Sunday, January 27, 2013

Jim Montgomery: A Man In Full

From Sunday's Times and News-Star

For the first time and probably the last, I heard “Captain Hook’s Waltz” from “Peter Pan” played at a funeral. At Jim Montgomery’s, of course.  

“Who would stoop to the cheapest and lowest
“Of tricks in the book?
“Blame me, slay me,
“Captain Hook

“Captain Hook’s Waltz.” Banging off the high ceiling of Centenary’s Brown Chapel last Wednesday morning. Something you don’t hear every day.

But then, Jim Montgomery was the kind of guy you’d don’t run across every day. If you meet two like him you’re lucky, three and you’ve shattered the odds.  

Jim had played the role of Capt. Hook years before. The reviews were rave. It was a role tailor-made. Expressive. Loud. BIG. Comedy in a villain. A chance for a country boy in love with the arts like Jim to romp and stomp and sing and be something different for a few nights than a tie-wearing, deep-thinking editorial page ink-stained wretch or grant writer or community icon. Many called it, for Jim Montgomery, the role of a lifetime.

And they’re close. It was. Almost.

But the role he played best was that of himself. And that was the role of a lifetime.

He wasn’t always comfortable in it. As a newspaper man and as a decent citizen duty-bound to his adopted twin cities, he wanted things that needed to be done to get done, and correctly. Sometimes it seemed he was always carrying the heavy end. That takes a lot out of a guy. Not many are cut out for the role. Or can handle it.

He was not immune to depression. Not above digging into a bunker and staying there for a while.

But he emerged. Always. Learned that in Springhill, his hometown. You show up. Work. Do the right thing. Go to bed tired. Take up for the little guy.

We were lucky to have him. I won’t recite the laundry list of accomplishments, but he loved himself a plaque on the wall, and he earned every one.

He was foremost a writer and writers are never really off the clock, so all the time he was both cosmopolitan and a country boy, private and public, a funny guy and a deep thinker. He was, as former Shreveport mayor Keith Hightower said, “Google” for Shreveport-Bossier before Google was Google. When “Prairie Home Companion” visited Municipal Auditorium this summer, they called Jim the day before. Jim was in the audience for Garrison Keillor’s opening monologue. “It’s like hearing myself talk on the phone yesterday,” Jim said.

He was both smart and wise, full of both serious information and trivia, full of both good deeds and full of…well, cleverness. He loved to laugh. His friends adored him.

Those friendships were far-reaching. Usually at funerals, you know just about everyone there. But at Jim’s, I knew maybe a tenth of the crowd. He was smart enough and wide enough in his interests that his life overlapped the lives of so many others.

I wish I had space to tell you the stories, even just the couple of times he invited me to eat at nice places with him and friends because he knew I needed the company and the exposure to “the finer things,” and because he knew he could cover for me while I got acclimated. It took me a long time to figure out he was just stealthily running interference for another bumpkin.

He did more than hire me to write columns at The Times. In so many ways, he was my Captain.  


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Time To Thaw Out And Bloom, Idiot

From Sunday's Times and News-Star

It’s been so cold this week, I saw a lawyer with his hands in his OWN pockets.

But seriously, folks…it has been cold. And sometimes warm. It’s almost like living in North Louisiana.

Maybe that’s why most everyone I know has either been sick or has children that have been sick. Or are sick. Sick is bad.Have you noticed that we seldom get the “pretty” cold weather? We get a “wintery mix.” Sleet and ice and wind. I don’t like a wintery mix. Too mixy. 

But four months from now when it’s 95, we’ll be wishing it were cooler. (I won’t.) We’re hardly ever satisfied anyway, so perhaps God and the weather know what’s best.

It’s been a cold week in other ways. My friend Russell’s mom, married to Russell’s dad for 58 years, passed away. I remember helping Russell Hedges type his first Friday night football deadline story at The Times 20 years ago. He and his mom and his dad have been through quite a few football seasons together. I wish things were different; I wish they’d have had a few more.

And Frank Page, the Dean of Shreveport Radio, the Chairman of the (Radio) Board, passed away at age 87. If you’ve never read “Frank and Helen Page: A Lifetime at KWKH,” written by Frank and his friend Max Short, give it a try. What a gentleman. He signed his book for me this way: “Your voice is not dipped in gold, but your pen is.” HA! A stretch by him, perhaps, but coming from a Country Music Hall of Famer and husband to Helen of 68 years, I’ll take it. An interesting coincidence that he died Jan. 9, one day after Elvis birthday. The airwaves are a bit less rich with Mr. Frank silent. But I still have him on tape, thank goodness. Introducing Elvis…

And Jim Montgomery. Writer. Actor. Friend to all. Lover of beauty. Country man about town. I’ll have to write about him next week, if I can get it all straight in my brain. Were it not for Mr. Jim, I would have written zero columns in this newspaper, and that’s probably No. 28 on my list of “Reasons I Liked Him.” Beautiful person.

I wonder in the new year if I can be better about being friends with people and telling them how much they’re thought of and appreciated, people such as the ones we’ve talked of here. I read about a guy who made it a point to write one “thank you” note a day. I’m good for maybe two or three a week. Is that enough?

One of my dearest friends had for years a needlepoint framed on the wall behind her desk. “Bloom where you are planted,” it reminded us. She reminded us too, and still does, even in her retirement. She lives on that advice and encourages us to do the same.

But it is easier to think about blooming “when things are different,” or when I’m somewhere else, than it is to think about blooming today. It is easier to miss the moment than to live in it. It’s easier to think about the sunshine than to live in the wintery mix.

I’m hopeful of living wiser so I can catch more of the authenticity in moments and in people. You know, maybe learning that there are lessons in the ice as well as in the sunshine. And accepting that some weeks, some days, it’s just going to be cold. All over. No matter what.


Sunday, January 13, 2013

'Les Mis' Will Make You Say 'Les Uncle!'

From today's TIMES and NEWS-STAR

It is not every day I recommend you spend your hard-earned money to see a movie three hours long in which nearly every word is sung by the cast, including the men, even when they are “talking” to other men.

Man 1, singing: “Your face looks famillliar.”

Man 2, singing: “You must be wrong, sir.”

Man 1 again: “Kiss my fooooot.”

Man 2 again: “I’ll whip your butt-ocks.”

Man 1: “In your dreams, sirrrr!”

Man 2: “Word to your moth-errrr!”

And on like that.

It takes some getting used to.

But once you do – and it won’t take long as the opening scene, despite the men singing to and at one another, is a jaw-dropper – “Les Miserables” is a spectacle, an undertaking of color and sound and emotion and history born of – and no other word fits here -- genius.

The Victor Hugo novel of the mid-1800s which became a history-rewriting classic musical more than 100 years later is now a movie, complete with a guy from X-Men, a woman from Batman and a gladiator. Hollywood pulled out all the stops for this baby.

Les Sweet!

I am no theater critic, but I did see “Cats” this year, on stage and everything. And “Annie Get Your Gun.” Finally saw “Shrek” on late-night TV. I am eating this culture stuff up with a spoon.

So I must report that, sure, “Les Mis” is not without flaws. There is no doubt of that. John Wayne isn’t in it, for instance. Neither is Clint Eastwood or Morgan Freeman. Still, it has horses, gunplay, a big boat (right at the first, too!), old timey clothes, an innkeeper with an attitude and, for you guys still paying attention, a girl with unblemished caramel skin singing in the rain.

Les Bingo!

Please know going in that this is not a terribly happy movie. It’s no “Dirty Harry.” This is more like Ol’ Yeller dying every other scene. The title alone should be a hint. A few years ago when I saw “There Will Be Blood,” I suspected someone would be injured. Same deal with “The Departed.” It’s musicals like “The Lion King” -- where an innocent wildebeest dying catches you by surprise -- that you have to be careful about. In “Les Mis,” Vic Hugo spells it out for you on the title page.

What you’ve got is Prisoner 24601/Jean Valjean, plus the guy who for years chases him, plus the adopted daughter of Valjean and her fore and aft hijinks, as well as urchins, the Master of the House, and a well-intentioned post-revolutionary French uprising that gains about as much traction as Notre Dame’s offense did against Alabama in Monday night’s BCS Championship Beatdown.

A quick word about the French Army. Its confetti moments, let’s be honest, have been few and far between. And in a musical, they have it twice as bad. For one, all the altos are immediately handed a saber and a biscuit and sent to the front. The tenors are relegated to ammo lifting, since they’re straining anyway. Everyone else of any rank is handed a funny hat. That’s a half-hour’s worth of les miserables right there.

But there is love too. Redeeming love. Love is the reason my wife kept asking for napkins, even though she wasn’t eating popcorn. If the music alone doesn’t get you, this tale should, this ever-human story of redemption, of injustice, of childhood lost, of misery verses hope and of “nothingness to God.”

Go see it. Take a chance. Strap in. Les pretty good.


Monday, January 7, 2013

Got You Covered In The New Year

From Sunday's TIMES and NEWS-STAR

Somewhere, there’s a guy named Cliff Fiscal who is really upset with his parents during these trying financial times for not naming him Bob…or even Sue.

It was a haul around here during Christmas. I feel confident going into the new year, as Santa left me a gross of new high-quality underwear. If this underwear were a football team, it would be playing Alabama for the national championship tomorrow night. Tiny Tim would turn a backflip over my 100-percent cotton good  fortune.

It is funny how a man’s idea of what makes up a “good gift” changes as he putters along through life. Good underwear is underrated in youth but is a worthy treasure in life’s early autumn. It’s the little things. Sweet!


Also scored some pictures of my people, which I like. The Picture People can do anything with pictures these days. I have pictures of my people on a calendar, on coasters, and even on a puzzle, which I plan to put together and frame. I puzzle my people sometimes, so it is surprising that the puzzle picture wasn’t of me, along with a note: “Here. YOU try to figure you out. We give up.”

Check this out: My baby sis cross-stitched a Christmas tree for me and framed it. The ornaments are buttons that were on clothes belonging to both my momma and grandmother. Teddy wept.


Speaking of weeping, many did when the Hostess people quit making Twinkies this year. The good news is that the shelf life of those things are about the same as the shelf life of granite, so you should be able to hang in there with your current stash until the recipe is sold and other bakers start churning out the handy, easily edible treat again.


Speaking of things we lost this year, two of everyone’s favorite Andys: Griffith and Williams. Genuine to the end.
It also hurt me that Jack Klugman, 90, and Charles Durning, 89, each passed away, on Christmas Eve. In a next-day story, the New York Times referred to these two as “extraordinary actors ennobling the ordinary.” Bingo. It didn’t get any better than Klugman as my favorite sportswriter in “The Odd Couple” or Durning as my favorite assistant coach and mythical ex-Terrapin, Coach Johnson, in “North Dallas Forty.” (Coach Johnson screaming at a player: “If you moved any slower, you’d be going backwards!”)


Speaking of favorites, everybody’s favorite column writer is enjoying times at Ruston’s Huddle House and reading again. Wiley Hilburn has been home in Choudrant since Thanksgiving, “enjoying life, liberty and the pursuit of good hamburgers,” wife Kate reported. “Wiley is gaining weight, able to drive, walk and enjoy every sports broadcast on both TV and radio.”

I am asked about Wiley nearly every day, which is a beautiful thing. He was in a “chemo fog” for a bit, but that has cleared now. He at was able to read “Team of Rivals” and also finished the November-released book on Churchill, the final one of William Manchester’s Churchill trilogy, (written in part by Paul Reid, friend and fan of the deceased Manchester.)

Wiley returns to Little Rock for tests this month; all is well now. Kate writes to you: “We agreed that we are especially grateful to our friends and family for the support, prayers, food, favors, encouragement and basically making it possible for us to survive this year of living on the line. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”