Friday, August 31, 2007

Still-burning Man: Arson is easy, burning is hard

Burning Man is a lot of things to a lot of people, but at its core, it's a celebration of "radical self-expression." That basically means you can do anything you want as long as it doesn't hurt somebody else ... and we'll call it self-expression to the max, dude.

Well, now somebody has burned The Man down four days before he was officially set to go up in smoke, and somebody else has committed suicide (which onlookers believed was performance art ... and maybe it was.)

In a festival famous for its lack of rules, how can anybody get mad at a guy (pictured at right) for expressing himself by setting a fire that they themselves were going to set a few days later? How ironic is it that somebody is charged with arson at a gathering of people who come to see ... a fire?

I attended Burning Man 2001, crawling out of Nevada's Black Rock Desert just a few days before Sept. 11, when Osama expressed himself to the world three great burning images. My view of "radical self-expression" slipped a loop, like a broken filmstrip that melts and burns on the screen.

As I described it then, Burning Man is Salvador Dali meets Mad Max, as told to Dante. It allows participants to live the lives they think they'd should live but can't in the "real" world. It makes only one rule: "No observers" -- meaning, everyone must participate in this radical experiment in community.

Well, at least two people participated, and I'll be interested to see how the Burning Man community reacts to their particular forms of self-expression.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Blog of Small Things
If you seek nothing, the Internet has it

Have you ever gone to a garage sale and found one tiny thing that you never knew existed ... and had to buy it?

To me, that's how it feels to surf around the blogosphere and stumble upon little blog-gems on topics that have turned life's smallest things into years-long conversations.

At The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks, Bethany Keeley has been "making fun of bad punctuation since 2005." And as her title suggests, the blog is mostly a compendium of photos and "snarks" about signs she and her readers have found that overuse quotation marks.

At PassiveAggressiveNotes.com, you'll find a most awesome collection of emails, bathroom scrawls, Post-It notes, window signs and assorted notes left by co-workers, neighbors and friends. I like the one that says: "P.S. Text me at work if you want to talk."

At Literally, a Web Log, Patrick Fitzgerald and Amber Rhea literally track one of Earth's most threatening developments: Misuse of the word "literally." They explain: "Misuse of the word 'literally' gets my blood boiling (no, not literally). It started as a nit-picking distraction, grew to a frustrating obsession, and finally resulted in the creation of this blog."

At Lower Case L, you'll find sundry rants against the use of the lower-case L -- which confusingly looks like an upper-case I when handwritten.

The blogmeister at Why A Tittle? -- besides being a punster who likes old football players -- laments the use of the dot on the "i" in public signage (that dot is called a "tittle.") "For some years now I've had a mild obsession with bad lettering on signs," says the blogger who created it. "This blog is dedicated to documenting the common practice of dotting "i"s incorrectly on signs made up of mostly or all uppercase letters."

Help me collect some of these blogs at the tail-end of the Internet. If you find one of these "micro-topic" blogs, please share its link with us!


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Words from the Wise:
First-graders offer survival tips to kindergartners

Youngsters often look to older, wiser people for advice ... except when they don't. Questions naturally arise when your life is about to change (and I'm not just talking about Moms.) The first day of school for a kindergartner is one of those life-changing experiences where a little advice can make the difference between a successful potty run and soggy SpongeBob underpants.
So first-graders at Douglas T. Orchard Elementary in Salt Lake City offered a little sage counsel to the new class of kindergartners this week. Among the guidance they offered:

g "Outline the picture first, then color it inside."

g "Put antibacterial on your hands so you don't get germs on your snack."

g "Here's how to make friends: Say, 'Do you want to be my friend?'"

g "Don't be afraid of your teacher. The teacher is always nice. If you don't know how to go to the bathroom, ask your teacher or kids. They can really teach you."

g "Work on getting friends on the first day of school. It doesn't matter how you dress."

g "Don't be nervous ... Your parents will come back and pick you up after school."


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Simpsonize me, baby!

Have you ever wondered what you might look like if you were a character on "The Simpsons"?

Of course you haven't. You're reasonably sane.

But if you go to SimpsonizeMe.com, you can find out! There, you can turn a real photo of yourself into a Simpsons character -- and pray you won't look like Moe or Krusty. Burger King created the site to shamelessly promote the new Simpsons Movie by helping you turn yourself into a Matt Groening masterpiece.

So I went there and this is what the computer generated. I'm thinking about using this new likeness of me for my blog logo. Whaddya think?

Monday, August 27, 2007

Save time ... groan now

A New Jersey woman named Torre came to the aid of a chicken being tortured by three men in a Hoboken park last weekend.

Does that make her ... Chicken-catcher Torre?

Friday, August 24, 2007

News Cruise: Everything you need to know today

The trend toward brevity in the newspaper business is getting so ridiculous, pretty soon they'll be giving a Pulitzer Prize for Best Verb. But since Americans don't like to read anyway, maybe it's best that we just give the headlines and that'll be enough, right? (For some, it'll be too much.)

So here's everything you need to know today, but just the headlines:

"Big Mac turns 40 today ... thousands die"

"George Wallace's would-be assassin gets out of jail ... Wallace still dead"

"UK prison guards must knock before entering cells ... inmates only want respect"

"Oops! China hunts for 'missing' 17 pounds of uranium ... gets 'warmer' near Pakistan"

"U.S. bombs Brits in Afghanistan ... when you have friends like us, who needs the Taliban?"

"Nicole Richie does hard time ... in 82 minutes"

"Hey, Mom, my Xbox is smoking"

"[FILL IN THE BLANK] is still a mess"
A. Iraq
B. Lindsey Lohan
C. Amy Winehouse
D. The White House
E. Michael Vick
F. Afghanistan
G. General Motors
H. The justice system
I. Saturday Night Live
J. Utah coal mining
K. Darfur
L. Democratic Party
M. Reality TV

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Longest Murder:
Can it take 41 years to die from a gunshot?

On a winter night in 1966, 23-year-old rookie cop Walter Barclay (pictured at left) was shot several times as he investigated a late-night burglary at a Philadelphia beauty salon. The bullets didn't kill him, but they splintered his spine and permanently paralyzed him. Later, the burglar -- William J. Barnes -- was convicted in the shooting and sentenced to 10-to-20 years in prison.

This week, Barclay died at age 64. The coroner ruled his death a homicide because Barclay died of a urinary tract infection directly related to his paraplegia -- which was directly related to being shot by Barnes.

Barnes (pictured at right), now 71, is a career criminal who served his time for the shooting, and has been in and out of prison in the past 40 years. He was picked up yesterday at a market where he works ... right across the street from the funeral home where his victim's funeral will be later today.

Meanwhile, prosecutors are considering whether to charge Barnes with murder. Was the death a direct result of the shooting? Did shooter Barnes already pay his debt to society, or only a down payment? Can a fatal split-second decision take 41 years to unfold?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

We're a nation of non-readers

Unless you work at a library, one of every four people you see today will not have read a book in the past year.

According to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll released yesterday, Americans' fat and lazy habits extend to reading, too. The typical American claimed to have read four books in the past year -- half read more and half read fewer.

Apparently, Americans' reading habits are just more evidence of our laziness, which seems to grow boundlessly. We prefer the simplest, passive processes of information consumption, and are willing to sacrifice a little bit of imagination for the convenience. Our much-vaunted American obesity isn't just physical, but it's apparently intellectual and spiritual, too.

Who is reading ... and who is not? Nearly a third of men and a quarter of women are non-readers. They tend to be older, less educated, lower income, minorities, from rural areas and less religious.

Readers tend to include slightly more women, college graduates, and older Americans. Democrats and self-described liberals typically read slightly more books than Republicans and conservatives. Westerners and Midwesterners tend to be the most well-read; Southerners the least. But Southerners who do read tend to read more religious and romance books than everyone else. Anglos read more than blacks and Hispanics. And people who never go to church read almost twice as much as regular churchgoers.

Didn't Oprah, Amazon.com and Barnes&Noble transform America's book-reading habits? Actually, no. They merely transformed America's book-buying habits. Fact is, books remain too much work for a big portion of our wussified, slothful culture. It takes an effort (and, often, an expense) to read a book, but TV is cheaper and requires no effort. And it's becoming too much work for TV-watchers to go to the neighborhood video store, so they have their DVDs mailed to them in pre-paid return envelopes.

Publishers sold $35.7 billion in books around the world last year, 3 percent more than the previous year, according to the Book Industry Study Group. About 3.1 billion books were sold. That's one book for every two people on the planet!

Yes, more books are being sold today than ever before in history, but here in the States, it's only because Americans are so susceptible to marketing. In 50 years, John Steinbeck's "East of Eden" never sold a million copies -- until Oprah chose it for her book club. (I'm personally convinced that most of Oprah's readers never read it, and many of the rest didn't understand it.) Many of those books are being purchased and sit unread on the nightstand until they go in the garage-sale pile or to Goodwill.

Fergawdsakes, go read a book. Join Shelfari. Visit a book club. See the inside of your library (which your taxes built.) Discover the power of your imagination. If you have never read a book, post a message here or email me and I'll arrange to send you a signed copy of my first novel, Angel Fire.

Just read.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Men Strike Back: The male response to Maxine

I've got a dear friend up north who is a lovable bear of a guy. He growls and grumbles and sometimes looks like a misogynistic redneck. OK, all the time. But I know different: He's still married to the same girl whose picture he kept on his desk in college, when we were roommates, and I think she (and his daughters) have him wrapped around their little fingers.

But he sent me this, and it made me laugh. I don't belive any of this stuff (well, most of it ... ) but I love entertaining all my blogger friends!

How many men does it take to open a beer?
None. It should be opened when she brings it.
~~~~~~
Why is a laundromat a really bad place to pick up a woman?
Because a woman who can't even afford a washing machine
will probably never be able to support you.
~~~~~~
Why do women have smaller feet than men?
It's one of those "evolutionary things" that allows
them to stand closer to the kitchen sink.
~~~~~~
How do you know when a woman is
about to say something smart?
When she starts a sentence with "A man once told me..."
~~~~~~
How do you fix a woman's watch?
You don't. There is a clock on the oven.
~~~~~~
Why do men fart more than women?
Because women can't shut up long enough to
build up the required internal pressure.
~~~~~~
If your dog is barking at the back door and your wife
is yelling at the front door, who do you let in first?
The dog, of course. He'll shut up once you let him in.
~~~~~~
I married a Miss Right.
I just didn't know her first name was Always.
~~~~~~
Scientists have discovered a food that diminishes
a woman's sex drive by 90%.
It's called a Wedding Cake.
~~~~~~
Why do men die before their wives?
They want to.
~~~~~~
Will women ever be equal to men?
Not until they can walk down the street with a
bald head and a beer-gut, and still think they are sexy.
~~~~~~
In the beginning, God created the earth and rested.
Then God created Man and rested.
Then God created Woman.
Since then, neither God nor Man has rested.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Glamping: Wussies in the wild

I grew up in Wyoming, which is one of those big square states out West. In Wyoming, wild animals outnumber people by about 100-to-1, and that's part of its beauty. Within about a half hour from any Wyoming municipality, you can set up a tent in relative wilderness, not within a mile of any other human being. You can sleep under a billion stars and freeze your butt ... all in mid-July. And when Nature calls, you have the whole forest to yourself.

But for some folks, "roughing it" means the personal chef is off, the valet is a minute late with the car, and the maid missed a dust bunny in the corner. These are the kind of people who never ate a trout sauteed in cheap butter in a cast-iron skillet over an open fire ... and never will. They'll never swim in a "dirty" mountain stream unless the cabana boy skims it first.

Nonetheless, those folks like to get outside every so often. And when they do, they are likely to go "glamping" -- the wussy word for "glamorous camping." And, of course, where there's a million dollars, there's a way.

Many luxury "camps" have sprouted up, like Paws Up in Montana, profiled in part in the LA Times this weekend. They feature posh accommodations that run as high as $3,460 a night, but really adventurous richies can sleep in a tent for only $595 a night (plus $110 if you want food.) One of Paws Up's tents is pictured here.

"It's OK to be spoiled, it really is," one glamper told the Times' reporter. "It's nature on a silver platter."

Lord help us. I bet they don't even wipe their bums with aspen leaves.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Dean of Hurricanes: Threading the needle

Hurricane Dean is lining up to "thread the needle," to shoot the Caribbean gap between Cuba and South America where it will encounter few of the land masses that sap a tropical storm's energy. That means it's getting a running head-start into the Gulf of Mexico, churning and boiling ever-harder and ever-faster as it approaches.

Two years ago, I began to watch then-Tropical Storm Rita as she lined up to shoot the Florida Straits. She did, became a hurricane ... and rammed Southeast Texas. Rita's physical reverberations are still being felt today, 23 months later. The low-grade nervous fear will last a lot longer.

Dean is probably 6 days away from hitting anywhere in the western Gulf, but Southeast Texans -- who had always sniffed at approaching storms before Rita -- are already considering where they might land in an evacuation. They are playing "contraflow chess" in their minds, trying to guess which roads a couple million Houstonians will clog if they, too, evacuate in another Texodus. They are calling grandma in Texarkana, auntie in Midland and old college roommates in Tulsa. Rita was the hot stove and nobody wants to touch it again.

I wrote here two years ago that you know you live on the Gulf Coast when you don't feel the least bit guilty about hoping that a hurricane hits somebody else. It's not unneighborly, malicious or uncharitable. It's an all-too-human prayer. You simply don't want this catastrophe to be visited upon you or your neighbors. Your mind wants to see the squiggle on the weatherman's map whip a U-turn back to open water, or to simply fizzle out over open water. Anywhere but here.

Once you've huddled in the humid dark beneath a growling storm that is ripping your roof out by its roots, you never want to turn off the lights again. Once you've come home to find a 100-foot pine sliced through your living room -- and another through your bedroom -- you never want such a homecoming again. Once you've spent two year wrangling with insurance agents and roofers, you cannot imagine wasting another two years of your life in such a frustratingly endless loop.

Yet, here comes Dean. In all likelihood, he'll miss Southeast Texas. Still, everybody is watching, hoping to see the squiggle careen elsewhere. A hot stove creates powerful memories.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Happy Deathday, Elvis!
The King is dead ... long live the King

Elvis Presley died 30 years ago today, sitting on a throne. He was no longer the star he once was and still not the mythic figure he'd become. Elvis had jumped the shark years before. Now he was just a dead guy laying on the bathroom floor with his pajamas around his ankles.

Ah, but Death does marvelous things for some people. It changes them, you know. In Elvis' case, it turned him into something more than a man and something (slightly) less than Jesus ... it gave him immortality. Death made Elvis bigger than life, even if life could never make Elvis bigger than Death.

A few years ago, I rented a cottage in rural Ireland to research a novel I was writing. On St. Patrick's Day, I visited a little pub in the tiny village of Kiltyclogher, where a guitar man from County Leitrim was playing American country songs -- they play only traditional Irish or American country music in most of those little pubs outside Dublin. St. Paddy's Day in Ireland isn't quite the Bacchanal it is in America, but it's slightly more festive than the day before and the day after.

After a few Guinnesses, I was warming up to the Irish spring night ... and to a dark-haired lassie ... when the guitar man started playing Elvis songs. The whole pub came awake and began to dance. I took my lassie out to the postage stamp-sized area where we jostled with everyone else and I began my best hip-swiveling, knee-cracking imitation of The King. The younger King.

The song ended and we went back to our snug where a little old Irish lady -- perhaps 90 -- reached her gnarled hand out to me. I took it and she smiled.

"That was brilliant," she said. "Just brilliant."

No, it wasn't really. It was merely evidence that Elvis' spirit is everywhere. Even the tiny village of Kiltyclogher.

(Maybe on the 40th anniversary of Elvis' death, I'll tell you how my Elvis-obsessed sister once got chased out of Graceland by security guards.)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Quote of the day: The tears of a clown

Disclaimer: We don't make this stuff up. All content on this site is provided on an as-is basis and no statement should be relied upon as fact without independent investigation on your part to sufficiently satisfy yourself it is true, but as far as we know, it's true and we're mildly offended that you'd think otherwise. By accessing Under the News content you hereby agree not to sue Under the News for its content, whether original or linked to or quoted from another source, in any court or by any legal procedure, on any grounds in law or equity whatsoever. Just get over it. These terms of use are subject to change and may be reviewed as often as we like. So there. But really, we just want you to know, we don't make this stuff up.

A clown named Barney Baloney has been ordered to stop using latex balloons because kids might be allergic to the stuff. This pisses off the clown, who tells his local newspaper:

"This country is going crazy with its political correctness
and health and safety issues and it's
making us a laughingstock."

When's the last time you heard a clown complain about being a laughingstock?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

'Buddy Holly Story' & 'La Bamba' and...
Will the Big Bopper finally get his movie?

Eighteen years after the frozen, shattered corpses of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper were found strewn around their plane's wreckage in an Iowa cornfield in 1959, somebody made a movie that ended with rock's first tragedy.

And 9 years after that, Hollywood made another. Same ending.

But while Death treated them all with cold fairness, Hollywood (not to mention the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) hasn't been as equitable to the Bopper. While a clownish J.P. Richardson character appeared briefly in both "The Buddy Holly Story" (1978) and "La Bamba" (1987), nobody ever made a movie about the Beaumont deejay who would write more No. 1 songs than Holly and foretold a day when individual songs would be performed on film. He called them "music videos."

Now, the Bopper's son and a Houston screenwriter will co-produce an independent biopic about Richardson, focusing on the pop star's meteoric career ... and the turbulence his death caused for his family.

And according to Johnette Duff, who wrote "The Day The Music Died," it won't follow the classic mold of the earlier films: young man wants to make music, finds success, dies tragically, fade to black.


"Anyone who ever had a parent could relate to this story of wanting to know where you came from and how that impacts where you are going," Duff said this week. "I saw the movie as a dual journey: both father and son trying to find their home in the world."

For many, the Bopper was always "that other guy" who died with Holly and Valens. To others, he was merely a novelty act - hardly the influential musician that Holly was, or the cultural symbol that Valens was.

While everyone else on the fateful Winter Dance Party Tour - Holly, Valens and Dion and the Belmonts - has been inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame, the Bopper has not.

And until his coffin was exhumed and his remains examined by a world renowned forensic pathologist last March, Richardson had been all but forgotten, even in his hometown.
And that always grated on his son, Jay P. Richardson, who was born 84 days after his dad died and often performs his father's songs in a popular tribute act. He'll co-produce "The Day the Music Died."

"Jay is the heart and soul of this film, no question," Duff said. "I see the same wit and huge heart in him that I see in his dad's music. Jape [J.P. Richardson's nickname] wrote some lovely ballads and had a great voice - this movie will introduce a new generation to his music and some unknown songs to those who already appreciate him. I would like this project to open the world and Beaumont's eyes to a talented native son who hasn't been given his due.

"He was a music visionary who would have had a huge impact on the music business if he had lived."

No actors, director or cinematographer have been hired. Many locations are still being scouted in Beaumont and Houston, but Duff said filming should start in October and end in January at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, where the singers gave their last show. And investment in the $2.4 million picture is still trickling in.

Duff, a fortysomething lawyer who also teachers screenwriting, has no production credits, but has plenty of scripts under her belt. She was approached by a friend of Jay Richardson last spring shortly after the Bopper was exhumed and son Jay's emotional journey to "meet" his dad had ended.

And their stories will be entwined in the film.

"(The Bopper's) life is told through his music and the second-hand memories of a son born after his death," Duff said. "The son's search for the truth of the man who was both his father and a world-famous entertainer takes him down a long road to finally meet his father face-to-face, finding his own identity along the way."

The story hasn't yet been embraced in Hollywood, Duff said. One producer even wondered out loud if she could kill the son in a plane crash like his famous father. But Duff and Richardson can't wait on Hollywood's glacial processes when the 50th anniversary of the crash is less than two years away. So they're producing it independently, which offers more speed, control and creativity.

Still, audiences already know the ending of this story. They've seen it in two prior films, and it's part of rock 'n' roll lore. No matter how creative she might be, Duff can't rewrite the final scenes in the Bopper's short life. But if she could change the ending, what would she write?

"That he lived to make more music and make the world a better place," Duff said. "What a legacy 'Chantilly Lace' is, with its mixture of innocence and naughtiness - he was timeless."

See the Big Bopper sing 'Chantilly Lace'

This story first appeared in the Beaumont Enterprise 8/12/2007

Monday, August 13, 2007

Texas to execute No. 400: What took so long?

Sometime this month, Texas will execute its 400th killer since 1982, when it resumed executions. Five Death Row inmates are scheduled to die in August, and that's OK by me.

Now, depending on your view of capital punishment, 400 dead men walking might seem like a senseless massacre or merely a good start. The second most aggressive state, Virginia, has "only" executed 98.

A lot of folks will get their panties in a bunch about this milestone, but I wonder: How many Texas victims of murders and capital rape could be counted in that same 25 years? More than 400? Easily. Who will be outraged for them?

A news report by Reuters (following on a similar PBS report) chalks up Texas' Death Row sensibilities to the state's huge population of evangelical Christians, a legacy of racism, and its Southern and Old West roots, "with a cowboy sense of rough justice."

It also reports that 41% of Texas' Death Row population is black, even though the state is only 12% black. The article does not report, however, the percentage of black population where the condemned inmates' murders and rapes happened, nor whether accused whites, Asians and Hispanics really have higher rates of dismissed cases or not-guilty verdicts. Didn't the myth that race played a superseding role in murder prosecutions end with O.J. and Clara Harris?


Every so often, a killing comes along that must certainly challenge the beliefs of the most die-hard death-penalty opponents. If not, please make a case for the rehabilitation of the two thugs who invaded, robbed, raped and killed a Connecticut doctor's family -- then burned down their house. Or Paul Hill, who gleefully admitted killing an abortion doctor and, shortly before his 2003 execution, said if he were free, he'd kill more.

My feelings about executions are deep-seated and I make no apologies. In 1973, I was 16 when two thugs randomly abducted two young girls who lived next door to me, terrorized them through the night, raped one and dumped them alive from a 12-story bridge into a rocky, remote canyon. Miraculously, one lived, and she identified the killers. They were sentenced to die, but in the national spasm of debate over the death penalty, their death sentences were commuted to life ... with the possibility of parole.

That possibility so obsessed the survivor of their crime that her life cratered. She went back to that same bridge 19 years later and leaped to her death. One of the killers died in prison in 1998, but the other, now age 60, survives today and still hopes to be paroled in the near future. Who will speak for my friend when it comes time to deny his parole?

It's all laid out in my new book, "FALL: The Rape and Murder of Innocence in a Small Town."

I believe executions have a deterrent effect. I don't know about other would-be murderers, but nothing stops a killer from doing it again like a lethal injection. Plus, I don't kid myself about retribution. A 2006 Gallup poll showed that 67 percent of Americans favored the death penalty, 28 percent opposed it, and 5 percent had no opinion ... who has no opinion about killing another person?

I have an opinion. We made a promise to my friends' killers, to Ted Bundy, to John Wayne Gacy, to the more than 3,300 inmates now on America's Death Rows. Those promises should be kept. At least Texas is doing its part.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Hidden Headlines of Texas:
Believe everything you read in your paper

By all accounts, G.W. Davis was a solid citizen in life, but in death, he was apparently as solid as they come.

Back in 1900, the Beaumont railroad mechanic’s kidneys failed and he died at age 46. He was temporarily buried in Magnolia Cemetery while the family hunted for a permanent grave.

Three months later, when they dug him up, they found his corpse had mysteriously turned hard as stone. His own son described petrified dad as being “as solid as marble.”

In the next few weeks, Davis’ widow rebuffed several cash offers for her husband’s rocky remains, including one for $4,000 – that’s more than $93,000 today. Then she had a brainstorm: If her husband’s stone-faced carcass was so valuable, why not just bring him home where she could keep an eye on her investment?

But when the family dug him up again, he was gone. Maybe his hardened body was snatched … or maybe he just felt he was being taken for granite.

And in 2007, he’s apparently still gone.

The disappearance of the late G.W. Davis is just one of about 300 odd stories literally ripped from the headlines of Texas newspapers between 1860 and 1910 by Chad Lewis, author of the new book, “Hidden Headlines of Texas.”

Among the Southeast Texas stories retold in the book is the tale of “Baby Jim” Simmons, a 750-pound Beaumont man who might have been the world’s biggest man in 1907. As the genial Simmons traveled with a huckster circus promoter, gawkers were allowed to come aboard the train (for a small fee) to see a morbidly obese man that a Dallas reporter coarsely labeled “the mastodon” and “the monster.”

In all, Lewis reprints four stories with Southeast Texas roots, including the news of a mysterious 1902 oil gusher near Beaumont that nobody could explain, and an outbreak of bizarre coincidences on one day in 1897 Orange.

But those are tame stories compared to historic reports of a 40-foot tapeworm uncoiled from a Hillsboro toddler’s innards; the Denison “cemetery” where only the amputated legs, fingers and hands of injured railroaders were buried; and the San Antonio locksmith who built his own iron coffin … then grew too fat to fit in it.

Quirkiness comes easy for Lewis. The Wisconsin ghost-hunter has written a series of travel guides for ghost buffs and hosts a radio and TV program called “The Unexplained.”

“Hidden Headlines” is broken into several chapters, such as “Medical Anomalies,” “Peculiar People,” and “Bizarre Deaths.” It’s filled with verbatim newspaper stories about people rising from the dead, various freaks and mutants, extraordinary discoveries, and sundry hauntings.

“I have simply presented them to you exactly the way you would have read them on the day they were printed,” Lewis says.

He warns his readers that he doesn’t necessarily believe all the actually published stories he collected, mostly from the Dallas Morning News, but they reflect century-old rhythms and sensibilities.

“These Texas stories will provide you a glimpse of the state in its simpler, slower-paced, much weirder past,” Lewis writes.

And, oh, if you also happen to get a glimpse of well-preserved G.W. Davis around Beaumont, tell him we’re still looking for him.

Originally published in the Beaumont Enterprise 8/10/2007

Thursday, August 09, 2007

UPDATE: Texas Redneck Games rankled locals

Gittin' 'er done and gittin' down an' dirty at Texas Redneck Games
(Nicole Fruge / San Antonio Express-News)

The Texas Redneck Games seemed like a real hoot, but now local authorities are grumbling that the rowdy event was bigger and badder than they expected. as a result, the organizer might face some minor charges relating to crowd control.

Some of them thar muckety-mucks up yonder in Henderson County gots they panties in a bunch 'cuz some of them 8,000 rednecks was drinking beers and speeding around on they ATVs and showing they boobs and pickin' fights and such. Shoot, my Granny coulda told 'em that was gonna happen.

But all the disgruntlement is worth it, if only so we can hear a redneck sheriff's deputy say this:

"They called these people rednecks. I'm from East Texas and I know rednecks. Personally I'm having trouble distinguishing the rednecks from the white trash."

What's the dang difference?



When life imitates art imitating life imitating art

In a true story that would make a great plot for a novel that was about a true story, a Polish mystery writer is facing murder charges for allegedly committing the real torture-murder that he fictionalized in his grotesque best-seller "Amok" (pictured at left).

My head hurts already.

When cops realized that the murder described in author Krystian Bala's novel matched the actual facts of a grisly murder in Wroclaw, Poland, they busted the author. The author, claiming he merely used newspaper accounts of the killing to write his story, passed a lie detector test and was actually halfway around the world at the time of the murder. But investigators found that the victim had been involved with Bala's estranged wife, and that Bala himself had sold a cell phone exactly like the victim's missing phone four days after the crime.

Even better, the lead investigator is a detective named Jacek Wroblewski. Can you just see the the book-jacket now: "A Jacek Wroblewski Mystery." That's better than Stephanie Plum!

Now this whole life-art-life puzzle would make a great book, wouldn't it? A novelist writes about another novelist who might have committed a murder and then fictionalized it. Then somebody could tell the story of how it happened, and it would be an author writing about a novelist who write about another novelist who might have committed a murder and then fictionalized it.

My head still hurts.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Why do you read true-crime books?

Who reads true crime books?

That's a pretty important question to true-crime authors (and their editors), who should know their audiences intimately. But what do we really know about the typical true-crime reader?

Well, the one of most startling facts to me is that the typical true-crime reader is a woman. What, you thought bloody crime stories were only male territory? I did ... until I wrote one. In fact, the number of female true-crime readers is said to exceed the 60% of general female readership of all books (although probably somewhat less than the 99% female readership of romances.)

The numbers hold true in reader responses about my true crime/memoir FALL. Easily 2 of every 3 letter-writers and readers at a signing or other book events are women. True, it's a story about a crime against two young women, randomly chosen and brutally terrorized by a couple of male thugs ... talk about most women's worst nightmare. But I never saw it as a "women's book." Why are women drawn in greater numbers to such stories?

"I know I am in the right career when I hear from women who feel their lives have been saved by something they read in one of my books," true-crime queen Ann Rule says.

Somebody has probably studied this phenomenon, but I'd prefer to hear from real readers -- especially women -- why they are drawn to true-crime stories.

So ... why do you read true-crime? What fascinates you about the genre?


Tuesday, August 07, 2007

You can own Woodstock
Max Yasgur's farm for sale

Yasgur's farm, site of the Woodstock Festival, can be yours for only $8 million

The farm that hosted the most famous rock festival of all time, Woodstock, is for sale ... although you won't be able to buy the actual field where the music came alive in 1969.

Max Yasgur's old 103-acre farm near Bethel, N.Y., is on the block for $8 million. The parcel includes Max's original 2,000-square-foot farmhouse, a 5,000-square-foot home and a huge barn. The field where it happened already belong to the Bethel Center for the Arts and isn't for sale.

Now, what would you do with such a rock 'n' roll relic? Invite Country Joe and the Fish for drinks? Spread the rumor that the farmhouse is haunted by the ghosts of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jerry Garcia and Keith Moon? Set up a soy and granola stand out by the road? Hire the guys from Sha-Na-Na to shovel cow manure? Ask Joe Cocker to come in through the bathroom window?

As much as I'd love to share a bottle of wine with Grace Slick on the porch, if I had $8 million to spend on a rock souvenir (or a jet or an island or a small African country), I might pick Graceland.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Texas Redneck Games: Y'all win!

Blake Harris was disqualified from the Mud-Pit Belly-Buster event because
he used his hands to protect his gut (Nicole Fruge/San Antonio Express-News)

You might be a redneck ... if you spend your weekend in Athens, Texas, with about 7,000 other people who might be rednecks, competing in such events as the Coeducational Butt-crack Contest, Spam-Eating, bobbing in soup for animal parts, and tossing a mattress out of a trailer.

Them are the Texas Redneck Games, and they happened last weekend at the 3,000-acre Pool Ranch in northeast Texas. Throw in some four-wheelin' and some wet T-shirts, and you got yerself a hoedown.

At the Spam-scarfing event, there was one important rule to remember: ""If you get sick and you can put it back in your mouth before it hits the table, you don't lose points."

Can you toss a toilet seat onto a spike? Yes? If you can build a three-bedroom double-wide with duct tape and spackle, if your dark roots are at least three inches long, and if you think Genitalia is an Italian airline, Lordy, this here festival is fer you'uns.

SEE UPDATE HERE

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Love it or leave it, eh?

Some disgruntled Americans -- 10,942 of them last year -- are choosing to leave America and go to Canada rather than love it, according to a new study. And that's the biggest U.S.-to-Canada emigration since the Vietnam War, back when illegal immigration was somebody else's problem.

Why are they going? Most are fed up with George Bush, the Iraq War and are just afraid that America is no longer a safe place to insult a Muslim, the researchers report. Plus, you get cheaper health care.

But before you get too excited, there's a flip-side (there's always a flip-side): Last year, 23,913 Canadians moved to the USA, more than twice as many going the other way. Presumably, most are fed up with cheaper health care.

ɹǝʇsɐʍ-ǝɯıʇ snoıpo ʎllɐʇoʇ ɐ

˙ǝɹǝɥ oƃ ¿ʇı ʎɹʇ oʇ ʇuɐʍ

˙pıp ı ʎɐs oʇ ǝɹǝɥ ʇı ƃuıop ʇsnɾ ɯ,ı os 'uʍop-ǝpısdn ǝʇıɹʍ oʇ ǝɯ ǝɹınbǝɹ plnoʍ ʇɐɥʇ ƃuıɥʇʎuɐ ɟo ʞuıɥʇ ʎllɐǝɹ ʇ,uɐɔ ı ʇnq

˙uʍop ǝpısdn ǝʇıɹʍ plnoʍ ʇɐɥʇ suǝd pǝʇuǝʌuı ɐsɐu puɐ ˙llıʞs ǝlqɐʞuɐq ɐ sɐɥ sʇuǝɯnɔop uʍop-ǝpısdn pɐǝɹ uɐɔ oɥʍ ʇsılɐuɹnoɾ ɐ puɐ uʍop-ǝpısdn sʞooq ʍǝɟ ɐ pǝuƃıs ɹǝuʞlnɐɟ ɯɐıllıʍ ʇɐɥʇ ploʇ ɯ,ı ˙ɹǝɥʇıǝu ǝɯ ¿uʍop-ǝpısdn ƃuıɥʇǝɯos ǝʇıɹʍ oʇ pǝǝu ɐ pɐɥ ɹǝʌǝ noʎ ǝʌɐɥ