“Duff Daddy” in the Fez

IMG_2439.JPGI didn’t wear the fez all night.

But I did to make an entrance. It helped ease the entry into an elegant dining experience at a posh Greenwich Village home — a dinner party to celebrate Katherine Lanpher’s birthday (as readers of this blog will know, she and Barbie are the same age, though Barbie hit 50 first) — where I knew I would be going solo among luminaries.

Why a fez? You see, it was a gift. I acted as defacto fixer for a reporting trip when I was living in Egypt. With my experience as a producer, I became the go-to guy on the trip, and was dubbed Duff Daddy. The fez (along with a very fun trip with three great and talented people) was my prize.

At Katherine’s birthday dinner, luckily someone else had a camera. I was designated photographer for the evening, so there are no other pictures of me. If you look at my photos, it’s as though I was merely a phantom witness to the scene, like a Soviet-era politico who fell from grace and was airbrushed from all public images.

Thanks to KT, who was a delightful person to sit next to at dinner, there is proof of my existence. Albeit, with a fez on my head.

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My Friend Kelly on Susan Boyle

kellybancroftKelly Bancroft says she “gets Susan Boyle,” the YouTube sensation and newly minted megastar of Britain’s Got Talent. They come from former industrial towns devastated by unemployment, they both have lovely singing voices, and they both think a makeover isn’t necessary.

Kelly is one of my dearest friends, going back to my college days, and she’s got quite a bit of talent herself, as a writer and vocalist. We’ve kept in touch over the years and visit whenever we can. So when I started asking folks to do video essays for us at TIME (including old pal and Science Comic Brian Malow, columnist Mona El Tahawy and author/journalist Katherine Lanpher), Kelly’s name immediately came to mind. She’s a lovely writer, who has recently taken to the essay, with great success, I might add. Her essay Boob Suit, was recently published in jmww, and she won the non-fiction prize in this year’s MUSE literary contest.

In her video essay about Susan Boyle, Kelly takes on our societal urges for makeovers, and it is a nicely crafted argument, well presented (and skillfully edited by Jim Fields). Kelly told me her only regret (aside from not smiling in her on-camera presentation — she was too nervous, she said) is the use of photos of her from high school and college. One of them is from a production I was actually in: They’re Playing Our Song, the last show I did in Youngstown before I got all serious and became a documentary filmmaker in Texas (then Atlanta, then New York). In the video, as she describes how Susan Boyle followed her dream to the Britain’s Got Talent stage,  Kelly stands on the stage of Ford Theater, where I trode the boards in various productions when a student (and dabbling actor) at Youngstown State University.

It was good to see her in familiar territory, and lots of folks on staff have had so many nice things to say about the essay.

Oh, and the on-camera parts of the essay were well-shot by Dan Mizicko, my cousins’ cousin.

Arlington

Having just visited the Arlington National Cemetery on the Honor Flight, I thought I’d share the music video I put together a few years back for Andy Revkin’s song about Arlington. He wrote and performed it with his band Uncle Wade. I shot the footage for a piece I did for the New York Times with Andy that featured an interview with him and excerpts from the song.

The Lone Star Honor Flight for WWII Vets

time_honorflight_480Two weeks ago, I flew to Houston to join a charter flight that carried 111 WWII Vets from IAH to Washington to visit the WWII Memorial on the National Mall. They also went to Arlington National Cemetery and watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns. I reported a video story that’s running today (Memorial Day) on TIME.com.

time_honorflight_2_360Among the veterans I met were decorated soldiers, bomber pilots, an Army nurse and a Navy WAVE. One soldier, Marco Barelas, was one of Merrill’s Marauders, the long range penetration special forces who fought against Japanese forces in northern Burma. The 86-year-old Barelas told me his unit marched nearly a thousand miles in the Burmese jungles, and he walked the Burma Road for 16 miles barefoot. “My feet were all to pieces and bloody,” he said.

Barelas was lively, using a walker, and made his way around the Memorial and the Korean War memorial and got a front row view of the changing of the guard.

AnneWattAnne Watt trained as an army nurse in hopes of being stationed near one of her four brothers who were serving in various theaters of battle around the globe. Dreaming of an assignment overseas, she was stationed, instead, in Arkansas, where she trained to attend soldiers in the event of an invasion of Japan. That, thankfully, never happened. The war ended, and all four of her brothers came home safely.

JohnDaroWhen John Daro was wheeled in by his guardian — son-in-law David Carr — he waved his arms like airplane wings. “Army Air Corps!” he haled as he glided past a row of applauding visitors, standing in honor in the airport concourse to give the vets a proper send off. “Just like the old days,” he said. I knew immediately this was someone I wanted to meet. “I was in a B-29!” he said with an jaunty inflection. He was a farm boy who always wanted to fly, and ultimately landed a spot in the pilot’s seat of bombers in an elite squadron.

Iris-&-Dick-HowesIris and Richard Howes both served in the war, and met two years after in Japan. They married in 1948. Iris signed up for the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) in 1942 and served as a communication specialist. Mr. Howes was in the Army Air Corps and survived a crash landing during a paratrooper mission.

After a more-than-full day that began at 4:30 a.m. in Conroe, Texas and ended in the same Target parking lot at nearly 1 a.m. that night, I wasn’t sure who had the greater honor: the vets, or the guardians and observers who were privileged to spend the day with them and help them witness the heroic memorials created in their honor.

Hats off to Montgomery Junior High school, their principal Duane McFadden, and the indefatigable Brenda Beaven, a history teacher who saw a story about the honor flights on TV and was determined to do it for the veterans in her community. She rallied the school and local volunteers to create an amazing event.