Monday, October 18, 2010

A time for being inspired -- and, one day, actually inspiring others.

It's been quite a while since I've posted to my silly blog. I wasn't ready. Now I am. Here's the briefest of brief updates, followed by something that moved me -- finally -- to share something that I believe is worth sharing:

Since last time . . . . . let's see . . .

Cancer -- stage two Melanoma. Three times under the scalpel. Finger-biting time. Good news. No more cancer. Whew! A quick second scare. No worries. The Veterans Administration and Social Security recognize my combat-related condition and grant me disability status. Roller coasters of emotions, adjustments, scrambling to adjust more and time to face irritating obstacles I should have faced years ago.

A brief journey to Belgrade and Novi Sad, Serbia, and then to Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina, along with a couple of days working on my documentary about a most surprising, former German concentration camp where thousands of Jewish women and children spent their final days on Earth.

Home again and still adjusting and still facing (but not embracing) personal obstacles.
The whole time, I've explored a pathway for that mysterious and illusive desire to change things somewhere for the good.

Today, this inspired me enough to want to share it with everyone I know and even with people I don't know.
Would you please take some time to watch it? If it doesn't touch you, at least you'll know what touches me.

Oh, and you should feel free to share it with other folks. And if you wish, leave a comment here or send me an e-mail at I'm looking for ways to get involved somehow.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

For all of your time travel needs.

Where can you get all of the news from the future as well as the past? Only at the Echo Park Time Travel Mart.


The moment I heard about the Echo Park Time Travel Mart (EPTTM), I had to go there for a visit. It's at 1714 W. Sunset Blvd. in the Echo Park District of  Los Angeles.
What a great experience --- an experience you shouldn't miss.

Trevor Byrne was running the unique (that's an understatement) shop that offers everything you'll ever need for that time-travel trip you've been planning. It doesn't matter if you're going forward or backward in time, this store has what you'll need.

It opens up at noon (not that time matters), which gives you more than enough time to examine the goods for sale there --- goods such as Time Travel Sickness Pills, bottled Robot Milk, dinosaur eggs, medicinal leeches and Woolly Mammoth Chunks.

My mouth was watering for a Time-Freezy Hyper Slush, but the machine was out of order. I didn't have time to go back yesterday when it was working.

I was able to sneak into the back room to see if they had other things in stock, but what I discovered instead was the real reason for this timeless store's existence.

You see, it's really a front for a tutoring service that's part of what's called 826LA. Truth be told, I first heard about this remarkable volunteer effort when I watched a fascinating video about the germ of this project on You can also view it at  Dave Egger's Ted Wish.

I know that there are a lot of educators who visit my blog, so I encourage you all to consider volunteering for the one-on-one tutoring during the school year or work with the entire classes that come to EPTTM during the daytime. You journalists out there can also help out ever Monday night from 7 to 8:30 p.m. when the young staff of "828LA Good Times"convenes to put together its astoundingly professional newsletter.

The student journalists write about more than their pets. For example, in the current edition, reporter Alanis offers up a Q&A with seismologist Kate Hutton from CalTech. Josephine, another reporter, interviewed Tom Overton of Gems and Gemology Magazine as well as Wendy Van Norden of National Earth Sciences Teacher Association. Ruby used her interviewing and writing skills to address the dispute about whether Pluto is really a planet. She turned to USC Professor Werner Dappen for her material. Pretty impressive stuff, indeed.

I promised Trevor that I'd have to travel to the future (when my next check arrives) before I can return to buy some of the really cool items at the store --- including books that the students have published as part of the program.

The best part is that the money the store raises goes directly to the tutoring programs and helps pay the rent. It's a worthy endeavor and I encourage you to stop in and buy something.

That is, if you have the time.

You can learn more by visiting them online

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Friday, May 07, 2010

A kind of love that everyone should experience. A vicarious video.

Catalina Provencia agreed to talk about growing up in the Palo Verde section of Chavez Ravine before the city cleared the area of houses and people for what was supposed to be low-income housing. Instead, it became home to Dodger Stadium.

At the annual gathering of former Chavez Ravine residents in 1990, I noticed the most intriguing couple. Catalina was animated and gregarious.She stood four inches above her quiet, unassuming husband, Morro. Whenever their eyes connected, however, bolts of amorous energy seemed to dart between them. I knew that I couldn't leave without trying to tap into that energy.

During the "neighborhood" interview, I asked Catalina to tell me about her first encounter with Morro. The result is this jewel. Before I could share it with the world, I had to track down Catalina and first show her the 20-year-old video. It was a great excuse to capture, again, her electrifying and contagious spirit.

 By the way, Catalina has already agreed to another interview in ten years when she turns 101.

If I receive enough encouragement (comments here or on Youtube -- or direct e-mails), I'll begin posting more gems from the two interviews.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Signs that confuse me . . .

Sometimes I wonder what they were thinking.

This is like the drive-up ATMs that have instructions for the driver that are in braille.

Or it's like the sign in the post office that reads: "No dogs allowed, except seeing-eye dogs."
These signs are there for the blind, the illiterate and the dogs.

How about this one in a Pollo Loco Restaurant?

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Monday, April 26, 2010

Curious Critter

My dog Mija and I like to get up and out early. I don't know about her, but I prefer to walk when there's a shortage of other people out there. It's in the early morning on our walks that I'm able to think through my day, and come up with crazy ideas that I'm certain will revolutionize the world.
Mija is a little nervous about some of the dogs behind fences and gates. It's interesting that she fears the little nippers more than the macho mutts.
We both marvel at how the young squirrels will scurry part of the way up the trunk of a tree and then hide on the backside -- if it can't see us, then maybe it thinks we don't even know that it exists.
This morning, we both noticed a little movement on the bricks that run alongside the cement path to a wrought iron gate. It wasn't a cat -- the ears and nose were to pointy. It wasn't a mouse or a rat -- much too slow moving. The little fella was curious, and not nearly as cautious as one would think.
I'd never seen one of these this young. I was surprised that Mama wasn't around. One of his or her little sisters or brothers, however, was exploring the flower bed on the other side of the pathway, but wasn't nearly as brave.
I'm sure you know what it is -- even without seeing its telltale tale. Telltale tale? I don't think I've ever written that before.
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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Night flight to Saigon to save a dog's life

It was one of the most touching moments in my tour in Vietnam. I made the journey in late 1968 -- probably in October. I was with the 212th M.P. Company at a small detachment at the Soc Trang Army Airfield.

Countless times in my 30+ years as a reporter, producer, author and teacher, I've looked into the eyes of people I was interviewing and realized that they weren't there with me -- they had taken a mental journey into the past. They were somewhere else. I eventually learned to remain as silent as possible so that they could stay in that place -- any questions would quickly bring them back to the present.

Ten years ago I attended a memorial presentation at the unveiling of a statue honoring the bravery and dedication of the thousands of dogs what served our country in combat. I remember how, during the ceremony, I found myself in one of those trances -- I was in another place, in another time ....

The strange thing is that I wasn't with my dog Fritz, I was with a 105-pound German shepherd named Samson. I was back on a gunship in the middle of the night sky on our way from Dong Tam to Saigon. I was trying to take Samson to the veterinary hospital at Tan Son Nhut Airfield so a real veterinarian might keep him alive. Samson was suffering from encephalitis -- he was burning with fever and having trouble breathing through the muzzle. I had tied his paws together to keep him from trying to stand up.

Samson's handler was on R&R somewhere and had no idea that his best friend was fighting for his life. All I could think of was my own dog in a similar situation. How far would someone else go to save my dog Fritz? I was determined to get Samson to a place where someone could help him.

It had all begun a few hours earlier when someone discovered Samson nearly passed out in his kennel. Only a day or two earlier I had been "volunteered" to be the acting-vet tech at our little 12-dog detachment in Soc Trang, south of the Mekong Delta. The nearest veterinarian was in Can Tho. On the phone, he told us to get the temperature down (we put him in a bathtub-sized dip tank with ice water) and rush him to Saigon. A local dust-off (Med Evac) pilot agreed to take us as far as he could -- to the airfield at Dong Tam. It was after midnight, when he dropped us off and flew away. Even though I had neither the orders nor the authority to request a helicopter for the dog, I still insisted that the CQ runner (enlisted guy on duty) awaken the officer-of-the-day. I don't know how I did it, but I convinced the mafor in charge to authorize a Huey helicopter gunship to take us the rest of the way.

The pilot and copilot were not happy about the run. They were reluctant to help me load the stretcher into the copter. Of course, there were no side doors and no way to tie the stretcher down. I sat on the floor and held onto the back of the pilot's seat as we took off on a most frightening ride. As they'd bank to the right or the left, the stretcher would slide toward the open door. It took all my strength to keep the stretcher and myself from falling out.

There was nobody manning the M-60 machine guns at either of the open doors. But we were traveling fast enough and high enough that the bright red tracers rising from some ground fire was of little concern to the pilot and copilot.

We eventually landed at Tan Son Nhut Air Base at an evac hospital for people. Two Vietnamese ambulance drivers were afraid to load the dog into their 3/4-ton ambulance. Eventually, I convinced them that the dog was tied down, shey finally helped me and then drove us to the triage area.

Two more Vietnamese workers opened the rear door of the ambulance and were equally shocked to see that the patient was a dog. One of them helped me carry the stretcher to one of the empty racks in what seemed like an ocean of occupied stretchers. Soon about 15-20 medical personnel were crowded around us pointing, laughing, and talking.

It was about that time Samson completely stopped breathing! All I could think of was doing that leg-lift-chest-push artificial respiration I had read about somewhere. But his front paws were tied together with gauze. I couldn't get them untied. All I could think about was Samson's handler coming home from R&R to find his dog was dead.

Everyone around me were just spectators -- amused spectators! By this time I was crying.

"Would someone please help me? Please?"

It was then that an angel -- a nurse -- yelled, "Get the %@*% out of my way!" and shoved her way through the crowd.

"What can I do?" she asked. I told her I couldn't untie the gauze. She reached in a pocket a pulled out some scissors and freed Samson's front legs.

She quickly caught on and started lifting his right leg while I pushed on his rib cage. Within two minutes he started breathing again. At almost that moment, some veterinarian technicians from the veterinary hospital arrived in a jeep, and I helped them load Samson into it. It happened so quickly that I never had a chance to thank that beautiful angel. She had vanished.

By sunrise it was clear Samson was going to survive. I knew I could face Samson's handler.

Decades later, on February 21, 2000, I sat listening to the poignant comments at the War Dogs Memorial dedication at March Air Force Base. I looked at all of the guys around me and I could feel the love each one had for his dog, and the lengths to which they would have gone to save their dogs' life or save the live of any other handler's dog.

After all, I'm convinced every dog handler who attended the ceremony was able to be there because of his dog -- and maybe because of the dogs of his fellow handlers. And I wondered how many lives Samson went on to save when he went back to work. And I wonder what ever became of that beautiful nurse.

If she only knew the importance of her work that night.

If you ever encounter a former Army nurse who says she served in Vietnam, please ask her if she remembers saving that dog's life.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

If you have a conscience, boycott Costco!

Tens of thousands are expected to picket Costco stores across the globe on Earth Day to protest the blatantly cruel treatment of God's cotton creatures.

One can only imagine the terror and torture these innocent animals endured in Asia, Africa and South America before someone packed them into cardboard, pitch-black prison cells and shipped them to North America, Europe and other parts of the world.

Its no wonder stuffed animals are rarely, if ever, found in the wild.

These loving creatures were bred to be silent and obedient enough to live in the homes of children and adults.
But at what price?

If you've ever cuddled a Teddy bear or Curious George, you must take a stand against this kind of treatment!

Please share this with everyone you know who has ever been the recipient of their love.
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Thursday, April 08, 2010

The Real World of Mr. Mum

It was the perfect reading material for a kid who couldn't read very well -- a pantomime cartoon. The Strange World of Mr. Mum ran in scores of newspapers during the 1950s and '60s. I discovered a paperback compilation of the Irv Phillips cartoons when I was nine or ten, as I recall.

I must have "read" the book a thousand times -- and I still laugh at the strange things that the little man and his little dog observed along their way.

When I took a television job in Arizona, my great friend (and former journalism professor), Bill Thomas told me that I should look up his cartoonist uncle in Phoenix. When he mentioned Mr. Mum, he was surprised when I said something like, "Your uncle is Irv Phillips?"

Bill had not encountered too many people my age that had heard of the character -- much less its creator. It was in 1981 that I went to visit the man who had created my favorite cartoon. It wasn't long before I returned with a camera crew to interview him on camera.

Irv Phillips died in 2000 at age 95. He left his lifelong collection of his cartoons and other creations to Bill Thomas and his sister. Today, Bill and his wife are keeping the memory of Uncle Irv at

If you want a book that you and your grandkids (and their grandkids) will treasure, search for The Strange World of Mr. Mum. That's the book that got me hooked.

Monday, April 05, 2010

A rational message about what's rational and essential

It's been a couple of years since I worked with young, professional journalists in Malawi, Africa. You can learn more about my work there at

Since I was there, two of the students have died. It's not surprising in a country where the life expectancy is under 40 years or so.

One of the big reasons is AIDS and HIV. It's not a fun or amusing topic, but this talk posted to day at is essential viewing.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Read between the lines of signs

Indoor Road Rage Rantings

I told a couple of my friends to be on the lookout for a really interesting posting I’m working on. For the record, this isn’t the one I was talking about — that one is still in the works.

I thought I’d share my response to a job posting on The person was looking for someone to help with a start-up website that focuses on the rude things that rude people rudely do:

Dear Rude-ologist,

I probably wouldn’t have been able to send this e-mail if I had acted on my impulses yesterday in that public parking garage in Burbank. You see, I don’t believe they have e-mail access in the city jail.

In my fantasies, I was going to put my car in park and sprint to the car that was blocking everyone in the indoor garage. The back-up of cars caused cars on Palm Street to back up to Third Street.

You know what was going on, don’t you? The lazy, “Oh my god, there’ll never be another parking spot available in the world,” jerk-faced idiot was, you guessed it, waiting for someone to get into their parked car and vacate the space.

In the mind of the rude, senseless, brainless amoeba, this was to be a quality, “premium” spot, as spots go. And in his micro-bacterial mind (I’m being generous here), there were surely no available spots in the three-story structure.

And Parkinson’s Law says that another tired shopper would be unable to back her non-compact car out of her nearby compact car space. That prevented the first exiting driver from backing out and allowing the peanut-brained donkey in front of us from getting his once-in-a-lifetime spot.

Finally, when the second shopper in her over-sized “non-compact” car wriggled her way out, I was able to pass Jerkface on the left, round the first corner and select from more than three dozen available spaces.

My inclination, however, was to yank the oblivious, selfish, self-centered moron (no offense to clinically diagnosed morons — they never do stuff like this) out of his car, turn him inside out and make him eat his stomach.

When I was fuming my way on foot out of the parking structure, Mr. I’m-the-Center-of-the-Universe was still blocking traffic with that stupid turn signal flashing a Morse code message that surely was saying, “Screw all of you! I’m more important than you are! Don’t be in such a hurry! I’m waiting for this spot so I won’t have to walk as far to the Burbank Health Club across the street where I’m going to pay to get exercise!”

Meanwhile, the traffic on Third Street was backed up to Magnolia.

What the hell is wrong with people?

Oh, by the way, your proposed Rudeness site is just what I’ve dreamed someone would create. Don’t get me started on the thousand other “let me tell you about rude jerks” examples I have bubbling out of my frustrated brain.

Then again, maybe you should get me started!


I feel better now!

Don Ray

Are you old enough to remember the comedy bit that the late Steve Allen used to do on his Steve Allen Show? He would pick up a newspaper and read the letters to the editors with the same voice, passion and anger that he figured the original writer was feeling. Maybe you should read the above message the same way.

By the way, I didn’t hear back from the folks who posted the job on Craigslist. Maybe I wasn’t rude enough. Or maybe he or she didn’t believe that I could rant so much over something that apparently doesn’t bother other people.

Don't get me started about my grocery store observations. Did you know that people drive shopping carts the same way they drive their cars? Aaaargh!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Confessions of a Master Scammer

I first met Chuck Walton in 2000 when I was researching a series of stories about the homeless. He was no longer homeless -- he was staying in an inexpensive motel in Barstow, Cal.

We spent countless hours together over the period of the next two years. At one point, he allowed me to interview him on camera about his life and his adventures on the road and occasionally in jail.

As a storyteller, he was as loquacious as he was entertaining, so it's difficult to find short-enough stories to post here.

I've included one that requires little set-up and also includes a demonstration of Chuck's most successful, secret weapon.

I was saddened to learn that Chuck passed away in April of 2009. He was prone to lying about his age, but the official records indicate that he was 82 when he died.
Here's the video, but I recommend you first read the story below that I wrote about him way back in 2000.

Here's the story that ran in 2000:

If he were to carry business cards they would read, “Chuck Walton, Bum, Retired.” After nearly 50 years of hitchhiking, sleeping along the highway, panhandling, dumpster diving and scamming good-hearted people out of their money, Walton decided to hang up his knapsack.

Odd jobs along the way somehow qualified him for minimum Social Security benefits. To him, it’s a fortune.

“What do I need money for?” he said. “I can pay my rent and phone, buy cigarettes and groceries and still have money left over to shop for clothes at the thrift store.”

He stands barely 5 feet tall and measures his weight in double digits. He buys boys clothes. He’s remarkably well groomed and always wears the cleanest of threads. He tells people he’s 75, but if they were to check his identification, they’d see he’s only 73. He’ll be 74 in December.

“I like telling people I’m 75. It has a nice ring to it.”

He tells people he’s living the straight life now. He doesn’t drink much, doesn’t take people’s money anymore and the only thing he lies about is his age. But in his lifetime, Walton has pulled off just about every kind of scam imaginable, he said. If they gave out awards for best performance by a hobo, he’d have a shelf of Oscars.

“The key to scamming people is to put on a good act,” he said. “You have to prepare for it, and you have to live the character you’re portraying. You have to be that person.”

The targets are almost always trusting, caring people with big hearts, he said. In a sense, Walton believes he’s doing a favor for the person who helps him, he said.

“This guy works downtown in a high-rise office building. He just drove away from a $200,000 home. His dog eats better than I do. And waiting back there is a beautiful wife and two kids. So I give him something to talk about when he gets back home. He can scare the wife and kids when he tells them he picked up a hitchhiker this morning and took him into the city.”

But Walton really wasn’t trying to go anywhere in particular. He was hitchhiking to make money. He talks about it unashamedly with a devilish grin and a no-doubt-about-it East Coast accent — a blend of his native Philadelphia, some New Jersey and a lot of New York City.

“If you do it right, you can hitch a ride and end up with some nice cash in your pocket,” he said.

Walton said he would typically make up a handwritten sign with the name of the next big city. Then he would find the best freeway onramp and stand with his head down.

“You don’t want to make eye contact that makes it look like you’re soliciting,” he said. “I always look down toward the ground. It’s a psych thing. He has the car. He sees you with your dirty thumb out there in the morning sunlight and he thinks you have been standing out there all night.”

When someone would pick him up, Walton would shyly say, “Thanks.” Nothing more.

Then, he would look out the window and wait for the inevitable question.

The first would be “Where are you headed?” Walton said. “If I were hitching from Barstow to San Bernardino, I’d tell them I’m going to Palm Desert to see my granddaughter. I promised her I’d be there for her birthday tomorrow.”

Then the person would likely ask where he slept the night before.

“Oh, I didn’t sleep at all. It’s too dangerous for an old man. I just walked around Barstow all night,” he would say. “After that I’d just remain quiet and let his brain go to work. Then when we get near San Bernardino I’d give him a sob story about how hungry I am and would he drop me off at a restaurant where I might find some kind of work even for a couple of bucks and a meal.”

Walton would never directly ask the driver for money, he said. Instead, he would sit quietly and hope the driver would stop at a shopping center.

“They’d almost always ask me to stay in the car while they ran an errand,” he said. “I knew what they were going to do, but I didn’t want to act too excited. They would go to an ATM but they wouldn’t give me the money until they dropped me off at a restaurant.”

As he would get out of the car, the man would shake his hand and, at the same time, place one or two folded $20 bills in Walton’s right hand, he said.

“I’d act surprised and say, ‘God bless you, Sir.’ Then I’d go into the restaurant and sit where he could see me. You see, the guy would always drive around the block a few times to make sure I was telling him the truth. After a while, I’d leave the restaurant and head back to the freeway onramp and hold up a ‘Barstow’ sign. On a good day, I could make two round trips and end up with $60 or more.”

On Sundays, Walton would target another group of caring people, he said.
“I’d put one of those fish symbols on my sign and, sure enough, I’d get picked up by a good Christian family,” he said. “The only difference is I’d have to pray with them in the car. A lot of times they’d actually pull off the road and we’d all hold hands and pray.”

If they were on their way home from church, he said, he could count on a big Sunday dinner and a clean bed. Maybe they’d even hand him a few dollars following the big breakfast.

But if they were on their way to church Walton knew it could be a bonanza, especially if it was a small, country church, he said.

“They’d ask me if I wanted to join them at church. I would always reply, ‘Of course.’ We’d all walk in together but I’d sit in the last row, all by myself, in my dirty clothes with my backpack. Sure as ever, they’d whisper something to the pastor and, somewhere during his sermon, he’d point back to where I was and welcome me, a brother just passing through.

“When the sermon was over, I’d gather my things and walk out before anyone else and slowly head for the road,” Walton said. “I had to time it right because a handful of the people from the congregation would call out to me or chase me down and start giving me money, sometimes lots of money. And, again, someone might offer to take me home for that hot meal.”

Another favorite scheme would unfold in a fast food restaurant at lunch time or dinner time when it was busy and people were in a hurry, he said.

“I’d order an average meal, nothing too big or fancy,” he said, “and then when the clerk would tell me how much I owed I’d start fumbling through all my pockets and even in my backpack looking for the money I knew was in there somewhere. It would drive the people behind me crazy. After a while someone would step up and pay for my meal just so they could get to the front of the line quicker.”

He had good luck with a scam he used on bigger restaurants, he said.

“I’d go in the kitchen door and look for the lowest-level employee I could find, usually the dishwasher. I’d tell him I was hungry and willing to work. He’d get the manager and the manager would always tell the chef to cook me a good meal,” Walton said. “They’d sit me at that little table in the kitchen where the lowly employees eat. I’d make sure the waitresses all saw me there.

“Then I’d go outside where everyone could see me through the windows, and I’d start cleaning up the parking lot. No one asked me to, I’d just do it. When each waitress would get off work, she’d come outside and give me a big hunk of her tip money. It never failed.”

There were times when he would get caught and he would be forced to stand in front of a desk sergeant, a judge or even an angry priest or pastor, he said.
That’s when he’d turn to his secret weapon: he calls it “The Lip.” He’s done it a thousand times, he said, and can turn it on in an instant. He nervously wrings his hands, drops his head, lowers his eyebrows and nervously looks down, then up, then down again. He even creates tears. The most convincing part, however, is the quivering lower lip. It quivers like that of a 3-year-old.

“Then I say, hesitatingly, ‘Sir, I, I’m an alcoholic and I can’t get work and I’m hungry and I was just trying to eat.’ Ninety-nine times out of 100 they send me off with a severe tongue lashing.”

The other 1 percent of the time Walton would find himself in jail or prison, he said. His worst stint was in the state penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas.
“You don’t want to go to prison in Texas,” he said. “It’s just like it was in the movie ‘Cool Hand Luke.’ At least it was when I was there.”

Walton usually ended up behind bars for passing bad checks, he said.
“Back when banks left stacks of blank counter checks lying all around I could sign in to a hotel, stay three or four days and pay with one of the bad checks,” he said. “But if I got caught, it was hard to avoid going to jail.”

Today, Walton just observes, he said. He lives not too far from where the homeless congregate and is able to watch them pulling the same scams he pulled for years.

“Every penny you give them goes to booze or drugs,” he said. “And if you give them food, you’d better watch them eat it or they’ll sell it and buy their wine or drugs."

** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** **

If you haven't watched the video, now's a good time. Of course, I don't condone his actions -- that's not my job. He was honest with me and he allowed me to see his many sides.

If anyone coaxes me in the slightest manner, I'll post some additional video clips in which he discusses the price he paid for all of his crimes and misdemeanors, and maybe some of his other interesting stories.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

On a personal note

Today I'm saddened to learn of the passage of a person whose voice I had never heard, but whose voice has been in my head for 40 years.

Author J.D. Salinger's voice reached me in 1970. I had just left the Army a little more than a year after I had returned from Vietnam. It was in an English class that we received what I consider a "gift assignment" -- to read his short story, "For Esme -- with love and squalor."

More than any piece of work by any writer, this moving, personal and oh-so-realistic story inspired me to write and gave me permission to find and embrace my own voice.

I didn't understand why, every time I read the story, my head released a tidal wave of tears and snot and everything else that goes along with mega-sobbing -- I didn't understand, that is, until 30 years later when I was able to find the direct links to the pain of the main character, J.D. Salinger himself.

Imagine that. I had an empathic bond with a superstar, albeit reclusive, writer.

For those who wish to know a little bit about what makes me tick a little off beat today, I urge you to read this wonderful story. Again, it's a short story -- short enough that you can actually give yourself the gift of a few minutes to embrace great writing and a poignant story.

It's one of the "Nine Stories" by J.D. Salinger that's available in most any bookstore. But you can also read it and even print it out from this link:

I urge you to share with me (and others if you wish to comment on this post) the manner in which this story touches a part of you.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Help me help a deserving veteran

Just a quickie posting to alert the world to an important yard sale in Pasadena.
The host is a disabled Iraqi War veteran who came home to find that her mother was about to lose the family house. Fatima Palaez needed help and, thanks to a couple blog readers, she was able to find an attorney to help them.

Fatima "Flaca" Palaez with her mother, Socorro Palaez.

Her beautiful mother died about a week ago and Fatima is putting on a yard sale to raise money for her mother's funeral. The sale is going on as I write this. It will continue on Saturday and Sunday, January 9th and 10th. The address is 500 N. Summit Ave. in Pasadena.

I'm certain that there will be some great bargains there. It's worth the drive if you live near there.
If you need directions or information, you can call Fatima (her friends call her "Flaca") at 626-216-1050. Her e-mail address is

Just to put her difficulties into some more perspective, several months ago someone murdered Flaca's infant nephew right there in their home. Now, her sister (the child's mother) had to go into the a witness protection program, so Flaca is caring for her surviving niece.

I can't even imagine what she's going through. Injuries from a war, post-traumatic stress disorder that has dragged her life to a halt, a fight over the family home, a mother with terminal cancer, a murder of a loved one in her own home and now the death of her mother.

But she served her country proudly. I hope you can visit the yard sale.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The Great ATV Caper

Let me tell you a little about this video:

Larry and Donna Brusch made the local news back in the 1990s when word got out that they had teamed up to find his stolen all-terrain vehicle (ATV) and, at the same time arrested the thief.

At that time, I was supplementing my investigative reporting, lecturing and book writing income by chasing down breaking news stories at night and on weekends. If I was lucky, I could sell the raw footage I'd shoot to local and network television stations.

I don't believe that I was able to sell this story -- mainly because I shot it in Oceanside and it was next to impossible to deliver the videotapes to the Los Angeles TV stations within their news cycles.

But like the three previous videos I posted here, this one is finally finding its rightful place in the mass media. And like the other stories, I guarantee you that you're going to be able to view an update. This one, in particular, has a great follow-up story.

Oh, and would you be kind enough to click on the YouTube link on the video so you can rate it and maybe maybe make it your favorite on YouTube? And comments. It really helps if you can leave comments -- here on this blog and on YouTube. Why is it important? Because the more people who see my work, the more stories will come my way.