Nick Russell

A Birthday And A Book

 Posted by at 12:01 am  Nick's Blog
Jun 042020

Before I do anything else today, I want to wish my son Travis a happy 43rd birthday. Hey guy, when did you get so damned old? Travis and I have a special bond, partly because I was a single father, and the two of us kind of learned how that should go as we went along. And also, because in spite of his tattoos and beard that make him look vicious, he’s got a heart of gold and is one of the most gentle souls you will ever meet. He’s an amazing photographer, and his latest thing is origami. I am taken aback by the art he can create just by folding a simple piece of paper. In case I haven’t told you lately, Travis, I love you very much, and I’m very proud of you. You’re a hell of a man!

As if that wasn’t enough reason to celebrate the day, my new book, Big Lake Massacre, came out yesterday afternoon. This is my 40th book and the 18th book in the Big Lake series. I had a couple of problems formatting it and had to go back and redo it two or three times before I got it right. But when I finally got it done and uploaded it to Amazon, it was live in less than an hour. I was pleased with that because some authors I know are waiting two and three days before their books go live. The cover is from Elizabeth Mackey, who does all my book covers, and she is amazing. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you tell your friends about it, too.

Most of the last few days have been spent getting everything ready for the new book release. As soon as the book was live yesterday afternoon, I sent out my author’s newsletter to the subscribers, along with a link. I also announced the winner of our drawing for a Kindle paperweight e-book reader. Congratulations Betty McSherry, I sent you an email letting you know how to go about claiming your prize.

Now that I have that all the way out of the way, I’ll be back to work on my new family saga. I’m really having a lot of fun with it. I love doing research, and I have spent a ton of money on books and regional magazines and things to help with this project and it’s paying off. I went to high school in Toledo, Ohio, where the book is set, and I thought I knew a little bit about the history of the city. I had no idea how much I didn’t know until I started this project!

Speaking of books and prizes, we are still having a hassle with about our weekly drawings. Sometimes people have no problem redeeming their free codes when it’s an audiobook, and other times, they have to jump through hoops, with myself and the author helping them before they can claim their prize. I really like doing the drawings, and I don’t want to stop, but it’s getting very frustrating on our end. Hopefully, we can get it worked out so we don’t have to do this with each contest. For those of you who have won and had to wait to claim your prize, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your patience.

It’s Thursday, so it’s time for a new Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an autographed copy of Crazy Days In Big Lake. This is the fourth book in the series and one of the leftover books with the original cover, but the story is the same. To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing, please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening.

Thought For The Day – I never thought I’d be the kind of guy to wake up early in the morning to go to the gym and exercise. I was right.

Jun 032020

Seventy-six trombones led the big parade
With a hundred and ten cornets close at hand.
They were followed by rows and rows of the finest virtuosos,
the cream of ev’ry famous band.

If you are over 40 years old, you probably learned this song in grade school. For the youngsters among us, this is the first verse of Seventy-six Trombones, the signature song from the 1957 musical The Music Man, which was written by Mason City, Iowa native Meredith Willson. The song was also featured in the 1962 movie version of the play and the 2003 made-for-TV movie adaptation. It remains a favorite of marching and military bands.

Born in Mason City, Iowa on May 18, 1902, the third child of John David Willson and Rosalie Reiniger Willson was interested in music from a young age, Willson studied at the Institute of Musical Art (later The Juilliard School) in New York City and was a member of John Philip Sousa’s band and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Later he moved to California and worked in radio.

During World War II, Willson worked for the United States’ Armed Forces Radio Service, where he met and worked with stars like George Burns, Gracie Allen, and Bill Goodwin. After the war ended, Willson worked for network radio programs with such luminaries of the day as Tallulah Bankhead and Jack Benny.

After eight years and thirty revisions, The Music Man premiered on Broadway, and Willson’s career skyrocketed. The show became a hit, winning five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and running for 1,375 performances. The cast album won the first Grammy Award for “Best Original Cast Album” and was number one on the Billboard charts for 245 weeks.

The Music Man is the story of con man Harold Hill, whose scam involves pretending to be a boys’ band organizer and selling band instruments and uniforms to the naive townsfolk before skipping town with the cash. Hill’s scheme goes awry in River City, Iowa, where the prim and proper librarian and piano teacher Marian Paroo sees through him. But Marian also sees the good side of the flimflam man and love gets in the way as they start to fall for each other.

Willson’s second musical, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, ran on Broadway for 532 performances from 1960 to 1962 and was made into a 1964 movie starring Debbie Reynolds. His third Broadway musical was a 1963 adaptation of the film Miracle On 34th Street, called Here’s Love.

A prolific songwriter, Willson’s songs include Till There Was You, It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas, May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You, I See The Moon. and the University of Iowa’s fight song.

Mason City, which was the setting for the fictional River City, honors its favorite son with The Music Man Square. The Square includes a re-creation of a 1912 River City streetscape, with the storefronts based on the sets used in the Warner Brothers film version of The Music Man, including Mrs. Paroo’s front porch, Henderson’s Mercantile, the bank, and Pleez-All pool hall.

There is also an excellent museum with displays on Willson’s career and the role his music has played in American history and culture, and an impressive display of musical instruments.

Outside, a statue of Harold Hill, baton in hand, greets visitors. The life-size bronze statue stands ready to strike up the River City Band. Meredith’s musical score can be seen everywhere in the building’s architecture as we recall the endearing songs of the famous musical.

The home where Willson was born and raised is right across the sidewalk and has been restored to the way it was when the Willson family lived here. There are several pieces of furniture and other items owned by the Willson family on display.

His mother, Rosalie, was a piano teacher, and it was a family tradition to gather around the piano every evening to sing favorite songs. This early musical exposure no doubt helped shape the career Meredith Willson would later enjoy.

Meredith was not the only Willson child that would go on to achieve fame far beyond the borders of Mason City. His sister Lucile “Dixie” Willson sold her first short story to a Chicago newspaper while still in her early teens. After stints as a school teacher, a Ziegfeld Follies chorus girl, and even riding an elephant in the Ringling Brothers Circus, she began her writing career. Her books included Clown Town and The Circus ABC, and dozens of magazine articles. Three of her stories were turned into movies. Examples of her books and even a board game based upon one of her stories are on display in the house.

The house is furnished to look like the Willson family still lives there and has just stepped out, but will return at any moment. The table is set, and family photos are on display on the walls and on end tables.

A tuba sits in a corner of Meredith’s bedroom, and a model airplane and books are on the boy’s desk.

The house had gone through several owners over the years and had fallen into disrepair. The process of renovation and restoring it to its original condition was a long and expensive project.

Mason City is a pleasant small town and well worth a visit the next time you are traveling through the Midwest. Margaret MacNider City Park, just a couple of miles from The Music Man Square, has full hookup RV sites and makes a good base to stay while you visit the area.

The 1912 River City Streetscape at The Music Man Square, located at 308 S. Pennsylvania Avenue, is open from 1 to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, every week of the year except New Year’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

The Meredith Willson Boyhood Home is open for tours at 1 p.m., with the last daily tour at 3:30 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday except for New Year’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. The Streetscape and the first floor of the Willson home are handicapped accessible.

For more information on The Music Man Square and the Meredith Willson home, call (641) 424-2852.

Thought For The Day – Canada probably feels like they live in the apartment above a crack house about now.

Jun 022020

Benjamin Franklin Stone was a young man born into poverty. Part African-American and part Irish, he was born in 1874 to a society that considered him an outcast. As a young boy, Ben and his older brother Tom were placed in an orphanage in Toledo, Ohio. Though conditions at the orphanage were far from perfect, it was a refuge from the cold and hunger they had known for so long.

When Ben was ten years old, the brothers were taken from the orphanage by a farmer named William Dunipace and put to work on his place outside of Lucky, Ohio, a few miles south of Toledo. Apparently, farm life didn’t suit his brother Tom, who soon left and went back to Toledo. But Ben and Dunipace seem to have a bond, and the young boy stayed with him for 22 years. Working side-by-side on the farm, it was said that Dunipace considered Ben to be like a son to him. When he died, his will called for Ben to inherit 80 acres of prime farmland and the farmhouse.

Not really suited to farming even though he had done it for so much of his life, Ben soon sold off half of the land, living in the house on the remaining 40 acres. He tried to farm the remaining land but was only moderately successful at it.

At one time, Ben purchased a motorcycle, which he loved to ride at top speed on the narrow country roads. He loved that motorcycle and kept it inside his house so no one would steal it and it would not be harmed by bad weather.

Ben was an amazing shot with a handgun, and old-timers recall seeing him ride down a road on his motorcycle at high speed, shooting bottles and tin cans off of the tops of fenceposts, sometimes switching hands to get bottles on the other side. In a newspaper article about his life, somebody recalled watching him hit the head of a nail four times in a row with a handgun.

Eventually selling off the rest of his land, Ben worked part-time for farmers around Lucky for a while. His needs were few, so he never worked steady, but it is said that when he was on the job, he never slacked off for a moment.

Ben was a popular man in the community for his easy-going ways. Some considered him a simpleton because he never had a lot to say and always dressed in old bib overalls, but Ben always took the ribbing good-naturedly.

Whenever he needed to make make a dollar or two, Ben always found work. Once, he was helping deliver two iron burial vaults to the local cemetery. He was riding in the back of the truck when the driver took the turn into the cemetery entrance too sharply, and one of the vaults hit a post at the entrance to the cemetery, knocking it and Ben off the back of the truck. In the process, the vault struck Ben in the head and knocked one of his eyes out. In spite of what must have been horrific pain, he got up and was ready to go about the rest of his day nonchalantly, as if nothing happened. He was given a glass eye after the accident but seldom wore it, because he said there was no need for it, and it didn’t help him see any better.

In 1925, at the age of 51, Ben moved into town and took a job as a night watchman for the W. H. Swan furniture store. The owner took a liking to the mild-mannered man and let him sleep on a pallet in a back room. Ben seemed quite content with that and didn’t want anything more out of life.

Honest to a fault, other store owners also asked Ben to check on their property at night, and before long, he was the official town watchman. It is said that nothing was ever stolen or disturbed when he was on duty. Ben would patrol the town at night, a .45 revolver stuck in the pocket of his overalls, a double-barreled shotgun in the crook of one arm, and a flashlight in his other hand. More than one person who was up to small-town mischief reported that if Ben put his flashlight on you, you could bet his shotgun was pointed at you, too. Knowing that, there was never any trouble from the local ne’er do wells.

But the 1930s came along and it seemed like trouble was everywhere. It was the days of the Great Depression and the age of the gangster. Armed gangs roamed the country, robbing banks and any other likely target they could find. On September 28, 1933, a window washer noticed a suspicious car parked in front of the bank in Lucky. At the same time, someone noticed a man wearing a heavy hunting coat approaching the bank, one hand in his pocket.

Having been on duty the night before, Ben was asleep in the back room of the furniture store when someone came and woke him to report the suspicious activity. Arming himself with a .45 revolver and his shotgun, Ben went out the back of the furniture store and down an alley, approaching the bank from a side street, where he took up a position to intercept the bank robbers. At that time a man later identified as Glenn Saunders came out the door with $334 of the bank’s money in his pocket. Seeing Ben, he fired twice, hitting him in the legs.

Standing his ground in spite of his injuries, Ben fired one barrel of the shotgun, knocking the robber off his feet. When Saunders started to get up again, Ben gave him the second barrel, then he pulled his .45 from his pocket and pumped three bullets into the outlaw. Turning toward the getaway car as its driver fled, Ben was frustrated that he was not able to chase him down, but bystanders insisted on taking him to the hospital in Toledo.

Based on eyewitness accounts, a man named John Lora from Toledo was identified as the getaway driver. Detectives learned that Lora was the brother-in-law of the dead bank robber. He was arrested, along with his brother Edward, and confessed to another earlier bank robbery. While awaiting trial, Lora escaped by fashioning a dummy out of blankets and pillows on the cot in his cell and slipping out of jail. He was recaptured and received a sentence of life in prison.

It was reported that when he was taken to the hospital after the shootout, a doctor told Ben they were going to have to give him a shot before taking him upstairs for surgery and asked if he was all right with that. Ben replied that if it didn’t hurt more than a .32 bullet, he guessed that was okay.

Before long, he was back on the job, and the town of Lucky wanted to honor Ben for his heroism. They held a luncheon in his honor, where he was presented with a check for $150, and a gold badge with his name engraved on it, naming him the official town marshal. Ben thanked the businessman holding the luncheon but told them that really wasn’t necessary.

One strange outcome of the shooting was that the mother of Glenn Saunders, the man Ben had killed, wrote him a letter, thanking him for doing what he did. She said she and her husband had always known their son was out of control and that it was only a matter of time before he did something terrible. At least now they knew where he was, and that he couldn’t harm anyone else. Mrs. Saunders and Ben became penpals, writing back and forth for many years, even exchanging Christmas gifts.

Ben Stone continued to serve as Lucky’s Town Marshal for many years, though the bank robbery was the only time he ever fired a gun on duty. He continued to be a popular figure in Lucky until his death from a heart attack on August 27, 1943, at the age of 69. As he had requested, he was cremated and buried in the Webster Township Cemetery. It is said his funeral was one of the most attended events in the town’s history.

Thought For The Day – Don’t judge someone just because they sin differently than you do.

What Day Is It?

 Posted by at 12:30 am  Nick's Blog
Jun 012020

Am I the only one losing track of the days? As I was writing today’s blog, I planned to tell people that today was their last chance to enter our free drawing and that the winner would be drawn Sunday evening. Then I thought, “didn’t I write that last night?” Yes, I did, on Saturday night, which meant that yesterday was Sunday and time to draw the winner. You can find out who it was later in the blog.

We have not left the house except to get groceries or to pick up prescriptions in so long that I have become totally confused lately. At least if it was the regular TV season, I’d have some idea, because I know what shows we watch and the days they are on. But binge-watching shows on Amazon Prime or Netflix during the summer throws that all out the window.

Speaking of binge-watching, I asked for some suggestions for shows on Netflix or Prime on Facebook and got a ton of good ideas. Last night we watched a couple of episodes of Good Girls on Netflix, and while it’s not all that heavy, it was entertaining’ light fare. I think we will stay with it for a while. We enjoyed the first two seasons of Ozark, also on Netflix, but only made it through half of the first episode of Season 3 and gave up. We just couldn’t get into it. Some people have urged us to stick with it, saying it’s well worth it, so maybe we’ll give it another shot, and we’ll see what happens there.

Today marks the start of the hurricane season for us, which runs through November. The news has been predicting that this will be a more active season than last year and seeing as we have had two named storms already, I think that might well be possible. So, we’ve had political unrest, a pandemic taking over 100,000 lives, our cities are on fire, and all I see on social media lately is hate speech. Can we please have a do-over for 2020?

Since I am in a holding pattern waiting for my last proofreader to get Big Lake Massacre back to me, I have spent the last couple of days doing more research and consolidating some of the information I have gathered for Tinder Street, my new family saga. And yesterday I couldn’t wait any longer and started working on it. I had already written the first three chapters a few weeks ago, which I included in the last issue of my author’s newsletter, and I got two more chapters under my belt yesterday. I printed them out for Terry, and she seemed to be impressed, so here’s hoping for more.

And speaking of books, congratulations Karen Sheff, winner of our drawing for a four-book set of audiobooks from my pal Carol Ann Newsome’s popular Dog Park mystery series. We had 64 entries this time around. Stay tuned, a new contest starts soon.

Thought For The Day – Ladies, find a man who strokes your hair and says how soft it is, and doesn’t even care that it’s on your legs.

May 312020

In last week’s Newspaper Days blog, titled Jaws, I mentioned that Westport, Washington, located on the southern opening of Grays Harbor, billed itself as the Salmon Capital of the World in the late 1970s and early 1980s, due to the many charter boats that operated from there, as well as commercial fishing boats. People came from all over the world to fish from the charter fleet, bringing back catches of trophy salmon.

Quite a few of the charter boats advertised in my weekly newspaper, and I got to know many of their captains. Several of them kept offering to take me out on a free fishing trip. At the time, it sounded like a good idea. I’d get to go fishing and have a story for my newspaper, and the charter boat would get some free publicity. Everybody would win. So I went. Once. That was more than enough for me.

The day I went out, I was with my friend, the taxidermist I mentioned in the Jaws post, and his son, who was somewhere around 19 years old at the time. Everybody told me that when we crossed the bar from the harbor into the open ocean, it would be a rough ride, and I might get a little queasy. Queasy? Me? No way! I used to jump out of airplanes for a living. But my friend still urged me to take a Dramamine that morning, just in case. Sure, whatever. Let me swallow the damn thing so we can get on with it.

Once we arrived at the docks and got on our boat, the captain, who was a friend of mine, told us that his daughter, who was home from college, was going along for the day. She was a very pretty young lady, just a few years younger than me, and very friendly. She said something like, “Don’t worry, guys, I’ve been fishing with my dad since I was a little girl. I won’t slow you down.”

We set out to sea, along with a dozen other boats or more at the same time. I felt just the slightest bit of trepidation as we approached the bar, but as it turned out, I needn’t have worried about that. Standing there on the open deck, with the spray hitting us as we bounced up and down, it was one of the greatest rides I’ve ever had. This was what people were warning me about? Easy peasy!

Yeah, Nick, keep telling yourself that. Once we got out into the ocean and the boats started separating to give everybody plenty of room for fishing, the captain shut down the engine. That’s when I realized I was in trouble. They told me that the waves were running 10 to 15 feet that day, and I believe it. Drifting along, the boat would rise up on a high wave, then drop down the other side. It made any roller coaster I’ve ever seen in my life seem like child’s play. And then the damn boat did it again. And again. And again, and again.

It was a midweek day, and there were not a lot of other fishermen on the boat, just the three of us, another man and his son, the captain, his daughter, and a deckhand. I kept looking for someplace to focus my eyes on, and that was a mistake. It only increased the discomfort in my stomach. I asked how far we were from shore, and the captain said maybe three or four miles. Now, I can’t swim a lick, but I was giving some serious thought to strapping on a life jacket and jumping overboard. What’s the worst that could happen? At that moment, a quick death by drowning or hypothermia didn’t sound as bad as the way I was feeling.

No, I’m not going to do something silly like throw up. Especially not in front of this girl, who seemed to be doing just fine, smiling and laughing and joking around with everybody. We put our lines out and quickly somebody got a nice sized salmon, and then another. And then, suddenly, they stopped biting. I reeled in a small lingcod, and somebody got a small shark, and that was it.

By then, I felt like I was sweating, even though it was a cool day, and everywhere I looked was water. Lots and lots of water. Water that we were climbing up the side of on a wave, and water that we were coming down the other side of. So much water!

No, I will not do it. I’ll be okay. That’s when I noticed that the young lady was no longer laughing and joking around. In fact, she was not saying a word. Her lips were clamped shut, and she was looking a little green around the gills. I don’t know which one of us went first, but within seconds it seemed like we were projectile vomiting in sync. I won’t go into details, because some of you might want to eat sometime today. Let me just say that it was bad. Real bad. As I recall, the boat was somewhere around 50 feet, give or take, and they gave us one whole side of it. And we used every inch!

The young lady turned to me and said, “I had forgotten what this is like. I’m going to go lay down. Do you want to come with me?” That’s a hell of a position to put a guy in when he’s already in a situation like that! I started to tell her I was a married man, but then I realized that she was just looking for a way to ease my discomfort as much as her own. We went below deck, where there were two bunks across from each other, and crawled in on our respective sides. I’m sure she knew she did not need to worry about me being lecherous. I couldn’t breathe, let alone do anything else.

Amazingly, within just a few minutes, we both fell sound asleep. Don’t ask me how, because I can’t explain it to you. It was an hour or two later when her dad came down and told us that they had gotten into a big school of salmon, and if we wanted to catch one, we needed to come up and get our lines back in the water. I came on deck, and surprisingly, I wasn’t feeling too bad. Well, I wasn’t, until I noticed my friend’s son was eating a sandwich and had mayonnaise dripping down his chin. I was about ready to start chumming the water again when the deckhand yelled that I had a bite.

I was younger and a bit skinnier then and thought I could hold my own against just about anybody I needed to. I was wrong. It felt like it took me three days to reel that salmon up to the boat. My friend, the taxidermist, told me later that he estimated it probably was somewhere in the 45 to 50 pound range. I’ll never know because just as the deckhand slipped his net under it, the fish jumped sideways and pulled the net out of his hand. Fish and net disappeared below the surface, snapping my line.

By then everybody but the young woman and I had caught their limits. The captain offered to stay out a while longer if the two of us wanted to keep fishing. We both said “no” so quickly and so loudly that everyone on the boat laughed.

Back on shore, I took maybe half a dozen steps, and suddenly I wasn’t sick anymore. In fact, I was starving! Once the boat was tied up and secured, we all went to a little dockside restaurant to eat. While we were waiting for our orders to come, I told the captain that he and the rest of the people running the fishing fleet were doing it all wrong. At that time, they took you out for a half-day fishing trip for $50, as I recall. I suggested they start taking folks out for free, but then charge them $10,000 to go back to shore. Because believe me, friends, I would have gladly paid it, even if I had to mortgage my house and sell a kidney to raise the money!

That was my first and only deep-sea fishing trip. I decided that if God wanted me to kill a salmon, it would break into my house some night I would shoot it with my Colt .45 automatic.

Today is your last chance to enter our Free Drawing. This week’s prize is a four-book set of audiobooks from my pal Carol Ann Newsome’s popular Dog Park mystery series. To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn this evening.

Thought For The Day – Words are nice. Actions are better.

Nobody Wins

 Posted by at 12:06 am  Nick's Blog
May 302020

Looking at the things that are happening in Minneapolis, and other places around the country makes my heart sick. While I have always been a strong supporter of law enforcement, that does not mean I turn a blind eye to injustice. There can be no question in anybody’s mind that George Floyd was murdered. At any time, Derek Chauvin could have let him up, but he chose not to. At any time, as Mr. Floyd lay there, begging Chauvin to get off his neck so he could breathe, he could have. He chose not to, and a man is dead. The other three officers there could have intervened. But they chose not to, and a man is dead.

But the reactions of some people in the community, who are looting and burning down businesses, are just as criminal.

I have seen both sides of this issue firsthand. When I was in high school in Toledo, Ohio, one of my best friends was a young man named Raymond, who happened to be African-American. I probably spent almost as much time at his house as I did my own during my teen years, and if I wasn’t at his house, Raymond was at mine.

He came from a middle-class family who had done well for themselves and lived in a better house than I did, in the same neighborhood where they had lived for at least four generations. His father owned a grocery store in the neighborhood, which was almost entirely Black, and even though they didn’t need the money, he insisted that his son and daughter, both, work in the store after school because he wanted to instill a work ethic in them. And he did it very well. While I was driving old beater cars that I bought for $50 or $75, Raymond was driving a new Mustang. But neither the financial or racial differences between our lives mattered to either of us. He was my friend, and I was his friend.

I also helped bag groceries there for a while, and more than once I saw him pat customers on the shoulder who were down and out, and tell them to get whatever they needed to feed their families, and they’d settle up when times were better. I remember Ray asking his father once if those people ever paid him, and his dad saying some did and some didn’t, but it didn’t matter. At least their children did not go to bed hungry.

Before he got his car, I think we were about 15 at the time, Raymond was at my house, and his father came to pick him up. It was in the winter and got dark early, and when he pulled up and honked the horn, Raymond came outside and said he needed to grab his books and coat, and he would be right there. So his father, Raymond Senior, was sitting at the curb in a brand-new car when two white police officers pulled up. Ray and I were walking out the door and saw the whole thing.

They got out and demanded he get out of his car, and when he did, they wanted to know what he was doing in this neighborhood. He explained that his son was visiting a friend there, and he was there to pick him up. The man, who I had never heard raise his voice to anyone, was wearing a three-piece suit, but these clowns put him down in the dirty street and handcuffed him while they “ran a check” on him.

My mother saw what was happening and came outside, telling them who he was and to leave him alone. When they ignored her, she went back in and called my father at work. He happened to be a cop at the time. He came and immediately put an end to that nonsense. The two gorillas in uniform left after telling Dad that his kid needed to find a better class of friends. I know that my dad reported it, but as far as I know, no action was ever taken.

Again, Raymond Senior was doing nothing except sitting in the car, waiting for his son to come out. He did not resist. He did not mouth off. He complied every step of the way. But because they could, based on the color of his skin, they decided he was a suspicious individual and treated him that way. My parents both apologized to him for the way he had been treated, but being the gentle man of integrity that he was, he just told them it was not their fault and that we had no problem.

This was in the mid-1960s. A couple of years later, racial tensions erupted into violence in Toledo, and there was a lot of rioting. And just as we are seeing in Minneapolis now, much of it was directed at stores in the African-American part of town. Raymond’s father stood in front of his grocery store as looters smashed through the windows and started carrying everything out. What they could not carry, they destroyed. I remember news footage of it all. He kept asking them, “Why are you doing this to me? When your families don’t have money for food, I let them run a tab. You, Joseph, I gave your family food when you were a baby, and I’m still giving your grandparents food. Why would you do this to me?” One of the looters was actually a stock boy who worked at the grocery store. My friend’s family had to stand and watch their business being looted and burned to the ground. Not by white racists, but by their own people.

When things like this happen, nobody wins. The person abused in the first place doesn’t win, the people who see their businesses and lives destroyed don’t win. And while looters may make off with a TV or computer or whatever, in the long run, they don’t win either. Because, unfortunately, all they have done is reinforce in the minds of those who see what is happening that maybe the cops were right after all.

Be sure to enter our Free Drawing. This week’s prize is a four-book set of audiobooks from my pal Carol Ann Newsome’s popular Dog Park mystery series. To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening.

Thought For The Day – Whatever is begun in anger, ends in shame. – Benjamin Franklin

The Power Of “No”

 Posted by at 12:07 am  Nick's Blog
May 292020

What do you think is the most powerful word in the English language? At one time, I thought it was “love.” But, of course, back then I was a starry-eyed kid head over heels in something for the pretty long-haired blonde girl that sat next to me in biology class. But over time, I’ve come to learn that one of the most powerful words in the language is the word “no.”

I learned the power of that word when I was still that same starry-eyed young man with raging teenage hormones. My father taught me a lot of important things, but one thing he was adamant about, and made sure that all of his sons understood, was that the word no means no. Especially if it came from a woman. It doesn’t mean maybe, it doesn’t mean keep pushing, it doesn’t mean try a different angle, it doesn’t mean badger, cajole, or beg. It means “no.” End of story. He raised us to be gentlemen, and I’ve always followed that example.

At one time, I had an uncle-in-law (is there such a thing?) who was a State Senator. He once said that a bureaucrat’s favorite word is no. Because if someone asked them to do something, or asked them if it was okay to do something, and they said yes and it turned out wrong, they could be in trouble with whoever was above them. But if they said no, and someone came back on them about it, their response was, “I was just doing my job. I didn’t think I had the authority to tell someone yes to that.” And we do know that bureaucrats love the word no, don’t we?

However, I’ve come to appreciate that same little two-letter word. Sometimes it has a lot of power. For example, I got renewal notices from Sirius XM about the radio subscriptions in Terry’s Chrysler Pacifica and my Ford Mustang. When I saw the price, I did a double-take. $361.87 per car for one year! Are you kidding me? We’re talking about $723.74 a year? Even if we drove those two cars all the time, I wouldn’t pay that much. And we don’t! For the most part, they sit in the garage and we drive our Ford Explorer around town. We use the Pacifica for road trips, and I do like having the Sirius radio then. And the Mustang is a garage queen with just over 1,000 miles on it since I bought it new in November, 2018.

I called Sirius and told the young man who answered that I wasn’t going to pay that kind of money, and, of course, he told me that was a “special price” because I was a loyal customer. I told him that my loyalty ended at my checkbook, and I wasn’t paying that kind of money, so just go ahead and cancel both services. Then I got upgraded to a “manager,” who wanted to know how she could keep my business. I told her she couldn’t because I wasn’t going to pay that outrageous price. She hemmed and hawed a couple of times, and offered me a free Amazon Alexa Echo Dot. I told her I don’t need one because we have two or three of them around the house as it is. Then she offered me 14 months of service instead of a year, at that same outrageous price. Wow, two whole extra months! I again told her no, and told her that I was hanging up now.

It was amazing how quickly that set in stone price changed! She asked what channels I listen to, and I told her music and comedy. She wanted to know if I listen to Howard Stern, the NFL package, NASCAR, or other talk radio. I told her no. So she suggested that she could drop Stern, NFL, and NASCAR, and I would retain all my other programming for $143.80 total for both cars for a year. Okay, that I’ll do. Then she asked if she could automatically renew me a year from now at their regular price, “for my convenience”. Guess what I told her? Then I hung up before she could try to talk me into something else.

And finally, here’s a chuckle to start your day from the collection of funny signs we see in our travels and that our readers share with us.

Be sure to enter our Free Drawing. This week’s prize is a four-book set of audiobooks from my pal Carol Ann Newsome’s popular Dog Park mystery series. To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening.

Thought For The Day – You will piss a lot of people off when you start doing what’s best for you.

May 282020

The long-awaited and much-anticipated rocket launch from Cape Canaveral carrying two astronauts to the International Space Station was scheduled to lift off at 4:33 yesterday afternoon. But as it turns out, that bird didn’t fly. About twenty minutes before its scheduled liftoff, the launch was scrubbed.

That didn’t surprise us since we had been having thunderstorms, rain, wind, and even a tornado watch just a few miles away. The news said they are looking at Saturday to try again.

We can watch the rockets heading toward outer space from our yard, but a lot of people want to be even closer to the action, and the news showed crowds of people in Titusville, which is just across the water from the Kennedy Space Center. No thank you, we are still social distancing.

Speaking of things long-awaited, our stimulus check arrived in yesterday’s mail. The little kid in me wanted to rush right out and buy new toys, but instead, it went into the bank to pay our tax bill. The government giveth, and the government taketh away. Someone I know who is a nearly rabid Republican and refuses to believe the rest of the world isn’t, too, asked me if I was going to send it back since I am not a fan of President Trump. I replied that as soon as all those people (including him) who complain about Socialism and say that free school lunches for needy kids are government handouts send theirs back, I will too.

Tuesday night, we watched the premiere of ABC’s new TV series, The Genetic Detective, which showed how genetic genealogist CeCe Moore was able to use DNA recovered from a crime scene in 1987 to help solve a double murder. Building a reverse family tree, she was able to identify the killer of a young couple in Washington state. Being an amateur genealogist myself, I found it fascinating, and I am looking forward to watching more of the series and learning how criminals can be brought to justice using new and continually developing science and technology.

Terry finished proofing my new book, Big Lake Massacre, late yesterday afternoon, and as soon as I made the corrections she suggested, I sent it off to my second proofreader so she can get started on it.

In other book news, I uploaded the printed edition of my latest John Lee Quarrels book, The Road To Wrinkle Ranch, to Amazon on Tuesday, and yesterday I got a message from them that it is now available to purchase.

Speaking of books, it’s Thursday, so it’s time for a new Free Drawing. This week’s prize is a four-book set of audiobooks from my pal Carol Ann Newsome’s popular Dog Park mystery series. To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening.

Thought For The Day – I called the tinnitus hotline, but nobody answered. All I got was ringing.

The Blue Ghost

 Posted by at 12:28 am  Nick's Blog
May 272020

After a lifetime of dedicated service to her country, one of America’s greatest warships is now a floating museum, dedicated to informing the public of her proud heritage and the history of Naval aviation.

The Essex-class aircraft carrier USS Lexington (CV-16), known as The Blue Ghost, was the fifth ship named in honor of the Revolutionary War Battle of Lexington. When construction began on the ship in 1941, her original name was to be the USS Cabot, but she was renamed USS Lexington after the loss of her namesake in the Battle of the Coral Sea. She was launched in September of 1942 and commissioned on February 17, 1943.

Lexington arrived in Pearl Harbor on August 9, 1943, and was in battle at Tarawa in late September, and Wake Island in October. In November, her aircraft were covering American landings in the Gilberts, downing 29 enemy airplanes.

In early December, Lexington took part in raids against Kwajalein, sinking a Japanese cargo ship, damaging two cruisers, and downing 30 enemy aircraft. She was hit by a torpedo, the blast destroying her steering gear and killing several crewmembers. Japan’s Tokyo Rose reported that the aircraft carrier had been sunk, a claim she would make several more times during the war, earning Lexington the nickname Blue Ghost.

Lexington limped back to Pearl Harbor for emergency repairs, then went to the Navy Yard at Bremerton, Washington for a complete refurbishing. Lexington was not out of the action long; by February 1944, a mere 78 days after suffering such heavy damage, Lexington was headed back to the South Pacific. By March she was back in the war, participating in engagements against some of Japan’s most important outposts, including Truk, where her aircraft and quad 40mm guns knocked 17 enemy fighters out of the sky. For the second time, Japanese propaganda announced that Lexington had been sunk.

In June, she saw action at Saipan and fought off a fierce attack by Japanese torpedo planes, coming out of the battle unscathed, but again reported sunk by Japan’s propaganda machine. A few days later Lexington took part in the famed Marianas Turkey Shoot in which American aviators shot down over 300 enemy aircraft in one day, and sank a Japanese aircraft carrier, a tanker, and a destroyer. The battle all but ended Japanese naval aviation for the rest of the war. Lexington’s gun crews actually shot down Japanese planes as they tried to land on her deck because they had nowhere else to land!

Lexington took part in the Battle of Leyte Gulf in early November, her planes helping sink the Japanese battleship Musashi and the carriers Chitose, Zuikako, and Zuih, and the heavy cruiser Nachi.

On November 5, a Japanese kamikaze crashed into Lexington’s island, destroying most of the island structure and spraying fire and debris in all directions. Fifty crewmen were killed and 132 injured in the crash. Within minutes the valiant warship was back in the battle, conducting normal flight operations, and her 40mm guns knocking down a second kamikaze heading for the aircraft carrier Ticonderoga. Once again, the wishful Japanese claimed to have sunk the Lexington.

After further engagements against Saipan and Okinawa, and a second overhaul at Bremerton, Washington, Lexington participated in assaults as American forces beat the Japanese back toward their homeland, launching the final round of airstrikes which battered the Japanese into submission. With the Japanese surrender, she was the first aircraft carrier to steam into Tokyo Bay.

By war’s end, Lexington had participated in nearly every major operation in the Pacific Theater and spent a total of 21 months in combat. Her planes destroyed 372 enemy aircraft in the air and 475 more on the ground. She sank or destroyed 300,000 tons of enemy cargo and damaged an additional 600,000 tons.

After the war, Lexington was decommissioned at Bremerton, Washington. But by October, 1952, work began to modernize Lexington, and she was re-commissioned in 1953, just after hostilities ceased in the Korean War. She saw duty as an attack carrier during the Cuban missile crisis, and then as a training ship for Naval aviators, based out of Pensacola, Florida. The pilots who learned to fly off of her deck would go on to see combat over Vietnam. On October 17, 1967, Lexington celebrated her 200,000th aircraft landing.

After 22 years as a training ship, Lexington was again decommissioned in November, 1991, and on June 15, 1992 the ship was donated to the city of Corpus Christi, Texas as a museum. She was the oldest working carrier in the United States Navy when decommissioned. She served the United States longer and set more records than any other carrier in the history of naval aviation. During her long and distinguished career, the crew of the Lexington received the Presidential Unit Citation for heroism in action against enemy Japanese forces, 11 battle stars for major engagements during World War II service, and numerous other awards.

Today the grand old ship is the USS Lexington Museum on the Bay at Corpus Christi. Visitors can tour the Lexington and learn about her history and the role she played in protecting our nation’s freedom.

Nineteen vintage aircraft are displayed on the Lexington’s flight deck and hanger deck, demonstrating the evolvement of naval aviation.

The flight deck is massive, 910 feet long and 142 feet wide. To put that into perspective, you could park over 1,000 automobiles on the flight deck, which covers the equivalent of two acres! You could play three football games or fourteen basketball games at the same time on Lexington’s flight deck. From here, high-speed catapults launched aircraft into the air, and strong arresting cables pulled landing aircraft to a safe stop.

Climbing a series of steep ladders (get used to climbing when you visit Lexington, the tour calls for a lot of it), visitors arrive at the ship’s island, high above the landing deck. This was the control center of the ship, where the commanding officer gave his orders and directed shipboard operations. The island includes command and control areas, as well as the Navigation Bridge, Pilothouse, Captain’s Sea Cabin and Chart House.

The gallery deck, just below the flight deck, is the Combat Information Center, which collected and evaluated all information on the status of the Lexington, other friendly ships, and enemy forces. The CIC directed the ship’s performance in close coordination with the air operations center and the carrier air traffic control center next door.

During wartime the hangar deck stored as many as 60 aircraft. Maintenance, refueling, and re-arming of aircraft took place here. Unchanged in size since World War II, the hangar deck measures 654 feet by 70 feet, is 17.5 feet high, and covers 40,000 square feet. The deck is divided into three bays that could be sealed off by electrically operated fire doors. A Mega Theater (similar to IMAX) was added in the forward aircraft elevator space. Visitors can see an inspiring film on the training of fighter pilots in the theater.

Other below deck exhibits include crews’ sleeping quarters, the ship’s post office, medical and dental bays, and special exhibits on the role Lexington played during World War II, her crew, and those lost in combat.

Though some areas of the ship are handicapped accessible, during our visit the escalator was out of order. The hangar deck, pier, and the Mega Theater are handicap-accessible. The Ship’s Store, the Mess Deck, and restrooms are also accessible. Admission is free for wheelchairs.

However, to tour most of the ship involves a lot of climbing and stepping over raised hatchways. Visitors are urged to wear comfortable walking shoes. Friendly volunteers wearing yellow shirts, many of whom actually served aboard the Lexington, are always available to answer questions or assist visitors. Plan on two to three hours to tour the entire ship.

The USS Lexington Museum on the Bay is totally self-sufficient, never having received funds from any government agencies. The museum relies solely on revenues generated from grants, donations, admissions, ship’s store sales, special events, and its youth overnight program. These revenues have covered all expenses not only to operate and maintain the ship but also to fund all capital improvements as well.

The USS Lexington Museum is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., except for Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. Convenient all day parking for automobiles is available. Large RVs would have a hard time getting into the area and finding a parking place. Driving to the ship can be difficult because there are many one way streets, and signage is confusing.

Admission is $16.95 for adults, $14.95 for seniors 60 and above, and active or retired military personnel. Children 4 to 12 are $11.95, and children age 3 and under are free. For more information, call (361) 888-4873 or (800) 523-9539, or visit the Lexington’s website at

Thought For The Day – Don’t limit your challenges, challenge your limits.

A Proofing Frenzy

 Posted by at 12:06 am  Nick's Blog
May 262020

After reading Sunday’s Newspaper Days blog post titled Jaws, a reader asked how we kept the giant shark from decaying. It was packed in ice on the boat, and once we got it to my friend’s taxidermy shop, he and his son went to work skinning it. I didn’t stay around to watch that, just in case they handed me a knife and told me to get to work. Even though the shark was dead, I was pretty sure I could lose a finger or two if I tried that. Somebody else asked what became of the finished mount. I believe it was on display at the Seattle Aquarium for quite some time, but that was over 35 years ago, so I have no idea if it is still there.

I printed out the manuscript for my new book, Big Lake Massacre, and Miss Terry has been in a proofing frenzy for a couple of days now, making corrections as she goes. By the time she finally knocked off somewhere around 7 p.m. last night, she had finished more than three-quarters of the book. She has a dental appointment this afternoon that may take a while, so I don’t know if she will have any time to work on it today.

While she was doing that, I was making all of the corrections Terry found necessary. I also wrote the first chapter for the next book in the series, Big Lake Hoarder, which will be included as a teaser or preview of coming attractions at the end of Big Lake Massacre. When I was finished with that, I printed it out, and Terry took a break from what she was doing to give it a quick read through and said she liked it.

A couple of days ago, I received the formatted paperback manuscript for my last John Lee Quarrels book, The Road to Wrinkle Ranch, back from Scarlett Braden Moss, an author friend of mine who does book formatting for me. And yesterday my cover artist, Elizabeth Mackey, sent me the paperback cover. I will submit it to Amazon today and it should be available in a few days.

And with that done, I will start on my author’s newsletter, which will be sent out to my subscribers once the new book is live. If you would like to be added to the free newsletter mailing list, just send me your e-mail address at I promise not to spam you or to share your information with anyone. And I have good news for my subscribers. I will be choosing one name from the list to win a new Kindle Paperwhite e-reader. Could you be the lucky winner?

And finally, here’s a chuckle to start your day from the collection of funny signs we see in our travels and that our readers share with us. I wonder how often he gets results.

Thought For The Day – May you have the hindsight to know where you’ve been, the foresight to know where you’re going, and the insight to know when you’ve gone too far.