Sunday, February 23, 2020

My Sunday Feeling

I was saddened to learn of the passing of Arkansas writer Charles Portis.  I, of course, had read "True Grit" and watched both of the movie adaptations of it.  But I also knew Charlie a little bit.  

It was back in the eighties.  I had just returned to Little Rock and had begun my illustrious and distinguished career with the government.  My friends and I used to hang out in bars in those days.  This was primarily because there was absolutely nothing to do in Little Rock back then.  There was no River Market.  No Argenta.  No Chenal Valley.  Hell, there probably wasn't an I-630 back then.  It was not unusual to see Bill Clinton jogging by himself downtown.  Or to see Hillary walking alongside little Chelsea on her trike.  

It was a different time.

Charlie and I lived in the same apartment complex.  And we both hung out at a steak joint where the Sonic on Cantrell is now located.  It was maybe a half mile from where we lived.  I hung out there because my brother Bob tended the bar.  Charlie told me he hung out there because he knew he could always make it home.

It's not like we were close friends or anything.  He was a solitary sort although he resisted being referred to as a recluse.  Anyway, I respected his space and always let him initiate the conversation.  We tended to talk about the stuff guys talk about.  Namely sports and politics although we never talked about women.  Not that I can recall in any event.  He was interested in the law and we talked about that.  Or mainly, I talked and he listened.  And he was a deep and active listener.  I would imagine this trait helped inform his voice.

As did perhaps one of his earliest journalism gigs.  I read in one of the numerous excellent obituaries written about Charlie that back when he was at the University he was hired by the Northwest Arkansas Times to edit the dispatches that came in from the communities around Fayetteville.  I remember this type of homespun journalism well.

My grandfather Bivens subscribed to the Cleburne County Times (I think it was called).  There was always a section in every edition where folks would report the goings on in the towns around Heber.  They would typically begin with a Bible verse.  Births and deaths were noted.  Revival meetings were announced.  If a particular preacher gave an inspiring "message" it was duly recounted. And "visits" from out-of-town guests were always dutifully recorded on history's immortal scroll.  Or at least history as it obtained in Pearson, Quitman and Drasco.  

I made the Quitman report at least twice that I know of.  The first time was when I got accepted to law school.  The other time was when I passed the bar.  I can assume that Grandmother Bivens was the source for these reports.  I can't imagine Granpa having any use for such foolishness.  I also made the Heber Springs section, along with a female college classmate who grew up there,  when some sharp eyed correspondent saw us strolling down Main Street.  

They wouldn't print it if it wasn't true.

The obituary said that it was Charlie's job to turn these dispatches from the hinterlands into english.  This evidently was not a high priority for the Cleburne County Times.  Anyway, I have absolutely no evidence for this.  But I would like to think that somewhere in the process of defanging the language contained in these missives he found the voice of Rooster Cogburn or any of the other eccentrics and cranks that he brought to life in his writing.  

Grandpa read the Arkansas Gazette and the Arkansas Democrat.  They merged into the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.  His Cleburne County paper is no more.  There is now the Heber Springs Sun-Times.  And as far as I can tell from my recent examination of the same, the rural dispatches from the amateur correspondents are no more.

It was a different time.

I had heard a couple of years ago that Charlie had slipped into dementia.  I had lost track of him after moving from the apartment into my first house.  The notion of that sharp quirky mind being lost in the fog grieved me not a little.  

I remember my last conversation with him.  He used to eat breakfast in the diner by the Federal Building.  One morning some 20 years ago he was coming out as I was heading to work.  We stopped and exchanged greetings.

"Mind if I ask you something?," he said. 

"Not all I all,"I replied.

" I just read where they are calling United States Magistrates United States Magistrate Judges  now.  Why did they change that?"

"I have no idea."

"OK. Thanks.  Good to see you."

And away he went.

It was a different time.  

Sunday, February 16, 2020


Call it post-Valentine’s Day depression. Call it would rather play golf.

Call it what you will.

But I’m outta here.

Enjoy your Sunday.

Sunday, February 09, 2020

My Sunday Feeling

I attended the visitation for the mother of an old friend the other day.  S's mom was in her eighties when she passed away.  

Reminiscence comes naturally and easily at moments such as these. 

"You know I was thinking about your dad the other day,"S said.  

"Really? How so?" I replied.

"Well, he died so young."


"Wow. That's younger than I thought."

"Yeah.  Pretty much dropped dead in the backyard."

" Mother lived what some people would describe as a long full life.  But it wasn't.  The last 20 years she had no quality of life at all."

I didn't know his mother.  Or I have no recollection of her.  Southwest Little Rock was a long time ago.

"I didn't know that," I said. "I'm sorry." 

S is a pensive man.  He was pensive at 16.  

"You know," he said after a pause. "There ought to be a happy medium between what happened to your dad and how it ended for Mother.  It's just....well, it's just not right."

"You know? I try not to think about stuff like that," I said. "It does no good and nothing changes anyway.  I just try to remember that every day is a miracle and one that we are not promised.  I have no complaints.  I am upright and mobile.  I have gas in the car, food in the fridge and clothes on my back.  And I don't any of it for granted."

"Isn't that the truth?" he said." Look at us.  We both turned out OK I think. You and me both got to retire.  Your poor dad didn't. We're not wealthy men by any stretch of the imagination but we're OK. We live down the road from each other a million miles from where we came." 

S had crossed over from pensive to downright voluble.  A rare event.

Then again, the death of any loved one but particularly the death of a parent tends to concentrate the mind as my buddy Phil would say.  

By then the line of folks waiting to greet him had grown.  This was neither the time nor the place for a couple of old crackers from 72209 to discuss the Meaning of Life.

I lost Mother in 2009.  I have fresher experience in dealing with this than S does.

"When things settle down, let's get together and compare notes," S said.

"Would love to," I replied. " You call me when you are ready."

And with that I took my leave.  My next stop was a Theology Club meeting at school.  I've really enjoyed watching the boys grapple with challenging concepts like Christology, empiricism, ontology and church history.  And it occurred to me after the visitation that pretty much all we do during T  Club is compare notes with each other there to.

And if you are lucky to live long enough you figure out that this process never ends.  You never really come up with an answer.  But that's OK too.

S and I know we're lucky.  Really lucky.  

Because you know what?  There is no happy medium.  The universe is not configured for our happiness. There is only luck or not luck to paraphrase Yoda.  

But that notion opens the door to considerations of theodicy.  The T Club boys aren't quite ready for that yet.  

Comparing notes among friends is sufficient for the day.  And is the best we can do besides.


Sunday, February 02, 2020

My Sunday Feeling

We think we know them.  

We think we know the men and women that play (or coach) the games we watch in our living rooms.   Or maybe it's something else.  Maybe something more akin to the Freudian concept of "transference" in which the patient recognizes something comfortable in the therapist which causes him to open up to him or her.  

Whatever it is, Madison Avenue counts on it as a thing because they know that an athlete's endorsement for a product can often translate into serious money for them and their clients.

And perhaps because we thought we knew him, the passing of Kobe Bryant in a helicopter crash in the fog, along with his daughter and 7 other souls was a shock to the nation and to the world of sports.

After all, there's only a handful of athletes that are recognizable by their first names: Rafa, Roger, Serena, Tiger, Shaq, Kareem, Aaron, Derek, OJ.  You get the idea.

But we don't know these people.  We can't.  Even though thanks to the Internet we can sure learn about their foibles and failures at the speed of lightning. Just like we learned about Tiger's in 2009.  And Kobe's in 2003.  

But shock is an appropriate response when one so young, one who was a dominant force in his chosen profession, exits the stage in such a tragic (which is appropriate) and needless (which is also appropriate) fashion.  

I know that the FAA has just begun its investigation.  And by all accounts the pilot on board was experienced and instrument rated.  But the fog was sufficiently dense that morning to cause the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department to ground its helicopters.  And other helicopter pilots interviewed expressed the view that it was too dangerous to be flying that morning.  At least by visual flight rules.

So why didn't the pilot proceed by instruments?  One theory that I have read is that flying by instruments would have made them late to the basketball tournament his daughter was scheduled to play in.  

All great players do risk calculation.  The great ones take them and they largely succeed. But not all risks are worth it.  Any lawyer can tell you that.  

Today is Super Bowl Sunday.  The Chiefs and the 49ers.  There will be a tribute to Kobe before the game and to the others that perished that day.  Players will bear his number on their shoes.  Perhaps his number will be sewed upon the jerseys.  

Meanwhile, those left behind must grieve the loss of their loved ones. Their children.  

So who failed the risk calculations here?  The pilot? Kobe?  We don't know.  We weren't there.

And we only think we know them.  


Sunday, January 19, 2020

My Sunday Feeling

The "holidays" are over.  School has cranked back up.  The last quarterly taxes for 2019 have been paid.  

I praise God for all of this.  Time to get on with the new year.  

I don't really know what that means exactly because I don't typically make resolutions for the new year.  Weak vessel that I am, I know that I wouldn't keep many if I did.  Why set myself up for failure right from the get-go?

But I do have some intentions for the new year.  "Intentions" are little more than hopes. And hopes get routinely dashed sometimes for reasons that have nothing to do with the indiscipline of the intender.  So I got an out.  

Anyway, here are some of my intentions.  Not that you asked.  

It is my intention to take more pictures this year.  And I plan to start when Oaklawn Park cranks back up in a couple of weeks.  Hot Springs is an aging madam of a town.  It's as seedy as all get out in places and that makes for interesting photography.  And you can't beat being among the railbirds if you need to see a cross section of what passes for humanity.  I'm also going to sneak off to Shiloh Battlefield in the spring.  It's just the other side of Memphis and it's way heavy.  

It is my intention to get back in shape.  The last year has been a blur to tell you the truth.  But the Deacon and I seem to have a routine down now.  Everything is no longer totally new.   Now is as good a time as any to get back into an exercise routine.  And golf is not exercise other than an exercise in futility.

Further in that regard, it is my intention to start playing guitar again.  I tried to stick with it after my friend and teacher Lucas Murray left for bigger and better things in the Big Apple.  But what with planning a wedding, looking at houses,ponying up money, fixing my old house up for sale and nailing down logistics there was just no time to work on music.  Or anything else to speak of.

Come to think of it, is my intention never to go through anything like the Spring and Summer of 2018 again.  

It is my intention to be a better vegan cook.  I've tried my hand at some things, mainly so the Deacon won't have to cook after her meetings and/or school stuff.  So far it hasn't been bad although nothing as good as what she cranks out on a routine basis.  Having said that I made a vegan tortilla soup the other night that was pretty damn good.  I could eat that every week.  And most likely will.  

It is my intention to actually familiarize myself with the Probate Code since I seem to be doing, well, probate work.  So far so good.  Some guys are "put it together" lawyers.  I am a "take it apart' kind of lawyer and I have been associated in on cases where I have been required to take stuff apart.  Mercifully, probate is sufficiently like bankruptcy in that I could intuit my way around it with adult supervision from guys who are competent in the field.  But God forbid I ever have to give estate planning advice.  At least at my stage of development right now.

Speaking of which, it is my intention to update the Last Will and Testament I wrote 20 years ago.  I mean, my God.  I have a wife.  And stepchildren.  And assets and stuff. Things that were inconceivable back in those halcyon days of yesteryear when I had maybe 3 grand available post-mortem. That and the bequest I made in my earlier Will to "Sam's Roundup Lounge" in the French Quarter (the one with a rig ax stuck in the bar) would likely be considered unseemly for a gentleman of my age and station.  Need to rewrite.  

It is my intention to keep a close eye on whatever the hell it is the Methodists wind up doing to ourselves in May.  It may be time to expose my basic cynicism to other belief systems.  The former Senior Pastor at my church once told a Baptist preacher buddy of ours that I would turn Orthodox Druid before I ever became a Baptist.  So what the hell?  Why not give the Orthodox Druids a look?  They couldn't be any more dysfunctional. 

It is my intention to avoid crazy people.  Or continue that practice I should say.  I have avoided crazy for at least the last ten or eleven years.  Indeed the Deacon is one of the sanest people I know.  People that have known me for a long time don't know whether to attribute her presence in my life to a stroke of luck on my part or to a lack of sense on hers.  I'm not going to worry my pretty little head about it as is I refuse to get drawn into theological discussions.  Suffice it to say I lucked out for once.  In any event, people that are feet-in-the-air nuts, while not without their discrete charms, are more trouble than they are worth at this point in my walk on this Earth.  

It is my intention to avoid Valentine's Day.  Yeah. I know. Good luck.  

And it is my very strong intention to avoid social media and all of the incessant emails during this election year.  In fact, my goal will be to limit my iPhone and iPad use to once an hour.  If possible.  Things are going to be exceedingly crazy this year.  And, like I said, I want to avoid crazy.

That's all I can think of for now.  I know that I will be doing to good to keep a third of these intentions.  But that's OK.

We all know what the road to hell is paved with.  

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Sunday, January 05, 2020

My Sunday Feeling

One of the most gratifying, if not the most gratifying, aspect of being an occasional teacher is hearing from the guys that have endured me in the past.  D was one of my "History Boys" from American History for Juniors.  D sent me a message out of the blue a month or so ago.  He said that he was thinking about law school and wanted to get some lunch and bounce some stuff off of me.   I loved those guys.  Well, most of them.  D was one of my good ones.  

I told him I would be happy to discuss law school with him.  I actually felt an obligation to do so.  After all, we're talking law school. There's a soul in the balance.

"Can you believe that I'm a junior in college?" he said, shaking his head as we walked to the restaurant. "And that we're in a new decade."

" And 3 days into it we have tossed a missile into Iraq killing the #2 guy in the government of Iran. And the United Methodist Church has announced it is splitting up. That's a lot of action for 3 days," I replied in my typically wise and pedantic fashion dispensing perspective when none has been asked for..

This deal with the Methodists has been looming for 20 years easy.  The former Senior Pastor at my church predicted a schism 15 years ago over lunch.  I thought that he was exaggerating.  To my mind the word "schism" connotes standing in the snow while nailing stuff to the door of a church or executing an Archbishop or something.  

I guess technically schisms are what Baptist churches have always done whenever half of First Baptist leaves to form Second Baptist. (You ever notice that there are no Third Baptist Churches? Or Third But Who's Counting Baptist Churches?)   They just never referred to it in those terms.  I guess I deluded myself into thinking that the Methodists weren't capable of something that, well, unpleasant.  Besides, Frank Zappa once said that WWIII would never start in Los Angeles because "there's too much real estate involved."  Same deal with the Methodists.  I mean, who would wind up with the Perkins School of Theology? And that's just one example.  

I guess we are fixing to find out.

I have never been anything but a Methodist in my entire life. I was baptized in the Mabelvale United Methodist Church along with my parents and brothers.  Even my Baptist Mom.  I attended a Methodist college.  My father checked out my Senior year at Hendrix.  If it weren't for the Methodist Student Loan Program I couldn't have paid for law school.  I got married in Greene Chapel at Hendrix.  To a Deacon in the United Methodist Church.

You get my drift.

So why are the Wesleyans splitting the sheets?  Over the status of folks that engage in what the Book of Discipline inanely refers to as "the practice of homosexuality."  Basically.  As I appreciate it, it's a little more complicated than that if no reason other than the fact that Methodists can't do anything except by committee which takes awhile.  But it's not much more complicated than that as a matter of etiology.  

One of my more theologically inclined Catholic friends is watching all of this with interest.  His message today was " My condolences, friend.  Divorce is hard, even if both parties deem it the only positive step."

There's no doubt about that.  And there's also no doubt that the old Methodist church that pretty much raised me my whole life, the one in which reason and doing "all the good you can" prevailed, the one that married me and buried my parents, stands an outside chance of being no more. Or at least has been gravely wounded.  That's hard and that's sad.  

And so I don't know what I'm going to do. As far as I can glean from what little I've read, the "conservatives"-conservative schismatics, right?- get to leave and form their own club along with a parting gift of 25 million bucks.  

Fine with me.  Trust me on this one. Their music is really gonna suck. 

The final vote on who lands where and who gets what isn't scheduled until May or so. So there's plenty of time to get this situation wrapped around the axle even worse than it is. It's almost enough to put a fellow off religion.  

D and I had a good talk over lunch.  He said that he got together with some of the other History Boys while he was in town this Christmas.  They pretty much viewed the highlight of my time with them to be the entire day I spent on Aaron Burr. Hey, you got to admire anybody that almost got away with fixing a Presidential election, survived a duel and tried to take over the State of Louisiana.   As for myself I am partial to the time I sang the "Star Spangled Banner" in class using the original dirty (for those times) text.  

The History Boys' parents sure got their tuition money's worth with me, huh?

D will be fine.  He only knows what he knows.  And he knows that he doesn't know much.  Which is pretty good insight for any young person starting out.

As we left I told him that I hoped that the next decade finds him happily practicing law.  Or whatever he winds up doing.  And I hope that I'm still around to see how he and all of the History Boys turn out.  

"I just hope there is another decade," he said.

"That's all you can do," I said.

His face betrayed no expression as he held up his crossed fingers.

"How's that?" he asked.

"I'll take it. Planning is overrated."

After all, we haven't gotten a solid week behind us in this new decade and the United States has whacked a member of a foreign government while the Methodists whacked themselves.

What the hell. I'm keeping mine crossed too.