Would You Rather Be First or Right?

The Dannemora prison escape has been a fascinating story, and Friday evening, with one escapee gunned down by police and the other on the run, it was a big news night.

There were many wild tales from the North Country woods, many of them brought to us by eager reporters on Twitter. Unfortunately, some of them were not exactly true, like this one from Time Warner Cable News reporter Geoff Redick.

Exciting? Yes. True? No.

But, Rob, Geoff Redick says right there that “TWO police sources” told him this story.

Oh, really — what police sources? To be so confident, it must have been two very high ranking people with direct knowledge of what’s going on — like officials from the command post.

Mr. Redick went on to tap this one out:

Later in the evening, this all turned out to be bunk. Whatever — stop distracting me with all those annoying facts!

TV news has always been obsessed with getting stories first, even if only by a few minutes. Social media has taken it to the next level; it used to be about who could get it on the air first, and now it’s who can tweet it first.

I’d say this is progress. There’s never been a faster way to get things wrong.

Sounds Like America

If asked you to name a composer who evokes the American spirit, you’d mention Aaron Copland, but could you come up with another? I could a bunch — and all of them have worked in Hollywood.

There is a particular style of movie score that’s big and bold and sweeps you away. It sounds like America.

One of those scores is the one James Horner did for Rocketeer.

I have a long history with the movie.

Horner died in a plane crash this week. It’s telling that he escaped to the sky, a very American pursuit, which you can hear in his music. And you can certainly hear it in that title theme to Rocketeer, titled “Takeoff.”

The Clock

There comes a time when things have to go.

Years ago, we had a garage sale when my mother was selling her house. My father died several years earlier, and spread out on the lawn and driveway were a lot of his things. Tools, clothing and the bric-a-brac that builds up after of decades in the same place. I didn’t end up with much of it.

My mom went from place to place, each time shedding more possessions — and now we’re facing a move that will not allow furniture to go along.

And that brings us to the grandfather clock.

My father built the clock 40 years ago from a kit and it stood for years in our dining room — and now no one in my family wanted it. I’m at a point in my life where I’m trying to get rid of things, not acquire more — but the idea of the clock going on Craigslist and ending up with some strangers really bothered me.

So, I drove to Poughkeepsie and loaded it in my car.

I may regret it one day, but how can I just let the clock go? So much of the tangible evidence of his life is gone, scattered here and there — it just seems like something he made should stay with me.

No, we’re not defined by stuff, but objects have the power to transport you through time. What could be better for that than a clock?

Segue Fever: Military Edition

In 1980, the prospect of World War III was still a very real concern. From my dorm room near Plattsburgh Air Force Base, I could watch FB-111s tear into the sky — and by all accounts, they were nuked and ready to rock.

Naturally, when XTC’s Generals and Majors came out in 1980, we played it constantly at the college radio station. There’s nothing like a peppy song about blowing up the world.

I’d bet you $100 that Colin Meloy listened to some XTC records when he was growiing up in Montana — and I think you can hear it in 16 Military Wives. These are two songs that belong together.

Under the Table and Dreaming

Scarlett looked up from her iPad.

“Rob, you see how New York passed a law that allows dogs in restaurants.”

“Yes — but only in outside dining areas. And only at restaurants that allow it.”

That’s when Maddy trotted in.

“Hey, Scarlett said we’re going to a restaurant!”

“No, not yet,” I said. “The governor has to sign the bill first.”

“What are you going to order Scarlett? I want pork belly. Doesn’t that sound fancy? What’s a governor?”

Scarlett handled this one.

“He runs New York, so he’s in charge of a lot of things. Like Thacher Park.”

“Oh my god, I love Thacher Park. The same guy who runs Thacher Park is going to let us eat at restaurants! He’s the best governor ever!”

Scarlett jumped down off her chair to get a drink of water.

“Maddy, I think this whole thing is just so they can bring us to restaurants — not so we can eat at them. And it treats us like second class citizens. The law says we need a separate entrance and we won’t be allowed to sit on chairs. No offense, Rob, but this is more about vain dog owners than about dogs.”

She curled up in the corner.

“You two can go, have fun. The whole thing just sounds like it will be disappointing. But bring me a doggy bag.”

Reporter Walks Into a Bar…

What a pleasant surprise to see Plattsburgh’s Monopole bar appear in a New York Times story. I spent many hours in the Monopole as a college student. It wasn’t my favorite haunt, but we’d often end the night there grabbing a slice of scalding hot pizza.

It would come right out of the oven and burn the hell out of your mouth. A sober and sensible person would wait for it to cool; we were neither. In the morning, you were not just hung over, but you had shreds of skin hanging down from the roof of your mouth. Good times.

But about that story. A Times reporter made the rounds of the North Country collecting theories about what happened to those two escaped murderers. Among the opinions was that of longtime Monopole bartender Gail Coleman, who posited that they ran off to Italy. Hey, why not?

Stories like this one show why it’s great to be a newspaper reporter. You can go around and talk to people, like in a bar for example, and whip up a pretty good piece. Your story comes from conversation.

Compare this to what it’s like being a TV reporter. Weighed down with a big camera and lights, the moment you walk in, all intimacy is lost and artificiality takes over. Plus, a certain type of person is attracted to TV news crews. What’s the word I’m looking for… oh, yes: yahoos. If you don’t think people act strangely when cameras are on, go home and turn on TLC or Discovery.

A lot of people won’t talk with a camera pointed in their face — not the way they’ll talk to some guy with a notebook who’s drinking a beer. I once had a TV reporter try telling me I was wrong about this; I guess that’s what happens when you inhale hair spray fumes for so many years.

It makes you wonder why anyone would do that job. The stagey interviews, reliance on pictures to tell your story, merciless time constraints — meanwhile some newspaper reporter is sitting in the Monopole chatting up Gail, all the while coming up with something better than any work you’ll ever do, all in his head.

God, I’m going to miss newspapers.

Basket Case

So, here’s the thing: lately when I go into my supermarket — I won’t mention which one, but let’s just say they are committed to chopping prices — the cashier sometimes asks this question:

“May I help you with anything on the bottom of your cart today?”

To me, that sounds a little like:

“Are you planning to steal something by ‘forgetting’ it in bottom of your cart today?”

Hey, just because I haven’t shaved in three days and didn’t take a shower doesn’t mean I’m going to steal sh*t from your store.

It could be that they’re just being helpful, you know, for customers who can’t reach into the bottom of their cart. Except I’ve also noticed that there are discreet little signs posted near the cashiers that read What about BOB? BOB stands for bottom of basket.

There’s no question that theft is a problem for supermarkets. That’s why chains, like the one that chops prices, have a serious commitment to security; little things count in an operation that operates on a narrow margin. I once heard some crazy stories from one of their security workers about nabbing brazen grocery thieves.

It’s worth noting that they also now ask customers if they need help to their car. Could this be to have a look at what we’re hiding in the trunk? Perhaps, perhaps.

The Facts Escape Them

Vincent Musetto, who wrote the classic NY Post headline Headless Body in Topless Bar, died this week. You should read this fascinating story about how the Post fact-checked the topless part of the tale, and ended up printing the most famous headline ever.

headline

But speaking of headlines and fact checking, let’s talk about Dannemora.

I’ve been deeply fascinated by the recent prison break and read everything I could get my hands on, like the Times Union’s front page story today with this headline:

Fugitives end 150-Year era — Residents worked “The Job” with no escapes — until now.

They interviewed John Egan, who used to run OGS and once worked in the prison. An excerpt:

Egan was “flabbergasted” by last weekend’s breakout, the first such incident in the prison’s 150-year history.

Egan went on to say, “That record of no breakouts stood for 150-years. It spoke for itself.” Well, that’s quite a record — except it seems that Egan may be a little confused on top of being flabbergasted.

The New York Times ran a story this week saying that the prison has a long and colorful history of “breakouts,” including two that involved escaping through tunnels and pipes. Then, just minutes ago, I heard a similar story on NPR about the “two dozen” escapes from the prison.

It could be that the New York Times and NPR are completely wrong about this Dannemora thing. After all, the TU story was written by the paper’s star reporter, Paul Grondahl, with help from one Keshia Clukey.

So why does it matter? I guess because if you can’t get something simple right, maybe we shouldn’t trust you with something complicated.

Oh, and by the way: the Times Union — without an editor’s note — changed the online version of the story so that the second paragraph simply reads, “Egan was “flabbergasted” by last weekend’s breakout” — without the 150-years part.

To tell you the truth, I’m a bit flabbergasted, myself.

Put Your Hand in the Hand

Do they hold hands at your church? At mine they do.

In the past several years, people have started clasping hands during the Lord’s Prayer. They never did before – but let me give you a little background.

For years, my parish, St. Thomas in Delmar, was oppressively uptight. Mass was less a celebration than a sentence to an hour of tight-assed torture.

I would occasionally go to other places – like St. Vincent de Paul in Albany – and marvel at the inspiring atmosphere at mass. “Wow,” I’d say, “this is what Jesus must have had in mind!” Then, back at my church, I’d be subjected to the joyless, prison-like ordeal that did more to suck out your soul than uplift your spirit.

Then, several years ago, we got a new pastor, a no-nonsense guy who’d done his time at tough inner-city churches. He had little patience for the politics  inherent to our affluent suburban parish, and started making changes. That’s when people started leaving. It turns out that many congregants would rather drive elsewhere on Sunday than deal with a little change.

Our pastor’s latest terrible scheme? He’s rearranging the pews to create a more inviting atmosphere. You can’t imagine how angry people are about that. Heretic!

Back to hand-holding. Suddenly, it seemed people were unafraid to hold hands. For years folks have been doing this during the Lord’s Prayer, but never at our parish. It’s almost as if they thought they’d be yelled at or something, cowering at the raised fist of authority.

I’m ambivalent about the hand-holding. Personally, I could do without it, because it feels a bit artificial. I don’t really enjoy holding hands with strangers – but if it makes people feel good, who am I to complain?

But it’s good to see these changes. Could it be that a church based on humility is finally returning to its roots? Let’s hope so; the church had better embrace change or else we won’t have one.