Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Four Pulitzer Winners Walk Into A Bar In My Amazon Dream

I realized tonight I've known four Pulitzer Prize winners. They are described below, not in chronological order, but with aspiring wit and cleverness.

The first one had been a high school friend and a fellow member of the school choir, she as celebrated and accomplished pianist and accompanist. She won her Pulitzer in 2005 for Biography and Autobiography with a Willem de Kooning biography, co-authored with her husband. I took heart when she told me it had taken ten years to write it. She and I at the earliest had been fellow participants in, I think, a 4th or 5th grade patriotic speech competition. She recited "I Am An American", and I recited "The Gettysburg Address". I believe she won the competition, despite my earnest gratifying Lincolnesque performance (if Lincoln had had the larynx of an elementary school boy). She was a most talented girl, which is a vastly understated compliment. She is an excellent person of highest integrity and is sweet, kind and charming.

My fourth Pulitzer winner, Lawrence Wright, I met in Austin because I knew his equally brilliant wife from a helpful but now somewhat embarrassing personal growth seminar called Insight II (I demur from describing the exhaustive energetic hysterics of its Limiting Characteristic Theater; that's all I have to say about that). Larry won his Pulitzer (oh those words put together in that order!) in 2007 in General Nonfiction for the book The Looming Tower. He wrote for Texas Monthly at the time I met him in about 1988. I was awed by meeting him even then, and his ego was not at all corrupted by his talent and his already gathering reputation for insightful well-crafted writing. Talent wins out sometimes.  That Larry can write!

The third Pulitzer Prize winner is Ben Sargent, editorial cartoonist for the Austin American-Statesman when I worked there at the City Desk from about 1984 to 1987. He had won his Pulitzer in 1982. He was the lanky friendly bearded legend (way back before not-shaving was compulsory lemming behavior) padding around the newsroom as if he were merely mortal. Ben was quiet and unassuming and had a wicked and sharpened sense of diabolical humor that gave incisive hilarious hell to people who well-earned it. Luckily for him, Texas politicians even then were especially mock-worthy, as were the national 1980s Republicans, and the Pulitzer committee likely especially enjoyed Ben's fearless skewering of them and of their precious cherished delusions. I was city desk assistant and, among other celebrated duties like 'populating' the template with temperatures from around the country and world and calling area funeral homes to gather the names and information about the most recently Hill Country deceased and writing their obituaries for the afternoon/evening edition of the paper, Daily, I also received and solicited public information and then conveyed it to reporters and editors and other staff including Ben, the gentle giant with a mighty set of drawing pens.

The second Pulitzer Prize winner, Raymond Bonner, won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize as part of a team of writers while on staff with The New York Times. He also won first prize in 1985 for 'Weakness and Deceit: U.S. Policy and El Salvador,'' in the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Book Awards program. Bonner was a NY Times reporter when I met him in 1982. I had called the NY Times Washington bureau office because my Austin neighbor's ex-Marine boyfriend had a hot story to tell and hopefully sell. Bonner and another NY Times reporter, Philip Taubman, Jr., son of a senior NYT editor, flew the next day from D.C. to Austin to secretly interview the ex-Marine, who had been one of the earliest pot smugglers across the Rio Grande into Texas and had contemporaneously at the time been a part of the CIA's then-secret operation to create a right-wing guerilla army (The Contras) in Honduras along the border with Nicaragua. He scouted landing zones for C-130 Hercules transport planes.

The two reporters and my scary new friend and I spent two days scouting isolated locations around Austin where the interviews were then conducted. I was taught to conceal my activities and not be followed. My friend's story was to be part of a larger story being written about other ex-military people also taking part in that covert operation. By that time, Bonner had already made journalistic history with a 1982 NY Times story that first exposed the weighted fist of oligarchic capitalist genocide and oppression in Central America at the hands of the American-trained, American-supplied, and American-denied El Salvadorean Army El Mozote Massacre in which 800 to 1200 fleeing civilian peasants including children were hunted and killed in the countryside in 1981 by that army’s Atlacatl Battalion, whose officers (and maybe other members) had been trained at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia in Columbus. Bonner continued in the same journalistic vein with a lifetime of equally intense and historic other reporting elsewhere such as Rwanda, Bosnia and Indonesia.

Stop the Presses.  I remembered a Fifth Pulitzer Prize winner I have known.  He was a journalism professor at Louisiana State University whose Advanced Typography class I signed up for and dropped in 1973 after coming to terms with the fact that I had no interest in typography whatsoever, advanced or primitive.  James Shoaf Featherston won his Pulitzer in 1953 as part of the reporting team for the Vicksburg Herald's coverage of a 1953 tornado in Vicksburg, Mississippi.   Much more famously, Featherston was the Dallas Times Herald reporter on November 22, 1963 who, immediately after John F. Kennedy was shot in his motorcade, secured a witness (Mary Moorman) for the police to interview and himself later testified before the Warren Commission.  Also, in the 1950s, Featherston covered Emmett Till's Mississippi murder trial for the Jackson Daily News.  It's remarkable his Pulitzer Prize was not given for either of those but for coverage of a tornado.  He probably assumed he'd peaked early until the Emmett Till trial and the events of November 22, 1963.  

The dream is that I win a Pulitzer.  I've wanted it since I first learned what a Pulitzer is. I majored in journalism in college. I dated a woman last-named Pulitzer. She was a real prize, actually, but not THE prize, and I wasn't convinced I wanted to 'win' her, nor that she would want to be 'won', by me.  Since then I've come to understand more fully that someone actually needs to write an especially outstanding cohesive series of articles or one really gigantic blockbuster of a news story to win a Pulitzer.  There's always a catch.

Anyway, that's a Rubicon I likely will never even locate let alone cross. However, having been exposed to actual Pulitzer winners will serve me well if my writing stars align well enough for me to essentially win what would be for me the journalistic lottery. I'll be able to name-drop as I awkwardly negotiate interviews, and perhaps I will have learned by osmosis how to behave accordingly. At least I've gotten close to the Pulitzer Mojo of the four Pulitzer winners I've known and met, good people all, and my life's been elevated and enhanced because of them.  I count that as a win.

Coming an artist my client relationship with a Super Bowl champion and a World Series champion.  And after that the always fascinating tales of how as a Little League shortstop I made an unassisted triple play (without any help!) with the bases loaded, and of how in one game I made all three outs in the last inning of play.

Sunday, August 12, 2018



Where does the time go

the same place the years go
the same place the winds blow
and the same place as flies the crow
in our mysterious status quo
our lives a happy hobo
without a care or need to know
if there's some final glorious show
or a surprisingly gentle undertow
either way I've got to go
tomorrow's the only thing I know
and tonight I have a furlough
and fields of love still left to sow
so good night from this old fellow
who wishes you well and says hello

For Eli on his upcoming 40th

Saturday, August 11, 2018

(FB barges muscles intrudes onto my personal FB page.
So what else is new? This is explained in the first paragraph.)

Larry Piltz
Tonight Facebook said I am one of a small number of people (what, half a billion?) being asked to take a survey about their reaching out in cultural ways in some cities and if it was being effective. I said, sure, I'll take the survey. I like to tell people what to do. So, yeah.

Ending about maybe ten years ago (truthfully I have no idea how many years it's been), I was a monthly Gallup Poll respondent for three or four years (no idea how long, really), and my wife for longer. Our two cabins made us officially two households, evidently. So she and I held great sway in American Opinion for a while there. That's when we were doing better as a country, thanks to us! Well, it was under Bush, so maybe not. We weren't  responsible for him though, though we lived in the same town for a while and should have given him a good talking to before AND after he fell on his head). Thank Barb and GHW for that.

 did mostly online and some phone Gallup polls. Some were political. Most were marketing, but with an up or down presidential 'good job' or 'bad job' question at the beginning. I relished that one. I was also a Nielsen family for about three years (see above), one year of which I didn't even have TV. :)  I was also an Arbitron (the radio station ratings company) survey taker for about two or three years (see above) in a row. I could barely believe I was getting all of these serious survey requests. Apparently, they'll take anybody.

Also, I must be Mr. Average American (which is a two-edged inference). Everyone should be like me! What a country that would be! I'm as moderate as an extremist can be! The sky would rain beer and everyone would have affordable homes with beer gutters and beer barrels to collect the stuff, and that would be piped into a system of pipes parallel to your water supply, with keg taps on a parallel set of faucets [actually, I haven't had more than six or seven beers or glasses of wine in at least 20 years, though I still love it
 :( ].

Well, my soapbox is beginning to spin under me, so I'll get to the point. One of the survey questions was an essay test. Something like, 'Why do I feel that Facebook's cultural outreach has been credible?' Did I say it was credible? I must have missed that day in class. Here is my long answer. And you won't be surprised to learn that I ran FB out of characters and had to stop right when I was really getting warmed up. And as you see, I don't really answer the question in a manner in which they would hope or expect.


"I think it's credible only in the sense that Facebook wants its public face to appear to be authentic in its particular outreach but that it's under much more intense pressure to just stay the same and only appear to change or make little inroads that don't make a significant impact.

"Facebook would really have to show me that it rejects all hateful right-wing rhetoric. As you know, left-wing rhetoric can and often does disparage right-wing beliefs and agitprop, but that's because the right-wing is the only 'wing' that is actively trying to destroy its opposite. The left-wing wants to play by the rules and make rules that make it fair for everyone.

The right-wing, by its nature and character and demands of a disappearing demographic, are working hard to shrink the legal voting population with cynical manipulative, well, bullshit lies, and simultaneously trying to pull up the ladder behind them and then either passively or directly attack the people trying to get access to the ladder to a better life. That's not really as partisan as you may think, or maybe not at all. Fascism in this country is sponsored wholly by [certain] Republicans, previously only indirectly, and now directly directly.

Facebook has to choose sides, whether it wants to or not. It can't exist in the fictional center. There is no center right now. There did use to be a moderately sized consensus center. The right-wing abandoned that long ago. The left-wing still occupies the moderate liberal FDR coalition and LBJ coalition (both of which included moderate Republicans, which MAY NO LONGER EXIST; extremist Republicans exist for sure, along with ultraconservatives who feign moderation at times but never or super rarely vote that way).

"Facebook needs to join the side that has always worked for openness and liberalization of access to the American Dream, not like Republicans who have upped their extreme ante even further since 2000 and especially since 2016. We're descending into a willfully and intentionally arranged chaos by right-wing theorists now pulling fascist policies into a coherent but sick political apparatus.

"There is now an anti-urge against democracy remaining in the Republican Party except for a literal handful (four fingers and a thumb), about five congresspersons, and they still vote the party line way more times than not. There is not really a Republican Party any longer. It is a death cult - your death, not theirs - and it acts as a hive of Killerized Bees, swarming and stinging people to death, specific people, meaning people mostly not white, which of course must be entirely coincidental, right?

"So in closing, my fallow Americans. There is no center. Facebook has to choose a side. There is not enough organized right-wing actual interest in Facebook other than gaming and stealing from the Facebook system and therefore no significant enough monetization potential for Facebook from the right-wing. Right-wing demographics are shrinking. So right-wing strategists are pulling the rug out from under democracy in calculated and so far successful ways to forestall a more moderate and cohesive American future.

"Facebook wants what? A dangerously split country with the cruelest-by-far faction of the 1% and the most murderous racist bullies in charge? Facebook has an identity crisis, and it has to choose. GO WITH THE BULLIES AND DIE IN THE PYRE OF AMERICA'S ACCIDENTAL EXPERIMENT WITH VIOLENT FASCISM?

OR GO WITH THE PEOPLE TRYING TO EXPAND THE FRANCHISE AND LOVE for harmony, innovation, and honor among non-thieves. Seems a pretty clear choice. Democrats are about healing and helping. [And then the characters ran out. So now FB doesn't have to pay an excess electron luxury tax, even though they are taking away my rights to whine like a Fox News-appearing toddler who isn't allowed to publish anything they want anywhere any time in the private sector, because WHINE WHINE WHINE]."

If I have offended you, I'm sorry. Really. I can go 'over the top', pretty far. But I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. I don't like having my feelings hurt either, like when nazis say I shouldn't exist and their complicit allies in the White House and Republican caucus say nothing, nothing but "There are good people on both sides". But I can't really do anything about that now except wish you well and a continuing change of heart. Godspeed.

 (You pay money to run a FB ad. I find it and 'review' it. Passive-    aggressively. Because I don't send it to you ever. Win-win!)
Larry Piltz
August 10 at 12:43 am

This is a photo taken from a Facebook ad. I am using it subversively, because I am a subversive and a positive and helpful fellow. Pasted below is the FB message I wrote to the man in the photo. He's the agency owner. I'm just being honest. Also, you should know, I chickened out and deleted the message before I accidentally sent it. I may be a subversive, but I also retain some manners. It's a part of what makes me positive, and a helpful fellow. 

"No offense or attack intended. You look like a nice guy. Probably nicer than me! But the photo feels a bit strange to me (no expert here, just a weirdo probably). But I cannot help but see a fist raised high for no apparent reason, so one suggestion my mind makes (I think out loud subliminally evidently) is that your fist is raised to hit the woman standing next to you.

I know, silly, stupid. But look. You're facing her, the fist looks like it could come down on her. It's obviously not on purpose or your intention. I'm an idiot, okay, but there's no other reason displayed in the picture for a raised fist than a man about to hit a woman for no reason at all (or if you're dancing, do something with both hands instead, something groovier) except that he's a man and that's what men do.

I know, waste of your time. I'm sorry. But I apparently had to speak. I do wish you well. I do have State Farm auto, homeowners, renters and umbrella policies. I'd still buy them from you if I didn't already have a good relationship with the agency I've worked with for years. So apologies if this message is just beyond the pale for you. I've had caffeine and have too much time on my hands.

But the photo makes no sense to me unless you're either dancing or about to hit someone, or just using your fist to intimidate a photo full of women. I know, stupid. But images matter, in society and in our hearts, and many other men have a thorough history of brutality. Though you look like a nice man. I've had a career in advertising. So I'm warped. I admit it. Though it lasted only three years about forty years ago.

Again, sorry. I'm gone now. Wouldn't darken your doorstep again. Honest. Wishing you well and success. You even look like you deserve a great life, which I do wish you. But lose the fist, or the big smile, preferably both, given your unclear and unidentified animus."

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

YES, IT’S ALL A FREAK SHOW, INDEED* I can well believe it takes all the air out of the room. I didn't watch Frontline’s Charlottesville** documentary though. I know what happened, basically, and may see it someday. I'm very happy it's televised and available. Right now though, it's all too real and near and possible. I need the mental cushion of just knowing, and not looking. I well know what it looks like already. As did many of my relatives back in and around The Pale, who didn't live to speak of it, and I've lived the entire silence about the subject with an extended family for 60-plus years. It's too loud a devastating subject to ever even whisper about. What are ya gonna do? Anyway? Well, I could join my son, wonderful young man now of dual American-Canadian citizenship living in B.C. It's tempting. I'd love to live near him anyway! Go Northwest, old man, I hear myself think at times. I have felt the strong presence all along, from childhood, riding along with me on a continuum where the past is still happening in its original form, as well as in newer different forms with different victims and different perpetrators, and have followed its course, surfacing here and there, the evil of Rwanda being a signifying manifestation, for instance, Columbine, for another, knowingly perpetrated on Hitler's birthday, subscribing for years to the Southern Poverty Law newsletter which recounts all reported hate crimes in the U.S. in climbing monthly totals into the dozens per month after month and rising with a bullet, with accounts of the crimes and those committing them and why. You don't have to look far or long. You can scan the headlines every single day. It's too easy. What's hard is to block it out. It's amazing how many people do, for different reasons. Two of them: Because it could never happen to me. Because it could happen to me. You're both wrong! It's happening now, somewhere, all the time. The fuse is lit. The race is on and here comes heartache. And now that "it" has the American presidential and one major party’s personal approving imprimaturs on it, with no American institution yet proving capable of seriously restraining it or cutting its power off at the knees with one swoop of the sword of justice, I think it's okay to begin to feel, or anticipate the beginning of feeling of...It. Is. Happening. Here. And yes…It. Can. Still. Be. Deterred. But it's easily as likely that it won't be. Already it's underway, with the easiest victims first to be demonized, officially denounced (yes, that is key), and gotten rid of like slaves at auction, with their prospects torn limb from limb as if by wolf packs, if not brutally imprisoned. Yes, not too cheery lately. I’ve even felt the need to reach back eight years for an upbeat song to record, just to feel like I'm doing something positive, that something's worth doing, and hopefully to soon send it out into a cold perplexed confused world that's looking for some warmth and clarity. I'll keep my warmth, thank you, until 'it' pries it from my cold dead body, but the world should have my clarity. It’s refreshing, and terrifying. With this song maybe I'll finally make a buck out of art! Or at least out of music. It'd be nice to be rewarded for my long harrowing doctor-it's-my-eyes personal monitoring of what's now emerged right from under our own 600 million feet**, and my musical response to it. It'd be almost cleansing, so to speak, though not ethnically. It’s easy to get lost in such a big parade*** * Title borrowed from Liz. ** Other potential and real documentaries among a galaxy of possibilities: Andersonville Georgia (not far from Plains) 13000 murdered, Sharpeville Transvaal South Africa 69 murdered, El Mozote El Salvador 800 murdered, Kigali Rwanda up to a million murdered, Srebenica Bosnia 8000 murdered). And the beat goes on. Drums keep pounding rhythm to the brain. Maybe Cher can still do something. Sonny Bono wrote a hell of a good song, ya know? Distracted yet? *** Actual carnage may vary.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

                                               Two Dreams of One Thing

After about seven or eight years in our home, and of those seven or eight years of immersing himself outdoors in our little woods, loving the outdoors as the Life Itself it is for him, because he is so fused with its grandness and its fascinating particulars, and its sensory wonderland, after all this time the seven or eight brutally hot summers have finally driven Tsavo to this August corner of the living room cottage surrounded on two sides by its five-foot tall rows of windows that provide a comprehensive visual immersion into his woods.

He finds rest and summer solace behind these windows and naps more deeply and prolifically in residence here than anywhere else in our home, instead of his more brief usual cat naps that have sustained his outdoor ranger forays and helped bring him home each day to complete the pride.

Even when one day he becomes old and can no longer be an easily vigorous embodiment of feline outdoor curiosity and investigation, he will be able to bask and nap in the windows to his world, his private enclave where invigorating memories of scents and sights and sound intimate knowledge of the creature kinds who inhabit Tsavo's world will play out before him, visible and real, beckoning him to knowingly inhabit his worlds in an expanded dream,
the dream of a lifetime.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Tsavo, the Bird Feeder, and the Journey Down to Home

He's still there on the roof now at dark, 9:18 Austin time. Coyotes prowl. Big hoot owls hunt, occasionally in pairs. A big loud hoot owl couple live here alongside us. Middle of the night yesterday they landed in our front yard and started a really loud hootenanny, for some reason, close to our open window. It sounded so raucous, spontaneous and odd it was fairly hilarious to hear and lasted a few minutes.

Will Tsavo make it past tonight's gauntlet and get home safely? Will I feel the need to pick up an empty laundry basket, hold it upstretched over my head, and coax him to jump into it from the roof as we've done numerous times, usually during the daytime? It's not as far down a jump as you might think. I stand on the steps to the porch so it's only a short drop for him. And when I feel his gentle touch plop down in the floor of the basket, I am genuinely relieved and happy, and he and I feel close.

Then I'll carry him home in his 'sedan chair' with him ruling over all he can see, including me, as he peers out over his realm. He will from time to time lean back and rub his head on my forehead. I am his and he is mine. And I am at your service, my liege, my King of the Forest and Rooftop.

When we make this sedan chair sojourn at night, nocturnal Tsavo truly becomes in his element, and if he's not high in a tree overseeing his domain, the laundry basket is his next favorite perch.

It's almost decision time for the basket bearer. I wonder if Tsavo's come down yet. Sometimes he stays there until I'm safely removed from the scene so he can exercise his now-free choice to wander the woods at night against my preferences. He knows about things like strategy, you see. A good hunter always understands his prey and his pack animal, of which, to be clear, I am the latter.

In the dark of the roof, Tsavo took several seconds longer than usual to trust I wouldn't drop the basket and him with it and also to secure his footing for the drop-in. Yet it went as smoothly as it always does.

He rode home in the sedan chair, was placed down on the living room floor still in it, jumped out of the basket (it became a basket again after being carried inside), ate his kibble dinner in peace, and washed it down with water from the big leftover dog bowl, and he probably is experiencing a bit of a letdown (oh, good accidental pun) after being up high alongside the big oak branches he's climbed by day and under a mellowing clear sky about to be lit by a big round bright orb on a pleasant cooling-down night.

The wages of being civilized. The Tradeoff. Not a living wage, I will add. But we make do.

Four Pulitzer Winners Walk Into A Bar In My Amazon Dream I realized tonight I've known four Pulitzer Prize winners. They are de...