I really am (kinda, sorta) afraid of kites.
A few decades ago—no need to quibble over exact dates or to pinpoint geological eras—I was in college, passionately pursuing a career as a journalist because my preferred vocational path (snake and lizard expert) required enormous amounts of mathematics acumen. As a result, I was taking the route to my No. 4 job choice. (Spoiler alert: I will divulge choices two and three during this series of blogs.)
And this is where my list of “15 things you (probably, maybe) don’t know about me” begins. I was in college once upon a time. As a journalist who has had bylines that cover part of six decades—and two centuries—I might have become a familiar face in Columbia and Boone County, where I have plied this sacred trade since 2004.
Indeed, some people know me, and some know me well. No doubt many think they know me apart from my awesome collection of colorful, festive, themed neckties; my obsessive love of dogs or my affinity for sloths; and my penchant for writing stories about the people, places, and events in Central Missouri. (I was a sportswriter, reporter, and assistant weekend editor at the Jefferson City News Tribune for about 10 years before migrating in 2001 to Harrisburg, then Clark, and then Columbia. I had a four-year run as owner-editor-publisher-floor sweeper of The Northern Boone County Bullseye and then nine years as a reporter for the Columbia Daily Tribune.)
But just in case you’re wondering, here’s that list of stuff you probably, maybe don’t know about me.
1 – I NEVER EARNED A DEGREE.
Yes, I went to college. But I did not graduate. I never earned a degree. In fact, most folks seem to assume that I went to Mizzou and successfully navigated a degree program in the School of Journalism. Truth is, I never sat in a Mizzou J-School classroom until 2010 when I was a Fellow with the Midwest Health Journalism program.
My lack of a degree seemed to have zero effect on my career path and aspirations. Until recently. When I left my post as digital editor at Missouri Life magazine in mid-August, I rebooted my freelance marketing/copywriting biz, J3 Content King, and began sending a stream that would total 56 job applications, most of which were accompanied by a custom resume and cover letter.
Time and again, HR recruiters and other vetting services kicked me to their slush piles with the note: “We’re sorry, but this position requires a college degree.” One state agency did call and offer an interview, setting up a time, and making sure I knew about parking accommodations. Ten minutes later, the same caller phoned again. “Um, sorry, but we must rescind the interview offer. It looks like you didn’t finish your degree.”
I’m trying not to let my hurt feelings linger, but really? I don’t for a second begrudge those who have toiled and struggled and achieved academic success. Heck, the brilliant woman to whom I am married has a handful of hard-earned degrees. In a job market brimming with opportunities, however, many doors were closed to me because I am not degreed, my skills and experience notwithstanding. (Did I mention I have 200 years of experience? That’s two centuries, right?)
Even with a handful of good interviews and getting to the second and third round of interviews, the employment well remained dry for me. And then one day as I’m standing in line at the pharmacy, Erica Pefferman texted me to say she wanted to offer me a job at COMO Magazine. (Uh oh. Now she’ll know I don’t have a degree.)
2 – WELL, I SWEAR. WELL, NO I DON’T.
I don’t smoke, drink coffee, drink alcohol (no kidding), or swear (at least outside of roundabouts or egregious punctuation errors emblazoned on the TV screen during local newscasts). Honest. My favorite college professor, Dr. Kuldip Rampal, once lamented that I could not possibly become a successful journalist because I did not drink coffee or alcohol, didn’t cuss, and didn’t smoke. (See, I remember a few things from those two years of college at Central Missouri State University—now UCM—in Warrensburg. Go Mules!)
I do love the aroma of a good pipe or cigar (yes, tobacco, not whatever else folks are piping or vaping these days). I absolutely LOVE the smell of coffee and I make my bride a pot each morning. My Southern Baptist upbringing certainly influenced my tea-totaling, unswearing personality, but it’s also true that the very scent of alcohol gives me a buzz. A couple of glasses of wine each holiday season (but never in one sitting; I mean, do you want me sloppy drunk?) is my annual limit.
An adult-dose cap of Nyquil puts me on my can in seconds. I am, ashamedly, a verifiable lightweight when it comes to adult beverages. Or cold and cough medicine.
It’s possible that if you monitor my every word (or thought), you’ll catch an expletive now and then, but it’s more likely you’ll hear me utter a Baptist curse word. My favorites are “fiddlesticks” (my mom’s favorite, and boy it got your attention!) and “heavenly days.”
I didn’t understand the subtlety of the latter word until I heard it in a better context. Ernie Robertson was a farmer and grew alfalfa hay, which I’d sometimes help “haul” during the summer, but only when it was 191 degrees with zero breeze. Ernie was a thin, spry man with a ready smile, but so even-tempered you wondered if he was actually feeling that shadow-melting, 191-degree heat under his flannel shirt. (Note to readers who aren’t aware: Alfalfa hay is “scratchy.” And 191-degree sunshine kinda cooks your exposed skin.)
“This drought is terrible. There’s still no rain in the forecast,” someone at church would say. Ernie would reply, “Well, heavenly days.” Another time, someone dropped a pot of chicken and dumplings at the church’s carry-in dinner. Ernie’s retort, and always with a smile: “Well, heavenly days.”
Fast-forward to the time that Ernie and his brother-in-law, Vic Young (another incredible hero of my youth) were at the bottom of the hay conveyor, putting the bales on the belt as fast as the barn crew could neatly stack and fill the loft with those wonderfully aromatic, 40-pound bales. I was the one grabbing them from the conveyor before they dropped to the loft floor, quickly handing them over to the next guy in the crew.
The rhythm broke when the twine on a bale snapped as I yanked it from the conveyor, and a hot shower of alfalfa hay—chunks, dust, and pieces—plunged to the very spot that Ernie had just stepped to wipe his brow.
Instantly, he was transformed into a scarecrow.
Ernie gently spit alfalfa hay pieces from his mouth, wiped the scratchy stuff off his sweat-laden face, and took off his glasses and blinked. He spat again. He looked up. I waved and forced a smile.
Ernie shook his head, took a breath, and smiled, adding a “Well, heavenly days” as if it wasn’t 191 degrees and he hadn’t just tasted the hay that he’d still be wiping from his eyes during the scrumptious hay-hauling feast that followed a few unbearable hours later. He spoke and we got back to work, though I do think he nodded at one of the bigger guys to take over grabbing the bales from the conveyor.
To this day, when I see a flatbed trailer stacked with alfalfa or any kind of hay bales, I have to say out loud, “Well, Heavenly days.”
To recap: I don’t drink coffee. But I’d consume Diet Coke intravenously if possible. But no vices or excesses? Did I mention chicken and dumplings? And farm-sized feasts? Type II diabetes is proof of my favorite, life-long vice and affinity for unhealthy eating.
3 – CHRISTIANITY IS MY FAITH. BASEBALL IS MY RELIGION.
The historic grandeur of this splendid game, the smell (and taste!) of the infield dirt and outfield grass, the crack of the bat, the anticipation pent up in all the seemingly motionless moments, knowing that each game has the potential — even after 160 years — to produce something that’s happened only rarely or ever. That’s baseball. Sadly, gazillion dollar contracts, pitchers who can’t last more than a few innings without blowing out their ulnar collateral ligament or rotator cuff, hitters who can’t master hitting to the opposite field, and prime time postseason games that eliminate the need for young fans to play hooky from school are threatening to tarnish the game that I love.
But it’s still baseball and I sleep it, drink it, and relish it every day and every month. At the time of this writing, we’re just 30 days away from hearing four of the most wonderful words in the English language: Pitchers and catchers report!
I grew up as a Royals fan, and the Royals teams of 1976 and 1977 are still my all-time favorites, as George Brett is simply the greatest player of my lifetime. (I also hate the Yankees. Refer to the endings of the ’76 and ’77 Royals seasons if you need explanation.) In my adult years, I gravitated to St. Louis Cardinals fandom, much to the continued chagrin of my Jackson and related kinfolk.
Yadi Molina is my No. 2 behind Brett, with His Majesty Albert Pujols at No. 3. I need a new active favorite now Molina and Pujols are retired. I’m leaning toward Nolan Arenado, though Salvi Perez or Bobby Witt Jr. on the west side of the state are also candidates.
I also come down on the side of enshrining the ‘roiders in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. You heard me right: Barry Bonds. Mark McGwire. Sammy Sosa. Roger Clemens. Even A-roid—Alex Rodrigues. Put ‘em in. The sanctimonious writers voting on HOF induction overlook the rampant use of “greenies” (amphetamines) that powered some of the most notable names, teams, and franchises of the 70s and early 80s.
I’m looking at you Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia Phillies, and N.Y. Yankees.
I’m basing that conclusion on interviews and conversations—both public and private—that I’ve had with players from that era. There were bowls of the pills in some clubhouses. And MLB brass knew it — yet turned a blind eye.
Same with steroids. Most of the substances used to juice players were legal; MLB brass knew it, yet turned a blind eye. But without the McGwire-Sosa home run race of 1998 — at least tacitly sanctioned by MLB’s powers-that-be — would baseball attendance have recovered from the decline that started after the strike five years earlier?
My question to those who continue to preach that players who used PEDs should be black balled: How do we know who was or wasn’t getting “help” with hormones and other chemicals, both natural and synthetic? And how many marginal players never became more than marginal players no matter how many pills, creams, or injections they took? Just how many superstars were super because of steroids? I’m betting Bonds would have had Ruthian numbers without steroids. (Let me hear you say, “Preach on, Brother Jodie!”)
If they have HOF numbers, put them in the HOF. But continue to keep Pete Rose out. If, however, Rose gets a reprieve, he shouldn’t get in until Joe Jackson is posthumously inducted 100 years too late.
4 – I THINK I’M AFRAID OF KITES
I have a weird, somewhat panicky feeling when I see kites in the sky. Yes, kites — those crafty creations of plastic or balsa wood and paper or fabric that are held and guided by a thin string. It’s not so much fear as it is intense anxiety. (The closest identified phobia I can find is autophobia or monophobia—the fear of being isolated, alone, or lonely.)
The sense of impending separation is overwhelming. If the kite gets disconnected from the string and it floats away—sometimes violently, if the wind is strong—what will happen to it? Who will look after it now? Why wasn’t the kite-flier more careful? I’m sure this kite-floating-away scenario has some deeply rooted, psychological origins.
What inanimate objects cause anxiety for you? (The only other thing on my list is ladders. My heart rate increases, and my breath might become shallow. And that’s just the sight of a ladder. That’s a thing. But to actually get ON the ladder? Only in moments of complete insanity.)
What are one or two significant (or inane) things that no one knows about you? What sort of phobia or anxiety-causing trigger do you have? Let me know! Email email@example.com.
Coming up on January 25: Part 2 of “15 things you (probably, maybe) don’t know about me.“