Tuesday, January 24, 2012

One less finger to count on: The death of a News Brother

Scott “Badger” Shelton is dead.
Anyway, it seems like only the other day that he and I – remember I am “Flapjacks” -- were, with my big brother, Eric, and my pal Rob “Death” Dollar hanging out with the Lone Ranger. And it was Scott who was egging me on to head for the Kentucky-Tennessee border when Trooper Rudy tried his best to shut down the fun. I got a ticket, but I think even Trooper Rudy liked the damn nice guys who were riding in

the old Plymouth Duster.
After all, we were not only friends of the Lone Ranger, we were The News Brothers..
That was 30 years before Jan. 23, 2012, when Badger died.
Damn cancer. I’d like to use the ”F” word instead of “damn,” but it might offend. I mean I only use that in anger and in private, like when someone cuts me off in traffic and I figure I’m going to die. Or, I’d guess, when Trooper Rudy’s lights flashed as I pulled over on U.S. 41A, just south of Hopkinsville, Ky., where we’d been befriended by Mr. Lone Ranger.
Hold it, I know Mr. Lone Ranger is dead. But not Scott… He couldn’t be… . I mean how long ago was it that he joined Rob and me to ride the notorious newsroom shark back at The Leaf-Chronicle newspaper, where I spent my early years and flavored my soul? The shark ride was a News Brothers’ protest of everything and nothing. Mostly we were laughing and being friends who shared a peculiar trade, gathering news, him for the local radio station, WJZM, me and Rob for a newspaper for which we bled in effort to serve “our city” … the beautiful still in my heart Clarksville, Tenn.
Screw cancer. Yeah. Still wanted to let the “F-bomb” fly.
But he’s still here, isn’t he? Wasn’t it just the other day, give or take 30 years, that he stood there, with his lab coat covered with Beatles badges – that’s how he became Badger -- and applauded as I almost fell off the roof of The Leaf-Chronicle?
We were filming a second movie to the first one Rob and I did with a few other friends. The original -- “Flapjacks: The Motion Picture” – had been in our minds a huge success, as we raised money for charity and enjoyed our relatively minor celebrity. We did a little Christmas short subject, but never finished near-legendary “Flapjacks II: Revenge of The Big Guy” feature film because life – personal and professional lives – got in the way.
Another close friend of mine once said “Life’s what happens when you’re busy making plans” … or something similar. Course that guy’s dead now too. And all he had wanted to do was give peace a chance. Course that’s not a part of this story, really.
Our nearly fatal News Brothers roof scene – which almost had me going head first onto Commerce Street -- was going to be kind of like The Beatles on the roof of Apple Records. Flapjacks (me) was – by temperament and philosophy – the Lennon figure of the group. Death was the kinda-McCartney. Badger was Ringo – he has the drum kit in his basement as evidence. Jerry “Chuckles” Manley was a sort of George, although much thicker and with an accent that’s much more heavily Petersburg, Tenn., country boy than Liverpudlian Scouse.
Anyway, I didn’t fall off the roof and laugh my way to my death that day. It would have made good film footage. But Badger was glad I regained my balance. Death and Chuckles and a fellow I’ll just call “Tennessee” and a little bald-headed guy named “Danny” joined in the wondrous wall of applause. Then we shot another scene before climbing down through the roof and into the newspaper composing room, getting ready for another day at work.
Still got that Super 8mm film and at times have thought about having it developed to see what’s there. Then maybe film a grand finale with some much older guys. Heck, even my old pal, film editing wiz Robert Smith, could have taken it and spliced it together like he did with our first feature 30 or so years ago.
Course the rooftop scene film’s probably no good. Wouldn’t matter now, anyway, because Badger died Monday, so who would repeat that feverishly bored applause?
To hell with cancer.
Almost all of the true News Brothers made our annual reunion trek to Clarksville a couple months ago. We stopped for our customary plates of flapjacks, of course, at G’s on Riverside Drive. Even Badger made it out of his home off Memorial Drive, thanks to his beloved wife, Elise, also a former colleague, and his own determination.
We went by the Badger residence afterward. He was tired and weak. But he laughed. When I hugged him goodbye, I knew it could be the last time. But I didn’t want to believe it. I mean after the “goodbyes” “I’ll pray for yous” shared by all of The real News Brothers, we laughed.
Maybe, we figured, Badger was going to bounce back from his cancer. He’d tricked it before. Maybe this wasn’t goodbye, but instead “see ya later,” and we’d reunite again, with Scott getting the last laugh. That full-bellied laugh that he tried to punctuate the air with as we shared that lovely November night in Badger’s basement. The laughter wore on him, though.
Vile cancer.
My life now is into its fourth score or something like that. I’m 60, so I’ve completed three score and two months. There’s a lot of stuff muddled and muddied in my mind, but then there are the big Kodachrome images from back when we all thought the world was a sunny day, Oh yeah…
So many of the snapshots are from Clarksville, where I spent 14 years of my newspaper career. I believe that’s 42 in human years, as the lifestyle takes its toll. Everything looks worse in black and white, and the cost on a newsman’s soul has been demonstrated by many other friends as being potentially mortal.
But I’m still alive. Scott’s not. He died Monday.
Damn cancer.
Still as I searched out the details of my friend’s death, as I talked with my pal, Rob, and with the wonderful widow, Elise, I kept lighting on crystal clear and Kodachrome images.
There I was, scrambling up the stairs of the old WJZM radio station in downtown Clarksville – very near the church where Badger now will be memorialized.
I’d become his friend because journalists in a small city have to lean on each other sometimes. Besides that, we liked to laugh. I’d go up to the WJZM newsroom and talk about what’s going on. Maybe I’d get a guest spot on Jimmy in the Morning’s program – complete with the news breaks by the fine Scott Shelton reporting. He was no Les Nesman, that’s for damn sure.
Maybe I’d even get a chance to spin some discs, some stacks of wax. I remember both Scott and Jimmy looking in wonderment when I played “Helter Skelter” on the 23 watt AM station … not your common 6 a.m. wakeup fare on pop radio. When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the slide….
There are other times, like when Scott would drop in at the newspaper to stir up trouble or just visit with kindred souls. Almost everyone I knew in Clarksville knew Scott, so he was almost everywhere I went.
I moved from Clarksville 23 years ago or so. Over the years we’ve gotten together occasionally. But even when we were apart, Scott, well all the fellows in the News Brothers, owned a piece of my heart. If I really needed help or prayers – some think I need them – I knew I could always reach out to one of them. When so many of my so-called friends seemingly were frightened to be associated with me, Scott would shoot me an e-mail. Just encouragement. A very spiritual man, he offered up prayers that I’d have “a long and lucrative freelance career.” Getting there Scott. Thanks for the faith in me.
Damn cancer.
I’m not going to say Badger couldn’t get ornery. But that’s OK. Friends know friends have faults. Hell, look at me…. And some people still love me.
One less now, unfortunately.
There really is no need to go into a long and melancholy tribute or to replay my friend’s battle. All I can say is he had guts. His wife, Elise, had and has guts. So do their boys. It was a family affair, good and bad. Hell, just last Christmas Badger’s wife got him a nice HD TV, so he could watch the bowl games.
As the cancer seemed to slow, I’ll bet he was already waiting for the Vols next football season…. But he’ll get better reception where he is now. Course I heard God’s an Alabama fan – just look at the record for proof – and doesn’t let folks watch UT games. That’s not to say an angel can’t slip away to Neyland Stadium, though.
Another great friend, Tony Durr, who died many years ago in some lonesome and desolate Alaskan outpost once told me that “you’re lucky if by the time you get to the other end of life you’ll be able to count your true friends on the fingers of one hand.”
And then before I knew it I had “his” finger suddenly and mortally available.
I’m not sure if the “one hand” philosophy is correct. Seems I still have (yessir, yessir) two hands full.
Most of them are News Brothers, a strange and endearing fraternity of guys who came of age telling tales of bloodshed and of county fair chicken pot pie winners.
In recent years, I’ve even added fingers, because I’ve been in need of help or encouragement and there are those who have stepped forward, as I would for them.
But there is something so special about the News Brothers.
And now there is one less of us. Rest in Peace, Badger. I love you.
Fucking cancer....


  1. What a good way to say goodbye to a great friend. Good job Tim. We will miss him dearly.
    Scott Biter

  2. Great tribute to a fiercely good newsman and a friend of mine as well.