$10m for a Mickey Mantle Topps Card? Bid on *My* Autograph!

Last night, as I was working my way through the Sunday New York Times (there really should be a federal subsidy for doing that, don’t you think?), I came across this full-page ad in the A section.

Seriously – a mint-condition 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card could go for $10 million?

Makes a person think.

Specifically about this item I posted six years ago under the headline, The Night Mickey Mantle Called Me Johnny.

As I might have mentioned once or twice, I’ve been a Made Yankee Fan in Boston for over four decades.

But beyond that, I’ve been a Made Mickey Mantle Fan for almost 60 years. So the following episode was, well, major.

It was – I dunno – 1961, 1962 when my old man came home one night with a little something special.

He’d been at the Copacabana with some business associates and he ran into Mantle and Whitey Ford, who were out on one of their routine toots.

(I’ve always loved the way Mantle explained how he could hit with a hangover: “I see three baseballs,” he said. “But I only swing at the middle one.”)

Anyway, what the old man brought home that night was this (which I just recently came across).

In my youth, I had my differences – to put it mildly – with the old man (and Jackie’s Agnes was pissed he had gone to the Copa without her), but that night, he was almost as big as The Mick.

Now, I’m not saying I’d entertain any offers for that autograph. But I can’t deny I’m curious as to what those might be.

‘Nuf ced.

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The Hardworking Staff Is Moonlighting At *Ask Doctor Ads*

As many of you splendid readers might (or might not, if we’re being realistic) have noticed, the hardworking staff has been largely AWOL from the Global Worldwide Headquarters in recent months.

We can explain.

Certain persons highly positioned in the blogosphere (whose identities we are not at liberty to disclose) recruited us to bring some order and sanity to the highly volatile site Ask Doctor Ads (Federally mandated warning: Dr. Ads is not a licensed physician).

Some fruits of our labors in that vineyard:

• Really? Americans Think Advertisers Are More Trustworthy Than the News Media?

Will John Fetterman Ever Stop Trolling Mehmet Oz in PA’s Senate Race?

Won’t Democrats Eventually Get Burned By Their Ads Boosting GOP Crazies?

Is NYC’s New Nuclear Preparedness PSA The Bomb – or a Dud?

• Really? An Ad Where Pubic Hairs Sing Out Against Body Shaming of Women?

And etc.

Our diagnosis? The Doc is good for what ails ya. Have him make a house call, yeah?

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Dead Blogging ‘Regarding America’ at the Addison Gallery

Well the Missus and I trundled up to Andover yesterday to wander around Phillips Academy’s Addison Gallery of American Art and say, it was swell.

The major exhibit there right now is Regarding America: 19th-Century Art from the Permanent Collection (through July 31), which introduces itself with this poetic compare and contrast.

Centre of equal daughters, equal sons,
All, all alike endear’d, grown, ungrown, young or old,
Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich,
Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love,
A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother,
Chair’d in the adamant of Time.

— “America,” Walt Whitman, 1888

America, it is to thee,
Thou boasted land of liberty,—
It is to thee I raise my song,
Thou land of blood, and crime, and wrong.

— “America” (excerpt), James Monroe Whitfield, 1853

Talk about parallel universes . . .

The Addison website notes that “Walt Whitman, a White man, and James Monroe Whitfield, a Black man, renowned poets born only two years apart in the northeastern United States, experienced 19th-century America quite differently . . . Comprising paintings, prints, drawings, photographs, and sculptures drawn from the Addison’s acclaimed collection of 19th-century American art, this exhibition offers critical insight into this transformative and contradictory century.”

Representative samples:

The exhibit struck me as a kind of DIY exercise, leaving it largely to the viewer to cobble together “critical insight into this transformative and contradictory century.” Regardless, there was a lot of interesting work to look at along the way.

Also great to look at: Arthur Wesley Dow: Nearest to the Divine (through July 31).

Art is the most valued thing in the world…it is the expression of the highest form of human energy, the creative power nearest to the divine. The power is within – the question is how to reach it. – Arthur Wesley Dow

Drawn almost entirely from the Addison’s collection, this exhibition explores the prodigious and multifaceted oeuvre of the Ipswich-born artist, educator, and theoretician, Arthur Wesley Dow. Featuring over 100 works including photographs, prints, drawings, paintings, and ephemera, this exhibition highlights not only the profound beauty of Dow’s groundbreaking artistic contributions across media but reveals his radically anti-academic, intuitive, and inherently democratic approach to artmaking. This approach, transmitted to generations of art students in his classroom, notably Georgia O’Keeffe, and through his influential publication Composition, encourages the artist to transcend faithful representation and channel their emotion and personal vision through a universal “trinity of power” inherent in harmonious design—line, notan (the balance of dark and light), and color.

Representative samples:

For a more professional analysis, you can check out Boston Globe art critic Murray Whyte’s review here.

Last but certainly not least – Past Is Prologue: History in Contemporary Art (through July 31).”The artists assembled in this exhibition mine the past, using American history and the history of art of the western world to explore issues of gender, identity, memory, race, and truth.”

Sarah G. Austin’s Braque, Picasso (1978) was by far my favorite piece in the exhibit (and is also, according to this Facebook post, now part of the Addison’s permanent collection).

It’s a knockout in person.

There’s plenty of time to catch all of the above at the Addison, and it’s well worth a trundle.

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How ‘King Tut’ Exhibits Have Evolved Over the Past Fifty Years

About a week and a half ago, the Boston Sunday Globe featured this full-page ad in the Arts section.

The BeyondKingTut website touts the Boston opening this way.


Opens on July 8th at SoWa Power Station in Boston

Through nine distinct galleries, Beyond King Tut: The Immersive Experience unlocks the 3,300 year old story of King Tut in an evolution of immersive show experiences.

Journey to modern-day Egypt and see wonders of the ancient world like the Temple at Karnak and the Great Sphinx. Experience ancient history come to life and gaze at the Egyptian sun as it rises above the Pyramids of Giza, filling the sky with vivid color. Travel back in time 3,000 years to the 18th dynasty when King Tut ruled and gods like Ra and Anubis were worshiped by all.

Descend into King Tut’s tomb, 100 years since its historic discovery, and join King Tut in his quest for immortality. Experience all of this and more at Beyond King Tut: The Immersive Experience, a story over 3,000 years in the making.

By contrast, here’s a story just 45 years in the making. It was 1977, and there was Tutmania at Chicago’s Field Museum, as local PBS station WTTW detailed.

They waited in long lines (sometimes overnight) to enter the dimly lit corridors lined with ancient Egyptian artifacts. They emerged into a larger room holding the gold sarcophagus of the ruler who had died at age 19, King Tut. They exited through the gift shop, leaving the museum with scarves, tote bags, prints, and books emblazoned with his image. And if they had a little extra cash, they walked home with expensive replicas of what they’d just seen. It was Tutmania at the Field Museum in 1977 as The Treasures of King Tutankhamun (boy king of the New Kingdom in Egypt 3000 years earlier) came through town, breaking attendance records and adding millions of dollars to the city’s tourist trade. Nearly 1.3 million visitors attended during the four-month stop of the exhibit.

At the time, I happened to be in the midst of a return engagement to the Midwest, where I’d previously done seven years in Ohio. Six months earlier I’d “postponed” – from Boston –  my upcoming nuptials in Indianapolis with a phone call I providentially made the night before the wedding invitations were to go out in the mail.

The fiancée was understandably flummoxed; her posh parents were simply pissed.

Some months later I moved back to Cincinnati – a safe but reasonable distance from Indianapolis – in order to, as it were, settle all family business. But every time I called the flummoxed fiancée to schedule a time to get together, she would say “next weekend.”

Spoiler alert: Next weekend never came.

(I once went to a pub in London that had a brass plaque on the front door that said “Free Beer Tomorrow.” The ex-fiancée turned out to be free beer tomorrow.)

To while away the time not settling all family business, I did a ton of freelance writing for Cincinnati media outlets, including this piece for the Riverfront Times.

Fortunately, I was one of those 1.3 million visitors to the Treasures of Tutankhamun exhibit at the Field Museum, although I did not wait in a long line to “enter the dimly lit corridors lined with ancient Egyptian artifacts,” as WTTW described the scene.

Instead, upon my arrival at the museum, my two “pert and lovely companions” (as I described them at the time) walked me straight to the head of a very long line where we encountered, not surprisingly, a wave of righteous Midwestern indignation.

At the head of the stairs – we can feel the cool dimness within – a man right out of central Nebraska (tall & thin, with sandy hair and a supportive brace of children) challenges our passing arrogance.

“Wait  minute, there. Where are you going?” With puzzled smile and poised index finger, I rely on Stan Laurel: “We’re going to the Museum.”

“Now look. The line forms back there. Why aren’t you-in-the-line?” His children bundle tightly around him, making him very thick and powerful below the waist.

“We’re members,” I shot back as we scurried inside. (Actually, my pert and lovely companions were Field Museum members; I was not. But why get technical about it.)

Once inside, the exhibit made me acutely aware of how little background I had in arts and culture. Then again, I also had no background in music appreciation, but nonetheless had been a freelance critic at half a dozen New England music magazines for over two years.

So why not review the Tut exhibit?

The pieces in the Exhibit at the Field Museum are, with few exceptions, magnificent. The atmosphere is less so. In front of an ebony chair inlaid with ivory, two women steadfastly ignored the explanatory “Chair of His Majesty when a child,” and just rattled on, leaning back and squinting over the tops of their sparkling glasses. “Well, maybe he was …” Pause. “It probably …” Frown. “Well, you know, I’m sure he was ..”

“A midget,” I offer in passing. (According to local Egyptologist M.A. Ahlrichs, Tut was actually shorter after his death. However, efforts to verify her claim that his feet were cut off because the innermost coffin was too short have failed to bear fruit.)

Minutes later I am driven from my contemplation of a floral unguent vase – beautifully done: two pieces of alabaster weaving the lotus of Upper Egypt and the papyrus of Lower into an eternal bouquet – by the antics of children so obstreperous I can’t decide which one to step on first. O, to dash the waves of brushing and tripping and kicking kids that surge along my legs and ankles. Brutish young thugs, they are as welcome as a three-day diaper.

They drive me past the delicate triumph of a gold and lapis belt buckle … past a splendidly carved and curved ceremonial chair with the god of eternity resting on the back … past the gold shrine of Tutankhamun at ease with his Queen … past (reluctantly) an exquisite gold dagger and sheath …

At the Vulture Collar I make my stand. A magnificent gold collar, worked in sheer gold and inlaid with cornelian and glass paste, it is a masterpiece of two-dimensional art. But, even its sinister beauty is overshadowed by the Gold Mask. The mask of death. It is the centerpiece of the Exhibit, wondrously made in the exact likeness of the young king; it shimmers with powerful grace, captivates with the sheer dignity of its lines. Fifteen minutes of staring will not suffice. It would be worth traveling to Nebraska for a look at it.

Almost as tiresome, and long, would be a catalogue of the other pieces at the Exhibit. I fancied all the alabaster and was especially taken with the hooded eyes and long sweep of the Golden Serpent Netjerankh (“The Living God”). I did not touch any of the enlarged photographs on the walls, the way most of the kids were doing. I wonder what I missed.

The Treasures of Tutankhamun are magical, almost impossible, even as you gaze on them. The gap of three thousand dream-slow years is not easily bridged . . .

Luckily, Ms. Ahlrichs has provided us with an excellent summary. “I was very impressed,” she said, “with the naturalistic modeling of the work there . . . When you look at the religious art of the Gothic period 2500 years later . . . it makes you wonder.

“The people there, of course, were attracted to the gold.

“The gold. It’s so shiny”

That’s how I immersed myself in the fifty-something ancient Egyptian artifacts at the Field Museum. Beyond King Tut, by contrast, includes exactly zero artifacts, which goes to the heart of not only the way Tut exhibits have evolved, but how immersion itself has changed.

Previously, the experience was about viewing the objects; you went and engaged with the artworks on display. Now, the experience is about the viewer; you go and you’re on display. People rely on technology for immersion nowadays, where they used to rely on themselves.

And that change, lamentably, is beyond recall.

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The Difference Between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic

Here’s Novak Djokovic after his grueling five-set comeback victory over Jannick Sinner in their Wimbledon men’s singles quarterfinal on Tuesday.

And here’s Rafael Nadal after his grueling five-set comeback victory over Taylor Fritz in Wimbledon men’s single quarterfinal yesterday.

Draw your own conclusions.

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The New York Times ‘Omituary’ of Hells Angel Sonny Barger

Hells Angels poster thug Sonny Barger has finally joined the choir invisible, as New York Times obituary reporter Clay Risen detailed the other day.

He cultivated the motorcycle club’s outlaw image and was a pivotal figure in its emergence as an emblem of West Coast rebellion in the 1960s.

Sonny Barger, who as the charismatic face of the Hells Angels grew the hard-charging motorcycle club from its roots in the San Francisco area into a global phenomenon, in the process making it an emblem of West Coast rebellion — and, federal authorities said, criminal enterprise — died on Wednesday at his home outside Oakland, Calif. He was 83.

His former lawyer and business manager, Fritz Clapp, said the cause was liver cancer.

Raise your hand if you had that cause of death on your bingo card.

Of course, there’s also Barger’s Hunter S. Thompson connection, as Risen recounted.

“In any gathering of Hell’s Angels,” Hunter S. Thompson wrote in his book “Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga” (1967), “there is no doubt who is running the show: Ralph ‘Sonny’ Barger, the Maximum leader, a six-foot, 170-pound warehouseman from East Oakland, the coolest head in the lot, and a tough, quick-thinking dealer when any action starts. By turns he is a fanatic, a philosopher, a brawler, a shrewd compromiser and a final arbitrator.”

Inexplicably, though, Risen failed to mention an essential detail about Thompson’s ride with the Angels, which New York Times book reviewer Leo Litwak noted in 1967.

Hunter Thompson entered this terra incognita [the world of the Hell’s Angels] to become its cartographer. For almost a year, he accompanied the Hell’s Angels on their rallies. He drank at their bars, exchanged home visits, recorded their brutalities, viewed their sexual caprices, became converted to their motorcycle mystique, and was so intrigued, as he puts it, that “I was no longer sure whether I was doing research on the Hell’s Angels or being slowly absorbed by them.” At the conclusion of his year’s tenure the ambiguity of his position was ended when a group of Angels knocked him to the ground and stomped him…

Also absent from Risen’s omituary was this surreal reckoning between Barger and Thompson during a 1967 Canadian Broadcast Corporation talk show.


Barger’s indictment of Thompson’s time with the Hells Angels included the following:

1) Thompson’s book “is 60% cheap trash”

2) “I wanna know why we didn’t get the two kegs of beer you promised us. This guy here, he’s sitting here, he’s making a million dollars, he made it off of us . . . There was nothing about  money, nothing about a share in the book – all we wanted was a couple of kegs of beer so we could get drunk – and a copy of the book for each of the Oakland members.’

3) “And when you got your  head thumped on, you wrote a letter to Ralph and said seeing I got beat up and I got my head thumped on, I don’t owe you nuthin’.”

CBC host: “Why did they thump him?”

Barger: “Alright, this man here, you got into a man’s personal argument . . . Junkie George was beating his old lady. And Junkie George’s dog bit him. To me this is a personal feud – if a man wants to beat his wife and his dog bites him, that’s between the three of them, right?”

So to recap: Thompson inserted himself into Junkie George’s personal argument and got a (not as bad as he claimed) beating too.

A suitably gonzo obituary would not have omitted all that, right?

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I Was So Wrong About Cincinnati’s Abandoned Subway System

I did seven years in Ohio from the late ’60s to the mid-’70s, as I’ve detailed elsewhere.

Ever since then I’ve believed three things I was told about the Cincinnati Subway System That Never Was.

1) It was built in the wrong direction – East/West, which would have been little used, instead of North/South, which those (largely minority) communities really needed;

2) The gauge track the builders laid did not match any subway cars that were being manufactured at the time;

3) To cut their losses, city officials rented the abandoned underground tunnels to the Canandaigua Winery for storage.

Wrong, wrong, and wrong.

I arrived at those conclusions because my old pal cowboyjessejames sent me this Forbidden Explorer video of Cincinnati’s abandoned subway system. It was produced by The Proper People, “two friends, Bryan and Michael, who travel in search of abandoned buildings to explore and photograph.”

It’s a totally amazing ramble through the remnants of a ghost subway.

As Bryan and Michael relate early in the video, in 1916 80% of Cincinnati residents voted to replace a polluted canal running through the city with a subway system.

Ground was broken in 1920, and work proceeded for five years until the original six million dollar budget ran out. Once the Great Depression hit, the subway project was toast.

What remains became the target of Bryan and Michael’s exploration. “The main tunnel,” one of them tells us in the video, “runs for over two miles beneath the city and contains several complete stations. It follows the path of Central Parkway . . . ”

In 2017 the duo found a way into the tunnel and spent four hours walking through it and talking about what they saw. And what they saw was a lot of this.

Cincinnati officials might have abandoned the subway system, but the Queen City’s taggers certainly did not. This stretch is representative of the tunnel’s entire two miles.

The Forbidden Explorer video, however, detailed much more than the post-abandonment graffiti in Cincinnati’s ghost subway, as over three million viewers have witnessed.

Interestingly, in 2016 – a year before the Proper Boys embarked on their tunnel trundle – Andrew J. Hawkins filed this monumental piece at The Verge, which starts out detailing Cincinnati’s anemic public transit system, then pivots to The Train to Nowhere.

Under the streets of Cincinnati lies the vestige of a different vision — sealed underneath heavy manholes, hidden behind ivy-draped steel gates, and kept out of the public eye by the city’s highest officials. This is the city’s abandoned subway system, nearly three miles of empty tunnels and platforms now decorated in dust and graffiti. It is a vast subterranean space that stands as a monument to one of the biggest transportation blunders of all time. Had it been completed, the rapid transit system could have transformed Cincinnati. Instead, a decade after the project broke ground it was canceled, never to be completed. It is the nation’s largest ghost subway.

Hawkins added this: “Visiting Cincinnati’s abandoned subway today is nearly impossible. Over the years, the city has done a magnificent job of obliterating almost any above-ground vestiges, save for a handful of innocuous grates embedded in the sidewalk along Central Parkway. Station portals were bulldozed. Tunnels bricked up. Overpasses knocked down. Hardly anyone is left alive who remembers the rise and fall of the subway firsthand. There’s no way into the tunnels — unless you know where to look.”

The Proper Boys obviously did. So, as it happened, did Jake Mecklenborg, author of Cincinnati’s Incomplete Subway: The Complete History.

Mecklenborg took Hawkins on a tour of the abandoned subway and its history, and also brought Hawkins up to the present.

In 2002, Cincinnati’s voters had a chance to resurrect their incomplete subway, to transform it from a graveyard of embarrassment to a linchpin in a multi-billion dollar transit plan. The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority proposed a ballot referendum called Metro Moves, which would have created an extensive light-rail system incorporating the three remaining 1920s-era subway stations at Liberty, Brighton, and Hopple streets . .

Metro Moves was the result of a decade-long effort to bring light rail to Cincinnati. Moreover, it was the city’s chance to erase the stain left behind by their unfinished subway project. But Hamilton County residents rejected Metro Moves in a 2-to-1 vote, with over 68 percent voting against the project.

Ave atque vale, rapid transit in Cincinnati.

Last word goes to The Verge’s Andrew J. Hawkins.

Today, most people don’t know why the subway was never finished. Even Murray Seasongood, the posh city manager who was most responsible for its demise, didn’t seem to understand his own role in the boondoggle. When he was researching his book, Mecklenborg stumbled across an old interview from the 1960s with Seasongood, who was in his 80s at the time. The interviewer, a college student from the University of Cincinnati, asked him if he regretted killing the subway. “He was very jovial, very enthusiastic,” the student said of Seasongood. “But as for the details of the subway system, he could not recall them.”

Seems totally fitting, yeah?

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Why Rafa Is So Special As a Tennis Player – and a Person

Yesterday, as you no doubt already know, the great Rafael Nadal won his 14th French Open men’s singles title and his 22nd Grand Slam tournament title by defeating Norway’s Casper Ruud 6-3, 6-3, 6-0.

Nutshell video.

Afterward, Rafa detailed some of the physical obstacles he had to overcome to achieve that historic result, as Liz Clarke and Ava Wallace noted in the Washington Post.

During the news conference that followed, Nadal, who has been accompanied at this year’s French Open by his doctor, explained he has needed to take anesthetic injections in two nerves in his left foot before each of his matches to compete.

“I have been playing with injections on the nerves to sleep the foot,” Nadal said, “and that’s why I was able to play during these two weeks — because I have no feelings on my foot.”

The primary risk, he said, wasn’t from the injections but the chance that he could suffer further while numbed. “It’s a big risk in terms of less feelings, a little bit bigger risk of turning your ankle or produce another [injury] there,” he said.

Yet it was a risk he deemed worth it — at least for this tournament.

But, Rafa said, he won’t do that again. He’ll try “what he described as a radio-wave ‘burn’ or ablation of the nerves in hopes it will offer longer-term or permanent relief.”

And if that doesn’t work?

“It’s not about being the best of the history. It’s not about the records,” Nadal said. “It’s about I like what I do, you know? … What drives me to keep going is the passion for the game, [to] live moments that stay inside me forever.”

God bless Rafael Nadal, because for almost two decades, he has also created moments that will stay inside us forever.

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NY Mag: Why No One Should Root for Celtics in the NBA Finals

Will Leitch, the normally level-headed contributing editor at New York Magazine, filed a piece the other day under the headline, Why You Should Root for the Warriors in the NBA Finals.

The headline, however, really should have been, Why No Right-Thinking American Should Even Consider Rooting for the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals.

After showering the Warriors with multiple fanboy paragraphs, Leitch does the to be sure minimum for the Celtics.

In a public-relations battle between [the Warriors] and a team from Boston, it’s no contest at all. And that’s a bit of a shame, because this Celtics team is the most likable in recent memory, a cohesive unit of talented players who clearly adore having each other as teammates.

And blah blah blah Jason Tatum . . . blah blah blah Al Horford . . . blah blah blah Ime Udoka . . . blah blah blah.

But here’s the kick in the nuts graf.

If they weren’t the Celtics — which is to say if they weren’t from Boston — you’d be tempted to cheer for them. But they’re the Boston Celtics, so you can’t. You get it. The Celtics don’t inspire reflexive hatred like the Patriots. They lack the we-were-once-so-tortured-that-now-our-fans-get-to-act-like-assholes-forever vibe of the Red Sox. But they still play in a city that has won way too much over the last 20 years, trading in its underdog status for cocky villainy in the process. Plus, there are just too many Boston fans with a “let’s avoid this guy at Thanksgiving” feel about them. You want to cheer for Tatum and the crew, and then you see this and … well, it’s just really hard. Maybe in a decade or so, if no Boston team has won anything between now and then, it will be permissible to cheer for one of them. Maybe. For now, Boston will serve the role of foil.

The hardworking staff totally gets the reflexive Patriots hatred and the Masshole Red Sox fans, but Leitch’s you see this indictment of the Celtics is kinda lame.

So . . . a douchebag sat courtside at a Celtics game. See:Dog Bites Man.

As for Will Leitch Bites Celtics,: Not a lot of teeth there.

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New York Times Details the Double Toll Drone Killings Take

The history of warfare is a steady progression of distancing, as battles evolved from close combat to push-button carnage.

On Page One of yesterday’s New York Times, Dave Philipps captured the current war footing.

The Unseen Scars of the Remote-Controlled Kill

Civilian Deaths Haunt U.S. Drone Crews

REDWOOD VALLEY, Calif. — After hiding all night in the mountains, Air Force Capt. Kevin Larson crouched behind a boulder and watched the forest through his breath, waiting for the police he knew would come. It was Jan. 19, 2020. He was clinging to an assault rifle with 30 rounds and a conviction that, after all he had been through, there was no way he was going to prison.

Captain Larson was a drone pilot — one of the best. He flew the heavily armed MQ-9 Reaper, and in 650 combat missions between 2013 and 2018, he had launched at least 188 airstrikes, earned 20 medals for achievement and killed a top man on the United States’ most-wanted-terrorist list.

The 32-year-old pilot kept a handwritten thank-you note on his refrigerator from the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. He was proud of it but would not say what for, because like nearly everything he did in the drone program, it was a secret. He had to keep the details locked behind the high-security doors at Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nev.

There were also things he was not proud of locked behind those doors — things his family believes eventually left him cornered in the mountains, gripping a rifle.

As the Times piece notes, “[drone] crews have launched more missiles and killed more people than nearly anyone else in the military in the past decade, but the military did not count them as combat troops. Because they were not deployed, they seldom got the same recovery periods or mental-health screenings as other fighters. Instead they were treated as office workers, expected to show up for endless shifts in a forever war.”

And that took its toll on Kevin Larson.

Captain Larson tried to cope with the trauma by using psychedelic drugs. That became another secret he had to keep. Eventually the Air Force found out. He was charged with using and distributing illegal drugs and stripped of his flight status. His marriage fell apart, and he was put on trial, facing a possible prison term of more than 20 years.

Right before he was to be sentenced, Captain Larson ran. He was tracked down by California police with the help of – wait for it – a drone. He then shot himself rather than face a long prison sentence. But . . . “[in] the end, the Air Force had decided not to sentence him to prison, only to dismissal.”

Stories like Larson’s have been told before in even more dramatic fashion. I wrote about one example here in February of 2015.

Well the Missus and I trundled over to Central Square to catch the Nora Theatre Company production of Grounded and man, it was fabulous.

A hot-shot fighter pilot’s career in the skies, “alone in the blue,” is ended by an unexpected pregnancy. Reassigned to a windowless Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 12.46.40 AMtrailer in the desert outside Las Vegas, by day, she hunts down terrorists, her face lit by the dull grey glow of a drone’s monitor. At night, she returns to her domestic life with husband and daughter. As she tracks a high-profile target half a world away, the pressure mounts.

It’s a total tour de chair force, depicting what it’s like for drone pilots to go to war all day and then go home at night. (The history of military combat is a history of increasing distance from the actual killing field – think trench warfare to the London blitz – but never before has combat included going home for dinner.)

George Brant’s 90-minute monologue is strikingly delivered by Celeste Oliva (Boston Globe profile here), who absolutely owns the stage for every second of this haunting production (directed by Nora Theatre Company Artistic Director Lee Mikeska Gardner).

All we could say when the play ended was . . . Wow.

Here’s the trailer from a 2014 production of Grounded at Baltimore’s Everyman Theatre.


Day-hopping to war presents different perils than occupying a battlefield,  but they can be just as deadly, as the family of Air Force Capt. Kevin Larson – and many others – well know.

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