to end this story on a positive note, although the lien laws were changed a year later to provide greater protection for homeowners.

The image of the smoldering ruins of the house is still haunting. And so are the words of her letter:

“The hassle of living just isn’t worth it anymore. Nothing is worth living for. I can’t have anything no matter how hard I work I work for it and somebody else enjoys it … Just because there is a crooked law on the books for you to hide behind to win the easy way, you don’t any of you care about justice. I am a woman alone with no knowledge of the stupid laws. So that leaves me helpless in their hands.

 “I can’t have anything no matter how hard I work … But this is the time I’m not going to hand it over. I’ll burn all and go in the fire myself. Then you bastards can sift the ashes or look elsewhere for the money you want. I signed a contract and I honored it. I paid once for what I got. I don’t intend to pay again … This house and car is all I have to show for 44 years of work. I can’t enjoy it and I don’t intend anyone else shall.”

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Filed under A reporter's life, Living Write, MIP: Memoir-in-progress

The Write Life: Opt for ‘remarkable’

Saturday in Jackson’s Journal is The Write Life, a trek past the mundane and beyond the borders of creativity. This is where we celebrate the craft of writing, storytelling and connecting with the hearts, minds and souls of readers.

I love my job as a reporter for the Columbia Daily Tribune. I now have 30-plus years of newspaper clips as evidence of my role as a modern-day scribe, chronicling the events and people who I’ve been fortunate to encounter.

Like most writers and reporters, my work leads me to rather paradoxical conclusions. On the one hand, I do believe that what I do is important. I’m telling and reporting history. Live. As it happens. On the other hand, I often believe that what I actually produce is gibberish and not very important because it’s so poorly done.

This week I wrote an article about a rural water district’s bookkeeping problems. Maybe the water district has only 2,500 customers, but to those payers and for the community where the district is located, that’s a big deal.

Without the aid and patience of a gifted editor, however, no one was going to read beyond the lede sentence. I mean, for crying out loud, I learned to write a lede — how to “hook” the reader — in high school. What I presented to my editor began like this: “Officials with Public Water Supply District 4 at Hallsville …”

And I lost her. SHE didn’t read beyond that bland, lazy launch into an important story. Worst of all, I filed the story knowing that the lede stunk. Did that mean I lost sight of the importance of what I do for a living? Probably. Sometimes the reporting and writing seems effortless. Sometimes it’s clumsy and confusing.

My editor, Lora Wegman, insisted on a new lede. This is what I came up with:

“Failure to pay payroll taxes on some expenses and paying a higher-than-allowed mileage reimbursement rate are just two of the bookkeeping issues a former office manager brought to the attention of Public Water Supply District 4 board members Tuesday.”

Better, wouldn’t you say? I got right to it. Still a bit wordy, but so much more interesting and readable than, “Officials said …”

My sophomore (and last) year in college I was editor-in-chief of The Muleskinner, the campus newspaper at Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg. The managing editor and I decided to reject any article that began with the words “the,” “a” or “an.” Our motto: “Get to the point.” We had journalism professors and all manner of academics argue about our unbending ban, but we won every argument. (Or so we thought. And it was that attitude that led me to leave college after two years because I really did think I knew it all).

Get to the point. If we’re writing something important, get to it. And in today’s newspaper world of a shrinking news hole, maximizing the words we use is top priority — well, second to the journalistic trinity of accuracy, fairness and balance.

The water district story was important to those customers, but I’m also convinced it was a big deal to all readers because watch-dogging and exposing what might be less-than-transparent operations ought to serve notice on all public entities entrusted with the people’s money.

Maybe that’s a lofty goal, but I buy into that aim. My first weekly newspaper boss used to say that photos of car crashes — and sometimes just the crashed car, because maybe we missed the actual accident — made everyone drive more safely.

I remember asking, “Then why do we keep seeing wrecks?”

My publisher, Norman Gallagher, scowled at my seemingly logical question and zinged me with a challenge. “Why don’t we do a better job getting their attention? Let’s tell the story better.”

Mr. Gallagher’s zeal for the truth was sometimes sidetracked by prejudice and personal vendettas, but he was passionate about telling the story.

“Let’s tell the story better.”

That brings me, in a rabbit-trail-chasing sort of way, to the point made by author/writer Jeff Goins, whom I consider a writer’s writer.

“What is up to you is the choice to be remarkable. As is the decision to be mediocre.”

That’s the conclusion Jeff reaches in Friday’s post, “The first day of the rest of your life.” Check out his blog.

Then choose to be remarkable.

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Catching up: If elected, I promise …

I know what went wrong.

Blame the time change, when we sprang forward an hour two weeks ago. I don’t handle change all that well. Go and throw a whole extra hour in the day – just like that – and poof!, I’m out of sorts. My doctor said I have SAD: Seasonal Affective Disorder. But she also said I need to lose weight, so what does she know, right?

(Just kidding. Dr. Reust is the best).

But my blogging schedule has been off. I’ve missed entire days. It’s not like the earth will stop spinning if I miss a day or two, but I’m out of kilter. This little acre of cyber space is the bit of structure I added to my life about four months ago and, wouldn’t you know it, you don’t tend to the yard for a few days and it needs mowing.

So consider this mowing. Friday is supposed to be memoir-in-progress “80’s Day,” but I’m going to skip all over the place right now. Follow along.

The Chronicles of Me

March 25, 1991 – “Meet The Candidates” forum at the Belle High School vo-ag room. I was one of six candidates vying for two seats on the Maries County R-2 Board of Education. That was 21 years ago. And that’s me on the right.

Is anyone surprised that I was the only guy wearing a tie?

 

I didn’t win, mostly because my last name was neither “Ridenhour” nor “Lange.” In fact, I finished fifth, but I did win the Canaan precinct in Gasconade County.

What the hail?

March 15, 1982 – A cast from the Baptist Student Union at Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg was starting its third week of rehearsal for the musical, “The Apostle.” I played the part of Luke. (Yes, how fitting. The physician was also one of the world’s finest journalists). But the night of March 15 – it was a Monday night and we were rehearsing in the Lovinger Building gymnasium – a hailstorm busted out 3,000 windows on campus. Inside the gymnasium of the old building we were in, it sounded like the Apocalypse. (Whatever that sounds like).

What I remember most was how the streets flooded because the storm drains clogged up with golfball-size hail stones.

I was a staff writer for the Muleskinner, the campus paper. My front page story (just beneath the picture above) was “Regents pass dorm rate hike.” One sentence buried lower in the story noted that the university president asked the Board of Regents to authorize an emergency contract, “without competitive bid,” to repair the multipurpose building’s roof.

The good president called me to his office the day the paper came out (March 19) to tell me he was “perplexed” that I’d included that bit of information in the story. (My high school principal used to do the same thing). I asked, “Was it true?,” and he answered, “Well … yes,” and I wished him a good rest of the day and left.

That was 30 years ago this week. (What a trouble-maker!)

The Calendar Says …

March 23, 1982 – This notation: “75 days to go. Kelly.” Oh, yeah. We were engaged.

March 25 and 26, 1982 – Cue the lights! We performed “The Apostle.”

Fast Forward …

March 21, 1979 – “Shut up. I am going to KILL three or four of you! And I mean it!” That’s from my daily journal of my high school career at Belle High School, as spoken by English teacher Dale Mackey. Great guy, really – we often played tennis after school ‑ and I certainly don’t remember anything about his tirade, but apparently I lit his fuse that day. (Imagine that.) I laughed at his threat and he shouted some more. Me: “I think that’s pretty sad.” Him: “Well, your behavior is pretty sad, Jackson!”

The record is incomplete. I have no idea about the context.

From the aptly titled journal “My Senior Drear,” March 20, 1981 – “Had an emotional play practice last night. It’s all coming together now.” (I was Joe Keller in “All My Sons.” Intense.) “Kelly came over, we walked to school. She’s still sick, but we’re going out tonight.”

A little more …

“Cleaned out my moldy, rank locker. 3 bologna sandwiches, 1 ham/cheese, two Twinkies, 1/3 carton of milk. Carbon dating shows the provisions date back to September 1980.”

Got third quarter grades:

Journalism II – B

Astronomy – C

Study Hall – “I would’ve flunked study hall if there was a grading or credit system.”

Formal writing – A

Band – A minus

Yearbook/Publications – B

Speech II – A

Lunch that day? “Something that resembles congealed tooth plaque (allegedly ‘corn’).”

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Waiting for the moment spring is sprung

This is from "The Best Of" files of previously published articles and columns. We lived on a mini-farm at Clark, Mo., while we owned The Bullseye.

I always seem to miss it.

Every year, I promise myself that I’ll see it happen, embrace it, and when it makes its gradual appearance, I’ll be there to witness the miracle. But somehow, I always miss it. One day it’s a little warmer, maybe around 70, and then the spring peepers start peeping at night, the surest harbinger of spring that there is. Those little croakers can even peep their tune when the nights are in the 40s (and how’s that, since they’re amphibians?). Once they get started, they don’t shut up. And I love it. Spring is coming.

The season is changing. A few leaves start to bud out, those early lilies get ready to bloom, and the crackled, brown pastures take on a greenish hue. The variety of songbirds coming to the feeders changes almost daily and, if you’re really, really lucky, you just might spot a winter-weary snake on one of those first warm days. I’ll even spend long hours in a lawn chair outside.

If I get my way, I’ll have a hammock where I can repose with one or both of my “boys,” the black labs “Fierce” and “Freddy.” (Don’t be fooled by Fierce. Even though he loves to cuddle and doesn’t enjoy rough play the way Freddy does, Fierce is the Alpha male of this two-dog pack. I’ve seen how his quick glare can cause the hair on Freddy’s back to stand). The boys are still puppies, getting close to a year old, and they’ve been waiting for spring to get sprung, too. In fact, Freddy treats every morning like the first day of spring. He’s just so happy it’s almost painful to watch. Everything is wonderful, the world is his to enjoy, and his tail would fly right off if he wags it even one bit harder.

But it’s coming. Spring is getting here quickly. The winter was long and dark (short days really rob my psyche of sanity), but it wasn’t necessarily long and cold. It snowed, what, three times? The biggest snowfall was maybe 3 or 4 inches. Still, the rest of creation knew it was winter, so there was that awful dormancy that filled me with melancholy.

So I’ve been waiting. Fierce and Freddy are waiting. The red birds are waiting and need warmer weather so they’ll stop gorging themselves. We’ve got one Cardinal that just kind of waddles around the base of a feeder. It’s so plump, the thing looks like a tiny red chicken. I’ll not watch that bird for long, though, because I want to see it when it happens. I want to see spring come.

Two years ago while I spent most of March helping survey a 10-square-mile farm in Saline County, I watched the days get longer and the air get warmer. I remember the day the buzzards came back from wherever it is buzzards go for the winter. One by one, the winged scavengers landed in the crest of a lightning-damaged tree. I was sure they had come to eat me – such was my personal darkness. They mocked my sour disposition, but the longer days and warmer temperatures kept them at bay. I watched their soul-cold glares so long that when spring came, I missed it.

Last year, we were getting ready to start restoring an old farm house, and even though there were one-on-one moments with nature — like the little fox that studied me with as much curiosity as I studied him — life got so busy that one week it was 65 degrees every day and, the next thing I knew, it was the Fourth of July.

Missed it again.

I’m not sure you understand how much I look forward to spring. I don’t just want to see the green emerge. I want to smell the difference in the leaves. I want to stand so still that I can hear the May apples poke their heads through the soil. I want to hear the feathers gently brushing against eggs as the robin on the nest shifts its position.

There was a day in January when it was something like 2 degrees and icy. I overheard someone say, “This is what we prayed for in August.” I’m not so sure about that, but now that we’re on the topic, how about changing that prayer this year. When it’s been 100 degrees for two weeks, just ask for spring all over again.

And, this time, ask for plenty of opportunities to hear it, smell it, feel it and see it arrive.

Don’t miss it this year.

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Filed under A reporter's life, Family, MIP: Memoir-in-progress