The Nicest Star I Ever Met

Of course I wasn’t the first. He was a big deal. He knew that. It didn’t matter. He wanted to be nice right back and worked hard to make sure he was.

I’ve met a lot of famous people. That was especially true when I used to fill-in on Good Morning America&#185. Stars–real stars–were coming through that studio every day.

They were working. I was working. Often we’d just pass in the hallway or when they were placed in my area waiting to go on. I was the fill-in weatherman, not exactly a major player.

“Are those children’s drawings?” A short trim man with a deep Texas accent asked that one morning while looking over my shoulder.

“No Mr. Perot. They’re weather maps.”

Any respect I had for H. Ross Perot disappeared in that one instant! He was in the studio promoting a book he surely didn’t write.

I’ve already chronicled my biggest celebrity disappointment. I might as well tell you who was best.

First though, honorable mention to Ron Howard. Holy crap I watched this man my (and his) whole life. He could not have been nicer. He was promoting Apollo 13 and I’d just been with him two days earlier in Houston at the Space Center.

Under any other circumstances he’d be number one. He’s nice and a Renaissance man.

dennis franz.jpgThe winner is Dennis Franz. Remember him from NYPD Blue?

I can’t even remember what Franz was promoting, but he was walking down the hall near Spencer Christian’s dressing room (which became mine for the day) as I walked out.

He was paunchy and rumpled–just like TV! His accent screamed Chicago.

I introduced myself and told him how much I enjoyed watching him on TV. He thanked me for my kind words, but it wasn’t just a thank you. He was speaking as if I was the first person ever to say something nice to him. His response dripped of humility and sincerity.

Of course I wasn’t the first. He was already a big deal. He knew that. It didn’t matter. He wanted to be nice right back and worked hard to make sure he was.

I have never forgotten that short meeting. It is still vivid in my mind.

I’m sure I have been short with people who come up to me asking for an autograph or photo or just wanting to say hello. No one is perfect–certainly not me. But I always try and remember Dennis Franz and use him as my guide in how to be when someone has taken the time to give me a compliment.

It was a little tiny thing which took so little effort on his part and yet it was so meaningful.

Hey Dennis–I hope you get to see this. Believe me, the pleasure was all mine. I meant every kind word then and now.

&#185 – Still available. A decade between appearances isn’t that much.

Now I Really Have Seen Everything

My content is there but it’s been strangely changed to be the same while being different!

There is a great deal of content on the web which is stolen. I’m not talking about links or quotes–this is out-and-out thievery! Usually the process is automated without human intervention.

I’ve seen it before with sites taking whole entries from my blog and reposting them. The goal is to get noticed by Google thereby getting traffic and ads. Find dozens of entries with he same keywords and all of a sudden your site looks like an expert on that topic!

As the title says “now I really have seen everything” because a site has taken one of my entries, copied it, and run it through a thesaurus! Synonyms are used, but without seeing if they’re appropriate.

My content is there but it’s been strangely changed to be the same while being different!

Original: I understand this move to the center as a strategy, but I am left feeling unclean and used. Don’t use me to make your boyfriend jealous.

Copy: I take it this inspire to the center as a master plan, but I am socialistic vehemence emotions unclean and habituated to. in the effort Don’t expend me to emanate your boyfriend unsatisfied.

This kind of bizzaro ripoff goes through the entire entry.

Original: Good deeds should be rewarded. Bad deeds should be punished. Governmental rules should encourage good behavior.

Copy: Good deeds should be rewarded. in the effort Bad deeds should be punished. in the effort Governmental rules should copy doughty behavior.

The website itself is registered to an Australian–though that’s easily forged. The site is hosted in Texas. I suspect, by virtue of telltale Cyrillic text left in areas of the site, it’s really Russian.

Just because I’m being ripped off in a scummy scam doesn’t mean I don’t admire the originality and cleverness involved. Someone really had to think about this.

I’m not including the URL because that will only help the site in Google’s eyes!

Car Chases

Is it news? That’s a tougher question.

“I don’t do crack, but I think this is probably what it’s like.”

The quote is from Helaine. She said it as I was scrambling to leave the house and drive to work. She was referring to today’s Dallas, TX police chase.

“There should be a channel with only this,” she added.

They are addictive even though they’re entirely predictable. Attention miscreants: If you hear a copter overhead, pull over. You’re done.

I knew what Helaine was talking about because the chase was on the TV in the bedroom as I got dressed. MSNBC’s anchors were quizzing a Texas police dispatcher. They seemed more interested than he was.

dallas-chase-crash.jpgIt was a “routine traffic stop,” the dispatcher said. In some quarters those words are considered cover for police as they hassle minorities. In any event the driver took off and led police across the Dallas area for a few hours before running through an intersection and getting slammed by a pickup truck.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for a follow-up. When the perp was caught the story ended.

Why is this stuff covered? People watch–that’s the easy answer.

Is it news? That’s a tougher question. MSNBC and others were following it without knowing any off the underlying factors. They were not following a crime or criminal as much as they were following a chase.

In the past I’ve referred to this as soft core porn for newsrooms. My opinion hasn’t changed.

Making News: Savannah Style

This is compelling stuff… well, it’s compelling to me. I’m in TV news. I watched the whole hour without wanting to turn away.

About a week ago, I received an email from Nick Davis. It was unexpected – totally.

Hi Geoff Fox,

Last year it was a pleasure to come upon your blog wile promoting the first season of a reality show my company produces about the goings-on behind the scenes of local news. As I recall, you started out skeptical about Making News: Texas Style – in particular you were annoyed by the station’s almost complete lack of attention to the more serious side of journalism – but you were, I think, (somewhat) won over by the characters by the end of the season.

Well, season two starts Wednesday night on TV Guide Network. I have my own feelings and opinions about Making News: Savannah Style — but would much rather you came to the show fresh. I really would be thrilled to have you check us out again —

All best,

Nick Davis

Executive Producer, “Making News”

He’s right. I wrote a lot about the station Nick’s crew followed in Texas. I really had mixed emotions, because though some of the ‘players’ were interesting, much of what his camera’s saw showed the worst that local TV news is.

I wanted to give it a peek before I wrote about the new show&#185. Again, this is compelling stuff… well, it’s compelling to me. I’m in TV news. I watched the whole hour without wanting to turn away.

As was the case the last time, it’s on TV Guide Channel, sharing the screen with scrolling program listings. Hey, I used to host a science fact show on the SciFi Channel. I understand not everything is a perfect fit.

The newsroom being chronicled is at the low rated ABC/Fox affiliate, WJCL/WTGS, in Savannah, GA. Whether it’s true or not, it’s claimed to be the lowest rated ABC station in America! There’s a distinction.

Savannah’s a market with two other, much more well established stations, both doing news as well. I’m not sure how this one can hope to compete, especially when they’re underfunded and understaffed.

Climbing in the ratings today is more difficult than ever before. Today’s viewing audience is heavily fragmented because of all the choices (TV, cable, computer, etc.) we all have. Simply put, there’s less audience during entertainment programs to promote your news.

I like the news director, Michael Sullivan. I liked him from the get-go. He’s a grown-up who knows stability is key to success. At the same time, he can only pay enough for employees to consider this station a stepping stone.

Reporters, please understand: Viewers don’t want to think they’re being used to advance your career!

A succession of owners has left this station with bad equipment and worse morale. That’s just not good. Unfortunately, by virtue of age and experience, the staff in Savannah does not yet know no station has equipment that always works nor every tool they need. When I filled-in at ABC, live shots died all the time. We just had enough people to hide the problems until they were fixed.

Tonight, I saw some reporters/anchors who ‘get it.’ This is really good news. They understand their obligation as journalists. They seem bright and willing to work.

I’ve also seen at least one reporter who doesn’t get it. He’s the crime reporter, but he’s really all about himself. He doesn’t understand, people are watching his reporting to gain insight, not to help his career.

The series is just beginning. I’m sure I’ll revisit it over the next few weeks. If you’re watching it too, please leave a comment.

Blogger’s addendum: The email from Nick Davis shows how ‘retail’ TV has become. He literally is fighting for every viewer. I give him credit for doing everything he can to promote his show.

&#185 – It’s on cable. Each episode will be repeated – trust me.

The Unknown State

There’s a website with a little game, challenging you to name all 50 states. I sight read maps for a living. I just wanted to race the clock.

A little under four minutes later, I was finished. I clicked on the results to see how others had done. That”s when I got a real shock.

Below you will find the most forgotten (or perhaps mispelled&#185) U.S. States, as well as how your score stacks up against everyone else who took this quiz.

Texas was the most recognized state. 98.4% of the respondents picked it out correctly. Then came California, Washington and New York.

I looked for Connecticut. Zip.

But it was there! We are the very last entry on the list – number 50!

Connecticut was identified (and correctly spelled) by only 77% of those playing. We were right below the difficultly spelled Massachew… Massatu… You know, the state to the north of us.

We were even outdone by Mississippi. Oh, the humanity.

&#185 – They misspelled misspelled!

Why Is That 737 Heading To Jamaica Tonight?

Sometime today, probably mid afternoon, Jamaica will get creamed by Hurricane Dean. It’s not a pretty scenario. Imagine watching a train barrel toward you while you’re tied to the tracks!

In the midst of this tumult, a chartered jet is heading into Norman Manley Int’l Airport in Kingston.

How do I know? I went on FlightAware and looked to see air traffic in and out of Kingston. I can only see flights which will touch Jamaica and the U.S., but that’s enough for a feel.

The plane is question is a Boeing 737 owned by Ameristar Jet Charter, operating from Addison Airport near Dallas. It’s a plane normally used for charters and configured 100% first class. There are only 56 seats.

Why is it flying there? Is it a rescue flight of some type? If so, why a plane with so few seats?

More importantly, will it get out before Hurricane Dean shuts things down? Any kind of mechanical trouble would be very costly. In this case time is money.

At the last observation, winds at Kingston were light. It is just another sultry tropical evening in the heart of the Caribbean. You can see how people were totally surprised by these storms in the pre-electronic era.

There will be enough damage in Jamaica without a perfectly good 737 being ripped to shreds. I hope they refuel and return to Texas quickly.

Interesting Predicament

Maybe you’ve heard, the RIAA (the recording industry’s association) sues people it suspects of swapping licensed music. Though this raises the ire of those in the freewheeling computer hacker community, the people who own the music deserve to be compensated for their labor.

That being said, I’m no fan of the RIAA. They’ve been pretty draconian in their copyright enforcement. There are all sorts of mean spirited stories featuring obviously innocent people being threatened.

The RIAA, with access to legal counsel, has a pretty good advantage here. Even with huge settlement costs, paying the RIAA thousands of dollars is cheaper than fighting them – even if you expect to prevail!

I’ve always wondered how the music industry can press for these huge settlements when the actual value of the dowloaded music is under $1 a song? I guess I’m not the only one to have that thought.

From the “Recording Industry vs The People” website“:

In Atlantic v. Boggs, in Corpus Christi, Texas, where the defendant has interposed not just an affirmative defense challenging the constitutionality of the RIAA’s $750-per-song file damages theory, but interposed a counterclaim to that effect as well, thus prompting the RIAA to move to dismiss the counterclaim, the United States Department of Justice has requested, and the Court has granted, an extension of time in which to consider intervening in the case to defend the theory.

In other words, the original defendant, Boggs, says the RIAA is wrong to sue him, but even if they weren’t, their $750-per-song file damages theory has constitutional problems. $750 isn’t even close to the record company’s real damages.

This is one of many counterclaims made by Boggs’ attorneys, but the one I find the most fascinating. If the court finds the real monetary value of music must be used (what you’d pay on iTunes, for instance), will the RIAA be put in the position their defendants now face – litigation that’s a money loser even if you win?

What happens to the music industry in this scenario? Can they survive if the ability to legally enforce their rights is eviscerated?

I’m keeping an eye on this.

Making News: Texas Style – Catching Up

I’ve become a big follower of TV Guide Channel’s Making News: Texas Style. Warts and all, the show has grown on me. In fact, my biggest upset was it went into reruns just as I was getting interested. Now, it’s back.

I had two episodes on the DVR when I sat down tonight to watch. As always, there were a few story lines woven through the show, but I was most interested in a fresh out of college reporter named Kara Lee.

Her assignment was to produce a story on salvia. Here’s how salvia.net describes it.

Welcome to salvia.net. This site is dedicated to one of the world

Where You’re From

Helaine started it with a couch conversation Sunday evening. She wondered, as I had in the past, where were you while you were reading this blog? The numbers are in, and I’m a little surprised.

About 100 of you have left a note on my website over the past few days, telling me where you are. Since I average over 1,000 page reads a day, it’s a significant, though not overpowering percentage of my readers. 59 of that group are reading in Connecticut.

That Connecticut number is a stunner, because website stat programs paint a very different picture. I tried to address this a few days ago and was a little confusing. Two of you responded, though it seems my poor choice of words let you miss the point.

Most ‘regular’ readers come in through the home page (or read my most recent entries through my RSS feed using Yahoo!, Google or an installed feed reader). Most out-of-state readers are probably here after following a search engine link which brought them to an older entry. They never saw my home page or my request.

Most of you (not all of you) know me from my job on TV. I’m not sure how that will affect my writing going forward… if it affects it at all. I already parse my words, remaining ever alert that what I say on my private website can reflect on my very public life.

A number of the respondents left their web address. That gave me a chance to take a peek at them.

Marko in Dayton, Ohio also has a blog – though no entries since April. He has built some pretty cool Pinewood Derby race cars with his son, referred to as “#2.”

Doug Harris is also a blogger and also stopped blogging in April. Did something happen in April I didn’t hear about?

Mike, in Arlington, VA has a website with a cool name: RadioMojo. His home page explains he’ll no longer be doing whatever it was RadioMojo did. Its date: April 25th.

You can’t make this stuff up.

A reader name Mumbles linked to his photos on Flickr. There’s a lot to like here. I enjoy looking at other photographers work, trying to find ways to improve mine.

I wonder if Mumbles knew I’d look at his work… or guessed I’d tell you to look? He probably wanted me to look at them. Mission accomplished.

Chuck Schultz sent his photo link too. He’s into racing cars and dogs. You can tell a lot about a person by their photos. Dogs are very photogenic. They never mind posing nor care if you take too many photos.

I wonder if there was a downside to growing up as Charles Schultz… but not ‘the’ Charles Schultz.

Chuck is a ham operator. There are a bunch of them here. I wrote an article recently in the national ham radio magazine, QST. I’m sure that brought some of them to my site.

Jeff in Muncie, Indiana is a ham too, with a blog and a podcast. That’s an undertaking. I listened to some of his latest entry about Hiram Percy Maxim, in many ways the father of ham radio. The podcast sounds like the kind of first class radio production you often hear on NPR.

Jeff has links on his blog… though none to me. I like links.

Am I boring you? You don’t have to read this if I’m boring you.

My father left a message. My sister left a message. My cousin left a message.

Meredith has put much of her life online in a free form way. That’s how this website started, but I found it too difficult to be free form on the web, which cries out for structure.

John, from “The new and exciting Bridgeport, CT” linked to his family’s website. I like this idea a lot, but I like reading “Christmas letters”.

My friend Kevin’s family just put up a family blog with my help. With four girls out in the world, often away from their Connecticut roots, their blog promises to keep the family closer.

Adam left a link for his blog. It is the antithesis of this one in that I have long entries while Adam is often satisfied with a few words or a sentence.

I like his reference to your worst hair decision ever.

When I was a kid, a new barber-in-training cut my hair so short that even pre-teen Geoff knew he was in trouble. I’m still cringing over that. The guy who owned the shop told me to come back in a few days and the hair would have grown back enough to repair the damage.

More recently, a news director sent me to her hair stylist, who proceeded to make me look like Lyle Lovett. Even Lyle Lovett doesn’t want to look like Lyle Lovett. And, I still had to wear the hair on-the-air. Mortifying!

Damon Scott checked in from Lubbock, TX. I’ve written about Lubbock a lot recently, because of the TV Guide Channel reality show about a Lubbock newsroom. They seem to be in reruns, because the DVR hasn’t recorded anything the last two weeks.

Damon is a jock, doing afternoon drive on Mix100. His photo is nowhere to be found on the station’s website. I looked. I always look for disk jockey photos.

When I was a disk jockey, I used to answer the ‘hitline’ trying to pick up girls who were calling to request songs. My first day in radio (really) I got a call from Jeanine, who told me about the sexual failings of a station’s newsman.

There is a medical term to describe his unfortunate haste. Jeanine was a little more blunt.

Damon – don’t pick up hitline chicks.

Actually, maybe they email photos first now? Damon, use your best judgment.

McD is another blogger who wrote back. His home page has a very nice line drawing of him (I think) in the upper left corner.

There’s something very folksy about the sketch. If it’s possible to make a web page folksy, it’s mission accomplished by virtue of this little sketch.

You told me where you were and you told me from all over the United States. Most responses came from people I don’t know, though there are many readers who I count in my extended group of friends.

Seamus. Ireland. Cool. Thanks. I even know how to properly pronounce it! You are are token foreigner,

As long as you’ve read this far, I’ll let you in on something. I really enjoy knowing you read this.

Though smaller, by far, than the audience I reach on television, this is a much more personal medium. I try to speak my mind and hope you will still think kindly of me even as I reveal myself as a guy lots of faults and insecurities.

I worry you’ll tire of me, or I’ll become boring to you. I want to stay fresh and write meaningful things, but is that possible when you force yourself to compose at the keyboard every single day? I don’t know.

More than one a friend in LA has picked up on something trivial I’ve written about and said, “no one wants to know you ate corn last night.” We depend on our friends for life’s true wisdom.

At the bottom of this screen and on every computer I use on a regular basis, there is a counter. Every 15 or 20 minutes it tallies the page hits to my website. I look at it all the time.

At 3:00 AM EDT it resets to zero. I don’t like that part.

Making News: Texas Style – Still Watching

OK, who am I kidding. I’ve become hooked on this damn show – Making News: Texas Style!

I really didn’t want it to happen. It just did. Some things are beyond your control.

Over the past few weeks I’ve written about the superficiality of the stories being covered and the people covering them. That’s still the case. What’s changed is, I now care about the people on the screen. All it took was three weeks of seeing them, flaws and all.

I feel really bad for Melissa Correa&#185, the extremely self conscious reporter desperately trying to lose weight on-the-air. She set herself up in a task that had little upside and lots of downside.

How embarrassing to do a ‘me-roll’ story on weight loss and lose none… or very little. You could see her desperation as she talked about the diet pills she was now taking and the cigarettes she’d like to stop smoking.

As it turned out, she did bail on the weight loss series! Long before the story was over, but after she had promised a payoff in on-air promos, she decided it just wasn’t working. Credit to Jose, the news director, for letting her walk away. not every news director would have made that ’employee friendly’ decision.

Michelle is as close to a mental breakdown as anyone I’ve ever watched on TV. It’s a combination of low self esteem and constant introspection. Was this really a good career choice for her? Can she survive much longer under the pressure?

Bill Warren, the ousted anchor is my second charity case. His bio doesn’t mention it, but I’ll bet he made his way from radio to TV. He’s got that ‘grown-up disk jockey’ persona (and matching voice). I’m not sure how else to describe it.

I feel bad because at age 62 he’s taking a major career step backward. It’s obvious there’s no real future for him outside this market… probably outside this station. His salary and prestige will continue to dwindle before his very eyes.

Bill Warren is living the career equivalent of staying married for the kids. It’s a shame because he seems like a nice guy, and probably a little too intelligent for the room.

What’s bothered me from Episode One is how little meat is in this show and how much time is spent recapping what’s happened and advancing what’s to come. Making News: Texas Style would have made a much better half hour show.

Last Monday, after the show aired, my website got a nice traffic boost. If you Google the show’s name, Making News: Texas Style, my entries come in second and third, right after the TV Guide Network itself.

That is more a comment on the show’s lack of publicity than my site’s great value in critical commentary. On the other hand, it was fun to hear from my fellow addicts.

&#185 – I originally wrote Michelle instead of Melissa. My error.

Making News Texas Style – The News Reality Show Continues

When I sat down in front of the computer last night and checked the DVR, waiting for me was episode two of “Making News – Texas Style.” This is the TV Guide Channel reality show about a local TV newsroom in Midland, TX.

I wasn’t sure I’d watch number two after number one. I’m not sure I’ll watch number three after number two.

“Are we that superficial,” I asked in a quick email to a friend who was recording it too?

The problem with the newsroom being shown in this Cin

Making News – Texas Style Has Got Me Worried

A friend emailed me the ad you see on the left. It’s for a new reality program on the TV Guide Channel, “Making News – Texas Style”.

Yeah, it surprised me too. I thought they only ran character generated listings.

The ad scared me. Some people already look upon us TV types as shallow or trivial. This won’t help.

“Meet Jay, the station’s future anchorman and “Star of West Texas”; Bill, the longtime anchorman who worries about his recent demotion to reporter; Melissa, the reporter with a sense of humor, who’s out to prove she’s great at her job; Kara, the feisty young reporter who’s always up for a challenge; Tatum, the anchor and former Miss Texas who balances family and her career; and Jose, the news director pushing hard for his team to be #1. This news team will do anything to get their stories on the air and beat the competition.

That ad represents everything superficial TV news can be with none of the substance. I’m not saying we’re teaching college level courses on-the-air, but there really is more than pageant winners and cat fighting in the newsroom.

Actually, I can’t guarantee the ad’s copywriter saw the show, because “Making News – Texas Style” was a lot closer to this reserved blurb in a TV Guide press release.

The network is making an especially big bet on original content this year. On June 13, it will debut Making News: Texas Style, a 13-episode reality series about a TV station

The Funeral

My friend Kevin’s funeral was held tonight. As much as I expected a terribly tragic evening, it was not.

I’m not saying it wasn’t sad. Of course it was.

I brought three hankies and they did not go to waste. This, however, was more than sadness. It was what a funeral should be – a celebration of Kevin’s life.

Kevin was, and Melanee and their families still are, devout Mormons. It’s a religion where lay people officiate at services. Before cancer, Kevin was the Bishop of his branch&#185.

His faith was very much part of his life. I greatly respect Kevin’s devotion, even though he and I reached very different conclusions on faith and God. It was easy to see how it also shaped his out-of-church life.

I suspect faith serves his family well in this time when questions are many and answers few. There is reassurance when you believe a higher purpose awaits all of us, that heaven is a very real, and Kevin is waiting there for us.

Helaine, Stef and I drove to Cheshire and followed our friends Harold and Karen to the service in Waterbury. The building that now houses this congregation was once a Jewish synagogue. In fact, Harold’s brother was married right here.

As you might expect, there were lots of people attending the service. The sanctuary, normally divided in two by a movable wall, was opened to its full size.

Good people draw large crowds and few were as good as Kevin. The place was packed.

The service began and within a few minutes it was my turn to walk to the stage and eulogize Kevin. I speak in public a lot. Crowds don’t phase me. Still, this was very different.

I was a nice Jewish boy speaking in the Mormon’s place of worship. I didn’t want to inadvertently do something wrong.

Kevin’s eulogy, based on a web entry I made last week, went well. He was so nice, telling stories about his life couldn’t do anything but touch the congregation.

Then, I came to a part of my speech I hadn’t fully considered. Standing before this Mormon congregation, I looked at the paper and saw:

In March, at a poker table in Las Vegas, I sat next to a man who was a counselor at a hospice in Texas. We talked about Kevin and my fears for him.

“No one ever dies scared,” he said.

I pondered for a second… broadly turned to the church officers sitting behind me and excused myself for what was to come. I was going to say something that had never been said there before.

And then I read the line.

“In March, at a poker table in Las Vegas…” It got a very big laugh.

A laugh at a funeral is different than a laugh at a comedy club. This laugh said, “You are not offending us. Permission granted to continue.” And, I did.

It was an honor to be asked to give the eulogy. I sat down satisfied I had properly portrayed Kevin and our relationship.

Later, both his sister and sister-in-law also spoke. Their stories of Kevin’s life were priceless and brought new context to things I already knew from personal experience.

These weren’t sad speeches. In fact, both of them were very funny and delivered as if these two women were stand-up comics. There was lots of laughter from the crowd. How could you celebrate Kevin without celebrating his amazing spirit?

Can a funeral be perfect? This one was pretty close. There was the structured reverence organized religion brings and the genuine warmth people can only express when there’s real love involved.

Don’t you think I’d like to be able to pick up the phone and discuss this with Kevin right now? And, of course, that’s the tragedy in all this.

Here’s the good part. Nothing said tonight would have surprised Kevin. He knew that was how we felt. I take great satisfaction in knowing that.

&#185 – I apologize for being a little vague, but I don’t know the full structure of the Mormon Church. I did some quick research, but was still left confused.

I think the regional grouping of congregations is a ward and the individual congregation is a branch.

I am avoiding the word church to describe the congregation Kevin attended, because I think (and, again, I don’t know) the word “church” is used in a different way by Mormons than, say, Catholics

My Friend Kevin

I say without fear of contradiction, Kevin Webster is the nicest man I’ve ever known or will ever meet. He is the proverbial ‘shirt off your back’ guy.

I got a call Thursday afternoon from Melanee Webster, my friend Kevin‘s wife. They were at Yale/New Haven Hospital getting ready to come home. It was Kevin’s wish.

I’m not sure what her exact words were, but I knew what she meant. If I was going to see Kevin again, the time was now.

This evening, after our early news, I made the drive to Cheshire.

I remember the first time Kevin and I met. We’re both ham radio operators. A mutual friend, Harold Kramer, had seen my antenna setup in the attic. He thought I’d do better if my wires were flying in the trees, so he called Kevin and another friend, John Fowler.

Kevin came to my house to do me a favor. He didn’t know me. He didn’t have to. He did favors for friends and strangers alike as a matter of course.

I was amazed as he pulled out a slingshot… something I’d only seen in Dennis the Menace cartoons, and shot a lead line into a tall tree. Before the afternoon was over, I had a wire antenna strung between two trees at the 80 foot level!

Where did he find the time? Kevin had four daughters and was extremely active in his church. He was always busy… and yet he was always available. That ‘busy’ and ‘available’ weren’t mutually exclusive was just part of his magic.

Kevin and I quickly became friends. We built radios together, went to computer shows and ham radio events and talked on the phone.

He was the ultimate technogeek. As the allure of ham radio was replaced by computers, Kevin adapted, becoming everyone’s ‘go to’ guy for tech support and help. As with antennas, Kevin helped everyone.

Sometimes, when facing a particularly puzzling challenge, he’d call me for advice. I’d like to think he was more savvy, but he inherently knew two heads were better than one and he didn’t have a jealous or envious bone in his body.

A few years ago, Kevin got into kayaking. One Saturday, he found a kayak for me to use so I could join him for a float on a lazy river. This river was well beneath his expertise, but he gave up a little to afford me a good time.

I say without fear of contradiction, Kevin Webster is the nicest man I’ve ever known or will ever meet. He is the proverbial ‘shirt off your back’ guy.

He was always up, always smiling, always laughing, even when he found out he had incurable pancreatic cancer. That was nearly a year ago. Too damned short a time.

I spent a good part of July 4th weekend last year trying to make sure Kevin would get the best care possible. My weather partner, Dr. Mel Goldstein (a cancer survivor himself and incredibly well connected) made calls to the top specialists in the field.

It was a holiday weekend, but time was of the essence. Dr. Mel just called them at home. I will never properly be able to express my gratitude for what he did for Kevin.

When I first discovered Kevin’s fate, I thought to myself, God must have made a mistake. Kevin’s not the one to take. It just doesn’t make any sense.

I’ve thought a lot about Kevin’s mortality over the past year. Surely he and Melanee have considered it more, but it was on my mind too.

In March, at a poker table in Las Vegas, I sat next to a man who was a counselor at a hospice in Texas. We talked about Kevin and my fears for him.

“No one ever dies scared,” he said.

I was taken aback. I asked him to explain.

He told me he had been with 800 people as they approached death and none of them were fearful as they approached their end. It was among the most reassuring things I’d ever heard. I wanted to write about it then, but I thought it might be uncomfortable or disrespectful if Kevin read it.

My hope is Kevin is not scared about what lies ahead.

My friend Harold and I walked into Kevin’s house tonight and into a downstairs bedroom. There was some hospital equipment, a bed with rails and Kevin sitting in a big chair.

It was tough to look. My poor friend has been ravaged by his cancer. His skin was ashen, his eyes sunk deeply into his skull, his breathing was shallow. His feet were in socks, but so swollen it looked like they were in casts. Later, when I helped him move, I saw his bruises from dozens of injections and probes.

At times, Kevin would just stop all motion and blankly stare ahead as if he were in suspended animation. It was tough not to think the end was coming right there.

He said a few words and acknowledged our presence, but I’m not sure how much he really understands right now. He’s sedated with opiates to control his pain. It’s a guess he was drifting in and out of consciousness.

Melanee sat by his side and gently comforted him. She is his life’s partner… the girl he met while they were both students at BYU. They were each other’s only tue love.

Neither of them could have anticipated this outcome when they pledged their love and lives to each other.

Kevin will soon be gone. His body is shutting down piece-by-piece. It’s tough to imagine he’ll live more than a few days in his current state.

Kevin’s last year was spent in pain, while suffering the indignity invasive medical treatment brings. And yet, if given the opportunity to stop the pain… end his life early… he would have said no.

He got to spend time with his granddaughter and watch another grandchild swell his daughter’s belly. He got to see another daughter graduate college; the second to do so.

He was proud when Marlene, his youngest daughter, a high school senior, trained and ran a race for charity in Miami. She showed maturity as she tackled an adult sized challenge.

Kevin spent a lot of the last year being up and happy and smiling and… well, he was just being Kevin. Until the very end, cancer could not strip him of that.

The sadness we experience when someone dies is often so overwhelming, we forget what it really means. We mourn the most those we love the most. As horrific as that pain is, it is worthwhile because of what we got in return.

Kevin, I will miss you every day. Our friendship will live in my heart forever.

NCAA Brackets

As always, I’m in an NCAA Tournament pool. I know NOTHING about college basketball – zip! I do some simple statistical analysis so I don’t look totally stupid.

As it turns out, the NCAA selection committee also does analysis. My picks are often close to theirs. Here’s this year’s picks. Wish me luck.

Continue reading “NCAA Brackets”