Monday, December 31, 2007

Damn, what a year!

There's an old Chinese curse that goes: "May you live in interesting times."

By the Chinese measure, then, we are definitely cursed and for me and mine, 2007 was a very "interesting" year.

indianaCzbxThis time last year, we were comfortably settled in our big old house in Thorntown, Ind. We had money in the bank from the sale of my parents' house and were looking forward to using some of it to build a two-car, two-motorcycle garage with an upstairs photo studio and office and planned to expand our wedding and portrait photography business.

Maria was closing out an excellent year as managing editor of the Crawfordsville Journal Review, having won a wheelbarrow full of awards at the National Newspaper Association and Hoosier State Press Association contests. And we figured 2007 would be even more professionally rewarding for her.

Twelve months later, nearly everything in our lives has changed. Our garage/studio project blew up in our faces and our trusted contractor ran off with about $15,000 of the proceeds from my parents' house, after taking about $20,000 and leaving us virtually nothing to show for it.

We had a bridezilla who pretty much put me off of wedding photography for the rest of my natural life.

The departure of Karen, Maria's award-winning page designer, plunged us both into about six months of long days and nights at the newspaper, often adding up to six-day weeks and pretty much sucked the fun out of working there.

Then Maria got a call from a corporate head-hunter in Cincinnati who was helping the Jonesboro Sun search for a managing editor. Maria wasn't interested in moving to Arkansas and neither was I, but she decided to play along to see how marketable her skills were.

She's already been offered the top editorial job at another Indiana newspaper, but turned it down because the upper-level management was blind to the problems that were taking the paper down the toilet.

Maria was invited to Jonesboro for an interview and we drove down arkansaE2on Aug. 10 to get our first look at this place. I was strongly opposed to leaving Indiana and couldn't conceive of living in Arkansas. I wanted to dislike Jonesboro and I think Maria did too. But we didn't. It turned out to be a pleasant place full of nice people.

A few days later, Maria got a job offer. Emotional attachments aside, accepting the offer and moving to Arkansas was the only logical choice. The job at the Sun was filled with opportunity and things were only getting worse at the JR, with no sign of improving.

So she took the job and we rendezvoused here on Labor Day - she driving down from Indiana and me riding my motorcycle here after a week in the Rockies with my BMW Club friends - and began our search for a house.

Realtor Stan Dacus must have shown us 40 houses over the next few weeks until we found this place between Goobertown and Buck Snort and knew immediately that it had everything we'd been looking for, and more.

It's about 12 minutes from Maria's office and 4 minutes, 52 seconds from the nearest liquor store. That's significant, because we live in a dry county and the nearest liquor store is across the county line to the north. There's a large fenced back yard for the dogs, a big garage for the bikes and (when we get the boxes unpacked) the cars. The place is only two years old and virtually maintenance-free, in stark contrast to the money pit house in Thorntown.

And the weather is much nicer here - about 10 degrees warmer than in Indiana on any given day, with more days of sunshine than we had in Thorntown.

It was cold (30s) and rainy today in Indiana, but I went for a nice long motorcycle ride this afternoon in sunshine and 57 degrees.

At this point, the only scary loose end is getting the Thorntown house sold before the double house payments and Indiana winter heating bills wipe out our equity.

Yes, life here in northeast Arkansas is good. While Maria's family is still in Indiana, I have little left to tie me to the Midwest. My son Steve, his wife Nicky and daughter Lisa moved from Cincinnati to Las Vegas about the same time we moved here in a similarly unexpected relocation.

So with Steve in Vegas, Sean and Ruth in Portland and us in Arkansas, all of my DNA is west of the Mississippi.

But it still blows our minds that it happened so fast.

Every now and then, we wake up in the morning, look at each other and say,"What are we doing in Arkansas. How in the fuck did we end up here?"

Yes, it's been a very interesting year. It's our hope that 2008 can be an "interesting" year for someone else - maybe for friends in Indiana who we hope will join us on our Mid-South adventure.

My Predictions for 2008


  1. The Shins' Wincing the Night Away will win the Best Independent Album Grammy and Joe Chiccarelli will be Producer of the Year.
  2. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels will win a second term.
  3. Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., will be the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, even though he should probably lead the ticket.
  4. Another Bhutto will die in Pakistan.
  5. Nothing will be done to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions.
  6. One of the two Crawfordsville (Ind.) daily newspapers will change hands or cease publication.
  7. One of the original Mickey Mouse Club Mouseketeers will die.

The Sea Refuses No River: Think about it

By Pete Townshend

I remember being richer than a king
The minutes of the day were golden
I recall that when the joint passed around
My body felt a little colder
But now I'm like a sewer channel - running lime and scag
Let me get at the master panel - let me at my stack

The sea refuses no river
And right now this river's banks are blown
The sea refuses no river
Whether stinking and rank
Or red from the tank
Whether pure as a spring
There's no damn thing stops the poem
The sea refuses no river
And this river is homeward flowing

I have seen a trace of strain
In other's eyes, not spoken.
I must admit that I enjoyed their pain
But this time it's me that's broken
I demand for you and His
This must be the time
When we decide what freedom is
Turn water into wine

For the sea refuses no river
We're polluted now but in our hearts still clean
The sea refuses no river
We tried not to age
But time had its rage
We're washed over the stones
From babies into clones of the mean
The sea won't refuse this muddy river
Nor deny the sulphurous stream

There was a fool in a dressing robe
Riding out the twilight hour
Lonely and cold in an empty home
Trying to assess his power
But now he's like a stream in flood
Swollen by the storm
He doesn't care if he sheds his blood
Let him be reborn

For the sea refuses no river
Remember that when the beggar buys a round
The sea refuses no river
And rain fills the gutters
No time for stutters
This is our chance
To sing and dance and to clown

The sea refuses no river
And rivers were sprung to drown
The sea refuses no river
No pecking code respected for the damned
The sea refuses no river
Whether starving and ill
Or strung on some pill
Just 'cos you own the land
There's no unique hand plugs the dam

The sea refuses no river
And the river is where I am
The river is where I am

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Saturday evening

At Barnes & Noble.

Me as a Simpsons character

Ever wonder what you'd look like as a character on The Simpsons?johnsimpson

Go to, a site sponsored by Burger King and The Simpsons Movie, upload a representative color photo of yourself and have at it. There are lots of ways to tweak the image, so you can probably come up with something that's reasonably accurate.

You can download and/or e-mail the resulting image.

And it's freeeeeee!

Here's what I might look like as a Simpsons character.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The best shots of last night

westsidewins Westside High School's boys basketball team upset Jonesboro High School in the NEA Tournament. It was the first Westside victory over Jonesboro since the 1974-75 season.


And this dunk sequence.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

More basketball

Shooting 3 more games tonight.

Fucking Savages!


RAWALPINDI, Pakistan - Pakistan opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated today in a suicide bombing that also killed at least 20 others at a campaign rally, a party aide and a military official said.

"At 6:16 p.m. she expired," said Wasif Ali Khan, a member of Bhutto's party who was at Rawalpindi General Hospital where she was taken after the attack.

“She has been martyred,” added party official Rehman Malik. Bhutto was 54.

A party security adviser said Bhutto was shot in the neck and chest as she got into her vehicle, then the gunman blew himself up.

A senior military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment, confirmed that Bhutto had died.

Her supporters at the hospital began chanting "Dog, Musharraf, dog," referring to Pakistan's president Pervez Musharraf. Some of them smashed the glass door at the main entrance of the emergency unit, others burst into tears.

An Associated Press reporter at the scene of the bombing could see body parts and flesh scattered at the back gate of the Liaqat Bagh park where Bhutto had spoken. He counted about 20 bodies, including police, and could see many other wounded people.

The road outside was stained with blood. People screamed for ambulances. Others gave water to the wounded lying in the street.

The clothing of some of the victims was shredded and people put party flags over their bodies.

Security had been tight, with hundreds of riot police manning security checkpoints with metal detectors around what was Bhutto's first campaign rally since returning from exile two months ago.

Bhutto had planned an earlier rally in the city, but Musharraf forced her to cancel it, citing security fears. In October, suicide bombers struck a parade celebrating Bhutto’s return, killing more than 140 people in the southern city of Karachi.

Parties across the country were stepping up campaigning for the Jan. 8 elections after a Muslim holiday late last week and a holiday on Tuesday for the birthday of Pakistan’s founder and revered first leader, Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

Western allies hope the election will restore stability in a nuclear-armed country vital to their battle against Islamist militancy. The three-way race had pitted Bhutto against the party of another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, and a party that backs Musharraf, who took power in a 1999 coup.

The elections are for provincial parliaments and for a National Assembly from which a prime minister and a government will be drawn.

In recent weeks, suicide bombers have repeatedly targeted security forces in Rawalpindi, a city near the capital where Musharraf stays and the Pakistan army has its headquarters.

Before the rally, scheduled for Thursday afternoon, Bhutto had met with visiting Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the end of his two-day visit here.

“We too believe that it is essential for both of our countries, and indeed the larger Muslim world, to work to protect the interest of Islamic civilization by eliminating extremism and terrorism,” she said after their meeting.

Bhutto served twice as Pakistan's prime minister between 1988 and 1996. She had returned to Pakistan from an eight-year exile on Oct. 18.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Shooting basketball

Here we are at the NEA tournament at the Arkansas State University Convocation Center.
I never considered myself a sports photographer, but that's the assignment today.
These high school teams are playing to very sparse crowds. Apparently they dont't take their basketball as seriously here as we do in Indiana.
No cheerleaders, no fans in school colors, no painted faces... No enthusiasm.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss

I'm working for Maria again - this time at The Sun rather than the Journal Review.
I'm a photographer and photography consultant here for the next couple of weeks. The job is a consequece of the photo manager jumping ship last week.
I'm glad to be back in a newsroom, even if my first day is 4 p.m. to midnight on Christmas Day.
So far, I've been busy prepping photos in Photoshop and reading page proofs while Maria builds pages.
Nothing to shoot so far this evening, but I expect to be out with a camera tomorrow.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Ho Ho Ho

It sure doesn't feel like Christmas Eve here in the Mid-South.

Of my 62 Christmases, this will be only the third I've spent outside Indiana. The other two were in the 1980s when my parents wintered in Florida.

As odd as it feels, I can honestly say that I'd rather be here today than in frigid, snowy Thorntown, Ind.

As I write this, it's 27 degrees with a wind chill of 14 in Thorntown, going to a high today of only 33. In stark contrast, it's sunny this morning at our place between Goobertown and Buck Snort and the temperature is 30 (no wind chill), heading for a high today of 51.

It feels so little like Christmas that we didn't bother with a tree or any decorations this year. I'm not a big Christmas tree guy anyway. When I was single living the life of a rogue elephant in my apartments and condo, I never bothered with a tree or decorations. And after Maria and I got married, I left the tree decorating to her and her kids, particularly because her ex was an extreme control freak when it came to Christmas trees and never allowed her to touch the lights on their trees.

We got into the habit of driving over the the Dull Tree Farm (the family's name is Dull and their trees are anything but dull) north of Mechanicsburg, Ind., and cutting our own. The Dulls are old friends of Maria's and we became their unofficial photographers. The Newfie pictured here with red velvet antlers belongs to a Newfoundland club from Ohio who bring their dogs over to Dulls' the first Saturday in December to pull tree-laden carts in from the fields for customers.

Maria and I have already done our mutual gifting. We agreed that the 41" Sharp Aquos HDTV we bought the weekend after Thanksgiving would be our present to each other.

So Christmas morning will find us holed up in our cozy new home in the woods with our dogs.

Of course, I'd love to be with my sons and their families, but since Sean and Ruth are in Portland, Ore., and Steve, Nicky and Lisa are in Las Vegas, that's not feasible this year. Maybe we should all drop in on Steve in Vegas next year for a Christmas in the desert.

Merry Christmas to everyone. May you get everything you really want and may every gift you give be exactly what the recipient hoped for.

Saturday, December 22, 2007


I've coughed so much in the past two days that my abdominal muscles hurt and it feel like I could cough my way into a stroke or a detached retina.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Out, damned spotted carpet!


Oh, well. What's another three weeks with a garage full of boxes?

We examined the new "bonus room" carpet again this morning and all of the spots were still there. Also, on close examination, we found the installer actually damaged the carpet in an effort to remove the worst of the spots.

I called him to say we are not satisfied with the condition of the carpet and it will have to be replaced. He asked if I would agree to let a professional carpet cleaner take a shot at it, but gave up on that idea when I pointed out that there's a partial hole worn in it from a cleaning attempt (see inset).

So he called Lowe's and they're going to order more carpet.

This job commenced on Dec. 1 when we placed the carpet order and it took 20 days for Lowe's to get the carpet and have it installed.

So there will be no moving of office furniture and computers to the bonus room this weekend, or probably any other weekend until mid-January.

As it turns out, I'm down with a second cold bug or having a serious relapse from the first one. I've got painfully pressurized sinuses, a faucet for a nose and a codeine-resistant hacking cough that make me want to just sit quietly and wait for my life to get better.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Where's our money, George? Where's George?


This is George O'Dell, the contractor we trusted to build a two-car, two-motorcycle garage with a second-floor photo studio.

He's holding a piece of the $9,000 concrete pad we bought that had to be ripped out because the concrete guys George hired didn't bother to dig proper footers and because it would have gone to pieces if we had stuck a garage and vehicles on top of it. (The tattoos represent the birth dates of his children. Isn't that darling? What a loving, Christian parent. At least that's what he professed to be.)

The photo was taken on May 3, two days after we gave George a check for $14,920 to buy construction materials for the garage. He presumably was going to complete the demolition of the faulty concrete pad and have a good one poured.

George and his crew made their last appearance at our place the next day. On June 28, we hired another contractor to remove the remaining 20 percent or so of the concrete and grade the back yard.

George had told us he used our money to buy our construction materials at Menards. A check with all of the area Menards stores showed that no such transaction took place.

About a month or so after George quit returning our calls, Maria left him a voicemail saying we needed the promised revised garage plans, proof of bonding and insurance and a receipt from Menards for the building materials. We're still waiting for a response.

So after three months of silence, we filed a complaint with the Consumer Protection Division of the Indiana Attorney General's Office. Several lawyers told us we were guaranteed a victory if we took the matter to court, but that we would never see a dime of restitution. The only way to get leverage on people like George, they said, is to attach the threat of criminal prosecution to the case, which is what happens when the Attorney General gets involved.

It's been a couple of months since I had a conversation with the young law clerk in the Consumer Protection Division to check on the progress of our complaint. I'll call her tomorrow.

In the meantime, we're thinking bitter thoughts about George.

The King has left the building... almost


This is Sam King, assistant managing editor at the paper where Maria was managing editor before our move to Arkansas.

Sam gave notice this week because he has landed a better-paying job at a substantially larger and better-run newspaper only minutes from his apartment. And it's in the sports department, which is Sam's first love.

Sam never really wanted to be an AME, but he did it anyway because Maria needed him to, and he grew into the position quickly and well. The experience will be valuable as he continues his journalism career.

Carpet at last. Or not.

In case I needed reminding that home improvement is rarely easy, we got our "bonus room" carpet installed today.

But there are three or four dark spots on it.

The installer said he had treated the spots and they looked dark when I went up to inspect the job this evening because the carpet is still wet in those places.

He opined that the treated areas will dry clear.

I declined to sign off on the job - I'll be damned if I'll sign off on a $1,682 carpet job that isn't perfect. I told him I'll let it dry overnight and if the spots are gone tomorrow, I'll go down to Lowe's and sign off on the work.

Of course, this means we can't move any furniture or equipment into that room tonight or until we're satisfied we won't have to have it ripped out and replaced.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Almost ready...


This is the "bonus room" above our garage.

We were supposed to get carpet installed there today, but the crew from Lowe's ran into problems with another job yesterday and our job got pushed back to Thursday.


Once we get carpet on the floor, we can move our computers and office stuff up there, which will break up the log jam of boxes in the garage and eventually make it possible to park our cars in the garage.

It will also make it possible for me to finish the wedding album for the couple whose wedding we photographed on July 14. It's an ongoing source of embarrassment for the that I haven't been able to get it done and that's the first thing on my agenda once the computer equipment is in place.

Monday, December 17, 2007

A Sun in her future?

sunpicIt's 8:20 a.m. and our friend Lauri just rolled out for the drive home to Indiana with her two boys, Jacob and Judd.

The house is eerily quiet after a couple of days of happy chaos. We had a great time shopping, hanging out, watching DVDs, drinking Margaritas and rum and Coke (not the kids). We did a quick raid Saturday afternoon on Dillard's Clearance Center, where we all scored some great deals, even though the inventory isn't what it was a month ago.

The Crawfordsville Journal Review, where Maria and Lauri worked together and Lauri still toils, invites readers to submit photos of themselves on vacation in exotic locations with a copy of the Journal Review. Here's a shot that probably won't get published.

Lauri is one of the top graphic artist newspaper ad designers in Indiana and her talents would doubtless be welcome at Maria's new paper here in Arkansas.

Needless to say, we'd love to see her and her husband Jim and the kids join us here in the temperate Mid-South.

The winter weather in the Midwest was an ever-present background to the weekend. Lauri had planned to drive down Saturday morning, but left Friday evening instead because of concerns over snow and freezing rain sweeping across Missouri and into Illinois. She managed to beat the snow and ice, but spent the last couple of hours in heavy rain before arriving here about 1:30 a.m. Saturday.

We'd hoped the winter storm, which amounted to just a gray day in the low 40s here Saturday, would be severe enough to make her stay an extra day, but it was not to be.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Is it just us?


Parking where there is no designated space.

We've been in Arkansas a couple of months now and have decided there is a subtle but very real difference in the way we and our neighbors* process information and interface with reality.

With a few notable exceptions, it seems that the farther east you go in this country, the higher the vibration at which people function. New Yorkers who visit Indiana find us remarkably laid-back and slow-paced. Conversely, my visits to New York left me with the impression that most New Yorkers are tweaked up and exploding with nervous energy.

And so it is for us in the upper right corner of Arkansas. We noticed it first in people's driving habits. Nobody seems to be in a hurry to get anywhere. I'm not known for jackrabbit starts from stoplights, but I have yet to be beaten off the line by anyone here. There is consistently a five-second or more time lag between the appearance of a green light and any forward motion by a vehicle with an Arkansas plate. If the driver is on a cell phone, it takes them even longer to wake up and move. And if it's an old person in a Buick, you can expect them to be just slightly faster than a house plant.

When it comes to cornering, people here creep around corners like they think they're on black ice. Nobody accelerates through a turn. And when turning into a parking lot, they often come to a dead stop at the end of the turn, presumably to decide what to do next. God help you if you just started a left turn into that same lot and are left hanging in the oncoming traffic lane.

Of course, hardly anyone uses turn signals. They must think that projection on the left side of the steering column is there for decoration.

The people, we have found, are nice to a fault. They can be maddeningly naaaas ("nice" in Arkanese). Workers in fast food joints welcome you enthusiastically and wish you a naaas day when you leave with such conviction that you feel compelled to respond.

And damn near everyone wears camo. We had lunch at an all-you-can-eat catfish buffet and had a contest to see who could spot the most items of clothing in camouflage pattern. Counting jackets, caps and shirts, I came up with more than 10. You see whole families in camo, even little toddlers. I bought a camo hat at the Boomland fireworks store/gas station as a joke, but it's a joke nobody around here gets. I just look normal to them. There's even a hunting/outdoorsman store here called the Camo Store.

People here are crazy about hunting, especially deer hunting. The local paper runs whole pages of photos of hunters hunkered down next to the deer they killed. There was even a story about a 4-year-old girl who almost accidentally drilled an eight-point buck through the forehead with a .22 while sitting in a deer blind on her grandmother's lap.

This is also the "buckle" of the Bible Belt. About 89 percent of the folks in this county who claim a religious affiliation belong to Evangelical Protestant churches and the overwhelming majority of them are Southern Baptists. A professor at the local Arkansas State University campus, who just moved here from the East Coast, remarked to my wife that the first thing people ask him is, "What church do you go to?"

As Catholics, we're probably regarded as Satanic agents of Rome, so we avoid discussions of religion.

There are, of course, some quick, witty, alert people here - folks with a bit of an edge to them - and we delight in discovering them. And we're looking for more of them.


*When I say "neighbors," I don't mean our next-door neighbors. We don't know them well enough to include them in this rant and, therefore give them the benefit of the doubt.

Company's coming!


Our friend Lauri is coming tonight for a weekend visit, along with her two boys, and we're very excited.laurisimpson

Lauri as a Simpson character.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Reading at Barnes & Noble

Maria with her new glasses at Barnes & Noble.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Shins win Grammy nomination!!!


Wincing the Night Away,
the Shins album my son Sean helped engineer, is nominated for Best Alternative Music Album in the 50th Annual Grammy Awards.

Producer Joe Chiccarelli, with whom Sean worked on the album, is also up for Producer of the Year on the strength of the Shins album and three others.

The Grammy Awards will be presented on Feb. 10, 2008.


Marty Crandall, Joe Chiccarelli, James Mercer, and Sean Flora in the studio.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Working late

Maria, who got glasses last week and can see her monitor much better now, edits copy in her office while I wait patiently to go to dinner.
Not having been our of the house all day, I was getting stir-crazy and decided to drive into town for dinner.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

A happy observation

I paid our utility bills for our first full month in the new house and they were remarkably low.

The electric bill, which includes heat and air conditioning, was $103 and the water bill was $27, for a total of $130.

Reviewing our utility bills for the Thorntown house for 2006, I find we averaged $285 a month. I realize last month was unseasonably mild and winter hasn't even started, but these look like numbers I can like.

The previous owner said the highest electric bill he ever had was something like $180, so if that's as bad as it can get, the higher house payment won't be quite so painful.

Of course, we're paying to heat the Thorntown house until we sell it, not to mention continuing to make payments on it, and God knows how long that will go on.

Maria called a cleaning woman (Reinemachefrau) and arranged for her to give the Thorntown house a good going-over late this week. Then we can bring in the Realtors, let them take their photos and get that mo-fo onto the market.