Friday, December 26, 2008

Funny, he doesn’t look like a photographer…

[Reprinted with permission from the NPPA's News Photographer Magazine.]
Somebody at the NPPA slipped up and gave me an award for photography: a second place in the TV News Feature photography category in the Best of Photojournalism contest in March.

Slipped up, because I'm not a photographer. I'm a reporter.

I could count on one hand (if I had six fingers on that hand) the number of stories I've shot in the past 20 years.

And I photographed my entry with a $250 point-and-shoot still camera.

WHEN I GOT my first TV job in Colorado Springs, CO, I didn't know television. Because I didn't own one. So I bought a 12-inch B&W pawn shop special.

And I learned how to be a TV reporter…from photographers.

They taught me how to edit. How to write to picture.

And occasionally at the end of a shoot, I’d ask to pick up the camera and try rolling off a few shots on my own. Just for kicks.

This proved helpful one Sunday morning when the weekend photographer, having celebrated a little too much the night before, failed to show up for work to cover the big story of the day, the Shriners parade. I grabbed abn RCA TK-76, "go" cable and ¾ inch deck and ran after a bunch of middle-aged men with little cars and funny hats.

I left the market with a crappy television and that sense of interconnectedness words and picture. I had the idea that a photographer should be a reporter with a light kit and that a reporter should have maybe not a photographer’s camera, but his eye. And that both should know how to fit all the pieces together.

That's why at my next television station I was surprised when I sat down in an edit bay and the photographers looked as if I’d just shot Bambi’s mother. It wasn’t a union shop, it was just something that reporters didn't do.

I didn’t dare even think about touching a camera.

But I continued to edit.

In my head.

And I continued to shoot.

Without ever rolling tape.

LATE IN 2007 half the photography staff at my present employer was across the state covering a mine disaster. What was a feature reporter to do?

I drove home and rounded up an ENG package: a Canon Powershot A-610 still camera (that shoots video) and a cheap digital audio recorder.

And I shot a story about cheap plastic cameras with a cheap digital camera.

I MacGyvered it.

For a time lapse shot, I used a cable release bracket fabricated from a Home Depot wood construction connector.

I created a filter holder with duct tape and a toilet paper tube.

My soft box was made of foam core.

And for a macro trucking shot I borrowed my two year old’s wooden blocks.

The result earned awards.

And gave me a good laugh.

I don't call myself a photographer.

I'm slow.

I couldn't follow focus to save Bambi's mother's life.

But understanding light helps me figure out where to conduct an interview.

Knowing how to sequence helps me craft a script.

Give a reporter a few pointers about shooting and editing and he might even win an NPPA photography award. With a cheap point-and-shoot camera.

Or he might just become a better reporter.

Rosen also won this year’s NPPA Best of Photography Special Award for Reporting and two television editing category awards.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

What's Wrong with Julius

A few years ago Alice Perreault was at the grocery store with her son Julius. The cashier looked at her son and looked at Perreault and asked, "What's wrong with him?"

She'd forgotten all about that question.

"...It all came back to me about that worry of that question," she said. "And there it was."

The question came up about her sister, Renee.

Renee was born with Down syndrome. Right after the delivery, before her mother had recovered from anesthesia, hospital staff asked her father if he wanted to sign papers and have the baby taken away. Because that's what was done at the time.

"I spent my whole life with Renee explaining to people why she looks the way she does," Perreault said.

Now her son wasn't a baby anymore. And there was the question again.

During delivery, Julius' umbilical cord was pinched. He went without oxygen for 22 minutes.

He went into a coma.

He went into a state of neurological agitation. He cried for six months.

Now he had quadriplegic cerebral palsy.

But the cashier wasn't asking what his diagnosis was.

She was asking what was wrong with him.

That, in part, was why Alice Perreault started Kindred Spirits. Perreault, an artist and educator wanted to bring art into her son's life. But she also wanted people to stop asking that question.

That's why Kindred Spirits is an art studio where kids with and without disabilities work side by side.

And then display the work out in the community.

Perreault runs the organization in addition to caring for her son and her sister.

She doesn't want pity.

She doesn't want people to say mothers like her are "blessed." (She mimes sticking her finger down her throat. "Ugghhh.")

And she wanted a cashier to know that nothing was "wrong" her son.

So when Julius was looking up at her, wondering how she was going to answer the question, she smiled back at him and then looked at the cashier and said, "Nothing. We're having a great day.'"

For more information about Kindred Spirits click here.

The Birthday Lady

7am. I’m sound asleep. The phone, inches from my ear, rings. I’m shocked into semi-consciousness. I lift the receiver to my ear.

“Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay. Oh, how we wish you a happy birthday.”

I remember. It’s the birthday lady.

Several years ago, I produced a story about Angie Adams of Logan, Utah. Back in the 30's her family moved to Tremonten to a farmhouse with a telephone. Their first. And she got the idea to use this exciting new technology to wish people well on their birthdays.

Six decades later she had compiled a long list of names, numbers and birth dates. That was the first order of business every day. At daybreak when phone rates were lower. She would place her birthday calls.

Her daughter, Irma Warburton said it was "her job."

"I don't know what I'd do without it, really I don't," Adams said. "It's just what I'm living for."

After the shoot, she, of course, asked me for my birth date and my telephone number. I couldn't deny the Birthday Lady.

For the next two or three years, she was the first well-wisher I'd hear early each birthday.

In 2000, Angie Adams died at the age of 89.

The next year I kinda missed the early birthday surprise.

I'm sure lots of other people did, too.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Hippo Meat, Anyone?

For years, KUTV artists have been the keepers of the tale of the hippo meat banquet. They have preserved it, in form of an old black binder filled with photographs and newspaper clippings stuffed in the back of a file cabinet...basically, by not throwing it out.

One December long, long ago (1962), when KUTV was part of a family-owned mini-media empire that included KALL radio, a story came over the wire at that radio station. Uganda wanted to bolster its economy with the export of hippopotamus meat. DJ Will Lucas told listeners that might make the perfect Christmas gift. And telegrammed Uganda's U.N. delegation.


The reply came three days later:


KALL invited the Ugandan Ambassador to attend a hippo meat banquet. And he accepted.

"It was Panicsville,” said former program director Bruce Miller, “because it was just a great funny story and this country was taking this thing rather seriously."

So a semi-formal affair was planned at the Hotel Utah. The Ambassador arrived and received a key to the city, a sit-down with the Governor, and hippo stroganoff, served over wild rice with a pineapple garnish.

The story was carried in newspapers across the nation.

And how did it taste?

"How can I put this politely,” replied Steve Hale, former Deseret News reporter. "I don't think the hippopotamus will ever be an endangered species."

Despite Will Lucas' best efforts, hippo meat did not catch on.

Lucky for the hippo.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

How I Could Tell I was at the Sundance Film Festival

1. A lawyer (not an actor playing a lawyer, but a real one), asked if I "picture and levels."

2. A documentary filmmaker (not a Hollywood movie star, a New York documentarian) had his own makeup artist.

He wore lip gloss for an interview about terrorism.

3. I paid 16 Dollars for three hours on Main Street. And felt as if I'd won the lottery.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Mr. Jagger, Your Tea is Served

Boris Roberts has known people in pretty high places.

He drops names and titles like the King of Spain, the King of Greece, the Prince of Japan and Mick Jagger.

But they're not his friends.

Because Roberts is a master butler.

We interviewed Roberts, a distinguished-looking man with a gentile British accent and manner and bright red master butler jacket, because once a month
he hosts an afternoon tea and a talk on etiquette at the Grand America (click here for more information).

He explained he always maintains a professional distance with his clients. Even after his service has ended.

He related the story of a butler colleague who went to a function also attended by a previous employer, the late Princess Margaret.

She asked him to dance. Most unusual, Roberts said, but "you do as you're told."

The two started dancing and talking and the butler asked, "How is you're mother?"

She said, indignantly, "Do you mean the Queen?"

"He slipped," Roberts explained. He should have said "Her Majesty."

The dance abruptly ended.

A butler needs to exercise discretion and tact.

There was the time another butler friend and his employer went shopping at Nieman Marcus. The employer selected a turquoise shirt and a pair of pink pants.

The butler held his tongue.

And then employer asked, "What do you think?"

"Sir," the butler asked, "Would you like a frank and honest opinion?"

He said, yes.

Only then could the butler, tactfully, explain the error of his fashion ways.

What's a butler to do, Roberts asked hypothetically, if he's called to the master's bedroom and finds the man of the house and his mistress, both in the buff?

Simply address the man and look right past the woman, he said, as if she doesn't exist.

Has that ever happened to you, I asked.

A thoughtful pause and then a grin.

"Not exactly."

I didn't ask for details. That might've been impolite.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Dog Swim

Where There’s Smoke, There’s a Fire Tornado

"This is a little dangerous,” the computer scientist said as he prepared to fling a lit match into the large pan of gasoline.

Sometimes you just don't know what's going to happen when you get to the scene of a story.

A Canadian scientist proposed using a solar-powered vortex (think tornadoes, hurricanes and dust devils) as an alternative energy source. That caught the interest of an Intel engineer. So Tom Fletcher sold some of his Intel stock and built a 50-foot octagonal black tower on his wife’s cousin’s ranch in central Utah. And started trying to make vortices inside it.

And that got my attention (thanks to station computer whiz Alan Scott who read an article about it in The Economist.)

No doubt, the idea was fascinating. But the TV story, itself, could be rather dry. Lots of science and little visual interest.

Instead, the elements of the story included steam, fire and smoke. Lots of smoke. A 50-foot high whirlwind of smoke.

Inside a strange black silo, a computer scientist and a cattle rancher, an unlikely pair, tried to demonstrate principles of atmospheric physics with a large tank of propane, a few fireworks and gasoline.

All for the sake of science.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas Shopping at the Dump

Lucky you if you're on James Gouldthorp's Christmas list. He'll be doing some of his gift the San Francisco dump.

Gouldthorpe, the subject of a Fresh Look on Life, is one of the chosen few who've served three-month stints in the Artist In Residence Program at SF Recycling & Disposal ("The Dump").

The program was started 17 years ago to inspire the San Francisco public to waste less and meet a goal of recycling three-fourths of its trash by 2010.

Four artists a year, selected by jury, get hard hats, orange vests, grocery carts and the privilege of sorting through the thousands of tons of garbage that pass through the transfer station. They take the trash to an on-site studio and turn it into art.

One of Gouldthorpe's colleagues sculpted a life-sized Hummer out of styrofoam.

A musician composed "Junkestra," an original symphony in three movements, scored for instruments made out of garbage.

Gouldthorpe found enough perfectly good building materials to construct, among other things, a human-sized bird house.

He's still working on a video piece of a Frenchman reading love letters found at the dump.

And last night in a Salt Lake City hotel room, he completed a series of more than 200 paintings based upon a catalogue of plans for Brady Bunch-era vacation homes, which he, of course, found at the dump.

That piece and another birdhouse are featured in "SF Recycled," an exhibit of artwork from the AIR program, at the Salt Lake Art Center. It runs October 20 through January 26.
"It gets amazing how much waste comes through the place and how much of it is useable," Gouldthorpe said.

He shows off an album of photos from the 1930's, pictures of crews installing telephone poles on Mount Shasta.

And a 1940 high school yearbook, in the back of which was an autographed photo of starlet Jean Harlow.

And then there were the snapshots of John Fitzgerald Kennedy campaigning for President.

And the rare collectible Batman comic book.

All items that someone threw out.

The day he took his then 9-year-old son to the dump, a box of comics and manga were dropped at their feet. The boy, he said, thought the dump was better than the toy store.

Artists who serve residencies don't make much money, but earn a lifetime pass to the dump.

And so, Gouldthorpe says, he will be going back the do his Christmas shopping.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Peter Rosen, Ace Weekly Shopper Reporter

I began my career in journalism at age 10 or 11 in the newspaper business.

No, I never delivered papers. But I helped write them.

As a stringer for a chain of weeklies in the sleepy northern NJ suburbs, I covered the sensational developments at evening planning, zoning and town councils meetings. With little graft and corruption (that I knew about) to root out, and with pay at 25 cents a column inch, this entailed waxing as poetic as I could about commercial rezoning.

A few years later, I spent a summer on staff. These were the kind of papers that still typeset classified ads in hot lead on a linotype machine, the Rube Goldberg contraption that had become a museum piece by the 70s. (One of our editors was 95 years old, was born about the same time as the Mergenthaler Linotype, and probably came with the machine.)

We wrote on manual typewriters on newsprint. And when we cut and pasted, we did just that with rubber cement.

Spellcheck was something H.G.Wells might've dreamt up. On Saturdays we proofed galleys and cut out errant punctuation, literally, with an Xacto knife.

There, I learned some valuable lessons.

When going to cover a garbage strike, always, always, put film in the camera before starting to snap photos.

My first day on the job, the paper's star reporter and his typewriter had just skipped town. My editor, sobbing with her head down on her desk, was having a nervous breakdown. And one of the two remaining reporters was complaining how, even with a full-time job and state welfare, she still couldn't make ends meet.

I should've read the signs.

But here I am.

A testament to the inescapable allure of the word and the story. Or, maybe, just to my inability to learn.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

I Made Tammy Faye Cry

It wasn't very hard.

And it was one of the more memorable moments of the years spent covering the Sundance Film Festival.

The best interviews during the star-studded and over-merchandised event are often not with the beautiful people. But with the interesting people.

Fascinating folks accompany many of the documentaries and some of the narrative films. The Tuvan throat singer and his friend, the blind San Fransisco bluesman, the Baghdad lounge pianist, and the man whose parents were convicted and executed for spying for the Soviets.

And Tammy Faye.

As you might recall, Tammy and her then-husband Jim Bakker built a TV ministry empire. After a church secretary said she had an affair with Jim, Tammy went to Betty Ford and Jim went to prison and Tammy married Jim's best friend, who also went to prison.

And Tammy Faye (once Bakker, now Messner) recounted this soap opera in the hallway of a Park City condo complex.

The people who gave us "Inside Deep Throat," about the porn flick, produced a doc about Mrs. Messner and brought her along for publicity.

At the time, Sundance was headquartered at a condo/hotel where interview space was truly at a premium. So we interviewed her in the hall.

As guests carted their luggage to and fro, Tammy Faye got emotional.

I asked her about Heritage Park USA, the Bakker's Christian theme park, and tears began to flow.

Memories of PTL Club clips and SNL skits flashed before my eyes.

And a maid apprehensively pushed her cleaning cart past the camera.

Mrs. Messner turned out to be less the cartoon character with a penchant for over-emoting and over-the-top eyelashes, and more the personable and sincere woman...with big emotions and eyelashes.

She's since appeared on TV in The Surreal Life with Vanilla Ice and porn star Ron Jeremy. And she's been battling cancer. [She died in 2007, after this was posted.]

As years go by, I have a hard time recalling which actor or actress I interviewed about which movie. But I remember the promotional ice cream social hosted by Tammy Faye and drag queen RuPaul. I remember the impromptu wrestling match between Godzilla and a man in a bear suit outside the ice cream social.

And I remember the time I made Tammy Faye cry.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Andy Warhol Didn't Sleep Here: The Utah Hoax

Here's how actor Allen Midgette got his 15 minutes of fame. He sat down for a drink at 2 a.m. in a Park Avenue bar.

The way Midgette remembers it, Paul Morrissey, assistant to Andy Warhol, was there with the famous artist's leather coat and a question.

"Do you want to go to Rochester University tomorrow as Andy?"

"And I said, 'No, why would I?' Well he said, 'You'll get 600 dollars.' And I said, 'Fine. When do I leave?'"

Midgette's long, strange trip eventually took him to Utah, the pages of Time Magazine, and into a Fresh Look on Life.

You can listen to our MP3 interview with Midgette here....

Midgette's acting career began in Italy, where he appeared in the first films of a young Bernardo Bertolucci.

Back in New York, a rising Andy Warhol, who had seen Bertolucci's "Before the Revolution" a reported 35 times, asked him to be one of his avant-garde film "Superstars."

Midgette said 'No.'

Warhol was the man who painted Campbell Soup cans and Coke bottles. Who silk-screened Marilyn, Elvis and Elizabeth.

And became king of Pop Art.

But Allen Midgette wasn't impressed.

"At that point in my life, I'll be honest with you, I was taking a lot of LSD and I was more interested in what was going on in my brain than making a movie,"
Midgette says, speaking from his home in New York State.

But then, he says, he was fired from his job in the service sector for, he says, not serving Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis a drink.

"I said, 'I'm not your waiter but I can get him for you.'"

He was fired that night.

And then he needed the money.

And he told Warhol 'yes.'

Midgette appeared in a number of Warhol films, though doesn't recall his Factory days with great fondness.

He did have a good time, he says, shooting a film inside the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Wearing nothing but a loincloth he climbed atop a large ancient Egyptian sphinx. He says he happened to be high on LSD at the time.

"It was really nice."

Back to Midgette's 15 minutes.

The American Program Bureau asked Andy Warhol to do a cross-country college lecture tour. Warhol reluctantly agreed.

But Paul Morrissey says when he told Warhol it was time to go on the tour, the artist became very upset.

"'No, no, no.' He started to shake," Morrissey says. "I can't do it." Warhol's former assistant-slash-manager spoke to us from his New York City apartment.

"Andy couldn't be direct with people. He couldn't look them in the eye and speak with them," Midgette explains.

"I think he was afraid of college students being too smart for him."

Morrissey says the ruse was Midgette's idea.

"Allen said, 'Why don't I go in your place?'"

And Warhol said, according to Morrissey, "That's a great idea."

"Give me your leather jacket," Midgette suggested, he says. "If you give me your leather jacket, I'll look like you."

Morrissey says he wasn't sure it was going to work, but agreed because he didn't want to walk away from the hefty appearance fees.

So Midgette whitened his hair and face and adopted a Warhol persona, and, accompanied by Morrissey, went on tour. And most believed the forged artist was authentic.

In Rochester he went to a cocktail party with an artist who had met Andy Warhol.

"He gave me this painting of Andy that really looked like Andy."

No one seemed to know the difference.

Morrissey says after one college event a young man, someone who'd been to Andy Warhol's studio, "The Factory," a few times and had met Warhol, came up to him.

Student: Andy was great.

Morrissey: Oh really?

Student: Yeah.

Morrissey: Didn't you notice anything?

Student: What are you talking about?

Morrissey: That's not really Andy.

"He didn't realize it," Morrissey says. "He couldn't believe that it wouldn't be."

October 1967, Midgette stepped off a plane at the Salt Lake City Airport. A gust of wind turned the talcum powder he put on his head to whiten his hair into a big puff of white smoke.

The students who came to drive him to the University of Utah didn't ask about his hair, but the makeup on his face. So Midgette told him he had a skin problem.

Joe Bauman, a Deseret News staff writer who was then editorial assistant at the student Daily Utah Chronicle and a Warhol fan, brought along his Mamiya twin lens reflex.

Joe Bauman, 1967 by Martha Blank

"I guess they saw my camera and they (Paul Morrissey) said emphatically he was a very shy person. He could not have any photos taken."

Bauman snuck one anyway.

In his hotel room, Midgette says he took a bath, smoked a joint and read the Book of Mormon.

Courtesy Manuscripts Division, University of Utah Libraries

Forty-five minutes late, he walked into a packed Union Ballroom, showed a half-hour film and, instead of giving the advertised lecture, offered a question-and-answer period and a blasé' attitude.

Audience member: What was your film about?

Midgette: I couldn't really describe it.

What role did he play in the production of his films, someone asked.

Midgette: I start them, I think.

Midgette said during his visit a student asked him how he'd describe underground film

"Black and white and very cheap."

"He said almost nothing, if I recall. I mean he was not answering questions," Bauman says. "It was a total bomb."

1967 issue of the Daily Utah Chronicle featuring the photo by Joe Bauman

"...There was something fishy about the event," artist Denis Phillips says, "and we weren't quite sure what it was."

At a dinner with staff and students, professors began asking Midgette very pointed questions about 'his' art. The guest of honor abruptly got up and left.

Midgette impersonated Warhol on four campuses around the country, before taking his money and flying back to Italy to act in movies.

Meanwhile, reporters at the Chronicle were making phone calls.

An art student sent a letter to the student newspaper saying 'Warhol' was not who he said he was.

Reporters compared Joe Bauman's photo and a picture of Warhol in the Village Voice. They were not the same person.

After several calls, student reporter Kay Israel finally reached Paul Morrissey and he admitted the artist was a fake.

"Andy Warhol thought that his substitute would be better for public consumption," he told Israel. "Like a person that was younger and better looking and better spoken..."

In a statement to the paper, Warhol himself said he sent a double "because I don't really have much to say, he was better than I am..."

The story, by Israel and Angelyn (Nelson) Hutchinson, hit the front page of the student newspaper, and then went national.

By then, Midgette says, he was on a "psychedelic ranch" in Baja, Mexico.

Warhol, the real one, offered to come "back" to the University of Utah, but officials there decided one Warhol was enough.

After the artist died in 1987, Midgette impersonated Warhol again, on the streets of New York City.

"It blew some people's minds."

Now he's writing a book called, appropriately, "I Was Andy Warhol."

The escapade seemed to fit the Andy Warhol image. Just as The Factory silk-screened coke bottles and Marilyn Monroes, so, too, could it reproduce Andy Warhol.

"...Fits right in with his ideas and concepts of art," Denis Phillips says. "In reality, why would he have to be there? Does it really make any difference?"

But Morrissey and Midgette say people read too much into it.

Morrissey says Andy Warhol had (undiagnosed) Aspberger's syndrome and autism (Aspberger's syndrome is considered a form of autism or very similar to it.) and was incapable of making speaking appearances and, he says, incapable of concocting the hoax.

"He needed someone to do everything."

He says people who suggest this was a calculated artistic statement "invent something to go with the facts rather than look at the facts...They superimpose some dopey journalistic interpretation about a bunch of junk."

"But nobody wants to write about what he (Warhol) was like. They want to believe it was great art and everything was art and blowing his nose was art."

Morrissey chuckles.

"Is that hard to believe?

Joe Bauman and Angelyn Hutchinson, formerly of the Daily Utah Chronicle, now work for the Deseret News. Denis Phillips is a local artist and co-owner of the Phillips Gallery. Thanks to the Manuscripts Division, University of Utah Libraries for use of their archived photographs. Thanks to Joe Bauman for the use of his covert snapshot of the counterfeit Andy Warhol and for keeping his ticket to the event.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Friday, November 28, 2008

Star Wars, The Turkish Sequel

A long time ago (1979) in a galaxy far, far away (in central Turkey), Murat and Ali crash land on a desert planet.

Murat: Begin to your famous whistle which no women can resist.
Ali: [Whistles]
Murat: You whistle it wrong
Ali: Why?
Murat: Skeletons came instead of woman

So goes "Dünyayý Kurtaran Adam," "The Man Who Saves the World," considered the "Turkish Star Wars" (because of the bootlegged "Star Wars" clips edited into the film) and possibly one of the worst movies ever made.

Just the kind of thing you'll find in the Lost Media Archive (featured on a
Fresh Look on Life

Blair Sterrett, an aspiring comic book artist from Ogden who's attending the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont, says he was always interested in unusual music and sounds and started collecting them to bewilder friends and someday, he hoped, play them on the radio.

His radio dreams came true, but he says his play list was so odd, he was kicked off the air.

Tyrone Davies of Salt Lake City started collecting unusual movies for his found-footage filmmaking.

Together they have filled a storage unit and their homes with Super 8 movies, high school filmstrips, LPs, 8 track tapes, homemade records, telephone answering machine tapes, and all the obsolete technology to play that obsolete media. The kind of stuff that ends up at Deseret Industries, the Salvation Army and the dump.

"These are little niches of our history and our culture that just get thrown out," Sterrett says, and he and Davies are trying to save from extinction.

∙ "Kure Kure Takora," "Gimme Gimme Octopus," stars a man-sized candy red octopus and his friend, a somersaulting squash with the ability to cough up coins for vending machines.

Kids love surreal Japanese children's programming featuring violence and antisocial behavior.

∙ There's "Captain Hook and his Christian Pirate Crew," a biker who lost an arm and a leg in an accident and began a TV ministry.

The Captain used metal appendage to hook converts.

"I'm interested in things that cause question marks in my head," Sterrett says.

"I like things that confuse me."

∙ Sterrett leafs through piles of dusty LP's. "Music to Make Housework Easier," "Chant for Your Plants," "Songs for Safe Driving" (Is it safe to operate a record player while you're driving?), "Music to Knit By," and a recording of Jayne Mansfield (that great classical actress) reading Shakespeare.

"We're big fans of the 'so bad it's good," Davies says.

My favorites have been some of their corporate musicals, recordings of industrial shows produced to boost worker moral and business.

Like GE's "Got to Investigate Silicones."

You feel your product's not enough
You feel it isn't up to snuff,
Silicones! Silicones!
What it may need may not be much,
What it may need may just be a touch,
Silicones! Silicones!
They can wash you products’ problems away.
They're very good at saving the day.

And who doesn't love dry cleaning songs?

Turkey, in the midst of political upheaval, couldn't easily import American films, so Turkish filmmakers remade them. "The Wizard of Oz" and "E.T." both have their own Turkish remakes.

But, no doubt, none is better (or worse), than their version of "Star Wars."

A soundtrack stolen from "Moonraker," "Planet of the Apes" and "Silent Running" and dialogue worthy of a Jayne Mansfield dramatic reading.

Ali: What's on the menu?
Little Boy: Fried insects, and boiled snake.
Ali: Yuck! I won't eat that!
Murat: Come on man! If you don't eat, your handsome looks will deteriorate.

And now there is a trailer for a sequel, "Dunyayi Kurtaran Adamin Oglu" (The Son of the Man Who Saves The World).

You know that if it's good enough (or bad enough), it'll probably end up in the hands of Blair Sterrett and Tyrone Davies.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Dear Feature Reporter...

The following are questions that viewers might have asked me.

Why did you become a feature reporter?

For the free food. It's an unwritten rule of feature reporting. If you produce a food story, you must eat the food on camera.

My short list has included tamales, ice cream sandwiches, cookies with crickets and ice cream with crickets. (The crickets add texture and crunch.)

And, thankfully, I don't have to declare those meals as income.

You do such an extraordinary job in such a noble profession. What's your secret?

Dog stories. I produce as many as I possibly can. Especially stories about goofy little dogs in costume. They make news directors and promotions writers salivate.

Can I become a feature reporter?

Sure, why not?

A wise man once told me I had no future in broadcasting and I should get out of the radio business. A couple weeks later, after years and years as a morning news announcer, he was fired during a station housecleaning.

And he went back to his original job as a welder.

Now, come to think of it, I did get out of the radio business.

Are there any training films for prospective feature reporters?

I would recommend "Kent Cares #47" by cartoon anchor and feature reporter, Kent Brockman.

"Hear that? It's the sound of children's laughter... silenced. That's because tomorrow, this old carousel, which has delighted young Americans for lo these past six years, will be torn down, to
make way for the future: a store that sells designer mouse pads."*


As a feature reporter, will I have to ride an elephant?

No. Small-market weekend anchors are required to ride an elephant when the circus comes to town. But not feature reporters.

You will, though, have to do a stand-up with a potbellied pig. Several times.

What has feature reporting taught you?

Everybody's much smarter than me. And many are a lot crazier.

*Excerpted from an animated TV series on another network that may or may not be Fox.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Coffee in the Key of E Flat

Not all coffee cups are the same. Some are in the key of C. Some are in E flat.

We aired a Fresh Look at coffee competition. Yiching and John Piquet, owners of caffe d'bolla (across the street from the Salt Lake City Main Library) were headed to Denver for the Mountain Regional Barista Competition.

That's right, baristas compete.

They make twelve drinks -- four espresso, four cappuccino and four specialty drinks -- in 15 minutes and are judged on technical skill, cleanliness, presentation and, of course, taste.

And people watch.

At last year's World Barista Championship in Tokyo, three thousand people showed up.

To watch somebody make coffee.

No doubt, really good coffee.

I thought this story needed a soundtrack, and so I played one with coffee cups.

Paper cups for rhythm.

Ceramic for melody.

And this is what I learned:

-No matter what you think of Starbucks, their carry-out cups have a nicely rounded tone.
-It seems like most ceramic cups are tuned to C or B flat.
-If you walk into a thrift shop and start wacking coffee cups with a spoon to find the best-sounding ones, people will give you a little extra personal space.
-And when you bring home a plastic box full of thrift store cups, especially the ones with goofy pumpkins and golf sayings on them, your wife will laugh. At the coffee cups, of course.

I sampled my cup collection (my thrift store set and the to-go cups I've been hoarding in my closet), a coffee drip or two, and, of course, the obligatory espresso machine steam burst and played it on a keyboard.

I needed a bass line, so I strung a rubber band across a cup to make a miniature washtub bass and processed it with a simulated guitar amp.

And I learned one other thing.

Maybe I should reserve my coffee cups...for drinking coffee.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Lose weight instantly! Read more here...

Sometimes people picture things a little differently than their cameras.

And that's Mark Long's business.

He runs Hollywood Foto Fix, a Lehi business that restores and retouches photographs from around the country. They were featured on 2 News at 5 because of their restoration of Katrina-damaged pictures.

But they do more than remove mildew and water damage.

"Our phrase," Long's son, Austin, said, "is people want to look the way they think they look."

So they remove braces and blemishes from yearbook photos. They remove wrinkles and extra weight from family pictures.

They scan the photos and rework them in Photoshop and the pounds just melt away. If only it was that easy.

They've altered a low-cut wedding dress for a Utah customer.

They extract ex-wives and ex-husbands. "We call it 'x' your ex," Mark Long said.

They strongly suggest that boyfriends and girlfriends be left out of group portraits at family reunions.

"We remove so many boyfriends or girlfriends from family reunion photos, it's not even funny." Well, actually, it is.

I asked Long what has been the strangest request.


He knew the answer instantly but wasn't quite sure if he wanted to say. Not to a TV reporter.

The employee behind him working at a computer was laughing. He knew the answer, as well.

Long thought some more.


And then he told me.

And I'm not sure if I should tell you.

Let's just say-


Let's just say a customer wanted a little...enhancement.

Like the Longs said, everybody's got that self-portrait in their head. And if they want it in a photo album, no doubt, Mark Long's all too happy to take their money.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Please Don't Eat the Furniture

I try to take TV journalism seriously. I really do.

But sometimes I can’t help myself.

The local chapter of the International Interior Design Association was holding its annual Edible Chair Contest. Professional and student interior designers had fabricated furniture from food. Contest rules specified the entries should not only be in good taste but also mostly fit for human consumption.

This was the recipe for a good laugh.

3 tablespoons margarine
10 oz. marshmallows
6 cups Rice Krispies

The night before I whipped up a batch of Rice Krispie treats and attempted to mold the raw material into a Barbie-scale armchair with M and M accents

The next day at the contest there was a Cheesy chair upholstered with sliced Swiss and set atop a shag rug of a blend of fine Italian cheeses, a Top Ramen student chair, and a red fruit leather chair with a jellied lemon candy pillow.

During the taping of the story, I quietly removed my unofficial entry from a shoebox (left in the freezer overnight to keep my furniture from melting) and placed it on the display table.

The camera followed the feature reporter as he inspected the entries and then picked up a chair and took a bite out of it.

Judges heads turned.

An interior design student approached. “You can’t to that!”

“I can’t?” I said.

Alas, my fabulous furniture design did not place in the contest.

But I was not disappointed.

It’s always a good day at work when you can expense breakfast cereal.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Thursday, November 20, 2008

How to Get on TV

I try to use my feature reporting powers for good, not evil.

To discourage reckless behavior.

If someone's attempting something dangerous, perhaps we might videotape it. But, as you know, the camera makes people do things, and we don't want them to do it because of us. (For the record, I didn't ask the then-mayor of Springville to hot dog it on his motorcycle in his fine Italian suit on his driving range and, anyway, he was in reconstructive surgery for only four hours. But that's another story.)

One big snowstorm many snowstorms ago, photographer Charlie Ehlert and I were producing one of those stories that informs the public that snow has fallen. So much had fallen, in fact, that snowboarders waiting at a bus stop in the Fort Union neighborhood couldn't get to the ski areas because public transportation was immobilized.

So we interviewed them.

And then one asked if we wanted him to jump off the roof.

We said, ‘no.’

He meant snowboarding off the roof of the restaurant next to the bus stop.

We said, ‘no, don't do that.’

We bid them farewell and crossed the street to take pictures of cars slogging through the snow and slush. Five minutes later, we heard someone yelling at us.

It was the snowboarder. On the roof.

Ehlert instinctively turned his camera in his direction and rolled tape.

The roofboarder slid off the restaurant and disappeared in a puff of snow.

Back at the TV station, the raw tape changed hands and was fed (by satellite uplink) to the network (at the time, NBC), which aired it during its evening newscast.

He jumped off a roof and went national.

So my point is-


I'm not sure what my point is.

My point is, if you're going to try to hurt yourself, please don't do it when I'm around.

The news crews might show up later.

They call that "breaking news."

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

You Boys Get Paid for Doin' This?

It would be difficult to write an accurate job description for a feature reporter. There would be the usual things -- reporting, writing, smiling on camera. But there would be the unusual -- playing the tuba, jumping into a pool while wearing coat and tie, and desecrating a rubber chicken.

Photographer Charlie Ehert and I were shooting a story about Loftus Novelty. For more than sixty years, the Salt Lake company has sold joy buzzers, whoopie cushions, stink bombs...true Americana. The focus of our story was the rubber chicken. At the time it was believed, and probably still is, that Loftus was the world's leading distributor of rubber chickens.

Charlie had an idea. (And I'm just as responsible because I went along with it.) To ask Loftus owner Gene Rose whether his rubber chickens could "take a beating." I did and Rose said they could. So -- and this was the idea -- we put that to the test.

It was nonsensical and pointless and that was the point.

We took a rubber chicken to the Great Salt Lake Gun Club and convinced a member to shoot it full of buckshot.

And we went to Sapp Bros. and asked a North Carolina trucker to run over our rubber chicken with his big rig. He was a bit confused but agreeable. And he flattened our chicken.

And then his wife, in her melodious North Carolinian drawl, asked us, "You boys get paid for doin' this?"

"Yes, Maam, we do."

It's all part of the job.

(The story spawned a brief rubber chicken infatuation among some members of the photo staff who look the silicone critters with them on assignment far and wide, speading strange humor and good cheer.)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Speed Debating?

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Poetic Ending

Often it is asked: Where do you get your ideas? Sometimes, there's a great story right in front of you. And it's impeding traffic.

Spring of last year, while photographer Matt Gephardt and I were returning from a story about the Moab Mountain Unicycling Festival, Matt made note of the two in front of us: a longboarder surfing down the winding hill, followed by a chase car driven by a man in a neck brace.

There was a story there, Matt said, and he thought we should shoot it. I agreed.

The story was about cousins Jared and Tyler. We took pictures of them longboarding through traffic. And they discussed their previous injuries.

They were enjoying a weekend break from college. And it turned out one was studying to become a lawyer, the other, a doctor.

It was simply poetic.

And so the story went...

It's not like the boys hadn't thought well ahead.
Jared's pre-law, and Tyler's pre-med.
So, down the road, if things break, or are found..(ahem)...out of compliance,

They'll have each other. As friends...and as clients.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Viva La Zombies!

New York City writer Max Brooks never expected to be standing on a Salt Lake City street corner helping a television reporter pick zombies out of the crowd.

Peter: Is that guy a zombie? Max: No, because he would be coming for us and trying to eat us.

Brooks wrote "The Zombie Survival Guide." Just for fun. The kind of thing you'd expect of a former Saturday Night Live writer and the son of Mel Brooks (Blazing Saddles, The Producers, Young Frankenstein) and the late, great Anne Bancroft (The Miracle Worker, The Graduate).

Peter: Is that guy a zombie? Max: No, because he's waiting patiently to cross the street instead of trying to eat us. That's your litmus test.

"I sat down and wrote this really for me," Brooks said, "I never expected it to be published and really, logically, why would you? It's a book about how to realistically fight something that isn't real."

The book plays it straight. Discusses in great detail the various techniques and power tools available to fight off the undead. Actual fact-checking was involved.

"I never thought anybody besides me would be interested in this."

The book is now in its seventh printing. Hollywood producers have called. There was a movie option.

But it wasn't just the book sales that stunned him.

It was how many people took the book so seriously.

Lecture audiences asked genuine zombie defense questions.

Gun bloggers, he says, took offense because the guide favors the Soviet AK-47 over the US Army M16. (For the record, neither assault rifle is recommended for killing the living dead.)

Europeans complained about the book's "American" perspective. Too much talk about guns and SUVs.

Wait, wait. This is a book about zombies.

Perhaps, he said, he could rewrite for the foreign anti-zombie audience.

Brooks mused aloud what strategies he'd include in the French edition.

"We surrender! We surrender!"

Friday, November 14, 2008

Breaking News from the Furniture Showroom

I got my start in television in a furniture store in Washington, DC.

Graduating from college and overcome by feelings of financial dread, I answered an ad and took a job with a cable show. An old-time radio broadcaster had decided to buy some airtime on The Learning Channel and produce his own newsmagazine. He hired me for 50 dollars a week to field produce and write the stories. He had little TV experience and I had none.

We had two photographers. One made his living shooting music videos. The other hired out his body for medical experiments.

The most memorable piece of this production was the set. My boss anchored the show from one of those fake living rooms in a furniture store on Wisconsin Avenue. He did this while the store was open for business. Whatever studio audience he had, was actually looking for La-Z-Boys.

I never intended to work in television and eventually left to work in radio until, a few years later, returning to the fold.

Now we don't anchor our shows from a store. We've got our own furniture.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Barking Parrot

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

From Nazi Propaganda to TV Feature Story

The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.
-Albert Einstein

I was swimming laps at the Steiner Aquatic Center when I glanced up at the high dive and experienced a flashback. A memory of a movie clip from a college documentary film class.

A black and white vision of a diver twisting and turning through the clouds.

I was watching the line of hyperactive ten year olds plummet from the high dive and remembering a few minutes of Olympia. The propaganda-flavored documentary of the 1936 Olympics directed by Leni Riefenstahl and funded by the Third Reich.

The final diving sequence is considered a cinematic masterpiece. Riefenstahl celebrated the human form by isolating the diver from up and down. By turning film upside down and backwards. So the athlete appeared to soar through the sky.

This, of course, was the same director who created the infamous “Triumph of the Will.”

She was a brilliant filmmaker who hung out with the wrong crowd. To say the least.

So, watching these young high divers, I decided to make my own Olympia.

Shot by shot, Photographer Randy Casper and I analyzed the original sequence. And then recreated it at the Kearns Oquirrh Park Fitness Center.

At the last minute I departed from the original storyboard by donning a tie and jumping into the pool. Not something Riefenstahl would have done. But it was a pretty hot day.

Wanting to set the piece to Olympia’s original score, I contacted a couple of video distributors to research music rights.

One distributor told me Riefenstahl, at the time still alive and scuba diving in the tropics, did.

The other said the US confiscated the film during World War Two. It was now property of the National Archives. As an American citizen, I owned a piece of that movie.

The Nazis killed a few of my distant relatives from Poland.

I figured they owed me.

So I used the score.

And it became a popular TV feature. Occasionally dusted off and replayed for photographers and high school students.

And, no doubt, few of them would guess that a playful video of ten year old belly flop artists cooling off on a hot summer afternoon, was originally inspired by, of all things, a Nazi movie.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Saturday, November 1, 2008

One of my Favorite Quotes

Several years ago at a Layton golf course, we asked Sam Gallegos what went through his head as he watched his son, Kurt, perform eye-popping F-16 maneuvers at Hill Air Force Base airport across the way. Kurt Gallegos had defied his family’s financial circumstances and his height, to become a successful rodeo athlete, high school football player and then an F-16 demonstration pilot.

We thought Dad would speak of awe. Of a father’s pride.

Instead he said, “I think…’Son, pull up, pull up, pull up.’”

Friday, October 31, 2008

I have Patty Hearst on my Voicemail

I have Patty Hearst on my voicemail. Most people can't say that. *

One of the perks of being a journalist is occasionally shaking hands with people who have been burned into my consciousness as larger-than-life characters.

I've talked to Mickey Rooney about the IRS and Jimmy Carter about his daughter's arrest record. I've discussed the Ethyl and Julius Rosenberg espionage case with their son and granddaughter. I've spoken with James Irwin about walking on the moon and looking for Noah's Ark.

Last year Patty Hearst flew into town to promote a small independent movie at the Sundance Film Festival. She's made an unmemorable acting career appearing in campy John Waters films. This was her foray into serious cinema.

What I do remember is her media metamorphosis from Hearst heiress to Symbionese Liberation Army kidnap victim to machine-gun toting bank robber. I was an oblivious 13 year old at the time, but even I couldn't forget that.

Hearst was not able make her scheduled interview with KUTV and called and left a message. And I didn't erase it.

Coincidentally, Hearst was also involuntarily appearing in another Sundance entry, Robert Stone's "Neverland," about the S.L.A. And she agreed to do publicity interviews for the documentary. She told us that, while the subject of a nationwide manhunt, her captors took her out to the movies.

It was slightly surreal talking to her about this 30 years after the fact.

And so, as a memento, I keep Patty Hearst on my voicemail.

*Recently, the Patty Hearst voicemail along with my job, vanished into the ether. It is a sad day.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Kurt Smith, Pig Hunter

Sometimes the best part of the story is something you don’t see on TV.

There were reports of a fugitive on the loose in West Valley City. 130 pounds, dark complexion, probably a little smelly. A large pot bellied pig. Several months prior, Animal Control had confiscated several pets from a home and this was the one that got away.

But now the pig had reemerged from hiding. Residents saw it sleeping in the hay and playing with the dogs. Dog food was disappearing. Chickens were vanishing.
But so far, the swift and nimble pig had eluded the authorities.

Acting on a tip, photographer Kurt Smith and I scouted a neighborhood just off Highway 201. There, in a field behind a small ranch, was our pig.

Slowly, cautiously, we approached.

Slowly, cautiously, it sauntered in the opposite direction.

“He sees any people,” animal control officer Milton Buker said, “And he kinda knows what the game is.”

Kurt grabbed a few shots using a tripod and his telephoto lense. Then he decided to employ his crack tracking skills and give the pig a run for its money.

He took off on foot, the pig took off on its tiny little pig’s feet, and the race was on.

An Earl Scruggs soundtrack was playing in my head.

Kurt held the camera at pig butt level and raced through the brush. The pig almost galloped, slowing only to cast nervous glances back in the direction of the fast-approaching news media.

Eventually it disappeared into the trees.

He never got within cow pie tossing distance of the animal.

It was Kurt Smith versus the pig. And the pig won.

I wish I’d had a camera.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Play Something Simple

Some people collect stamps. I collect moments. Those poignant, startling, quirky, just-darn-funny moments that make life worth retelling.

Several years ago we profiled 91-year-old Merle Shupe, matriarch of the musical Shupes of Ogden. Merle came from pioneer fiddler stock. In Mountain Green, she played piano in a dance band to support her family. She taught music to her children, who taught their children and, at the time, of 20 Shupes, there were 16 fiddlers. Ryan Shupe, the popular fiddler with the Rubberband, is her grandson.

For the benefit of the TV camera, Merle's sons had arranged an informal concert at the nursing home where she lived. Her kids and grandkids played fiddles and bass. And Merle, despite a stroke that disable her left hand, played the piano. She was old and frail, but still had that mix of spunk and cantankerousness.

Toward the end of our interview, she asked "Do you play?" I told her yes, I do play piano. "Play me a tune."

I sat down at piano.

"Don't play one of these modern sounding things with a lot of stupid sounding notes in it. Play a tune that I can understand."

I realized later, "modern" meant something after the 1930's

I played a little Ellington. Trying to impress a woman who's probably heard it all, I threw in jazzy flourishes and blue notes.

Merle looked disgusted. "Play something simple. Something that everbody enjoys, not the hair long stuff." I suppose she thought I was trying to emulate New Orleans bluesman Professor Longhair.

I played Gershwin. Soft and sweet. And then I couldn't help myself. I hit a seventh. (Might've been a major seventh, the worst kind.) One of those jazzy notes.

"You hit a wrong note," she told me.

After I finished, the piano teacher in her chastised me again, "Don't hit those sour notes."

"Those are jazz notes," I told her.

"Yeah I know. Crazy." I think musical dissonance turned her stomach. "Nothing in melody or anything else. Trash."

Her son, Jim, walked over. "You like Rachmaninoff," he told her. "He changed music quite a bit from what Bach and Mendelssohn did."

"As long as it's in melody," she replied, "but he hit a note that wasn't in harmony with anything on the piano."

Merle and I made up and played three-handed "Chopsticks."

The episode had me laughing for a week.

I was told that after the broadcast, she watched a tape of the story nine times. And when she died not long afterward, they played the story one more time at her funeral.

No, Really. I'm a TV reporter.

What do you think you're doing, holding up the building?"
-- A police officer in “A Night in Casablanca" reprimanding Harpo Marx a few seconds before the silent Marx brother stops leaning against a building and walks away. The building then collapses

I was leaning against the side of Main Street’s Kearns building and shooting a standup.* An acoustic guitar in my hands and one leg bent beneath me, I was attempting to strike a troubadour-like stance and lip-sync to a preproduced musical soundtrack.

A security guard approached and ordered me to stop leaning against the building. Panhandling, or busking, he said was not allowed.

I explained that I was actually shooting a segment for the news but not even the presence of photographer Mike Sadowski or his video camera a few feet away dissuaded him. Neither did the fact that I wasn't really singing and couldn't play guitar to save my life.

The truth was I was singing (I use that term loosely) a news story (I use that term loosely, too) about Ken Saxton, a barefoot long-distance runner from California. The Forest Gump look-alike was in town to run the Deseret News Marathon.

The Ballad of the Barefoot Runner

He says he doesn't mind the sticks and stones
and doesn't mind the heat
and running without padding
is really better for the feet.

Ken was pretty passionate about the subject and felt we would all be much better off if we removed our shoes more often. For whatever reason, it seemed like the right thing to write a song about Ken Saxton and talk my way through it.

He's a barefoot crusader
with anti-sneaker views.
He's a rebel...without a pair of shoes

The security guard didn’t appear to be in the mood to hear any of this.

No, I was not a pedestrian-harassing musical panhandler. I was a tone-deaf, guitar-faking television feature reporter.

And they’re even worse.

*Standup: The obligatory 15 seconds of videotape, edited within the body of a TV news story, of a reporter attempting to say something intelligent.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Bigfoot at the Frisbee Park

Truth and accuracy are very important to me. I have never made things up. I have never invented a story. Never. Ever. OK, well, I did just once.

April 1st, 2004. I produced a story about a large, ape-like creature. It had been "sighted" around the Salt Lake metropolitan area. In parks, on Main Street, in the Pioneer Day Parade, near Bar X, at a 7-11 and at the zoo. We consulted (actual) experts in their fields. An anthropologist, psychologist, forensic investigator and a local Bigfoot "expert." (He said he didn't believe it. Said he thought it was a fake.)

This creature looked surprisingly In an ape suit.

Earlier that spring, while Frisbee golfers were playing 18 holes at Creekside Park, photographer Mike Sadowski and I were hidden in the nearby woods creating our own Patterson footage on 8mm Kodachrome.

The creature was also "caught" strolling past Mr. Pawn on State Street. The barber next door poked his head out of his shop door.

"Is it safe around here?" he asked. We assured him that it was.

And Bigfoot visited his monkey cousins at the Hogle zoo.

Accompanied by a public relations representative and an animal caretaker, we went to the monkey house.

When we arrived, the monkeys were hidden indoors. That was unfortunate, since we had low-speed film and no lights. Just put the ape suit on, the zookeeper told me. I did and the monkeys magically appeared in their outdoor enclosure.

Quickly, we took our places. Mike shot no more than 30 seconds of footage. Then the zookeeper told me to immediately take off the costume. Turned out I was (literally) scaring the...monkey droppings...out of one of the older females. A visit from a large hairy primate many times her size was just a little too much excitement for her.

The public relations woman asked if I wanted to go visit the gorillas next. I declined.

In the end, the project turned into quite a production. Finding 8mm cameras and projectors that actually worked. Making multiple Plaster of Paris pours to recreate Bigfoot foot casts. Convincing local producer Gib Berry to cut the lawn, seesaw with his niece and smoke a cigarette...while wearing a gorilla suit. (Thanks, Gib.)

Maybe that's why I don't make up the news more often. It's too much work. It's much easier to tell it like it is.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

When Hummingbirds Attack!

What's a five letter slang term for chutzpah*? Something that won't violate FCC community standards for television news. Something to describe a hummingbird.

They dart above your head and buzz behind your back,
so you never really notice
when Hummingbirds Attack!

A few years ago, my wife and I strung up our first hummingbird feeder. I was expecting it to attract a lighthearted ballet of winged iridescent gems. Instead, we got dogfights.

It flew into town from Canada, in an airborne herd.
It's a jewel in the sky and one ruthless little bird.

Every evening birds from the neighborhood would fly in for dinner. And one little flying tiger would chase them off.

Our local ornithologist Mark Stackhouse explained that this was no docile Utah hummingbird. This was a rufous. A Selasphorus rufus. A real scrapper. Three grams of pure guts and grit that I began videotaping for television.**

So don't dismiss the miniscule.
Don't judge nature by its size.
It's not a shrinking violet.
It's a pit bull in disguise.

Bird guides use the word "feisty." I was looking for another word. To describe how vigorously it defended its stash of sugar water.

And how it out flew other hummingbirds. Like an F-16 outmaneuvering a Piper Cub.

The solution to the word puzzle...was to not use the word.

It dives and chases hawks.
It buzzes, kicks and brawls.
Do not be mistaken.
This little bird has...

My wife and I discovered we might have been responsible for some of the hummingbird violence.

I'd asked Stackhouse how much sugar we should be using in our hummingbird feeder. One part sugar to four parts water, he said, although we could use a little more, one to three parts, if we wanted to steal birds away from our neighbors' feeders.

The hummingbird novices we were, we had been mixing one part sugar to only two parts water.

We weren't feeding the birds artificial flower nectar. We were giving them hummingbird crack. (And, indeed, our neighbors across the street had remarked that we had so many birds on our porch and they had so few. We just shrugged our shoulders.)

We've since diluted our homemade nectar. This summer the hummingbirds are back. But not with quite a vengeance.

*Yiddish for audacity.

**Home video by me. Professional photography by Mike Sadowski.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Bart, the Tomato King

The scent of funnel cakes is in the air.

Must be the State Fair.

My favorite fair attraction isn't the butter cow, the world's largest steer, or the magnificent hot tub diplays.

It's the stocky, fast-talking tomato farmer in Promontory Hall.

The one with the overalls, John Deer cap...and the toothpick.

"How long you had that toothpick in your mouth?"

"27 Years."

Bart Anderson oversees the agriculture exhibits. Entries by the state's best competitive gardeners.

He registers the towering sunflowers and oversized Armenian cumcumbers.

He makes sure people don't eat the grapes. (Even though they’re sprayed with laquer, people do, Bart says. "They do the Rocky Mountain Quickstep when they come home.”)

But I know Bart as The Tomato Man.*

Only two things money can't buy and that's true love and homegrown tomatoes.

Since he was a seedling, Anderson's been growing tomatoes. For almost 50 years, in the same backyard.

When we videotaped his garden a few years ago, he had 70 plants.

Brandywine. Sweet Chelsea. Sun Cherry.

And his own personal favorite, Bart's Best. Officially named after his truly.

It produced big, thick, meaty fruit as sweet as candy.

"Probably the best 'mater you’ve laid a lip on," he said.

His legacy.

One hundred years from now people will say, 'Who the heck was Bart?'

"Yeah, they'll say, 'Who?' but they'll say but the tomato sure was good."

Turned out the day we visited was Bart's birthday. His 70th. So I baked him a cake.
A tomato cake. Garnished with fresh slices.

Bart laughed. ("You're alright Peter Spraynozzel.") He does that a lot.

And spouts tomato wisdom.

You plant em in the spring and eat em in the summer and all the time without em's a culinary bummer.

So what does Bart do with all his tomatoes?

Gives them away.

"I probably gave thirty bushels of tomatoes away last year," he said. "Tomatos make the best friends in the world."

I forget all about the sweating and diggin' every time I pick me a 'big-un.'

*You might also remember Bart as the “chicken farmer” in our April Fool’s Day Bigfoot story.

Bigfoot broke into a hen house. And Bart gave a first-hand account.

“Oh he must've been pretty big. He just kicked the door down and got my biggest rooster,” he said. “The hens are all in mourning cuz he's gone.”

Friday, October 3, 2008

Flick Lives

The other day I got call from a KUTV viewer in Minneapolis.

John Gross, award-winning KSTP photojournalist and NFL Films cameraman, watched some web videos and, no doubt in a fit of severe boredom, read my web page bio. He noted that I blamed my career choice on the late humorist and broadcaster Jean Shepherd.

Had I been born a few years earlier, I might have followed Mark Twain's lecture tour.

Instead I listened to Jean Shepherd.

Thursdays my parents let me stay up late. Actually past 9 pm.

Just before broadcast, 9:15 I think, I turned the lights out, the radio on, and jumped into bed.

And then Jean Shepherd would talk.

Just talk.

For 45 minutes, on WOR, the NYC news/talk station that, at night, roamed the east coast, he would tell stories. Small dramas he made you think were from his childhood. Or from a New York street corner just last week.

No guest interviews, no musical performances (not counting the kazoo or jaw harp). Just Shepherd. Just one long monologue that meandered its way through multiple topics of conversation -- from Halloween costumes to Abby Hoffman's Eldorado -- and somehow, 45 minutes later, managed to find its destination and make its point.

And now I read that Shepherd worked without a net. There was no script or outline. Just a scrap of paper with a few notes. (Earlier in his broadcasting career he would extemporize for five hours.)

Some people may remember Jean Shepherd as the screenwriter of, "A Christmas Story," a movie that's become as much a part of the December TV landscape as "A Wonderful Life." (A fan who's been selling leg lamps online, just bought Ralphie's original Cleveland movie set house off Ebay and this November is opening it as a "Christmas Story" museum.)

When he died seven years ago, the Associated Press wrote that Shepherd likely inspired a big scene in "Network." He sometimes told listeners to crank up their radios and, along with him, scream things like, "Drop the tools, we've got you covered!"

But I remember Jean Shepherd as the guy who, when I was ten years old, entertained me with the tale of the camel that ate his sheepskin coat.

So Minnesotan John Gross called to tell me that Shepherd is off the air but on the web. On sites like Flick Lives.

So I bought myself a cheap MP3 player and began to rediscover to Jean Shepherd.

Maybe I'll listen to a few shows with the lights off.

Just for old time's sake.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Bat Bombs Away!

I produce feature stories, not for the fame or fortune. I do it for the little bits of obscure triva.

Recently, while videotaping a story about tank collecting, military vehicle collector Jack Tomlin gave me a brief WWII history lesson I must've slept through in high school.

In 1942, returning from a tour of Carlsbad Caverns, a Pennsylvania dental surgeon formulated an idea for a revolutionary new weapon. A bat bomb. A canister of bats, each outfitted with little timed incendiary devices, that would be dropped at night high above Osaka. At the right altitude, the canister would open, the bats would fly away, roost in buildings and set the city on fire.

President Roosevelt thought it was a fine idea.

They called it Project X-Ray and the inventor of napalm designed little firebombs to be carried by the bats.

The military tested it, with positive results, on a mock Japanese city at Utah's Dugway Proving Grounds.

I'm not making this up.

It's in Wikipedia, so it must be true. .

There's also an entry there for Project Pigeon, behaviorist B.F. Skinner's contribution to the war effort. A pigeon-guided missile. Pigeons peck at an image of a target and steer the missile to its destination.

That one wasn't quite as successful.

In the end, the bat bomb, which the doctor thought could cause devastation without much loss of life, was never deployed.

It was beaten out by another new weapon. The atomic bomb.