Friday, January 31, 2014

Dowling's gym was rocking. I mean, bulging at the seams tonight, and the Maroons' fans were able to chant, "Overrated! Overrated!" in the final minutes of their team's 64-44 victory over Valley in a highly-anticipated girls' basketball game. It was second-ranked Valley's first loss in 18 games, and No. 3 Dowling [15-1] got even for a defeat administered earlier in the season at the Bill Coldiron Fieldhouse on the Valley campus. Tonight's game was no contest. The turning point was when Valley's girls stepped off the team bus.The Tigers had no answers for Dowling's tenaciousness on both ends of the floor. Early in the game, the Tigers were helpless on both offense and defense. They played somewhat better in the last half, but it was much too late. Oh, well, there will be another day, another night. No doubt these teams will see each other in the tournament, which isn't that far away.

Dowling's coaches and players had all the answers
It wasn't pretty for the Tigers

It's over
Videotaping the action for Valley
It must've been an Official Big Game because Bill Neibergall, the paper's best photographer, was there
Dowling's fans were rocking

My $563.82 Lunch


It's already been an interesting week, and not just because of the crazy [although healthy] breakfast I wrote about yesterday.

It all began Monday. 

A guy I know emailed me to see if I wanted to join a group of three others for lunch the next day at the High Life Lounge in downtown Des Moines.

I've written about that joint before. It's a decent enough place  to eat, and an even better place to carry on a conversation about this and that--mostly that.

The four of us--all veterans of the print news business--gathered at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, and the High Life was mostly full.

As usual, we covered the waterfront, settling issues that guys who have been settling issues for years and years can handle in 90 minutes.

We covered collegiate basketball and football,  the overkill a lot of folks think is going on with some of the coverage of the Division I teams at the paper,  high school stuff,  the new editor at the paper and how some people think the place could've done better...things like that.

My lunch consisted of a $2.95 fried egg-and-cheese sandwich, plus black coffee and several refills.

Pretty cheap entertainment on another cold, windy winter day in central Iowa.

Then the fun began.

Oh, sure.

In retrospect, my mistake, was not driving The Official Car Of These Columns--the 1989 Toyota Camry--to the lunch.

Instead, I drove the 1998 Honda Accord, which doesn't get driven much around town. 

My idea Tuesday was to make sure the new battery I had installed in the Honda was working all right, and to--as we used to say when I was 16 and owned a 1937 Ford coupe --"blow the cobs [as in cobwebs] out of the motor."

I blew the cobs out of the Honda that day, and also got a flat tire out of the deal.

Just as I left downtown, I began noticing a strange sound and feel on the rear right side of the car.

It felt like a flat. Or at least the start of a flat.

I was glad I wasn't on the freeway. 

But Grand Avenue in Des Moines at that time of day was bad enough.  There was, of course, plenty of traffic.

I needed someplace where I could turn into so I could see what the problem was.

Finally, at about 24th and Grand, I turned into the small parking lot serving a medical clinic.

Naturally, the signs said any car parked there by someone not visiting the medical clinic would be towed away.

After I parked the car, I checked the right rear tire, and it was flatter than one of the buckwheat pancakes  I used to eat when I was having a 2 p.m. breakfast with photographer Bob Modersohn at the old Boswell's Restaurant in the previous century.

That,of course, was when we were "on assignment" for the paper.

Now I was standing in the cold wind, and obviously needed help.

I knew one of the guys I'd had lunch with was probably headed west, so I called him on my cell phone.

"I need a ride home," I told the guy. "Where are you?"

"I just got on the freeway," he said.

"Maybe you can pick me up at 24th and Grand," I told him. "I've got a flat tire and I'll need to get the car towed somewhere to get it fixed. 

"But first I've got to touch base with my insurance company so I can get the car towed to whatever repair place is covered by my towing insurance."

The guy arrived in 5 minutes, took me home, and I made arrangements to have the car towed to a tire repair facility four blocks away from where the Honda was sitting.

However, I had to drive The Official Car Of These Columns back to the Honda because the guy driving the tow truck [he had earrings in both ears] needed the car key.

I met the Honda at the repair place, and the news went from bad to worse.

"This tire can't be fixed," the mechanic said. "It's pretty old. In fact, it looks like you've still got the original tires the car had when you bought it in 1998, right?"

"Right," I said. "The original tires. This car doesn't get driven  much. So go ahead and put a new tire on the rim."

Then the boss got into the picture.

The boss at the repair shop, I mean.

He said he thought it would be a good idea to replace both rear tires.

"I don't want to put any pressure on you," he added, "but national car safety regulations say all cars should have the tires replaced inside of 5 years. 

"Your Honda is going on 16 years of age, and you're still driving on the original tires. Maybe it would be best if you replaced all four tires, but I'll leave that up to you."

I thought about it a minute or two, and decided four new tires would be the right thing to do.

"I think you made the right decision," the boss said. "But I've got to call a place in Minnesota to get two other tires for you. I've got only two in the shop that fit your car."

"Do whatever you need to do. Let me know when the car is ready," I said.

"Probably sometime Friday," he answered.

But the boss called me on my cell phone yesterday.

The call came when I was talking to one of my doctors in her office. 

"The tires got here sooner than I expected," the boss said. "So your car is ready "

My bill, not including the $61 towing charge [which is covered by insurance] for the tires was  $558.62 [$379.96 for the tires, $108 for labor. $39.04 for shop supplies and 31.62 tax].

So, adding the $5.20 I paid for my fried egg-and-cheese sandwich and black coffee at the High Life, my bill for the day was $563.82.

It turned out to be an expensive lunch.

All I hope is that the new tires last another 16 years.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

I'm Writing This With the Hope That All Of My Doctors Read It. Keep In Mind That I Was Always Told That Breakfast Is the Most Important Meal Of the Day. For My Breakfast This Morning, I First Dined On 2 Slices Of Cranberry Walnut Toast Covered With Sliced Roma Tomatoes [Covered With Hot Sauce, Of Course]. I Then Enjoyed a Large Bowl Of Brown Rice and Barley [Prepared Together In My Rice Cooker]. I Placed Generous Amounts Of Pumpkin Seeds, Sunflower Seeds and Flax Seed Meal On Top. I Flooded All Of That With Flax Milk. The Cranberry Walnut Bread, Pumpkin and Sunflower Seeds, Flax Seed Meal and Flax Milk Came From the Whole Foods Market. The Brown Rice, Barley and Roma Tomatoes Came From Hy-Vee. The Hot Sauce Came From the Dollar Store. Now I'm Ready To Face the Day. I Can't Wait for My 2-Mile Walk. Life Is Wonderful. Oh, I Almost Forgot. I Had 3 Cups Off Coffee, Too. I Hope That Didn't Do Any Damage.

'Worst First-Round NBA Pick Ever'

Royce White is the NBA draft's "worst first-round pick ever," according to the man who picked him.
Royce White
Royce White, courtesy of Getty Images
White was the 16th pick in the 2012 draft but has yet to play in a regular-season game. Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey selected White, a former Iowa State player, with the 16th overall pick in the 2012 draft, but White has yet to appear in an NBA game. "I take some sort of pride in that you could argue that Royce White is the worst first-round pick ever," Morey said in an interview with Rockets blog The 6-8 White has struggled with an acknowledged anxiety disorder that would make it a challenge for him to play a full NBA season. "He's the only one that never played a minute in the NBA that wasn't just a foreign guy staying in Europe," Morey said. "It just shows we swing for the fence." Even though Morey considers the selection of White to be a blunder, the pick didn't hurt his career as a GM too much. The Rockets could afford to take a risk on White because they had three first-round picks in 2012. They had already drafted Jeremy Lamb with the 12th pick, and then selected Terrence Jones with the 18th pick. Houston dealt Lamb to Oklahoma City in the James Harden trade, while Jones is averaging 11.8 points per game for the Rockets this season. Since being drafted, White has been vocal on Twitter, often criticizing the Rockets for downplaying his disorder. The Rockets suspended White in January, 2013 after he refused to accept an assignment to the NBA Development League, then traded him to the Philadelphia 76ers over the summer. White, 22, averaged 5 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.2 assists in five preseason games for the Sixers but did not make the team.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Valley Cheer Squad Places 5th In National Competition

Congratulations to our Competition Cheer Squad for placing fifth NATIONALLY at the National Cheerleaders Association Jr. and Sr. High School Nationals in Dallas, Texas! We are very proud of how they competed with teams from all over the nation! Team members are Sammie Bullington, Leah Carlson, Carter Forrest, Ashley Freeman, Taylor Glade, Bri Hagar, Jenna Hanson, Kaitlyn Harrington, Ashley Joos, Carissa Just, Maggie Laws, Natalie Lawyer, Makenna Lloyd, Haley Melz, Amanda Merck, Mackenzie Moran, Kayla Phalen, Meenu Raja, Bre Reeves, Megan Renkel, Megan Schnoebelen, Kaylee Shelton, Claudia Stewart, Jessica Studer, Sara Wetzel and Taylor White. Coach 
– Beth Ferguson.

Ex-ISU Assistant Wins Battle From Mother Nature

 Bad weather left Tom Herman stranded on a highway for hours, kept him up all night, forced him to abandon a rental car and ultimately rely on the kindness of a stranger to make it to the airport.
Tom Herman

But Mother Nature still couldn't claim a victory over the Ohio State offensive coordinator [and a former Iowa State assistant coach] despite literally freezing over his recruiting trail Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning.

"No, no, there's no way I was losing," Herman said by phone after arriving in the Dallas area, showering and heading out to look for some caffeine.  "I won.

"I don't know if I was fighting Mother Nature, and I certainly don't want to blame the city of Atlanta, but they aren't as equipped to deal with that weather as a city in the Midwest or the North. Anything that would have happened like this in Columbus or Iowa or wherever, it probably wouldn't have been an issue."

Instead it turned into a major problem for one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country, with Herman experiencing the gridlock on the roads firsthand as the perilous driving conditions made getting around Atlanta almost impossible.

Herman passed the time in the unmoving traffic by snapping photos, providing running updates and reading messages of support from fans on his Twitter account. He stayed up through the night until calling for help in the morning, receiving some advice from ESPN's Scott Van Pelt to ditch his rental car and then deciding to walk to the airport. It wasn't any easier to get around on foot, but after falling "five or six times," Herman was able to hitch a ride with Delta employee Terry Spiller.

Even that part of the journey wasn't a smooth one, as Herman and Spiller stopped to assist a woman who had fallen near the side of the road, calling an ambulance and waiting for help to arrive.

Eventually Herman hopped on a plane and caught a couple of hours of sleep on the way to Texas, a happy ending, at least for him. But after living the nightmare and seeing the damage the storm was inflicting, his thoughts were still on the people who aren't out of the woods yet even while he went back to work on the road elsewhere.

"I think there were previous [recruiting] trips when I was snowed in, maybe once or twice, but that was in the hotel," Herman said. "The snow would come through the night and you knew schools were going to be closed, but you were in town and couldn't do anything about it, so you just hung out in the hotel.

"Nothing close to having to spend the night in my car on the freeway in Atlanta. It was scary out there, and there are kids and families out there trying to figure out what's going on and what to do, and I'm still thinking about them. I didn't do anything heroic or anything."

He did win an individual battle with the weather, though. And the recruiting trail is once again all clear ahead for Herman.--

--Austin Ward,

You didn't read about it any newspapers I saw that are published in this state, and you didn't even see it in the story written by a guy from the Associated Press who covered the game. But an overlooked incident in Iowa's 71-69 overtime basketball loss to Michigan State last night was the technical foul assessed against Hawkeyes coach Fran McCaffery early in the last half. I checked the transcript of McCaffery's postgame press conference, and noticed that no reporter asked McCaffery about the technical. Evidently, most news people forgot, or for some reason didn't want to write about, the key call when they wrote their stories and columns about the game. The only person I noticed who wrote about the technical was Myron Medcalf, a blogger from, who obviously wasn't impressed with anything about the game, including the officiating and the fact that Iowa went almost 15 minutes without scoring a field goal. Here's what Medcalf wrote: 'Somehow, [Michigan State] knocked off No. 15 Iowa in a brutal Big Ten game that even the purists would call foul. There was nothing pretty about the 71-69 Michigan State overtime win. There were mostly mistakes. Officials made the bulk of them -- so many missed calls, confusing whistles and inconsistency. Early in the second half, Kieth Appling triple-jumped to the bucket and scored. It apparently wasn't a travel. Fran McCaffery drew a technical after he protested -- and that wasn’t the worst call of the night. The officials were joined in folly by the two teams competing against one another for a meaningful Big Ten win. You could have watched Titanic twice during Iowa’s lengthy stretch without a field goal [in reality, it a 14:50 period that started in the second half, bled into overtime and felt like forever]. There were 63 combined free throws [43 attempts by Iowa, 20 by Michigan State]. ' I watched the game on TV, and wondered what McCaffery, who is no stranger to being whistled for technical fouls, would say about the 'T' that resulted in Michigan State's Gary Harris making two free throws that tied the game, 32-32. But, like I said earlier, no reporter asked the Hawkeyes' coach about it in the postgame press conference. Not good, folks. Another reason newspaper circulation keeps nosediving. I agreed with Medcalf and with the TV announcers, who thought Appling traveled after stealing the ball and driving in for a layup. McCaffery was correct that the basket shouldn't have counted. However, from Iowa's perspective, it's too bad he was whistled for the 'T' for being out of the coaching box. Just think, had McCaffery not been whistled for the 'T' and had Harris not made the two free throws, Iowa might have won the game in regulation time, and people wouldn't be talking now about the Hawkeyes players' basketball toughness or lack of basketball toughness.

Monday, January 27, 2014



I was stunned when I read in the paper that John Carlson has retired as a columnist for the opinion pages.  

It's Carlson's second retirement from the
John Carlson, courtesy of Google
paper, and the timing of it seems a bit strange to me.

Indeed, I hope Carlson's decision to quit writing for the paper didn't have anything to do with the announcement the other day that Amalie Nash is being brought in from Detroit to be the next editor at the place. 

I mean, Carlson didn't give any hint in his most recent column that he was retiring. 

The way the decision was disclosed by the paper was also weird--merely a little three-paragraph story with a mug shot of Carlson at the bottom of page 3 of the Sunday opinion pages. 

As far as I'm concerned, it's a huge loss for the paper and its constantly-decreasing number of readers. 

Carlson's retirement is another reason for people not to read the paper at all.

Notice, I said read, not subscribe

These days, the only time some people who are accustomed to getting their news on TV even know there's a paper in this meto area is if it's sitting in a dentist's office or on a table in the deli department at Hy-Vee or Dahls.

Hardly anyone pays for the thing anymore.

If they do, they're wasting money.

They can say all they want about people reading the paper on their tablets or laptops.

Ain't gonna happen.

Carlson's columns have been appearing twice a month on a freelance basis, and I've had just one problem with that. 

I wish he had been writing four times a month. 

He was the best thing the opinion pages had going, and he was the best writer in the whole damn paper. 

I just  hope it wasn't a messy breakup. 

The only reason I say that is because there have been so many messy breakups at the paper in recent years. 

I still can't forget the scene that was related to me concerning Brian Duffy, the paper's former cartoonist. 

I heard that when the paper's bosses told Duffy he was being fired, a security guard led him to a back exit in the newsroom and took him out of the building.

I hope nothing like that happened to my friend John Carlson. 

I hope he just told 'em to shove it up their asses, and left the building for the last time.

I also hope Carlson's health is all right. 

Whenever someone who has been around as long as Carlson has been on the scene, I hope the person  is feeling all right. 

Whatever, enjoy yourself in retirement [again], John. 

I'll miss seeing you in the paper.

And anytime you want to write something, I've got a spot for you on this site. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

I Am Overwhelmed With Excitement


I see the paper has a new editor. 

Her name is Amalie Nash, she's 37 years of age and she describes herself as a runner and a Detroit Tigers fan. 

I am overwhelmed with excitement. 
New editor, courtesy of the Detroit Free Press

Easy now. 

I'm being facetious, of course. 

However,  I'll bet Mike Mahon is doing handsprings now that he knows Nash is  coming to town. 

Mahon is the former standout sports information guy at Drake, and he's the only other Detroit Tigers fan from metropolitan Des Moines of whom I am aware. 

The people who make the decisions down there at the paper thought it was front-page news that Nash was coming onboard, but evidently no one else regarded it as a big deal. 

The paper likes to get readers' thoughts on what it publishes and, naturally, pleasant thoughts are preferred. 

But nobody has pleasant thoughts about newspapers in this day and age.

The only written comment I could find about Nash's hiring was from someone who wrote, "I have a very innovative way to present the news paper, how about telling the truth. You could try investigative reporting also. I got tired of reading the paper because the story was reported as was dictated as told to the reporter. Ben said a half truth is the same as a lie." 

Somehow, I don't think that reader is doing cartwheels down the middle of Locust Street in celebration of Nash being named the paper's editor, effective Feb. 3. 

Maybe it's because the paper changes editors at about the same rate as Younkers has  20-percent-off sales. 

It doesn't make any difference who sits in the editor's chair, of course. 

The paper's circulation keeps dwindling.  

I'm trying to think positively about this thing, and I really hope Nash becomes a heavyweight editor in the Ken McDonald and Geneva Overholser category, and I sure hope she doesn't wind up in the lightweight group that includes Mike Gartner, Jim Gannon, Dennis Ryerson, Paul Anger, Carolyn Washburn and Rick Green. 

But I have my doubts. 

The paper has so many problems that no one who works there--especially the editor--has time to be attending minor league baseball games or,  as reporter Joel Aschbrenner wrote in his story in the paper, "explore Des Moines' trail system." 

Actually, Nash will likely want to give more thought to actually going to Sec Taylor Stadium for any baseball games. 

Evidently, she hasn't done her homework, or else no one has informed her that the little clown who runs the minor league baseball operation in Des Moines is a constant critic of the paper.

But Nash will learn. 


Time will tell if she's got what it takes. 

As interested in sports as she appears to be, maybe she can assign someone to cover the football and basketball games played by Valley High School. 

It's the biggest school in the state, but the paper can't seem to find a way to get stories [sometimes not even the scores] about the Tigers in the paper. 

Things have gotten so bad down there that the paper doesn't even send a reporter to Drake's women's basketball games anymore.  

Not even the home games at the Knapp Center.

It relies on the same stuff many of us get via email from the university's sports information department. 

I guess I'm wondering just how eager Nash was to be named the editor here. 

I'm asking myself if she said, "Des Moines? Why Des Moines?" when she was told she was being sent here. 

Maybe her boss in Detroit said, "Relax.  Do like everyone else does these days in the newspaper business, especially those in the Gannett Co. chain. Rent, don't buy. Go to Des Moines for 18 months and we'll bring you back to Detroit with a promotion, a pay raise and a season pass to the Tigers' games."  

It's good that Nash is quick on her feet.

Obviously, she knows about all of the horrible things going on in the newspaper business because she's been in the middle of it. 

I did some research and found that, when she worked for a news operation in Ann Arbor, Mich., she beat the posse out of town. 

The place was dumping folks about like the way the paper here has been ruining careers.

 Some people think that if Nash hadn't bailed out of Ann Arbor in favor of Detroit, she'd have been told to go. 

Maybe that was the case anyway. 

All I know is, people in charge at the paper here evidently didn't think there was anyone in the newsroom who could handle the job of editor. 

Someone named Carol Hunter, who had been the interim editor, was passed over, and no one else was thought to have enough savvy to handle the job. 

Newsroom folks down there had better watch out. 

My advice is to never bring your lunch to work because you might not be there long enough to eat it. 

Recent layoffs at the paper have resulted in the sports columnist and an assistant sports editor who covered the Olympics being fired.

Numerous other writers and photographers, the cartoonist  [some of them talented people] have been shown the door.  

I'm told that the national news in the paper will soon be handled in a section put out by USA Today, the biggest paper in the Gannett chain. 

Count on it that more layoffs at the paper here will lose their jobs when that happens.  

And they will likely include all departments.

For all I know, the entire Des Moines news operation may soon be handled in the newsroom at USA Today

Anyway, Amalie, welcome to town.  

Maybe you can join Mike Mahon and me at free pie day at Village Inn later this winter, and we can talk about the Tigers--from both Detroit and Valley.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

As far as I know, I have never bought a pair of shoes, a shirt or anything else that was manufactured by something called Under Armour. Furthermore, I doubt that I ever will buy anything manufactured by Under Armour unless it's on the 75 percent off table at Target or Younkers. Heck, I guess I don't even know if Target and/or Younkers carries anything from Under Armour, and I don't care. I've been fond of clothes throughout my life, and I like good stuff, but I don't buy things because a certain company manufactures them or has its labels and/or logos on them. And another thing--I won't be buying anything made by Under Armour in the future because I know it will be four or five times as expensive as it is now. The reason is that Under Armour, like Nike and adidas, has gotten into the habit of signing huge shoe and apparel contracts with collegiate athletic departments. The latest deal involves Under Armour and Notre Dame. ESPN is saying the 10-year agreement calls for Notre Dame to be receiving $90 million in cash and merchandise. You know and I know that all of Under Armour's shoes, clothing and other stuff is going to cost more in the future. The company is going to charge Joe Six-Pack additional money so it can pay Notre Dame its $90 million. Frankly, I don't care what Under Armour and Notre Dame do. I don't pay any attention at all to which sports teams wear Nike or adidas shoes and clothes. I just know I won't be buying any of the stuff. They'd all go broke if it was up to me.

-- Ron Maly

Under Armour logo courtesy of Wikipedia

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

It Was a Huge Night for Valley's Basketball Program. Indeed, So Huge That the Results [a Whopping 2 Paragraphs Devoted To Each Team] Even Got Into the Paper, Which Is Unusual These days. The Paper Couldn't Get the Score Right On One Of the Games, But That's Business As Usual These Days, Too. The unbeaten and No. 2-Ranked Valley Girls' Team Sailed To a 101-35 Victory. It Was the 14th Consecutive Victory for the Tigers. In the Boys' Game, Valley Was a 59-16 Winner. I Wonder When the Last Time Was [If Ever] That a Valley Girls' Team Scored More Than 100 Points In a Game. I Also Wonder When the Last Time Was [If Ever] That a Tiger Boys' Team Has Held An Opponent To 16 Points, and When the Last Time Was [If Ever] That Ottumwa Has Scored Just 16 Points In a Game. Tough Night for the Bulldogs, and a Long Bus Ride Home. I've Also Got To Wonder If There's Any Sense for Ottumwa Teams To Continue Playing Schools Like Valley In the Central Iowa Metro League In the Future

Valley's girls stand at attention during the playing of the National Anthem. That was the turning point on a big Tuesday night for the Tigers' program. And, oh, by the way, the Valley vocal quartet [pictured below] that sang the anthem did a No. 1-ranked job, too.

The paper blew it again this morning on Valley High School, and it's becoming a common occurrence. No story and no score either on the unbeaten and second-ranked Tigers' 75-59 cruise past Ankeny last night in a girls' game at the Bill Coldiron Fieldhouse in West Des Moines. Valley's girls now have a 13-0 record heading into tonight's home game against Ottumwa. Frankly, I've never seen a team [unbeaten or otherwise] receive as little attention as these talented [and, yes, surprising] Valley girls get from a metropolitan daily newspaper. Sometimes there's just a final score of the game, sometimes [like this morning] there's nothing. Zippo. It's an embarrassment to sports journalism. I don't think anyone at the paper even knew Valley was playing last night. It's strange that the paper doesn't hire the sports editor of the student newspaper to call in the results of the games, and pay her [or him] a few bucks for the trouble. They call 'em stringers. But, with circulation in a constant free-fall, I'm guessing the paper's bean-counters wouldn't allow it. One other thing. That page 3 feature called CIML HOOPS in the paper on Tuesdays is a joke, too. Especially the boys' and girls' roundups. Any 10-year-old kid could put together the list of past scores and upcoming games and call it a summary. I would think a a roundup would include feature comments on each team. But you can't do that without talking to the coaches and players. Obviously, it hasn't dawned on anyone at the paper to do that.

Monday, January 20, 2014

I See That Wichita State Of the Missouri Valley Conference has a 19-0 Record And Is Ranked Either 4th Or 5th In the Latest Collegiate Basketball Rankings, Depending On Whose Polls You Believe. I've Been Checking the Schedules, And I Noticed that Wichita State Plays Drake At 7:05 p.m. Saturday At the Knapp Center In Des Moines. As Far As I'm Concerned, That Would Be a Great Time for the Bulldogs, Who Have Been Slumping, To Shock the Shockers And Make National News. I Mean, Coach Gregg Marshall And His Wichita State Players Shouldn't Win All Of Their Games, Should They? Speaking Of Upsets, Consider What Creighton Did. The Bluejays' Ethan Wragge Scored 9 3-Point Field Goals and His Team Set School and Big East Records With 21 Of the Long-Range Baskets En Route To a 96-68 Victory Over No. 4 Villanova

In other developments, My Neighbor Al, the Health Nut, was in my kitchen for a cup of Italian Dark Roast this afternoon. Al said he was in my kitchen a lot longer than he was at Hy-Vee this morning. "I went to Hy-Vee to read the paper, like I do on most mornings," Al explained. "It was a quick trip because the Monday paper is so skinny. Then I noticed that the phony Daniel P. Finney had a story on the front page, and that made it an even shorter trip. I've learned from you that nobody can believe what the guy writes, so I don't read any of his stuff. Or any of Roland H. Thompson's stories either." For those who haven't been keeping score, at home or on the road, Daniel P. Finney and Roland H. Thompson are very close longtime friends, possibly connected at the hip. Sometimes Daniel P. Finney even writes under Roland H. Thompson's byline, and that's why he was canned from at least one newspaper job and because his journalistic background is...well, checkered at best. For all I know, it could be that Daniel P. Finney writes under other aliases, too. He could be one of the reasons the paper's circulation is in a continual freefall. "Don't be too harsh on Roland H. Thompson," I told Al. "I think he writes a little better than Daniel P. Finney." "Yeah, but can you believe any of it?" Al asked. "I'm not sure," I said. "We'll talk about that some other time. Have another cup of Italian Dark Roast." "Sounds great," Al said. "And, oh, by the way, if you write about me in your column, make it in small print, will you?  I see you talked to Diane, my wife,  the other day, and put her in your column. I don't want her to think I'm trying to hog column space from her."  'Wish granted, Al," I said. "You're in the smallest typet I'm aware of," I said.

Cup of coffee courtesy of Google


Now back to the big type again. Creighton's basketball team deserves all the big type a computer can generate after sinking a university and Big East Conference-record 21 three-point field goals in an astounding 96-68 drubbing of a Villanova team that's ranked No. 4 nationally and had been previously-unbeaten in the conference.  I watched the game on TV, and Ethan Wragge was unstoppable for Creighton. He dumped in nine three-pointers for his team-leading 27 points as the Bluejays jumped atop the Big East standings with a 6-1 record. Doug McDermott, who played his high school basketball in Ames and is the son of Creighton coach Greg McDermott, drilled five 3's en route to 23 points. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Valley's Singers and Dancers Save Their Best for the Rousing Finale and Become the Show-Stopping Champions At Waukee's Star Struck Show Choir Invitational & Jazz Choir Festival

Susan Dousa Pfeil's Photos/Facebook

In a big-time show-stopper that was decided just before the clock struck midnight, Valley High School's show choir was judged the champion at the Star Struck Show Choir Invitational & Jazz Choir Festival on the Waukee High School stage. It was as the latest accomplishment by a Valley show choir that has progressed in leaps and bounds in recent years. Valley was in third place after the preliminary rounds, but turned in a spectacular performance in the championship round to defeat Iowa City West, which had led following the afternoon competition. Schools competing in addition to Valley and Iowa City West were Johnston, Indianola, Sioux City East, Southeast Polk, Cedar Rapids Xavier, Cedar Rapids Prairie, Norwalk, Totino-Grace of Fridley, MN, Dallas Center-Grimes, Winterset, ADM and Greene County. Because Waukee was the host school, its show choir didn't compete for the title. But singers and dancers from Waukee provided some outstanding work in exhibitions throughout the day and night.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Catching Up With Harry Burrus

My guest is Harry Burrus. A few decades ago, Harry went to graduate school at Iowa and was the Head Pro at Racquet Club West in Des Moines. For several years, I covered many of the tennis tournaments he played in and won, among them the Iowa Open. I am pleased to be doing this interview. So, welcome Harry.

Thanks, Ron. This is a real treat. While Iowa was in some respects a lifetime ago, it was a wonderful experience on many levels. It is all vividly there, up-front, on my memory screen. I recall a caption of yours at the Iowa Open after one of my matches: “The Bearded Man with the Booming Serve.” I presently do have a beard, but I am rather certain the serve is no longer “booming.”

First off, I’d like to hear about your poetry since you have a new book called Layers: New & Selected Poems. Maybe, too, touch upon travel and photography since I’ve noticed you utilize both in your writing.

I confess I feel strange talking about my writing. I’m a terrible promoter of my own work—I lack that used-car-salesman gene. However, I’ll try to break out of that mold.

Good. Maybe readers of this blog will buy your book. I think they very well might. Do you have any idea how many copies make a best seller in poetry?

I’m not really sure. I think around 2,000 copies. Maybe a few more.

That just might happen.

That would be incredible. I could use the help. I’m pleased that Karl Orend of Alyscamps Press Paris brought out the collection.

How can one order the book?

From one’s bookstore or directly from Amazon, which would be the easiest and quickest way. Go here:

When did your writing begin?

In elementary school I wrote some short fiction pieces, usually two to five pages, mostly about the pioneers moving west, finding and setting up a homestead, and dealing with the hardships of making a go of it.

I started writing poetry my sophomore year in high school, although I didn’t particularly think of it as poetry. I was making observations and recording thoughts and experiences. In the classroom, I was introduced to Shakespeare, Chaucer, Emerson, and Longfellow, the usual suspects and, really, I was disenchanted with them, largely because their work didn’t touch me. I can’t say I was moved by any of it. I would have liked something more contemporary, using conversational language rather than archaic English. That didn’t happen until later. I think if high school students were first introduced to contemporary poets, they would have a more favorable disposition towards poetry.

LAYERS: New & Selected Poems covers poems from high school through this decade. Poems are from seven previous collections and poems that appeared in European publications, plus new poems.

I recognized early on that images convey meaning and action. If presented well, readers will respond emotionally and intellectually. I prefer using images to symbols. Images are open-ended. They can inflate, exfoliate, and be in motion—symbols tend to be static and fixed.

Layers presents a range of subject matter and a variety of styles. Here are three poems for a taste:

Lyrics Chiseled by a Florentine

I guide my gondola
under Rialto bridge,
singing unrequited love songs.
Shutters are thrown open,
merchants abandon their shops,
leaving customers who want prosciutto.
Fish, learned in such matters,
swim on each side of me,
casting cold stares.
But my voice grows stronger;
my lyrics give hope to those hospitalized
and mesmerize chestnut vendors
who burn their hands and fruit.

The bells of the Campanile
ring out, greeting me.
I pass the Gritti Palace
while a mariachi band plays
O Solo Mio.”
It was like this in Cairo,
where on a clear, starless night,
I sang to the Sphinx
and answered all of its questions,
permitting it to lick my hand.
Camels from all over Egypt
left their masters
and came to the pyramids
to hear my song,
seeking a cure for their thirst.

One Way to Say Good-bye

It was seven-thirty on a Sunday morning
in June, my father’s second life
beginning, my mother’s too,
though she didn’t want to admit it.
My sister and her husband, still in bed,
heard Mom pleading in the family room.

Can’t we talk about this? Please . . .
whatever it is, we can work it out.
You can’t just leave. I beg you.”

There’s nothing to work out.
I’m sorry. I’ve made up my mind.
I’m going.”

Talk to me at least. Please.
Don’t go. We can do something.
Tell me, what it is, what’s wrong?
Don’t throw thirty-one years away.
If it’s something with me . . . talk
about it, tell me, I’m willing
to change. Anything.”

You’ll need to go in and sign
the papers. There’s nothing more
to say or discuss.
I don’t love you. I’m leaving.”

The night before, they’d fixed popcorn
and looked at family slides:
Mom on the swivel bar stool
next to Dad,
Lei Lane and Gene on the hardwood floor,
looking up at the portable memory
laughing at the changes,
mostly, each at his own,
discussing, recalling the trips,
like the one to the petrified forest,
which was a major disappointment,
seeing rocks two to four inches high,
hardly a tall forest frozen in time.

Many events were almost forgotten—
fading as the blue Ektachromes
flashing before them.
No one had noticed or thought
anything of the neat little stacks
Dad was making, separating the pictures,
placing some in a different box
from the others.

The morning sun burned strong
and hot when he drove away,
like the fire he’d left
sizzling inside 501 Hillside Drive.
The brown Plymouth Scamp pulled
a small U-Haul,
packed with a few clothes . . .
the racket stringing machine,
and a small box of Ektachromes.

And on a lighter note:


I don’t want
from you

what others
have had

or what you
have given them.

I offer you
my visions,

my humor, and
a willingness

to always go
for ice cream.

What has been the reaction to the collection? How have the reviews been?

I’m pleased to say the reviews have been very favorable. Extremely positive. I particularly liked one because it was from someone who doesn’t normally read poetry and he said he never in his life had read a poetry book from cover to cover. A first for him. His last two sentences were comforting—he got it: “Bottom line: You don't have to be a poetry jock to enjoy this book. There is something here for everyone.”

Where do you get your ideas for poems? Plays, too. Really, for any of your writing. How do ideas come to you?

I find that ideas emerge from the completed poem or play, or screenplay, not the other way around. I may have an image in mind that I want to explore. Sometimes it’s a locale that I want to incorporate into something. Maybe I’ll create some kind of situation and take it from there. The important thing is to begin. To start. It doesn’t matter that I don’t know where I’m going. Actually, I like that. The essential thing is I am looking for something and the quest becomes more of an adventure. When you are curious you make discoveries. With curiosity, you become involved.

I may begin with a line from a snippet of conversation. Or, a descriptive phrase or I might just make a statement. The piece builds largely by associations and aggregation. I periodically read through old notebooks and extract material from there. When traveling, I keep a journal and entries often serve as a foundation for a poem or another piece of writing. However, merely because I begin with something doesn’t mean I keep it. I may not. Nevertheless, it serves a purpose. It got the juices going.

Another thing I’ve always done is observe others. When I was actively engaged with tennis and saw a neat move or a nifty combination of shots made by a player, I’d figure out a way to incorporate the move or shots into my game, utilizing what I have. Making it my own. I do the same thing with photography, writing, and film. I’m particularly drawn to how time is handled and the various ways I can deal with it. Jean-Luc Godard, the French filmmaker, once stated that a film has a beginning, a middle, and an end, but not necessarily in that order.

Travel has been beneficial because I get a portal into how other cultures live. It strikes me it’s difficult, perhaps impossible, to have any sense of universality unless one engages other countries, particularly non-occidental ones.

Dougga, Tunisia

I sometimes use photographs as springboards—to get me going. I get curious and wonder what words might evolve. I’ll look at the image and begin to write. Here is a poem that evolved from a photograph I took in Chiapas:

Gypsy Girl
(Across from the Plaza of La Caridad Church
San Cristóbal de las Casas)

She wears a rose-colored dress
covered by a lime green apron.

She leans against the brown and white
sun-bleached wall of Tres Estrellas restaurant,
eating an ear of grilled corn sprinkled with paprika
and chili powder.

Her bare feet are hard, dry, and cracked.

She uses a turquoise rebozo wrapped around
her head for a turban.
Multiple eye-of-the-tiger spheres dangle
from her earlobes.

She looks as though she’s from one of the caves
of the Sierra Nevada foothills near Granada,
but this ten year old Indian lives in Zinacatán,
a village in the Chiapan highlands, and speaks
Tzotzil with Spanish as a second language.

Near the curb, a few feet away, her mother and four
sisters sit in the back of a canvas-covered truck
eating their elote on a stick.

When she finishes the treat,
this gypsy will return with her mother and sisters
to her village and make more pulseras to sell
in San Cristóbal without ever thinking of Spain.

Tell us a little about your early years and where you grew up.

My first couple of years found me in Texas: Lubbock, San Antonio, and Fort Worth. My sister, parents, and grandparents were all born in Texas. For three years, we lived in New York while my father was working on his doctorate at Columbia and playing pro football. He’d been drafted by the Chicago Bears but declined because he wanted to pursue an advanced degree. When he finished Columbia, we moved to St. Louis (Webster Groves) where my father was a professor at Washington University. I was five.

In addition to tennis what other sports were you involved in?

Ping-pong and swimming were my first. My sister’s too. Ping-pong was a good way to learn the various spins that would be applicable in tennis. I remember my father putting two quarters down and saying that my sister and I could each have a quarter if we swam the width of the Washington U pool. You should have seen my sister’s flutter kick. The next challenge was swimming the length of the pool underwater. For several summers, I swam on the Webster Groves swimming team. Lei Lane (my sister) did too and she was never without her box of sugar cubes. My best event was the breaststroke.

Lei Lane and Harry
Forehand Photo Shoot

Cub Scout softball was next. I was into it. I was the pitcher. After that, I played one season on a baseball team sponsored by Yorkshire Hardware. Also played a little corkball. I encountered basketball in seventh grade and really worked at it. My father put a basket, regulation height, on the overhang of our backyard door and enlarged the patio. I practiced shooting for hours. We had a good ninth grade team coached by Al Burr. Towards the end of the season, Dale Dierberg and I were moved up to the varsity which was cool. Dale and I had a standard agreement: if I had the ball and couldn’t get a shot off, I’d pass it to Dale, and vice versa. So, the last game of the season, I passed it to Dale and he sank it from just inside the head of the key. Dale was our playmaker the next three years and I was the leading scorer of the Parkway Colts my junior and senior years.

Two other sports I enjoyed and played a lot when I was in Fairfield the fall before I started Iowa were volleyball and badminton. Played a lot of badminton, an amazingly fast sport. We had a squash court in Racquet Club West and I played several times. For a couple of years, in the late 70s, I was a serious dart shooter and entered a number of money tournaments.

When did you first come to Iowa or become aware of Iowa?

I clearly recall the moment I was introduced to Iowa. I was playing in a 15 & Under tournament in Forest Park, later the site of the Dwight Davis Tennis Center. Several of us were waiting for our matches and I was in a conversation with Tom Maxiener. He casually mentioned playing a tournament in Iowa and that a Richard Friedman was doing particularly well. A tournament in Iowa—geez, Iowa sounded so mysterious and intriguing to 13-year-old me, conjuring up Indian names like Keokuk, Ioway, and Ottumwa. Ironically, a short time later, I played doubles with Richard Friedman of Des Moines and my last year in the juniors I played with Bob Stock of Grundy Center. We were number ten in the country that year. I learned about a tournament in southeast Iowa and every September, all through high school and some years after, I’d drive the 210 miles up Highway 61, snaking along the Mississippi, passing through Mark Twain country, and play the Burlington event.

You know talking about times past is rather bizarre to me. When I was a young teen, reading about writers and artists who would regularly meet in a bistro and discuss events that happened 40 and 50 years ago, I thought it was amazing they could do that—so much time had passed for them and they had these stories they could share. Well, we can easily do that now. When Megan (my wife) and I are traveling and having a good time, she’ll ask about the time we have left on the trip and usually I say we have more in front of us than behind us. Which is good. Reviewing all of this, I have reached the point in life where there is more time behind me than I have in front of me—at least as far as years are concerned. Yikes! I’d better get busy. So much to accomplish. Luis Buñuel, the great Spanish filmmaker said, “Memory is what makes our lives. Life without memory is no life at all.”

Another foreshadowing event for Iowa was the 1964 Missouri Valley Doubles Championships. I was playing with Bill Heinbecker, a St. Louisian who had played for Notre Dame, and in the semis we played Steve Wilkinson, who played number one for Iowa, and Lance Lumsden who was Jamaica’s top player and the number one at SIU Carbondale. Steve and I talked a little about Iowa. In the finals, Bill and I defeated Gene Land and Bob McKenna. At that time, little did I know I’d be going to grad school at Iowa, living in Des Moines, and playing a variety of Iowa tournaments.

Thinking about Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. . . that was another tournament I played as a teen—about a two-hour drive south. Dick Lefevre was the tennis coach from 1955-1993 and had been a classmate of my father’s at Columbia, the only classmate of my dad’s I ever met. Dick had a real knack for recruiting foreign players. The Sprengelmeyers of Dubuque had an outstanding record there. I always got a kick at tournaments seeing the four Sprengelmeyer brothers pulling themselves out of a VW ready to play.

In the mid-sixties, Washington University played Iowa and I got to see my friend Arden Stokstad whom I’d met years earlier at the Burlington tournament. Arden and I had won our respective state high school singles the same year. I think playing on the fast, slick, wooden boards of the WU Field House proved too much for the Iowa team.

The summer of 1966 my parents moved to Fairfield where they taught at Parsons College. My father had turned 45 and was eagerly looking forward to playing senior division events. I visited often and enjoyed Fairfield’s small town ambiance. It didn’t take long to walk the square and visit the various shops.

After Washington University, I taught English at a Prep School in Cheshire, CT for a year and played a number of New England tournaments which was a different scene from Missouri Valley tournaments. For three summers, 1966-68, I taught tennis at the New England Tennis Camp which used the Cheshire Academy facilities. After Cheshire, my plan was to attend Pasadena Playhouse and pursue acting. I had been accepted but, to my surprise, the school suddenly closed in 1969, which actually turned out to be a good thing for me.

I applied to grad school at Iowa and began classes in early 1970. I knew Don Klotz, the Iowa coach from '48 to '68, from previous tournaments and Mike Schrier, who had a terrific smile and played on the Iowa team, had told me about John Winnie, who had followed Klotz as coach. Mike knew I was interested in cinema and mentioned Winnie’s special area was documentary film. Mike was getting ready to go to Spain and was going to take his car over. I haven’t seen Mike since. I need to track him down. I also had encountered Sam Becker and his son at tournaments. Sam was the chair of the Speech and Dramatic Arts department. Klotz, Winnie, and Becker, each very different, were fine gentlemen. It was a pleasure knowing them.

July of 1970, I’d had one semester at Iowa and my father and I played the Ottumwa Open tournament. It was incredibly windy and abnormally chilly. I won the men’s singles defeating Bill Rompf and won the doubles with Paul Peschel who played number one for Parsons. My father won the veterans, which in this case was the 35s, defeating Dick Judisch of Bettendorf and the two of them won the 35 doubles. The Ottumwa Courier had a nice piece on us with the title A Family Affair.

Talking about doubles, at what point did you and your father start playing national Father & Son tournaments?

I had suggested to my father that we try some national tournaments and for several years he resisted. I pointed out, trying to appeal to his competitive nature, that we had done well playing doubles in the Men’s division in the St. Louis District and had been the top Father & Son team in the Missouri Valley section. We needed to move up and challenge ourselves.

Finally, he relented and we journeyed to Philadelphia and played the grass at the Germantown Cricket Club—Bill Tilden’s early base. This was our first time on grass. We always relied on our speed to chase down lobs and the first lob that went over our heads I casually said I had it, thinking I had plenty of time, and ran back to get it. Well, I hadn’t counted on the ball bouncing just a few inches and I didn’t get to it in time. From then on, we made a point of taking the lobs in the air, hitting an overhead or running back a lot faster.

We had a good first national tournament, reaching the semis. In the quarters, we played Bobby Riggs and his son Larry. We won the first set 6-0. At the net Bobby whispered, “You shouldn’t beat people 6-0.” Riggs, always the hustler. I recalled Jack Kramer, three years younger than Riggs, writing that in their teens Riggs always tried to beat him love and love. We won the second set 6-1.

Our first big win was in Rhode Island at the Agawam Hunt Club. We defeated the number one team in the country: Chauncey & Chum Steele. This was on grass and these courts were really soft and the ball didn’t bounce high at all. We also did well at Longwood Cricket Club in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, which was also on grass. In a big match in the quarters, I was serving, and it was add out and my father, who never poached, moved to his left, cutting off the cross court return, and executed a beautiful backhand volley winner down the middle. After that move, we ran out the set and the match.

We were fortunate and tended to always reach the semis or finals. Other tournaments where we did well were the clays in Cincinnati and the clays at the Homestead Club in Hot Springs, Virginia. Our highest ranking was number 2 in the country. My dad always played well and, if I had raised my game in some key matches, we would have had a good shot at being number one.


Do you think that being at Iowa helped your game?

Absolutely. Working with the Iowa tennis team nearly every day for two years really sharpened and elevated my play. It was intense, consistent practice, with a variety of good players.

An example is the 1971 Midwest Indoors in Chicago held at Alan Swartz’s Midtown Tennis Club. Huge draw. 128. A lot of strong players. I was fifth or sixth seed. I played Steve Wilkinsen in the finals and I didn’t drop a set the entire tournament. That tournament was song driven. By that I mean when I first walked into the club, Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind” was playing. I looked at the 64 draw on the table and didn’t see my name. Hmm. I asked to see the other half and the woman slid over the second half of the draw. When I went to lunch, dinner, or breakfast at different places, over several days, that song was playing. I took it as an omen—I knew I was going to win the tournament.

Another example of how playing with the Iowa team helped my game was the Fairfield Memorial Day Open. Several Iowa players were in it as well as Jim Watson. I played Trey Waltke of St. Louis and Los Angeles in the finals. Trey has wins over Stan Smith, McEnroe, and Conners. We are in the third set. I’m up 6-3 in the seven-point tiebreak. I have three match points. All I had to do is win one point. I have three chances to win one point. Well, Trey wins 3 straight points to even the score at 6 all. We go back and forth and he finally wins two points in row. Ugh!

One day I was hitting with Ian Phillips and a nice-looking brunette came over to my side of the court and asked if I’d be willing to hit with Galway Kinnell. Kinnell was a visiting poet. I was aware of Kinnell’s poetry. I was curious about him and his tennis, so I was agreeable. We set up a time. Galway liked to hit the ball hard. After we hit, we discussed his poem “The Bear.”

Who were some of the players on the Iowa team then?

Jim Esser, Craig Sandvig, Bruce Nagel, Lee Wright, Steve Houghton, Rod Kubat, Ian Phillips, and Rob Griswold. They were a great group of guys and it was enjoyable being with them.

How did you do with them?

I never lost a set.

Have you had any contact or interaction with any of the team members?

I saw Bruce Nagel frequently when he was teaching in Des Moines during the mid 70s. We played several tournaments together. Currently, he’s Director of Tennis at a club in Hawaii. I saw Ian Phillips a number of times in Houston in the late 70s and early 80s. I’ve communicated with Rob Griswold who was the history chair at OU for 16 years. I believe he’s focusing on teaching and research now. I’ve exchanged e-mails with Craig Sandvig who is involved with a tennis club in St. Louis. A while back, I learned that Lee Wright was at a club in Houston and I called him.

You must have numerous trophy cases, perhaps a trophy room.

Nope. They just take up space and attract dust. I donated the trophies, bowls, and cups to friends who were running tournaments. The silver trays I gave to a neighbor who was starting a café. Unfortunately, he wasn’t successful. I have no idea where those trays are now. I kept the first trophy I won. The Webster Groves Jaycee Boys Winner.

What is the story behind you being the pro at Racquet Club West in Des Moines? How did that come about?

I was teaching film and creative writing in Galesburg, Illinois and Jim Burns, originally of St. Joseph, a friend from Missouri tournaments contacted me. Jim was pursuing his doctorate in history and also teaching tennis at a club. He suggested I would probably do better financially teaching tennis than being in academics. Serendipitously, a short time later, I was contacted by several Missouri Valley clubs who were looking for a head pro. These search committees knew me from Iowa and Missouri Valley tennis.

I checked a few of the clubs out. I knew some of the people in Des Moines, liked their attitude, and decided to accept their offer. Jim Watson, another player I knew from tournaments, was the pro at Racquet Club South which was the sister club of the new Racquet Club West. Jim and I won the Nebraska Open and we’d played a tournament in San Luis Potosí, Mexico. When Watson left I was pleased to see Jim Burns become the pro at South. Jim’s a fine player and teacher and presently teaches at a club in Phoenix. He’s also an excellent bird photographer. In the finals of the National Public Parks doubles, we were in the third set, playing the seven-point tiebreak, I was serving at match point and double faulted. Jim nonchalantly turned and gave me an expressionless look.

On several occasions, I played some fun mixed doubles against Governor Ray. I also won the Iowa Kodel Cup Mixed Doubles twice. Sue Oertel was one of my partners. Sue had a good-looking game. I suspect she still does.

I had a wonderful four years in Des Moines and had the pleasure of knowing some great people. Some names readily surface: Ruth & Paul, Harriet, Scotty, Jack Ver Steeg, Florence & Glenn, Arden & Robyn, Linda, Jim, PE, Howdy, Roger, Roberta, the Knapps, Murphys, Swartzes, and the Hulls. I am now older than those people were when I knew them—holy smokes!

Let’s shift gears and move into your other pursuits. I’d like to broach each of them, which are many, and maybe take one or two at a time.


I really enjoy hearing about how you go about creating a specific form. Were there periods where you were writing poetry more than anything else? You know, if you want, just roll from one area into another. I want to hear about all of it.

Okay, I can do that. The 80s through the 90s were an intense, fertile poetic and photographic period. Travel, too, was an ongoing exploration. For me, a different environment provokes and serves as a stimulus, igniting the writing. Although, usually it isn’t about the present, that comes later. What’s strange is that the foreign locale acts as a distiller of objectivity, but the looking glass reveals something from the past.

Early on, I usually took several camera bodies with different lenses and different film stocks (color and black & white). Wearing three cameras through the narrow souks of a medina sometimes was a little touchy. Eventually, I became more minimalistic, taking only one Nikon (versus 3) and a small camera as backup. However, the truth is one will do just fine. Many trips I used one camera. Certainly when it comes to weight and mobility and climbing over ruins and sand dunes, less is more.

Pacific Coast, Mexico

Market day in Sololá, Guatemala

I’m big on clippings from brochures, maps, restaurant menus, hotel and theatre receipts, napkins, matches, newspapers, ticket stubs, etc. I often go into hotels, ask about their prices and pick up stationery. Saves money, plus, I didn’t have to pack any. All fodder for writing and art projects.

Festival of the Sahara

                                            Megan and the Gargoyles

In the early 90s, I became immersed in a number of areas: visual poetry, painting, fiction, mail art, screenplays, rubber stamps, and collage. I had never encountered visual poetry in college or graduate school. Had not heard of the term “vispo.” I first saw some visual poetry in the Italian publication Offerta Speciale. I was familiar with Apollinaire’s Calligrammes and Mallarmé’s positioning of words on a page where their placement underscored a specific meaning. Essentially, visual poetry needs to be seen, it can’t just be read to you. It may utilize numbers, math equations, letters, words, colors, images, or just have the words and letters arranged in a specific way. I have five visual poetry poems in Layers. Here is an example:

About the same time that I became aware of visual poetry, I discovered the mail art network. Many artists were disenchanted with the gallery-juried system and were tired of what they viewed as an elitist structure. With mail art, artists shared their work—be it drawings, collage, photographs, or painting with one another—through the mail. Artists in various countries would announce an exhibition, sometimes called a “congress,” and invite artists to submit their work. Usually the work was exhibited in a gallery, rental space, a bar, on a wall, in a museum, or even in someone’s home. I participated in a number of these events.

After thinking about it for several years, I decided to do a literary—art publication featuring visual poetry, poetry, collage, drawings, and photography. I called it O!!Zone. I wanted to see how quickly I could make it an international publication. Many people in the mail art network became contributors. Within three years, it came to be considered one of the best and most influential international publications for visual poetry and the literary arts. I loved going to my mailbox and finding work from Russia, Cuba, Europe, and South American. It was wonderful stuff. My correspondence was huge.

2001 O!!Zone cover by Russian artist Dmitry Babenko

I really jumped into making collages. I used photographs, markers, and rubber stamps. I painted using acrylics and watercolors. I drew and applied choice clippings from various print sources. I liked that it could be a continuous, unending activity. I used the envelopes from O!!Zone contributors as my canvas / backdrop for a series called Oaxaca Stelae. Pátzcuaro Glyphs is a series using postcards as the canvas. Another series is called Tanganyika Petals.

The spring of 1994, Megan and I, my sister and her husband, and my father’s brother journeyed to Winter Haven, Florida to visit my father. Lei Lane and Gene (her husband) had arrived first. My sister placed a rubber stamp of a deep sea diver she had picked up in St. Augustine under my motel room pillow. I had no idea that she was using rubber stamps in collages and that she, too, was learning about the Maya and reading about how to decipher glyphs. We were both pleasantly surprised. Strange coincidence. We each continued acquiring and using rubber stamps. Lei’s work appeared on two covers of RUBBERSTAMPMADNESS: The Magazine For Stamp Artists and Collectors.

A few of my rubber stamps

 Oaxaca Stelae #82


 Pátzcuaro Glyphs #8

                                             Tanganyika Petals #22

When I was doing darkroom work, I often had to do two or three trial prints before I was satisfied with a final print. I had all of these test prints and wondered what I could do with them. I decided to use them as a canvas and painted on them, primarily using acrylics. Sometimes, I would incorporate the black and white image into the new piece; other times, I might use just a small part of the image in the new work. And sometimes, I didn’t use the photographic image at all and painted all over it.

                             Fanning Thought    (Acrylic on Black & White Print)

Primordial Question (Acrylic and Paper on B & W Print)

                                    Parade of the Crazies (Watercolor)

In early '92, I did a 1,000-page first draft of The Hummingbird Wizard. That summer while we were in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Megan proofed the novel. I let it sit for a long time and then began tweaking it. I put it away again. I am now going to alter the structure, supplement the story, focusing on additional characters, and do some pruning. I’m glad now that I didn’t send it out as originally written. Although, I did write a few queries, looking to generate interest.

In 1992 I wrote my first screenplay, The Immortal. Over the next 14 years I wrote 12 more. During the height of Julia Roberts’ popularity, I sent her company my script The Housewife. Amazingly, I heard back from them and they needed me to sign a release. I did. They said they would get back to me in a few weeks. I wondered. Well, I received a phone call and when I heard her assistant’s words that Julia really liked the script and saw herself in the part, I was soaring. Then the proverbial shoe fell and my moment of exhilaration came spiraling down. Unfortunately, Julia “must decline,” I was told. She had played a housewife who had a serious problem with her husband in Sleeping with the Enemy. Even though the scripts were very different, she didn’t want to play another housewife with a husband who is trying to kill her. Bummer!

A few years later, I wrote, produced, and directed the feature Marrakech. Megan was executive producer. It was a wonderful and rewarding experience. I’d like to do another film. I certainly have enough material, but films are bloody expensive and take huge time bites out of your life. Raising money is not a pleasant task. I’d like to work with John Darbonne again. He shot and edited Marrakech. John is a consummate filmmaker—he can do it all. Maybe, I should write a no-cost feature. I will continue to send out queries to production companies and studios. However, getting something accepted is such a long shot, in part, because they have their own coterie of writers. I also don’t have an agent and most companies insist a recognized agent submit the script. Maybe I will get lucky.

One afternoon in 2007, I found myself sitting on our rooftop terrace and I began writing a play. That play was Aztec Daughter which was performed in California, Pennsylvania. More plays rapidly followed. Prom King & the Fiancée and The Letter have had readings. Presently, I’m working on Wade Cooper: Action Cowboy Star. I am considering directing three of the one-acts as a triptych. I am submitting plays to theatres. Unfortunately, many of them insist on agent submissions or a known theatre person endorsing me.

That has to be frustrating.

It is. And it gets old. Still, you go after it. There is a Octavio Paz quote that I believe is applicable to me: “Beyond myself, somewhere, I wait for my arrival.”

I’m curious; I’m guessing that in addition to your ongoing projects you have some new pursuits. Do you?

Yes. A couple of things. I’ve become very keen on reading about Route 66. For many years, primarily at Christmas, our family would make the journey from St. Louis to Lubbock to visit my paternal grandparents. I eagerly looked forward to the trip. My grandparents owned a neighborhood food store—Burrus Grocery. Early on, the drive utilized Route 66 to Amarillo. We’d then head south on 87 to Lubbock. 87 is now 27. I’ve been recalling the little towns we passed through and places we stopped to eat and where we’d spend the night. I’ve strained to rewind and see them in my mind’s eye. One book I particularly like has photos of how places originally looked 60 or more years ago and what they look like now. Most places that were once vibrant are now either a ruin or an empty space. One thing I found annoying is when I would be reading about these small towns and I’d go to look them up on a current AAA or Rand McNally map only to discover most are no longer listed. Primarily because the interstate passed them by decades ago and those cities are barely there or just ghost towns. So, I began looking on eBay. I needed a vintage map, one that reflected the Route 66 landscape. For a while nothing was listed. I then saw a 1949 Rand McNally. Perfect. I pounced. It is a little worn and has some loose pages and the staples are rusted, but . . . the towns are all there! The simple pleasures.

What I find striking is while the interstate clearly is more direct and saves time, visually and culturally, it’s lacking. Gone are the motels, gas stations, diners, and curio shops with character, instead, replaced with more homogenization—a sameness that engulfs us—Pablum.

I’ve always had an appreciation for the moment—I wish I’d known more of the backstory of what brought me to that moment. I am much more aware now of how certain places, relationships, and situations have a limited shelf life, much of it being inevitable. There was a time this never crossed my mind. Not once when we made the trek to Lubbock did I consider Burrus Grocery would not be around. In '82, '84, and '87, Megan and I went to Lubbock to spend time with my grandmother. In 1982 the closed store was still standing and “Burrus” could be made out on the upper front wall. Shortly thereafter, the area became apartments.

While I think of myself as one who is curious about a number of things, I regret that I did not ask my parents about their early years as preteens and what their lives were like as teenagers and even about those early years when Lei Lane and I arrived. Nor did I ask my parents about their relationships with their parents. Later, when I was more aware, I still didn’t pose these questions, in part, because I thought I had plenty of time to do so. But sometimes the sand in the hourglass falls at an accelerated rate and puff, time is up, and the opportunity is lost. Gone forever. Game over. What I’ve learned is if there are people you are truly curious about and would like to know more about them, don’t put off asking questions . . . their shelf life might expire sooner than you think. Be a cobra and strike now.

Many of the people that I knew in Iowa have died. A little while ago, I was curious about certain ones and I tried to look them up. I found several by searching their names in conjunction with obits. Reading about them I wish I’d known them better. One example is Dick Judisch, my father’s Iowa doubles partner. During World War II, he served in the North African campaign under Patton. I’m sure he had plenty of interesting stories.

The other thing that has happened to my life is Molly. A Golden Retriever we adopted from a rescue organization in 2004. To say she has enriched our lives is an understatement. What is remarkable is we were not dog people. A little over two years ago, Megan read an article in the local paper about a dog named Donald who was at the local animal shelter. Megan suggested we start volunteering to walk dogs at the shelter one time a week for an hour. I said there was no way I could commit to an hour a week—I had too many projects I wanted to complete. Well, straightaway, we were hooked. We walk dogs three hours a day, 7 days a week. I take photos and videos of Megan with the dogs for the shelter’s website. We write articles for the paper. We are now on the shelter’s board and are heavily involved in running the operation. And, the big kicker is, I never anticipated I’d be so smitten with these animals, so emotionally tethered to them. They are so cool. I realize the big picture is getting them adopted; however, I have a real problem with dealing with seeing them go. I miss them.

What is the best way for people to keep up with what you are doing?

Go to my website. It has information about all of my work: synopses of plays and screenplays, examples of collages and photographs, as well as a clip from Marrakech. There is also contact information.

And if someone wants to order Layers?

Molly and Harry


RON MALY'S COMMENTS: I headlined this column Catching Up With Harry Burrus. Why?     Because catching up with the newest adventure of this man of many talents is sometimes a challenge. It was a pleasure to have this prolific writer and artist take the time to give me and my readers an update on his always-exciting life. Among professional writers in the state of Iowa, I have become known as the man who has perhaps traveled to more exotic places in the world than any other.  Sometimes it's mind-boggling when I think of all the places I have been. And I'm always on the lookout for more far-away travels.  And Harry Burrus? Well, he's certainly right up there with the biggest boys of world travel.  He's been there and he's done that. As Burrus mentioned, he and I first crossed paths many years ago during my newspaper days.  I was always the guy who was assigned to write about the tennis tournaments and the people who played in them. I liked every minute of it. Well, almost every minute. Competitive tennis--at least the type in which Harry Burrus participated-- is a very difficult game to play, and it is a sport made up of some very intelligent, complex men and women. I enjoyed finding out what made them tick. I regarded Harry Burrus as certainly one of the most interesting of all those players. Perhaps the most interesting. I had forgotten that I once referred to him as The Bearded Man With the Booming Serve, but I'm glad he reminded me I did.  If anyone--beards and booming serves included--who played in the tennis tournaments throughout the state of Iowa has as many diverse talents as Harry Burrus,  I don't know who it is.  Burrus has been sending me his well-written books for years, and I have thoroughly enjoyed all of them. But I had no concept until now of the many things he has accomplished in his professional career. You name it, Harry Burrus has done it, or can do it,  And he does it all exceedingly well. Again, thanks very much, Harry, for taking the time to inform us about yourself.  I wish you continued success in the future with all of your endeavors.