Sunday, December 25, 2005

My Sunday Feeling-The Christmas Edition

     It is Christmas Day.  Earlier in the morning (and late last night) I was struck by how utterly silent the world around me seemed to be.  I live a couple of houses away from Van Buren Street which is one of Little Rock’s major arteries.  Or was back in the day.  Anyway, I got in last night around 9 or so.  I poured myself a glass of bourbon and went out to the porch swing where I listened to the wind chimes and looked at the lights on the houses here on my little street.
     You might have guessed.  We did not get any snow or ice this year.  Thank God.  It was probably in the forties when I was on the porch.  Much better.  Nothing that a golf windbreaker and a glass of Knob Creek straight up can’t defend against.  I thought about smoking a cigar an occasional vice in which I indulged up until they discovered that I have a mild case of asthma.  I refrained.  Still, one cigar a year won’t kill me.  Maybe I will have one tonight with my brothers.
     Christmas is different this year.  One reason is because for the first time in 3 years I have not injured myself in some major fashion.  Two years ago, I scratched my hand on my gate Christmas night.  This seemingly innocuous little injury turned into an infected hand which damn near resulted in my getting hospitalized.  After two rounds of penicillin and 3 months of physical therapy, I regained about 90 % of the full use of my right index finger.
     Last year, I slipped on the ice the night before Christmas Eve and wound up with bruised ribs.  Let me tell you.  If bruised ribs hurt like that, I cannot imagine how bad cracked ribs are.  The damn things still hurt when I play golf in cold weather.
     Dr. GG has opined that these incidents represent self-destructive gestures summoned forth by my complete disdain for the holidays.  Maybe so.  Maybe no.  But, so far so good this Christmas.  We are not completely out of the woods yet but I like my chances so far.
     This Christmas, more so than any other in my memory, has been darkened by sickness and death.  My friends and I are at that stage in life where our elderly loved ones are breaking down.  LS’s mother was found passed out on the floor last Wednesday.  Turns out she was in a diabetic coma which they were able to reverse after two days in the ICU.  JY’s father had a shoulder replacement the same day.  I’m not really sure if my brother Dave of the Ozarks will be here for Christmas dinner.  Just before Thanksgiving, his father-in-law was diagnosed with a pernicious form of leukemia.  Mr. Domeny was given a couple of months.  Which should be right about now.  So we shall see.  Mother is still hanging in there although it is no fun being the prisoner of a neuromuscular disease and depression.  She will feel like coming tonight or she will not.  So it goes.
     My cousin once said that this is the part of adult life nobody taught us how to do.  Truer words were never spoken.
     And even though this Christmas has been really different for me, and not just because-knock on wood- I haven’t hurt myself per usual it hasn’t been bad.  Loved ones from both near and far have been calling.  LS called to see if she could come by for some gin if she needed to get away.  Sure thing.  Sounds like she could use a break.  Marge called from Jackson.  Judy called from Wilmette where it is a relatively balmy 38 degrees.  I talked to Hugh’s daughters.  E-mails came in from Greenville, Seattle and Memphis.  A text message just rolled in from Pasadena.  After that, another one appeared from San Antonio.
     Last night I went to Mass with the Straessles.  Afterwards, I went to Phil and Karen’s for dinner.  Their young friends Matt and his wife (whose name I forget.  I think it is Amy.) were there.  We ate, drank, told lies and fooled around with their new Powerbook.  And after that I repaired to the swing.
     Speaking of Marge, she and I found it amusing that the non-denominational “megachurches” in both our towns were closed Christmas Sunday while her Episcopal church and my Methodist Church were open for business as usual.  
     “Look, Marge,” I said.  “They may be a bunch of Bible banging hypocrites who believe that human history started 5 years ago but bidness is bidness with those guys.  If they can’t get the “meat in the seats” they aren’t gonna be able to rake in a sufficient collection to justify heating and lighting their big-assed structures.”
     “ Well,” she said.  “I guess the Episcopalians and the Methodists will fling the door wide tomorrow anyway despite the fact that we may lose money on the deal.  I guess we got our perspectives all out-of-whack.”
     I guess so.  In any event, I got blessed by the Catholics last night. I took communion with the Methodists this morning.  And I put some extra money in the plate at both places.  I don’t want anybody losing money on account of my spiritual needs.
     Even as I write this, my little house is filled with the smells of the pies I baked last night and the racks of ribs that are cooking out on the deck in the big Holland grill.  I remember there was a time, back before he and Ann had four kids, Steve Straessle would practically materialize a la “Star Trek” when he smelled my Christmas ribs.  I still halfway expect see him out there on the deck when I go back out to check on them.  An NBA game is on the tube.  There are presents under the fichus tree that I have festooned with lights.  We will have Christmas at John’s around five.  The little boys will have plenty of presents including a sack of oranges Phil and Karen gave me to pass out to them.  There will be plenty to eat and drink.  I will probably smoke that cigar.  
     Everything will be just fine.
     It has been a hard year.  But, for the most part, my loved ones and I have survived the year intact.  We still have each other.
     Like I said, everything will be just fine.
     Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

My Sunday Feeling

Christmas Comes But Once Again. Thank God. - Yesterday’s game plan was to finish up Christmas shopping once and for all. Yesterday seemed to be the perfect opportunity for it since I only had a few more items and it was too cold to do anything useful. Like play golf.
As you may have deduced by now, Christmas is not exactly my favorite time of year. In fact, I pretty much hate it. The only reason I tolerate the damn thing is that I enjoy getting stuff for my nephews and my friends. And I enjoy going to church on Christmas Eve. But that’s about the extent of it.
Earlier this year, I had thought seriously about going to New Orleans by myself in order to ride the holidays out under a table at the Napoleon House. Maybe go play golf at Audubon Park. But Katrina changed all of that. Although I am reliably informed that the French Quarter is pretty much back to normal, the notion of spending Christmas surrounded by so much misery and devastation was crushingly depressing. Much more so than being here even. A friend of mine says about his marriage, “As long as they keep making whisky I can handle anything.” That’s the way I view Christmas.
One of the things I don’t understand is people who actually enjoy Christmas shopping. I know any of a number of folks-mostly women-who love to get out there and get shoulder to shoulder with their fellow man. Not me, I hate it. But while I realize that the easiest thing in the world would be do it all online, I feel this obligation to support local merchants as much as I can. I mean, I live here, not in Seattle where Amazon’s corporate headquarter is located. Which results in my getting out there and fighting the rest of the proletariat for parking places and stuff on shelves as bad as I hate it.
The phone rang as I was preparing to head out. It was my brother John. He was en route to Jonesboro to join his wife’s family for early Christmas. When he asked me what I was up to, I told him that I was going shopping and that, as per usual, I was looking forward to the day’s activities as much as I am looking forward to my colonoscopy later this month.
“Tell you what, “he said. “I’ll trade ya. I’ll go do your shopping. You go to Jonesboro.” Good point.
Which only proves once again that you don’t have to look too awful far to find someone whose troubles are worse than your own.
Anyway, he wanted me to find “a little red dump truck” for him to give to Max, our youngest nephew since I was free to move about on that day while he was sentenced to endure Craighead County. Hey, no prob. How hard could that be?
Famous last words.
I went first to a local toy store in the neighborhood. They had trucks, all right: Trucks and front-end loaders and earthmovers all made by some German toy company I had never heard of. Not a one of ‘em was priced below 50 bucks. This is a hell of a lot of money to spend on something a three year old will leave out in the rain.
So I headed west to Toys-R-Us. A buddy of mine in Los Angeles called while I was tooling down the Interstate. He said he once got asked to leave the Toys-R-Us over by him one Christmas. Seems the one he went to back when the girls were little stayed open all night. So he would go around one in the morning so as to avoid the crowd. The problem was that he would invariably go after consuming much Holiday cheer. Usually, this only resulted in him buying too much stuff. But what got him thrown out was the night he puckishly asked a clerk where he could find the sex toys at Toys-R-Us.
It is Yuletide memories such as these that will sustain us in our golden years. Unfortunately, I was sober yesterday and in no mood to be creating any such memories.
Once inside the goddamn place, and much to my pleasant surprise, I quickly found a miniature football that was on my list. I then went in search of a “little red truck.” Again, all that was offered there as well were reproductions of large earth moving type heavy equipment and all of them sporting hefty price tags. So, I thought I would just buy my little football and look for the “little red truck” elsewhere.
That was until I saw the check out line which snaked from the checkout stands all the way to the back of the store. No lie; there must have been 80-90 people in line to buy shit. This gave rise to another Christmas memory.
I had never darkened the door at Toys-R-Us until I got myself involved with the mother of two small children a couple of years ago. My job was to drop her off and to park the car. Next I would go inside, push the cart and reach the stuff on the top shelves. Then I would carry the stuff out. We would do this at least a couple of weekends each Christmas. I endured this not just out of love and devotion but because it made her happy and resulted in her bragging on me to her mother and to her girlfriends. That and she let me sleep with her.
But you know? She is no longer in the picture. And it occurred to me, as I stood there in that interminable queue of humanity, every other one of them yammering on a cell phone, that with her exodus also went any compelling justification for my putting up with this indignity just to buy little Max a football.
And so, I tossed the ball into a bin with a fey, offhand flick of my wrist and I blew Toys-R-Us, hopefully never to return.
Last night, I found a little red dump truck on Amazon for 15 bucks. It will arrive at John’s house, gift-wrapped and everything by next Wednesday.
I tried to shop locally. It’s just not worth it.
I betcha I could get sex toys on Amazon as well. But I haven’t looked.

Yippie-Yi-Oh-Kiyay Department- I don’t think that gay folks can seriously claim that they are underrepresented in the media given the recent glut of films featuring gay subject matter. There is “Capote” about which need I say more? There is “Family Stone, this year’s Christmas tearjerker that has a family member who, not only is gay, but is deaf to boot. As if this were not enough, the writers have him bringing home his black partner with whom he intends to adopt a child. There is a movie coming out-you should pardon the expression-about a man whose plans to become transgendered are momentarily put on hold when his long lost son reemerges just prior to surgery. No lie.
But the one generating the most buzz is the so called “gay cowboy” film “Brokeback Mountain.” While this film has received much critical acclaim as a work of cinematic art, I also wonder what Mel Brooks would have done with this material. I could see the likes of Nathan Lane in chaps yodeling to songs by Cher, Brooks would have him fussing neurotically over the placement of objects in the bunkhouse and referring to the ole Rio Grande as the Rio Fabulous . And so on.
I probably won’t see it. Not because I am a homophobe or anything. I just refuse to take seriously the premise of two rough hewn guys like the two in Brokeback Mountain who are tragically forced to accept their lot in life which happens to include being stuck with a couple of hot women.
I tell you a movie I will see though. I will go see “The Producers” which is the musical version of the old Mel Brooks movie that starred Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. The new movie has Nathan Lane in it. Nathan Lane could make “Death of a Salesman” funny.
I may go see the movie about the transsexual though. That one sounds even more fucked up than the notion of gay cowboys.

The Mitch Mustain Watch- If boy wonder Mitch Mustain does decide to go somewhere other than the U of A-and even Wally (who touted him as a Heisman candidate last summer) is starting to sound like it’s a foregone conclusion at this point. How sharper than a serpent’s tooth and all that-then I have the following question: Who was the genius up there on the Hill that decided it was a good idea to fire the coach that recruited the kid?
And that’s all for this Sunday. I have to go to the Mall. Pray for me.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


That last post looks like a train wreck. I wrote it on Word and then sent it to Blogger. Usually the code translates over very well. I don't know what happened.

At any rate, it is unfixable at this point in time. Well, the truth of the matter is that I just don't want to fix it tonight.


Random Thoughts While Downloading Courtney Love Off The Internet

  1. ALL THINGS MITCH MUSTAIN ALL OF THE DAMN TIME-  Boy, the chat rooms, bulletin boards and radio call-in shows are abuzz about the news that Springdale High quarterback Mitch Mustain has withdrawn his oral commitment to Arkansas in order to look at other schools.  Most of the callers I heard were high-pissed that this kid would even consider forsaking the good ole U of A for Tennessee or Notre Dame.

Even Wally Hall got into the act in this morning’s Democrat-Gazette.  Wally, whose finger is always gauging the breeze, came down squarely on both sides of the issue.  He conceded that the young man had every right in the world to look at other schools.  However, Wally took it upon himself to counsel Mustain against the two schools he is rumored to want to visit.  Notre Dame is a bad choice because it has too many freshmen quarterbacks coming in.  Tennessee would be an even worse choice, in Wally’s view, because Mustain would be booed unmercifully by Hog fans who would not soon forgive his treachery.

Look, this is ridiculous.  The kid has a right to go where he feels he will be happiest.  If that’s Tennessee,great.  If it’s ND, cool.   I’ll bet that at least a third of the idiots calling for Mustain’s treasonous head never even friggin’ went to college.   This is football, people.  If one freshman player can make or break your squad of 45 guys (or whatever it is) then your team’s problems are worse than what that one guy is gonna be able to fix.

I remember when Keith Jackson outraged Hog fans all over the state when he chose Oklahoma over Kenny Hatfield’s 3 yards and a cloud of dust Razorbacks.  He is the color commentator for the Razorback games.  Houston Nutt himself transferred to Oklahoma State when it was clear to him that he couldn’t run Lou Holtz’s option game.  He’s now the Head Coach for God’s sake!

Everybody is going to live.  Get lives.  Chill.  Leave the kid and his Mother alone.

Act like adults.  Jesus.

  1. ANOTHER REASON TO HATE THE HOLIDAYS- Nowadays you are seeing lots of ads from some of the little towns in our fair state, urging you to come do your Christmas shopping there.  This morning I noticed that Camden now has one such ad.  The ad showed antique stores, cafes, gift shops etc.  But my favorite business that was proudly displayed was a pawn shop in downtown Camden that offered free gift wrapping.  I don’t know about you.  But nothing says Christmas for me like free gift wrapping for that second hand Glock 9mm.

  1. HUH?-  The Demzette ran a story last Sunday about the new illustrated version of the venerable old “Elements of Style” by Strunk and White.  What the hell.  Maybe somebody will get around to setting the Oxford English Dictionary to music.

  1. HERE’S THE REAL REASON MITCH MUSTAIN SHOULDN’T GO TO TENNESSEE- Phil Fulmer screws with the quarterbacks too much.  And David Cutcliffe, the new Offensive Coordinator, has a bad ticker that he undoubtedly acquired while at Ole Miss.  Not a good combination.  Forget Wally.  This is why he shouldn’t go to Tennessee.  

  1. PAX TOOKIE-  The State of California executed Stanley “Tookie” Williams last night after about 20 years on Death Row.  Tookie, whom we all can agree had a really pussy nickname for a major criminal, was the founder of the Crips.  If that were not a sufficient feather in his cap, he was convicted of shooting four people to death.  I did not know this until today but back when Tookie was awaiting trial, the authorities learned of a plot to bust him out pendente lite, steal a prison bus and to shoot the cops guarding said bus. Suffice it to say, Governor Schwarzenegger viewed this plan as inconsistent with his historic claims of innocence and denied clemency.

Look, I am opposed to the death penalty.  While I believe that this is a punishment that society can mete out, I believe that it is unfairly done so.  I mean, is there any reason the Menendez brothers are pulling sentences while Tookie is no longer with us?  Further, punishment should be meted out swiftly.  I’m not the same person I was 20 years ago.  Neither was Tookie Williams.  

Having said that, and despite being opposed to the death penalty, I have always maintained if they are going to have capital punishment that some guys “got it comin.’  Stanley Williams had it coming.

I don’t care what Joan Baez says.

Finally, I want to take this opportunity to say good bye to a friend.  Well, not to a friend but to a friend’s blog.  Joy Ritchey has announced that she is pulling down the Arkansasmedia blog.  Joy’s blog was funny, smart and occasionally offensive.  It was one of the best ones around and I will miss it.  She said that it was taking too much of her time.  I don’t doubt that.  She worked hard and felt an obligation to her readers to put out a good product.  

She’s young and energetic.  Here’s hoping she recharges her batteries and comes back out here.

And that’s all for now.  I’m off to Camden to buy some pawn shop golf clubs so I can take advantage of the free gift wrapping.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

My Sunday Feeling

It is likely that Saturday brought mixed emotions to the Razorback faithful. For years now, the radio talk shows and the Internet have dumped a ton of withering criticism down upon the head of Houston Nutt for his refusal to hire an Offensive Coordinator.  Well, Nutt finally hired one, all right.  But in hiring Springdale High School’s Gus Malzahn, Nutt is turning the keys over to a high school guy who has never coached at the collegiate level, much less in a cut-throat environment like the SEC.  It is a pretty risky move for a guy like Nutt who is generally thought to be risk averse.  But Malzahn is not without his qualifications.

He is widely described as a brilliant offensive tactician. He has even written a book about the spread offense (a fact that has not escaped the attention of noted bibliophile Wally Hall) and is said to give lectures on the subject to coach’s conventions and the like.  His teams at Shiloh Christian and Springdale High School resembled the wehrmacht in their ruthless efficiency.  Indeed, Springdale not only went undefeated this year, but the mercy rule (in which the contest is ended whenever a team leads by 35 in the 4th quarter) was invoked in every game they played but one.  And the only reason it wasn’t invoked in that game was because the team was from Louisiana where they do not have such a rule.  If they are not the best high school team ever produced by this state I don’t know who else it could possibly be.

And let’s be honest here.  Coaching football ain’t exactly brain surgery.  I mean, you wouldn’t know it from all the hyperventilating going on out there about the admittedly sorry state of affairs out there in Razorbackland, but it is just a game.  How hard could this be? Besides now is a pretty good time to give something as crazy as this a whirl.  The defense ended the year pretty much as good as anybody in the SEC.  They finally found a competent quarterback in Casey Dick.  They play most of their games at home next year.  If you are going to think outside the helmet, now is as good a time as any.

Still, it is hard to view this recent hire as anything other than Houston Nutt punching the panic button especially in light of the recent news that his star recruit, Springdale quarterback Mitch Mustain has rescinded the oral commitment he made to Arkansas back in August.  I say that because while it is not unusual for a recruit to hijack an entire program in basketball, it is virtually unheard of in football where one guy can rarely make or break a team.  It is for that reason that I would be inclined to tell Mustain to buzz off if he thinks he wants to go elsewhere.  Either this kid is as good as they say (Wally started touting him for the Heisman last summer.  He ain’t that good.) or there is a serious case of brownout underwear up there on the hill.

Unfortunately, if recent history is any indicator, this decision to hire from the high school ranks may not improve the anxiety level up there.  Maryland hired Bob Wade from the high school level upon firing Lefty Driesell after the Len Bias disaster.  Wade lasted a couple of years before getting into hot water himself with the NCAA.  But the most famous example was Notre Dame’s hire of Gerry Faust from Moeller High School in Cincinnatti where he was almost unbeatable.  He had one good season before the Irish completely fell apart his final 2 years.  The excitable Faust just couldn’t relate to older players.  Or as one insider said of those years “Rah-rah don’t block and rah-rah don’t tackle.”

You can get by with a lot more “rah-rah” with high school kids then you can with jaded college guys.   But what the hell.  This may work out just fine whether Mustain shows up for work or not.

But the potential for an absolute disaster cannot be discounted.  Suffice it to say, the 2006 edition of the Arkansas Razorbacks will be really interesting.  

Merry Christmas Katie Hnida

Katie Hnida is an exceptional young woman by any objective criteria. Hnida was a soccer player who also loved football. And if you consider place-kicking playing football, she was pretty damn good at it. She was 27-28 in PATs and 3-3 on field goals her senior year in high school. She was invited to walk on at the University of Colorado by Rick Neuhisal who occupied the Chair of Football there in those days. In 1999, she was the second female to ever suit up for a Division I football game. Later that same year, she was the first woman to dress out for a bowl game. In 2002, she was the first woman to ever actually compete in a Division I game. By that time she had transferred to the University of New Mexico.

Gary Barnett inherited Hnida from Neuhisal when he took the Colorado job after Neuhisal left Boulder for the University of Washington. There was a difference of opinion as to why she wanted to transfer to New Mexico. Barnett at the time thought that it was nothing more serious than her not getting any playing time. Or as he rather infamously put it some time afterwards, “Not only was she terrible, she was a girl.” Katie had other reasons.

She said she had been raped by a teammate. She said she had been harassed. She became depressed. She felt she had to leave.

Last week, the University of Colorado fired Gary Barnett after about 8 years. The Katie Hnida mess-and the investigation it spawned, an investigation that uncovered the fact that recruits were being entertained by hookers during their official visits, among other hair-raising inducements- was not what got him canned. They never could prove that Barnett had any direct knowledge of any of the semi-criminal activities that were going on under his watch. This he somehow viewed as vindication of sorts. This is despite the fact that the President of the University, the Chancellor and the Athletic Director all resigned after these sordid activities were unearthed.

What got Barnett canned is what I refer to as the “Nolan Theory” which posits that you can be a high maintenance pain in the ass as long as you are winning and they don’t catch you with “ a dead woman or a live boy” in the immortal words of Edwin Edwards. No, they didn’t catch Barnett with anything but the Buffaloes did manage to get clocked in their last 3 games including a 70-3 shellacking by Texas. And this gave the Board of Regents the opportunity they needed to get rid of him.

It is funny now in hindsight. Barnett actually came to Boulder with a reputation as a reformer. It is true that he had done what many people had regarded as the miraculous in that his Northwestern Wildcats went to the Rose Bowl in 1997. But prior to turning around the Mildcats he had served as an assistant to the old Promise Keeper Bill McCartney Chair of Football when the Colorado Buffaloes were as well known for their off their off the field incidents as they were for their prowess on the field. Hell, McCartney’s daughter got herself knocked up by the quarterback. Talk about a metaphor!
Anyway, Barnett was there in those days and recruited some of those thugs. As Mike Lupica says, these guys don’t hire themselves. Whose idea was it to bring him back?

The Gary Barnetts of this world never learn. They never have to. He walked away from Colorado with 3 million in his pocket. He was not caught with a dead woman or a live boy. He will get another job in D-I because college athletics is a dirty business.

Katie Hnida went on to get her degree at New Mexico. She is a beautiful young woman who puts out that healthy glow God bestows on all healthy young people. It is my understanding that she gives talks on the issue of sexual violence. It would seem that she has pulled her life together. Good for her. As a man, I cannot imagine what she has gone through.

I hope that she lives a long and happy life. I hope she becomes a Mother and that she has sons. A young boy can learn a lot from a woman like her.

Merry Christmas, Katie Hnida. You are a better man than Gary Barnett.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Friendly Beasts

This is a picture of my 4 year old nephew Clarke. This was taken at the Christmas pageant at St. James United Methodist Church here in Little Rock. His father was stuck in California on business. So, Uncle tmfw and his camera got pressed into service. From the look on his face, Clarke had evidently just figured out who was behind the howitzer sized zoom lens that was around 20 yards away from him.

Clarke portrayed one of the “friendly beasts” that legend tells us that attended the infant Jesus at Bethlehem. He was a friendly beast of great dignity and wonder if I do say so myself. It must be noted that the costume designer for the production took a decidedly minimalist view of the characters as they wore these Mutant Ninja headbands along with their typical Christmas stuff. At least the bovine friendly beasts were so attired. I really couldn’t figure out what the rest of them were actually wearing but I am not terribly imaginative about these things.

I had not been to one of these productions in awhile. I had forgotten how little kids will make their entrances all the while looking for their parents in the audience. I had forgotten how kids, even though they are little Arkansans, still articulate diphthongs when they sing. I pronounce “mild” as “mahld.” They sang it as “my-yulled.”

I had also forgotten how rude people can be. They were having a bake sale in the narthex to raise money for the school. There were signs up in every entrance to the Sanctuary that said, “No Food or Drinks in the Sanctuary.” And yet, there were any of a number of people noshing down on stuff they had bought as if they were at a doubleheader at Ray Winder. Before the show, the Headmaster got up and made some announcements. First of all, she requested that all video recording devices be turned off as they had hired a professional videographer to shoot the pageant. I saw any of a number of people recording this speech for posterity on their camcorders.

But the most egregious example of what I am talking about occurred about halfway through the show when a guy showed up late, and came in a door behind me, about halfway through the show. He comes over to where I am standing, shoulders me out of the way, saying “Excuse me. I need to take some pictures.”

Now, I happened to be standing there armed with a Nikon D-70 with a zoom lens and elevated light bar. What the hell was I doing? Playing the harp? I started to stand my ground and to tell him-well, you can imagine what I was going to tell him-but what few gentler angels of my nature still inhabit me encouraged me to count to five. I was in church. It did not matter. His being an idiot was his problem (actually it was his wife’s problem). So I let it pass. I just moved over and resumed taking pictures while my tardy friend went to work with-you guessed it-a camcorder.

By the way, the phrase “gentler angels of my nature” is original. Can I write or what?

I pretty much have no use for Christmas. As I have said before it is venal and mercenary. And there is a lot of bad music. But “The Friendly Beasts” is not in that number. In fact, it is one of my favorite children’s hymns for the season. The first line-which is all the Friendly Beasts at St. James graced us with-goes:

“Jesus, our brother, kind and good,
Was humbly born in a stable rude.
And the friendly beasts around Him stood,
Jesus, our brother, kind and good.”

And here is the hymn tune if you still can’t place it. I apologize for the dreadful midi: The Friendly Beasts

I don’t know why I like this little hymn so much. Maybe it’s because the hymn describes Christ as our brother, kind and good. Or maybe it is because His place of birth is referred to as humble and rude. Maybe I just like it because it is stately enough to have been turned into an Episcopalian hymn by Ralph Vaughn Williams and yet it can be sung by babies.
Even babies wearing headbands with cow markings. Sir Ralph would not have approved, I’m sure.

But events like these are about the only reason to put up with the damn holiday. Rude parents or no.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Season's Greetings

As if I needed another reason to hate this time of year, it has recently been reported that evangelical Christians have been threatening local governments and commercial businesses with lawsuits if they persist in putting up “Holiday Trees” instead of Christmas trees or if they require their employees to greet customers with “Happy Holidays” instead of “ Merry Christmas.” Evidently, the dour yahoos who have the red-ass about this non-issue have retained an armada of lawyers to sue if this heinous practice is continued.

It would seem that there is some strain of thought out there in those places where I don’t hang out that there is a conspiracy afoot (and it’s always a conspiracy, right?) to sanitize the religious aspect of the holidays out of our public discourse. Or conversely, it is contended that this allegedly subtle form of secularizing the holidays commercializes it even further. As if that is even possible.
Or so I thought. There was an interesting article about this whole minor league brouhaha in yesterday’s New York Times. It was written by a guy named Adam Cohen which I commend to your attention by directing you here: This Season's War Cry: Commercialize Christmas, or Else - New York Times . Anyway, Cohen traces the history of Christmas in the United States and comes down to the conclusion that trying to force businesses to adopt the rituals and iconography of Christianity-and this here is what is referred to as a perverse result and as is the case with most perverse results it is exceedingly delicious-the yahoos in charge of this ersatz civil rights movement actually run the risk of commercializing it further.
Look, I don’t much care one way or the other although I will concede that it is just plain stupid to call a Christmas tree anything other than a Christmas tree regardless of whether it is in the courthouse square or erected up by the baptistery. But do we really need to clog up the courts by litigating this non-issue?
I mean, Jerry Falwell and Donald Wildmon and their ilk have every right in the world to go to the courthouse and give it a run. And I bet they don’t even much care if they lose. The Religious Right is the only organization in the history of fundraising that views getting clobbered in court as some sort of Pyrrhic victory. Which happens to them with something approaching frequency.

But I don’t get it. It’s not enough that they are trying to blow up science curriculums all over the country? They are not content to seek the intrusion of the state into the personal lives of men and women? Particularly women? Not to mention all the other dumb crap involving the public schools from prayer to banning books.

Isn’t this enough spurious litigation already for one little old fringy belief system? After being trounced by Tinky-Winky of the Teletubbies they are now going to take on Samuel Clements Moore? Are they not sufficiently pre-occupied?

Lord. I am so tired.

Anyway, read Cohen’s piece. I know what some of you are thinking. “A guy named Cohen writing for the New York Times. Let me guess how this article turns out.” Well, don’t be so hasty. I happen to know a guy named Cohen. He practices law in Ft. Smith. He’s a Baptist. You could look it up. Things aren’t always as they seem.

Oh. Happy Winter Solstice. See ya in court!

Sunday, December 04, 2005


     I just noticed this.  The headline that graces the picture of the triumphant Jermain Taylor in today’s Sports page reads “Undisputable.”
     Is that even a word?  After Jermain won the fight, the ring announcer described him as “still the undisputed middleweight champion of the world.”  This would make his status as champ either indisputable or undisputed.
     “Undisputable” is not in my dictionary.
     That just kind of jumped out at me as I glanced at the paper a minute ago.

My Sunday Feeling

I really don’t have much to allow today. It was a fairly uneventful week-Thank God- and nothing much transpired of any great import. Most people with nothing to say will keep their mouth shut. I am not one of those people.

Jermain Taylor Retains His Belt- Local product Jermain Taylor remains the undisputed middleweight champion of the world after outpointing Bernard Hopkins in a unanimous decision in Las Vegas last night. I did not see the fight-I can’t stay up that late anymore-but from the accounts in the paper and on, it was pretty much a repeat of last year’s bout with Taylor being the aggressor early on and with Hopkins finishing strong. From what I can deduce, Taylor did a better job of keeping busy in the final rounds in this fight than he did in the last. He also did a better job of not getting gashed up unlike the last fight. I guess it is easier to keep your legs under you when you are not bleeding from an open head wound.

While I am happy for the kid, I am even happier that we will be spared any further overwrought writing about the differences between the two fighters from Taylor’s unofficial publicist; Wally “Homer” Hall who I guess needed to fill the void in his life after Smarty Jones was put out to pasture. To hear Wally tell it, Bernard Hopkins is Satan incarnate. Indeed, the headline for Wally’s column today reads, “In good vs. bad rematch, Taylor just too good.”

Good vs. bad? Who wrote the hell wrote that?

Yes, Bernard Hopkins is an ex-con, a fact that was repeated without surcease by Wally all week. And yes, he is a menacing guy with a big mouth who said some incredibly stupid things in the weeks preceding last night’s fight.

But we have to bear something in mind here, folks. This is boxing. College and AAU basketball may be a cesspool but the integrity of the games themselves-a few infamous historic episodes notwithstanding- is not questioned. Fights are fixed all of the time in boxing. Boxing makes thoroughbred racing look straight-up. That is because boxing is full of hoods, con artists and assorted mob types. Twas ever thus. Just look at the audience ringside at most heavyweight bouts. It usually resembles an open casting call for “Boys in the Hood” meet “The Sopranos.”

Bernard Hopkins has been a model citizen since his release. He speaks openly and truthfully about his past. And despite his considerable reputation as a tightwad, itself unusual for your average profligate boxer, he gives generously to charities, many of them involving prison ministries and the like.

By the standards of the fight game, admittedly low as they are, Bernard Hopkins ain’t that bad. As mentioned above, he said some stupid things before the fight. But Bernard Hopkins is Noel Coward next to Mike Tyson and Floyd Mayweather Jr. And let’s not forget, he was the soul of sportsmanship and respect after the first fight until he perceived that he had gotten jobbed by the refs. Besides, I ask you: Who is a bigger jerk? Bernard Hopkins or Terrell Owens? TO by a knockout.

So, no. This was hardly a fight between “good vs. evil.” Or “good vs. bad” even. It was a match up between an aging veteran desperate to regain his belt and a nice local kid who has made good. Quite frankly, my hat’s off to both of them.

2) Football- Last weekend was a big one for college football. Texas annihilated Colorado while Southern Cal clobbered a very good UCLA thereby paving the way for the two undefeated teams to meet for the National Championship. Most people were hoping that the Men in Pastel from cross-town would give the Trojans a game but they meekly succumbed to the tune of 66-19.

Closer to home, LSU got whacked by Georgia in the SEC title game 34-14. Here’s how complete was the shellacking administered by the Bulldogs. I was able to persuade J, who is Bulldogus Fanus Maximus, to leave with me to go get something to eat before the game was over. This is basically unheard of in my brief experience with her.

If you want some cheap entertainment, get on any of the LSU bulletin boards after reading this. You think Razorback fans are crazy? Lack a sense of proportion? Basically have no life? A cursory look at the LSU boards will cause you to realize that the average LSU fan is a shrieking psychopath in comparison to his Hoghatted counterpart.

Oh, there is no joy in Tigertown. Which is pretty much ok by me.

And that’s about all I have to allow on this cold Sunday morning. As Tony Kornheiser says at the close of every “PTI”, we’ll try to do better next time.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

My Sunday Feeling

There are a few items of special interest in today's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that bear mentioning. Now, I realize that discussing the local media is not exactly my forte. There are others that are better at it, like my young friend Joy, whose poison penned observations can be found here: Now here's the first caveat of today's post: I love this kid. Granted, she's a little over-the-top on occasion. Which is why I found it amazing that a relatively straight-up (for her I mean) piece she wrote recently for the Arkansas Times got her physically accosted at a cocktail party. I mean, this is a girl that weighs @ 110 lbs. soaking wet. That's my girl! I only wish I had been escorting her that night. I would have interceded on her behalf because I am a gentleman and because I am not afraid to fight a girl if I have to. Anyway, Joy is out traveling or something leaving a character assassination void to fill this morning, so let's get right to it before she gets back and finds out what I have been up to while her back was turned.

Phil Martin's piece is a thoughtful response to an anonymous critic who has criticized him for overwriting in his essays. As a matter of full disclosure, it is time now for a the second caveat of this post: Philip Dale Martin is one of my best friends. We hang together. We play golf. Check that. He plays golf. I hit balls into the woods, cuss and throw clubs. He is a patient man. Anyway, we eat guy food at The Town Pump. We do not discuss his writing. We do not discuss the practice of law. We are guys. So we don't really discuss much of anything. He is married to Karen Martin who loves me very much. This is a good thing because, unlike Joy's cocktail party assailant, Karen could pretty much kick my ass anytime she felt so led. And she knows it.

Anyway, Phil did not disagree too much with his critic. He defended himself by saying that he was completely fascinated by words and language. As he put it, " I am retarded in this way." I believe that he is being way too hard on himself.

Come with me to today's sports page where Wally Hall, following his muse and erroneously believing it to be Grantland Rice, uncorked the following stemwinder in a piece about yesterday's UCA game up in Conway:

" They were Kodak scenes.

Everywhere you turned, it could have been the catalog cover for an Ivy League school.

UCA was pristine."

After disclosing that he was actually up there to watch a football game Wally returned to his nature walk, adding: " Even Mother Nature heeded the call and the trees held on to the plethora of colors that graced the campus and gave a shine against the gray skies."

Whew! Kodak scenes?!? Eastman-Kodak oughtta sue. As should Mother Nature for that matter.

Wally typically gets himself into this kind of trouble whenever he departs from the usual rumor mongering, ass kissing and making stuff up that is his oeuvre and actually tries to write. Phil's critic thinks he takes too long to get to the point with what are described as "throat clearing paragraphs?" If Phil's writing constitutes "throat clearing" Wally needs to borrow my asthma inhaler.

If we must offer a diagnosis here, I would say that Phil's fascination with words resembles autism if it resembles anything.

Wally is just retarded.

Returning to the editorial page, there is an interesting discussion about a couple of books written by two women who have written about the impact pornography is having on the sexual development and mores of both men and women. The books in question are " Pornified: How Pornography is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships and Our Families" by a woman with the unlikely name of Pamela Paul and "Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and The Rise of Raunch Culture" by Ariel Levy. The basic thesis of the books is that pornography is no longer erotica or the relative silliness of Playboy. As the article states pornography is "increasingly violent and non-consensual" and that it "generally portrays women as docile receptacles whose only purpose is to satisfy men." And that more and more men are watching it.

Hello? They are just now figuring this out?

Now, I am no prude. But, God help me, I do love women. And if you love women, you can't have any use for porn. But the article is useful in setting out the practical difficulties in regulating it. Sure, I think that most reasonable and thoughtful people (I do not include Donald Wildmon, Pat Robertson or Fayetteville gadfly Laurie Taylor in that number) could agree that extreme depictions of sado-masochism or depictions of sexual assault as an acceptable form of sexual gratification are unacceptable even in a free society. (Okay. That was a terrible sentence. You try to come up with a better way of putting that.) But beyond that particular subset, where do you draw the line? Is porn really anymore degrading to its subjects than slasher films? Or certain video games? Or Dr. Phil?

I don't know. But our young people, particularly our young men, need to know that porn is the cartoon version of the most wonderful, complicated and occasionally dangerous thing in the world. It is not real. Real people do not behave this way in real life.

But like the authors of the books and the author of the piece in the paper, I'll be damned if I know how to go about it. But if you are a man and if you love women, you can't have any use for porn. You just can't.

Finally, I have to say that I kind of agree with Professor Gitz's column today. Gitz is the frequent target of withering criticism over on the ARMedia website, so I'm sure Joy will reach for the smelling salts when she reads this. But he's right. Why we invaded Iraq is largely irrelevant. We're there. We're stuck and we need to have an exit strategy. I don't even disagree with his call for a "relatively stable multiparty democracy permitting our departure."

Which begs the question of how to go about it. I think it is clear to anyone that our attempt to prosecute the establishment of democracy in Iraq on the cheap is not working. As Gitz says, the only sure way to bring our soldiers back is victory. But it seems that victory cannot be achieved short of an even more robust influx of men and materiel. And if the Administration won't commit to it while leveling with the people that such a robust new strategy is needed, than I say bring 'em home yesterday. Otherwise, we are merely exposing a bunch of damn fine men and woman to harm's way while waiting for the eventual disaster that could well be post-occupation Iraq. It's not worth it.

But that's just one man's opinion. A man who is eternally grateful that two of his best friends got out of there alive.

Well, that's it for now. Oh. One last thing. I didn't read the Sweet Tea column in the Arkansas section. Sweet Tea should is not fit to be be drunk or read.

And one more last thing. Here's hoping that Joy over at ARMedia doesn't try to kick my ass me when she finds out I worked her side of the street this morning. After all, you gotta watch out for those little ones.

Saturday, November 26, 2005


It has come to my attention that I somehow managed to turn off the "Comment" setting for the blog. I think that I have restored it. So, if anyone has any comments about the last 4 or 5 posts-I'm told it has probably been off that long- you may now fire away. Also, if you wish to e-mail a post to someone, you can use the link to the e-mail below as well.

Sorry for the inconvenience. Bear with me.



Friday, November 25, 2005


Like zillions of other Americans good and true, I took to the road yesterday for Thanksgiving. We have been going to my cousin's house for the past 20 years or so. She and her husband built a nice place in Heber Springs, Arkansas out on some land that has been in the family since there pretty much has been a Cleburne County. She and David designed it themselves. It always amazes me when lay people design and build things. I have a brother in Missouri-also named David-who designed and built his house in Springfield. I could not design and build a cheese sandwich. I am awe of people that have this sort of talent.

To be quite honest-as I always am-I was not too keen on going this year. Typically, I like Thanksgiving although I have no particular use for Christmas. Never much have. Christmas is contrived and mercenary whereas Thanksgiving is pleasant and pretty low maintenance for a High Holy Day. But this year promised to be pretty different and not in a good way. None of my brothers would be there. Bob had to work at the nervous hospital. David had to tend to his father-in-law who has a terminal illness. John had to go to Jonesboro. Mother has not been able to travel in some time and Uncle Bill followed Aunt Jean into the Hereafter last August. So, all things considered, I was pretty much resolved to on sit this one out but I got talked into going by one of my sisters-in-laws who feared having nobody to talk to if I weren't there. Besides, I had purchased two dozen rolls at the high end bread store in the neighborhood. My cousin-who loves me very much-would have killed me had I not shown up with them. It is enough that the holidays are a pain in the ass. They are not worth dying over.

I got up there around 11:30 only to find out that lunch would not be ready until 1 or so. Rather, than hear Uncle Ralph tell the story about the time he saw a bush-hog sling a mower blade across a pasture for a second time, I opted to go visit the little cemetery in Pearson where many of my mother's people are buried and where I took the picture at the top of the page.

I first ran across Dr. Gorham's grave when I showing a friend where my grandparents were buried. To paraphrase Uncle Earl Long, when I die, if I die, I want Dr. Gorham's epitaph upon my own grave. "Friend of Sinners." I like that. I did not know Dr. Gorham. It is not inconceivable that we are distant relatives given the shallow gene pool that obtained in Cleburne County before the Army built the lake and all the Yankees started moving down from Chicago and Indianapolis. Which reminds me. I have a funny story-it was funny to me at the time at least-about Greers Ferry Lake and an ex-girlfriend who was overly proud of her physique. But this is a ostensibly a post about Thanksgiving so I will basically stick to the subject at hand.

Anyway, in my mind's eye, it amuses me to think of sitting down with Dr. Gorham and passing the time by committing various sins. Don't get me wrong. I'm not thinking of anything of a sexual nature with Dr. Gorham. I ain't that kind of a sinner. No. I'm thinking more along the lines of beer drinking, cussing, poker, that level of sinnin'. Alas, Dr. Gorham was probably a dour Baptist with an honorary doctorate from Southwestern Theological Seminary or some other depressing preacher mill. Whoever he is-or was- he has one hell of an epitaph inscribed upon his marker. You have to give him that.

While en route to Uncle Bill I passed the Hazlewoods. My Grandmother Bivens was a Hazlewood. There were Uncle Porter and his wife Cue. They lived down the street from us in Mabelvale. Nadine, their daughter who still lives down there, called Mother with the news that I had sold her house to black folks although that probably wasn't exactly the way she put it. Thanks a lot Nadine. Uncle Porter blew his head off with a shotgun while sitting in the garden back in 1987. Mother was upset that the coroner ruled his death a suicide. She told me that he had the shotgun with him because squirrels were getting his tomatoes. I guess they shot back.

Uncle Ira-pronounced "Arrie", naturally-is buried next to Aunt Mildred. And Aunt is properly pronounced "Ain't" by my mother's people. Lillian is buried not too far away. Anyway, Ira was kind of the town drunk as I am made to understand. He once got arrested for sneaking a bottle of whisky through the bars of the window of the county jail into the grateful hands of one of his drinking buddies. In what can only be described as something like unto a redneck bar mitzvah, Ira offered me a plug of his Day's Work chewing tobacco upon hearing from my grandfather that I had graduated from law school. Aunt Lillian was a mischievous woman. When I was little she delighted in trying to get me to confess that I thought that she was prettier than Grandmother. I must have squirmed something fierce during those interrogations as I didn't want to offend Mildred but I wasn't about to say anything bad about my grandmother.

My grandparents lie not too far from Ira. My grandmother was named Johnnie Esther. I am named after her husband. My grandmother was a kindly woman with a large body made strong from raising 5 kids and working in the fields. Her hands were as strong as any man's. She could play "Power in the Blood" on a little pump organ and she read her Bible on a daily basis. She had the distinction of being married to the meanest son of a bitch in Cleburne County.

Paul Bivens held himself out as a WPA tree farmer during the Depression. This was only his day job. His real avocation and highest use was that of making moonshine. The old whiskey still is probably back there in the woods somewhere yet today. Accordingly, he was the most important guy in the county during most elections as he was counted on by the powers that be to make sure that the guys who voted right got to wet their whistles. If the outcome of a particular election was in doubt even after the application of the white lightning, he would sometimes be asked to come into town with his shotgun and be a "poll watcher."

He quit making moonshine after several bad batches convinced him that he had lost his touch. The reality of the situation was that Grandmother, who by that point in time had evidently grown weary of his second career, kept sneaking back there to pour well water into the mash so that it wouldn't ferment. To his dying day he never knew why all of a sudden his whiskey wouldn't "make."

My final stop on this Thanksgiving was at the grave of Bill and Jean. They had been married for over 60 years. She was a Bittle. The graveyard is full of her people as well. They moved to California to find work after they were married. Like other Arkies and Okies, they went out west in search of work on farms where carrots grew as big as railroad ties and oranges were the size of chihuahuas. Like many of their fellow nomads they soon returned to Arkansas where Bill eventually found work in Benton with Alcoa and Jean worked at Gingles Department Store. Bill worked in the aluminum plant at night and built their house on Maple Street during the day.

My Aunt Jean was the proper sort of woman who kept "Leaves of Gold" on her coffee table in the living room. And she read it. And found it useful. Uncle Bill loved to hunt and fish. He enjoyed his garden. And he delighted in kidding me about a) being a lawyer and b) having an SUV with such amenities as leather seats and satellite radio. He refused to acknowledge that it was a real truck.

Bill had a massive stroke on New Year's Day of 2003. During a visit to the hospital one day Jean told me how much she despised my grandfather. Which was pretty much news to me. Jean up and died in her sleep in the summer of 2004. Bill was completely disconsolate until the day he died last August. I'm surprised he made it that long.

I have left people out. And I have done nobody any justice. I left out mother's Uncle Joe Boyd who talked like Carl in "Sling Blade." I didn't mention Aunt Opal who ran the diner in Quitman. I forgot to mention all of the tiny graves interspersed between them all marking the resting places of infants. Most of them are adorned with statues of tiny lambs and marked with the inscription "Safe with Jesus."

During our lifetime there are only so many people that will love us. I guess it is a sign of my station in life that the little cemetery in Pearson is full of people that once loved me and who are lost and gone forever.

I said goodbye to Bill and Jean. I dried my eyes and I left.

When I got back to the house, the food was laid out, the children were being called in from the yard and Ralph was still talking about his goddamn bush-hog. Grace was invoked. Food was eaten. Stories were told. News was caught up on. Afterwards, the men watched football. The ones that were still awake that is. The women cleaned up while I took pictures and stayed out of the way.

My cousin's boys along with their stepbrother went out back to shoot skeet. Nine year old nephew Henry wanted to learn how to sling the clay pigeon. So after a couple of practice tries with the slinger he pronounced himself ready to give it a try. Cousin Todd raised the shotgun. He shouted "pull." Henry swung the slinger for all he was worth.

And hit Cousin Todd square in the nuts.

Uncle Bill would have loved it. Once he made sure out that Todd was ok that is. Which he was after about an hour of being tended to by his two med student stepbrothers and his neurosurgeon father.

I left shortly after that. I figured that nothing else was likely to happen that would top Henry and the slinger. In fact, Slinger may become Henry's nickname after yesterday. And Todd will never shoot skeet without wearing a catcher's cup ever again. As I drove past the graveyard I honked the horn in my wussy SUV.

And I know somewhere, somehow my Uncle Bill heard me say goodbye.

And I know that he smiled.

Monday, November 21, 2005

A Fan's Notes

I went to a high school football game down at the stadium the other night. One of the high schools, the one that is sponsored by the Vatican here in the People's Republic of Hillcrest, was playing in the semi-finals of the state championships. I was not about to miss. The Headmaster over there is a buddy of mine. I know some of the kids on the team and their parents. Besides, the Catholic High Rockets contend for a football title about once an evolutionary cycle. I may be in the nursing home the next time they pull this off.

I got there about kickoff. I found a seat high up in the bleachers where I settled in with my mini-pizza and bottled water that I bought from the Boy Scouts down below, perfectly content to be all bundled up out in the cold night air watching kids play ball. I had just taken a bite of what passed for my
dinner when I heard a man call out my name followed by " Hey! Mind if I join you?" Before I had a chance to answer Bill and his youngest son scooted in beside me.

Now let me be quite honest. I do not like Bill. There are no two ways around it. He is the ex-husband of a woman I cared deeply about once upon a time. That is not why I do not like Bill. Without going into lurid detail, suffice it to say that until he stopped drinking, he was spectacularly unstable and unreliable, a man who one of his old Rocket teammates described to me as "the worst alcoholic he ever saw" a remarkable statement coming from this informant who I know full well has seen his fair share of serious bad drunks. But that is not why I don't like Bill.

I don't like Bill because he is a narcissistic mama's boy who, insofar as I could tell, was never made to take responsibility for his actions. He ran any of a number of businesses straight into the dumper only to be repeatedly bailed out by his mother and her apparently limitless supply of cash which she spent on him like it was water. I don't like him because I saw firsthand the pain and frustration that was frequently visited upon the mother of his children-a good and brave woman- whenever his irresponsibility was in its full flower. I don't like him because I think I might otherwise like him. Like many alcoholics, he is the outwardly affable sort of guy that could charm the chrome off of a trailer hitch. But his charm and bravado were frequently offset by recurrent bouts of self-pity, a dichotomy I didn't fully understand having no formal training in psychiatry.

His son ran off to play with some other boys. And there I was, left alone with this man that I do not like. Eventually he spoke.

" I want you to know something." he said.

" Oh great." I thought. " Now he wants to chat." I turned to look at him. I noticed that my arms were folded tightly across my chest.

" I want you to know that I have been sober for two years now."

There was an awkward silence between us. I noticed the sadness in his eyes as they searched my face. I extended my hand.

" Hey, man." I said as I reached for his hand. " That's great. That's really great. Congratulations. I'm really proud of you." And I meant it. I never thought he would get this far. I mean, this is a guy who drank vodka for breakfast. I always kind of figured that wrapping a car around a tree somewhere at 2 a.m. was his destiny.

That seemed to relax him.

" I want you to know that means a lot to me to hear you say that." he replied.

" No really. It's not about me. You are to be commended for getting on top of it. It's all you."

" Well, thanks."

Silence mercifully returned as we turned back to the game below us. It didn't last long.

" I want you to know that I have kept my job. I've even been promoted. I'm strictly 9 to 5 now. I need that structure. It amazes me to think of myself working somewhere at a job where I have good benefits. I've even got vacation time coming. I can't believe it. I will never run a restaurant again. Things are going too good for me right now."

" I'm really glad to hear it, Bill. Good for you." I said. I almost added, "Maybe you can get current on child support now." Bad on me, I know. At least I didn't actually say it.

His boy-who at one time was kind of my boy too-returned. Knowing that he is as much a human garbage disposal as he is a little boy, I gave him my pizza.

" I guess I kept you from eating your dinner." Bill said, sheepishly. " It probably isn't good cold."

" Nah. Not much good cold." I replied. I was lying. Actually, I had lost my appetite.

I left at halftime. I manufactured an excuse about having to get up early. Quite frankly, and no disrespect to Bill, I needed a drink.

My head was humming as I walked up the hill back to the relative sanity of my little house. I mean, the man is not stupid. He knows that I have no use for him. Out of all the people at the stadium that night why did he sit with me? My friend Dr. GG opined that it might have been an inept attempt to do the "making amends" thing that guys in AA are supposed to do. Another friend who knows a lot about this stuff said that alcoholics sometimes confuse sobriety with the acquisition of social skills and that maybe it just didn't occur to him that, while I wish him no harm, I sure as hell don't want to socialize with him. And I know a couple of people in AA and God love 'em they all tend to talk, talk, talk.

Maybe he derives some false comfort from the fact that his ex gave us both the heave-ho. It would be just like him, given the cocoon of denial he has always operated out of, to draw some sort of moral equivalence between our shared experience. "See? There ain't no living with her." I can hear him say. Which infuriates me when I think about it. But this would explain why he honks and waves like we're big buddies when he sees me out running in the neighborhood. Listen pal, I ain't running a personal chapter of the VFW. And if I were I wouldn't let you join.

So why didn't I tell him to buzz off? I am perfectly capable of such behavior. I do not suffer fools gladly. And as I grow older, I am less inclined to take stuff lying down or to tolerate being taken for granted. I have burned-nay- blown up bridges. I have kept lists of names just for the pleasure of marking them off. So why on earth did irascible combative me sit for and hour-an hour of my life that I will never get back-and listen to a man that once treated a person I cared for so very badly?

Dr. GG says this is proof that I am a good man. That is nice of her to say. But I am not a good man. I am not a very good Christian either. But I'm a pretty good Methodist. And we Methodists are hard-wired incapable of turning away from people in need. Like I said, I always saw the pain in Bill's eyes, pain that was for the most part self-inflicted, but it was there nonetheless. For whatever reason, he needed to tell me the things he told me on that cold night at War Memorial Stadium. If talking to me helped him keep it together for one more night then I couldn't turn away. He is the father of two little boys that I love. I owed the son of a bitch that much.

But I ain't running a personal VFW. And just because I am very pleased that he has done so well in his recovery from addiction, we aren't going to become friends.

Because I do not like Bill. There are no two ways around it.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

That Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

And no, I'm not referring to the Holiday Season although even as I write this, some fool in a Santa Claus suit is riding a Harley up Van Buren.

And it's not even the 15th of November yet. Strength. Give me strength.

But I digress. I am referring is the basketball season which cranks up in earnest for the college and high school kids next week. The NBA started about 3 weeks ago but I don't watch those guys until the playoffs or unless the Indiana Pacers are on. But that's only to see if Ron Artest will go off on a ref. Or on an opposing center. Or on an entire section of fans in the bleachers.

Talk about entertainment!

Unlike my buddy at the newspaper (and you know who you are) I was but a modestly talented player. I got by only because my devotion to line drills and for diving for loose balls endeared me to the-mostly-redneck coaches I labored under as I came up. I was treated for the most part with disdain by the white guys who could actually play a little and by virtually all of the black guys. No matter. I made the team. Got to ride on the bus to the games and got to watch some good players up close and personal. And I do mean watch as I was rarely put in the actual game unless and until the outcome was well nigh determined. If you think this experience scarred me, a la Janis Ian and that stupid song in which she laments never being picked for the basketball team, you would be wrong. I was scarred aplenty by the practices sustaining, as I did, 2 broken noses in 5 years. But the games, no.

I am not nearly the avid fan of years gone by. Due to cable television and the Internet there is just too much basketball out there to follow it all. Still, most nights, I will have a game on, if only for background noise. Unless of course the Pacers are on. Then, being the mature sort that I am, I watch to see how quick Artest gets ejected. Little things amuse little minds.

On a less sordid note, it is not unheard of for me to take in a couple of high school games a week, especially if one of the schools in the neighborhood are playing. I go watch Hall, Catholic and the Belles up the hill at St. Mary's. It's therapy for me. I can just go, turn my brain off and watch kids play ball. I love it. Last year I took a 5 year old to his first high school basketball game. If you can't have fun at a sporting event with a little kid, you need your pulse checked.

However, honesty compels me at this point in the narrative to point something out. If NCAA Division I men's sports is a cesspool, and more than one person has suggested that it is, then basketball is the drainplug of the cesspool, the lowest of the low. Recruiting in basketball is nothing but a dirty arms race. And in every arm's race there are suppliers. To illustrate my point, let me tell you what happened to me about this time last year at a preseason tournament that was being played at Hall High down the street.

I had gone to see Catholic and Hall play each other. One of my old Little Leaguers was in his senior year at Catholic and he wanted me to come see him. This kid-let's call him Bobby- was big stuff in AAU ball but had tailed off considerably in high school as the other kids matured. (The last I heard is that Bobby had decided to walk on at Ole Miss. Bobby, I love ya, but rots of ruck.) Anyway, the new gym at Hall is built like unto a miniature version of "The Pit" at New Mexico with the actual court down about 3 stories below a promenade where one can stand and watch the game if you don't want to sit in the bleachers below.

As I stood there watching the game and admiring the handsome new building I was suddenly conscious of a presence next to me at the rail.

" Who you on, man?" There at my side stood a gentleman who was resplendent in a brown veloury sort of sweatsuit. This tasteful garment was accentuated by an equally immodest display of bling.

" Come again?" I said.

"Who you looking at, man? Who you got?"

It suddenly dawned on me. I had come to the game straight from the office. I was wearing what my aforementioned buddy at the paper derisively refers to as my "black ensemble" the latter word pronounced the correct French way. Nothing exudes scorn better than correct French diction.

Anyway, there I was in a black turtleneck slacks and trousers. I was wearing black Cole-Haan loafers. In my arms I held a black cashmere overcoat. And thus attired, I looked to this man to be a white basketball pimp: A John Calipari wannabee hanging around high school hoops trying to steer kids to schools in exchange for money.

Once I figured out what was going on, I decided to have some fun.

"You want to know who I'm on?" I whispered, leaning into him conspiratorially.

" Yeah." said Bling, leaning into me as well.

" Bobby." I said. "That's who I'm on."

The man recoiled. His jewelry made a clanking sound. "Bobby? For real?"

"Yep." I said, putting my index finger to my lips as if to say "Shhhhh." "I'm here to see Bobby. Now if you'll excuse me."

Bling returned to a group of similarly attired guys. Every now and again I noticed him pointing at me and shaking his head as he explained what he had heard from the White Basketball Pimp.

I tell this story mainly because it is amusing. But the underlying reality of it is not. Basketball is full up to the brim with scumbags, pimps, pseudo-experts and touts. Unlike football, you can turn things around with only one guy in hoops. Look at Carmelo Anthony and Syracuse. They win the NCAA tournament with him his freshman year and poof! he's outta there. And so the recruiting of these guys and their parents and their buddies is nothing if not intense. And money gets paid to guys sometime to make sure a kid gets delivered to State U. Business is business. It's a dirty arms race.

And yet I love it so. Sometimes, I dream that I am 16 again. I am standing on the free throw line with the ball in my hands. I can hear the cheerleaders. I can see my father in the stands. I can even smell the popcorn. I never actually shoot the ball in those dreams. Which is good because I would probably miss as I generally did in real life.

In my dream I am content to just be there in that old gym a lifetime away. Just me and a bunch of kids playing ball.

So don't be surprised if you see me in some gym in the People's Republic of Hillcrest on any given night. I still like to be around kids playing ball. I just try to ignore the pimps out on the periphery.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Random Thoughts While Battling The Flu

I haven't had much of a chance to post anything in awhile due to various and sundry reasons, not the least of them was a never-ending string of birthday activities that continues even into this week. This really has been fun. I won't have to go to the liquor store for a month or to the grocery store for a week. I may gain 25 pounds in the process. But I sure am having fun. I had to call a "time-out" for today as I seem to have been struck down by a mild flu bug. So I have a chance to write a few things while I am under the weather.

1) From the errata department: In the last installment, I puckishly referred to my brothers as being merely "adequate." These words came back to me at warp speed when I saw them at the surprise birthday party they threw for me a week or so ago. Ha! Ha! I'm a kidder, you know. But in the interest of fairness and also because Dave asked me " You want to take back that "adequate" shit now Birthday Boy?" Accordingly, I want to amplify upon my earlier remarks.

My brothers are great. Here are the four of us up at the right hand corner. They are good men and true every last man-jack of them. They are brave, loyal, thrifty, courteous, patriotic, brave, clean and reverent. None of them has owed me any money in forever. Neither have I been forced to go to court with any of them in-shoot-a good ten years, easy. A lucky man am I to have brothers such as these. I am especially lucky that Dave had not been drinking upon my arrival as he seemed genuinely sufficiently annoyed enough to snap my neck. Which he could easily do.

And so I take it back. Every word of it.

Thanks, guys! I really appreciated it!

2) Do the Razorbacks suck or what? I have never been one to criticize play calling. I am no expert in these matters and second guessing a coach is the easiest thing in the world to do. But what in God's name was Houston Nutt thinking when he dialed up a quarterback sneak on a 4th and inches in their own territory with a freshman quarterback playing his first game in the first quarter of same game? Naturally, it was easily repulsed and South Carolina went on to score. The Hogs are now 2-6 and they get Ole Miss in Oxford next week. It says here that the Rebels win. It says here that they finish 2-9 with some of the best talent they have ever had up there.

And they say coaching doesn't matter?

3) Did Vanderbilt get screwed the other night or what? Poor old Vanderbilt scored late in the 4th quarter to pull within one of Florida in Gainesville Saturday night. The question presented was: Do they try a point after attempt or do they go for two. That was the question at least until some idiot wearing stripes threw a flag for "excessive celebration" on Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt!

Like they have that many occasions to celebrate over there. Sure, I'll bet there are hangovers in abundance in Nashville when the LSATs or MCATs come in. But on the field of play? They are as rare as completed forward passes in Fayetteville.

Anyway, Vandy was forced to kick a PAT to put the game into overtime. Which they lost. You know that officials in any sport have done a good job when they are not noticed. The moron that threw that flag directly affected the outcome of the game for no good reason.

Which is kind of the coaches' job. Ask Houston Nutt.

3) Is Terrell Owens a pain in the ass or what? The Philadelphia Eagles suspended loudmouth jerk Terrell Owens for the rest of the season due to the constant, unending, infantile displays of narcissism out of him.

I say Good Riddance. Which is what many of the Eagles are saying as I appreciate the commentary on the Internet (Remember I am unwell. I stayed home today.).

But this is the NFL, not the Marine Corps. Mark my words, some other team (with my luck, the Saints) will do the Faustian Bargain thing and pick him up. And we will see the same soap opera all over again.

That's all for now. I feel an attack of the vapors coming on. I must go and get into some of that Tennessee flu medicine that I was given for my birthday.

Good night and good luck.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

So far

"Home. Home is where I'll be.
Pick me up and turn me 'round.
I feel young. Born with a weak heart.
I guess I must be having fun.
The less we say about the better.
Make it up as we go along.
Feet on the ground, head in the sky,
It's ok. I know nothing's wrong.

"This Must Be The Place ( Native Melody)"-Talking Heads

I turned 50 earlier this week. I have to admit that it wasn't nearly as bad as I was prepared to endure. I got the usual and predictable cards and e-mails calling attention to my infirmity and impending senility. Folks have been taking me out to eat. According to my calendar, I won't have to buy lunch or dinner for the next week or so. That's pretty cool. My brothers and I played golf together last Sunday up at Mountain Ranch. That's me up in the right hand corner! These things are subjective and reasonable minds can differ on such matters but I don't think that I look too bad for an old coot.

Steve Martin said he was depressed upon turning 50 because it meant that his life as a productive artist was pretty much over. Which may bode ill for the soon-to-be released movie Shopgirl. Anyway, I guess I didn't brood over this consideration overly much, being neither productive nor an artist. Besides, when I got to thinking about it the past 50 years, I was comforted by the knowledge that I have done some pretty cool stuff. Here are some of the stuff I've done in the past 50 years:

I've caught touchdown passes. I once won a 5k completely hung over. I was a pretty good baseball player until I saw my first real good curveball when I was 16. I knew when I was whipped. I played competitive tennis up until the body started falling apart on me. There is a reason nobody in their forties is on the ATP tour. I took up golf in my forties. My goals were to get good enough to play with my buddies, with my brothers and in the church golf tournament. Admittedly, lofty goals these are not. But how many people in golf can say they have attained a goal? Without lying that is?

I have met the following people: Pete Maravich, Elgin Baylor, Keith Jackson, Donna Douglas (you know, Ellie Mae from the Beverly Hillbillies), Bill Clinton, Mike Huckabee (the obese one) and Mike Huckabee ( the svelte one) David Pryor, Dale Bumpers, Vic Snyder, Frank Broyles, Steve Shields, both the current and former Roman Catholic Bishops of Arkansas ( I even share a birthday with the former. He's getting on up there. But then again, so am I), cabaret chanteuse Susan Douglas (she reminds me of a squirrel on crack) Walker Percy's brother Phin and his son Will. I'm sure there are others. But I am already getting forgetful here in my dotage.

With mine own eyes I have seen the following: Elvis Costello, Van Gogh's "Self-Portrait", Renee Richards, the Rolling Stones, a tennis match between Pete Sampras and Todd Martin (They split sets-Sampras won in a tiebreaker), Bruce Springsteen, Ytzhak Perlman, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks at the Diner", Kiss (I am so ashamed), and Squeeze.

I saw Matt Jones complete that hope-to-Jesus pass that beat LSU. I saw Darryl Strawberry take a ball off of the wall in right field at old Ray Winder and gun a Traveler out by @ 3 ft. It's still just about the damnedest thing I've ever seen. I once saw Reggie Jackson just evaporate a pretty good fastball thrown by Jim Palmer. I saw Ron Guidry pitch that same night. A little guy. Surely to God no man that small has thrown a ball that hard since Koufax. I saw my friend Phil hit a wedge 141 yards after telling us that he was gonna do it because he was pissed. I saw Kenoy Kennedy once tackle some kid from Kentucky so hard my brother and I thought he had killed him. He didn't.

I once had a piece of paper autographed by Lew Alcindor. I lost it. I could kick myself.

I saw two of my friends die horribly. One died of melanoma. The other had AIDS. If there are worse ways to die, I don't want to see them. Myself, I should have been killed 9 times over myself. Testosterone, alcohol, females and motor vehicles are a way dangerous combination. If that wasn't bad enough, I once talked a mugger out of blowing my head off with a 9mm.

I have been lucky beyond what I deserve. And I know it.

I used to sing with the Symphony Chorus . I have sung the tenor aria "Every Valley Shall Be Exalted" from "Messiah." It ain't as hard as it sounds. I have sung for countless weddings and funerals. I prefer funerals. Sad as they are, you know that at least one person in attendance won't be bitching about the music. I used to be the Cantor at a Catholic Church here in town. Not many people knew I was under the radar being a Methodist and all. I don't sing much anymore.

I would rather play golf.

I can state without hesitation or fear of contradiction that I have gotten more late night calls from drunks than the front desk at the Bridgeway. One of my buddies used to get hammered and punch in area codes at random until his fingers stumbled across a place where he knew somebody. He would then ask Directory assistance to call the numbers for him. Unfortunately, 501 got dialed in a lot in those days. A guy I hadn't seen in 20 years once called in order to threaten to kill me for allegedly stealing his girlfriend in college. Or guys wanting to talk sports. At 2 am. A woman to whom I was engaged once called wanting to know "what happened to us?" I told her that she left me and moved to Texas and hung up. I still get calls late at night. Just not from drunks. This is an improvement.

I have loved and lost. Losing sucks. Then again, last time I looked nobody was dead or nothing. So it goes.

I have the best friends a man could have. Included in that number are a bunch of females who, in equal measure, stay on my ass and worry about me behind it. I have 4 great nephews. I have 3 adequate brothers. I have a little girl across the street who likes to come over and sit with me on the porch swing. I have enjoyed the happy sounds of little boys playing in my back yard.

I have also enjoyed robust good health. I have never gone without. I know, I really, really, know how blessed and fortunate I have been these last 50 years. Like everyone else I wish I could get some "do-overs." As the old communion rite goes, "I have done those things I ought not to have done and I have left undone those things I should have done."

And the rembrance of these things is grievous unto me. They really are.

I have been blessed. I am, for the most part, content with how the first 50 years have succeeded each unto each.

Home. Home is where I'll be but I guess I'm already there.

I come home. She lifted up her wings.

I guess that this must be the place.

I can't tell one from the other. Did I find you or you find me?

There was a time before we were born if someone asks

This is where I'll be.

So far so good. There's room for improvement, God knows. But so far so good. The less we say about it the better.

But hopefully, God willing, and for the foreseeable future, this is where I will be.