Unexpected. David W. Berner’s, A Well Respected Man

Unexpected. David W. Berner’s, A Well Respected Man

I’m that guy. My wife cringes whenever we sit down to a film, and I do the same thing with books. I don’t mean to, but stories, like any journey, are like puzzles for me. I can’t resist the urge to figure it out. sadly far too many stories, I find, are just predictable. Sorry, but like I said, I’m that guy.

I don’t read a lot of novels, at least not since I published my first novel roughly a decade ago. Frankly, there isn’t much of a challenge once you’ve essentially anticipated the story. Recently, however, teacher, broadcaster, author David W. Berner joined Kerri and me for a chat about his latest novel, A Well Respected Man(Amazon). The book is  a sumptuous travelers feast, moving richly from England to Chicago and across the country to a powerful and wholly unexpected (Lord knows I tried) conclusion. A Well Respected Man is hardly a travelogue, but reflects upon fate, fatherhood, love and commitment. The journey is  as real as life, and as gloriously unpredictable straight to the end.

A Well Respected Man at 171 pages complimented a recent cross country travel. The emotional integrity and sincerity lent itself perfectly to those profoundly rare moments of lazy reflection, of mulling over a beautifully written narrative that seems to only come with travel. Highly recommended, A well Respected Man is available on Amazon and Amazon Kindle at Amazon.com, and at the link provided.

An excerpt from David W. Berner’sA Well Respected Man:

He grabbed the still damp, black umbrella he’d left leaning against the wall by the front door the previous evening and headed through the entranceway and into the weather. It was then that he noticed her, standing erect on the gravel in the space between the walkway and the road, dressed in a midnight blue raincoat dampened by rain on the sleeves and shoulders, an open yellow umbrella above her head. Tight against her chest, she held a frayed paperback book.

“Mr. Gregory?” Her voice was tentative.

“Can I help you?” he asked, struggling to adjust the strap of his leather bag over his shoulder and maneuver his now opened umbrella against the freshening breeze.

The woman was plain but appealing, waif-like, maybe in her early-30s. Her hair was deep brown, nearly black. It hung to the base of her neck. The rain had moistened it, and it clung to her pale cheeks.

“Mr. Martin Gregory?” she asked more precisely. Her accent was American.

“Yes,” he answered, becoming impatient. Martin locked his front door and stood directly in front of the woman.

“I believe you have written about my life,” she said. Her voice was now less cautious but remained delicate.

Martin was uncertain of exactly what he had heard but yet familiar with visits like this one, although it had been a long time since the last encounter.

“I hope that I may speak with you,” the woman said.

Martin Gregory had returned to Banbury after living in the hamlet for one month, many years ago. He had arrived to complete his Masters of Fine Arts degree and the manuscript that he was required to present to his university advisor. The college had allowed five writing students to live at Wroxton Abbey in Oxfordshire while they labored with the final edits of their works. Martin quickly became fond of the small town. He treasured its quiet tidiness, its gardens, and the village’s low-ceiling pubs, and even its weather—mainly gray and damp but at least consistent. For years after his days as a student, he’d considered returning for a peaceful holiday. What he couldn’t have predicted was that he’d return to live and teach at The Academy in Banbury—the secondary school—and that Banbury would be his sanctuary.

“I have not written about your life,” Martin insisted.

Over the years since the release of his novel, young women, usually in the evening and sometimes late at night, had appeared at his door, at his parked car, or on the sidewalk near the building that housed his office at the college in Chicago, and once after first arriving in Banbury, outside the doors of the school where he now taught. Are you Martin Gregory? They would ask. I must talk to you, they would demand. I must speak with you about your story.

This latest encounter appeared at first to be much like the others.

“But you’ve written what’s in my heart, what I’ve been harboring for a long time and never knew how to express.” The woman moved a step closer to Martin, her opened umbrella briefly striking his. “I would be eternally grateful.”

Martin turned away and began to walk along the road toward his school. “I am not your savior. It’s just a book,” Martin snapped as he turned his back to her…

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On the Passing of My Father: Ronald Turck

On the Passing of My Father: Ronald Turck
Found out a few minutes ago that my father, Ron Turck passed away, somewhat unexpectedly. He’d battled cancer lately, but seemed to be gaining ground. I last talk with him two weeks ago. He was 83 and lived a big life. Born in 1935 in the tiny town of Emmetsburg Iowa, he was on of 16 kids who grew up during the Depression and Second World War. He dropped out of the 8th Grade to go to work. For a time he cooked and washed dishes at a diner in Des Moines before joining the Army in the mid 1950s. After discharge, he make his way East to work construction in the suburbs of Chicago. He would take us on car rides through LaGrange and Hinsdale to show me and my two little brothers some of the mansions he helped build.
My parents met in 1961 and had their first date at Riverview in Chicago. The married after only six weeks. I was was born 11 months later, followed by my brother Phil and then Patrick. Dad took a job at Reynolds Aluminum in McCook. He had a tough time of things, settling down. He drank and had a temper. I always had the feeling this wasn’t the life he had planned, but then it never really is. But testament to to his character, he changed. He didn’t change overnight. Living in Lemont for a time, he became a volunteer fireman, which helped give him other perspectives on life, and what things are really important. Running a firehouse to a burning barn, he fell into an outhouse ditch covered by wood boards. That earned him the nickname Rosie for life.
We never had much money. But we never went hungry, and vacations to visit family in Iowa meant more than any extravagant trips to Disney Land or the like. For trips he made made-rite sandwichs, which I still make to this day. There was never a lack of love in that little family.
We rented places and move around until a friend loaned us the money for a small downpayment on a little house in a subdivision in Romeoville. He remained there, in that house, still a fireman but now in Romeoville. So many memories, but one stands out. My best friend at the time, Keithe Keogh and I were cleaning his car ahead of prom while my dad worked under a car in the garage. Suddenly, the car slipped off the jacks and fell on him. Keith and I got him to the yard and called an ambulance, which got lost, as there were two new guys who didn’t know my dad yet. Tough guy that he was, he recovered quickly, thankfully.
After retiring my parents moved to Texas to be with my brother and his kids-and get away from Midwest winters. He loved it there, pestering the McDonalds workers sweetly with refills for his Sr. coffee. His grandkids called him papa Coffee. 
I only saw him cry twice, once at the passing of his mother and once after he’d tried to save a baby who had drown in a pool but couldn’t. He was a fighter. He was my hero. Who will I call now for advice on cars, plumbing…he made the best country biscuits on the planet.
But one thing I do recall him saying was that he never wanted alot of tears at his funeral, but that he wanted a party. I would tease that I already booked the comedian. I already miss you my friend. And though I wish I’d said it on our last call, with that blind assumption that things will always remain as they are(It was after a bit of an argument)…I love you.

Lost in Transylvania (…or how to conjugate Hungarian verbs in a crisis)

Lost in Transylvania (…or how to conjugate Hungarian verbs in a crisis)

This by the way is a totally true story.

Looking out from the train window across the endlessly flat Hungarian plain, I wonder if Communism stifled progress, or if it merely froze in place that older way of life. A wagon trundles along a deeply rutted dirt road, disappearing among lush green knee deep fields. Peasants in the slow blur of passing fields pause from their labors to wave at the train. Theirs is a difficult life, more difficult that I can rightly imagine, and I feel rather like my wayward observations, the pretenses that parade as deep and meaningful thought, are instead an intrusion upon their lives.

It’s March, 1994. It’s warm for early spring, and I am ubiquitous among a handful of businessmen and families returning from Budapest in a leather biker jacket, shorts and a camouflage pack with the words “Umjetnik” and “Kunsler” the Bosnian and German words for Artist scrawled upon my pack in black marker. If a few days, with luck, I will be headed to war-torn Sarajevo. I want no confusion about who I am. If I learned anything from a previous trip to the war in Bosnia, no amount of explanation will convince people who have always known that Yugoslav journalists were a function of the government that American journalists are somehow different. Artists, like me, even as an American, hold a special romantic place as dissidents with the courage to defy oppressive regimes. As if to confirm that understanding, last time I was here I received two marriage proposals. I politely declined both.

For such a deep thinker, I have managed get on the wrong train. Southern Hungary is featureless, the rustic villages and timeless small towns entirely indistinguishable from one another. The bob and sway of the train, and the warm afternoon sun compete to lull me to sleep. It takes some hours before I finally catch on, coming to that realization with an exasperated sigh. The sigh becomes a moan when I remember that don’t have enough Hungarian Forint to buy a sandwich, let alone for a return ticket to Budapest.

I was just suppose to pass through Hungary, traveling from Prague to Belgrade. My practical knowledge of Hungarian is pathetic. Somewhere along the line I managed to pick up a handful of words; nem, egan, koshonum. Truth is, I don’t know enough of the language to get mugged without a translator!

At Cegled, a few hours south of Budapest a conductor comes by and does a double-take when he sees my ticket. There is a flurry of conversation between us, complete with pointing and gesturing, as if we are characters in a silent movie. We each patiently, if urgently, attempt to make sense of my situation. The problem is, neither of us has a clue what the other is saying. Sadly, we both understand my dilemma, but have no way to arrive at a solution together. The old conductor looks tired, and shakes his head as he walks away, leaving me to solve this on my own.

From my pack I pull a map of Europe. It has been a trusted companion. Its utility shows clearly in the belt corners and frayed edges. The map is badly discolored from use, like something from antiquity. There are addresses, exchange rates and the phone number of a girl in Belgrade I’d met the previous autumn scribbled across the multi-colored map. Following a line south from Budapest I discover that this line runs to the Rumanian city of Arad in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains. I am going the wrong way, hundreds of miles in the wrong direction.

The sun sets, pressed by the heat of the plain, and colored by dust creeping skyward like a blight or omen. My imaginations quickly runs away in all sorts of directions. In the failing light the horizon is lost to the umber haze, growing faster and darker now, as if by a thousand dark fingers, so that night feels almost like something to be dreaded that welcomed. The heat of the day surrenders to the icy chill of the Transylvanian dusk. At Mezotur, the last stop before the Hungarian border I climb down from the train.

Mezotur is nothing, a no place, a destination without consequence unless one happens to find one’s self there; a consequence town to a hapless traveler who got on the wrong train.

The stationhouse is small and dark, the streets and buildings beyond the station of so little consequence that I hardly notice. The train starts to pull away, slowly, as if offering me a final chance. From the wooden platform of the stationhouse I watch as it is swallowed into the blood-red haze of the Transylvanian dusk. The land and the sky are now one, without definition, without understanding of where one begins and the other concludes. This is, I almost believe, the edge of oblivion, and I only have to step over the edge into the mystery before me. It is a tempting offer, but for another time perhaps.

No one speaks a word of English in the station. In my travels I have learned some German, a bit of rudimentary Spanish and a decent amount of French, but mostly to flirt with girls without completely embarrassing myself. I know a fair amount of Serbo-Croatian, but none of that does me a damn bit of good in Mezotur. This is rural Hungary, where only Hungarian is spoken.

The best I can figure is that there is a midnight express from Arad to Budapest. Finding a comfortable place in the warm stationhouse, I study the handful of locals and band of itinerate Roma. They study me as well, an odd stranger in their midst. Uncomfortable, and feeling more than a little foolish, I retreat to the platform and fill my soul with the whispering silence of the Transylvanian night.

The express train from Arad arrives exactly at midnight. From my pack I take a small Hungarian phrasebook. I hurriedly try to conjugate verbs and con struck crude thought to communicate to the conductor my predicament.

I can see him. he’s a stout, haggard looking middle aged man in a gray wool uniform and cap. Tufts of silver hair curl from under the cap. The trains bumps and sways over the tracks. he seems well versed in anticipating each, which are unpredictable to me, as if he and the train are in some sort of a ballet. He is taking tickets, collecting fares now and again. I recall students on a sunny express train between Ancona and Bologna running through cars attempting to keep just ahead of the conductor. I followed, urged by several students only to find myself in a crammed rail car on an otherwise nearly empty train. When the conductor reached me he only shook his head. Collecting a nominal fare he remarked in Italian, “I know, you got on at Cesena, like everyone else.”

I grab my Berlitz Pocket Hungarian phrase book and urgently attempt to conjugate Hungarian verbs and string together something of what I hope will prove a cohesive and comprehensible sentence-or plea. I’m much concerned at this point whether it is one or the other.

“Nem tudok Magyarország,” I write. I don’t speak Hungarian, was what I believe I wrote. It should have read, “Nem beszélek Magyarul.” What I actually wrote was, “No, I speak, Hungary.” What the hell does that even mean?

The conductor draws closer, dutifully taking tickets and fares. Sure enough I have Dollars and Deutsch Marks in my pocket, but the exchange rate is crazy, at something like three hundred and change to a single Dollar. I try and do the math quickly in my head, while furiously working the dictionary pages of the phrase book. one more sentence. Something simple like, “I must return to Budapest.” What I end up with is something like, in Hungarian, mind you, “I-emergency…”

But I can’t find a word for return. “I-emergency- go- back-Budapest,” which reads “I sürgősségi menj vissza, Budapest!!” I toss in two exclamation points just for empahsis. What I wanted to write, and which would have made far more sense was, “Vissza kell térnie Budapestre,” or simply, I must return to Budapest

“Jegyet, kérjük,” ticket, please. The conductor looms expectant, and a little impatiently over me. I’m out of time. Tearing the page from the Berlitz, I thrust the torn and scribbled page to the conductor like a Third grade dawdler.

Perplexed, he takes the paper, his brow furling deeply. Oh, I screwed it up, I think, and brace for the predictable gesturing and waving, and perhaps employing some sort of cartoon to explain my predicament. Instead, the conductor straightens, cocks his head and in perfect English says, “What are you trying to say?”

After listening to my case he only nods and waves his hand in the air. With that, he starts to hand back my scribbled confusion, then thinks better of it and shoves it in his pocket as he moves on. No doubt one day he’ll start a story something like: This by the way is a totally true story…

 

Author, Commentator David W. Berner joins Kerri and Me on the Program Sunday

Author, Commentator David W. Berner joins Kerri and Me on the Program Sunday

Chicago Professor Martin Gregory is the author of a critically acclaimed novel of love and longing, a cult favorite among women. The book brings him unexpected status and prestige, but also unwelcome fame.

A love affair with one of his students derails his career and breaks his heart. Coming to terms with a life knocked off balance, Martin retreats to a quiet English village, only to be confronted at his flat by a mystery woman with an unexpected message and an implausible request, one that could alter his life forever.

A cross-country train trip, a visit to his father’s grave, and a re-examination of a deep loss will eventually reveal either Martin’s greatest character or unearth his most heartbreaking flaw.

A Well-Respected Man is about the hard choices we make to find fulfillment, and the search to discover meaning in both the life we choose and the one thrust upon us.

“Thought-provoking … a story of how love never goes away.”Nancy W. Sindelar, Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park, Illinois

“Award-winning author David W. Berner intertwines complex timelines in effortless fashion while creating characters of great depth. Typical of Berner’s work, the reader is left to contemplate life’s toughest decisions. A Well-Respected Man is a must read!”Geralyn Hessalu Magrady, author of Lines

David W. Berner is the recipient of the Chicago Writers Association Award, the Royal Dragonfly Book Award, and has been short-listed for the Eric Hoffer Grand Prize. He has been honored as the writer-in-residence at the Ernest Hemingway Birthplace Home in Oak Park, Illinois, and at the Jack Kerouac Project in Orlando, Florida.

BOOK: https://www.amazon.com/Well-Respected-Man-David-W-Berner/dp/194826000X 5/16–FRUGAL MUSE BOOKS APPEARANCE (IN DARIEN): https://frugalmusebooks.com/calendar/ 5/17–OFF CAMPUS WRITERS’ WORKSHOP (IN WINNETKA): https://ocwwinfo7333.wildapricot.org/event-2621842 5/20–EVANSTON LIT FEST APPEARANCE: https://www.evanstonlit.org/schedule/2018/5/20/writing-your-personal-story-workshopmemoir-writing-and-personal-essay 6/9–PRINTERS ROW LIT FEST, Chicago. Saturday afternoon. @ChicagoWritersAssociation table.  MY WEBSITE: http://www.davidwbermer.com MY BLOG: http://www.constantstory.com

Filling the House: Putting butts in seats and saving the world…

Filling the House: Putting butts in seats and saving the world…

Okay, maybe a little over the top, but if you have ever managed a theatre, produced or directed a play, if you’re a veteran or aspiring actor, or if you love the theatre, this issue has come up. Indeed, theatre is the one place, realistically, where it ain’t about the money. It should be, to sustain good theatre and encourage fresh visions, but at the end of the day, it is always about the audience. More directly, it is about getting an audience in the door.

I am no stranger to Theatre. I have had two successful plays, have written and performed some improv and sketch comedy, and write about Theatre now and again. As the host of  a growing radio program dedicated to covering the Arts I also have the pleasure of speaking with actors, producers and directors. If there is one common issue it is about getting people into the show. Not for all theatres, such as those with bigger marketing budgets, although every Theatre will struggle at some point.

I’ve been to more than one show in which the house is virtually empty; sometimes a parent and a few friends-often at the compliments of the Theatre. That is as painful for the audience as it is for the actors to step out on stage and give it their all to a virtually empty theatre. owing to the passion and professionalism of stage actors, I have attended several nearly empty theatres only to find actors coming to the stage as if it was standing room only.

Recently on the radio show, (Sundays at 1pm on am1590 WCGO in Chicago) Kerri and I talked with  a local veteran actor, George Manisco. That conversation grew beyond the show. George knows that we want to help accomplish something in the community. We would love to strengthen and deepen an appreciation for the Arts. Funny the places constructive conversations may lead.

This morning I received an email from George who wrote:

“I would Like to talk about how inner city kids can get to see plays. I had heard that Bank of America gave tickets to students at St. Malachy students to see “Hamilton” that is the school that I mentor at. Maybe theatres do this a lot. Anyways, would like to talk about how inner city kids can see plays.”

Needless to say, that got the rusting gears in my head smoking. I am envisioning a program in which small local theatres can apply to be part of a program which encourages young people to attend plays, as a class or with parents and earn points, which can then be redeemed for credits. Each student would have to write a short essay or formatted critique. Sort of like an off campus class.

The ideas are just in their infancy, and I will be reaching out to the City, schools and to the theatre community for their input. What’s the worst than could happen…filled theatre’s throughout Chicagoland? Wouldn’t that be a terrible thing?

Thanks, George!

This week Timothy Hiatt’s Photography retrospective…

This week Timothy Hiatt’s Photography retrospective…

closed at the Bucktown Gallery in Chicago. For those who don’t know, Tim is a world class photographer. NBC is sending him next week to cover the Kentucky Derby. Kerri and I are working on a book called Mother Tongue that explores the idea of Art as the only true universal language of humanity. The exploration of that concept has lead us from Ice Age cave paintings 40,000 years ago to cutting edge robotic science. The fact of the matter is, there is no agreed upon definition of creativity. You’d think that should be fundamental and foundational, but our ability to define and understand the human creative process is a virtually insurmountable issue in robotics and cyber technology. robots may create paintings and symphonies, through formatted and programmed artistic structures and rigidly defined concepts, but it is more akin to mimicry than true creativity. That has to do not only with the structure of the human brain, but also the uniquely near all-encompassing way the brain responds and inter-relates to Art and the creative process. A Stephen King novel may grow from a childhood memory to become a terrifying horror and suspense novel, with the author’s conscious and unconscious mind, short and long term memory teaming to construct a work of fiction. Jackson Pollack isn’t splattering paint, but accessing movement and motion and direction as a dancer might fully exploit a stage. But of all the art forms, believe it or not, the most human is that of the news, war and situational photographer. The very best are anticipating whether, consciously or unconsciously, a uniquely human moment will resonate intimately and inspirationally with human viewers, whether that moment communicates rage, grief, loss, compassion or triumph. And that is something robots will never be able to mimic.

We now take you back…The Front Page by Saint Sebastian Players April 27th -May20, 2018

We now take you back…The Front Page by Saint Sebastian Players April 27th -May20, 2018

So Kerri and me, we ankles it over to that Saint Bonaventure, over there at 1641 West Diversy. Kerri, she’s my co-host on the radio show, see? A real bearcat, no cancelled stamp, that one, but I digress. We gots this show over at 1590 WCGO called Playtime with Bill Turck and Kerri Kendall. Give it a listen.

Anyhow, they got this theatre company, call themselves The Saint Sebastian Players. Not a dewdropper among ’em. They don’t take no wooden nickels, if ya get my meaning. Don’t believe me, then you take a gander over at this new play, see? It’s called The Front Page, by these mooks, name of, Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, directed by Jim “Smoky” Masini, and produced by this jake, name of George Manisco. In-ci-dentally, George is doing double duty, plays this wise guy named of Diamond Louis. And he’s good. I mean real good.

See, the story is about this gumshoe, Hildy Johnson, played with finesse by Michael Graham, whose about to turn in his typewriter at the Chicago Examiner for a desk job in New York. Add to that, Hildy’s about to get manacled. But Hildy knows the game and wants something readers can chew on, but like his editor says, Walter Burns, played to perfection by Lawrence Garner, and get this, “nobody reads past the second paragraph,” says he. Seems like I heard that before.

Any-who, while-st Hildy is getting ready to skedaddle, this anarchist, a little fella, but no pushover, see, Earl Williams, played by Ryan Finn, is about to get his neck stretched for the killing of a flatfoot. But see, Williams is a patsy. He ain’t done nothing, but haunt this floozy, Mollie, played like a violin, a very loud violin by BethAnn Smukowski. Adding mayhem to Hildy’s misery, Burns only cares about getting the scoop when Williams lands in Hildy’s lap. The ambitious Sheriff and the Mayor, embarrassed by William’s escape are willing to sacrifice an innocent man for their upcoming election. Seems the more things change , huh?…

The set is the bee’s knees. Saint Sebastian is masterful at returning the audience to the late 1920s Chicago, while costume guru Robert Eric West ties the ribbon on that period bow. It’s worth knowing your onions that the show runs two and a half hours, with an intermission and a break between Acts two and three to stretch, jorum a skee, step out for a gasper or iron your shoelaces, if you get my meaning. All in all The Front Page by the Saint Sebastian Players is the bees knees, as relevant today as when Hecht and MacArthur penned it 90 years ago.

And get this, the place is in the basement of a church, so you can theoretically kill two birds with one proverbial stone, or not; up to you. Just go see the show, see. The Front page plays now through May 20th at Saint Bonaventure, 1641 West Diversey in Chicago, saintsebatianplayers.org.

Now beat it before you start to bother me!