Playing the Ghost Card in Tombstone

Tombstone, Arizona is a real town. It has a high school, gas stations, stoplights, and everything. Many think of it as just a tourist attraction, and that’s what one section of the city is. It’s an interesting place, “Old Tombstone,” a section of town devoted to glorifying gunfights, drinking, lascivious dance hall girls, and rowdy cowboys. A top attraction then, and now, the Birdcage Theatre flourished from 1881 to 1889, during the height of the silver boom. It was a combination saloon, gambling parlor, theater and brothel. It closed when the silver mine folded, but re-opened in 1934 and has been a top tourist attraction ever since. I’ve been there three times. First time out of curiosity, and the other times to take out-of-town visitors.Birdcage Theatre 900w

The theater is said to be haunted, and has been featured on television in the paranormal investigation shows, Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures, and others. In the front parlor of the Bird Cage is the original, massive, and ornate bar with the original mirror behind it. There are a few bullet holes in the opposite wall. These days a middle age lady dressed up like a dance hall girl explains the history of the place and urges you to go farther into the building to see the theater and gambling tables. She also sells souvenir postcards, photo books, and fake sheriff badges.

On this one visit, while the woman was giving her talk, I was rummaging around, looking at some stuff they had for sale. Off in a far corner of the room, was a pair of cowboy boots. I don’t know if they once belonged to Wyatt Earp, or were bought through Amazon. They were quite dusty, so I guessed they’d been there awhile. Taped to one of them was a faded note. It read, “For price, see Laura.” I thought the note might have been written, some time ago, by the person behind the bar, but I didn’t know. Just before leaving the place, I went up to the bar, hesitated, and with contrived nervousness asked, “Is your name Laura?”

She said, “Yes, it is. Why do you ask?”

“Well, a few minutes ago,” I explained, “As I looked at you, your face changed and became the face of my ex-wife, Laura. It just kind of faded in, stayed for about ten seconds, and then slowly faded away. I know it was her. She had a mysterious look, staring straight ahead. I’ve heard this place is haunted.” The woman looked at me stunned, clearly shaken a bit. For years, she had been telling people the place was haunted. Perhaps she’d come to believe it. She didn’t know that my ex-wife, Laura, was still alive and unlikely to appear as a ghost. I did not want to spoil it for the dance hall girl. After all, I’d just given her another ghost story to tell. I turned and walked toward the door. As I looked back, she was staring at the mirror with a blank look. . .on her real face.

Original version published on Brainshowers, March 28, 2016

Proud Patriarch of the Desert

Old SaguaroJust across the street from us in Marana, Arizona stands a battered yet proud Saguaro, veteran of perhaps a hundred years in the desert. The broken, and bedraggled appearance is the result of many heavy monsoons, countless attacks by the Gila Woodpecker creating homes for themselves and subsequent tenants. In the photo, if you look closely, you can see a tiny new arm growing just near the top of the stout-hearted giant. No wonder the saguaro is protected, its strength and determination to survive are laudable. It’s pure white bloom in spring is magnificent and happens to be the state flower of Arizona. Three years ago, I wrote and published a piece called “The Lone Saguaro.” I thought I’d share it again.

The Lone Saguaro

The lone saguaro braves the desert chill, unafraid of the approaching darkness. Thus it has been for countless years, for this majestic patriarch of the Sonoran desert. The sun slips reluctantly below the horizon; shadows grow longer, and the air becomes colder — the saguaro longs for rain. Many of its needles slant downward to direct moisture to its roots. More often than not, the rain does not come, only the creatures of the desert night.

A fury tarantula cautiously exits its hole in the sand, hoping to find a mate to share the evening. Beneath a prickly pear, a king snake tests the climate. Stay tightly curled or slither out? He contemplates. Nearby, a pack of coyotes chatters joyfully, choosing the evening song list for their canine karaoke. One melodically howls at the moon, inviting others to join the festivities.

From a distance, a great horned owl, poses the question, “Who?” No one answers. He repeats. Hours pass and the sun’s soft glow, a preview of the new day, glistens above the nearby mountains. High clouds silently tease the saguaro into hopes of rain, but alas, all they bring is another orange and red sunrise.

The saguaro watches the critters retreat, their morning shadows stretching in the morning chill; the great horned owl silently glides off to parts unknown — the dawn of another day in the Sonoran desert. Thus it has been for the lone saguaro – for as many years as there are grains of sand.

Bill Vancil 

Memory Loss at the Concert

The song Moon River was composed by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer. It won Mancini a Grammy Award for Record of the Year in 1962. It also received an Academy Award for Best Original Song, having been performed by Audrey Hepburn in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Moon River became the theme song for Andy Williams, who first recorded it in 1961 and sang it at the Academy Awards ceremonies in 1962. Andy’s version was never released as a single, but it charted as an LP track that he recorded for Columbia on a hit album of 1962. By all standards, Moon River has become a classic that will remain in the songbook of entertainers forever and became the signature song for both Mancini and Williams.Andy Wms moon lp Fast forward to the early seventies. I was program director at WISM in Madison. A friend who was a rep for Columbia Records invited me to join him for dinner with both Henry Mancini and Andy Williams, following their concert at the Coliseum. We met at the Edgewater Hotel restaurant on the shores of Lake Mendota. Andy arrived first and, while we were chatting, Henry came in carrying a pizza. He explained, “I don’t like hotel food.” Apparently, he had not been at the Edgewater before. Mancini moon lpThe food was great. Not sure how the pizza was, he didn’t share. Regardless, he sat down and did share in the conversation. Following a brief period of inconsequential chit-chat, one of them said, “I just can’t believe we did that.” The other replied something like, “Yeah, I know,” and they both started to chuckle, shaking their heads and smiling. The Columbia rep sat there looking puzzled. I asked them what that was all about. They looked at each other as if to say, “Should we tell them? Guess they didn’t notice.” Then it came out. The unimaginable. The unthinkable. At their concert that night, they had forgotten to perform Moon River. There were no reports of anyone asking for their money back or anything, probably because the concert, even without Moon River, was terrific. The review in the Madison newspapers the next day was great and, politely, made no mention of the omission.

This is a revised version of the original published 12/06/2015 as “And…Mancini Brought Pizza.”

Two Forbidden Topics

When I started Brainshowers, I said that I would not write about politics or religion. Both topics are so entwined in the news, it is tough to ignore either. So, I thought I’d try writing about both without saying anything which might trigger disagreement or, God forbid, (whoops) violence. cropped-writer-at-desk.jpgI’ve learned or at least been told, by teachers and journalists, that if you want to be a good writer, you must just sit down at the keyboard and write. Don’t fear sounding stupid, or making mistakes. . . just write. Get it down where you can look at what you’ve written. Then, go through and make changes and corrections – but write, write, write. Right? Realizing how politics and religion seem to be involved in so much conflict, I’ve decided to write about both of them, in the same story, while not really writing about them. Ready, set, type. First, let’s consider what the two topics have in common. Politics & Religion SignBoth religion and politics were often inherited from parents. Not so much today as in past decades. When I was a kid, people in my small town didn’t talk about their political stance much. My mother, as an example, would never disclose whether she was a Democrat or Republican. It was like a super secret. Others in town were the same way. I don’t know why. Kids, the few who cared about such things, were a bit more vocal. I remember when I was still in grade school, talking with schoolmates about how we didn’t like it that President Truman had brought Gen. MacArthur home. But, I don’t think we were talking politics, it was that we felt sorry for one of our “heroes.” At that time, there were no Star Wars action figures, and shoot ’em up video games, so our heroes were the real thing. Other heroes at the time were mostly baseball stars like Stan Musial, Ted Williams, and Ernie Banks; Hopalong Cassidyand movie cowboys like The Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, and Hopalong Cassidy. Now, I’m way off track. I’m supposed to be writing, yet not writing, about politics and religion. I’m right at the 400 words to which I like to limit my stories, so I’ll say this one thing about politics: I think every eligible voter should vote – every time. And, about religion: People should believe in whatever they choose, and not bother those who think differently. There, that should do it.

Where Were You When…


November 22, 2019 was the fifty-fifth anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Do you remember where you were when you heard the news on that fateful day? That is, if you were even born yet? And, what about some other much-publicized events?

November 22, 1963 – I remember exactly where I was, on the air at KSTT radio in Davenport, Iowa. The studio door flew open and the news director, Bob Moore came in. 000000Nov22“Kennedy’s been shot,” he said, “join the network, right now. They’re reporting live from Dallas.” One by one, KSTT staff members came into the studio and just stood, heads down, listening to ABC Radio. I remember as if it were a week ago. That’s how it is with certain catastrophic events. We all have those memories and are stuck in our heads forever. Here are some of mine.RMS Saxonia

July 26, 1956 – A Swedish ocean liner, the Stockholm, rammed an Italian ship, the Andrea Doria, and sunk it. Ironically, I was in Stockholm when it occurred, on the final leg of a Europoean tour with my parents. A few days later we boarded the RMS Carinthia, sister ship to the Andrea Doria, for the voyage home.

February 3, 1959
– I was a senior in high school, sitting in study hall. Over the intercom came word that Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens had died in a plane crash. Day Music DiedHeads dropped down onto the wooden school desks, and some students started to sob. The three immensely popular stars were killed when their chartered Beechcraft Bonanza plane crashed in Iowa a few minutes after takeoff from Mason City on a flight headed for Moorehead, Minnesota.

August 5, 1962
– I was doing the sign-on shift that day on KSTT. Before going on air, I would “rip the wire,” that is pull the paper off the Associated Press teletype. One story stood out. marilyn monroeMarilyn Monroe had been found dead in her home in Los Angeles. She was discovered lying on her bed, face down, with a telephone in one hand. Empty bottles of pills, prescribed to treat her depression, were littered around the room. L.A. police concluded death was “caused by a self-administered overdose of sedative drugs.” It felt strange, knowing people would be waking up to this news. And I would be telling them.

July 16, 1969 – The historic launch of the Apollo 11 mission carried three astronauts toward the moon. Two of them would set foot on the lunar surface for the first time in human history as millions of people around the world followed their steps on television. Moon Shot NY TimesIt happened as I, along with several other Army Reservists, were en route, returning to Fort McCoy, Wisconsin from the Quad-Cities where we had enjoyed a weekend break from summer camp. Knowing the landing was imminent, we did the only thing good soldiers would do. We pulled into a bar in East Dubuque, Iowa, where we watched the landing. We were forgiven by our commanding officer for being a few hours late returning to the base.

fat elvisAugust 16, 1977 – I was now Program Director of WISM in Madison. News director, Wayne Wallace, came in my office almost in tears. He was a huge Elvis fan. He told me the King was dead. After Elvis died, thousands of fans traveled to Memphis, causing traffic jams and other problems. The National Guard was called into the city in the days surrounding his funeral, which took place on August 18, 1977.

lennon deadDecember 8, 1980 – It was my mother’s birthday. I was thinking of her as I watched television at my home on Lake Waubesa in Madison. A bulletin came on telling us John Lennon, 40, was shot in the back four times by Mark David Chapman. Lennon died in the emergency room at Roosevelt Hospital. His wife, Yoko Ono scattered Lennon’s ashes in Central Park where the Strawberry Fields memorial was later created.

March 30, 1981 – Barely four months later, on my birthday. Another bulletin. President Ronald Reagan was shot and seriously injured outside a Washington hotel by John W. Hinckley Jr. reaganAlso wounded were the White House news secretary James Brady, who was left paralyzed, a Secret Service agent and a District of Columbia police officer. I remember first hearing of it while driving my car from somewhere to somewhere.

January 28, 1986
– WISM News Director Wayne Wallace, in my office again, “The Challenger blew up.” The world had watched in shock as ChallengerThe NASA space shuttle Challenger exploded, just 73 seconds after liftoff, bringing a devastating end to the spacecraft’s 10th mission. The disaster claimed the lives of all seven astronauts aboard, including Christa McAuliffe, a teacher from New Hampshire who would have been the first civilian in space.

April 19, 1995 – The Oklahoma City bombing was an act of domestic terror by U.S. military veteran Timothy McVeigh and his accomplice, Terry Nichols. The bombing destroyed one third okla bombof the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, killing 168 people and injuring 680 others. I watched the early TV coverage from a bar in St. Joseph, Michigan, where I was attending a radio station group meeting. A couple years later I would learn about another tragedy via a bar’s TV…

August 31, 1997
– I had been on a road trip to a riverboat casino in Dubuque with friends. Upon returning to Madison, decided to stop for a night-cap. The bar was crowded, impossibly quiet,  the mood was somber. diana tiaraEveryone was staring at a TV mounted high in a corner above the pool tables. Diana, Princess of Wales, had died in a car crash in the Pont de l’Alma road tunnel in Paris, France. Her companion, Dodi Fayed, and the driver of the Mercedes S280, Henri Paul, were pronounced dead at the scene.

September 11, 2001 – Two planes, American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175, were crashed into the North and South towers, respectively, of the World Trade Center complex in Lower Manhattan. Within less than two hours, both 110-story towers collapsed.Twin Towers I watched the early TV coverage at the studios of WISM and Magic98 in Madison. I had just arrived for work, and as I passed through the lobby, I was told by the receptionist about the first airplane hitting one of the towers. I distinctly remember, the next day, sitting in a swing at a neighborhood park near my home and looking dolefully at the barren sky. All air traffic had been grounded.

January 8, 2011
– U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and eighteen others were shot during an event held in a supermarket parking lot in Tucson, Arizona. Gabby Giffords was critically injured, and six others died. Andrea and I had flown to Tucson the night before to visit Andrea’s sister. gabby giffordsWe witnessed a city in shock as Tucson went numb. Two years later we moved to Tucson, and every time we drive by the intersection of Oracle and Ina we remember that somber day.

November 13, 2015 – Attacks in Paris by gunmen and suicide bombers hit a concert hall, a major stadium, restaurants, and bars, almost simultaneously – and left 130 people dead and hundreds wounded. The satanic stupidity of it all angered the world. Strangely, I heard about it first on Facebook, reading a comment by a good friend, who happened to be in Paris for the weekend. He was letting folks know he and his wife were okay. There have been far too many catastrophic events to discuss them all, I remember so many but cannot always recall where I was when I heard the news. The ones which I do clearly and sadly recall are outlined above.


We Drove Death Traps

As I mentioned in an earlier story, my first car was a 1949 Ford. It was a straight stick V8 with the gear shift handle attached to the steering column. To dim or brighten the headlights, I’d step on this little metal switch on the floorboard. It was quite a skill to drive this sort of car, but my peers and I managed to get around. It was a common skill for guys to drive this sort of contraption with just the left hand, with the right arm around their girlfriend.

1949 Ford
1949 Ford Coupe (photo courtesy

One of my friends had a Chevy of similar vintage and design, another a Plymouth. One thing all these cars had in common was, by today’s standards, rolling death traps.

We had no seat belts. No airbags. No rear view camera. No warning buzzer if you got to close to another car or a brick wall. It had no side rear view mirror. How in the world did we survive? Well, admittedly, a few of us didn’t. I know of one or two fatal accidents involving people with whom I was acquainted. But, that’s happened in more recent years as well. So, what’s my point?  Just that in the “olden days” we survived with what life gave us to work with. As did our ancestors. I often relate how, “when I was in high school with Abe Lincoln we did our homework with a piece of coal on the back of a wooden shovel.” The most frightening part of all of this, for me, is trying to imagine how things will be for our kids, twenty or fifty years from now. Will people be safer? Or, will folks be so restrained by protective measures – in their cars, online, in schools, anywhere…that their lives become less enjoyable and they create less…and care less? I wish I had a crystal ball that worked.

Ever Drive a Copperopolis?

My first car was a ’49 Ford. That was it. Just Ford. If the trend toward naming cars after cities had begun, it might have been called the ’49 Ford Fresno. But, no…just Ford. Other popular cars were Chevy, Plymouth, and so on.  Most didn’t have an extra name – with some exceptions. The Buick Roadmaster comes to mind.

Durango is a city nestled in the mountains of southwest Colorado. It is one of several towns which, today, have cars named for them. Dodge chose the name for its versatile sports utility vehicle, to reflect the character, strength, and durability of this city of classic beauty. Also, because the alliteration sounds good.

Buick LaCrosse

Of the cities we could think of without looking it up, most of them are west of the Mississippi, one is ON the Mississippi, that being LaCrosse, Wisconsin. Buick named one of their newer and more expensive sedans after LaCrosse, because it sounds classy and because a lot of old people live in LaCrosse. Another takes us all the way to the east coast, Chrysler New Yorker. Buick chose to name a car after just one street in New York, the Park Avenue. Cities in the Southwest seemed to be famous for which cars are named. Two are in Arizona; Hyundai’s Tucson and the Kia Sedona. New Mexico’s Santa Fe is Hyundai’s’ larger version of the Tucson SUV – even though Santa Fe is a smaller city than Tucson. Two west coast cities have cars named for them: Tacoma, Washington, and Malibu, California. Tacoma’s a small truck, Malibu a mid-sized Chevy.

We tried to think of any cars named for cities farther east than LaCrosse, and all we came up with was Dodge Daytona and the now-defunct Chrysler New Yorker. Austin-Healy makes a “Cambridge,” but I don’t think it is named after the place in Massachusetts. It seems there is some sort of prejudicial automotive nomenclature going on here. But, when you think of it, it is hard to think of cities in the East that would sound good as car names. Imagine parking a Mazda Buffalo in your driveway, or pulling up to a stop light in a Ford Philadelphia.

I’ve often thought a dream job would be thinking up the colors of cars – sparkling graphite, moondust gold, sierra dream red, coconut white, etc. I think it would also be fun to think up the car names. Let’s try it, with eastern U.S. cities. I’ll name a few. The Cadillac Cleveland, The Toyota Tampa, The Ford Miami, The Nissan Newark. Alliterations aside, how about the Chevrolet Bloomington or the Acura Charleston? Hmm… .all a bit bland.I’m starting to think cities west of the Mississippi sound best for car names. Although there could be some notable exceptions. Imagine driving a Toyota Tombstone, a Chevy Walla Walla, or a Kia Copperopolis (yes there is a city in California with that name.)

Meet Paco. And Contest Winner.

The results are in and first we’ll reveal the name of the puppy. He’s “Paco” and he is one-eighth Chihuahua. He is also one-eighth Miniature Pinscher and one-fourth American Staffordshire Terrier. (The remaining 50%, which goes back beyond third generation, is a mix of more than several different breeds.)

Paco Chewzing

NOBODY guessed all three breeds correctly. However, five people had two correct. The winner was picked from those five using an ultra-scientific method we developed. Each of the five names was written on a small piece of paper, folded, and tossed on the floor in front of Paco. The first one he picked up was declared the winner.

paco down 2And, the winner is Linda Stuffelbeam, of Lombard, Illinois. Linda will receive a signed copy of my book, “Roy and Kitty.” And, as a bonus prize, a durable, stylized bookmark with a glossy photo of Paco. Linda also gets a copy of my new CD, “Smooth Country Covers,” which could serve as a fine coaster to hold a drink while she is reading the book.

The other four contestants who also made two correct guesses, will receive a heartfelt thanks and a lick on the toe by Paco, at a later date. Those four are Donna Abella, Sandra Finn, Sharon Simpson, and Valerie Vancil (yes, a cousin of mine who only communicates with me when there’s a prize.) Paco’s Booby Prize goes to Mitch Kite, the only contestant who had zero guesses correct, Mitch receives a “good boy” and a virtual pat on the head.

Here’s what you should have guessed:  1. Dachshund  2. Smooth Coated Spaniel  3. Rat Terrier   4. Beagle  5. Chihuahua  6. German Shepherd  7. Miniature Pinscher 
8. Boxer  9. American Staffordshire Terrier  10. English Bulldog

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Monk Gets it Straight

One of my all-time favorite TV shows is “Monk.” In one episode, Monk, a detective with O.C.D. is hurrying into a burning building to save a child, and while running through a smoke-filled room he spots a stack of several books. The books are out of alignment, so he stops to straighten them into a neater pile, before continuing to rescue the kid.Monk TV Show

According to WebMD, 3.3 million adults in the U.S. have O.C.D., Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It’s possible millions more cases are never reported. I have never felt the need to seek professional help for my mild case of O.C.D.  However, I have figured out some ways to deal with it. There are lots of places on the internet to get detailed information about O.C.D. so I won’t bother to cut and paste any of that.

I’ll share a couple of ideas which might help you or someone you know who has a mild case of O.C.D. (Note: If I had a severe case you probably wouldn’t be reading this…I’d still be on about my 600th rewrite.) I have learned to deal with O.C.D. using the memory technique of association. Tie the word in with a graphic image, make it as bizarre as you can. For example, you might remember Mrs. Burnside’s name by picturing, not just something burning, but something weird like a water buffalo but, burning on only one side of the creature. Picture it, a water buffalo…burning, just on one side. Burnside. Get it? This method would be particularly useful if Mrs. Burnside happens to look like a water buffalo. COD Door

One of my biggest nuisances with O.C.D. is making sure I’ve closed the door when taking the dog out. While my dog, Paco, waits patiently wondering what the heck I’m doing, I firmly grip the door handle, pushing it gently against the latch, and create a mental picture of, for example, a green elephant pushing the door closed with his trunk. I repeat the mental process. Halfway down the street, when I’m asking myself, “Did I close the door?” the green elephant responds, “I’ve got it. Don’t worry.” Next day, different picture. Same dog. Another thing I sometimes do is use my “Departure Double Check.” For example, before I get in the car to go somewhere, I pat my pockets one-by-one and say, out loud, “wallet, cell phone, glasses, keys…” Saying it out loud makes it easier to convince your brain that you have accounted for these things. I use the same “say it out loud” method to remember that I closed the garage door. Only I say it louder, “Door IS down!” (repeat if necessary.)

Disclaimer: What works for me may not work for someone else. As the commercials say, “results may vary.” If you think you have a severe case of O.C.D., please consider seeking professional advice.

A Ping Pong Ball Decision

The 1994 Wyoming’s House of Representatives race, Republican Randall Luthi and Independent Larry Call tied with 1,941 votes each. Governor Mike Sullivan settled the election by drawing a ping pong ball out of his cowboy hat and pulled out Luthi’s name. Luthi served the Jackson Hole-area district until 2007, ultimately becoming Speaker of the House*. Close elections happen. But, by one vote? It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.In a 1910 contest for Buffalo, New York’s congressional district, Democrat Charles B. Smith snuck by incumbent De Alva S. Alexander by a single vote:  20,685 to 20,684. That same year, Conservative Henry Duke defeated Liberal Harold St. Maur in the South West England city of Exeter to maintain his seat in the House of Commons by a vote of 4777 to 4776.

I’ve always looked at it this way: If you are considering staying home and not voting, then what if there are thousands of others feeling the same thing? I always try to apply a little telepathy as I leave for the polling place thinking, “c’mon the rest of you…let’s go vote!”


On Writing Well

On Amazon there are well over fifty books about writing. Favorite reference books, besides the dictionary, are Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style,” and “Roget’s Thesaurus.” But, these are “tool books” to help you use a better word, avoid grammatical errors, or not look stupid misspelling something, or is it “mispelling?”BOOKS_pile of

Books about writing are different. Not reference books, per se, but rather books about the reasons for writing, instruction that goes beyond the books already mentioned, exploring the feeling one gets from creating, the sense of accomplishment of knowing that you are, little by little, mastering one of the most screwed up languages among those that use Latin script. (or is it “which uses…”)

My favorite book about writing is subtitled “The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.” Actually, it is perhaps my favorite book, period. (or should it be…”period!” Written by Lynne Truss, it was a #1 New York Times Bestseller, and is famously titled, “Eats, Shoots and Leaves.” (or is it “Eats Shoots, and Leaves?”) Placement of the coma is critical.

A former writing teacher at Yale who writes about writing is William Zinsser. His “On Writing Well” is a must-read for anyone who wants to write well. Hence the title. (or is it “Hence, the title?”)

Another book by Zinsser, which I’m currently reading, is “Writing About Your Life.” Early on, Zinsser suggests that it’s good to start writing about something that you do, or have done, and the words and thoughts will come. That’s how I wrote this piece. (or is it “…how this piece was written?”) Note that this book of Zinsser’s is not so much a “how to” book as it is a collection of written pieces, gathered to teach by example.

I’m a stickler for punctuation; I use semicolons in text messages. That’s why I like Lynne Truss’s book so much. I also attempt to use correct sentence structure. But, I will expose a secret of mine; I cheat a bit. There are lots of tools right here on the internet to help you write well. I edited this piece in a program called “Grammarly.” It’s not free, but it works quite well. Then, there are the free, basic supports such as and and lots more apps and programs.

If you feel you’d like to write…or need to write…just jump in. Starting is the hardest part. And, don’t be afraid to re-write, and then re-write, as many times as necessary. Writing is work. Writing is fun.

The article you just read, is a re-write of one we published in April of 2016. In doing the revision, I made twenty-eight edits of the original. Did I mention, having patience is a good quality for a writer?

Upstairs at the V.F.W. Hall

In the early ’60s, I was working at powerhouse radio station KSTT in the Quad-Cities. In addition to being a disc jockey, I also did commercial production. One day during my air shift, the receptionist buzzed me on the intercom. “Ulysses is here,” she announced with a twinkle in her voice. I asked her to send him back to the studio. Ulysses Walker was a local promoter who from time-to-time would bring acts to town for a one night show. They were always up-and-coming R & B artists who were not well known. Whenever he had another show, he would come and ask me to write and produce the commercials for the event. He refused to talk with our sales reps about his advertising. He said I was the only one he wanted to work with.

“Not many have heard of these two artists,” Ulysses told me. “But, Bill, they are excellent, got a great band, and with a good spot on the radio I think we could maybe fill the upstairs room at the V.F.W. hall. It holds about five or six hundred people. I gotta load up the place to make any money.VFW 02

I told Ulysses I’d give it my best shot. He handed me a 45 rpm record on some obscure label and described the group – a duo, with a band, from Tennessee. I had never heard of them. A couple days later he came back and listened to the commercial I had created, liked it, and handed me cash to pay for the ad schedule (he did everything by cash.) We started running the spot a few days later. It was a small schedule, Ulysses could only afford about twelve radio ads.

Well, it turns out the show did fill the V.F.W. hall to standing room only capacity! Ulysses credited my commercial for the success, but as I told him, “It wasn’t me. It was those two and their band. What a show!” Either the commercial did work, or more people than we realized had already heard about this new group… (scroll down)



Originally published on in October, 2015

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