Posted by: Brad Nixon | November 11, 2009

Attila the Attack Roach and Nights With Jackie

I was immediately suspicious of the car parked in front of my house when I got home last night. Mine is not the kind of neighborhood where a 1978 Cutlass with Ohio plates parked in front of one’s house goes unnoticed. Everyone has driveways. No one has cars from ’78 unless they’re under a tarp in the garage. There it was, though, sort of hunkered down at the curb. The single streetlight alloted to us by the citizens of California who excused themselves from paying taxes with Prop. 13 shed enough light that I could see the driver’s-side door open as I got out of my car to head into the house. I didn’t retreat, but I was certainly on my guard as a male figure emerged. Then, in an instant, I recognized him and suspicion gave way to amazement. That bald head glistening in the dim street…

“Bob? Bob Brumfield?”

“The same, kid.”

“Umm… well, hi Bob. It’s good to see you. Hell, it’s GREAT to see you. I, uh, thought you were, uh…”

“In Ohio?”

“Yeah. Sure. In Ohio.”

“Been traveling. Needed to get out of Indian Hill, for cryin’ out loud. Place has gone to hell. Everywhere’s gone to hell, in fact, so I figured I’d come out here and take a look at a really dysfunctional state.”

He had walked up the drive toward me. It was Bob, all right: that shiny dome, the nose, the florid face that was almost more of a caricature than the line drawing that used to accompany his columns in the Cincinnati Enquirer. Those were the days I couldn’t wait for Brumfield to file a weather column in which he took off on some lunatic riff of fancy that brought glee to my teenage soul. I invited him in and gave him a glass of wine. He looked tired. A long trip from wherever he’d been, for certain.

“So, uh, haven’t read anything of yours lately. Got anything in the works?”

“Nah. All the old themes kinda played out, and, criminy, the idiots on talk radio have misogyny, misdeeds and myopia covered, 24/7.”

“What about Attila the Attack Roach, or the good ol’ Mount Adams Army of Liberation?”

He snorted. “Mount Adams. My god, the only thing that would cause an uprising there would be a spike in the prices at Starbucks.” He paused. His eyes dimmed a little. “Attila’s gone. Mercenary work in central Africa. Nah, thought I’d hit the road, maybe find some new angles.”

And then I knew what it was, but I hesitated. Finally I said, “You’re looking for her, aren’t you?”

He looked at me, his eyes brightened, then he looked down at his glass before he asked, “I don’t suppose you’ve seen her?”

This was tough. “Bob, no one’s seen Jackie O. for a long time. I don’t think you’ll find her.”

He sighed, drained the rest of the glass and leaned back. “Well, hell, there’s gotta be something out there worth a line or two. What about this cyberspace thing? You think it’s worth a shot?”

My mind reeled at the thought of a blogosphere inhabited by Brumfield. “Bob, it could be your oyster. You’d kill ’em out there.”

“Well, thanks for the drink, kid. Maybe I’ll see what’s there.”

I didn’t walk out with him. I heard the big Olds fire up and then head up the hill. I missed him already.

——— note ———–

Bob Brumfield wrote a regular column for the Cincinnati Enquirer for approximately 15 years, from about 1966 onward. He came to the attention of the teen-aged Nixon when he was writing the weather column, which he extended into free-form extrapolations of imagination. Eventually he had a four-times-weekly column in the paper. In 1980 his self-published collection of pieces, “Brumfield!” appeared, and is out of print. You can find copies on online sellers. Mr. Brumfield died in 1981.

I located this link to a story about his book in a back issue of Cincinnati Magazine. which includes some photos and the caricature that accompanied his column. I’d be glad for any pointers that anyone has to other work of his that’s available.

For more encounters with Bob, click on “Brumfield” in the “Categories” widget in the right-hand column.

© 2012 Brad Nixon

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Responses

  1. I am sitting here in Ohio, not more than 60 miles from where Bob penned those columns that my Dad would enjoy with his morning toast and coffee and occaisionally share with me, and I am wondering not how Bob found you in sunny California in 2009 but how he found you last night and you were able to post a message about it tomorrow. I am reading this entry on November 10th and “Brad” posted it on November 11th! (If that’s his real name. I know most of those famous writers use pseudonyms but I am not sure if this is a nom de plume or a nom de guerre. I think it is more likely a nickname he received from his father in honor of his favorite fastener.) All in all, I am happy to be counted among the few who can recall playing guitars with you on the roof of your front porch on Warren St. Welcome to the blogosphere, Harriet was wondering when you’d get here!

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    • Tom, thanks for reading. The clock thing is odd. Their “day” seems to turn over at around 4 or 5 in the afternoon Pacific Time, which tells me that their servers must be in Australia or more likely Kuala Lumpur. Hell, maybe they’re in my own company’s data center in K-L!
      I hope you’re still playing the guitar. I’ve been finally learning to PLAY the darned thing. I can read notes again and everything. Robert’s still the king, though.
      Take care.

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  2. _Golf in Ohio and Other Oddities_

    Since I moved to S. Cal. in 1974, I haven’t thought much about my 10 year stint in Ohio. Until I read your article, that is. I’m a VIrginia native, and have returned to Va. on vacation several times. But not to Ohio.

    I guess in some sort of Proustian moment, your article transported me back in time to my teenage years when I lived in Ohio and played golf at NCR Country Club. My dad worked for NCR in the 1960’s, so I had a club membership. $50 a year at a private club with two fabulous 18 hole courses designed by legendary golf architect Dick Wilson. Unbelievable to contemplate such a membership at that price now-a-days. Wilson didn’t need to transport any trees from places unknown to build the NCR courses (as is done here in California). He just cut those holes out of the existing forest. If you strayed off the fairway, you were in either of two cuts of rough: very high rough, or trees.

    NCR is where I learned to play golf. I didn’t realize then how spoiled I was to be playing at such immaculately maintained and beautiful courses. (Since leaving NCR, later I found out.)

    I was tought by one of the pros at NCR. He always encouraged me to practice. But I really only liked one part, or maybe two, of golf, so I never became really good at it. Putting (the most important part if you wanted to be good) was boring to me. So forget it. What I liked was hitting irons. I was just a skinny 5’10” 120 lb., kid with pencil arms and hands like a girl’s. So no power with woods was going to happen. All I could count on was accuracy there. But irons. Well, I kind of got those. 5 iron, 170 yards; 3 iron, 190 yards. And so on. And very accurate. A nice little draw. That I could do.

    So I never had the competitive urge, because I was never that interested in scoring. Lousy putter. Couldn’t care. Average driver. Maybe 220-250 yds. Whatever. Just liked to hit those irons hard. In those days, I shot in the 30’s on the North front nine; a little higher on the back. The North was for the average goflers. Low 6,000 yds. The South Course, the “pro” course — don’t even think about shooting in the 70’s.

    I was on my high school golf team in Ohio. Why, I’m not sure as I think about it now. You know me, I’m not competitive. Anyway, maybe it was a good fit, because the “golf coach” didn’t know anything about golf. He taught driver’s ed. But he needed to sound like he knew what he was doing, so he’d blast me, even if I’d won my match. Guess I didn’t win by a large enough margin. (Funny how you remember these little things that happened decades ago.)Anyway, he wasn’t going to blast the “stars.” The really good golfers. I was only the No. 4 man on a 4-man team (plus some alternates/”bench sitters”).

    One day after the 1969 PGA Championship was over at the NCR South Course that August, a couple of my “stars” asked me if they could play the South Course with me. Sure, why not? They wanted to test their ability. They had no idea what they were in for. They were dreaming of 70’s. Are you kidding me? Our club pros and former club record holders couldn’t break 80 after that course was made ready for the PGA. Yes, it was a rude awakening for the “stars.” Suffice it to say, the Course won handily.

    I watched the pros all week at the 1969 PGA at my course. I discovered then that they play in a different universe than I, and that no space shuttle was ever going to land me on their planet. No, just sit back, watch, and enjoy their magic.

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    • That’s rich. I worked with a couple of guys at NCR who could play the South to within a few strokes of par, but NOT when it was set up for the PGA! Must’ve been fun.

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  3. Actually, the club pro was very embarrassed. My “stars” were crestfallen. You kind of know where you are on the food chain when Jack Nicklaus, who had heard about the NCR South when he was a boy, wanted to test his skills at NCR as a teenager in the 1950’s. He shot under par even then. Of course, he nearly won the Masters as an amateur. I just enjoyed the South for its majestic beauty. Guess it appealed to my artistic sensibilities. Never had enough ability to play it well. It WAS fun for me to watch the touring pros. They, to use Bob Jones’ quote about Nicklaus, “play a game with which I am not familiar.”

    Oh, yes, a footnote. The NAME of my “coach,” and driver’s ed teacher: Mr. Fender. True.

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  4. Nice to read your post about Bob. I’m another Cincinnatian who misses his columns and him. My favorite column was the one he wrote about the Cincinnati weather information number, which was always busy. It was busy for him too, so he went down to the weather bureau to investigate, finding an office filled with cobwebs and mummified bodies, all dead since 1890.

    Haven’t lived in Cincinnati snce 1984, but just today my copy of Brumfield arrived, which I’d ordered. Am going to share it with my wife, who hasn’t heard of him yet. Appreciate that you incuded the article link. Maybe someday someone can bring out a complete collection of all of his columns, especially the controversial ones.

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    • Great to hear from you. Let us know how the book reads … I haven’t read it, myself! Thanks.

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      • About halfway through the book – my wife and I are reading it together. It’s very funny, and some of the articles selected are truly sublime. Favorites so far include helping his uncle shop for a new pair of glasses and the columns inspired by his London vacation (I spent two months in London last year, so they were especially nice to read). One critic on the book would be there is no data as to the original publication date of the various columns. That’s something that would be nice to know.

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  5. I grew up in Cincinnati, and both my late Dad and I loved Brumfield’s column. Brumfield and my Dad both were originally from Kentucky. For one of my Dad’s birthdays, I bought him Brumfield’s book. I took it down to the Enquirer Building and Brumfield autographed it for me: “From one Kentucky boy to another”. I still have that book among some keepsakes. He was a funny, funny guy.

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  6. I just happened to luckily blunder on your blog while doing some research on Bob Brumfield. I was a copyboy and general assignment reporter,

    alongside Jim Knippenberg, from 1965 to 1970. Bob was infinitely more entertaining every day than the mere abbreviated product that we all read. A lot of Academy Award material wound up on the cutting room floor as a result of vetting by the news editor. When Bob wasn’t wearing his super hero costume he was reduced back to copy editor whose daily mundane tasks were to correct typos, write headlines and make the barely pubescent pool of reporters aware of the Enquirer stylebook. Bob was easily 25 years the junior of all of the other occupants around the horseshoe shaped copydesk. What a dilemma for an ex-tailgunner. He wasn’t socially contemporaneous with either his workmates, whom generally regarded him as a beatnik wannabe, and the anti-war crowd from Mt. Adams as a likeable hawk. These were contentious years and the newsroom was as separated by the politics of war versus patriotism as the campus and streets. The weekly AP and UPI KIA lists which stretched the length of the newsroom and sports department during and after the Tet offensives with one name per line tore the heart from everyone present…every week. Bob morphed into Harpo Marx and Bob Hope when we needed him most. These were also the times of the Cincinnati race riots and two fatal passenger plane crashes on approach. Bob’s true love throughout all of this was also his escape. Bob lavished a thousand hours restoring his @24 foot cabin cruiser. All of this almost came to naught when the Coastl Guard had to salvage his baby when the flooding Ohio River speared her with a small tree. Bob was so dismayed that he said he’d sell her then and there for $200. I took him up. After three weeks of clean up and repair, I sold her back to Bob reminding him that my name was Black, not the Red Cross. Bob was pals with Ed Carr, the photo editor and, Ollie James, another columnist whom Bob liked, respected and received support from his similarly irreverent column style.
    I hope you found a tidbit or two to help flesh out Bob’s really giving persona. I too, miss him terribly. If you need some info, stories or myth about this really private guy, feel free to contact me.

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    • James,
      It’s a great pleasure to have your comment. Mr. Brumfield’s fans will envy the opportunity you had to know him in person, and not just as the persona we met in the pages of the Enquirer. It’s sobering to think of this writer who, to my teenage awareness, was as cool and current as anyone I was reading also putting in the hours as a copy editor. I’ll be in touch with you to follow up, but thanks for commenting here for the benefit of all the Under Western Skies community.

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  7. I’m not sure what it was last night that made me think of Bob Brumfield or to do a search, Brad, but I found my way here because of it and appreciate what you’ve put together.

    I remember, as a young local photographer & hopeful writer in the early 70’s and not long out of high school, sitting in City View Tavern in Mt Adams and talking with the guy next to me over beer about things in general and places we’d been and liked.

    I related I’d grown up in Europe as an Army brat and had lived all over the US as well, but that I really appreciated the small town friendliness and geographical variety of the seven hills of Cincinnati.

    I told him I knew of Romulus and Remus and had admired the small statue in Eden Park, and of Cincinnatus and the ties made to George Washington.

    He told me Winston Churchill once said that Cincinnati is the “Most beautiful of inland cities in America” and that Cincinnati had the first professional fire department and the first professional baseball team.

    We talked about planes and how I’d learned to identify some military planes as they flew overhead.

    It was that kind of conversation; trivial facts and remembrances and reveling in that we’d found another who relished such things.

    We finally introduced ourselves to each other, and I found I had been talking to Bob Brumfield, who I knew of, admired, and appreciated from his writings in the Enquirer.

    Here are two other things from our conversation that stick with me:

    “If you want to be a journalist, go where the action is. Pack your camera and pen and go to the trouble spots of the world…”

    “There’s only two places in the world I’d rather be, and that’s here in Cincinnati or in London…but London has too much fog.”

    One showed his good sense and experience, the other showed his great sense of humor.

    I was honored to sit and share stories over beers with him.

    Thanks for making a place to remember Bob Brumfield.

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    • JP,
      Thank you for adding to our Brumfieldian anecdotes. I — and perhaps the majority of his onetime readers — think of him primarily as the author of astoundingly funny flights of whimsy and fantasy, punctuated by more serious writing/reportage. But you’ve caught on another of the threads of his life. The former tailgunner was knowledgeable about aviation, and it would be interesting to know what he might have written on the subject that I’m unaware of.
      And, did you pursue that path into journalism?
      Thanks for the memory of an encounter with the head of the Mount Adams Army of Liberation (MAAL).

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      • Brad – I was under the impression then, and since, that he was–in one way or anothe–the aviation columnist for the Enquirer as well, and think it was that knowledge that prompted me to talk about bring able to identify C-130’s etc. I’d read it somewhere that he was also the aviation writer or he said so or something. I don’t doubt that there must be some aviation writing of his out there somewhere or in an archives somewhere.

        Nope, never went the full-fledged journalist route, but have always documented in image and writing that which I run across, particularly if in some way it shows the ever-increasing homogenization of, and decreasing regional identity in, America.

        Thanks again for providing a place for conversations about Bob Brumfield.

        JP

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      • The Enquirer role of aviation writer was held at that time by Emil Dansker. He and Bob often bantered about all types of aircraft since Bob actually flew as a tail gunner and saw every variation of military aircraft. We had two passenger jets crash short of the runway at CVG during this time and having these two on deck answered some aircraft construction and traffic questions. Ed Carr, the photo editor and I were arranging to buy a gyrocopter we were naming Black Carr with a hearse on the tail. Our flying ardor cooled somewhat. Emil went on to a distinguished career in writing and teaching journalism and retired with inductions into prestigious organizations. After I left @ 1970 Bob may well have written aviation articles under the mantle of Aviation Editor. It was a position at the Enquirer that often required other fill in work as required. At this time the Alexander Proudfoot Co. was doing a time study on the amount of heds written and this was gathered up by the copyboy and sent in an interoffice envelope up to the ivory tower. Gathering this at nights end after many had drank their lunch was a pain so I worked out an average and varied it every night. This made me a revolutionary hero to Bob and increased my cigarette and liquor orders from Ky. Bob stayed actively interested in aviation and was a volunteer at Wright Patterson AFB in Dayton Ohio only 30 miles away. When winter months took him away from his beloved boat he would often seek kinship at Wright Pat. with those other irrepressibly brave flyers who could hang around the remaining few flying examples of what they grew up in and all too often died in. Bob was a special guy that we don’t often get to read, much less hold down the fort with him.

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  8. When I moved from Cincinnati to Las Vegas in 1974, for a year or so my best friend, George Grace would cut out Bob Brumfield’s columns from the Enquire and send them to me. I enjoyed every one of them. We referred to them as “Brummies” and read them every day. I was saddened by his death and the lack of his humor.

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  9. Thirty years after his passing our family STILL talks about his columns. Funny funny guy.

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  10. What’s up, I read your blog on a regular basis. Your writing style is witty, keep up the good work!

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  11. Happened to this site after ‘googleing’ Bob’s name. I remember my parents laughing at his articles but never read them myself until after I met Bob and realized who he was. My friend and I (early 20 something horse girls at the time) happened upon Bob late one evening, actually early one morning, at one of his local haunts, The Terrace Bar in Montgomery. Ohio. Being the guy he was, he always bought the young ladies drinks. We of course, as broke young ladies, let him. And the friendship grew, he told us in confidence that he was renting a house in Indian Hill that had a barn and the rest as they say was history, We boarded our horses there for many years and enjoyed every minute of his company and humor. If any of you remember Floyd the cat, he was real. The cat belonged to my friend and we brought him from our previous barn. Floyd & Bob bonded. Many evenings we would sit by the barn at a picnic table and share stories. Priceless! Have to say though, when the fog rolled in off the fields and it got a bit creepy, Bob made his flimsy excuses to get to his house. We all actually believed he was scared out of his wits by what the rest of us thought….the barn was haunted. Bob was to have had an ‘experience’ in the apartment above the barn where he lived while the house was being fixed up prior to him moving in. As the story goes he fired a shotgun at a door in his apartment that lead to the loft. He never talked about it. My friend & I had our own ‘experience’ in that barn several years later. We never doubted that the story was true. 35 ish years later, I still drive by his old driveway, sadly the historic barn & house are gone. I always smile as I go by and remember a wonderful part of my life and am so grateful he was in it.

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    • Malia,
      I’m delighted to hear from someone who knew Mr. Brumfield. You’re in elite company, and were acquainted with him outside the boundaries of his role as an excellent writer and serious journalist (which he was). Thank you very much. Feel free to contribute any other Brumfieldian anecdotes!

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      • I can see Bob blowing a shotgun hole in his door more as drawing a line in the barn boards with a Ghostbusters edge. Although since Bob has gone careening into the great perhaps himself I am sure that some ghost butt was kicked as payback for all of the sleepless nights these critters inflicted. It is too bad that the house and barn are now gone because I would have invested a couple of days or nights to poke the ghosts in the eye with a stick. Bob would have played along if he could. In 1969 Bob and I were assigned to the newsroom and city desk between 7 and 9pm when everyone else went down to the Cricket to drink their lunch. Bob sat at the copy desk and worked on tomorrows column. I sat at the city desk and answered the phones and did the Metro page layout. Amberly Village and Indian Hills were the best addresses in town. We got a call from a guy in Indian hills whom had found a note on his windshield from a guy that ran out of gas and siphoned his because he was new on the job and afraid of being fired. So this guy says about a week later he gets a letter from this guy that took his gas all sorry and repenting with 2 tickets to the Bengals game, which were impossible to get, and $10 to pay for the $1.50 worth of gas. “At last an honest man”, this guy crows to his wife. So they go to the Bengals game on Sunday and when they get back their house is cleaned out of all valuables wall to wall. So I tell this guy I’ll byline his story and see it gets put in the Sunday paper again. I hang up and Bob screams at me that I’m an idiot. If I even put on the Metro page which he would kill at the copydesk a hundred bums would be pulling off variations of this stunt for years. Let it die dummy. He was right, I was 22 and wrong and all I could smell was that byline. There are many lessons that are not included in the Cincinnati Enquirer stylebook. Bob and the rest of the copy editors that called me over to polish my rough edges are what every copyboy turned general assignment reporter turned editor needed. Bob was one of the best guys you could sit around with until 1am and learn about everything. His WWII bomber stories were riveting but according to him every guy who climbed into a bomber had at least those quality and probably much more interesting stories. Bob and I both lived in Mt. Adams overlooking the Cincy skyline and dreaming of someday moving to Indian Hills. I’m glad he made it.

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