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Guns and Love and Fear

I grew up in Hawaii and sang in a choir.  We were a very tight group of teenagers from various schools.  We were laid back and went to the beach together and sang our hearts out.  Then we all grew up and followed our paths until we met up again on Facebook a number of years ago.  And we were different.  Last night one of my friends, who moved to the Midwest,  posted something supportive of Wayne LaPierre of the NRA and I went ballistic.  I reached out to him and asked how he could possibly hold this view in light of what has been happening lately.  Massacre after massacre after massacre and he still thinks the laws on the books are enough?  He told me about being assaulted once and having a friend who was raped and about his opinion that if good guys were armed then we could fight back against the bad guys.  He wrote “the slippery slope to me is that once a law starts to be framed, it morphs into something very different from its original intent. A well intended law can become a monster with irreversible consequences.”

I told him about my experiences covering massacres like Columbine and the Aurora Theatre shooting for NBC News and meeting victim families and feeling the pain and suffering of survivors as I’ve asked them to share their stories.  I told him about the funeral for Officer Garrett Swasey that I just attended and how a gun didn’t help the good guy on the day he died outside the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood office.  I told him about the very moving End of Watch video that was shown at his service.  I fired back that “apparently people are morphing the second amendment and the constitution into something the founding fathers never intended.”  He and I will never agree on this topic, we are on complete opposite sides of the argument and shake our heads at the other’s point of view, but we had a respectful on line discussion and wished each other a happy holiday season.

Today I mentioned our exchange to my instructor at yoga and he suggested that I come from a place of love and my friend comes from a place of fear.  Last night it seemed that way to me too, but the more I think of it, the more I realize we both come from the same place.  He loves his friends and family and community and I feel the same way about mine.  He thinks the way to protect his people is with guns and I think the way for my people to be safe is to get rid of them.  We are both fearful of where our country is going after Sandy Hook and San Bernardino.  How we differ is in the way to get there.  He holds tight to his rights and his AR-15, and I hold tight to my rights to live in a land free of gun violence and semi-automatic weapons.  I may be naive, but I hope by having the discussion we are a step closer to compromise and something we both can live with.

The dialogue over gun control has devolved into something akin to the fiery rhetoric over abortion.  It is so black and white that it seems there is no middle ground.  The person who shot his gun through the front page editorial about gun control on Saturday’s New York Times is an indication of how counterproductive this argument has become.  People have dug their heels so deeply in the sand they cannot be budged.  But on the issue of gun violence we need to budge.  Hopefully my conversation with my friend is a move towards understanding and maybe others will talk to their friends and neighbors and we will have a larger national conversation that will lead once and for all to our leaders having the courage to craft some common sense solutions that create a safer nation for my friend’s children and mine.  And no, even though my friend worried I would unfriend him, we both have agreed to leave the door open for future conversations.

 


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How Hunter S. Thompson Looked for a Job

There was never a dull moment with Hunter S. Thompson.  He wrote this cover letter in 1958.  Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times shared it today with his Facebook fans and remarked that it was the best job application letter he ever read.  It also appeared in the Fear and Loathing Letters Vol. 1.  We miss Hunter S. Thompson in Colorado.  When he died it kind of took the high out of our high country.  Don’t think his chutzpah led to a job with The Sun though.

Vancouver Sun

TO JACK SCOTT, VANCOUVER SUN

October 1, 1958 57 Perry Street New York City

Sir,

I got a hell of a kick reading the piece Time magazine did this week on The Sun. In addition to wishing you the best of luck, I’d also like to offer my services.

Since I haven’t seen a copy of the “new” Sun yet, I’ll have to make this a tentative offer. I stepped into a dung-hole the last time I took a job with a paper I didn’t know anything about (see enclosed clippings) and I’m not quite ready to go charging up another blind alley.

By the time you get this letter, I’ll have gotten hold of some of the recent issues of The Sun. Unless it looks totally worthless, I’ll let my offer stand. And don’t think that my arrogance is unintentional: it’s just that I’d rather offend you now than after I started working for you.

I didn’t make myself clear to the last man I worked for until after I took the job. It was as if the Marquis de Sade had suddenly found himself working for Billy Graham. The man despised me, of course, and I had nothing but contempt for him and everything he stood for. If you asked him, he’d tell you that I’m “not very likable, (that I) hate people, (that I) just want to be left alone, and (that I) feel too superior to mingle with the average person.” (That’s a direct quote from a memo he sent to the publisher.)

Nothing beats having good references.

Of course if you asked some of the other people I’ve worked for, you’d get a different set of answers.If you’re interested enough to answer this letter, I’ll be glad to furnish you with a list of references — including the lad I work for now.

The enclosed clippings should give you a rough idea of who I am. It’s a year old, however, and I’ve changed a bit since it was written. I’ve taken some writing courses from Columbia in my spare time, learned a hell of a lot about the newspaper business, and developed a healthy contempt for journalism as a profession.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s a damned shame that a field as potentially dynamic and vital as journalism should be overrun with dullards, bums, and hacks, hag-ridden with myopia, apathy, and complacence, and generally stuck in a bog of stagnant mediocrity. If this is what you’re trying to get The Sun away from, then I think I’d like to work for you.

Most of my experience has been in sports writing, but I can write everything from warmongering propaganda to learned book reviews.

I can work 25 hours a day if necessary, live on any reasonable salary, and don’t give a black damn for job security, office politics, or adverse public relations.

I would rather be on the dole than work for a paper I was ashamed of.

It’s a long way from here to British Columbia, but I think I’d enjoy the trip.

If you think you can use me, drop me a line.

If not, good luck anyway.

Sincerely, Hunter S. Thompson

 
For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.


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A Son Returns to the Agony of Somalia By K’NAAN

K’NAAN is one of my favorite musicians.  He inspired people around the globe with his rousing “Wavin’ Flag” during the World Cup in South Africa and now he has written a powerful op-ed piece for the New York Times about a journey he took home to his native Somalia.  It’s an urgent call to action in case we are forgetting the famine already.

A Son Returns to the Agony of Somalia

By K’NAAN
K’Naan is a musician and poet.

MOGADISHU, Somalia

ONE has to be careful about stories. Especially true ones. When a story is told the first time, it can find a place in the listener’s heart. If the same story is told over and over, it becomes less like a presence in that chest and more like an X-ray of it.

The beating heart of my story is this: I was born in Mogadishu, Somalia. I had a brief but beautiful childhood filled with poetry from renowned relatives. Then came a bloody end to it, a lesson in life as a Somali: death approaching from the distance, walking into our lives in an experienced stroll.

At 12 years old, I lost three of the boys I grew up with in one burst of machine-gun fire — one pull from the misinformed finger of a boy probably not much older than we were.

But I was also unusually lucky. The bullets hit everyone but me.

Luck follows me through this story; so does my luckless homeland. A few harrowing months later, I found myself on the last commercial flight to leave Somalia before war closed in on the airport. And over the years, fortune turned me into Somalia’s loudest musical voice in the Western Hemisphere.

Meanwhile, my country festered, declining more and more. When I went on a tour of 86 countries last year, I could not perform in the one that mattered most to me. And when my song “Wavin’ Flag” became the theme song for the World Cup that year, the kids back home were not allowed to listen to it on the airwaves. Whatever melodious beauty I found, living in the spotlight, my country produced an opposing harmony in shadows, and the world hardly noticed. But I could still hear it.

And now this terrible year: The worst famine in decades pillages the flesh of the already wounded in Somalia. And the world’s collective humanitarian response has been a defeated shrug. If ever there was a best and worst time to return home, it was now.

So, 20 summers after I left as a child, I found myself on my way back to Somalia with some concerned friends and colleagues. I hoped that my presence would let me shine a light into this darkness. Maybe spare even one life, a life equal to mine, from indifferently wasting away. But I am no statesman, nor a soldier. Just a man made fortunate by the power of the spotlight. And to save someone’s life I am willing to spend some of that capricious currency called celebrity.

We had been told that Mogadishu was still among the most dangerous cities on the planet. So it was quiet on the 15-seat plane from Nairobi. We told nervous jokes at first, then looked to defuse the tension. The one book I had brought was Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast.” I reached a chapter titled “Hunger Was Good Discipline” and stopped. That idea needed some contemplation. The very thing driving so many from their homes in Somalia was drawing me back there. I read on. Hemingway felt that paintings were more beautiful when he was “belly-empty, hollow-hungry.” But he was not speaking of the brutal and criminally organized hunger of East Africa. His hunger was beautiful. It made something of you. The one I was heading into only made ashes of you.

By now, the ride was bumpy. We were flying low, so I could see Baraawe and Merca, beauties of coastal towns that I had always dreamed of visiting. The pilot joked that he would try to fly low enough for my sightseeing, but high enough to avoid the rocket-propelled grenades.

FOR miles along that coast, all you see are paint-like blue water, beautiful sand dunes eroding, and an abandoned effort to cap them with concrete. Everything about Somalia feels like abandonment. The buildings, the peace initiatives, the hopes and dreams of greatness for a nation.

With the ocean to our backs, our wheels touch down in Mogadishu, at the airport I left 20 years before to the surround-sound of heavy artillery pounding the devil’s rhythm. Now there is an eerie calm. We clear immigration, passing citizens with AK-47’s slung over their shoulders.

It’s not a small task to be safe in Mogadishu. So we keep our arrival a secret until after we ride from the airport to the city, a ride on which they say life expectancy is about 17 minutes if you don’t have the kind of security that has been arranged for me.

Over breakfast at a “safe house,” I update my sense of taste with kidney and anjera (a bread), and a perfectly cooled grapefruit drink. Then we journey onto the city streets. It’s the most aesthetically contradictory place on earth — a paradise of paradox. The old Italian and locally inspired architecture is colored by American and Russian artillery paint. Everything stands proudly lopsided.

And then come the makeshift camps set up for the many hungering displaced Somalis. They are the reason I am here. If my voice was an instrument, then I needed it to be an amplifier this time. If my light was true, then I needed it to show its face here, where it counts. Nothing I have ever sung will matter much if I can’t be the mouth of the silenced. But will the world have ears for them, too?

I find the homeless Somalis’ arms open, waiting for the outside world and hoping for a second chance into its fenced heart. I meet a young woman watching over her dying mother, who has been struck by the bullet of famine. The daughter tells me about the journey to Mogadishu — a 200-mile trek across arid, parched land, with adults huddling around children to protect them first. This mother refused to eat her own food in order to feed abandoned children they had picked up along the way. And now she was dying because of that.

The final and most devastating stop for me was Banadir Hospital, where I was born. The doctors are like hostages of hopelessness, surrounded and outnumbered. Mothers hum lullabies holding the skeletal heads of their children. It seems eyes are the only ornament left of their beautiful faces; eyes like lanterns holding out a glimmer of faint hope. Volunteers are doing jobs they aren’t qualified for. The wards are over-crowded, mixing gun wound, malnutrition and cholera patients.

Death is in every corner of this place. It’s lying on the mattresses holding the tiny wrists of half-sleeping children. It’s near the exposed breasts of girls turned mothers too soon. It folds in the cots, all-knowing and silent; its mournful wind swells the black sheets. Here, each life ends sadly, too suddenly and casually to be memorialized.

In this somber and embittered forgotten place, at least they were happy to see I had come.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.

To see Vicky’s photographs from Africa visit Vicky Collins Photography.


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Facetime Instead of Facebook: 36 Hours in Honolulu

The Sunday New York Times had a feature in its Travel Section today on how to spend 36 hours in Honolulu.  It singled out some of my favorite places like Kapiolani Park, Chinatown and the drive from Hanauma Bay to Waimanalo with stops at Sandy Beach and Makapuu.  With no disrespect to the author, Jocelyn Fujii, I would like to suggest my own itinerary based on recent travels and a reunion with Na Kani Pela, a choir I sang with in high school that represented Hawaii for the Bicentennial celebration.  I guarantee you will have a magical time.

Na Kani Pela choir gathers for 35th Reunion in Honolulu.

First, start by bringing in the people who made your high school years memorable.  Collect them all on Facebook then invite them and their families for a big reunion bash.  Bug them until they say yes, as showing up for a reunion 35 years later gives people considerable angst.  Get people warmed up with a small gathering at the Ground Floor on Richards Street in downtown Honolulu and listen to some Hawaiian music.  Hold a pot luck at the home of your calabash mama who looks just like she did 35 years ago.  Watch the spark of recognition in her eyes with each arrival and the tears of joy as she gives you a huge ohana hug.  Realize you are older now then she was back in 1976.  Shudder!  Celebrate as each of your high school friends walks through the door.  Sing the songs that were the soundtrack of your youth.  Take photos.  Hug alot.  Talk story.  Bring tons of food and pig out.

Stay in room 1431 of the Waikiki Beach Marriott with a view of Honolulu that will make you never want to leave.  Spend time with your sisters for the first time in three decades on your island home.  Bring your sons along as dates.  Let them roam around Waikiki like you did when you were teenagers.  Get up early every day and walk around Diamond Head.  Discover the Farmers Market at Kapiolani Community College.  Have inari sushi, fried green tomatoes and shave ice for breakfast.  Talk to a homeless man named George on Kalakaua Avenue who reminds you that “just because you don’t have a roof over your head, doesn’t mean you don’t have a home.”  Visit your favorite beaches on Oahu.  Eat plate lunch at Zippy’s, L & L, Kaneke’s and Ted’s Bakery.  Have breakfast at Wailana.  Char siu omelet.  Ono!

Na Kani Pela picnic in Waimanalo

Have a picnic on the beach at Sherwood’s in Waimanalo.  Make Kukui Nut leis with your buddies and talk more story.  Watch your children play in the surf and get stung by Portuguese Man of Wars just like you did when you were a kid.  Be baffled as they stay in the water even though the pain makes them want to jump out of their shorts.  Realize that if your son was growing up in Hawaii today it would be a perfect fit just like it was for you so many years ago.  Have a banquet at the Elk’s Club and watch 4th of July fireworks in the distance.  Ooh and aah!  See all your friends in their muumuus and aloha shirts.  Realize you are all older and a few pounds heavier but you can still sing and raise the roof like you did when you were teenagers.  Watch two generations of hula dancers and tell your friends just how much they meant in your life.  Hug some more, this time holding on tighter, as you say goodbye for now.

Sunset on Waikiki Beach

There is no place like Hawaii, and to me, there is no place like Honolulu, where I grew up and still continue to call home.  The only problem is that you eventually have to leave.  36 hours go by quickly.  This time when I flew back to the mainland over the lights of Waikiki I took so much more with me.  I carried my friends from Na Kani Pela, I took a tropical sea of memories and the music that played in the background of my youth.  I came back to Colorado with a full heart and a sense of how lucky I was to be a kid who grew up in a place like that, with friends like that, surrounded by love like that.  That’s how you spend 36 hours in Honolulu.  Now we’ll have to stay in touch on Facebook.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.


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The Tire Iron and the Tamale by Justin Horner

This powerful story by Justin Horner of Portland, Oregon appeared in the Lives section of the New York Times.  Hope it makes everyone look at the people around us with more tolerant eyes and think twice about looking away when someone is in need.

The Tire Iron and the Tamale
By JUSTIN HORNER

During this past year I’ve had three instances of car trouble: a blowout on a freeway, a bunch of blown fuses and an out-of-gas situation. They all happened while I was driving other people’s cars, which for some reason makes it worse on an emotional level. And on a practical level as well, what with the fact that I carry things like a jack and extra fuses in my own car, and know enough not to park on a steep incline with less than a gallon of fuel.

Each time, when these things happened, I was disgusted with the way people didn’t bother to help. I was stuck on the side of the freeway hoping my friend’s roadside service would show, just watching tow trucks cruise past me. The people at the gas stations where I asked for a gas can told me that they couldn’t lend them out “for safety reasons,” but that I could buy a really crappy one-gallon can, with no cap, for $15. It was enough to make me say stuff like “this country is going to hell in a handbasket,” which I actually said.

But you know who came to my rescue all three times? Immigrants. Mexican immigrants. None of them spoke any English.

One of those guys stopped to help me with the blowout even though he had his whole family of four in tow. I was on the side of the road for close to three hours with my friend’s big Jeep. I put signs in the windows, big signs that said, “NEED A JACK,” and offered money. Nothing. Right as I was about to give up and start hitching, a van pulled over, and the guy bounded out.

He sized up the situation and called for his daughter, who spoke English. He conveyed through her that he had a jack but that it was too small for the Jeep, so we would need to brace it. Then he got a saw from the van and cut a section out of a big log on the side of the road. We rolled it over, put his jack on top and we were in business.

I started taking the wheel off, and then, if you can believe it, I broke his tire iron. It was one of those collapsible ones, and I wasn’t careful, and I snapped the head clean off. Damn.

No worries: he ran to the van and handed it to his wife, and she was gone in a flash down the road to buy a new tire iron. She was back in 15 minutes. We finished the job with a little sweat and cussing (the log started to give), and I was a very happy man.

The two of us were filthy and sweaty. His wife produced a large water jug for us to wash our hands in. I tried to put a 20 in the man’s hand, but he wouldn’t take it, so instead I went up to the van and gave it to his wife as quietly as I could. I thanked them up one side and down the other. I asked the little girl where they lived, thinking maybe I’d send them a gift for being so awesome. She said they lived in Mexico. They were in Oregon so Mommy and Daddy could pick cherries for the next few weeks. Then they were going to pick peaches, then go back home.

After I said my goodbyes and started walking back to the Jeep, the girl called out and asked if I’d had lunch. When I told her no, she ran up and handed me a tamale.

This family, undoubtedly poorer than just about everyone else on that stretch of highway, working on a seasonal basis where time is money, took a couple of hours out of their day to help a strange guy on the side of the road while people in tow trucks were just passing him by.

But we weren’t done yet. I thanked them again and walked back to my car and opened the foil on the tamale (I was starving by this point), and what did I find inside? My $20 bill! I whirled around and ran to the van and the guy rolled down his window. He saw the $20 in my hand and just started shaking his head no. All I could think to say was, “Por favor, por favor, por favor,” with my hands out. The guy just smiled and, with what looked like great concentration, said in English: “Today you, tomorrow me.”

Then he rolled up his window and drove away, with his daughter waving to me from the back. I sat in my car eating the best tamale I’ve ever had, and I just started to cry. It had been a rough year; nothing seemed to break my way. This was so out of left field I just couldn’t handle it.

In the several months since then I’ve changed a couple of tires, given a few rides to gas stations and once drove 50 miles out of my way to get a girl to an airport. I won’t accept money. But every time I’m able to help, I feel as if I’m putting something in the bank.

Justin Horner is a graphic designer living in Portland, Ore. This essay was adapted from a message-board posting on reddit.com.

 

For more on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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Journalism 101

Are you a graduate looking for a career in the glamorous world of journalism? Ready to jump right in and make a difference? I’m sure I sounded this naive about 30 years ago.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.

 


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Hard Times in Hollywood

TV producer turned psychologist, Susan Winston, writes in the New York Times about the collateral damage from downsizing in the television and film businesses.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/12/jobs/12pre.html?_r=1&src=twrhp

For more information about Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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Budget Cuts and the Bus

So often when officials slash budgets they are just crunching numbers rather than considering stories of loss.  This article by N.C. Maisak from the New York Times tells how a group of Queens, New York bus riders who have become friends, practically family, over their years while riding the QM22 route, are losing their community on wheels because of cuts by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.  Just a poignant little reminder of the faces behind the financial crisis.   

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/23/nyregion/23bus.html

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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Baseball with Dad

A warm sunny day in April gets you in the mood for baseball.  Dave Revsine’s New York Times article “Rhymes and Reasons For Father-Daughter Bonding” reflects on a shared passion for the game with his 8 year old Meredith.  It took me back to days with my dad watching the Hawaii Islanders at the old Honolulu Stadium.  My dad taught me to love America’s pastime and all its nuances.  The daddy daughter bonding over baseball is one of my fondest memories of my childhood.  It’s spring.  Play ball!

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/04/sports/baseball/04cheer.html

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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Passover in Kampala

Chag Sameach.  It means “joyous festival” and is a popular greeting during Passover.  With the Jewish celebration of freedom here again I recall our very special Passover seder in Kampala, Uganda.  I posted this as the very first story on my blog back in May 2008.  My story also ran in the Denver Post in spring 2007.

http://www.denverpost.com/search/ci_5534210

Cinematographer Paul Hillman and I are heading back to Kampala, Uganda again in June to do more video production for BeadforLife (http://beadforlife.org.)  It is our third trip.  This time we are focusing on the NGO’s market linkage program where women in the war torn villages near Lira and Gulu are getting assistance bringing their shea butter product to consumers.  What makes this extraordinary is the backstory.  All the women were refugees from the brutal reign of Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army.  For 19 years he and his men (many of them children) burned villages, raped women, killed men and abducted boys and girls in a senseless civil war.  With his retreat into the Congo these women have now returned from the refugee camps to their villages and are trying to get back on their feet by manufacturing shea butter which is a popular ingredient in cosmetics.  BeadforLife is linking these women to markets.  Other NGO’s are starting to do this on a small scale in Congo and Sudan which also have been wreaked by terrible hardship and civil war.  We are heading to the villages and expect the material to be powerful and compelling.  If you want to read about Kony and his murderous band of thugs in Congo today here is an article from the New York Times.   

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/28/world/africa/28congo.html?ref=global-home

For more on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com