Thursday, November 04, 2010

We Will Miss Jan Barer Curran, writer, friend

With the yellow fall leaves falling to the ground it is most ironic that news of the death of my cousin Janice reached me this day. I will miss sharing with her. More than a cousin, she was my friend. She was an amazing journalist and storyteller with a great sense of humor. She will be well remembered by many wonderful people in Palm Springs where she has supportive friends and was a reporter with the Sun for many years,
Jan could count among her friends the late President Ford, Sonny Bono, Artie Shaw and the actor Mel Ferrer. The collection of photos in her home of fabulous people she knew in her Palm Springs life is fresh in my memory.
I enjoyed my short time with Jan. Just recently we exchanged e-mails on Hollywood actors she knew based on autobiographies I sent her. She was a source for a biography on Bob Hope that a writer was researching when I visited her in 2005 in Palm Springs where we saw a performance by 40s era swing singer Beryl Davis who was a good friend of Jan’s.
More than that Jan was a caring mom and supportive of her wonderfully creative children. She made sure that I had copies of all the books written by her and her children. I recently wrote a review posted on the internet and led a discussion on her last book, “Active Senior Living”, for a senior group in Minnesota. I shared the book with her Auntie Gertie, my 96-year-old mom, who said she enjoyed Jan’s book.
Jan was a fighter and an inspiration. We grew up together in Eastern Washington and the Idaho Panhandle, having fun times at Loon Lake, Spirit Lake, Diamond Lake and Walla Walla, and she was a gracious host and supportive when I lived in Northern California in the 60s. I have many fond memories of cousin Jan.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

War Heroes Unwelcome In Two Films

Returning war heroes are met with indifference, disrespect and hostility in two Hollywood movies, one from 1946, “The Best Years of Our LIves,” and more recently -- “Home of the Brave”.
In “Best Years,” they work menial jobs before the war but in conflict they are given heavy responsibilities to carry out missions that lead to victory in Word War II. How incredibly grim to return home to that menial job or to be unemployed with no direction to the future. At least in war, they were defeating evil regimes and enjoying buddy camaraderie.
Some returning veterans, like my Uncle Sam Zarkin, used the GI Bill to get a college education and pursued a career in business management. Returning with the occupation troops in what was left of Japan, my father, Phil Zarkin, became a scrap metal junk dealer much like the hero aviator Fred (played by Dana Andrews), in “Best Years”. The similarities are daunting between fiction and real life.
In 1946 when “Best Years” was released it was quite topical with soldiers and sailors having been wrenched from their families and now finding themselves in a strange world where they needed to reinvent themselves to survive. Imagine their anger and frustration upon realizing that the best years of your life may be wasting away.
I don’t know if my dad, somewhat of an isolationist when it came to wars, was proud of his work in Japan with the occupation forces as a telephone lineman, but he should have been because he helped desperate people build a future for themselves from the rubble of a horrendous war. Incredibly uncanny is the fact that the soldiers and sailors in “Home of the Brave” return from Iraq to Spokane, Wash. So it was with my dad who came back to Spokane and how incredibly stressful it must have been for him working in low paying retail sales before he found his future in the junk business.
Both movies touch on the nightmares of shell shock or post traumatic stress syndrome. In “Best Years,” one character advises her husband to “forget the war --- put it behind you”. But how can you ever forget the horrors of war?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Idahoans Duane, Nancy Visit Twin Cities

Brave warriors of global travel, Duane and Nancy Mitchell, arrived form Caldwell, ID this week. Duane and I lived in Mrs. Cook’s boarding house in Boise in the mid to late 60s. I left for college and he married Nancy a month later so they will be celebrating their 41st wedding anniversary in early October.
They recall that we went bowling and played tennis. Also we went for an evening swim at nearby Lucky Peak reservoir. The Mitchells are to be commended for not forgetting Mrs. Cook when they visited her in a senior residence some years ago.
Through the years they have reached out to others including exchange students from around the world who have stayed in their home in Caldwell, a short distance from Nampa and Boise. Somewhat of a bond with the Mexican student Oscar must have developed because the Mitchells visited Oscar’s family in Guadalajara in 1998.
Highlights of the Twin Cities brief tour included the Cathedral at St. Paul and Underwater World at the Mall of America. On their own they walked downtown to Walgreen’s where they bought post cards and made new friends amongst the homeless who gather at the nearby vacant RKO Orpheum Theater. (Unlike Boise where the Egyptian Theater has been restored to its mystic glory).
They brought a copy of the Idaho Free press which told of a pro-marijuana demonstration at the State Capitol in Boise. Also, there are preliminary plans to build a rail line connecting Nampa and Boise. I am sure that the is all over that story which is interesting that in a Republican state public officials are chasing federal dollars to improve transportation. I guess the taxpayer revolt is much over blown.
Duane adds that highways are being enlarged to accommodate growing traffic problems and of course this involves more public expenditures. I may yet visit the Treasure Valley again.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Book Review: “The Murdered Family” by Vernon Keel

Miscarriage of justice carried out by devious cops on the North Dakota prairie is the compelling focus of Vernon Keel’s novel “The Murdered Family”.
Well researched and suspenseful with insightful detail, this book is based on a true crime -- the 1920 murders of the Wolf family and their hired hand on their farm near Turtle Lake. It’s a novel since the last two chapters are drama based on speculation about the murderers from facts gathered by Keel, a mass communications research scholar, journalism educator and reporter.
More than another “In Cold Blood,” the author provides a pre-Depression snapshot of the harsh and bewildering lives of German Russian immigrants to the North Dakota prairie. The man convicted of the brutal killings, Henry Layer, was ill equipped to match wits with a cunning Bismarck police chief, his hired thugs and conniving politicians. (Keel doesn’t say this but I am convinced ot this having read the book).
The role of the news media as a social institution is a sidebar where regional and local newspapers are important in a community where information is otherwise dispersed through word of mouth or via the local telephone operator. In one case, the Bismarck news reporter takes dictation from the angry police chief without questioning his statements, yet the Bismarck Tribune plays an important role in reporting the story.
The premise of the prosecution was that Layer killed the Wolfs over a dispute about his cattle grazing on the Wolf farm. It’s entirely plausible that tempers could flare over such an event. I recall at least one rural crime in southern Idaho over water from an irrigation ditch when I was a reporter for the Idaho Statesman.
(Vernon Keel was my supervisor when I was a graduate student in Agricultural Journalism at the University of Minnesota in 1969-70 and helped me navigate my way through graduate school).

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

"Active Senior Living" by Jan Curran - excellent

"Active Senior Living “, a shopworn marketing phrase, is also the title of a new book by Jan Curran, a resident of a California senior apartment complex and a former reporter and columnist for the Contra Costa Times and The Desert Sun in Palm Springs where she hobnobbed with retired movie stars and politicians.
In this ‘fictionalized memoir” Curran describes realistic dilemmas facing seniors who courageously try to live independently and avoid moving into “assisted living,” which may be the new name for nursing homes. In the independent living building, a nurse regularly evaluates present and prospective residents to determine if they are healthy enough to live independently and if they aren’t they need to make other arrangements. The corporation that owns the independent living building also operates a nearby assisted living facility, but assisted living expenses are out of the reach for some seniors trying to live independently.
Rather than being overwhelmed by these momentous decisions, residents band together to offer emotional support to each other -- a shoulder to lean on in tough times. “Life at the Inn is full to the brim with bountiful friends who just happened to be priceless octogenarians,” said Curran who was a 60 something “youngster” when she moved there from the desert.
Rather than an expose or sob stories about senior citizens being exploited, “Active Senior Living” is a testament that people like Curran with low expectations about senior living arrangements can open themselves to new friendships, share memories and experience life with renewed vigor. “Ages blur and friends become family,” she writes.
Curran’s innate reporting skills and her empathy for others come through as she gently probes and intervenes to help others who face overwhelming mental and physical challenges.
The book is somewhat reminiscent of the Betty Macdonald novels of the 1940s -- “The Egg and I” and “The Plague and I,” where humor is found in living on an island chicken farm and recovering from tuberculosis. Rather than “Ma and Pa Kettle,” Curran encounters 90-something would-be Romeos (with or without Viagra) aggressively seeking her companionship. Compassionate rather than mean-spirited is her approach to the 300-pound matron in the shocking pink K-Mart sweat suit and the 90-year-old widow with extensive cosmetic surgery who looks 55.
(Jan Curran, a vivacious socialite and newspaper reporter, reluctantly movies into an active senior living comples (the Inn) to recuperate from cancer. She tackles the surprises and challenges of her new life with warmth wit and courage, meeting a colorful cast of unforgettable charcters in an often hilarious and yet profoundly moving story of friendship and hope.
Curran is an award wining journalism and former columnist for the Contra Cost Times and The Desert Sun. She’s also been a fashion model, a realtor, a publicist and co-author of the book The Statue of Liberty is Cracking Up. She is retired and living in Southern California.
Jan says: I'm an award winning journalist, never took a class in writing! Been writing since I was a kid.  Send me any questions you want answered.
The book is doing so well on Amazon for the Kindle it is just amazing. I have 16 5 star reviews up there now! And getting all sorts of emails from fans asking for a sequel. There are now 94 fans of the book on a Facebook fan page , so that is amazing, too.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Yes, Boise Was My Dead Horse But I love It Now

It was the 60s, a revolution and a war were underway, and I was stuck in Boise, Idaho, capital of famous potatoes.
I was quite proactive in getting off the dead horse I was riding in Boise for 4 years when I contacted universities and applied to graduate schools in 1969. By September 69 I left my own private Idaho where I was a reporter for the Idaho Statesman.
But it was my coworker, Ralph Nichols, who suggested I go to graduate school, because that’s what he had dreamed of but never accomplished. Maybe that was his way of telling me to get out of town. So with a clear goal in mind I was able to endure the craziness of my supervisor Jim Golden, the city editor. It wasn’t long before I would take the graduate entrance exam at the College of Idaho in Caldwell with an upset stomach.
My Statesman job was not always a dead horse; in fact I had researched and written comprehensive reports on pollution, urban renewal, city planning and zoning as local government reporter. What more was there to do having written the story on Hot Cha Hinton the 300 pound go go girl (that was Betty Penson’s assignment, not my idea). It was the 60s.
I look back wistfully at my Idaho years but I was isolated, lonely and I had virtually lost my close friend Ralph when he married and moved to nearby Nampa. Quoting a line from the movie The Graduate, I told Ralph I was drifting. I had no social life although I beat that dead horse to death, dating women who really didn’t interest me. I was inching loser to 30.
I was to be in a major metropolitan area with a large Jewish community, a decent university and a host of urban issues. It was Los Angeles or Minneapolis and having lived n LA for two years I knew I didn’t want to do that again. With my undergraduate dubious scholastic achievements, I was lucky to get into grad school.
In Boise I was living in Mrs. Cook’s boarding house with four other young men and her grandchildren. For about 13 years, I had very limited access to a TV set I could call my own. Mrs. Cook’s daughter in law when born again and made vain efforts to convert me to Christianity when she would visit from Mt. Home. When the Ladies Circle would meet at Mrs. Cook’s house I would disappear which wasn’t easy when I was working nights and trying to entertain myself during the day.
As Fagan told the boys in Oliver, I needed a change of scenery. In September of 69 I packed my Magnavox radio and my typewriter into my Plymouth Satellite and headed east. Farewell Boise.