A recent MRI of my brain brought a report that said the scan found “nothing extraordinary or remarkable.” Good news, the doctor says, but depressing as well. One hopes to be remembered for at least something a little extraordinary.
Then an email from a news organization asked to schedule a phone call for their obituary writer so he could update their file on me and keep it “up to date” if needed.
If needed? Isn’t that code for “when you die?” Of course, but when I talked on the phone with the writer, he noted that they have a file on me because I’ve considered “noteworthy” for a story and not just an obituary death listing.
Noteworthy? For what reason? “Not sure,” he said. “You’re flagged in our files but the reason is not stated.” He promised to check and let me know. Turns out that I’m “flagged” because of a photo I took of a Ku Klux Klan meeting in Prince Edward County, VA, in 1958 and some awards I won early in my career for stories written for The Roanoke Times and, later, photos taken and articles produced for The Alton Evening Telegraph in Illinois.
I remembered that Klan photo but didn’t realize that anyone else did. I shot it at age 11 and the editor of The Farmville Herald, upset that his paper would not use it to illustrate the control that racists had of the county, sent it to other papers, which did publish it. It made me want to become a newspaperman.
The 12 years spent with The Telegraph in Alton were formative, fascinating, and a lot of fun. I covered the Mississippi River Festival on the campus of Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville for the 10 years of its existence, which allowed photographing and reviewing many of the top pop and rock acts of the period, covered stories about the area’s drug problem, political intrigue, and a changing river city. A twice-weekly column allowed me to interact, and often inflame, readers while exposing things that needed news media attention. And I met Amy, my wife, and partner for the past 44 years.
Those were the days. At 21, I had already worked full-time for three newspapers: The Floyd Press in high school, The Roanoke Times, and The Telegraph in Alton, IL, a Mississippi River city and part of the St. Louis Metro area. When I left Alton in 1981, I was in my early 30s and was a Congressional chief of staff in Washington at 35. An involvement with helping bring personal computers into the offices brought an article in MacWorld magazine that, I’m told, is now part of the historical “obituary file.” I had thought the time spent was part of a sabbatical to learn a little more about how politics and government worked.
It apparently also made me a subject of news articles and not one who reported. A front-page article in The New York Times about my work as the Vice President for Political Programs at The National Association of Realtors and using millions of political action committee money to support or oppose candidates for Congress in what was then called “independent expenditures” or later work covering battles in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel or Syria.
“Good grief,” I thought when questioned about such things. “I never realized that such a thing would be considered “noteworthy” enough. Neither was the question about telling a member of Congress that his appearance at a debate was “so boring that if he had been standing on stage masturbating, his hand would be asleep.”
“Yes,” I said. “That did happen.” In 1982, in New Mexico Congressman Manual Lujan was running to office in a race that many thought he would lose, I watched as he stumbled during his practice for the debate and said that.
“The line about jerking off was the closest comparison I would come up with at the time. I understand the line was used in a movie several years later about a governor’s race in New Mexico.
“Lord,” I thought. “Is that something I will be remembered for when an obit is written after I die?”
Probably so. I guess the legacy if one exists, is one of cynical a smart ass.