Freedom Beat Across America: In Search of America's Heartbeat

Moving on, in different ways

Well, it beats getting another ladder

After three weeks of new-computer problems, it’s time to bring things up to date (which is not the same thing as ‘update’ and I’ve had quite enough of updating during these last three weeks, thank you).
The sound studio moves on. The wall-to-wall ceiling and floor insulation is pretty much in place with, as someone said, enough staples to make it resemble chainmail. It’s not going to fall down any time soon. It’s actually quite cozy in there, especially with November’s drizzly ice-cold rain coming down outside.  The walls are fuzzy — if anyone needs some head-banging time, we’ve got the perfect place, cheap rates.  Next comes the office, where the operational equipment will be. Just a matter of moving everything that we moved out of the studio area into the office, from the office area to ? Oh dear, here we go again, move this over here so we can move that in there. I know Will calls this house the Tardis, but it’s not really unlimited.

This will NOT fit in my bedroom

We are still filming interviews for the documentary. Just a week ago we met up with a Viet Nam vet who spends his time not only helping his fellow vets, but reaching out to the young ones coming back, bewildered, from a war just as horrendous in a desert as the other was in a jungle. The ones, he says poignantly, who managed “some sort of survival”. He spoke of his nephew, killed in Fallujah in 2004. And of a buddy who stood up just in time to take a bullet meant for him. He spoke of what it’s like to come home to people who simply cannot understand, no matter how much they try, no matter how much they want to understand. His advice? Get professional help as soon as you can. Not psycho-crap, just someone who knows, who’s been there and can help you find your way through your own particular jungles, back home to a life that will never be what you once thought it would be but can still be everything you want it to be.

“It’s not weakness,” he says to those who hesitate. “It’s not weakness, it’s strength. Weakness is giving up. Strength is asking for help, getting it and moving on.”

Ooo-rah, gunny.


A tale of two Computers

A tale of two computers. The first one was special, loyal and hardworking. But it got old and began to forget things, to lose other things and even at times appeared cranky and irritable for no reason. So enter the new computer. Slick, shiny, a blizzard at tasking. Also bossy, opinionated and unheeding of the needs of a slower world. Impatient. It failed to see any reason why it should do things the way the old computer had done them and openly showed its contempt of slow and old in a world of speed and the newest upgrade. It changed things where it felt improvement was needed and when they got changed back, it pouted and locked up, and had to be wheedled into coming back to work. Finally, enraged at being adopted into such a backward family, it shut down altogether and refused to even speak to anyone. Back to the shop.

Tech-nerds soothed it, and it agreed sulkily to try to put up with the way the slow people wanted it done. But blood will show. Speed crept in, changes were snuck in to make things better.  When it received considerable contention about the definition of “better”, the new computer became baffled and then defensive and aggressive. This attitude greatly affected worktime.  Programs deemed unnecessary were closed off to avoid further conflicts. Computer went into what can only be called a hissy fit. It spewed angry colors and flashed windows of recrimination. Finally it refused pointblank to go onto the internet, stating that the slow family’s connection was beneath its high-speed abilities.

Back to the shop. More cajoling. Coaxing and stroking. It was adamant. It was passed, arms folded, lower lip jutting, from tech-nerd to tech-nerd until they all admitted defeat and with the family’s grateful permission, they sent the “new” computer to counseling back at the base-camp and dressed up a nice new “new” computer. Perhaps they gave this one a cautioning talk-to while they were at it, who knows? All systems have been running smoothly. So far. But are those small rumbles coming from within?  Do we see small clouds muttering and hovering just beyond the edges? Clues as to its kinship with its predecessor begin to leak in through. Slight nudges as to formatting appear. Windows pop up which, while not threatening, have the air of your mother when she doesn’t want to change the way you do things, but is merely suggesting, dear. We all know how that ends, don’t we?

Well, there’s always the good, old, wise, slow and faithful servant. Now, just which closet did I put him in?

Letters from the Heart

We put our trailer/teaser up on YouTube and the initial checkout was wonderful, so now it’s up for good! Thanks, everyone who had such great things to say. Rockwell-Anderson is now really concentrating on putting all the material together. Gryphon’s Lair has at least one more interview to film, and we’re still waiting for some material that was promised from the Pierce Museum at Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas. They were doing extensive renovations while we were there in August, but we were thrilled with what we saw. Can’t wait to see photos and transcripts of letters. Since they are from the Civil War, they will be the starting point of our study of how American families have always coped with sending loved ones into harm’s way.

The sound studio has doors in and massive soundproofing, except for the ceiling! There had to be some major redistribution before the ceiling was even ready to be covered over. Anyone who has ever shoved things up into a crawl space and then forgot about it knows what we’ve been going through. “Oh, that’s where that got to!”

I received copies of letters sent by a grieving family to one of the Patriot Guard Rider captains. It’s heart-breaking and yet heart-lifting to hear the deep feeling in this family’s words (family names airbrushed to preserve their privacy):

And the Sound Studio goes up!

Measure once, cut twice. No, wait--

Whoof! The Gryphon’s Lair Productions Sound Studio has the walls up and the door and window installed. It won’t be long now. We’ll be recording soon. That is, if we can keep from killing each other with leftover two-by-fours before we finish the ceiling and get the equipment in place.

Raising the center wall made me think of an Amish barn raising.And then it made me think of the barn raising scene in “Seven Brides of Seven Brothers”. The one where the walls fall down. Oh, ours didn’t fall down, but it’s a miracle nobody got konked on the head, broken fingers or gushing bloody wounds. Scrapes and bruises don’t count. At least not to me, since I stay well outa the way. Discretion being the better part of valor, and all that.

Well, he's proud!

That's what we got for HOW much money?

The stuff that was ordered got delivered and stacked in the driveway days before we really expected it, so assembly got started right away. Dottie’s very good at planning, and the guys have become very good at following her plans. The one requirement seems to be that she go away and let them do it. However long it takes. However sure she is that it really shouldn’t take that long or involve that many moves.

Just watch where you're aimin' that thing

Me, I’m good at offering suggestions, and everyone is too polite to suggest what I can do with them. I can change spark plugs and brake pads with the best of them, folks, but hammers are not me, so eventually I leave them to it. However, when someone pokes a head back in the house and hollers, I’m glad to run back out and help hold something up, eyeball a two-by-four and say no, it’s not straight, and find out who needs another beer. Easy.

First thing up will be Radio GLair.   “You’re on the air with Radio GLair!”

Well, we're not quite this ambitious

It’s all throat-catching

Was it really two months ago?

It’s amazing to me that we’ve been back for a month. At least, it was until Rockwell-Anderson brought over the first showing of the trailer (teaser?) they made for the documentary. When I watched that short film, and my throat wanted to tighten up at the sight and the words of all those wonderful vets, I realized not only how long it’s been since we took some of the shots and interviews, but also how hard everyone’s been working. Well, I guess everyone but me.
Hey, I’m tryin’. But it’s hard to think up a narration line for a documentary-length film when they haven’t finished filming what I’m supposed to be working up a narration for. So instead I’ve been looking through some of the photos that I, personally, took on the trip. And like we all do, I found some really great stuff that I’d forgotten I had.
When we visited the YMCA Military Welcome Center at Will Rogers World Airport, back in Oklahoma City, we had some time while waiting for the next group of troops to come in. So I wandered around the lounge area and found such a gold mine on the walls. So many different badges from every type of military service in this country. There was no way to write them all down, so I whipped out my trusty two-bit digital camera. It’s a “souvenir” I’ll be glad to look over again and again. If you ever have a chance to stop by the Welcome Center, say hi to the kids coming and going. And then check out what’s on the walls.  In the meantime, are any of these yours?

A broad is a broad is a . . .

The other day we got into an online discussion of the term “chick lit”. As I remember, it started out as an easy definition of a relatively new type of novel that fit in well with the “Sex and the City” crowd. Then the bookstores picked it up as a genre label for those exact types of stories. Then, for some reason, it became something of a sneer (probably about the same time “Sex and the City” started to lose favor). So, during this discussion, someone referred to “Pride and Prejudice” as chick lit, and another took umbrage. Turned out the first one wasn’t kidding and didn’t even mean it as a dig, but just as a type of story primarily appealing to women.


One gentleman made a comment to the effect that chick lit referred to a “broad collection of fiction” (emphasis mine). Which made me chuckle, but also got me to wondering.

In my youth, “broad” was not an especially complimentary term for a woman, but it wasn’t derogatory either. It was generally used for women who were attractive in an earthy way, handsome rather than pretty, not at all dependent on men but quite accepting of their support, and always happy to have a stiff drink with the boys. In other words, women who were comfortable in their female skin, with or without men, and that was always good enough for me.

Joan and Rosalind

It might have been the feminists or women’s libbers who began to attack any term that men slung off as an easy reference to females. Somewhere along the line it became non-PC to use this one. I remember an older gentleman friend who almost got in a fight with a red-faced but determined young gallahad whose girlfriend had objected to being referred to as a broad. We smoothed everyone’s ruffled feathers and then left, trying to explain to our baffled friend that while we’d grown up with the term and fluffed it off, it was probably the first time that young girl had ever had it applied to her. He honestly hadn’t meant it badly.

the great Lena

So I looked it up, and my Webster’s has no mention of the word “broad” referring to women, so I guess it’s still non-PC (these things fluctuate). It does say that “broad” means wide, spacious, clear, open, obvious, coarse or crude. But it also says that it means ‘tolerant in outlook’ and ‘dealing with essential points’.

the Lady Bette

I’ll drink to that!

Say What?

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that things are still moving when it’s at such a slower pace. For a flat month we were on the move, literally. Every day meant gunning up the engine, hitting new roads, meeting with new people, gasping at new things to see. Grab an interview here, snap a bunch of photos there, find out if a certain museum can loan us material. Get up! Get going!
Melissa and Skylar are still filming and conducting interviews – their frequent emails tell us so. And Wes is going over the stuff we shot on the road at the new Rockwell-Anderson digs.
I expected to catch my breath, thinking things had stopped for the Gryphon’s Lair end of it, but I should have known. Things never stop around Dottie. The woman brims with ideas, runs over, bursts at the seams. Sometimes I get tired just sitting there with my mouth open. Will, after thirty-some years, takes it in stride. He just goes back to his newspaper.
After searching out the costs for renting a recording studio to do the voice-over for the documentary, she decided it would be a lot cheaper to build our own.
Say what?

There's a washer and dryer in there somewhere.

Well, in the California way, the Lair garage is never used to house cars anyway. I’d be willing to bet it’s never been used to house cars. In California, garages are an extension of the living quarters to the point where some even have picture windows and air conditioning. Most, though, just end up being dark, dusty, HOT personal storage facilities. We have a lot of the usual here, a lawn mower for the three-by-five patch out front, loppers for the branches that our California Oak keeps trying to push through the roof. Tools. More tools. And boxes full, or piles tilting, of the kind of things that get lost in the basement in the midwest (because Californians don’t have basements): old clothes, Christmas decorations, bits of furniture we don’t have a use for anymore but we had such a good use for them once, how can we make them feel unwanted? That would be cruel.
The Gryphon’s Lair garage even has a baby crib because a year ago we had a baby come and visit. First one in thirty years.
So, we ask her, what to do with all of that crap?
Well, Melissa and Wes just moved into a new home, so they can have all the furniture. Lucky them.
A ten-by-ten shed will fit under the California Oak (I capitalize because it’s endangered which is why it’s bigger than the house and ruining the brick patio but no one can touch it. Not legally.) Ten-by-ten should be more than enough room for the lawn mower and tools.
Okay. And how about everything else? That’s the beauty of it, she says with a winning smile. Everything else doesn’t weigh anything much, so after we reinforce the walls and add the noise reduction insulation, and a CEILING, we can put all the suitcases, bins and boxes up top where right now there’s just a few tarps and some rat dirt.
Our inability to find anything really desperately wrong with this plan had us befuddled. So having gained the high ground, she moved on: With its own recording studio, Gryphon’s Lair Productions can not only narrate film documentaries, we can record audiobooks and put on web-radio shows.
Say what?

Every generation has their version

It’s Monday morning, and the Lair belongs to the females again. It’s cool enough that I’ve left the sliding door open so Sophie Le Chat can crouch at the screen and terrorize the birds that want the seed I’ve placed in the garden.
I believe last Sunday needed to be marked, on the calendar and in our hearts. As I’ve said before, “attention must be paid”. But I was glad to shut the door on September 11, 2011, and get on with living. And I sincerely believe that most if not all of the families who lost someone that day felt the same. Memory is one thing, grief is another, and it’s time to move on.
I guess every generation has their version of the question: Where were you when the world changed with a huge lurch and went in a direction that made a lie of all our assumptions?

Courtesy LA TIMES

For my mother, it was Pearl Harbor. For me it was John Kennedy’s

June 10, 1963 Who knew?

assassination. For my grandmother, bless her, it was the death of Rudolph Valentino.

At least, that’s what she said. Hey, we all have our priorities, and anyway, the Great Depression didn’t happen at a particular moment for her. That little baby snuck up on her like a creeping poisonous fog, supposedly meant for rich people but killing the firstborn of every household. It left this farm girl a widow with two starving children before she realized that nothing would ever go back to the way it was. No, Rudy’s death was a moment Granny could pin the death of her childhood on.   But she did tell me stories about the Depression. And I listened with one ear cocked for my two-year-old sneaking out of his nap, my six-monther getting ready to shriek for a diaper change, and my husband coming home before I had a chance to clean up and not look like the slob I was. She was telling me a story when my cousin rushed into the kitchen and cried, “Kennedy’s been shot!”
My first thought was, “Where’s she been? That was six years ago.”
But it was Bobby Kennedy that time, and the slide into madness was simply continuing.
For my children, the divide was September 11, 2001. And if I could have spared them that, I would have done whatever it took. The hard part is realizing just how little it would have taken, if we’d just been paying attention.

Alan's colors

So this year my son put on his leather vest with his firefighter’s logo and his EMT badge and with his pretty wife joined the hundreds of bikers who entered New York City last weekend to pay homage to their brothers. My other son is somewhere out of country. Because of September 11, 2001. You can only shut the door so much once the winds of change have blown it open.

Firefighter Memorial NYC 9-11-2011

Attention must be paid!

All four of us had our favorite focal points on our trip across the nation.  Monuments, families, photos, letters, and of course, the troops, young and confident, coming back or heading out.  But I think we will be forever impressed by our memories of the Patriot Guard Riders and their simple ways of making a difference in a stranger’s life.

courtesy SoCal Patriot Guard Riders

I suppose most of all, I was struck by how, no matter how often we trained the camera their way, they would quietly redirect our attention.  “It’s not about us,”  they’d say.  “It’s about them.”  Their organization does not collect dues, they do not have meetings.  They just keep phone numbers and email addresses, and when a family calls, the message goes out.  As Don “Pappy” Papin of the Oklahoma PGR said,  “Sometimes a few can show up, sometimes a hundred.  But someone always will.”  They provide escort and respect, protect the family, stand at attention to welcome back troops, walking or not.  They quietly hold flags at airports and say, “Welcome back”, and then quietly leave until the next time a returning soldier is expected.  Their names don’t matter, just their presence.  They feel that, in the words of American playwright Arthur Miller in Death of a Salesman,  “Attention must be paid!”

I recently came into possession of a copy of a letter sent to a chief of police from the legal representative of a certain group of protesters.  It warned that “Once again members . . . will be in your jurisdiction reminding the people about the dangers of promoting homosexuality and that there is a God . . . we request that law enforcement fulfill their duty to take responsible steps . . . It is a sound and very simple practice for law enforcement to establish a place for each group demonstrating and place a reasonable ‘dead zone’ [interesting phrase] between the groups to deter attacks against our members.”

Personally, if I were a police chief, I’d consider it a tad insulting to be instructed  in my responsibilities by someone so wholly unconnected to them, but that’s neither here nor there.  The letter went on to say,  ” It is well established nationwide that our members are at all times and in all ways law abiding and non-violent.”

I would be interested in asking several million survivors of verbal and emotional abuse, if they would consider such abuse to be “non-violent”.   But I would not invade any family at a time of grief, after the worst kind of loss that a family can endure, to ask their opinion of such “non-violence”.

The letter went on to “request that your department have a police presence during this protest to keep the peace . . . to be a deterrent to those who oppose our message and would conduct themselves unlawfully in response.”

Like many groups, these people are using the freedoms of this country in the hope of provoking some sort of “unlawful response”, such response being the only thing that gives their own beliefs some credence.  Let’s all join with the Patriot Guard and American veterans in not letting these people make a mockery of the civil liberties that a young man lost his life protecting.  Let us all turn our backs to them and give them the attention they deserve – which is none at all.

Patriot Guard History

SoCal Patriot Guard Riders


And the Beat goes on!

California sunset

If you have read previous posts, then you know a little bit about our trip. Right now we’re just trying to get our minds back in California mode! Melissa and Skylar have been busy moving into their new house – the sale went through while we were on the road and poor Wes had to move most of their stuff in by himself. Melissa was having spasms all during the trip for fear he’d tile the kitchen floor with something horrible. We haven’t heard that she’s been arrested for spousal homicide yet, so I guess it’s ok.
I tried to post on the blog every night of the trip, but sometimes it was just too crazy in the hotel room to concentrate. Melissa worked on posting her blogs and articles for The Examiner and South West Riverside News Network every night, and shot out questions about who we talked to and what they said because while she was shooting video it was difficult to take notes. Nearly every night she had to download photos and video to send them back to Wes and also to clear the cameras for the next day. Skylar packed and unpacked gear, and practiced her guitar and karate lessons. Amid the din, Dottie was keeping a daily journal and trying to watch the Weather Channel to see what we were in store for the next day.

I think I caught the highlights of our days. I will be referring back to some of the stuff I learned, as well as keeping folks abreast of what’s happening with the documentary, so I’ll still be posting, just not as often, maybe once a week. Given that the heat doesn’t blow out the wi-fi. Wes has already started sorting through the hours of video and hundreds of photos that Melissa and Skylar took. Dottie will be lining up interviews with folks around here that we didn’t get to before we left. Melissa has revisited to talk about the Patriot Guard Riders. And today she called to say she has lined up interviews with, among others, a military sniper. Now, that should be interesting. Can’t wait.
My job will be to work on a possible script. We’ve begun research into a recording studio for recording the narration of the film, as well as other projects. Whether we want to invest in our own or just rent an existing one remains to be seen. I’m learning so much that I tell Dottie, in the words of an old friend, “Just lead me around on a chain!”

Post Navigation