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Archive for April, 2014

Oklahoma, already recognized as one of the most backward states in the nation, tried to execute a guy tonight and failed.

lockett

Lockett

Tulsa TV station KJRH said the supposedly lethal drug combination that officials were using to kill 38-year-old Clayton D. Lockett didn’t work and he died of a heart attack.

But not before he “was writing on the gurney and shaking uncontrollably.”

Here’s the “execution” timeline that KJRH reported:

6:23 p.m. – The injection process begins. Lockett has heavy, slow blinks, laid still.

6:29 p.m. – Consistently closed his eyes.

6:30 p.m. – First check of consciousness; still conscious.

6:33 p.m. – Announced Lockett was officially unconscious.

6:34 p.m. – Lockett started to move his mouth.

6:36 p.m. – Lockett began convulsing and mumbling.

6:37 p.m. – Lockett sat up and said, “Something’s wrong.”

6:39 p.m. – Prison officials lowered the blinds.

7:06 p.m. – Lockett dies of massive heart attack.

The second part of a scheduled “doubleheader” execution was postponed, sparing 46-year-old Charles F. Warner, at least for now.

The scene of this certifiable disaster was the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester.

State corrections director Robert Patton halted the attempted execution about 20 minutes after the first drug was administered. He said there was a vein failure.

This was almost too predictable. Death-row inmates in both Missouri and Oklahoma have appealed their sentences in recent months, questioning the make-up of the drug “cocktails” being used in executions.

Nevertheless, executions in both states went forward, until tonight.

This is pathetic. Horrifying.

I don’t care what Lockett or any other death-row defendant did — Lockett was convicted of shooting a 19-year-old woman in 1999 and having her buried alive, and Warner raped and killed an 11-month old girl — we as a society do not and should not endorse the application of cruel and unusual punishment under any circumstances.

And we cannot in good conscience engage in torture, intended or unintended. (Former President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney disagree with that, of course, but then they are who they are.)

About the only good thing that this debacle will accomplish, in all likelihood, is end death penalty in most states except Texas, where, I fully expect, execution as spectator sport will continue unabated.

Before the scheduled executions in Oklahoma, corrections department spokesman Jerry Massie told reporters that the state had never used the drug cocktail that was to be used in Lockett’s and Warner’s executions. As a result, he said, it was unclear how long the executions might take.

How prescient! Massie didn’t know…

Fact is, none of the Okies involved in the slaughter knew much of anything; they just plowed ahead, believing it was their official duty to put Lockett and Warner to death, however ugly that might turn out to be.

And, God, was it ugly.

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I am happy to report that longtime Kansas City Business Journal and Kansas City Star business reporter Dan Margolies will be returning to the journalistic fold on Monday as managing editor of health care coverage at local public radio station KCUR-FM.

Margolies, 61, has been out of journalism the last five years since leaving a job with Reuters in Washington D.C. Since then he has done stints in the insurance business (underwriting media insurance, primarily) and video production.

“I couldn’t be more thrilled…I’m really jazzed,” Margolies said Friday in an interview at Latte Land, 79th and State Line Road.

“I never thought the opportunity (to get back into journalism) would arise again. Here we have a news organization, KCUR, that not only is not shrinking but is expanding its news operation. That appealed to me. I had come to admire KCUR tremendously, and the chance to work with them was too good an opportunity to pass up.”

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Margolies

Margolies said he would do some on-air work but primarily would help oversee and coordinate health news coverage. The plan is for KCUR to collaborate with KCPT-TV; KHI News Service (which is affiliated with but independent of the Kansas Health Institute); possibly  KPR (Kansas Public Radio); and other “partners” to establish a solid base for regional health-news reporting.

The job developed over a period of months after Margolies met and spoke several times with a former assistant KC Star business editor, Donna Vestal, who is director of content strategy at KCUR, which is operated by the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Vestal took the lead in developing a project called Harvest Public Media, based at KCUR. It is a collaborative, public-media project that reports on agriculture in the Midwest. Funded by a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Harvest Public Media includes six regional NPR-member stations.

Margolies (pronounced mar-guh-leez) said that the “Health Care Hub” project that he will be instrumental in developing will essentially follow the Harvest Public Media template, except that the Health Care Hub will extend its reach beyond public radio stations.

“We will be trying to do with health-news reporting what Harvest Public Media has done with food, agriculture and fuel issues,” he said.

Margolies’ educational and career credentials are superior. After graduating from Shawnee Mission East High School, he went to Washington University in St. Louis, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. He then went to law school at Boston University, after which he practiced law for a few years in Kansas City and Boston.

“I decided it (practicing law) wasn’t the life for me,” he said, prompting a return to Boston University, where he got a master’s degree in journalism in a special, one-year program for people changing careers.

He had his introduction to workaday journalism at a small paper in Rhode Island, and then he returned to Kansas City to take a job in 1984 with the fledgling Kansas City Business Journal, one several business papers that were starting out under the umbrella of American City Business Journals, which has mushroomed into a nationwide network of 40 papers and websites.

He worked at the Business Journal for 15 years before taking a job with The Star in January 2000. He came on board The Star after it had significantly expanded its business coverage, in no small measure because of the Business Journal’s success.

At The Star, Margolies covered legal affairs, courts, financial matters, the media and general business stories. As part of his media coverage, Margolies wrote about significant personnel changes at The Star, including the comings and goings of publishers and top editors.

He left The Star in October 2009 to take the Reuters position, where his main assignment was to cover white-collar crime.

But it didn’t work out.

“I wasn’t all that happy with the nature of wire service reporting,” he said. “It was not a good fit.”

He returned to Kansas City and in 2010 joined some friends in a start-up insurance business called ThinkRisk. After the company was bought out, he went to work for two friends who had started a video production company called Curious Eye Productions in Parkville. Margolies was director of project development.

He stayed with Curious Eye until the KCUR opportunity emerged.

Margolies and his wife, Deborah, live in Overland Park. They have two grown sons, a grown daughter and four grandchildren.

As happy as Margolies is to be back in journalism, Kansas City area residents should be equally gratified that such an outstanding journalist will be back in the field that he was cut out for.

“I want to do something I’m enthusiastic about, passionate about, that I love,” he said.

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If you haven’t read it, I strongly recommend The Pitch’s story this week about The Kansas City Star’s decline and sagging fortunes.

Posted on The Pitch website Tuesday, the story is titled “Dimming Star: Things just get less and less bright at the city’s shrinking daily paper.”

The print edition of The Pitch is available at restaurants, coffee shops and other places where the paper is carried.

the pitchWhat used to be written off as merely an “alternative weekly,” The Pitch has been getting increasingly stronger in recent years, like many publications that have flourished in the Internet era, while the influence and power of “old media,” that is, most metropolitan dailies, have waned.

While I’m not a regular Pitch reader — still “old media,” you know — I have become familiar with at least two Pitch reporters, and both have struck me as first rate.

One is Steve Vockrodt, who did a great job of covering the campaigns for and against the proposed half-cent-sales-tax increase for translational medical research last fall. While The Star’s Mike Hendricks nipped around the edges and came in and out of the picture, Vockrodt was all over it.

The other reporter I’ve gotten to know — just by talking to him on the phone — is David Hudnall, who interviewed me for The Star story.

He spent several months developing the story, while working on other stories, too, and his exhaustive, methodical reporting paid off in a big way. He produced a seven-take piece of tremendous depth and breadth.

Among other things, the story covers 1) the sharp decline in editorial employees and the accompanying morale dropoff; 2) the McClatchy Co.’s ill-advised, almost disastrous, purchase of The Star and the other Knight Ridder papers in 2006; and 3) emerging journalistic models, such as the St. Louis Beacon. (The Beacon was founded by a former St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter and editor in 2008. Late last year, the Beacon merged with St. Louis Public Radio, which, according to Hudnall, now “rivals the declining Post-Dispatch.”)

Very interesting stuff, all seven takes of it.

…I have to give myself a little promo at this point, because one of the most striking quotes in the story came from none other than JimmyC.

It comes in the first half of the story, where Hudnall is chronicling the various ownership changes at The Star.

I’ll let Hudnall take it from there:

(The Star) hasn’t been locally owned since 1977, when it was sold to New York–based Capital Cities Communications, which later merged with Disney, which in 1997 sold the Star to Knight Ridder. In June 2006, Knight Ridder sold the Star, along with 20 other newspapers, to the McClatchy Co., a Sacramento-based newspaper chain, for $6.5 billion. After the sale, McClatchy CEO Gary Pruitt came to Kansas City to give a customary newsroom pep talk.

“He’s standing up behind this podium, giving this big spiel about how great of a purchase it was,” says Jim Fitzpatrick, a former Star bureau chief in Wyandotte and Johnson counties, who was with the paper for 36 years. “When in fact McClatchy had bought all these papers at the exact wrong time and had taken on all this debt to do so. The previous few years with Knight Ridder had been pretty rough — lots of buyouts and layoffs. So I raised my hand and asked if he was planning any buyouts. He just laughed and said they were planning on expanding, not contracting. I just remember thinking, ‘How the fuck am I gonna get out of here?'” (Fitzpatrick retired later that year.)

…Actually, I was a little shocked to read my own four-letter-word quote. I didn’t specifically remember saying that, but I’m sure I did because I was rambling along pretty loosely in the interview, not doing much self-editing as I went. I’m kind of a reporter’s dream in that way because I sometimes speak before I think. Oh, well, c’est la vie; it added to the story.

***

Since we’re piling on The Star today, I’ve got a beef about this morning’s paper.

It’s about the front-page, JJ’s “back from the ashes” story by reporter Joyce Smith.

Overall, it’s an interesting and informative story, but Smith unfortunately failed to include the fact that a plaque honoring 46-year-old Megan Cramer, who died in the Feb. 19, 2013, explosion will be placed in the new JJ’s, which will be in the Plaza Vista development across the street from the old location.

cramer

Cramer, with young friend

I learned about the plaque after sending an e-mail to David Frantze, who owns JJ’s, along with his brother Jimmy. In the e-mail, I said I hoped that a plaque or another form of recognition was in the plans. He said it definitely was and that the plaque had been announced at the Wednesday news conference that Smith covered.

Either Smith decided that it wasn’t important enough to include in the story, or, less likely, she included it and her editor cut it.

Here’s the thing: Megan Cramer died because Missouri Gas Energy employees failed to follow simple, basic safety rules. She should be with us today and should be going back to work at JJ’s when it reopens later this year. Her name, life and death are inextricably linked to the explosion, and the fact that the Frantzes are going to honor her with a permanent plaque in the new restaurant definitely should have been part of The Star’s story. Very disappointing.

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Staffs and mitres probably will be flying like graduation caps Sunday, when Pope Francis formally canonizes two of his predecessors.

Oh, my…Oh, my.

One of the “Holy Men” to be enshrined will be none other than Pope John Paul II, who, as New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd put it yesterday, “presided over the Catholic church during nearly three decades of a gruesome pedophilia scandal and grotesque coverup.”

john paulJohn Paul, who reigned from 1978 until his death in 2005, also stacked the deck with bishops and cardinals who managed to turn back the hands of time, which had begun moving relatively quickly as a result of the Second Vatican Council.

The other man to be canonized will be Pope John XXIII, who convened the Second Vatican Council in 1962. He served from 1958 until his death in 1963, but the council continued until 1965.

Dowd, who appears to be a conflicted Catholic, summed it all up very well at the end of her column, which ran in Wednesday’s printed edition.

“John Paul may be a revolutionary figure in the history of the church, but a man who looked away in a moral crisis cannot be described as a  saint. When the church elevates him, it is winking at the hell it caused for so many children and young people in its care. A big holy wink.”

I couldn’t agree more.

In March, Spiegel Online — a popular, German-language news website — said, “Rarely has the Vatican been in such a hurry to complete a canonization.”

Some papal authorities have speculated that the unprecedented dual canonization is an attempt to bring Catholics closer in line, especially those who might look askance at John Paul II but embrace Pope John XXIII, who was known as “the good pope.”

As Dowd pointed out, John not only convened the Second Vatican Council but “embraced Jews and opened a conversation on birth control.”

One of the interesting prerequisites for sainthood is that the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints (now that’s a club I’d like to belong to) must certify that at least two miracles have taken place through the, uh, good offices of a candidate for saint. But in a rare break from that precedent, Pope Francis waived the requirement of a second miracle for John XXIII. (Nothing could be attributed to him after 1965.)

In addition, Pope Benedict XVI, who succeeded John Paul before resigning last year, waived a prerequisite for his predecessor — a rule that requires a candidate for sainthood be dead for at least five years. The push for John Paul’s canonization got underway almost immediately after his death.

Now, tell me, when does the Catholic Church ever waive rules on anything that doesn’t suit its conservative agenda?

Never.

There’s been absolutely no discussion, for example, about the rules forbidding priests to marry or women to become priests.

Oh, no, those rules are set in stone. In fact, I think those rules have been declared “infallible.” That means no way, no day, Jose –and that’s final!

…But I’m also kind of interested in those miracles.

john 23In John XXIII’s case, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints (how do I apply for membership?) certified that a dying Italian nun recovered after praying to him in 1965.

In the case of John Paul II,  the first miracle involved a French nun who is believed to have been miraculously cured of Parkinson’s disease after praying to John Paul in 2005.

The second miracle occurred in 2011, when a Costa Rican woman was inexplicably cured after suffering a cerebral aneurism, which doctors said was inoperable.

An article in the Huffington Post a few days ago drew several skeptical comments about the purported “second miracle” attributed to Pope John Paul.

For example, Steven B wrote this:

“And a Stork delivered a nice healthy 6 lb. baby boy to a couple in Louisiana.”

For all I know, the three miracles attributed to the two popes could be perfectly legitimate. But I do know that many Catholics (and other Christians) are going to have a hard time swallowing the canonization of John Paul II, despite his kindly manner and inspirational perseverance in the face of physical decline.

I agree unequivocally with Maureen Dowd’s eloquent conclusion:

“He ain’t no saint.”

In fact, I think I’m going to state that infallibly...Yes, if they can roll it out on their own initiative, I don’t know why I can’t.

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You know how it sometimes seems to take forever to bring criminal defendants to trial?

Well, the delays in criminal cases sometimes pale beside U.S. Tax Court cases, which play out away from the headlines, in the complex machinery of tax law and IRS rules and regulations.

One case that I’ve been tracking is now 10 years old and still not decided. With any luck, a trial or settlement will take place in 2015. I am anxious to see this case resolved in favor of the government because the defendant, a former Kansas City resident, owes the federal government millions of dollars in income taxes and needs to be forced to pay up.

The defendant is Keith Tucker, a former chairman and chief executive officer at Waddell & Reed, an Overland Park-based mutual fund company.

I don’t like Tucker, who now lives in Texas with his wife Laura, for two reasons: First, because of his tax dodge, and, second, because he largely concealed from public view perhaps the most beautiful home in Kansas City — a Louis Curtiss-designed residence on the northwest corner of 55th and Ward Parkway.

keith tucker

Tucker

Surely, you’ve seen it…I hope it was before the Tuckers ensconced it with veritable walls of tall shrubs on the east and south sides.

The man who commissioned construction of the home for himself and his family was Bernard Corrigan, who  built his fortune partly as a streetcar developer. Work on the home at 55th and Ward Parkway began in 1912. Two of the home’s outstanding features are the reinforced-concrete foundation and the gray limestone exterior walls, with a medium-rough, or “shot-sawed” finish.

Considered to be one of the best examples of Prairie Style architecture in the Midwest, the home also features beautiful, leaded-glass windows, antique exterior light fixtures and an unusual, L-shaped footprint.

The Tuckers bought the house and surrounding 2.4 acres in 1998 for $1.65 million. The home sold for $6 million in 2005. To the best of my knowledge, it has been owned since then by Ann Dickinson, former chairwoman of a holding company that formerly owned Bank Midwest.

But back to Tucker and his financial shenanigans.

Under his watch at Waddell & Reed (1992 to 2005), the company was often entangled in litigation. Just before he resigned, the firm agreed to pay $7 million in fines and up to $11 million in restitution to settle charges that it aggressively pressured customers into buying unnecessary annuities.

In 2004, the U.S. government charged Tucker with tax fraud, alleging that he and his wife owed more than $22 million in income taxes and penalties. The IRS contends that the Tuckers claimed $39.2 million in sham tax-shelter deductions. The shelters, which many people took advantage of, were put together by the accounting firm KPMG.

For years, the Tucker case lay dormant while charges against KPMG executives were being resolved. KPMG admitted in 2005 that it sold bad shelters, but it took years for elements of the case to play out in courts. In a pivotal decision late last year, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the IRS and said that the government could collect a 40 percent penalty — over and above the taxes owed — from a taxpayer who had used the illegal shelter.

Seemingly, that precedent-setting case has opened the doors for trial or settlement of many similar cases.

So, on March 17, after years of rote entries delaying the Tucker case, a U.S. Tax Court judge signed an order, which said: “Upon due consideration…the Court has determined that these cases will be tried during the first half of 2015. ”

The judge also ordered the parties to file a report by June 2, saying which month they would like the case to go to trial.

I hope the government is able to clean Tucker’s clock. But given his proven ability to dodge and weave and work the system, that probably won’t happen. In addition, 90 percent of Tax Court cases are settled before trial. Still, the government should be able to extract several million bucks from the Tuckers.

I’ve believed all along that Tucker erected those shrubs around that beautiful home on Ward Parkway because he had something to hide. Looks like the government is about to smoke him out.

 

 

tucker house

Four years ago I took this photo of the home (and enclosing shrubbery) on the northwest corner of 55th and Ward Parkway. It looks about the same now.

 

corrigan

Here’s a better view of the L-shaped house from many years ago.

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I wanted to let things unfold a bit before jumping in on the weekend triple-murder story, but it’s time to give The Star credit for a great job.

In ordinary times, it’s easy to complain about The Star and how it has shrunk in the last six to eight years. But it’s still the only regional news organization that can pull together the resources and experience it takes to respond appropriately to a story of this magnitude.

The first day’s  coverage — in Monday’s paper — was a bit scrambled, but that was understandable, given the weekend occurrence and the inherent difficulty of getting ahold of a wide array of sources on a Sunday.

Even with that disadvantage, though, The Star’s reporting team managed to get a significant amount of information, and the big, bold headline — “Black Sunday” — was terrific.

My fear on Sunday night was that The Star might hold off on reporting Glenn Miller’s “Heil Hitler” comment because the cops wouldn’t confirm it, but it was right there near the top of the story, as it should have been.

Then, on Monday, The Star’s formidable team of courts, investigative and feature reporters — along with outstanding photographers — rolled into full action.

The photo of Will Corporon wiping tears from his eyes while his sister Mindy Corporon (whose son and father had died in the shootings) spoke to the press — was an absolute throat grabber. The editors put it right up in the flag on Tuesday morning.

millerAlso on the front page, the 1984 photo of Miller holding a 10-foot-long (or thereabouts) shotgun in front of a KKK sign made it clear what kind of space junk we were dealing with. And the police mug shot of him from Sunday — glassy- and vacant-eyed — made for a sharp, riveting contrast.

The lead story, appropriately, was Tony Rizzo’s identification and tribute to the third victim, Terri LaManno, whom police did not publicly identify until Monday.

Eric Adler, the paper’s premier feature writer, did a nice job portraying the Corporan family — whose courage and strength to come out in public, and attend and speak at prayer services and press conferences — has been nothing short of remarkable.

The third story on the front page was a takeout on Miller. The writers were KC Star mainstays Laura Bauer, Donald Bradley and Judy Thomas, all of whom have tons of big-story experience.

Accompanying the story, on the “jump” was a photo of Miller’s ranch-style home in southwest Missouri, with a pickup parked directly in front of the front door. Good call — dispatching ace photographer (one of several aces on the staff) Keith Myers on a three-hour-plus trip to get a residential mug shot. It added a lot.

Today, The Star came back with three more outstanding stories, one of which delineated the charges and clearly explained the difference between state and federal prosecution. The Star is fortunate to have a state courts expert, Rizzo, and an authority on federal courts, Mark Morris. That duo provided the guts of the “hate crimes” story on Page 1.

The other front-page story was a real eye-opener. Morris, Thomas and Dave Helling collaborated on a long piece revealing that Miller was once in the federal government’s witness protection program. It was the kind of story that makes most of us want to say, “The son of a bitch should never have been given a break for his cooperation in earlier hate-crime cases, and he should have been in prison the last three decades.”

One source, in fact, said as much. Leonard Zeskind, president of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights (whatever that is) was quoted as saying: “That man shouldn’t have been running around free. He should’ve died in prison.”

So, the reporters let us indulge ourselves in that emotion before bringing us back down to earth with a quote from former federal prosecutor Patrick McInerney:

“For someone to predict that 30 years after he testified for the government he would do something like this is a little bit of a stretch.”

How true. And, indeed, Miller testified for the government in a 1988 trial in Fort Smith Ark., where more than a dozen white supremacists were accused of conspiring to kill a federal judge and FBI agent and plotting to overthrow the federal government.

Pretty serious stuff, and it’s easy to see why the government would be willing to make a deal for incriminating testimony. Unfortunately, the defendants were acquitted.

Topping off today’s coverage was an eerie, creepy photo of Miller in a wheelchair before or after he made a brief, remote court appearance from the Johnson County Jail.

Photographer David Eulitt, another top-notch shooter, caught Miller looking at the camera out of the corner of his eyes, with a sneering, disdainful look on his face.

What a prick…And The Star was able to portray him as precisely that without having to use any four- or five-letter words.

Good stuff, Star editors, reporters and photographers. Thanks for the stem-to-stern, enlightening coverage of this unforgettable, horrible story.

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You never know what you’re going to read about here…I’ll drag you down any alley and just hope you’ll follow.

Today, for example, with a tough few days behind us — with “Over-land Park” (as I heard it pronounced on NPR today) in the national spotlight for the worst of reasons — I decided to lighten up after a day of substitute teaching.

So, I clicked on my iTunes library and started in on some of my 35 songs. (I know, some people have hundreds, maybe thousands, but I keep it simple.)

I didn’t get far, though, when I homed in on “Poetry in Motion” by Johnny Tillotson. I’ve always loved that song, which came out in 1960, my first year of high school back in Louisville. Those four years — especially the first three — at that all-boys, Catholic school were grim and difficult.

There wasn’t much to look forward to, except football and basketball games and Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” on TV every afternoon. There were a few parties, but the girls were mostly out of reach for me and my buddies. The Xaverian Brothers who ran the school didn’t hesitate to smack us around for the smallest of transgressions, and I remember one “brother” in particular who would walk up and down the aisles smacking kids with a book on days when his arthritis was acting up. Didn’t matter if you were sitting still, not bothering anybody, you or the equally terrified guy next to you might get it, regardless.

About the only thing that salved the psychological torment and gave us hope that a kinder, happier world existed outside the walls of St. Xavier High was the incomparable, soaring music of the ’60s. How were we to know that what we were hearing on the radio (radio station WAKY in Louisville) would come to be regarded, almost unarguably, as the greatest pop music of all time?

“Poetry in Motion” was one of the most uplifting, hopeful songs on the radio in those days.

Those opening lines…

When I see my baby
What do I see
Poetry
Poetry in motion
Poetry in motion
Walkin’ by my side
Her lovely locomotion
Keeps my eyes open wide…

Wow!

Where do I find a girl like that? That’s what I wanted to know. And…Will I ever get the opportunity?

johnnyJohnny Tillotson was 21 or 22 when he recorded that song — not that much older than us, but light years away.

I didn’t know it then but two of the Nashville studio musicians who played backup on the song were Boots Randolph (“Yakkety Sax,” 1963) and Floyd Cramer (“Last Date,” 1960.)

I didn’t know this, either: The guys who wrote the song, Paul Kaufman (1930–1999) and Mike Anthony (born 1930), said their inspiration came from looking up from their work and seeing a procession of young ladies from a nearby school pass by on the sidewalk outside each afternoon.

What I knew was that the song thrilled me and helped get me through those long, dreary school weeks.

**

On Sunday, Johnny Tillotson will turn 75.

Thank you, Johnny, wherever you are…Florida, maybe, where he was inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame in 2011.

…Now, here’s that song…https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-2yAanNhcqI

(Sorry about the ad.)

**

Just to give you the flavor of my high school, here’s a 1964 photo from “the smoking shed,” outside the school cafeteria. I am at the extreme upper right, to the left of the guy looking at the camera. (I think he was blowing smoke rings.)

st. x2

 

 

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