A REAL LIFE ‘M.A.S.H.” STORY – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My first husband, Larry, was in R.O.T.C. in college. That meant that he would become an officer when he entered the U.S. Army. So, after basic training, he became a Lieutenant, not a grunt. He was sent to Vietnam for a year. I think it was 1970-1971. He was assigned a M.A.S.H. unit to run near the front (all M.A.S.H. units were near the front). He was in charge of over 200 people.

Larry was lucky he didn’t have the traumatic experiences of soldiers who were fighting in the field. Thee active, fighting soldiers were the ones treated at Larry’s medical center.

Larry when he went to Vietnam

Larry loved to tell the stories of the two incidents that happened on his watch that resulted in injuries to his people. These were the only two injuries to his staff on his watch.

One of the big projects on the base was the building of a huge, state of the art swimming pool. Like in the movie and TV shows, of “M.A.S.H.”, Larry’s unit was able to get hold of steel beams that were earmarked for bridges in the area. They used these beams to reinforce the substructure of the pool. This was one solid swimming pool!

When the pool was almost done and was half full, a couple of guys got drunk and one of them fell in. The guy almost drowned before his buddies were able to drag him out of the water.

The second incident happened at the guard station on the grounds. The two soldiers on guard duty were apparently ‘playing’ with their guns. One went off and shot the other guy in the gut. If he hadn’t been literally on the grounds of a hospital, he would have bled out.

There was a Court Martial hearing for these guys. Remember they were guards, at the front, in an active war zone. They used the classic defense: “We didn’t know that the guns were loaded!” I swear to God this actually happened! Obviously they were convicted and thrown out of the Army. It was almost a Darwin Award situation.

Larry, in drag, in the Army Base Xmas show in Vietnam

So, Larry’s military experiences were more “M.A.S.H” than “Apocalypse Now”. He was very lucky, and so were the two bozos in this story. Can you imagine having to tell a grieving family their loved one had died in either of these two ways?

WISDOM, WISE WORDS AND WTF?! – BY TOM CURLEY

Ellin and I were watching something on TV last week, I don’t remember exactly what, when somebody blurted out: “You should live every day of your life as if it were your last.” 

It’s an old platitude. I’ve heard it hundreds of times. But for some reason, I stopped and really thought about it. What if I did live every day of my life as if it were my last? How would that work out? The more I thought about it, the more I realized that living like that would be the dumbest thing ever!

I mean, here’s how every day of the rest my life would go.

Alarm goes off:

ME: (Yawn) Time to get up. What day is it? Tuesday? What do I have to do today? Oh wait, I just remembered. THIS IS THE LAST DAY OF MY LIFE! WTF?? I’VE GOT JUST 24 HOURS TO LIVE!!! ARE YOU KIDDING ME!?? HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?? I FELT FINE YESTERDAY!!

WHAT AM I GOING TO DO?? ALL THE THINGS I WANTED TO DO BEFORE I DIE??? EVERY THING THAT’S ON MY BUCKET LIST?? HOW THE HELL AM GOING TO DO THAT?? I’VE ONLY GOT 24 FRIGGING HOURS BEFORE I KICK THE GOD DAMNED BUCKET!

I COULD GO OUT TO THAT EXPENSIVE RESTAURANT I’VE ALWAYS WANTED TO GO TO. BUT WHAT’S THE POINT!!!? I’LL BE DEAD BEFORE THE MEAL’S DIGESTED!! FUCK THIS! THIS ISN’T FAIR!! SCREW IT! I’LL JUST GET SHIT-FACED DRUNK!

I wake up the next morning:

ME: Ohhhh! My head! Crap. This is the worst hangover I’ve ever had. What was I thinking? Drinking that much? Wait … oh yeah … THIS IS THE LAST DAY OF MY LIFE!! I’M GONNA BE DEAD IN 24 HOURS!!!  OK, 23 HOURS, 57 MINUTES AND 12 SECONDS, 11 SECONDS … WTF??!  WHY ME??!

And so it would go.

I’m sorry, but that’s no way to live.  That’s the Groundhog Day from Hell. I’m quite happy with my life the way it is.

I plan on living the rest of my life going to sleep every night with the firm belief there’s a better than even chance I’m going to live to see the next day. And the day after that.

WE WERE ALL SUCH GOOD FRIENDS – GARRY ARMSTRONG

I’ve just finished reading Terry Ann Knopf’s “The Golden Age of Boston Television”.  Terry was a long time TV critic for a prominent Boston-area newspaper. It’s an interesting read, covering a special time in Boston television news. I’m in it, briefly.

You would think a local legend like me would get more space. Just kidding, Terry. I’m flattered you included me.

The Golden Age of Boston Television by Terry Ann Knopf

Boston, indeed, experienced a wonderful period of TV news excellence. It was the envy of the nation at one point. I know because many reporters from network to major local stations shared their feelings with me. I knew because I had worked at a network (ABC News) before my career landed me in Boston. I could do the comparison without bias. Sadly, the excellence in TV journalism is now history with a few exceptions. Terry deals with that in her book.

I’m sure there will be a mixed response to “The Golden Age of Boston Television” from those who worked at the various television stations during the period.  As for me, I enjoyed the journey through time. I logged 31 years on Boston television. I have a treasure chest of memories.

Garry with Barry Nolan

One of the things missing from Terry’s book is an acknowledgement of the excellent work done by people from all the competing TV stations.  This was a time when reporters received five to ten minutes to deliver stories in complete depth. Facts were double and triple-checked. Words mattered. Our editors were old-school and verbally spanked us for purple prose or improper use of grammar. We cared more about the quality of our stories than how good we looked in live shots.

Reporters, competing for a scoop on the same story, often shared information to be sure we were accurate.  We wanted to be first — but we wanted to be right. There was no joy in seeing a competitor embarrassed by bad information. We had a bond — unlike any other major news market. Writing came first for most of us. Our words were supposed to complement the video — not be redundant.

There was a false belief among outsiders that we didn’t like each other. We’d back stab one another for a “beat.” Sure, there were a few who were better suited to modelling, chasing ambulances, or selling insurance, but that was not true for most of us. For a few precious years, Boston boasted an all-star lineup of reporters who graced the lineups for its TV stations.

Charlie “Chuck” Austin, Jack Harper, Jorge Quiroga, Dan Rea, Kirby Perkins, Walt Sanders, Sarah Ann Shaw, Ron Gollobin, Marty Sender, Shelby “Storm Queen” Scott, David Roepik, Ron Sanders, Paul Reece, Victoria Block, Rehema Ellis, Maurice Lewis, Byron Barnett, Greg Wayland, Gary Gillis (a multi-threat in hard news and sports), Mark Wile, Jack Borden, Chet Curtis (all-star reporter and anchor).

I know I’m forgetting some people and I apologize. Age is catching up.

Clark Booth is special. He’s a hero. Clark’s way with words often meant “we don’t need no stinkin’ video”.  Clark’s catch phrase “good stuff” has been stolen here myriad times.

I’ve stayed away from the news anchors because they are a different story and deserve separate space. News anchors, local and network, are a special breed. Terry Ann Knopf deals with many of Boston’s star anchors in her book. I’ve also not mentioned the “behind the camera” people who were so integral to our success. I will have a special piece on them. Stay tuned.

One of my former colleagues epitomizes my feelings about Boston’s television news reporters.  Ask anyone of a certain age about Joe Day and they will smile. Your political persuasion or news preferences don’t matter. We lost Joe two years ago and our world is poorer for his absence.

I’ll wrap this up with memories of the day we remembered one of Boston’s finest TV news reporters.

The Golden Age of Boston Television
Terry Ann Knopf
University Press of New England, Hanover and London

243 pages including appendix


In August 2015, we gathered as a group to celebrate the life of a friend who passed away earlier that year.

Our friend was Joe Day. Joe’s name should be familiar to those who’ve lived in New England during the past forty years. He was a highly respected TV news reporter for four of Boston’s major television stations (WHDH, WCVB, WGBH, WBZ). Joe specialized in politics. He covered presidents, governors, senators, congressmen and local elective officials.

Many of us fondly remember Joe’s “people” stories, his vignettes about everyday folks living their lives in relative obscurity. That was Joe at his best. On and off camera, he was a modest, plain-spoken guy despite the richly deserved awards he received which recognized his career. There were smiles and tears as people shared stories about Joe. We were mostly the generation of “old fart” journalists, recalling the days when news wasn’t just a business.

Joe Day’s family marveled at the size of the gathering. It’s one thing to send an email or video tribute. But to turn out in impressive numbers on a hot August Saturday, that says so much about how Joe touched the lives of people around him.

Fame is fleeting and transitory in TV news. Friendship is another thing. Usually it fades quickly after changing jobs, states and retirement. You always mean to stay in touch but it rarely happens. That’s what makes the celebratory gathering so special. All those folks bonding in their memories of yesterday when our world was young and Joe Day touched our lives, making each one of us a little better just for knowing him.

Such good friends.

PONDERING PUBLISHING AND THE WORLD GONE BY

I usually say I wouldn’t want to ever work again, but I got to thinking about that. I realized if I could get back my job as editor at Doubleday? I’d do it in a heartbeat. How many jobs give you unlimited sick days, two-hour lunches, and require you to read sleazy novels during the day? And pay you for the privilege? And give you the best bunch of people as colleagues you could hope for.

We met at Doubleday!

I also had to write stuff about the books I read, but a long review was still shorter than any of the pieces I write for this blog. Even in my crumbling state of health, I think I could handle it.

The trouble is, the job doesn’t exist. Publishers are thoroughly conglomerated. Each is a subsection of some über corporation where books are one of many products — and not an important product, either.

The 1970s were wonderful years for reading. It was a tremendous period for books and book clubs — and for literature as an art. In those days, reading was major entertainment. People read books and talked about them by the water cooler. If you got excited about a book, you told all your friends … and they read it, too.


Before the internet.

Before cell phones.

Before cable and satellite television.

Before computers and many years before WiFi …

We had books.

Other entertainment? Of course there were movies, but you had to see them in a movie theater. Television was there, but it had limitations. We had — in New York which was entertainment central — seven channels. Unless you had a really good antenna on the roof, you rarely got a clear picture. There was interference called “snow.” Pictures rolled — up, down, and side-to-side. Vertical and horizontal holds on your TV were designed to help control it. Sometimes, they did, but I remember many nights of giving up and turning the set off because we couldn’t get a decent picture. Meanwhile, many of us used a set of rabbit-ear antennas that worked sometimes — if the wind was blowing due west.

I spent more time trying to convince the rabbit-ears to receive a signal than watching shows.

Doubleday in Garden City, NY

Not surprisingly, television wasn’t our primary source of entertainment. Instead, we read books — and we talked to each other — something we old folks continue to do. Sometimes, we had conversations that lasted for hours and in my life, occasionally ran into weeks. Blows your mind, doesn’t it? All that talking without a phone? Without texting, either.

Books were big business. If you wrote anything reasonably good, there were more than enough publishers who might be interested in printing it. I miss that world, sometimes more than I can say.

All of this got me thinking about how hard it is to get books published these days. So many people I know have written really good books and have never found anyone to back them. It’s rough on writers, and it’s not a great sign for the art of literature. Not only has our political world caved in, but our literary world is sliding down a long ramp to nowhere. In theory, many more books are published today because anyone can publish anything — and sell it on Amazon. All books — the great, good, mediocre, and truly awful are lumped together. Most of them are rarely read since none of them are being promoted by a publisher. This isn’t a small thing. Publishers were a huge piece of what made books great. If your publisher believed you’d written something excellent, you could count on being visible on the shelves of bookstores everywhere. You’d also be part of book club publications. People — reading people — would see your book. There were book columns and reviews — and people read them they way they read stuff on upcoming television shows today.

Of course, we are also suffering from the vanishing bookstore … a whole other subject.

A great idea followed by a well-written manuscript was just the beginning of a book’s life story. From the manuscript, publishers took books and did their best to sell them to the world. Today, all that pushing and pitching is left to authors, including those whose books typically sell well.

Can anyone imagine how Faulkner, Hemingway and Thomas Wolf would do trying to “work the marketplace”? No doubt there were writers who were able to do the balancing of writing and marketing, but many authors are not particularly sociable. A good many are downright grumpy and a fair number are essentially inarticulate. They are not naturals to the marketing gig.

And … ponder this … what kind of blog do you think Faulkner … or … Eugene O’Neill … would have written?

I miss books. I miss authors. I miss publishers. I miss carefully edited manuscripts and beautifully published books where you could smell the ink and paper as you cracked the cover open. It was a heady perfume.

CASUAL – OR LIVING WITH DOGS

Casual.

It’s one of the big pluses of dogs as housemates. Whether or not there’s a human in there too, the dogs have a way of dominating the relationship and they don’t care what you wear. They don’t care if you wear. They simply don’t care.

Their permanent fur coats go from clean and delightful — for 24 hours following a major cleanup — to scruffy and full of leaves, sticks, rocks and who knows what else. As far as they are concerned, that’s all just fine. They never understand why you would prefer the smell of soap to the yummy odors of yard.

They expect no better — or worse — from you.

So if your cleaning mandate is non-obsessive and your dress code leaves “casual” far back in the dust? Live with dogs. The more, the merrier.

SHARING MY WORLD – WELCOME TO AUGUST 2017!

Share Your World – July 31, 2017


If you had to have your vision corrected would you rather: glasses or contacts? Or what do you use if you need to have your vision corrected?

I have been wearing glasses since sixth grade … or I guess that would be age 10. I didn’t know I needed glasses and my mother was far-sighted, so until I told her I had to sit in the front row or I could not read the blackboard, it didn’t cross her mind that I might need glasses.

I didn’t need them all the time until High School … and that was the first time I tried contact lenses.

New me, new glasses

They were new, back then, and they though they might limit how much your eyes changed — a great idea, but sadly, wrong. Anyway, I just couldn’t. The hard contact lenses tickled; the soft ones hadn’t been  invented.

Back to eyeglasses. I tried again in college because they soft ones were newly arrived, but they were just as itchy as the hard ones.

Back to eyeglasses. After I came back from Israel in 1988, I tried one last time and it was even worse. It turned out the problem was hay-fever. It was August and the air was rich with pollen. I’d just spent 9 years in a pollen free zone, so when I got back, the pollen just about killed me. I didn’t even know I had hay-fever until then. The eye doctor looked very sympathetic, but it was — again and finally — back to glasses. 

The only thing I seriously don’t like about glasses is that they are always dirty. I clean them a dozen times a day. Also, I don’t like how they reflect at night, especially in the rain. People who wear contacts have much better night vision than those of us who wear glasses.

There’s nothing to be done about it. At this point, I wouldn’t bother to try. If I ever get serious cataracts, maybe they can do for me what they did for Garry: implant corrective lenses in my eyes. You have NO idea how happy he was being able to see without glasses — until he realized he couldn’t read at all … couldn’t even see the items on shelves in the supermarket. He has to wear reading glasses now.

Ah the cruelty of life!

Are you more of a dog person or a cat person?

I am a lover of animals person. I have had ferrets and cats and parrots and dogs. Also fish. And once, a rather large tortoise.

I would have loved to have a horse, but by the time we had the room for a horse, my riding days were over.

If you were to buy a new house/apartment what is the top three items on your wish list?

I’ll just stay here, I think. It is imperfect mainly because it’s too big and it has stairs, but it’s home and the idea of having to pack up all this stuff and find somewhere else is totally overwhelming.

What inspired you this past week?  Feel free to use a quote, a photo, a story, or even a combination. 

This hasn’t been an awe-inspiring week. Mostly, I’m glad it’s over. I did find the hiring and instant firing of “The Mooch” pretty damned hilarious, though. I’m sure every comedian in the U.S. — maybe around the world — is saddened at his loss. They had barely ramped up their new jokes before he was already history.

If anything could be said to be inspiring, I think maybe our orange begonias. They were such sad flowers when I got those two pots. They are amazing at this point. All the rain seems to have made them very happy, glowing flowers. They are also hard to photograph. They are SO bright, they look fake and it doesn’t seem to matter what lens I use or what light I’m shooting in. They seem to glow from within.