Tag Archives: kentucky

A major award: How I won a poodle with turquoise rump fluff

20 Sep

leglamp12I know how the father in A Christmas Story felt when he won the Leg Lamp. I, too, have won awards. My glory days are behind me, but I used to be pretty lucky at drawings. When I was a kid, the hardware store in my hometown had prize drawings at Christmas. (The store also sold toys; I got my first new bike there.) One Christmas, I won a ping pong set, which would have been a much bigger deal if my family had a ping pong table or any space to put one. We tried to use the dining room table, which did not go over well. Still, the paddles had many other inventive, if not abusive, uses. Ask Julie, my sister.

I was on a roll in those days. Around the same time I won the ping pong set, I also won a major award during a family trip.

My family took summer vacations in which all six of us would spend a week together on an excursion to the Rockies or some other great American destination. We considered a trip successful if it did not result in threats of infanticide. We traveled in a pickup with a camper on top. Six people in a camper little bigger than a tomato can. Oh, the fun we had. I still have bruises from fights my brother and I engaged in while riding in the loft above the truck cab. My parents warned us before we left home that they would turn around and go home at the first sign of fighting. And if we thought they were kidding, just try them. Yes, we would see who was laughing then. And we better wipe that smirk off our face, Mister, if we didn’t want it wiped for us.

Sometimes we made it fifty miles into a trip before my brother Jeff and I started whaling on each other. Julie encouraged it because she knew we otherwise would turn our attention to her. My younger brother Robert got to ride up front with Mom and Dad. We still hate him for it. The parents never made good on their threat to turn back, but Dad, who never drank, slowed the truck to a crawl in front of a few liquor stores. He also parked in front of a gun store once and wept quietly, but we don’t bring that up at family reunions.


A artist’s rendering of a Dreamer with “happy” campers.

We had a Dreamer camper that we bought in Des Moines. It replaced another Dreamer camper we had that was even smaller. In true seventies style, the interior of the new one was all turquoise Formica and blond plywood. The year we got the new camper, we took it to Bowling Green, Kentucky for a Dreamer convention, which is just as exciting as it sounds—a bunch of people with Dreamer campers either coveting or turning up their noses at other Dreamer campers.

We stayed at the campground connected to Beech Bend, which was an amusement park of questionable repute. (I’m sure it’s much better now.) Besides talking about all things Dreamer, campers (the human kind) were entertained by so-so comedians and bad country music acts which made the one-hour trip north from Nashville. I was more of a Jackson 5 aficionado in those days, so the music was not to my tastes. The best part was at night when we went to the amusement park where I became a bit of a Skee Ball pro. That’s also where I saw my first drunk vomiter, and it was impressive.  A couple of guys walked along the midway and one of them hurled without breaking stride, like it was something he did every night. Perhaps it was.

Beech Bend, a classy place if ever there was one, also had a drag strip.  Every day, the convention organizers made announcements and put on little shows there. They also held drawings for special prizes like game tickets at the amusement park, a meal at Sizzlers and such. I wanted those amusement park tickets to feed my growing Skee Ball addiction. One day, out of hundreds of Dreamerites, my name was called. As I made my way down the aisle, I sensed the envy of everyone in the crowd. What had I won? Perhaps a free hamburger at McDonalds, a new GI Joe or a nifty set of Hot Wheels cars? If I wasn’t so lucky to get something for myself, it could be something my parents could use, such as a set of barbecue tongs and mitts. I descended amid the noisy applause of my fellow campers, and I could sense the heat of Jeff’s eyes drilling hate holes in my back. I always won things, he said, while he never did. He hadn’t gotten over my winning the ping pong set.

When I made it down to the bottom of the grandstands, the announcer presented my prize: a huge stuffed animal—a white and turquoise poodle. Dow chemists had yet to perfect fake fur that was soft to the touch. This faux canine had all the cuddliness of forty grit sandpaper. And it was ugly. Ugly and girly. No twelve-year-old boy, not even a Jackson 5 fan, should be seen in public with a fru fru stuffed poodle with turquoise ears and rump fluff. What if a photographer from the Bowling Green newspaper had been there to document the handoff?  Missouri boy accepts gift meant for a girl, the caption would say. I wanted to say “no thanks” and return to my seat. But this was, after all, something I had won. One did not turn down something that had been won fair and square, even a stuffed poodle. I accepted my prize and climbed the steps to my seat as the crowd again applauded. This time, however, their applause was meek, and perhaps a bit uncomfortable.

My parents looked embarrassed. Jeff smirked. I was too ashamed to be seen holding the white and turquoise monstrosity any longer, so I handed the dog to seven-year-old Julie. Oh, the delight in her eyes. Her older brother had finally given her a large, beautiful stuffed animal (made of questionable material that may or may not have been toxic to human touch). He really did care, she thought. This was proof of a benevolent God.

No. As soon as we returned to the camper, I took back the dog. “I just gave it to you to hold for awhile,” I said. Julie cried. Jeff smirked more. My parents had bigger issues to deal with than who should possess an ugly stuffed poodle. I didn’t care. I had won the thing, and I was going to keep it.


It was MUCH worse than this.

And I did, for awhile, in the room I shared with my two brothers. Eventually, though, I came to my senses and gave it to Julie permanently. Perhaps my conscience overpowered my immaturity. Or maybe I realized how stupid the dog looked in my bedroom next to football items. If a stuffed poodle with turquoise ears and rump fluff sounds like something you’d like, I’m sure it’s still out there somewhere. Its material certainly was not biodegradable. I don’t think it would burn either. If it did, the fumes would kill you.


P.S. Buy some books, will ya? I got a kid in college.


The decision stunk, but the outcome wasn’t so bad

29 Apr

My younger daughter Sophia and I drove an hour or so east of our home yesterday to watch a college softball game in Lexington, Kentucky.  It was a good day. Sophia was chatty, and we had our usual conversations about the source of tofu and other deep topics. My mind wandered a lot to the distant past during our trip. My Alma Mater, Missouri, played Kentucky in that game. Lexington was the first place I lived after college.


Roger Gafke, professor emeritus

When I graduated back in the Neanderthal days of 1981, I applied for a news reporter job at the ABC affiliate in Lexington. The TV news industry paid its young reporters in fame rather than fortune, and the offer was for barely more than minimum wage. I did a quick phone interview with the news director, who said the job was mine if I wanted it. I called my journalism school adviser Roger Gafke to ask what I should do.

“As your adviser, I advise you to keep looking,” Roger said. He didn’t like the sound of the opportunity. The money was too little, and the station seemed a little desperate. The station where I worked in college was the top-rated news operation in its market. The newsroom had just been expanded, the camera and editing equipment were new and plentiful, and the staff was comprised of dozens of  talented journalism students, many of whom would have careers at places like NBC, CNN and ESPN. Roger sensed I would be stepping into a much different situation.

“I will consider your advice,” I said.

I did not consider it. The Lexington job was the first I applied for, and I feared I would receive no other reporting offers. Ever. I imagined living at home and watching Andy Griffith reruns with my parents. I wanted a place of my own to watch Andy Griffith reruns.

My mother did not want me to live at home either, but she also did not want me to move far away.

“I read there’s an opening for a photographer at the newspaper in St. Joe,” she said.


There was no such thing as a busy Bluegrass Sunday.

“I don’t think my TV reporting skills would get me a job as a print photographer,” I said.

“Then how about applying at the radio station in Bethany?”

I did not want to read noon livestock reports on the local FM station the rest of my life, so I packed my car and headed east.

Also yesterday, I made the deposit committing my older daughter Isabel to her college choice. That should have been a momentous occasion, but Isabel didn’t seem very excited about any of her college options. The university she selected is a good one. It’s  not too far away, and the scholarship award is generous. Unless Isabel goes nuts at the nearby Ikea store, she should still have money in her savings when she graduates. Because Isabel doesn’t seem excited, her mother and I feel some anxiety. We worry she won’t be happy with her decision. What if she doesn’t like the atmosphere? What if she doesn’t make lifelong friends like her mother and I did in school? What if she regrets everything?

After the softball game, I drove Sophia around Lexington for a bit. We passed the church where her mother and I were married. I pointed out the stained glass window that was familiar to her from our wedding picture. I tried to find the first apartment we lived in when we married, though I couldn’t remember where it was. Then we drove by the TV station on our way out of town.


Timothy Shawn Patrick Doyle, one of the good guys who made WTVQ better

“It’s much different now,” I told Sophia. “The first time I came here, I thought I had made a huge mistake. The newsroom was small, the news vehicles were old, and the equipment was in terrible condition. The station was the laughingstock of Lexington.”

“So, did you make a mistake?” Sophia asked.

“Definitely,” I said, thinking how my career never really recovered.

Then I thought about the good friends I made, the wonderful person I married, the girl sitting next to me, and the other one back home preparing to graduate from high school.  None of which I would have without that poor decision long ago.

“Actually, no,” I said. “Things turned out quite well.”

By all means, take offense

12 Jul

Long ago in a land and time far away, I reported the news for an ABC affiliate in Kentucky. I was superbly mediocre. Still, I had my good moments, such as when I did a news series called “Justice for All?” which investigated how judicial outcomes varied with each person’s ability to afford representation. Not a stunning revelation, right? A millionaire with a phalanx of high-priced lawyers has a better chance shot at freedom than a similarly-accused person represented by a harried public defender. (Can I get an amen, OJ?) Still, the series rankled a few feathers, generating a critical letter to the editor of the paper (even though I was a TV reporter) from the head of the local public defenders office. I was gleeful. It was about time I pissed someone off, I thought.

It wasn’t my goal to raise anyone’s hackles; I only tried to present the facts. But the letter to the editor offered written proof that I was doing my job. All writers–not just news reporters–should embrace criticism, and not just because it toughens us. Criticism shows we’re not only entertaining, but causing readers to think and react. I don’t write to irritate anyone. In fact, I wish everyone would fall in love with each word and punctuation mark I type with my bony fingers. But if someone is offended by the ideas I have, it’s a good indication I risen a bit above writing total drivel. On the other hand, if everyone sends me bouquets, I need to find something better to do with my time.