life stories

the center of the universe is the brain

Archive for the month “April, 2009”

The Nice Young Man

One day many  years ago my mother called me on the phone. We usually spoke one a week and chatted for 15 minutes or so. She would tell me the goings-on in my tiny hometown, often detailing the lives of people I didn’t even know.

On this particular occasion, she went on at length about “the nice young man who delivered firewood.” He not only delivered the firewood but also stacked it and split the larger pieces so they would be easier to handle. She invited him in for a glass of lemonade.

“I don’t think you would have known him. He’s older than you. But what a nice young man,” She said. “His grandparents live in the valley.”

“So, does this nice young man have a name?” I chuckled.

“Walther. He grew up with his grandparents. So nice. Eric Walther. Did you know him?”

I told Mom I had to check on something and I’d call her right back. I thought what I’d heard on the news, well, I must have mis-heard. But now, it turned out to be true. This “nice young man” was wanted in 16 states and there was an extensive manhunt in progress.

Walther was captured in the small upstate New York town where my mother lived. Ultimately, he was extradited to California where he was convicted in 1988 of capital murder in under the name Lee Max Barnett.

I’m sure he was very nice and polite to my mother.


Short Stories

Ever since I was a young I had the habit of reading obituaries. Maybe it started because I grew up in a small town and the weekly paper offered special, full stories of the lives of those who had passed. More often than not I had some connection to the deceased.

As I moved on, I continued to keep an I on the death notices from my hometown and surrounding area. It wasn’t out of any sense of moroseness or morbid curiosity. It wasn’t because of social consciousness that made me send cards to bereaved friends and family. Each obituary told a story. I understood the setting, perhaps knew some of the players. And there never failed to be a kernel of wisdom or wonder held in those brief paragraphs.

Today I went, as I habitually do, to the obituaries in the New York Times. I was stunned to see the name Judith Krug there. She fought against banning books in libraries and took on the new challenge of fighting for free speech rights for the internet.

People who want to ban books tend to be reactionary, righteous and hateful. When I worked at HarperCollinsChildren’s Books, many calls and letters came to my desk demanding that we stop publishing the poems of Shel Silverstein or the SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK series or, my personal favorite book banning demand, LULU AND THE WITCH BABY by Jane O’Connor. A woman insisted that this book taught children witchcraft because it included a spell Lulu used to make her sister disappear (or so she thought).

I listened or read these rants with very little patience. If it was a serious threat I sent it to our in-house attorneys. I was young and couldn’t possibly have dealt with censorship issues with any sense of decorum or diplomacy. Put in the same situation today, I still couldn’t. But Judy Krug respected every individual’s opinion and perspective. She believed in free speech for everyone – even those who wanted to censor others.

Reading Krug’s obituary made me recall a different time in my life. Without ever meeting her in person, she had a tremendous influence in my life. Today I am reading books that might not be available to me without her impact on the scope of the First Amendment.

Stories like Judy Krug’s are the reason I read the obituaries. The stories are personal to me and I read them with reverence. Today I am honored by all that Krug did to protect me from the censors. I’m grateful for her being.

The internet makes obituary browsing easy. So many life stories are at my fingertips. offers a listing of newspaper obituary columns organized by state. is run by which offers extensive services including on-line tributes, bereavement support and research access.

Spamalot in Anchorage

Just go see it.

The cast is dynamic and energetic. And they can tap! The costumes range from peasant drab to psychedelic 70’s and the music is simply fun. There isn’t anything deeply moving about the production so don’t expect to come away weeping or with a brand new perspective. But it’s safe to assume you’ll come away smiling.

If you’re socially conservative, leave it at the door. If you’ve never heard of Monty Python before, you’ll still enjoy the show. If you are concerned about the ethical treatment of animals working in theatre, there aren’t any.

Ticket prices are high by the standards of most Anchoragite’s. Considering the cost of travel for a production, paying the sizable cast and crew, we are lucky to have Anchorage Concert Association to bring quality shows to our city. You might consider the ticket price an investment not only in this production but also in the future of theatre in Anchorage.

Note: I am not being paid by the producers of Spamalot, Anchorage Concert Association or and affiliates thereof.

Thank you to the cast of Spamalot for their energy and quality talent. Each member seemed to be fully enjoying themselves, giving their character a full life, no matter how silly it might be. There is no greater gift an actor can give to an audience. And all we can give in return is applause.

More information at the Anchorage Concert Association; tickets for sale through Centertix.

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