OCTOBER 19: Teen saves two younger brothers from house fire

ON THIS DATE in 1952, fifteen-year-old Jack Bamford crawled through flames to a back bedroom of his home in Newthorpe (U.K) in order to save younger brothers Brian, six, and Roy, four

The George Cross.

The George Cross.

Jack’s shirt had been burnt and his torso was roasting when he reached the boys. When he dropped the youngest from a window to his father’s arms, the six-year-old broke free of Jack’s grasp and, panic-stricken, raced to the back of the bedroom. Rather than jump to safety, Jack lunged through the flames one last time to retrieve his screaming brother.

Both parents and all six Bamford children survived the blaze. “What can you think? You have got to get them out,” Jack Bamford told the Nottingham Post six decades later.

It took the courageous youth four months to recover from the burns that blistered his face, neck, chest, back, arms, and hands. For his actions, Jack received the George Cross, Britain’s highest civilian award for bravery. At the time, he was the youngest-ever recipient of the award.

October 19: Caution: Educated African American Male

kalief2 ON THIS DATE in 2009, seventeen-year-old entrepreneur Kalief Rollins met Barack Obama and handed the president a custom-made T-shirt with the words, “Caution: Educated African American Male.”

image5396975xKalief and his brother Anthony, from Compton, California, started Phree Kountry Clothing in order to “show positive messages of urban culture,” and to make a few bucks. They beat out 24,000 other entrants to win the 2009 National Young Entrepreneur Competition, resulting in a $10,000 prize and a trip to the White House.

Anthony provided the T-shirt designs, Kalief did the selling, and their mom, Shukriyah, served as their chief financial officer.

“I’m just a natural born salesman,” Kalief Rollins told CBS News.

Speaking of scary: roadside food, 1918

SAW WHAT YOU WILL about modern fast food, it’s more reliable than the take-your-chances fare from roadside diners. Which I never truly appreciated until re-reading this tale told by my Grandpa McQuade (1899-1992).

My Grandpa McQuade (right) with his much-taller brother Clarence sometime around 1918.

My Grandpa McQuade (right) with his much-taller brother Clarence sometime around 1918.

This occurred around 1918, when my grandpa would’ve been eighteen. He was transporting lumber with a brother-in-law, Jay, in northern Minnesota. They were heading for Baudette, located close to the Canadian border, when they stopped at a suspicious-looking eatery. As my grandpa told it to my mom (who tape-recorded him in 1990) …

“The place didn’t look too clean and the woman serving even less so. It was like a halfway house where everyone sat at the same table. The serving woman with the greasy hair and face brought out some boiled meat, potatoes and gravy, and baking-powdered biscuits. I loaded my plate, pulled a biscuit apart, and a black greasy hair sprung out of it. I lost my appetite right there.”

It’s unclear if Jay enjoyed a biscuits-and-hair repast, but Grandpa McQuade preferred to move on, hungry as he was, to Baudette. When they got there at 8 in the evening, Jay said, “C’mon, Tom, I’m going to buy you a beer!” Grandpa wasn’t much of a beer drinker, but he figured he could get some food at the bar.

“We entered a saloon and the first thing I noticed was the high brass spittoons and cuspidors,” Grandpa recalled. “Men were clearing their throats and spitting into them, snot was hanging over the sides, and I lost it again. I turned down the beer because of those disgusting spittoons. Once again, dinner was out of the question.”

High School Mascots: So Very Scary

Layout 1Above (top left, clockwise): The Harrison High (Arkansas) Goblins logo, the Sleepy Hollow High (New York) Headless Horseman mascot, and cheerleaders yelling for the Salem High (Massachusetts) Witches.

BE AFRAID.

With Halloween just two weeks away, Witches have been spotted in Salem, Massachusetts; Goblins in Harrison, Arkansas; and Headless Horsemen in Sleepy Hollow, New York.

These and other monsters often appear on Friday nights under the spooky (just ask a sports photographer) lights at high school football fields.

If you’re undecided on a Halloween costume, consider some of the bizarre creatures that represent high school sports teams:

Scott-Poca Photo 11. Poca High (West Virginia) Dots. A polka dot sounds harmless, but a Poca Dot is a whole different brute. Look how vicious he is! Some (like me) consider this the finest of all high school mascots.

Hodagjpg

2. Rhinelander High (Wisconsin) Hodags. A Hodag is a freakish made-up monster known for its viciousness and moodiness. Kinda like your boss.

Villains

3. Bishop McGuinness Catholic (Kernersville, North Carolina) Villains. This menacing blue guy appears on the school’s Facebook page. Would love to see the Villains play the Heritage Academy (Mesa, Arizona) Heroes.

bunnies4. The Benson (Omaha, Nebraska) Bunnies. Rabbits aren’t always cuddly, as anyone who has seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) can tell you. “That’s no ordinary rabbit,” Tim the Enchanter (John Cleese) warns. “That’s the most foul, cruel, and bad tempered rodent you ever set eyes on … it’s a killer!”

5. The Tillamook (Oregon) Cheesemakers. Monty Python again: A spectator in The Life of Brian (1979) misinterprets Jesus as saying, “Blessed are the cheesemakers.” A wife says, “What’s so special about the cheesemakers?” Her husband answers, “Well, obviously, it’s not meant to be taken literally — it refers to any manufacturer of dairy products.”

criminals

6. Yuma High (Arizona) Prisoners. The high school opened in 1909 and held classes in the former Arizona Territorial Prison from 1910 to 1914. Thus the school’s nickname: Prisoners. Love the stripes.

papermaker7. Camas High (Washington) Papermakers. What can be so scary about a paper — OMG, IT’S HIDEOUS!

maniac8. Orofino Maniacs (Idaho). Love this nickname, but the logo looks like a crazy little kid throwing a tantrum. Do cheerleaders do routines to Michael Sembello’s “Maniac” from Flashdance? That would be awesome.

Swathers9. Hesston Swathers (Kansas). “A swather is a farm implement that cuts hay or small grain crops and forms them into a windrow” — Wikipedia. Watch out — it has fangs!

Meloneer

10. The Rocky Ford Meloneers (Colorado). This mascot was inspired by the local community’s Watermelon Day. The mascot’s name, or maybe its slogan, is “Fear the Meloneer.”

Spudder

11.  Ridgefield Spudders (Ridgefield, Washington). That is one angry tater.

Kernel12. Mitchell Kernels (South Dakota).  One of two high schools nicknamed Kernels — the other is in Mansfield, Washington. Not to be confused with the Hoopeston Area High (Illinois) Cornjerkers.

Most of this information comes from the excellent website, http://highschoolnicknames.homestead.com

OCTOBER 17: It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s the boy who created Superman!

-5a6d1ad8-c83d-4480-8ba6-d43183ff4e01

ON THIS DATE in 1914, Jerry Siegel was born. At nineteen, Siegel and Joe Shuster, also nineteen, created Superman.

The greatest superhero of them all sprang to life in the mind of a shy, lonely Siegel on a hot Cleveland night. Fixating on girls who would never even look at him, he thought, “What if I had something going for me, like jumping over buildings or throwing cars around?”

Bouncing up from his bed, Siegel jotted down his fast-forming ideas for an all-powerful hero. The next morning he raced to see his artist friend, Shuster, who sketched his impressions of Superman, replete with blue tights, a cap, and a bold “S” on his chest.

Action_Comics_1Siegel and Shuster spent the next three years peddling their creation to various publishers before Detective Comics (DC) agreed to feature Superman in Action Comics No. 1. The writer-artist duo accepted $130 apiece for a 13-page story that appeared in May of 1938.

In the process, they signed away their rights to the superhero, which meant they saw no profits when the character emerged as a cultural icon in the 1940s and beyond. Siegel and Shuster sued D.C. for the rights to Superman and Superboy in 1946, accepting a $200,000 settlement and losing their jobs.

By the 1970s, the Man of Steel’s creators were living in near poverty while DC reaped millions from the Superman brand. Siegel and Shuster lost a 1975 case in which they sued for a share of the Superman profits, but responding to negative publicity, DC’s parent company agreed to pay each of the co-creators an annual salary of $35,000. They also agreed that all Superman stories would thenceforth bear the words, “Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.”

October 16: Stand up against LGBT hate

Spirit-DatTODAY, ON SPIRIT DAY, I’m thinking back on my 10-year high school reunion, held in a Red Lion banquet room in Medford, Oregon.

Spirit Day commemorates LGBT victims of bullying. I’m not L, G, B, or T, but I believe in the Spirit Day cause. I’d like to say I’ve always felt for picked-on gays, but the stink of homophobia never really gagged me until that 1989 evening at the Medford Red Lion.

I’m guessing maybe 150 people (out of a graduating class of nearly 700) attended. We sat in groups of six or more around our tables as a slideshow flashed a series of 10-year-old pictures from our high school days. Some pictures brought cheers, some groans, but nothing ignited the room like a picture of a redheaded boy in a scarf. When it appeared, the room roared one ugly yell:

“FAAAAAG!”

The boy, Jeff, I never knew, except by sight. He wore colorful, satin-looking shirts and white pants and flashy shoes at a sneakers-and-boots-for-boys high school. He had friends. I often saw him with a bunch of drama girls and what I assumed were arty types. Everyone knew, or thought they knew, that he was gay. Which made him the crude kids’ punchline in the late-1970s.

I confess, I used the three-letter word that starts with f and rhymes with “gag” about 2,000 times in high school. Lots of us employed it as a non-specific insult you might use with any male friend, as in, “Hurry up, you fag.” Which excuses nothing. We should’ve known better.

As for Jeff, he must’ve been bullied nonstop. I heard people say vicious things about him all the time. His name became slang for “fairy,” and all those other homophobic labels.

Yeah, those were the “good old days” (sigh!). I’m still in touch with my best friend from high school, and he’s nostalgic about Medford in the 1970s. I know it’s wrong to blame the homophobia on where we lived. Gays were picked on everywhere in the 1970s. And it may have been a very loud minority that shouted that insult at the Red Lion in 1989.

All I know is there was no Spirit Day in the 1970s, and no one seemed to support gays at my school, and “bullying” was dismissed as a grade-school thing. I’m proud to support Spirit Day, and I hope we can make life more bearable for both gay and straight victims of bullying.