Archive for December 5, 2011

Green Bay Packers All-Pro Running Back Ahman Green Channels Comic Book Hero Batman and Gridiron Icons Walter Payton and Bo Jackson on the Field

December 5, 2011 3 comments

Green Bay Packers All-Pro Running Back Ahman Green Channels Comic Book Hero Batman and Gridiron Icons Walter Payton and Bo Jackson on the Field

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in The Reader (


Green Bay Packers All-Pro running back Ahman Green has a well-publicized fascination with Batman. It makes sense considering the player applies the same old-school, no-frills style to his game as the comic book caped-crusader does to crime fighting. Instead of super powers, Batman gets by with well-hewn brain and brawn. Just like his favorite action figure, the former Omaha Central High School and University of Nebraska All-American, is all about the work. Gifted with size, strength and speed, Green’s worked hard honing himself into a chiseled, fluid dynamo. He is that rare combination of plower who won’t be stopped in short-yardage situations and burner who’s a threat to go the distance on every carry.

The same way Batman disdains trendy martial arts in favor of more basic ass whuppings, Green eschews any fancy moves on the field and, instead, sheds tacklers with brute force, cat quickness, superb balance and unerring instinct.

While his foes on the field may not be as maniacal as the Green Goblin, the NFL’s second leading rusher from a year ago confronts his own terrors in the form of bull rushing linemen, heat-seeking backers and hard-hitting corners. Green’s slashing style may deflect the full brunt of hits, but he still absorbs the force of a car crash every time he gets thrown down, blown up or taken out like a ten-pin. He just keeps on coming though, with a bring-it-on durability that’s his trademark.

And much like his alter ego has a dark side, Green does, too. He was charged with fourth-degree domestic assault against his first wife, who filed for divorce soon after the couple were cited for disturbing the peace in 2002. “I had a lot of stuff going on,” he told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “Outside of football I had to juggle a lot of things.” Besides dealing with problems at home, he struggled healing from a series of nagging injuries and finding time to complete his college studies at UNL. Then, last year he got his degree and found a new bride. There’s a sense that by dealing with his personal issues and getting well again, emotionally and physically, he set the stage for his record-setting, busting-loose 2003 performance.

Coming off three straight 1,000-yard years, Green raised his game to a new level in ‘03, setting personal and club records for most carries, 355, rushing yards, 1883, and combined yards, 2,250, in a season, as well as most yards in a game, 218, and longest run from scrimmage, 98. Barring injury, he appears primed, at age 27, to challenge some of those same marks. His 1,883 rushing yards was among the highest single season figures in NFL history. At this pace, he breaks Packers great Jim Taylor’s career rushing milestones in 2005, and gets himself mentioned with the game’s all-time best backs. A case can be made for his inclusion now.

Records are meaningful to Green in-so-far as they are a benchmark for his own progress. “That’s important to me because if a person doesn’t set goals, where are they going? I keep setting goals. After I knock ‘em out, I put another one in and I just keep going. That’s it.” Coming from the tradition-rich Nebraska program made his adjustment to the storied Packers franchise a little easier. “It was kind of old-hat by the time I got here,” he said. “I know what’s happened here in the past and I’m like, Let’s make some new history and let’s roll.”

After a slow start in the NFL with Seattle, where he was never given a chance to be an every down back, he’s evolved into the league’s prototype workhorse. An average game now finds him lugging the ball from scrimmage 20 or more times and catching three or four passes out of the backfield, not to mention all the times he’s called on to block. With a maturity that belies his age, Green is putting the team on his back and taking a pounding, while dealing out some serious hurting, too. It’s just the way he did it as a junior at NU, when he had more than 2,200 combined yards on 300-plus touches (counting bowl stats). With his luxury package design of power and explosiveness, he’s dominating the field again, only against the best players in the world. Taking on such a big role doesn’t faze him. “I don’t even look at it as that. I don’t worry about what’s on my shoulders or what’s not. I just go out there and play football. Whatever happens, it happens. That’s it,” he said.

Erased now is the tag of fumbler that dogged him from Seattle and that surfaced last year when he had trouble holding onto the ball. “Oh, yeah, it’ll probably never be forgotten, but it’s behind me. It’s definitely behind me. But some people never let stuff go,” he said. “I just go out there and play every game knowing that stuff can happen. That’s just part of football. You’re competing. It’s a back and forth battle. You’re not going to have a perfect game. Well, I don’t want to say never.”

That he remains productive and healthy carrying such a heavy load defies the odds and speaks not only to his good fortune but to his great work ethic. His penchant for paying the price with grueling workouts in the off-season is something he took from his real-life idol, Walter Payton, a righteous back Batman would have loved. The late-great Chicago Bear was renowned for his toughness on the field and his extreme conditioning drills off it that culminated in running, full out, a hell hill few dared testing and fewer yet conquered.

“What I do when I am working out, whether lifting weights or running, is I push myself to the end, to where I ain’t got nothing left,” Green said. “That’s what Walter Payton did when he worked out during the off-season. The intensity of his off-season workouts was higher than any training camp or game. He pushed himself harder than anybody else did, so that when the season came along he was in top shape and he didn’t worry about being tired or getting hurt.”

To give himself that same edge, Green religiously pumps iron and runs stairs until his muscles and lungs burn. “If I’m going to be in the right kind of shape, I’ve got to make sure I have my butt in the weight room lifting weights — getting stronger, bigger, faster — because if I don’t I’m going to start getting hurt” and wearing down, he said. “I’m trying to find a hill to run the way Walter Payton did.”

Payton also embodied the warrior figure Green sees himself as. Growing up in L.A., where he lived before returning to his native Omaha for high school, Green adopted a style Sweetness made famous. “He was the kind of runner I was. I was scrappy. I never went down easy. I was just tough. That was something I learned out in L.A. because, you know, you have to be tough to get along in this sport, especially there, where the competition’s real high. And that was the way my idol ran. He ran tough. He didn’t die easy. He was just the type of running back I Iike.” For his pre-game inspirational ritual, Green watches the Pure Payton highlight tape.

Bo Jackson was another back he patterned himself after. “He was blessed with the ability. He was fast and he was big and he took that and he ran very hard with it.”

The legendary feats of Payton-Jackson and the mythic heroics of Batman aside, Green’s work ethic springs from a more prosaic source, his parents, Edward and Glenda Scott. “My parents were older, and with that I developed that work ethic that if I want something I’m going to have to work for it — it’s not going to be given to me,” he said. “And some days it’s going to hurt, but if you really want it, you’ve got to fight through the hurt, fight through the pain, fight through the sweat, the blood and the tears to get where you want to be. And that’s how I think.”

If he could, Green said he would incorporate into his regimen a drill that simulates the hits he takes during a game. “I wish I could, because that would be my workout every single day of the week, but you can’t. You can’t imitate a football game.”

Getting himself ready to weather the hits and the upsets of a pro football career is all about focus, he said. “My philosophy on life is, just attend to the things you can control like your body. I control my body. I control what goes into my body. With my job, I’ve got to make sure I’m eating the right foods and that I’m in the right kind of shape. Anything on the outside — the stuff that you don’t hold in your hand and that you can’t control — don’t worry about it.”



Consistent with this no-nonsense approach is Green’s grounding in the fundamentals of the game. “I was fortunate to have a line of good coaches that taught me the basics. That’s the biggest thing,” he said. “Once you get taught that at an early age, everything else will come easier and you’ll be able to excel faster just by knowing the fundamentals of your sport.”

Green got his football start playing in Los Angeles midget leagues. He said the talent pool there steeled him for his return to Nebraska. “I played pretty well and I knew if I could survive out there, which I did, I could come out pretty good in high school ball here.” Once back in Omaha, where he lived with his grandma, he made his first splash on the local gridiron starring for the North Omaha Bears, which he helped lead to the 1991 national youth football (ages 13-14) title in Daytona, Florida. He began his prep career at North High, playing little as a freshman before starting on the varsity as a sophomore, when he ran for more than 1,000 yards. Two decades earlier his uncle, Michael Green, ran roughshod for North.

Ahman then heeded the wishes of his mother to attend her alma mater, Central, where he transferred prior to his junior year. He said switching schools was more about honoring his mom than any dissatisfaction with North or any desire to join Central’s fabled roster of running backs. “My mom wanted me to graduate from the high school she graduated from as a keep-it-in-the-family type thing.”

As far as Central’s rich tailback legacy, he said, “I wasn’t really into it. I just knew from the year before they had a guy — Damion Morrow — running the ball real good. I knew he was there, but I didn’t know all the other running backs that came out of there, like Calvin Jones, Leodis Flowers and Keith Jones. There’s been a long line of running backs there that I didn’t know about till I got there.” One name he did hear growing up was Gale Sayers, who set an exceedingly high bar for the Eagles’ running back tradition by earning All-America honors at the University of Kansas and NFL Hall of Fame status with the Chicago Bears.

Since then, Central’s become a prime feeder of college football talent. Its pipeline of talented backs dates back to at least the late ‘50s with Roger Sayers, the older brother of Gale. The Brothers Sayers even played one season together (1960) in the same backfield. Long overshadowed by Gale, Roger was a top American top sprinter and a spectacular small college back-kick returner for then-Omaha University.

Distinguished Central backs of more recent vintage include ex-NU stars Joe Orduna (Giants, Colts), Keith Jones (Browns, Cowboys), Leodis Flowers and Calvin Jones (Raiders, Packers) and current Husker David Horne. There was also Jamaine Billups, who switched to defense at Iowa State. And there were guys with brilliant prep resumes who, for one reason or another, never duplicated that success in college. Terry Evans was one. Damion Morrow, another. After an unprecedented sophomore year in which he ran for more than 1,700 yards, Morrow shared the ball with Ahman Green his last two years at Central, when each topped 1,000 yards. The pair are on a short list of backs in Nebraska 11-man prep football history to ever rush for 1,000 or more yards in three seasons.



According to Green, Morrow was “an awesome back” and just one of many “great athletes” he was around while coming up in Omaha. “Just pure athletes. Some of them didn’t get the opportunities that I got. Damion Morrow, Ronnie Doss. Zanie Adams. Stevie Gordon. The list goes on and on.” Green is well aware of his hometown’s considerable athletic tradition and brags on it whenever he can. “I’m always defending Omaha here in Green Bay,” he said. “They’re like, ‘Who else is from Omaha?’ I tell ‘em. ‘Ya’ll just don’t know that we’ve got a great line of athletes. Not just from football, but from all other sports.’”

Knowing he’s now considered in the same company as Omaha’s athletic elite — with legends Bob Gibson, Bob Boozer, Gale Sayers, Ron Boone, Marlin Briscoe, Johnny Rodgers — makes him “proud,” he said, “because those are names I heard about and how great they were. I’m just proud, because it goes to show that my hard work has paid off for me and is continuing to pay off for me and my family.”

With most of his family still in Omaha, Green gets back often and stays active in the community. “I do a lot of stuff with the North Omaha Boys and Girls Club,” he said. “Just recently, we had our third annual high school all-star basketball night, where we had men’s and women’s games, a three-point shootout and a dunk contest.” And in that way things have of coming full circle, he will soon be teaching football basics. “This summer I’m having my first Ahman Green Youth Football Camp, for kids 8 to 14. It’s a non-contact camp for boys and girls where I teach the fundamentals.” The June 28 and 29 camp is at North High School.

After his break-out 2003 season, Green’s fame is on the rise but his ego is not. “I haven’t changed. I’m still that little kid that grew up in Los Angeles and that was born in Omaha. If you talk to my family members, they’ll tell you — I’m still Ahman.”

Coming off his monster year, when the 10-6 Packers added a wild card win before being knocked out of the playoffs by Philadelphia, Green feels the club is ready for a title run. “We’ve got the tools in line to do big things,” he said.

Heading into his seventh NFL campaign, he knows he’s in the prime of a career that also has its limits. The end isn’t in sight yet, but he knows it’s only a matter of time. “I think about it,” he said, “but it’s something where I just play it by ear, like I always do. My body will let me know if I’ve had enough. I’ll listen to that. I’ve been listening to it for awhile now. When my body says it’s enough, it’s enough.”

Any talk of walking away from football is premature as long as he stays healthy and keeps producing. Then there’s the elusive perfect game he feels may not be so impossible, after all. “I just go into every game knowing I’m going to give it my best that day for my team. Who knows? It might happen. I might have a perfect game.” KAPOW. BAM. ZOOM. No. 30 saves the day again for Gotham City, er Green Bay.

Louise Abrahamson’s legacy of giving finds perfect fit at The Clothesline, the Boys Town thrift store the octogenarian founded and still runs

December 5, 2011 2 comments

Even though I know better, I sometimes find myself making assumptions about people based solely on their appearance.  Pint-sized octogenarian Louise Abrahamson didn’t look like my idea of a dynamo not to be trifled with when I first laid eyes on her but as I soon discovered that’s exactly what she is.  This sweet little old Jewish lady has been running, variously with an iron fist and a velvet glove, a thrift shop at the Catholic run Boys Town for decades now and she shows no signs of slowing down.  This story of a Jew deeply embedded at Boys Town reminded me of the deep relationship that Boys Town founder Father Edward Flanagan enjoyed with Jewish attorney Henry Monsky – a story I wrote about and that you can find on this blog.  While Monsky’s contributions were more advisory, legal, and monetary, Louise’s are more cultural, charitable, and practical.  My story about Louise that follows originally appeared in the Jewish Press.

Louise Abrahamson’s legacy of giving finds perfect fit at The Clothesline, the Boys Town thrift store the ocotgenarian founded and still runs

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in the Jewish Press


Eighty-nine years ago, Omaha Jewish leader Henry Monsky befriended an Irish Catholic priest with whom he shared a dream of creating a safe haven for troubled youths. The priest found a site, but lacked funds. Monsky, a successful attorney and inveterate do-gooder, lent Rev. Edward Flanagan $90 for the first month’s rent on the original Boys Town building in downtown Omaha. Besides serving, pro bono, as attorney for both the home and the late Fr. Flanagan, Monsky was a member of the Boys Town board of directors from its 1917 inception until his death in 1947. His support of Fr. Flanagan and the youth care program got other civic-business leaders to follow suit. The rest is history. As Boys Town’s approach to serving at-risk children caught on, donations poured in and the organization expanded. Now, it’s become a much replicated national model and the names Fr. Flanagan and Boys Town are synonymous with youth care worldwide.

The role Monsky played in the then-fledging institution’s founding is even portrayed in the 1938 Oscar-winning film Boys Town.

Twenty-six years ago, an Omaha Jewish woman named Louise Abrahamson, a former legal stenographer, small business owner, retailer, grant writer, fundraiser and political advisor, got the idea of starting a thrift shop to outfit children at the home with new clothes and things. At the time, she was a secretary and much more at Boys Town. Struck by how little new arrivals had in the way of clothes or other possessions, she took it upon herself to solicit donations from clothing and sundry manufacturers. Donated goods began arriving at her home and were stored in her garage. She distributed the gifts to Boys Town residents and to other organizations helping families and children. Before long, the operation outgrew her garage and moved to new quarters on campus.

Today, she operates out of a retail store-like setting called The Clothesline. The volume of goods that comes in year-round is enough to keep the store’s neatly dressed shelves, bins and racks filled and to take up floor-to-ceiling sections of a warehouse storage area. At any given time the inventory — a typical shipment contains hundreds or thousands of items — includes everything from apparel to accessories to toiletries to toys. Each box must be unpacked, sorted and labeled. In 2005 alone she collected merchandise worth a combined commercial value of $1.3 million, a record year. And that’s only counting donations of $1,000 or more.

There, she applies her well-practiced people skills and business acumen — “I’ve done a lot of things in my life” — to sweet talk corporations out of in-kind gifts and to ease the transition displaced kids face miles away from home. All her considerable time on the project is given as a volunteer.

More than just a place where children get a new set of duds, The Clothesline is where kids find a friend in Abrahamson they can always confide in.

“She is so wonderful to all these kids. When they come in they get a hug and kiss,” said Betty Rubin, a friend and fellow volunteer at the store. “This is what makes it tick — the warmth of it. I mean, it’s very personal to her.”

“Louise is one of those rare people who flourishes by helping others,” said Fr. Val Peter, recently stepped down as executive director of Girls and Boys Town. “Her joy is in giving to others. She is an expert at human relations. She can talk major manufacturing reps into helping us and she has a way with the kids, too. She is an enormously happy person, and to be that happy you have to work at it.”

“This is my life,” Louise said by way of explaining why, at age 86, she still works at the store four days a week. “I get a lot of pleasure out of this. It’s just kind of a challenge to see if people remember me and send me stuff I ask for for the kids.”

Besides, the need that inspired her to start the store in the first place, is still there. Then, like now, newcomers arrive with few possessions and little trust. If anything, she said, kids today present “a lot more problems than when I first came here. I have just taken it into my heart to care about the kids. Generally, when they come in, I don’t settle for a handshake. I have a hug. I want them to know I truly care what happens to them. That, to me, is what sets the pace for a youngster. Rather than have them feel like a stranger or a truant, I want them to feel welcome,” said the former Louise Miller, an Omaha native and Central High graduate. “That’s why I tell them, ‘We want you here. It’s a great place to be. Make the most of it. If you take advantage of what we offer, we’ll never let you down.’ I love that about Boys Town. I like what we do for children.”

“Louise is a great ambassador for those kids,” Girls and Boys Town Public Relations Director John Melingagio said. “She manages to take some of the fear and anxiety away for them.”

On a typical day at the store, the pint-sized Abrahamson, crisply-attired in a pants and sweater suit and her hair nicely coiffured, is seated at her command center at the front of the shop, her phone, computer and files within easy reach. An adult man saunters in with a teenage boy trying hard to suppress his unease. The man’s a campus family teacher and the youth a newbie in need of threads to replace the banned gang clothes he’s come with.

She greets the teen. “Good morning. How are you?” He says, “What’s up?” “And you are?” “Tavonne,” he tells her. “Where you from?” “Baltimore.” “Baltimore, well you know cold weather then. You just pick out what you want, bring it up here and we’ll check it out. That’s all there is to it,” she explains.

A few minutes later, after trying on some pants, shirts and shoes, Tavonne’s back. Louise asks him, “Did you find what you’re looking for?” “Yeah.” “So now you’re all fixed up with dress clothes, right?” “Yeah.” “That’s good. How long have you been here?” “This is my second day.” “Second day, you’re an old-timer.” He smiles shyly. “Probably by the end of next week you’ll be sworn in as a Boys Towner. We’re glad to have you here.” The boy, warming to her, replies, “Thank you.” She tells him, “We hope you do well. It’s a great place to be. Now, I have these…if you want a watch,” she says, pushing a basket filled with nice men’s watches near him. He fishes through the bunch and finds one he wants. “I like this one.” “It’s yours.” “Thank you, I appreciate it.” “You’re very welcome. I want to wish you a merry Christmas.” “Same to you.” “And I hope things work out for you, dear.” “Thanks.”

It’s this kind of human exchange that keeps Abrahamson coming back day after day. “Yeah, that tells a story,” she said. “We get a lot of new kids in this time of year. Family teachers will come in with new children, most of them with little or no clothes other than what they have on their back. All our clothes are new and appropriate to wear at church and school. The kids pick out what they want.”

She said her empathy for them extends back to her own childhood. “I knew my folks loved me, but they were busy making a living and really didn’t have much time for me. I was lonesome. I needed somebody I thought cared. And I think that’s why I feel a special need to help children,” she said.

It was while working as a secretary in Boys Town’s Youth Care program she saw first hand the want and conceived the idea of a free clothing center. She got it up and running out of her home in no time.

“I’d see these unhappy youngsters come in carrying a grocery sack and I’d say, ‘Where’s your luggage?’ They’d say, ‘This is it.’ My husband and I used to be in retail — we had a shoes and clothing store — and I wondered if I called on our old dealers, would they help and send me what they have. So, those were the first people I wrote to. They were very giving and began sending merchandise to me.”

With the chutzpah all doers possess, she just thought it up and went ahead. “I did this strictly on my own. I didn’t ask anybody’s permission. I just started doing it,” she said. “Once I’d get the merchandise in, I’d open up the boxes and I’d send out a memo and invite the family teachers and the kids to come over my house.”

By then, Louise and her late husband of 58 years, Norman Abrahamson, lived alone. Their two sons, Hugh and Steve, were grown. She credits Norman for her success. “He taught me everything I know. He taught me how to greet people. He taught me how to go for the product. He taught me that being kind is unusual. He was very supportive. He encouraged me. He said, ‘Go for it, honey. You can do it.’ He was there when I asked for advice and when I faltered.” A former Edison Brothers shoe salesman, he opened his own retail men’s apparel and shoe stores, Hugh’s. He later became a real estate builder-developer.


Louise Abrahamson, second from left, and family




Soon, the amount of donations was too much for the couple’s garage. “My husband said, ‘Don’t you think Boys Town would give you a spot?’ So, I went to Fr. Hupp (the late former executive director of Boys Town), who knew I was inviting the teachers and kids over to my house to get clothes, and he said, ‘We’ve got space down in the boiler room (of the Youth Care building). Can you hack that?’ ’Any place would be good,’’ I said. So, we had our stuff delivered there, and this is pretty much the way it started.”

She wore a mask to protect against fumes in the cramped boiler room. It was under Fr. Peter’s watch the operation moved from that dank place to its pleasant environs today — in the building that houses the U.S. postal station on campus.

“When Fr. Peter came aboard, we just went on from there. He and I worked very closely, especially at Christmas-time. The store grew and grew, as did the demand.”

She’s done it almost entirely on her own, too, running things the way she sees fit. “There’s nobody that’s been put here to watch me.”

Generations removed from Henry Monsky helping make the dream of Boys Town a reality, fellow Jew Louise Abrahamson is helping Boys Town fulfill its nonsectarian mission of providing a caring environment to homeless and abused children of all faiths and creeds. She’s familiar with Monsky’s legacy, too, as she helped organize a touring Nebraska Jewish Historical Society exhibit on him in collaboration with Boys Town. Fr. Peter said that if Monsky is the grandfather of Boys Town, then Abrahamson is “the grandmother. She is loved and appreciated here.”

Playing the role of matriarch to kids with severed family relationships appeals to her. “While they’re here, I am like their grandmother,” she said. “A lot of the young people come in and tell me their problems, and I’ll listen very carefully. They’re welcome to come in anytime. They don’t have to make an appointment.”

Louise and her family

Her contact with the children often extends well past their graduation and departure from the home. “Even two or three years later,” she said, “kids can have hard luck. I’ll get a call that says, ‘Louise, so and so is going out on a job interview and doesn’t have a thing to wear.’ And I’ll say, ‘Send ‘em over.’ Now, where else can you go and get that kind of a feeling that you’re needed and wanted?”

The ties go well beyond that. Her desk at the front of the store displays photos sent by former Boys Town students, many pictured with families they’ve begun. She exchanges cards and letters, just like any good grandma does. “I keep in touch with a lot of the children after they leave,” she said.

Just don’t assume her kindly ways and diminutive stature mark her as a pushover.

“Louise is a very pleasantly, disarmingly assertive little old lady,” said Dan Daly, Girls and Boys Town’s Vice President and Director of Youth Care. “You see this pleasant looking, smiling, tiny person and pretty soon she’s got her hand in your right back pocket. That’s how Boys Town was founded. Her and Fr. Peter, made a very, very potent tandem. He knew what kind of talent she has at doing this sort of thing and he was very supportive of her. It’s grown and proliferated because of her personality and her keen business sense.”

So savvy is this nice little old Jewish lady in sizing up people, Daly said, that he and other Boys Town officials would steer family teacher candidates by her desk, so she could observe them. Her assessment factored into new hires. Her counsel was also sought ought off-campus by candidates for mayor, governor and senator. She even wrote a booklet to help prospective candidates weigh bids for public office.

Using her political skills, she routinely contacts corporate giants like Target, Wal-Mart, Dillards, Lands-End, Johnson & Johnson and Colgate, and gets them to donate surplus items. Her personal appeals, scripted herself, are laced with tug-on-your-heart pathos and practical let’s-do-business talk. She tells them, “We have so many young boys and girls who…desperately need clothing…I am asking for your help. If you have any donation department of your discontinued styles, over-stocks, irregulars or out-of-season merchandise, could I ask that you place us on your recipient list? Any merchandise sent can be a tax write-off…Thank you. I hope you will share in Boys Town’s grand mission.”

She doesn’t stop there, either. She follows up with phone calls and letters, always gently reminding potential donors of the need. Her persistence often pays off. “I’m after them all the time. I don’t take no for an answer. I keep pitching, and pitching kindly.” Every donor receives a personal thank you note from her.





Melingagio said the donations she brings in help Boys Town “leverage our dollars. Those in-kind gifts she gets from corporations allow the monies we get to go to things that help the kids get better.”

When she approached Fr. Peter with her concept for the store, he embraced it. “I knew that if we let Louise loose at The Clothesline, that it would become very big,” he said. “The best thing to do is to let Louise do her work. She does it better than anyone else.” He said the store’s proved a winning venture. “Oh, yes, it’s a great idea. We needed it badly. It helps everybody. The best ideas come from people like Louise who have talent and a willingness to make their ideas successful.”

He added there’s never been any thought of taking it out of her hands. “It has been Louise’s baby from the get-go. What we do here is we give people a job and say, You’re in charge of making it a success, and she’s made it a success. We’re all proud of her.” He confirmed there’s also been no talk of what will happen once she’s gone. “We don’t want to think about that. We tell her, Take your vitamins. Stay healthy. We need you for years to come. She’s it.”

Before she came on the scene with her business-like practices, Daly said, the home didn’t have a formal apparatus for processing donated goods: “There was a day when, without Louise, you would have walked in and seen just big piles of stuff, and Louise moved the organization away from that way of handling donations to a very effective, modern way where things are very attractively displayed to the kids and to the adults.”

Daly said Abrahamson is quite adept at “networking with family teachers. She alerts people when new stuff comes in. She’s always pushing the product, so to speak. Louise has her favorites. If she gets something in that she knows one little girl would like, she makes sure that little girl gets the first crack at it.” He said it’s not only the 500-some kids on campus who benefit from the fruits of her labor. Another 200 or so in foster care settings also have dibs on what she collects. When supplies or shipments exceed the Boys Town demand, she places the extra goods with places like The St. Francis House and the Salvation Army.

Her office is also the base for a whole other category of gifts she acquires for children. Daly said she manages to get kids passes to movies, concerts, athletic events, skating rinks and many other activities. She gets donated food for parties. She ensures every Boys Town resident has gifts at Christmas and graduation. “It’s a lot bigger than just The Clothesline,” he said.

Service to others is a lifelong habit. Whether advising politicos such as Kay Orr and Hal Daub, or helping run their campaigns for public office or volunteering with the American Red Cross, the Arthritis Foundation, the March of Dimes, Hadassah, the Special Olympics and the United Way or serving as a member of the credit committee of the Boys Town Federal Credit Union or as president of the Nebraska Jewish Historical Society, she gives her time in many ways.

Then there are the two years she devoted to caring for her son Steve after he was left a paraplegic as the result of an auto accident. He now lives independently. She became a vocal advocate for the rights and abilities of the handicapped. She was also careprovider for her husband after he contracted cancer.

Her good works have been recognized. Under her watch the Nebraska Jewish Historical Society won the Federation’s Achievement Award. She was nominated for  the National Council of Jewish Women’s Humanitarian Award for “her great compassion for the needs of others.”

Nothing slows her down, either. A bad back that laid her up last year only kept her away from the store a few months, during which time she did all her business from home. The flow of merchandise never stopped. But she knows she can’t do it forever. That’s why she’d like to work out a plan for a successor — ideally someone like herself who, as Melingagio put it, “goes the extra mile.”

“I worry what’s going to happen to this place when I no longer can do it,” she said. “My hope is that there is somebody who has pretty much the idea that I have. That they’re caring and want so much for the kids that they know how to express that caring. Because that’s the bottomline. That’s what it’s all about.”

Author Scott Muskin – What’s a nice Jewish boy like you doing writing about all this mishigas?

December 5, 2011 1 comment

One of the best reads for me the last few years was Scott Muskin’s debut novel, The Annunciations of Hank Meyerson, Mama’s Boy and Scholar, and the story below is my attempt to make sense of the 2009 book and its author, whose work has gained him some measure of noteriety.  Expectantly awaiting his next novel.


Scott Muskin




Author Scott Muskin – What’s a nice Jewish boy like you doing writing about all this mishigas?

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally published in Jewish Press


Omaha native Scott Muskin’s well-received first novel, The Annunciations of Hank Meyerson, Mama’s Boy and Scholar, tells a funny, enlightened, inconvenient journey of self-discovery taken by the title’s protagonist-narrator. This satirical adventure leaves Hank scarred, liberated and, better-late-than-never, wised-up.

The novel was the inaugural (2007) winner of the Parthenon Prize for Fiction, a national competition to boost unknown authors.The Prize, which honored Annunciations out of more than 350 submissions, netted Muskin $8,000, plus a full, traditional book publishing contract. The final judge was author Tony Earley (Jim the Boy). Muskin will be in Omaha for a 1 p.m. Bookworm signing on April 18.

Annunciations was released this winter by Hooded Friar Press, a Nashville, Tenn.-based literary house that describes itself as “dedicated to publishing high-quality books by new authors.” Muskin’s clearly arrived as a new voice deserving attention.

He’s the son of Omahans Linda and Alan Muskin, members of Beth El Synagogue. His mother was a Millard Public Schools teacher. His father owned Youngtown, a chain of stores selling children’s furniture, toys, assundries. Alan’s father and Scott’s grandfather, Stuart Muskin, co-founded Youngtown, originally a Kiddie-Cut-Rate. The father character in Annunciations is a toy merchant from Omaha whose two boys, Hank and Carlton, were raised there. Most of the book’s set in Minneapolis, where Muskin and his wife Andrea Bidelman live in a 1920s stucco faux-Tudor home near Lake Nokomis. Muskin’s anchored the fiction in a reality he knows.

His story’s a modern, urban walkabout for a middle-class, secular American Jew who’s somehow managed to graduate college, start a career and marry without ever really finding himself or figuring out what he needs. Much less how to get it. His dysfunctional family is a case study. Smart, charming Hank’s schlepped through life, failing to hold himself accountable, letting old wounds fester, ignoring the very things that fill him with unresolved anger, unanswered questions, unfulfilled desires, unmitigated regret. An academic and free spirit by nature, he’s more attuned to Emily Dickinson arcania than to real life emotions and actions.

“Hank expected more of himself. He had larger dreams, of living a more passionate life,” Muskin said by way of analysis in a phone interview from his home in the Twin Cities. “When he starts to act on those, that’s when the trouble starts. Be careful what you wish for — that’s what’s driving the plot of the novel.”

Hank, a smart-alleck nebish who cops a superior attitude, is long overdue a comeuppance and he gets a doozy. Along the way, the putz learns to be a mensch.

Well-meaning in that lackadaisical way men are, Hank’s flippant defiance mucks up the works whether dealing with his estranged wife Carol Ann, distant father Daniel, troubled brother Carlton or the memory of his dead mother. Morally weak Hank acts out with his sister-in-law June and promptly runs away from his problems. Like an addict who believes the world revolves around him and conspires against him, Hank’s submerged in a bathos of ego, lust, self-pity, resentment and entitlement. A saving grace is his humor, which can cut through the clutter of his myopic vision.

It’s a witty and poignant exploration of the self-centered male psyche in identity crisis. Hank represents a type of male many women are familiar with — the kind who require a rude awakening to grow up. His stumbling, guilt-ridden initiation into adulthood rings true. Especially resonant is his strained relationship with his father and brother, who represent aspects of himself and his past he’d rather forget.

“I think one of the central dynamics of the book is that tension between silence and the unspoken energy in a family or in a relationship and the ways that that silence ends up finding voice,” said Muskin. “It’s not like it’s not there. It’s just being said in different ways. A lot of the interactions between the characters are animated by the ways it’s being unsaid. It does come out sometimes quite messily.”

Like most first novels Annunciations is personal. Muskin wrote it, in part, as a catharsis for the rough patch he went through around the time he started it.

“Well, I was getting divorced at the time or I was just divorced,” he said, thus the book is on one level “a working out of some of those things.”

The drama. Life happens.

“And I then found this voice to fictionalize it, which is a must. You’ve got to fictionalize it,” he said, otherwise it’s a self-indulgent rant. “I’m into real people and the real struggles they go through. Flaws and idiosyncratic obsessions — everyone’s got them. Shining a light on people who take a hard look at those things in themselves I find fascinating.”

Muskin found in Hank a literary avatar.

“I’m a quite biographical writer in terms of being able to find the emotional core of a situation if I’ve been through it or somehow been there. I then turn it or filter it through the prism of the character, and that’s important because then it forces you to think about the character’s perspective on things. You create three dimensionalites just by doing that — the interaction of the author, the character and the reader. It’s a way of getting closer to the universal.”


How close is Scott to Hank and vice versa?

“There’s a lot of similarities between me and Hank,” said his creator, “but there’s also a lot of differences, and the differences were more generative and healthier for the novel then were our similarities.”

For example, Muskin has a sister, not a brother, and the two of them get on fine. Finding the right voice for his protagonist let Muskin examine sibling rivalry.

“The book really took shape when I stumbled upon this voice,” he said. “I had been reading Richard Ford’s Independence Day and I remember thinking, ‘This is the kind of voice I want — a narrator who’s introspective but sardonic, thoughtful but sharp-witted, sharp-tongued. In essence, complex and likable and not likable.’ That’s the protagonist I wanted. I tried to steal that voice for a short story, not very successfully. Only when I put it into my own context did it begin to take shape.”

Short story writing was Muskin’s literary form of choice at the time. He’d had success placing pieces in literary journals and magazines. A collection by him was a finalist for the 2005 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. While his stories earned him admiration and praise and some were published individually, he said “no one was terribly interested” in publishing them as a collection.

A mentor of his in graduate school at the University of Minnesota first suggested his talents might best lay in novel writing.

“One of my teachers, Julie Schumacher, pushed me. She said, ‘You ought to write a novel. You seem like a natural for it,’ and I took that to heart, and I finally hit upon a voice that I felt could sustain the novel for the reader.”

So, what did Schumacher see that made her nudge him along the novelist’s path?

“She said that I was writing longish short stories anyway. It’s not uncommon for me working on a short story to generate 60 pages,” Muskin noted, “and that’s kind of a tough road to hoe because long short stories have less of a chance of getting published in magazines and things.”

Besides, he was already creating fiction from real life, lending it “a richness and complexity of character relationships, particularly family relationships, which are a lot of times the bread and butter of novels.” Except, he said, “I was expounding more than evoking.” It left him unsure if he was up to penning a fully-realized novel.

“I know a lot of writers who say, ‘My first novel’s still in a drawer,’ and I was terrified of that happening. It’s a terrifying endeavor to spend so much time on something and to not know what you have until you share it with a trusted reader. I wanted to make sure it was not puerile and jejune because first novels tend to be personal and you’re working out a lot of your own bullshit. I was certainly doing that, but I was hoping I was doing other things, too, to achieve like a universality.”

It was the fall of 2003 when Muskin delved into the project.

“I spent a month and a half in upstate New York at an arts colony. I did a lot of writing there. I just started writing and it sort of all spilled out. And I might have thought this would be a short story (to begin with) but as soon as I realized I was onto something I wanted to keep going with it.”

The novel’s development, which proceeded at different arts colonies, entailed a search.

“I started fumbling around for a narrative archetype to hang a story onto. I read a lot of Greek and Roman mythology and they’re just so great for giving evocative narratives where the grand passions are on display, and that’s what I felt I had in Hank — a grand passion he was trying to express.”

The evolutionary process of writing meant Muskin was open to literary influences and to reconfiguring plot lines, characters, et cetera. “I had envisioned the Carlton character as a friend whose domestic life Hank was going to be jealous of,” he said, “but once I realized Carlton wasn’t a friend but a brother that’s when I felt I had the triangulation I needed.”

The triptych of two brothers in conflict with each other and with their dissatisfied traveling salesman father hints at Death of a Salesman.

“That is definitely one of the archetypes,” said Muskin. “That Willie Loman character weighs heavily in this book, from the dad’s point of view. After all, he is a traveling salesman who’s not connected to his sons. His boys are competitive. And he has a favorite son. I’d be stupid to say I’m going to ignore” the parallels to that part of the Arthur Miller play, added Muskin, who said he took great pains to not make Daniel Meyerson “a postcard character” that’s a pale imitation of Loman.

Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March was another model of sorts. Muskin used an excerpt from the Nobel Prize-winner’s novel to set out the theme of Annunciations: “In any true life you must go and be exposed outside the small circle that encompasses two or three heads in the same history of love. Try and stay, though, inside. See how long you can.” The quotation from Augie is used by Muskin as an epigraph, along with a quote from an unpublished Emily Dickinson poem: “A single thrill can end a life or open it forever.”

For Muskin, it became important “to keep” Annunciations “true to” the Bellows observation that a life “encompassing the same circle of love” poses complications by the proximity of that love. “That was pretty powerful for me,” said Muskin, who was inspired to “have a novel where we have only four or five characters and they’re all related to one another — strong ties that you can’t really do without, and that Hank tries to do without. It generated the plot for me that Hank would stray from his marriage with his sister-in-law. It all kind of folds in on itself.”

The author doesn’t conceal his appreciation for Bellows. “I’m a big fan,” said Muskin, who enjoys how dense Augie is “with voice…thought patterns. Bellows gets into the micro-micro of this character’s life.” Muskin said when he employed a similar approach in looking at the minutiae of Hank’s life “things really took off.”

Muskin’s style has also been compared to that of Jonathan Franzen and Philip Roth.

Unlike many writers who come to their craft through reading Muskin flipped the script by having his early passion for writing spark his later reading habit.

“I always wrote, but I didn’t always read,” he said. “Maybe it’s a boy thing — the opposite of girls stereotypically always involved in a book. I can’t really say it wasn’t because books weren’t around, but I didn’t really dive in until later in life.”

“Key teachers were very important,” he said in recognizing his talent. “In 1st grade I wrote a poem about trees that my teacher actually accused me of plagiarizing. I was mortally offended. We worked it all out. I remember my parents and her having several conversations about how creative I was with language.”

Encouragement continued through elementary school (Columbian), junior high (Horace Mann) and high school (Burke). He earned his bachelor’s degree from Grinnell College (Iowa) and his master’s from Minnesota. He’s well-ensconced up north by now but he admits he gets verklempt being away from family in Nebraska.

It was never in the cards for him to take over for his dad at Youngtown, which Scott helped the father close out. Writing was always in the young man’s future.

Freelance copywriting jobs permit Muskin’s literary pursuits. A stable income’s more important now that he and his wife are parents to a baby girl, Campbell. Around the gigs that pay the bills he toils on literary projects from the home office he built in his spacious garage, which looks out onto a garden.

“I’m working on several short stories,” he said. “They’re in the drawer phase right now because I’m not sure what I have. I’m working on a new novel. I just got a grant to do some research for it in Spain. It’s about a grandfather-grandson relationship. They’re both at a crossroads in life. The grandfather’s a larger-than-life character. They’re going to have adventures — I’m just not sure what yet. It’s also going to cover the grandfather’s Sephardic Jewish experience. It’s something I don’t know much about. I just starting getting into this. It’ll examine this sense of dislocation and loss — of being a minority within a minority.”

Never one to maintain a rigid writing schedule, Muskin said, “I’m a firm believer that life should be lived. There can’t be one without the other. It’s a balance thing.”

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