Thursday, April 02, 2009

Saving pennies, losing customers

So my mother is a subscriber to the Herald-Journal in Spartanburg, S.C.
Like any newspaper in the country right now, it's having to face some tough financial times as advertising revenues dwindle.
There is a lot of navel contemplating in the news industry, even back in the good ole days. And I don't want to add to it. But there's something that hasn't gotten a lot of attention lately.
The big chains are having to make a lot of difficult choices. Some have filed for bankruptcy. Others have gone to web-only models, or web during the week, with a strong weekend edition, a Sunday. That's an interesting one.
But it seems like the bigger they are, the harder they are falling.
They are also doing things that other businesses have tried.
And so here comes Mom.
She would be described as a loyal newspaper reader. She wants to get her paper and have it bea PAPER. She wants something she can hold in her hand.
Apparently the paper switched the carrier on her route, however. Because when she gets her paper, more often than not, it's a mess.
She has a newspaper tube. She's had it for years.
But the carrier most of the time drops the paper at the end of the driveway. The tube is old, and there's a bush. But it's not invisible. After the first complaint about the paper being dropped in the driveway, it should have started going in the tube.
Sometimes it is in the tube. But we've had some heavy rain off and on over these past few months. The paper she gets, too often, is not in a bag. Even a couple that have been bagged have not been tied. So with unbagged or untied bagged papers in the rain, what does she get?
She gets a wet paper. Sometimes it's just a little damp. But sometimes it's a soggy mess.
One time, it was dumped, unbagged and came apart. My mom's paper scattered all over the neighborhood. The neighbors weren't too mad, the ones with subscriptions. That happened to them at other times.
The person running the newspaper route doesn't care.
Someone once said the very basic thing a newspaper can do is deliver a clean dry paper on time that's full of interesting things to read.
I won't speak for whether the Herald-Journal has anything interesting to read in it. As I said, my Mom wants the paper.
But she's getting fed up. The real problem isn't just a carrier who doesn't give a damn.
The Herald-Journal doesn't value her as a customer. It made a decision to put in a phone system that makes it hard to talk to a human being. When she finally got a human being on the line, she was able to get the person to admit where my mother's call went to.
Manila. As in, the Philippines. As in overseas.
The person had an accent, and it raised her curiosity.
With all the navel-contemplating that the news industry does, I don't recall a story about the New York Times Group of newspapers outsourcing a vital function like it's circulation department. The Herald-Journal is a New York Times newspaper. I used to be a stringer for them while I was in college, by the way. Full disclosure. Always liked them.
My mom called me last week, since I'm out on leave, and was telling me of her struggles to get a clean dry paper delivered to her home. I suggested she go to the phone book itself and see what numbers are listed there.
There are just two. One was the same number listed in the paper for redelivery issues. What would be the point of calling that number.
She tried the other number and finally got through to someone at the Herald-Journal office in downtown Spartanburg. That person was apologetic.
She suspected that the person actually running the route was not the assigned carrier but someone else helping that carrier out.
My mother was gratified to talk to someone who was sympathetic. But my take on the situation was that the person who took the call couldn't do anything to fix it. Despite having a file filled with complaints from other subscribers.
The person who took the call was frustrated as well. She said she urges everyone who has a complaint to write a letter to the editor.
Now, that might bring some notice to the problem in the public's eyes, if anyone actually takes her up. But the editor has nothing to do with the delivery of the paper.
The editor should be mad as hell about it. But a complaint like this has to be resolved by the publisher. But in the case, the publisher's hands are probably tied as well. because the corporate overseers made a decision to outsource most of their circulation work.
Many newspapers, when overseas outsourcing started ramping up, editorialized against the practice. Many realize that some kinds of outsourcing is the necessary end-product of free trade. We lose some jobs here in the hopes that the savings realized lead to development of other jobs, possibly better paying jobs, later.
But many of the companies that were outsourcing customer service functions have started coming back here. It is completely a short term savings issue.
My mother has reached the final straw. If she has to call Manila again, it will be to cancel her subscription. This is a person who wants a clean, dry paper, delivered on time, filled with interesitng things to read.
How can the newspaper industry attract new readers in different medium when it can't serve the people who, right now, want the product they are producing.
This isn't about my mother's complaints, per se. Her situation is absolutely representative of what is going on in this industry however.
The New York Times Newspaper Group isn't the only big company that has outsourced.
Some companies are using overseas companies to design and lay out their products. That doens't directly impact local customers. But others have onerous phone systems that don't allow you to speak to a human being. Press "1" for this person who won't help you, then press 2 for this person who will forward your call to a voice mail that won't get answered.
The sitautionis wearing on people at newspapers. As I said, the local human being that my mother finally got to said she tells EVERYONE who complains to write a letter to the editor, even though that won't do much good, logistically.
(A former publisher of mine noted the probable reason for this. Everyone knows that Perry White was the editor-in-chief of The Daily Planet and Superman's boss. Nobody knows who the publisher is.) The editor is the identifiable "authority" figure at most papers, to the public.
I know of one paper that has its circulation clerk out on the days when the paper is delivered. It frurstrates everyone who calls when they they are told a message will be taken.
Another company has a person who has fielded so many calls from people frustrated by the automated call system, pressing this number than that number than this number, ad infinitum, that they should just press "Zero."
Zero gets you through to an operator at the local office. But the automated message was changed so that callers are never told that.
Automated calling systems. An outsourced to the Philippines circulation department.
These are done because accountants know they will save pennies.
But when you lose customers, LOYAL customers, customers who want your product, than it's a long-term disaster.
I hate to resort to it, but it seems, most days, that newspapers are taking their customer service cues from Dogbert.

Dogbert: There are two essential rules to management. One, the customer is always right; and two, they must be punished for their arrogance.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Still learning about son

In many ways, we know nothing about my son. He’s almost 11 months old.

We see him do something new and think, is that what he will be?

Yet we still aren’t sure what color his hair will be, permanently. It seems blond right now. But I was blond as a child, they say. His mother is blond, but my son doesn’t use any such products on his hair. (That line might have been a suicide attempt. Not sure.)

I watch him throw things around, with his left arm more than his right arm lately. And they are tossed with such force.

He will be a major league pitcher, I think. A quarterback. I’m sure of it.

His little donut ring toy — he rolls it around, so he might could be a bowler. Or maybe a mechanic or a tire changer on a NASCAR race team.

His favorite toy right now is a little wooden biplane with big wheels. It’s meant to be ridden somewhat like a tricycle, but his feet don’t reach the ground when he’s on it. But he leans on it and it’s helping him learn to walk.

He can roll along so good with it — he loves it.

Will he be a pilot?

Or a runner? That would be certainly falling far from the vine, as his daddy isn’t a runner. I’m not even a brisk walker.

He’s a good boy. I’ve heard people say that about their kids and seen evidence, quickly, that it isn’t exactly so.

He’s got a little bit of mischief in him, but he does it in plain sight, that little smile on his face letting all know he knows he’s pushing a button.

But he’s 99 percent good and happy, and only unhappy when he bumps his head or has got a cold bigger than the usual baby sniffles.

Whatever happens, I think he will be a gentle man and a gentleman, like his grandfather, for whom he is named.

He got the biplane from my wife’s parents. The maternal grandparents also got him a huge fluffy ball of a toy, a duck. When you squeeze it, it makes a noise, a ducky, coughy kind of noise. That’s his second favorite toy, I think.

He doesn’t squeeze it with a hand or an arm. He attacks it, attacks it like he’s a paramedic doing CPR.

“I … won’t … let you die!” he seems to be saying as he fiercely pushes onto the duck’s “heart.” Is he the next Johnny Gage/Roy DeSoto? (Does anyone remember the guys from “Emergency.”)

We have baby gates at the top and bottom of the stairs. He crawls over to them, stands up, rattles them.

“Let me out, ya screws!” I say everytime I see him do it. He’s like Jimmy Cagney in “White Heat.”

Whatever he becomes, he won’t make a good jail bird, I think.

The way he swished about in the bathtub, we knew he was going to be a great swimmer. I love to swim, but his mother, she used to competitive swim as a girl.

Is he the next Mark Spitz?

So when he got into the pool at my sister’s development, we were surprised he didn’t want to stay in as long as we thought he might. But it was a relief, a bit, to me. I’m not too sure I like the idea of any progeny of mine going about in a Speedo.

He just stares at things at times, and I think he’s going to be a scientist. Deep, deep thoughts.

He pushes a box along, opens things up, tries to take a few things and I think he might be like his Uncle John or his Grandpa Tom. A handy man, good with tools.

We don’t know anything, really. But we look at all he does, simple, silly things, all of it new to him and made new to us.

I don’t want to find out too soon, but I am also dying to find out what this little man might someday become.

Then I change one of his diapers, one of THOSE diapers, and I know.

He’s going to be a politician.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Blind man's bluff

I knew it would catch up with us, and I'm surprised it took as long as it did.
But on Friday, it finally did.
For the past four weeks, I've been operating the editorial department kind of with a handicap.
I have an odd eye condition most people don't know about called keratoconus.
I've known about it since I was a senior in high school. Twice, while in college, I had surgery.
The National Keratoconus Foundation describes it thusly — "(Ker-a-to-co-nus) Keratoconus, often abbreviated to "KC", is a non-inflammatory eye condition in which the normally round dome-shaped cornea progressively thins causing a cone-like bulge to develop. This results in significant visual impairment. The cornea is the clear window of the eye and is responsible for refracting most of the light coming into the eye. Therefore, abnormalities of the cornea severely affect the way we see the world making simple tasks, like driving, watching TV or reading a book difficult."
If you could see what I see.
The most extreme treatment for this condition is a cornea transplant. In college, I twice had a slightly less severe version of this, in which a part of my cornea was removed, and a graft of healthy cornea put in that place. It shores up the weakened areas while not being as severe as a transplant. There is some risk of rejection with a complete transplant.
Don't know why it happens, why I was picked out of our family to be the one to get it.
Earlier this year, I had a little procedure done on my left eye, because the vision had gotten very bad.
The doctor who did my eye surgery when I was in college isn't doing surgery anymore, so he switched me to another doctor in the practice. That doctor did something called a "debrisment," in which I sat dutifully in a chair while he poked me in the eye.
It wasn't actual poking, but he took a little tool and scraped my left cornea. I had some pain meds for after. The tool he used is no bigger than a Q-Tip, but when you have it actually touching your eye, it looks like you are getting scrapped with a log.
Before that procedure, Dr. Holland Croswell had listed the vision in my left eye as 20/200.
It was an odd number, I thought. So I did a web search for "legal blindness."
Hmm. The search I found was interesting. If you are worse than 20/200, you are legally blind, that's what I found out.
I wondered about that. Did I really pull the exact vision needed to avoid that classification? Or did he pull one over on me, knowing we'd have a fix soon enough?
It took about six weeks for the eye to heal. But I went from that 20/200 to 20/100 about two weeks later. When I came in for my last check, he got my vision to 20/50. I think that's with the glasses. But wow. What an improvement.
My left eye is the problem one, right?
I didn't know how bad it still was until the week of the Fourth of July.
I had an "epithelial erosion."
On my right eye.
I didn't know what it was at the time. I just knew my right eye was tearing. It started to feel like there was a cut or scratch on it. We were driving to visit my folks in Spartanburg, and I insisted my wife drive because it was bothering me so much.
I honestly thought I was having some kind of allergic reaction, but it also got painful. I'd turn my eye, and it would hurt. I would go out into my sister's backyard and the sunlight would be painful. Just for a few seconds.
A combination of a Benadryl and some ibuprofen seemed to get it under control. When I went to bed, it seemed fine. It was just as bad the next day, which should have, in hindsight, should have clued me in:
a) that it was a physical thing (irritated overnight), and
b) that I probably should go to to some doctor.
But I wasn't clued in. We finished our holiday weekend, I stopped doing any unnecessary reading at home, and tried to go to work.
A week later, I drove to work, sat down at my computer. There had been no pain or irritation for a week. But I couldn't read my computer screen. I looked down at the mail I had to go through, the faxes.
Nothing. Nada. Nil. Zip. Zilch.
Like so much in my life, I'd let it slide.
I got on my cell, called my eye doctor in Columbia, and forced my way into an appointment with my former eye doctor. I had a bit of time to kill.
When I got to his office, I couldn't read a magazine in the waiting room, etc.
So he told me, after I saw him, about the epithelial erosion. It's like a cut or scratch on my eye. It was right where my graft had been. He gave me a prescription for an ointment to put in at night, and gave me antibiotic drops, to make sure the eye didn't get infected. That's what really clued me in to what had happened. The outermost layer of tissue on my eye had been blinked away, just a bit. but the clear covering of the eye, the cornea, is what does most of the work refracting light. Focusing it.
My right eye was my good eye, but I lost a big part of the focusing power.
I've been back, to my new doctor. He said it is healed over, so I can stop the drops. It hasn't healed over regularly, evenly, smoothly. But for now, we agreed to try a new prescription for both eyes, and I'm going back in September. If it really isn't working good, then my next step is a cornea transplant.
Given that the grafts I had in college lasted almost 20 year, I'm not afraid of that. Not much.
I don't know what to call it. It's not blind, because I can see well enough to drive, recognize the smile on my son's face. I wasn't illiterate, but I couldn't read because of my vision.
But to boil it down, I've been basically blind for three weeks. Yet we've still been able to get a paper out. And we've got some good ones too.
I was able to assign a couple of stories I heard about to those students who were here in June.
But it was sure to catch up with us.
There are a couple of other stories that I have seen in other places, but those seemed to be updates of older stories, for the most part. We've had a dozen or so other stories that no one else has touched yet, including the story of a soldier home from war, another story of a soldier injured in the a war. We continue to be the first media to report on a two-time rapist and the Attorney General's attempts to commit him to a hospital for "treatment."
Those are just a couple of exclusives we've done.
But I knew it would catch up to us. Last week, Sports Editor Travis Jenkins was on honeymoon. Another key staffer was on vacation My boss was out for a day. An ad sales rep was out many days.
We have been limited, as most papers are in the summer. But our absences seem to have fallen all in the same week, a week when the editor was blind as a bat.
We might not have missed what we missed Friday, except I was out, and our newest reporter was on his way to New York State for a wedding. I was working from home in the morning, but I was going to the eye doctor's for that checkup. So I wasn't in Chester to hear about the bank robbery. The ladies, the few ladies, at the office, didn't call me at home thinking I was already at the eye doctor's. I might have been able to do something from home had they called.
But I basically was told when I was in my car on my way to Columbia. I was ticked. At myself.
Still, when I got a chance to see what others had, I was kind of surprised.
My story had just about what everyone else had, but one or two nuggets others didn't. We had pictures from the "scene" taken by the publisher. Unless you are somehow in the bank, nobody gets good still pictures of a bank robbery. It's cop cars outside a building.
But this one also had a cordon, and cordon pictures are generally good. I've been doing this long enough to know that much. A cordon has guys in reflective vests, usually, sometimes police lights. Occasionally, like this time, you get to see drawn weapons.
I put what I had up by 8:54 p.m. Friday. I sent out a breaking news alert before that, but not much.
That didn't break the story but did have a fuller story than any other media that I came across. It had details of the search, that the dog team had come across evidence the dye packs deployed, etc.
A fuller story than many done by people who can actually, you know, see.
I had a thought at one point after I heard about the bank robbery and before I got to the eye doctor's office.
"Why'd he pick today?"
A little anger directed at the robber. But I snapped back into normal mode. I was born a Bronx Irish Catholic. Altar boy. Choir boy. All that.
We know guilt. Retail it.
I let my readers down here. I think the new glasses are going to work fine.
But I'll try not to go blind again when there's a big story brewing.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Xs and Os for Daddy's Day

By Stephen Guilfoyle

There was a touch of sadness in my dad's voice a few years back.

He had gone up to New York City, I think for a funeral.

My cousins had given him a hug and a kiss.

"I can get my nephews to give me a little kiss, but not my sons," he said.

So I gave him a pat on the back.

I'm no one's definition of a macho man, but I have taken on, over the years, some decidedly macho mannerisms.

I prefer always to go to a barber shop. I want to go in and grunt. If there is to be conversation, let it be about football, baseball and nothing in between. Or the latest political goings-on with them "idiots" up in Washington or down in Columbia.

I do not want to talk about what I want done to my hair.

I want to say, "Regular cut" nine months of the year and "Trim" in the summer and get the exact same hair cut for my $5 bucks. But that hasn't happened, really, since I moved from New York. Just can't find a good old fashioned enough barber, most of the time. Or can't go to the few I've found regularly enough, given my commute.

That's just one thing. I do eat quiche, and they have a fantastic quiche at the Olde English Creamery, but I haven't been back to get it since that first time.

But I resisted quiche as a youngster. But break it down. You say quiche, I say cheese and bacon pie. What could be more dude-ish than cheese and bacon? Than pie?

Not much.

But along the line, I had stopped giving my dad a hug giving him a goodbye kiss or just saying, "Love you" when I left his home or on the phone.

He said what he said, and I've done a better job, since, but I still don't do it all the time. But he deserves them all. He's a great guy, and the best father.

I bring this up, because I get it now. I understand.

It was Father's Day Sunday. My first Father's Day

Just coincidentally, my son kissed me, on Sunday. Or maybe not coincidentally.

His mother my lovely bride goes into work most Sunday afternoons, so my boy and I have a lot of "daddy time" as my wife calls it.

I get to play with him, get to feed him, get to change him, get to give him his bath and get to put him to bed almost every Sunday.

He had this thing he did with his mother and me, where he'd come at us, mouth wide open. I called it a kiss, but he could just as easily been trying to chew my chin off. Gnaw a little, dribble a little drool down our chins.

Is that saying I love you? Or is that just sharing the saliva? Spreading the spit?

On Sunday, he wasn't feeling great. He's normally a great eater - my son, after all - but he didn't have a great appetite. I took him out of his high chair and fed him these little "puffs" they have now, no calories, one by one.

After a while, he wouldn't eat them off his high chair tabletop, but he took them from me, one by one.

He just liked them, so he ate them. But after about the third he ate from my hand, sitting on my lap, he smiled and leaned in, all the way in.

He didn't open up his mouth for the "bite" he usually takes. Nope, he just smooshed his mouth against mine. And did it two more times, smiling all the while.

To some people, fathers are a joke, a punchline. Many times, fathers aren't there, and we are bearing the price as a society.

We hear a lot about children cast rudderless because they don't have a father or enough positive male role models. To me, that bodes not well for the future. But the problem with absent fathers isn't just the effect it will have down the road.

This little man is changing me every single day, making me be better every single day, and making me want to be better, every single day.

The men who are absent from their children are both fools and they are missing out on the best thing possible. They are paying a price now that they have no idea about.

I'm told I dote on my son and my family has been good enough to let me know they think I'm doing a good job, so far.

"All you need is love," John, Paul, George and Ringo sang a long time ago. If only that were true.

My son has been sick a couple of times, stumbled and landed bad - sometimes on his head, and cried, more than a couple of times. I love him, but that doesn't make the sick go away, doesn't make the hurt stop hurting. I wrap him up in a hug, but he still, sometimes, whimpers or cries.

All you need is love. I wish that were true.

But love does give and does solve some things.

When I married, I said my wife was making me into the man I was supposed to be. Funny how a good woman can do that.

My son is filling in the gaps, making me into a man I never thought I could be.

It's a shame that it seems that fatherhood sounds like I'm doing a lot more taking than giving. But my son is giving so much to me.

We had a special day, and I know why my father wants a hug and a kiss from his sons, because I know how good it makes you feel, now, to have your son kiss you. And he won't get any guff from me about it any more.

So it was a very special day. We ended it like any other, doing that pre-sleep ritual. I, of course, gave him his bath, and he played and he splashed and he played and he laughed.

And then he pooped in the tub.

All you need is love? Love doesn't scoop a floater out of the tub.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Flashing back to my baby's birth

I thought I was going to have Internet access at the hospital when my baby was born, but the maternity ward wasn't wired. I started a little log of what was going on -- while Patricia slept -- and played CDs on my laptop to give her something to listen to. But I never had time to follow up and finish. I don't know how long I intended to keep doing this. But it was a one-shot deal.

My lovely bride is, again, snoring. She’s always snored, but it’s gotten heavy with the pregnancy.
Eating for two – ha ha. Good joke. Everyone gets it, and laughs.
She’s been breathing for two for months now. It has put her respiratory system to the test.
We have spent a night of some pain, a bit of unease, and she reached the point of asking for “something” to take the edge off her pain. It was supposed to make her a little woozy, a little drowsy. But she’s out cold.
It is almost 9 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 22..
I have called my family, her family. I have to call her office and get a number to call her boss, let her know.
But our baby is coming. On the way. There’s been no backing out for months now. Never was any backing out, really.
But there’s REALLY no backing out now.

So this wonderful day started with a bit of a bad night. I expected her to be home when I was on my way home, but when I called, she was was still at work. I knew she had thought about going to see the doctor, so I asked if she had. She wanted to wait to tell me later, but I got it out of her.
Her blood pressure was a bit high, and she was cramping a bit more uncomfortably. She was not dilated, so the doctor was afraid of pre-eclampsya. He took some blood and told her to come back Friday.
She went back to the office and got down to finishing up the conversion of her templates from the 25-inch web templates to the 24-inch. Just an inch, but it takes a lot of effort.
I told her to come home, but she wasn’t home until like 9:30 or 10.
She was afraid she was having contractions. She also wanted to eat a bit. I made her an egg salad sandwich, because that requires all of 10 seconds of effort.
When we started timing her contractions, they were around a minute to a minute and half long, and about five to seven minutes apart. The “key” time is to be a minute long, five minutes apart, for an hour.
She'd had a few in the car just like the ones she was having now. And they were at the same level. I started running the watch.
We called the doctor, and he said if she wanted to go to the hospital, it was up to her. She wanted to sleep, and be with the dogs for a little longer. So we watched the Colbert Report, got a few laughs, and tried to sleep.
We went to bed about 1:30 p.m., She woke me about 4. She was ready. She had slept good for a while, but two good contractions had woken her.
It was hard leaving the dogs behind.
We were talking, going along at a good clip for a bit, but when a contraction hit, she said, “Are you at least going the speed limit?”
We triaged, and to both our surprise, Patricia was dilated between 3 and 4 centimeters. Wow.
On the way. The nurse who checked us in, Tia, said it was possible the doctor would send us home, but mostly likely, we’d be here and we’d be having the baby.
Tia got us into the room, but she actually got to helping another woman coming in whose water had broken. She got the woman into the room and the baby just came there. So Manuela came.
Tia had us walking the halls, which is supposed to help the dilation progress. We need to get to at least 8 centimeters.
We had little progress during the night. At the 7 p.m. shift change, Tia came in and told us goodbye, and what had happened elsewhere in the ward that kept her away for a bit.
During one of our walks, we saw Dean, the guy who runs Fort Mil Automotive, who repaired Patricia’s A/C cheaper than the dealership. His wife was having a C-section.
Funny to meet someone you know.
By about 8 a.m., Patricia had had all the pain she could stand, so she wanted to get a narc. It ended up knocking her out. I made a few calls to Patricia’s work and her family, Tom and Susan.
I had called Catherine, then Anne, getting neither. Catherine called back, talked to me, then Patricia, then me again.
“Whee, we’re having a baby,” she said before hanging up.
(Captain's Log, supplemental, on June 9, 2007: WE?)
She said she was working but could get off by noon. Mom would come with her, it was decided. She called Mom. I expected Mom to call, but she didn’t.
Anne called. I’d left a message. She sang. I can’t even remember what, but it wasn’t one of my favorite songs. But to Anne, it will be the baby’s song for a while. Probably until he/she gets married.
Talked to Mom. She was praying.
Talked to John. He had the day off, and was going to come, do a couple of errands for us that we just didn’t get to. The bases for baby's car seat needed installing. The dogs needed to be handled, either walked or taken to the Dirty Dog Depot. Probably the latter. And we need Patricia's work key taken to the office. Debbie either had the day off or got off, and is coming with him.
There is no internet access here, and I had promised a bunch of people they’d get an e-mail during the event. Sucks.

’s almost noon. I need sleep. She will wake up soon, and we’ll see what we see.

Except for the spell check to correct, and the supplemental note in there, that's all that I wrote that night.
I dind't even make a note of what the doctor said when he came. The first one.
Or the bit about the actual doctor who came in and helped Patricia deliver. Her cellphone went off and started playing the Tiger Rag. The doctor didn't understand the horrified, murderous look on my face at first, but when she saw my USC Gamecocks shirt AND hat, she said, "Uh oh, I'm in trouble."
Patricia laughed pretty hard. I had to take my cell phone out, play the USC fight song and remove exorcise the demon sounds. But I let her proceed.
Other than being a graduate of Clemson at some point in her career, it was actually a pretty good decision.
We had a few other funny bits, but I can't remember them right now, almost nine month later.

Friday, June 01, 2007

My Hootie Story

(Everything in here is mostly true except the bit about the bandana.)

There was a major fuss down in Columbia last month. A guy with whom I used to occasionally drink and some of his buddies were causing the fuss, first at The Horseshoe, then a few days later at Finlay Park.
Why was it such a big deal, I wonder, since anybody can get a CD cut these days -- cheap.
What's all the fuss about Hootie and The Blowfish?
I mean, why were they a significant subplot, the subject of two to three jokes, on a very special episode of "Friends" last year? Or actually BE on Letterman, more than once?
Wait a minute. I know these guys.
Or, I knew those guys.
OK, I knew one of those guys and one of the others (the one everyone thinks is Hootie) used to date a friend for a while while I was in college.
They are my age, people. My age. In fact, older. Yet I have to go around pretending to be an adult, listening to the constant refrain of "man you're getting GRAY" from friends and family, yet they do videos and interviews where people talk about their youthful enthusiasm and fratboy charm.
Sure they're a kickin' band, and always have been. But people in South Carolina are taking undue pride in Hootie and The Blowfish.
Remember when they were being considered for the Order of the Palmetto, but that was canned because Darius Rucker, the lead singer, actually had the nerve to have a thought that DIDN'T agree with the governor's position on the Confederate Flag atop the State House?
Though it fell apart, that was the state of South Carolina trying to cash in on the group's sudden fame.
Last fall, for Homecoming activities at the USC College of Journalism and Mass Communications, a luncheon was held to honor several outstanding graduates in the journalism field. High on the list to be honored were Rucker and Mark Bryan, who both attended the broadcasting program at the J-School.
They aren't exactly in the "biz," as journalism graduates (such as me and Darius and Mark) like to call it, but they communicated volumes by saying from the get-go they wouldn't go and then didn't.
They knew the college was trying to cash in on the group's sudden fame.
It continues apace, with VH-1 recasting it's "History of Hootie" on Sunday, as well as all Hootie videos in a "rock block."
So, not to be outdone, here's my Hootie story. (A local bartender says everyone's got a Hootie story.)
I met Mark Bryan more than once. I'm pretty sure he was at a party where I was also. Details are sketchy, but quite possibly one of us was and most probably both of us were, drunk. Hey, it was college and neither of us were driving.
We were introduced by a mutual friend, who said he was "Mark of Hootie and The Blowfish.
I said "Is that the terrible band that just does cover tunes?"
Nope, my friend said, that was Tootie and the Joneses, or another of the many OOTY bands that were so popular in Columbia during the '80s.
"So this is the one that does all the frat parties?"
I was getting warmer.
Who knew?
Anyway, I saw him all the time after that, mostly waiting for the ShutleCock at the J-School.
Said "Hi. " Occasionally talked.
I now tell people that not only am I "buds" with the band, but that, heck, my mother also met them.
True story.
For some reason, I was taking my parents to eat at Yesterday's in Columbia. Looking for a parking space in Five Points is like doing open heart surgery on Pat Buchanan -- just impossible to find one.
Down the block from Yesterday's is Monterray Jack's, a great bar. The band was playing there that night, and they were unloading their gear. I recognized my drinking bud, Mark Bryan, and introduced him to my mother, because he waved at me first, so I had to.
"This is, uh, Mark, uh," I said, "He's in this band ... uh. ..."
Mark said hello, was very polite, which my mother commented on, and he let us have the space the band's van was in once it was unloaded.
He left and my mother asked "How did he hurt his head?"
(It was the bandana on his head. He's the one who always wears the bandana, which looks like ... Anyway.)
So now, with this background, I go around telling people I'm real tight with the band. At a ribbon cutting a few months back, I met a girl from Bennettsville. We were at USC at the same time. She remembered attending many Hootie concerts at "Greene Street's" a bar that was neither on Greene Street nor in existance anymore.
"I guess anyone who went to USC in the '80s can say they know Hootie and the Blowfish," she said. I nodded. But neither she nor they knows them like I know them.
That's what I meant about undue pride. It's not that the band itself shouldn't be proud of what it's done. While they won't admit it, those cashing in on it are also trying to steal a bit of the credit for Hootie's success for themselves.
I'll admit that's what I'm doing, but only after.
After I tell people I know which one is Hootie, after I tell them that I once told Mark Bryan that "the porpoises make me cry," and I want my cut.
But it's just me trying to cash in on the sudden fame of Hootie and the Blowfish.
Everybody's doing it nowadays.

Originally published in The Cheraw Chronicle June 6, 1996.)

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Forrest Gump of S.C. Music Scene?

"When you were at USC," my brother asked, "did you know Darius Rucker?"
No. I worked with his girlfriend, I said. I didn't elaborate, but she was at The Gamecock. She was in production, I was in editorial.
I could further elaborate that I did talk many times with Mark Bryan, guitarist for Hootie and the Blowfish. My mom even met Mark once, a long time. I could further further elaborate that back then, H & the B was just a bar band, popular with the frat boys.
Why do you ask, I asked back.
Rucker, lead singer of the Blowfish, commonly, mistakenly believed to be Hootie, was on some special about South Carolina.
They had also talked about Dizzie Gillespie on the special, John said. That he was from Cheraw, and Cheraw had a jazz music scene going on.
"And you used to live in Cheraw, right?" John asked.
Yeah. I still couldn't tell where this was going. Again, I didn't elaborate, but I didn't get to know many people who knew Dizzy Gillespie. I did go to Dizzy Gillespie Apartments many times. It's a housing project. Many times it was for drug busts. Once for a murder. Many times also I went there for "Take back the community" type events, because most residents didn't buy into the crime that seemed to be rampant in that community. Cheraw has since dedicated a statue in memory of Gillespie, and is honoring his tie to the community.
However, in January of 1995, the old Holly Inn burned to the ground. The inn had apartments out back in which Dizzy's band members used to stay when he came back to town. It was a decrepit structure. There was still enough to restore at the time of the fire, but not enough after the fire. I walked to that fire and beat the fire department there. It was a block from my own apartment building.
Dizzy used to come over to the inn and have jam sessions with his band.
Anyway, back to my brother. He said the show also talked about James Brown, the Godfather of Soul.
"Said he was from Barnwell," my brother said.
I knew where this was going.
"You used to work in Barnwell, right?"
Yeah. My Godfather of Soul story/
I interviewed him once, but that's business. Doesn't count in Six Degrees of Stephen Guilfoyle.
But I met him. We all knew, at the paper, that Brown was from Barnwell, and being just down the highway living in Beech Island, he sometimes dropped by. So we always thought it was a possibility.
Barnwell is not a nowhere town, and a stretch limo can make the rounds. But when a black stretch limo passed through town with a license tag that said GDFTHR or some such variation, we knew we could find him. I sent my reporters out to find James Brown.
They came back, none successful. So I went out myself.
I found the limo parked on a street behind our building, in front of a law firm. James Brown was meeting Miles Loadholt, a local attorney. They were of a generation, and I think their families knew each other growing up. James Brown called Miles "Mr. Miles."
They stood outside, I took a picture of them shaking hands, a friend of Miles had it framed for him a while later. It was a good picture.
That was the first time I met the Godfather of Soul.
I could hear the wheels churning in my brother's brain.
Hootie, Dizzy and Brown, oh my.
I'm the Forrest Gump of South Carolina's Music scene. I'm always there, in the backdrop.
Or at least that's the impression my brother has.
Mama says, "Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get."
Unless you buy a box of plain chocolates. Then, you pretty much know what you're going to get.