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Confessions of a Nittany Lion

If we’re smart and fortunate, we learn from our mistakes. We’re sorry for our sins and the damage we have done. We seek and find redemption. We try to be better people. We strive for peace of mind.

That’s the message I conveyed last Saturday as I stood before strangers and dear old friends at the State College Barnes & Noble for a reading and discussion of my first novel. The event benefitted the Mid-County Literacy Council and helped spread the power of reading, writing and thinking.

Everyone deserves such power.

I hope everyone who connected with me there sensed how glad I was to see them and know they are my friends.

Yeah, I guess I am Penn State.

I’m a 1974 graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in Community Development.

As a longtime newspaper columnist and news radio talk show host, I honed the critical thinking skills I learned in college to increase my sharp critiques. Dissecting politics and religion creates conflict and I thrived on conflict. People hated me for disagreeing with them. So I doubled up and refused to quit.

Some Penn Staters even got mad at me.

“We are,” they screamed.

“I am,” I said.

An independent thinker who daily charged into chaos waving free expression as a battle flag, my reputation as a relentless truth hunter intensified. So did the risk factors for keeping my job. At 67, after getting fired in the pillaged aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, I’m no longer the journalist I was for more than three decades, racking up dozens of statewide journalism awards and one special Scripps Howard Foundation national award for my service to a free press.

I’m a novelist now, an outlaw novelist who thinks more like an Old West gunfighter than a preacher man. Billing myself as a “wordfighter,” I’m a quick draw prose artist who knows the pen is mightier than the sword. But I’m on the same mission of truth that drove me as a newspaper columnist and guerrilla radio reporter and commentator. That mission involves edgy reading, writing and thinking.

That mission involves us all.

I lived in State College for almost five years, about as long as I lived on the Central Coast of California. To this day I carry lessons from those years everywhere I go. As a young man I got kicked out of Beaver Hall for fighting, briefly got barred from the Brewery saloon for my irreverent drinking habits, and found my way to Florida on a Greyhound bus three credits short of graduation.

I worked as a Ft. Lauderdale bouncer, used drugs without a prescription, and flew back home broke when I knew my time would run out if I stayed on the beach and somebody shot me.

Returning to Penn State I finished those last three credits of a first-year biology course, graduated and, after an explosive career as a wild newsman, rode off into the sunset. But don’t dare call me a senior citizen. Don’t use the word retirement. My golden years are blinding flashes of light meant to illuminate the darkest caves and maybe still fire sparks to burn some bridges behind me.

That’s why it felt good to go back to State College with a book notched into my belt. I’m proud of “Blood Red Syrah,” a gruesome California wine country thriller I shared for a good cause. As part of the November 17 Mid-State Literacy Council Bookfair, I read from and signed copies of my first novel at the Barnes & Noble, 365 Benner Pike, in State College.

The novel is a psychedelic trip through the chaos of an increasingly ruthless society marred by violence, bigotry and hopelessness. Yet, the search for truth prevails, resulting in enlightenment and peace of mind. The moral of the story is that struggle is worth the ride.

After the signing, we gathered at “Olde New York,” a traditional five-star Irish/German bar and restaurant my friend Kenny runs with his wife, Susan. John, Jenny, Liz, Bridget, Jack, Chuck and even strangers laughed and talked and wished me well, joining in sharing memories. A guy in the bar I never met wanted a book so I went out to the car and pulled one from the trunk. Better than Paladin – have novel will travel.

I even had a chance to introduce myself to Jack and Grace’s new son, John, who I told to call me “Gobble,” the name Jack’s brothers and sisters have called me since they were wee ones and couldn’t pronounce “Corbett.”

Stephanie and I checked into the Nittany Lion Inn, had breakfast at the Corner Room, and drove by my old address where the former Army barracks stood on the way to the stadium.

So, you can go home again – at least to where you once lived. The trick is learning from youthful excess and taking those lessons seriously enough to benefit yourself and others. That value is precious no matter how old you are. That value is called wisdom.

You can teach an old lion new tricks.