Colorful, but misguided life

Robert Leroy Parker is a local legend and folk hero around here. Hikers like to poke around his remote digs at Robbers Roost in southeastern Utah and slip back into the days of the old west. Born in 1866 at Beaver Utah to respectable and hard working pioneer parents, Robert retained some of the virtues and the teachings of his family.  He was nice to people even as he robbed them. He gave some of his loot to the poor. And so much did he respect his family name that he stopped using it.

Robert did this soon after he fell in with a roustabout named Mike Cassidy. Robert also dropped his christened name and went simply by Butch.

What was he? Depended on whom you would ask in the old days.  Butch Cassidy was either a Robin Hood taking from the rich and sharing with the poor, a rowdy kid who hadn’t quite grown up, a wily criminal who would lie and steal at the drop of a hat, or the victim of a strict society that wouldn’t let him change and be the upstanding citizen he wanted to be.

He was a talented man for the trades of his day, good with a rope and a gun, fine horseman and excellent as a team leader.

For a later generation of moviegoers he was a likable lug played masterfully by Paul Newman with Robert Redford as his sidekick in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

His life of crime is documented in newspapers and court records. As a teenager he left the farm and floated among the gamblers, loose women, and borderline criminals of Colorado. He then went into business for himself robbing banks in Wyoming. He got caught, served time and was released when he promised he would rob no more banks in Wyoming.

Butch Cassidy was as good as his word but no better. Since he hadn’t promised not to rob banks in other states he continued his profession outside Wyoming. Since he hadn’t promised not to rob non banks in Wyoming he robbed other things in that state. Trains to be exact.

His well-organized heists were generally models of efficiency. But even the best laid plans of mice and bandits sometimes go awry. Setting up to rob the bank at Winnemucca, Nevada , Butch assigned one of his men to slip in unnoticed a while before the holdup and blend among the people in the lobby. But the incognito robber got waylaid by a skunk on his way. A few sniffs from the patrons and he was the most prominent attraction in the bank. They did get the money and get away however.

From our perspective of dealing with street gangs, drug cartels, and terrorists Butch and his cronies seem more amusing than dangerous. Even their name, The Wild Bunch sounds like a boys club. But Sundance and the others did gun down some people. Butch claimed he never did.

Butch and Sundance were killed in a shootout in Bolivia. Or not, again depending on whom you talk with. The alternative version is death by cancer in Spokane, Washington in 1937.

His sister Lula claimed Butch visited the family 16 years after he supposedly died in Bolivia. She said he was trying to go straight, but society wouldn’t let him. He told his father, “When a man gets down, they won’t let him up. He never quits paying his price.”

There is truth to that. The parable of the prodigal son is as much about his unforgiving brother as about the wayward one. We need to give people innumerable new leases on life when they sincerely change.

But it is also true that change takes effort, pain and sometimes payback. The price may have been more than Butch was willing to pay.

Mavericks and misfits make great folklore and legends. But colorful as he was, Butch Cassidy’s life is a tragedy. He would have made a great scoutmaster.

Proper perspective

“I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills: from whence commeth my help.” (King David of Israel, Psalm 121:1)

Look up, raise your eyes to the skies, reach for the stars; such exhortations have been staples on the motivational menu for millennia, and still are. The upturned gaze is the preferred position most of the time but not all; not this time.

Outside the lights dazzled, the marquees flashed their enticements, the crowds milled and the traffic bustled in this city that never sleeps. One of those marquees informed (in modest letters) “In the Lounge, The Three D’s with Sandi and Sally.”

Above our humble announcement, the bright bold words shouted “In the Thunderbird Showroom OPENING TONIGHT—TOPLESS CHORUS LINE.”

Inside the Thunderbird hotel beyond the glitter and the slots and crap tables a solitary figure and his guitar climbed the bare concrete stairs enclosed in the bare concrete walls when he heard the clatter of high heels bearing basically bare bodies; the chorus line descending from their dressing–make that–undressing room.

“Watch your step,” the solitary figure with the guitar mumbled, left foot, right foot. Keep to the right. Hold on to the banister.

He entered his dressing room, set down his guitar and breathed a sigh of relief and fatigue, “Two shows, one night done, about 40 nights and 80 shows to go,” he thought.

Playing to a live audience is energizing, exhilarating. Playing to the walking, leaning, sitting, and slumping dead is a grind. A live show is strenuous emotional, intellectual, even physical work. Especially if you flog the guitar and banjo with the enthusiasm Dick always did. But in turn the audience sends their energy flowing back to you. But a jaded, lifeless crowd sucks you dry.

Welcome to life onstage in a Las Vegas lounge.

The Three D’s with two talented BYU coeds Sally Flynn and Sandy Griffiths had just returned from a tour entertaining troops in Viet Nam. The popular songs, and fast paced show we developed, and–let’s be honest–the beautiful young women were a great hit with the troops. The show also lent itself to a Las Vegas venue, so we auditioned, and were booked into the Thunderbird Hotel. In wasn’t our native habitat, but we had our moments. “The Las Vegas Review and Journal” newspaper dubbed us the most talented young act on the strip. They also called us “Purity Playhouse” for our squeaky clean show.

Penrod Glazier, my bishop from back home was in Las Vegas for an educational convention. He dropped in to the lounge unannounced one night. I have been pleased over the years to remember we didn’t have to change a note or a joke in our show to make it bishop worthy.

The first night we opened in the lounge, the main show room launched their new topless musical show. Great timing. The chorus girls’ “dressing” room was a floor above us with only one set of stairs. For six weeks they often came down as we went up. I happened to be alone on my way up the stairs that first night. I thought among other things, “I have three young sons, and more children to come we hope. They will grow up in a world more and more blatantly sinful.

“My children and even grandchildren may ask me some day, ‘When you walked by those ladies, did you look.?’

“I will tell them the truth, ‘Oh, I had to look; otherwise I would have tripped and fallen on my face The trick is to focus on good things. I kept my eyes down and could see. They all had very pretty feet.’”

Just for laughs

In our family we take being funny seriously. While other families were building financial empires, creating musical ensembles, sports dynasties, or Nobel prize winners, we were hanging out on the kitchen table and bar, spinning yarns and snapping punch lines. And where has it gotten us? No platinum records or Pulitzer prizes, no Rhodes scholarships, no Olympic medals. The only thing we have to show for it is whenever we get together its a pandemonium of belly laughing, knee slapping, stitch ripping jokes and stories, And I’m afraid we are passing this balderdash on to the next generation.  The cousins smile and joke with each other, play games, and frolic endlessly. The older ones try their best stories out on the adults as they move from the minor leagues to the majors.

I tried to teach them to be more sober and restrained growing up, but they didn’t take me seriously.  Could have been the fake arrow through my head and the rubber chicken hanging out of my pocket.  The best we parents could do was decree rules to the game: Lift people with your jokes.  Appreciate everybody’s contribution.  Cheer other people on.  Enjoy and build.  No risque stuff–that’s a crutch.  Use your humor to smooth the rough edges of social interaction. Use it to include, not exclude people.

I am entertained and pleased that our children know how to deliver a punch line each in their own way, but I’m even more happy with the nature of their humor. No put downs, no attempts to top each other, just enjoying every joke that every person comes up with..

Two of our sons David, and John have turned their humor into a profession, and have their own radio show. They and Matt had a comedy act in high school and college.  John, Tom, and Josh took the training and then participated in “Comedy Sportz.” This is a franchised training program which prepares you to take part in a weekly improv comedy stage show. The funny people are divided into two teams, and participate in various comedy games. The audience decides which team won that particular game, the scores accumulate, and one team wins the night.

It is all in good fun, but it also teaches some good skills of stage presence, thinking on your feet, and even teamwork.

One of the valuable techniques they worked on in training was the principle of “Yes and,” and not “Yes but.”  “Yes and” is the comedy sports equivalent of the assist in basketball or the lateral in football or rugby. It is taking the ball (joke) from the previous person and building on it. “Yes but” is a head-on tackle that stops progress in its tracks. “Yes but,” can also kill productive thinking in a committee, or work team, or just about any group including, especially, families.

In college I was campaign manager for a young woman running for a student body office. She had already picked her committee, and one of them should really have been an executioner by profession.  He killed every idea we came up with.  I was no genius in my job, but having Mr. No in my ear every meeting didn’t help.  Bottom line, we managed to have her lose to a write in candidate. Failure second only to losing to “none of the above.”

In this case, it took us the several weeks of campaigning, and the election to show us how miserably we had failed. In other situations including families, it could take years. But in improv comedy it takes a nanosecond. A negative comment or insinuation is a point blank blast to the forehead with an elephant gun. “Yes and…” may change the direction of the comedy but it keeps it moving forward. That’s also vital in most of our social interactions. I like to think our “Yes and…” way of enjoying each other’s comic quips is one of the keys to our success.”

One of the best compliments to our family humor came to me from a federal judge who is also our son John’s (and coincidentally our daughter Callie’s) father-in-law. Judge Monroe McKay several times said to me, “You know, John is really funny. But more than that; when I’m around him I’m funny.”