The Curtain Has Closed On My Forties…

Well, last night the curtain closed on my forties, which means that today it opens on my fifties. For the last few years I’ve had a sinking feeling about the arrival of this day. Mainly because from 47 though 49 I thought of myself as “late forties”, but at 50 it’s really hard to think of yourself as anything more than “middle aged”. Of course, if we’re lucky enough to get 70 years, then I guess 35 is really the middle, so welcome to “middle age” my 35 year old friends.

Last night I celebrated my last day of 49 by watching the opening night performance of the Arthur Miller classic Death of a Salesman at Live Arts here in Charlottesville. The Pulitzer Prize winning play tells the story of Willie Loman, a washed up traveling salesman who has a hard time recognizing the emptiness and ordinariness of his life and whose desire to make the necessary changes is just not quite strong enough. It’s a brilliantly written story that some find depressing, but in it there is a painful hope as Willie’s son Biff comes to terms with his own emptiness and takes charge of his life to begin the process of change; to pull out of the downward spiral that consumes his father.

In many ways Willie Loman is “everyman”. His emptiness is our emptiness. His ordinariness is our ordinariness. His struggle to make a better life is our struggle. Even in hard circumstances we see glimmers of hope of how life could be better. Sometimes we pursue that hope and the doors open, but like Willie, sometimes those doors close.

I don’t believe in happenstance — I believe in design. Which is why I had to be in the audience of Death of a Salesman on my last night of my forties (an audience who, by the way, gave a standing ovation to the cast of the show — Bravo!). Over the last week as my turning 50 drew nearer I began to have an amazing (even surprising) sense of peace about this big day. And guess what I realized? It’s you, my friends, who will make “middle age” so wonderful.

When I was in my 30’s I didn’t have many friends in their 60’s and 70’s, but now in my 50’s I do. I also now have many friends in their 20’s and 30’s. This alone is going to make my middle age 50’s an enormous joy; the wisdom of those ahead of me, and the crazy adventure of those coming into their own behind me. In many ways I feel like I’m perfectly balanced on one of those old school teeter-totters; my older friends on one side and my younger friends on the other… perfectly balanced.

So as I stand on the edge of a new decade of life allow me to make a declaration (my anti Willie Loman declaration). As long as God allows me to stand on this great green earth I intend to do the following: to create out loud (films, art, beauty), to emote out loud (tears, laughter, joy), and mostly, to love out loud (family, friends, even enemies). I hope you will help keep me accountable to these passions and that you may even be inspired to pursue your own.

Making Up Books

I believe it was in the seventh grade when I first recall intentionally using my gift of creativity for deceitful purposes. In my English Literature class at Lincoln Junior High in El Paso we received an assignment: go to the library, pick out a novel, read it, write a report on it, and lastly, give an oral report about the book. If I recall correctly, the only requirement was a minimum page length of the book we would choose. I remember going to the school library with my classmates, I remember goofing off with some of my friends, I remember wandering the aisles, I remember searching for just the right book, I remember my friends checking out their books, and I remember leaving empty-handed.

I guess I thought I would return to the the library the next day at lunch, or perhaps I thought that my friends had checked out all of the “good” books, but somewhere along the way I had the idea to just “makeup” a book. Not “write” a book, but just simply “make up” a book out of thin air. Not only would I get the chance to be creative, but I would be able to deceive my teacher along with my entire class! I don’t know if I had balls the size of coconuts or if I was just being a silly (yet creative) junior high boy. Regardless, I committed to my criminal ways and began daydreaming, developing plot & characters, action & subplots, etc. etc.

I’m fairly confident that I wrote the greatest book report ever written about a book that didn’t exist. Unfortunately the title and the plot of my masterpiece have been lost to history, perhaps trapped deep in dark cognitive space inside my brain, or in the mind of my teacher or perhaps one of my classmates that heard my brilliant oral report. Oh, how I wish I had that paper today! I would love to read what my seventh grade self delivered.

I think most of us would agree that it takes an enormous amount of guts to try and pass off a “make-believe book” on a teacher of English Literature. I remember thinking that if I was going to be able to pull this off, I needed to have details. A title, plot, and authors name we’re essential, but a Dewey Decimal number was icing on the cake, so I made up one of those, too. I like to think that one detail helped sell the whole thing.

I may have been crazy or stupid (or probably both), but I pulled it off. I turned in my paper and I stood up in front of the class and gave my oral report on a book that didn’t exist. When I received my grades and realized I aced the assignments I felt like a creative genius, like a hero, and I guess, a little bit like a fraud. I tried to focus on the amazing creative accomplishment, so I didn’t spend too much time dwelling on the deceitful nature of my actions.

So for a few days around that event back in the seventh grade, I was a little cooler, a little less dorky—a young teenage boy who walked a little taller around Lincoln Junior High on Mulberry Avenue… even if it was only in my mind.

Does Grace Live Here?

About 10:40 tonight the kids saw headlights pulling down our 600 foot driveway; a very rare thing out in the middle of nowhere. The vehicle proceeded to turn around to leave and then stopped. I watched from the window for a moment not recognizing the car. Flipping a couple of exterior lights on I stepped out into the cold night air.

A 40-something African-American opened the car door and started up the flight of steps. “Does Grace live here?” he asked, as he stopped at the landing. “No, no one named Grace,” I replied. He looked down at something in his hand. “Williamson? I think it’s… Savannah Grace,” he said and he held up a drivers license and a wallet. “I found this in the road out by Food Lion.”

She didn’t know it, but my daughter had left her wallet on top of her car after filling up with gas. I took the items from the stranger as he held them out and then I sat down on the step. I asked him his name, stared at him as he told me, thanked him several times, and had my faith in humanity restored.

“Does Grace live here?” What a powerful sentence. I sure hope it does.


This true story occurred on February 11th, 2014. This autobiographical post is part of my series of short articles called “Events That Shaped A Life”. Keep your eye out for more posts from this series.

My First Day On The Set… Bozo The Clown

The first time I ever set foot in a television studio was when I was a young boy. A friend had a birthday and a portion of the party was to watch the taping of the local Bozo the Clown Show. In the early 70’s in El Paso, Texas, a local weatherman named Howell Eurich would dress up as Bozo and entertain the kids each week. The Channel Four Studios of KDBC-TV (formerly KROD) had a colorful and fun set where the filming occurred and although I don’t remember the content of the show I do remember being mesmerized by the cameras and lights and showmanship of it all.

I never knew, while I sat in the bleachers laughing with my friends as part of the studio audience, that my life was being shaped, but obviously it was. I’ve been in love with production for as long as I can remember… perhaps it has something to do with capturing and immortalizing a moment… perhaps it has to do with entertaining, educating, and enlightening… whatever it is it all started for me with a weatherman who would dress up in a clown’s outfit in order to entertain the kids.

I learned much later in my life that different television markets had their own version of Bozo the Clown. Apparently a TV Station could license the show and they would receive the clown outfit, wig, nose, shoes, and scripts. All they would need to do was provide the talent, lights, cameras & action.

I also learned some of the tragic events that would play out in the life of El Paso’s clown and weatherman, Howell Eurich. Apparently he fell in love with the stations weather-woman Gail Gordon (even though they were both married to other people at the time). Their affair blossomed on-screen, which they say was good for ratings. Together Gail and Howell adopted a platinum blonde Lasha Apso that became a TV star herself.

Puffy Little Cloud
Puffy Little Cloud

Named Puffy Little Cloud, the dog would appear with Howell and Gail on-air for the weather segment. Puffy had over 650 hats and 360 outfits in her collection, many of which were hand-sewn by adoring viewers. She would show up in a raincoat on the rare days when rain was in El Paso’s forecast and with sunglasses when hot weather was due. Some say Puffy would receive 50 letters a day from fans all over.

Howell Eurich & Gail Gordon (upper left)
Howell Eurich & Gail Gordon (upper left)

Puffy was the brides-maid when Howell and Gail were married, but not everything would work out the way they hoped. After five years together, the love affair that had blossomed in the television studio had run it’s course. Howell was broken-hearted and Gail was moving on. On Wednesday, November 3rd overnight clouds gave way to clear morning skies. By 10AM scattered clouds would dot the sky but the temperature would only rise to 57 degrees. That day Howell dropped Puffy off at a friends house and then went to the station to record one last commercial. Afterwards he drove home, parked his car inside the garage, and left the engine running. By mid-afternoon the clouds would vanish and the skies would clear, but the cloud of carbon monoxide in the garage would do its job. It was November of 1982 when Howell Eurich took his own life.

When I walked onto the set of “Bozo’s Big Top” as a child I didn’t know how significant a moment it would be for me. In 1982 when I heard that the local weatherman had killed himself I didn’t think much of it… I don’t believe I even knew that it was the weatherman who had played the role of Bozo all those years earlier. It wasn’t until 2012 or so that I started thinking about that day on the set so long ago that I began researching it and learned the story of Howell’s fate.

I wish I could send a note of thanks to Howell, or better yet, to meet him and to shake his hand and say “thank you”—not only entertaining us children by dressing up as a clown, but for unknowingly igniting a spark deep inside of a little blond-haired boy who would grow up to have a career in the film & video world. I guess I’ll just have to say it here… “Thanks, Howell… thank you very much!”


This autobiographical post is part of my series of short articles called “Events That Shaped A Life”. Keep your eye out for more posts from this series.

SOURCES: Weather details for Nov 3, 1982: Weather Underground. Other details: Tales From the Morgue, Genealogy Trails, Texas Monthly – October 1979 pg. 117, EPVMA Animal Hall of Fame.