Archive for the ‘Inspirational’ Category

Zamperini and Me (Repost)

Monday, December 22nd, 2014

Louis Zamperini and his Middle Finger to Der FuehrerThis guy’s story beats the holidays, so here’s a rerun from August. 

Seriously, shoot me if I ever name-drop – except this once…

“Zamperini and Me” is simple to explain; the late Louis Zamperini had been my neighbor.

I didn’t know he was my neighbor until we were introduced through a mutual friend, Dena, who’d petered out beneath a big tree while jogging one day. A chainsaw firing up above her head caused her to spaz and discover a then 90-year-old Louis Zamperini, 15 feet up and clinging to branches. He guided the saw through a thick limb and only took notice of her when it fell at her feet. Or so she thought.

“Hello!” he shouted, repositioning himself to see her better.

“Hi!” she answered. “Need any help?”

“Nahh, been doing this since I bought the place, thanks. Besides, young lady, you need to keep running. Your form could improve.”

What Dena didn’t know at the time is that she’d just received constructive criticism from a famed Olympic medalist, a veteran of the men’s 5000 meter race. Apparently he’d watched her motor all the way up the hill. Dena’s a tough chick, but her asthmatic breathing must’ve reminded him of how his plane sounded when it was nosediving into the Pacific.

Nevertheless, the man climbed down to meet his match (Dena’s a short, hugely stubborn Italian too), and the two hit it off. Before long, they were enjoying tea while the sunset’s glow reached Zamperini’s collection of Olympic torches in the living room of his Hollywood hillside post-and-beam home.

Now, I’m already convinced that Dena’s soul is on loan from WWII infantryman turned B-movie filmmaker Sam Fuller, but she was really on fire after that. “You’ve got to meet Louis,” I heard again and again. “He’s so great and his story is incredible. You’ll really like him.”

Ha! I didn’t know the half of it. (more…)

Fitness & Stuff with Jimmy

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

I abhor the pretend comfort of gyms. My alternative is much worse. 

PLENTY OF CLOWNS TO MAKE THE ROUNDSWeekday mornings, my wife and I are up at 5:50, wishing we could hide behind our excuses. Our destination is a nearby gymnastics academy, where we attend workout classes that are held before the facility opens for training. The hour-long sessions are similar to those at other fitness bootcamps, yet ours seems to lack an expectation of polite behavior – and that works for us just fine. We sneer at the uniformity, the schadenfreude, and the peacockish know-nothings that inhabit the world of franchise fitness.

Kooks of a different stripe are the smart-asses our alternate choice tends to attract. We get misfits, irregulars, and the godless.

Fitness buzzwords and cheerful slogans don’t get thrown around our class, but insults, gripes, and taunts certainly do. Some of us do manage to refrain from using the word “retard,” which is interesting, because as ethnically, culturally, and socially diverse as we are, it’s the only taboo word no one seems willing to reconsider. And nothing beats “fatso” for the most commonly heard.

And it’s still better than a gym membership. (more…)

Zamperini and Me

Monday, August 4th, 2014

"During the Olympics, I tore Hitler's swastika flag off the Reich Chancellery. I thought, 'Boy, what souvenir!'"

Seriously, shoot me if I ever name-drop –– except this once…

“Zamperini and Me” is simple to explain; the late Louis Zamperini had been my neighbor.

I didn’t know he was my neighbor until we were introduced through a mutual friend, Dena, who’d petered out beneath a big tree while jogging one day. A chainsaw firing up above her head caused her to spaz and discover a then 90-year-old Louis Zamperini, 15 feet up and clinging to branches. He guided the saw through a thick limb and only took notice of her when it fell at her feet. Or so she thought.

“Hello!” he shouted, repositioning himself to see her better.

“Hi!” she answered. “Need any help?”

“Nahh, been doing this since I bought the place, thanks. Besides, young lady, you need to keep running. Your form could improve.”

And there it was: constructive criticism from a famed Olympic athlete, a veteran of the men’s 5000 meter race. Apparently, he’d watched her flail all the way up the hill.

He climbed down to meet an equal of sorts; Dena is a short, hugely stubborn Italian. The two hit it off, and before long were enjoying tea as the sunset’s glow reached Zamperini’s collection of Olympic torches in the living room of his hillside post-and-beam home.

Now, I’m already convinced that Dena’s soul is on loan from WWII infantryman turned B-movie filmmaker, Sam Fuller, but she was really on fire after that. “You’ve got to meet Louis,” I heard again and again. “He’s so great and his story is incredible. You’ll really like him.”

I didn’t know the half of it. (more…)

Finding Vivian Maier

Saturday, March 29th, 2014

Finding Vivian Maier, her story, and her posthumous public profile.

Vivian Maier_Memorializing the images of her subjectsFor those familiar with this blog, my affection for the late street photographer Vivian Maier goes deep. She was a woman who had every reason in the world to shout from the rooftops that she’d arrived, but she opted to pursue perfection and technical excellence over fame and fortune. I think one of the reasons her story resonates with people today is that Maier represents a level of dedication and personal character we don’t often see in today’s run-of-the-mill fame whores.

Classic Vivian Maier ImageA Vivian Maier selfie, for example, is an the image I can lose myself in (though I suspect she would have hated the word). Scratch that for just about everyone else on earth.

Since I first discovered early stories of Maier in April of 2011, I’ve watched and commented on the growing awareness of her legend. I’ve even goofed on the emergence of the Vivian Maier “crowd.” (I proudly include myself.)

Now, I’m pleased to report that tonight I’ll be rubbing elbows with a subset of Maier fans once again, at a screening and filmmaker Q&A of Finding Vivian Maier. If anything ridiculous jumps off I’ll update this entry, but it’s doubtful that’ll happen. Documentary types are way more tolerable and less make-believe than dopey gallery crowds anyhow. (more…)

Book of the Year Finalist

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

From secret prison journal pages to 2013 Book of the Year finalist.

indiefab-finalist-imprintThis is for you, Lotus Weinstock – thank you.

With the national dialogue on prison and sentencing reform as loud as it’s ever been in America, I couldn’t be happier that ForeWord Reviews, a quarterly trade review journal, has chosen Where Excuses Go to Die as a finalist for its annual Book of the Year awards.

The winner will be announced in June, in Vegas, at the American Library Association’s yearly pow-wow.

Among 13 other candidates in the autobiography & memoir (adult nonfiction) category, Where Excuses Go to Die is a testament to the insight, character, and generosity of education professionals and workshop instructors to whom I surrendered while incarcerated for, coincidentally enough, the armed robbery of multiple bookstores.

It doesn’t matter whether or not the book wins. What matters is that the rehabilitative methodology and milestone approach used to get my attention back then remains the primary takeaway in any discussion of the book’s merits. (more…)

Cops and Cathedrals – Part I

Sunday, December 8th, 2013

For me, really embracing Detroit means being a wreckage dork first

Downtown Detroit Lives_©Where Excuses Go to DieI’m in Detroit this week and have assorted free days to leave the safe confines of my host’s Grosse Pointe neighborhood for Mad Max Island, aka downtown.

I’m sitting at a table with coffee now, preparing  for the 21º weather and listening to police scanner feeds covering Wayne County, which itself is like sticking my hand into a bucket of ice water before it’s poured over my head.

Off Waverly Street, a policewoman reports, a fight between two women has just ended with one holding the other’s hand in a car door and breaking it. A suicidal man is offering to kill himself, but through police observations from across the street, he has a severely autistic adult in tow who is resolutely unwilling to step away.

“Daughter is threatening mother with a gun over a check” crackles over the air, followed by an officer in another location answering a call involving “a group of people” attempting to “force their way into a home” where workers are inside. Aside from that literal siege, a mile away, an actual home invasion is announced as being “in progress.” (more…)

Murderers Are His Life

Monday, September 2nd, 2013

Writing teachers are neurotic candy-asses. Not David Scott Milton

“All writing is re-writing.” Yeah, try telling that to someone who last wrote in blood.

DSMAuthor and playwright David Scott Milton spent 13 years teaching creative writing at CCI, a “SuperMax” prison in Tehachapi, California. “Tehachapi,” as the facility itself is better known, has seemingly been around forever. It was built for inmates refusing to live by regular prison rules, murderers serving lengthy sentences, and men assigned to extreme isolation in high-security units, a.k.a. the controversial S.H.U. programs making headlines today.

Milton’s average Tehachapi class consisted of 15 to 20 lifers, most in for murder. I met him after he’d been hired to teach one of his classes about 80 miles north, on the Level III Yard at Wasco State Prison. By then, David Scott Milton was a veteran prison educator familiar with every risk, procedure, and personal reward his job could entail.

First off, for all the prominence of literacy and its rehabilitative powers, which we assume exists behind bars, you’d think creative writing courses would be better attended. They’re not. Though the power to save lives endures in the written word, a lot of the fellas incorrectly assume writing credentials come with the territory.

Yet you don’t learn to write in a prison writing class: you learn why it’s important to fight for the time to write, which sounds funny considering inmates are supposed to have nothing but time. But if there’s one thing true about prison, it’s that it’s one upended Hollywood cliché after the next. (more…)

Elmore Leonard R.I.P.

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

The height of irony was devouring Elmore Leonard novels in prison.

Mister Millimeter Will See You Now If prisons produce better criminals, I was lucky to come out merely more sarcastic than when I went in. Elmore Leonard helped me get there – and taught me that exclamation points are worse than all the plagues in the Bible.

My family was, and still is, rather incisive, so when it came to the discovery of certain writers, I found authenticity in those who trafficked in quick comebacks and smartass remarks. Under the noses of bitchy nuns, schoolmate Chuck Miller and I traded copies of Don Pendleton’s pulp war-on-the-Mafia series, The Executioner. Pendleton’s stories were blunt and read similarly to how movies like The French Connection, The Seven-Ups, and The Friends of Eddie Coyle felt.

We were just kids then, gaining access to all this stuff through older brothers and neighborhood teenagers. Little did I know what Elmore Leonard would have in store for me. Compared to him, Don Pendleton might as well have been script-writer for Dragnet. Still, though Leonard would be the author to show me a celebration of the criminal spirit, I didn’t discover his novels until I myself was behind bars.

Reading Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment just prior to being sentenced was a philosophical turning point, the likes of which I hadn’t previously experienced. Devouring Leonard’s Maximum Bob while trying to drown out the sounds of cellblock idiocy was an comparable epiphany. Leonard’s criminals were very similar to those with whom I was housed: sarcastic, daring, flamboyant, smart, haphazard, mean, self-sabotaging, and double-crossing. They spoke of pistol-whipping, bad lawyers, booze, payoffs to cops, drive-bys, finders-keepers, knife fights, knife fights with women, snitches (both living and “dealt with”), hustling cash like there’s no tomorrow, and detectives, detectives, detectives! They were giant, fat, tired, old, young, short, stupid, one-armed, covered in ink, loud, and witty.  (more…)

New ‘Where Excuses Go to Die’ Chapter Excerpt

Monday, June 17th, 2013

Good Men Project cracks the spine of Where Excuses Go to Die

AMXAs of today, there are three publicly available chapters excerpted from Where Excuses Go to Die. Two are located here, and the latest, over at The Good Men Project, where I’ve been invited to contribute.

If you’re interested in getting air-dropped right into “Big Forehead” Ernie’s world of interstate Grand Theft Auto, check out:

 

(more…)

Over Her Dead Body

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

No way was photographer Vivian Maier gonna go out on top.

All images © Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection
All Images © Vivian Maier:Maloof Collection_Thank you from Where Excuses Go to Die

For those unfamiliar with the Vivian Maier story, it’s a simple one that never changes. Vivian was a professional nanny who, in her off time, wandered around bad neighborhoods and metropolises snapping pictures of just about everyone from derelicts to fashionable women, cops, and lots of kids. Before she died in a Chicago nursing home in 2009, Maier had amassed over 120,000 images of strangers in streets, slums, and shadows. An extremely secretive woman, she never shared her activities, travels abroad, or any of her photos. With anyone. Not in fifty years of practicing street photography.

All Images © Vivian Maier:Maloof Collection_Thank you from Where Excuses Go to Die8At the time of her passing, Maier was in possession of none of her work – not a single negative. This is to say, reel after reel of 8 and 16 mm film; personal writings and cassette tapes containing her voice recordings; personal observations on you-name-it; and seven hundred rolls of undeveloped color film. In 2007, it all had been forfeited to a storage company due to unpaid fees, for Vivian had begun this century almost destitute. She was powerless to stop the contents of the unit from being sold to a Chicago auction firm.

To those who knew her, or thought they did (namely, the grown children she’d cared for), she was a recluse, a hoarder, and a peculiar spirit. But to the many who now consider her one of the most prolific and talented street photographers in the history of the medium, she is an ambiguous monolith of isolation, genius, and resolve.  (more…)