Friday, October 07, 2005


Robert Butterworth, a psychologist, was just on MSNBC, spouting his learned opinion of Tom Cruise. The set-up is uninspired -- psychologist talking about an actor who thinks psychology is bunk -- but it sparked a stray cog in our head.

A lifetime ago -- December 1990 -- we traveled to New Madrid for a week to cover the Earthquake That Wasn't. A man predicted an earthquake would hit southeast Missouri in the first week of December. We journeyed along the fault line, stopping in places like Black Oak, Ark.; Future City, Ill,; Fort Pillow, Tenn.; and Monkey's Eyebrow, a tiny place in Kentucky.

But New Madrid was home base for our adventure. Butterworth was there, too. Reporters called him a media whore, brought to the Bootheel by dozens of live shots. He said he was there because the people needed his advice, his education, his understanding of the human condition.

Butterworth talked to kids. We remember he used a rubber duck as a prop. He kept advising people that being afraid was all right.

We were in a bar one night, just before the earthquake didn't hit. Butterworth was there, too. For a couple hours a small group of reporters listened as Butterworth railed against the locals, who were partying hard in anticipation of the temblor. Butterworth didn't get their attitude. Didn't they understand that they should be afraid?

The next morning Butterworth left Missouri, probably still perplexed by the Bootheelians, who were eating gumbo and drinking beer. Reality can be rude.

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