Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Driving Like Joie/Joey Chitwood

It came as a great, pleasant surprise to see the name "Joie Chitwood" in the Indianapolis media a few years ago. While my enthusiasm endured, it took me more than a couple of years to make contact with Mr. Chitwood (of the International Speedway Corporation).

It turns out that it was his grandfather who was the subject of our cry, "He's driving like Joey Chitwood!" whenever we'd see someone speeding along the highway (two lanes, pre-Interstate). It wasn't until I saw the grandson's name in a newspaper that I discovered my childhood hero "Joey" was actually "Joie." But, from the info that Joie Chitwood III sent to me, it turns out that "Joie" wasn't his real name, anyway, but, once it was given to him, mistakenly by, of all things, "a press agent" from Indiana, it stuck.

I know I could cry out to people who remembered county and state fairs of earlier decades, including my sisters, "Joie Chitwood!" upon spying a faster-than-polite driver and they'd laugh, not having to have it explained to them. We had shortened it from "He's driving like...." simply to his name. That's all we needed. And, it had to be done in context. You couldn't just be sitting in a neighbor's living room, staring at "Hit Parade" on TV and suddenly cry out, "Joie Chitwood." No, there were rules. You had to be on the road, the person being chastised had to be racing along, daredevil-like, and, preferably, they had to be driving a beaten-up auto, not unlike the ones that you-know-who-by-now raced in his thrill shows that we'd see at the fairgrounds.

According to Joie the Third, the "Joie Chitwood Thrill Show" lasted from 1943 to 1998, a decade past the death of the first Joie.

It was truly a thrill to watch the drivers do all sorts of daredevil turns and twists, cars sailing over one another, people in the grandstands screaming and jumping up, expecting the worst, but almost never seeing it (luckily), in this demonstration of racing that seemed to defy gravity, common sense, and death, all at the same time.

I am tempted today to yell at a reckless driver, whether I'm in another car or even just standing on a street corner, "Joey (OK, Joie) Chitwood!" It would accomplish two things: Stares and wrinkled noses from those of a certain age and immediate laughter and perhaps a "Oh, I haven't heard that one for a while!" from those of an older, very certain age.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Where There Be Dragons

Sometimes, you just have to write poems for fun.

My latest poem, "Where There Be Dragons," was a lot of fun to write and a joy to read. I participated in the Zionsville Brick Street Art Walk, where poets and sculptors were paired. JL Kato, a great poet here in Indianapolis, and I were assigned to write about the work submitted by sculptor Greg Knipe of Salvaged Beauty Studio. He had on display a dragon made of found metals - chains, gears, and the like. You can see his dragon and read my poem by going to his website, www.salvagedbeautystudio.wordpress.com.

Hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Lynn Redgrave and I - in Kampala, Uganda

I can never hear the strains of "Georgy Girl" without thinking of walking out of the movie theatre in Kampala, Uganda, and up the street, giddy with joy from having seen Lynn Redgrave in the movie of the same name as its title song.

We were so taken with her performance - someone who was about our age and unknown to us - in fact, I don't think we even knew of the Redgrave Dynasty. The movie had left us in such a state of excitement and pure pleasure. Another fellow ahead of us must have felt the same way, as he danced around a light pole, making us all laugh even more. We were humming the song, recalling bits of the movie, in the pleasant night air of Uganda's capital just a few years before it suffered Idi Amin and the accompanying atrocities.

We were Biafran "refugees," all Peace Corps Volunteers who had served together in the secessionist region of Nigeria and then were posted to schools in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, and Malawi. Now, at Christmas break 1967, we were together for a few days, heading up north the next day to spend frigid nights at Murchison Falls, first crossing the Nile warily watching the enormously large hippos up close, worrying then (not safely on the bank, but then, right there, in the middle of the river - too late to do anything but stare!) if they would tip us over.

I'm here to say they didn't.

But, more to the point of this week's sad news of the loss of Lynn Redgrave who shall always be remembered by me for a long walk up the sidewalks of Kampala (did we actually skip as we went along? I suspect we did), absolutely taken with a movie that was one of those right-time, right-place films.

Perhaps as early as today, when I think no one is looking -- or I just don't care -- I'll dance around a nearby light pole and will be happy to explain to a curious cop or a nosey neighbor what the hell I'm doing.

Here's to Kampala, one of the most beautiful cities I've visited. And, of course, here's to Lynn Redgrave for a most memorable evening.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A very long time ago, in a land two floors up

I have a framed card on the wall of our offices that announces the formation of Sherman & Co. Public Relations on April 1, 1991. On that day, in the guest bedroom, I sat down to a big boxy computer (green lettering on a black screen), a thermal-paper (read: slimy) fax machine, a huge photocopier, and a 300 dpi gigantic printer nearby. Logo, business cards, letterhead, envelopes, phone and fax lines - all done.

Dressed in a T-shirt and shorts and barefoot, I sighed, reached for the phone, and began making calls, since I didn't have e-mail, not even my first one: five numbers, a comma (yes, a comma) and four more numbers @ Compuserve.com. (If you remember those, you're older than you are admitting publicly). That, and so much else, came later. Oh, and I didn't have a single client, so there was a bit of pressure, shall we say, to get on the phone and make appointments (but, "no dress shirt, no shoes, no clients" requirements).

This morning, just for the hell of it, I'm sitting here, barefoot (appropriate "attire" for the farm boy that I am), in a T-shirt that I can now wear again, having lost weight - has "Paris" written on it in wild colors -- and a pair of shorts that are dangerously loose around the waist (see "lost weight" above). Feels good. Makes me want to go back to Paris. And eat.

This morning, I counted the plants in our offices (now occupying all of the rooms in our large basement, with an outside entrance and nine glass-block windows) and I came up with 35, but I may have missed a couple. Perhaps I forgot to count the two wheezing, brown ones in the far corner? Big, small, all subject to my role as a self-proclaimed "tough-love gardener" who will be nice to them, as long as they return the favor, or else I replace them with my take-no-plants approach.

The tropical rain forest complements an uncountable number of framed works of art and prints, awards, and photos of all sorts - even have an aerial view of the crowds on the bridge connecting the Lincoln Memorial and Arlington Cemetery, taken on Monday, November 25, 1963, that I am going to caption, "John, others at JFK Funeral" - somewhere, near the Lincoln, I'm standing, having driven all night from Bloomington. (Technically, since I didn't know yet how to drive a shift, I rode all the way, as we careened in the middle of the night around the curves of West Virginia mountains in those pre-Interstate days.)

But I digress. Also down here, surrounded by plants and paintings, are computers, printers (1200 dpi, color, etc.), a plain-paper fax, photocopier, scanners, and so on and so on....And copies of the five books I've had published since 1991, along with one revised edition of another. And the libretto of the opera "Biafra" (www.mesaverdepress.com to view what's been performed of it so far).

So, today we begin our 20th year. Seems like five. Seems like 40.

Wiggling my toes, enjoying the sunshine, the good memories, great employees, great clients.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Catcher in the Rye

I was 17 when I read Catcher in the Rye. Seeing today's announcement of the passing of its author, J.D. Salinger, takes me back to one of the most important books I've ever read.

Our high school English teacher, the wife of a pastor, recommended it to a few of us. She was speaking almost in a whisper, as she leaned in to the small group she had led to a corner of her room. She knew the book was considered a provocative work for its language and subject matter, yet she also knew we'd benefit enormously from reading it.

A few years later, one of my sisters, then in her late 20s, read it and couldn't figure what all the fuss was about. I told her she was too old. And she was. It's one of those works not to be read too young nor too old.

Thank you, J.D. All of us writers hope to publish something that will have an impact on others' lives. Any discussion on the power of writing will almost always contain a reference to Catcher in the Rye. You scored big, Mr. S., and I'm glad you knew it decades ago.