Sunday, April 02, 2017

Two planets

If Scott Brown had a baseball card, this certainly
would be a good pose. By the way, the shirts were so
cheap that after games we had sunburns on our back - 

except where the numbers were located.
Sometimes the planets in the solar system line up just right, and you find yourself orbiting with a similar object for a while.

That might be the oddest way anyone has described a friendship, but it comes to mind when I think back on my friendship with Scott Brown. He passed away on Friday after a long illness.

Scott showed up at WEBR Radio in Buffalo in 1979, shortly after I did. We quickly found ourselves to be relatively kindred spirits. The two of us were just getting by financially, since it was rare in those days to get a raise until Congress boosted the minimum wage. We were thinking that better days were ahead, and we couldn't wait to get there. That made us a little rebellious and brash at times. But we also were determined to have some fun along the way.

It didn't take long for us to click. Scott was a good-natured presence in the newsroom. He wasn't above the cheap laugh - such as putting a microphone screen over his nose, and lapsing into a Karl Malden/American Express ad imitation. "Lost your wallet? What will you do? What ... will ... you ... do?" But he was obviously smart and knew his stuff.

There are a variety of "you had to be there" stories that come to mind. One time Scott was working on the writer-reporter's desk when protestors at Love Canal took a couple of state workers "hostage" in a symbolic act. Scott knew someone in the protest group and called her up, asking how the hostages were doing. "Oh, you want to talk to one of them?" the woman answered. Scott said OK, and she handed the phone to him. "Hi, Scott, how are you?" he asked. Scott answered, "How am I? You're the hostage! How are you?!"

For whatever reason, I remember the time he stopped in the sports office on his way out the door. Scott had to cover some event, and told me he had to stop at the bank or something on the way back to do some personal business. In my best snarky tone, I jokingly said, "Well, don't forget to punch out." He replied in fake horror, "Punch out? What is this, Two Guys?" And then we both laughed loudly.

Naturally, more fun came after hours. Snapshots of those moments come back every so often.

That's Scott at the writer-reporter's desk in the main newsroom
at WEBR in August 1979, with Dennis Keefe on the left of the
photograph. Kids, that object in front of Scott was called
a typewriter. Ask your parents about it some day.
* Athletics. The WEBR slo-pitch softball team was usually mediocre, mostly because we didn't have enough people on the staff to have a deep roster. We had to rely on pitching and defense. I can say that here because I was the usual starting pitcher, and Scott was the backup. Our strategy was to try to have people hit the ball toward center fielder Steve Tawa, who could catch anything hit in the area code. Occasionally, someone would hit the ball over Steve's head and off a house on the other side of a fence. Scott would come over from second base with some comforting words. "Don't throw him that pitch again," he snorted. We all spent several Saturday afternoons together as a team, drowning our sorrows or celebrating our wins at Wiechec's in Buffalo.

I probably had an edge on the softball field over Scott, especially at the plate, but he was a better basketball player. Those guys from New Jersey always loved to take the ball to the hoop. But neither of us took to roller skating, as we discovered one frigid February night.

Reporter Mark Charlton used to have "Blue February" parties, saying that by that time everyone in Buffalo is depressed that winter is still going on and on by that month. Therefore, he'd have a party featuring blue mixed drinks. Around 11:30 p.m., someone remembered that the group from Channel 17, a business partner of WEBR, had rented out a roller-skating rink in Amherst. So off we all went, a bit overserved at the time. Scott grabbed on to "instructor" Pam Benson for support and lessons, which was a less-than-subtle but wise move on his part. Pam quickly regretted it, I'm sure, upon realizing that Scott was on shaky legs and didn't know how to skate. When he fell down, she fell down. The noise of falling bodies always drew a stare even with the loud disco music in the hall, and it was followed by Scott's distinctive high-pitched giggle. Scott reported a day later that, "Boy, is my ass sore, and I can't remember why."

* Poker. Scott fit in pretty quickly with my high school pals for the odd game of poker. One time I had invited some of them to my house for a little gambling, followed by a movie on the newly-invented and just-purchased VCR. The idea of watching a film on video tape at home was a exciting novelty then. Still, whenever Scott lost a hand, he'd mournfully look at his shrinking pile of chips and say grimly, "No movies!" We never did see that Woody Allen film.

One game that we used to play was called "Garbage." It was a seven-card game with a ton of wild-cards. The catch was that a pair of natural sevens beat everything. In one game, Scott seemed sure to win a nice pot, because he had about six aces. But someone came up with the two sevens, turning sure victory into defeat. Scott didn't take it well, since $15 was big money at that point in our lives. On the very next hand, featuring a different type of seven-card stud game, someone got two straight sevens face up. "Two sevens - you win!" Scott shouted with mock enthusiasm and he started pushing things at the other player. "You win all the chips in the pot, and all of the chips in my pile, and all of the potato chips in the bowl, and my beer, and all the money in my wallet, and my credit cards, and (dramatically reaching into his pocket for keys) my car!" The set-up and timing were so good that Glenn Locke nearly spit his beer out on to the table when the car keys came out.

Fan Kim Dehlinger, Scott and Bill Rosinski go over a
softball game at Wiechec's in South Buffalo. We needed
lessons on how to wear our baseball caps.
* Music. I believe Scott and I went to the relatively famous Who concert at Memorial Auditorium together. That was the one right after the show in Cincinnati that featured a stampede caused by festival seating, and a few people died. We also saw Bruce Springsteen at the Aud. The Boss played "Thunder Road" at the end of the first set, and we talked at intermission. "I can go home now," Scott said. "That's what I came to hear."

You more than get the idea. Alas, the good times usually don't last forever. WEBR had a lot of talented people at the time who moved on to better things when they got the chance. Scott got one of those offers, and soon he was off to do television news for Channel 2. He roomed with Glenn for three years in that era, so we still saw each other quite a bit. But clearly, Scott had moved into a different orbit. It happens.

Eventually, Scott left broadcasting for a stint in County Executive Gorski's office. There he got to know my wife, so she saw him more than I did for a while. We'd bump into him somewhere, and he was always chatty and friendly. Then Scott took a job for District Attorney Eliot Spitzer in the New York City area and was gone ... until he came back somewhat unexpectedly to WGRZ. Our paths crossed once in a great while, such as when mutual friends like Mark Hamrick came back to Buffalo to visit. He seemed happy and content, which was great, and he did his job very well. But we were still in separate orbits.

Then Scott more or less disappeared from on-air work without explanation. I think I sent him an email message to check in, but never heard back. Hmmm. Then a mutual friend said he spotted Scott at Roswell Park. Well, at least that explained things a bit. Scott certainly had a private side. When I asked a friend at the television station about the situation, he said I knew more than he did. I was heartened by Scott's return to the air at one point, but then saddened by his disappearance again after a short stint.

You put a few miles on the odometer, and you are bound to come across situations where you know bad news is coming but you don't know when. Such was the case here, so I was shocked but not surprised by the announcement of his passing.

Scott and I developed one habit when there was mutual good news, like a run scored in softball or a split pot in poker. We'd try to give each other a "high five," except miss on purpose as if we were total nerds. No comments, please. I would have liked to have tried it one more time, except that we'd actually complete the gesture for once to mark the good times we had together. But since I can't, I'll just be happy that our paths, er, orbits once crossed.

(Those interested can make a donation here. Feel free to share a fun story about Scott in the comments section.)

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Answering the question

It's been quite a weekend on social media, as the Trump Administration begins its term in office. A day after the inauguration ceremony, a few million people - mostly but not exclusively women - took part in protest marches and rallies in all 50 states and in several major cities throughout the world. 

Here's one such comment I saw that drew a little reaction from others.

"Can anyone clarify what they are protesting about? These very aggressive women are bitching about what? Cool down, have a drink with your husband, have sex and laugh. Enough said!"

All right, a lot of reaction. Here's a serious answer.

Admittedly, it's difficult to narrow down the motives of millions of people. I'm sure some just went along with friends, and others are still upset about the Presidential election and wanted to vent a bit.

But I think it's fair to say that there are a lot of people out there who are scared.

If they are part of the 20 million people or so who have health insurance through the ACA, they are scared that the members of the federal government have vowed to cancel the program without coming up over the past few years with any hint of the details of a replacement plan. And some of those who are scared are sick.

If they are people of color, they are scared that states will continue to make it more difficult to vote by closing polling stations in rural areas. And they are scared that the potential Attorney General was rejected as a judicial candidate in the 1980s because he was judged to be a racist by both sides of the aisle. 

If they are immigrants, they are scared of being targeted for harassment and hate crimes, and in some cases they are scared that they could be deported or that their families won't be allowed to join them in this country.

If they care about climate change, they are scared that the new head of the EPA will choose the economy over ecology every time - no matter what scientific data says. 

If they are part of the LGBT community, they are scared that they will be subject to more discrimination from this day forward and not less. Because there are people in government who think it matters who they love and where they go the bathroom. 

If they are interested in protecting reproductive rights, they know that the new President said that he would punish women who had an abortion. And they probably know someone - a relative or a friend - who could be affected by that. 

If they have children, they are scared that the only qualification that a Cabinet nominee appears to have to oversee their public education is that she can sign checks made out to political parties, candidates or causes .

If they prefer honesty from their government, they are scared about a chief executive who is willing to lie about whether it rains on his inaugural speech and the size of the crowd in front of him - and if he'll lie about that, he'll lie about anything.  

And if they are part of the general American population, they are scared of government workers who used the word "enemies" to describe their political opponents. Because they know what happened when Richard Nixon used such descriptions. 

Some of these views are oversimplifications. A much more narrow focus on the particular issue is necessary in order to have a rational discussion on it. Some of these fears won't come close to being realized.

But the protestors' feelings are real and legitimate. They demonstrated that fact, rather loudly, and they deserved to be taken seriously.

If you don't, it says much more about you than it says about them.