Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Shock The Monkey

My little house was built in 1927.  Like many old houses here in the People’s Republic of Hillcrest, it has a certain charm.  Granted, it might have more if a gay man or if a woman lived here.  But the value of the place has steadily gone up despite my presence here and my neighbors don’t leave me notes on the windshield complaining about my yard or anything.  So I guess I must be doing something right.

Charm aside, one of the downsides to owning an older home is that every now and again weird stuff happens.  Like when you plug a lamp into a wall socket and all the power goes off.   That’s what happened to me this afternoon.

I had purchased a lamp at a funky furniture store way out in West Little Rock.  I brought it home, screwed in a bulb and plugged it in.  All of a sudden, sparks started flying from the socket followed by that whuf!  sound that the house makes when the electrical system crashes.  The irony of the fact that I managed to get through the recent ice storm with the power intact only to fry my house because of an artsy-fartsy lamp was not entirely lost on me.

Irony sucks at times like this.

I went over to the side of the house and opened the breaker box.  Everything was on.  I flipped the master breaker on and off.  I heard the hot tub come back on out on the deck.  Back in the house, the living room and bedroom were still flat-ass dead but the rest of the house and the furnace was running.

This would be an example of the weird stuff that can happen in a charming little place like this.  And it was beyond my expertise.  And so I looked up an electrician whom I had heard was good and gave him a call.  Here is a transcript of the conversation.


“Hi, my name is tmfw and my power went down when I plugged in a new lamp I bought this afternoon”

“Well, that’s a bad lamp, sir.”

“No, it is a homicidal lamp.  Anyway, I went out and checked the box.  As far as I can tell, none of the breakers tripped. ”

“What part of town are you in, sir?”



“You went ‘humph.’  It is never good when mechanics or electricians go ‘humph.’  Is my owning a house in Hillcrest a problem?”

“No.  But I think I know a quick fix that will save you the 200 dollars that I would charge you if I had to come over there. I’m gonna tell you what to do.”

“Really?  Should I go out to the box?”

I’m used to computer technicians.  I figured I would have to describe the problem in front of me.

“You can if you want but it don’t matter. At least not while we are on the phone.”

“How come?”

“None of them boxes in those old Hillcrest-Park Hill type houses are right. Wasn’t any of ‘em designed to handle the loads people put on ‘em with all the electrical devices people got nowadays.  But, we know that, in spite of that, the old box obviously worked, because the breakers kind of tripped.  But ain’t none of them right.”

“Kind of tripped?”

“Well, my guess is that it didn’t exactly trip.  It just kinda sent everything to the middle.

“Which means?”

“Sorry.  That’s electrician talk for the breakers look like they’re on but they ain’t. Go out to the box, turn everything off and then turn them back on.  That should take care of it.”

“So they’re really off even if they show that they are on?”

“Yessir, most likely.”

“Isn’t that a problem?”

“No sir.  The opposite would be your problem.”

“I never thought about that.”


“But I threw the master breaker.”

“Don’t matter.  All that would do is allow me to work on it without killing myself.  It won’t reset them breakers.”

“Because none of these old boxes are right.”


By now, I was at the breaker box.  I turned all of the breakers off, and then turned them back on.  It worked just as he said it would!

“You back in bidness?” he asked.

“You bet!  Thanks a lot!” I replied.

“Look, like I said, obviously your box worked because you ain’t dead and an electrical fire didn’t get out on you.  But if you ever add on to your house, or run a bunch of high dollar landscape lights or stuff like that you need to get a new breaker box.”

“Well, if I do I will sure call you to come do the work because you were awfully helpful to me.”

“I’m happy to do it.  Always glad to save somebody a step along the way.  Call me again if you ever need an electrician.”

You can bet I will.

I called the furniture store and told them I would be returning the art-deco Roman candle.  

And before I get another one to replace it, I will plug it into one of their outlets to make sure it doesn’t make like an RPG before I take it home.  

Like the man said, I’m always glad to save a step along the way.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

My Sunday Feeling

We awoke today to brilliant sunshine peeping through the blinds. Thank God. The preceding week was so dark. It was warmer and for this I was grateful. But I can tolerate the cold. At this stage in my life, I need the light as much or more than I need the warmth.

Maybe I am just projecting, or maybe I am just making this up, but the world at least felt different around last Tuesday. The ice was pretty much gone by then and I seemed to hear more birds than I had up until then. I was talking to one of my friends in Biloxi the other day. He said they are worried that the birds down there were either wiped out by Katrina or that they may not return. The experts really don’t know.

Imagine. A spring without the birds.

Or maybe it is because I am doing stuff around the house that one might associate with spring cleaning. I will take delivery on a new mattress and box springs sometime next week. After that, I will replace the hot water heater, disposal and dishwasher. Then, new blinds all around and a new porch swing. By that time, I should have my new car. Ok. So the last item is not exactly synonymous with spring cleaning. But it does represent a certain spring-like catharsis to me for some weird reason that I can’t quite put my finger on.

In a couple of weeks, my buddy from Oxford and his son will be in town for the Polar Bear junior tennis tournament out at Pleasant Valley. Young Currie is ranked 32nd in USTA’s Southern Section which is pretty damn good. I have been watching this kid play since he was 13 or so. Therefore, I always consider junior tennis and the resultant high anxiety among the parents in the stands to be as much a sign of spring as the grass turning green.

So it’s coming. Spring is coming. So is the rest of this post.

How ‘bout them Hogs?- The Arkansas Razorbacks, who have pretty much underachieved for most of this season, finally seem to have gotten things semi-screwed together, having won 3 in a row. It’s about time, boys. The NCAA tournament is staring them in the face and they need to win 20 games to get in.

Yesterday’s thrilling 73-69 victory over the Tennessee Volunteers in Knoxville was one for the ages. They managed to come back from 14 at a place where Tennessee hasn’t lost all year. They did it by clobbering the Vols inside, making free throws and taking care of the basketball down the stretch, skills heretofore unseen on occasion this season. They also were helped by the fact that Tennessee inexplicably stayed in a press for much of the second half despite the fact that Arkansas was blowing through it with ease much as old Volunteer Bernard King used to routinely blow past stop lights while operating his motor vehicle back during his glory years in Knoxville.

This must be vindication of sorts for the much-maligned Stan Heath, whose clean shaven head has been much called for by the Monday morning quarterback types who tend to frequent sports call-in shows. As the old saying goes, everybody thinks they can practice law, be a psychiatrist and coach basketball.

Many Arkansas fans, and the redoubtable Wally Hall of the Democrat-Gazette, have taken upon themselves on the mantle of psychiatrist AND coach, and have criticized Heath for being too laid back and not sufficiently passionate on the sidelines. Which, of course, is shorthand for “Not Tough Enough?” Well guess what? While Bruce Pearl was chewing up the scenery over there on the Tennessee bench, his tenth ranked Vols were gagging away a 14 point lead at home. This turn of events produced the predictable amnesia in Wally who today described Heath with approval as “calm and seemingly sweat-free down the stretch.”

Heath, by all accounts, is a genuinely decent sort in a sport populated by pimps and grifters. There is no word on whether this kind of stuff makes him seriously crazy or not. I think that most coaches have to know that a certain percentage of the fan base consists of blowhards and whack-jobs. And the fact of the matter is that whoever followed the exceedingly volatile Nolan Richardson, who could find personal offense in “Good morning”, would seem positively Christ-like in temperament by comparison. So maybe he lets it roll off of his back.

All I know is that this quiet and calm sort of guy has got these knuckleheads peaking at precisely the right moment. And as long as they keep it up, he can sip hot tea from a cup and saucer on the bench for all I care.

Crazy people- As some of you may recall, last week during the ice storm, some nut appeared unbidden at my door at one in the morning, claiming to have helped me move into my house. This alleged fact, he evidently felt, was sufficient cause for me to allow him entry. I disagreed and summoned the gendarmes.

I live about a half a mile away from the Little Rock Zoo, where 2 nights later the cops arrested a guy that was trying to steal a sheep from the petting zoo. Upon questioning, the arrestee claimed that the poor sheep, who he had stuffed into a garbage can so he could drag it off, was his mother.

I discerned a pattern here and called the good folks at the LRPD in order to volunteer to look at mug shots to see if the Sheep Boy was my guy as well. The nice detective I spoke to told me that it wasn’t necessary as Sheep Boy “has been put far far away” to use her memorable line. Further, she doubted that my visitor and Sheep Boy were one and the same since “the guy we arrested down there was from Ward.”

Huh? I started to ask her just how in the hell the status of being from Ward, Arkansas means that the cops liked you as a suspect in one incident and not in another. But I thought better of it.

But what I should have asked her, just so I would know, is “How many full blown batshit crazy people are wandering around here unimpeded in the People’s Republic of Hillcrest on an average night?” By my calculations, as far as know, there’s still one unaccounted for.

Of course, maybe they got my guy too. Just because they didn’t call me last week doesn’t mean they didn’t nab him or that they weren’t able to figure out something to charge him with unrelated to showing up at my house which, unsettling as it was, ain’t exactly a crime. Guys like him always have a history with “The System” and I am certain that he has a couple of outstanding warrants following him around. Guys like him always do.

Still it makes you wonder.

The sun is streaming through the windows here. Despite the pretty day it is too wet for golf. I am starting to play a little tennis again primarily because tennis agrees with my asthma more than running does. Today would be a nice day to play if I could find someone likewise in the mood.

Currie’s father wants me to help him warm Currie up before his matches because, as he puts it, “I am too old for this shit every day.” Currie is built more like a running back than a tennis player and he hits the ball a ton as they all seem to do nowadays. He will knock the racquet out of your hand if you are lucky. He will perforate you if you are not.

If I can get some matches under my belt between now and then I might take him up on it. That and if I can find a catcher’s mask to wear while hitting with him.

It is “just spring” here in my little corner of the known universe. The tennis players and the birds are returning to Little Rock.

And that’s ok by me.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Knock Knock

A knock on the door at 1 AM is never good. And at first I wasn’t sure exactly what I was hearing. There was a noise in my head, maybe a dream. I rolled back over. Then there was a second knock.

By the second knock, I was semi-awake. The only thing I could figure was that one of my neighbors must be in trouble. I pulled on some warm-ups to cover my legs, screwed on a baseball cap and stumbled to the door.

I cracked the door open. There was a young man on my porch. He was wearing a jacket and a toboggan.

“Hey, I’m really sorry to wake you up,” he said. “I remember helping you move into this house.”

The cold air that was seeping around the cracked door was waking me up.

“I beg your pardon,” I said. “I didn’t quite catch that.”

“C’mon. You remember me. I helped you move in. I sure did like this house.”

I moved into this house some 13 years ago. From the looks of this guy he would have had to have been 6 at the time.

“WHAT?” I said.

“Ok, can I come in?” he asked. “Can I just come in and get some heat?”

“Hey, man. Sorry,” I said. “I’ve never seen you before in my life. I’m not letting you in my house. I’m closing the door.”

I closed the door, making sure the dead bolt caught.

I then called the police. Some elderly person in the neighborhood, after getting rousted out of a dead sleep might take pity on this bozo and let him in.

A cruiser arrived within 5 minutes.

I identified myself and shook hands with the young man. Here’s the thing about cops. They listen but they don’t make much eye contact unless they are asking the questions. He stood there ram-rod straight with his hands clasped over his belt as I gave the description of my visitor and recited his cock-and-bull story about how he happened to show up on my porch. All the while the cop was giving me the once over. When he wasn’t busy looking over my shoulder or all around the living room, that is.

Good thing I had remembered to put the crack pipe in the closet before letting him in.

That was a joke.

Anyway, the officer opined that it was probably a homeless person that had been rousted from somewhere else. He said that he had checked the Laundromat up on Kavanaugh on the way to see me. It was clear.

“You did the right thing by calling. We need to get him checked out before he talks his way into an old person’s home,” he said as he was going back out into the night. That’s what I thought as well.

As he crossed the yard another cruiser pulled up. A young black cop steps out. He is wearing a knit cap with “POLICE” written in reflective yellow across the front. He puts one foot on the running board and another on the ground. Just a couple of kids. These guys couldn’t have been over 25! 30 at the max.

“I just got a call on Lee,” the black kid says, jerking his thumb over his shoulder toward Lee Avenue. “Guy in dark jacket and something on his head.”

“Dark jacket, right?” the white kid calls back to me.

“Dark jacket. Right,” I say.

The white kid runs to his cruiser. The black kid talks into the radio on his chest.

“Thanks guys!” I say.

Both officers tell me that I am welcome.

“Go back inside, Sir,” the white kid says. “It’s cold out here. We’ll take care of this.”

And off they went into the night. Bless their underpaid little hearts.

As I have said before, I am not a very good Christian but I am a pretty good Methodist. And it is banged into our head from early on in Sunday School that we are to help the less fortunate, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and to care for the sick.

We are also commanded to give shelter and warmth. After all, Jesus said, “That which you do to the least of my brothers you do unto me.”

And so there was that part of me, the Methodist part of me, that almost opened the door. Thank God, the cynical lawyer part of me nudged my ass out of the driver’s seat and took over. After all, Jesus may have walked the streets but he didn’t walk these streets. Hell, it’s dangerous on the other side of the door. It is one thing to offer Yourself as a perfect and living sacrifice in exchange for the forgiveness of the manifold sins of the world. It is quite another to get knocked in the head in exchange for your wallet.

The guy was obviously up to no good. He completely lied about what brought him to my house. And what did bring him to my house anyway? He might have been armed. He probably would have tried to steal something before leaving. You just can’t give into your decent impulses unless you can control the situation. And once you let an absolute stranger into your house at one in the morning, you have, by definition, lost control of the situation and you get what you get.

I guess it says something about my raising that my initial impulse was to help the guy out. But to have done so would have been exceptionally foolish. I can only hope that when it comes time to settle my account in the hereafter, I am not judged to harshly.

But I am going to give a little money to the Salvation Army or to the Rescue Mission just in case. It never hurts to middle your bets. I’m sure that Pascal would understand.

I’m also going to give some money to a police charity as well in gratitude for the grim faced young men that came out in the night and who flew into the streets in order to get somebody off the street before an innocent person was harmed while succumbing to a decent impulse.

And I’m sure that I will continue to ponder this modern parable for some time to come.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

My Sunday Feeling

This was the scene in my backyard yesterday morning around 9:30 or so. The sleet and the freezing rain that had been predicted hit the Central Arkansas area earlier on about 5. The People’s Republic of Hillcrest awoke to a brittle blanket of white over it. Although the early morning was utterly silent, by nine or so I noticed that the sidewalk in front of my house had started to melt. Around that time a friend called to say that he had driven from his house over by the river to St. Vincent’s Infirmary down by me to check on an elderly friend. He said the roads weren’t too bad.

By noon the precipitation was mostly over. The mailman came by and reported that most of the streets were indeed passable. He opined that the warmth of the ground from the crazy winter we have had combined with the rapidity with which the front had blown through had resulted in a milder assault than what we were prepared to endure. We both agreed that we had dodged a bullet.

Dodged a bullet. I heard that phrase over and over in e-mails and telephone conversations. None of us around here will ever forget what happened in 2000 or 2001 when this area was out of commission for about a week or so. Some people did not have power for over 2 weeks. Folks stayed in hotel rooms or with friends or relatives that did have power. People bathed and took meals at the Racquet Club once it fired back up. I will never forget seeing the service trucks from places as far away as New Jersey and Florida going up and down Van Buren. God, what an awful time. God forbid we ever get struck down like that again.

So, if the worse that happens is that we are forced to stay inside for a couple of days, what the hell. Could be worse. Buddy, you need to just look to the South to the Gulf Coast if you think you got it rough just because you can’t get to Oaklawn for President’s Day.

Actually, it has been pretty nice. Even though the streets are passable, there is no point in driving if you don’t have to. So, I found myself catching up on things around the house, paying bills, trying to figure out why the goddamn flash for the Nikon keeps going into “standby mode” when I am in the middle of shooting stuff, that sort of thing. This is an amazing time to be alive. I heard from friends near and far via phone calls, text messages and e-mails. I repeatedly checked the blog run by the Arkansas Times to see what was going on. Folks posted from all over town to report on road conditions, restaurant closings, and to tell how they were passing the time.

From what I can tell, everybody was eating pretty good! Most of the bloggers reported that they were taking advantage of the time indoors to serve up hearty fare such as soups and brownies. We are evidently a hardy bunch when it comes to grilling. Despite the bitter cold, there were many reports of steaks and tenderloins being prepared out on the deck. Of course, most of these grillmeisters admit that they were assisted in their efforts by healthy doses of bourbon and wine.

What fun. All of these anonymous folks, some of whom I probably know, some I undoubtedly don’t, all checking in with one another from the warmth and comfort of our respective homes, just to see how people were coping with the storm and to reassure one another that everybody was ok.

As for me, I opted for chili. I love chili when it is cold. I could almost eat it everyday. J came for dinner and she insisted upon walking over here from her house over by the church. Being a law enforcement person, she has a healthy respect for automobiles, inclement weather and the use of alcohol. I have to admit that she is correct in this regard. I also admit that I was secretly glad that she and not I were making the trek. I am hopelessly accident prone and the last time I walked over to a woman’s house for supper under conditions such as these I wound up with bruised ribs after falling while stone cold sober. The damn things still hurt after a round of golf or after playing tennis. Indeed, my legendary clumsiness prompted pleas from both my brother John and my Mississippi friend Marge that I not venture outside until the temperatures got above freezing. Although I think that they are overreacting, I accept the larger point: why borrow trouble again?

Soon after she got here, the house was full of the smells of chili powder, paprika and onions. She had a glass of Shiraz while I opted for a shot of Knob Creek straight up. Georgia and Vanderbilt were on TV. Georgia was getting whacked. She was tolerating that. But if Vanderbilt ever beats Georgia in football, she will lay down and die on the spot. She and a couple hundred thousand of the Bulldog faithful, that is. Good thing for everybody concerned that there’s not much chance of that happening.

All around us was silence as we sipped our drinks (damned if there’s anything better than bourbon on a bitterly cold night) and enjoyed the game. All around us were other smells: of wood burning chimneys and steaks being grilled by hardy bourbon drinkers. It seemed like the whole world stayed home last night. It seemed as if, for just one night, the whole world was safe and warm.

Kurt Vonnegut had a favorite uncle who used to say at times like these, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.” Actually, it is better than nice. It is a blessing to have food to eat. It is a blessing to be warm and to have a roof over your head. It is a blessing to be strong enough to walk in the cold. And it is a blessing to have people that love you enough to check in to see if you are ok. The pitchers and catchers have reported to spring training. That means spring is around the corner and an end to the cold. That also means that soon I will get to see my baseball kids again. Those are blessings too.

We take so much for granted. We take each other for granted.

Yep. To paraphrase Mr. Vonnegut’s uncle, if I ain’t blessed, I don’t know who is.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

All I Got To Do Is Act Naturally

I got an e-mail the other day from my friend Jimmy. He wanted to know if I had ever seen “The Wally Hall Show.” He said that I should catch it sometime if I wanted to see something that was “completely surreal.” I was vaguely aware that Wally was on TV somewhere on the dial as has been the case off and on for the last 20 years or so. The last time I watched Wally was back when he had a show that came on late on Sunday nights. This was back when my youngest brother was in college. That’s how long ago it was.

It was also back before they had 5 second delay or before they screened calls. My brother and his buddies used to get drunk and call Wally to ask him how he thought the Hendrix Warriors were going to do, knowing full well that Wally knew absolutely nothing about basketball in the old Arkansas Intercollegiate College. Which, on any given night, was only marginally different from his working knowledge about any other subject that might come up.

I approached this task with only slight trepidation. Sure, Wally comes across as incoherent and uninformed in print. But, he is actually not too bad on his day gig with Tommy Smith and David Bazzel on KABZ. And even though Channel 18 is a public access channel and even though the star of the show is Wally Hall how bad could it be? I lived in New Orleans back in the early eighties. I used to watch Hap Glaudi and Buddy Diliberto for God’s sake. Those shows were crazy. I didn’t exactly expect MacNeil-Lehrer here or anything. How bad could a 30 minute sports show be?

While I have only watched 2 broadcasts of “The Wally Hall Show” I can say without reservation or fear of contradiction that the word “surreal” only scratches the surface of the 30 minutes of cognitive dissonance that obtains there.

The first show I watched was right after the Super Bowl. Wally started the broadcast by exclaiming “Yeah!” after the credits finished rolling. It would turn out that Wally starts every segment of the show with a “Yeah!” as in “Yeah! Welcome back” or whatever. It was as if the fact that the red “on-air” light comes on after every commercial was a source of continual surprise to him. He also was chewing gum which certainly I never saw Hap Glaudi do.

In this particular segment, Wally showed highlights from the Super Bowl and for the most part, he let co-host Anthony Lucas, a former star for the Razorbacks who played in the NFL, do most of the talking. One of the highlights showed was the 50 yard hope-to-Jesus throw by Rothlesberger to Hines Ward. Wally allowed as how that pass would have never been completed if Kenny Hamlin had been on the field for the Seahawks.

I thought the same thing at the time. Too bad Kenny wasn’t able to dress out after getting his ass kicked in a Seattle bar some three months earlier. At that point in the segment, it would have been a good time to turn to Lucas and ask, “Gee Anthony, aren’t you guys warned about stuff like that all the time?” Or “What would possess a young man to potentially throw his career away like that?”

But that would be journalism and that would be run the risk of sounding critical about a former Razorback. And this is the Wally Hall show.

There wasn’t much going on in last week’s show. Indeed, Lucas was caught stifling a yawn on camera. Anyway, Eddie Sutton had just got charged with DUI and Wally, who seemed a little defensive about it for some reason, reminded the viewers that there was no proof that Sutton had been drinking (that would come later). He showed some really cool footage of the 1949 Little Rock Junior College Trojans victory over the Santa Ana Junior College for the mythical National Championship. He discussed the upcoming Razorbacks’ upcoming game with Auburn as “pivotable.” Actually, the game they gagged away in Oxford the following Tuesday proved to be even more “pivotable.”

About that time, a cell phone could be heard. Wally stopped talking and looked sheepishly down toward the pocket of his windbreaker.

“No.” I said to myself.

Yes. Not only does Wally’s cell phone go off. He pulls it out. AND HE CHECKS THE CALLER ID! Only then, did he call for a break.

At that moment I was getting some sort of weird memory flash. Jimmy was right. “Surreal” was the word but where had I seen it before? Then it occurred to me.

In the movie “Being There” Peter Sellers plays a dimwitted gardener named Chauncey Gardiner who has never left his employer’s estate until his death. The only knowledge he has of the outside world is what he has seen on television. I forget exactly how fate propels him into the role of a White House economic adviser but eventually Chauncey’s simple aphorisms about gardening are taken as metaphors for economic policy until the White House physician, in a memorable scene, comes to the slow realization that Chauncey really is a simpleton who knows nothing about economics or anything else other than gardening.

Peter Sellers’ Chauncey bears the same sheepish countenance of perpetual surprise and confusion throughout the movie that Wally’s face betrayed when the cell phone went off on the air. Or whenever the camera goes on.

The difference is, of course, Sellers was acting. Wally’s “Damn, I’m on the teevee” countenance is the real deal.

I talked to Jimmy afterwards.

“You know,” he said. “Imagine that you are from out of town and you check into your room. You don’t know much about Little Rock and so you start flipping around on the television. You run across Wally. You are immediately drawn by this weird shit. It’s a sports show but nobody really seems to know much about sports. Lucas seems to be a fine young man but he really doesn't add much to it in the way of substance. “

He went on. “Assume that the businessman from out-of-town goes down to the bar for a drink before dinner. He strikes up a conversation with the bartender. He tells him that he just watched ‘some idiot named Wally Hall’ on TV and he asks what gives.”

“And he is told that ‘that idiot’ is the editor of the sports page of the largest paper in the damn state. How does that make us look? Doesn’t Walter Hussman know how bad Wally makes his paper look?”

Hell if I know. Surreal.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

My Sunday Feeling

The 2006 Winter Games have begun in Turin and I only have this to say: “Who cares?” Actually, I have more to say but “who cares?” will be the leitmotif wafting in from the orchestra pit anytime the Winter Games are mentioned in this space. Which will be infrequent.

I mean, the downhill racing is cool and hockey and speed skating can be exciting. I confess that I always watch the long jump competition because those guys are crazier than crop dusters. I always enjoy watching crazy people in sports. Which is why I am a fan of the Detroit Pistons and Rasheed Wallace. But who gives a rip about curling or the modern pentathlon? The luge is, well, undignified. And, honest to God, is there anything in sport more ridiculous, more ridiculous than the front office of the Phoenix Cardinals even, than the spectacle of a grown man in sequins and makeup clutching a bouquet of roses and crying while the figure skating scores are announced?

The Winter Olympics are a big con, performed in for the most part by drug-enhanced pseudo-athletes. This is the time of year where college basketball is getting interesting. Who cares about the Olympics?

Wayne’s World- In keeping with the wintry theme of today’s screed, it is noted that NHL icon Wayne Gretzsky, and coach of both the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes and Canada’s Olympic hockey team, is currently up to his ass in hot water over allegations that his wife, former actress (and we use this word advisedly) Janet Jones and his best friend and Phoenix assistant coach Rick Tocchet are involved in a gambling ring. Jones supposedly laid off around 600,000 bucks on Tocchet to place bets on her behalf.

The question among those sorts of people that harbor suspicions, namely cops and reporters, is whether Gretzsky was using his wife as a beard to place bets on his behalf. And the question that the suits at the NHL want to know is whether Gretzsky, Tocchet, and/or any of the 12-16 active NHL players they suspect were in on it placed bets on NHL games.

Gretzsky says he placed no bets, and that he didn’t know anything about his wife’s extracurricular activities. We don’t know about the former but we know he lied about the latter. We know this because the cops have him on tape talking with Tocchet about keeping the missus from being implicated in this mess.

I know that one can’t know everything about a spouse. But how do you not know that your wife and your best friend (Memo to Wayne: You need to find a new best friend) are up to their eyeballs in an interstate gambling ring? Wouldn’t overhearing your wife say on the telephone, “Hi, Rick. Sure, your best friend Wayne is here. Don’t forget to put 10 grand on the under on the Knicks game for me.” arouse some suspicion? Wouldn’t even a wealthy person notice that 600 grand of the butter and egg money was missing?

I do not know if Wayne Gretzsky will turn out to be Pete Rose on skates. But his soul mate and his friend have given the NHL a hickey it doesn’t need after the labor strife of last year. And there is way more to all of this than meets the eye.

So you think your job sucks?- Consider the plight of Orleans Parish Criminal District Clerk Kimberly Williamson Butler who described the conditions in the courthouse basement where the morgue and evidence room is situated thusly in yesterday’s New Orleans Times-Picayune:

“It’s contaminated. There are about 30 bodies down there. There’s not only mold but fecal matter and all kinds of stuff.”

She went on to say that she is sending her employees down in Hazmat gear to retrieve evidence for the judges.

I don’t know what you do for a living but I bet that it beats wading through fecal matter and “all kinds of stuff.”

Everyone hates Lefty- And speaking of gambling, golf’s Phil Mickelson recently joined the likes of Lleyton Hewitt, Bonzi Wells and Barry Bonds on GQ Magazine’s “10 Most Hated Athletes” featured in this month’s edition. Mickelson is a big player in Vegas and made a couple of million in betting that the New England Patriots would make it to the Super Bowl four years ago. Like he needs the money.

Anyway, Mickelson, is described by an anonymous reporter in the piece as a “preening and insincere” fraud who “literally has no friends” on the PGA tour. Indeed he is referred to by some of his fellow golfers as FIGJAM, which is an acronym for “Fuck I’m Good-Just Ask Me.”

To be so widely despised in a sport populated to its outer banks with egomaniacal assholes is remarkable. And so today we lift up FIGJAM, which is no mean feat given his expanding avoirdupois, on this, the first weekend of the Winter Olympics.

And we wonder if he is betting on the Canadian hockey team.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Bleeding Hearts

“Not that it was beautiful
but I found some order there.
There ought to be something special
For someone
in this kind of hope.
This is something I would never find
in a lovelier place, my dear,
although your fear is anyone’s fear,
like an invisible veil between us all…
and sometimes in private,
my kitchen, your kitchen,
my face, your face.”

“For John, Who Begs Me Not To Enquire Further”
                         Anne Sexton

Speaking of poets, T. S. Eliot once rather famously observed that April is the cruelest month.  Then again, Eliot didn’t know about how much fun my friends LS and MH are having this February.  

LS recently broke up with a guy with whom she decided to “explore a relationship” (as they say nowadays) after being friends with him for 30 years.  So, not only is her heart broken, she has lost a friend.  Ouch.

HM got divorced some 6 months ago from the father of her children.  She didn’t want the divorce.  She is trying to go forward as a single mom, which is a situation she never anticipated.

LS doesn’t sleep anymore.  She just. doesn’t. sleep.  She doesn’t sleep on Ambien even.  She has a high stress job as the manager of a furniture business.  She also teaches aerobics, cares for her elderly parents and volunteers with a local road race.  If she doesn’t get a visit from the Sandman pretty damn soon, she fears that she will suffer from exhaustion.  She is the sort of high energy person that would make caffeine nervous.  Exhaustion for her would pretty much be pretty close to “dirt nap” for anyone else.

HM is just the opposite.  HM can’t get out of bed in the mornings.  She is in administrative management.  This requires her to attend meetings, endure conference calls and send out faxes.  All of which is pretty damn tough to do with the covers over your head.  Her doctor said she was depressed-thank you Sigmund Freud- and prescribed her some pills.  But they upset her stomach, or so she thinks anyway.  Besides, she would rather snap herself out of it without drugs.  Her parents are beside themselves.  They urge her to please,please,please get some help, if only for the sake of the boys.  So she went to a junior pastor at her Mother’s church.  The sonuvabitch asked her out.  Thank you, St. Francis.  So much for pastoral counseling.

I have never met HM.  I have business dealings with her.  But every now and again, she will call me from her office in Mississippi and in her small sad voice say, “Do you have a minute for me?”

LS is a white girl from the city.  HM is a black girl from the country.  These poor sweet babies don’t have much in common with each other except that they both once loved and they were both once suffused with the kind of hope spoken of by Sexton.  They have that in common.  And on a less lofty note, they both have me.  Which truly passeth understanding.  I am totally inept when it comes to relationships.  And to plumb my deepest and best thoughts in this regard is like unto asking Michael Brown for advice on emergency management.

But this much I get:  When your ordered world, the one where you used to find his face or her kitchen, disappears with the snap of a finger-well-it’ll fuck you up quicker than a motorcycle.

HM wants to know when her old self will come back.  LS asks if her heart will ever quit hurting.  

God, babies.  I just don’t know.  I also don’t know when you will quit playing the last year y’all were together over and over and over in a continuous loop in your head.  I don’t know when you will be comfortable sitting by yourself in church.  I don’t know when you will feel like setting foot in a favorite restaurant again.  And if you do, I hope the food is good, because the ambience has changed.  I don’t know when you will stop dreading to look at a calendar but you know that some dates contained thereon once had meaning for you and you alone. I don’t know when you will stop wondering why you couldn’t make it work, or how you couldn’t see the signs of trouble.  I don’t know when you will quit beating yourself up about how a smart person (and don’t forget that you are a nice person) like you can’t transcend your patterns.

I don’t know.  I don’t know.  I don’t know.

As God is my witness I don’t know.

But I know that you will.  You will stop.  You will stop in time.

In the meantime, LS the sleepless one, says that she would throw herself out a window except that everybody would still expect her to clean up the mess.

And that’s just it isn’t it?  Anne Sexton put it this way: “the choice.  Only she wasn’t exactly speaking entirely metaphorically.  And she probably is not the greatest example on earth to use in a piece like this seeing as how she, well, killed herself.

But LS isn’t going to throw herself out of a window anymore than I am going to take up square dancing.  However, her larger point is well taken.  There is too much stuff to do and protracted melancholy is not permitted of most people.  There are kids to raise, parents to help, clients to represent, and money to make.  People are depending on us.  A charge to keep I have and it does not matter that the ocean is vast and that my boat seems so small against it.

Or, if you require something more practical, consider this observation by Dorothy Parker, another famous poet:

“Guns are unlawful.
  Nooses give.
  Gas smells awful.
  Might as well live.”

Live or die.  Might as well live.

That’s the best thing I advice I can give to you poor sweet babies.

What the hell.  People are depending on us.  Might as well live.

It’s not exactly Dr. Phil.  But it’s the best I can do.

You girls know where to find me.


This is the view from my front porch yesterday about 2:30. It was the kind I like in that it was pretty to look at and didn't stick to the streets.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

My Sunday Feeling

Today is Super Bowl Sunday. If any day approaches something of a civic religious holiday, it is this one. Surely no other event in this country is so relentlessly hyped, involves so much money and stirs up so much ersatz emotion. Other than Christmas, I mean.

I am not a big NFL person and I usually don’t much give a rip about the outcome of the Super Bowl. I’m far more interested in college ball despite its being the completely corrupt enterprise that it is. As far as the pros go, I am far more likely to pay attention to the NBA finals or to the World Series than the Super Bowl. I might be more interested if the Saints were to ever make it to The Big Game but that is only because such an occurrence would also be one of the signs of the End Times.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy sports as much as the next guy. I just don’t get that emotionally involved in it. I would refer to myself as what the Europeans would call “a sportsman.” I usually have some kind of ball game on whenever I am at home, even if I am not watching it. The sounds and the cadences of sports are familiar and comforting to me. I listen to ESPN Radio in the car. I enjoy attending ballgames from intercollegiate to tee ball. There’s not much of anything that I enjoy better than playing golf with my friends. Even on a day that is as freezing cold as is this one.

But even though I consider myself to a knowledgeable sports fan, one who cares about sports and what they mean to the culture, for the life of me I do not understand how adults can live and die over the outcome of the games. I don’t know why people paint their faces and bodies in the colors of their teams. I don’t understand why people obsess over the recruitment of children by our colleges and universities. I am always shocked when I hear guys talk about the amount of money that they have wagered on events like the Super Bowl.

As I have written in the past, regardless of how much the promoters of these events want the fans to be “a part of the action” there is a line between what is real and what is not real. And I fear that the fools that leave the stands to run out on the field of play, the same sad men that call “Drive Time Sports” over and over again, and the guys that frequent the “Fire-insert coach’s name here-.com” websites have forgotten that.

I’m kind of the same mind as my buddy Oley who once said of the Super Bowl, “The goddamn thing is gonna be on, so we might as well watch.” It’s an excuse to make some cheese dip, put some burgers on the grill, have a few drinks and to marvel at the fact that Keith Richards is somehow still alive. Nothing wrong with that. Maybe it will even be a good game.

But it is not real. Just like Christmas.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

"And today we are happy to announce that Wally Hall has graciously consented to join our Communications Ministry here at the Church"

I spotted this informative sign in front of a non-denominational church not too far from my house. Apparently, they are offering a series of lectures in which they will refute the theory of evolution. If their science is no better than their grammar, which is doubtful, they will never lay a glove on Darwin.

In any event, I could not possibly make this stuff up.

Trouble in Motor City

It is indeed a cruel concatenation of events that brings Super Bowl XL to Detroit just as the American car industry is reeling. And it is reeling. Last week alone Ford announced that it was laying off 20,000 workers. In any event, the presence this year in Motor City of America’s largest annual sports/entertainment spectacle has elicited much commentary about the reasons for the decline of “The Big Three” in the marketplace.

I know the reason. I’m driving one of them.

Because some asshole saw fit to scratch up my car with a set of keys, I am driving a 2005 Pontiac Grand Prix courtesy of State Farm while it is in the shop. (By the way, the bill for this repair job exceeds 1500 bucks. By way of comparison, a certain medical procedure that I underwent recently cost a mere 700. But then again, they didn’t have to replace any of the parts on me when I was “in the shop.” Still it is amazing what stuff costs.)

This is a terrible car. It only has 22000 miles on it and it already feels like it is about to fall apart. Granted, people drive rentals to hell and back. Who knows what kind of fools were behind the wheel of this vehicle before I wound up with it? But still, the handling has a jerky feel to it and the front end doesn’t feel like it is in alignment. The hard plastic interior is tacky. The instrumentation is tricked out to make you feel as if you are in a real sports car instead of a 4 banger piece of tin foil. When you start the ignition, the speedometer and tachometer roll over to the red zone then back down to zero. I laughed out loud the first time I noticed it. In fact, I turned it off and started it again a couple of times just to see it. Ridiculous.

Further, the damn thing is noisy as hell on the Interstate. I was doing 70 the other day and it sounded like a helicopter was directly overhead. It is 3 times as noisy as my Pathfinder which is a class of vehicle notorious for road noise. And finally, I am a tall person and not an especially graceful one at that. I can’t exit the vehicle without sticking one leg up in the air and pulling myself out. I cannot imagine how a tall woman in a skirt could get in and out without putting on a show.

Actually, I take that back. My friend Jeanette, who has legs up to her ears, once demonstrated to my disbelieving eyes how a lady in a short skirt and high heels can primly extract herself from a Mitsubishi Eclipse without showing the outside world the directions to Memphis. So, it can be done with more dignity than I can muster. But I don’t wear skirts and I was terrible at Pilates so it seems like too much damn trouble to do it her way. Besides, I have been in low slung vehicles that weren’t this much trouble to climb in and out of. My friend PM had a little Acura that was quite comfortable. My buddy Matt has a Cooper Mini that is pretty much as accommodating as a full size car despite being only as tall as my belt buckle. It is a design issue, not a class of vehicle issue.

And that’s the heart of the problem. Detroit doesn’t build cars that the majority of consumers want to buy. My friend PM and I talk about cars a lot. Hey, we’re guys. You expect us to discuss our feelings? Anyway, he is of the opinion that the days of manufacturers producing lemons are pretty much past. Further, he feels that the quirks that you could once expect with some brands (Chryslers won’t start, Fords don’t run right, GM products fall apart) are also largely a thing of the past.

Maybe so. But these damn cars cost a lot of money, every one of ‘em. And you would like to think that they put more thought into their design before they put them on the market. You would like to think that they would not be satisfied with mere competence.

Further, it is easy for the Big Three to blame their labor costs for their current woes. And indeed, it is manifestly difficult to turn a profit when each vehicle is supporting two or three retirees. But, while I am no economist, it seems evident to me that those numbers would flatten out if you sold more cars. And while I know that it is more complicated than that, I don’t think that it is terribly more so.

But Detroit will not rebound until it changes the perception that foreign cars are built better than domestic vehicles. Because perception is reality in the car business just like in any other.

As for me, I just hope that I don’t throw my back out exiting this damn Grand Prix before I get the Pathfinder back.