• Robert James Waller Remembered Fondly

    • Posted on Mar 19, 2017

    Published in this morning's Waterloo/Cedar Falls Courier.  

                So much of what I know about Robert James Waller comes from memory.  Recent direct experiences have been spotty, mostly via email, and then only occasionally.  We’ve often gone for months at a time with no communication due to distances and general busyness. 

                The first half of our friendship, from late 1961 until the mid-1980s, consisted of finding, arranging, and performing songs we loved. It was all great fun because we gravitated toward intensely poetic lyrics and ballads, and our voices blended well.  We often played Waller’s songs, and they were among our most-requested pieces.         

                As our lives grew more complex with fewer shared interests, we gradually moved on. 

                He became more of a jazz musician and certainly more of a writer, beginning with his Des Moines Register columns and moving into longer essays and fiction, the first novel being his blockbuster “Bridges of Madison County.”  He kept writing, too, and his novels continued selling, though nothing reached the wild popularity of “Bridges.”     

                Our post- “Bridges” friendship was less intense.  When he did visit the area from his Texas ranch, we got together for lunch or dinner, and sometimes even sang a few of the old songs.   

                I still well remember those songs, recorded in the mid-1980s.  We went to Catamount studios, where ace producer Tom Tatman recorded, in one day, eight of Waller’s songs.

                His songs were full-on poetry, with complex stories and melodies that still challenge listeners with their density and soaring mystical visions.

                For a time he even wondered whether he could make it as a songwriter, and traveled to Nashville with melodies in hand.  Producers there told him his songs were not commercial.  “Go home and be a college professor,” they told him. “We’re selling toothpaste.”

                So he did, but I have little doubt that had some enterprising producer taken a chance, we’d all remember Waller’s songs. 

                Little known fact:  “Bridges” was a song before it was a novel. 

                It was a long lyric called “North Dakota Transfer,” about a powerful erotic tryst between a farm wife whose husband was on the road and an itinerant harvest worker who falls for her:

    She was sweet apple blossoms, in her old faded jeans,

    Forty-five years old, and shinin’ like the sun,

    And the touch of her hand on your face was like a breeze

    Blowin’ sweet and clear when the long day is done.

                The smitten couple endure a bittersweet parting.  A few years later, Waller fleshed the story out, set it in Iowa, made the harvest worker a photographer, and the rest is his story. 

                He succeeded as a writer far beyond anything he could have imagined.  Yet he also created a set of memorable songs, just as potentially popular as his fiction.

                As a friend, he left a legacy of warm memories of laughter, long talks into the night, and performing for large and loyal audiences.

                He sought modesty.  As he wrote in his final book “The Summer Nights Never End—Until They Do,” “We come, we do, we go—nothing more, and that’s about as serious as we ought to take ourselves.”     

                Robert James Waller certainly came, did, and went, and now his old friends and fans seriously remember him, fondly. 



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    Posted in
    • Nostalgia
    • Personalities
    • Music

    • Posted on Mar 05, 2017

    Here's a close look at state Representative Walt Rogers and his statements about collective bargaining being "unchanged" in Iowa.  I first heard Rogers assert the point in Waterloo at the Feb. 25 GOP political forum, and again this morning on "The Steele Report" on KWWL.   

                Does Walt Rogers lie?  Or did the citizen who confronted him in Waterloo at the GOP Legislative Forum at VGM in Waterloo on Saturday, Feb. 25 lie? (For background see blog below this on.)  

                The citizen questioner at the meeting, a UNI faculty member, asked Mr. Rogers what Iowans were to make of the “gutting” of collective bargaining? Rogers immediately asserted that “collective bargaining has not changed.” 

                The audience reaction was swift:  booing, hooting, deriding.  Of course it had changed, the audience’s reaction was saying.  But Rogers went on to explain, and I paraphrase:  There’s so much misinformation out there, all of it wrong.   We did not change collective bargaining.  You can still bargain for anything that you want.  But you can only go to arbitration on wages.  All other issues are off the table when it comes to arbitration.  But bargaining (a.k.a. “discussions”) are still part of the process as always.   

                Incidentally, Rogers reiterated that point Sunday morning (3-5) on the “Steele Report” on KWWL.  So that’s his story, and he’s stickin’ to it. 

                But his story is dead wrong.   

                The following is from Mr. Rogers’ website, the “GOP Caucus Newsletter” for Feb. 23—the relevant paragraph under “Changes to Collective Bargaining.”

                “The bill does not outlaw discussions between employees and employers in regards to health care and a multitude of other issues.  Employees have protections against discrimination, harassment, retaliation or any other unlawful practices. It is already illegal for employers to discriminate against employees on based on protected characteristics such as basis of race, color, religion, age, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, creed, sexual orientation, sexual identity or disability. Iowa employers with four or more employees must comply with these laws. This bill does nothing to undo those protections.”

                “The scope of negotiations outlined in Chapter 20 only refers to the ability of a union to bargain those items with an employer. The changes in the bill have no effect on an individual employee’s rights to discuss or negotiate on their own accord with their employer about any topics they feel are imperative to their employment.”

                Sounds like all is right with the world, right?  Plenty of “discussions” can occur between employees and their employers on any subject. This was what Mr. Rogers must have meant when he insisted that “Collective Bargaining has not changed.”

                Here’s the problem: “discussions” and “bargaining” mean nothing without the possibility of an arbitrator, meaning an objective third party whose decision is binding.  The employer holds all the cards on all issues now (after the state GOP passed the legislation) except wages, and even then, raises are severely limited by a narrow formula. 

                In other words, you can go talk to the boss individually or collectively as a union, all you want— “discussions” are not outlawed.  But such discussions are not bargaining, since nothing can change as a result unless the boss wants it to. No one would call that real bargaining.   

                This is a massive, complete, global change in collective bargaining and don’t let Walt Rogers or anyone else tell you differently.

                Before this law, bargaining issues discussed at length between the Board of Regents and United Faculty at UNI included competitive salaries, health insurance, family leave, faculty evaluation issues and many others. They were being discussed for every contract precisely because if both sides could not agree, they would go to binding arbitration, and the arbitrator’s decision was final—and it could always go either way.  

                Both sides felt a powerful incentive to bargain for all they could, since they could lose in binding arbitration.  The more they could agree on before arbitration, the better for everyone. 

                So, bargaining was serious business, and it made all the difference to a wide variety of issues over the years from raises to summer employment to due process for grievances to the use of faculty assessments.   

                 Many of these issues were under discussion at UNI this fall until the new law took effect, and then they disappeared, taken off the table.  Only one page remained from dozens, and that was basically over the relatively minor raises that could still be negotiated.

                Walt Rogers either didn’t know what he was talking about, or he deliberately shaded the truth, to put it charitably.  Either way, it was another reason so many Iowans are upset with their GOP legislators. 

                The larger issue implied in all this:  Republican legislators seem unable to understand that they’re working against the short and long term best interests of their constituents.



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