Sandy Hook School Sign

The following sentence is not comforting.

If an intelligent but deranged person with access to weapons and no fear of death wants to hurt someone, there’s not much that can stop him. Fortunately, that combination is exceptionally rare. Rare, but as we know, it happens. And when it does, the pain they inflict is almost unbearable.

I ache for those children and their families. I read accounts and I cry and curse this man. I imagine what they saw, what their last minutes were like, what they’ll miss in this life. And as a parent, I imagine the hell those parents are going through. I ache, but I know I’m not alone in that feeling. And that’s why I don’t lose faith.

I don’t think the world is going to hell. As horrible as this was, it actually strengthens my faith in we humans. I ask myself, how many bad people were there that day? In this case, one. One person whose mind, to put it mildly, was not wired correctly. One person who caused so much pain. But then I ask myself, how many good people were there? And the answer is hundreds. Teachers who fought for and saved children. Staff who died trying to stop him. First responders who heard there was a shooting at a school and raced to the scene to help. People in the town and around the country who have offered support and prayers and whatever they can to help those who are suffering.

And the same is true whenever a disaster, manmade or natural, happens. The heroes fly in to help. The good comes out. And the good always outweighs the bad.

There are bad people in this world. And there are things we can do as individuals and as a society to make things better and to protect ourselves. We have to look at how we treat the mentally ill, how can we change our gun laws, and how can we make our schools safer. There are no simple answers. But occasionally, no matter how vigilant we are, bad things are going to happen. And when they do, good people become great people. My faith in that fact grows stronger every day.

BLB

Brush with Greatness

I’m reading The 50 Funniest American Writers. It’s an anthology by Andy Borowitz. Good stuff. When I finished the George Carlin section, I turned the page and, BAM! The next story caused a memory to come flooding back. A connection to a little story I tell. A brush with greatness.

I occasionally have these strange little star crossings. Meeting someone famous, usually while they’re in the middle of being a normal person. Odd and exciting for me. Annoying for my friends because the actual stories are usually pretty lame, but I still tell them over and over.

“Did I ever tell you guys about the time I played basketball with Emmit Smith? I did? Did I tell you about the time I ran teleprompter for Danny Glover? Really? I did? Well how about the time I bumped into Dave Grohl buying sunglasses?” Eyes roll. “Yes. Yes Brian, we’ve heard the story.” I need to find new friends or new stories. Anyway, this is kind of one of those.

The next story in the Borowitz book, the story that caused the BAM memory, is Laws Concerning Food and Drink; Household Principles; Lamentations of the Father. Seriously. That’s the title. My first exposure to Lamentations of the Father was in 1998 while driving home. It was read aloud on This American Life. I love This American Life. I love Ira Glass. I loved this story. But I missed the intro and that fact resulted in my next long distance brush with greatness.

I wanted to know who wrote the story and what it was called so I decided to look it up. But where? The internet of 1998 was not the internet of today. Today, This American Life episodes can be streamed or downloaded and episode summeries are available on the site. (After you finish this drivel, go there and listen to some truly outstanding storytelling.) But in 1998, I didn’t have the website option. So I called WUWF, my local public broadcasting station, and asked if they had the info. They did not. But they were kind enough to look up and give me the This American Life number in Chicago. So I called.

Ira Glass

Ira Glass

Maybe you’ve jumped ahead of me but that’s ok. I called expecting a secretary or intern to answer and I would ask my question and move on. But when I called, I heard these words; “This American Life, Ira speaking.” Or “This is Ira” or something like that. The exact words are a blur. But there’s no mistaking that voice. Ira Glass was on the other end on the line. I froze for a moment. (That, unfortunately,  is a common aspect of my star meeting stories.) I finally stammered through my question, describing the story and explaining that I missed part of it and wondered what it was called and who wrote it. He of course knew right away and gave me the info. (Ian Frazier wrote Lamentations of the Father. Still love it. I’ll post it below.) I thanked him. He said you’re welcome and that was the end of it. Lasted all of a couple of minutes. But I’ve lost count of how times I have said or written “Did I ever tell you about the time I talked to Ira Glass?”

For the first 10 years or so, it didn’t come up very often. There was the occasional opportunity at a party or at work where the show would be mentioned and I would pipe up. But it was rare. Then, Facebook happened. People “liked” things. And when any of my friends “liked” This American Life, I took advantage of the opening by commenting. “Yes I like that show too. Did I ever tell you about the time I talked to Ira Glass? No? Well, the year was 1998…”

I guess there are benefits to social media. Mainly being, now I don’t have to see the eye rolling or hear the sighs. :-)

BLB

(This is the version I heard on This American Life in 1998.)

The 2012 Runyon 5K

Why I’m Running

Some basic journalistic, who, what, where, when and why. The why is the most important part of this event so I’ll keep the others short.

Who: Me (And around 4,000 new friends.)

What: The Runyon 5K (May not be the NYC Marathon but the Where and the Why make it special.)

Where: Yankee freakin’ Stadium! NYC. (It’s really just Yankee Stadium. I added the “freakin’” part and the exclamation point. More on the where below.)

When: August 12th, 2012 (Ahhh… running in August.)

Why: For Sidney O Risener. There’s no way to do this man’s life justice in this space but bear with me for a second. The highlights that are important to this story are…

He lived through the Great Depression. Sidney O Risener was born in 1920 and as boy, like so many at that time, he lived through some really hard times. And also like many at that time, it taught him to be a hard-working, self sufficient man. The strength he would need to be a member of the Greatest Generation.

Sidney Risener – Bottom Row, 2nd from Left

He was a veteran of two wars. As a young man, he was sent to the Pacific during WWII.  He returned to the Pacific a few years later and fought in Korea. He never talked to his family about the things he saw and the hell he lived through. They only glimpsed shadows of it from the nightmares. But over time, the nightmares slowly faded and in spite of or maybe because of the pain of those memories, he remained a happy, outgoing and friendly man.

He worked hard. He supported his family by working in a factory for 35 years doing difficult and at times dangerous work. During his years there he survived two explosions. One of those explosions killed several of his friends and coworkers and gave him some pretty severe burns. But tired, sick, or injured, he had a family to support so he laced ‘em up and went back to work.

Sidney O Risener and His Family

He was a family man. Sidney O Risener loved and took care of his wife Ruby and his two children. He spent time with them and took them on family vacations to the mountains and to the Gulf. Later on when grandchildren entered the picture, he did the same with them. And he played catch in the yard with a pair of old baseball mitts, took them fishing on the river and took them to football games in the Fall.

He retired and enjoyed a… This is the one that got cut way too damn short. The one he deserved. He had big plans for his retirement. More time for fishing on the river and spending time with his family and friends. More time with a brand new grandson and a well deserved rest after a sometimes challenging life. But those plans were immediately thrown off track.

The very week after he retired, he went to the doctor. He hadn’t been feeling well but the excitement of the retirement had overshadowed concerns about his health. The news was not good. He was diagnosed with lung cancer.

Treatments started and trips to the hospital were frequent. A strong, vital, self sufficient man began to wither away. The treatments didn’t stop the cancer and they wreaked havoc on his body and his mind. As they say, the cure is worse than the disease. Near the end, through the pain and the medication, he started reliving some of the hell he went through during the war. Family members sat by his bedside and did the best they could to comfort him. After a miserable two years, he lost the battle. He fought and lived through so much. But this one he couldn’t win.

Sidney O Risener and Family

And here’s the connection. The Runyon 5K is a fundraiser for the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation. I’m running this race to honor my grandfather, Sidney O Risener. (That’s me and my brother with my mom and grandparents on the left.) And in the process I’ll be helping  raise money for research that will one day end this disease. Last year’s run raised over $730,000. But this may involve you and someone you love, too. And I’m not just talking about a donation.

We’ve all been touched by cancer in some way. And for every name, there’s a story. I want to honor as many of those names as possible so here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to make a list. Maybe a scroll. I’m still working that out. If you give me the name or names of people in your life who have been affected by cancer and make a donation to sponsor my run, I’ll put your name and the name of a loved one who has been affected on the scroll. I’m going to carry that list with me as I the run the race through Yankee Stadium. Whatever amount you want or can afford and as many names as you’d like.

You can donate directly to me or you can visit  My personal Runyon 5K page and donate there. Then just give me the names of the loved ones you would like to honor. There are more links and info below.

Okay, I’ve got to get back to training now. The course is a little crazy but cool. Winding through the concourse of the stadium, up and down stairs, out on the field for a couple of laps around the warning track, up ramps and down ramps and through the Hall of Champions. Can’t wait. Thanks for any support you give, be it moral, financial or both.

The Runyon 5K at Yankee Stadium 

My Personal Runyon 5K Page

The History of the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation

Pensacola FL, Home of the Blue Angels
(image by Brian L Butler)

Men in Uniform

So here’s a thing that can turn your hair gray. Daughters hitting dating age. And here’s a thing that can make that gray hair fall out. Daughters hitting dating age in a Navy town. I knew this time was coming. I knew that one day I’d have to worry about the possibility of them falling in love and heading off to Guam or Okinawa or god knows where with some yahoo in a uniform.

(And I say that with all due respect to our fine men and women in the armed services. Love you and what you do. Dead serious. But these are my little girls and my irrational, overblown fears we’re talking about.)

The thing is, until this year, some yahoo in a uniform meant just one of the thousands of sailors on base or, what was more frightening, a fly-boy, Maverick wanna-be, getting his start in the “Cradle of Naval Aviation”. Some pilot with a need for speed putting my daughter on the back of his motorcycle and heading to the beach for a game of slow motion volleyball before either breaking her heart or capturing it and taking her with him, bouncing around the country and the world, putting me and Julie in a positon where we rarely see her or the grandki… OK. Maybe I’m getting a little ahead of myself.

But Pensacola girls flying off with Navy and Marine pilots is the stuff of legend around here. Sometimes it works out beautifully. Sometimes not so much. Just like all relationships. But there are special challenges to being a military spouse. That’s not the point here though.

The Pensacola Blue Wahoos (image by Brian L Butler)

The point is this. Now there’s a new game in town. Some yahoo in a uniform has turned into some Wahoo in a uniform. The Cincinnati Reds have a Double A baseball team now. The Pensacola Blue Wahoos started playing this Spring. They’re a big hit with the fans and I think it’s pretty darn cool myself. I’ve been to a lot of games already. But…

All I keep hearing from my daughters and their friends is how cute these young, athletic guys are. Most of these girls don’t know the difference between a sac fly and a horse fly but they clamor to get autographs and photos with the guys and instantly post them to facebook or instagram and get “ooohs” and “ahhhs” and “oh my he’s cutes” from their friends. Add this to my Bull Durham visions of life in the minor leagues and well, there goes my hair again.

And there’s no Wahoo more sought after  than relief pitcher Donnie Joseph. Young, tall, fit, professional athlete with a big glowing smile. There’s a sigh in the voice and the eyelids flutter when they say his name.

From what I’ve gathered, he seems like a good guy. Very good pitcher, very religious, always smiling and spends time after every game signing autographs and taking pictures with his fans, like the one below with my daughter. Dare I say Tebowesque. What’s not to like. But again, these are my little girls and my irrational, overblown fears we’re talking about. Military spouse is hard. But I think pro athlete spouse would be even harder.

Donnie Joseph and My Daughter

I know I still have a few years before I really need to worry about these things and I know I shouldn’t even actually be worried. Julie and I should just do the best we can and stay rational and hope the girls make good decisions. The more I think about it, there are definitely worse choices out there than an athlete or a service member. God I hope they stay away from TV people.

And then there’s this. Literally as I’m writing this, I hear that Donnie Joseph has been called up to the Red’s Triple A team in Louisville. Somebody else’s dad will have to worry about that particular baseballer. :-)

Brian L Butler

Plan B

This morning’s adventure. Snake in the backyard. Somewhere between 2 and 10 feet long. I’m pretty sure it was a Black Mamba. Or maybe a Black Racer. I don’t know. It happened so fast.

I let the dog out this morning to do that thing she does. She’s in the middle of doing that thing she does when she sees the snake and suddenly bark/yelps and runs away. (That’s my dog.) I look up and see the slithering creature for a split second and then it takes off… into the shed! Great. Of all places. It’s full of stuff and more importantly, that’s where the weapons are.

When I was a kid, these situations were taken care of with a hoe. Big ugly snake comes around and someone shows up with a hoe to remove the business end of the snake from the rest of its body. End of threat. I need to get in there and get my hoe.

I poke my head in and look around. No visual on the serpent. So I ease into the shed and step over the lawnmower and beach gear and bikes, watching every foot placement as I creep to the back of the shed where hoe type things are kept. I make it safely. And then, it dawns on me… I don’t own a hoe. Don’t judge me.

But I’m already deep in the snake den so I pick up a plastic tube thingy that’s leaning in the corner and I start poking around. Julie is out in the yard at a safe distance but can see what I’m doing.

“What are you doing?” she asks. Less than lovingly than you would expect from a wife whose husband is taking charge of a dangerous situation.

“Trying to find it.” I say.

“Then what?” she says. Then (and I’m not making this up) she adds… “What’s the plan Phil?”

My wife is a funny lady. And she’s right. I need a plan. So I put down the plastic tube thingy and come inside to formulate a plan. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

Step 1: Eat breakfast. I can’t think on an empty stomach.

Step 2: Rationalize. The snake is more than likely harmless. The little guy is probably taking care of bugs and mice for me, so just let him be. Do nothing. Not because I’m scared to death of snakes mind you. But because I believe all creatures are here for a reason and should be treated with dignity and respect. No seriously, that’s the reason.

Step 3: Drive to Home Depot and buy a hoe. Just in case I’m wrong about Step 2.

Brian L Butler

I Am The TV People

It’s October 8th, 1988. It’s my first day working in television and I’m surrounded by around 70,000 people. Mistakes are made. Thousands of people are upset. What should have been a miserable day, turns out to be one of the best days of my life.

Turner Broadcasting came to Tuscaloosa on a beautiful Fall weekend to broadcast the University of Alabama homecoming game against the Ole Miss Rebels. At the time, I had already abandoned one or maybe two other majors and was trying on the Communications department for size. Film and Television track to be specific. A week or two before, the Turner people contacted the department looking for production assistants for the game. People to help set up, break down and be gophers during the game. Sounded like fun and the fact they were going to actually pay us made it sound even better.

We met the day before the game at Bryant-Denny stadium. Maybe 8 to 10 Communications students and the Turner crew. We all got cool TBS Sports t-shirts and some brief instructions. What to do, where to go, and a call for a couple of volunteers. Two of the students would be “in charge” of a sideline. One for Alabama. One for Ole Miss. I wasn’t even sure what was meant by “in charge” but I volunteered anyway. So did one other guy but for some reason I can’t quite remember, he was given the Alabama sideline and I was given Ole Miss. I was a little ticked about not getting the Tide side but I had to roll with it.

The next day we get to the field a couple of hours before game time and starting setting up. At one point the TBS commentators for the game came down to the field and walked around checking things out and talking to us. I remember at the time being a little star struck meeting them. But now I can’t remember who they were. I need to look that up.

It turns out the “in charge” duties were actually pretty cool, especially for a television newbie. I would be on headsets on a long cable (Not quite long enough. More on that later) and would be the on field communication to the booth and truck from the Ole Miss sideline. I wouldn’t be on-air but I would report back to the truck anything going on on the sidelines that was worth mentioning. Injuries and things like that. I did have one other thing I was responsible for. A seemingly simple thing. You know when the players burst out of the tunnel before the game and storm the field. Well for televised games, that needs to happen when the cameras are rolling and ready, so somebody actually has to “cue” them. Guess who.

Earlier, while things were relatively calm, I got some brief instructions about releasing the Rebels. After the Tide is introduced and takes the field, the director would tell me to cue Ole Miss and they would take the field. Got it. Simple.

We finish getting everything set up for the game. The stands are packed. The stadium is electric. It’s finally time to get this party started. I put on my headset and I feel like I’m on top of the world. Through the chatter of the director and camera operators, I’m told it’s time to get in position to cue the team. I start to head down to the corner of the field where the Ole Miss players are gathering and as I’m walking I feel a jerk and I’m stopped in my tracks. I turn and realize the cable is stuck. I walk back a little to un-stick it and discover the real problem. It’s too short. From the end of the cable, I’m about 20 yards from the Ole Miss players waiting on the field. Uh oh.

Then I hear the introduction of the Crimson Tide. I can’t see the players but the crowd roars. As the roar dies down, the director tells me to cue the Rebels. I start waving my arms at the players trying to get their attention and telling them to go. It’s not working. I wave more frantically. Nobody sees me. The director starts yelling in the headset Go! Go!. I yell back that the cable is not long enough. I can’t get to the team. He screams back for me to drop the &*^%$!! headset and get the team on the field!

I rip off the headset and run to the players. I grab the first guy and tell him to GO! The guy looks down at me with wild eyes and tells me they can’t go until the TV people tell them to go. I reach down and grab my shirt pulling up the TBS logo so he can see it and yell, I AM THE TV PEOPLE! GO! The team takes off and I’m almost trampled.

I run back over and put on my headset and start apologizing. The director, somewhat more politely but firmly, tells me to shut the hell up! It’s over. Move on. So I moved on.

And I had to move on quickly. Between trying to pay attention to the field from behind the bench, scanning the sideline for anything worth reporting and trying to pay attention to and decipher the language of the production people in my ear, the first half was a blur. At halftime, I exhaled.

The second half also moved quickly but I was able to settle down and take everything in. There was an injury at one point and I told the guys in the booth and let them know the trainers were icing the guy’s knee on the bench. They said thanks and keep us updated. I will do that, I thought. I will keep you updated. I felt important. The day was beautiful. The stadium was rocking. I had found my groove. It was a beautiful day in Tuscaloosa. Then the strangest thing happened.

It was late in the game. Only a few minutes left. And suddenly, something happened on the field that got my sideline very, very excited. The players around me were jumping and screaming and going crazy. But the stands were eerily quite. Then I started getting instructions in my ear. They were telling me if this score held up, as soon as the game ended, I needed to find Ole Miss head coach Billy Brewer and get him to midfield for the post game interview. Ole Miss had taken the lead.

But I didn’t have time to process it because I started freaking out a little about this new responsibility. Which one was coach Brewer? What do I say when I find him? Do I keep my headset on when I go get him? No, that’s dumb. Calm down Brian. Let’s try that breathing thing again. Nothing to worry about. Besides, the game’s not over yet.

But in the last few minutes the Alabama comeback attempt failed and Ole Miss scored again. The game was indeed over and I had a job to do. My adrenaline was pumping. Players were going crazy. People and press came from everywhere and we all poured onto the field. Do you have any idea how hard it is to locate one person in the middle of that chaos? But I fought my way through and was able to catch up to coach Brewer just as he was shaking hands with Alabama coach Bill Curry.

I took coach Brewer by the arm and led him to midfield. As we walked we were surrounded by players and media and I congratulated him on the win. For years I had a VHS tape of the game with the shot of me walking with him. I wish I knew what happened to that tape. Coach put on a headset and was interviewed by the guys in the booth. It lasted a couple of minutes and then it was over. See. Nothing to worry about.

We still had a couple of hours of breaking down to do but even that went quickly because I was still pumped up from the excitement. When we finally did finish, we got our checks and I headed home. And I was in for a little shock.

My apartment was in walking distance of the stadium. I practically bounced home and instead of going to my place, I went to the apartment downstairs where we all gathered after games. I popped through the door and… the place was like a morgue. A group of depressed friends sat around the room, beers in hand, not saying a word. I sat down and it was then I started to process what I couldn’t process earlier. We, The Alabama Crimson Tide, had just lost our homecoming game to Ole Miss. Going back to 1900, the Rebels had never beaten Alabama in the state of Alabama. Never. And it was homecoming. This was an upset that was very upsetting.

And I should have been upset too. If I had been sitting in the stands for the game, like I was every Saturday, I would have been depressed. But I wasn’t. The day was too much fun. In spite of, and partially because of,  my screw-ups and inexperience. I was inside the same stadium, watching the same game but I had a much different experience. Television changes things. Changes what you see and how you see, whether you’re making it or watching it. Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.

Turns out, television production is not always that much fun and the day to day didn’t hold my attention very long. I changed majors 2 or 3 more times and bounced around a couple of other jobs and didn’t get back into television until 10 years later. Oddly enough, sports was once again the reason although that’s not what I do now. I’ve been working in TV for over 12 year now and while I’ve had some fun, I have yet to have another day like that Saturday in October.

Brian L Butler

On The Subject of Nudes

I’ve decided to change my photographic focus a bit. I’m going to experiment with some new areas. Expand my horizons. The first expansion will involve shooting nudes. Very tasteful. Very artistic. There’s a long and respected tradition of the nude form in photography and I think I can contribute something. I’ll start with images of my lovely wife and then begin looking for other models. So I’ll start with this image of Julie in…….Hold on a minute….

Yes dear…
…what!?…
…but I’ve already started…..
…but we talked about this….yes we did…
…are you sure?…i coulda’ sworn…but…if you’d just…
…just calm down and I’ll…no it’s not like that…
…tasteful, I said tasteful….very artsy…black and white…
…yes it does matter…it’s all in the lighting…
…what do you mean you don’t care….
…honey, it’s art…beauty…tradition…but…just…
…you’re a beautiful woman and I thought…but why not…
…why should your friends and family care….embarrassed how…
…NO, I AM NOT BEING STUPID!…IT’S ART!…
…sorry…no more yelling…how about this…just listen for a minute…
…what if I start with other people first?…
…I met this woman yesterday and…OWWW! THAT HURT!…
…FINE!

Well, apparently I’ll have to find another horizon to expand. Until then, here’s another stupid sunset. Hope you have a great weekend. I won’t. **

Sun Catchers - Image by Brian L Butler

**The tale above was originally posted about 5 years ago on my old photoblog. The subject came up again this week while bouncing through 500px. (By subject I mean the merits of nude photography, not my participation in the craft:) There are hundreds of wonderful images with a fair share of amazing nudes in the mix. A glorious subject when done well.

Also reconnected with the über talented Vernon Trent through 500px and Google+. If you’re looking for examples of the human form as high art, along with other breathtaking subjects, check out VernonTrent.com.

Brian L Butler

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