Friday, July 22, 2016

Today I Celebrated a Typical 21st Century Birthday

I received my new credit card, special delivery. It replaced my previous card closed due to fraud. Of course I called to activate my new card. Fifteen minutes of birthday on hold.

The Discovery Card folks notified me that my request for a Discovery card had been turned down. That pleased me, since I had not made that request. Identity fraud strikes again. Another fifteen minutes gone.

My utility company emailed me today, twice. Once it told me I was successfully enrolled in its easy-pay program and then it wrote that my enrollment had been voided. Naturally, I called.

Hoping for a sale, a young woman examined my utility account. "You don't have a cable," she cried. "Don't you want a cable?"

"Why would I want a cable?"

"Oh, you know." She spoke so perkily. "For your T.V."

I have no T.V., so that settled that.

Twenty minutes gone on this one.

Then my brand new mouse stopped working. Nothing I tried helped so I called Apple Care. A young man focused on the problem; I turned my computer off and on for him a dozen different ways. He gave up and called the older technician, but nothing helped. "Take that mouse back to the Apple Store and tell them to give you a new one." Fifty-seven minutes gone for nothing.

Still, I set out for the Apple Store in Village Pointe. Twenty-four minutes and 15.8 miles later, I arrived.

"It doesn't work." I thrust the mouse at a round guy in a black sweat shirt.

He hooked it to a store model, and it worked. "Bring in your computer," he said.

So I drove home, unplugged my huge computer, hauled it to the car, and drove back. A new technician, taller and fiercer looking, hooked up my computer. The mouse worked just fine. To be on the same side, he deleted a little this and that, and I took mousy home. It's working now. An hour and a half and 64 miles of birthday spent in Village Pointe to figure that out.

Not that I didn't also celebrate my birthday today in the old fashioned manner: meals with friends, a free sundae at Petrow's soda fountain. And cards, including one from the president of Fort Hays State University where I worked 16 years ago; one from my financial adviser; one from the University of Nebraska Foundation that I mention in my will, and one from my sister.

Still, "Happy Birthday to You" rings in my ears. I intend to celebrate many, many more.

But maybe 20th Century style next year.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Brave Melania Faced Death

How do I know?

I taught Public Speaking on the University level, where I learned that, according to most studies, people are more afraid of public speaking than of dying. 

That proved especially true for students required to take my course.
I spotted Melania Trump as one of those students. After all, she had plenty of practice at standing around and looking beautiful—but not at speaking. Not to a national audience.

And for her, that speech was "required."  

Almost all my students feared standing up in front of the class and speaking, but students who had to take the class quaked in their boots.

Take, for instance, my student, "Avanti," a sweet modest Indian girl. No matter how I coached her, when she stood before the class, she refused look at us. Instead, she looked down at her notes and rattled them off as fast as possible.

During the final exam, where I didn't allow notes (and memorization), Avanti stood in front of the class, gazed straight at the ceiling, and recited her speech.

Now Melania didn't have THAT problem.

Standing in front of the convention and looking beautiful was easy enough for her. But what to say?

Someone probably suggested, "Why don't you take a look at Michelle Obama's speech, see what she did eight years ago as the featured wife at the Democratic National Convention?"

So Melania took a look at Michelle's script.

Script. That's the key word. There's a written script for plays like Shakespeare's "Taming of the Shrew." Scripts like those are spoken over and over again by actors.

So Melania did what any self-respecting actor would do: she memorized Michelle's script and spoke it with some variations of her own.

I know, I know, Melania had paid script writers and may not have known she had repeated Mrs. Obama until after the speech.

But if she feared public speaking as much as my student, Avanti, did, Melania faced death at the GOP podium last night.

But she got by with a little help from her friend, First Lady Michelle.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Sweet Baby Charlie, the Redheaded Chameleon

When the state of Nebraska fried serial killer Charlie Starkweather in 1959, I thought we'd heard the last of him and his girl friend, Caril Ann Fugate. 

Was I wrong.

Charlie—and Caril—caught our national imagination and never let go.

In 1958, Omaha poet Gary David Johnson frisked Charlie's still warm confession, looted his words to write "Starkweather's Confession" in quatrains: "'Don't know why it was but being alone with her/Was like owning a little world all our own.'" 
Head Trauma, 2006, Gary David Johnson

And Steven King, only 9, kept a scrapbook and became a horror writer because of it. He used Charlie as the basis for an evil character in several books. "I do think that the very first time I saw a picture of [Starkweather], I knew I was looking at the future. His eyes were a double zero. There was just nothing there. He was like an outrider of what America might become."
The Stand, 1978, and other Stephen King books

I focused, in "Badlands Revisited, on the panic created when authorities assumed that Charlie and Caril, "armed and dangerous," were on the loose—in our town, Lincoln, Nebraska. National Guardsmen protected the bank. Plentiful rewards promised to pay for leads to the capture of the pair. People left garage doors open and keys in the car to protect themselves as they hid in their houses. The radio broadcasted—over and over and over—the license plate number of Charlie's car.
Great Plains Patchwork, 1989, Marilyn Coffey 

To read "Badlands Revisited" as published in The Atlantic 1974, click:

Charlie and Carol became muses for dozens of artists: writers, film makers, musicians, poets, and the like. We artists based our works loosely on Charlie and/or Caril or completely. They became like our chameleons, inspiring our designs, like those Old World lizards change, in various combinations of pink, blue, red, orange, green, black, brown, light blue, yellow, turquoise, and purple.

Below is a list of works based, in some form, on Charlie or Caril.


"The Murderous Trail of Charles Starkweather," 1960, James M. Reinhardt
"The Psychology of Strange Killers," 1962, James M. Reinhardt
"The Quality of Murder: 300 Years of True Crime," 1962, Anthony Boucher
"Nothing Left But Murder," 1970, James M. Reinhardt
"Caril," 1974, Ninette Beaver 
"Starkweather: The Story of a Mass Murderer," 1976, William Allen
"The Stand," 1978, and other Stephen King books
"Charles and Caril: An Orgy of Blood," 1980, Glenn Desmond
"The Encyclopedia of American Crime," 1982, Carl Sifakis
"Mass Murder," 1985, Jack Levin & James Allen Fox 
"Great Plains Patchwork," 1989, Marilyn Coffey 
"Encyclopedia of World Crime," 1990, Jay Robert Nash 
"Wild at Heart," 1990, Barry Gifford
"Krokodil Tears," 1991, Jack Yeovil
"Starkweather," 1993, Jeff O'Donnell and Kevin Oliver
"Starkweather: Inside the Mind of a Teenage Killer," 1993, William Allen
"Headline: Starkweather," 1993, Earl Dyer 
"Bloodletters and Badmen," 1995, Jay Robert Nash
"Born Bad: Charles Starkweather—Natural Born Killer," 1996, Jack Sargent
"Murder Cases of the 20th Century," 1996, David K. Frasier 
"Lustmord: The Writings and Artifacts of Murderers," 1996, Brian King
"The Ballad of Charles Starkweather," 1997, Donald Justice; Robert Mezey
"Waste Land," 1998, Michael Newton 
"Pro Bono: The 18 Year Defense of Caril Ann Fugate," 2012, Jeff McArthur 


"Starkweather Immortal," 2007, Archaia Studios Press 


"The Sadist," 1963 also "Sweet Baby Charlie," James Landis
"Take the Money and Run," 1969, Woody Allen
"Badlands," 1973, Terrence Malick
"The Sugarland Express," 1974, Seven Spielberg
"Stark Raving Mad," 1983, George F. Hood
"Wild at Heart," 1990, David Lynch 
"Kalifornia," 1993, Dominic Sena
"True Romance," 1993, Tony Scott
"Natural Born Killers," 1994, Oliver Stone
"The Frighteners," 1996, Peter Jackson
"Starkweather," 2004, Bryon Werner


"Keep Searchin,'" 1965, Del Shannon, (We'll Follow the Sun)
"Nebraska," 1982 Bruce Springsteen (Nebraska)
"We Didn't Start the Fire," 1989, Billy Joel
"Hate So Real," 1994, J Church
"Badlands," 2009, Church of Misery
"Stark Weather," 2012, Icky Blossoms
"Love Kills," 2016, (rock musical), Kyle Jarrow


"Outside Valentine," 2004, Liza Ward, granddaughter of two victims


"Redheaded Peckerwood," 2011, Christian Patterson


"Head Trauma," 2006, Gary David Johnson
"Inspired by Charles Starkweather," 2010, Kayt Krepcho


"A Case Study of Two Savages," 1962, episode of Naked City
"Charles & Caril: Starkweather 30 Years Later," 1957, WOWT
"Murder in the Heartland," 1993, miniseries, Robert Makowitz
"Spree Killers," 1993, episode, A&E Home Video
"Starkweather," 2004, Velocity Home Entertainment


"The Manhunt," 2003, Rockstar Games

Saturday, July 2, 2016

The Silent Flipper

She had lived with dozens, maybe hundreds, of roommates, but until now each and every one knew how to hang a roll of toilet paper: "over" (not "under").

Then her new roommate broke her perfect record: he hung a roll "under"!

She stared at his violation of propriety, the flat "under" square pressed against the filthy wall. She plucked the tissue out with two fingers and tugged, but instead of ripping, paper erupted. She held a fistful of toilet tissue instead of the dainty two or three squares she'd intended.

Somewhere she'd read that the average American spends thirty minutes a year trying to find the seam in a toilet paper roll. More like an hour, she now believed, if the roll is hung "under".

She said nothing to her roommate about his vulgarity—they were new "mates," after all—but she loathed the way she had to flip the tissue, looking for, sometimes scratching for, the end of the paper.

As time reduced the roll's thickness, she plotted. With any luck, she could be in the bathroom in time to change the paper. And she was! Thanks to her patience, and forethought, the next roll—hers—hung "over". 

However, she couldn't afford to spend hours every week lurking for the end of the roll. She needed a permanent solution.

For starters, she decided to let him have his way, in the hope that she could adjust to him, but his habits were worse than she thought. Not a dyed-in-the-wool "under" roller, no, he didn't care. Up side, down side, sideways, who knew which way he'd hang it.

Once, when he'd hung the paper correctly two times in a row, she thought she'd converted him, so she stuck a pasty-note beside the roll. It read: "A miracle!" But he just dropped the note in the wastebasket, and hung the next roll "under".

Thinking she could reform him, she proffered historical evidence, an illustration of the first roll, patented in 1891, the paper clearly spilling over the top. He shrugged. "If you're into tradition."

When she asked him why he liked the "under" position, he smiled. "You can see for yourself how much neater it is, no loose end flapping in the breeze. Besides," he wiggled an eyebrow, "if you hang it 'under,' it won't unroll during an earthquake."

"An earthquake? This isn't California."

Against all odds, she labored to convert him. "You use less paper when you drop it over the top. And you don't have to reach so far to grab a piece. And there's germs if you hang it 'under,' brushing your knuckles against the grimy wall."

She knew the futility of arguing but, just in case, she pointed out that every decent hotel in the United States rolls over the top.

He snorted. "Hotel toilet paper origami. You going to do that for us? A neat point? A little fan? Whenever I check out?"

So she shut up, certain in her position as one of the normal 70 percent who hangs the paper "over," unlike that wretched minority making life miserable for everyone. Her roommate probably didn't even know how to take a shower, whether to shampoo his hair or lather his body first.

Then one day, quite by accident, she broke their stalemate and had her way—at last. Her roommate had changed the roll, this time, "under". She looked at it, felt her anger rise. Then she grabbed the roll, extracted it, spun it around, and put it back, the freed paper swinging "over." 

She rejoiced. Not a single solution, this. She could apply it anytime she walked into the bathroom and saw the roll in its minority position. Grab, extract, twirl, reposition. As simple as that. 

As for her askew roommate, he'd never even notice that she'd won. Unless she told him. That option tempted her, but she decided never to mention her victory to him. 

In their household, she'd be the silent flipper.

COMING SOON:  The toilet lid, "up" or "down"?