Monday, November 10, 2014

"The Muley and Friends Show" a TV Special airs Thanksgiving 2014

Coming soon to ACME Classics, a TV Special from "The Muley and Friends Show!"


My Southern Hospitality

I was talking to my friend, Renee, about her visit to Memphis and I started thinking about how I love to make visitors, especially those from across the miles, feel welcome and at home.  It is important to me, especially to close friends, that they feel like they belong.  But, from where does this stem?

Well, first of all, I'm a Southerner.  That means I speak with a drawl most of the time, I'm creative, I like dirt and the earth, and eat my weight in fried food.

Off topic:  When I visited the Schulz Museum, I offered to cook a Southern meal for Jeannie and she asked, "What's the difference between any other meal and a Southern meal?"  I said, "Southern food is fried and delicious."

Back on topic:
One of the things Southerners are (supposed to be) famous for is our hospitality. 

I remember growing up at Papa Roy's house and someone he knew would pull up outside.  He'd go the door, or on the front porch, and holler out to them, "Get out and come in!"  Get out of your car and come in the house.  You are welcome here.  I saw the offer for something to drink or something to eat. I think that's one of the ways hospitality was engrained in me.

I also remembered shows where people were welcoming.  Sesame Street episodes always started with a greeting to me (the viewer) and welcoming me to Sesame Street where the greeter was happy to see me there that day.  Even older shows:  George Burns and Gracie Allen always welcomed their friends to their home, as did the Addamses and the Munsters...not that visitors stayed long at the other two houses.

And then there were songs that were welcoming and inviting.  One such song, I think, is responsible for my need to be sure people eat.  Visitors will likely be offered food when they come to my house, and hearing this song you will understand why.  By Cab Calloway, Everybody Eats When They Come to My House.

So, as I head off to bed, these are the thoughts in my head as to my hospitality.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Distance, a new play by Jerre Dye (10/17 - 11/2, 2014)

I'm not much of one to write a review, but I do like to share when something is wonderful because I want others to share in that experience as well.

So, I've always said, "If you want to see a perfectly performed play, you peruse a play featuring a Palmer."  I'm mentioning, of course, my friends Jim and JoLynne Palmer whose abilities for acting are more than natural, but everything from facial expressions to inflection of dialogue are mere samples of the aforementioned perfection.  I can promise you that any play featuring them is going to be enjoyable!  And then you brag on their superb abilities and their humbleness begins to shine, making you love them even more.

I can tell you also, that I am a crier.  I cry at sentimental things, unless I can swallow REALLY hard and put it back down in my throat so I don't cry. I hate crying in public because I make really ugly faces when I weep.  That's not a joke, but a real thing.  If you ever are near me when I cry, look away or give me a shoulder (when I'm crying on your shoulder, you can't see my face)!

So, this past week I got notice from Jim that JoLynne is in a play at Voices of the South (in the ground floor of First Congregational Church) and, of course, I have to jump at the chance to see it.  I don't know anything about it, but when I see the advertisement for it...

I realize that it is going to be a drama and I ask Jim:  Am I going to cry?

The play isn't so much about what you'd think it would be about since everyone in the world has to deal with the topic for what drives the characters in the play, Alzheimer's; but, it's about the people affected by it.  Not just the person suffering from it, but also the people in that person's life.  How is it dealt with and how does it feel to suffer from it?  I got a good idea of it tonight in this play.

I don't know if I have ever seen a play written by Jerry Dye (because you don't often get the playwright to visit after the show), but I will tell you that I feel like something has been added to my soul for having had the opportunity to view his work in action.  The characters are well-connected in this story of disconnection, the characters grow a lot in these two hours from being one person when the play begins until the end when they have changed so much. 

I mention meeting the playwright after the play because tonight was the first time the play has been seen by an audience, and there was a talk-back panel at the end to learn from the audience about what needs to be tweaked within the script and action.  Everyone had good ideas and thoughts.  During the talk-back with the cast and crew, some of the audience members were pointing things out that they said lost them a little; but, for me, I felt as thought I fully captured the experience of those moments.  I don't really feel as thought I were lost during the show at all.  Everything that needed to resonate with me did.

One thing noticed during the talk-back is how many people have been affected by Alzheimer's in one way or another, and I guess I really noticed it throughout the play as people were weeping and laughing.  Yes, this play pulls on emotions, tugs on heart strings, and you kind of ride a roller coaster that all comes full circle and leaves you feeling that the story concluded with hope.

Without giving anything away, JoLynne performs as Irene, an elderly woman stricken with Alzheimer's that we watch (along with her friends) descend into that illness of confusion and lost memories.  Her daughter, Luvie, performed by Jenny Madden, is bitter toward her mother and now with all this added stress and personal problems we begin the play wondering how on earth she can handle all of this?  Luvie hires Dolly, performed by Cecelia Wingate, to come tend her mother Irene.  Dolly is full of that southern woman charm and caring--a little too caring in fact as it has spoiled her live-at-home son Dylan (performed by Jon Castro, very well, in fact, as he reminds me of someone I know).  While each of the characters are lost in their own worlds at the beginning of the play, there is one character, Leonard, who pretty much stays grounded and gives us that Rock of Gibraltar performed by the hilarious Steve Swift.  (Muley followers will know Steve as "Sister Myotis" who headlined the First Congo 150th Anniversary Banquet in 2013.)  Yes, there is a very touching moment with Leonard and Irene that will move you emotionally, so hilarious as he is Steve has range!

The play not only works with your emotions in the goings-on of the characters and their lives, but also plays with your psyche in some of the lighting, the sounds, and some of the action of the characters--you feel what Irene feels as she's thinking, questioning, and fearing her confusion and those familiar faces that are now so...distant.  The play, as any good story, has a perfect balance of comfort and discomfort, humor and drama, tears and laughter.

My interest in the play is, of course, the two folks I know who are in it; but, the psychology behind everything I see going on within the characters' worlds on that stage.  It makes one wonder how I, as an only child, may deal with the same situations as my mom ages--Alzheimer's is in our family as well.  And then the many times that the characters mention "am I seen?"  This lends me to want to visit with the playwright one-on-one and discuss his own world as it is reflected in his writing.  I see a bit of conversation between Dylan and his mom as he looks at a relic he kept of his long-gone father's and he wonders if it's stupid that he's held on to this thing hoping for a closer relationship with his own father and I consider the distant relationship I have with my own father (who I can go see, by the way) and my weepies want to come when he asks his mom if 'distance creates something that seems like love?'  That was the moment I finally connected with Dylan and said, "Oof, that's me."

The cast was brilliant.  I never felt like I was at a play.  I felt like I was the proverbial fly-on-the-wall, hanging around and watching other peoples' lives and stories unfold.  I felt like these are all people I  could know, so I was never estranged from the play.

To speak in the vernacular of Dr. Teeth of The Electric Mayhem Band, "This is a narrative of very heavy duty proportions!"  Jerre Dye has captured some beautiful moments, story telling, and written a play in which the actors shone like the brightest stars in the night sky.

Brava to the cast and crew of "Distance!"  Don't make yourself too distant from it, and go see it.  As it is still a work in progress during this run, I plan to go back to the last show to see how it has changed over the course of the run.  And you should go see it also.

Tickets can be purchased by clicking here.

Show details from the website are found below, followed by a published review.  To learn more about Alzheimer's, click here.

Voices of the South presents
A new play by Jerre Dye
Generously sponsored by Marjorie Palazzolo
Voices of the South @ TheatreSouth (entrance & parking on south side of First Congregational Church)
1000 S. Cooper
Memphis, TN 38104
Dates: October 17-19, 23-26, & November 1-2, 2014 (NOTE: no Friday performance on October 31)
Times: Thursday-Saturday Evenings @ 8:00pm; Sunday Matinees @ 4:00pm
Tickets: $23 Adults, $17 Students/Seniors (Advisory: Strong Language)
Box Office/Reservations: or 901-726-0800
(Tickets available online and at the door; although advance purchase is recommended).
DISTANCE is a new play by award-winning playwright and Voices of the South company member, Jerre Dye. It is the culmination of Voices of the South’s “THREADS” audience participation story project, where patrons were asked to choose from a selection of scenes & monologues they would like to see expanded into a full-length play.
Alzheimer’s is taking Irene Radford further and further away from the small universe of people who inhabit her world. The further Irene drifts into memory, the closer these relative “strangers” become connected to one another. DISTANCE explores questions of memory, identity, relationship, and the vulnerability of change.
Director – Alice Berry
Cast – Jon Castro, Jenny Madden, JoLynne Palmer, Steve Swift, & Cecelia Wingate.
The Playwright: Also known for his celebrated work as an actor and director, Jerre Dye most recently work-shopped Ghosts of Crosstown, for which he wrote the libretti for 5 short operas as part of an Opera Memphis collaboration with Voices of the South. His acclaimed play, Cicada, which was developed with Voices of the South in 2011, opened in Chicago in April and was recently nominated for two 2014 Jeff Awards, including Best Supporting Actress for Memphian, Cecelia Wingate. Also for Cicada, Mr. Dye won the The Bryan Family Award for Dramatic Literature from the Fellowship of Southern Writers in 2011.

Voices of the South and Theatre South are generously funded by ArtsMemphis, Tennessee Arts Commission, Dorothy O. Kirsch, The Jeniam Foundation…and other members of the community.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Arting Around With God - Part 2 Review

Did you get a chance to read Part 1 Review of the classes?  If not, CLICK HERE!  Since the topic of the classes being reviewed is religious in nature, this is going to be a God-centric story, of course.

Part 1 Review discussed the other folks who participated in the classes held those first 3 Wednesdays of September 2014.  I shared names, stories, my thoughts, photos, art, and a poem I wrote during one of the classes, which inspired me to share two other such items below.

The third Wednesday class, hosted by Sharon Pavelda and Randall Mullins (as they had hosted the previous two), found musician Larken and vocalist Joel Chapman on the floor discussing my story, and the discussion went from true musicians to the orchestration of work that goes into performing a puppet.

Photo by Roger Courts as Muley discusses celebrating with pie.  Or Pi.
Since May 2010, my puppetry has re-rooted itself back into church as Muley the Mule has begun offering up the kids' messages at First Congo while sharing his too-smart 6-year-old translations of what he reads in the Christian bible and how it relates to his own life.  Where does this start?  Why do I do it?  Where did the root of church puppetry first get planted?

This evening, I started out sharing with everyone a story that not many people there knew, not even Sharon and Randall, but they are both responsible for the fact that Muley still does the kids' messages.  I believe that God sends us answers and messages, but we have to be open minded enough to understand when we're being contacted and what we're being told. Our silent meditations or prayer, the actions of people around us, the traffic jam may be a blessing in disguise as may the closed doors of a store be (depending on our bank account)!  You see, after about a year of doing the kids' messages I had intended to go to church and let Pastor Cheryl know that I would step back and let someone else take the reigns for a while; but, God lets you know loud and clear what you're going to do.

At that point and time, I hadn't really spoken much to either Randall or Sharon, but this particular morning both stopped me just as I was walking in the door and we discussed puppetry performance, acting, techniques, and they told me that the work I was doing with Muley for the kids, and ultimately for the congregation since we perform the kids' messages right in front of them, was a true blessing to all and especially themselves.  I realized that, "Oh, okay, God.  I get what you're saying," and chose silently to not stop doing the kids' messages.  That's when they gave a farewell and walked away, and I said, "That's too coincidental to not be a sign."  So, through today, I still do the kids' messages there and expect I will continue until they tell me to go away, or I move, or just cannot physically do it any longer.

But, where did puppetry for me begin?  It was simultaneous with my love of drawing and began at a very early age.  I attended Cadet Child Care Center in Holly Springs, MS, and they promoted art with us kids creating plates, clay sculptures, we made snowmen out of white soap powder, painted, drawed...the list can go into eternity at this point!

Cadet Child Care Center, Catholic-run; cafeteria on left and classes on right.  The preschool
is no longer located in these buildings and has moved across town.  Which is sad, as there were
wonderful murals on the walls in the hall representing the Orange Room (Ernie with an orange
tree), the Blue Room (Cookie and Grover Monsters), the Yellow Room (Big Bird and Bert), and
the Red Room (who I forget was on their mural).

One of my friends once critiqued this as amazing for a 5 year old to
have drawn--the feet are drawn showing a flat plane on which the
dinosaur stood.  This is a puzzle, but really a collage.
My best friend then, who I recall was always intrigued by my drawing and would later become a fantastic musician, was Monta Richmond.  In the MuleyVerse, my namesake, Kevin Rhea, has a best friend named Monta Mitchum.  Go figure.

Monta Richmond and I show our diplomas when we
graduated Cadet Child Care Center in 1978!
I was a HUGE fan of both Charles Schulz's Peanuts comic strip and cartoons, and of Jim Henson's Muppets, mostly via Sesame Street.  I began doing puppet shows for my neighborhood friends and classmates at Cadet Child Care Center.  I would take my record player and find the right groove in it to lay the needle and just as it started playing a song, would grab a puppet that goes with the record and perform the song.

Sharon asked me, "Do you remember the first puppet that you connected with?"  "Coincidentally," I said, "I brought it tonight!"  I pulled the puppet out of the puppet box and did a few lines in the character's voice, then passed it around for everyone to see and try on.

Grover Monster of Sesame Street by Fisher Price.
I still love this puppet!
I explained that in 1979 I had already received letters from the corporate paralegals of my heroes that I could not do my own Snoopy comic strip or create my own Muppet show, and so I started creating my own world of dogs.  The main dog character was called Spike, but was really dorky unlike the usual burly strong Spikes you see in cartoons.  His buddy, originally a dog, was this lanky thing that, on January 1, 1980, Papa Roy Rhea said, "Well, he's muley-lookin', ain't he?"

"Muley-lookin'?" I asked looking at the page.  I thought it was a dog, but if Papa Roy says it's a mule, then it's a mule.  So, that's when Muley the Mule was born.  Today, I still have (and shared in that class) the earliest owned drawing of Muley, which is probably #3 or #4 drawing of him.

During all this time, though, I was still returning to my preschool and doing puppet shows.  I would load up a suitcase with records, the record player, and my puppets, and ride my bike all the way uptown in the summers and do puppet shows for all the students.  In 1985, the students shared their puppet experiences with the school's newsletter (you'll have to click it to open bigger for viewing):

Fast forwarding now: in 1988 we moved to Munford, TN, where (after being kicked out of the Presbyterian Church for laughing at the old woman choir who sounded like the Muppet Chicken Choir) I started attending Munford Assembly of God Church.  The music that Sunday was rocking, and it drew me in there.  Soon after, I started with the youth group and then performing puppets with the Children's Church there. 

This inspired me to go ahead and (in May 1990) construct the first Muley puppet.  The pattern was taken from one of the first puppets made for the church by one of their elder women which, after I altered it (a LOT) became Buford the Dog.  I bought the puppet from the church in 1991 and made him my own completely, fitting him into the MuleyVerse as Muley's best friend.  Unfortunately, I quit church after seeing too many politics happening and decided that if I go to church I'm only adding one more hypocrite to the bunch.  But, watch what happens years later...

Everyone knows that over the following years, The Muley and Friends Show performed at festivals, conventions, and other events, with Muley hosting and emceeing contests, events, shows, and introducing stars in all forms of media, except motion pictures!  Muley's Comix and Stories have been published in all forms of print as well.

In 2009, my friend Angela Freeman forced me back to church when she says, "I heard about this church I want to try out, I'll be there to get you in 10 minutes."  In May 2010, Muley did his first kids' message with Juan Salter.  In 2013, The Muley and Friends Show performed live as part of First Congo's 150th Anniversary Celebration, also celebrating 25 years of Pastor Cheryl's tenure and 5 years of Pastor Sonia's service.

Missy Mule and asst. Janet Wade, Roy Duck and asst. Andrew Chandler,
Buford the Dog and asst. Martheus Wade, Muley the Mule and asst. Kevin L. Williams

So, there is the story that made its way full circle, ending with everyone making their own paper puppets!  And this may be a neat project to share at a future date.

Thanks for sharing this story with me and I hope you had fun and are inspired by all this to go create!

Ernie and Bert paper puppets.

Below are the poems I mentioned in the previous post and above.
First up is Industry.  I wrote it thinking about nature, but people have found many more meanings behind the text, and I welcome that.  When you read it, what do you think it is about?
There it was before me
This thing of beauty
Stretching tall to the sky
Reaching for the sun
Rooted in the firmament
And older than any
Its arms reaching out
Its foliage greeny
Against the pale blue sky
And the fluffy white clouds
Its brown leg broke forth from
The green and flowered blanket beneath
Amidst its torso was home
To the many creatures there
Living peacefully, happily
But then, from nowhere!
I heard the sound of industry
Coming like the beast of evil
Crawling across the ground
Like a serpent for a baby
And this great, majestic creature
Whose purpose in life was to shade and shelter
Was targeted, and fell
And was there no more.
Displaced, the creatures had to leave
Seeking a new home far, far away
And where once stood the majesty
Now clumped hard rock, concrete
Steel and beam, metal, glass and plastic,
A necessary evil: Progress was his name
He laughed a hearty ‘Ho, ha haa!’
As his pockets filled and fat he became 
So long, I whispered to that thing of beauty
No longer reaching to the sky
For now a concrete demon came
And made the beauty die
What will become of our green earth
If progress presses forth?
Steel and beam, metal, glass and plastic,
Beauty will be no more.
While working on Muley stuff, I realized that The Muppets have a ballad with "Rainbow Connection," and Disney has "When You Wish Upon A Star," and Peanuts have "Happiness Is..."; but, I had nothing.  The following is the lyrics I wrote for what would be the ballad for The Muley and Friends Show:
The Smiles of Children 
It’s found in The Smiles of Children
Their sounds of laughter
Singing their songs
It’s found in The Smiles of Children
While they play their
Games all day long
When the world turns dark and gray and
Things seem to crash all around you
Watch the children, hear their voices
Your day will start fresh and new
It’s found in The Smiles of Children
Healthy or Sick
They’re happy just the same
It’s found in The Smiles of Children
Eternal joy is the name of their game
When your heart is feeling down
Listen to the world that’s all around you
Look to the child and your happiest moments
Are when he gets love from you
Its found in The Smiles of Children
It’s up to you, so treat them right
Like you need The Smiles of Children
They need your love
Both day and night
The children need your loving, caring
Honesty and joy
And always smile back
For every girl and boy

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Arting Around With God - Part 1 Review

This is the first part review of my experience with the Arting Around with God class (in which I participated) at First Congo.  This will be details about the class and what others were sharing and some of the participation I had in the classes and what we did in them.  Part 2 Review will be more of the discussion about myself when I told my story.  Let's begin now:

At First Congo, which I attend, we had some classes set up by members Sharon Pavelda and Randall Mullins called Arting Around with God.  (Of course, Muley would have added an "F" to the front of that just because he could.)  So, what was Arting Around with God about?  Sharon shared, "Our hope is that we will find encouragement and delight in the way that our innate creativity enriches our connection to ourselves, to each other, and to the Creator."

Photo by Julia Hicks
But, the classes were really fun an intriguing.  We were all sitting in a circle in the First Congo Conference Center and introduced ourselves either in a song or dance, and then we all stretched and reached out to one another.  It was movement to get us a chance to know one another and to feel our bodies in motion, sort of becoming one with the moment and each other.
Our class schedule was 5:30 - 7:00 pm the first three Wednesdays of September.  Sharon and Randall reminded us that the classes are to discuss "the ways you have discovered the creative flow in your life, how it might have directed you and/or changed you over the years, and how you experience the presence of God or a Higher Power, if you do, in your creativity."  Something even you, the reader, could reflect on about your own life and career.

Sept. 3rd - Pamela Macfarland and Arnie Ellison

Pamela, who does the artwork on the Order of Worship published each Sunday, discussed her graphic design history, and Arnie talked about his work with furniture and design.  One of the things I noticed in their stories is the same with all artist stories which is sort of that in our youth we are a bit ignored or our art is not appreciated, so we struggle with that.
I was reminded that I tried through my whole life to get folks to understand exactly what goes on with an artist who isn't allowed to create.  I would tell them to imagine that you are in a box that is made to fit around your body, tightly.  You can't move.  Your nose itches and you can't scratch it.  You're hungry and can't eat.  You're tired and can't sit or lay down.  Also, it is hot in that box, and there is no air flowing in or out, so you can't breathe. If you can imagine that experience, that is what it is like to not be able to create!
As with most artists, they broke free of those artistic restraints and moved forward in life now working successfully at their jobs!  The question which followed was when are we most free?  We all shared in that discussion, and I thought about it and shared, "I'm not sure when I feel most free.  I surround myself with artistic people who are positive and that makes me feel good.  I wake up each day looking forward to the day ahead of me, thankful for yesterday, excited about tomorrow.  I seek happiness and find it, and feel that those I love share a love back to me.  I feel like I'm free almost all the time!"

And it's true:  If I know you, I love you.

Sept. 10th - Jonathan Devin, Sue Westmoreland and Tom Carlson

Jonathan discussed his life working with words, writing articles and stories and trying to work as a writer until finally it paid off.  He's now working with enough writing that he was able to quit his job and work solely as a wordsmith!  I am inspired by people who take something they love and turn it into a lucrative career.  He read an excerpt of his book and we were invited to share a word with him that explained how we felt after the reading of his story.
Sue and Tom, a married couple, have worked with making beautiful books and teaching the art of writing for many years now.  The book below was made by Sue.  

Book designed and made by Sue Westmoreland
Her part of the course discussed how she took moments of her life to create books of art and story telling her experiences and sharing her emotions.  She asked us to take the hand opposite our strong hand (I'm right-handed, so my left hand is my weak hand), and draw our portraits in the book. 

Tom had some course-work for us.  He brought in envelopes with an ink pen in it and a page ripped from a book or a magazine, and the project was that we should look through the pages and take words from it, in the order they appear on the page, and create a poem.  You can see where I underlined words that stuck out to me as I realized what I would end up writing about.

As I started looking through my page I saw words that told a story of me and my mule: 

See the poem below for the translation of this chicken scratch.

Very much the felt
Under the chin, round the back of the head
Possession of some animal with the hair
Two factions in reign, ceded to that power
The end to these factions speak the language of one

I'm going to share some more of my "poetry" in the Part 2 Review.

In the September 18, 2014, church newsletter, the Congo Beat, Pastor Cheryl Cornish wrote a summation of the previous two classes:  "It's been an absolute delight to share in the "Art-ing Around with God" classes this past month.  Why?  Not only did I learn some things about myself, but I really LOVED learning more about the stories of some of our church friends.  I got to hear Jon Devin share part of a wonderful book he's written; I got to learn more of how Pamela McFarland creates the art for our Orders of Worship each week.

Faith, you could say, is an interplay of stories.  We hear God's story in our being and lives; we listen to that story told through thousands of years and thousands of lives.  Each day, we decide how we will tell the story of the Gospel in our own lives - and determine what kind of story will be told from what we do and say."

Sept. 17th - Joel Chapman, Larken, and Kevin Williams

Discussion began again with one of my favorite singers in the world who has done many fund-raising concerts on behalf of First Congo, and sings in the choir now.  Joel Chapman discussed his training in the musical arts and more.  I'm sure he can diagnose this post since that's his profession, but his crisp vocalizations of lyrics found on the pages of written musical dialogue will always find its way into your heart and soul, and it moves you.  Not in a "chicky chicky bow bowm" movement, but in an emotional movement.

Larken (whose name I know I'm spelling wrong because I don't know her well yet) discussed her life of music and learning all the instruments she could, even piano.  (That was when I admitted to being a pecker--I peck the piano keys with my finger and pick out tunes.)  She discussed how music has been a spiritual empowerment for her.  Music really does bring out something different in us all, doesn't it? 

Part two will discuss my story which followed hers, but after I spoke Larken brought out her musical instrument which she plays in the church sanctuary while members walk the labyrinth in reflection and meditation.  We were in the conference center, and so wandered around in reflection and meditation there, and I reflected on my story and what I have done with my work and those who I've met along the way and how they inspired me.  But, I'll share that in a post later.

I believe in God.  I believe that God blesses us in ways we'll never even realize.  I'm thankful for those blessings I get and for the talents that have been bestowed upon me and those around me, and am thankful for the chance to experience their work.  Those three days of classes were wonderful for me.  I felt closer to those who talked as I shared their stories and realized that I experienced some of what they had, and at the end of the classes I was worked up and inspired, ready to get home to my studio and work!  Thanks Sharon and Randall for pulling this together, and thanks to the participants for being so inspirational.

And thanks, God, for putting all these folks in my life; including those reading this text.

Stay tuned for Part 2 Review: The Legend of Kevin


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Most Famous Unofficial Frog Photo

Back in 2007, Master Replicas sent their Kermit the Frog prop puppet around on his 'world tour,' but only made it across the country.  Which was fine, because one stop was here in Memphis.  My friends and I were able to take him to his old hopping grounds in Leland, MS, to the Jim Henson Delta Boyhood Museum

While there, we took what has become a rather iconic photo.   It has been posted and claimed by many others; but, you can tell we were the ones that took it when you click the image to read the full story.

So, how do you know it isn't an official image?  Look at Kermit's collar.  Have you EVER seen it in such disarray as that in an official image?  Nope.  Never.  It is also showing how we just took a quick photo and got what we did--we didn't straighten out his collar.

But, there is now a copy of it at the Jim Henson Legacy and Jim Henson Foundation.

That was a great trip, and each time I have visited there it's been great fun!  I love Leland, and hope you get a chance to visit as well.

Photography was taken by Lin Workman, Martheus and Janet Wade, and myself.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Good Business: 101 - The Phone Call

Everyone has worked in a position where you have to take phone calls.  I do that.  I do that, and I get irritated because there are a few items of interest to note here.  Why do I say so?  Because it is distracting from my whole day, distracting from all the things I must accomplish, and really wastes some time. 

Being that I need to post this, I need to point out that there is the Better Business Bureau for customers to call in on bad businesses--unfortunately, customers call the BBB even when the business is good and the customer is bad, but they have to blame someone.  But, there is not a BCB:  Better Customer Bureau.  If there were, I know I would have some folks' names on that list so businesses would know in advance who NOT to work with.  Why?  Because the customer is NOT always right, and this is from a fella who has won many customer service awards over the years.

So, what?  Well, I hope that this can serve as a start for the BCB.

What does it mean to conduct good business as a Better Customer?  To get that A+ rating?  Well, let's begin with initial contact:  The Phone Call.

I work with an online company and so do not need a dissertation about where you found my number:
"I found you while looking on the internets."  THE internets! Not just any, singular internet.
"I was looking in your online website."  I guess you were looking in my online website on the internets.  If you're looking 'at' my website, I'm certain it must have been online and via the internet.
If you can tell me it was through word of mouth or a mailer, then I want to know all about it.  Who told you?  When did you get the mailer?  Did someone I helped before give you information, or did someone who knew your need offer you the mailer they were sent?

But, thankfully, you DID find me and now I'm happy to help.  But, you found the website and apparently didn't read a single lick of it.
Caller: "I'm looking at Product A, and wonder how much it is?"
Me:  You're looking at it online, right now?
Caller: "Yup, right there on my computer internet."
Me:  Do you see that price to the right of the name of Product A?
Caller: "Yup."
Me:  That's the price.  $1070.

That's right.  The website you are looking at usually has all the answers, and even more under their FAQ's, which is for their Frequently Asked Questions.  Which, by the way, the answer to "What all do I get for that price?" is also listed just below the price.  Right there.  On your computer internet.

Reminds me of a few customers from my insurance sales days:
Caller:  "How much is my bill this mont'?"
Me:  "$1578."
Caller:  "Yup, yeah, that's whut it says right here on my bill."

Honest to God phone call there.  Have you rolled your eyes yet?  If not, read on.

So, keep in mind a personal fact about yourself: Accent.  If you are used to people asking you over and over again, "Can you please repeat that?"  Then, it is likely you have a thick accent and are hard to hear.  Especially on the phone.  When I don't understand that you have said B/P/T/D/V or S/F or C/Z, don't get mad at me.  If I don't understand your name because you said it faster than a New York second, don't get mad at me.  If you have a very  uncommon name and I cannot understand that, don't get mad at me.  You called to talk to someone who is willing to help:  SLOW DOWN.  That clears up a lot of issues with accent, with spelling, with understanding the name you are saying.  Because you are used to hearing how you sound does not mean other folks are used to hearing  how you sound.

Which brings up another point:  Hearing how you sound.  You are important, indeed; but, you are NEVER so important that you must use a speaker phone for all your conversations!  I can't say how many times I speak to the same person over and over again and they are on the speaker phone.  Pick up the receiver and talk to me.  Because, even if you don't have an accent, your voice is going to be harder to hear than it would be if you picked up the danged receiver! 

And speaking of speaker phones, turn off background noise or ask people to shut up.   TV, Radio, and people drown you out when you call, speaker phone or not.  I cannot hear you, and I cannot help you if I don't know what you're saying.  That takes time out of our call together if I have to ask you to repeat yourself.  And when I do, don't get mad at me.

If you are on your land-line and not your cellphone, but your cellphone rings, do us both a favor: Don't answer the cellphone!  I then have to wait while you talk about what you're having for dinner.  Now, I'm patient about such things if it has to do with someone's health or pet or kids; but, when I'm trying to work and I hear, "I think mac-n-cheese with some ham in it will be good," I swear I want to hang up on you.

When you call a company for questions, by the way, expect to get answers.  Plan ahead and have pencil and paper on hand to write down the details of which you are given.  I spend too much time on a phone call answering the same questions OVER and OVER again because you aren't writing down information and you're calling all the details back to me incorrectly.  Also, if someone else needs to know the information:  Write down the details--do NOT put them on the phone to ask the same questions you just asked to which I have to answer the same replies again. 

And speaking of helping:  You called me for help.  I am here to help.  I am glad and happy to help.  Did you know that if you ask a question, I want to answer it; but, I cannot if you continue to  barrage me with questions?  Let me help you.  Don't lead the conversation!  This which I do, that you are calling me because I do it, is something I know.  You do not.  Do not lead the conversation and put words in my mouth that come out of your head that you will remember later because most of what I have to say is consistent for every customer, and that never changes.  If I tell you "approximately 6 to 8 weeks," don't come back to me saying I said 4 weeks--that is a time-schedule that NEVER changes, not for you.  And, by the way, all of that is written on the website so you can't say I said it differently than what is already published.

Now, the website has an online ordering system if you choose to take that route, or I can take the order by phone.  If you want to do the online ordering, do that at home at your leisure and that's fine. I do not need to be on the phone during the whole 20 minutes in which you are deciding details and typing.  By this time, you should have already searched information on the internets and our online website pages to figure out what you want and need.  Of course, I keep offering to take the details by phone since you have me on the line, but I keep getting denied that opportunity to speed things along because you feel the need to keep someone on the line while you poke your way through the website ordering system.    PLEASE let me help you better and let me take the order on the phone.  I promise it will be faster and I can submit the order for you and take care of everything.

So, let's say you called and couldn't reach me.  You'll hear my voice message say, " please leave your name, number, and a brief message..."  And the keyword here is what?  BRIEF!  For example:
"Hi, this is Kevin Williams, my number is 888 257 3130, and I would like to know if Product A can include a third emblem?"  See what I did there?  Brief.  Not a dissertation of my call saying how I found your company on the online website internets.  Don't take 3 minutes to leave a voice message, and don't spill over the numbers in your contact information that I have to hit replay over and over to hear it.  1234567890 is not the same as 123-456-7890, dig?

Never forget that you know your name.  Speak it clearly and leave a space between your first name and last name so Roberto Gagnon doesn't sound like Robberlownone.

I think this is a good start to earning your A+ rating on the BCB, folks.  Learning how to conduct business by the telephone is a good thing.  It doesn't take much more than common sense to know what to do to take care of business and let me help you properly.  It's pretty simple stuff.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

August 20, 2014 - Birthday #42

My birthday has come along again, which is always a good thing.  Whatever wrinkles I get, and whatever gray hair I may achieve (amid the hair that may still be left), I welcome it.

Years ago, a local radio DJ, Tim Spencer, was complaining on the air about his birthday coming up.  I wondered why?  I mean, the alternative isn't such a good plan.  It seems kind of boring!  So, days later he mentioned me on the air as he read a sympathy card that I mailed him stating, "A reminder that the alternative sucks. Happy Birthday!"  And he agreed.

And birthdays are just that: celebration of life.  Usually with cakes, presents, cards.  I don't need presents.  If you're reading this then you're likely already a gift to me.  If you want to doodle something on copy paper and give that to me, I'll take it.  The gifts created by hand mean more to me than anything else I could be given.  Even more important to me than money, because hand-made, or hand-drawn, is a part of someone and who they are, and that is a great gift.

I can say that the best birthday I ever had was surrounded by tons of my friends and co-workers at Isaac Hayes' restaurant back in the early 2000's.  My friend Di Anne Price was performing on the stage, tickling the ivories, and I was gifted by the presence of so many beautiful, wonderful people.

I posted on Facebook once that: Friends are the best gifts people can give of themselves, and that you can allow yourself to be given.

That is truer as each year goes by.  I make many new friends and am glad to welcome them into my life!  Interesting people, fun people, creative people.  I don't know or hang out with a single person who isn't special in some way.  With that, I am completely blessed.

Sunday morning, August 17, my mom, during conversation, is the first person this year to say, "Happy Birthday," and that is fantastic to me because I am 100%, and without a shadow of a doubt, a mama's boy.  I love my little mama!  She's a nut, so I come by it naturally.

My second surprise, for real, today has been my friends singing Happy Birthday to me over cake and pizza (had I known, I would have skipped stopping by Taco Hell).  I usually notice or catch on, but this was pulled off seamlessly, ha ha.  I had no clue.

So, what will this birthday week have in store for me?  What will the next year?  I don't know.  I do know that as long as I can have my friends be as big a part of my life as they have always been then it will be another great, fun, happy  year for me.

I am truly blessed.

I end this post with a neat picture I found tonight:
August 1976, somewhere between Holly Springs, MS and Gatlinburg, TN.  My parents were taking me to the mountains and we stopped off at this visitor center where there was a teepee and Big Bird and Cookie Monster.  I'm looking through things tonight, and I find the following photo.  Somewhere, there is a photo of me chasing Cookie Monster around as I laugh my butt off because he was scared of the puppet I had of himself.  And this, as you can tell, is a fun photo to me because I was star-struck!  I have always loved Big Bird, even if it wasn't the real one but, as the guy told me and I recall to this day, "I'm his cousin!"



Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Draw, Drew, Draw

I've been to many movies and there have been as many movie posters that I have seen which I absolutely love.  Of course, all the movies I absolutely love have something in common.  Know what it is?

Let's look at these images and see if we can guess...

The Muppets

Indiana Jones



Star Wars

Back to the Future

Okay, if you said "the 1980's" then you're right.  But, the posters were all done by one man.

Drew Struzan

I just watched a documentary about him on Netflix called "Drew: The Man Behind The Posters" and it told his life-story in art, how he got the gigs, and all the joys and tumults of the business.  Lots to learn as an artist, and a lot of inspiration to be had.  This is why I needed to write a post about him because frankly, I've been a fan of "drew" but had no clue who he was. 

Today, I know Drew Struzan (so to speak) and want to let everyone else know who the great artist is behind the greatest movie posters of all time.

PLUS, he meet Miss Piggy.  Jealous of his artistry and that he met Miss Piggy!