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December 31, 2010

"Oh Cisco!" Oh, Pancho!"

The Cisco Kid is in Battle Creek, Michigan USA.  Nearly 60 years after his TV debut in the early 1950s.

I watch him some  evenings. Just as I did as a nine year old.

Like The Lone Ranger, Cisco Kid always captures the bad guys and whows the ladies.

Unlike the Masked Man,  who today seems a bit stuffy  and even condescending,  Cisco Kid still has  a sense of humor,  natural acting ability, and a good time with his sidekick, Pancho.


Viewers can  count on a joke, and the famous “Oh, Cisco!", "Oh, Pancho!” at the close of each episode.


In real life, Duncan Renaldo was evidently as nice a guy as the one he played on our tv  sets, according to Internet and print articles about his life.


He also had a secret – one that would get him in hot water, even today.


Renaldo was an illegal immigrant from Spain.

Born in 1904,  he never knew his parents. He  came to the U.S.  in the 1920s, working  on a Brazilian coal ship.


He overstayed his 90-day visa,  and was arrested in the 1930s and threatened with deportation.

U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt eventually granted him a pardon. 

In 1928 Renaldo  started making films for MGM. His career  soon dimmed when he became the 'Cisco Kid' in a 1945 film series that eventually wound up on television.

Along side Pancho (Leo Carrillo), the Cisco Kid won the day -- usually without drawing his pistol.

According to accounts, The Cisco Kid was wildly popular in his day -- among children and adult viewers.


The  television series ended in the mid-1950s. (By that time, Renaldo was 51 and Carillo approaching 80 years of age.)

Historical photographs available on the Internet recall famous visits to county fairs and company-sponsored picnics  by Renaldo in the early 60s.   That was how he made his living after the movie and tv lights went out.

With grace and good fun, Renaldo posed with local groups who remembered and loved his style and his smile.


Duncan Renaldo died in 1980 of lung cancer.


We could use a few more Cisco Kids.

"Adios, Amigo!"

"See you soon!"


07:55 | Permalink | Tags: writers who write |  Facebook |

December 23, 2010

30 Minutes With Gerry

I've been on a tear the last week or so, reading stories about the Pacific island campaigns (Tarawa, Guadacanal, etc) of WWII.


Most of us know that George Bush The First was a Navy pilot.  Many fewer, perhaps, that Gerald Ford served quietly, with distinction, during some of the worst fighting in the Pacific.



But Gerald Ford, from  his University of Michigan football days, to his U.S. Presidency, was never one to blow his own horn.



I hadn’t lived in Grand Rapids, Michigan long before I met former U.S. President Gerald Ford for the first, and last, time.


An afternoon meeting concluded in my office, and one of the participants mentioned he was going down to “visit with Gerry” at the Ford Presidential Museum. And he asked if I wanted to come along.


So we walked down Pearl Street, across the Grand River bridge to the Museum.



Inside, I noticed several men with the telltale lapel pins and ear plugs associated with the Secret Service.


But we were rather casually ushered into President Ford’s office at the Museum.


He got up and greeted us – particularly my colleague, who was an old friend.


And the three of us sat chatting about University of Michigan football, Bill Clinton’s reelection prospects, and local politics for about 30 minutes.


I was surprised at how ‘easy’ the conversation was; and that Ford seemed in no hurry to end the chat.  There was no glancing at his watch; no shifting of his eyes in anticipation of the next meeting on his schedule.


Walking  back across the Grand River bridge, my colleague told several endearing stories from his friend “Gerry” Ford’s some 25 years representing Grand Rapids and Michigan’s 5th Congressional District.


I was thinking about the President Gerald Ford who helped bring a close to Watergate, the Vietnam War, and dealt with Soviet expansionism and domestic inflation in the mid-1970s.


“He's a very common man,” my associate commented to me about Ford.


And much more, I thought to myself.



December 21, 2010

"Ma'm, that's mighty fine peach cobbler."

“Ma'm, that’s mighty fine peach cobbler.”

A friend was an iterant preacher and member of a musical quartet in the '50s, that made a meager living traveling the upper Midwest, performing at tent revivals and small town churches.

The quartet relied on generosity of the church faithful, including food and bed most nights.

When lucky,thpeachcobbler.jpgey'd share a local farm family’s dinner table and fare.

The musical group's lifestye was one part religious fervor and one part snake oil salesmenship. 

All that singing, traveling and living together bred  more than a bit of familiarity. “Many an evening, we’d end up kicking each other under the dinner table,” my minister friend recalled.

One quartet member had his own Harold-Hill like sales pitch at the dinner table.

“That's mighty fine asparagus!,” he’d say, complimenting the household missus, while brushing off gravy stains and bread crumbs from his shirt front.

“Oh, you think so?” missus would say, acting surprised by the compliment. “Well, how about you havin’ a second helpin of that asparagus, then!”

After dinner coffee and dessert served.

Before table could be cleared of dishes, the siren song repeated.

“Oh, yes. Ma'm, that's mighty fine peach cobbler. Mighty fine peach cobbler.”

“Don't say, you tell me?” missus would respond, proud as a 4-H blue ribbon winner at the County Fair. 

 “I got a nice second piece for you rite here.”

December 20, 2010

Learning From Our Failures

200px-Santa-eop2.jpgLearning From Our Failures At This Christmas Time

As bad as things seem, for so many in America, at this Christmas, times WILL get better.  They almost always do, if we take one day at a time, and keep moving forward in life.

All the whining about the U.S. being in "death throes," mirroring the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, leaves me nothing but bored and depressed.

Who needs it? And, I don't believe it for a minute. 

Wasn't it just a few years back when we were ready to throw General Motors and Ford Motors into the trash heap of history?

Today?  I'll take a new Ford, for quality and technology,  over a Toyota, any day.

There's a grand tradition in this country of getting up off our ass*s, cynching up our pants, going back to work, and surprising people with our resilency, and our come-from-behind attitude.

We just like to bit*ch about things.

  • Orville Wright got kicked out of grade school.

  • Henry Ford went bankrupt four times.

  • The copy machine was rejected 10 years before the Xerox machine was finally introduced.

  • The fax machine failed when invented in the 1840s.

  • The Apple Newton PDA tanked when introduced; but many of its components are included in the tremendously successful I-Pad.

  • President Harry Truman had a lower popularity rating that Barack Obama – the joke of the day was: “To Err is Truman.”  Yet Truman went on to deal with the Korean War, the birth of the nation of Israel, created the Department of Defense – and is today considered one of our top 5 or so U.S presidents.

Merry Christmas.  Wanna join me in making it a good year?

December 14, 2010

Bus Stop Blues

 Downtown Bus Stop Blues 

bus-stop.jpgShe  sat huddled, alone, in a corner of the clear plastic, doorless hut, a sharp , bitter wind blowing under the cigarette butt, trash hewn benches, chilling the feet of those waiting for the public buses.


The young woman wore dark glasses, dressed in a bulky brown jacket, winter scarf, sock cap pulled down below her ears to eye level. She appeared withdrawn, tiny, confused ...  afraid.


Her grimy, off-white tennis shoes and thin, summer weight, brown cotton pants dripped melting snow when she moved.  Wet stains crept up her pant legs to the knees.


One hand and arm  clung tightly to a small bag, stuffed with a blanket.


The bag suddenly moved on its own, and she quickly adjusted the blanket, and slid to the end of the bench, avoiding  two old men who’d joined us.


“You OK?” I asked.


She sensed the object of my concern, gently pulling back the blanket from  top of the bag.


Out popped the homely, bugged-eyed  head of a small pug dog.


“You know my cat died this morning. My dog is sick, too. I’m  taking him to the vet in Athens,” she said. “PLEASE don’t tell the bus driver,” she implored.


"Athens?” I replied. “That’s 12 miles beyond Beckley and the end of your bus route.  How’re you getting there?”


“I’m  gonna walk. My vet is cheap. I don’t mind,” she said, removing dark glasses for the first time, tears welling-up above rose-hued winter cheeks.


The men  watched, listened.


One laughed,  commenting to his pal. “Nothing special. I used to walk to the Marshall jail.”


He took a swig from  the sack,  passing it to his friend.


Buses arrived, and we fled to our own, and  our own lives.


I wondered  later if the girl and her dog made it to Athens.


In the winter air and wet clothes.

And what I might have, but did not, do for her.

December 08, 2010

Peeing In The Orange Juice Glass

Peeing In The Orange Juice Glass

A friend dropped by my place the other night...and wanted to share a short story manuscript he had just completed.  I felt complimented that he would ask, and said: "OK, I'll try not to pee in the orange juice glass."

Most of us have a family member, colleague or friend who ALWAYS has to have the credit and the  last word. 

On the work site, we learn to give the boss credit for successes and to assume blame for failures. And to let the boss take ownership for the best ideas. (They usually do, anyway!)


Graphic artists intentionally make minor design mistakes or omissions so a client will catch them and feel an important partner in the creative process. 

 I   worked as a journalist and writer for years – and then in management –  and tried to stay mindful of how good copy, a good idea, a good project or a good employee -- can be spoiled  by Alpha dog behavior of an enthusiastic supervisor.

   For example: writers of all sort  are a rather bilious lot, "full of envy, fear and self loathing" --  and  notoriously negative about ANY  blue edit marks, commonly referred to as "tweaks, " by  a book or copy editor.  

The old story goes like this:

 'A writer is left on a deserted island with his editor.  

The writer is starving.  

All that is left is a glass of orange juice.  

Days pass.

The writer is near death.  

He is about to drink the juice when the editor grabs the glass from his hand and pees into it.  

 The writer looks at him, stunned. 

 "There," the editor says, handing back the glass, "It just needed a little tweaking."  

I’m not sure how all this hangs together.

Maybe, simply that there's  a difference between tweaking and peeing in the glass -- in most of our relationships; whether on the job, with the wife, teenage daughter/son, or friend.

And sometimes the best advice is no advice.  And no tweaking.

Or, maybe I just need a good copy editor for this blogsite.

December 02, 2010

Doing Well In America


 Doing Well In America

Travel  and foreign living experiences can be a reminder of how soft we have it  in America -- even when the U.S. unemployment rate is in the double digits, and when one of our biggest concerns is if Congress is going to give us more unemployment benefits.

Fact is:   We're fortunate to have been born and raised in this country. 

All of us. 

Relatively speaking.


During a visit to rural Ghana in West Africa a few years back, a new acquaintance commented to me: "We  watch American soaps on our  village TV. My son said: 'Mommy, mommy. I want to live in America.  Even the poor people are fat in America!!'"


Living in Florida not long ago, my new landlords invited me to dinner, along with another friend  who speaks fluent Spanish.


Landlords are Cubans.  Mid 30s.  Have been in the US for only four years. 


The husband is this burly guy who looks more like a sumo wrestler from Japan. 


The wife is attractive, with personal balance along with an obvious,  strong love of her husband.  (And much deserved pride in her home cooking.)


We sit outside in the night heat.  Lots of laughter.   Mostly in Spanish among the three others. 


I watch their lips, trying to capture words, from my high school Spanish class, like lightening bugs.


We eat homemade tacos thick as Bibles; stuffed with fresh corn, meat, green peppers, lettuce,  onions and sauce. Followed by thimble cups of thick, black coffee or Pepsi and a homemade Cuban custard.


The husband works as a welder each day. 


During dinner, he rubs his arms to relieve large burns, presumably from a welding torch.


He can speak little English.  His wife more.  And their 8-yo daughter both, but has no Spanish accent.


Daughter is bored by the growups’ conversation and wanders back and forth from the patio to a small tv in the kitchen, where lipsticked, prepubescent girls  sing in English while stage dancing on Nickelodion.  


“Oh, Jessica mocks my English all the time,” the landlady says, looking at her nearby daughter, but laughing.


Landlord  goes to work from  2 p.m. to midnight most days.   I hear his car pull back into the drive.


By 8 a.m., he’s out in front  of the house fixing other people’s cars; to make a little more money for his family. 


Or he’s  on the roof, installing shingles, finishing the rehab on our house, which he is turning  into a three-unit.  He appears to do it all: car repair, plumbing, framing, roofing,  electrical, welding.


My Spanish-speaking friend mentions she wants to have a new bathroom added to her own house.  We talk about cost of materials.  Landlord suggests he could do it ‘in his spare time.’


His wife is upset.  She tells us she doesn’t have enough to keep her busy. 


She is raising their daughter. 


She is going to school every day, full time to become  a beautician. 


She notices I’ve just had a haircut and wants to start cutting mine. 


She hears my  friend talking about cleaning my apartment every two weeks for $20, and says she would like to do it herself.


“I need more to do,” she says.  ‘Or life gets boring.”


They’ve brought many skill sets, and a great attitude to America.


In Cuba, it was  about 'making do.'


In America, these people will do well.

Even in these hard times for many of us.