Archive for September, 2017

  • Blog
  • September 30th, 2017


By Joel M. Vance
About 150 years ago a Missouri River steamboat wrecked somewhere south of what became Dalton, Missouri, the town where my parents and I settled in 1948. In 1874 someone rescued timbers from the wreckage of that forgotten steamboat and built the Dalton hotel, a 17 room building that at various times was an overnight stay for traveling salesman and at other times a private residence.
The hotel had been closed for 40 years but became our home for a half-dozen years in the 1950’s. As romantic as that sounds, it was more like living in the Norman Bates house than it was a colonial mansion. No indoor plumbing, no running water, indifferent heat in the pit of winter from a coal furnace that rumbled in the basement like some slumbering monster. It was more like existing than it was living.
I can imagine couple of drummers off the train that stopped ever so briefly at the at the whistle stop station, who then trudged across the dusty street to the Dalton Hotel, hot, hungry and tired from their endless wandering, wondering was it ever gonna rain? They would gripe to each other, about the travails of travel and how lousy the times were, how tough it was to sell or try to sell whatever it was they carried in their shabby sample cases.
They had to be salesmen because no one else would ever take a train to this dusty backwater as far from a tourist destination as the earth is from the Pleiades. Dalton was a geological trick from the beginning. Founded in 1867 as a river port halfway between Keytesville and Brunswick, it lasted as that only until 1875 when the ever capricious Missouri River decided to cut a new channel, leaving Dalton stranded at the foot of a bluff which historically was the North bank of the river. A slight salvation occurred in 1867 when the Wabash railroad established a stop and a station right across the street from what would become the Dalton hotel.
The drummers would check in at the Dalton Hotel, dump their cases on a rickety bed in one of the several tiny third floor bedrooms and retire to the veranda to relax. They’d talk about the hot weather, and whether it was ever gonna rain? After a restless night’s sleep they’d trudge back across Main Street, a rutted and potholed gravel road, not far removed from the historic cattle trail it once had been, get back on another train and head down the road to another forgotten town.
It was on this crumbling veranda, decades later, that I set up shop. Gone were the drummers, peddling their wares in whatever spirit world awaits the tired and poor relics of a lost time. But below the veranda at street level was a large empty room that once had been a butcher shop, later the office of a filling station. There still were empty oil cans, broken fan belts and other detritus from the gas station when we moved in. My father’s business partner, a loose cannon, had bought the hotel in a moment of fiscal insanity, and when my father gave up a good job as a salesman in Chicago, to move to his roots in Missouri and manage a large farm, we had a place to live— if you can call that shabby antique, a place to live.
I’d sit on a creaky old bench that once cradled those vanished butts and play my cherished mahogany topped Martin 00 17 guitar. Within the outer wall behind me was what once was the lobby of the hotel. It became—almost in the wild animal sense—my lair. My folks, busy with the dreary business of trying to make a living from a sprawling crop farm, 40 miles away, stayed out of my lair and largely ignored the lifestyle of their only son which was just fine with me. I had a battered Underwood typewriter, almost as old as the hotel, on which I wrote ripoffs of stories in the style of Thorne Smith, an alcoholic writer of the roaring 20s. Smith was a so-so writer whose tales were considered ribald in his time but today are as innocuous as fairy tales for third graders. My ripoffs were ribald only in the sense that I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about. I could only imagine drunken, lascivious characters since drunken, lascivious activity was as far removed from my lifestyle as were the roaring 20s.
The guitar was my reward for working three weeks 10 hours a day for fifty cents an hour detasseling seed corn. Dante’s Inferno, which posited various levels of Hell for sinners, missed one when he omitted a level for those who would be doomed to eternity detasseling seed corn. It was the dirtiest, most debilitating job I’ve had in my lifetime and I look back on it with a feeling of horror mixed with relief at having survived it. I almost didn’t— I came within inches of passing out one day from heat exhaustion and have never been able to stand hot weather since that time.
But I earned enough to buy my guitar for $60 and it had a sweet sound which endures to this day. It replaced a clunky orchestra style Sears and Roebuck guitar that, whatever I paid for it, was too much. The same Martin guitar from the Martin workshop in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, today would set you back $1000 or more. I don’t remember what happened to the Sears guitar but I hope it wound up in Hell being played for all eternity by some doomed, sinning seed corn detasseler.
We didn’t have a television set, those things having barely been invented, plus even had they been available, were far beyond our meager means. But we did have an old Zenith console radio with a short wave band on which, sometimes in the pit of night, long after my tired parents had fallen asleep in one of the small upstairs bedrooms, I would tune in signals so distant that I could only use my imagination to guess their origin, or to create some romantic or dramatic situation which caused someone in distress to broadcast them.
There is a magic in late-night radio which will not come again in an age of television, smart phones and computers. The old Zenith was a conduit to a world unseen and unimaginable. Short wave radio offered me the possibility of a frantic operator sending an SOS in an incomprehensible foreign tongue as his ship slowly took on water and sank into the icy waters of the North Atlantic. We weren’t that far removed from the days when German U-boats made such calls a grim reality there in the early days of the 1950s. More likely the signals I didn’t understand were from a couple of guys on ham radios exchanging inane gossip, but imagination was about all I had to enliven life in Dalton, Missouri.
But it was on Saturday night when I abandoned the doomed ships to their fate and tuned the a.m. dial on the Zenith to 650 and the many hours of country music on WSM radio from Nashville the home of the Grand Ole Opry. If atmospheric conditions were agreeable I could get a signal, thin through a catarrh of static, and catch the early evening shows, a warm-up for the main event. The Grand Ole Opry itself.
Those were the glory years for country music when giants strode the worn stage of the Ryman Auditorium. Today’s so-called country music is a travesty, a feeble shadow of what was in 1950. Hank Williams (the real one, not his overproduced and overhyped progeny) was a brief, flaming star like a summer meteorite, soon to be extinguished, producing hit after hit, most of which endure today.
I hovered in front of the old Zenith, my little Martin clenched in sweaty hands, because air-conditioning was something from science fiction in the 1950s summers were steamy, sticky and miserable, but endured because there was no alternative.
I’d try to figure out what key Hank and the Drifting Cowboys were in and usually figured it out about the time they finished the song. Hank played a Martin guitar too, a higher priced model than mine (most of the big time country music entertainers did play Martins) and I would dream of the day when I too would stand on the stage of the Ryman and do encore after encore as Hank did when he debuted singing “Lovesick Blues” June 11, 1949. He made history by getting six encores. In later years I would discover that I couldn’t yodel and I also didn’t have any talent, two drawbacks that would prevent me from debuting at the Opry. I still could debut in my mind on the veranda of the Dalton Hotel late at night with only the stars as an audience.
Saturday night for me actually finished early Sunday morning with the broadcast of the Ernest Tubb record shop show from midnight to 1 a.m. One night Tubb played a record and it changed my life. It was “Away Out On the Mountain” by Jimmie Rodgers whom I had never heard of. Rodgers died a year and a half before I was born and had become largely forgotten over time until others, like Tubb, who revered him as the father of country music, revived his legacy.
Years later I would stand at Rodgers’ grave in a small country church yard outside his home town of Meridian, Mississippi. It was quiet and peaceful there where he, his wife and his daughter are buried. Someone had left a guitar pick on his gravestone and I wished it had been me.
Rodgers was a sketchy guitar player and I probably was better than he was before the residual effects of a stroke messed up my left hand and ended my ability to make love to my little Martin guitar. But there was something magic in Jimmie Rodgers’ voice, accentuated by what he called blue yodels, something that has endured for me for the more than 80 years since he died, and something that has enchanted me like nothing else in music. A victim of tuberculosis, Rodgers flared like a comet, much as Hank Williams did two decades later, for six short years and then he went away out on the mountain.
And so I sat on the rickety veranda of the rickety Dalton Hotel in the darkness of summer nights when all the town was asleep (Dalton population peaked in 1920 at 400, but by 2010 there were only 17 people left). And I played my guitar and sang to the stars.
This Saturday night, perhaps I will sit on our deck, absent my Martin guitar, and listen to a Jimmie Rodgers recording of what was perhaps his signature song, one that I sang just across the dusty street from the railroad tracks on the creaking, unstable veranda of the Dalton Hotel: “Waiting For a Train.”
Waiting my turn to go away out on the mountain.

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  • Blog
  • September 24th, 2017


By Joel M. Vance

I turn 83 t0morrow, and have pretty well abandoned rambling afield in deference to my creaking bones. In the past three years, I’ve endured a stroke which bunged up my left hand,had a carotid artery Roto-Rooted, and a five-month siege of pancreatitis where I was tube fed a diet which resembled nothing so much as pureed Purina Hi Pro. Except for a tendency to bark uncontrollably at the full moon, I came through all this in pretty good shape.
But I have to admit that some mornings when I struggle out of bed I feel like a octogenarian-wait a minute! I am an octogenarian! I deem it as some sort of miracle that I’ve lasted this long. The Asbury Methodist Church yard is filled with graves of Vances who didn’t make it this many years. Fortunately, I am not yet an incompetent, sluggish dotard. We already have one of those and one is too many.
There must be a reason for this genetic anomaly and I owe it all to basketball, a sport that was barely out of the peach basket era when first I was introduced to it in an alley behind our Chicago apartment building. Baseball was the game for my crowd and we played in sand lots and wherever we could find an open area in which to play catch or some sort of a pickup game. Basketball was as arcane to us as rugby or cricket. I had pushed a basketball in the direction of a rickety goal in the alley but saying that I “played” basketball was as truthful as if I had said I had “flown” an airplane because I had built a balsa wood model of a World War II fighter plane.
But when we moved to Missouri in 1948, and I got off the school bus at Keytesville elementary and high school, I found that basketball was as holy a pastime as attending church on Sunday, something that neither I or my parents had spent much time doing. “You play basketball?” Asked a kid, which I discovered was the same thing in Missouri as introducing yourself. “Sure” I said, confident that basketball couldn’t be any tougher than playing burnout catch with my friends in Chicago.
He hustled me into cramped, tiny gym where what seemed to be every kid in school was playing a before class pickup game. He shoved me onto the floor and said, “you’re shirts” which made no sense, although half the boys seemed to be semi-naked while the other half wore shirts. Somebody threw me the ball and immediately all the half naked players charged me.
It was like being the last member of Custer’s command while several thousand angry Native Americans exhibited ill will. Utterly panicked, I threw the ball without any aim mainly just to get rid of it. It described a lovely parabola and swished through the net as adroitly as ever Steph Curry shot a 45 foot three-pointer.
As an aside the president at the time, my fellow Missourian Harry Truman did not rescind my invitation to the White House (although he never issued one in the first place). My reputation as the Windy City Whiz lasted exactly until afternoon when we had an eighth grade game and I managed to shoot not once, but twice, at the wrong basket (I missed both times). I forgot or never knew that the teams changed ends at halftime and when the second half tip came to me I saw nothing but open space between me and what I thought was our basket. No shirtless heathens were charging at me, and in fact the other team was more than happy to let me score for them.
From then on my high school basketball career got no better (or worse). I’ve written in my book Down Home Missouri, how the cheerleaders for New Franklin high school cheered for me, causing my coach no end of confusion and probably would’ve earned me a seat even further down the bench from him if that is been possible without my having to sit on the floor.
I maundered my way through four years of high school basketball, mostly polishing the bench with the butt of my threadbare uniform, but I never got basketball out of my system. I played intramural ball at the University of Missouri but got kicked out of it when the supervisor of the program caught me playing for two different teams. I wasn’t very good on either one of them but it kept me in tip top shape.
My basketball career began long ago in Dalton, Missouri a flyspeck on the Show Me state map. We lived in a ramshackle former railroad hotel with no running water and an outhouse up the hill from a cistern which theoretically would have provided drinking water if we been fool enough to drink it. We didn’t even bathe in it, preferring to cadge water from tenant farmers on the farm which my father owned.
My father and I fashioned a minuscule court up the hill adjacent to the outhouse and erected a homemade backboard of green oak planks which warped in agony in the heat of a Missouri summer. This insured that any ball shot against the backboard would carom off at unexpected angles. I needed to be as nimble as Steph Curry to corral rebounds before the ball bounded down the steep hill and into the street. Hundreds if not thousands of times, I leaped down that hill like a mountain goat. It was during those frantic descents into the dusty street that I learned to curse like a Parris Island drill instructor.
It also gave me legs of steel and conditioning which possibly has carried over into old age and explains why I too have carried over into old age. Coupled with the erratic backboard was the fact that neither of us had learned the cardinal rule of carpentering “measure twice, cut once.” Somehow, due to our mathematical inefficiency, the goal was about 10 foot six inches above the surface of the court.
I dimly remember that basketball legend Phog Allen, coach of the Kansas Jayhawks, was proposing that the goal be raised to 12 feet, rather than the standard 10 feet. This was to protect against his own Wilt Chamberlain and other seven footers from camping beneath the basket, swatting away everyone’s shots, and dunking 40 or 50 points a game. But it wasn’t designed to prevent someone well below the 6 foot mark from anything resembling the accomplishments of a seven footer. Phog died without ever realizing his proposal and today basketball goals still are 10 feet above the floor surface and even little fellows like me can dunk the ball. Well, no, not like me. I was lucky to jump high enough to graze the net with my fingertips.
Not only couldn’t I dunk the ball, but I was lucky to be able to bounce it on a hard surface and have it come back to my hands. Our coach handed each squad member a basketball with instructions to go home and practice the summer away rather than chasing girls or other more favored pursuits. I was willing, being woefully short on girls to chase, but the ball I was issued had a ruptured seam through which the interior bladder poked like a hernia. Thus, I could begin a dribble but, like a rebound off our warped backboard, the ball was likely to spurt off in unpredictable directions.
Determined to learn how to dribble with either hand, I scattered chairs on the rickety veranda that ran across the face of the hotel at the second floor level I would juke and jink my way down the veranda, the infirm foundation swaying and threatening to collapse the entire structure with every bounce. Every so often the ball would hit on the herniated part and leap over the railing into the street below sometimes in front of a farmer’s truck load of soybeans headed for the grain elevator just across the street, adjacent to the railroad tracks.
I don’t know what the occasional passersby thought when an errant basketball ricocheted off the fractured sidewalk in front of them, but Dalton being the somnolent backwater that it was, anything out of the ordinary was considered entertainment. They probably just thought I was insane, but having to live in Dalton was inducement enough to insanity, so why worry about it?
You’d think that all this practice on a rough hewn court never envisioned by the inventors of basketball, with a ball that might as well have been square, on a court as far from regulation as Arcturus is from earth, and on a surface threatened by imminent collapse, all this would have made me ultimately a legend in high school basketball– an incipient Jerry West, the mid-Missouri equivalent of Cabin Creek’s most famous basketball product.
But it did not give me the ability to sink jump shots from anywhere on the court, average 30 points or more per game, and illuminate the all-state team. Instead I gathered splinters on my butt from sitting on the bench, trying to mentally will my coach into inserting me into the lineup. The ball in real time was round and without random bulges. Further, there were real people rather than chairs between me and the basket, which was a conventional 10 feet from a hard surface floor rather than 10 ½ feet above an uneven and often muddy dirt floor.
It seems to be the fate of geriatric types like me to sit around and catalog our infirmities. I long for the days when I was a comparative kid barely past the mid century mark. I remember years ago when I was in my 60s and still playing semi competitive basketball, mostly going one-on-one with our son, Andy, our daughter’s boyfriend admiringly commented, “Boy your dad sure is an active old guy!” I guess those were the good old days. “Now the operative word is” old”. Even in those halcyon days I could occasionally beat Andy, but then came the game when I went up for my patented jumpshot and he jammed it down my throat. Intimations of mortality. Harbingers of doom.
The last competitive basketball I played was a challenge to a coworker at the Conservation Department, a woman who had been active in college sports. Our sons and I had built a half basketball court and we had a party one night and I challenged Charlotte to a one-on-one. I put a couple of my patented moves on her trying to get a clear path for a layup, but found that it was like trying to take a T-bone away from a Rottweiler. She was all elbows, knees, and slapping hands. I finally won, barely, by shooting three pointers, and realized that youth will out (not to mention athletic ability). Apparently girl’s basketball is a far more physical sport than I realized.
That was a wake-up call, kind of like turning 83 when theoretically you weren’t supposed to. Meanwhile, I think I’ll take a nap.

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  • Blog
  • September 14th, 2017


By Joel M. Vance
The late A.J. (Junior) Samples of Cumming, Georgia, couldn’t remember his lines, couldn’t read cue cards, looked like 40 miles of bad road and couldn’t sing.
Hardly the star image.
But he did one thing better than anyone ever has and it made him famous. He told history’s greatest fish lie.
Junior became a star on the syndicated country television variety show “Hee Haw” because of a taped interview made in 1967 with Jim Morrison, then chief of information for the Georgia conservation department.
Junior claimed he had caught a world record largemouth bass from Georgia’s Lake Lanier, a sprawling impoundment just across the road from Cumming. The fish allegedly weighed 22 pounds, nine ounces. Every schoolboy knows the world record is 22 pounds, four ounces, caught in 1932 by George Perry from Montgomery Lake, Georgia.
It is the outdoor equivalent of Joe DiMaggio’s streak of hitting in 56 straight games. Perry’s record has endured for more than 80 years and anyone who breaks it will have instant fame. The endorsements alone will bring a fortune. Junior Samples won fame and fortune even though his record claim was a flat-out lie.
Morrison interviewed Junior, a sprawling 300-pound heap of a man, on a front porch right out of Dogpatch. “It was Squalor Holler,” Morrison said. “The outhouse was in a corner of a stall in the barn. There were no screens on the windows and there was trash and garbage laying out in the weeds.”
Morrison had no trouble finding Junior. Cumming wasn’t much bigger than Junior anyway, and he was, if not a leading, at least a prominent citizen. “He was racin’ cars and runnin’ a liquor store,” Morrison says. Before that, Junior had run moonshine–it’s how he learned to drive a race car, another of his good ol’ boy careers.
Junior also fancied himself a carpenter. “Drivin’ nails,” he drawled. But he allowed–and here he paused as if he were trying to spit out a mouthful of cockleburs–that work had interfered with his fishing before he caught the record bass. “But it ain’t gonna no more!” he vowed fervently. “Ah’m gonna do a bonch uh fishin’!”
Junior’s interview was a masterpiece of misdirection. “He told it so convincingly I believed him,” Morrison said. Junior claimed he ate the world record bass. “Ah’s lookin’ fer sumpin tuh eat!” he declared. That would have invalidated his claim even if it had been true. But he told Morrison the fish had been weighed in several places around the lake.
He claimed he couldn’t remember where the fish was weighed. “Ah don’t know. Ah was dronk,” he drawled. “We weighed ‘im sommers and didn’t nobody dispute the word. Ah showed him all over the county. Ah reckon ah did. Ah think ah did. There’s plenty of people seed the feesh. Ah thought we weighed ‘im down at Joe Hansard’s but Grace said Harold said we didn’t weigh ‘im down there, so ah guess we didn’t weigh ‘im down there.”
Morrison remembered , “I drove him all around that lake looking for who weighed it. And the hell of it is, we found someone who said he’d seen the fish.”
Junior said he was fishing about a mile below Bald Ridge Marina (for those who dote on where-to information). “On a smerged (submerged) island.
“Ah dropped mah anchor rock there on the island and ah peetched my little outfit out, that li’l 33 out? Ah had some heavy equipment there in the boat an’ ah uz gonna put uh big lizard on them an’ git ready for uh big bass an’ ah just got one hooked an’ ah looked over there an’ seed my line a- stretchin’ out, a-straightenin’ out and I reached down and caught ‘im. When ah jerked him, ah thinks ah’m hung fer it dint go nowhere when ah jerked.”
The fight, though, was unspectacular. Junior knew better than to embellish a good lie so much it sounded like a lie. “Atter he come up and stood on that tail and shuck that head three or four times he jist turnt over on his side and ah just drug ‘im right on in,” Junior said.
He showed Morrison the head of the fish and the size of it astounded Morrison. Only a world record bass could have such a head…assuming the decomposing remains were those of a bass.
By the time Morrison saw the head, it was several days old and stinking. “It was light-colored for a bass, but I figured a largemouth bass after three or four days of rotting might get a little lighter colored,” Morrison said.
When Morrison returned to Atlanta, he woke up a fisheries biologist and showed him the fish head by the light of a flashlight–not exactly the best conditions for identification. The biologist said, “Jim, this is the finest bass that’s ever lived in the world.” That was verification enough for Morrison.
The next morning, Morrison ran into Aubrey Morris, a reporter for Atlanta radio station WSB and told him the story. Morris aired the story almost instantly. “The cat was out of the bag,” Morrison said. “Then a biologist who’d worked in saltwater said, ‘hell, Jim, that ain’t no bass, that’s a red grouper.”
Hoax or not, the tape was country funny and Morrison played it on a Game and Fish Department radio show twice, once right after it was made and about six months later. Each time, he was flooded with calls from people who were tickled by it. The second time, two of the callers represented record companies.
During the original interview, Junior said something that either is totally puzzling or that reveals he was thinking phonograph record months before anyone else. I didn’t think I had no record,” he says. “I knowed I had a record, but I didn’t think I did on the fish.” Did Junior Samples set out to create an entertainment career? Some who knew him think he was just canny enough to come up with such a scheme.
There are at least two stories on how Junior came to have the head of a grouper in north Georgia, a long way from the ocean. The one he told was that his brother saw the fish below a bridge, apparently tossed there. The brother cut off the head and had it in the back of a pickup truck at an auto race. “Someone asked who caught that big fish and Junior and his brother looked at each other,” Morrison said. “His brother didn’t want to claim it, so Junior said he caught it.”
The other story is that the two of them swiped the fish out of someone’s car and ate it, except for the head. Morrison photographed Junior with the fish head, even in comic poses with him wearing the head like a cap.
After the recording of Junior’s story appeared, Junior began to get invitations to entertain in country and western beer joints. By then no one cared if he could catch record fish or not. He could tell a world record fish story and that was good enough. Before long, there was a commercial version of the interview, along with other stories.
In 1969, Junior reached the summit, if it can be called that, of country entertainment. He joined “Hee Haw.” Junior mumbled and stumbled his way through scripts designed to be deliberately baffling. His charm was not that he read the jokes right, but that he read them wrong.
My late and dear friend Mitch Jayne played bass for the Dillards bluegrass band, the group that had a continuing role as the Darling family in the old Andy Griffith television show. Jayne was a writer and former teacher who was as far intellectually from Junior Samples as the Metropolitan Opera is from “Hee Haw.”
But he liked Junior.
“Junior said things funny,” Jayne recalled. “The stories just poured out and he always had his lower lip full of tobacco, so he kind of mushed his words.”
There was more to Junior Samples than a fat drunk whom everyone teased. He only looked stupid; he was country smart. He was canny enough to tell a huge lie and get knowledgeable people to believe it. “Junior had the quality of cupidity,” Jayne says. “He could take almost anything and turn it into money. He started out delivering moonshine on a bicycle. Picture that–this kid who probably weighed 300 pounds when he was 16 riding a bicycle loaded with hootch.”
For all his financial cunning, though, Junior missed a bet in the big bass story. He did claim he caught the fish on a “Zebbyco 33,” a free endorsement for Zebco, but said the fish hit on “a leetle bitty what (white) bellied sprang (spring) lizard.” Every lure manufacturer would have killed to be mentioned as the lure-of-choice.
Junior became famous enough that he was invited on “This Is Your Life,” the Ralph Edwards television show that allegedly surprised celebrities, then confronted them with people from their past.
Junior stayed in California with Mitch Jayne and his wife. Jayne recalled his few days as Junior’s host with fond horror. “The producers said, ‘you’ve got to keep him busy and keep him from going crazy,'” Jayne said. “I figured what’s a week? If I’d known what trouble Junior could be I wouldn’t have kept him a day.
“He got off the plane wearing bib overalls and a striped tee shirt. It’s all I ever saw him wear. He had a cardboard suitcase with two pairs of overalls and three or four pairs of underwear and that just about filled the thing. Later on, he gave us a pair of his overalls and we had a Christmas photo taken, my wife and I each in a leg.”
Jayne had just bought a station wagon. Junior, after warning Mitch’s wife in the back seat to “get outa the line of farr, li’l lady,” proceeded to spit tobacco juice out the window all the way to Jayne’s home.
Jayne discovered that his new wagon had what appeared to be a brown racing stripe its entire length. “It was like a flame job done by a drunk teenager. We like to never got it off.” Junior asked Mitch if he “lacked bald shreemp.” “It took me a while to decipher that one,” Jayne said. “He meant did I like boiled shrimp.” Jayne bought 10 pounds, found that was barely an appetizer for the massive moonshiner. Junior cooked the shrimp in the Jayne’s kitchen, then pitched the salty water in the back yard, almost instantly killing a huge chunk of the landlord’s cherished dichondra lawn.
Jayne was supposed to keep the Edwards show secret from Junior, but it became increasingly difficult because Junior kept trying to call home and no one was there.
That was because everyone he knew in Cumming was on a train (they were afraid of flying), headed to California for the show. Jayne said, “Junior was ready to jump on a plane to Cumming–he’d fly in anything. Junior wasn’t afraid of planes. Planes were afraid of Junior.”
Junior became increasingly agitated about being out of touch. Jayne, trying to keep Junior off the phone to Cumming, stayed on it himself, so after two days, Junior insisted on getting a motel room where he could use the phone to track down his wife, Grace. Junior suspected Grace was running around on him. “I told the manager to keep an eye on him because I had no idea what the man was going to do,” Jayne said. “The first thing he did was spit in the lobby fountain. Looked like a spittoon to him.”
Junior got drunk in the motel and called Mitch. “He said he was sure Grace had run off and he didn’t care. He said, ‘I’ll give her the house. I’ll give her the hogs!'”
Junior called back and claimed he had flown to “Lost Wages” (Las Vegas) and picked up a waitress on each arm. He wanted to say goodbye forever. “He said, ‘Meetch, we’ll meet again some ol’ day, but it’ll be in a damn different place!'”
Finally, the producers caved in and confessed to Junior that he was to be the subject of the show and allowed Grace to stay with him until showtime. “He didn’t like being fooled,” Jayne said. “‘Hayull, Meetch,’ he told me, ‘they coulda trusted me. Iffen they want a show, Ah’ll give ’em one.'” And as each person from his past was introduced, Junior hauled out a huge red handkerchief and bawled and blubbered into it, acting emotionally blown away. The show remains among the best-remembered.
Junior Samples had come full cycle–from tiny Cumming, Georgia, where he founded a career on an colorful con to national prominence, still gulling everyone.
Junior Samples died in 1983 of a heart attack in his beloved Cumming and he now is no more than a footnote in angling history and a fond memory for devoted fans of rustic tomfoolery.

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  • Blog
  • September 9th, 2017


By Joel M. Vance

I have done considerable air travel. I’ve been up in the air many times—sometimes without benefit of an airplane. Once, I flew from New York to London and back again and found the two cities much alike. Lots of diesel fumes, lots of people and lots of taxicabs.
Only difference was that London cabs are big, black, boxy things and the drivers speak a form of English almost comprehensible. In New York cabs all are yellow and the drivers speak Farsi and tailgate the cab in front at about 40 miles an hour and a distance of six inches.
The only New York driver I’ve found who spoke English was from Brooklyn and leveled his curses as if he were back at Ebbets Field and Dem bums were down six runs in the eighth. He told me that he burned out a set of brakes on his Ford Crown Vic every two weeks.
The highlight of that England trip was en route to LaGuardia Airport when the bus driver got lost and we first took a scenic tour of what appeared to be the Mother of All Garbage Dumps before we wound up heading the wrong way on Fabled Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn. “I don’t think this is the right way,” mumbled the bus driver, a statement with which an entire bus load of passengers totally agreed. Unless the bus company had a permit to drive across the Atlantic Ocean, we were in the wrong vehicle. But he finally managed to find a great big airport and we were off to London, the charming aroma of garbage lingering in our nostrils.
For a time my first airplane flight felt like it might be my last. Three of us took off in a light plane, as unsubstantial as the kind of paper airplanes we used to fold as kids out of an 8 x 10 sheet of typing paper. We were scouting for cornfields cut for silage, a wonderful place to hunt mourning doves.
The takeoff was uneventful, but the pilot soon was grasping at various levers and wheels as if seeing them for the first time, while I crouched fearfully in the rear seat, wondering if perhaps he got his pilot’s license through the mail, from one of those outfits that offers to make you a minister so you can perform weddings although not necessarily perform an airplane.
Came time to land the plane and that’s when things got interesting. The pilot increasingly became more physically active, grabbing this lever and that wheel while the plane caromed around the sky like an escapee from a pinball machine. “Do you think,” asked my other hunting buddy, who was functioning as the copilot although he had no more idea how to fly an airplane than I did, “you’ll be able to land this thing?” Words to hope to live by. “Never was the phrase “the miracle of flight” more appropriate. The Wright brothers were rolling in their graves. We hit the runway more or less in the right place and finally shuddered to a stop while I offered a prayer of thanks to Mr. Piper or Mr. Aztec or whoever it was who invented a plane that could survive being beaten like an unruly mustang
That was one of my less enchanting air trips but there was a time en route to Pierre, South Dakota , when the pilot announced that, because of high winds on the ground, we would instead fly to Rapid City and wait for the wind to die down in Pierre. So we did that and flew around for a while before the pilot, no doubt weary of over flying the Black Hills, told us he was going to head back to Pierre where “We will try to land this thing.” Very encouraging words. He descended to the Pierre airport to the point where it would be too late to abort and try again some other day when, in the words of pilots, weather conditions would be “severe clear.” The plane sailed like a thrown Frisbee and I expected to see a Labrador retriever or a border collie racing alongside trying to snag a wing as it went by.
I was sitting over the wing and saw it dip toward the runway as if the pilot were planning to dig potatoes. We dribbled down the runway like Steph Curry going full court for a layup, brakes and jet squalling and came to a shuddering stop. As we stepped out on the platform to clamber down to blissfully silent earth, a powerful gust of wind nearly lifted an old lady to Montana or eternity, whichever came first. The pilot standing in the doorway, looking enormously relieved, said, “Now you know why we get the big bucks for flying these things.” I think that’s known as gallows humor.
I’ve only been motion sick twice in my life. Once was in a small boat on Lake Michigan, fishing for salmon, when my boat mate produced a huge roll of summer sausage and asked if I wanted some. Until then I hadn’t paid attention to the rhythmic rocking of the boat in the waves, but then I did and wanted nothing more than to coat the entire surface of Lake Michigan with vomit.
My other bout with motion sickness was in a small plane flying to Saskatchewan, Canada, to fish, and my boss at the time insisted on giving me his ideas about some advertising copy I was going to write for him. The flight was rhythmically bumpy and while no one else seemed to be affected by the erratic motion, all I wanted to do was to vomit my toenails. I didn’t need a barf bag, I needed a 55 gallon drum, but throwing up in your boss’s lap is not recommended job security so I somehow managed to swallow my sorrow.
Far more entertaining than nausea was an encounter I saw between a flight attendant and a male passenger. She was very pretty and as she moved down the aisle she stopped at the seat just in front of me, and, with an expression that I later realized was stunned surprise, she exclaimed, “Hi! What a surprise!” I could see the back of the guy’s head as he jerked backward as if someone had tapped him sharply with a baseball bat on the brow. But I saw more clearly the profile of the girl sitting in the window seat next to him. Her expression was somewhat like that of a lover who has just been told that her guy is leaving her for another woman.
Instantly I realized the human drama that was playing out. The guy used to date the flight attendant and the present girl of the moment was seriously pissed off about it. I’m willing to bet she had no knowledge of the extent of this prior relationship, if she even knew about it. It was real life soap opera right in front of my delighted eyes. The flight attendant continued on down the aisle and on with her life, while the guy frantically tried to explain what had just happened to his girlfriend who wasn’t buying a bit of it. I’ll never know what happened with whom but I’d like to believe they all lived happily ever after. It was a real life version of “Days of Our Lives” only more fun.
My wife, Marty, has had both hips replaced, plus one shoulder. And she has a pacemaker. She is a walking mechanical marvel, so full of metal, that when she comes within 50 yards of an airport security checkpoint she sets off a symphony of alarm bells, whistles, sirens and buzzers. SWAT teams begin to lock and load. The last time she went through a security check, after having undergone more wanding than a magician’s assistant, she was asked to step into the scanning booth on two footprints where she was to place her feet. “Raise your arms and stand on the footprints,” she was told by a burly female security guard, who could’ve doubled for Marjorie Main in the old Tugboat Annie movies. Arms aloft and feet planted Marty did the only thing that seemed, to her, appropriate. She did a little Mr. Bojangles buck and wing, the humor of which was unappreciated by the dour Grinch and her compadres who are ever on the lookout for 82-year-old white Anglo Saxon Protestant terrorists.
Then there was the time even before Marty was studded with more metal than a Goth queen, that she set off the alarms because she had a pair of scissors in her purse. They were confiscated of course and as we walked away from the security gate, she grumbled, “Those were my favorite scissors. I’ve had them forever.” Then she opened her purse and took out a second pair of scissors and exclaimed, “Well, at least they didn’t get these!” While I frantically tried to pretend I’d never seen that woman before in my life.
Then there is the time that the plane I was flying on caught on fire. Actually, there was no fire, but the cabin filled with smoke. The man next to me said, “I don’t like this one damn bit.” I looked up from the book I was reading to behold a scene reminiscent of Dante’s Inferno, which was not the book I was reading.
Either the crew was barbecuing (we were just over Memphis) or there was a problem you don’t want to enliven your flight. “Nothing to worry about, folks” the captain said cheerily. “A minor electrical problem. Will have it cleared out in a few minutes.” But a few minutes also is the amount of time it takes to plunge from 35,000 feet to the earth. I don’t know much about the mechanics of airplanes–what keeps them in the air– but I do know that there are many miles of electrical wire hidden within the fuselage, and that those wires, through the miracle of electricity, have a whole lot to do with the ability of that heavier than air machine to stay aloft.
The cabin cleared and after a half hour of anxious moments we landed safely in St. Louis–although well short of the terminal and surrounded by fire engines. We walked down steps to get to the tarmac and I didn’t get to slide down an escape slide, something I’ve always wanted to do, although only as a practice exercise, not because of the real thing. “I know where I’ll be tonight,” my seatmate said. “I’ll be in church!” The friendly skies are not always that friendly but I keep defying the laws of gravity and getting in various flying machines to get from here to there.
Who knows? One of these days I might find Amelia Earhart.

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  • Blog
  • September 3rd, 2017


By Joel M. Vance

The news that Steve Bannon has been ousted from the White House, whether voluntarily or by a boot in the butt, is like finding that a great white shark has been patrolling the swimming beach where your kids play.
Bannon has returned to Breitbart News, that cesspool of faux media only matched by the equally noxious septic system, Fox News. Between the two of them they have managed to pollute the profession of journalism, perhaps fatally. No longer can we trust that what we’re hearing especially from those two is anywhere near the truth. When Donald Trump, the fake president, trumpets about” fake news” like an old rogue elephant terrorizing a native village with its blustering bellowing, he should be referring to Breitbart and Fox news, rather than the mainstream media outlets. If anyone knows about fake news, it’s our serial lying, woman groping, deadbeat president.
Bannon left behind at least two proto-Nazis in his wake, in the White House like a rusty old warship trailing garbage and sewage in its wake, so it wasn’t as if all the rats deserted the stinking ship of state. Although one of the Bannon acolytes quickly and frantically did flee the White House, possibly ahead of a posse. Trailing in Bannon’s noxious excrescence was Sebastian Gorka, a clownish figure at best, who famously wore a medal bestowed on him by an neo-Nazi group to Trump’s inauguration. The Exodus from the White House has come to resemble the kind of chaotic, clownish scramble often seen in the old Keystone Kops, comedies of yesteryear.
Gorka’s role in the White House was never clearly defined and it’s possible he was kept around for comic relief, a sort of court jester like Rigoletto. Although, as I remember, Rigoletto was responsible for the death of his own daughter, besides which he sang beautifully. It is possible Gorka will do his own singing to any of the several committees investigating Trump’s ties to Russia and Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. One can only hope. Predictably, Gorka has fled back to Breitbart along with Bannon.
Still slithering through the corridors of the White House is Stephen Miller a senior policy advisor to Trump (read that as pro-Nazi sympathizer.) Miller was mentored by Richard Spencer, a white nationalist who is a poster child for the neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Miller is a former aide to Jeff Sessions, the nation’s attorney general. Here is a quote for you by Spencer, “to be white is to be a striver, a crusader, and Explorer and a conqueror.” If that weren’t blatant enough, Spencer added “America was, until this past generation, a white country, designed for ourselves and our posterity. It is our creation, it is our inheritance, and it belongs to us.”
Give that man and all his devoted followers a white sheet, a cross and a gallon of gasoline with which to ignite it. So you have Richard Spencer, Stephen Miller, and Jeff Sessions, all espousing the kind of hateful rhetoric that defines those who oppose civil rights and common decency. Three men in a tub— too bad we can’t launch them out to sea. The only hope is that Miller will follow Bannon and Gorka, like a Norway rat sniffing on the trail of rotting garbage.
Bannon has the personality of a mob enforcer, the guy who shows up to demand protection money or he’ll break your leg or burn your shop down. He basically has already promised to burn the White House down if the occupants don’t bow to his political demands. He apparently has an enemies list of Trump Associates, a political hit list of those he wants to get rid of and he figures that he can do more damage outside the White House than he could within. I guess he figures that Trump is fully capable of destroying the presidency without his help, possibly the only conclusion he has that I agree with.
Some of the Trump coven has managed to hang on including Kellyanne Conway the wicked witch of the west wing, although you don’t hear much from her anymore. Perhaps she is busy brewing evil potions, with which to poison the body politic. If you see flying monkeys hovering over the White House, it’s time to head for the hills.
Kellyanne did make news of a sort, the only kind of news that she knows how to make, when she was interviewed by Pat Robertson (talk about hypocrisy heaped on hypocrisy) who asked her to describe Donald Trump’s most notable attribute and she replied, “humility.” I couldn’t stop laughing for an hour, a sort of bitter laugh combined with incipient nausea. Kellyanne deserves some sort of medal for unintentional irony.
There has been a parade of spokespersons at the media daily briefing rostrum, attempting to make sense of that which cannot be made sense of. Sean Spicer lurked in the bushes like an escapee from Laugh In, murmuring, “Very interesting!” and furnishing hilarious material for Saturday Night Live skits. Anthony Scaramucci lasted no longer than a hummingbird at a flower. Now we have Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the daughter of one time Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, a devout Christian minister and the father of an equally devout Christian daughter, who somehow finds herself capable of defending a serial womanizer, profane serial criminal and when he can find the time to further demoralize the country, pretend to be the president of the United States. How can anyone who trumpets Christianity at the same time defend a person who is so devoutly unChristian as to almost define the term. Talk about hypocrisy.
Our criminal, mentally disturbed president famously said that he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and get away with it. Unfortunately, he probably is right, possibly the only time in his adult life that he has been right. If he is contemplating committing homicide on Fifth Avenue, I have a candidate for him. How about Joe Arpaio, the once, far from great Sheriff of Maricopa County in Arizona. Trump pardoned him even though Sheriff Joe was convicted of a federal crime, and was awaiting sentencing.
Arpaio is a long time butt buddy of Trump’s, and was among the very first to lick his boots when he announced candidacy for the presidency. Arpaio has committed so many insults to the law he allegedly was upholding that it would take a book to list them. To add even more drama to this humorless comedy of errors, Arpaio has announced that he might mount a campaign against Republican senator Jeff Flake who has been critical both of him and his orange flavored mentor, the clown president. How can it get any more ludicrous than this? How do you suppose Huckabee Sanders will cover this fake out. The White House press release explaining the reasoning behind the Arpaio pardon made the brutal Sheriff sound like the reincarnation of Jesus Christ.
After a three-hour quick stop in hurricane ravaged Texas during which the highlight for Trump was to stand on a step ladder and praise a small group of un-enthusiastic unaffected Texans, Trump never mentioned those who have died or been left homeless or otherwise been savaged and ravaged by Hurricane Harvey. But, hey, he has pledged to donate $1 million to hurricane recovery, although the source of the money, whether from him or, as is usually the case, from someone or some organization he can con out of it, is uncertain. I’m hardly waiting with bated breath for him to hand a stack of cash to needy folks in the Houston area out of his own pocket.
On his second visit to Houston four days later, Trump did some of the things he should have done the first time— high five a small boy, kiss a little girl, and hand out food at a disaster shelter. He did, he said, sense a whole lot of love and happiness in Houston. Yeah, it does seem like there would be a lot of love and happiness under 4 or five feet of water.
The Kardashians, hardly the epitome of a functional family, have pledged a half million dollars for relief and Dell technologies billionaire Michael Dell has pledged $36 million. So far Congress, which seems to be on perennial vacation, has not pledged a damn thing, although it’s kind of maybe going to do something.
Trump already has threatened to let the government shut down and default on its debts including money owed to retirees, Medicare recipients and others who rely on government checks. Hardly a person you can rely on to pay his debts. He is one who said that if the economy crashed, “You go back and say, hey guess what, the economy just crashed. I’m going to give you back half.” He also has called himself the king of debt. “Nobody knows that better than me. If things don’t work out, I renegotiate the debt. That’s a smart thing, not a stupid thing.”
So if the poor people of Houston are waiting for Trump to bail them out, they better be able to hold their breath underwater for a long time.

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