Monday, February 1, 2016

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review


I know this review is a bit late, but I wanted to take time and reflect on this movie. I know nothing—nothing—will match the thrill of seeing Star Wars in the theater with my friend Jeff the day it came out on May 25, 1977. I was 12 years old (thirteen a few months later) and knew nothing about this movie. I wasn’t anticipating it, we had no idea what was coming or the phenomenon it would spawn. It just looked like a cool sci-fi flick. I probably saw it eight times in the next year it stayed put at the local cinema. I’ve seen it countless times since then. I make no claim Star Wars is the best movie ever made, or deserved the Oscar that year for Best Picture (Annie Hall won). But to a twelve-year-old sci-fi nut, cinematic experiences never got better than that night.

I enjoyed The Empire Strikes Back almost as much. So many cool moments in that movie. Return of the Jedi was sad and cute, and by that time I had discovered girls anyway. Years later when Lucas did the second trilogy, I enjoyed them, but not with the missionary fervor with which I loved Star Wars. My biggest question for the second trilogy was, “Did it feel like Star Wars?” With some reservations, I thought yes.

Now a new creative team has brought us Star Wars: The Force Awakens. My thoughts? I liked it. Did it feel like Star Wars? Ehhh ... yeah, a little.  

Director J.J. Abrams knows special effects, but is incapable of telling a story. He lives for the action scenes, the space battles, the conflict. The stuff in the middle is just boring filler to take up time between battle sequences. Story or character development? Let TV do that. He’s in it for the explosions. He’s true to form here, as many of the plot developments made no sense. Why does one Stormtrooper defect? He’s the only unhappy soldier in the army? How can a tomboy beanpole hold her own in a swordfight with someone who has trained for years? Why does Kylo Ren demand respect when he’s a whiny, murderous Millennial?

Despite those plot holes, the action and effect shots were stunning. I liked, but didn’t love, the new cast members. Poe shows the most promise, but didn’t get a lot of screen time. All Finn (John Boyega) did was sweat a lot and run away from danger, but redeemed himself a bit in the end. Daisy Ridley as Rey was bland, coming off as a less talented and less pretty Keira Knightley. Who’s daughter is she? Who cares? She should go on a vision quest with Yoda to search for a personality. But seeing the old cast (literally) was fantastic. Harrison Ford still has charm to spare, Carrie Fisher looked great and Leia’s place in the movie was a natural and believable transition for the character. And it was great to see beardy Mark Hamill as Luke. He should have had a bigger role, but I guess we have the next film in the series for that.

I really didn’t expect much from Abrams and crew, but to get a coherent, watchable movie (especially after ruining Star Trek for modern generations) was a pleasant surprise. A solid three stars, and I look forward to more in the series.

Rating: *** out of 5 stars

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Author Interview - A Conversation with JT Townsend Part 2


JT Townsend is a Cincinnati-based true crime writer with two published books about famous cases in Cincinnati. Queen City Gothic, about unsolved local murders, and Queen City Notorious, a just-published tome about the greatest solved murder cases in Cincinnati history. JT and I sat down over lunch recently to discuss his writing, crime and criminals. Part 1 of this interview can be found here, and features information about JT’s life and career. Today he discusses his thoughts on some truly intriguing crimes and criminals, both national and local.

Lizzie Borden
In 1892, businessman Andrew Borden and his second wife Abby were murdered in their Fall River, Massachusetts home. Andrew’s daughter Lizzie was tried and acquitted for the murder. Spoiler: She did it.

Jerry Smith: What would make a case like Lizzie Borden become so well known?

Andrew and Abby Borden
JT Townsend: The Borden family was not well known outside their own hometown. If they had died natural deaths, we wouldn’t know anything about them. The murder of Andrew and Abby Borden and the trial of their daughter Lizzie makes you wonder why that case has stayed with us when other sensational cases, other sensational ax murders, have not. I will say this—the Lizzie Borden case—one of my favorite true crime writers, Edmund Pierson, revived it 1924, then wrote an article about it in a magazine. He ended up reviving the case. I’m sure I’ll do a Lizzie Borden book. I mean, why not? I’m still mad about that case.

JS: Some people still think she’s innocent. Do you think anyone outside her hometown still thinks she didn’t do it?

JT: Tons of people think she’s innocent. It’s frustrating for me. If she didn’t do it, it’s not even a good story anymore.

JS: I did attend your Lizzie Borden presentation. With just a simple preponderance of the evidence, it’s glaringly obvious that she committed the murders.

JT: With the technology they have today they would have nailed her.

JS: Unless she lived in California.

JT: People can lie, behavior never lies. Her parents had been murdered, the cops were there, Lizzie’s at the door, her stepmother is laying in the next room, ten to fifteen feet away, butchered. The police ask, “Do you know anyone who would want to do harm to your mother?” Lizzie angrily says, “That is not my mother, that is my stepmother! My mother died when I was a child.” The woman is lying butchered there. You feel no sympathy for her? An innocent person would. Of course the cops suspected her. She cleaved in her [stepmother’s] skull and she still hated her. That’s really all you need to know, I think.

JS: What surprised me the most about your presentation ... in this day of equality, diversity, everyone having a say, seeing the picture of the jury. They were all middle-aged, dark suited white men.

JT: With daughters her age.

JS: With daughters her age. It really brought home at that moment how different society and justice was back then.

JT: She had poisoned them—she had poisoned her parents. They’d have hung her. A woman’s weapon. To think that an upper class, boring high society woman would take an ax to her parents was preposterous. No man would want to believe that.

JS: By most accounts she did love her father. That’s the only mystery to me. Why would she murder him so viciously if she loved him?

JT: He got ready to leave that morning, his wife was supposed to meet him at the bank to change his will. I can’t prove that, but I can prove there was a carriage in front of the Borden house that morning waiting. Lizzie said a note was delivered that morning from a sick friend. Abby was going to rush to their bedside. Ridiculous. Abby only had one friend. Why wouldn’t Lizzie just say Abby went out shopping? Why would she say a note came—something that could actually be verified through a messenger? A note did come. I think it was for her parents to meet and change the will. I’m pretty sure she heard them talking the night before. She wasn’t going to let her stepmother inherit all that money. She’d be in the poorhouse.

JS: That’s a fascinating theory. I know you can’t prove it, but it fits the facts well.

JT: Why would a wealthy man like Andrew Borden die without a will? It’s always those little things people forget about. He was seen coming back home from downtown with about 10 minutes to live. A neighbor saw him carrying a small document of rolled up paper, like a legal document. They never found that. A policeman said in the kitchen fire there was a burned paper in a rolled up shape. The way Lizzie manipulates facts at the inquest ... Her stepmother died around 9:30am in the guest room, right next to Lizzie’s room. Lizzie was taking some laundry up. I think she had a hatchet in the laundry. There was a tiny blood speck found on Lizzie’s skirts. Her lawyer tried to say she was on her period, which may have been true. But this blood came from the outside. Today they would test that blood and it would turn out to be Abby Borden’s. They would say, how did this blood get on your underwear, in the same room where a murder occurred? So she manipulates facts so well. They say she laid a single stick on the fire. You build up the fire to keep the iron hot. A single stick? That was the hatchet handle. Remember the hatchet head with no handle found in the basement? Someone had dipped it in ash, which fooled no one. You can’t get blood off wood, so you stick it on the fire.

JS: So why did she get off? Was the prosecutor not doing his job? Was the jury not buying it?

JT: The three-judge panel was very biased in her favor. The inquest testimony was ruled inadmissible, the judges said she was virtually under arrest at that time, though she was not under arrest, coming and going from her home. Three witnesses were ready to testify that she tried to buy poison before the murders. Her lawyers admitted she did try to buy it, but said it was for a different purpose.

JS: That rises to the level of farce.

JT: Probably the most important thing that forced an acquittal? There was no middle ground. It was either hang her or acquit her. There were only two verdicts. Guilty with the death penalty or acquittal. There was no manslaughter, no 2nd degree murder, no 1st degree murder with mercy. They jury literally had to hang her or set her free. I think her afterlife was no picnic.

JS: Your Lizzie Borden presentation brought that out. None of the movies I’ve seen or articles I’ve read deal much with what happened after she was acquitted. I remember the story you told about the contractor who was working on the stone wall in her back yard. They argued, she said something like, let me go get my ax and show you how it should be done.

JT: The guy said “Uh, yeah.” He was gone. I’ve been all around that neighborhood up there. Where the murder occurred and where she moved to, it’s only a mile and a half apart. It’s right next to downtown. Where Maplecross is, you can see the bay from the front yard. Three beautiful Victorian homes. All her friends lived there before the murders. She used to visit up there. Of course you’d want to live up there. Her father said no—he wanted to be close to his businesses.

JS: She did have money later in life—she did get her father’s estate, correct?

J.T: She and Emma, yeah.

OJ Simpson

Nicole Brown Simpson
In 1994, Nicole Brown Simpson, ex-wife of former professional football star, actor and sports commentator OJ Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman were brutally murdered outside Nicole’s Brentwood, California home. OJ Simpson, the only suspect in the case, was quickly arrested. He was put in trial for both murders and acquitted by a jury of his peers.

JS: The most frustrating to me is probably OJ. There’s less evidence that the sun is going to rise tomorrow morning than that OJ committed those murders. Yet he got off due to some misguided jury nullification. Was OJ a sociopath?

JT: Don’t get me going on OJ.

JS: It just seems like a cold, brutal, calculated crime by someone who was a media superstar and had everything in life. I could see why someone who had nothing would take those chances. But why would someone with everything take those chances? Was hate and revenge that important? Or was it a pathological need to win?

JT: I think all of that. He was definitely a narcissist. It goes narcissist, sociopath and eventually psychopath. Those are the guys up on the rooftop with a rifle. Thank God there are very few of those.

Paula Barbieri
People at that dance recital [Ed. note: The dance recital that Nicole Simpson attended the day she was killed] said that he and Nicole walked off to a corner in the parking lot in deep conversation. I think she said, “F*** you!” It really nailed him. Paula Barbieri had broken up with him. Two of the most important women in his life had rejected him. He’s adrift. There’s only one question I need answered about the OJ Simpson case. The whole case stems on it: Is Ron Goldman there? Is he alive when he walks up on OJ and Nicole? Ron Goldman was parked over by the trees. There’s motive right there. If O.J.’s just going over there to slash her tires, they get into an argument and he starts killing her. If Ron Goldman walks up, it’s a different crime.

JS: I’ve never heard that speculation. I always assumed Nicole and Ron came out of the house together.

JT: He was never in the house. The one ear witness, the guy walking his dog, said he heard a young man’s voice say, “Hey, Hey, HEY!” Ron Goldman’s father said that’s exactly what he’d say if he walked up on a man attacking a woman ... “HEY!” That’s the only question I need to know. Was Goldman already there, or did Goldman walk up on them. Not a lot of other mysteries in that case. I was a big fan of OJ Simpson. (Sarcastically:) “Sorry you slit throats ... but I’m done with you bud!” He’s exactly where he should be now.

JS: Exactly.

JT: It’s beyond frustration with those cases. But I’ve just kind of let it go. It was jury nullification. Some people say it was racial. Maybe. But here’s what I know: rich men do not get convicted of murder. And he was a rich man. So there you go.

Ted Bundy
Ted Bundy was a serial killer, kidnapper, rapist and necrophiliac who assaulted and murdered numerous young women during the 1970s and possibly earlier. He confessed to over 30 murders, but the actual amount could be much higher.

JS: You mentioned the Ted Bundy case. Why does that case keep you up at night?

JT: You know my wife said once when I was researching Queen City Gothic, she said I woke up in the middle of the night and said, “She’s his sister and his mother,” and fell back asleep.

JS: (Laughter)

JT: My wife goes, “What was that?” I didn’t know. His sister and his mother ... could be Ted Bundy. The Ted Bundy case haunts me because it was a case of incest. They never identified his father. His grandfather was a big, virile violent man whose own life was troubled. Bundy’s mother was the eldest daughter. She was a Christian woman, the school valedictorian, yet she’s used, impregnated and abandoned by some shadowy guy nobody knows? Her own family didn’t believe that story, her other relatives. It was her father, I’m sure if it. That one bothers me.

I think of that little girl, Ann Marie Burr, who disappeared from her neighborhood in 1961. Ted Bundy is their paperboy? Those keep me up the most, where you have an unsolved crime where you have a known perpetrator nearby—those I just can’t get out of my head.

The Bricca Case
In 1966, Jerry Bricca, his wife Linda and daughter Debbie were found stabbed to death on Greenway Avenue in the Bridgetown neighborhood of Cincinnati. Townsend characterizes this case as the most important unsolved crime in Cincinnati history and the second most famous in Ohio after the Marilyn Sheppard murder. It still touches a nerve in the folks that come out to his Bricca lecture presentations, especially on the West Side of Cincinnati.

The Bricca Family
JS: What are the oddest facts in the Bricca case?

JT: In the Bricca case, Valerie Percy, daughter of a senatorial candidate is murdered in Kenilworth, outside of Chicago—she went to the same high school as Linda Bricca. Linda Bricca was a senior when Valerie Percy was a sophomore. They knew each other. Their fathers knew each other. Both women were murdered in different cities within a week of each other. That bothers me. See why?

JS: I understand, but the kind of conspiracy that would have to be taking place in order for those events to be related, that’s an even scarier thought.

JT: It’s very scary. Weird coincidences like that keep me awake at night. And rumors. Like when I first heard the rumor that Glen Ryle may have been involved in the Bricca murders. I laughed. [Ed. note: Glen Ryle was a WWII veteran and local Cincinnati television personality for many years, most notably as the children’s cartoon show host Skipper Ryle]. It’s funny how he was interviewed by the police twice. He and Leininger [Ed. note: Dr. Fred Leininger was a veterinarian at the Glenway Animal Hospital where Linda worked part-time. Leininger was and continues to be the main suspect in the case] were the only people interviewed twice. He and our prime suspect were like this [holds two fingers together]. A notation in the file on Ryle said, “Subject is close friends with Dr. Leininger. We should not expect to get anything useful from him.”

Then there is the rumor that Leininger and his wife committed suicide here in Cincinnati [Ed. note: the Leiningers had retired to Florida]. I’m like, “Oh, you’re kidding me.” His obituary said he died in Sarasota. I pulled the death records. No, he and his wife died up here. I got a line on a family friend and they told me, “Oh no, they committed suicide up here. He was in poor health.” The rumor was true. Good question.  

JS: Is that the most frustrating local case to you? The Bricca case?

JT: Yeah. They had a clear suspect, who incriminated himself based on his behavior and his lack of cooperation. What are you going to do? What can you do? He lawyers up and his lawyer says either charge him or leave him alone. I guess they could have charged him. But I can’t see a grand jury indicting him on what they had.

JS: Even if he were indicted, could they convict on the evidence they had?

JT: It was all totally circumstantial. Not really enough. They can place the suspect half a mile away that night from the murder scene, the Bricca house, at a Pony Keg. He was acting erratically. Acting distraught. He said he had a medical emergency and tried to use the pay phone. He put a coin in the slot and stalked out. So they can place Leininger there.

JS: Maybe they could have convicted him.

JT: He was still a half mile away.

JS: People have been convicted on less. I’m almost surprised they didn’t railroad someone due to the public outcry.

JT: He was a prominent guy. He didn’t just get any lawyer, he had a lawyer from a prominent West Side political family. It’s frustrating. I’ve been through the file, I’ve interviewed the wife of the lead investigator. Imaging being an investigator and catching a case like this. Bricca. You don’t get cases like that. It’s beyond huge. You bring it right to the doorstep of the guy, and you can’t do anything. I’m frustrated by it, I can only imagine how he felt. So that’s the most frustrating local case.

Ed Gein
Ed Gein is one of the creepiest serial killers on record. He confessed to only two murders, but became famous for exhuming corpses and fashioning trophies from their bones and skin. He was active in the 1950s, but was institutionalized until he died in 1984.

JS: You mentioned Ed Gein.

JT: There was a girl named Evelyn Hartley from Wisconsin in 1953, kidnapped from a house where she was babysitting. Huge Wisconsin case. Disappeared. Research has shown that Ed “Psycho” Gein, serial killer of some note, was in La Crosse that night visiting his aunt, who lived two blocks over, where Evelyn Hartley was taken. Those are delicious coincidences.

JS: Wasn’t Gein the guy Texas Chainsaw Massacre was based on?

JT: There’s a lot of stuff that is loosely based on him. Psycho is loosely based on him. The guy in Silence of the Lambs [Ed. note: the Buffalo Bill character] is loosely based on him. He was far crazier than any of them. The found lampshades made out of human skin in his house. They found all kinds of body parts all over. Among them were the internal organs of an unidentified sixteen year old girl the same age as Evelyn Hartley. When you can put Ed Gein two blocks away from a girl who has been kidnapped ... stuff like that keeps me up at night. Creepy. Some detectives say there is no such thing a coincidence. Then others might say, then why do they have a word for it?

JS: That’s obviously a frustrating case.

JT: No it’s not. You know, when it comes to serial killers, I can be harsh. Guys like John Wayne Gacy, Jeffery Dahmer, they’re just worthless guys who should have been caught a lot sooner. The victims they were taking—runaway boys, homosexual men ... who cares? Why did Gary Ridgeway, the Green River Killer, manage to kill eighty-two women? They were almost all prostitutes.

Sam Sheppard
In 1954, doctor Sam Sheppard was convicted of the brutal murder of his pregnant wife Marilyn Sheppard in their Bay Village, Ohio, home. He was convicted and spent almost ten years in prison. He was acquitted in a retrial in 1966.

Dr. Sam Sheppard
JT: Another famous case, the Sam Sheppard case in Cleveland.

JS: Yes, that case scared me to death when I was a child. There was a George Peppard TV movie—I had nightmares about that case for years. I was very invested in that case—what happened, who did it. I still don’t know. It scared me that was possible in a residential neighborhood.

JT: I am reasonably certain that Sam Sheppard didn’t do it. They had a very good suspect, a window washer, Richard Eberling, who they connected to at least four other deaths. I think what’s frustrating is the police sealed the Sheppard crime scene, and didn’t give Sheppard’s lawyer a chance to test the blood. This is one of the first blood spatter/blood trail cases and it became very important. They needed a guy like Dexter—I love that show!

JS: (Laughs) That was a great show.

JT: So there was a blood trail from the murder room where Marilyn Sheppard was beaten to death that leads downstairs out of the house. The police assumed it was the victim’s blood dripping from the weapon he used. But when the defense finally got in the house, well after the conviction, Paul Kirk, the father of forensic blood spatter analysis, said wait a minute! This isn’t blood from the victim, it’s oxygenated blood from an open wound! And by the way, this isn’t Marilyn’s blood type, it’s a different blood type. There’s a third blood type found in the house the night of the murder? And Sam Sheppard’s in prison? Something’s very wrong there. There’s a third person in that house the night of the murder. In the interrogation—this is why detectives ask the same questions over and over. If you’re lying, you have to think, what did I say an hour ago about this? You get so confused. But if you’re telling the truth you’re telling the truth. Sam Sheppard’s story never changed. Not one iota. It’s so weirdly significant that he struggled twice with the “bushy haired intruder.” He was knocked out twice. In the staging, the turning over of the [medical] bag and dumping it out. The smashing of his and his wife’s athletic trophies. Why would he do that? Why would Sam Sheppard stage a robbery and smash his own athletic trophies? That’s someone who didn’t care. I think the answer was there all along. Richard Eberling had a window washing business. He didn’t care about his business very much. He had light fingers, he stole from his clients. He was in the Sheppard house two days before the murder. He was alone with Marilyn. She caught him stealing. She threatened to expose him and ruin his business. Plus, he’s got a thing for her. He comes back and kills her two days later. Two people on the road outside the Sheppard house saw two cars driving by at 3 and 4am, saw a tall, bushy haired man on the road near the Sheppard house.

Eberling was tall with bushy hair. The guy Sam Sheppard described fits Eberling perfectly. The DNA on the blood trail? Eberling could not be eliminated. It was a low number. Something like one in 30 men have this characteristic. In the DNA world that’s not a big deal. Look at the OJ Simpson number—one in seven billion men.

JS: Yes, it almost couldn’t have been anyone but him.

JT: Yeah. So in the Sheppard number, Eberling couldn’t be eliminated from the profile. The killer bled, Marilyn bit him. Actually Eberling had a scar on his wrist he couldn’t explain.

JS: Was he ever questioned or considered a suspect?

JT: In 1959, five years after the murders, he was questioned about his thievery. They found all these stolen goods. In that interview session, very odd, he volunteers, oh, by the way, I worked in the Sheppard house a couple days before the murder, and I cut myself on a nail and I bled in the house. The cops are like, we didn’t ask you that. Who’s asking? We didn’t ask you about the Sheppard murder. He volunteered that. You see why this is a frustrating case?

JS: Sure, absolutely.

JT: Poor Sam Sheppard. Served 10 years for a murder he didn’t do ... became a hopeless alcoholic. He was finally set free and lived another four years. And this guy was there the whole time. I think they tried to look at this as a domestic violence murder.

JS: The Sheppards’ own children never believed he did it, did they?

JT: They just had the one son. He was asleep in the next room. No. Marilyn Sheppard was raped. This has all the characteristics of a sex/revenge crime.


Special thanks to JT Townsend for his time and insights. Here’s where you can find more information about JT and his work:

Follow JT Townsend’s blog (https://jtsiteblog.wordpress.com) or connect with him on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/TrueCrimeDetective

Click below to purchase a book:


Also available on Amazon

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Author Interview - A Conversation with JT Townsend Part 1

JT Townsend
JT Townsend is a Cincinnati-based true crime writer with two published books about famous cases in Cincinnati. The first is Queen City Gothic, about unsolved local murders, the second is Queen City Notorious, a just-published tome about the greatest solved murder cases in Cincinnati history. JT and I sat down over lunch recently to discuss his writing, his library lecture series, what crimes keep him up at night and his favorite true crime movie. Part 1 features general information about JT’s life and career, Part 2 concentrates on in-depth analysis of famous local and national murder cases.

Jerry Smith: I don’t believe you have a deep writing background. What made you want to write about crime? Have you always been interested in crime research investigation?

JT Townsend: When I was a kid I read Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians. You know, I’m a fourth grader, I’m reading books on baseball. Suddenly everyone starts being murdered, and they realize the murderer is one of them. I was hooked. Shortly after that, I read about the Lizzie Borden case. Anybody who reads about the Lizzie Borden case will become hooked on true crime. Then for the detection part, that was kind of the mystery there. I also watched a lot of Columbo episodes. If you recall, that was not a “whodunit.” Did you ever see a Columbo?

JS: I love Columbo.

JT: They would give away the murderer in the first few minutes. It’s all about the final thing Columbo’s going to say. He’s sucking up to the killer the whole episode. It’s the final thing he’ll say and he’ll finally say, “Okay. Gotcha!” It’s always “one more thing, sir.” The murderer always tries to explain it. Then, right at the end, he’s got him.

As for writing, I do have a B.A. in English from Miami University. I always wrote the best emails of anyone in the company I worked for. I had the company president ask me to edit copy. I started my first freelance piece in 1997 and went from there. You know I wrote Queen City Gothic during chemotherapy.

JS: Yes.

JT: Terrible first draft. Terrible. But it was a draft.

JS: You had a book.

JT: Years of editing. Chemo was 2007 to 2009. A lot of editing. But I had a book.

JS: Were you working full time at that time?

JT: I was. But that’s kind of how I got into crime writing.

JS: Tell me about your research. What surprises has it let to?


Sunday, January 10, 2016

Moving Day – A True Disaster Story


So I moved into a new house over the holidays. I had around ten days off and the timing worked perfectly to pack up and move between Christmas and New Year’s. Seeking to save a bit of money, I hired a company called Move Cheap—their gimmick was they didn’t supply or drive moving vehicles—you did that yourself. They just supplied movers to load and unload those vehicles. 

The woman to whom I spoke, Kristen, said my intended moving day was open. She scheduled me in the morning and mentioned that they sometimes scheduled moves in the afternoon as well. I told her I had a lot of stuff and needed the movers all day. She said that was fine and promised not to schedule anyone after me for my crew. Based on what she recommended, I hired a three-man crew and rented a 17 ft truck from U-Haul, which Kristen was able to schedule through a link between the two companies. Little did I know that things would not roll out smoothly, and with a name like Move Cheap, you get what you pay for. 

On the morning of the move, I drove to U-Haul to pick up the truck. The 17-footer seemed a bit small, so I sprung for the 24-footer. That delayed me around 15 minutes. I got to the house around 10:15, the movers had been there about 15 minutes. The first thing mover Marty told me was that the third man I hired had quit via text that morning. Oh well, that happens. I showed him what we had to move. He took out a standard contract and went over insurance, extra costs for moving pianos (I didn’t have one), etc. He then stated that they had until 3:00pm, then they had to leave for their next moving gig. I told him Kristen said they wouldn’t schedule any moves after me and I had them all day. He just shrugged and said he could probably get it done by then.  We start the day down one mover and with a broken promise. Not a good start. 

It took several hours to load the truck, and we didn’t get to the new house until around 1:30pm. I knew we were in trouble. At 3:00pm more than half the truck was unloaded. With a dolly full of boxes, Marty said, “Well, we have to wrap things up. Sorry.” I said comically, “Marty, don’t leave me! I have no one to help me and there is some very heavy stuff left on there!” Actually, I did have some help—my uncle and brother-in-law were there plugging away, but both in no shape to carry heavy office furniture up flights of stairs. This was the middle of the week, and I had several friends out of town and others at work. At the time there was no one else to call. Marty looked sorry, and asked me to contact his boss Doug to see if they could stay and unload the rest—it wouldn’t take that long. 

I called Doug and he pretended to care. He argued that they had another gig to go to, and that no one should ever have promised me they wouldn’t schedule another move after me. Actually, his tone suggested I was lying and no one had ever told me that (they had). I explained that on top of that promise, their third man never showed up. It was no one’s fault, but we probably would have been done by now if I had three movers, as I had planned on in the first place. Here’s where Doug got delusional, saying that it was my fault for being late with the truck, and a third man wouldn’t have made much of a difference. I wondered if this guy had ever moved before. He said he’d try to get some movers there at 7:00am the next day, but said it would be tough to find anyone and made no guarantees. I never raised my voice, but this was starting to annoy me. I had a half-full truck that had to be returned soon, a company full of broken promises and abandonment tendencies and all the other normal stresses of moving. I implored him, “Look, it won’t take that long to unload the truck. If they leave now, they’re already late—you’ll have two clients angry at you. If they just unload the rest of the truck, you’ll only have one client angry at you.” He didn’t buy it. As a last resort, I mentioned that I used to be in the media, and my friends at one of the news stations loved stories like this. I didn’t want to mention their company, but ...  

At this point, Doug exploded. He accused me of threatening him and started frothing at the mouth. Totally unprofessional behavior. He demanded I pay the movers so they could leave. I said I would be happy to—when the job is done. He screamed at me that if I didn’t pay now, he would call the cops and have a report filled out. I told him to knock himself out. He screamed, “I’M CALLING THE POLICE RIGHT NOW!” and hung up on me. Wow. 

I walked out to talk to the movers—two hard-working guys that were put into a difficult position. Marty was getting off the phone with Doug and looked like he’d swallowed a live scorpion. “My boss said I have to call the cops,” he said. I pointed out that by the time the police got there, interviewed everyone and filled out a report, the truck could be unloaded. No matter, Doug was insistent that they not finish unloading my truck, and no logic or plea could move this manager to do the right thing. 

A pretty blonde female police officer arrived at the scene, followed in a few minutes by a bald male officer I instantly labeled “Officer Brick House.” The man was huge. I told her what happened, how ridiculous it was and why I was not going to pay them until they were finished. As she went to the movers for their version, I struck up a conversation with Officer Brick House, who was friendly enough. Interestingly, he did not take my offered handshake, but was not rude about it. Keep your distance and objectivity was his motto. 

In a few minutes, Pretty Blonde Officer (PBO) came back, looking annoyed and shoving that morning’s contract in my face. “IS THIS YOUR SIGNATURE?” she asked loudly and unpleasantly. “Yes,” I said. “DO YOU SEE WHERE IS SAYS THEY ARE ONLY GOING TO MOVE YOU FOR THREE HOURS? THEY’VE BEEN HERE FIVE HOURS!” 

I couldn’t understand her annoyance or attitude. This was not a criminal matter, and she had no authority here. She came because a bad manager overreacted, not because this was a legitimate police problem. I explained that the contract was an estimate, not a firm limit of their time. By now my uncle and brother-in-law were watching the show. My uncle pointed out to PBO that they had only sent two movers, not the three I was promised, and that delayed the process. Now, please realize my uncle is one of the nicest people on earth. He has a doctorate in ministry and is an ordained minister and college professor. He is the opposite of an aggressive person, and has the true heart of a councilor and teacher. However, PBO looked at him like pond scum. She held up the contract like the Holy Grail and said “IS THIS YOUR SIGNATURE ON THIS CONTRACT? 

“No,” he admitted. 

“DID YOU HIRE THESE MOVERS?” 

“No.” 

“THEN I WOULD APPRECIATE YOU BUTTING OUT.” 

Wow, PBO just dissed my uncle for trying to help! More unprofessional behavior. Why did I wake up today? 

“PAY THESE MEN AND LET THEM GET OUT OF HERE, NOW,” said PBO. “IF YOU HAVE A PROBLEM WITH THE COMPANY YOU CAN FILE A CIVIL COMPLAINT.” 

“I’m sorry, but no,” I said. “I’m happy to pay them when the job is done, as we originally agreed.” 

“HOW WOULD YOU LIKE IT IF SOMEONE MADE AN APPOINTMENT WITH YOU, THEN SHOWED UP TWO HOURS LATE?” shouted PBO, referring to the clients at the job the movers were supposed to leave for. 

“Ma’am, how would you like to hire movers and have them leave in the middle of the job?” I reasoned. By now PBO was getting really pissed that her “negotiating” skills were not up to the task. She pulled her trump card. 

“WE (motioning to Officer Brick House) ARE NOT LEAVING UNTIL YOU PAY!” 

Okay, now things were officially ugly. She had no authority to compel me to do anything, but I figured I had several options: I could ask them all to help unload the truck. I could invite them in for milk and cookies and we could all get comfortable. I could walk into my garage and close the door. Or, I could cut the movers a check and make life holy hell for this company afterwards. I chose the latter. The police and fire departments are about a block away from my house in this new neighborhood. The police—whom I support 100% in most circumstances, were being unreasonable, so I guess I had to step up to the plate. 

I walked into my garage with the movers and we found a flat surface to conduct business. Uninvited, PBO walked into the garage and started making small talk at normal volumes. I admired her nerve. I paid the movers for the five hours they had worked. They asked me to sign all sorts of papers, but I refused to sign anything that wasn’t directly related to payment. A tip line item was on the last sheet of the invoice, but I ignored it. I hated to do that, but these guys were adults and they had the choice of finishing the job. They chose not to, which I understand. But no tip for you! 

Everyone was now upset. The movers left, hours late to their next gig. PBO and Officer Brick House moved along. Here I was, with a half full truck and a return deadline looming. What do to, what to do? My uncle approached me. “We have a plan,” he said. 

Despite my brother-in-law’s bad back and my uncle being in his mid-60s, we got the dolly from the moving truck and proceeded to unload everything, including my heaviest stuff. It took us around 40 minutes (about as long as the police were at my house) to put everything in the garage. My hat is off to two guys who didn’t need to be unloading a moving truck after the day we had. Thanks to two great Davids! 

EPILOGUE: A few days later I hired Big John’s Moving to come and move all the heavy stuff upstairs to individual rooms. It took around 45 minutes and they did a great job. And those movers received the tips the other guys forfeited. The move is done. Thank God!

Rap Battles: Katniss vs. Hermione



Whitney Avalon's latest comedy masterpiece, the rap battle we've all been waiting to see!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

20,000 Pageviews!


Wow. 20,000 page views since I started blogging in February 2014! Thanks for checking in every so often. Content has been light as of late because of the holidays and a recent move during said holidays. I do have some great stuff coming up, including author interviews, a disaster tale of moving, and a look at the new Star Wars movie. Thanks for occasionally sharing my obsessions--the best is yet to come!

Monday, December 28, 2015

First Look - Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Strange


From this week's Entertainment Weekly. Not bad, definitely keeps the general look and theme of the character. I always think the movie look could be closer to the comic (except for Spider-Man, his last movie costume was dead-on), but this isn't a bad start. I hope the cape is crazy and flowing as he casts spells and fights on the Astral plane. And that's probably the geekiest sentence I'll write all week (but maybe not).