Friday, August 26, 2005


We have had much activity of late in my little corner of the People's Republic of Hillcrest. The college boys that lived in the rent house two doors down from me have moved out. They were replaced by female counterparts of about the same age. I suspected that young women would be moving in as soon as the guys left. For about a week prior to the day I actually saw U-Hauls in the yard, I saw women who appeared to be about my age carrying in loads of stuff on almost a nightly basis. My suspicions were confirmed one day when I went around back to take out the trash and saw a tits high pile of boxes from stores like Tuesday Morning and Pier One stacked up behind the house.

Girls. No doubt.

Men and women move stuff differently. I didn't know that the guys were moving until about 10 of 'em showed up one Sunday afternoon armed with trucks, SUVs and coolers full of beer. The biggest item of furniture I saw hauled out was a big- screen plasma television.

Guys move stuff in. They move stuff out. They don't spend the week before hanging drapes, shooting measurements or comparing fabric swatches to the colors in the room. We move stuff in. We move stuff out. Point me to where the refrigerator will be.

One of my friends allowed as how I thrilled I must be to have a couple of cute girls living just a chip shot away from me. I pretty much am predisposed to view this as trouble. But not of the sexual foolishness variety. Even I am incapable of that level of hubris.

I tried to explain it once before to my friend J. I accompanied J to a wedding earlier this summer. After 20 years of dedicated service to the noble and useful profession of teaching, she decided to chuck it all to go to law school. As you might suspect, her classmates are all in their twenties. Anyway, at the reception, J introduced me to the bride and groom. The bride, as radiant a girl as I have ever seen, held my hand the whole time I stood there congratulating them and wishing them luck and all of that.

In the car afterwards J was smitten with the sentimental emotions that overcome women from time to time at these events.

"You could tell Mary-or whatever the hell her name was-really liked you." she said.

"How you figure?"

" You could tell by the way she held your hand the whole time she spoke to you. That was so sweet."

" Look" I said. " She could give a rip about me. She likes you. I have just reached a stage in my life where young women consider me to be completely harmless."

Here's another example. A couple of years ago I became friends with a young woman with whom I ran on a relay team for the first Little Rock Marathon. She was a second year med student at the time. She is a beautiful girl and an accomplished marathoner. However, like many highly intelligent people, she occasionally can not be trusted with a wet match, so absent-minded is she.

She called me late one night to tell me that she had locked herself out of her apartment. She asked me if I would come over and help her climb into the second floor window which was unlocked. This is how I would up with a 26 year old girl in a blue jean skirt hiked up to her hips with her piston-like legs wrapped around the back of my neck some 30 minutes later.

At this point, let me say that this wasn't nearly as much fun as one might think. Given the kind of luck I usually possess in all things, I just knew that the cops were going to show up at any time during this refenestration. That would have been some picture. Me with a girl on my shoulders and a beer on the hood of my car trying to bust into a private residence in the middle of the night. Bearing this in mind, it was with all due haste that I pushed her ass up through the window and threw her goddamn flip flops after her.

Clutching her flip flops to her breast she beamed down at me Juliet-like from her window.

" Thank yooooooou." she said. " I knew I could count on yooooou. You are so sweeeeet. " she cooooooooed.

Nah. Mainly I'm harmless. And she knew it.

Besides, I'm a guy. We move stuff in. We move stuff out. Plasma teevees, budding pediatricians, whatever. It's just stuff that's gotta be moved.

And so, these new neighbors will need something moved eventually or they will need someone tall to reach something high up ( I am exceedingly popular at Christmastime for this reason). And they will come to me.

They can't go to the grumpy gay couple to the North of them. Those guys don't talk to anybody. They can't go to the neighbor to the South of them because, even though she has a boyfriend that stays with her a lot of the time that might be of some use, he's a strange ranger. On the weekends, he occasionally wears leather pants and a cotton peasant blouse. It's like living next door to Mick Fleetwood.

But then again, who am I to talk? I just realized that I used the words "grumpy" and "gay" in the same sentence to describe someone. Maybe living next door to me is like living next door to Wally Hall.

My friend M lives in Jackson, Mississippi. She understands these things. And while I don't mean to suggest that I hear Edith Piaf in the background anytime she calls or sends e-mails, she has a certain world weary view of relations between men and women that informs her judgment in this regard.

" Oh yeah." she said the other day. " They will come. First you will be moving furniture. Then you will be hearing about their problems with their boyfriends. Trust me. Just make them produce a driver's license before you give them any alcohol." In that regard, I guess I had better brush up on my froofy drink recipes. From the looks of those two, I bet I won't serve 'em many boilermakers.

Like I said. Trouble. Just not the kind my buddy who obviously has spent way too much time watching porno on the Internet was contemplating.

They will come because at this stage of my life, young women find me to be completely harmless. That's kind of depressing. But it is what it is.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Found Objects

You can get reacquainted with surprising things whenever you clean house. I remember the last time I cleaned out the closets. I managed to unearth numerous items of memorabilia. Here they are in no particular order: Different items of women's underwear, a 12 gauge shotgun, a guitar case, a pair of espadrilles (Which strongly implies that someone actually left without her shoes. Why don't I remember that?), a baseball bat, a woman's bathing suit, 2 tennis rackets (one of them being an old Jack Kramer woodie), a highly illegal Blue Dot softball that I attempted to smuggle into a softball game once, shotgun shells for the weaponry mentioned earlier on, a robe and surplice, and last but not least, a bottle of moonshine made by-no lie-an itinerant Baptist preacher in the Ozarks.

Who says I have lived a wasted life?

I cleaned out my old desk the other day. I bought the old rolltop about 20 years ago from Hambuchen Home Furnishings in Conway, Arkansas. I paid 400 bucks for it, which was a lot of money at the time. And while the process failed to produce anything so interesting as a jar of white lightning that was distilled by the clergy, there were some interesting relics.

I found tons of useless financial relics. Cancelled checks and the like. I lingered over those old checks, an ordinate number of them written mostly to various area liquor stores , and I marveled at how much my handwriting has changed. I used to have pretty good handwriting for a guy. This was the result of my engineer father's insistence that anything important must be printed. Now I am told by the people who are forced to decipher same that my writing is illegible. My signature nowadays could be the scrawl of an orangutan or a lunatic.

Speaking of writing, I found various items of correspondence. I found a letter from my mother asking me to confront my youngest brother about some "older woman" who Mother believed was leading John down the path to certain destruction. Being raised a Baptist, she felt comfortable viewing matters involving her sons in such starkly apocalyptic terms. And John being John, he was enjoying the trip down the path as I recall. In any event, the letter goes on to state that the reason that I was the best candidate to counsel Junior in these delicate matters was " because you are a mature man that knows how to handle women."

I had to pick myself up off the floor again just as I did when I read Mother's letter 15 years ago. I ought to frame it.

I found letters from my buddy Don, who was working on a tugboat for a ruffian named Captain Billy while studying for the Louisiana bar exam. I came across a series of letters written by an old girlfriend who was studying architecture in Italy. I found a copy of a letter that I had written to a woman who was concerned for my soul after reading a piece I had written for the old Arkansas Gazette. I wrote to decline her invitation to attend her church. She belonged to one of those huge non-denominational churches out in West Little Rock that subscribed then and now to a sort of "Brand X" theology. She thought that I would profit mostly from the Sunday night service where I could show up comfortably attired in mere "khakis and a short sleeve shirt."

I think it was the part about the short sleeve shirt that I found most offensive. Listen buddy, you might find a couple Lily of France bras in my closet. But you won't find any short sleeve dress shirts.

I found an old Agfa 35mm camera. The only thing I can figure is that it must have been given to me by my poor old crazy Aunt IdaBeth who watched "Hogan's Heroes" religiously and actually talked back to the television while doing so. She had lived in Germany with her equally crazy husband Donald who was stationed in the Air Force there. Agfa is a German camera. I would guess that they bought it at the PX. I made a mental note to see what I can get for it on e-Bay just in case there were still any lingering crazy vibes yet infused in it. I am not a particularly superstitious person but I believe craziness, like radioactivity, can be stored in objects. In any event, one can't be too sure about these things.

I found all sorts of pictures. I saw a picture of me from the Arkansas Gazette back when I was the student body president at Mabelvale Junior High. I was wearing my letter jacket. Which I also found in my closet earlier on. Finally, I ran across a picture of me with my old girlfriend LS. We are apparently at a dinner party. I deduce this from the fact that I am holding a plate and am captured in the moment of placing a fork thereto. LS has her hand on my forearm, as if to call my attention away from the grub. Her face is turning toward the camera. She is wearing a summerry cocktail dress that is cinched behind her neck beneath her long curly brown hair.

She looks so happy. She is so pretty.

In the picture, my hair, beard, eyelashes and eyebrows are bleached out from playing tennis on hardcourts in the blazing sun 3 to 4 times a week. I no longer play tennis other than fooling around with friends. My beard is gray and I have a lot less hair.

I ran into LS the other day. She pretty much looks the same, which is to say pretty great. In fact, I don't know what to attribute this to, but it seems that the women I have loved in this life haven't changed much over time. I know this cannot possibly be true and I also know that most of them, LS included, would guffaw at this notion. And she would give you chapter and verse of every line, every ding, and/or scar she has added to her chassis in the last 15 years.

But then again, it is only the good looking ones that keep an inventory.

The day after I cleaned out the desk I took the financial documents to the shredder service. The world has changed 360 degrees since I bought that old desk. I write very few checks any more. Most of my transactions are done on the Internet. I no longer get cancelled checks. The shredding service is over by the golf club to which I belong. I didn't play golf 20 years ago. Everything is changed.

All but one thing. Like I said, thanks to the lens of sentiment, to this day all of the women I have ever loved remain beautiful and resolutely changeless to me.

Who says I have lived a wasted life?

Sunday, August 07, 2005

You call this a Warpath?

The National Collegiate Athletic Association recently announced the ban, effective immediately, from the use by its "member institutions" of American Indian images deemed "hostile or abusive" from hosting post-season events or displaying such iconography during championship competition. It has identified 18 schools that allegedly use such derogatory imagery and it includes six Division I schools including a couple of biggies in Florida State and Illinois.

I was immediately reminded of the late Frank Zappa who once observed ( and when was the last time you saw Frank Zappa invoked in a piece about sports?) that they would never start World War III in Los Angeles because there's just too much real estate involved.

Let me state at the outset that I am a white male. As far as I can recall, I have had the privilege of knowing only one person of Native American descent. I know nothing about how the majority of Native Americans feels about the use of Native American iconography by sports and corporations. I believe that diversity is a good thing and that any practice that perpetuates hurtful stereotypes or causes needless offense is probably something that should be closely examined to see if the continued perpetuation of that practice causes more harm than good.

Having said that, the latest edict from the NCAA is nothing more than a cynical attempt to placate those advocacy groups that have called for the elimination of "ethnic identifiers" in sports iconography without actually doing anything about it. And if I were a Native American with an interest in the issue, I would be offended. Here's why.

The ban only applies to post-season tournaments. That way, Division I men's sports are pretty much off the hook. D-I football utilizes that marvel of fairness and reliability known as the Bowl Championship Series to decide its national championship. And of the 18 schools listed, Illinois and Utah are the only schools that have traditionally made repeat appearances in the NCAA basketball tournament. And since the revenue ( much of which is derived from the advertisement and sale of merchandise, some of it now bearing derogatory imagery) from D-I football and men's basketball is what feeds the bulldog over at the NCAA, I can see where the ivory tower types over at headquarters in Indianapolis must feel as if they have arrived at a particularly elegant resolution of this problem. As I said, D-I is off the hook. The new policy mainly comes down hard on little bitty schools that don't produce much revenue. World War III does not start in Los Angeles.

And here's where I might have my nose out of joint if I were a Native American. If the use of derogatory ethnic imagery is wrong why not ban it outright? Period. Across the board. Notre Dame's "Fighting Irish" on the one hand connotes spirit and scrappiness. On the other hand it perpetuates a stereotype of Irish people being argumentative and violent. Is this really an appreciably better image than the one used by SE Oklahoma State whose teams are the "Savages?"

OK. Bad example. "Savages" is a really terrible nickname.

But you get my larger point. If it's wrong it's wrong. And it is just as wrong for the Seminoles of Florida State (probably soon to be known as the "High-Pissed Seminoles") as it is for the "Flying Dutchmen" of D-III Hope College in Michigan.

But the NCAA would rather kick the hell out of the Chowhan Colleges in its ranks than take on
Notre Dame and Illinois in any fight that might appreciably hit those schools, the ones that feed the bulldog, in the wallet.

Evidently the use of "hostile and abusive" imagery is not sufficiently bad to warrant starting World War III in Los Angeles. Or South Bend either.

And if I were a Native American, it would offend me that the NCAA evidently thinks I'm too stupid to figure this out.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Goodbye to All That

Boy, Major League Baseball can't get it right. If baseball were an automobile, it would be a Chrysler product. If it were a corporation (which it sort of is) it would be MCI-Worldcom. If it were a religion (which it also sorta is) it would be Scientology. When it comes to shooting itself in the foot, baseball is Audie Murphy.

Just looking at the sports page, you would think that baseball is a hell of a product. As of this writing, you have 2 heart-stopping pennant races going on over in the American League. In Chicago, both the White Sox and the Cubs are going good which, if we remember the sorry history of these two inept franchises, pretty much occurs with the frequency of Hailey's Comet. Speaking of the Cubs, not only is Derek Lee still flirting with the Triple Crown, he might win it while hitting .400. And for those of you that enjoy watching car wrecks on the interstate, I give you the National League West. Without a single team over .500, it just might be the worst division in the history of the game. One could go a lifetime and not see such hide-your-eyes collective incompetence again.

But do you hear about any of this stuff when you turn on ESPN or listen to talk radio? No. All you hear about is-once again-about how somebody got caught with steroids in his system. Once again, as is always the case with baseball, the sidebar stuff is bigger than the sport. To paraphrase Emily Litella, with baseball it's always something. It's labor trouble. It's owners highjacking cities for new stadiums ( I know that it is stadia. But this is a sport's piece after all.). More recently, it was all the high drama over drug testing. Would the union agree to it? Would there be a lockout? Will Barry get indicted?

And now, now that we have caught our collective breath real good, Rafael Palmiero tests positive for steroids. This is the same Rafael Palmiero who back in March waggled his left index finger at a camera and denied that he had ever used steroids, much like another rather prominent citizen in the DC area waggled his left index finger while lying through his teeth. Unfortunately for Palmiero, he was under oath at the time. Which creates its own certain set of difficulties.

What a month. On June 15, he gets his 3000th hit. On June 17th, the President-a man who, say what you will about W, has no use for steroids-congratulates him. On August 1, baseball announces that Palmiero was suspended for testing positive for steroids. The New York Times runs with a story that says he tested positive for stanozolol, a known wrecker of livers and shrinker of testicles. Which may or may not explain why Palmiero had such an interest in hawking Viagra.

How does the New York Times know this? "Unnamed Sources." And get this. The Baltimore Sun published a story (citing guess what?) that Raffy flunked his test in May. May. Which means that baseball (and presumably the Player's Union) knew that he was hot and waited until after he hit number 3000 to bust him.

After all, business is business.

This whole mess stinks to high heaven. One of baseball's poster boys pops up dirty. Stories are leaked to the media, presumably by higher-ups in baseball, which is what the Union always feared would happen. And now we know that "zero-tolerance" doesn't really apply if you are about to set a record.

Now you hear the old debates start all over. Should Palmiero be inducted into the Hall of Fame along with the other drunks, womanizers, cheaters, bigots and Bible-bangers that currently are enshrined there? Should Sammy? Should Mark? I don't care anymore. If I hear the names Gaylord Perry or Pete Rose invoked again this week I will put a gun to my head. Put 'em in. Leave 'em out. I don't care anymore.

This was not the easiest Spring for me for any of a number of reasons. So when my friend asked me to join he and his brother in coaching a Boy's Club team, I took him up on it. God knows that I preferred having a bat in my hands than time on them in those days. The highlight of many a day back then was the certain knowledge that I would soon be out on the field with friends who thought enough of me to ask me to help them and with little boys who loved to play baseball. Sadness was was only the special province of he that struck out. The only guys that hurt were guys who got hit in the head. Anger occasionally reared its ugly head. But it was only directed at the drag-ass college kid umpires who were too busy checking out the chicks in the stands to pay attention to the actual games. It was just what I needed.

Such are the simple joys inherent in this peculiar beautiful game. And only an outfit as completely dysfunctional as Major League Baseball could fuck it up so completely.

But I don't care anymore. Because with baseball, it's always something.