Category Archives: 20th Century Culture

Luster of Pearls

The Luster of Pearls: Alabama Writers Hall of Fame inducts twelve

By Edward Reynolds
July 15, 2015

I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light.
—Helen Keller


On the evening of July 8, 2015, a dozen literary notables with ties to Alabama received long overdue official recognition when the first class of the Alabama Writers Hall of Fame was inducted. Major sponsors of the Hall of Fame include the Alabama Center for the Book, the University of Alabama Library Leadership Board, and the Alabama Writers’ Forum, a partnership program of the Alabama State Council on the Arts. The Gala was held in the Bryant Conference Center at the University of Alabama, with close to 300 in attendance.

Table Setting From Writers Hall of Fame Dinner

Table Setting From Writers Hall of Fame Dinner. Photo by Elizabeth Limbaugh

Julie Friedman is a Hall of Fame Committee member, vice-president of the Alabama Writers’ Forum, a member of the Alabama State Council on the Arts, and currently on the Library Leadership Board at the University of Alabama. Friedman said the notion of establishing an Alabama Writers Hall of Fame began in conversations with Alabama Writers’ Forum Executive Director Jeanie Thompson “dreaming about something that we could do to honor writers who either have been born in the state or have done most of their work in Alabama.”

Friedman elaborated, “We have a vehicle in place to honor living writers either through the Harper Lee Award or through the State Arts Council and through the Governor’s Arts Awards. But we didn’t have anything in place that would recognize writers who were deceased in addition to living writers.” Friedman added that a second class will be inducted around the fall of 2016.

Regarding the criteria for choosing the inaugural class, she explained, “A lot of what we looked at were awards—had they won a Pulitzer Prize—or do they have a national reputation. Did their work have an impact on literature? Johnson Jones Hooper was a tremendous influence on Mark Twain, and Twain even borrowed characters from Johnson Jones Hooper. Augusta Jane Evans Wilson was one of the first published authors from the state of Alabama. When she wrote in the 1850s and 1860s, she sold thousands of books at a time when the Internet didn’t exist and there were no public relations campaigns.

Virtually unknown today, Augusta Evans Wilson was one of the most well-known writers of the 19th century and certainly the most successful Alabama writer of her time. Wilson’s great popularity is evidenced by the number of towns and young girls named for her characters.
The Green Room

In the media “green room,” poet, playwright, and Hall of Fame inductee Sonia Sanchez was absolutely charming. Sanchez, a distinguished member of the Black Arts Movement, addresses everyone as “my sister” or “my brother.” Her warm personality, gray dreadlocks, and sparkling black jacket were mesmerizing. Sanchez, a Birmingham native, moved out of state at age six.
Continue reading

Capone, the Cobbs, and Me

Originally published in Alabama Writers’ Forum on Jan. 11, 2016

Capone, the Cobbs, and Me

Capone, the Cobbs, and Me

By Rex Burwell
Livingston Press, 2015
$17.95, Paper; $30,Hardcover,


Reviewed by Ed Reynolds

With a title like Capone, the Cobbs, and Me, (and featuring photos of Al Capone, Ty Cobb, and Cobb’s drop-dead gorgeous wife Charlene on the cover), the reader is intrigued right off the bat. The story told within doesn’t disappoint, either. The “Me” hanging out with Capone, his thugs, and the Cobbs is a Chicago White Sox catcher named Mort Hart who quickly falls in love with Cobb’s wife. Hart is second in hitting percentage in the Roaring ’20s when a knee injury places him on the disabled list. Hart also happens to be the only major leaguer with a law degree. The ballplayer’s life suddenly catapults into spellbinding adventure when Baseball Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis needs someone special to investigate Capone’s fixing outcomes of ballgames using Cobb.

Author Rex Burwell spins a fictionalized tale based on a real-life major league catcher named Moe Berg, once described by baseball Hall of Famer Casey Stengel as “the strangest man ever to play baseball.” Berg was an average major leaguer who was a spy for the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) during World War II and later for the CIA. Over the next 200 pages, the author takes readers on a surreal journey through baseball, gambling, organized crime, murder, and mayhem—with enough subtle descriptions of sex and violence to spice things up. Burwell also tosses in a few musical elements to make for a fascinatingly quick read.

Among the characters is Milton Mezzrow, a jazz clarinet player. Better known as “Mezz,” the musician is a bookkeeper at the Arrowhead Inn in Burnham, Illinois, a hotel owned by Capone where Mezz not only keeps two ledger accounts but also leads a house band called the Mezzophonics that features guest trumpeters Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbek. In one memorable passage, Burwell shares Mezz’s description of the Mezzophonics as a “zebra band,” the first mixed-race band in history. “Black and white cats, Matts. And some hot guests with good chops too. You never seen a mixed-race band before, did you? And nobody else did either. This is history.”

Mezz is actually a white Jew who had decided years earlier to pass himself off as an African American, with the author referencing Mezz’s “perfect Negro hipster accent.” Burwell lets Mezz do the talking: “We got a real tight band,” says Mezz. “historic, like I told you, the dark and the light and the lightly toasted playing together so hot, Jack. You’ll hear it tonight. You can’t hear it anywhere else in the universe, nowhere but here, tonight.” Our hero Mort Hart elaborates on Mezz: “His metamorphosis from Jew to Negro with no change in complexion was a bold strike, not undertaken foolishly, but knowingly. Only white people thought Mezz a fool. Negroes took him as a brother who talked their language. I thought him crazy at first. Then I thought him courageous. One changes one’s mind.”

Dig it. Especially the Mob violence. Hart wanders into an icehouse loaded with meat while exercising his baseball-playing damaged knee, only to discover the dead husband of a woman who was sleeping with a Capone thug named Jimmy. “I walked in a few steps on the soft, wet sawdust, and lit and held up the cigarette lighter I always carried,” says Hart.” Behind hams and a side of beef hung a dead man wearing a hat, suspended by a noose and a hook. I got a good look at the waxy face. I never forgot the face.”

Burwell uses several references to indicate that Hart is telling his story in today’s world. Hence, the introduction of a pitcher named Dutch used by Detroit Tigers manager Ty Cobb to throw a ballgame for Capone. Hart notes, “My complete baseball record is available on the internet. I batted against Dutch eight times in the 1926 season and got only one hit—that after he’d hurt his arm and had nothing.” The fix was in because Dutch was forced to pitch though “Dutch’s arm was so sore that he couldn’t comb his hair, but Cobb started him anyway…. In the first inning, with two runners already on base, I batted against him for the eighth and last time that 1926 season. The first pitch Dutch threw was a nothing spitball—he had nothing. He was through as soon as he started. Even as I swung and knocked the ball on an arc to the wall, I felt a drop of his saliva fly up and hit my eye.”

In a strange twist, Hart becomes a spy for Kennesaw Mountain Landis as he also serves as legal advisor for Cobb and lusts after Cobb’s wife. Burwell writes in sexually flirtatious descriptions of our hero’s first introduction to Mrs. Ty Cobb during a blizzard: “At the hotel I met Charlene for the first time. She was outside in a bulky coat that could not hide her good figure. Without vanity, she was aware of her beauty…. She took off a glove and shook my hand. Women, ladies, did not offer a hand in those days, much less take off a glove…. She unbuttoned her fur. One does not often see such a beautiful figure. A man must take advantage of rare occasions. I could feel Cobb watching me look at her.”

Hart continues: “Charlene and I had been corresponding for months, exchanging typed, unsigned letters. I fell in love by mail…. Tucked in one of those letters had been a picture of her that I still have today. She wears a cloche with wings, like Liberty on the dime. In profile her upper lip pushes out…. Cobb made his first wife his ‘trophy wife,’ as they call it nowadays, and kept her thereafter above his mantelpiece with the boars’ heads.”

The musical passages are among the most memorable, historically speaking, especially when Capone is present. Referencing Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke, Burwell writes: “Both musicians were Mezz’s friends. Beiderbecke happened to be living and drinking himself to death in a farmhouse somewhere in the area. This was not the first time he’d played with the Mezzophonics. He was the acknowledged best white jazz cornet player in the nation. Armstrong, of course, was simply the best, white or Negro…. After the show, the band members all ate where the Negroes ate, in the kitchen. Beiderbecke had five shots of free whiskey in three minutes, fell off his chair and had to be helped outside to puke. From here he was poured into the back seat of a car…. Mr. Capone joined us, stepping through the swinging doors, a Heavy on either side of him…. Vain Capone was adept at keeping people, especially photographers, from seeing his left profile with its two long, vivid scars. His wide-brimmed fedora was canted left. He carried his head toward his left shoulder. He wore high collars and often carried a handkerchief to hold his left cheek…. ‘Good music,’ he said to the musicians. ‘Good music, everybody.’”

As long as Mr. Capone is happy, I’m happy. Capone, the Cobbs, and Me is a hell of a novel. Jan. 2016

Ed Reynolds is a writer in Birmingham.


The Gospel According to T.C. Cannon

Originally published in WELD on October 24, 2015

The Gospel According to T.C. Cannon




Those who have followed city politics in the past decade or spent evenings as bar flies at any time between the 1960s to the ‘90s in local drinking establishments perhaps know of Terry “T.C.” Cannon. In 1962, Cannon and his older brother Joe opened the Plaza bar (better known as the “Upside Down” Plaza) on 11th Court South behind Western Supermarket on Highland Avenue (currently the long time home of Hot and Hot Fish Club).

Cannon recalls with a grin that his brother Joe had been ‘captured’ (involved with) then gambling kingpin of Birmingham, Little Man Popwell. “So everything (at the Plaza) was in my name,” T.C. says.

The Plaza drew a nightly cast of characters, creating an oddball clientele mix; Lawyers, doctors, students, businessmen, musicians, librarians, and schoolteachers made it the most eclectic bar in town. Bohemians drank with professionals. “It’s a wonder that the magnolia tree outside the Plaza survived because almost every lawyer in Birmingham has pissed on it,” an attorney friend and long ago Plaza patron told me.

The lounge was a Southside landmark. The Upside Down Plaza is currently still in business in the Five Points South area beneath Pickwick Plaza, where it relocated when the lease was not renewed in the mid-‘80s. In 1987, the nightclub began operation under new ownership.

Cannon claims the Plaza was forced out of its original locale because the landlord discovered religion. “A local preacher instructed them that they had to get rid of this horrible beer joint,” says T.C. “We still had three years on the lease and when we went to court, we won and got to stay three more years. And that was a lot of fun.” Continue reading

Father and Son

Father and Son

Golf king Tiger Woods and his father, Earl, recently whisked through Birmingham on April 20 and 21 to raise money for the Tiger Woods Foundation. Featured in the weekend festivities were the younger Woods’ phenomenal ability to charm golf balls and his dad’s uncanny mastery at charming his son’s legion of fans. Dwight Burgess of St. John’s AME Church had seen an article on the Tiger Woods Foundation, prompting him to make a 1999 call that resulted in the visit to Birmingham; one of only four cities on the Woods Foundation itinerary.

Reassuring smiles and words of encouragement from the golf legend greeted the awed stares of youngsters participating in the instructional clinic. Woods offered invaluable tips on adjusting stances, gripping clubs, and following through on swings. “There’s some serious talent out here,” observed Woods. “Kids today hit the ball farther than I did [at their age]. They’re younger, stronger, and more athletic.” Father Earl lounged nearby in a golf cart, posing for photos with lovely ladies and fielding occasional questions from bold reporters. After a few awkward seconds, the sometimes controversial Woods Sr. scoffed at suggestions that Tiger’s exposure to Buddhism (his mother is Buddhist) was responsible for his son’s unparalleled ability to concentrate under immense pressure. Instead, he said, the younger Woods learned self-hypnosis from a sports psychologist he saw for five years beginning at age 16.

Tiger and Earl Woods started the Tiger Woods Foundation four years ago to “make golf look more like America,” according to Tiger. Each year four cities are selected for the popular instructional and exhibition clinics. “We go to communities that haven’t been as enthusiastic about golf,” explained Tiger, emphasizing the importance of lingering in a city for a couple of days for greater impact on the community. “We don’t want to be a circus, where we just come in, do a clinic, and leave.” As for those kids battling nerves trying to hit a ball in his presence, he said, “I tell them no matter who’s watching, it’s just you and the ball. No one else can hit that shot for them.” Asked if he considered going back to finish his college degree at Stanford, Woods noted the difficulty in resuming studies. The former economics major hinted at a change in his field of study. “I’ll have to change majors. Maybe become a journalist,” Woods laughed to the throng of media gathered on the golf course between Highland and Clairmont Avenues. “Then I can just B.S. my way through.”

The afternoon before the clinic, Earl Woods, president of the Tiger Woods Foundation, addressed a two-thirds capacity audience at St. John’s AME Methodist Church in downtown Birmingham. Focusing on raising children and the importance of his son as a role model, Woods confessed, “I never raised him to be a golfer. I raised him to be a good person.” An engaging speaker, Woods sometimes wandered in melodramatic, even surreal, directions. He never failed to place Tiger on a monumental pedestal. “My son’s power dwarfs mine like a grain of sand in the Sahara Desert,” explained the elder Woods.

Back at the golf course, Tiger Woods made an entrance befitting that of a champion, motoring down the fairway from several hundred yards away to the strains of “Eye of the Tiger” as more than 3,000 shouting children and adults squinted for a glimpse of the world’s most famous athlete. Stepping from a golf cart, which had been flanked by two carts driven by bodyguards, Woods flashed his world-famous smile as he wowed starry-eyed patrons with his million-dollar golf swing. Putting on an impressive exhibition, he explained practice habits and the importance of becoming comfortable with gripping the club. Aiming for a 100-yard marker as he began hitting balls, Woods shook his head and questioned the marker’s distance. “That’s a long hundred. What did you do, measure it in meters?” He fielded questions from children, revealing that he wore red shirts during final rounds on Sundays because his mother told him his astrological charts said that red was his “power color.”

Woods ended the exhibition with a flourish. Bouncing the ball on his club just as he does in his now-famous Nike television commercial, Woods grabbed a second club and began performing the feat with two balls. Suddenly he tossed one iron aside and peered into the distance, still bouncing the ball as he apprehensively noted how narrow the fairway appeared. Woods promised to give the shot a try, regardless. And, of course, he whacked the ball in mid-air, it’s 200-yard flight a white blur that brought a collective sigh from the gallery. It was reality imitating television, with fine dramatic flair.

Dead Folks 2011: World Affairs/Newsmakers

Dead Folks 2011: World Affairs/Newsmakers

January 26, 2012

Moammar Gadhafi

For 42 years, dictator Moammar Gadhafi survived numerous coups and assassination attempts to rule Libya with a brutal fist. In 1969, the 27-year-old military officer led a bloodless rebellion to take control of the country. Libya’s rich oil deposits became Colonel Gadhafi’s trump card, a resource that gave Gadhafi a global importance he otherwise would never have achieved. President Reagan called him “the mad dog of the Middle East.” Egyptian president Anwar el-Sadat referred to him as “that crazy Libyan.”

Gadhafi lived in a huge white tent that he took everywhere. He financed terrorist groups, including the Irish Republican Army and guerilla outfits in Africa. His tyrannical government was responsible for the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am jet over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 passengers. Interrogations and executions were telecast nationally to instill fear in Libyan citizens. Gadhafi usually inflicted violence on the terrorized populace every decade to insure his control. The Libyan army consisted of soldiers imported from Sudan, Chad, and Liberia. A 2011 Libyan uprising finally deposed the tyrant. An intense manhunt for Gadhafi highlighted daily news programs before he was finally located and shot to death.

The dictator had his particulars: He renamed the months, changing February to “Lights” and August to “Hannibal,” for example. Anyone with more than $3,000 in their bank account was considered excessively wealthy and had to surrender the excess to the state. Gadhafi once banned sport utility vehicles, then lifted the ban, only to later reinstate it, forcing those who had purchased SUVs to hide them. He once demanded that all Libyans raise chickens to promote self-sufficiency—even those living in apartments.

Gadhafi had a unique sense of fashion; his colorful robes and funky matching caps established his own ethnic style. One of his more fascinating indulgences was a unique bodyguard squad. Though Gadhafi preached that women were not equal to men, he was personally guarded by a group of machine gun-toting women sporting camouflage fatigues, high-heeled sandals, and red nail polish. (69, killed by Libyan rebels) —ER

David Broder

(click for larger version)




For four decades, Broder was a political reporter and columnist for The Washington Post who could frequently be found on political news shows such as “Meet the Press.” Reflecting his belief “that not all wisdom resides in Washington,” Broder often reported on state and local politics. He was the first to reveal that Senator Edmund Muskie, after growing weary of attacks on his family, cried during a press conference. Muskie denied crying but the image of him as emotionally weak cost him the Democratic presidential nomination to George McGovern in 1972. (81, diabetes) —ER

Dr. Jack Kevorkian

A medical pathologist dubbed “Dr. Death” by his detractors, Dr. Jack Kevorkian assisted more than one hundred terminally ill people in ending their lives by suicide. A fearless rebel in the face of lawsuits and public outcry against his deeds, he was finally convicted of second-degree murder in 1999 for the last assisted suicide in which he was involved. He spent eight years in prison. Regardless of their feelings for Kevorkian, critics and supporters agree that his efforts created improved hospice care and better pain management for dying patients.

Kevorkian was prompted to devote himself to helping the terminally ill after he received national attention for a 1984 speech. He addressed the California Legislature in support of a bill containing his proposal that death-row inmates be given the choice of dying by anesthesia if they allowed their organs to be donated. After visiting the Netherlands in 1987 to learn how the Dutch performed assisted suicide, Kevorkian came back to Detroit to open a clinical practice that included “death counseling.”

Beginning in 1990, Kevorkian began assisting the dying, estimating that some 130 patients used his procedure over the next eight years. Kevorkian continued his efforts despite having his medical license revoked and state legislatures passing laws forbidding assisted suicide. Frequently arrested for short periods of time, he would leave jail and go immediately to assist in another suicide. While incarcerated, he went on hunger strikes. He could be quick-tempered in defending his beliefs and on occasion fought with arresting officers. In 1995, the American Medical Association referred to him as “a reckless instrument of death” who “poses a great threat to the public.” Kevorkian lived a simple life, often wearing second-hand clothes purchased at a Salvation Army thrift store. He rarely dated and never married.

The first person to use Dr. Kevorkian’s “suicide machine” was an Oregon teacher suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. The procedure took place in Kevorkian’s rusting 1968 Volkswagen van at a campground near his home. The doctor called police immediately after the woman’s death and was briefly detained.

As for Dr. Kevorkian’s exit from this life, his final hours were spent listening to Bach in a hospital where he had been admitted for kidney and respiratory problems. (83, blood clot) —ER

Betty Ford

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Haunted by a condition that most families in such high-profile positions would prefer be kept under wraps, former first lady Betty Ford went public with her battle with booze and pills in the late ’70s. Her successful fight inspired Ms. Ford to open The Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, California—today one of the best-known substance-abuse rehabilitation facilities in the country. The rehab hospital has attracted its fair share of celebrities, including Elizabeth Taylor, Liza Minnelli, Mary Tyler Moore, and baseball great Mickey Mantle.

Ford’s addiction to painkillers began in 1964 while recovering from a neck injury. She later began drinking heavily. Her family finally confronted her in 1978, forcing her into treatment.

Ms. Ford never shied from expressing her political opinions, which included staunch defense of the Equal Rights Amendment and legalized abortion. One of her most memorable moments came on the day after her husband was defeated for the presidency by Jimmy Carter in 1976. President Ford had lost his voice, so the First Lady read The President’s concession speech for him. (93) -ER

Lana Peters

The only daughter and last surviving child of brutal Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, Peters defected in 1967, 14 years after her father’s death. Born Svetlana Stalina, she became Lana Peters after getting married in America. Peters moved frequently, seemingly unsettled and desperate, and sampled religions from Hinduism to Christian Science. In 1984, she moved back to the Soviet Union but returned to the U.S. two years later. She reportedly spent her final years in poverty, living in a cabin with no electricity in Wisconsin, though there were rumors she was in a Roman Catholic convent in Switzerland. (85, colon cancer) —ER

Ed Zigo

A veteran New York City detective, Ed Zigo helped track down serial killer (and postal worker) David Berkowitz, also known as Son of Sam, through a parking ticket. For one year beginning in July of 1976, terror gripped New York City when six murders were committed by an unknown assailant who called himself “Son of Sam.” The killer began correspondence with authorities, writing long letters that referenced vampires and monsters, warning that he would strike again. The night he murdered his sixth victim, a woman walking her dog noticed an officer ticketing two cars.

Zigo and other detectives searched every parking ticket issued in the area near the time of the murder. When they came up with a license plate number registered in the name of Berkowitz, Zigo felt he had a solid lead. Zigo remembered thinking “What is a Jewish guy from Yonkers doing parked in an Italian neighborhood at two in the morning?”

Zigo checked out Berkowitz’s address, where he found the ticketed car with a rifle in the backseat and a note in the glove compartment threatening to attack a disco. Zigo noticed that the handwriting on the note was similar to that of the threatening letters sent by Son of Sam. Berkowitz was arrested and immediately confessed to the crimes. (84, cancer) —ER


The most despised dog in the world, Trouble was an irritable Maltese that inherited Leona Helmsley’s $12 million fortune. Trouble’s yearly expenses were reported to be $190,000, of which $100,000 was spent on security due to numerous death and kidnapping threats. When the dog traveled, it flew under the alias “Bubbles” to shake off those tempted to dognap her. Helmsley demanded that everyone call the dog “Princess” instead of “the dog.” Trouble was a notorious biter, and even left a few scars on Helmsley. The dog lived on a diet of crab cakes, cream cheese, and steamed vegetables with chicken, fed by hand, when Ms. Helmsley was alive. After Helmsley’s death, Trouble ate canned dog food. (12) —ER

Singrai Soren

Few will argue that Singrai Soren didn’t have it coming. Soren raised and trained cockfighting roosters in India. Combat roosters are usually given at least an hour between bouts but Soren forced his bird back into the ring only minutes after its first fight. The rooster tried to escape the fighting pit repeatedly, only to have the owner place it back into the ring. The angry bird finally attacked Soren, slitting his throat and killing the man with the razor-sharp blade that all fighting roosters wear on one leg when in battle. —ER

J. Paul Getty III

It wasn’t just bad luck that Jean Paul Getty III was kidnapped at Rome’s Piazza Farnese in November of 1973. The 16-year-old heir to the Getty Oil fortune had also been recently expelled from boarding school, and had joked about faking his own kidnapping for money. The postmen of Italy were also on strike, which made it difficult for Getty’s father to eventually receive the ransom demand for $17 million. Jean Paul Getty II couldn’t get that kind of money together himself, and his own father thought it was a bad idea to negotiate with kidnappers. Things became more urgent when the criminals finally sent a human ear to an Italian newspaper. It was November, and the kidnappers were running out of patience. The accompanying letter announced that J. Paul III would be losing his other ear in 10 more days, to be followed by other body parts.

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Getty Sr. decided that he’d be willing to give the kidnappers $2.2 million for his grandson. That was the maximum amount he could pay and still claim a tax deduction. Anything more than that was to be considered a loan to Getty II at 4% interest. A deal was finally negotiated to have Getty III released for $2.9 million. Payment was made and the teenager was released in Southern Italy that December.

The kidnappers were later caught, and revealed to be a mix of local lowlifes and some crime bosses. It was Italy, so the crime bosses were acquitted and very little of the ransom money was found.

Meanwhile, things would get even more tragic for Getty III. He was pretty much disinherited after marrying his pregnant older girlfriend shortly after the kidnapping. He had a son—who would grow up to be the actor Balthazar Getty—but Getty III would soon develop some serious drug problems. His penchant for mixing whisky, cocaine, and heroin put him into a coma in 1981. He lost oxygen to his brain and ended up as a nearly blind paraplegic. J. Paul would later have to sue his billionaire father to get assistance for medical bills. (That was particularly sad since Getty II had spent plenty of his own young years in a drug-induced haze.) Getty III would eventually live (so to speak) off his own very comfortable inheritance, but always seemed like a one-man Getty curse. At least he didn’t pass the curse on to his kid. The worst that’s happened to Balthazar was that he was caught sleeping around with Sienna Miller. (54, undisclosed but inevitable) —JRT

Still Kinky After All These Years

Still Kinky After All These Years

Cowboy singer and philosopher Kinky Friedman rides into town armed with a guitar and a quick wit.

February 09, 2012

A recent chat with cowboy philosopher, singer/songwriter, novelist, and sometime politician Kinky Friedman reveals the Jewish Texas troubadour to be unconcerned about offending others. Indeed, political incorrectness is his inspiration—Friedman’s original band was called the Texas Jewboys. Known for country folk tunes with titles such as “They Ain’t making Jews Like Jesus Anymore, “Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in the Bed,” and “Homo Erectus,” Friedman released his first album Sold American in 1973. The record included “The Ballad of Charles Whitman,” a song about the University of Texas student who shocked the nation with a shooting spree in 1966 on the Texas campus, killing 16 people. It was the first high-profile mass murder of the TV age. In 1975, Friedman performed on “Austin City Limits,” the only taping in the show’s history to never be broadcast because it was deemed too offensive. An invitation to join Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue in 1976 finally brought Friedman national exposure.

Friedman is best summed up in the chorus of his friend Kris Kristofferson’s song “The Pilgrim, Chapter 33,” a tune about Kristofferson’s favorite characters: “He’s a walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction.” Friedman is not shy about shifting his opinions a bit from time to time with a teasing combination of entertainment and brutal honesty. Two years ago, he was singing President Obama’s praises, but lately he’s been quoted as saying he would even vote for Charlie Sheen over Obama.

“An artist should be ahead of his time and behind on his rent.” (click for larger version)





A popular guest on political talk shows, Friedman ran for Texas governor as an Independent against winner Rick Perry in 2006. Friedman is pals with former presidents Clinton and George W. Bush, and has authored more than two dozen books that range from detective mysteries to observations on life. He claims to be the only politician in America who believes in school prayer and gay marriage, and refers to Republicans and Democrats as the Crips and the Bloods. Friedman will appear at Workplay on February 20. Visit or call 879-4773 for details.

What caused you to sour on President Obama?
I voted for Obama but I’m uncommonly regretful about it because I think he doesn’t have any inspirational quotient, if you know what I mean. If he gave a fireside chat, the fire would go out. And honestly, most of the politicians are just like him. It’s kind of a gift, the ability to inspire people. Churchill had it; FDR had it; Reagan had it. Hell, Ann Richards had it as governor of Texas. Most of these politicians today, they’re perpetually behind the curve. That’s the problem. You don’t see a Churchill in sight, or a Harry Truman, for that matter—somebody willing to make unpopular decisions or courageous kinds of decisions and stand by them.

You got 13 percent of the vote running against Rick Perry in the 2006 Texas gubernatorial election.
Well, I tell you what, I owe a debt of gratitude to Rick. His running for president has sure improved my image. And he’s made George W. look like Thomas f***ing Jefferson. It’s created kind of a strange situation in Texas where all the blondes and all the Aggies are telling Rick Perry jokes. The one thing the Occupy movement has right is that money and greed have destroyed our political system. That’s very true and that’s too bad.

Regarding the Occupy movement, where are all the protest singers today?
I think that is reflected in the general absence of much originality in music. You look at Nashville today, you see these corporate [music] publishing whorehouses where there are guys like me waiting in the hallway for a songwriter’s appointment, trying to write songs. And the results of the last two decades have been dismal. Nobody in all that time has written [Willie Nelson's] “Hello Walls.” Nobody’s written “Me and Bobby McGee,” have they? So to write that kind of stuff—to write “King of the Road”—you’ve got to be pretty f***ed up and broke and not living at your parents’ home with your iPhone. I’m not saying (all) the music sucks today or whatever, but you’ve got to go see a geezer. And I don’t quite count myself there yet. I mean, I’m 67, though I read at a 69-year old level. If you want to see something great, you’ve got to see Levon Helm or Bob Dylan or Willie or Merle or Kris or Billy Joe Shaver. Those guys are all in their 70s and they will inspire you.

You commented that Ron Paul looks like a mad scientist.
He does, but he looks better than Ralph Nader, who looks like a praying mantis. But Paul is probably closer to talking [the truth] than any of the others. But that’s politics. “Poly” means “more than one” and “ticks” are blood-sucking parasites.

Do you have any desire to get back into politics?
Well, if I did, somebody would have to give me millions of dollars. That’s the great equalizer. If I had that kind of money, then I could run as an independent. If I had a reasonably funded campaign, I could win today, I could beat Rick Perry in Texas. But it’s a little too late. When the people had their chance to vote [in 2006, when Perry beat Friedman for governor], only 26 percent of the people voted. That’s what did us in, because everybody else was really for Kinky; they just didn’t think that I had a chance. And that’s what happens to independents quite often.

Tell me about the book you’re writing with Billy Bob Thornton.
We’re wrapping up the book with Billy Bob and just starting one with Willie [Nelson]. The Billy Bob book is called The Billy Bob Tapes: A Cave Full of Ghosts. It’s a real honest book, which you don’t see very often. Quite insightful. Billy believes you’re never gonna see another John Wayne or another John Lennon or Jimi Hendrix. You’re never gonna see a star again. You’re gonna see product like Lady Gaga. He believes the audience has become the show, that’s the problem. That’s because of the internet. That’s why he thinks you’ll never see a hero again. Part of the secret is you’ve got to stay hungry and unhappy and worried all the time, and lonely. That’s Billy Bob’s theory. I think he’s right. You know, an artist should be ahead of his time and behind on his rent. The Willie book is called The Troublemaker, and it’s kind of Willie’s “M.O.,” how Willie achieved success by going against what people told him he couldn’t do, and, of course, we also have the new tequila coming out, Kinky Friedman’s Man in Black Tequila. We will have free samples available at the show.

If Johnny Cash were still alive, he’d want a piece of the action with a tequila named Man in Black, wouldn’t he?
Well, Man in Black Tequila salutes Zorro and Johnny Cash. So, he’s getting attribution. So it’s not gonna be a financial pleasure for Johnny Cash but let’s hope it’s one for the Kinkster. Where Johnny is, he doesn’t need the money, he has plenty of coin of the spirit—which, of course, is always more important.

You’re rarely seen without a cigar. How old were you when you started smoking them?
About seven. Since it seems I’ve been smoking forever, I’ve got about two taste buds left, which is how I know how good this Mexican mouthwash is—I can tell how good stuff like tequila is, regardless. This tequila makes me so high I need a step ladder to scratch my ass. You know, there’s a way of drinking tequila where you snort a line of salt and squeeze the lime in your eye, and then drink the shot. That’s the Kinkster cowboy method.

In addition to the music, what should we expect from your show?
We’ll do a little reading from my new book Heroes of a Texas Childhood, 23 heroes of mine when I was a kid. Afterwards, of course, we’ll sign books. I’ll sign anything but bad legislation.

How many of those heroes are still alive?
Two of them—Willie Nelson and a man named Racehorse Haynes, a very famous defense lawyer in eastern Texas.

You’ve recently recorded readings of your books. What was it like revisiting them?
It was quite amazing reading that stuff again. I hadn’t looked at it in 30 years, some if it. Of course, the songs I’ll be singing are older than a lot of the people in the audience. But it seems to work. A lot of the young people do know all the songs. And doing it solo is an unusual thing for me. This tour is kind of in the Townes Van Zandt/Woody Guthrie spirit.

How did you and Jim Nabors become good friends?
We met through Ruth Buzzi, the lady who hit people in the head with her purse on “Laugh-In.” She told me to look him up when I was in Hawaii because I go out there a lot. So I called him and he came over and said, [in a Gomer Pyle voice] “I’d love to show you my nuts!” And, of course, he’s got this big macadamia nut plantation. Speaking for myself, I am not gay, OK? I am not gay.

Here’s a great story Jim Nabors told me once in Hawaii. It was 1964 when the “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.” show was number one in the country. Muhammad Ali’s mother and little brother were big fans and came out to see a taping of the show. Someone asked Jim if he’d say hello to Cassius Clay’s mom and the kid. So Jim invited the mother and the kid to lunch at the commissary. He really liked the mother because she was kind of a down-home Kentucky gal and Jim was from Alabama and everybody else there was from Hollywood, of course. They had a really great time together that afternoon, took pictures, signed autographs, and hung out. Then he hugged them both, said good-bye, and he never saw them again. 25 years later, he’s in Le Dome Restaurant in L.A., having dinner, and this buzz starts around the restaurant that Ali and his entourage are there. And Jim’s not going to approach Ali because he’s never met the man, and also because there’s all these stories in the media that Ali’s lost his memory and lost his mind from boxing for two decades. So Jim just goes on with his meal and about halfway through he feels this presence behind him and then a tap on his shoulder and Ali is standing there. And Ali leans over to Jim and says, “Thanks for being so nice to my momma and my little brother,” and then he walks off. This shows how long an act of kindness can float around the universe. &

Dead Folks 2011: Playboys/Playgirls

Dead Folks 2011: Playboys/Playgirls


Brigitte Bardot and Gunter Sachs (click for larger version)


January 26, 2012

Gunter Sachs

They don’t make them like that anymore, those continental jet-setting dandies of leisure, wealth, and adventure. With Sachs’ departure, the world bids farewell to the Men of the World, the Monaco casino/St. Moritz slope/Mediterranean yacht club gadabouts, that class-apart group whom Truman Capote referred to as the “super rich.” There’s no getting around it: Gunter Sachs was the last of the international playboys.

As the son of Willy Sachs, Gunter was heir to German automotive empire Fichtel & Sachs (Opel). At any given point in time, therefore, he had at his disposal roughly $400 million. That’s not a lot by the standards of modern pop stars or computer industry moguls, but during the 1960s a few hundred million went a long way on the Continent, and the Continent was Sachs’ playground. Among other pastimes, he was the Chairman of the St. Moritz Bobsleigh Club, and yes, that’s him walking back from an icy, deadly run in crash helmet, goggles, and full-length fox fur. That’s also the multimillionaire swaggering through an international airport with Brigitte Bardot in 1966—superbly tailored white chinos and white denim shirt on his athletic frame, Rolex on the left wrist, savoir fare all over the place.

Bardot was hardly the only international babe with whom Sachs enjoyed life’s simple pleasures, but she was the only one he wooed into marriage by dropping rose petals onto her Cote d’Azur villa from a helicopter. That arrangement lasted until 1969, after which Sachs married Swiss model Mirja Larrson. Before those two marriages, Sachs was involved with Soraya Esfandiary, former princess of Iran. Chicks dug him.

The late Gunter Sachs, multi-millionaire international playboy, seen here returning from a bobsled run in St. Moritz. (click for larger version)

And why not? Sure, he was rich, but it didn’t hurt that he was ruggedly handsome, held a degree in mathematics, was a skilled photographer, and knew all the best spots for a private getaway or $30,000 picnic. St. Tropez, for example, was largely unheard of until Sachs turned it into his favorite beach. That wasn’t a secret for long among the jet set. Or Mick Jagger’s entourage. Or the Hollywood/Cannes coterie.

Sachs collected Dali, Warhol, Lichtenstein, and Picasso. Not just for the walls of his many villas, chalets, and manor houses. He collected the artists for dinner engagements and other get-togethers. When he wasn’t bobsledding, or on a yacht shooting footage of some lark or adventure, he was busy with a philanthropic enterprise, or finding ways to make those millions grow to billions. He once famously declared that he had never worked a day in his life, but no one ever got the notion that Gunter Sachs was lazy.

Many personal accounts of the Sachs saga reveal that his contemporaries did understand that he was a breed apart—something to do with innate charm, gregariousness, style, and quiet confidence. It helped that he was a daredevil on the slopes, at sea, on the racecourse, and on the polo ponies. Today we might suspect that the “stay thirsty, my friend” adventurer in the Dos Equis beer commercials (The Most Interesting Man in the World) is modeled after Sachs. That’s about right. But then, Sean Connery, Alain Delon, James Coburn, Steve McQueen, and Marcello Mastroianni were each, at various times, attempting to get on screen a character like Gunter Sachs. It’s a case of art not quite imitating life, because for Sachs, living was a matter of infinite life experiences. Sensing that the onset of Alzheimer’s signaled an inglorious introduction of the finite, Sach’s put a pistol to his head and pulled the trigger. (79, suicide) —DP

Linda Christian

By the late 1940s, Hollywood had roughly established a 3-tiered system for actresses. A-list (Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman); B-list (Teresa Wright, Jean Simmons, Susan Hayward); and there was no C-list. Anything below B was a nebulous, undefined field of starlets, ingénues, and “new interests.” In one distant corner of that third tier dwelled what might be described as an “ambitious girl,” aka The Climber. Actually, “playgirl” might be a more apt description, but Hollywood and American society did not yet officially recognize a female analog for the playboy. In any case, the goal of The Climber was to sink her claws into the nearest rich and famous gentleman (on the Continent or stateside), and if this target happened to be a film star, that was even better. To succeed with that ploy, the girl had to be highly physically attractive, very mysterious, sufficiently dangerous, and, in every sense of the term, willing. Linda Christian was all of that and more.

She’s the lead player in a forgotten chapter of Hollywood lore, but there are still some folks who recall that Christian was once briefly Mrs. Tyrone Power. Their marriage in 1949 was an insanely ornate affair held at Rome’s legendary Santa Francesca Romana cathedral, and was, for all practical purposes, a Hollywood production replete with Italian police unsuccessfully holding back a mob of fans.

Movie people understood that kind of thing in those days, especially if the concerned party were a star of Tyrone Power’s stature. What many observers did not understand was where, exactly, this Linda Christian woman came from, or how and why Power (who was said to be leaving his wife to continue his well-known romance with fellow star Lana Turner) so quickly ditched Turner and then took this mysterious gal as his lawfully wedded wife. They had dated only a short time, and how they even met was a matter of contradictory accounts.

Granted, Christian had made a splash in the tabloids as Hollywood’s newest beauty to keep an eye on a few years previous; she had appeared in some very minor movies in a very minor way. Apparently Christian, a stunning physical specimen whom LIFE magazine dubbed “the anatomic bomb,” exuded an irresistible erotic charisma. Debbie Reynolds had noticed that men “changed” after a few minutes around Christian, and quickly wrote her off as a mere “temptress.”

(click for larger version)


Power and Christian began experiencing marital difficulties right away. In 1955 there was that odd matter of admirer Robert Schlesinger, son of Countess Mona Bismarck, giving Christian a necklace, bracelet, and ring valued at $132,000. The purchase was made with a bad check, and the jewelry firm used legal measures to force Christian to return the items. Christian was also seeking film roles; Power was against it. One Christmas season English actor Edmund Purdom took up residence in the Powers’ guesthouse. By 1956 a divorce was looming, but Christian landed on her feet, or put another way, numerous eligible bachelors around the globe were suddenly at her feet.

That’s because “around the globe” is where Christian, aka Blanca Rosa Welter, was from. Her father, Gerardus Welter, was a wealthy engineer and oil trader, and his frequent global travels had provided his daughter with a sophisticated education (she spoke seven languages well, managed several others) and a taste for all things international and expensive. Possessed of almost supernatural feminine poise and beauty, Christian knew how to make an impression as a woman of the world. That’s how she wound up in Hollywood. Errol Flynn, otherwise an invulnerable lady-killer, had taken a very young Blanca Rosa from Mexico to California so she “could have a tooth fixed.” For reasons not made clear, Flynn eventually made himself scarce, urging his new young conquest to find work in pictures. He arranged for Welter to change her name to Christian, after the character Flynn had portrayed in Mutiny on the Bounty.

Not all the men smitten with Christian were wise enough to cut their losses. By the time she had divorced Power and moved on to various bullfighters, playboys, and Spanish Olympic athlete, millionaire, and racing legend Alfonso de Portago, several Italian tabloids were alluding to at least five men who had died under mysterious circumstances or by suicide. Each had made references to Christian in their last known conversations with friends or family. Nothing to do with foul play, mind you; Christian simply had that effect on young men. A lot of similar babes were home wreckers, but according to the tabloids Christian was out there wrecking souls.

On the other hand, she may have been the kiss of death in some cases. It was Christian, after all, whom de Portago had kissed before climbing back into his Ferrari to finish the Italian endurance race Mille Miglia in 1957. He flipped the car into the crowd when a tire went flat, killing himself and ten spectators. Eighteen months later Power died from a heart attack.

At that point, observers suspected that Edmund Purdom, with whom Christain had been cozy while separated from Power, might propose. But that’s difficult to do when the object of one’s affection is in St. Moritz with yet another filthy rich Italian playboy. Such was Christian’s influence, however, that when the European gold digging failed to pan out (and she’s reduced to the status of Azalea Queen at a festival in North Carolina), the globetrotting vixen returned to London in 1962 to marry a waiting Purdom. They divorced the next year. Christian spent the following decades in her native Mexico. How she got along is a matter of conjecture, depending on which bullfighter you talk to. (87, Cancer) —DP

A Pair of Kings


A Pair of Kings

Sure, national championships are great, but we all know that bragging rights live and die at the Iron Bowl. In advance of this epic contest, Ed Reynolds remembers some of the greats from both teams.


November 10, 2011

Paul Bryant and Ralph Jordan personified football royalty in my world. For two decades, Bear Bryant and Shug Jordan were the icons producing weekly football melodramas that starred an All-American lineup featuring Joe Namath, Pat Sullivan, Tucker Frederickson, Major Ogilvie, Snake Stabler, and Terry Henley, to name a mere handful.

When I was a kid in the 1960s, everybody had a television, but football-viewing choices were severely limited. For those games we couldn’t watch, men with unforgettable voices (Buddy Rutledge and John Forney, representing Auburn and Alabama, respectively) were the wizards broadcasting play-by-play action, casting a mesmerizing spell over autumn Saturday afternoons.


“Bear” Bryant (Photo: Paul W. Bryant Museum/The University of Alabama) (click for larger version)





In the Beginning
Ralph Jordan became Auburn’s head football coach in 1951, winning the school’s first national championship in 1957. Dr. Lloyd Nix, a retired dentist in Decatur, Alabama, had a 19-0-1 record as the Tigers’ starting quarterback those two seasons. “I played quarterback in high school. When I got to Auburn, they told me they were going to put me at halfback,” Dr. Nix recalls on a recent afternoon. In the summer of 1957, Coach Jordan switched him to quarterback, where Nix mostly handed off or tossed the ball to his running backs. He always took the snap directly from behind the center instead of standing back several yards as today’s quarterbacks often do playing out of a typical shotgun formation. “I would have loved to run the shotgun. I would have loved to have the snap back there instead of running backwards and turning around and seeing what was going on,” he admits, laughing. “But we didn’t throw the ball much. We’d throw it maybe 15 times a game if we had to. Our defense was so good, we never did feel like we had to throw it.”

Larry Ellis was a blue-chip running back out of Murphy High in Mobile, recruited by Alabama, Florida, and Auburn, as well as approved for appointments to the Air Force Academy and West Point to play football. Ellis decided on Auburn his junior year. “Well, I was coming out of an era of impressionable football in the Southeastern Conference, very impressionable,” he says of his decision to stay close to home. The SEC’s current domination of college ball is nothing new to Ellis who played fullback from 1966 to 1968. “When I was 10 years old, Auburn had won the national championship in 1957; in 1958, LSU won the national championship; in 1960, Ole Miss and Johnny Vaught won the national championship. Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant won it in 1961 at Alabama. You think the SEC’s just now dominating? Wrong. So, as a kid, I said, ‘I’d love to be a part of that.”‘

Nobody above anybody that I met at my young, tender age compared to Ralph ‘Shug’ Jordan because, very simply, he was what we might call a ‘man’s man.’ An all-around person. His military background was unbelievable. And once you met the man, it was just infectious. He was a role model and a guy that nobody else that I had ever been around would compare to. He hooked me.”

While Jordan was generally viewed as a gentleman, Ellis saw the coach’s temper on display a few times. The 1968 Sun Bowl against Arizona was Larry Ellis’s last game. At halftime, the score was 10-10. Jordan was not happy, uncharacteristically flinging his clipboard as he ordered the team’s seniors front and center. Ellis recalls: “Shug threw his clipboard across the locker room and shouted, ‘If you sons of bitches don’t go out in the second half and exert some leadership, I’ll have every one of you in spring training!’ He told us we’d be the blocking dummies for next year’s team during the upcoming spring practice since our scholarships lasted until the end of the school year.” Auburn went on to win 34-10. One of Coach Jordan’s comments regarding leadership still moves Ellis 43 years later: “Leadership is like a cooked piece of spaghetti. You put it on a plate. If you get behind it and push it, it has no direction. But if you get in front of it and pull it, it’ll follow you anywhere.”

Birmingham attorney Gusty Yearout was a walk-on at Auburn. “I tried out as a freshman, I didn’t have a scholarship. I made the team and they gave me a scholarship,” Yearout says. “I came back in 1964 and got hurt. There was one coach there who didn’t like me and he was on my ass. So I finally said, ‘I don’t want to do this.’ I was young and kind of immature, so I quit. But before the end of that fall season, I went to Coach Jordan and said, ‘Look, I made a mistake and had some personal issues. I just want to know if you’ll let me come back on the team.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, you can come back but you don’t have a scholarship any more. You’ve got to try out again.’” During his final two years at Auburn, Yearout was elected captain of the team.

Going to law school had long been a goal for Yearout, but he was also attracted to coaching. Jordan gave him some invaluable advice. “Coach Jordan knew from the time I entered Auburn that I wanted to go to law school. When I finished in ’67, I had been accepted to law school but I had that football stuff down in my blood and in my throat,” he says. “I told Coach Jordan, ‘What I’d like to do, if you’ll hire me, is to coach for a while to see if I like it, and then go to law school if I don’t.’ Coach Jordan said, ‘Coaching is not as glamorous as you think it is. You have proven yourself as a leader and as a smart guy of football. But you have to go to law school first and then if you don’t like law school you can come back down here and I’ll hire you.’ And obviously it worked out a lot better for me to go to law school than it did to become a football coach,” he says, laughing.


Pat Sullivan (1969), current head coach at Samford. (Photo: Auburn University) (click for larger version)





Yearout credits players and staff more than head coaches for victories, however. “Coach Saban is a great coach and I think Chizik is a great coach. But basically, what wins football games is the quality of the football players and the quality of the staffs,” he says. “Head coaches have to have great talents to put all that together and motivate and all that stuff. But they don’t win games on Saturday. People get all this bulletin board stuff to motivate the team—but when you get hit the first time square in the mouth, that [motivational message] won’t work any more. You’ve just got to be ready to play. You can forget being pissed off.”

Innovation on the Field
In 1969, Auburn beat Alabama for the first time in five years using a weapon that Shug Jordan had rarely deployed—the forward pass. A sophomore quarterback named Pat Sullivan gave Auburn football a makeover by lobbing long throws downfield to split end Terry Beasley, who was legendary for running blindly at full speed with his head toward the sky looking for Sullivan’s passes.

“Coach Jordan and I were very close. He was known around the athletic department as ‘the man.’ He commanded that kind of respect,” Pat Sullivan says during a phone call on an October afternoon. “He was a Southern gentleman, but he was also a very disciplined person. He was a strict disciplinarian. We played Houston in the Bluebonnet Bowl my sophomore year. Back then, the quarterbacks called a lot of the plays. We were at their 35-yard line and it was fourth down. Coach Jordan sent the punter in. And I sent him back out and called a pass play. We didn’t complete it. I went to the sideline and Coach Jordan met me, put his arm around my neck. People in the stands may have thought he was consoling me. But he actually said, ‘You didn’t understand that I wanted to punt.’ And I said, ‘Yes sir, but I felt we ought to go for it.’ Well, he told me in no uncertain terms to go sit my rear end on the bench, to not get up until the game was over. Which I did. And I certainly never crossed him again. That was something that he and I laughed about as time went on.”

Sullivan was the first of three Heisman Trophy winners at Auburn. He recalls an intoxicated John Wayne at the Heisman banquet at New York’s Downtown Athletic Club in 1971. “When we were at the Heisman Banquet, John Wayne was the guest speaker,” Sullivan remembers. “John Wayne was well into a fifth of Scotch, and Coach Jordan got up and made a nice talk. As he was sitting back down, John Wayne reached over and put his arm around Coach Jordan and said, ‘Coach, you made a hell of a talk there. I may have a part in my next movie for you.’ And Coach Jordan never batted an eye; he looked at him and said, ‘Well, John, I come high.’ That cracked John Wayne up and he said, ‘Well, I think I can afford you.’”

By 1972, Pat Sullivan had graduated to the NFL and Auburn’s immediate future looked rather dismal. Losing the forward pass forced Jordan to return to his traditional “three yards and a cloud of dust” style of football. The shining star of this dull offense was a running back named Terry Henley, who was anything but dull—on and off the field. He was named second-team All-American and led the SEC in rushing, averaging 93.7 yards a game. Henley also loved to run his mouth, endearing himself to the media with hilarious, brash quotes. His rapport with Jordan was unique.


Alabama’s Bob Baumhower (Photo: Paul W. Bryant Museum/The University of Alabama) (click for larger version)





“Well, Coach Jordan and I had kind of a different relationship. I mean, he was the coach and I was a player. But he was my buddy, he was my friend,” Henley explains. “I’d go by his house all the time and visit with him and sit down there in the den and talk about things. He was the daddy that I never had. Now, he was tough, too, like a dad is supposed to be. But he was a wonderful, wonderful person. Coach Jordan used to tell me that he never liked to see me before one o’clock because he said it always upset his lunch if he did.”

We went to Georgia Tech my junior year. In the first half, I fumbled at the one-yard line coming out of the end zone; I fumbled at the one-yard line going in; I fumbled at midfield; and I batted a pass up in the air for the other team to intercept—all in the first half. Now, a normal coach would have set you on the bench after the second fumble . . . So we go in 7-0 at halftime.” Coach Jordan tells the team how well they’re playing despite Henley’s poor performance. He said, ‘I want Terry to apologize to y’all.’ I just sat there and I thought he was kinda joking about me apologizing. He let out some vulgarity like you’ve never heard in your life . . . and, buddy, I jumped out of that seat and I told them, ‘I apologize to all of y’all for the way I’m playing. I’ll play better in the second half.’ Well, of course, the second half I go out and rush for a hundred and something yards; caught three or four passes; I caught about a 30-yard touchdown pass that broke their backs, helped put the nail in the coffin. And I ended up as SEC Player of the Week. After I caught the pass and ran it in for the touchdown, I came to the sideline. Coach Jordan wore an old rain hat . . . He put that hat on me and he said, ‘You the damnedest player I’ve ever had. You should be the coach. Here, you wear the hat.”

Being the team’s star, Henley felt he could park wherever he desired on campus, prompting a confrontation with Jordan. “Parking tickets!” exclaims Henley, howling. “Coach Jordan called me in and he was just eating me out. He said, ‘Are you a member of the faculty? Do you work in the janitorial department here at the university?’ I said, ‘Well, no, sir.’ I didn’t know where he was going. He said, ‘Why the hell are you parking in their parking spots? I’ve got $325 worth of tickets for you. I’m not going to stand for it. You’re going to have to walk to class like the rest of them. And I mean it!’ He was getting loud with me. So I said, ‘Yes, sir,’ and I stood up and he said, ‘Wait a minute, I’m not finished.’ I sat back down and he said, ‘You’ve got a parking ticket for parking in [Auburn University] President Philpott’s space!’ I said, ‘Well, I knew he wasn’t going to be there that day, so I parked in his spot.’ And he said, ‘How did you know he wasn’t going to be there that day?’ I said, ‘Well, I’ve been going out with his daughter and she told me that he was going to Tallahassee that day, so I decided to park in his spot.’”

The Man with the Voice of God
My father and grandfather went to Auburn, so the rivalry’s dynamic was established for me at an early age. The Auburn-Alabama game was the most exciting, intense day of the year. It was the only time I ever heard my mother and father discuss divorce. Despite being an Auburn fan, my mom would annually scold my father for acting like a fool when he banged his head against the wall in frustration yearly as Alabama dominated Auburn in predictable fashion. My father was a deeply religious man, so notions of Bear Bryant walking on water created a conflict. There were weekends that I was convinced my dad really thought God was a Bama fan. He would glare at the sky whenever the Tide got “a lucky break,” shaking his head while muttering, “Somebody up there sure likes the Bear.”

The Crimson Tide was going through a drought in the late ’60s when Sullivan to Beasley was the rage at Auburn. Even Vanderbilt beat the Tide. “The ‘Bear’ Bryant Show” always preceded the “The Shug Jordan Show” on television each Sunday afternoon. Both were replays of the previous day’s game, featuring each coach’s observations and analysis. At one point during Bryant’s brief “down” years, alumni became so disgruntled that Bear told them to “go to hell” during the broadcast. A few days later, Bryant apologized. Newspaper headlines around the state proclaimed: “Alumni: Bear Says You Don’t Have to Go.” He really was like God.


Shug Jordan’s hat was never as stylish as the Bear’s (Photo: Auburn University) (click for larger version)





Wide receiver Joey Jones, current head football coach at South Alabama who played for Bryant from 1979 until the coach’s retirement in 1983, is quite familiar with Bear’s intimidating presence. Jones remembers the first time he came face to face with the coach. “I saw him right before the first practice, we’d had a big dinner the night before,” he says. “He was sitting at the table and I walked over to him and he shook my hand and I said, ‘I’m Joey Jones from Mobile, Alabama.’ He looked at me like, ‘What in the world are we doing spending a scholarship on somebody this size?’ He looked at the coach that recruited me and kind of gave him a bad look.”

The receiver learned the value of earning one’s own way. “The number one thing I learned from Coach Bryant was to make young men earn what they get. He did that with me, made me earn a starting position,” says Jones. “He didn’t give me anything, made me fight for it, and I’ll always appreciate that about him, not just rolling out the red carpet for anybody. Because when you do that, I think you get a much better, tougher football player who really had to fight for their job.”

Bryant didn’t do too much motivational talking on game day. “He did more during the week. His big speech came on Wednesday nights when we would have a big team meeting. He’d give a motivational-type talk then. It wasn’t so much during the games because they mainly worked at halftime, talking X’s and O’s and trying to make adjustments,” recalls Jones. “And even before games he wasn’t a big ‘let’s tear the door down’-kind of coach because I think he did so much of that during the week that he didn’t need that. That’s the way he operated.”

Two-time All-American running back Major Ogilvie agrees that Bryant wasn’t overly emotional. “We were really not a rah-rah kind of team. We didn’t play on emotion,” Ogilvie says. “I mean, there’s a certain amount of emotion that goes with adrenalin but we had so much poise and confidence, and we were so well prepared..” Ogilvie was on the team when Alabama won national championships in 1978 and 1979. “I was there when we won 44 games and lost four, so we had an awful lot of fun.” He recalls his introduction to Bryant well. “It was that day that I signed. I can remember going back in [his office]. I saw all the rings on his fingers,” says Ogilvie. “‘Cause keep in mind, I played on two state championships in high school and knew how much fun it was to play and be on successful teams. So, I walked back in there and asked him if I could see his rings. We chit-chatted for a minute.”


Alabama’s Major Ogilvie. (Photo: Paul W. Bryant Museum/The University of Alabama) (click for larger version)





Nose tackle Bob Baumhower, who played for the Bear in the mid-1970s before starring for the NFL Miami Dolphins, came very close to chucking it all away.” He turned on a light for me, that’s for sure,” Baumhower admits with a quiet laugh. The player hadn’t had his heart in the game until that fateful meeting with Coach Bryant. “I played football for all the wrong reasons. I got talked into playing football in high school,” says Baumhower. “I enjoyed the game atmosphere and I enjoyed the camaraderie. But as far as thinking about the best I can be, I never had that mentality. I was fortunate enough to be offered a scholarship only after the signing day.”

Baumhower didn’t enjoy playing offense his freshman year, so asked to be switched to defense. The coaches agreed, but Baumhower failed to pay much attention to conditioning during the off-season. “I don’t think Coach Bryant was real impressed with my conditioning. Instead of first string I was last string. I caught an attitude and said, ‘I don’t need this.’ I left football practice,” he says. “Coach Bryant got word to me that he wanted to talk to me and my dad that afternoon. The first thing he did—after he greeted my dad really warmly—was he looked at me and said, ‘What are you doing here?’ And I said, ‘Well, I heard you wanted to talk to me.’ And he said, ‘Well, I don’t talk to quitters but since you’re here, come on in.’ And he started working me right off the bat in that meeting. He made me start thinking about myself as a quitter. He asked me a question: ‘What did you do between spring practice and now to get better as a ball player and a person?’ And I couldn’t give him an answer. He went down a long list of players that had done things that he was aware of, whether it was a particularly player losing ‘x’ amount of weight, getting in better shape or a player getting stronger since the spring . . . He was real engaged at what everybody was doing to improve themselves for the betterment of the team. I couldn’t answer the question. He looked at me and said, ‘I don’t think you’re a quitter, Bob. I think you’re frustrated. But I don’t think you know what it takes to be a winner. You’ve got to change the way you think. And if you want to play for me, you’ve got to be the best that you can be and you’ve got to show me that you’re committed to give a hundred and ten percent and you want to be special.’ And I never thought in those terms before that meeting. And that’s what I mean by ‘turning my light on.’ My dad still talks about it. It changed my life.”

Baumhower and his old coach grew quite close after he left to play professional football. “The longer I got to know Coach Bryant, the better our relationship was. When I went to Miami, I would get phone calls from him, letting me know he was coming down,” Baumhower recalls. So my relationship with Coach Bryant, I still consider it a gift. And that gift, I keep getting benefits of it throughout life because he taught me so many things that have been good for me in a positive way through the years.” &

Rocket Stalker

Rocket Stalker

Many hours and miles chasing thundering, fireball- spewing space shuttles finally come to an end.


July 21, 2011

All my life I’ve had a fascination of sorts with NASA. Some 20 years ago I decided that I wanted to see a space shuttle launch in person, preferably as a member of the press. Reporters get to stand next to the huge countdown clock in a big field next to a large lagoon inside the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) complex when viewing launches from a surprisingly intimate three-mile distance. They also get to feel the ground shake at blast-off. It’s the reason I decided to become a writer: so I could attend launches at KSC. Needless to say, it was a thrill and privilege to be among a media throng estimated at 1,500 inside America’s spaceport on July 8 to witness the final space shuttle launch ever. Outside the facility, at least a million spectators lined the beaches and highways along what has been dubbed Florida’s “Space Coast.”

My interest in outer space began in 1961 when teachers wheeled televisions into classrooms at Edgewood Elementary in Selma so we could watch Alan Shepard, John Glenn, and a guy with the strange name “Gus Grissom” ride rockets into space. As a first grader, I concluded that there must be something special about astronauts and rockets since they had the power to make teachers bring TV sets to school. My favorite part of launch day was the countdown—a dramatic buildup that my classmates and I loudly recited in unison with the television broadcaster.

Photos courtesy of NASA/Bill Ingalls. (click for larger version)



I grew a little bored with NASA when TV sets no longer showed up at school. But on Christmas Eve, 1968, I stared in awe at a black and white television in our family den as we listened to the Apollo 8 astronauts—the first people to fly around the Moon—read from the book of Genesis while in lunar orbit 240,000 miles away: “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth . . .” Less than a year later, I was even more mesmerized when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the Moon on live television. My interest in NASA gradually diminished until one morning in 1986 when space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after launch. A routine ride into space was suddenly no longer routine. The seven astronauts killed that day were the first NASA crew to die in flight.

My First Trip
Twenty years after first coveting a front-row seat at a shuttle launch, my wish finally came true when I obtained a media badge for the July 2005 launch of Discovery, the first shuttle to fly since Columbia had blown apart over Texas on its return home in February 2003. NASA officially anointed the STS-114 [Space Transportation System] mission of Discovery as “Return to Flight.” I was extremely excited driving all night to KSC. Arriving at the press center, I was astounded by the wonderland before me: Television monitors showed NASA TV telecasts; miniature models of the shuttle and space station were on display, as were spacecraft designs of the future; pleasant NASA public relations employees usually smiled when explaining the mission or shuttle equipment to inquiring reporters; stacks of information detailing everything from space shuttle history to explanations of safety criteria that must be met before clearing a shuttle for launch were readily available.

That evening, several buses took the media contingent to the launch pad for photo opportunities but we were forced to stay on the buses for two hours as launch pad personnel addressed a structure that had fallen off the shuttle and damaged one of the heat shield tiles that protects the spacecraft as it re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere. Once that was resolved, we had to wait another hour after several busloads of astronaut families and assorted VIPs pulled up next to the press buses so that they could take pictures first.. Our NASA media escort warned, in no uncertain terms, that anyone who pointed a camera in the direction of the newly-arrived visitors would have their media badge taken away, then be tossed out of the KSC compound and banned forever. At midnight, we were finally freed from the buses to take pictures and gawk, a mere 100 yards from space shuttle Discovery, majestically illuminated by spotlights. After half an hour, our NASA escort ordered us to return to the buses, warning that lingering reporters who missed the ride back would not only have their media badges revoked, they would also be shot on sight. We all wondered if he was kidding.

Back at the KSC Media Center at sunrise, I walked outside to stare at Discovery bathed in spotlights on the launch pad three miles away as an orange glow creeped onto the horizon. Suddenly, a sexy female voice oozed from the outdoor audio system as NASA TV began its broadcast day: “At 4:45 this morning, space shuttle crew and managers met and gave a ‘go’ to proceed with the tanking operations for the launch attempt this afternoon for the STS-114 Return to Flight mission,” she purred with authority. She sounded like the woman announcing flight schedules on the circular space station in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Two hours before launch that afternoon, a faulty fuel sensor delayed the Discovery mission for a couple of weeks. I dejectedly drove straight back to Birmingham, though there was one bright spot: That morning I spent 10 minutes interviewing Apollo 13 flight director Gene Kranz face to face in a tiny room. His crew cut and enthusiasm were charming as hell. By the time I arrived in Birmingham, I had been awake for 46 hours.

Blast Off at Last
On July 4th, 2006, I saw my first shuttle launch. Once again, it was spaceship Discovery on the launch pad. The STS-121 crew included robotic arm specialist Lisa Nowak. Less than a year following this mission, Nowak would be arrested in Orlando after reportedly driving all night and day from Houston to Florida while wearing a diaper to avoid bathroom stops in an alleged attempt to kidnap the fiancée of an astronaut with whom Nowak was having an affair. The diaper tale was eventually determined to be a myth. She was fired by NASA a month later. The pilot of STS-121 was Mark Kelly, husband of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot three months before her husband’s May 2011 mission as commander of Endeavor’s farewell flight.

On that Independence Day five years ago, a half-dozen veteran reporters sat around the NASA press-briefing room killing time, swapping “Buzz Aldrin was an asshole” stories about personal encounters with the grumpiest man to ever walk on the Moon. Several minutes later, the large monitors that telecast NASA TV showed the Discovery crew walking out to the vehicle that would take them to the launch pad for that afternoon’s blast-off. It was quite nerve-racking watching the countdown clock tick away. Discovery did not disappoint. The launch was the most memorable spectacle I’ve ever seen. Just like on television, it appeared to be moving in slow motion the first several seconds after launch. The oddest thing was that I was watching a silent rocket blast off without a roar. Within 12 seconds, however, the noise slowly swept over me, growing louder as the ground began to tremble.

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In April 2011—the day after the most devastating rash of tornadoes in American history passed through Alabama—I set off for Kennedy Space Center once again to watch the final launch of space shuttle Endeavor. I left Birmingham at sunset the day before launch, arriving at sunrise to secure my media badge for the afternoon lift-off. By noon, NASA had scrubbed the launch due to technical problems. Weather cancellations can be turned around the next day, but technical issues can take weeks. I immediately left KSC and, after negotiating the hellacious traffic that packs highways on launch days, drove straight back home to save money on a motel room. I arrived in Birmingham 32 hours after I had left.

This Will Be the Last Time
Black & White publisher Chuck Geiss and I secured media credentials for STS-135, the final flight of space shuttle Atlantis, the last mission before retirement of the three-vehicle fleet permanently. I warned Chuck that due to technical and weather issues, a trip for a launch is about as reliable as throwing dice in a casino.

An hour before lift-off, NASA announced that weather conditions were favorable for launch, though there were concerns about rain showers at the flight runway that shuttles use to return in the event of an emergency. European Space Agency astronaut Hans Schlegel, a 60-year-old NASA veteran who had performed a spacewalk during a 1993 Columbia mission, and who was also on an Atlantis flight in 2008, chatted with me briefly. “I remember it was 80 percent ‘no go’ for Columbia,” Schlegel said in a thick German accent, recalling his first launch that flew without delay. When asked what will become of the astronaut corps with the retirement of the shuttle fleet, as the United States will be forced to pay the Russians $60 million per astronaut to go to the space station, he replied, “The change in astronaut corps is already going on. A lot of pilots have already left, a lot of other pilots decided they wanted to be long-duration crew members. The skill of pilots is still needed and will be even more needed when we develop new systems. It’s a milestone but it’s continuously developing and I hope we have many, many opportunities which we don’t think of yet.” As for his personal future, Schlegel said, “Next for me is I’m shortly before pension. I am passing on my experience, my knowledge, for use to make new European astronauts coming to Johnson Spaceflight Center in Houston preparing for their missions. I help them, I advise them, and mentor them. I’m kind of the senior league for them.”

After waiting in line at the merchandise trailer to purchase souvenirs, Chuck and I roamed the field where media congregate to watch the launch. Across the lagoon, Atlantis stood in the distance as clouds continued to shuffle. My anxiety turned to excitement as the crowd began counting down loudly in unison at 10 seconds. Suddenly, vapor clouds quickly blasted up to surround the bottom of the launch pad as Atlantis rose from the ground in slow motion, the blinding flame of the two SRBs [solid rocket boosters] forcing me to put my sunglasses back on. As the spacecraft began to pick up speed, a plume of smoke and vapor was left in the shuttle’s wake, appearing to connect Atlantis to Earth. Then the rumble I had been waiting for five years to hear again began. Creeping up slowly from the distance, invading ears with loud crackles and shaking the ground, the noise rattled my bones. There’s no feeling quite like it. Forty two seconds after blast off, Atlantis disappeared into the overhead clouds.

The press crammed into the small auditorium at the KSC media center for a post-launch press conference 90 minutes after launch. The briefing began with a video message (more or less a pep talk) from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. I was amazed that the top dog at NASA did not attend the post-launch press gathering, considering that this was the final shuttle launch. But four NASA officials were there, where they revealed that after discussing weather concerns, NASA’s mission management team waived some of the criteria for launch, something it had avoided doing in the wake of the Columbia tragedy to the point of being perhaps overly cautious.

“It got a little dicey there a couple of times but we found our way through it,” said Bob Cabana, Kennedy Space Center Director. With regards to the loss of jobs as the shuttle program ends, Cabana commented, “Change is difficult, but you can’t do something else—you can’t do something better—unless you go through change. And all this talk about ‘NASA is adrift, we don’t have a plan’—we do have a plan. We’re enabling commercial space. We have the commercial crew program here at Kennedy supported by the Johnson Space Center in Houston. We have four folks under contract trying to build a vehicle that will take Americans to space supporting our International Space Station— that’s still up there until at least 2020 with Americans onboard—a human spaceflight program.”

“I choke up at every launch. This one, I choked up before launch,” confessed Mike Moses, who oversees the Mission Management Team. “As an engineer, as whatever, I can’t see how anybody who comes down here and sees a shuttle launch doesn’t choke up and just swell with pride at seeing that thing go. It does it to you every time.” He’s right; when that countdown commences, no one is immune. &

Red Planet Redux


Red Planet Redux

A chat with Martian Summer author Andrew Kessler

June 23, 2011

Black & White: You really do come across as a regular guy with a passionate interest in space. Was being in Mission Control nerve-wracking at first?
Andrew Kessler: It was absolutely nerve-wracking. The more you kind of wade in, the more you realize how much you don’t know. Once things actually start happening there’s this “Oh shit!” moment, “This is so over my head.” And then you don’t feel bad about asking questions. You know, when you see scientists ask each other a question, then you realize, “Oh, even these guys [don't know things].” But there’s so many specialties (skill-wise) that are happening. There’s the guys that recalibrate the batteries. There are the guys who are monitoring the power. People monitor software. Even though those guys work closely and are experts in what they do, there’s a big gulf between each of the disciplines.

At what point did you start feeling more comfortable, like you were beginning to fit in and become accepted?
That was sort of a slow process. There was probably a day about a month in where I felt like I understood everything that had happened that day. That was kind of a big deal. And then probably after that, the first time someone asked me what was going on. I felt like I had a purpose, too, because I’m only human. Because even though I was there doing research and writing a book, you wonder if you’re in people’s way. And then I explained to someone why a particular dig (into Martian dirt) had failed. I just felt so proud of myself! I had this kind of silly moment where I really didn’t know all that much but just a little bit of insider info that I was able to provide to someone else who I looked up to. And one of these very smart scientists was like, “You’re part of the team . . .” I actually tried to write this book with more of a serious approach in the beginning because I felt this tremendous burden. I could tell these people’s story well and I felt their story was so important and they worked so hard. And then I found myself falling into that same trap where it was dehumanizing to think that I felt so connected with them. As a matter of fact, it was fun to be out at Mission Control. People are funny, they are quirky, and you relate to them in different ways, and you relate to the lander in different ways. And then I decided, “Oh, I have to tell the story in a more honest way,” which would be for me—which is how I write. I think it worked out for the better. I hope so anyway. I certainly get panned for it sometimes, by people expecting more hard science that are annoyed with my personality. That is the one flaw of the book—that you have to suffer through my personality in order to get excited about space. [laughs]


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You were asked to step out of some meetings when things were deemed too sensitive for outside observers. Were you ever concerned that you would be asked to leave the premises permanently?
Yeah, I was very fearful in the beginning that someone would say that they didn’t want me there. That was kind of a constant fear and it took a while to build up my courage to talk to people. I would have to do this thing that I hated about myself where I would have to make snap judgments about people, about whether they would be friendly on the project or not. I kind of slowly made friends with people. I was very much a wallflower in the beginning, until I felt more secure. Then I had more of a story and I took more risks in asking questions and spending time with people, and really asking them to explain over and over again what it was that they were doing so that I really felt like I understood it.

How did you and Peter Smith meet?
Peter was looking for ways to publicize the mission. He found me through a contact of his. Basically, I went down to meet with him and to talk about different ways to approach the story. And he was interested in a book and he was interested in new voices telling that story. So I just went down and hung out with him for a weekend and we talked a lot. He had his reservations, and then over the course of the year something changed and he decided that since I had spent a lot of time there, I had worked pitching this Discovery documentary about the mission, and he decided it might be fun to write this [from an] outsider['s] perspective.

Did you become fascinated with outer space as a child?
Oh yeah. The first time I learned “Many Very Early Men Ate Juicy Steaks Using No Plates” to memorize the planets—Pluto was still a planet then. I was amazed that there were all these other worlds out there. I was generally curious of science anyway as a little kid. So that’s when this sort of fascination began. I’ve been kind of a casual fan ever since, and it’s kind of waxed and waned over time. But then my mind was blown and I remembered how awesome it was and how much I used to love it when I got into Mission Control. It seemed like, “This is the real deal.”

I think the most exciting stuff NASA does these days are the robotic missions, not the manned missions that the public supposedly craves.
Yeah, I agree. The problem is that we don’t really know our astronauts and we don’t really know what they’re doing. I think NASA could do a better [job] telling that story or connecting us with those astronauts. The people who operate these robots—these robots are doing crazy things; these telescopes are doing crazy, amazing things, taking beautiful pictures. And if we could kind of connect with these artists and these craftsmen who make it possible, I think we’d have this really rich, narrative space to play in. People want stars. I think scientists could be kind of these stars if [NASA] really knew what they were doing [from a public relations standpoint].

While reading the book, I kept thinking I was on Mars observing all this activity of both the robot and the scientists, and I kept forgetting that the scientists were still on Earth.
That’s the best part of Mission Control, when you lose yourself for those brief moments and you really think about what the lander is doing on Mars and you feel this connection to it—it’s more than just a robot. You find yourself rooting for these scoops [of Martian dirt] to happen.

Have any of the people you were hanging out with at Mission Control expressed irritation with you about the book?
There are a few people that were very candid in some of the things they said [during the mission] that maybe have some regrets about saying them. For the most part, it’s been really positive. Maybe people are just not telling me there’s negative feedback. That was the hardest part, right? You can’t write the book for the people in the mission. But they all became very important to me and I felt this real responsibility to them. A lot of them didn’t have time to enjoy it while they were there. That was one nice bit of feedback, that I was able to put them back in that moment and they were able to enjoy it without having the burden of work and long, crushing hours.

You spent a year training for the mission?
NASA requires you to have training sessions where basically you learn how to work together to operate your mission. I also spent a lot of time interviewing the scientists before the project. I did basic Mars research and instrument research just trying to learn so I would not sound like an idiot, which was my biggest fear, on day one when I got there.

Did the engineers in Mission Control frequently refer to signs of possible ice as the “white stuff?”
Yeah, they did. It was funny, kind of a cultural thing where very few people want to commit to new discoveries so they come up with all these euphemisms for things they believe to be true. But they don’t want anyone to say that they were the ones that said “This is ice.” They kind of talk around things in a funny way. They’re a little bit fearful of being the guy who misspeaks because then the press will jump on all these things. In some sense it’s funny. But then other times you see why they do it. There’s a moment where one of the scientists says, “It’s [Martian soil] acidic, you could grow asparagus in it.” Then the headline was “Grow Asparagus on Mars!” I think it’s great when that happens because then it makes people care, they can connect to this thing. But it makes the science team a little nervous when they become known as the guy who was going to grow asparagus on Mars. &