Tuesday, December 14, 2010


One of the benefits of the internet is that it is easier to find a "kindred spirit" who has the same interests as you or maybe enjoyed the same book as you did when you were a kid. It used to be that one had to hang out at the nearest Star Trek convention and dress up as a Klingon to meet an equal who shared your affection for a subject that wasn't "mainstream". We're not talking about people who flock to the latest "trendy author" book signing or mindlessly fork over $15 for the latest "hot director's" movie without even reading a review. No, we're talking about people who have affection for a novel that was written in the 30's, with "cutting edge" science fiction, that wasn't written by H.G. Welles or Jules Verne and that ended up with the main character being vaporized by a lightning bolt from the heavens. Yes, a narrow subject for specialization or interest but still unforgettable.

The novel GLADIATOR written by Philip Wylie and published in 1930 is about a doctor who is trying to invent a serum that will turn a man into a superman. Don't laugh, the book was written before Superman was invented and is credited for giving Superman's authors Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster the idea for their comic book in the mid-thirties. While still in his mother's womb, Hugo Danner (a unique and cool name) is inoculated with a special formula by his father who is a scientist with a mad dream. Born with inhuman strength and invulnerability like Clark Kent, Hugo must promise his parents to not reveal his incredible powers. This frustration at being different adds to the angst of what a typical teenager would experience.

Although I was a childhood fan of Superman, Batman, The Green Lantern and every other comic book superhero, the idea of a man with super powers and not being able to fit into society was foreign and unbelievable to me. I mean isn't that all any young boy would ever want; to be incredibly strong and invulnerable and to help people against the bad guys? When Hugo, frustrated and confused by his inability to connect with kids his own age and unable to reveal his powers, rampages goes through the forest and begins uprooting enormous trees and hurling them into the air I had an empathy for his rage. Not because I was so frustrated or confused as a teenage boy but because it was so surprising. In a comic book that frustration was never addressed but in GLADIATOR it was taken a step further and translated into a teenager who could kill anything he wanted but was held back by a slim thread of humanity.

One of the most dramatic events I have ever read was when, as a World War I French Foreign Legion soldier, Hugo infiltrates the German lines at night and, with his bare hands, lays waste to an entire enemy unit in hand to hand combat. The idea of one man being able to turn the tide of history to defeat a regime that wanted to enslave the world was incredibly bold and exciting. With his inborn sympathy and respect for humans it was understandable that he would find himself sickened by his actions. Then his amazing plan to fly a plane to the German leader's lair and kill him and his henchmen was dazzling in its nerve and exhilarating in its audacity! That he couldn't follow through on his mission because of the Armistice prevented Wylie's readers from experiencing an event that would have been courageously classic; a hero who is going to save the human race singlehandedly! That was his one shot at glory and if he had been allowed to accomplish that daring mission could he have revealed himself to the human race and if so how would he have been received? A hero or the ultimate villain?

At one point in his life he was incredibly frustrated that the only work he could find was as a circus freak, a strongman who amazed the masses but couldn't help them or protect them or be their savior. All he was ever really good at was being a fighter, a killer, a gladiator who had been hired out as a soldier to stop a madman. He wanted to be so much more and it seemed that the only logical step was to wear a costume, hide his identity and appear monthly in a flimsy magazine that only kids read; but those people didn't exist then and he wouldn't have fit in there because he had too much dignity. Somewhere deep inside of himself he thought that he was special not in a conceited way but in a manner that was beneficial to the real humans who would never accept him. The book ends years later as Hugo, still unable to fit in with normal humans, climbs to the top of a mountain in South America during a raging storm. With his hands stretched over his head he screams to the heavens that if he is not a God then for God to strike him down where he stands. After a moment a lightning bolt rockets from the sky and strikes Hugo dead. Very emotional for a teenage boy.

I read GLADIATOR in the sixties as a teenage boy and unlike the hundreds of books I have read since then it is one of the few for which I have genuine affection and one that I can still remember a series of specific and dramatic events. There are a couple of other books that have also been occupying a special part of my brain for all those years: The Terrible Game by Dan Tyler Moore and The Second Son by Charles Sailor, and I think that these three books are memorable because they all featured memorable heroes. We can talk about those years as being when a young boy is impressionable, vulnerable, excitable, physical etc. etc. etc. but one thing I think that a boy is looking for is a hero. Hugo Danner of GLADIATOR may not have been a superhero but I remember he had some heroic qualities. And granted my recollection of this unique story is hazy and maybe I've glamorized Hugo and his memory but everything you remember as a boy seems bigger; especially your heroes

Sunday, November 21, 2010


I sent this email to a fellow named Lynn Borland who had just published a book titled, Gilmour Dobie: Pursuit of Perfection which covered the coaching career of legendary University of Washington football coach Gilmour "Gil" Dobie. It was Sunday morning November 21, 2010 and suddenly I was reading an article in The Seattle Times about the coach my grandfather William Jennings "Wee" Coyle used to tell my brother and me stories about when we were kids. As a high school quarterback at Seattle High School (later to be renamed Broadway High School) they beat North Division High School of Chicago for the National Championship and as the starting signal caller for four years at the U of W my grandfather's teams never lost a game. Along with the stories about Gil Dobie and his undefeated career at The University of Washington this was very heady stuff for young boys to process. Never losing? How could that happen? And then while his team's are still undefeated Dobie is suddenly forced from his "pursuit of perfection" after a confrontation with the school's president Henry Suzzallo.

This book will be on my Christmas "wish list" and it is available at the University of Washington Book Store to fill other people's lists.

Dear Lynn,

What a great way to start a Sunday morning! Instead of more depressing news about the Mariners, the Seahawks or the Huskies, although they whipped U.C.L.A. Thursday night, here was an article about someone whom I knew was a genuine Seattle hero and who cares if what he accomplished was over a hundred years ago.

As a kid growing up in Seattle my grandfather, Will Coyle, regaled my brother Terry and me with stories of Gil Dobie as we paged through his University of Washington athletic scrapbooks. As your article in The Times confirms Mr. Dobie was a man to be feared and respected. The tone and the manner in which my grandfather spoke of his former coach suggested that those days were very special to him. Days where you worked your butt off for a man who was tough but fair, grudging in his praise but in the process instilling in a young man the certainty that if you did what he said without complaint, that he would take you to accomplishments that you would never forget.

I remember a story my grandfather told me about when he had gone to visit his girlfriend the night before his last home game of his college career. Minnie Dalby was a fellow University of Washington student and they would eventually marry and raise their two daughters Mary and Rosanne in Seattle. Knowing staying out late with the opposite sex was not part of Coach Dobie’s recommended training regimen but being a senior and the starting quarterback gave my grandfather a young man’s cocky confidence that he would not get caught. After a night of platonic courting my grandfather boarded the street car for the trip home and found himself staring at the dour face of Gil Dobie. Without hesitating young Will found a seat and stared straight ahead contemplating his fate. After a few stops my grandfather, using every bit of his peripheral vision, saw his coach silently disembark and disappear into the night. To make a long story short my grandfather slept poorly, played well in a Husky victory and was joined in the post-game shower with his fully dressed, smiling, cigar smoking coach who said, “You know Coyle I saw a fellow who looked just like you last night on the street car. That couldn’t have been you could it?” Will Coyle never disagreed with his coach so he said, “No sir!”

Remembering a book I had downstairs I dug it out and dusted off a copy of The History of American Football by Allison Danzig 1956. Opening the front cover a small packet slid out. Wrapped in thin, transparent paper were two photographs: one titled Coach Gilmour Dobie 1908 (the same photo in your article) written in my grandfather’s distinctive handwriting and the other titled Assistant Coach Joe Cutting. Where the photo of Dobie was taken on a grass surface the assistant coach’s photo was taken on a muddy field with a small grandstand of what may have been Denny Field in the background.

I paged through the book recalling as a boy the amazement at seeing my grandfather’s name in print (Bill Coyle) and the confirmation of my grandfather’s stories about the legendary Gil Dobie in not only sentences but paragraphs and pages as he continued his success after leaving the University of Washington. “Why did he leave the Huskies?” my brother and I asked. I don’t recall my grandfather’s answer or what role, if any, he played in Dobie’s departure and I don’t recall ever being aware of the Machiavellian struggles going on at the time. As you suggest, “My, how times have not changed”.

I also remember specifically the name Gil Dobie being applied to the Seattle youth football division that had formerly been called Little League. Both my brother and I played for six years with the beginning division being called Pee Wee, the middle division Gil Dobie and the older division was called Bantams. Our grandfather came to most of our games.

Thank you for your carrying the torch for Husky football and your remembrances of a man whose success rivaled any coach in the history of college football. Now let’s get this year’s Huskies to a bowl game and rebuild the University of Washington tradition for football excellence.


Will Lomen

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Letter to Rush Limbaugh

Dear Rush,
Back in the days before I was enlightened by your wisdom I was a typical working stiff who had "feel good" opinions about busing kids all over town for racial diversity,  that rich people were greedy, that unions protected the workers against evil corporations and Reagan was a failed actor who didn't know what he was talking about.

Initially I started listening to you as I traveled around my territory during the Iran-Contra hearings. Being an ex-Marine I inherently sympathized with Lieutenant Colonel North and respected his "stand up" bearing and directness with his questioners. I lost interest because I felt I had no connection to the issue and was more interested in KJR sports radio.

One day I turned back to your show and had a great time listening to your "red neck" jokes and I pulled over and wrote down as many of the sayings as I could remember. That weekend we had some friends over for dinner and after we had eaten and were diving into the post-dinner liqueurs I pulled out my red neck list and announced I would read one of the "you know you're a red neck if...." lines. To make a long story short we passed the list around the table reading the wisdom individually, then some of us stood up and roared them together. It was a great evening and the people who were there still bring up the classic "red neck" evening.

From that point, for twenty-some years, I have been an avid listener and a true believer. I now find it an honor to consider myself a conservative and I admire your commitment to your beliefs and the eloquent way you express them. I know you have a lot of listeners and I'm sure you gain new listeners every day. However I think at this time in our Nation's history you can gain even more.

As you say most Americans live their lives in a conservative manner but have a desire to help their fellow countrymen who need a helping hand; not with government handouts with strings attached but with a genuine love for their neighbors. Some of those people might consider themselves Liberals or Democrats but only in a reflexive manner not ideologically. I used to be like that because it felt good to be someone who looked out for the little guy and I believed that the "all benevolent" government was looking out for them too. Now I realize "big brother" wants the "have nots" to be beholden to him and never wants them to get ahead and off the "dole". Not to mention the Americans who drive our engine of democracy, the thousands of small businesses of the free-market system who just want to be left alone without being taxed into bankruptcy.

I think you need to offer a RUSH LIMBAUGH GUARANTEE to anyone who will listen to you for a month. You will warranty that that person will become a "ditto head" or "a believer" or "a Conservative" or a "Truthster" after 30 days of listening to your show. You could offer to donate $100 to the charity of your choice if they do not become a "Truthster". I know it is a sucker's bet because I think that anyone who is honest with you about their beliefs (as in not being "a mind numbed robot") and is willing to give you a shot will be a dedicated convert in a month (probably less).

The reason you separate yourself from the rest of your conservative brothers and sisters is your sense of humor, your positive attitude, your ability to talk and listen to your callers and your skill in turning a negative caller into someone who is an ally. You have a way of defusing an angry person who doesn't believe in you into someone who may be a little embarrassed about their hostility and willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. It is a rare skill and one that will convert many more "Doubtsters" into "Truthsters".

Stay healthy, Will

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Letter about Doc

One of my friends from the Marine Corps, Mike Newton, contacted me recently about a fellow we both knew in Vietnam. He was a Navy Hospital Corpsman named Richard "Doc" Pinsonnault and a good guy who didn't make it back from Vietnam.

A Hospital Corpsman or just Corpsman is the Army's version of a Medic. He's the guy who ranges around a battlefield finding wounded men and trying to save their lives. All a Corpsman carries for protection is a .45 caliber pistol and very rarely does he use it because he is too involved in treating stricken Marines. It's hard to imagine the courage it takes to go forward in a hostile environment, with bullets flying all over the place and mortars landing near you to save a buddy. "Doc" was that kind of guy and he did it many times.

Mike had been contacted by a fellow name Ray King who was from "Doc's" home town of North Attleboro, Massachusetts and had grown curious about a World War I monument located in front of St. Mary's Catholic Church. Ray noted the thirteen names and asked around to see if anyone knew who they were. No one did. At that moment Ray, a "mill right" in a local factory who says he is "not a writer", started his quest. After a year he finished his research on who the men were and how they died and arranged with The Free Press, the local paper, to publish the stories. In a letter from Ray he said, "I feel it's a terrible sin to have perished in the service of the country and to be forgotten".

As the stories were published there was a favorable response from the townsfolk and Ray continued his journey through World War II, Korea and then finally reached Vietnam and Hospital Corpsman Third Class Richard Pinsonnault. Apparently Doc's parents are gone but through the internet and some dogged searching Ray King found my friend Mike Newton. Mike came off the chopper on Hill 689 the night of June 6, 1968 was wounded, treated by Doc Pinsonnault and med-evaced shortly after. He wasn't with us the night Doc was killed but he knew I was so now it's my job to remember Doc's sacrifices and make sure he is nover forgotten.

Attached is the letter I sent to Ray King. It and other remembrances of Doc will be published in the North Attleboro Free Press on Veteran's Day 2011.

Dear Ray,
I am Will Lomen and I was with Doc Pinsonnault when he died on Hill 689 July 7, 1968. My great friend Mike Newton forwarded your email to me and asked me to write something for you about Doc. That was a couple of months ago and every time I tried to get started on my reply for some reason I had to stop. My brother Terry, who was also a Marine, was killed in Vietnam close to a year later in June of 1969 and his loss is something I deal with every day of my life. He and three of his best friends joined the Marine Corps because I did and they all made it back and in one piece except Terry. I have sworn I will finish this letter to honor the courage, steadfastness to duty and expertise that Doc exhibited in the field and under fire on many occasions.

I wasn't assigned to Charlie Company's 2nd Platoon until sometime in April of 1968 so I didn't know Doc as well as Mike and the other Marines on Hill 881 South. My memories of him were of a guy who was cocky but professional with his duties. To be a corpsman you had to be supremely confident in your abilities and able to handle the inevitable sarcastic banter lobbed at you daily by equally cocky but respectful Marines. We all knew that it took a special kind of man to range about a battlefield packing only a medical kit and a .45 caliber pistol that most likely would never be fired.

The night of July 6, 1968 Charlie Company of the First Battalion, First Marine Regiment was choppered onto Hill 689 in support of Delta Company who, the night before, had been hit by a fusillade of mortars followed by a suicide ground attack. They were in dire straits and undermanned but they couldn't be pushed off that hill. As soon as we landed we were hit by another mortar barrage resulting in two of my friends, Mike Newton and John Keeling being wounded. Mike with wounds to an arm and both legs; John hit in the face with shrapnel that miraculously curved down his forehead and over his nose, missing both eyes. Doc treated them both, and then in the dead of night and under fire our chopper returned, backed up to the hill, lowered the ramp and rescued all of our wounded.

That night we were re-enforced by Alpha Company then the next day Charlie Company was given the mission of retrieving marines from Delta Company who had been killed outside the perimeter the day before. Shortly after we went through the barbed wire to search for our comrades we were again hit by mortars and a lethal sniper whom we could not pinpoint. When our progress stalled we were ordered to pull back and once again Doc came to the front and treated his troops; specifically Waco Stroud and Sergeant Rowe both of whom died, but not because of Doc's actions. I watched him comfort them in their final moments.

After we returned to the top of the hill and were inside our lines again Doc treated more wounded men; specifically our company commander Captain Trautwein and two other Marines, Pat Caldwell and a fellow named Riley. I can't remember the other names. Once again the gutsy Marine pilots brought their CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters back to the hill and, in the face of nagging mortar attacks that were targeting our landing zone, recovered our casualties.

Suddenly as a former fire team leader I was informed that I was now the commander of second platoon and as darkness fell we came under attack again. Before I could ponder my new responsibilities the new company commander, Lieutenant Perry, ordered our platoon to a position on the west side of the hill. With my radio man Lance Corporal John Antonace and platoon corpsman Richard Pinsonnault following in my footsteps, I lead our small group of Marines out onto a small finger of land and dove into a trench. We tried to make out attacking soldiers in the dark on the other side of the barbed wire but couldn't see anything; our platoon laid down a wall of M-16 rounds anyway.

In the confusion of the moment we assumed another platoon from Charlie Company was to our left with Alpha Company to our right but we were wrong. For some reason I looked to my left and saw a group of men standing on a bunker and firing back inside our lines. They were shouting "We friendlies, we friendlies", but it was in a foreign accent. Before we had time to react two explosions detonated directly behind me, something lit up the area and Antonace landed on top of me, driving me into the bottom of the trench. The explosions turned out to be enemy hand grenades and the bright light was an illumination round that was strapped to the side of Antonace's radio. The illumination round was triggered by the exploding hand grenades and it fluttered into the air, landed on the side of the trench and rolled underneath me. Thinking it was some kind of time bomb I dragged myself out from underneath Antonace and dove out of the trench, falling into a bomb crater.

Not sure what was happening, my platoon regrouped and confirmed that somehow enemy troops were to our left and were attacking our position. We fired back, inside our lines, and eventually took out the men on the bunker. We killed most of them with their wounded succumbing to their wounds the next day. Still not sure about the security of our position we rushed back to the trench to find Antonace and Doc. They were gone. Doc had taken the force of the two exploding hand grenades to his front and John was killed when the igniting illumination round hit him in the side of the head as it detonated.

I am sorry to hear that Doc's parents aren't alive to remember him but maybe you have made contact with the cousin and he will carry on the memories. The important thing is that you are doing what you have set out to do. It is a noble effort and you represent a chosen group who has selflessly taken on the task of making sure nobody forgets the ones who have paid the ultimate price for their country. You say you are not a writer but you are wrong. A writer is someone who sets a goal to tell a story and gets it done. There are a lot of people who may have better writing skills and know how to use fancy words and have big dreams about writing a story but never quite get around to it. That's what separates the talkers from the doers, like you. Congratulations on the dream you have chosen and good luck on your quest.

Semper Fi, Will Lomen

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Red and Black are back!

As a guest of the McGilvra Soccer Club at a recent board meeting, it was terrific to see it was business as usual. In the comforting confines of John McCormick's Park Deli, we sipped cool beverages as President Bruce Clarkson and six other volunteers conducted club affairs as has been done for the past thirty-eight years. Covering such basic issues as player registration, team practice schedules, uniform and equipment purchases, budget updates and the expansion of the club website, the volunteers readied McGilvra's "association" and "mod" teams for the upcoming 2010 season in September. "Association" meaning boy and girl teams with players under ten (U-10) to under nineteen years of age (U-19) and "Mod" being boy and girl teams for under six (U-6) to under nine (U-9) who play under modified rules. These modifications for the younger soccer players include: reduced rosters, shorter fields, fewer on-field players, shorter games and a smaller ball. The "Mod" idea is that the kids will get more touches on the ball and be more involved in the game.

Back in 1973 when all players played eleven-a-side on a regulation field the McGilvra club provided approximately three hundred kids the opportunity to play soccer in the Seattle Youth Soccer Association. Over the years the Club has experienced steady growth and in 2010 the club now stands at more than five hundred players who are coached by over fifty volunteer coaches.

The McGilvra club is defined by the geographical boundaries of: North at the Ship Canal, East along Lake Washington to Yesler and west to MLK then along MLK until it runs into Madison then down Madison to the west side of Washington Park and along the Arboretum to 26th Ave. E. and back north to the ship canal. These borders are similar to the Madison Park, Washington Park, Denny-Blaine and Madrona boudries with the Mt.Baker/Lakewood Soccer Club to the south, the Capitol Hill Soccer Club to the east and the Woodland Soccer Club to the North.

Over the years one characteristic of the Club has been the outstanding volunteers who have kept the McGilvra Soccer organization (mcgilvrasoccer.org) running efficiently. Some years a few individuals have done most of the work and in other years a new generation of enthusiastic parents have filled every position covering such varied job titles as: President, Seattle Youth Soccer Association Commissioner, Mod Coordinator, Photo Day Coordinator and Coaching Director. Each team will then assign parents with providing such essentials as game day snacks and the end-of-the-year party.

After five years, Kendall Culwell the lady who has held the Club's most important position of Head Registrar, will step aside and is moving to California. Culwell, who swears that the reason she is moving has nothing to do with intensity of the job, will facilitate the registration for the 2010 season then will be available train her successor. As the Club searches for her replacement Culwell is enthusiastic about the job's rewards. She has enjoyed the energy of organizing each team and interacting with all of the coaches and many of the parents. She says that the May to August registration period can be hectic but also very satisfying as existing and new teams come together into units of kid-friendly teams with names like: Go Girls, Sparklers, Lasers, Stampede, Green Hornets, Superfriends, Speedy Cats and Hotshots. It is a testament to Culwell's efficiency and dedication that during her five years she has twice been designated the Seattle Youth Soccer Association volunteer of the month which includes the SYSA's (sysa.org) sixteen clubs and over thirteen thousand soccer players under their umbrella.

Although one of the smallest clubs in the city the McGilvra red and black are competitive with any of the larger clubs and have many City Championships to show for it. Last year in weather not fit for a polar bear, four of it's teams fought through the marathon rounds of the City Tournament and made it to the finals. On that cold and rainy of December 19th at the Nathan Hale and Summit field complexes, the GU11 Sparklers coached by Bruce Clarkson and the GU12 Chargers coached by Mike Riley won their respective City Championships in heart-stopping performances. The GU13 Go Girls coached by Scott MacIntire and the BU11 NIghthawks coached by Joe Nickerson finished as the gutsy runner-ups in their classifications.

As I sat listening to Bruce Clarkson, Kendall Culwell, Scott MacIntire, Jonathan Stark, Darren Gray and Ken Gladden give their various reports you could feel the anticipation for the upcoming season. As dates were set, assignments were delegated and questions were answered it was comforting to know that the Club, which has been passed down through the years, was in good hands.




Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Guess who just visited the neighborhood?

The pieces to the puzzle were there, it was just a matter of fitting them in their proper places.

Over the past week Madison Parkers may have noticed City of Seattle traffic signs appearing along south McGilvra Boulevard and south along Lake Washington Boulevard. If had they looked closely at the typically sloppy hand writing they would have been informed that certain curbs would not be available for parking  south to the Madrona bus turnaround from 6am to 6pm on August 17th. Those of us who have been benumbed to the continuous home construction projects in our neighborhood and their inherent impact probably skimmed the dates and times and promptly wrote it off to just more pickup trucks, cement mixers, yawning traffic directors and another delivery of port-a-potties. That would have been a mistake.

As they lay in the sun at Madrona Beach today around 2pm on August 17th another group would have noticed the very strange sight of at least six distinctive boats with high powered outboard engines enblazened with large letters spelling POLICE jockeying for position off the shore from the Madrona bus turnaround. Their first thought would be, "Weren't the Blue Angels last week?" then they would have rolled over and reached for the sun screen.

About a half a mile north on the Boulevard another more adventurous group would be searching in vain for parking at the nudie beach hidden on a secretive street off Lake Washington Boulevard. "I mean what's the problem with these lunch board signs telling me I can't hang out at my favorite Lake Washington beach in my birthday suit?"

As you continued north along the Boulevard toward Madison Park suddenly it would become obvious that something different was happening in the neighborhood. There were vans and a whole lot of police officers and your first thought may have been: "They're filming a movie somewhere around here so they need the police for security and the vans for all the actors and support staff etc. etc." But then you realized that that didn't make sense because why would they be serving meals out of a police van? I mean can you eat donuts all day long?
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Then there are the people who would have recalled articles about the President being in town to show the flag for Patty Murray and some of them may have been excited for a few seconds about attending the fundraiser until they realized that ponying up $10,000 would put a serious dent in this month's entertainment and mortgage budget so they decided to watch it on the news. But what was this about the President hanging out at Rob Glazer's lakefront estate and didn't he just move from a hot condo downtown to a neighborhood more user-friendly to his new kid-friendly family?

So guess what? Yup you're right that was the President hustling along Lake Washington Boulevard between 2pm and 4pm today encompassed in a secure entourage of Seattle Police personnel, automobiles, motorcycles, vans, State sheriffs and Secret Service agents along with the President's Beige Suburban with the tiny American flags followed by more vans and more motorcycles.

Next time pay attention to those street signs, you never know who's going to be visiting.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

McGilvra Field of Dreams: The Sequel

One day a little girl fell on the rough McGilvra Elementary School dirt field scraping her hands and knees. Years later in October of 1999, that little girl was the president of the McGilvra PTSA and the field was in even worse condition. Zimmie Caner had had enough so she approached another McGilvra parent, Deb Kahn, about chairing a committee to research the possibility of resurfacing the school's field. On that day the "McGilvra Field of Dreams" was born.

Reaching out into the neighborhood the committee found broad support within the entire Madison Park/Washington Park community to replace the miserable field. Raising funds through City and County matching grants, donations from local citizens and businesses and money jars at local stores the committee raised over $380,000 for the project.

During the field evaluation process the committee realized that the Astro Turf generation was over and that the "infill" generation was on the horizon. The "good news" about Astro Turf is that it is durable and doesn't require a lot of maintenance but the "bad news" is that the abrasive surface causes rug burns and its hard sub-surface results in bone-jarring thumps to the head and unyielding hits to shoulders and collar bones. The term "infill" refers to a green-bladed polypropylene material that is supported by millions of tiny rubber granules that are mixed into the synthetic carpet to provide a cushioned more grass-like surface for sliding and falling athletes. Put simply it is padded carpet installed over an efficient stone aggregate drain field.

Finally on the hot and dusty day of June 25th 2001, Jo Shapiro, McGilvra Elementary School's principal, attempted unsuccessfully to dig a ceremonial shovel into the rock hard surface of the school's 35 X 70 yard athletic field. If ever there was a validation of the committee's vision this was it. Throughout the summer, heavy equipment came and went, holes were dug, the drain gravel was laid and one day in late August ten large rolls of carpet were delivered and rolled out looking like an installation for a giant's living room. Then a few weeks later the first soccer game was played between two nine year old boys teams from the McGilvra Soccer Club, the Terminators and the Nomads.

Now nine years later, using funds from the Building Excellence III project approved by voters in 2007, the Seattle School District is in the process of replacing the field built in 2001. According to David Standaart of the Seattle School District the project, which cost nearly $250,000, should be finished by early August and he confirms the field will be ready for the McGilvra Soccer Club's practices later that month. According to Standaart the existing sub-surface needed a little laser leveling but was otherwise in good shape. He also stated that the District will conduct G-max testing once the field is completed which measures the impact of a body when it makes contact with a surface. Once they establish a "baseline" they will compare that to tests done in the future to evaluate how hard the surface has become. The School District will also be responsible for the yearly grooming and general maintenance of the field.

Bruce Clarkson the McGilvra Soccer Club president is excited about the new field and says that it will be complete with lines defining the soccer field and extra markings denoting kickball bases for the school's PE classes. He also pointed out that the original field had reached the end of its life expectancy with fraying seams and a slippery surface. "It was becoming a safety issue," he said.

One difference between the original surface and the new Sportexe field manufactured by Shaw Flooring is the addition of sand into the rubber infill. According to Hailey Towne a resident of Madison Park and a project coordinator for contractor D.A. Hogan, this mixture provides a firm surface that enhances speed and accurate ball movement. Supporting the surface are panels called "Brock Pads" which provide safe cushioning and prolong the life of the field. D.A Hogan, with offices locally, has built over a thousand athletic fields all over the country including synthetic surfaces at the Seahawks Virginia Mason practice complex and the natural grass surface at the Mariners Safeco Field.

It's heartening to have the Seattle School District recognize that the McGilvra Field is not only a public school asset but also a field that is used by the local community and kids and people from all over the city. The Madison Park/Washington Park neighborhood is pleased that the legacy of the "Field of Dreams" is continuing as a "Field of Reality".

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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

2010 Shore Run 5K

Ever since the 2009 Shore Run 5K, when the plantar fasciitis spiked my left heel at the Lake Washington Boulevard/McGilvra Boulevard intersection, I have been on a long road back to race fitness. Having to walk and limp the last two miles to the finish line, in my own neighborhood, was not only humiliating, because this has been my home course for over forty years, but also discouraging because the daily heel pain didn't seem to be getting better. Already covered in my 9/11/09 post, the injury was diagnosed, treated and has been in pretty good shape for the past year. It was a drag going through the drill of getting back on the road, getting my rhythm back, being able to breath normally while on the move, getting past the "heavy leg" point and losing the few extra pounds I had acquired. On the day of April 30, 2010 another gear kicked in and finally I had reached another level of strength and suddenly I was back to my dream world of Willie Boy closing on the former Olympic champion with the crowd willing me forward and into the lead.

The whole time during my comeback I was shooting for the next Shore Run 5K on June 13, 2010 that runs from the Leschi boat basin on Lake Washington to Madison Park, two blocks from my home. The route is one that I have run for years and while being mostly flat still has a substantial hill after the first mile that runs about a quarter of a mile. During my training I had gotten in the habit of pushing the pace on the hill and after awhile the hill became less of a challenge; still a butt-kicking hill but not as daunting.

Then on Monday May 10th after having upped my weekly mileage over the previous three weeks to 17, 18 and 18 miles I set off confidently and rolled my left ankle after having only run a block. I felt like I had been hit from behind and in a flash I thought of having gotten back on the road again, the Shore Run in a month, the work I had put in during my comeback and wondering if  I could manage the pain that was ready to hit the next time my left foot touched the ground. I muttered an oath and continued across 41st Avenue East favoring my left foot as I headed up Garfield Street. It hurt but after a few strides I knew I could manage the pain. On the high/low ankle sprain chart this was a #2 roll. For the next six miles I gutted it out with the pain receding somewhat but always there on every other foot plant.
When I got back home I broke out the family ice bag that is always stored in the freezer for exactly this kind of emergency. After fifteen minutes of icing the outside of my ankle and fifteen minutes on the inside I was gimping around the house OK. Then I downed a couple of aspirin, took a warm shower and was feeling even better because I could tell the injury wasn't going to keep me off the road. That night I wore my handy ankle brace which I had worn religiously during my plantar fasciitis treatment and with an extra pillow supporting my ankle I slept fine. The next day it was black and blue and sore but I put in five tender miles with an uneventful seven on Friday. It still hurt but I was back on the road for the Shore Run.

Because my ankles are skinny (I can encircle them with one hand) I have had a history of spraining them that dates back to playing basketball with my brother Terry when we were kids. Back then a sprained ankle would set me back a couple of hours as it loosened up with our daily running around the neighborhood. Then over the years, as long as I was wearing my high-top Converse All Stars I never seemed to have any problems until I hit the court wearing a pair of my hot new running shoes. (With low tops and no ankle support.) I think I wore them partly to show off the cool looking Adidas or Pumas I had just spent a whopping $30 on along with feeling like the new shoes made me faster and able to jump higher. Whether that was true or not whatever I gained in coolness and perceived athletic benefits I lost in support for my spindly ankles.

I can remember specific ankle spraining occurrences with a cringing grimace:  driving home one night using only my left foot, my right foot blown out in a meaningless park league basketball game; having to walk home to the top of Queen Anne Hill after popping an ankle while running near Gasworks Park; getting lucky and hitch-hiking with a neighbor after biting the dust under the I-90 floating bridge three and a half miles from home; landing on my face in front of the Seattle Tennis Club while running on a perfectly flat sidewalk; and finally tripping on a curb and sliding elbows first in a driveway on E. McGilvra Boulevard.

One thing I've noticed when an ankle sprain falls into the "blowout" stage is that besides the outside tissue, ligaments, muscles and cartilage being negatively impacted the inside of the foot above the arch and below the ankle bone (I don't know what it's called) is jammed together in a compression sort of injury also. As in, the force of the leg bone jamming into the foot does something to the bones that hurts just as much as the outside damage and takes as long to heal. You find that when you stride forward with your heel landing on the running surface your foot rolls forward over your arch with your big toe landing next to be followed by a cascading effect running down your remaining toes. When that compression injury is still healing I have found that as soon as the big toe connects with the running surface stress is transferred back to the sore area above the arch and you tend to favor your foot by running more on the side of your foot to avoid the stress transferred back by the big toe. Got all that? Doesn't matter because anyone who has ever blown out their ankle knows what I am talking about and probably had an unconscious shiver of recognition in my description.

Somewhere along the line, probably after reading an article referencing: SPRAIN, ankle, in Northwest Runner, Runner's World or Running Times, I decided I had to do something about my predilection for for this injury that is a bane to all serious runners. It's not that it's chronic or that I end up in the hospital getting "scoped" or that it's stopping me from running but it just seemed like the issue was something I could deal with and possibly stop from ever happening again. I started cutting out articles and over time integrated my own personal daily regimen for preventing my sprained ankles.

My solution is a series of foot and ankle manipulations and massages that I do every evening before going to bed and every morning before I hit the floor as I sit on the side of the bed. Bending my right knee I take the front of my right foot in my hands and, without resting it on my left knee, I push into my right heel pad with my right thumb and rub back and forth. (The reason I don't rest my right foot on my left knee is that after I had originally started this regimen the outside of my right ankle developed a tenderness that never went away. After figuring out what was causing the problem I didn't see any reason why I had to rest my foot on my knee so I just adapted the method and it has worked fine.) After rubbing the heel for about twenty seconds I work my way up my foot to the arch for another twenty seconds and then continue to the ball of my foot making sure I rub hard enough to feel the bones underneath. Then I take my right foot in my right and rub down the outside of my foot with my left hand and work down the tissue until I reach my heel again. Keeping that same grip, I then rotate my foot in a clockwise motion ten times in an exaggerated slow rotation. When I started this motion years ago I noticed both of my feet would jerk as I rotated them and I remembered reading something about "muscle memory". As I recalled that is where during the rehab you have to "teach" the affected area to work again in it's proper motion. Over time this rotation smoothed out along with the muscles, tendons and cartilage becoming stronger and the joint smoother operating. Then I would finish up by squeezing my achilles tendon between my thumb and forefinger and work my way up my calf and press both thumbs into the muscle and rub up and down and then finish up with a massage back down my calf and achilles. This also had me a little more ready to go in the morning instead of gimping around on my sixty-three year old feet.

So there I was the Sunday morning of June 13th jogging around the Leschi boat basin getting warmed up for the 33rd Annual Shore Run. Since the sprained left ankle of May 10th my training had been going well with my weekly mileage increasing to a max of 18 miles and the intensity increasing along with my dedicated push up the lake hill on every run. I had always looked at hills as a necessary evil during a run or a race but after reading Roy Wallack's terrific niche book Run for Life recently I have been following his advice to use hills as an anaerobic opportunity for your training instead of having to run on a track. The sun was out and with a few clouds it was a perfect day for a race. Since we head north along the lake the sun is behind us, a comfortable hint to a pleasant day.

 Around 8:10 I finished my stretching and jogging and headed for the starting line for the 8:15 gun. As I jogged down the sidewalk bordering the marina area I moved over for a mother and her stroller. Suddenly I was face down on the grass with a stabbing pain exploding in my right ankle. I had rolled my foot over the edge of the sidewalk where it meets the grass! I couldn't help but utter a four-lettered oath as I clutched my right foot in my hands. Someone near me said, "Jeez did you break your ankle?" The work that I had done the past year to come back from the plantar fasciitis; being able to run in the race and getting off my butt were all images that flashed through my mind. Damn maybe if I could get up and start jogging I could shake it off like I did the sprained left ankle from a month ago. I forced myself to my feet and tried to jog down the sidewalk but it hurt too much and I had to stop. I continued to walk toward the Blue Water Bistro Restaurant but the pain was unrelenting. Then the announcer informed the runners that there was two minutes until the start. Trying not to look like a weenie, I limped toward the starting area just in time to see my friend Steve Wood and his daughter Ellie who greeted me cheerfully and said, "Hi Will are you ready to go?" I grimaced and said something like, "Yah, except I just blew my ankle out." They both looked shocked, glanced down at my feet and immediately left me behind as the gun sounded.

I limped forward and the pain continued to stab into my ankle but I pushed forward trying to convince myself that I could run through the pain. At the entrance to the north Leschi marina parking lot I had to stop and I stepped up onto the sidewalk and began to walk. As I limped forward I realized that if I continued at this pace I wouldn't be home for an hour and that Gwynne and Charlotte, who were waiting for me at the finish line, would probably be ready to send out for the cavalry. I have never in my life not finished a race, they knew it too and would be concerned. With the course closed off to vehicles there would be no way for them to track me down. Gritting my teeth I stepped forward and against all normal reactions I limped forward. Damn it hurt but I knew I had to get home anyway so I forced myself forward, it hurt when I walked so why not try to jog and get home sooner?

The good news is that I continued down Lake Washington Boulevard, the bad new is that every-other step pierced my foot and ankle with pain. Finally I reached the lake hill, my increased fitness keeping my breathing under control but doing nothing for my injured ankle. As I gutted it out the pain became something I was familiar with and not the shocking jolt I had received on the sidewalk. I had reached a rhythm that was inefficient and painful but it kept me moving forward. The rest of the race was an unpleasant blur, my only thoughts were of being able to stop, going home and propping my foot up covered by the family ice bag.

The quick ending to this story is that I was greeted with shock and sympathy by Gwynne and Charlotte, I hobbled the two blocks home, iced my foot and ankle, took a couple of aspirin and a warm shower and drank four beers later that evening. My time was 24:28 for the 5K which far slower than the 21:58 I ran in 2008, but faster then my plantar fasciitis run and walk of 26:30 last year in 2009. Yah look at the bright side, obviously it's faster to limp a 5k than to walk and limp it.

So as of today my running log, which has been my walking/'running log for the past couple of weeks, shows that I took the Monday off after the Shore Run then walked around the neighborhood every day for about a week then gradually inserted longer and longer jogs into the mix. Today in mild/overcast weather my right ankle was still tender but I ran down to the infamous Leschi marina (while cringing at the sidewalk area where I fell)  at an "OK" pace and pushed on the hills. Prior to my five mile run I walked a 1/2 a mile to get the ankle loosened up.

So once again all is right in the world; another treatable injury is healing, I am back on the road, the wind is in my face, the water is lapping at the shore, my breathing has smoothed out and Willie Boy is making his charge over the last mile for the lead.

Monday, June 14, 2010

High/Low Ankle Sprain

Have you noticed how so-called "experts" try to give themselves credibility by changing traditional terms? They think if they say "velocity" instead of "speed" to describe how fast a baseball pitcher throws that somehow they have said something earthshaking or unique, something that a regular person or a layman could never think up. As if a basketball announcer throwing out the word "length" describes a player's attributes better than just saying he has long arms, as two fans would say to each other as they watched a game. And wouldn't you think an announcer who has been calling games for over thirty years would by now know the difference between a curve ball, a slider or a spitball instead of saying "breaking ball". And does anyone know the difference between a "sports hernia" and a regular hernia? I guess having a big strong professional athlete be diagnosed with the same injury that a fifty year old couch potato can acquire from a lifetime of reaching for a bag of chips while he is lifting a sixteen ounce brewski is humiliating for the jock. Do you get more credibility for acquiring the injury while in a stadium being watched by 60,000 fans than you do while sitting on your butt stuffing your face? The last time I looked the guy with the washboard abs and the fat boy are still lying flat on their back, hooked up to an IV and hoping the doctor doing the work has a steady hand for any work being done below the waist. And then there are the announcers who have "to get it right" for their credibility by saying, "Jo Blo has twenty-five RBI this year", as opposed the way we were all brought up saying RBIs or ribbys. I love it when one of the announcers, who's older than me, slips up and calls it the old way without noticing it. I wonder how many twits or blogs or emails they get from geeks, who never played the game, calling them out on their mistake.

Then there is the "high ankle" sprain which I guess is somehow different from the "low ankle" sprain. Yah, yah I know I should Google "sprained ankles" and find out that there are a gazillion types of sprained ankles some of which fall into the "high" and others that fall into the "low" ankle sprain category. Sorry but I don't buy it because the last time I looked I had one joint that I call my ankle that meets right where the two bones in my calf connect to my foot. Also I don't care what all of those bones are called but I do know that if you step on the outside of your foot at the wrong angle and with enough force your ankle is going to twist and at that point it remains to be seen how bad you have sprained it. My experience with fifty-some years of athletics and running tells me that there are four types of sprains, three of which I have experienced and one that I hope I never do.

The first sprain, which I will call the "twist", is when you are cruising along without a care in the world and suddenly as you take the next step you feel your foot teeter for a moment to the outside before it lands in it's customary solid position on the surface upon which you are running. A brief flash of relief shoots through your brain as you realize those morning and evening ankle exercises are paying off and you continue down the sidewalk. The second sprain, which I will call the "roll", follows the same path as the "twist" but here your foot, instead of flattening into it's normal tread, continues the "twist" so that suddenly the weight of your body forces the ankle into an unnaturally exposed position stretching the outside of the foot at an abrupt angle. At that point, as the ligaments, muscles and bones are jammed away and against each other you have a brief moment where you evaluate the damage. The next step on the rolled ankle is the key and at that point you make a quick decision as to if you think you can keep running. Yup it's going to hurt but does it hurt so bad that you have to stop or as you limp forward does the pain abate somewhat and you can deal with it? If you can keep going sometimes the pain will disappear completely or you "suck it up" and at least keep going forward. The "roll" is terrific for the ego because you feel good that you handled the pain and "gutted" it out instead of quitting like a wimp. The third level of sprain I have experienced I will call the "blowout" and it follows the same track as the twist and the roll but usually ends up with the injured runner landing on his face in the middle of the sidewalk. At that point, gaining your feet and running down the sidewalk is usually not an option. From the point of your ankle twisting, rolling and blowing you feel as if an NFL defensive tackle has blindsided you and the next step is waiting for the stretcher to wheel you to the locker room. It's weird to explain it that way but for some reason the unnatural ankle action translates into a sickening domino effect from your foot all the way to your head and then suddenly you are down and wondering how you are going to get home on one foot. The "blowout" means that, because of the pain, you probably can't run, maybe you can walk with an exaggerated limp but in some cases you can't even walk. Whatever happens the key is to keep moving to wherever your destination is because your ankle is starting to swell and it is only going to get worse. Number four in the "hit parade" of hi/low ankle sprains is the break, which I have never experienced, and that is where one of those bones in the foot/leg ankle joint breaks and from there it is a walking cast, a couple of months of healing and then unknown weeks of rehab. They say it's better in the long run to break your ankle then to blow it out because the bones will heal back to normal whereas in a "blowout" the ligaments, cartilage and muscles get stretched into abnormal positions and never really heal back to normal. Well that may be but I NEVER want to break my ankle and my experience is that with regular exercise and a consistent rehab program an ankle can be strengthened so that you are less susceptible to future ankle injuries.    

My regular exercise program involves massaging and manipulating my ankles every morning after I wake up and every evening before I go to sleep. While sitting on the side of the bed I rub the heal, arch and pad of each foot then rotate each foot 180 degrees five times in a clockwise motion then rotate the foot five times in the opposite direction. Then I squeeze my achilles tendon very hard and massage it back and forth and then finish up by moving up my calf and then rubbing back down to my achilles. I've been following this regimen for over ten years and have had a few "twists" but no "rollovers" or "blowouts". That is until May 10th and June 13th which I will recount in my next blog; one big bummer.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Cool Sequels/The Return of Cool Hand Luke

What was the first movie sequel? Man I don't know and I'm not the guy who's going to research back to silent movies to see if Charlie Chaplin's character The Tramp and his classic comedies were the first sequels. As a kid I remember watching a couple of  different movies on The Saturday Matinee which featured THE THIN MAN with William Powell and Myrna Loy. To a kid, William Powell was an older guy (my mother's age) who was very composed, talked with a funny accent and always had a drink in his hand. His wife, Myrna Loy, was always fixing Powell a drink, spouting witticisms with her chin lifted in the air and seemed to be smarter than her husband.  But these weren't movies where an eight year old boy was going to say to his little brother, "Man I can't wait for them to come out with another THIN MAN movie that shows adults doing more talking and drinking." The movies my brother and I lived for were the ones we watched weekly at the theater in the Art Museum at Volunteer Park. Maybe the Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers and Tarzan serials weren't genuine sequels but we didn't care because it only cost a quarter to get in and there was a heck of lot more action in one serial than in ten THIN MAN movies.

When I saw the movie SHANE I was seven years old and I imagined myself standing next to Joey, played by Brandon DeWilde, yelling "Shane come back! Mommy wants you!" I knew Shane had been wounded and I wanted to help him but he couldn't come back. He knew his job was done, he knew Jimmy's mother (Jean Arthur) would never leave her husband (Van Heflin) for him and he knew, as a gunman, he could never live amongst the "civilized folk". At that young age it never dawned on me that a movie studio could make anyone come back as long as there was a market for that character's return.

There are cases to be made for filming a sequel that don't involve money but I think the more a character is brought back the more diluted he becomes. Because it's thought that everything that needs to be known about a character is revealed in the first movie then that means the sequel can just move the story along with dialogue and action. As the recent rejuvenation of the James Bond franchise proves, the "gritty, ruthless and real" Bond is the one that people remember and flock to. I suppose it's easier for a studio to just change the silly character names, interchangeable exotic locations, sappy villains and forgettable Bond women than it is for them to write cool dialogue, return the Bond character to a risky edge, introduce a female lead with a confident aura and develop a story that takes gambles without relying on hour long car chases and special effects. (That was a long sentence).

Another issue in regard to filming a sequel is that the second film tends to be a remake of the first one with nothing new to say or offer. In the case of the ROCKY movies, all of which I loved, (whoops there goes any credibility I may have had) they all followed the same sure-fire formula: Rocky gets smacked to the bottom of the food chain but with the love of a great woman and a lot of hard work he climbs back toward the top and prevails over a brutal villain in the championship fight. Nothing wrong with that formula, great for the box office but not very satisfying to critics who are looking for something new and original. I understand advancing the story and developing the characters like in the GODFATHER trilogy with all the families and Michael's rise up the ladder; but in a boxing movie? What's Rocky aspiring to be, the head of the Pennsylvania Boxing Commission?

If SHANE had been remade there would have been the automatic conflict with the threesome of dad Joe, mother Marian and Shane, with little Joe looking on thinking everything is terrific and not "getting" it. I don't see any way to resolve this dilemma except for dad to die somehow with Shane being indirectly responsible. Afterward there would be plenty of conflict with little Joey hating Shane for not being able to save his dad, mom feeling uncomfortable with her affection for Shane and her husband gone and Shane with his guilt for not being able to help Joe when he was killed, along with his feelings for Marian. Plus there are all the neighbors gossiping about when they should be tending their farms. Of course Shane would have given up being a gunfighter because Marian insisted on it but at the end he would have to come out of retirement when more bad guys showed up to hassle all the innocent, God-fearing farmers. Also after everything was peachy-keen for awhile Joey could develop into a cocky kid who wanted to be a gunslinger like his step-dad and would want to take revenge on the bad guys who were responsible for his father's death years ago. Then Shane would explain to this headstrong eighteen, nineteen, twenty year old that, "Violence is not the way to solve your problems." Joey would roll his eyes and attempt to act anyway as he finds Shane's gun and attempts to use it. At that point Shane would have to intervene against the wishes of Marian. "Who do you want to face these men, Joey or me?" he will say. What can she say? She is speechless.

Wow I guess I got carried away since I had an idea for a sequel to another of my favorite classic movies. The second feature would take some logical steps that develop and complete the original story along with featuring a current star who I think is close to being the equal of the original lead. You might think: Leave it alone. It's a classic with a star-turning performance that should have resulted in the star's being awarded an Academy Award. Sure, one of the characters was awarded the Oscar for the Best Supporting Actor but he was playing off of the star. If the star hadn't been there George Kennedy would have been just another con.

Yes, it's true I'm talking about a sequel to the Paul Newman gem: COOL HAND LUKE starring Matthew McConaughey. What you say? Blasphemy! How can you consider a sequel when Luke was killed at the end of the movie? I say: Are you sure Luke was killed? I remember Luke standing in a doorway of a church with that wonderful Paul Newman smile and saying, "What we have here is a failure to communicate." Then at that moment the guard with the sunglasses, Boss Godfrey played with silent menace by Morgan Woodward, shoots Luke in cold blood with a rifle. Luke was hit in the neck then there was confusion as a Sheriff attempted to take Luke to the emergency clinic but the prison warden, Strother Martin, intervenes saying they will take him to the prison hospital. The sheriff points out that the prison is an hour away and that Luke won't last twenty minutes. The warden, known as The Captain blows the sheriff off and says "Get out of the way. He's ours!" The warden and his guards then hustle Luke off to a prison vehicle. Then as I recall the movie finishes with George Kennedy, J.D. Cannon, Dennis Hopper, Harry Dean Stanton and the rest of Luke's posse reminiscing about lovable Luke back at the prison.

OK it's assumed that Luke was killed or died on the one hour trip to the prison. But what if the sheriff, having seen Boss Godfrey shoot Luke without provocation, and smelling another agenda, has second thoughts. With a deputy he gets in his car and chases down the prison vehicle. With his lights flashing he overhauls it and, as a man sworn to uphold the law for everyone, takes custody of Luke by shear force of will. The Captain and his guards, attempt to intimidate the sheriff with pointed threats about his safety and his state job. The sheriff says: "If you take this man back to the prison Dr. Mason with the State will be arriving at your State facility tomorrow to inspect the condition of this prisoner. If Mr. Jackson (this statement is personalizing Luke) is not alive or we do not take him to the emergency clinic tonight then I will report your interference and neglect all the way to the Governor of Florida if I have to!"

The warden who is sick and tired of dealing with Luke (he escaped three times), realizes he can't make the man just go away but makes a deal with the sheriff: The prison vehicle will detour to a nearby retirement home and Luke will be treated there. The site has a small clinic with facilities for treating a gunshot wound. With Luke losing blood and nearing death the sheriff agrees. Luke, the sheriff, one of his deputies, The Captain, Boss Godfrey and another guard arrive at the hospital and commandeer the facilities in the name of the Governor of Florida ("Two can play this game," says the warden). Then he sends a guard back to the prison who announces to the population that "the prisoner in question (not using Luke's name) is no longer a resident of this State facility." Luke's pals interpret this an an obvious admission that Luke is dead.

Back at the hospital the clinic doctor considers his ability to save Luke's life. "I haven't treated a gunshot victim in thirty years! You need to find someone else to do this!" he says. "There," said the warden, "this doctor is not qualified to help this man and he admits it!" "Shut up!" says the sheriff who turns to the doctor. "There's nowhere else to go Doc," he says. "You're all he's got." The doctor begins to operate and finds that the bullet took a chunk out of the side of Luke's neck but didn't hit his larynx, throat or spinal cord. However because of the loss of blood, trauma to his body and inability to breath properly, Luke slips into a coma then dies.

The day before when Luke is hiding out in the church and about to be re-captured he asks God, "What you got in mind for me next?" God's answer seems to be that Luke is going back to prison as the police appear and demand his exit from the church. Then he is shot by Boss Godfrey. It turns out that God has something else in store for Lucas Jackson as he lays on the hospital operating table. Everything is black and there is no sound. Suddenly he senses movement with a soft murmur that may be the wind. The movement increases in speed and up ahead there is a bright light. The sound of the wind increases and is accompanied by a voice that says. "Luke I have something else in mind for you, your journey is not over and you have a lot of work to do." The wind increases to a roar as the movement gains momentum; it is heading for the bright light that is pulsing and growing in intensity. It was like being strapped to the front of a speeding train as it rocketed toward the end of a darkened tunnel, the daylight rushing forward in a relentless rush.

The doctor covered Luke's face with a white sheet then stripped the rubber gloves from his hands. With a resigned sigh he dropped them on a tray next to his operating instruments. The sheriff, who had been watching through the window in the trauma room doors, pushed inside the room. The Captain and Boss Godfrey followed him. The prisoner was dead and they wanted to get him back to the prison and bury him as soon as possible. However they still deferred to the doctor and the sheriff. The doctor looked at the men and shook his head. "He lost too much blood. He's yours." The warden said, "He's my a prisoner sheriff, he has to be buried at the prison. And doctor we need you to sign a death certificate." The sheriff stared back at The Captain and said, "You're not taking this man anywhere!" Then he turned his gaze slowly to Boss Godfrey. "Your man here is under arrest for murder and I'm a witness!"

The doctor had removed his white smock and glanced idly at the covered body but something wasn't right. He focused on the sheet covering the prisoner's face. It was moving. The other men hadn't noticed. The doctor moved to the table and pulled the sheet back. The patient's eyes were open and he blinked! The warden who had followed the doctor's movements staggered back in shock, "Jesus," he exclaimed and Boss Godfrey muttered, "What the hell is goin' on?" The doctor rested his hand on Luke Jackson's forehead. It was warm! The man blinked again and he opened his mouth and moaned softly but the men heard exactly what he said. "It hurts."

The doctor pushed the sheet aside. "Oh course it hurts son", he said, "you were shot." Boss Godfrey had removed his sun glasses in disbelief and the first thing he thought was, Thank God, it isn't murder! The doctor checked the dressing he had made moments before and saw that it was secure and not leaking blood. "I hear your name is Luke," said the doctor. Luke nodded. "St. Luke was the patron saint of surgeons, physicians and artists," the doctor added. Luke lifted his hand and touched the dressing as he started to remember what had happened. Suddenly the dream or was it a vision he had experienced probed him then blossomed. "Doc I think you must have been all three to bring me back from where I've been." Even though his neck hurt he smiled slightly and his blue eyes sparkled with life. Then he said, "I'm alive and the Man upstairs has plans for me."

What does the Man have in store for Lucas Jackson, itinerant worker, womanizer, drunk and non-believer? Is it to clean up the Florida penal system? Run for Governor? Heal the sick? Start his own church or religion?

Luke turns his head and sees the warden and Boss Godfrey who is holding his sun glasses in his hand. "Howdy Captain," he says. Seeing Luke alive and knowing he's ultimately responsible for the attempted murder of a prisoner, the warden takes his hat from his head and dips his head. "Hello Luke I see you made it back." He gestures toward the doctor. "We brought you here to get the best care. This man saved your life." Luke looked at the doctor, sensing the dis-ingenuousness of the warden's statement. He raised his hand and said, "Thank you Captain, come closer I want to thank you for bringing me here." The Captain hesitated then he and Boss Godfrey shuffled forward.

If Luke's story were ever to be continued Matthew McConaughey would be the man to play him. Besides looking a lot like Paul Newman, McConaughey shares his blue eyes,dazzling smile and confident demeanor. Plus he's a genuine actor with the ability to play comedy (which is hard without looking foolish), action and romantic characters. I think he is about Newman's height but he would have to lose some of the bulk he has gained over the years to attain the lean look of a chain gang prisoner. They work them hard on those hot Florida highways so he would have to look more like a long distance runner than a Gator linebacker.

The Captain and Boss Godfrey stood next to the bed trying to make sense of Luke's death with the man who was lying in front of them, alive. The Captain's hands shook as he held his hat and Boss Godfrey, in spite of himself, began to weep. Luke raised his hand and the Captain took it automatically saying, "What do I do now?" Luke smiled briefly and said, "You release the men." The Captain cocked his head slightly. "Why?"  "Because they have served their time," said Luke  "And they are ready to speak the truth." Luke didn't know why he was saying these words but he knew he was supposed to say them. Finally the Captain nodded and said "That's true they are ready." Luke nodded back and his gaze took in all the men in the room. "You all are ready," he said.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Hard Drive Dive

The guilt was hiding in the background as I neglected my baby (Willie Boy) for so long but if there are other things going on, what can you do? I might as well list my excuses just to get it all documented. First of all, as it happens with all hard drives, ours died. Of course there were symptoms like; it was getting very slow and you had to key an icon a few times for it to activate but those things happen to all of us as we get on in years. Then one day it wouldn't boot up and even Microsoft/India couldn't get it going. It's odd being without a computer, as if checking your email is so-o-o important, or checking out a few favorite blogs is going to "make your day" or getting the news a half a day earlier than the newspaper is going to affect your ability to deal with the world. Suddenly neglected projects around the house get finished, you read a few more books and for me my second novel FAVORITE SONS gets resurrected.

Like most of DEVON LOCH I have been writing my new book by hand so it's never been something that I would have lost if the hard drive went down. I've been working on the sequel to DEVON LOCH for about  a year with an exciting story to tell involving the novel's original characters who have grown and are facing new challenges. I have a very detailed outline completed covering a terrific story, a few twists relating to the first novel, some cool new characters, challenging situations involving them and loads of very snappy dialogue.

Having the outline completed gives me a great deal of confidence and optimism about completing a  novel because I have a basic blueprint for what is going to happen. But one of the exciting parts about writing a novel is how the actual writing evolves from the basic outline; the characters that pop from nowhere and the situations that surprise me that make perfect sense. Originally I had DEVON LOCH ending and didn't imagine going back to it. But, as I am sure is true like running your first marathon, ideas kept popping up in my head. Is Jack done with competitive running at the ripe old age of 32 or does he realize he is in his prime as a world class distance runner who still has some reachable goals? What kind of running career does Laura have ahead of her with the proper training, desire and love for the sport? Does Teri want to provide emotional support for two runners in the family? What is in store for Billy who may be on the verge of being able to walk again and do he and Anne have a future involving more than just a physical relationship? Plus, are there ghosts from Vietnam lurking in the future?

But writing a novel is one thing and acquiring a new computer is another so Gwynne and I headed off to Costco to check out the inventory. We also planned to go to Frye's but the best laid plans..... Costco displayed six computers that ranged in price from $599 to four figures. Since we mainly just send and receive email, do some blogging, reserve books at the library, read movie reviews and compose an occasional Word document we realized right off we weren't candidates for the Lexus version of the Hewlett-Packard package. However we weren't sure about getting the basic package and missing out on some valuable options or even what printer to get either. A couple of days later our family computer expert Charlotte and I checked things out again at Costco and she cut right through our issues by saying, "Dad you don't need all this fancy stuff with the big screens and all the options. Just get the e-machine for $599 and use the money you save to get this HP printer with the copy/fax/scan option, plus you can do photo stuff on it too." It sounded like a good plan to me so we followed her recommendations and also picked up one of those wireless mouses which it turned out we didn't need. Obviously a mouse with a cord would be included in the computer package and Gwynne said that the wireless mouses are a big PAIN with their quirkiness and always having to change batteries when there are none in the house.

Eventually we got everything set up and it's all running just fine, plus the larger screen is very cool. It's funny because we were using caveman technology that we were very satisfied with; a big boxy Dell monitor that probably still worked off a gerbil on a treadmill, a hard drive that still had a port for a floppy disk and an 8 track tape and a laser quick printer which I have absolutely nothing critical or snide to say about. After a referral from the nice people at Cartridge World we picked it up for $5 at the Inter-Connection re-cycle place near Gasworks Park and we cycled everything at a recycle fair sponsored by the Whole Foods store on Roosevelt Way.

The only downside of the process is that we still have our cheesy little speakers that emit sound in a tone that is just above a whisper. Ya, ya I know about the little icon on the lower right side of the screen and the volume controls on the keyboard (very cool) and, yes Charlotte has checked through the Control Panel Help tutorial but nothing has worked. Her solution is to use the "hot" speakers she has stored in one of her moving boxes in the garage so we'll work on that this weekend. In the mean time I've answered the thirty-seven emails that piled up during our down time, introduced Mr. HP printer to Ms.e-machine hard drive and am sitting here blogging and still confused about the difference between a blog address and a blog name.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Writing/Blogging Motivation

It's interesting how writing a blog works. Since my blog doesn't have a specific subject that repeats itself through each post I'm free to follow whatever interests me at the moment. Once a blog entry is posted I have a feeling of relief that I haven't let WILLIE BOY fade away from lack of attention. I suppose all of us bloggers think that some day we will run out of things to say and considering the number of people that are following my blog there aren't many people who will care. Granted maybe nobody is paying attention to my musings so it must be a conscience issue that keeps me keying away, like forgetting about a friend or missing an appointment or not living up to something I said I would do. For me that blog posting relief thing starts to fade after about a week and then I know that I've got to start thinking about something else to say.

Before I started WILLIE BOY I made a list of subjects that interested me and for which I felt I had something constructive, humorous or enlightening to say. I limited my list to one 8-1/2 X 11 sheet of paper with the subjects listed down the left side of the page and on the right side I wrote notes on each subject but limiting myself to one line. Eventually I completed a whole page of approximately forty possibilities. I felt that having one page to refer to would be the most efficient way of organizing my possible posts. I wanted to be able to have one sheet with all of the options right in front of me; not pages of subjects, notes and thoughts. If you keep it simple you'll have fewer reasons for not starting this thing. Occasionally I would think of something new and I would either "white out" a topic that didn't interest me anymore and write in a new one or I would squeeze the new subject in between a couple of lines where there was a little bit of space.

The only time I had ever written under any kind self-imposed deadline was when I wrote my one and only novel DEVON LOCH. Writing a blog is similar to writing a novel in that I find myself thinking and daydreaming at various times during the day about what I am going to write next. There I was taking a shower or mowing the yard and suddenly a new character or event or line of dialogue would pop up. Another way I came up with inspiration for my book was during a run. Sometimes a new idea would just occur for no reason and I would hold onto it tight as I neared home. Other times as I ran I would probe at a character or plot point that wasn't making sense when suddenly a solution would ignite into my brain. Dead ends into which I had found myself trapped suddenly opened, characters that were acting inconsistently made sense or plot holes where I found myself staring down a long dark tunnel opened to the light.

During those evening runs I would worry that I wouldn't remember what I had worked out and would forget what I had come up with. But somehow the idea would come back to me the next time I sat down to write as if there was some kind of organizing system in my brain that filed the idea away then released it the next time my mind searched for it. It beat running with a pencil and paper or a tape recorder.

I'm always intrigued when I read about authors (Stephen King being one of them) who sit down and start writing, not knowing where the muse is going to take them. They probably had a glimmer of an idea before they started but they didn't know where they are going or how they were going to get there. I need to put the idea down on paper and then write down other stuff that I know is going to happen or list characters that are going to play their part. When I get that overall plan written down, somewhat like an outline, then I can get started. This is somewhat of a linear plan, as in traveling from point A to point B but with an option to veer off to point A-1 and A-2 and then back to point B. Not a short-cut but a long-cut, like a journey you have planned where you decide on the spur of the moment to detour over to Highway 101 on the Oregon coast instead of heading up boring old I-5.

That's where writing becomes so fascinating as your main plan takes a completely different direction or a new character suddenly arrives that you hadn't even thought of originally. I guess we shouldn't be so surprised about the spontaneous direction our writing can take us as those ideas come from our own brains. We may be making things up but those glimpses that occur are a product of our own imagination which is a product of everything we have accomplished, failed at, read, seen, experienced, people we have known and met and everything else that has happened in our lives. The amazing thing is that somehow all of that information has been secreted away in your brain but can be accessed as your fingers manipulate a pen or type on a keyboard. Also there must be other secret doors behind which are ideas that come from unknown places that are unexplainable and just plain minor miraculous because obviously the first book written about traveling in a rocket ship to the moon was not written by someone who was relating first-hand experiences. Somehow those chemicals and neurons and synapses in your brain trigger ideas that no author has ever had before and that unique occurrence may be taken for granted by career authors but not by me.

I'm sure most people who write started out as a child listening to a parent or as a kid cuddled up on a comfortable sofa or as a teenager perusing titles in a library. Traveling in your mind to far away galaxies, storm driven seas, exotic foreign countries, terrifying dark forests or imaginary kingdoms made you want to create your own adventures and at some point you had the courage to try. Those books you read years ago sparked something in your imagination and one day you followed through.

It's funny, for all my years of reading there are a small collection of books for which I have never forgotten, even though I last read them over forty years ago. None of the books were particularly noteworthy, none of them were written by authors who have endured in fame, none of them are still in print (but are available on Amazon) but all of them sent a young boy to places he had never been and on adventures that had him holding his breath and stimulating his imagination. I read a lot of books as a kid but for some reason these three have been seared into my mind and I can tell you briefly about them as if I read them yesterday.

The first book titled: GLADIATOR by Philip Wylie I am going to save for a special post but one of the  memorable books I have not forgotten is THE TERRIBLE GAME BY Dan Tyler Moore (no relation to Mary Tyler Moore). Jonathan Burr is the college-age son of an American super spy who has been assigned a mission in a small European country. The father's job is to parachute into the land-locked mountainous region to play a game that all captives of that country are required to complete. The game involves running, riding, wrestling and sword fighting to the death. If the participant survives the competition, without being killed, he will be granted any wish that the country is able to provide. In the United States' case their wish will be to establish a land-based rocket system which will give them a strategic advantage over the U.S.S.R. which borders this small country. The dilemma is that the father is seriously hurt on the eve of his mission and the son, who has been training with his father and knows the intricacies of the Terrible Game, is enlisted by the secret agency to take his father's place. Naturally the athletically gifted and fearless Jonathan accepts the assignment. However one thing his superiors fail to tell him is that the game has never been won by an outsider for hundreds of years. I remember a great villain whose name was Tunch Belak an ominous adversary for young Jonathan. Thrilling adventures for teenage Will!

The last book I have never forgotten was titled THE SECOND SON by Charles Sailor which has one of the most thrilling openings to a book I have ever read. Joe Turner is an average good guy who works in New York city as a welder who connects steel girders at the top of high-rise buildings. After he and his best friend ride the elevator to the top of their latest project they begin their work-day hundreds of feet above the city's streets. During a maneuver to connect a beam Joe's friend loses his balance and is forced to grab onto the steel girder to save himself. The beam is hanging over the site attached to one steel cable. As the beam circles in the air and starts to tip down the man begins to lose his grip. Just before his friend drops Joe leaps onto the beam, leveling the steel girder and allowing his petrified friend to swing back to the main structure. As his horrified co-workers watch, Joe coolly attempts to balance the beam and swing it back to the main frame. Instead he loses his grip and falls to the sidewalk landing in a deadly heap. As the police try to keep the area secure the crowd watches in awe as Joe Turner begins to move and rises unsteadily to his feet, unhurt. Joe's adventures continue as his invulnerability becomes known to the world and he aligns himself with an anti-nuclear weapons group. A hydrogen bomb is detonated and the extent of Joe's powers are revealed. Very dramatic and exciting stuff as I read the book more than once!

I'll never know if either or all of these books encouraged me to want to write but I think the inspiring and exciting ideas at least gave me the idea of giving it a try. For that I am grateful to the authors who wrote those books. Maybe there aren't a lot of people who remember my three favorites but those authors are lucky to have at least a few of us. The point being that anyone can write but whether anyone else is going to read whatever you write is another story that involves talent, intestinal fortitude, belief in yourself and luck. That's why blogging is so great. All you need is access to a computer and something you want to communicate. A blog is personal, it's for the writer and if someone else happens to be interested that's fine but it shouldn't be what is driving you; you're mainly doing it for yourself to prove that you can do it.

Jeez I don't need the pressure of thinking that there might be people out there hanging on my every word and relying on my musings for their entertainment.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Last Stand of Fox Company

I always have a book going. Whether it's during my lunch hour, in bed before going to sleep or laying in the sun on a warm summer day I am reading something. When Caitlin was old enough to sit up and page through a brightly colored book featuring running and jumping animals I began reading to her every night. Then when Charlotte appeared I had one daughter on either side of me as we read about George and Martha, The Cat in the Hat and Goodnight Moon. This tradition was started by my mother and the nightly sound of her voice taking us to fantastic places instilled a love of books in my brother Terry and I. It wasn't until later that I found there might be consequences related to reading.

I remember vividly my seventh grade Language Arts teacher criticizing me in front of the whole class after I had just completed giving an oral book report involving the Hardy Boys. She informed me that this sort of book wasn't acceptable reading because it wasn't in the school library. I had a healthy respect for all teachers for their knowledge and authority so I just stood there in front of my classmates as some of them snickered and rolled their eyes. I remember that the assignment didn't specifically require us to report on a book in the school library and even as a twelve year old I knew that that woman was absolutely wrong! As if the book my mother had bought me for my birthday was somehow unacceptable reading material. That the story about two brothers who solved crimes wasn't proper for a young boy to read because this teacher or someone in a higher authority had deemed it so. I didn't let it get me down because I secretly knew I had another thirty or so adventures with Frank and Joe Hardy left to read.

I took the failing book report home to my mother who after reading it gave me a long thoughtful look and said, "This is a good report, it sounds like an exciting book. Keep reading the Hardy Boys but look at the books in the library too, I'm sure you will find something you'll like." She was right as I found authors such as Howard Pease, Arthur Conan Doyle and H.G. Welles who introduced me to high seas adventure, deductive reasoning and science fiction.

Years later my mother quit her job as the publications director at the Rainier Brewery and went back to school to be a teacher. I remember her telling me once that as a high school English teacher she found that there were students who just didn't like to read, whether it was because they couldn't sit still long enough, were bored or had never learned to read. Eventually she realized that if she encouraged them to read about a subject that interested them then at least they would be reading something. Maybe those students weren't following her required reading list but she was glad that they were reading about drag racing, Hollywood celebrities or the Fantastic Four. "You've got to start somewhere," she said.

Over the years my reading interests ranged and changed to Jules Verne, Robert Heinlein, Mickey Spillane, John D. MacDonald, Dick Francis, Stephen King, Tom Clancy, Douglas Preston, Lincoln and Lee Child, Harold Coyle, Michael Connelly and Robert Crais. I can't say that my choice of authors or subjects became any more sophisticated; just consistent. Hey, I get into LITERARY type stuff now and then; stories with big words, high-minded ideas and complicated characters who have to make "gut-wrenching" decisions but I guess all that thinking just wears me out. Having to constantly refer to the dictionary, screw up my forehead in confusion, then nod my head in understanding is very time-consuming. Obviously I like Science Fiction, Suspense, Detective, Military, Horror and Techno fiction but I always have a non-fiction book going too. At the moment I'm reading a book about the United States Secret Service titled: IN THE PRESIDENT'S SECRET SERVICE which reveals insider information re the government agency tasked with protecting the lives of the President, Vice President, their immediate relatives and other high mucky-mucks. I might report on it later.

A non-fiction book I just finished titled: THE LAST STAND OF FOX COMPANY covers the heroic actions of two Marine Corps infantry units that supported the withdrawal of 10,000 Marines who were nearly trapped at the Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War while surrounded by over 100,000 Chinese soldiers. During late November of 1950 one unit, Fox Company of the 2nd Battalion 7th Regiment, held the summit of a small hill seven miles to the south of the Chosin for four days and five nights as they protected the exit point for the withdrawal. Another unit, remnants of the 1st Battalion 7th Marine Regiment comprised of 350 Marines, headed south from the "frozen" Chosin to reinforce Fox Company whose beleaguered 246 man company was under attack from over 10,000 Chinese soldiers and fighting to keep the choke point open at Toktong Pass.

In twenty-five degree below zero weather and with three quarters of the Marines killed, wounded or captured the three platoons of Fox Company dug and hacked into the frozen ground for cover. Commanded by Captain William Barber, who hauled himself around the hill on a wounded leg to organize and rally his troops, the men of Fox Company packed their wounds with icy snow, ate frozen food that couldn't be thawed and huddled with their comrades to keep them warm.

As their frozen automatic and semi-automatic weapons jammed the Marines were forced to fire with single shots but used their superior tactics, leadership, and camaraderie to hold off the Chinese. Thought of by the enemy as weak and inferior the Marines on Fox Hill knew that the Chinese soldiers, many of them teenagers, were forced to fight in Korea while the Marines who had enlisted were obviously there because they wanted to be. Utilizing fatalistic humor the Marines did their duty as they protected and supported their comrades and, with unwavering confidence in their officers, fought through the terrifying nights as they made their stand thousands of miles from home.

Seven miles to the north, near the Chosin Reservoir, Lieutenant Colonel Ray Davis led a cobbled together group of three hundred and fifty Marines in support of their comrades on Fox Hill. Traveling light and under the cover of darkness the remaining men of Abel, Baker and Charlie companies of the 1stBatallion 7th Marine Regiment aimed to slip through the Chinese lines with a surprise move to the northeast then a circle move to the south. Traversing deep gullies, slogging up steep hills and skirting precarious ridge lines, the sleep-deprived Marines fought their way toward Fox Company with the wind chill dropping the temperature to thirty degrees below zero.

Using first person accounts, maps, photographs and after-action reports the authors, Bob Drury and Tom Clavin, recount an historic action that produced three Medal of Honor recipients and culminated in a memorable reunion of those heroic Marines at the opening of the National Museum of the U.S. Marine Corps in November 2006.

This book is perfect for people who want to know about a nearly forgotten War that isn't taught in school history books anymore. It's also for Marines who remember what it was like to fight far from home, who have a hard part inside them that is still a Marine and who haven't forgotten the horror of battle and have the pride of knowing what it takes to be a survivor.