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The Many (Many) Failures of Donald Trump

A guy named Michael Edmonds compiled the following list, detailing Donald Trump’s failures as president, all of them easily proven and well documented. Trump supporters will either deny them or or approve of them that that group includes the four U.S. Congressmen from our area: Bob Good (whose staff apparently gave Capitol tours to national threats the day before 1/6), Morgan Griffith and Ben Cline, all toadies for the extreme right.

Remember one simple fact: people who support Trump are not conservatives. They are anarchists. Here’s the list:

ELECTIONS

  • lying in public more than 22,500 times according to the Washington Post Fact-Checker
  • letting at least eight associates connect with Russian agents during the 2016 election
  • trusting Putin rather than U.S. intelligence agencies on 2016 election intrusions
  • easing sanctions on Russia after it interfered in the 2016 election
  • pardoning everyone who refused to cooperate with the Mueller investigation
  • trying to make US help for Ukraine contingent on a campaign contribution
  • hiding $600 million in 2020 campaign expenses behind a family shell company
  • trying to sabotage mail-in voting during an epidemic
  • proposing that the 2020 election be postponed when he fell behind in the polls
  • undermining the democratic process with unfounded claims of election fraud
  • contemplating martial law and seizure of voting machines after the 2020 election
  • refusing to commit to a peaceful transfer of power after losing
  • threatening state officials to make them change 2020 vote totals
  • pressuring VP Pence to disobey the Constitution during certification of the vote in 2021
  • inciting terrorists to attack the Capitol and overturn the election on Jan. 6, 2021
  • refusing to call out the National Guard to help police during the Jan. 6th attack
  • telling the Jan. 6th attackers, “We love you, you’re very special.”
  • being impeached twice for high crimes and misdemeanors

PUBLIC HEALTH

  • failing to deliver (or even propose) a promised health care plan “cheaper and better” than Obamacare
  • ignoring and downplaying the Covid-19 pandemic as it killed nearly 400,000 Americans
  • calling Covid-19 a hoax and saying it would go away by itself
  • discouraging local officials from mandating basic safety measures during the pandemic
  • blocking a CDC order requiring masks on public transit
  • removing health data collection from the CDC and centralizing it in the White House
  • instructing agencies to make no reference to Covid without prior administration review
  • ordering federal agencies to distribute misinformation virus treatments
  • endorsing potentially harmful treatments for Covid-19
  • silencing CDC scientists when they contradicted White House marketing spin
  • advocating herd immunity, a strategy that unnecessarily killed thousands
  • canceling health insurance for 2.3 million Americans, causing ~10,000 excess deaths
  • failing to coordinate delivery of the Covid vaccine on a national scale
  • vaccinating only 3 million people by 12/31/20 after promising 20 million

ECONOMY

  • making the wealthiest Americans even richer through the 2017 tax law
  • keeping wages flat for most Americans while corporate profits soared
  • creating the highest number of unemployed workers since the Great Depression
  • generating trillion-dollar budget deficits by cutting taxes
  • increasing the national debt by $7 trillion, or 37%, in four years
  • permitting the trade deficit to rise to an all-time high

ENVIRONMENT

  • reversing 80 environmental regulations that protected land, water, and air
  • blocking efforts to curb greenhouse-gas emissions
  • weakening rules that limited pollution
  • suppressing federal data on climate change and endangered species
  • opening protected lands and wildlife refuges to gas and oil drilling
  • removing environmental, land management, and public health regulations in order to build the Border Wall
  • removing 30 species per year from the Endangered Species Act regardless of scientific data
  • prohibiting federal scientists from giving congressional testimony
  • firing scientists from federal agencies and replacing them with corporate executives
  • censoring NWS meteorologists who contradicted with White House messaging
  • shutting down multiple programs that collected data on global warming
  • withdrawing the U.S. from 13 international organizations, agreements, and treaties, including the Paris climate accords

SECURITY

  • purging dozens of experts from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency created by Congress in 2018
  • allowing Russian hack of computers in more than 250 federal agencies and businesses
  • vetoing a defense bill because it renamed bases honoring Confederate heroes
  • refusing to share critical defense information with the incoming Biden administration

PARTISAN POLITICS

  • claiming that the Constitution “allows me to do whatever I want”
  • firing two attorneys general and many other high officials who contradicted him
  • creating a turnover rate in top jobs of 92% over four years
  • appointing 220+ judges to the federal bench, 96% of them white
  • appointing more judges rated “not qualified” by the AAA than any other president in 50 years
  • polarizing American political discourse through inflammatory rhetoric and falsehoods
  • praising totalitarian rulers like Putin, Orban, Xi Jinping, and Erdogan
  • legitimizing right-wing extremists like the Michigan Militia, Proud Boys, and QAnon
  • encouraging right-wing militants to seize state capitols governed by his opponents
  • declaring there were good people on both sides of a 2017 white supremacist march
  • threatening to cut federal support to cities governed by his political opponents
  • pressuring the Justice Department to prosecute his enemies and go easy on his friends
  • pardoning supporters convicted of stealing campaign funds, tax evasion, insider trading, witness tampering, and lying to the FBI
  • delaying and hampering the transition to the Biden administration
  • undermining public faith in government institutions, from the FBI to the CDC

SOCIAL JUSTICE

  • destroying sacred American Indian sites to build the Border Wall
  • tear-gassing peaceful demonstrators outside the White House to create a photo op
  • prohibiting collection of employee data showing race, gender, age or other factors that could support discrimination charges
  • prohibiting training of federal workers that included discussion of systemic racism or white supremacy
  • using unmarked federal agents to kidnap and interrogate legal demonstrators
  • gagging doctors from sharing scientific data on family planning with low-income women
  • executing more death row prisoners than all presidents in the last 50 years combined
  • removing worker protections in many industries
  • making it harder for sexual harassment victims to bring complaints
  • pardoning U.S. soldiers and mercenaries convicted of war crimes

IMMIGRATION

  • prohibiting people from seven Muslim-majority nations from entering the U.S.
  • reducing the annual number of refugees admitted to the U.S. from 85,000 to 12,000
  • erecting 460 miles of barrier to refugees along the southern border
  • separating refugee children from their parents, hundreds of whom still can’t be found
  • housing hundreds of refugee children in chain-link cages

CORRUPTION

  • accepting payments to himself and his family from foreign nations with whom he was negotiating treaties
  • accepting than $8 million from taxpayers and donors in payments to his family businesses
  • hiring family, friends, donors, and business partners into key government positions
  • pardoning a conman who defrauded Medicare of hundreds of millions of dollars

MISCELLANEOUS

  • being accused of sexual assault or harassment by more than 40 women (since 1980)
  • golfing on more than 300 days during the four years he was president
  • watching television an average of 5 to 6 hours daily

 

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A Delayed, but Happy Christmas

Meg (right) and Rachel open their gift of a Nikon camera outfit.

I trooped down to Christiansburg yesterday for the long-delayed Christmas celebration with Margie’s daughter, Meghann, and Meg’s partner, Rachel, and we had a grand time.

Meg made her world-famous quiche-like breakfast (some of which I brought home, after eating an embarrassing amount for breakfast) and exchanged gifts. I loved my “Vote Dammit!” T-shirt and the girls seemed to dig their Nikon camera rig. Both are photographers, so it works for them well.

I really like dragging out Christmas.

These “necklaces” are lanyards my grandgirl and her mother made for Margie, Meg and Rachel.

 

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Finding the Fun on a Winters’ Day

Like this shot of susan with her colorful jacket and the black and white landscape.

My buddy Susan and I walked the Roanoke Mountain trails today, finding snow in the right places, lots of shadows, plenty of color and a very nice winter hike overall.

Also presented some good opportunities for photos, which are here.

That’s me and my buddy Elbert Tree.
Susan against the snowy background.
Looks a smidge spooky with the heavy shadows.
That’s Susan’s shadow photographing me. It’s a thing we do.
Want color? Got color.

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We Survived, Thanks to Solidarity

Mob ransacks Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. Note the idiot on the left placing a call and the one on the right with his feet on the desk.

The U. S. Congress acted exactly as it is supposed to yesterday–perhaps by default, but still locking arms and standing tall to protect our form of government for one more day under the Trump assault.

Mob shows walls can be climbed.

A large group of Trump terrorists–the unofficial count is 10,000–rushed the U.S. Capitol, where the Senate and House were debating whether Joe Biden would be the new president and caused physical and emotional damage. Four people are reported dead, one of a gunshot wound. Much of the massive building was trashed and looted.

But after various law agencies re-took control and pushed the mob away from the Capitol building, the House and Senate reconvened and made relatively short work of confirming Biden’s presidency, a mostly ceremonial act that had gotten out of hand.

All of what unfolded on television, flipping from one network to another, looking for the latest images and listening to reporters and commentators roundly criticizing Trump and his army of right-wing malcontents. Even Fox News, Trump’s official lapdog, couldn’t take much of what was going on.

Facebook and Twitter (both of which have banned Trump) today have a lot of Trump supporters blaming Antifa for the whole debacle yesterday. Trump supporters live in an alternate universe.

The incident became a rare moment of solidarity when people like Vice President Mike Pence and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the very image of partisanship on a normal day, sounded like real diplomats, people who honestly cared about their country.

Even an apparently drunk Republican leader and Trump Toadie Lindsey Graham rose to the occasion, blasting the terrorists and saying without reservation Biden was most definitely president.

Trump terrorists rush through the Capitol building, threatening, trashing, looting.

It was a political day to remember. On top of all the commotion, Georgia elected two Democratic senators, throwing the Senate into a 50-50 deadlock with Vice President Kamala Harris becoming the 51st vote for the Democrats when any measure is tied.

Today the mission of finding out what happened to Capitol security, usually dependable, begins. Was the breach an inside job? Was it organized by the Trump organization or an outside group? Whose head is on the chopping block?

But for now, we have to acknowledge that the result was our government holding together in the face of its most direct threat in many decades, perhaps since the Civil War.

I was pushed to the verge of tears several times when people I have come to loathe appeared to rise to the occasion and to defend America against this traitorous mob. It was a nice moment. One to remember when Trump next strikes. As he will.

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To Start the New Year, a Story

2020 is gone and 2021 is a mystery, so how better to begin it than with a story. I just put this one together to entertain you. Enjoy it.

Playing

By Dan Smith

Eb smelled the bacon first thing as his eyes made an attempt to open. Then the coffee and the biscuit smells wafted into the tiny, cluttered bedroom. His mother yelled, “Get up!” and he knew that was the first of two general alarms before she marched into the bedroom with the glass of cold water to dash on the stragglers.

Eb was not a morning boy, but the bacon was the better choice here. Cold water would send him bolt upright and could make him pee in his underwear. He threw the cover back on the narrow bed and dropped a leg over the side, careful not to put his feet on a chilly pine floor. He rubbed his face and passed his hand over his burr haircut, blinking open his eyes. He took a deep breath of bacon fumes and put both feet on the floor, picking up his jeans and sliding into them. Eb pulled a plain white T-shirt over his head and slipped on his worn white Keds. No need for socks in South Carolina where the temperature would reach 90 before this September day waned into evening.

“Mornin’, Mama,” he said, taking a seat at the dining room table, just off the kitchen, where his mother seemed to spend the bulk of her life. He was the first of the five McCourry kids to reach safety from the cold water.

His mother smiled. “You want cold water duty this morning?” she said.

“No, Mama. That’s your job. They’d kill me.”

Dane McCourry chuckled as she let a spatula full of bacon drip back into the frypan before placing the crisp strips on a newspaper to drain. “No guts this morning, huh?”

“No, ma’am. Can I go over to Mike’s after breakfast? We want to go to the pool and then maybe play some war or baseball or something.”

“Where you getting’ the money for the pool?” she said.

“You know: We pick up Coke bottles from the neighborhood and take them over to the A&P for deposit. Only takes five to get the 10 cents I need. If I find five more, I can buy a frozen Zero bar. Mike taught me about it.”

“How’s he know that? His family has money and he always seems to have his share of it.”

“Oh, I don’t know, Mama. Can I go?”

“Yes, but come home for lunch and be careful. I don’t have to remind you that little Timmy Edwards drowned there last year.”

“I was there, Mama. You know that. And, no, you don’t have to tell me every time swimming comes up. I think about it all the time.”

She placed a plate loaded with bacon, fried eggs, two tomato slices, a biscuit broken in half and covered with gravy, and a glass of milk in front of him. He quickly picked up a strip of bacon and stuffed it into his mouth. “Miss Graybill lets Mike drink coffee,” he said. “Can I have some?”

“No, Eb, it’ll make you nervous and it’ll stunt your growth. You don’t need either of those, so eat your breakfast.”

He made a whiny “awwww” sound and bit into another strip of bacon as he cut a bite of gravy-biscuit. “They have toast with real butter, too,” he said.

“Will you shut up and quit comparing what we have with what they have? Just eat. And go play. Be back here at lunch.”

On the radio, Tony Bennett sang, “I go fwom wags to wiches …” and she softly whistled to the music, turning over a frying egg.

*

The screen door was standing open and the front door was ajar, so Eb walked into Mike Graybill’s house with a forceful knock and a “Hey, Mike!”

“Back here,” came Mike’s voice from the kitchen. “I’m making coffee and toast. Want some?”

Eb had just finished eating about a quarter of his weight but didn’t hesitate. “Yeh! Great!”

Mike poured half a cup of coffee for Eb in a large white mug, leaving room for cream and sugar, and tossed a piece of dark brown toast onto the table near the butter.  Eb quickly picked up the toast, smeared it with soft butter, and took a large bite. “Mmmmm,” he moaned, picking up the cream and pouring his coffee cup to near the rim. He put in four teaspoons of sugar and stirred, then chased the toast.

“What you wanna do today?” he asked Mike, who was stuffing in a piece of toast.

“I dunno,” Mike said. “Swim, maybe? Mom says there’s a hurricane named Flossy coming up this way from down in the Gulf of Mexico, so it’ll probably be raining tomorrow. It’s going to be hot today.”

“I got my bathing suit, but the pool don’t open ’til 9:30 and I gotta get some money.

The Pond itself was a minor Wonder of the World to Eb’s young mind. It was about 30 yards wide and 100 yards long with a peeling painted aqua concrete wall surrounding three sides. The side near the woods was the most natural, falling off from the edge of the miniature forest, a creek running straight into the Pond and sycamore trees lining the banks on each side of the emptying creek. As one moved to the left from the bathhouses and walked toward the creek, the water turned dark green, and vegetation, including some lily pads, became more evident. The usable portion of the pond—the best part for swimming—was probably 30 yards wide, making the swimming pool a square and the swimming hole next to it—complete with mud bottom—a long rectangle.

Eb suspected that the water was dangerously nasty, but apparently, it was suitable for swimming because occasionally, when the pool opened in the morning, Eb watched as lifeguards took out water samples in glass containers. They were, he imagined, tested, and pronounced swimmable, if not drinkable.

“Let’s go find some bottles,” said Eb as he took the last bite of toast and looked at the toaster.

“Want another one?” said Mike, knowing the answer. A minute later, he tossed another slice at Eb, who buttered it and ate it in three bites. He loved that stuff.

The boys prowled the neighborhood for bottles, walking barefoot on the hot pavement, occasionally crying out when stepping on a sandspur. In half an hour they had found two Royal Crowns and a Nehi orange, all of them in Carrie Baker’s garbage. They still needed two bottles to cover admission and five more for a Zero bar.

North Augusta’s town’s tiny shopping center just across the bridge from Augusta, Ga., on the South Carolina side of the Savannah River, was half a mile away and on the way to the pool. Eb and Mike had picked the neighborhood clean over the summer, but the businesses still threw away bottles every day, including the A&P where they took their collection for the deposit. Didn’t make sense to Eb, but he wasn’t going to argue because they were paying his way into the pool. And buying him a Zero.

At 9:30 on the dot Martha Hampton, a pretty cheerleader at the high school and a lifeguard unlocked the pool gate and smiled at Mike and Eb. “Come on in, you two. We’re going to have to give you boys jobs since you’re here every day anyway,” she said. Eb looked embarrassed and Mike said, “You paying us?”

“Come on in and get in the water,” said Martha, adjusting the strap on her pink striped bathing suit. In less than five minutes, they were out of the bathhouse and standing in the white sand near the edge of the pool.

“Watch this,” said Eb as he darted for the shallow end of the pool and launched himself into a straight, flat swimmer’s dive hitting smack on his belly and skirting like a flat rock out into the water. Mike followed closely and Martha yelled from the lifeguard chair, “You boys know better than to dive in the shallow end!” They looked embarrassed and swam toward the raft in the center of the pond, the one where little Tim Thompson had caught his bathing suit on a nail the year before and drowned. They closed the pool for a week after that because when a five-year-old dies, everybody pays attention, Eb learned.

It was 11:30 when June Manchester, the tall, willowy teen-aged blonde with the soiled reputation showed up in a teal bathing suit that was too big on top. People whispered about June and Eb never understood why. She was nice and she was pretty and she always spoke sweetly to him, as she had this morning. She placed her towel on the sand 30 feet from the edge of the pool and went to a spot near the diving board where she sat with her feet in the water.

Eb looked at Mike. Mike looked at Eb. They scrambled out of the water and slowly started a lap around the pool, slowing significantly as they approached June. They moved closer and June bent toward the pool, scooping up a handful of water and rubbing it on her shoulders. As she bent, the boys’ eyes went straight to the top of her bathing suit, and there it was. Breasts. Nipples. All of it. Eb nearly fell. Mike did.

They walked slowly past June, then turned and went back. She bent forward again and got another scoop of water, put it on her shoulders, and turned toward the boys, knowing exactly what they were doing. “You boys find what you’re looking for?” she said, smiling sweetly. Martha laughed. Girls lying on towels nearby laughed. The snack bar manager laughed. They all knew.

Mike’s and Eb’s faces were the color of barn roofs and they broke into a run for the bathhouse. “Did you see that?” Eb said in a loud whisper as they entered the changing room.

“Boobs!” said Mike. “Yeh, I saw it. The left one, then the right one on the way back. Both of them. Nipples! God!” Both boys looked down at their erections and laughed. Nothing could possibly happen the rest of the day—maybe the rest of the summer—that would top this. Nipples. Lordy mercy.

*

One Saturday the previous summer Eb got back to the pond about two o’clock and everybody was bunched up in a circle on the beach. People were crying and screaming at each other. “Give him some room!” somebody yelled. “He can’t breathe! Back up!” An ambulance roared into the parking lot, its light flashing urgently and two men in white clothes came running to the beach, carrying bags and a big board. The crowd opened and the men ran to the center. That’s when Eb saw Timmy Edwards lying there lifeless, his tiny body not moving.

Timmy was the newly-adopted five-year-old son of Dane McCourry’s best friend. He swam like he was born in the water and was a fearless little guy. He laughed and played and was a happy, curious little boy. He was lying in the sand light blue, limp, dead.

Allen Simmons, a pitcher on Eb’s Dixie League baseball team, stepped on Timmy as Allen climbed up the ladder to the raft at the center of the pond. Allen then went under water to see what he’d stepped on and found Timmy, his bathing suit hooked on a protruding nail, drowned. Allen, a big kid, pulled Timmy loose and swam with him in his arms to the shallow water and then walked him to the beach and lay him down.

Mike and Eb left Panic Pond that day with their heads down. The sun went behind a big cloud and the pavement cooled as much as it could, so the somber walk home wasn’t interrupted by the usual yelps. As they passed Mike’s house and he peeled off, Eb said, “See you tomorrow,” and Mike said, “Yeah, OK,” without much feeling.

They closed the pool for two days and the boys didn’t have anything to do for those days, but they didn’t mind so much because it was sort of a way of honoring Timmy for being a good little guy. Dane McCouorry did a lot of cooking for Timmy’s parents and she was gone more than usual for a while, over at the Edwards’ house, talking to them, Eb guessed. Eb heard his mom and dad whispering late at night and for several evenings, and he heard what I thought must be his mom crying. She almost never cried.

*

An adventure first thing every day was the daily goal, even before he got out of bed on occasion. Today’s was not the kind of adventure he sought this late summer day, one that was too hot.

Adventure would come and the possibilities were nearly endless: swimming at Panic Pond, war games in their many iterations, an all-day baseball game at the playground, sledding with a cardboard box on the pine needle hills, climbing to the top of the kudzu-covered trees and looking up at the sky. Eb didn’t own a bike and his family had neither telephone nor TV. But there was no lack of things to do with his fading summer vacation.

In the southernmost regions of the United States, snow is a theoretical concept, but the lack of snow has never discouraged the Children of the South from sledding in winter. The young tend toward resourcefulness and those of the west-central South Carolina piedmont regions are expert sledders.

Creative games were often an exercise of flying in the face of convention, sometimes just making do with something different. In the 1950s, Southerners took what was essentially an upper-crust, elitist, rich European playboy’s sport and turned it over to chicken farmers and moonshiners. They created NASCAR.

On this morning, Eb and Mike opted for sledding, which required proper preparation—again combing the neighborhood for proper materials, this time a cardboard box of sufficient size. People’s Drug Store and Carolina Furniture Outlet provided the boxes. The medium-sized boxes, flattened out with all seams unglued, were best for 10-year-olds. They were sleek, fast, and easy to maneuver for the boys who knew how to bend the front corners and cup their hands on the box’s steering wheel.

The front flap, which already had a crease, was pulled to the knees of the sitting boy and curled slightly over them. Then the corners were bent forward so they could be held as the driver leaned right or left in steering.

That hill, covered in long, slick Southern pine needles, made its way through a heavily wooded section, and running into trees was a hazard, especially near the bottom when maximum speed was reached. But if Eb or Mike could make it to the bottom, the reward was a quick upward slope that allowed the box and the boy to become air-born for seconds of “Yaaaa-hoooooo!” thrill.

On this day, Eb hit the up-slope just right following an uninterrupted run straight down the hill and landed in a small bush about 20 feet beyond the ditch, flying through the air just long enough to yell, “Geronimoooooooooooo!” Eb lay stretched like he was doing a snow angel at the end of the run, as Mike slid in beside him. “Again?” said Mike. The boys jumped to their feet and sprinted to the top of the hill where a group of younger boys was gathered with their boxes. “Watch us,” said Mike. “Learn something.” He put picked up his box, held it out in front of him, and ran to the downhill starting spot, diving onto the pine needles – and straight into a tree.

Before Eb had even finished laughing at and making fun of Mike (“Hey, wanna try that again? Some of the boys missed it”), Eb set said down the hill and quickly banged off a bulky pine knocking his path off-kilter, spinning him around and leaving him disoriented for an instant.

He steered back toward the path, never losing any speed, and overshot it, hitting another tree, skinning his knuckles, going faster with each smashup. As he hurtled toward the bottom of the hill, screaming more intensely with every foot, he saw that he was to the left of the ditch jump and heading fast at a brush pile that would flip him into the gulley. He tugged, pulled, and pleaded with the sled until it turned slightly right, edged into the beaten path, and at the last possible instant, hit dead center on the jump.

Eb jumped up and yelled to Mike, “Show the boys how to do that!

*

Sledding season ultimately waned and, mostly from bored repetition, so it was to the top of the trees for the boys. Most of the trees were about the size of a dogwood because a lot of them were dogwoods. They were covered in kudzu, the Japanese vine brought to the Philadelphia Expo in the 1890s that Southern adults hate and kids love.

The adults know that kudzu grows two feet a day in the deep South and can cover a farmhouse over the course of a long vacation break. They know you can’t kill it any more than you can kill honeysuckle and that kudzu kills trees and dominates everything it touches, including electrical wires.

But the boys loved kudzu because of what it led to: forts in the sky where legendary wars were fought on long days before school became an issue again. When kudzu took over a grove of trees, it grew to the tops and spread out. That created a carpet on the crest of the trees and those weighing about 60 to 80 pounds walked on it, climbed through it, hid above and below it, shot BB guns at each other while hiding in it. Mothers didn’t know the part about the BB guns.

On this day, Eb went to the top of the trees by myself just to lie in the kudzu, springy as a bed, and watch cloud formations, a dinosaur here, a fireman there, a dog and a horse and a castle. This was the summer of dreams.

When Mike and Eb played games with other boys on top of the trees, an occasional head would pop through the kudzu or some kid walking on top would disappear with a yelp.

One overcast day when rain threatened, Marion McCorkle was lying in wait on the roof of one of the kudzu neighborhoods, poking his head down through the top layer and scouting the floor of the woods every little bit, hanging onto his Daisy Air Rifle with a death grip, his hand on the trigger and the gun cocked and ready to put another kid’s eye out.

Eb was one of Marion’s enemies that day—and most other days—and he’d caught on to Marion’s trap when he saw a sag in the canopy and a dark shadow in the shape of a boy, backlit through the layers of kudzu. Marion wasn’t quite as sharp or as treacherous as he imagined.

Mike climbed a tree about 10 feet in front of Marion and Eb clamored up one about 10 feet behind him. Eb had a long rope and when he and Mike reached the kudzu roof, Eb looked over at Mike, signaled that the end of the rope was coming, and threw it through several branches. It was a great throw and Mike caught it as it shot through the branches holding Marion in place.

Eb grinned. Mike grinned. Eb held up a hand and counted off: one, two, three, and they jumped, holding the end of the rope and falling through the trees. Each of the boys stopped as if they were hitched to a bungee cord about three feet off the ground, balancing each other at each end and pulling the roof from underneath Marion, who felt his foundation open up and watched as the floor of the woods rushed to meet his face. Several branches broke his fall, but not his scream. You could hear him over at the grocery store a good quarter of a mile away.

That evening Mom asked me what was wrong with Marion—she’d picked out his high-pitched yelping—and I said, “Oh, nothing. He fell off one of those little kudzu bushes.”

The end of the season was coming soon and Eb couldn’t wait for the guys at school to ask about his summer. Boobs and kudzu and wrecked tanks and a dead little boy. Legends in the making.

 

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Goals for 2021: Make It Better Than 2020

The first goal on my annual list is what the headline says: “Make it better than 2020.” That’s a pretty low bar, but then Trump won’t be president, and it’s is one that can be achieved. If we can get him indicted and sent away (with his family and “friends”), all the better.

Last year, several of my most important goals were to lose weight, eat healthy foods in proper amounts, and to exercise. I lost 35 pounds during the Covid-19 pandemic (gained 5 back, but am maintaining that weight), was informed by my primary care physician that I’m no longer diabetic, and am eating fresh, healthy foods daily. The emphasis is on fruits and veggies with some lean meats. The special emphasis in 2021 should be on quantity.

There were other goals, met and unmet, some probably a bridge too far (world peace and the like), and those lead us into 2021. So here goes.

  • I’ll be 75 in late July and am still practicing my journalism profession after 57 years. I’d like to keep going, but that depends on the market. As long as editors want me to write for their publications, I’m here to do it.
  • I’ve been pecking around with my second novel, NEWS!, and it feels pretty good. I’d like to progress with it. I’m also writing some short fiction, a genre that I haven’t dealt with in the past. I’d like to get something published.
  • Helping young writers has always been a joy for me and I hope it continues.
  • I am hoping that should we finally get a grip on the pandemic and return to some semblance of our previous lives, Hollins/Mill Mountain Theatre’s Overnight Sensations will return and I’ll get to act in one of its short plays with my grandgirl, Madeline, who has developed an intense interest in the theater (mostly the technical side) and is studying it in high school. We were all set to act together in 2020, but, of course, were sidelined.
  • I will strive to live safely and with consideration of the health and safety of others by wearing a mask and keeping a safe distance until the “all clear” siren goes off for the pandemic. That could be a little time or a long time, depending on the vaccine, the competence of the government (the medical community’s competence is clearly high), and the willingness of our people to act responsibly.
  • I will continue to take a daily accounting of the myriad blessings I enjoy and will attempt to learn from my mistakes. I will promptly apologize when I am wrong and will not gloat when I am right.
  • I will continue to speak out when I see injustice and to act upon it when the opportunity arises.
  • I will continue to enjoy the Virginia forests, lakes, and rivers on a daily basis, walking for both physical and mental health. If I can get my weight down another 10 pounds, my bicycle and I will renew our long, but suspended, relationship.
  • I will treat Margie as the special person she is.
  • I will wake each morning looking forward to the possibilities of the day and will affect all that I can with a positive and hopeful outlook.
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Another Memorable Christmas Morn

Here’s Roanoke in the Christmas snow.

Christmas with my friend Susan is always such a joy and today’s was no exception. She came over for breakfast and upon arrival walked in on me talking Facetime with my son and grandkids. They opened my presents to them and that compounded the good feeling.

Oz was over the moon over his laser tag set and Maddie really liked her bomber jacket.

Usually, Susan and I take off for the woods on Christmas day, but it was so cold outside (30 degrees with a brisk wind and frozen snow) that we decided to drive up to Mill Mountain and shoot some photos of the rare Christmas snow. Good move, as you can see.

Hope you have had as good a Christmas as we have.

The Mill Mountain star in the snow.
Susan and I at the Mill Mountain overlook.
This was breakfast.
I’m holding Susan’s stocking.
My modest little tree is fine with me.
Coffee and a view.
Pampa at the stove: a common scene.
Susan and I ready to dig in.
Susan gave me these wonderfully appropriate messages.
I really should decorate this Japanese cherry tree. Maybe next year.
Pampa Claus.
“Susan, my butt’s cold. Shoot the picture.”
Loving the snowy woods.
Susan strikes a rocky pose.
A walk in the woods.
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The Opening Chapter of My New Novel

Here it is. Let me know what you think. It is my Christmas gift to you. Hope it is not the written equivalent of coal.

 

NEWS!

A Novel

By Dan Smith

CHAPTER I

“The tiny pink ear, a child’s ear, rested on the broad leaf of the mature fiddle fern, about six inches off the forest floor. It was streaked with fresh bright crimson blood, which glinted in the morning sun. The ear looked like a presentation piece, lovely in the abstract.”

Managing editor Nat Osborne looked up from the four-page story into the ashen face of young Eb McCourry, the boy he’d sent to write about this major airline disaster only hours ago. Nat’s brow was wrinkled, his blue editing pencil poised and scribbling.

“Nearby a man’s arm, sleeved in an expensive charcoal wool suit, its stiff white shirt cuff pushed up, lay at the base of a large pin oak. A white tan stripe around the wrist showed where a watch rested before someone stripped it and ran away.

“At a distance of nearly 50 yards, the small white board and batten cabin appeared to have two chimneys. One was a chimney. The other was the lower half of what must have been a Piedmont stewardess in a straight navy skirt, hose and glossy black high heels. Her legs reached straight for the sky as if she were posing in a water ballet. She had been thrown from the falling, gutted airplane through the roof of the house head first and buried up to her waist.”

Nat stopped again, shaking his head and he emitted a sound … a groan, Eb thought. He made several sharp, swift marks across the page.

“All around there were bodies, most of them not whole, none of them alive, some piled on top of one another, several strapped into airplane seats, one tangled hopelessly in a barbed-wire fence, a fence used to keep the cattle in. Curious cattle sniffed at the body.

“The acrid air was filled with the smells of motor oil and burning tires, jet fuel and death. The air burned eyes and nostrils. The emergency workers—firemen and policemen—wore aqua-colored surgical masks. Newspaper and late-arriving TV reporters, huge cameras atop their vans, covered their faces with whatever they could find. A photographer moved in close to bodies and workers, getting shots of emotion, chaos, swirling smoke, desperate searches for life, aftermath.

“It was a scene of war …”

Nat Osborne, the veins in his brow swollen and red, picked up the pages and slammed them down on his large green metal desk, looked straight into Eb McCourry’s vacant eyes and shouted, “You stupid sonofabitch, we can’t run this shit! What the hell do you think we have here? It’s a goddamn newspaper and it’s read by people who don’t want to get this close to anything in their lives.”

Nat, a World War II Marine who knew war looked like this, threw the four-page story—one he specifically ordered in the morning rush to get a team on the scene—into the gray metal trash can beside his desk. With police response codes toning on the newsroom scanner at 9:30 that morning, he had instructed Eb to “get in that van and write what you see when you get to the crash site. I want it clear and plain and I want detail. Your skinny young ass is the best writer we have and I want that crash on paper so everybody can see it. Capiche?”

Eb didn’t know what “capiche” meant, but he figured it out quickly. He wasn’t sure whether to be mortified, terrified or flattered. He was a sportswriter, a rookie sportswriter who had never covered anything more violent than a football game. He had no idea how to cover a real news event, no hint of what questions to ask, what details to gather, whom to approach, what to say, what to report. And for gruff, crusty Nat Osborne to call him “the best writer we have” when he’d only been a newspaper man—a sportswriter—for six months was hard to chew at this moment.

“Get your ass back to your desk and rewrite something I can run,” Nat barked to the shellshocked 21-year-old whose nose was still covered with freckles and whose short red hair and muscular body said “jock”. “Now, kid! We’re on a deadline here; this is not an annual.”

Eb’s knees were on the verge of buckling. He turned away, a hangdog posture outlining him, and trudged slowly toward the close-quarters sports department and his 1917 Remington typewriter, the oldest one in the Depression-era building, the one always assigned the rawest rookie. He had put plastic racing stripes on the back of the old machine and called it his “Remington GT,” his youth and enthusiasm spilling into even the most mundane.

Eb didn’t know what else he could write, how to approach an event of this magnitude: 97 people dead, all those families missing loved ones, a story of huge national significance, one that won small papers Pulitzer Prizes. He wasn’t old enough or experienced enough to have even the most cursory understanding of its width, breadth and depth. And Nat Osborne was demanding an account. Right now. This minute.

His heart was smashed on that paper now in the trash can and his stomach was in his throat, filling his mouth with acid. His hands shook uncontrollably as he recalled the scene’s gruesome details. He wanted to throw up again, as he had several times at the scene. There was nothing left in his stomach except bile.

Eb had never seen a dead body before 10 o’clock this morning and now he had seen an entire acre of them, mostly dismembered. He hadn’t known the smell of death, the horror of seeing people’s lives suddenly and violently erased.

The baby’s ear folded him up, as he sobbed and vomited until gangly 6-foot-7-inch photographer Hanson Pinder grabbed him by the right arm, pulled him to his feet and said, “Get to work, rookie. This ain’t no fuckin’ pajama party. We got stories to tell, not bawling to do. Save it for later.” Pinder ran his fingers through a mop of scraggly hair, combing it off his face and put the Nikon eyepiece in place. The camera snapped and whirred, its motor advancing the film instantly. His long fingers constantly adjusted the f-ring as he shot, bracketing for light, not wanting to take time to use his light meter, lest he miss something—a vital instant.

Eb  was working with experienced professionals, some of them award-winners. They were covering the biggest story of their careers. He was attempting to type a coherent sentence through the overwhelming emotion of the moment.

Eb McCourry sat at the Remington and wiggled his fingers on the keys for a moment, like a piano player warming up. Then he began to type:

“At 9:30 on a steamy Thursday morning in the western North Carolina mountains near Hendersonville, a Piedmont Airlines Boeing 727 was split open along the belly like a gutted rainbow trout by a two-engine Cessna 310. Ninety-seven lives ended and many hundreds more were transformed in that instant. It was a savage moment, one far beyond the comprehension of all but combat veterans …”

“No, Eb, my name’s not ‘E-L-L-A,’ it’s ‘E-L-O,” she said sharply, leaning into him, shaking her finger. “It is pronounced ‘Ella,’ though because the root of it is pronounced that way.”

Eb looked at her for a moment, confused. “What the hell is ‘Elo?’” he said without even the attempt of delicacy, mispronouncing it, and looking into a long, thin face framed with dark hair, fully explained with brown eyes that left no doubt.

“It’s ‘Eloise,’” she said, “Ella-Weeze’, and if you ever call me that, I’ll cut off your balls and call you ‘Elbert’ until your head explodes. Deal?”

“How’d you know my name’s Elbert?”

“Everybody knows it. When something is that ridiculous it gets around.” She grinned, flashing big teeth as he turned scarlet.

“Deal.” He was embarrassed. “Sorry,” he said, meaning it. “I’ll forget Eloise even exists, but you’ll need to turn back the clock to before you ever heard ‘Elbert.’”

Elo smiled. Their eyes shook on it.

She spun around to go back to her desk and Eb looked at her round bottom, tiny waist, dancer’s legs and feet that turned slightly outward. He almost said something else, but knew she wouldn’t hear it. Boy, she’s pretty, he thought. Then he caught himself. She’s not Lizetta.

Executive Editor Dick Chapman had received orders from the publisher nearly a month ago, dictating a plan of action for integrating the staff at the paper. He was all over it because he believed in creating a workplace that mirrored the community he lived in. It would lead to a better newspaper, he insisted, if a wide variety of communities was represented among the 400 people who worked at the Citizen. Chapman was an old-line Democrat, a war veteran and a Southern Liberal, the kind that acted more than it talked. Southern liberals were real, not the bullshitters who told you what you wanted to hear if you were a different color, ethnicity or from another community. They didn’t patronize, didn’t talk down and would fight for you when they weren’t fighting with you.

He’d been on the road three days a week looking for recruits and on his trip to D.C. the first week after he got the memo, he found Elo at Gallaudet College in D.C., the only college for the deaf in the United States. She’d been pointed out to him by an Asheville used car dealer and long-time Citizen advertiser who had a son at Gallaudet. Chapman played golf with Rex Belmont and the last time they were on the course, Chapman brought up the memo. Belmont told him straight-out, “There’s this kid in my son’s class in college—you know he’s deaf—who is a whiz of a journalist. She’s editor of the newspaper at Gallaudet and the Washington Post has picked up several of her stories and they even had her work with their reporters on one of them; story about a girl who got raped at the school. She did some incredible reporting. Embarrassed hell out of the school, but made quite a name for herself.”

Two days later, Dick Chapman offered Elo Sikorski a job. He didn’t even have a job to offer her, but he placed her awkwardly into the Society Department where she couldn’t possibly be anything but unhappy. He made a promise that she’d get the first newsroom vacancy. He wanted her that much.

She was born deaf in a poor family in New York City. Her early life was a struggle with poverty, neglect and abuse, but she educated herself–all informally–and is one of the brightest, most creative and resourceful people I’ve ever met.

She talks like a deaf person who’s had extensive speech therapy–she has–and a lot of people mistake her deafness for not being bright. As she says, “I’m deaf, not dumb.”

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The Wintry Mood of Roaring Run

The color and the light were glorious today at one of the lower “falls.”

Roaring Run in Botetourt County, just north of Roanoke, is one of my favorite hikes. It’s a bit on the short side, but every step is a visual feast and a clinic in relaxation.

This feeder stream usually flows like a water fountain, but the recent snow and rain has made it a mini-waterfall.

Regardless of the day, the month or the season, RR always fascinates me and I simply cannot hike it without a camera. There is always something different to see even when I’m shooting the same basic photographs. I mean, we’re only talking about a mile of trail each way, but this rapid stream always holds fascination and joy for me.

This was it today.

A big of a somber look on a joyful day. No explanation.
Self-portrait: the photographer’s shadow.
This is my yoga rock. Thought I’d sit on it for a bit of a change.
Think winter is dull and gray? Think again.
This progression is one I call “the steps” because it climbs to the fall and has a great sliding rock.
The falls at the top and the runoff going down the hill.
The distinctive split of Roaring Run Falls.
Looks like Pampa cheered up once he reached the falls.
The sun peeks over the falls.
I love the long view of the flow of the falls.

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MMT Announces 2021 Season

Mill Mountain Theatre, always optimistic, has just released its schedule for the 2021 season. It will have to be considered tentative because of the Coronavirus, but it’s impressive nonetheless.

Tickets may be reserved at 540-342-5740.

“We have been hard at work developing safety protocols while selecting these special upcoming shows in order to welcome our patrons back to their seats in 2021,” says MMT Producing Artistic Director Ginger Poole.

“Many people have reached out to me throughout the year wondering how they can help, and my response is to spread the word about our upcoming season, any donation is greatly appreciated, and to take advantage of our current free digital programming. Live theatre needs an audience. Mill Mountain Theatre needs you.”

The schedule features three Main Stage and three young audience productions, a single production for the Waldron Stage’s alternative “Fringe” programs, and one music concert.

On the Main Stage, July 28-August 22 will be Million Dollar Quartet, a musical inspired by the early icons of rock ‘n’ roll, R&B, and country music. The second featured production has not yet been decided (September 22-October 17), but the December 1-19 production will be the classic A Christmas Story with Ralphie and the “You’ll shoot your eye out” BB gun, Scut Farkas, the school bully, the Bumpus hounds, Flick licking the frozen lampost and the stockinged leg lamp. Fun stuff.

The young audience production (which is outdoors May 8-16) is Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and two other productions of interest to the young will be Tomas and the Library Lady (June2-July 2) and Write Stuff! 2021 (April 17).

The Fringe show June 11-June 12 is Elephant in the Room is “unapologetically Indian” and looks at “the desperation of not belonging anywhere.”

The Music of the Crooners is the concert feature October 29-30, featuring the music of Sinatra, Cole, Bennett, and more.