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Biography

I was born in what was then Bedford Municipal Hospital, in Bedford, Ohio, on a momentous twelfth day of March, 1949. Okay, perhaps not momentous, exactly, outside of my family, but in other parts of the country Edward Albee was turning 21, Liza Minnelli was celebrating her third birthday, James Taylor was one, and Mitt Romney was turning two. Nice, show businessy sort of birthday, bar one annoying politician.

At the time I was born, my parents lived on Broadway (U.S. 14), just across the city line from Bedford in Oakwood Village, one of several municipalities created from the original Bedford Township. Before he was drafted in 1941, Dad was a truck driver. After he was drafted he continued to drive trucks, but at that point for the 37th Infantry Division, Ohio National Guard. His World War II service included New Georgia, Bougainville, and the Philippines all of which were, despite what the Marines would like you believe, primarily Army operations. When he got out of the Army he went to work at Republic Steel in Cleveland.

Mom and Dad were married in December 1947, in Garrettsville, Ohio, and moved into a small apartment on Hough Avenue in Cleveland. They didn’t stay there very long, quickly buying the little two bedroom bungalow on Broadway. I came along as the first of three children, with my brother following in 1950, and my sister in 1953. Dad continued to work at the steel mill. When we were young, Mom stayed home and took care of us. Before she was married she’d been a hair stylist (they were called beauticians back then), and she kept her license current until she was well into her 70s, though she hadn’t actively worked in the trade since the 1950s, and most of her hair work since that time was limited to cutting her family’s hair, or free permanents and hair coloring for friends.

Mom did get involved in local politics while we were young, and served as Village Clerk in Oakwood for a few years. She later went to work for the Bedford City School System, initially as secretary at Carylwood Elementary (I didn’t really care for that very much, since it made her way too convenient if I got into trouble there), and later in the Administration Building. That was located right next to the high school, which still made her a little too close, but I never really got into any trouble in high school, so that was alright.

I think I had a fairly typical childhood for the period. It wasn’t exactly Ozzie and Harriet, or Leave it to Beaver, but it did include fishing, wandering through the woods, epic battles with wooden swords and the normal collection of cap guns, and walking to school in the days before it ever occurred to anyone that grade school kids should have to do homework, or that there was any particular danger in letting kids walk to school. (There still isn’t, really, other than traffic, but since the rare incidents tend to make national news now people tend to think it’s a lot worse.)

In the summer, each of us kids was sent in turn to spend a week or so on my Aunt Marie and Uncle Richard’s farm in Garrettsville. My Aunt Marie was Mom’s older sister (by 25 years), and raised her after their parents died. A more common situation then than now, I never had any living grandparents, all four having died between 1920 and 1933. On my Dad’s side, Ida Thomas McDaniel died of influenza, probably because she was pregnant, since everyone in the house caught it and she was the only one who didn’t survive. Ralph McDaniel died a few years later of tuberculosis, and Dad was raised by his Aunt Maude, his father’s sister. On Mom’s side, Walter Ames died of stomach cancer. The family story blamed it on being kicked by a horse, but a far more likely cause was chewing tobacco. Lilly Kinser Ames, my maternal grandmother, died of a heart attack while driving her car, with my eight-year-old mother sitting in the front seat beside her.

The Ames family lived in Illinois, and there are still a lot of us in the Decatur area. Dad’s family came from the same county (Macon), but his parents had moved to Freedom Township, Ohio and were living there when they died. As of last summer, the family home was still more or less standing on Route 303. Someone fixed it up a few years ago, after a long period of neglect, but the reprieve was short lived, and the last time I drove past on my way to my late Uncle Ray’s (Dad’s younger brother) house I found myself wondering just how much longer it would be before the place fell down (sometime in 2014, apparently). The barn looked to be in considerably better shape, but that’s still being used. No one has lived in the house in years.

We learned a lot of stuff during those summers on the farm. We had it reinforced that dinner and supper were not two different names for the same meal, the way some ignorant city people seem to think. Dinner is the big meal at noon, supper is the lighter one in the evening. Even if you’re not working on a farm, that’s still a more sensible way to do it if you don’t want to gain too much weight. We learned how to tell one party line ring from another, so we wouldn’t be answering the wrong phone calls. We learned how to candle eggs, cut up seed potatoes—a process my mother never wanted to watch, as the cutter was a knife blade stuck up through a wooden tabletop and you just pushed the potatoes against it, making sure each section contained an eye—and where my uncle hung the racy calendars from the feed store. Those were super hot at the time, but you could probably put most of those ladies on a Christmas card today.

I also learned that, if you were a Holstein, you didn’t want to be born male, because the generic name for male dairy calves is veal. If you’re one of those people who think we should eliminate veal, I’m sorry to inform you that the only way to do that would be to completely eliminate all dairy products from the marketplace. Dairy farmers can’t control the sex of calves, and they’re going to kill the bull calves regardless, so you may as well eat them. My uncle only kept a handful of cows, mostly Jerseys, when I was little, and had got rid of them by the time I was a teenager. He was primarily a potato farmer, and when refrigerated milk holding tanks were mandated he decided it wasn’t worth the expense for a half-dozen cows.

Back at home there was unorganized baseball played in a neighbor’s back yard. Our lots all backed up on a woods, so we used to run around back there a lot. My mother subscribed to the Ralphie’s mom school of disarmament, so I never had a BB gun. I did get to shoot one that belonged to a neighbor kid, though, and never even came close to shooting my eye out. Almost getting it taken out by a wooden sword was another matter. There’s still a barely visible scar hidden under my right eyebrow from that incident. I was made the gift of a single-shot Ithica shotgun when I was 16. I never shot anybody with that, either. Or, for that matter, anything. I never did get where I could hit anything with it, even though I was a decent shot with other shotguns. The Ithica was designed for a ventilated rib, which it didn’t have, and I have the feeling that the raised boss on the receiver intended to align with the rib was throwing the sight pattern off.

When I was five I started kindergarten at Interstate School, in the morning class. Kindergarten was half a day then, and was intended mostly to socialize the kids. There was no such thing as pre-school back then, and a few years later, when it did start, it was primarily intended for “underprivileged” kids, who didn’t get a normal amount of basic education at home. No one expected kids to learn to read in kindergarten, though I already could. Integration wasn’t an issue with anyone, and a couple years later when all the fuss started in Little Rock most of us just wondered what the hell was wrong with those people down in Arkansas. All we had to do was look around the classroom to know that black and white kids obviously went to school together, and as far as we knew always had.

A new elementary school, closer to our house, opened in 1955, so my kindergarten class was the only one I had at Interstate. Our teacher, Mrs. Langham, transferred to Carylwood, which admitted its first students in the fall of 1955. My brother’s class was the first to go through kindergarten and all six grades at that school. I was there from first grade. There was no such thing as middle school then, either, so we stayed in grade school through sixth grade. The next three years were junior high school, which I took at Moody, located on Columbus Road, where the Bedford Library is now. Moody had been the old high school until the current one was built in 1956. During the three years I was at Moody a new wing was added to the building, but a few years later the place was torn down.

Me being me, I always though they should have at least figured out a way to keep the auditorium, which had a decent stage on it. It was a hemp house, but back then there were still plenty of people who knew how to work that. Schools are almost universally counterweight houses today, and they probably are a little safer without sandbags hanging from the fly rail.

I graduated from Bedford Senior High School (now it’s just Bedford High School, middle schools having crept into the system) in 1967. The last year I was head photographer on the yearbook, which was about the limit of my extra-curricular activities, other than the senior play. That was just a bit part, with two lines, in a music-less production of Annie Get Your Gun. It sounds weird, but in fact the songs don’t really advance the action in that show, so cutting them out doesn’t change much. Frank and Annie can argue about who can do what better than the other without singing it. Annie just says you can’t get a man with a gun. It was a different sort of musical than we’re used to today. Back then, you’d have called a “sung through” musical an opera or operetta, depending on whether there was no spoken dialogue at all, or just a small amount of dialogue. Gershwin called Porgy and Bess a Folk Opera, but since it contains a few lines of spoken dialogue, technically it’s an operetta (only the white folks, who barely appear, talk; everyone else sings everything).

After graduating from high school I went into the Army. Basic training was at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and advanced training was at the Defense Information School at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana. Harrison is closed now, and DINFOS has moved to Fort George G. Meade, Maryland. DINFOS is a Department of Defense school, which means students come from all branches of the military, as do the instructors. So we were taught by, and studied with, Navy Journalists, Army Information Specialists, and whatever the Air Force and Marines called their equivalent specialists. I can’t remember any civilian instructors back then, though I suppose there may have been some, and there certainly are now.

After graduating from DINFOS in April 1968, I got to spend some time on leave, then reported to Fort Riley, Kansas for a week of training before being shipped off to Viet Nam. (Yes, it’s Viet Nam, not Vietnam; the Vietnamese written language contains no polysyllabic word, so I’ve always been fairly consistent writing the name of the country that way. Cities I usually let go with the common English forms, rather than write them correctly as Sai Gon, Da Nang, and so forth.)

Initially, I was assigned to HHC, 308th Combat Aviation Battalion, 16th Combat Aviation Group, 1st Aviation Brigade, located at Camp Eagle, near Phu Bai, up in I Corps. We were collocated with the 101st Airborne Division, and later in 1968 taken over by them, becoming the 159th Assault Support Helicopter Battalion. That meant we kept the Chinooks and other heavy lift helicopters, but all the Huey companies were reformed as the 101st Aviation Battalion. A new group, the 160th, was formed at Division headquarters to oversee both battalions. As there was now no Information NCO slot at battalion level, I was transferred up to Group to do the same job there.

After Viet Nam, I took an intratheater transfer to Japan, and it was there that I finished out my relatively brief military career.

I’d been writing stuff all this time, as well as doing a little acting. At DINFOS I did All My Sons, running the show as stage manager. They had a really nice auditorium with a well-equipped stage at Harrison. I think it’s part of a community college now. I’m not sure what they have at Meade, but pictures of graduations and other ceremonies suggest they’re not as well set up there.

One of my first jobs after leaving the Army was at the Bedford Times-Register, where I did general reporting and photography, and a lot of editing. It was normal weekly newspaper routine. We even had proof God existed, because we got letters from him just about every week. Jesus was a regular correspondent, too. Some of those letters were absolutely fascinating, and it was too bad we couldn’t print them.

I moved to New York for a while, working a day job at Movielab, and trying to sneak into auditions. Those were the days when you could still claim you’d forgot your wallet at home, so that’s why you didn’t have your Equity card. There were advantages to not having laptops and tablets, too. It made it a lot more trouble to see if you were lying.

I wrote one play, a one act, World War I trench warfare piece called We’ll All Die in the Morning, and I still think it was pretty good. Unfortunately, do did my dog, who ate the only copy.

Later, I went into broadcasting, got married twice, went to school and became a rabbi, led a couple of congregations, eventually noticed that there was absolutely no logical reason to presume there even was a God, had three kids (two of my own, and one who came with the second wife), and continued to write.

So now I’ve published three novels, edited several other books, written one play that’s been produced and a couple of others that are still waiting, and received my Medicare card in the mail a few days ago. I still act, and once in a while even get paid to do it, but mostly not. And, as of March 2015, I’m officially retired. Whether I’ll stay that way, I haven’t decided yet.