Friday, 6 July 2018

Columns by Rob Hiaasen, Capital Gazette shooting victim

Capital Gazette editor Rob Hiaasen, who was among the five shot and killed Thursday at the newspaper in Annapolis, Md., was known for his wryly observant writing style and his generous mentoring of young journalists. He wrote a Sunday column for the paper. Here are some examples of his columns:


Thank you for assuring me I wouldn't drown when water was filling the bathtub. I was very young and very sure the water would keep coming and what would happen then?

You showed me that spot under the faucet, that little emergency drain.

Thank you for introducing me to your favorite athletes.

Joe Louis. Sugar Ray Robinson. Sam Snead. Together, we liked Joe Frazier (you were not an Ali guy) and Jack Nicklaus.

Thank you for all your music I didn't like then.

Duke Ellington. Ella Fitzgerald. Louie Armstrong. (You were not a Charlie Parker guy.)

Those old albums of yours? I have them now on CD.

Thank you for your work bench. I kept your level and some weird massive wrench. I never saw you use it. I haven't used it. But I like having a weird massive wrench in the unlikely event a major construction project bewitches me.

Thank you, thank you, for taking us to the Florida Keys all those summers. I complained because my friends were going to faraway places like Chimney Rock in a faraway land called North Carolina while we were stuck going again to the Keys - a whopping 2-hour drive from our home.

I miss the Overseas Highway (off-season) bisecting the Atlantic and Florida Bay, those water colors, those roadside restaurants serving conch fritters and fresh dolphin.

I still get to the Keys when I can. I need the place.

Thank you for, on sneaky occasion, giving me the first, cold, smacking blast of your Pabst.

Thank you for your love of boats.

You bought me and my brother that 12-foot Jon boat from Sears. We'd get tiny fiberglass splinters hauling it around. I taught myself how to handle a small boat in the Everglades and Key Biscayne. I learned a boat is better than any car will ever be. And our 7.5 Merc outboard was moodier than I was.

Thank you for the golf lessons. I still can handle a 9 iron, but golf didn't stick with me. Damn you, long irons.

Thank you for going to my basketball games. Watching me made you nervous (playing made me nervous). You didn't go to many of them. That's OK. Please know I improved my free throw shooting.

Thank you for taking me to Disney World the year after it opened. You would have much rather been on a golf course, or fishing, or listening to Louie Armstrong in your La-Z-Boy, or watching Don Shula's Miami Dolphins beat everybody. But you went to the Magic Kingdom, suffered the long lines, indulged me, fathered me.

Thank you for maybe the greatest Christmas gift. 1970? My brother left for college. You turned his bedroom into your office. This was not my idea. My idea was that his room — bigger, better — should be passed down to me. I communicated this to you on many occasions.

You didn't budge for months.

Then, that Christmas, you bugged out of the corner bedroom. You actually deeded me the room - a legal document you drew up at your law office. I became the official owner of my brother's bedroom. As it should be. I still keep the deed in a lock box just in case someone tries to steal the memory.

Over the years I've become a memory hoarder, but I wish I could remember more things to thank you for on Father's Day.

At least this year I have a card.


Have you ever lost a loved one you haven't loved in 40 years?

Naturally, I was slow to hear the news since we hadn't spoken in 40 years. But this past year - my 40th high school reunion - I learned of her death through a series of reunion-based email trails.

It was a strange punch in the gut — not powerful but glancing. The wind wasn't knocked out of me, but memories were.

She was my first serious girlfriend, and our first date was Senior Prom. She was tall, pretty and shy. She was kind and difficult. She was the only person I knew who played soccer and the flute.

She kept me company until she left. Hers was an unsentimental and durable leaving.

There were no post-break-up meetings, no chances for reconciliation. Boy loses girl. Period. Sometimes you just know when love is done. She knew.

If I could, I would thank her for not pretending she still loved me then. She was incapable of pretense or romantic fiction. She liked me true, then just as true, she stopped. She had an honest heart - even when I felt it heartless.

She wasn't heartless.

She was my girlfriend for a small window toward the end of high school. Then it was all over, and the vanishing lasted until this past year. There had been no letters, no phone conversations, no encounters.

So, with no facts to work with other than a brief death notice, I created a fictional life for her and for my memory. Something to fill in the gap until I moved on again.

I hope she had someone in her life, someone to care for her during whatever it was that ended her at 58. (One advantage of learning grave news from your high school class is you never have to guess the person's age: it's yours.)

I hope she was more happy than sad.

I hope she had children - not because everyone needs to but because I have three wonderful kids.

I hope she traveled.

I hope she had friends who made her laugh.

I hope she kept in touch with someone from high school - not because everyone needs to but because I've been lucky that way, too.

I hope she found rewarding work.

I hope she forgot all the old-person music I subjected her to during the late 1970s.

I hope she knew three or four great dogs.

I hope that whatever ended her could somehow pay a far greater price than she did.

No, I don't hope she remembered me fondly. It's all right if she didn't, truly. But I remember her with fondness, gratitude and a glancing, renewed loss.

Goodbye to the girl who knew how to say goodbye.

Columnist Rob Hiaasen.

When there's no hiding from news, it's time for a haircut.

Getting a haircut - once a horrific, spirit-crushing event during the teenage years - is a safe haven for the news beleaguered. There, in the wrapped confines of your barber's or stylist's chair, you can slink away to a news-free zone. There, on your temporary throne, you are clipped and pampered by intimate hands. Throw in a quality head massage during the shampoo phase and a person believes in heaven on Earth.

But back to the chair.

"How have you been?" your stylist asks.

"Been well, thanks," says the cloaked man staring into the mirrored abyss. A much older man stares back at him wondering where the aggrieved ages of 13, 14 and 15 went.

"So, what do we want today?"

The same cut he always gets but she has forgotten again. He is not special - or not nearly as special as he wants to be to her. This is his issue.

"I don't mind it short, and I sort of push it forward."

That, the familiar admission his bangs died roughly when Elvis did.

The snipping commences. He is cloaked in a black tarp and watches shards of white hair sprinkle and tumble on his expanse of lap.

"You off today?" she asks.

The friendly shallowness of their conversation is perfect tonic for the continuing Year in News. She could ask him anything, and he'd answer anything.

"Would you like me to paint your forehead with the colors of the Maryland state flag?" she could ask.

"That would be ideal," he would answer.

He does not want to leave the Chair of Submissiveness because everything beyond this moment is outside this moment. He stalls.

"I started getting gray in my 20s," he says to her imaginary question. She has never asked about his hair color. It's embarrassing he keeps bringing it up, but she saves him every time.

"At least you have hair!" she says.

He smiles into the mirrored abyss. He could be missing an arm, but at least you have another, she would say. And she would be right even if she forgets his name, usual haircut request and work schedule.

She does not bring him any news of the day - but might tell him of her surprising and multilayered life. He will also tell her things before the spell is broken and he rises from the chair.

He had been in such an angry hurry to leave when he was young, certain his hair had been permanently ruined and would never grow back.

He just needed to grow up was all.


Is there a statute of limitations on childhood naivete? On adult un-education?

The country continues to question its past and present in this time of statute and monument removal and confederacies of violent dunces. From the downed Roger B. Taney statue in Annapolis to the dropped playing of "Maryland, My Maryland" at University of Maryland football games, people are gut-checking their beliefs, customs and traditions.

Some are even discovering their hometowns for the first time.

In the 1960s, I was a child growing up in south Florida. I was taken to Fort Lauderdale beach before I could even swim. If there was unrest elsewhere in the country, it surely didn't happen on unspoiled Fort Lauderdale beach. Little did I know or learn in school.

In 1961, there was a series of "wade-ins "by black residents on the all-white beach at Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale. A year before, my beach had been immortalized and romanticized in the popular beach movie, "Where the Boys Are." There weren't any black beachgoers in the movie, either.

Organized by the local NAACP , the wade-in participants - tired of trudging to the "blacks-only" sand scrap south of the "good" beach - were greeted by threats of police arrest and crowds of whites brandishing bottles and bats. The number of black participants increased, and eventually, a Broward Circuit judge allowed the protests to continue. Broward County's beaches were, from then on, desegregated.

I had no idea when and how this happened until I was at the beach a few years ago and noticed a historic marker chronicling the wade-ins. Don't know how long it has been there, but the marker wasn't erected in my time in south Florida. And I certainly didn't learn anything about segregated Florida beaches in my Florida classrooms (wishing to uphold school segregation, the Florida Legislature in 1957 opposed Brown v. Board of Education).

I never knew an NAACP pioneer named Harry T. Moore up the road in Brevard County, in a little Florida town called Mims, was killed along with his wife. KKK members planted and detonated a bomb under the floor boards of their home Christmas night, 1951. The Moores are considered the first NAACP members killed for civil rights activism. Their home was bombed on their 25th wedding anniversary. I learned about the Moores when I had the chance years later in Maryland to interview their daughter, Evangeline, who happened to be away from home that Christmas. She survived to tell her parents' story.

I didn't learn about Rosewood in school, either. In January 1923, black residents in the black town of Rosewood in Levy County, Florida, were nothing short of massacred by white vigilantes, some of whom had been deputized by the local sheriff. Parts of Florida were a Klan hot bed in the 1920s, when the hate group's membership reportedly peaked in the South. First I heard of the town's scorching was seeing John Singleton's movie "Rosewood" in 1997.

Then there was Reuben Stacy. I have relatives who still live in Davie, just west of where I grew up. It was a cow town then, sort of still is. It was also a Klan town. In 1935 (when my father was 10 and growing up in Fort Lauderdale), a 37-year-old black man named Reuben Stacy was shot and then hanged from a tree on Old Davie Road in Fort Lauderdale. The grisly photograph, which survived, is a rare visual account of a lynching in Florida.

A report from the nonprofit Equal Justice Initiative about lynchings across the South taught me something else. The Sunshine State ranked fifth among 12 states analyzed for the number of lynchings between 1877 and 1950. There were 331 lynchings in Florida and per capita, the state lynched people at a higher rate than any other, according to the group's findings. Maryland had 28.

In my naivete, I never thought of Fort Lauderdale as the South or me a Southerner (my mother was born in Chicago; my father's people were from North Dakota). Yes, we would drive on Dixie Highway, our main road, and shop at Winn-Dixie, our main grocery store, and play on the white beach sand of where the boys were all the while unaware of any wade-in as we waded in.

Once or twice I ate at our local Sambo's. That's right, Sambo's, where the restaurant chain's mascot was indeed a dark-skinned boy. Sambo's went bankrupt and sold its Fort Lauderdale location to Denny's. That was 1983.

But Southerners? Us? Naw.

By the way, Old Dixie Highway up the road in Riviera Beach from my old home isn't called Old Dixie Highway anymore. In 2015 the mayor and others, believing "Dixie" to be symbolic of racism, cross burnings and the Klan, re-named their section of the highway in honor of former president Barack Obama.

I also learned that from a newspaper article.

Little did I know.


I was reading my newspaper the other day when an ad headline shook me to my core. My future passed before my eyes and points lower. Whatever self-doubts and setbacks that have dogged me were erased by this: NEW ALTERNATIVE TO ADULT DIAPERS AND CATHETERS SETS MEN FREE.

Generally, I shy away from all caps (and New Year's Eve parties and poodles), but the news was so bold it deserved bold typography. Rather than having to wear diapers or use catheters, men can now use a skin-friendly pouch that "attaches to the tip of a man's anatomy." This, as my mother would say, is not dinner table talk. But by gosh, we need to talk about things that can set us free.

Believe me, I don't need "24-hour leak-free security." I'm not a long-haul truck driver who may or may not need an equivalent method for long-haul relief. I do have a longish commute to work, and I do like my morning coffee, but pouches have not entered into the equation. To recap: I don't need urological care of this or any magnitude, thank you very much. Psychiatry, sure, who doesn't? But not this really personal stuff.


How can you read such a thing and not see yourself down some long-haul, lonesome road from now?

Perhaps this cheery outlook explains a certain shortage of New Year's Eve parties.


I was reading my newspaper the other day and saw an item about a missing 98-year-old man. Fortunately, the man was found unharmed and was returned to his relieved family. Police reported the man does not have any medical issues, but he sleepwalks from time to time.

No medical issues at 98.


Just sleepwalks away from home sometimes.

I am profoundly jealous of every fact in this story. Setting aside for the moment the worry such a missing invokes, I daydream of the day when I am 98 with no medical issues and slip away in sleep state and am returned unharmed to my loved ones.

Oh, he just walks off sometimes, they will tell police. Better check the water. He tends to wander down to City Dock to look at the water and boats.

And there they will find me. Sleepwalking and daydreaming among all the boats in all the water.

Found smiling, they will report.


I was reading my newspaper the other day about the FBI adding to its Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list the man suspected of killing his wife at a Dunkin' Donuts in Hanover two years ago. Police hope the renewed attention will produce fresh leads in the cold case.

The crime video is also back in the news with renewed views - many views. In the store video, the husband and wife are seen walking off-camera to a backroom and the husband emerging alone. For now it's the last image we have of the fugitive; it's forever the last image we have of his wife.

I watched the video as if vainly looking for clues. But what I was really watching was simply a woman walking with her husband to the backroom of where they worked. But she never comes back into camera range, no matter how many times I see the popular video. The story never changes.

For the people who knew and loved her, surely they must know countless strangers, such as myself, re-watched the last images of 21-year-old Palek Patel. If they could ask us why we watch, what would we say?


I moved to Maryland in 1993 for a job. That's what happens. You move for a job. A job or a girl or guy.

I never moved for a girl although that is exactly something I would have done. Because no one ever will ask you years later to tell them the story of how you moved for a job. People want to hear how you moved for a girl.

So, I'm going to lie and say I moved here for a girl - a girl named Maryland.

I didn't know a thing about her before I came 24 years ago. Generally, I knew where she lived - a few states up along the coast and with some funky, alluring geography. I heard she liked crab cakes, the O's and Berger Cookies. I thought to bring her some, but I had my family to pack up. No room left in the mini-van.

First impressions:

Not quite a Southern state, not quite Northern.

Where were good grits?

No grapefruit trees. Had I made a perilous life decision?

First week on the job someone asked me if I was going to send my kids to private or public school. It felt like a test. It felt like no one's business.

First week on the job someone asked if I was going to join the union. My second test.

First summer I needed, severely, to see a beach lest I emotionally detonate. I rented us a place at Bethany Beach right after school let out in June. It was cold and foggy. Actual fog. We couldn't see each other, and we couldn't get into the water. I would have ingested more alcohol but the kids were very young and I didn't want them to see Daddy have to experience a Maryland jail.

First year I truly discovered John Waters, Anne Tyler, Barry Levinson, Taylor Branch, Tom Horton, Blaze Starr's old 2 O'Clock Club and my favorite noir writer, James Cain, who was from Annapolis.

Discovered homesickness fades but not completely.

Second impressions:

Canada geese.

Forget the Gators. Go Terps.

Go in-state University of Maryland tuition. Twice.

Maryland politicians appear steadfast, reasonable, moderate and unburdened by charisma.

The Unsinkable Natty Boh.

Discovered the outdoor crab tanks at "Cantler's Riverside Inn" and the Stanley Norman skipjack and the bewitching Maritime Republic of Eastport.

Discovered housing prices in Eastport. Bought an MRE decal instead.

Discovered The Capital.

Learned to take the family to Bethany Beach in August. Learned Bethany Beach isn't in Maryland.

Lasting impressions:


The schools.

The best airport.

The best sunflower field (Jarrettsville Pike and Hess Road in Baltimore County).

The best State House in any state.

Buck Showalter. I never understand a thing he says, but I sure do like the way he says it.


The Blue Angels make me jump every time - jump out of my car, office, home and skin just to watch them.

Maryland's quick-draw fall and spring.

Old Bay.

And Berger Cookies.

Because the truth is I moved to Maryland not for a job or a girl but for Berger Cookies.

(Source: The Morning Call)

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