Sunday, August 27, 2017


The following is a new excerpt from the autobiographical book I’m currently writing, entitled “Voices in the Storm: A Journalist’s Memoir”, about my early days working for a newspaper in Buenos Aires. It is taken from a chapter called “Cops on My Door”.  
The first personal threats I got started coming even before the Herald’s editor-in-chief Bob Cox had time to leave the country. His ten-year-old son Peter had already received a threatening letter, warning him to “tell Daddy to leave”, but Bob and his family were still tying up loose ends and preparing for what they thought would be “temporary exile”. It wasn’t like these were the first threats Bob had received, nor was it the first time he and his wife had had a scare. But now the anonymous cowards in the military’s undercover operations were going for the throat and attacking the Coxes’ children—and, ironically, blaming it on the by this time disjointed Montoneros guerrilla organization. Bob finally decided enough was enough. It was one thing to risk his own life, but it was quite another to risk his family’s, especially when he was a father of five.

The first telephone threat that I got came a few days after Bob had called Jim Neilson and me in to tell us of his decision to leave. Jim had already received a personalized phone threat and a couple of bomb scares had been called into the editorial department. The Proceso was apparently turning up the heat in hopes of getting rid of all editorial page by-lines at once. Now it was my turn. It was almost as if they had overheard Neilson’s conversation with me when he told me that Bob had asked him to take over as editor and that he wanted me to second him.
This first call came in early that evening, before the women on the reception and classified ads desk downstairs had gone home. Evidently, the caller had asked for me by name and whoever took the call passed it through directly to my extension.
Señor Dan Newland?” the official-sounding male voice at the other end asked.
“Am I speaking to señor Dan Newland?” the voice asked again, as if to definitely confirm my identity.
“Yes, this is Dan Newland,” I said in Spanish. “What can I do for you?”
Then the voice changed and in a clipped, vicious tone, the man said, “We’re giving you seventy-two hours to get out of the country. Otherwise, you will be executed on your way to or from work. Do you understand the message?” But before I could say anything, he cut off.
I immediately went to Bob and Jim and told them about the call. Neilson, who seemed a little rattled by the ones he had already received, appeared as concerned as I was. This was obviously a pressure campaign, but who knew how sincere the perpetrators were in their intentions? It wasn’t like threats of this sort never had material consequences. By this time, some eighty newspeople were among the thousands of “missing” or murdered in Argentina, spanning the entire range of journalists from simple reporters to well-known political writers like Haroldo Conti and Rodolfo Walsh. Still others, like Osvaldo Soriano, our own Stuart Stirling (who was also the London Times correspondent), Andrew Graham-Yooll (whose job as news editor I had taken over), and now, Cox himself, had all opted for exile. And countless others had been the victims of intimidation tactics, temporary detentions and torture.
Then too, there were the ones like ‘El Gordo’ Blasco, a friend of a friend and an excellent photo journalist and musician, who was murdered in a parking lot after an altercation with a drunk who picked a fight with him in a jazz club and who, according to my friend, later turned out to be a government agent. Obviously, that crime went unsolved like all the others.
But Cox sought to reassure us. “This is about me,” Bob said. “They’re trying to put on more pressure. They’re not after you.”
“They were pretty specific. Even the nice touch about when and where they would kill me,” I said dubiously.
“It’s me they want out of here,” Bob repeated shaking his head. “They’re just trying to scare you.”
“And doing a pretty good job,” I muttered. “I mean, killing me would let you know they meant business, wouldn’t it?”
Bob looked doubtful and shook his head again. “No, they just want to frighten you.”
The threats to Cox and his family had been reported to the police and to a federal judge. This was pretty much Herald SOP: If somebody was threatened, attacked, kidnapped, detained or otherwise placed at risk, the idea was to 'officialize' the occurrence as quickly as possible, so that if things escalated there would be a record, no matter how tenuous, with the police and the courts. The hope was that, if they grabbed you, they would be more likely to hold you legally and openly—even if at the disposal of the Executive Branch—if there were a record of previous threats or other intimidation. You wouldn’t enjoy many more rights in such cases, but at least you wouldn’t just become an N.N. (no name or ‘Natalia-Natalia’ in police jargon) snatched off the street by a paramilitary hit squad and dumped from a helicopter into the River Plate estuary. Your name figured on a list of detainees somewhere. Secondly, if they actually killed you, the fact that the threats were on record made it clearer who had done it. In the end, of course, it was all a rather sterile exercise since you would be just as screwed or just as dead either way, but it was what passed for sanity in the demented and dangerous game in which we were players.
So I asked Bob if he thought I should report it. He shrugged and said I could if I wanted to, or if I thought it would do any good. He was ‘short’, as we used to say when I was in the Army when someone was close to shipping out, and his impending exit seemed to be making him wax more philosophical.
I decided I would, and took the trouble of going to the Federal Police Twenty-Second Precinct a few blocks away from the paper, on Avenida Huergo, next to the old port. There, I went through the formality of filling out a police report with the duty officer. I got the feeling that the only reason they were taking my complaint was because the Herald had off-duty cops from that precinct as its security crew (an irony to be sure). But the report quickly found its way to the judge handling Cox’s case. That same week, before leaving the country, Bob told me that the judge had been in touch and suggested that “the other journalist” (moi) go to the local precinct for his home neighborhood and formally ask for police protection. The judge’s secretary was supposedly going to contact the Federal Police captain in my neighborhood to give them a heads-up.
I lost no time, going the next day to see the precinct captain in my midtown neighborhood of Almagro. I lived three blocks from the park, Parque Centenario, which is sometimes cited as the geographic center of Buenos Aires. It was also a place where the bodies of more than one ‘Natalia-Natalia’ had been dumped into the carcass of one of the abandoned cars that littered the park’s side streets, before being doused with gasoline and burned. This seemed a rather too strange coincidence considering the location of the police station. The Eleventh Precinct was right in front of the park at Avenida Díaz Velez 5152. When I arrived, I stated my business and was told to wait, that the comisario was busy. When he finally deigned to see me, the precinct captain, a cynical, sarcastic, poker-stiff, storm trooper type by the name of Ricciardi, gave me a perfunctory handshake and didn’t ask me to take a seat, attending me in the hallway instead. With barely veiled impatience, he listened to my story of the threat and of what was going on in the newspaper. He wore a kind of half smirk on his lips, eyes squinted, head cocked to one side, in a pose not unlike that of a bird of prey. When I told him that the federal judge handling the case had suggested I come to the police for protection, he shook his head.
“Look,” he said, “you’re getting threats for the same reason your boss is—for what you write. Maybe you should have thought of that before you wrote what you wrote? You’ve made somebody angry.”
His condescending attitude was beginning to irritate me, so, despite knowing all too well that police precincts tended to be places from which people disappeared, I said, “Comisario, I didn’t come here for a lesson in ethics or on journalism. I came for protection because this is what the judge told me to do. Didn’t his office get in touch with you?”
“No,” he said, “and it wouldn’t matter if they did. I decide what happens in my jurisdiction. Listen, señor, if they decide to kill you, it won’t make any difference if I put a guard on your door. If they have to go over my men to get to you, they will. Then you will be dead and so will my men. And what fault is it of theirs?”
“Well, I thought it was their job to protect and serve, and I know that I can be killed if they set out to kill me, but I want my building protected so that they don’t kill anybody else in the process. Let them gun me down on the street, not at my house!” I said, beginning to lose my temper.
“Their job’s whatever I say it is,” he countered, “and I won’t risk it.” Then he held out his hand, gave mine another perfunctory shake and said, “Good day, señor,” turning on his heel and marching off up the hallway.
When I got back to the paper that evening, I reported the experience to Cox while we were having a cup of coffee together around the corner on Avenida Belgrano at El Nido. I told him that what worried me was that if the comisario could simply choose to ignore a federal judge, perhaps my apartment building had already been declared a “liberated zone” by the military, so that a hit squad could take me out at any time. Cox tried to reassure me, hinting that I maybe shouldn’t take myself so seriously, that they probably had better things to do than kill me, but I was unconvinced.
So Bob suggested I go see General Antonio Llamas, who, at the time, was Public Information Secretary for the military Junta. In fact, Bob got me an appointment to see the general.
Llamas was about the closest thing to a public relations manager that the Junta had. But his day job was more like being the head of an Orwellian ‘ministry of truth’, with its own brand of ‘thought police’ that amassed studies on the press and on individual newsmen, and crafted policies to twist cultural expression to fit the Junta’s needs, while finding ways to suppress whoever didn’t want to play ball. The real public relations work was done by the nefarious, dictator-friendly, devil’s-advocate New York PR agency, Burson-Marstellar. Ranked among the world’s largest PR and marketing groups, one of their specialties was defending the indefensible and the Park Avenue agency was already notorious by that time for making big bucks pampering other clearly deplorable regimes around the globe.
General Jorge Rafael Videla
The hype that the Junta was trying to push internationally was that the National Reorganization Process was the last frontier in the fight against communism, a true defender of Western and Christian ideals, and that, instead of criticizing it, countries like the United States and those of Western Europe would do well to thank the military government of Argentina and support it in its struggle to stamp out godless Marxist terrorism in America’s own backyard. Burson-Marstellar’s job was apparently to help the government articulate this friend-of-Western democracy trompe l'oeil on an international scale, in order to provide Argentina with a palatable enough image to permit the country’s civilian Economy Minister José Alfredo Martínez de Hoz to attract foreign investment and shore up the sagging economy.
There was little doubt among us that Llamas had sought to ostensibly ‘protect’ the Herald to the extent that this served the purposes of his boss, Lieutenant General Jorge Rafael Videla. For the moment, Videla headed the administration and represented the so-called ‘moderate’ line that was working with Burson-Marstellar on projecting an image of a reluctant caretaker Junta that was “fighting a dirty war” to protect Argentina’s Constitution and democratic way of life—paradoxically, it’s worth noting, suspending democracy in order to ‘save it’.  In ‘saving’ Argentina, the National Reorganization Process had clearly ignored the words of eighteenth and nineteenth-century Argentine journalist, politician and revolutionary patriot Mariano Moreno who said he would “prefer dangerous liberty to tranquil servitude”. Had the Proceso been in charge back then, Moreno would very likely have been among its first victims.
Early on, the Junta—or at least Videla—had been under the mistaken impression that the Herald, as a small English-language daily, was no threat to the dictatorship at a local level, and that by not killing the editor or shutting it down, the government might use it as a showcase to attain an international image as being “tolerant of free expression”. Indeed, on more than one occasion government officials had countered international accusations of censorship and strong-arm tactics by pointing to the Herald and saying, “Censorship, what censorship? Look at the criticism the Herald’s publishing!”
By this time, however, it was becoming clear that the Herald’s burgeoning local and international influence in reporting and denouncing gross human rights abuses was turning into a major thorn in the Junta’s side. Informal data tended to suggest that the Herald’s ten thousand-copy press run swelled to a hundred-thousand-strong readership even locally, since it was a paper that was quoted by other publications, as well as being passed hand to hand among people for whom English was a second language. Then too, there were those who knew no English, but sought out the paper simply to read the unsigned editorial, which was the only item in the Herald that was published in both English and Spanish. Since no few of the Herald’s staffers were also stringers for international newspapers and magazines, many of the stories it carried gained access to worldwide coverage. Its influence was also bolstered by the fact that it was the lingua franca publication that got passed around the offices of multinational firms and foreign embassies of every origin in Buenos Aires.
General Ibérico Saint Jean
Such influence meant that military moderates feared the international consequences of taking decisive action against us. But they also feared the increasingly infuriated Army hardliners for whom this was not the case, and who would long ago have gladly shut us up, one way or another, with no compunction whatsoever about what the rest of the world thought. By now, these more radical generals like Third Army Corps Commander Luciano Benjamín Menéndez and First Army Corps Commander Guillermo Suárez Mason, among others, were making their presence felt, accusing the central government of being “soft on subversion”. These were mad dog war lords whose attitudes and desires were best summed up by their colleague, General Ibérico Saint Jean, who served as military governor of Buenos Aires Province and who, two years earlier, had openly stated, “First we’ll kill all of the subversives, and then, their sympathizers, and then, all of those who remain indifferent, and, finally, we’ll kill the faint of heart.” 

Monday, August 14, 2017


Whitie was dying. That was clear by now. The Big C. I tried to comfort myself by saying, “Yeah, well, aren’t we all?” Dying, I mean. You never really knew who’d go first. Maybe I’d go before my dad did. You just didn’t know.
But it was clearly a self-deluding ruse. Whitie was on his way out. They’d originally guessed six months, after he first started complaining about excruciating, cramping type pains up under his ribs, and the tests they ran—hundreds of them, it seemed—showed the problem to be rapidly advancing lung cancer. But he’d already defied them on that count and lived a couple of years. Survival was getting tough, however, an uphill battle, wearing on his resolve, badgering him with severe pain and the adverse effects of the dope they were giving him to make it more bearable. He was a tough old bird, but everybody had a limit, even Whitie.
Up to now, I had put on a positive face, avoided talking about the obvious, tried to keep the patter upbeat. It helped that my brother Jim was there. He’d left his life in Saint Louis and moved back home to Ohio, moved to Wapakoneta, our home town, and in with our parents to help take care of Whitie and give moral support to our mother, Reba Mae. I was so indescribably grateful to him, even though every time I tried to tell him so, he’d shrug it off and say, “Forget it, bro, I’ve got it. No sweat.” But I could tell it was eating him up. And our sister Darla got down from her life in Cleveland as often as should could as well, despite the obvious pressures of her job and family. She was there often to take up the slack for Jim and our mother.
They’d been there during the tests, during the exploratory surgery. That was when the surgeon had told Whitie that if he woke up and saw a lot of tubes coming out of him everywhere, it would be because they’d been able to take out a lung and stop the cancer’s advance. If not, it would be because, surgically, there was nothing they could do. When he woke up there were no tubes. The news was not good. But his family, minus me, was there. And he lightened the mood for them, I was told, by croaking out a few of the nonsense songs he’d sung to us to make us laugh when we were kids.
Way up in the mountains
Where all the snakes have legs,
The bullfrogs speak in English
And the roosters lay square eggs,
I shaved my beard and mustache
The morning I was born.
That night I beat up my ol’ man
And drank his rye and corn... 
I felt bad. Helpless, guilty, and alien, since my life had for years been unfolding thousands of miles away in South America.  But I was trying to get back as often as possible, which wasn’t very often within the timeframe of a dying man.
Right now, I was on one of those recently more frequent trips back home. I’d already been around for a few weeks. In another week, I’d be going back to Argentina, back to Patagonia. It got harder every time—harder to face coming back, harder to face leaving when it was time to go. A few nights earlier, he'd grabbed hold of my arm when we were alone for a minute and said, "If I promise to hang on a while, will you promise to come back again before I die?" It was a tough question to answer and I didn't trust my voice to answer it, but I managed to say I would, that I'd be back real soon. "Good," he said, "cause this ain't gettin' any easier."

All my life, there had been issues between Whitie and me. When I was young, the hostility between us had been manifest. Back then I’d thought we were nothing alike. And truth be told, from politics, to religion, to lifestyle, there was little we agreed on. But now that I was fifty, I had begun to realize that there were a lot of ways in which we were exactly alike—stubborn, married to our convictions, combative, unwilling to give an inch when confronted, only giving up ground when it was taken from us by force and, even then, bent on taking it back, no matter how futile the battle.
Nevertheless, we’d reached a sort of truce, an understanding, an agreement that there was no longer anything pending between us. In fact, we’d reached it on this particular visit, in unusually quiet talks we’d shared whenever we were alone together.
Clearly the tacit mediator in those “peace negotiations” was impending death. Not the theoretical death that each person lives with daily as an idea, as an inescapable reality, as a “someday” event, a bridge to be crossed when we come to it, but as an “announced death”, in the words of Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez, one that was definitely coming sooner than later. It was the great equalizer, the factor that rendered all other points moot.
Far from clarifying and alleviating what I was feeling, however, this new common ground between my father and me only served to complicate still more the whirlwind raging in my head and heart and it appeared as if I were seeing everything unfold from behind a kind of barrier, a place from which I couldn’t seem to get in touch with myself. It was hard to explain, harder still to resolve. A sort of numbness, like a blow so hard that, for an instant, it obliterates pain, but infinitely less easy to withstand.
That answered, to a certain extent, the question of why I felt a need to get out for a few hours during the day, when Whitie was resting, and visit old haunts—roads, streets, stores, bars, parks and other points of interest that held youthful memories for me. In that vein, on a golden autumn afternoon, near sunset, with nostalgia sitting on my chest like an anvil, I drove out around Horseshoe Bend. This was a set of hairpin curves where then still picturesque Glynwood Road followed the sharp twists and turns of the Auglaize River, which, here, in its meanderings from south to west, through and around Wapakoneta, was still trying to decide to finally break north and flow to the clear destiny of its distant confluence with the Maumee and Lake Erie.
This was “the long way” to high school that my best friend Mark and I would often take in the morning after I bought my first car. I lived on the treeless outer edge of the “Oakwood Hills addition” and he among the exquisite hardwoods of “Kelley’s Woods”, from which those more modest hills took their name. I would pick him up in my rusted out ’57 Dodge and we would make a quick dash out of the woods, onto Glynwood, out away from town into the country, smoking as many pre-class cigarettes as we could fit in along the way—through the sharp curves of Horseshoe Bend, to a piece of country pike that split cornfields on either side, backtracking on old Infirmary Road to Route 198 and on into town and to the high school, where we would arrive on the heels of the first bell, our clothes reeking like we’d just put out a grass fire. Our daily rebellion before surrendering to the obligation of education.
Three and a half decades later, I take that route again, in a shiny new rented car and in no particular hurry. This is emotional reconnaissance, an attempt to rediscover myself, to remember that rebellious teen, to feel something other than stunned. I couldn’t be more alone on the road. Almost Twilight Zone alone, as if everybody else has been placed in a state of suspended animation while I live this moment. It’s eerie and I’m suddenly in a cautious state.
It’s as I’m coming out of the last curve of Horseshoe Bend and taking the narrow country road that forks off of Glynwood and separates harvested cornfields on either side that I catch a glimpse of movement out the corner of my right eye and turn to see a large whitetail stag galloping up on my vehicle with sure-footed agility through the corn stubble and broken stalks of the harvested land. He’s making a run for it, to vault the road in front of me before I come even with him. He won’t make it if I keep going, an encounter we’ll both regret. So I pull to the berm and stop cold. A few short yards in front of me, he vaults the seven-strand fence in an easy leap, his hooves skittering and clattering on the blacktop, and then he neatly vaults the ditch and fence on the opposite side of the road, and continues his spirited flight across the other open field toward a nearby woodlot and cover.
Stopped here alone by the road, seeing him in the sharp-slanted golden light of a late autumn afternoon, is almost dream-like. And he is a splendid specimen, tall, muscular, fully grown with a rack of wide-branching antlers and the greying coat of a well-matured buck, wise enough to have avoided getting shot or hit by a car up to now. The scene is so extraordinary that I sit there in the driver’s seat by the road for a few moments, only the soft clicking of my flashers breaking the silence. The encounter suddenly seems to have unleashed all the pent up feelings inside me, and, awash in this powerful moment, I find myself recalling the advice of Ernest Hemingway, something like, “Whatever you had to do, men had always done. If they had done it, then you could do it too.”
Like much of what Hemingway wrote, it wasn’t meant to be a comfort, just a fact, a truth, stripped of all the bromides we availed ourselves of to make things seem less dramatic. Life was indeed dramatic, however, and what Hemingway had said was applicable to us all, to Whitie and me, to fathers and sons like us everywhere.
The news wasn’t any better than it had been, but now I was better prepared to deal with it. This was a new stage.
The next day, I drove to nearby Lima, Ohio, to pick up some prescription refills for Whitie and to do some shopping. Again I took some time to revisit old haunts. Most of the nightclubs I’d played as a young musician were long gone, victims of steel belt turned rust belt. One, where I was part of the house band for over a year, was abandoned, the doors boarded up, a weathered, fading "for sale" sign hanging above the door. Another, which had once been the swankest place in town, and where I’d played my first New Year’s jazz gig, was now a parking lot. The music store a half-block from the Square, where I’d been a musical instrument salesman and percussion teacher while still in my teens had, at some point, gone belly up and now was a vacant lot. These, I thought, were the things that happened if you lived long enough. Places and people who had been part of a reality that, when you were young, seemed permanent, as if it would last forever, eventually only existed in your memories and the yearning for them became something personal that you couldn’t share with anyone but your fellow survivors, for as long as you all stayed alive.
I remembered Bruce Sims, the man who had given me that job in the music store and who had given me lots of lessons as well, about music, about instruments, but also about people and about life. I remembered that he had opened an instrument repair shop on East Kibby Street on the south side of town, where he and Whitie and my uncles had grown up in the same tough block. I figured he would surely be retired by now. He had to be close to eighty. But I swung by anyway.
The shop still had a faded sign reading LIMA INTRUMENT REPAIR, but the lights were out and there was a bar across the inside of the glass and wood front door. But the place didn’t look abandoned—the sidewalks swept, the windows clean. I decided to do my shopping and make another pass later.
When I came back, the bar was off the door. I parked along the side of the building and went inside. Despite his age and the passing of at least thirty years since the last time I’d seen him, I recognized Bruce right away. He was sitting in a chair behind the counter, arms folded over his chest, eyes closed, having a nap. My closing the heavy old door made him start awake, but he merely snapped open his still piercing eyes and gruffly barked, “Can I help you, sir?”
Remembering an old joke that the regulars at the old music store always shared, I said, “Yeah, maybe. I’ve got this bull-kazoo I’d like to get re-plated.”
Standing and facing me then, he said, “Well, you’re outa luck, pal. I guess you’ll just have to take it back to South America with you!” Then we both laughed and shook hands and he told me how good I looked.
“Fat, you mean,” I said. “You look just like always!” I added.
But he waved the compliment off frowning and shaking his head. And then he said, “Here, pull up a chair.” And we sat there for the better part of an hour talking about all the crazy musicians we’d known back in the day, and the places we’d played and the club-owners who had once been famous locally and who now were no more. We shared old jokes and stories, and laughed at them the same way we had back then.
And as we talked, I realized, suddenly, what all of this—the barrier I’d felt, the threshold I’d been trying to step over—was about. I was on the verge of becoming part of “the older generation” as this one took its leave.
When I finally got up to go, Bruce said, “Jack’s still around. He’s down in Florida. We still take turns calling each other. Wednesday’s my turn to call him. Stop by about noon and I’ll let you talk to him.” I thanked Bruce and said I’d try, but I knew that wasn’t happening. When I walked out that door it would be for the last time.
When we shook hands at the door, Bruce smiled that wry smile of his and said, “We sure had fun back then, didn’t we?”
“We sure did, Bruce,” I said, “we sure as hell did.”

Sunday, August 13, 2017


Dear Friends, 
A work deadline beyond my control has made it necessary for me to postpone the blog entry that should have been posted today. It will, instead, be posted tomorrow, August 14. 
Sorry for the inconvenience and many thanks for your patience.