The AJC Decatur Book Festival has grown to become the largest independent book festival in the country. It began in 2006 and you can read about it here (https://www.decaturbookfestival.com/).
Today is the third day of the four day event. I attended many of the festivals but cannot recall the exact number. There is one in particular I do recall, though…
In 2002 a conversion van was purchased in order to make a trip around the country to play in Chess tournaments, and to visit with many people scattered over the country, some involved with research into the JFK assassination. One of the stops was in Rolla, Missouri, where the Missouri State Chess Championship was held. The Rolla public library contained one of a very limited number of the many volume “official” US Government Warren Commission Report. Every report ever released can still be obtained from the government of the US except the Warren Report. Think about that for a moment…
Sometime during the week before the tournament I learned the author Rick Bragg
I had read his first book, All Over But the Shoutin′
and liked it so much I read each of his following books, including Ava’s Man,
which brought tears to my eyes. Rick, like me, was born Southern “by the grace of God,” as the saying goes…Rick is from the Great neighboring State of Alabama. His words struck a chord and hit home because we came from a similar background. He could have been writing about my family, which is, I suppose, why he became such a popular author.
I had plans to play in the Indiana state championship the following weekend so had time to attend the event. By the time I arrived almost all the seats had been taken. Taking the last available seat put me in the back row. The younger woman in the seat to my right was very pretty. She had her long brown hair put up, which I’ve always found attractive, brown eyes, and a smile which caused my heart to flutter while wishing I was at least ten years younger…
Rick was introduced and began to speak. He asked a question of the audience and no one spoke, so I spoke. Everyone turned around to look. It was an extremely quiet audience so I continued to speak during the event. Although I cannot recall much of what was said between us that night I do recall Rick talking about eating at the Krystal.
It seems he had a fondness for the “pups,”
blaming much of his extended belly on his fondness for them, and other Krystal “delicacies.”
As soon as he ended I went to the men’s room. As I walked back into the room where Rick was signing books a nice lady stopped me and said, “I sure did enjoy your conversation with Mr. Bragg tonight.” I smiled and thanked her for saying something so nice. The brown-eyed woman who had caused my heart to throb said, “Me too,” and then immediately dropped her eyes as if she could not believe she had spoken. I thought maybe she was the shy type…She had the look of a librarian.
The publicist who was with Rick noticed me heading toward the door and stopped me, asking if I were leaving. “No ma’am, I am headed to the van to grab a cassette tape I want to give Rick.”
“Is it a book?” she inquired. “No ma’am, it’s music. I just thought Rick would appreciate it.”
“Oh that’s great,” she said, “Rick wants to meet you.”
After nabbing the tape I stepped in at the end of the line behind, you guessed it, the lady with the brown hair and eyes. She had two of his books to be signed. I learned she had not read them, but intended on doing so. We were in the central west end, later to be home of the St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center.
I asked her if she would like to get something to eat and she said, “That would be lovely.” This caused a heart palpitation!
She made it to the table, Rick signed her book after doing a double take which caused me to understand I was not the only man who found her attractive. She moved to the side as I walked up and he looked at her and said, “You with him?” She nodded, said “Yes,” and I’m certain my chest puffed out several inches. Rick looked at me and said, “You lucky dog.” Then he shook my hand and we talked for a little while, with him relating something about there always being one guy from similar circumstances in the crowd saying, “And tonight you were it.”
I handed the tape to Rick, telling him I had made about a dozen copies and given away most of them to friendly truckers while on the road like the one who asked, “You need a shower?” as he slipped me his pass. Rick got a kick outta that! I asked him if they would like to grab a bite to eat with us, but his publicist said they did not have the time.
Fast forward to 2008. I was working at the Atlanta Chess Center and had taken the day off so as to attend the Decatur Book Festival where Rick Bragg would be presenting and autographing his new book, The Prince of Frogtown.
His lecture was to take place in a church. It was standing room only and during the presentation Rick used the word “fuck,” which is the only time I have ever heard the word uttered in a church. He was reading from the book, but still…I remember thinking no one made a sound when he spoke the word. Back in the day little old Southern ladies would have swooned, and possibly fainted, after hearing such a word spoken in a “house of the Lord.”
I was in the balcony. By the time I made it outside there was a very long line of people waiting to have their book signed, but no Rick, so I hit the head. I walked back outside, went around to the rear of the tent, stepped across a line that could not be crossed, came up behind Rick, just as some festival gentleman with a badge grabbed me by the arm, and said to Rick “The road goes on forever…”
The official began pulling my arm just as Rick turned to look. Seeing it was me he completed the line, saying, “And the party never ends!” Then he asked “What are you doing here?” The festival official was attempting to drag me away as I said, “I live here Rick. Decatur is the city of my birth.” Rick looked at the official and yelled, “Unhand that man!” Then he looked at me and said, “I can’t believe it…after all these years…I LOVED that tape! I wore it out and had to get a new one. Now I’ve got everything Joe Ely has done!” Naturally, this made me smile.
“So you liked Love and Danger, huh?”
“Liked it? Hell no, I LOVED it!”
The people in line were getting restless, so Rick said, “You gonna be around a while.”
“I can be,” I said.
“Wanna grab a beer and maybe something to eat?” he asked.
“I don’t think they serve beer at Krystal, Rick,” was my response. He laughed out loud as he stuck out his hand and said, “I don’t even remember your name.”
“Michael Bacon,” I said.
“Yeah, that Bacon part rings a bell…”
“Must be something to do with food, huh?”
“You got that right!” Rick said.
I stepped back to wait. The official came over and apologized, saying something like, “Sorry. I did not know you were friends.”
“That’s OK, sir. I know you were only doing you job.” He smiled.
After the last book had been signed we walked to the Brick Store pub.
After we ordered Rick looked at me and asked, “I seem to recall you were with a beautiful woman that night.”
“Yeah, I met her at the signing.”
“No shit?” he said, “What happened with her?”
“Gentlemen never tell, Rick,” I said as he broke into a big, wide grin.
Rick’s latest book is:
I have yet to read it, but there is no doubt it will be read soon.
Reading the following from Mark Weeks blog, Chess for All Ages, caused me to pause and reflect upon the man named in the post:
“By coincidence, while I was preparing the recent post, An 1886 Photoshopped Illustration, where I mentioned that ‘I’ve been downloading old copies of The Chess Journalist (TCJ)’, I noticed that the December 2006 issue of the TCJ credited the existence of the scanned CL/CRs to Tim Tobiason. He seems to have been a colorful character in several ways, but this isn’t the time or place to repeat stories that can be found elsewhere on the web. It is his misfortune that while the original magazines are protected by copyright, his scans aren’t protected by a second copyright because they don’t represent creative work.”
The first time I met Tim Tobiason was in Rolla, Missouri, at the 2002 Missouri State Chess Championship. Mr. Tobiason, who was also playing in the small event, had the most eclectic collection of things ever seen at a Chess tournament. Along with the usual Chess books and other Chess related things, he displayed books he had written, and other items looking like they would be more comfortable at a gun show. I cannot recall the titles, but they were along the same line as the infamous Anarchist Cookbook.
He talked of the right he had to publish anything, and of being hounded by the FBI because of the content, which tended toward blowing things up with explosives. Tim rather proudly stated he had been “filmed by 60 Minutes,” the CBS TV show. He also mentioned having been banned at gun shows, which is where he sold most of his self-produced books. People began moving away from the table. He also mentioned needing a place to stay, or at least a shower, as he was traveling from Chess tournament to tournament while living in his van. I mentioned, with as much deference as could be mustered, maybe he might want to reconsider the part about being followed by the FBI if he wanted a place to stay. “You gotta point,” he said.
The next encounter with Tim was at the Atlanta Chess Center. He needed to take a shower and wanted to stay inside the House of Pain that night. In addition, he needed some space in the back room to set up his equipment, which consisted of scanning equipment to be used to copy older material, which he would sell. Unbeknownst to me David Spinks had flatly turned him down. Later on I saw and greeted him. He was obviously road weary and in a disheveled state. Tim was heavyset, with a rather large, and protruding belly. Happy to see a friendly face after his encounter with Spinks, he greeted me like a long-lost friend. After informing me he knew Thad Rogers, owner of the Dump, and explaining the situation, as he had attempted with Spinks, I told him it would be OK to shower. I figured Thad would give the OK, so I did so. David was LIVID! It was one of the few times I saw Spinks “lose it.” David was adamant. He did not want Tim around, especially on a tournament weekend. I tried reasoning with him, to no avail. For the first and only time while working at the HOP I placed a call to Thad. After informing him of the situation, he said, “Toby’s there? Tell him I said hello, and yes, you were right to allow him access. Let me speak with David.” Spinks did not like being overruled, but had no choice in the matter.
Toby said he was hungry and I mentioned the Dekalb Farmer’s Market, but Toby had other ideas. He asked about an all you can eat place, telling me he only ate once a day, spending hours eating all he could, which would have to last until the next day. I understood immediately why Thad liked Toby, as he, too, could spend hours at an all you can eat buffet. Besides, Toby was a character, and Thad always had a fondness for characters, one of the great things about Thad. That particular character trait was exactly what one needed to interact with Chess players.
Upon his return we made room for Toby and his equipment in the back room while taking pains to pacify Spinks. I spent a great deal of time with Toby that evening while working the front. Toby was a nervous type, and who would not be with the FBI breathing down his neck? Most Chess players are paranoid; it seems to come with the game. Toby was not the only player claiming to be followed by authorities. IM Emory Tate was in the military for many years, playing, and winning, the Armed Forces Championship five times. We were regaled with stories of his being in Military Intelligence, and according to Emory, “They are still watching me.” Who were we to argue? After listening to Emory I will admit to being pleased someone was keeping an eye on the man. Consider this:
“A lone lion wanders afar in the wilderness, no longer part of the pride
Once gleaming, accepted, a beautiful beast, now having been cast aside
No chance for part in coordinated hunt, this one can’t run very fast
Nature holds no place, and faltering, it seems this beast just won’t last
Thad drove up from Macon the next day and if memory serves, stayed the night. While on duty Thad could be heard laughing constantly from the back room. It was obvious he had an affinity for Toby. I cannot differentiate between all the tournaments held at the House of Pain, but because of Toby I do recall that particular weekend. Toby definitely brought something different to the staid House that weekend. In deference to Spinks I mentioned the recent rash of car break-ins experienced at the House in the crime filled area and Toby decided to sleep in his van.
I asked Thad if what Toby related was real, or a figment of his imagination. “I dunno,” he answered, “But they make for great stories!” he said with a grin. Toby kept busy, and out-of-the-way, making his discs, which he sold to Thad. One legendary Atlanta player was extremely pleased with what he purchased.
The last time I encountered Toby was in Louisville many years later. There was a children’s tournament and I arrived a little after noon. The event was over (they ‘head ’em up and move ’em out’ in Derby land) and Toby was getting ready to leave, hitting the road for who knows where.
Reading the Chess for All Ages post prompted a visit to startpage.com, where I entered Toby’s name, finding this article, which is quite lengthy. If you do not have the appetite for all of it, scroll on down to the last four paragraphs, which has been made bold. This will make you want to read all of what follows, so why not just invest the time and read it all now?
Hoax! (part 2) The second half of Jon Ronson’s investigation into people behind the post-September 11 anthrax hoaxes.
I had met Tim two years earlier at a gun show in Rochester, Minnesota. I was there with my producer, Jim, and the Ruby Ridge survivor Randy Weaver, whose wife and son were shot by FBI agents in a bungled raid in Idaho 10 years ago. Crowds flocked to get Weaver’s autograph, but Tim didn’t. He stood apart, a lone wolf among lone wolves, a pasty-looking man, wearing a lumberjack shirt and glasses. He had a deep grudge against the federal government and, it turned out, a rudimentary scientific knowledge. He told us that anthrax was the only way forward for the “movement”. In our experience, anthrax wasn’t a big militia topic of conversation. In fact, we’d never heard it mentioned, so Jim did a quick interview with him.
“I get into the more dangerous biological and chemical weapons area,” Tim said during this taped interview. “You can mail massive-scale weapons in microscopic form on a postage stamp, and that way you can re-arm the entire nation if the government ever tries to take your guns away.”
Guardian Today: the headlines, the analysis, the debate – sent direct to you
The people we met at the gun shows all had their own special ways of theoretically battling the government. One man had advocated the use of piano wire, another favoured firebombs. Tim’s big thing was anthrax. I’d never ratted out an interviewee to the feds before. I’d never given up a source. This would normally be a very bad thing for a journalist to do. But this was October 2001.
“Tim probably isn’t the anthrax killer,” I thought to myself. “But how often does one meet someone who is almost the anthrax killer?”
“I should call the FBI,” I said to Jim, when he telephoned in early October to remind me about our interview with Tim.
“Hang on,” he said. “I’m the one who thought of Tim. I should call the FBI.”
“I want to call the FBI,” I said.
“Well, I don’t want you bloody going to the FBI without me,” said Jim.
There was a hurt silence. “OK,” I said. “I promise to bring you with me to the FBI.”
It wasn’t easy to find the FBI in London. Directory enquiries had no record of them. “Are you sure F stands for Federal?” they asked.
I finally tracked them to the US embassy, and an agent called Michael came on the phone. When I told him what I had, he said, casually, “Yes. That would be something we’d be interested in. Could you bring it in?”
“Tomorrow?” I asked, and Michael agreed.
I realised that things were less casual when Michael telephoned me at 8.30am to ask if I was coming in today. Things aren’t casual at 8.30am. People call at 8.30am if they’ve been up worrying.
And two hours later – in Grosvenor Square, central London – Jim and I were past the security guards, past the ocean of fencing, through the x-rays, the bag search, up the elevator, through a series of reinforced steel doors – the kind of doors you find on safes – through more corridors, through the body search, and into London’s FBI headquarters. We were led into an office decorated with novelty Big Ben snowstorms and a collection of funny police helmets.
Michael was sitting at his desk. He was bookish and young. He shook hands, led us through to his boss’s office, and sat us on the sofa. He got out his notepad and said, “So how did you come to meet this Tim?”
“Well,” said Jim, “we’re journalists, and we were following Randy Weaver around the gun show circuit. Actually, Jon had hooked up with Randy Weaver a few days earlier, but I’d been researching another project, would you believe it, surveillance cameras in shopping malls!” Jim laughed nervously. Michael’s eyes began to glaze.
I think that Jim, like many people who meet law enforcement officers, was feeling the desperate urge to confess. Luckily, Jim didn’t have anything to confess to, so this compulsion was finding a different outlet – mad small talk. I glanced down at Michael’s notepad. So far, he’d written only two words: “Randy Weaver.”
“Shall we watch the tape?” said Michael.
“With a mass propagated pre-packaged bio-weapon, you could render most of the major cities uninhabitable in about a week, which would wreck the economy and pretty much put an end to the government,” said Tim on the tape.
“Tim,” replied Jim on the tape, “what you’re advocating here is the spread of really dangerous information. Why do you feel that it’s a good idea for everybody to know this terrible stuff?”
I was relieved that Jim had adopted a combative style of questioning with Tim. All too often, Jim and I ask extremists over-soft questions that might lead FBI agents erroneously to believe that we had gone native. When the tape ended, Michael thanked us very much and escorted us back to the lobby.
That night, as I lay in bed, I thought of Tim, and I wondered who he really was. A week later, the Wall Street Journal provided the answer: the FBI, it said, was looking for a home-grown anthrax terrorist, and they were making inquiries about a Nebraska man called Tim Tobiason, who was known on the gun show circuit for advocating the use of anthrax. Apparently, the FBI had been alerted to Tim by a “member of the public”. There was a photograph. This was my Tim.
It turned out that Tim Tobiason came from Silver Creek, Nebraska. He had once been a pillar of the community, the owner of an animal-feed mill with 24 employees and $3m a year cashflow, married, with two daughters, and a bit of a chemical wizard, too; he mixed up witches’ brews at night in his garage – funny-smelling stuff, said his neighbours. Then he made a new kind of phosphate-based feed additive which, he calculated, would net him millions. He set about patenting it, but the government said it would be dangerous to cattle, so they rejected it. He began bitching to his friends about a conspiracy, how the government had stolen his patent and given it to some agricultural corporation. He moved into a Dodge caravan and plotted his revenge. He wrote Scientific Principles Of Improvised Warfare: Advanced Biological Weapons Design And Manufacture. The cover promised, “If you can make Jell-O, you can wipe out cities. Enjoy!”
His marriage collapsed and he took to selling his book on the gun show circuit. In the wake of the Wall Street Journal article, TV crews stormed Silver Creek. But Tim had vanished. The FBI analysed his handwriting, and followed the instructions in his anthrax cookbook, finding them to be shoddy and incomplete. They concluded that Tim Tobiason was innocent. As a result of the publicity, Tim was banned from gun shows across the US. His Silver Creek neighbours said they didn’t expect him back, which was for the best because he was no longer welcome in town.
The last I heard of Tim Tobiason was in December last year. Dan Rather’s CBS news team secretly filmed him at a gun show in California – one of the few still letting him sell his books. In this covert recording, Tim said that if a federal agent killed him and his children, an unnamed colleague of his would exact a terrible revenge. This colleague would take “communicable weapons to every grade school within 50 miles of CIA headquarters, infect them all, they go home, infect Mom and Dad, Mom and Dad goes back to CIA, and two weeks later CIA’s gone.” Tim was one of those people who always lived in fear that the federal government would come after him, and Jim and I made his paranoid fantasy come true.
For all his blather, I think my decision to shop Tim to the FBI was an even less justifiable response to the hysteria than the actions of the four anthrax hoaxers whom I interviewed. Clay Waagner had a good excuse for going crazy that month. He had a cause. Lucy Manifold was trying to stay happy. Bryan Mangnall was a dumb jock. And Terry Olson was depressed and wanted attention. I had no good reason to do what I did. And I got thanked for it. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2002/oct/05/anthrax.uk1
Crime in The City (Sixty to Zero) by Neil Young
All the champs and the heroes
They got a price to pay
They go from sixty to zero
In the split of a hair
They see the face in the window
They feel a shadow out there
They’ve got the places they can go
They’ve got the people who stare
They’ve got to walk in their shoes
They’ve got to see what they see
They’ve got the people around them
Getting too much for free
All the pimps and the dealers
All the food they can eat
All the screamers and squealers
When they walk down the street
He’s just a rich old man
He never cared for anyone
He likes to count his possessions
He’s been a miser from penny one
He never cared for his children
Never cared for his wife
Never made anyone happy
That’s the way he lived his life
And one day in the sunshine
He got a bolt from the blue
Unloaded all of his possessions
Sold his investments too
And now he lives with the homeless
Owns 900 hospital beds
He prefers to remain nameless
It’s publicity he dreads
There’s a judge in the city
He goes to work every day
Spends his life in the courthouse
Keeps his perspective that way
But I respect his decision
He’s got a lot on his mind
He’s pretty good with the gavel
A little heavy on the fines
One day there was this minstrel
Who came to court on a charge
That he blew someone’s head off
Because his amp was too large
And the song he was singin’
Was not for love but for cash
Well, the judge waived the charges
He fingered his mustache
Well, there’s a clown in a carnival
He rode a painted horse
He came from somewhere out west
He was very funny of course
But that is not what I noticed
It was the incredible force
With which he held his audience
While he rode on his horse
His jokes were not that off-color
His smile was not that sincere
His show was that not that sensational
Reasons for success were not clear
But he still made big money
One day the circus was his
Now he’s married to the acrobat
And they’re training their kids
Now the jailhouse was empty
All the criminals were gone
The gate was left wide open
And a buck and fawn
Were eating grass in the courtyard
When the warden walked in
And took a rifle from the prison guard
And said to him with a grin
To shoot those deer would be stupid, sir
We already got ’em right here
Why not just lock the gates and keep them
With intimidation and fear?
But the warden pulled the trigger
And those deer hit the ground
He said Nobody’ll know the difference
And they both looked around.
Well, the cop made the showdown
He was sure he was right
He had all of the lowdown
From the bank heist last night
His best friend was a robber
And his wife was a thief
All the children were murderers
They couldn’t get no relief
The bungalow was surrounded
When a voice loud and clear
Come out with your hands up
Or we’re gonna blow you out of here
There was a face in the window
TV cameras rolled
And they cut to the announcer
And the story was told.
Well, the artist looked at the producer
The producer sat back
He said What we have got here
Is a pretty good track
But we don’t have a vocal
And we still don’t have a song
If we could get this thing accomplished
Nothin’ else could go wrong
So he balanced the ashtray
And he picked up the phone
And said Send me a songwriter
Who’s drifted far from home
And make sure that he’s hungry
And make sure he’s alone
And send me a cheeseburger
And a new Rolling Stone
Well, the Sioux and Dakota
They lost all of their land
And now a basketball player
Is trying to lend them a hand
Maybe someday he’ll be president
He’s quite a popular man
But now the chief has reservations
And the white man has plans
There’s opposition in Congress
The bill is up against cash
There’s really no way of predicting
If it will fly or it will crash
But that’s the nature of politics
That’s the name of the game
That’s how it looks in the tepee
Big winds are blowing again
There’s still crime in the city
Said the cop on the beat
I don’t know if I can stop it
I feel like meat on the street
They paint my car like a target
I take my orders from fools
Meanwhile some kid blows my head off
Well, I play by their rules
So now I’m doing it my way
I took the law in my own hands
Here I am in the alleyway
A wad of cash in my pants
I get paid by a ten year old
He says he looks up to me
There’s still crime in the city
But it’s good to be free
Now I come from a family
That has a broken home
Sometimes I talk to my daddy
On the telephone
When he says that he loves me
I know that he does
But I wish I could see him
Wish I knew where he was
But that’s the way all my friends are
Except maybe one or two
Wish I could see him this weekend
Wish I could walk in his shoes
But now I’m doin’ my own thing
Sometimes I’m good, then I’m bad
Although my home has been broken
It’s the best home I ever had
Well, I keep getting younger
My life’s been funny that way
Before I ever learned to talk
I forgot what to say
I sassed back to my mummy
I sassed back to my teacher
I got thrown out of Sunday School
For throwin’ bibles at the preacher
Then I grew up to be a fireman
I put out every fire in town
Put out everything smoking
But when I put the hose down
The judge sent me to prison
Gave me life without parole
Wish I never put the hose down
Wish I never got old. http://thrasherswheat.org/fot/lyrics_crime.htm