GARRY ARMSTRONG HITS THE ROAD – CEE’S WHICH WAY PHOTO CHALLENGE

Cee’s Which Way Photo Challenge

Somewhere in Uxbridge
The lonely motorcyclist

Just when Marilyn thought I’d given up photography, having not picked up a camera since the great storms of March, I surprised her and took the camera with me today. It was a good road day, too.

Watch your speed!
Passing the cop shop

Before the day was over, I was in and out of five separate valley towns.

I call him “The Lawn Whisperer”
Gardener at work

Starting in Uxbridge, I went through Mendon to Milford. From Milford back through Mendon and Uxbridge to Whitinsville and the Super Walmart. From there down into Douglas, then back up and finally, home.

But I got a lot done and in the end, that feels pretty good.

MISCELLANY OF ODDBALL PHOTOS FOR CEE’S CHALLENGE – Marilyn & Garry Armstrong

Cee’s Odd Ball Photo Challenge

With a mere hint of Narcissism

I was reading through Rich’s story of ye olde days of vinyl records and remembering when we had probably a thousand pounds of them — between all of mine and all of Garry through 30 or more years of collecting — and how getting rid of them was really easy after they were all soaked when the basement flooded.

As for narcissism? Regard this and ponder the word and its meaning:

As I was remember fancy sound systems with speakers all of the room so you’d get the sound “just right” — if you sat right in the middle of the room which was pretty much impossible because there was inevitably a table or something else already in the middle of the room.

While thinking about this, what should pop out of the bottom drawer of my night table, but …

One Sony Walkman

I was pondering whether I should call a  museum and see if I could get a few bucks for it … and whether or not it might work, assuming there wasn’t an exploded battery inside it. I had to take a picture of it anyway. I mean — who has an almost perfect Sony Walkman anymore? I remember when this was THE device to have. Before cell phones and a thousand versions of listening thingies, this was the one to have. Now, they are trash. So goes the world.

And then, Garry found this one. What is most interesting is the question: you mean, we have water slides in Uxbridge? Where?

Photo: Garry Armstrong – Waterslides?

I also took a picture of what has to be the very last cactus flower.

Finally, the very last Christmas Cactus flower

On one of the many long rainy days of the past couple of months, a wistful picture of the Duke, looking out the window into the gloppy, muddy yard.

Duke on a rainy day

And finally, a laboring gardener, optimistically assuming that we are going to have a summer … if it stops raining. Any day now …

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Happy Sunday. Since I started writing this, we have had rain and sun, rain and sun. Right now, sunny … but I see the clouds coming back so soon? Who knows?

A BUSY, BUSY DAY IN THE MERRY MONTH OF MAY – Garry Armstrong

T.G.I.F.!

It’s the end of a not so merry week in this murky month of May.  The weather Gods have not been kind to many people in the United States. I guess we should be happy not to have volcanoes, flowing lava, tsunamis, mud slides, blizzards or raging forest fires.

Think positive, always think positive, a political pal (currently in jail), once preached to me.

I found the shipping place!
In, get receipt and off I go!

The early wake-up had me in a sullen mood from the start. First stop, drop off a package going back to Amazon. We don’t put collars on our dogs when there are no ingredients listed for the product.

Next, the audiologist for a checkup of my hearing aids and a peek inside my ears. We’re already in the consult stage for cochlear implant surgery that may restore my hearing for the first time in my life. The hearing aids are clean, if not pristine, but one of my ears was in trouble.

Park here!
See audiologist here

I already knew the answer without asking.  I’ve done it again!  Over zealous use of Q-Tips with a piece of cotton firmly wedged deep inside my left ear.  My “good” ear.

I could see Marilyn giving me “the look.”It will be her “You’ve done it again” look.  I will have to schlep to the PC for help. If I could my punch myself in the face, I would. My excuse?  My ears were itchy and moist, so I’d probed deeper than I should with the Q-Tip the previous evening. Karma is my  frequent guest.

Prescription!

Not done yet, it’s off to the pharmacy at Walmart. Neither of the pharmacies we normally use had the script, so I had to go to Walmart. But, the staff was friendly and accommodating.  They laughed when I asked if someone could probe my ear for the delinquent piece of cotton.

My self-anger grew darker. I really know better. This is not the first or second time. Me and Q-Tips have a long and complex relationship.

Suspiciously empty parking lot

The parking lot at my PC’s office was unusually empty. Voila!  In and out for me,  I thought.  Wrong, Beano breath.  It was lunch hour. The offices were closed.  I sat for half an hour,  tapping my skull in sync with the “Beavis and Butthead” theme. Agony flipped to ecstasy when my PC showed up, smiled compassionately and quickly flushed out that devious cotton shred. Joy couldn’t mute the stupidity I felt.

The mower guy

Suddenly, I realized I was hungry. Starving. I’d been rushing since I awakened to complete all my errands. I hadn’t even drunk a cup of morning Joe.

Later, I passed some time with a fellow manicuring the lawn across from the medical complex. He burped, recounting his recently finished jumbo sandwich. My stomach repeatedly growled as I watched the landscape-whisperer.

I was drooling when I hit our local Deli.  Naturally,  there was a long line in front of me.  People slowly selecting lottery tickets.  My stomach sounded like an inferno.  Mother of Mercy.  It was longer than any Mickey Spillane-Mike Hammer wait.

Finally,  journey’s end. Back home to Kachingerosa.  The furry kids were full of energy, no doubt anticipating a blue plate luncheon.  They’d wait this day.  The odor of the dog’s playground did little to placate my hunger.

It was hard to face myself today where I was the perp on everything that went sour.

Adios,  Bad hombre!

MAY WATER EVER FLOW – Marilyn Armstrong

WATER EVERYWHERE


There’s a lot of wetness when you live in a water shed. It flows over rocks and down the dams. It runs into little rivulets and bigger streams and sometimes, into the old canal. We have some lakes, too, including a very large one that has a Native American name that no one who didn’t grow up in this area can ever pronounce. Webster Lake, for Anglophones.

For valley natives,  it is Lake “Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg” (/ˌleɪk tʃɚˈɡɒɡəɡɒɡ ˌmænˈtʃɔːɡəɡɒɡ tʃəˌbʌnəˈɡʌŋɡəmɔːɡ/). This is a 45-letter alternative title is frequently called the longest place-name in the United States. If there’s a longer one, no one has yet told me what it might be.

It is also one of the longest place-names in any language.

Tall Ships, Boston 2017

I grew up in New York. The city part of the state and the nearest “water” were the docks along the horribly polluted rivers. Thank Pete Seeger for helping fix that so that the Hudson River is no longer so polluted you could actually develop film in the water.

I lived in Queens and if we wanted to see water without someone driving us, we got on our bicycles and rode for a couple of hours to whatever were the nearest docks. There was a tiny little lake right by my high school, though. Beaver Dam. I’m assuming that once upon a time, there were beaver there. I suspect it is gone. It didn’t seem to have any inlets or outlets and that’s usually the end of a body of water.

We never had flowing water locally. No streams, no rivers. We did have some large puddles and named them as if they were lakes, though we knew they were not. Still, they were the only thing we had, so we had to make do.

If we wanted an ocean, someone’s mother or father had to drive us to the beach. Mine was not a beach-going family. My mother had cancer in her 40s. Too much radiation, so she could not go into the sun. When she had no choice, she wore caftans and huge hats. They hadn’t invented sun-screen yet, but later, she would wear that, too.

Sunset at the marina

I liked the beach because my friends liked the beach. I loved the ocean itself and that crazy feeling of standing in the oceans, feeling the sand moving under your feet as the wave pulled out before the next rolled in. Otherwise, I never liked sand. It always got into places I thought sand didn’t belong.

Woodcleft Canal, Freeport

I remember burning my feet trying to walk barefoot to the car through the parking lots of Jones Beach. We didn’t have flip-flops then. I don’t think anyone had invented them. I don’t remember owning sandals until I was an adult.

I liked the ocean off-season better. I liked the mist on the ocean and an empty beach. No umbrellas, no couples rubbing each other with oil. No endless smell of hot dogs.

Those were the days when everyone wanted a tan. I never tanned. I got more and more freckled though and you’d think eventually they would meld into a tan, but nope. Once, I get a slightly orange hue to my skin I thought was my best tan ever. Garry — to whom I was then married — laughed hysterically.

He used to have a contest with another Black friend about who could get the blackest over the course of the summer. Garry never won because there’s a lot of red in his skin. Probably those Irish grandparents, but Michael got really dark. I was this ghostly little thing and any attempt I made to get a golden tan resulted in days of pain and peeling.

Eventually, I gave up. I did get a sort of tan the year we went for our first cruise. Garry talked me into spending a couple of hours a week at a tanning salon so at least I would look tanned. It turns out those fake tans don’t keep you from burning, by the way. I got a terrible burn on a beach in Haiti even though I was wearing a t-shirt AND a hat — and had that fake tan. Water reflects sun upwards. Live and learn.

Local tame goose looking for something to eat

Those tans weren’t “real” anyway. They faded fast, but at least they weren’t as ugly as the spray. I did try one of those and it looked like I’d been heavily involved with orange paint I could not wash off.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Living here, in the valley with the rivers, dams , waterfalls plus all the woodland … this suits me well. The rivers are shady and cool. Not for swimming, mostly.

There is either a minor pollution problem dating back to when the Blackstone was one of the most polluted rivers in the world … or there are so many snapping turtles if you treasure your toes, don’t dangle your bits in the water.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

That’s okay. It’s great watching the herons, eagles, egrets, geese, ducks, swans and other waders pluck fish from the water. It’s sad when we have a drought and all you can see is mud and you wonder what has become of all those turtles and fish … and where have the eagles and the herons flown.

Yet the fish and the turtles and the water fowl come back, despite the bitter cold and the endless winter storms. They make new life and so far, the world spins on in the valley.

SEND IN THE CLOWNS – Garry Armstrong

“Send In The Clowns”, on its own merit, is a beautiful song from the show, “A Little Night Music.” Judy Collins’ cover has made it a popular favorite for decades. A Frank Sinatra version is especially poignant.

Jimmy Stewart (clown) and Charlton Heston in “The Greatest Show On Earth”

In the early 70’s, a seemingly more innocent period, I used “Send In The Clowns” as a musical wrap around a political TV piece. I was covering local Boston politics. A primary campaign. Those were the days of political and community icons like “Dapper,” “Fast Freddie,” Trixie, “Kevin From Heaven,” “Wacko,” and “Raybo.”

Those were influential folks, beloved by their constituents and bearers of much political clout. I was on “friendly”terms with most of these folks. There was less Sturm und drang between the media and politicians in those days. There was respect.

My piece was shot with silent black and white film.  We were still in the pre-video tape and digital days. I chose silent film over sound because I wanted the music to have more presence, less competition from people talking.

We used a montage of candidates faces, posters and campaign slogans. The lyrics of “Send In The Clowns” soared as the video zoomed in on campaign slogans and candidates kissing babies and pressing the flesh.

I anticipated a flurry of angry calls from campaign directors.  Nothing. Nada. One candidate, over happy hour drinks, praised the cleverness of my piece but said he would’ve preferred the Sinatra version of “Clowns”.

So much for being glib in those days.

Imagine using “Send In The Clowns” today.  For the coming mid-terms.  The  ’20 Presidential race. How would the “Clowns” lyrics fare over the screaming POTUS?  The ranting Rudy? The shouting Sean Hannity?

Should we intercut snippets of circus clowns with “breaking news” video and clips of all the President’s minions?  Don’t forget those shots of the President’s supporters, the “People,” with their “Jail Her” signs and the racist banners flying over political bonfires.

Send in the clowns?  Don’t bother. They’re already here.

CHARLIE AUSTIN – by Garry Armstrong

Today is Charlie Austin’s Memorial Service. 

I first met Charlie Austin at a pickup basketball game in Boston. It was September evening in Boston, 1970.

I was the new TV news reporter guy in town and I was meeting people, on and off the job. One of the people on my “must meet” list was Charlie Austin. He had the reputation – even back then – as one of Boston’s finest reporters.

I’d seen Charlie on television, doing a sports piece as “Chuck” Austin. I liked his laid back style and deep voice.

I was already jealous of that voice.

“Hi, Chuck”,  I said brightly as the pick up teams chose players. I was on the bench.  Charlie was one of the FIRST picked to play.  My envy grew.

Charlie just stared at me. The poker face, I would learn, was his trademark. I didn’t know and thought I’d committed a social blunder.  I was a little confused.  It was a very long moment before Charlie came over and smiled.

“You a 6th man? Instant offense off the bench,”  he asked with a mischievous grin.  I looked at the floor and told him I was the last man sitting. He patted me on the shoulder and headed off for some serious hoops.

Charles Austin

I sat for most of the first half until the coach/assistant news director signalled me to go in. Charlie Austin grinned slyly as I ran on the court.

I made my first three 20-footers to everyone’s surprise,  especially mine.  Hey, no one was guarding me.  Half-time and everyone gathered for coke and pizza. “Nice shot,”  Charlie said to me,  wolfing down 2 slices in seconds.

I smiled and said,  “Thanks, Chuck.”  His smile turned into a deep frown.

“Don’t call me Chuck,”  Charlie said tersely.  I was confused, which he picked up. “They call me Chuck when I do sports. I hate that name. Hate it!  Okay?”

I nodded and told him I heard Henry Aaron hated being called “Hank” but dealt with it because it was a media thing about which you don’t argue.  Charlie nodded with one of his signature crooked smiles. It was back to the bench for me for most of the 2nd half until we hit “Garbage” time and my on court presence didn’t matter.

I cornered Charlie for a post game snack. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

The next time I saw Charlie Austin it was business.  A too familiar scene for us in the coming years.  A shooting in “The Bury” as Roxbury was known in the media. Roxbury, a predominantly Black Boston neighborhood, had been the focal point of simmering tension and violence for several years since the assassination of Martin Luther king sparked  protests in many minority communities across the country. I’d seen it before during my network tenure.

This was different for me.  New city, new community, new faces. I was very anxious as my crew and I arrived, the last news unit on the scene. I surveyed the crowd, taking in all the faces. Local residents,  police units, clergy, and lots of politicians. I didn’t know anyone.

Charlie Austin spotted me.  He walked over and the eyes of the crowd followed him. Charlie stopped in front of me, small smile and embraced me with a “How ya doing,  Garry?”  I was startled and grateful.

Charlie’s welcome gesture was my entrée to Roxbury and all gathered for the story. We shook hands and Charlie rejoined his TV crew. I knew, from previous experience, not to roll film on the initial speakers.  Politicians with “Kumbaya spins” to the violence, the victims, and the suspects. I glanced at Charlie.  His crew wasn’t filming either.

We exchanged knowing smiles. I essentially followed Charlie’s pursuit of interviews.  It was clear he knew all “the players”. It was a strategy I’d follow for a long time until I became familiar with the city.

I learned on many stories that I’d been successful because I knew Charlie Austin.  He opened doors that were shut to other reporters. When I tried to thank him,  Charlie shrugged it off with that crooked grin.

Charlie knew about my hearing problems. He often would take me aside to make sure I had the correct spelling and pronunciation of people and places.  He did this as we both faced similar deadlines.

Charlie and I saw a lot of each other during the volatile Forced Busing School Desegregation years in Boston. It was a period that tested the mettle of many reporters. Only a handful of journalists had full access to both white and minority communities as Boston found itself under an international spotlight. The 6th largest TV market in the country had very few minority reporters.  You could count us on the fingers of one hand.

A few months ago, former Mayor Ray Flynn noted, in an email exchange, how much he appreciated the efforts of some reporters during that volatile period.  Charlie Austin topped Mayor Flynn’s list. I remember how Charlie handled the most difficult, potentially explosive situations.

Poker faced, with a small smile and a gesture that said, “I’m listening to you.”

Charlie’s humanity defused anger and bitterness on both sides of the issue. He didn’t play “the race card” in his reports. He saw the frustration on the faces of families and understood there was a common quest — regardless of skin color — for quality education. Charlie Austin’s reports, delivered in firm manner minus attitude or political agenda,  set the tone for local reporters. It helped me and others do our jobs.

We gritted our teeth when network reporters swept in, leaned on street optics, did often biased and inaccurate reports and swept out-of-town.  Charlie and the rest of us had to repeatedly clean up the messes.  Charlie led the way with his non theatrical, honest reports. He set the bar for the rest of us.

It was a very high bar.

Charlie’s friendship extended beyond work. He knew I needed something more than the job. He was instrumental in getting me involved with the legendary Elma Lewis and her “Black Nativity”  production which now is part of the fabric of Boston’s Arts and Culture community.  I played one of the three Wise Men for several years.  A short time on stage but it was a wonderful experience for me.  It made me feel like I was part of the community,  thanks to Charlie Austin.

In costume for Black Nativity

Charlie rarely talked about his many health issues.  Others thought of him as heroic but Charlie would not have any of such talk. He did proudly show off pictures of his wife, Linda and daughter, Danielle.  Danielle was the bright light in Charlie’s eyes.  His face always swelled with pride and love.

I wish I’d seen Charlie more often in recent years.  He played such a large part in my life and I never got to thank him properly.

He’s probably listening right now with that crooked grin lighting his face.

“Thanks, CHUCK!”

TRUTH, LIES, AND NEWS REPORTING – Garry Armstrong

“The media always lies,” she said and I cringed. Then, I got angry. Why do people believe a president who has never told the truth about anything while failing to believe fact-based truth.

I’m not talking about “ultimate” truth or the meaning of life or faith. I’m talking about things that can be proved with evidence, science. Stuff caught on tape. Printed, heard, overheard, and to which testimony has been given.

Photo credit: CBS News – Vermin Supreme in New Hampshire

I really hate it when I hear that cliché – “The media doesn’t tell the truth. They always lie.” It demeans all the passion and belief I put into more than 40-years as a working reporter. Moreover, it demeans the careers of so many others who give their lives in pursuit of the truth. Many, literally died in pursuit of the truth.

I am not romanticizing my career. I’ve made mistakes. I’ve gotten it wrong. It happens when you’re covering multiple stories a day, 5 to 7 days a week. With deadlines breathing down your neck.

I always tried to clarify mistakes by accepting my culpability up front and being clear with viewers. There were many days when I hated what I had to do. Usually, it was in pursuit of a truth which would be ugly, demanding, tedious — and require a good deal of soul-searching. The truth isn’t simple, or black and white. Despite what you usually see on television or in movies about reporters, there aren’t many clear “wins.”

Often, we’re lambasted for telling the truth by the same folks who call us liars. Jack Nicholson’s “You can’t handle the truth” line should be crayoned on the skulls of those who insist the media always lies. Those critics are the same pilgrims who gobble up the pablum offered by the current White House Tenant who doesn’t know what the truth is. It’s like a foreign language to him.

I fervently wish that Those People who belittle the media and law enforcement officials  spend some time, real time — like 24/7 on the streets. The real streets, not just their cozy neighborhood. They might see life closeup without any of the public relations filters. I suspect those critics would change that tune and maybe sing a different song. They might think before they speak and see our world in three-dimensions instead of whatever propaganda they accept in their biased, insulated worlds.

Finally, I’m proud of what I did for a living. For 40 plus years, I fought to tell the truth.

It was a privilege!