Category Archives: Writing

Robert “Bob” Friedman, Publisher, Best Friend

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Photo by Beth Hines

I met Bob Friedman in 1962 at the first creative writing class ever offered at the University of Virginia. The small class was established by George Garrett, a significant novelist and poet, who became a mentor to Bob, me, and Henry Taylor, who later won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. The three of us performed the role of publishers for an anthology of creative writing titled New Writing from Virginia. George Garrett edited the content and Pulitzer poet Richard Wilbur wrote the introduction. Although the small book was privately published, Bob and I were photographed presenting the book to the UVA President in 1963, our graduation year.

Monty and Bob in 1963

Monty (l) and Bob present a copy of New Writing from Virginia to UVA President Edgar Shannon in 1963 prior to sailing for Europe.

Since I had been to Europe as a 16-year-old third cook on a Norwegian coal freighter, my post graduate goal was to return to Europe and live the expatriate lifestyle of writers like Henry Miller and Ernest Hemingway. Bob liked the idea of the adventure and joined me in booking one-way freighter passage to Europe. Our parents were consoled in our recklessness by the fact that traveling together we might survive. When we enrolled in a graduate school program there, we would also be deferred from the Vietnam War military draft.

Our adventure began in Amsterdam, Holland and continued in Germany, France, England, and finally Denmark and Sweden. We nearly died in a snowstorm while hitchhiking in rural Germany, and we went completely broke and on welfare in Paris when the checks from home could not be cashed.

On the late afternoon of November 22, 1963, Bob and I took a train from London to the town of Virginia Water to be the guests of a friend for dinner at his gentlemen’s club. We were greeted with the news that our President, John F. Kennedy, had been shot; and before we took the midnight train back to London, Kennedy was reported dead. Everywhere we went on our trip to Denmark, flags were at half-mast, and when we were recognized as Americans, people tried to console us. For Bob and me, it was an especially bonding experience.

Later, Bob in Copenhagen and I in Stockholm did not get the university credits necessary to preserve our deferred draft status. Bob rushed back to the States, and George Garrett got him accepted into the MFA writing program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro within twenty-four hours. I remained confident that a major leg surgery done four years earlier would keep me out of the Army. I was wrong.

More than a year later I visited Bob at UNC-G as a soldier on leave who expected to go to war in Vietnam as the Plans and Training NCO of an evacuation hospital. I learned on that visit that Bob would never reject me no matter how reckless and desperate I behaved. Bob never judged or turned away a friend. He was unique in that way.

While stationed at Ft. Polk, Louisiana, I had a girlfriend in New Orleans in her last year of becoming a registered nurse. If I could get leave to come to Mardi Gras, she promised to find us a cheap hotel on the parade route. I invited Bob to join the party and help me with the expenses. Bob got a blind date with a girl from the very classy Sophie Newcomb College, and the four of us had a three-day party on a balcony overlooking the major Mardi Gras parade route. Bob and I later married those girls.

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African Delta by Monty Joynes

When I was in Scandinavia, I began to paint in the company of well-established artists of the Bauhaus Situationist movement. Before I was drafted into the Army, I had exhibited my paintings and been recognized in Danish and Swedish media. Back in Norfolk, Virginia after two years of active military service, I opened a small art gallery—Gallery Saint—and failed to make a living as an artist and exhibitor of modern art. Bob had given me money to open the gallery, and he and Donna had attended my one-man show there. For their support, I gave them a painting titled “My Three Sons.” Bob ultimately had three sons—Jonathan, Matthew, and Marc. I am very pleased that they call me Uncle Monty.

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Bob with his three sons Marc, Jonathan, and Matthew

By the time I became self-sufficient and married with a first daughter, Bob took his MFA degree to the University of Wales and began to work on a Ph.D. My extra job in those years was as an international education consultant to the Methodist Board of Higher Education. To promote their summer enrichment program at the University of Graz in Austria, I recommended that we produce a documentary film about the student experience. The only way that the film could be financed, however, was for me to produce, write, direct, and edit it. In planning the production, I arranged for a two-day stopover in London so that Bob and Donna could come from Wales to join my then-wife Theresa and me. When Donna saw the huge bathtub in our gentrified London hotel room, all she wanted to do was to soak off the Wales coal dust from her skin and hair.

The four of us got into the standing-room-only line at the Wimbledon  Lawn Tennis Championships to see American Arthur Ashe advance into the semi-finals. Looking for a better option, I used a radio station press card to bluff my way to a set of official press credentials and was given a seat next to the New York Times sports reporter very near the Royal Box. I offered my companions turns-of-use with the press credential, but they would have none of it. Bob loved to tell that story because it proved me to be a colorful character. I was always in comic relief to Bob’s stoicism, but I took pride in being able to make him laugh.

I founded Metro Hampton Roads Magazine in 1970, and by 1971 it was a growing monthly. By 1974, I need editorial help, and Bob, after teaching at East Carolina University, needed a job. He became my Managing Editor. Some of Bob’s staff hires attempted a take-over of the magazine, and I took a month-long vacation to prove that they were not qualified. The owner, seeing that the magazine would miss its printer deadline, called me back to fix the problems. I immediately fired Bob and his staff. My best friend! Years later, while visiting Bob in Charlottesville, his housemate was very surprised to learn of the firing.

“You fired Bob?”

“Yes,” I admitted.

“Why?”

“I had to so that he could publish my books.”

During our work together at Metro, Bob also contributed photos published in the magazine, including cover shots. For a cover shot about the funeral business, I lowered Bob into an open grave, and he shot the grisly real gravediggers looking down at him. I paid the gravediggers $5 each, and we walked away and kept silent until Bob started screaming to be pulled up. We had gone to the cemetery hoping for a picture opportunity. What we got was fantastic. Bob, however, never laughed when I told that story.

spies-picAnother fine mess that I got Bob into was the cover and interior shots for “The Spies Among Us.” I took Bob to a rooftop overlooking  the Newport News Shipyard where an aircraft carrier and a nuclear submarine were under construction. We were acting like spies to prove a point. The magazine attorney warned us to inform the government before the pictures were published.  The Navy, the Pentagon, and the FBI went crazy when they saw the pictures. Some of the photos were rejected, but the magazine was ultimately published on schedule, but at the last minute. There was a week, however, when Bob thought that we might end up in Federal prison.

Soon after Metro, Bob founded The Donning Company and established it as the major publisher of pictorial history books in the country. I had left Metro to become Associate Publisher of Holiday, the national travel magazine, and then returned to Metro under new ownership. I quit within a year to pursue personal writing projects.

More to the point, I was a divorced would-be novelist living in a second-rate apartment which happened to be a block away from the Donning offices. Realizing my humbled circumstances, Bob hired me as an acquisition editor. I traveled to cities and towns as distant as Dover, Delaware and Bradford, Pennsylvania to find local historians and owners of photo collections who I could put together for a pictorial history.

When I began to write my first novel and had a manuscript, who did I show it to? Bob, of course. Bob read almost every novel that I ever wrote, some 22 of them.  He never offered any criticism, but he always encouraged. By the time I asked him to read my fourth unpublished novel, Naked Into The Night, Bob was co-founder of The Hampton Roads Publishing Company located in Virginia Beach.

Years had passed, and I was happily remarried and relocated to Boone, NC in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I had found my life’s companion, Pat, after spending a year of spiritual retreat mostly in silence. I did not want to be the arrogant, judgmental, and violent person that I had become. I wanted a quiet mind. Bob understood my transformation experience; and when I brought him Naked Into The Night, he realized it was the product of a new literary genre that he termed Visionary Fiction.

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Bob, Monty, and Frank DeMarco

The publication of Naked in 1997 with the back cover genre notation “Visionary Fiction” established Hampton Roads as an innovative fiction publisher in addition to its catalog of Metaphysical and Self-Help books. After Naked, Bob, with partner Frank DeMarco, published Lost in Las Vegas (1998), Save the Good Seed (1999), and Dead Water Rites (2000) in what has come to be termed “The Booker Series.”

When Bob and Frank relocated Hampton Roads to Charlottesville, VA, I became with other HRP authors annual participants in the Virginia Festival of the Book. Bob was by then prominent in the Independent Publishers Association, and he was also a member of the VA Book Festival program committee.

I was a guest in Bob’s home when Neale Donald Walsch visited for the first time. Bob had “discovered” Neale, so to speak, and published what would become the huge worldwide best seller Conversations with God. Bob needed our bed to host Neale and his wife, so Pat and I were sent to a rural B&B that couldn’t have been more grand if it had belonged to Elvis. We had a huge luxury suite, and outdoors were the wonderful amenities of a large swimming pool, a ten-person California redwood hot tub, and a free-standing sauna. The owner-chef was trained at the Cordon Bleu, so we also enjoyed gourmet breakfasts. Poor Neale. If he only knew.

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A gathering of friends at the Virginia Festival of the Book. Left to right Bob, Va. Poet Laureate Kelly Cherry, Monty, Pulitzer Prize Poet Henry Taylor, and NC Poet Laureate Fred Chappell.

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Monty in chef regalia on Bob’s deck at reunions.

 

Our annual visits to Bob’s residences in the Charlottesville area evolved into a routine. Bob teased me by saying that he didn’t know what he enjoyed more –my books or my cooking. He especially liked my pork tenderloin dinners and my Shrimp Alfredo. Another member of our reunion gang, Ed Catania, cooked another night. His Rosemary Chicken was always prized. Danny Lliteras, one of Bob’s most prolific authors and brother-like friend, and Jonathan and Matt, Bob’s sons, were left to the cleanup.

 

 

Another tradition was an afternoon of smoking good cigars and drinking something special like Bailey’s Bristol Cream in the yard or on the deck. None of us were regular smokers, but the cigar smoke seemed to stimulate the conversation and make us laugh.

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Monty, Ed, and Bob smoking cigars on the deck at Faber

 

Annual Reunion Gang at Mchie Tavern

Annual reunion lunch at Michie Tavern. Front row Danny Lliteras, Bob, Beth. Back row Ed Catania, Monty, Frank DeMarco

 

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Annual reunion breakfast spot. (l) to (r) Ed Catania, Bob, Danny Lliteras, Monty

 

Celestine

 

One night after nine, Bob telephoned to ask me to accept a making-of-the-movie book assignment for The Celestine Prophecy, James Redfield’s worldwide best seller. He was still in negotiation, but he needed to assure the movie producer that he could have a credited author on the movie set by the next day. Near midnight, the contract was agreed upon, and the next morning I was on my way to St. Augustine, Florida. I was six weeks on the set for the principle shooting in Florida, and another week months later for post production in Burbank, CA.

The coffee table book with over 160 photographs was published in 2005 in conjunction with the release of the movie, but the film never went into major distribution. It went directly to DVD to retailers. Bob and the producers judged the book to be excellent, but without the success of the movie, it did not sell. My best royalty check came from the German edition.

Bob used the quality of The Celestine Prophecy movie book to convince Neale and CWGTheMakingoftheMovie_500hStephen Simon, producer and director of the movie based on Conversations with God, that I should write and photo edit their making-of-the-movie book. The job took me to Ashland and Medford, Oregon during December where the outdoor sets were so cold that we were issued foot and hand warmers. Disappointing in previews, the feature film never went into major distribution, and thus its movie book failed to sell. I coached the actor who played Bob’s character in the movie on how to be Bob. That was great fun for me.

Bob may have overestimated my ability to overcome challenges. He knew that I had founded a World Affairs Council, served as an aide to ambassador-level dignitaries, and that I had personal friends in the US Senate, House, and State Department. When Katy, Bob’s second wife, wanted to go to Cambodia to adopt their baby Sophie, Bob recognized it as a potentially dangerous mission. I was caught completely off guard when he made his request.

“If we get in trouble in Cambodia, will you come and get us?”

“Of course,” I responded without pause as if it were within my power.

It was a brief moment without further discussion. I later thought, was there anything that we could not ask of each other? In the retrospect of over 50 years, the answer is self-evident as it is to many in the brother and sisterhood that Bob had established.

In 2013, I stayed at Bob’s home as we attended the 50th Reunion of our 1963 UVA class. The endowment at UVA had already exceeded $1 billion, but still we were solicited for more. Bob and I walked the Lawn together and sat for the presentation of reunion class gifts. Five classes participated. The class older than ours gave over $1 million. Our oversized presentation check was something over $600,000.

I nudged Bob. “Is any of that yours?”

“Nah,” he said. “But I do have to donate a couple of thousand just for the privilege of buying my football tickets.”

“At the lunch table today,” I said, “there was an alumni wife wearing my net worth in her jewelry. They obviously don’t need money from me.”

Bob followed UVA sports, and he wore Cavalier ball caps and Virginia monogrammed sweatshirts and sweaters even when he watched games on television. He persisted in inviting me to home football games. I finally joined him for the first University of Miami ACC game at Scott Stadium. The crowd numbered over 63,000. Getting to and from the stadium was painfully exhausting on my surgically repaired knees. I told Bob that the next time I came to a game, I should land midfield in a helicopter and be taken by golf cart to the skybox elevator. My post-game departure should be the same. Despite my protests, Bob continued to invite me every year.

Pat and I visited Bob and his loving life partner and caregiver, Beth Hines, the week before Thanksgiving  (2018). We brought one of Bob’s favorite dishes—my Shrimp Alfredo. I made constant attempts to amuse him, and he smiled and chuckled in the right places and spoke in fragmented phrases. I said, “I love you.” And Bob managed to say, “I love you, too.” The leave taking was very hard.

Back home in Boone, NC, Pat was in daily email contact with Beth, and we tried to comfort her in the ways that we were led. I spoke to Bob twice on the phone, but by that time, it was a one-way conversation. Among our reunion gang, Danny Lliteras visited more than once from Alabama and was a huge supporter for sometimes a week at a time. Ed Catania and wife Angie came from Florida and cooked for Bob and Beth. Author Vernon Kitabu Turner and wife Joyce came from Virginia Beach during the last weeks as others did to comfort Bob and help Beth.

 

Robert S. Friedman, publisher and best friend, passed this life on January 7, 2019 at his home in Faber, Virginia at the age of 76.

Bob had brought a brother and sisterhood together, and we did not fail to honor him for his many gifts to us. Of course, there were hundreds who called Bob father, brother, and friend. Bob, my true friend for 57 years, led a very significant life. There are a thousand meaningful books that carry the imprint of Bob’s heart and intellect. His legacy will live as long as human beings seek metaphysical truths.

 

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Bob and Beth on Ed Catania’s wedding cruise. Photo by Angie Catania.

 

 

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Filed under Memoirs, Spirituality, Writing

Genealogy Vacation: The Next Great Adventure

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The Oyster Farm at King’s Creek at Cape Charles, VA. Photo by A.J. Assaadi

 

How would you react if a complete stranger called you on the phone with a request for your DNA? The man said that he suspected me of being the missing link that would establish Virginia’s Eastern Shore peninsula as ground zero for the American Joynes/Joines clan now numbering in the thousands in five Mid-Atlantic States.

Well, yes, I admitted, I was aware that my ancestors had lived on the Eastern Shore since 1638 and that my grandfather and his brothers had been watermen, farmers, and members of the U.S. Life Saving Service on Hog Island, but I knew very little about my family history. That small bit of information, however, was enough to request my DNA. The Joynes/Joines genealogical study group would even pay for the test.

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Eldon Joines found me through my author’s website; and since he also resided in North Carolina, no more than an hour’s drive from my home, he offered to visit and talk about our common genealogy. I specified meeting for lunch at a very public place. (I was the model of modern-day caution.) By the end of our meal and conversation, however, I began to look upon Eldon as a cousin. Rapport established, Eldon produced a DNA test kit, and I leaned over the restaurant table to have my inner cheek swabbed. What must observers have thought we were doing?

When the lab results were published, the link to the Eastern Shore was established, and Eldon was able to trace us to a common grandfather some four generations past. We were indeed cousins.

351x336-family-20tree-20clip-20art-20templates-clip-art-family-tree-351_336Eldon has been working on a Joynes/Joines family history for more than twenty years. He is not an academic but is an upholstery craftsman with his own small business. Thus, he must pay his own way on research trips and take time to share information with other members of the study group. Devotion to comprising a family genealogy is thus a labor of love.

When I learned that Eldon was planning a fourth research trip to the Eastern Shore, I asked to accompany him as a fellow traveler. Then it occurred to me to re-invigorate my travel-writer credentials to explore the adventure of genealogy tourism. My travel-writing career includes Holiday Magazine and five titles in the Insiders’ Guide series. Family genealogists unravel mysteries and make new discoveries on every trip, and I wanted to be part of it.

My angle in following Eldon on the Eastern Shore is to describe the transformative power of a genealogy research trip that provides significant meaning and purpose to travel. To make my reporting useful, I also intend to include practical guidelines for planning a family history vacation.

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Cape Charles, VA Boardwalk. Photo by John Harlow

To make the best use of time spent in the historic environs, careful planning is essential. Mapping and making interview contacts occurs weeks, and even months, prior to the actual travel dates. But the pre-trip activity is part of the excitement.

I must admit that in all my book research and vacation travels to awe-inspiring places, the anticipation of going back to my ancestral home on the Eastern Shore of Virginia registers high on the excitement meter. Maybe it’s the potential for adventure and surprise that inspires me.

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Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. Photo by John Harlow

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Blue Ridge Reflections: Photos with Matching Poems from Western North Carolina

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When my wife Patricia Joynes sees a morning fog or the beginning of a crimson sunset, she abruptly leaves the house to submit to her passion. She is a nature photographer.

Years ago, when her 35 mm film cameras and her role as family event documentarian became obsolete, Pat turned her attention to nature photography with a small Canon Power Shot S110 digital camera. Her focus was on the Appalachian Mountains near our home around the Blue Ridge Parkway for its natural beauty aesthetics.

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The Blowing Rock Attraction, Blowing Rock, NC

Her first published credits were in books and journals, but her Blue Ridge photographs became recognized in the Town of Blowing Rock, North Carolina annual calendars (2015, cover in 2016, and three pictures in 2017) and the annual Blue Ridge Parkway calendar (2017, 2018).

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Pat also published annual family calendars of her nature photos with aphorisms by me in 2016 and 2017. By that date, the edited file of her Blue Ridge-centered photographs exceeded 10,000 images!

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Mayview Park, Blowing Rock, NC

In early 2017, Pat asked me, a published poet, to write poems inspired by specific photographs. We were both amazed at the collaborative results as the first poems emerged. The titles give clues to the content: The Puddle Portal, The Sanctified Bridge, Split-Rail Fence, and Solitary Bench. Week after week, as Pat presented me with other photographs, I wrote matching poems. By mid-September I had completed 29 of them!

The urge to share what seemed to us a remarkable series of creative events caused us to edit and design a collection of 32 photographs and 20 poems titled Blue Ridge Reflections: Photos with Matching Poems from Western North Carolina. The soft-cover edition of the book may be viewed and purchased here.

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Mayview Park, Blowing Rock, NC

 

Here is a sample photo and poem from the book.

Become the First

Become the First

Before there were human eyes to see

there were a millennia of dawns

and foggy mountain wooded sunsets

whose nascent glory went unreported.

 

From any high Blue Ridge vantage point

creation unfolds in waves of light,

and time is a cycle of the sun

that produces growth and the promise

of life in its regular passing.

 

What was it like to be the first to see

the distant waves of an evergreen sea?

What was the valley fog assumed to be?

And what monsters did they prepare to flee?

 

Primal emotions are felt in all ages

as the wild universe is explored.

A ravens’ rock becomes sacrosanct

in a landscape bereaved of doors.

Rejoice that the search for tomorrows

is still the possibility of today.

Become the first to reach the mountaintop

and see its natural wonders on display.

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Filed under Art, Family, photography, Poetry, Writing

The Travel Adventures of Flat Monty

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Flat Monty inspects the cruise ship kitchen.

My gifted and talented younger sister, Rita, greatly surprised me when she telephoned to say that she was taking me on a luxury Mediterranean cruise with land excursions to some of the most historic and beautiful sites in Europe.

Pat, my wife, was unfortunately not included obviously due to the huge added expense. It would be awkward to leave Pat behind, but how could I not accept this trip of a lifetime from my now beloved incredibly generous sister?

 

My mind immediately raced to the implications of the short-notice trip. The cruise wear from a dated Alaskan cruise was not suitable for May in Barcelona if it could even be found. Then, too, I’d need immediate airline reservations for the flight from Charlotte to Miami in order to meet Rita for the transatlantic flight. The grand tour was to begin in less than ten days!

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Flat Monty pauses outside the Basilica in Venice.

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The Sorrento hills provide a scenic retreat for Flat Monty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Always ready to video, Flat Monty arrives in Nice.

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Flat Monty is always accompanied by his dedicated bodyguard Dennis.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Flat Monty at his favorite shipboard bar.

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The bulging-eyes guy from the movie Young Frankenstein attempts to pose with Flat Monty.

 

Rita waited a few smiling seconds as my excitement peaked before she explained the crucial caveat. I would not be making the trip in person. I would be traveling as Flat Monty. Totally confused, I had to ask, “Who the hell is Flat Monty?”

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Flat Monty visits the hidden monument to mathematical Pi somewhere in Italy.

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Flat Monty comes to life amid the ruins of ancient Pompeii.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being technology challenged, I was unaware that photo cutouts of me could be creatively positioned in front of a camera phone so as to give the illusion that I was present at some remarkable place or circumstance.

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My sister Rita carries Flat Monty on the next grand adventure.

 

The photos of Flat Monty that Rita later produced on her grand tour have been captioned for the sake of context, if not for cruelty. Perhaps she thinks that I will use them to impress strangers as I once did with an office wall full of celebrity photos falsely dedicated to me.

 

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Flat Monty enjoys a cigar off the Piazza de San Marco in Venice.

The framed photo of Albert Einstein, for example, was inscribed with thanks for my helping him with quantum physics. John Wayne wrote that he looked forward to working with me on his next movie. Several sexy female movie stars intimated that they loved our nights together. President FDR thanked me for my wartime service although I was only four years old in 1945.

 

The wall of phony photos behind my magazine editor’s desk was my social satire on similar displays that I had seen in the offices of politicians. Too bad the Flat Monty technology was not available to me then. I might have appeared in a New York Yankees baseball uniform standing beside my heroes Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle.

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Flat Monty wins a gold medal for the discovery of a giant petrified frog.

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Flat Monty leads the way for an encounter with the world’s largest cat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here then in the spirit of truth telling, if not a gesture toward sibling forgiveness, I hereby publish the fabulous travel adventures of Flat Monty. Trust me when I say, “I wish that I was there.”

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Flat Monty enjoys relaxing in his cruise ship stateroom.

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Travel adventures often imply danger for Flat Monty.

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Lost Dog: The Hopes of Saving Addie

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Some humans possess a genetic disposition to love dogs. Like my wife Patricia, they join humane societies, manage dog parks, and respond viscerally to lost-dog reports.

On New Year’s Eve, 2017, a vacationing young couple from Atlanta, Georgia were in the Blue Ridge Mountains resort town of Blowing Rock, North Carolina, when somehow Addie, their four-year-old, six-pound longhaired dapple dachshund ventured out into the night. As a desperate search began on the small town streets, an alarm went out on social media that caused people like my wife to take immediate action.

By the fourth search day, more than thirty volunteers encountered the dog owners and their fellow searchers in a cemetery (during a funeral) and in a ski area subdivision where Addie had been spotted. The very timid dog, however, continued to elude every attempt to catch her.

As the search continued into a second week, the owners had reluctantly returned home, but the Facebook pages devoted to Addie, as well as the barrage of texts, reported the search activities on an almost minute-by-minute basis. Day and night, “Addie’s Angels,” as the volunteers came to be called, kept faith in the hopes of saving the small elusive dog.

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Emily and Charles Heuer reunited with Addie. Photo by Erin Shelnutt.

Through a snowstorm and bitter cold nights, “Addie’s Angels” remained of one heart, one mind, and one purpose. Finally, at about 7 pm on Friday, January 13th, Addie was caught in a humane trap set in the crawl space under a burned house in the suspect area. The joyous news spread quickly to the “Angels,” and their relief was often bathed in tears.

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Some of “Addie’s Angels” at the clinic.

The next morning, the owner couple arrived from Atlanta to be reunited with Addie at an animal emergency clinic. About twenty of “Addie’s Angels” were on hand to greet them and to share in their reunion.

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Photo by Susanna Russell

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Addie’s Reception. Photo by Donna Hunsinger

 

One of the “Angels” arranged for the owners to have a pet-friendly hotel suite that night.

A meeting room space was also donated, and area food and beverage establishments furnished refreshments for an afternoon party to which all the volunteer searchers were invited.

The owner couple was overcome by the generosity of the mountain community, and sincere bonds of friendship were forged by the common experience of the previous two weeks.

I was merely the support person behind “Angel”searcher Patricia Joynes, but I did get to witness the reunion with Addie at the animal emergency clinic. As my wife and I talked about the emotional impact of her experience, she suggested that it could be the genesis of a poem.

And so it became:

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Photo by Patricia Joynes

The Hopes of Saving Addie

A New Year’s Eve vacation
in Blowing Rock, a resort
town in the Blue Ridge Mountains,
turned desperate by the loss of Addie,
a very timid dapple dachshund.

Only four years old and six pounds,
her black and gray long-hair coat
and tan colored face would soon
appear on Facebook and on wanted posters.

Find Addie became a social media cry
and over four hundred people “liked” and “shared”
while more than fifty searched
where early volunteers had seen her
in a cemetery woods and
the crest of a ski mountain.

Into the second week of sightings
and unsuccessful chases,
the forecast of a snow storm
made Addie’s Angels fearful
for her survival against the cold
and the potential of predatory coyotes.

Small animal traps baited
with Vienna sausage and rotisserie chicken
had only caught raccoons and feral cats,
but those bonded to Addie
and to each other by the search
kept faith and continued.

The police and fire departments,
The Humane Society and Animal Control
supported the volunteers with
infrared lights and night patrols
as the second week passed.

A crawl space under a burned house
was a suspected refuge for Addie,
and so multiple traps were set.
Then the night exploded in tears
with the news of her capture,
and she was taken in her trap
to an animal emergency clinic.

Her human companions arrived
for their reunion with Addie
the next morning and found
nearly twenty of Addie’s Angels waiting
to celebrate her safe return with them.

The joy of their common thanksgiving
was monumental as the bonds
of new friendships were on display.
Some termed it supernatural
in the way Addie had brought
them together in a winter
of such American social discontent.

A tiny dog had united all factions
in a common unselfish purpose.
In those fearful days
no one was separate from
the hopes of saving Addie.

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Addie with her new squeaky ball at her reunion reception. Photo by Donna Hunsinger.

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Billy Joel: A Tribute

billy-joel-cover-1One of the greatest troubadours of my generation is Billy Joel, a poet and musician of genius, who shared his deepest emotions, and ours, over a lifetime of joys and tears. He is much more than a pop icon. He is the chronicler of an age in American life.

In one of my unpublished novels, Strange & Modern Phobias, two psychiatrists speculate on the psychiatric merits of Billy Joel’s greatest hits. It was my way of paying tribute to him. Here is the excerpt.

Albert Drexle had different tastes in music; and throughout their medical school and residency years together (the mid-1970s into the 1980s); Albert was fixated on the genius of rock and roller Billy Joel, whom he celebrated as the most psychologically aware troubadour of their generation. Rooming with Albert necessitated cohabitation with the albums of Billy Joel and enthusiastic lectures on how the composer’s lyrics were more meaningful to the listening public than any of the therapies that they were being taught as clinicians.

Bernie remembered Albert saying, “If we can learn to be as keen an observer of the human condition as Billy Joel, we have the possibility of being good doctors.”

Bernie heard the Billy Joel songs so often in Albert’ s presence that he learned the melodies and the lyrics by repetitive osmosis, but he never more than politely acknowledged that such music had lasting social value, or that it could affect the behaviors of anyone with more than sentimental emotion. Poet-musicians were entertainers, not philosophers, in Bernie’s reckoning.

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To counter Albert’s insistence on the loud sublimity of rock and roll, Bernie substituted albums by Jean-Pierre Rampal, the French flute king, and the piano records of Ferrante and Teicher and Peter Nero. These Albert would tolerate, plus any flute album by Herbie Mann in the jazz idiom. Thus a musical modus vivendi was achieved in their shared environment.

In recalling Albert’s insistence on the psychological insights of Billy Joel, Bernie decided to re-visit the entertainer’s greatest hits; and, on impulse, he saw one of the ubiquitous block-size, everything-you-want-twenty-four-hours-a-day marts and went in to purchase a CD. He had not gone into such a store during his married life since they were considered so déclassé in Joyce’s social league. The hour was late; but there were customers, maybe second-shift workers from the few remaining cotton mills that produced sheets and socks and jeans for someone other than the block-sized chain marts that got their cotton goods from factories in places like Mexico and Hong Kong. The shoppers looked tired, and they were price conscious about everything because they had to in the blue-collar rank to which they were assigned. They looked at Bernie passing in his $2,000 suit and his $300 shoes, and he could see the question in their eyes, “What the hell is he doing here?”

The city block under a single roof store was divided into departments, but the aisles were not laid out in a grid. They were mazelike so that people would get lost among the high shelves of merchandise and feel the impulse to buy their way out. Bernie wandered through the necessary, but mostly unnecessary, junk of American civilization and felt claustrophobic as the stuff surrounded him, confined him, and threatened to claim him as a helpless shopper and gnaw at his wallet.

billy-joel-greatest-hits-vol-1-2Finally, he found the music department and was informed by the signage that the mart chain was the largest seller of tapes and CDs in the known universe. Of course, they had a CD copy of Billy Joel, Greatest Hits, Volume I and Volume II. Bernie renegotiated the maze back to the front of the store and paid cash for the CD to a sad-eyed cashier, a woman with white hair, who would have preferred to spend her retirement at home but couldn’t because of the cost of her husband’s medications, so she had to work (nights was all she could get) just enough hours to be legally part-time so the mart wouldn’t have to provide health benefits, but that’s the way it goes these days. The cashier told Bernie this while she rang up the register, made change, and put his CD into a plastic bag—all this in response to his simple rhetorical question, “How are you tonight?”

It was after midnight when Bernie reached his assigned space in the downtown parking garage. He wanted to play the Billy Joel CD before nervously trotting the half-block to the gothic apartment tower where he temporarily resided, but first he had to pee. The garage level where he parked exhibited no traffic, so Bernie dared to do what had previously been unthinkable. He exited his car, walked to a convenient cement pillar, and relieved himself hard and pooling where cultured men should not go. The zipping up was not without a sense of reckless enjoyment, but Bernie wondered if his urine would stink with the sunrise and be blamed on some homeless man seeking refuge from the rain.

Since Bernie had identified no CD player in the penthouse shrine to the 1920s, and his Mercedes had a state-of-the-art sound system, Bernie fed the new CD into the slot, locked the car doors, reclined the power driver’s seat, and settled his nerves for the shock of Billy Joel’s rock and roll therapy. Bernie tried not to anticipate the music. His intent was to have it roll over him like a memory-bearing wave that somehow contained the psychological insight that Albert had touted.

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The first cut was Piano Man, a song that described a bar scene peopled with disillusioned characters who were revealed in terse verses by the piano man who recognizes the loneliness of crowded places where people gather to escape the perceived failures of their lives. The tempo of the song was upbeat, but the lyrics captured a sadness inherent in many modern lives. Yes, Bernie had to agree—Piano Man was an accurate psychological assessment of bar flies.

“Congratulations, kid,” Bernie said, like one of the inebriants dropping a dollar bill into the piano man’s tip jar, “you summed it up better than a psych grad’s master thesis.”

Say Goodbye to Hollywood contained a line that said goodbye to his “baby,” and that reminder annoyed Bernie. New York State of Mind was a song about returning to a person’s roots, to one’s own reality after being out of touch. Bernie, however, was unable to conjure up the same sentimentality for Baltimore and a neighborhood that he knew he would not recognize should he ever return there.

The next cut, The Stranger, was what Albert consideredbilly-joel-the-stranger a psychological epic. The lyrics were about the secrets of inner life, the self a person conceals even from a lover. Bernie could hear Albert’s commentary. “The secret self is about unfulfilled desires, things that we are afraid to reveal to each other. Our lover leaves us, and we can’t understand why. It’s not why! It’s who! On some levels we can’t communicate, so we will always be strangers to each other. And that’s how psychiatrists make a living—we bridge the gap. Billy Joel was right on. Hell, we hardly know the stranger in our self.”

“Oh, thanks,” Bernie said sarcastically to both Albert and Billy Joel. “Great analysis, but what’s the solution?”

The following cut seemed to provide a partial answer. Just The Way You Are was about relationship, acceptance, and commitment through good times and bad. The lyrical saxophone break provided moments for reflection, and Bernie recalled that he had often had to work at conversations with Joyce so as not to push her Southern panic buttons about race and class and the Democratic Party. In many ways, Bernie decided, Joyce had not been easy to talk to.

Before Bernie’s thoughts became too specific, the rush of Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song) overtook him. The song was about expectations vs. reality. In summing up what the songwriter observes from a working-class perspective, he asks, is that all we get from a lifetime of effort? His response is to roar away on a motorcycle rather than conform to so dismal a future. Bernie recognized the syndrome. Working-class kids witnessed the struggle of their parents living from payday to payday, and they rebelled. They wanted the lifestyle that they saw advertised on television, and they saw that obtaining it had nothing to do with social or moral virtues.

The teenage rebellion theme was repeated in Only The Good Die Young, that Bernie recalled as having been banned by the Catholic Church, and My Life, which became an anthem of the youth culture. Bernie drifted in attention through four other cuts that had imbedded messages relevant to his circumstances, but he missed them. Then the staccato beat of Pressure pounded him back on point.

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“Right,” Bernie said into the sound waves, “I’ve got all the advantages, but I still can’t deal with pressure. So what’s the benefit of a protected life of privilege and some ritualistic faith if you cannot deal with pressure?”

Pressure was one of Albert’s favorite diagnostic songs. Bernie supposed that Albert even played the song for certain dysfunctional patients as a kind of wake-up call to treatment. Bernie had given Albert a wooden sign long ago for his birthday. The lettering was deeply routed into the wood like an old-fashioned doctor’s shingle. The lettering read: Drexel and Joel, Rock & Roll Psychotherapy. It was given as a joke; but Albert beamed instead of laughed, and, to Bernie’s chagrin, the damn sign hung prominently in his office ever since.

billy-joel-allentownAllentown was another Billy Joel composition that Albert considered worthy of a graduate degree in either sociology or psychology. The song correctly encapsulated the failed promise of The American Dream for the children of WWII-era working-class parents. The post-war was industrial collapse, the loss of blue-collar jobs, and the resulting clinical depression was artistically rendered. Bernie did not treat these people because generally, they could not afford psychiatrists, and that reality forced Bernie to realize how disconnected he was from most of the working population of the country, how far removed he was from the desperate old woman cashier at the everything mart.

The following cut further isolated Bernie. It was another bit of Billy Joel genius that took the complex Vietnam experience and made it real and moving in less than five minutes. Bernie had avoided the draft and Vietnam combat by becoming a doctor. He had remained deferred until the war was over; but he had treated some of the inmates from that asylum and seen the consequences of their unnatural push into adulthood and horror, but Bernie had not experienced their bitterness, their loss. He had separated himself from his own generation, a generation going down into chaos together; and if he wept, he wept as an outsider to their torments.

Tell Her About It was a painful cut for Bernie to listen to billy-joel-tell-her-about-it
because it underscored his communication problems with Joyce. In the beginning of their courtship and marriage, he had told her his career dreams and his hopes for a cultured lifestyle; but as their life settled into the seamless routine of their class, what was left to share about feelings and emotions except their critiques of the performance arts?

Uptown Girl and The Longest Time played while Bernie tried to identify the moment of disconnect with Joyce. When had their respective appointment books rescheduled their intimacy into a ritual that mimicked obligatory church going? Why had the two of them settled for a closed provincial culture? Wasn’t their refusal to live in the greater society a kind of self-proclaimed aristocracy? In their rejection of modernity and all its underclass problems, hadn’t they just pretended that underclass desperation and criminality was not happening? And in building walls against contact with the great masses of the unwanted, had they not also walled themselves way from their own emotional sensitivity? The analytical questions continued until Bernie heard the familiar opening bars of You’re Only Human (Second Wind), a song that Albert swore by.

billy-joel-youre-only-humanAlbert considered that the Second Wind song provided excellent advice to patients suffering from depression due to feelings of inadequacy. The lyrics acknowledged the presence of heartbreak depression, but it then affirmed the arrival of a second wind and urged the listener to hang on. The song was both empathetic and encouraging to sufferers of a circumstantial depression, as differentiated from clinical depression such as a bi-polar disorder that requires drug therapy. Since many patients consulted psychiatrists for circumstantial, temporary disorders, Albert felt that the Billy Joel song had positive therapeutic value. Bernie, as a psychiatric resident student, thought that rock and roll had no place in the delivery of mental health services. Listening to the message of the song, locked in his car in a parking garage well after midnight, however, Bernie underwent a change of opinion.

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The last cut on the Greatest Hits album was The Night Is Still Young; and although young people probably thought that the song was about sexual endurance, Bernie took it to mean that his life was not over at age fifty-five. But what next? This life as lived in Charlotte was over. He might continue the practice of psychiatry, but the comfort zone of country club connections and charity board networking among the deranged of high society was lost to him. Joyce and her cache of elitists would see to that. Consulting Dr. Selkin would no longer be fashionable. He would be so “last year,” so unpardonable, as if he had driven Joyce into the arms of Marcel Swann with a bullwhip. Her story, told to intimates in powder room whispers, would be a Faulknerian doozy that implied a hidden darkness of character that made life with Bernie sound like a slow ride through a carnival horror show.”

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Bob Dylan, Rejected

bob_dylan_-_bob_dylanIt was a Sunday afternoon at a University of Virginia fraternity house located in a cluster of frat houses that overlooked an intramural field depression known as “Mad Bowl” when I met Bob Dylan and witnessed him rejected as a folk singer and song writer.

The year was 1961, and Dylan had been brought to the fraternity house by folk singer, folklorist, and mentor Paul Clayton who had friends there. Clayton was a UVA grad with a master’s degree in folklore. Since the mid-1950s, Clayton had traveled the Southern Appalachian Highlands in search of traditional folksongs that were in danger of extinction. As a scholar and archivist, he recorded these treasures on site and then sang many of them himself on 21 albums released between 1954 and 1965. In folk music circles from New York City to Los Angeles, Paul Clayton was a prominent figure in the folk music revival of the 1950s and 1960s.

paul-claytonClayton’s purpose on that Sunday afternoon was to have newcomer Bob Dylan and recorded folk singer Carolyn Hester sing a few songs as a measure of their live performance abilities. It was easy to pull the frat boys away from the ball game on television once they got an introduction to Carolyn Hester. She was 24 years old at the time and Hollywood gorgeous. Hester had already released two albums and was being compared to folk music star Joan Baez. Clayton was helping her with her live performance guitar playing, which was weak at the time. Hester stood against the living room wall and performed two unremembered songs. Her singing was strong and beautiful, but she missed some chords in the accompaniment.

Clayton then encouraged the shy, downcast, tousle headed, disheveled 20-year-old Bob Dylan to uncase his guitar and sing a couple of his original songs. Perhaps in over 50 years of retrospect it is wishful thinking, but I swear that one of the songs that he performed was “Blowin’ in the Wind.”  Although Dylan would become “the voice of his generation,” his singing voice has been described as, “raw, seemingly untrained, and frankly a nasal voice” by Joyce Carol Oates among others. Dylan was also accused of imitating Woody Guthrie’s earthy vocal mannerisms which were also termed “iconoclastic baying.”

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Mad Bowl, UVA

The frat boys that Sunday found Dylan’s singing to be both incomprehensible and downright irritating.  Someone turned the television set back on to the ball game, and there were insincere smiles and gestures that communicated to the performers that their leave taking was in order. Clayton’s fraternity friend made an awkward apology as the three folk singers exited the scene of their embarrassment.

Soon after the fraternity house debacle, Carolyn Hestercarolyn-hester invited Bob Dylan to play harmonica on sessions for her third album at Columbia Records.  At a rehearsal session, Dylan met celebrated record producer John Hammond who signed him to a recording contract. Dylan’s first album on Columbia Records was released on March 19, 1962. The album made a great impression in the folk music community, but it was not commercially successful.

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Dylan’s second album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, released in May 1963, however, featured “Blowin’ in the Wind” as its first cut. If Dylan could not make his songs famous, then cover groups like Peter, Paul and Mary, The Byrds, Sonny and Cher, The Hollies, and many others could. The Beatles themselves reported listening to the Freewheelin’ album until they wore it out.

Since being rejected by the UVA frat boys in 1961, Bob Dylan has sold more than 100 million records. No songwriter, past or present, has received so many awards and honors.  A partial list includes The Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (1991), The Kennedy Center Honor (1997), an Academy Award Oscar for Best Song (2001), the Pulitzer Prize (2008), the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2012), and the Nobel Prize for Literature (2016).

There are perhaps a dozen men now into their 70s who may remember Bob Dylan from their fraternity house encounter in 1961. Fortunately, their rejection of the young artist did not kill his creative spirit. What if they had encouraged him? No telling to what heights he might have risen then.

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Dogs – Life’s Companions – Part 2 – Mili and Heidi

img_0496    It took a full year of mourning before Pat and I could consider another dog. Again we looked to the Watauga Humane Society shelter for an adoption. Pat made the heart connection to a small Pekingese-type female who had a distinctive under bite. As we processed the adoption, the shelter manager informed us that our new dog had been diagnosed with third-stage heartworms. Our adoption would require us to see the little princess through a risky two-stage treatment to kill the heartworms. We were warned that some dogs do not survive the treatment, which necessitated two extended periods of guarded non-activity. We accepted the responsibility and named our new family member Mili after a close veterinary doctor friend who had helped us care for Angel.

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Mili

Mili came through the heartworm treatment, and her personality emerged as a feisty little girl who was not easily affectionate. She nevertheless became Pat’s shadow as if she recognized the person who had chosen to save her. Mili regained her strength, energy, and endurance and became Pat’s companion on five-mile hikes from Bass Lake to the Moses Cone Manor on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Blowing Rock, North Carolina. Our long-haired friend was never a lap dog. She rather had an almost cat-like posture of independence. Mili soon settled into our household routine as Pat and I worked the literary life from our home office. None of us expected the arrival of a second dog.

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I was sitting on the bench rocker across from Angel’s shrine when a medium-size, tan, short hair female hound-like dog came down our street and shyly entered our front yard. I spoke a greeting to her, and she approached and then jumped up on the bench beside me. I reached out to pet her, and she put her head onto my lap. That was the scene that Pat witnessed when she pulled into our semi-circular front driveway. We both had questions concerning our collarless visitor who demonstrated a sweet, affectionate disposition. We fed and watered her, but we would not take her into the house for fear of Mili’s reaction. Then with night coming, I retrieved a large travel kennel from storage and fitted it with blankets to warm the dog against an early spring chill. The kennel was placed outside our front door on a covered porch.

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Heidi on a mountain hike

The next day, Pat began to search for the strayed dog’s owner. She did all the responsible things including posted and email notices, and “lost dog” newspaper ads, with no results. Pat then advised me that the dog’s teats indicated that she was pregnant or that she had recently had puppies. Her pregnancy was later confirmed when we took her for a vet examination. As the weeks passed, we were drifting into the “strayed and stayed” dog care category. When a freeze warning was issued for our area, we decided to bring the new dog, whom we had identified as a mountain feist breed, off the porch and into the house.

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Heidi and her litter of pups

The critical moment arrived as Mili confronted the new arrival. Mili may have smelled the vulnerability of the pregnant visitor whose size was not overwhelming and allowed the intrusion. Thus a new dog bed was provided for the stray that stayed, and she was named Heidi. Within a few weeks, Heidi birthed five puppies in our living room, with Mili in curious attendance. When the puppies were mature, they went for quick adoption at the Humane Society, but Heidi was too closely involved with us to go with them.

Mili and Heidi were frequent visitors to the Humane Society’s Arko Dog Park. Heidi was very social and ran free with the other dogs. Mili stayed close to Pat and could even dissuade a Great Dane who wanted to sniff her. Mili and Heidi were a pair of odd step-sisters.heidi-and-mili-2

The first time Heidi was taken on a hike, it was apparent that she had not been trained on a leash. She proved to be, however, a lovable companion who liked to be covered with a blanket when on the sofa or in her bed. No one could approach the house without Heidi sounding the alert. Mili would join the outcry, but Heidi got credit for being the major watchdog.

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Mili had been with us eleven years when she was diagnosed with bladder cancer. Our dearest friend, Tennessee veterinarian Mildred Bass, monitored the surgery progress and the subsequent holistic treatment, but our little feisty friend could not beat the cancer. Brave and remarkably active, she survived seven months longer than the surgeon’s most optimistic expectations. Pat’s constant care and Mili Bass’s recommended herbal medications, we feel, extended her life, and when she passed, it was mercifully only after a few hours of distress on her final day following her visit to the dog park. For weeks after, Heidi searched the house for Mili every time that Pat and I called her to go out.

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There is the possibility that we will outlive Heidi and that her loss will be another mournful event. Her cremated remains will be added to those of Angel and Mili on our property, and we will miss her. The emptiness of the house, however, will lead us back to the Humane Society shelter to find another dog companion. There are both responsibility and cost involved in living with a dog, but even as septuagenarians, we want to share our home with a four-legged friend.

 

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Dogs – Life’s Companions – Part 1 – Angel

Angel in the Driveway We never own our dogs. We only reside with them by ancient covenants that bond us. Life is defined by events that include both joy and pain. All human emotions apply in our close relationships with our dogs. It is thus appropriate that we honor these special friends as we would our beloved human family members with stories, photos, monuments, and sincere reflections of gratitude.

Pat and I have already had three canine companions in our married life, and they have been as dear to us as our own three daughters. A super intelligent Border collie came to us as an overnight guest after she had been spayed by the Watauga County (North Carolina) Humane Society. Pat, a member of the board at that time, and I were delivering blankets and needful supplies to the animal shelter when a member, who had just returned from the vet with a small black dog just out of surgery, approached us. She said that she did not want to return the still groggy female to the kennels and begged us to take her home for overnight care.Angel on sofa

We were then living in a rented condo that specified no pets, but we thought that we might get away with a one-night stay. We tried to bed the little dog down in a bathroom with a barrier at the door, but the dog jumped over it, and her incision site began to bleed. As a former Army veteran with medic training, I took the dog onto my lap to bandage her. She was so patient and trusting that we were amazed, and Pat remarked that she was an angel. That night we realized we were hooked, and that we must adopt her, so we arranged with our landlord to keep her at an added deposit fee. Her name was self-evident. She was Angel.

Angel and MontyAngel was seldom on a leash, and she went to work with us every day. At that time we had a retail store with an upstairs office, so Angel was both our home and office dog. Angel loved to leap into my lap as soon as I sat in my easy chair at home. She could be trusted to be let out to do her necessary business, never crossing the street or wandering off.

Angel was a wonderful hiking companion on the Blue Ridge Parkway trails. She kept us in sight and never got into trouble when presented with other dogs. In a high mountain meadow she delighted us as she raced in a zigzag pattern as if to raise quail or sheep from the high grass. For fourteen years she was our constant, ever faithful, ever loving companion. Her disposition was always playful and affectionate, and she was obviously the smartest dog we had ever known.

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The last months of Angel’s life, however, were challenging as she struggled with cancer. Her passing was mourned as that of a beloved family member. To memorialize her, we erected a wooden black silhouette of her wearing her collar and tags at the foot of a granite gravestone engraved with her name. The shrine site sits in a front-yard garden across from a two-person rocking chair bench. In this way, we daily honor and remember a wonderful friend who happened to be a Border collie.

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Pete Fountain, New Orleans Legend

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Pete Fountain was an American music legend when my wife Pat saw him weekly in the executive offices of the New Orleans Hilton. She had returned to her position as the administrative assistant to the Hilton general manager following her marriage to me, the co-author of the Insiders’ Guide to New Orleans. Pat’s friendship with Pete led to one of the most memorable nights in the history of my family.

Pat had been in the Hilton executive office for the initial construction of the hotel towers in 1977 and had returned for the extensive Riverside addition in 1983 that made the New Orleans hotel the then-largest hotel in the South. Pat was thus well known to Pete Fountain and his manager Benny Harrell, who had been associated with the hotel since its opening. Pete Fountain’s Jazz Club would remain a Hilton mainstay until it closed in 2003 due to Pete’s (age 73) declining health.

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New Orleans Hilton in the late 70s

In the fall of 1983, however, when my wife invited her new in-laws to the Pete Fountain show in the Hilton, Pete at age 53 was still in his performing prime. My mother and father remembered Pete from his performances on the Lawrence Welk ABC television show and other solo performance spots on the popular TV variety shows of the 1960s and 1970s. My sister Rita pictured Pete as a frequent guest (56 times) on The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson and from some of the 42 hit record albums.

Pat, a native New Orleanian, related to Pete as a fellow native who had attended her same high school. Pete, class of 1945, was in the Warren Easton Alumni Hall of Fame. Pat, class of 1965, had been the homecoming queen.

Pete, as a gifted clarinetist noted for his sweet fluid tone,left New Orleans for a featured IMG_5333spot with the hugely popular Lawrence Welk orchestra. His roots in jazz and Dixieland, however, did not suit the traditional Welk arrangements. When Pete “jazzed up” the Christmas carol “Silver Bells” on the 1958 live-TV Christmas show, despite Welk’s instructions, Pete was not renewed for the 1959 season.

 

 

Back in New Orleans, Pete played with the Dukes of Dixieland and then led bands under his own name. By spring of 1960, he had his own jazz club on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter, and every movie and television star who came to New Orleans made a stop at Pete’s club. Al Hirt, the famed New Orleans trumpeter, had his jazz club down the same street from 1962 to 1983, so the public liked to imagine a rivalry between Pete and Al. They, however, were the best of friends, performed in each other’s club, and made many record albums together. If you saw one perform, you had to see the other to make your New Orleans jazz experience complete.

As a favor to Pat, Benny Harrell, Pete’s manager and son-in-law, booked our party of five at a ringside table for Pete’s late show. He understood that the visit was Pat’s first encounter with my parents and sister, so he wanted to help her impress them. The stage in the club is small and intimate within the arc of the café tables. Benny personally escorted our family to the table and our drink orders were immediately taken. People observing the VIP treatment must have wondered who these people were. That stage-front table was where you might expect to see Sinatra, or Dean Martin, or Tony Bennett and guests.

With an unexpected close-up view of Pete and his great fellow musicians, the show was magical. From classic jazz and Dixieland, to spirituals and show tunes, the pace of the performance had layers of musical satisfaction. Pete’s introductions and comments made our party feel like we were visiting in his living room and that the musical selections were spontaneous. The audience must have felt it, too, because they demanded three encores. The selections included our favorite Pete Fountain ballad, “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?”

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As soon as the show ended, Benny was at the table with gift albums for all five members of our party. Then he shocked us by asking us to stay seated until the band cleaned up from the sweat of performance.

“Pete has invited you to visit with the band in their dressing room. He will sign your albums there.” He also told us that he had taken care of the check.

 

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The dressing room was surprisingly large with the look of a luxury hotel suite. Pete could not have been more cordial and generous. He hugged the women, shook hands with the men, and praised Pat for her friendship and professional support. The musicians also interacted with the family and did not seem in a hurry to leave. Pete’s gift was perfectly orchestrated, and our family left with autographed record albums and treasured event memories that would last a lifetime.

Pat resigned her position at the Hilton in 1985 to follow me to North Carolina where I would write novels, biographies, and screenplays. That June, the Hilton gave Pat a classy going-away party with a gourmet cuisine buffet and many gifts. Two gifts from the hotel were framed posters featuring Pete Fountain. One, “Cookin with Jazz” (22 x 24) showed Pete with the great chef Paul Prudhomme.

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Another framed poster (24 x 35) titled “Pete Fountain’s Playing It to the New Orleans Hilton” was an artistic rendering of Pete against the hotel background.

 

 

 

Pete’s personal gift was a 6 x 8 charcoal portrait that he signed, “To Pat and Monty, Much Love, Pete.”IMG_5343

 

In 1992, the City of New Orleans governmental council conferred the title of Honorary Citizen upon us. The framed certificate and the mementos of Pete Fountain are attachments to New Orleans that will never fade.

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Our friend Pete Fountain died at the age of 86 on August 6, 2016. We immediately set out to create this blog as a tribute of thanks to him for his great musical talent and for his personal generosity to us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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