Monday, December 31, 2012

A thank you note....

     I hate to wax poetic...oh, no I don't.  It's my silliest habit.  So here goes....

     Lord knows, there's a lot of irritation in this world.  At any given time, just by walking out your front door, one can encounter a thousand reasons to lose complete faith in humanity.  So it's of great comfort to have occasion to find some sanity in one's life, simply by walking into an old friend's house.
"Age appears to be best in four things; old wood best to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust and old authors to read...."  Francis Bacon.

     A grin and a wink accompanies "whatchu' drinking?"  Grinning and winking, you see, because they know very well what I'm drinking and they've gone to the trouble to have a full bottle of it sitting there on their bar.  Hugs and handshakes are exchanged, coats are put away and a fire in the fireplace and a house decorated impeccably for the holidays becomes quite the shelter from the crapstorm that rains on us most everywhere else.  That same "everywhere else" on planet earth where we monitor manners and political correctness and our behavior in general. Here folks relish in your stupidity and laugh it off because they already know you're an idiot..and the love that side of you.   
"It's one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them."  (Ralph Waldo Emerson.)
      To sit over a dinner that would make any chef on television blush with envy yet realize that - because you're sitting there with people you love so dearly - you could be having "warm beer and bread" and the evening would still be as grand as some champagne and roses moment from an old Glen Miller song.  They're the rare moments when one can sit and not be concerned with a receding hairline, an expanding waistline or crow's feet.  That's because when an old friend looks across a table at you they're not seeing the toll that the passing of time is exacting on the outside of the package.  They're just seeing the soul that used to sport a really bitchin' mullet and yell fairly inappropriate things at other cars on the way to a Buffett concert.  Or the one that called you at some really strange hours and asked if you could provide taxi service.  The one  that yelled "Free Bird!!!!!!"  at a very artsy, outdoor picnic/concert thing - and no one was horrified because, well, it was fully expected!  The one with whom you cried when a parent was lost.  Or the one person not related to you by blood but that you really needed to talk to when it felt like the world was ending.  These are all straight-out gifts from God.  No longer are you afraid of the fact that we're all getting older.  You see, we're not becoming "old people."  We're not becoming our parents.  We're still "US."  And although our modes of transportation have changed (and need more frequent tune-ups!) we're still just trying to enjoy the ride, however long it may last. 
"Though the ocean roar around me,
  Yet it still shall bear me on;       
Though a desert should surround me,
  It hath springs that may be won.
Were ’t the last drop in the well,
  As I gasped upon the brink,
Ere my fainting spirit fell,       
  ’Tis to thee that I would drink." (From Lord Byron's "To Thomas Moore")
     I've said an awful lot to say this - thanks for dinner and thanks for being y'all.


Friday, December 28, 2012

Friday stuff.......

And not just any's the last Friday of 2012.  Seriously, 2013 sounds like Star Trek territory.  Shouldn't we be flying around with rocket packs on our back or visiting our condos on the moon by now?  What am I saying?  Hell, I have to take a Valium to fly Delta....I'd have to be fully sedated to fly NASA.  So I probably wouldn't have a condo on the moon (I've heard the beaches there suck, anyway.)

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles.....
Well this a bit scary......
Not one but TWO rocket launchers (ROCKET LAUNCHERS??)  turned in when during a Los Angeles police department gun buyback.  I know the premise of these gun buybacks is that - with complete anonymity - people turn in weapons.  But I'm thinking we might need to find out who had these in their possession.  One doesn't rob a liquor store with a rocket launcher.  One doesn't jack someone's Honda Civic with a rocket launcher.  People do things like shoot airplanes out of the sky or shoot at government buildings with rocket launchers. 

My mama would say "the devil's getting her room ready...."
Some things just speak for themselves and don't require discussion.  Was the first thing in YOUR mind when you heard about the horror in Connecticut "how can I profit from that?" 

I say let them drop a live possum....
USA Today link.....
Possums are proof that Satan exists.  They are, you see, his spawn.  Only the devil himself could create a creature so foul, so ugly and so useless.   Not sure which bothers me more - their blank, black doll eyes or their filthiness.   Some people's childhood are haunted by visions of ghosts, the boogeyman and other things that go bump in the night.  My childhood was haunted by walking through the kitchen on the way to bed and those black, lifeless eyes peering at me through the screen door while a fat hairy good for nothing possum finished off our cat's food on the back porch.  So I say let the fine folks of Brasstown, North Carolina drop a live possum.  Any possum now alive - I figure - is related to those that haunted my childhood and they all deserve any unpleasantness we can heap upon them.  Satan's spawn, I tell you....

Now that's funny.....
Newt, Newt, Newt..........the never ending source of hilarity....
The former speaker of the house has "Dancing Queen" has his ringtone.  Sometimes you can't think of what to say because there's just too much to say.   I can't quit laughing......

This link may be disturbing to those born in God's country...
Just doing a random search on collard greens and black-eyed peas led me to this travesty.  The article was written in 2009 so I can only hope the creator of this recipe has since found Jesus.  "Inspired by a greek dish..."    Let's just paint a moustache on the Mona Lisa, record a hip-hop version of Handel's "Messiah" and quit singing "Star Spangled Banner" at baseball games.

Still love these guys....

If you're an old Zeppelin fan (and, let's face it, if you're a Zeppelin fan, you're probably me)  do yourself a favor and watch this interview.  In conjuction with their Kennedy Center honors, CBS' "Sunday Morning" show did an interview with Zeppelin.  My favorite quote from the interview was when Anthony Mason asked "You weren't getting any White House invitations then?"  and Robert Plant answered "No...we were being questioned quite often.."

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Wednesday stuff.....

     Top Chef is fun to watch.  But the lady of the house is going to be upset when I tell her that  I now want some elk with a cherry/beer sauce for supper (as opposed to the planned grilled cheese and tomato soup)   Speaking of Top Chef, I'm sick of folks calling themselves "foodies."  Holy crap, why do we have to give a name to everything enjoyable so that it sounds like a very exclusive club that you're just not quite cool enough to be a part of??   Everytime someone says "we're real foodies!"  I want to say "You think YOU'RE a foodie!?  I used to weigh 547 pounds!  WINNING!"  

     Shocked that I joke about how unhealthy and huge I got at one time in my life?  Don't be - that's been my modus operandi most of my life - laugh and (more importantly) make other people laugh about anything that scares, embarrasses or hurts me.   Since childhood, if you keep 'em laughing, they won't notice that you're the fat kid on the block.  (and, yes - I had to Google modus operandi to make sure I spelled and was using it correctly.  I ain't real bright.)   I joke, but I do keep a picture of myself that was taken when I wasn't even at my heaviest..but close enough to still disgust and scare me.  When I go to bed at night and feel like sleep isn't anywhere close because of the clutter in my brain, I pull out that picture and realize how far I've come and how much better RIGHT NOW really is....and sweet dreams soon follow.

     I don't understand birds.  I've lived my life thinking that birds go south in the winter.  Given that I'm sitting here in north Georgia, shouldn't my backyard be full of birds escaping snow and ice?  However, in the winter, the bird feeder in the backyard sits empty most of the time (as opposed to summer when it's covered.)  Perhaps they go further south because it's still too cold here.  I surely find it so.  Given my druthers I'd be celebrating Christmas with my toes in the sand and a cold beer in my hand, debating oysters or scallops for lunch.  Apparently, what I'm observing is normal....from the "" website:
"Bird feeding was once considered primarily a winter activity. Today bird enthusiasts feed birds throughout the year. In fact, some homeowners attract more birds to feeders in summer than winter."
     When I was a small child, there was an old lady that sang "Sweet Little Jesus Boy" at our church every Christmas, usually at the candlelight service on Christmas Eve (if I remember correctly)   It was really bad and we all found humor at her expense.  I remember, though, that the older she got and the more she leaned on a cane while trying to sing it, the less we laughed.  I think about that every Christmas but, for the first time, I did a little digging on the song.  It was written in 1934 by Robert MacGimsey.  Robert is, himself, an interesting story.  Listening to this Christmas memory and "Shadrack"   (which I'd heard Louis Armstrong sing but didn't know it was written by the same guy that wrote  "Sweet Little Jesus  Boy") one would be almost certain that he was African-American...and you'd be wrong.  I learned this morning that he was a white guy, born in Pineville, Louisiana.  However, most of the folks he grew up with were African-American...and he wrote music in the style that he liked best.  With much respect to the little,old lady at church, I think Natalie Cole nails it:

 To be safe - click this in case I screwed up the video

     I owe Celestine Sibley an apology.  Growing up I never, ever understood my mother's fascination with the woman's writing.  Even as a child I was interested in writing, dabbled in it and read everything I on which I could get my paws.   But, being the baby, most of the written word lying around the house I grew up in was beyond my years.  The same thing happened with music - consequently you're now as likely to find Glen Miller in my collection as you are Ten Years After or Blind Faith.  But I never, ever understood Celestine Sibley.  My mother - probably trying to encourage writing and reading - one time shoved a paper under my nose at the breakfast table and said "Read Celestine Sibley this morning.  It's amazing."  I moved my cereal bowl out of the way and proceeded to read (what I thought was) a mind-numbing column about the joys of MAKING A POT OF VEGETABLE SOUP on a cold winter's day.  Seriously? The Atlanta Constitution wastes that much column space on soup?  I tried very, very hard to not say anything rude about a writer that she loved so much.  I looked up at her after (mercifully) finishing the piece and said "uh, it's about soup...."   She rolled her eyes "no, it's NOT.  One day you'll understand how important very simple things can be."   In retrospect, I guess I owe Mama and Celestine Sibly an apology.  Now I'm nearly 50 years old and fascinated with the woman's writing....on so many levels.  She COULD write about the simple and make it riveting and comforting.   She could also take on the less simple - urban sprawl, civil rights - and make you think.....hard.   "Southern Spaces" says it much, much better than I'm saying it:
 One of the hardest parts of getting old is realizing how much quality you were surrounded with in younger years and ignored.



Sunday, December 16, 2012

"A cry is heard...."

     If you felt the earth tremble this morning it's because I darkened the doors of a church.  Almost completely unplanned.  We'd gone to ride around and look at Christmas lights last night and decided to stopy by a live nativity we saw while out...because, as I've said, it's not her fault she married a neanderthal.  I'm determined to make this Christmas infinitely more special for her because she enjoys Christmas and spent most of the last holiday season mourning the sudden loss of her best friend (on December 14, 2011.)   We learned the church having the live nativity had, coincidentally, a woman serving as minister that I'd known since she served as associate pastor for the church I grew up in (seemingly 100 years ago!)   So we made an off the cuff decision to go see what the Rev DeDe Leetch had to say this morning.  When she stood up to pray she read from the book of Jeremiah.  I had to do a little online searching to find the verse, but it was Jeremiah 31:15:

"A cry is heard in Ramah--deep anguish and bitter weeping. Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted--for her children are gone."  
  You could immediately hear the sound of people sniffing and people reaching in pockets for handkerchiefs and tissues.  We were in Lawrenceville, Georgia  - a long way from Connecticut.   But the immediate reaction of many showed the dagger that's been sent to the heart of this entire country.

     Back in 1990-something, I had jury duty in DeKalb County and was frustrated to find myself selected for a jury pool.   I didn't want to be there and knew that during (that part of the trial process where they question potential jurors that has some Latin name I'm too lazy to look up right now)  I had to come up with some crazy-ass answers so that I could get back to work and making money.  it was a concealed weapons case so when the defense attorney came to me and said "Mr. Freeman, how do you feel about gun control?"  I said "well, I have friends that hunt and have respect for their right to own hunting firearms.  But handguns are made for one thing - to kill people with.  If you've got one in your pocket, you're probably on your way to kill somebody with it."  I was back at work that afternoon.

     Today, I repeat that same theory but believing it more than I did back then.  Gun control ain't got a thing to do with the 2nd amendment.  Gun control has to do with the type of guns that are legal.  Someone that's out putting some venison in the freezer has no need for something that will fire a zillion rounds a minute.  A true sportsman wants one shot.  If you want a pistol to keep your loved ones safe at night, I also find little need for it to have capacity for large magazines.   You might say the intruder will have the large magazine and he might...and that takes us back to the issue of true gun control.  I'll grant you - I'm speaking about something I know little about.  But I know enough to know that something's broken....or as the article I've linked above more aptly puts it:

"We need to reckon with the kind of country we actually are—one in which semi-automatic weapons are used far more often for harm than for self-defense—and act accordingly."


Saturday, December 15, 2012

We're a long way from a manger.......

     It's not her fault she married a neanderthal.  Every woman deserves an evening out.  So we put on our Sunday clothes, a little dinner and a little Irving Berlin.  A little culture never killed anybody.

      A huge pipe organ rose out of the stage floor and a gentleman started playing carols.  The little theatre on the square was a time machine and we were suddenly celebrating Christmas in 1950-something.  Even this heathen/Grinch/Scrooge was feeling right Christmasy.  I'd managed to put the news of the day out of my head until the carol of choice was "Away In A Manger."   I felt my chest start to ache and tears well up in my eyes.  I thought I'd gone and "taken a turn" until I realized I'd surpressed the day's heartache as long as I could.

     The picture that song puts in your brain is not just one of a manger and cattle's a picture of a children's choir  in white robes holding candles.  A gaggle of scraped knees, ponytails and cowlicks become little windows into heaven, everything beautiful, everything angelic...perfect innocence.  I sat there in that theatre, suddenly wanting to cry, and whispered to myself  "we're a long way from a manger."  

     It wasn't just that children died yesterday.  Innocence died.  And not just for children that watched their friends and teachers get gunned down.  Each instance of horror eats away a little part of us old folks,too.  The part that believes that people are basically good and that there's someone staying by OUR cradle "til morning is nigh." 

    I've said it a zillion times - if there is a heaven and if I get there, I've got questions.........

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Obligatory Christmas Blog

And how, in fact, do we prepare
The great day that waits us there -
For the twenty-fifth day of December,
The birth of Christ? For some it means
An interchange of hunting scenes
On coloured cards, And I remember
Last year I sent out twenty yards,
Laid end to end, of Christmas cards
To people that I scarcely know -
They'd sent a card to me, and so
I had to send one back. Oh dear!
Is this a form of Christmas cheer?
Or is it, which is less surprising,
My pride gone in for advertising?
The only cards that really count
Are that extremely small amount
From real friends who keep in touch
And are not rich but love us much
Some ways indeed are very odd
By which we hail the birth of God.
From "Advent, 1955" by John Betjeman

     One of the many battles I fight daily is the battle to live in "the now." I waste far too much time (if I let myself) regretting yesterday and worrying about tomorrow. "Yesterdays are over my shoulder" and I can't do a thing about tomorrow. Still I have to make the conscious effort to worry about what I can squeeze out of this moment because, too soon, it will be part of what's behind me. I'm getting better at it...until the calendar turns to December.

     Christmas almost always sends my mind looking backwards. I don't so much miss the "physical" aspects of the holiday. I don't want to be 6 years old and spend Christmas Eve sharing a bed with my two youngest sisters and damn near getting crushed by curlers the size of beer cans. I don't wish I could go downtown and ride the Pink Pig (hell, I almost didn't fit in that thing when I was a child...I'd have to get greased up like a pig to fit into it these days.) I don't even need the bounty of presents to open on Christmas morning (though, by the Grace of God and generosity of family there still is one.) It's not those type of things I'm longing for - I'm missing the excitement.
     Remember the palpable excitement you could feel in the air at Christmas?   And that probably stemmed from the physical traditions of the holiday.   We probably got giddy because there was going to be a new bike under the tree or a new "regulation!" Joe Namath New York Jets uniform to put on over your pajamas (somewhere, there exists photographic evidence...I hope to God that no one knows where it is.)   But I want to think we got excited about something more than presents.  For me, being the youngest of four children, Christmas was usually the only occasion our family was in the same place at the same time,  even after college, graduate school, having children and indepdence had all begun to relocate my sisters.  And that, in itself, can keep you feeling like the kid brother (in a good way!  Sometimes it wasn't fun being the baby!)

     I lost my father when I was a fairly young man.  As a result, I never got to know him person to person.  But my memories of him are that he was rather unapproachable and rather aloof.  But even he, on Christmas morning, seemed a bit more human.  He seemed to be interested in watching people open gifts.  "Now if that doesn't work let me know - the guy at Sears said it would."   "That television's small, but they said it would pick up Atlanta stations (way out!) in Carollton.....let me know if it doesn't."  I lacked for nothing as a child, don't get me wrong.  But I remember Christmas sometimes seeming like the one day my dad paid attention. 

     I keep hoping that the passing of time will make my mother's absence less noticeable.  But it doesn't.  And it certainly doesn't at Christmas.  From every Christmas card we received being hung around the chest in the living room to every Christmas project me or my sisters had ever done at school adorning some wall or shelf or chest (and some of them were, uh, a bit yellowed and torn!)  From her potato candy to her Japanese fruitcake.  And that Bing Crosby "White Christmas" album....oh, how the woman loved Christmas.  It was tacky as hell, but I still even have fond memories of the fake, cardboard fireplace that she always put on display (since we had no real fireplace in the house)   There was a constant twinkle in her eye this time of the year..and I miss it.  I'd give a lot to sit next to her in church one more time and feel that elbow in the ribs when someone starts singing "Hark The Herald"  "Now THAT'S a Methodist hymn!"  she said a thousand times.  Whenever we're anywhere and the old Charles Wesley carol starts up, I can feel my bride staring at me out of the corner of her eye to see if I'm getting emotional for she knows that memory of my mother is one of my fondest.  And there usually is a tear starting down my cheek.  As a child, a "mama's boy" label is a bad thing to wear.  As an adult, I don't give a damn if people see me missing my Mama.

     So it's not that I don't like Christmas (as I'm often accused of by those that know me.)  It's just that I want it to tug at my heart strings like it used to.  That's hard to accomplish when work, bills, traffic and all the adult things keep nipping at your heels whether it's December or June.   For now, though, I thank God for the woman that I share my life with and consider THAT my Christmas miracle - that there was someone on this earth willing to put up with this loose cannon.  So perhaps that should be my goal now - to make every Christmas with her going forward as magical as those gone by.  She deserves that. 

Friday stuff....
     There hasn't been this many Catholics running for their lives since the end of the Crusades.  I fear it's just a repeat of an age-old story - something flashy, something hot, something trendy (college football) tempts what is grounded, what is solid, what is proven (something like Big East college basketball) into changing its landscape.  Pretty soon that landscape is left barren with a bunch of guys in suits standing around staring at each other and asking "what in the hell just happened here?"   Mike Lopresti of the USA Today (awesome college basketball writer who has covered 33 Final Fours...look him up sometime)  says it this way:
Here lies the saddest victim of all in the realignment epidemic of Pigskinitis.
The Big East, RIP.
Football is a fine game, but it shouldn't be claiming such casualties.
The true Big East will soon be the Roman Empire of college sport. Once majestic and all-powerful, now history and dust. Seven survivors – Catholic schools all -- huddle together against the cold, trying to find a future.
Here's the whole column

     I heard a blurb on the radio yesterday about traffic being particularly bad around the outlets up in Dawsonville.  I spent a large chunk of my childhood summers in Dawson County, running and romping on my Uncle's property, fishing in Lake Lanier and picking okra for my aunt to fry for supper ("You want okra for supper??  Well there's a 5 gallon bucket on the porch....")   And in those days there wasn't a thing in Dawson County.  Bill Elliott was still wet behind the ears, my uncle was having to drive all the way to Cumming to pay his light bill and Ga 400 stopped at Pilgrim Mill Rd.   Now there's traffic alerts on Atlanta radio stations for Dawsonville?  Another town in rural Georgia has been swallowed by Atlanta sprawl.  Remember the pot plane that crashed?  I had to go digging to remember the details.  I remember it being big talk.,748368
     Speaking of changing southern cities, I read a piece last night in Atlanta magazine reminding me that, back in February, Bon Apetit deemed Nashville, Tennessee "the coolest, tastiest city in the South."  Then, in June, the New York Times ran a feature on Nashville, apparently using the word "hipster" a great deal.  I used to work with a fellow that was born and raised in Nashville.  He said that, as a teenager, their fun on friday nights consisted of trying to make a stop at every single Shoney's restaurant in the Nashville area before midnight.  The times they are a' changin'.  (and now I want to travel to Nashville...again.  Been there before but apparently need to go back)

     I'm going to hate myself for doing this.  Political discourse on my part usually never goes further than my living room when I point at a television and shout at my bride "Can you believe this idiot??"  I was raised to keep politics a private "within the family" issue.  But sometimes there is an elephant in the room that bears mentioning.  Since the end of the 2012 election, I've read a lot about Republicans changing their game plan, admitting to changing demographics, landscapes and voter bases.  "We're going to do things differently!!!"  So for their first collective fight post-election  ("fiscal cliff" not withstanding) they bust their posteriors to make sure a woman of color isn't the next secretary of state?  I don't know - it seems like they've run another off-tackle dive for another three yards and another cloud of dust to me.  I thought maybe I was over-thinking that until I read Andrea Mitchell expressing similar sentiment (it's good to sometimes have those "maybe I'm NOT an idiot" moments when you hear someone being paid for ideas having similar idea to your own)
       I'm not smart enough to know if she should be secretary of state.  Were there mistakes made in the immediate reaction to the embassy attack in Benghazi?  I'm fairly certain there were.  In those days after the attack she was following administration talking points that characterized the attack as "spontaneous" rather than planned.  Mistake.  And a mistake that lead the president to imply that she was just doing her job and if anyone wanted to go after her they should go after Obama instead.  Rice later admitted the misstep.
     The biggest thing I'm taking away from the entire Susan Rice episode is my growing disappointment in John McCain.  Leading up the 2008 election I read his book, liked his policies and the way he carried himself and decided I'd vote for him.  I thought he would return the office of president to days when true statesmen - not politicians - ran this country.  Alas, my disillusionment started when he selected Barbie as a running mate in that 2008 election, starting a dive into (with apologies to Dante) the spiraling rungs of hell that American politics has become.  Keeping Susan Rice away from the secretary of state title became an obsession for him and continues him in that free fall of becoming just another politician.  Me thinks that McCain should remember his own missteps when he was one of  the cheerleaders for invading a country based on (faulty) evidence that they were stockpiling weapons of mass destruction.  Remember that?  He, himself, was following that administration's talking points and ended up part of that mistake.  Glass houses and all Senator,,,glass houses.
God, I hate politics..and yet I can't quit looking at the train wreck.  "Just when I thought I was out, they pullllllllll me back in...."
       (Ok, one more mention of policitics - I really think that if the president and John Boehner were not the most visible players in a drama being played out on the biggest stage, they'd be two guys who would like hanging out together, drinking beer and watching ballgames.  I get the feeling that they like each other and really wish that someone else was in the other corner.  I also get the feeling that Boehner's telling him "look, I agree in principle, but I'm gonna get killed if I don't kick and scream a little." )

     Now even the Pope has a Twitter account.  I'm officially the last person on earth not keeping tabs on what's trending on Twitter.  Truth be told, I'm really not even sure what that means.  I tried about a year ago because there's several writers and broadcasters (mostly from the world of sports) doing the Twitter thing heavy.  I was immediately intimidated by talk of hash tags and found it impossible to navigate.  You're laughing at me aren't you?  I've grown fairly weary of social media anyway.  The kicker may have been last week when I posted a video and my opinion of its content on my facebook page.  Someone on my "friends" list (loosest use of the word EVER) disagreed with my sentiment and attacked me and other folks on my facebook page that he didn't even know.  I deleted all of his comments.  He said "I guess when you speak the truth no one wants to hear it!"   and de-friended me.  OMG! I was so totally bummed!  WTF?  LOL! DUDE - WE NEED TO TALK!  Uh no...I laughed, realized that there are some folks that I didn't want to associate with in 1981 I STILL don't want to associate with and wonder why they now want to be "Friends?"    Does Facebook have a "you're still a jackass" list? 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

My (not so) Clever Retort to a Supreme Court Judge

article that started it all

     It might be a tad presumptuous to say  that I'm opening a can of worms.  That infers that my written words make anyone think about anything.  When you live most of your life as the clown, you can't really expect folks to give take much notice when you're not being a clown.  Let's just say that I find when my brain is  expending great energy wrestling with anything more serious than chicken wings, beer and football I find it necessary to take it out for a jog so that it will settle down and let me sleep. 

     In my seventh grade Social Studies class at Rockbridge Elementary School in Stone Mountain, Mrs. Crowe told us that "freedom means the opportunity to do anything you long as it doesn't hurt anyone else."  It's an elementary definition of freedom and one that doesn't come near approaching all the implications of what it means to be free.  But it might be one that comes close to addressing Judge Antonin Scalia's question "If we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have it against other things?"  This was in response to a question from a gay student on why the judge equates laws banning sodomy with laws against murder.  I'm not real bright and I may be reading this wrong (which I often do in matters of "legalese."  The service contract I sign when getting an oil change baffles the hell out of me.)  But a discussion of governing sodomy and a discussion on governing murder are discussions that go back to the "as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else" clause of the freedom definition.  One is a matter of how you live your is a matter of someone making a decision to end my life.  What am I missing?   We NEED legislation to deter someone from putting a piece of lead behind my ear.  But do we need legislation to legislate sexual preferences? The judge can have his own moral feelings regarding homosexuality but just don't bring them to work please. (and I'm not even getting  into a discussion of how short-sighted it is that someone in 2012 still feels the word "sodomy" is synonymous with homosexuality..puhleeeeeeeeeze.) 

     Perhaps it was when Farrah Fawcett ran across that television screen with a gun in her hand chasing down bad guys with lots of blonde hair and lots of jiggling.  Maybe that's when I realized that I was a flaming heterosexual and really appreciated the femine form (especially if they were carrying a gun and yelling "FREEZE!" to a dastardly no-gooder.)  Maybe before that - maybe when Elizabeth Montgomery crinkled up that cute little nose to throw a spell down on someone.  Maybe then I realized that I really, really liked girls!   And I COULD like them without having to keep thoughts of pretty hair and feminine jiggling to myself.  I didn't have to wander through my formative years acting like something I wasn't, mostly in attempt to avoid the brutality that scorn from other children can bring.  I don't envy someone that lived through that type of youthful existence.  Surely now that we're adults we can be who we are and celebrate personal freedom without the scorn of others.  Judge Scalia says " need ME and others like me to make sure we tell that blind chick wearing the blindfold and holding the scales  that you live a life that's just not normal!!"

     I generally detest someone who takes up causes that have absolutely no bearing on them.  I usually let folks fight their own fights.  But there's some folks on this earth that I care about who have to fight this fight.  I might even know others who - still in adulthood - are living something they aren't to avoid blatent discrimination.  And, who knows, one day this could be MY fight.  One day, someone could decide that prohibition was a good idea and base it solely on their own moral principles.  Suddenly, my dry martini on the patio makes me a filthy sinner.  Books have been burned and music has been banned before.  I think we might be kidding ourselves if we think there's not a contingent of very powerful folks who think God has given them dominion over what I do, say and think.  And I KNOW that somewhere, somebody is reading this and I've just been given some label that has to do with bleeding hearts.  They would, however,  be surprised to hear how conservative my rants on other issues might sound.  I'm all over the map, I know.  But I thought that's what being American afforded me - the opportunity to be  a collage.
( dearly departed mother would say I've quit preaching and gone to meddlin' ) 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Me, The Hunter?

The very nice gentleman at Dunkin Donuts (whose english is getting better but still hard to follow at 6:15 in the morning) is miffed by two things when I stop by there for a dose of caffeine; that I don't ever order anything but coffee ("why no eat my friend?") and that I no longer take "4 splenda and whole milk" in my coffee ("why you change my friend?") I've explained to him several hundred times that I have to be awake for a while before I can eat and that he has me mixed up with someone else - I've never, ever had anything with coffee besides a cup to hold it. Still, though, the conversation repeats itself any morning that I hit his drive-thru. And I have no idea why I decided to include that scenario in my thoughts this morning, except to say that if my extra large black hadn't woken me up yet then the first article I saw upon turning on the laptop certainly did..the one for which I've tried to provide a link may have to copy and paste into your browser.

Taking up hunting has been something I've long considered. In years past, though, I had reason (bad health caused by excess weight)to keep the carnivore in me and the animal lover in me from fighting it out. Hunting would've been way too labor-intensive for me back then. Now, minus considerable weight, I'm still not a world class athlete but I am in good enough shape to wander the woods. In short, the ability to hunt is no longer the issue but the pre-emptive case of buck fever is - COULD I pull the trigger on an animal?

I am, as mentioned, a carnivore. If someone said that I could no longer have desserts in my time here on planet earth I wouldn't blink. If I had to quit meat, I'd cry. I love eating meat. I love cooking meat. I'm usually at my most content manning animal flesh on a grill, grilling implement in one hand, cold cocktail in the other. But I have become greatly concerned about the source of the meat I consume. What type of chemicals has this animal been forced to ingest? Does the chicken in the oven have so many steroids in it that Lyle Alzado would've been frightened of it? Was it thrown around and slammed and slapped in its last moment of life by a poultry processing plant worker that is paid by the chicken rather than the hour? I LOVE fois gras, but don't eat it because I think the means by which it's created is sinful. Conversely, I love lamb and veal so much that I put ethical issues out of my head and just enjoy the rare opportunities I have to dine on them.

I grew up in the suburbs, but had enough relatives in rural Georgia and witnessed enough slaughtering and processing to know that meat wasn't born at the grocery store. Even as a kid, it didn't bother me and I was well aware that sustenance was the motivation. But, as I got older, part of my reservations about shooting wild animals stemmed from the fact that it was sport vs. sustenance. I COULD go to the store and buy meat. But now, whether rationalization or fact, ethical issues (animal treatment, genetic alteration, chemicals) point me back to knowing my meat before it hits my table. And that's an issue whether we're talking about paying more and buying meat with words like "organic" and "free range" on the label or going out with a gun and putting meat in my freezer.

Bird hunting is something I find myself really keen to try. I have a couple of motivations - first, the fact that whether it's quail, pheasant, dove, duck or a goose I LOVE the taste of game birds. But also someone that loves dogs as much as I do has much enjoyment to gain from watching them work in the field. I can watch these shows for hours where duck hunters train these gorgeous creatures to retrieve. The dogs always look like they're having the time of their lives. And I think I could shoot a bird - that's not much of a step up from yanking a fish out of the water and showing it the way to a frying pan is it? (and God knows, I've done plenty of that.) I mean birds and fish occupy the same rung of the food chain ladder, right? RIGHT?

Ok, so I start feeling confident that I could shoot a bird. But what about a four-legged creature? What about a deer? What about a wild hog? The more I hear about over-population and the ravaged crops and car accidents that it causes the more I realize there's a need for the population control that hunters provide. And - after riding with my wife when a deer decided to occupy the same space as her Tahoe and realizing that if we'd been driving a smaller vehicle it could've been a tragic situation - I definitely see the need to cull the herd. And, again, I love me some venison. Shouldn't I be the one to faciliate its trip to my table?

So far, the only step in my endeavor to kill what I eat was a squirrel hunting trip with two of my nephews. Unfortunately, the squirrels had the weekend off and it was mostly a chance to visit, build a big fire, grill us some store bought meat and drink beer in the woods...and that wasn't a bad thing in itself.

So this article hit home with me. I felt a bit less odd having this debate with myself because, apparently, a lot of other folks are as well. I'm not real sure, though, if I'm a "hipster" because I'm not real sure what a "hipster" is. Chances are I'm not. But I'm a southern-born, cacucasian, middle-aged guy who drives a pick up truck and has a labrador retriever...and SURELY that predisposes me to channel my inner Daniel Boone!

Monday, December 3, 2012

A Pirate looks at Forty-Nine.....

I've joked many times in the last couple of days that this is the last birthday I'll officially recognize. After this, I'll be "49 and holding...." I'm quite sure I'll have a better attitude come this time next year, but right now I can't even say the word "fifty." I surely can't say it when followed by the words "years old."

Being the victim of an overly-active imagination (the one that leads me to tell stories, write songs, live for the next good joke and basically still go through life as the class clown) causes me to over-think everything. Even the simple birthdays. They used to be fun. The only time we got a steak when I was a kid was on our birthday. Somewhere there's a picture of me sitting at the dining room table on Fayetteville Road, wearing a Georgia Tech sweatshirt (shocker, right?) and about to dive into a steak as big as I am with a birthday cake on that long buffet in front of the window behind me. No doubt all three sisters were home for dinner that night (instead of flitting around being cool somewhere with their cool friends) and I got SOME presents.....I say SOME because one of the negatives to being a child with a December birthday is hearing the words "You'll get more at Christmas!"

By contrast, over the last few days and today, I've celebrated my birth by waiting in line for my birth certificate at the State of Georgia Vital Records Office. This was so that I could go wait in another line at the Department of Driver Services to renew my driver's license. THEN, today I got to go wait in another line to renew my truck tag. (amazing what Gwinnett County thinks a postage stamp-sized piece of paper that says "December 2013" is worth.)

I bitch and moan for the sake of comedy. In actuality, I've had an awesome day. Nieces, nephews, sisters (adopted and biological) old friends, new friends, a former teacher (who asked if I was 11 or 12 now...I hated breaking the news to her on my actual age) all checked in to wish me happy birthday. I make fun of social networking...until it serves to remind me how many damn fine people there are in the world and how many of them are on my side.

The lady of the house is working her late night and won't be around 'til later (I knew when I married a nurse that some days it would be all about the sick folks!) But I fully expect the best present I get today will be falling asleep next to her on the couch, trying to watch some television, listening to her snore and thanking The Almighty that there's one person on earth who can put up with my stupidity and take care of me. I might just be "the richest man in town." (something one sister is always trying to make me pains me to admit she might be right.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

"We got to put Tom in the oven...and go to bed."

There's an old picture of me the day before either Thanksgiving or Christmas, barely tall enough to see over a table, but I had a spoon in a bowl stirring something or other "'til it looked'll know when it looks right." She was within arm's reach and dropping a thousand hints that crawl out from the attic of my brain every time I'm in the kitchen cooking for a holiday. And it's impossible to spend any time in a kitchen trying to remember how to cook for an army (whether one is coming or not!) without missing her terribly and wishing to God she was still here and watching over my shoulder.

"If you use too much celery, that's all you're going to taste...celery."

"Sage bothers my asthma...don't put any sage in there. Besides, it takes over whatever you're cooking."

"If your dressing's got juice standing, put some loaf-bread in there 'til there's no juice standing. You want it wet, but you don't want it swimming."
"How much bread?"
"You'll know when you get there."

"Rub vegetable oil all over the outside of that turkey...and then a bunch of black pepper."
"But it says it's self-basting, there's no need for oil?"
"Just put you some oil on it."

"We got to put Tom in the oven..and go to bed."
"Will it be allright? Do we need to stay up and watch it?"
"The oven doesn't need our help..go to bed."

I wrote somewhere (in some blog) that if there's a heaven I'll know it when I get there because it will smell like my mother's kitchen the day before Thanksgiving. Try as I may - using all her tricks - I've yet to recreate that smell. Maybe I actually have but it just doesn't smell as good because she's not in the kitchen. I can see her now, sweat on her brow and wearing an apron that looked like it'd been drug around by a truck.

I'm trying Mama. If you see me putting way too big a pinch of something somewhere, give me that elbow - "Uh, babe,,,how much of that did you just put in there?" And I'll fix it..because the woman that taught me always told me "Don't be afraid of cooking,,,because there's always a fix."

Monday, October 1, 2012

Right Out of Central Casting....

Her earliest memories of baseball were of sitting in the "colored" section of the old Ponce de Leon Park. A black couple named Ham and Effie watched after children while their parents worked in the old bag mill and Cracker ballgames often became their playground. Later as a teenager, working at Sears right across from the ballpark, she would wander over and catch late innings of afternoon games. Ernie Harwell called a good many of those Crackers games on the radio and I think she learned much while hanging on the words of a man who never played ball but still ended up in Cooperstown. She loved the Brooklyn Dodgers because her father did. She said Fred McGriff had the sweetest swing she'd ever seen and considered the designated hitter as proof that the devil exists. I learned to trust most of what my mother said about baseball because she was generally right. So, not long into into his rookie season, when she declared that this kid named Chipper "just looked like a baseball player" I took notice. At bat after at bat she used to say "he even looks like Mickey Mantle" (it was hard for one who called them self a Brooklyn fan to use a Yankee legend as a flattering point of reference, but facts is facts.) She often used "throwback" describing the kid and one time said "I hope when he retires he's still a Brave." You didn't live long enough to see it, Mama, but you got your wish.

Because it's a sport that - more than others - celebrates its antiquity, being called a "throwback" is high praise for a baseball player. And I have to agree with her - I always thought Chipper belonged to a different time. A time when baseball teams rode trains. A time when baseball players had second jobs to make ends meet. A time when players often lived as hard as they played. A time when pitchers weren't afraid of high pitch counts. And a time when players played entire careers with one team.

Relatively speaking, the Atlanta Braves are a young organization. There are few legends and few faces of baseball in these parts. Going forward, though, when one thinks of the Atlanta Braves I'm fairly certain the picture in their mind is going to be of #10. All sweat and dirt and scooping a slow roller to 3rd with his bare hand. Rounding bases after putting one over that stupid apple in the old Shea Stadium, silencing the citizens of Queens who seconds prior were chiding him with calls of "Laaaaaarry! Laaaaaaarry!" Or of the "old man" of 40 sitting at a table at his last spring training with tears in his eyes, looking very human and explaining why he was walking away. I know he was compensated well for his efforts, but I still feel the need to thank him for the years he spent busting his ass for the team my mother loved. (and, no, she wouldn't approve of my choice of words...but it fits when trying to describe a certain breed of ballplayer. She'd probably give me a pass....)

Monday, September 17, 2012

...because everybody loves a good train wreck...

I really should hate it. The world doesn't need one more reason to stereotype southerners. The world doesn't need one more reality show in which the only thing real is the sheer stupidity of the subject matter. We're (collectively) dumb enough. We don't need one more thing to suck I.Q.'s right out of our skulls. Besides, there's something quite freakish about 6 and 7 year-old "beauty queens." Seriously, they make my skin crawl. I really, REALLY should hate it...and I do. The problem is, I can't quit watching it....I just can't.

As a child, I used to go with my uncle to visit an old man that lived way off in the woods somewhere in Dawson County, Georgia. I mean you drove down some dirt road for a LONG time before you came to this house that he had built with his wife back when God was a little boy. The man couldn't read a word or write his name down on a piece of paper. But we used to sit there for hours listening to him rant about everything from politics to religion to snakes to possums to women to blueberries. Yep, blueberries. The man loved blueberries almost as much as he loved his wife and he had blueberry bushes all over the place. Some of the blueberry bushes had names (I'm not making this up.) The only name I remember was the one that was planted near his well - he named it "Tina" (he pronounced it "Teener.") Before we left his house he always gave us a basket of blueberries and would tell us to "keep our nose clean." I was pretty much afraid of the old guy. One time, on the way home from one of these visits, I asked my uncle why we always went to visit this very strange person. He said "Because he's a mess, that's why." I still didn't understand. "We visit him because he's a mess?" "Yep," Uncle Ralph said, "he's a mess and it does you good to listen to a mess sometimes." I asked him why my aunt never came with us when we went to visit him. He said "She thinks he's crazy as hell and she's afraid of him." (ok, so I wasn't the only one...)

My dear Uncle Ralph spent a great deal of time broadening the horizons of this kid that lived in suburban Atlanta where most of the houses and most of the people looked just alike. I now realize how much I learned from being to exposed to people and places with which I had NOTHING in common...even when they were a mess. And now as I stare down half a century of life in this world, I'm completely and totally addicted to watching anything that's a "mess." And Lord HELP, this Honey Boo-Boo thing is a mess in every sense of the word. And it's not so much the child that's at the center of this spectacle that fascinates's the backdrop against which her story is told. That extended family, that little house by the railroad tracks, the coupons, the pet pig and the suppers made up of melted butter, ketchup and "sketti." (threw up in my mouth just a little during the spaghetti episode I must admit.) It's horrific and fascinating. It's disgraceful and hilarious. It's demeaning and intriguing. And it's all on The LEARNING Channel. Wow...Uncle Ralph was right - there is something to be LEARNED from a MESS.

And when the old man with the named blueberry bushes died, he had his body cremated and his ashes sprinkled around those blueberry bushes. His widow sent a basket of the next crop of blueberries over to my aunt and uncle's house. For the first time in her life, Aunt Nell wasted food. "I threw them blueberries away! I ain't eating NOTHING that might have part of that old fool in it..."

Friday, September 14, 2012


There's an owl that shows up in the backyard every year when the weather's about to turn cool. It generally shows up around the time that football season starts. I don't know if it's the same owl, but the sentimental side of me likes to think so. Last night I heard it right at dusk while I was sitting on the patio enjoying one of my favorite summertime activities - watching the bats chase things that are flying around the streetlight below our house. Fall and summer, converging on the evening and our backyard at the same time. Only a brain as strange as mine could turn that into a train of thought that really goes nowhere.

A couple of weeks ago, I was working my last baseball game of the season and was then also struck by the changing of the seasons and how "thoughty" they make me. It sometimes seems I'm at my most content on summer evenings in a minor league baseball park, visiting with people I've come to know and adore and watching the great pastime as it was meant to be enjoyed - at a very grass roots/civic pride/this is the kind of thing that makes us American level. Every year I hate to see it end. The upside to it ending, though, is that it means football is here. As much as I romanticize about the sport of baseball, college football is religion, especially here in these southeastern United States. Perhaps it's the short duration of the season, the frantic "gotta enjoy it while it's here because in just a matter of weeks it's gone" state of mind. Perhaps it's the tradition and the pageantry. Perhaps it's genetic, as I can picture my father dozing off on Sunday afternoons during NFL games but sitting on the edge of his chair listening to college football on the radio. So maybe fall wins based on just on the fact that it's the backdrop to my favorite obsession?

I don't know, summer has two really important entries on its ledger - flip-flops and tomatoes. If I never had to put on another pair of socks in my life and could wear flip-flops everywhere I went I'd die a happy man. (Those that know me are grateful that we live in an area with just enough of a winter to make socks necessary some of the time. I truly have the world's ugliest feet, more specifically the world's ugliest toes.) And tomatoes...oh dear LORD tomatoes. If could eat a tomato sandwich with mayo, black pepper and arugula for lunch everyday for the rest of my time on this earth, this also would help me die with a smile on my face.

I tried to warn you that this train was going nowhere. There's something positively strange about someone who can wax poetic about flip-flops, bats, owls and tomatoes and find a way to work ugly toes into the discussion. Robert Louis Stevenson didn't waste quite as many words as I have trying to paint a similar picture:

"In the other gardens
And all up the vale,
From the autumn bonfires
See the smoke trail!

Pleasant summer over
And all the summer flowers,
The red fire blazes,
The grey smoke towers.

Sing a song of seasons!
Something bright in all!
Flowers in the summer,
Fires in the fall!"
("Autumn Fires")

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

"...and become as little children..."

We were sent home from work early that day. The world was going to hell and they weren't sure how safe we were in our tall glass building so they just sent us home. I decided to go by Mother's little apartment and make sure she wasn't terrified. Almost by the day, the Alzheimer's was manifesting itself in different ways and killing the mind and soul of the woman who raised us. I wasn't sure how she'd react to a day unlike any this country had ever experienced.

When I went in she was surprised to see me. She was still clear enough to know that I should've been in the office at that time of the day. I noticed that, sure enough, the images on her television were of burning towers and chaos. It didn't seem, though, that those images had rattled her in any way. Her face was still beaming with the joy that always showed itself when company arrived.

"What are you watching?" I asked her. She thought for a minute then said "well, I'm not real sure. That big building there is on fire and it's been on fire all morning. I'm real sorry it's on fire but I'm not sure why we have to watch it all day long." I was reaching for words. I remembered that one of the many symptoms of her bout with Alzheimer's was that often she could remember details of events decades old, but couldn't remember yesterday. So I gave that a try. "You've told me many times how scared y'all were that Sunday afternoon when Pearl Harbor was bombed. Do you remember that?" She nodded "Oh yes, we were terrified." I said "well, today is kind of like that day. Some people have hijacked planes and they're flying them into buildings, even the Pentagon." Her eyes got huge "Really???????" I said "yes, but I think that the immediate danger has they're just going to be searching for bodies for a long, long time." She said "well that's just awful."

Several moments of silence followed until she said "you know what I noticed? Judy Woodruff has the same stupid hairdo she had when she was on channel 5." Then she laughed. Then I laughed. Her mind had truly become a child's mind, and that day was a good to have a child's mind, unable to wrap itself around all the grief and horror. I took her hand and told her to come with me, I'd buy her a slaw dog. "Can I get onion rings, too?" I told her she could have whatever she wanted.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Old dogs and fish hooks....

"You can go anywhere you want, but don't go over there on that property. He's a mean old bastard, 'specially if he's been drinking. And his guinea hens bite." Uncle Ralph said "mean old bastard" in a very serious sounding way. And sounding very serious wasn't Uncle Ralph's forte. So I took heed to his warning. Not sure if I was more afraid of the man that lived on the property next to my uncle's lake house (that I'd never seen) or his attack guinea hens. My mother echoed the sentiment. She said the man who lived in the dirty, white trailer grown over with weeds and kudzu was "no-account white trash." Mama spoke ill of few folks so, again, I figured I needed to pay attention. On weeks spent at that lake house, I swam, I fished, I romped in the woods, I ate honeysuckle and tried to catch frogs and lightning bugs. But I stayed away from the mean old man's property.

I had the misfortune, though, of finding out how right Uncle Ralph was about the old man. I came in from fishing one afternoon and left my fishing pole on the porch while I went in to eat some lunch. After lunch, I planned on more fishing. But my pole was no longer on the porch. I looked and it was lying in the grass, halfway between the back porch and the outhouse. Then I noticed it was moving, slithering through the grass like a snake! Dumbfounded I ran off the porch to go chase my fishing pole. It was the most sickening sight of my life to realize it was being drug through the grass because - SOMEHOW - the hook on the end of my line had gotten hooked in some old dog's nose and the poor creature was trying to run itself loose! I chased. The dog ran. The more I chased the more it ran both in pain and terror. Finally I was able to coax it back to me and the poor old dog laid low to the ground, whimpering and shaking. Then it happened...the sound of birds, the sound of lake water lapping up against Uncle Ralph's dock and boat, the sound of cicadas grinding and singing, all these beautiful sounds of summer were shattered by a voice that sounded like gravel and liquor and Camel cigarettes. "What the hell are you doing to my dog??" It was the no-account white trash, mean old bastard, son of Satan that had previously lived only in legend, but now there he was walking towards me. I didn't notice that I had chased the dog far enough that I was now within a few feet of that nasty old trailer in the woods. My lips trembled but I fought the urge to cry. Even a small boy shouldn't show weakness when standing face to face with evil.

"Your dog got my fishing hook stuck in it's nose. I'm trying to figure out how to get it out without hurting him." Finally holding the poor dog, I realized the hook was through it's septum. The body of the hook was in one nostril. The point and the barb in the other. I mustered up all my courage and said "Do you have some needle-nosed pliers?" (because Uncle Ralph taught me that this was the painless way to get a hook out of your finger....snip it right behind the barb and then just back the hook out of your skin." The old man said "what in the hell you want with pliers? Come here dog!" The dog crawled over there to him, still dragging my pole. If I live to be 110, I'll never be able to forget what transpired next. The old man grabbed the end of the hook where it was tied to my line and just jerked it out with all his might. It ripped the dog's septum in two and the dog ran off yelping into the woods. I never saw it again. It was a right skittish dog anyway and I had the haunting notion that this probably wasn't the first time the mean old man had hurt him. So it never came back. And I damn sure never went anywhere near that old man's trailer again. But that dog's painful yelp was the worst sound ever to fall on this child's ears.

I sat by the big oak tree by the dirt road and cried. I don't know how long I sat there and cried. An hour? Two hours? Finally Mama came walking up the little drive calling me. "Timothy? Timothy?" "Tim" only went to "Timothy" if I was in trouble or if she was worried about me. She couldn't find me on the dock where I'd been catching and releasing Carp and Bluegill all day. She couldn't find me in the pile of wood I was trying to turn into a fort. So, for now, "Timothy" evoked concern. She became even more concerned when she saw that I was hiding and crying.

She couldn't get me to eat supper that night. She couldn't get me to fall asleep. Even a mother's warm touch and comforting words couldn't get the sound of that poor dog screaming out of my head. I wondered if it'd just run out into the dark woods and died. I wondered if it was now so afraid of people that it would just stay out in the woods and starve to death. I was at the age where one was trying to no longer be a little boy but I was not yet a teenager. So the humiliation of having my mother hold my hand while I cried only served to take me to an even lower rung of hell. I have many, many cherished memories of Uncle Ralph's lake house. That day wasn't one of them.

Fast forward to this morning. We were sitting on the patio and the two-legged lady of the house was brushing the other lady of the house (who has four legs.) The plan was for me trim her nails like I'd done many times before, using the comforting brushing as a diversion. It was a fine plan until the peace and quiet of a Sunday morning was kicked in the gut by a yelp quite similar to what I'd heard some 38 or 39 years ago in front of the mean old man's trailer. I had cut past the quick of one of the nails on her right front foot and blood was dripping on our patio. The blood dripped from her paw for a minute or two, until the pressure I was putting on it with a handful of napkins had blood doing what it's supposed to do and coagulating. A bite of cheese and a tummy rub and the world's sweetest Labrador Retriever was fine. However, the dummy who had snipped too close was a hot mess. I cried like a baby. Mama's comforting hand was replaced by my bride bringing me a cup of coffee and a bowl of the cheese grits. I don't think she was completely surprised by my reaction to hurting the dog - she knows I can't tolerate canine suffering of any kind. But she might've been surprised that I couldn't shake the whole episode...until I reminded her of my "dog meets fish hook trauma." I reckon, for the rest of my time here on planet earth, whenever I hear a dog's yelp the worst childhood memory of all rears it's ugly head along with it's gravely, Camel-cigarettes, liquored up voice. If there is a heaven and if I get there and if dogs really do go there, there's several dogs I want to track down and give a belly rub. Most of them I know by name. But I want to find that nameless one with the torn-up nose and tell it I'm really sorry that happened. I hope it will forgive me as quickly as the dog now lying at my feet has forgiven me.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"A Certain Restlessness"

I saw an interview with Craig Ferguson. He's a pretty interesting fellow. He became an American citizen by choice, he's hosting a trendy late-night talk show, he's a recovering alcoholic, he's learned to be a pilot (a "facing your fears" decision) he's written books and screenplays, he's acted on stage, screen and television and he was a drummer in a punk rock band back in Scotland (Yeah, but I bet he never wrote the longest, most disjointed sentence in the world like I just did!) The correspondent doing the interview asked him if all of that indicated a "certain restlessness." Craig said he was sure it indicated a "certain restlessness." And then I exhaled. Finally, there's a term for that which plagues me. Finally there's someone else on earth as scattered as I am. I felt a bit less freakish...not much, but a little.

"So something like a Swiss Army knife, yeah, that's my life."
I've tested the waters in many different oceans. I've set and fell short of many goals. Some of them led me down some fascinating roads where I met many characters that I'll never forget. Some ended me with me in dark places and meeting people I wish I could forget. For about 2 months I was a disc jockey on a country music radio station (at the time I knew as much about country music as I know about brain surgery.) I explored everything from journalism to psychology to teaching as career choices. None of them stuck. I grew my hair very long. I later cut most of it off (and the Lord's taking the rest.) I started wearing earrings. I now wear a wedding ring. I used to live in a crash pad with a Labrador Retriever and usually had a week or two's worth of empty beer cans lining my shower. I would use a towel until it stood up by itself. I now vacuum a lot, consider yardwork a hobby and sit out clean towels for the lady of the house when she's had a bad day. I like putting on a suit and taking my bride to dinners that are more events than meals. I also like putting on my favorite flip-flops, building a fire in the backyard, chilling an obscene amount of beer and putting animal flesh (usually a pig or some part of one!) on that fire and drinking beer until it's done (the meat, not the beer,,though the meat and the beer are often done around the same time.) I love jazz. I love Doc Watson. I love martinis and lobster. I like iced tea and collards. I'm constantly trying to get started on the next great American novel and I've decided I want to fulfill a childhood obsession and drive tractor trailers for a living. I'm 48 years old, can smell 50 from where I'm standing and seriously wanting to know "JUST WHO IN THE HELL AM I???????????"

I worry that the real victim in all of this is the woman who was brave enough to become my wife. I often find myself apologetic with her that I'm not like other husbands. God bless her, she reminds me that she didn't want "other husbands" she wanted me and enjoys watching me try to experience so many things. I think it's a nice way for her to say "Sweetie, I knew you were nuts when I married you."

So you see why I took great comfort from Craig Ferguson defining a "certain restlessness" as a healthy infliction. He said that it's a hindrance to give yourself one restricts you from trying as much as you can in this life. So, I reckon I'll just "cruise along, always searching for songs, not a lawyer a thief or a banker..." or perhaps all three...

Sunday, August 26, 2012

UNITED States?

I'm breaking my number one rule...sort of. I can't take credit for my number one rule. It's one of the few lessons I learned from my father. He once told me "Don't ever discuss religion or politics with anyone. There's no right or wrong answers and folks just get mad." But I'm not really discussing politics. I'm discussing our reaction to politics.

When I was a teenager, some zealots in Iran decided to storm our embassy and take 52 Americans hostage. Our country was immediately united in our resolve and there were yellow ribbons, prayer services and we presented a truly united front, determined to bring these 52 Americans back home. We didn't care who the president of our United States was at the time and whether or not we agreed with anything else he did with regards to domestic issues. We wanted those Americans back home and prayed for them and our president ever single day. For the first time in my young life, I saw the way our country could bristle up like a pissed off yard dog fending off the mailman. The kind of scowl my parents said we carried back in the 40's. I was proud to be a part of it. Being the lover of southern rock & roll that I was (and am) I relished in the fact that one of the poster children of my favorite music - Charlie Daniels- wrote a "Go to hell, we're Americans!" song during that long nightmare. (" just go to lay your hands on a Tennessee Vols fan, and I think you're gonna' find they understand.") The hostages eventually came back home. One of them even spoke at my baccalaureate when - by some miracle - I graduated from high school.

Fast forward to a beautiful September morning in September of 2001 when the world up and went to hell again. By now, I'm grown, married and - in my mind - living the American dream of home ownership, tax paying and voting. In the aftermath of that awful day, I was sure I'd see the same sort of "fourth and one and we're going for it dammit!" mentality. And I did......for about a year and half. Soon followed a war not only against the region and people who perpetrated the death of more than 3,000 folks, but also against some other country that may or not have been a definite target in the "war on terror." Seemingly, overnight, we went from being "Us" to being "me and you." I want to blame it on one man (whose middle initial might or might not be "W") but then, again, I'd be breaking rule number one. (But I do think, if we'd kept on chasing the real fox in the hen house, Osama Bin Laden would've been fish food many years earlier.)

Shortly after September, 2001, a co-worker saw my truck in the parking deck. I had an American flag in my back window. He smiled with delight and said "Oh! I thought you were a democrat!" I said "No, I'm not democrat." He said "Well thank God you ARE a Republican!" I said ", I'm not a republican either." The look on his face resembled that of someone who might've actually encountered Sasquatch right there in the parking lot. I realized then that we had become a "house divided."

I think that Jesus Christ was the first to use that phrase "house divided." Then along came an American statesman named Abraham Lincoln quoting it in one of the most famous speeches ever given. Strange that I reference "statesmen" in that sentence. Because the man who is as much a father to me as my biological father, the retired principal who often speaks wisely (and is my bride's father) told me recently "we no longer have STATESMEN running this country. We have politicians...and that's dangerous." I read a book that someone on that "W" guy's staff wrote. He inferred that people in power in this country are no longer doing what's best for us. They're swallowed up by the "perpetual campaign." They do whatever will get them re-elected. I think THAT'S dangerous.

Last night, as I'm prone to do April through August, I had the pleasure of working at a minor-league baseball game. I also had the pleasure of getting two little guys' some autographs from the Atlanta Braves' 2011 first round draft choice (one of them on a batting practice ball I'd procured for him.) They were both giddy and I told them both to hang onto those autographs because one day they'd be glad they did. I felt very American. And Feeling "American" really shouldn't get much more complicated than that.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Mama and rainy days...

Back in my childhood, when it rained we had to stay indoors. Something that, quite frankly, I don't think bothers kids these days. But for us it was sheer torture. We had no computers, video games, pay for view movies or 24 hour television designed just for kids. Other than some after school programming during the week, we had to wait until (shudder!) Saturday morning to watch t.v.!! "OMG! LOL! WTH? How did you survive?" We grabbed our "BFF's" (which sometimes constituted everyone in the neighborhood) and ran and romped in woods and creeks and playgrounds. So, obviously, a rainy day meant no fun.

The scariest part of rainy days was the dread that parents would find something constructive for you to do. "You could clean your room." "You could help me string some beans for supper." "You can fold towels." Kill me now! I always wondered why, given these painful circumstances, it was so obvious my mother loved a rainy day. She said it all the time, how much she loved a rainy day. I can see her now,drinking her coffee with no television, no radio - just sitting by the big window in the living room with that cup of coffee watching it rain. She'd watch birds shake feathers and dry off in the trees. She'd watch squirrels curl up in tight little balls on branches waiting until it quit. Somtimes she was reading books by that big window. Books that, more often than not, had Agatha Christie's name on the front. What was it about a dark day that caused one to go on a mission to finish the book and find out "who done it"??

I am now 48 years old. I'm spending most of my time stepping and fetching for a nickel. I think a lot about a lot of things that I never used to think about. Things like where I've been, mistakes I've made, mistakes I haven't made. Things like decisions that worked and decisions that exploded. And things like tomorrow? Oh dear GOD what is tomorrow going to bring?? I think about all the nieces and nephews that I love so much as I would if they were my own. Every time I see any of them, they're either grown or at the age where they now know just how goofy their uncle really is. They're having children of their own, for God's sake! If they're that old, well then I'm, uh... Sleep is sometimes interrupted by these very same thoughts.

And here I now sit, staring out a window on a rainy Tuesday, taking a lunch break from my workday (and the aforementioned "stepping and fetching.") No television, no radio. Just a cup of coffee and a snoring labrador retriever at my feet. Rain's washing the red clay and the grass and the world looks cleaner than it did yesterday. There's a big robin hiding under the patio furniture waiting on a dry moment to pick at the grass and find something delicious for lunch. The chipmunk that lives in the hole by the fence just stuck out its head and crawled back in - smart animal. I feel my blood pressure dropping. I feel like a nap for lunch instead of a turkey sandwich or running errands. I might just pour another cup and start a book I recently purchased. Or I might just sit here and keep staring until it's time to start making those nickels again. In short, Mama, I now understand what you saw in a rainy day.

Olympic Observations

If you don't fall and sprain, break or dislocate something while doing some death-defying gymnastics routine, it should be scored a "10." (or whatever constitutes a perfect score in this digital age in which we reside...17.58324398??) I really don't care if your elbows and your hips didn't occupy the same linear space...if you're still able to walk after doing what you just did, you win.

At the risk of being a judgmental hack, I'm pretty sure Bob Costas is convinced that the reason we're having these Olympic games is to provide him more face time (fairly certain he believes the Lord created major league baseball for the same reason.)

I've long thought the ceremonies (both opening and closing) are too long, too lavish and too overstated. They're no longer about athletes and athletic endeavors - they're about "productions." My point, I think, was proven by the use of farm animals (let me repeat FARM ANIMALS) in the ceremony I witnessed last Friday night. I was shocked to learn the budge for this ostentatious display was $42 million. I was more shocked that the $42 million price tag paled in comparison to Beijing's $100 million opening ceremony budget. One suggestion to Danny Boyle should he be asked to produce something of this magnitude again - less Paul McCartney, more Pink Floyd.

Speaking of opening ceremonies, kudos to Michael Farber @ Sports Illustrated who provided this gem:
"...the avantgardist winter ceremony in Albertville, France, two decades ago, at which each nation paraded into the stadium behind a woman encased in a bubble that stretched from neck to knee while a voice on the P.A. system recited a rhyming couplet that included the name of the country. Mercifully, Nantucket had not declared independence."

In this same piece by Michael Farber, I learned there that the concept of flyovers by military aircraft at sporting events was apparently born (if not born, this had to be the earliest instance of such things) at the 1936 games in Berlin. The aircraft that flew over Hitler and the opening ceremony and the torch relay that day? The Hindenburg.

Good move NBC. For those that avoided any print, online or broadcast information during the day on Monday, July 30 (so as to enjoy the events at night with some degree of anticipation) you ran a promo 6 minutes before her race advising us that gold medal winner Missy Franklin was going to be on Tuesday's "Today" show with her parents. Well played, well played. (as they allowed in this morning's, even if you had your t.v. muted, they showed a picture of the 17 year old sweetheart flashing her gold medal.) Perhaps less time should be spent on Bob Costas' hair and more time in the details.

Can you imagine the jokes if they'd used farm animals in the opening ceremonies in Atlanta in 1996?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

John Wayne recorded an album?

Yep, The Duke recorded an album. I might not have known this were it not for the fact that on every 4th of July morning during my childhood, I was awakened by the sounds of this album shouting through our house. It included such "songs" as "American Boy Grows Up" "Face The Flag" and "Why Are You Marching, Son?" The 4th of July was always a day for patriotism, fireworks, brunswick stew at Uncle Ralph's farm for us. No matter what was on the agenda that day, it started with John Wayne being very American. Christmas is a nice holiday. But those 4th of July's are the times when I remember feeling like we really were a family and (church folks forgive me) the holiday I enjoyed the most. Perhaps it's my preference for hot weather over cold weather. Perhaps it's my love of cooking outdoors. Perhaps it's my love of lakes and beaches and summer-type activities that are synonymous with the 4th of July. Or perhaps it's the time spent watching my mother on this national holiday. I realized then that living through World War II and watching so many people important to her give lives and time for our freedom made the 4th of July quite important. So run road races and shoot off fireworks (that scare dogs by the way..sorry, the yellow Lab at my feet asked that I throw that in) and do what you do on the 4th. But remember why we're doing all this fun stuff....and "Face The Flag."

Front Porches and Sunday Dinners

An actor died today. He was an actor that played a hayseed recruit getting into a peck of trouble trying to make it into the army. He was an actor who played the main role in a television series about a small-town sheriff with a big heart and the wisdom of Solomon. He was an actor that advertised Ritz Crackers ("mmmmmmmmm...gooood cracker....") He was an actor that played a lawyer in the big city who was usually the smartest man in the room. But to simply say we're lamenting the loss of an actor certainly doesn't explain why we feel so empty. Why ARE we all feeling the loss of a person we didn't know? I think it's because right here on the eve of our country's birthday, we've lost a part of something that is quintessentially "American." And it has been for several generations. You may not have been able to talk rock & roll with your elders. You may not have been able to talk politics or religion with them (because they surely weren't as enlightened as you!) But you could all sit in the same room and watch Andy Griffith together. It's hard to not first think of Sheriff Andy Taylor when thinking about Andy Griffith's body of work. Mayberry is a world where drug stores still make milkshakes and businesses close on Sundays. It is a world where every dinner is a Sunday dinner and all the world's problems can be solved while sitting and relaxing on somebody's front porch. It is a place where kids still play outside barefooted and human interaction involves handshakes on sidewalks and cups of coffee. Notice I refer to Mayberry in the present tense. I feel compelled to because, though the actor that brought the town to life is now gone, the hope that this perfect spot surely still exists somewhere hasn't yet died. It serves not only as an "ideal" of someplace we'd like to live but of what we strive to be. And that just might live forever in the hearts of those who have watched the same reruns over and over and over and laughed and cried just as hard as we did the very first time we watched them. I'm pretty sure Andy Griffith would tell us all to quit being sad. He'd probably tell us all to go to the filling station and get a bottle of pop and then wander over to the movie house and watch them change the sign on the marquis. It lowered my blood pressure just typing about such things.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day

Everyone who knows me knows I love my bride. They all know she's the most important thing in the world to me and the reason I get up when the alarm clock screams. Everyone who knows me knows I loved my Mother. I can't think of baseball, collard greens, Frank Sinatra or Glen Miller without getting tears in my eyes because I worshiped the woman who gave birth to me. Everyone who knows me knows I love my sisters. Three distinct individuals who all did their part to raise the baby of the family. Everyone who knows me knows I love my Mother-in-law. Mother-in-laws become the butt of way too many jokes. Not mine. When my own mother died she made it a point to pull me aside and tell me that she couldn't replace my Mother but she'd do her best to make sure I knew she loved me and wanted to take care of me. She does that and then some. What people may not know is that, so far, the first person to make me cry like a baby on this Valentine's Day wasn't a woman (and it's supposed to be a woman that makes you emotional on the day we've set aside for, well, mushy things.) No, the person that put me in a 'mushy' frame of mind was my father-in-law.
He put a Valentine's card in my hand yesterday. Hallmark's handiwork didn't mention a son-in-law. It mentioned a son........period. We talked on the phone later in the evening and he wanted to make SURE I'd noticed the card didn't say son-in-law....he wanted to make sure I'd noticed it just said "Son."
My own father left this world when I was a still a young man. ONE time he shook my hand and I damn near fainted. I figured he loved me, but was never really sure. He's probably somewhere now regretting that he didn't tell me. By the same token he's probably somewhere thanking God that Charles Fowler IS taking the time to tell me. He may one day get the opportunity to thank Charles Fowler personally for saying things he never got the opportunity to say. I sure hope that day ain't in the near future.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


I'm not much of a praying person. When/ if I do pray it's usually a "there's no atheists in foxholes" kind of a situation. But when I do, I usually end it with a message to to any of my angels who might be listening. I guess it makes praying more believable if you're praying to souls you've known "in the flesh" rather than the Creator of the universe. I'll keep that list of angels private...but if you know me, you know who they are.
So that brings me to you Nancy. There I was standing in the lobby of the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Loganville, Georgia about to be a pall bearer at your funeral. You immediately got added to my list of angels. We'd had lunch together not a full day before you left us. For the first time since we met, you hugged me and said "I love ya'....I'm proud of ya..." But there I was just days later in the lobby of that church, asking my newest angel how to make my bride smile again.
Christmas wasn't good - she went through motions and went to church and lit candles and acted like all was right with her world. But it really wasn't. It only served to remind her how much you loved Christmas. Just days before she was elated that you'd put up your "dream tree" in the living room....a tree that Rich's would've been proud to light on Thanksgiving night (yeah, I'm showing my age.) But then you weren't there to see it lit on Christmas morning.
When I first started dating the woman that became my bride, you were the friend I was most worried about meeting. I knew you cared so much for her that if I didn't pass your inspection, it might be a deal breaker. Thank God you approved. So much so that you bought me a Christmas gift that very first Christmas. I exhaled because I guess that meant I passed the test.
I'll be hollering at you quite often in the weeks, months and years to come. I know there's going to be times when the hole you've left can only be filled by your laugh, your hard head and your determination. And not just for her - you provided a swift kick to my posterior on more than one occasion....I'm sure I'm going to need more. So, for me, you're heaven's newest angel...I know you're making the other angels behave!