Friday, January 19, 2018

Elegy for a Friend

My boyhood chum, Kenny Richardson, died from a heart attack this week.
He was just a few weeks younger than me.
My earliest memories of the childhood years spent on Forum Drive include Kenny.
I’m still wrestling with the fact that he now belongs to the ages.
James Kenneth Richardson
(March 10, 1955 - January 17, 2018)
Kenny lived in the house across the street. He was the youngest of three. His father was a Navy veteran who worked for the post office, and I never knew what his mother did besides keep house and chase three kids, which is quite enough for anyone. Mrs. Richardson was one of our Cub Scout den mothers, and we met in their garage. I think every third grade boy in the neighborhood was in that first scout den.

We were never in the same classes at Valley Oaks Elementary School, which is probably a good thing, but we rode Bus #55, driven by Mr. Jenke, which picked us up at the bus stop across from Dr. Chreiten’s house, and dropped us off every afternoon on the corner, at the house next to mine. We grew up in the late 50’s and 60’s, when kids could and would play outside until dark, or our parents called us home—whichever occurred first. Kenny’s dad would whistle for him from the driveway of their house—one, slightly shrill, thin, drawn out shriek, emitted by two fingers placed in the corners of his mouth. Mr. Richardson would squeeze out that whistle like a bagpipe player, long and loud, and audible for two blocks, which was the effective range of our roaming as small children.

(My mother, on the other hand, would come to the front door of our house, and just holler, “Breeeeeeeyeeeeeent!” The results were the same. We’d stop whatever it was we were doing—storming the Alamo, playing Tarzan in the chinaberry tree, or crafting a fortress from scavenged items in the neighborhood—and head to our respective abodes for supper.)

We started band together at Landrum Junior High. (Ironically, our first Band Director, Jack Miles, passed away just last week at the age of 78.) Kenny chose the Sousaphone; I picked the snare drum. Our paths diverged when my family moved from Forum Drive into a new school zone, but I remember running into Kenny when our high schools would compete in football games. He’d be sweating in his band uniform with that fiberglass Sousaphone wrapped around his torso; I was sweating in mine, with a bass drum hanging from my shoulders.

In college I commuted to the University of Houston, and Kenny went to mortuary school. He married—and divorced—found a second career and retired. I lost track of Kenny in the process of my moving out of state, marriage, making babies, and work. 

Only with the advent of the Interweb and social media were Kenny and I to reconnect within the past few years. He’d generally IM me when I was working an air shift, ask about my parents, and make general comments on photos of my wife and kids. Once a year apiece, we’d salute each other’s birthdays. 

I found out Kenny was working as a credit manager for a liquor store, and I showed up one day, unannounced, to say hello and buy a bottle of gin for my gin raisin recipe. It was not a good day for surprise visits, and he didn’t have long to talk. We exchanged pleasantries, I bought a bottle of gin, and we shook hands and said, ‘see you around.’
Only, we never did, again.

Kenny leaves behind two older sisters and a slew of friends, and a place in the tapestry of my childhood memories.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Lessons from Houston Radio Legends

NPR’s Garrison Keillor used to open his weekly “Prairie Home Companion” monologue by reporting, “it’s been a quiet week at Lake Wobegon.” For Houston Radio fans and professionals, it’s been several weeks of woe as we’ve had to say goodbye to familiar and beloved voices.

Paul Berlin (Photo: HouChron)
Paul Berlin was the voice many Houstonian’s listened to for decades on KBME, KNUZ and KQUE. His popular mix of Big Band and pop music standards from the 50’s thru the 70’s stood the test of time, while other Radio stations' formats seemed to change on a predictably regular basis. Rebroadcasts of The Paul Berlin Show on KSEV outlasted their originator, and are still aired each Saturday night. 

Paul Berlin was 86 when he passed away in June. He was married to his wife, “Nezzie,” for 53-years until her death. Berlin’s Radio career spanned six decades.

Randy Schell (Photo: FaceBook)
Earlier this weekend we were stunned to learn long time Houston voice actor and Radio production wizard, Randy Schell, had been killed in a skydiving accident. He collided with another jumper after his parachute had deployed, but his canopy collapsed and he plunged to his death near Pearland, Texas. 

Most people knew Randy as the voice behind AMC’s “The Walking Dead” series, and was also the voice of national brands like McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and Geico Insurance. I knew him as the loving husband of longtime Radio maven, Donna McCoy.  

Mstt Patrick (Photo:Facebook)
Not 30-hours later came news of the passing of KTRH Morning Show host Matt Patrick, who had earlier this week told his audience that he was discontinuing treatment for cancer. Described as a “morning Radio staple” for decades in the Akron, OH market, Patrick had hosted news-talk shows in Houston for iHeart Radio since 2011, capping a 40-year run in Radio.
He was 58.

There are lessons we can draw from the lives of these men who left their indelible marks on this market and our hearts. Each of them had discovered he secret of dying happy—doing what they loved, and deriving great satisfaction from performing a job well done. Each of them developed lasting, personal relationships—not only with their spouses, but with their audiences. They loved Houston Radio listeners, even as they were loved. And each of us, like each of them, will one day also make a final passage from this life to the next.

So it has been a sad several weeks for the Houston chapter of Lake Woebegon, “where all the women are good-looking, all the men are strong, the children-are all above-average…” and the Radio industry is morning three of its favorite sons.

A public memorial service for Paul Berlin is planned for  10:30am July 25 at South Main Baptist Church, 4100 Main St., in Houston, Texas. Funeral arrangements for Randy Schell and Matt Patrick had not been announced at this writing.

May God bless each of these families as they mourn the passing of their loved ones and celebrate their lives well-lived.

Friday, August 26, 2016


I just completed a CLEP test for placement out of a college-level English Composition class I took when Guttenberg was in Junior High (Steve, not Johannes.) CLEP, by the way, is an acronym for the College Level Examination Program.
CLEPomania is what ensues while preparing for one of their tests.

The CLEP study guide led me to believe there would be a small series of multiple-guess questions, as well as TWO mandatory essays to be completed—all within the space of 70-minutes. 

The good news is there was no essay writing (other than this confessional.) The bad news is that instead of writing a couple of imaginary, fictional works, there were 90 questions to tackle. In 70-minutes.

(I write for a living. I critique copy as part of my work. Do you know how utterly agonizing it is to wade through 90 examples of marginally written passages, some more flawed than others, and be asked to pick which equally marginal alternative is better?)

After 61-minutes, the time it took to complete the exam, I felt like my brains had been sucked out through my toes. The really aggravating part of the ordeal was that I scored only a 66 out of 80 possible answers. That’s an 82 in real-person grading and something of which I am not particularly proud. 

The College Composition Modular exam did not measure my ability to write complete sentences, string together coherent thoughts, or offer critical analysis in written form. There were a few “trick” questions that taunted with verb tense and singular/plural errors. It tested my ability to second-guess what the test writers were trying to say, and to ferret the least offensive answer from a limited list of possibilities.

So after literally agonizing for a week and a half over how I was going to muster two essays of unknown topicality in a limited amount of time, only to be mentally thrashed with a slew of multiple-choice questions, I am both drained and unfulfilled. I even wrote a practice essay earlier in the week based upon the study guide’s make-believe study topic. That makes me either an extreme nerd or a glutton for abuse. Or both.

The resolution of my mental anguish may be this: Instead of forking out a semester’s worth of tuition, fees, and book expenses for a course I’ve already taken, I have now laid claim to full course credit for the price of a CLEP test and administrative fees—a fraction of the cost.
I wonder if I could submit this for extra credit to get that score up?