Don’t Count Freddy Out

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Hard working Freddy. Look at that smile.

Nobody at Amalgamated Conglomerated Marketing Enterprises, Inc. (That’s ACME, but you knew that.) worked harder or smiled wider than Freddy. Why shouldn’t he, since he always lived the words of his daddy, “Work hard, treat everybody fair, and the world will beat a path to your door?”

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A happy ACME customer

Wouldn’t you know?  Freddy lost his job and wound up living in a box.

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Freddy’s new home

But he never lost his smile or his belief in his daddy’s words. As they say on the Internet, “You won’t believe what happened when Freddy refused to give up.”

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My story “Freddy: a Parable for Today” is one of the tales I’ll tell starting at 2 p.m. this Saturday, Nov. 26, at the Royale, 3132 S. Kingshighway Blvd. Take time off from your after-Thanksgiving busyness for a storytelling feast.

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Me talking about Freddy. No, I won’t wear a tie. Ignore the grumpy girl on the left.

P.S: Copies of my books will be available for sale and signing, including my latest, The Colorful Characters of St. Louis. Yes, I take credit cards.

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Thoughts From a Good Egg

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My friend from the far north, Robert Mackreth, is known for his widespread collection of cats, Newfoundland dogs and odd facts about the Lake Superior country. I was not at all surprised, then, when he e-mailed me the following dispatch from the Ashland (WI) Daily Press on Feb. 9, 1931.

Iron River Hen Lays Freak Egg

Iron River, Wisconsin – Mrs. Olive Thieverge , who lives a few miles south of the city was the owner of a freak egg. It was a brown color, about 7 inches in circumference. Thinking it to be a double yolk egg, Mrs. Thieverge decided to blow out the contents. The egg white came through in fine shape, but the balance refused to come. She then tried to prick the enclosed yolk but struck a hard surface. Carefully breaking the shell, she discovered a full-size egg within the large shell. The egg is the first of this kind that anyone in this vicinity has even seen and it is arousing quite a bit of interest.
The news item disturbed me, so much that I immediately sent my friend this response:

Is this some kind of a yolk?

Time for truth in social media

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For years, I dreamed of doing the kind of reporting that everybody would notice. But when I arrived at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, my assignment seemed too small for a great journalist-to-be. Though the classes varied, the biggest lesson we learned was to get our facts right. It wasn’t enough to write “Smith,” we had to be sure the name wasn’t “Smyth.” Was Mr. Smith (or Mr. Smyth) definitely running for office, or just thinking about it? It was an important point, because people counted on us to get it right. They needed to know whether the county budget was $87 million or $88 million. Over more than four decades in the news business, I failed too many times in the pursuit of truth. To me, it was a personal failure when I misspelled a name, because the truth mattered. I continue that dedication to the facts in my books about St. Louis.

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Now, it seems, too many people out there don’t care. They’re just as willing to believe a story that’s true as one that’s false. A just-announced analysis by BuzzFeedNews showed there was more interest in phony news stories in the last three months of the election as there was in stories from reputable news sites that got their facts right.

I’ve seen that too often on Facebook and wonder how people don’t care. Often I’ll point it out, but often I don’t bother. People on both sides are too willing to believe blatant falsehoods because they back up their own beliefs. In the end, can we believe anything?

So what’s an unsuspecting user of social media to do? Here’s some tips for holding on to the truth.

  • Learn to be suspicious. Ask: why should I believe this?
  • If you don’t know where a report comes from, you don’t have to believe it.
  • Only trust reputable sites with a track record, with systems in place to debunk rumors and get out the truth.
  • If the report seems too strange to be true, it probably  is.
  • Be as suspicious about sites that favor your point of view as those that don’t.
  • If you’re not sure, check Snopes before you send it out.

Here are some other resources:

To those who spread this stuff, fake news is just a way to generate more page views. But for the rest of us, fake news is like cockroaches, rodents or swarms of pigeons. It’s a destroyer, spread by vermin. The more there is, the less we can trust anything. It’s time we swept these pest from social media and stood up for the truth.

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A Storytelling Feast

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What does a football, a hopelessly muddy field, a 10-pound catfish and a deathbed confession have  in common? You can find out the Saturday afternoon after Thanksgiving, when I tell my funniest stories from The Colorful Characters of St. Louis, my other Reedy Press books and the rest of my writing career. In keeping with the season, I’ll tell one of my Christmas stories or two.

All of the stories will all be part of “Colorful Characters, Things and Christmas Stuff” starting at 2 p.m. Nov. 26 at The Royale, 3132 S. Kingshighway Blvd. on the South Side. Royale owner Steven Fitzpatrick Smith did a great job hosting the book release/launch party for the The Colorful Characters at the start of October. So I had to come back for this extravaganza of stories for all ages.

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If you’re curious, everything in the first sentence above comes from my story “A True Story: How Granddad, Mule, and a Catfish Beat Russellville: A Rainy Day Tale for Thanksgiving.” It’s tells of a time a century ago when my granddad, Sid Duerr, and his cousin, Mule Duerr, led the Coal Hill (Ark.) High School football team to victory over the bigger (and always better) Russellville ( Ark.) High School team in their annual game on Thanksgiving Day. I’ll read about it from a column I wrote for the old South Side Journal. Of course it’s true, because granddad never lied. Mostly.

You may think you don’t have time for something like this because you’ll be out Christmas shopping. No worry, because my books will be on sale. They make great great gifts at a great price. Besides The Royale has the best drinks and food for the moment you can’t stand another bite of turkey. That’s no story.

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Ruth Kamphoefner, RIP

Ruth Kamphoefner's book published in 2000.
Ruth Kamphoefner’s book published in 2000.

Ruth Kamphoefner had good reason to despair when her husband died in 1964. She had five kids to feed and income from a Social Security check and a part-time job as an art teacher.  But she fought back and in 1970 bought a shell of a house in a run-down neighborhood called Lafayette Square. Her neighbors included some nice ladies who turned out to be prostitutes.  She fixed up the home and kept on fixing up homes in Lafayette Square. By the time she published a book about her experiences,  Lafayette Comes Back.

When I interviewed her in 2001 for the South Side Journal in 2001, this leader of Lafayette Square’s comeback impressed me as someone who won’t give up. I had to have her in my first book, Hoosiers and Scrubby Dutch: St. Louis’s South Side. What a woman.

I was saddened, therefore, to hear of Ruth’s recent death at the age of 90. Her memorial service is set for 11 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016 at Trinity Lutheran Church in Soulard.  A reception at 9th Street Abbey will follow. Those who attend surely will say much about her fighting spirit.

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Master of Outrage

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Percy Green and Richard Daly climb the Arch.

In St. Louis  in the 1960s, no civil rights leader was more a target of hatred than Percy Green.  Many hated him for his headline-grabbing street theater. Others said it was just what was needed to end discrimination and open up jobs to African Americans. The liberal Post-Dispatch called Green “St. Louis’s most outrageous man.” The conservative Globe-Democrat called him “St. Louis’s non-stop racial agitator.”  Both were right. He’s one of several “Rebels With a Cause” in The Colorful Characters of St. Louis not because they were funny, but because they fought for justice with a special style.

In 1963, Green helped lead demonstrations against racial discrimination in hiring at a local bank, the Jefferson Bank & Trust. Then he and others focused attention toward jobs at the federally-funded construction of the Gateway Arch.

On July 14, 1964,  Green and white activist Richard Daly scurried 125 feet up ladders on the north side. It made local civil rights history.

In 1965, Green became the leader of a new group called ACTION.  That group organized protests against an old local institution, the Veiled Prophet Parade and Ball. In 1972, a woman in an evening gown snuck behind the Veiled Prophet, snatched his veil, and tossed it away.

Green kept at it, getting arrested, making enemies and friends, and generally doing outrageous things. He’s now in  his early 80s and still fighting. Looking back, it’s easy to see that sometimes it’s best to do the outrageous thing.

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Percy Green