Living Homeless in 2015

Reposted from January, 2014.  Much to my great disappointment, it’s only gotten worse.  These days, you’re either all in or you’re a total asshole with no redeeming social value and ought to be banished from existence.  

I lived in Los Angeles from 1990 until 2004 when the Army permanently relocated me here to Virginia. During that period, I was trying to make a career in the entertainment industry as an actor. For a period of about 3-4 weeks smack in the middle of badly mismanaging my early life in LA, I was literally homeless, sleeping on the couches of fellow friends and other starving actors. It wasn’t fun. It wasn’t romantic. It was frightening, demeaning and humbling. But I got through it and while I never did establish myself as a working actor as I had wanted, I did build a career as a technician in the entertainment industry for much of my time in LA and loved every minute of it.

This time, my homelessness is not as a result of my own gross mismanagement. In fact, this time, my homelessness is not a physical one but an ideological one. There’s no place at all for me to hang my hat when it comes to politics.

I am politically homeless.

The Republican Party as a group doesn’t seem to want to include anyone that doesn’t adhere to its strict conservative set of ideals. Sure, there are things about which I agree with the Republicans among them defense, fiscal responsibility (though no one in politics seems to be practicing this anymore) and personal responsibility above government responsibility.

The Democrats, on the other hand, deride anyone whose ideals conflict with a generally liberal perspective. I observe the Democrats pulling out the race card for things that generally aren’t racist, but that’s their opinion, I suppose, and they have a right to it. And there are things about which I agree completely with the Democrats including broadening the definition of marriage, legalization of marijuana and the easier provision of health care, though I disagree with the approach which is the Affordable Care Act.

So you see neither party will have me. And frankly, I don’t want either of them.

Since I disagree with the ACA, there are many in the Democratic Party who will state unequivocally that I hate poor people and actively want them to be sick. I don’t, and such charges are ridiculous. No one wants people to be sick if we can make them well. I’ve seen the ups and downs of the American health care system during my former spouse’s dealings with multiple cancers and other serious maladies and I welcome health care reform. I just disagree with this particular approach.

I hear a lot of Democrats say that the Republicans want dirty water and filthy air since they don’t support the same environmental concerns they do. That’s crazy talk, too. No one WANTS dirty air and water. No one. Not even the vast majority of corporate entities who are often falsely accused of relegating environmental concerns to the basement of the priority stack. They want to be good corporate citizens because it’s good policy and it’s better for their bottom line.

Republicans often say that if you support abortion under any circumstances that you want unborn babies to die. That’s ridiculous. Do you know one person who actually WANTS unborn babies to die? Do you know anyone who thinks that’s a great idea in every case? Again, no one wants that, but to hear it told by some staunch conservatives, if you have a (D) after your name, that is precisely the belief you hold along with ALL of those with (D)’s behind their names. That’s just nuts.

You get the idea.

Life is not now nor has it ever been an “either/or” proposition. Why has politics become this way?

And it’s not like a relationship with either party can be like one of those Venn Diagrams that you did in school:


Lately, it seems to me that neither party ideologically allows you to overlap even a little bit. (Not publicly anyway.) You’re either all in or your all out. You either agree with them 100% on everything or you’re a horrible person who wishes bad things to happen to everyone else.

Yes, I am aware of the Libertarian Party.  In fact, ideologically speaking, I probably overlap with libertarians the most.  But right now, the (L)’s are not influencing the national dialogue to any significant degree and therefore, not a practical entity in my opinion.

Ok, I admit it. There are a few people – very few — on whom I’d wish bad things. And no, none of them are ex-significant others or spouses or anything petty like that. So no, I don’t wish for bad things to happen to the sick, the well, the poor, the rich, the homeless, the unemployed, the heterosexual, the homosexual, the bisexual, the trisexual (or any sexual I can imagine — and I have a vivid imagination) or the purple people eaters of the world.

I’m just me and I have my own ideas and thoughts about things. And I’m smart enough to draw conclusions from the available data for myself. I have an equally smart, terrific circle of friends and acquaintances most of whom don’t share my every perspective and I don’t hate them and they don’t hate me. Sometimes I agree and sometimes I don’t. Yes, we have been known to have heated discussions, but we have far more in common just as people then we do politically.

And herein is the lead for this essay: We ALL have far more in common as people than we do politically. The two well-established political parties have lost sight of the American populace as people FIRST. People have nuance, color and diversity of thought. Voters don’t. And that’s how the two well-established political parties now view all of us – as voters not as people. You’re either all in or you’re all out.

In today’s political climate, this leaves the thinking person with no place to go. This leaves me homeless.

You Never Get Over Your First Love

I am often told that I have a great face for radio.  This much is certain.

I am also often told that I have a great voice for radio.  Someone at work today told me that I missed my calling as a radio announcer and to a great degree, that’s the truth.  I missed my calling.  Or more correctly, I miss it.

I miss radio.  I miss it every time I listen which is at least every work day.

WFOB as it looks today. It's not changed much except that the studios are now downtown.

WFOB as it looks today. It’s not changed much except that the studios are now downtown.

My first awareness of the medium goes back further into my past than you’d think.  I know I was no older than five years old, though from memory my precise age is unclear.  My father took me out to rural Fostoria, Ohio where hometown station WFOB maintained its studios and transmitters.  It was in a little brick building behind which were three tall towers painted red and white.  He drove us up the long driveway and took me inside.

My first question of the man who greeted us was “Where do all the people sing?”  As a four or five year old, I was a little unclear on the concept of radio.  I recall being a little confused that there was no big studio for the musicians to perform in.  And no musicians.  If there was no studio, where was the music coming from?  Being too young to articulate this question, or perhaps too young to understand the explanation, I was whisked in to the announcers booth and told what to say while the Man who Greeted Us worked some equipment. After a couple of missteps, and an eventual “Great job!” from the Man who Greeted Us, I heard the sound of my own voice coming from the monitor in the booth:

“You’re listening to WFOB and WFOB-FM Fostoria with studios in Bowling Green.”

I had a slight speech impediment as a kidling* so “Fostoria” came out more like “Fos-tohweea.”  I might have said “full-time studios” but that may just be me remembering their long standing station ID that I heard for years every time I listened.

I remember little else of that visit other than being completely wowed by the experience. I felt like quite the celebrity when I got home and Dad turned on the radio in the house for me so I could hear myself doing the station ID a few times an hour.   I absolutely loved hearing my own voice on the radio!

That hasn’t changed a bit since.

A few years later, I saved my nickels and dimes and Dad took me downtown to the Montgomery Ward’s store on Main Street in Fostoria to help me buy a transistor radio. It was a little, red pocket model, a Zenith, I think, with a speaker in the front.  A small tuning dial allowed me free run of the AM radio band.  Included at no extra charge was an old-school earphone for listening without disturbing others.

If memory serves, it looked like this:


Amazing what Google can find!

I’d remove it carefully from the box in which it came and once I was done listening, I even more carefully replace it in its box.  It was, after all, my most valued possession and I wasn’t about to leave anything to fate.

Anyway, I was just getting to the age when music meant something to me and I wanted to listen to the Friday night request show on WFOB (“We’re Full of Baloney,” as they came to be known.)  So Friday nights, once Mom sent me off to bed, I’d sneak out the box with my Zenith radio in it, carefully remove it, plug in the earphone and listen to rock ‘n roll until I either fell asleep or got caught.

That radio was with me for a long time.  I seem to remember having it quite a few years later at my grandparents’ house on Lincoln Avenue listening to a hockey game and trying to figure out what the hell was going on from the play-by-play.  That was mission impossible and I immediately and permanently lost any interest in hockey.

Other radios have come and gone but the love for the medium and the technology persisted.

When I was in Military School, my friend, Jeff Tobin expressed a similar interest in radio and armed with a cassette recorder and a little creativity, wrote, performed and recorded radio shows and skits.  Jeff had been a successful community theater actor and is an extraordinarily talented guy to this day.  But it was my interactions with him back in the day that made me realize that being on the radio wasn’t something that other people did.  Working in radio was within my grasp.

Jeff and I went to Westminster College together in 1976.  His Dad was the director of admissions there and me, as a “path of least resistance” kinda guy, applied there and was accepted.  Jeff and I performed live at Westminster’s annual newcomers talent show a radio skit that we’d written, performed and recorded the year before at military school.  We were a big hit.

The next day, Jeff and I went to the campus radio station, WKPS (now WWNW), to see about volunteering there.  We were greeted by one of the students who we’d later learn was Jim “Geem” Boyd who took one look at us, eyes widening, and said in a loud voice “Oh my God, they’re here!!!”  I checked with Jeff during his visit this weekend and he confirmed that this actually happened as I’ve described it.

Jeff and I worked at WKPS that year and throughout our respective tenures at Westminster.  So enamored with radio were we both that we got paying jobs at commercial stations the next year.  Jeff went to WGRP-AM/FM in Greenville, PA and Geem Boyd, now the news director at WHO Radio in Iowa, went to WFAR in Farrell.  Before trudging off to ROTC Advanced Camp that summer, I interviewed for an on-air job with WKST Program Director, Steve Mechling.  He told me that he’d write and let me know if I was hired before the summer was over.   I remember vividly receiving the letter at Fort Lewis and reading that I was hired.  And I probably still have that letter tucked away somewhere.

I had arrived.

Yes, there’s no doubt that I was unjustifiably impressed with myself.  I was a jackass kid who thought he had talent.  But Steve and others at the station tolerated me, taught me and let me make mistakes.  Folks like Bradley W. Baker, Gary West, Herb Morgan, Mike Grenci, Joey Macy, and many other talented broadcasters made that experience overwhelmingly positive in spite of myself and my over active ego.

After WKST, I went in the Army with the hope of working in Army broadcasting.  I weaseled my way into an assignment as the Radio and TV Officer at Fort Gordon’s WFG Radio.  Aside from my radio duties, the PAO, then Maj. Mike Miller handed me a 30-minute TV show to produce, write and anchor, so I had tons to learn. Maj. Miller also gave me the freedom to learn and make mistakes and I made more than my share of real whoppers at that job.

After my experience at Fort Gordon, I worked in radio at:

The American Forces Network, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe

WCKJ Augusta, GA.  I only worked there two weekends.  It was a hideous experience.  You could play every record in the building in a six-hour air shift.  I’m not joking – literally every record.  On the upside, my sister got to hear me on the air for the first and only time.

KXDZ-FM and KABN-AM, Anchorage Alaska.  I did mostly voice over work for them producing 60-second “Good News” spots for the automated stations.  Though I was the morning man for a week or so when KXDZ went live from the Alaska State Fair in 1989.  I was told at the time that I earned the distinction of being the first on-air deejay to do a live, in-state radio show via satellite.  I have no way of verifying the truth in this statement but it’s fun to think about.

The American Forces Network, The Balkans, Tuzla Bosnia.  I led the radio and TV mission there, though I did no on-air work.

I did a ton of voice over stuff destined for radio broadcast over the years and of course, the on-camera stuff as well.  Plus the occasional acting gig.  But when I punch the “AM/FM/Sat” button on the Prius, it’s all about radio and I can’t help but sigh wistfully.

I’d love to get back into it but of course, it’s a very different industry far inferior to that of my formative years as a radio performer.  I know that if I were to go back, I’d be disappointed in what’s become of radio.  Still, I can’t help but miss it.


AT-40 used to be delivered on vinyl.

On weekends when I’m in the car and I punch the “Sat” button, I get a kick out of Sirius/XM’s weekend playbacks of old American Top 40 radio shows.  I used to engineer those shows on WKST.  As soon as I hear Casey Kasem’s voice and that familiar theme music, I’m right back in that dingy little studio at WKST playing the shows off of standard 33 1/3 records.

“And now, on with the countdown!”

* I’m not exaggerating about having a speech impediment.  It was bad enough that Mom and Dad sent me to speech therapy classes in elementary school for at least a year.  I had problems articulating “r” sounds.  I remember repeating the phrase “wed wabbits wun wappidly” until I was sick to death of it.  I finally mastered it but strangely enough, I never did see any wed wabbit wunning.

On the Fourteenth Anniversary of 9/11

PentagonI wrote this back in 2009 in response to all the “Where were you when 9/11 happened?” questions and recollections that were being circulated around the Internet.  I’ve reposted it many times in the hope that I’ll continue to recall not just the horrific facts of that day’s events, but the feelings with which I associate it.  To this day whenever I hear replays of the news broadcasts of that day, the feelings, anguish and anger can be nearly overwhelming.

Even though I wasn’t near any of the three places that were scarred forever by the acts of a few, 9/11/2001 changed my life in ways that I could not have imagined then and which I sometimes don’t believe even now.  Regardless, I will never shake the feelings that 9/11 evokes in me nor do I ever want to.  More importantly, I wish that all of us could share the unity, resolve and dedication to our nation and our common defense that we all felt in the days and weeks following that awful day in 2001.

Thanks for reading.

“So, do you think the Army’s going to call you up because of this?”

“I sure as hell hope so.”

That was the big question my supervisor at the E! Channel asked me on 9/11. While I did eventually get called up, I’d gladly give up all the financial and professional gains which resulted if it had never happened. But that’s not what these words are going to be about.

I was awakened that morning by a phone call from my mother-in-law who told us in frantic, disjointed words that something bad was happening. As a native New Yorker, she was understandably shaken at learning that Manhattan was under attack. The message was related to me by my spouse at the time who slammed into the bedroom and shook me awake and said “Wake up! The Pentagon’s under attack!”

I got up, rushed to the TV in a groggy stupor and saw the story as it was unfolding, still in chaos. Information was rolling into news agencies willy-nilly and much of what was heard and reported was unconfirmed. I dressed and hurried to work in the Wilshire District in LA, near the La Brea Tar Pits. The streets of Los Angeles were relatively deserted – not empty as they were during the LA riots in 1992. But it was clear that people were staying home. Businesses closed for the day and many more operated on essential staff only. Which is why I was going to work.

When I arrived at E!, I could see that many of the national cable networks which shared our satellite space had either gone dark or were carrying coverage from one of the big three networks. It was at that moment that the enormity and the immediate practical impact of this event on this Nation became apparent. Even broadcast commerce stopped for a time – shopping networks were carrying round the clock news coverage. Sports channels and others had full-screen graphics up telling people to tune to a network broadcast and follow the news.

One of the positive things about working at a TV network with all measure of high-tech TV equipment is that we could monitor as many TV stations as we had monitors. And we had plenty. CNN, Fox, ABC, NBC, CBS, MSNBC all raced to get pictures and firsthand accounts of the unfolding tragedy on the air. I flipped back and forth from moment to moment and channel to channel trying to find the best pictures. No one had a lock on the best, so it was back and forth from channel to channel.

As for what I was doing in between times, E! was trying to decide whether to take coverage from a major news network or stay with the on-air schedule without regard to the situation. My job was to design on-screen graphics in support of either option. Ultimately, E! chose to stay with their own programming rather than switch to one of the majors. I will not debate that decision, but I will observe on my own behalf that I had no interest in entertainment fluff at that point, and I couldn’t imagine anyone else feeling differently.

From the moment it sank in just what was going on, my heart was heavy, but my fists clenched in preparation. When my terrific boss, Ken Mason, asked me if I was going to get called up, not only did I hope so, but I was hoping it would be within the hour. For the rest of the day, most of us sat in network control going about our business with about as much feeling as the machines supporting us. It was quiet and the sounds of our air signal were mixed with the sounds of the coverage coming from ancillary equipment racks where the carnage of the day was being replayed over and over.

I would be many months before I actually got called up and reported here to Washington, D.C. in January, 2002. I spent the next 71 months assigned to the Pentagon in various assignments, some 9/11 related and others not.

A year after the attacks, our office moved into the rebuilt section of the Pentagon and shortly thereafter, the small indoor memorial and chapel was opened. Whenever I thought I was being unfairly put upon, I’d stroll the 30 seconds down the E-ring to the 9/11 memorial and stand for a minute or two.

It gave me perspective in two profound ways. It made me recognize that getting picked on that day wasn’t really so bad, and that any one of these people whose biography and photo were in one of two books would give anything to be in my predicament. Alive. Within reach of those about whom they cared. And it humbled me. Standing there for only a moment made me remember why I was there and that I had better do the best job I could.

Eight years have passed since the attack on our Nation. Today, while driving into my civilian job, I listened to replays of the coverage from that day and remember what it felt like that day. How shocked and horrified. How angry. How resolute. I suspect that will never change. I suspect that I’ll always feel the intense mix of emotions on this day. And I’ll fight back the tears on this day just as I did on this day eight years ago.

For many, the feelings we experienced that day have already escaped us, relegating the horror of the day to a collection of historical facts, figures and stately memorials to those who perished. It is right that we recall the facts and honor those who were murdered that day. However, it is my wish that somehow the shock, horror, anger and resolution I felt – that most everyone felt that morning – stay with us and unite us as it did on 9/11 and in the shadows of that day.

Eight years hence, we find ourselves a divided Nation when in truth, there’s so very much more about us that is alike than those things which divide us.

I wish we weren’t so divided and I have no solution as to how to unite us. I just know that we have it in us. The days following September 11, 2001 were some of America’s finest.

Remember what that was like. Not just today on this horrific anniversary. But every day.

It would serve us all well.