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.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

My Sunday Feeling

Yesterday was one of those "red-letter" days for a sports fan like me. At pretty much the same time, depending on what channel you lighted upon, you had LSU-Florida, Penn State-Michigan, and Notre Dame-Southern Cal ( Talk about a game in which it was hard to pick someone to root for. Or root against for that matter. Worse than the LSU game even.) And over on the baseball side, you had the Astros against the Cardinals.

The football games were all hellacious contests, all of them coming down to the last few seconds. Folks that were displaced or otherwise not in front of a TV were getting in touch with me to get the latest skinny. Marge was texting me on the way home from Oxford after watching the Rebels lose to Alabama on a last second-and I mean last second-field goal. She was remarkably chipper under the circumstances which led me to conclude that she was pretty much sober.

My brother John called me from a wedding reception in Memphis. I gave him the play by play during the last minute of the Notre Dame game. He would then call out what was going on to, judging from the sound of the voices in the background, what I gathered were most of the
men at the reception. Which undoubtedly amused the womenfolk in attendance to no end seeing as how they were pretty much left to amuse themselves at that point in time.

And all the while, e-mails and IMs are flying across my screen,almost all of them asking, "Can you believe the Notre Dame game?"

This is why we watch. We watch to see if Notre Dame can pull off the upset. We watch to see how Southern Cal can somehow survive. Which they did by the way, in one of the most amazing last minute drives I have ever seen in my life. And I have a loooooonnnnng memory about such things.

We also watch because it is all we have ever known. That night, I watched Georgia dismantle poor old Vanderbilt at the home of my friend J. From all outward appearances J is a pretty quiet, buttoned-down ladylike person much in keeping with her former life as a junior-high principal back in Georgia. Get a couple of beers in her, stick her in front of a Bulldog game and well, suffice it to say, she gets in touch with her inner Jzilla pretty quick.

I remember the first Georgia game I experienced with her. It was over Labor Day and I was sick with a sinus infection. Georgia was clobbering Boise State by 30 or so, which was an insufficient shellacking for Jzilla who at one point screamed at the screen, "Beat their eyes out!"

I thought my fever was causing auditory hallucinations.

" Did you just yell 'Beat their eyes out?' " I asked.

" Well, yes." she shrugged.

I remember reaching over and divesting her of her Corona.

Last night was more of the same. This is also why we watch. Because it is fun. If you can't have fun drinking beer and eating takeout food from Leo's while a good looking crazy person exhorts her Bulldogs to beat the eyes out of the opponent, you need your pulse checked.

But if any of you hear of a bunch of powerfully built young men walking around in West Nashville with white canes and seeing eye dogs, I don't want to know about it.

Because I know who caused it and I can only assume some liability might attach at some point in time.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005


Mother was having a bad day. Worse than the ones she claims to have on a daily basis even. My brother had brought her to Little Rock early that morning to see a neurologist that had been recommended by her psychiatrist as someone who is good at treating Parkinson's Disease in the elderly. These trips are hard on Mom. As she grows older she is less and less inclined to leave her apartment at the assisted living facility where she lives much less come to Little Rock. In fact, they were about 30 minutes late because my brother found her in bed pretending to be asleep in hopes that she wouldn't have to leave the cocoon she has encapsulated herself in at this stage of her life.

So, imagine my amusement when the lady behind the desk informed me that her appointment was, in reality, the week before and that there was no way that they could work her in to see the doctor despite her having come from 30 miles away. I confess that I went ballistic at this news for no other reason than they had such a lousy attitude of condescension about them as they insisted that they had made no mistake.

" You know, I called yesterday to confirm the appointment and nobody bothered to return my damned call!." I yelled at the wraith whom I gathered was the office manager.

She looked over her half glasses at the computer screen.

" I'm sorry. We have no record that you called." she hissed.

" Then I'm sure that you won't have any record that I called TWICE after my first call wasn't returned!"

She mumbled an insincere apology and asked for my number again to call me with a new appointment. You will be shocked to learn that I have yet to hear from them.

As an aside, although I am not known as a yeller, this was the second time within the span of one week that I had gone off on someone. While both occasions did provide some brief catharsis of sorts, I have to admit that neither episode accomplished much in the way of tangible good. I will try to bear this in mind the next time that I see deep red.

So we got Mom back in time for her lunch. I spent the rest of the afternoon grocery shopping, doing her banking and such in hopes of salvaging a worthless day.

Later that afternoon we sat on the couch in the parlor.

" How is my money holding out?" she asked.

" We are fine. The investments are throwing off good income. We haven't had to invade the assets of the trust to pay for anything and we probably will never have to. Even when you factor in the amount that I am stealing." I replied.

" Boy, you better watch it. God will get you if you steal from your Mama."

I can kid Mom about this. Unlike some elderly people, she is not paranoid about her money. She is not constantly cutting people out of the will or pestering our money guy. We are lucky in this regard.

"Did y'all sell Bill's house?" Bill was her older brother who died last summer.

" I don't know if Janan has sold it yet or not, Mom." I lied. She sold it in September.

" I don't like it here." Mom said. " I would have bought Bill's house. I would have been safe in Benton. It's not dangerous like Little Rock."

" Mom" I said. " You can't live by yourself."

" I could with some help."

" No, Mom. You need help with your meds. You need help with your food. You can't buy a house."

She sat quietly for a moment and then started fidgeting with the throw pillow next to her.

" What, Mom?" I asked.

" It's just that I don't fit in here. I've never fit in anywhere. I just do better by myself. I think I could make it in a little house in Benton."

I took her hand.

"Mom. I'm sorry." I shook my head "no."

Pause. She looked away.

"I'm tired." she said. "I think I'll take my nap."

I really didn't know what to say. It is a hell of a sad thing to be 83 and to have had brought 4 sons into the world and yet to have no sense of place. About all any of us want is to know that there is a somewhere where we belong. I didn't know what to say because some of this she brought on herself by leading a semi-cloistered life in her retirement years. I also didn't know what to say as some of this she didn't bring on herself. It is clear now looking back through the lens of perspective that Mother has suffered from depression and/or mental illness for the past 30 years or so. She now suffers from the ravages of Parkinson's Disease which makes her makes her self conscious about her appearance and movement.

I also didn't know what to say because I, too, occasionally recognize those feelings myself. Maybe that's why I live by myself as well. Maybe I don't fit in either. Hell, I found myself blowing my stack twice in that week alone. That doesn't sound like someone who plays well with others does it?

I turned to take one last look before leaving. There I stood, Mister Well-Adjusted, and watched Mother shuffle after her walker back to her dark apartment where the blinds are drawn tight.

Back to the only place where my mother fits in.