Thursday, August 31, 2006
Thus saith Wally Hall in the sports section of today's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. You can always tell when a big sports event is on the local horizon, because Wally always tries to stir the faithful up by demonizing the opposition. The most recent example of this was his incessant attempts to make Bernard Hopkins an unrepentant thug next to the "good" Jermain Taylor. It is his basic shtick.
The problem with demonizing USC's Pete Carroll is that he has the general reputation for being a pretty laid back and affable kinda guy. At least by the relentlessly humorless standards of Division I football, that is. After all, Bernard Hopkins did time. Granted, Pete Carroll did coach the Jets at one time. Still, the analogy is hardly apt. In any event, Wally, undeterred as he is by reality, elected to contrive a controversy where none had existed previously.
The column starts out with a quote from Razorback Defensive Coordinator Reggie Herring about last year's 70-17 shellacking by the Trojans in which he said: " I've never been a part of anything like this and I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. Some of it was self-inflicted and some of it was flat-out helplessness. We couldn't stop them."
Get it? The Trojans were unstoppable. Herring wouldn't wish the experience on his worst enemy. The Razorbacks were helpless in the face of such an onslaught.
And mean old Pete Carroll was laughing, or as Wally bravely put it, "laughing apparently" as he was leaving the field at halftime leading 42-10. Not only that, SC scored its last touchdown on a pass with two minutes to go in the game. A pass!
"Contriving a controversy" is the windier way of saying that Wally is just making stuff up again. Pete Carroll certainly doesn't have that reputation for bad sportsmanship, at least not until he got shived by Wally. As was alluded to earlier, Carroll is a pretty happy-go-lucky guy. By all accounts he is overjoyed to be at USC and away from the NFL. He is frequently described in the media as "boyish" in his demeanor. And Wally's got him practically in a black top hat and frock coat and twisting a handlebar moustache as he is heading for the locker.
Who knows why Carroll was "laughing apparently?" Did anybody from the Democrat-Gazette ask about this alleged incident during their interviews with Carroll this week? Nope. For all we know somebody said something funny on the sidelines. Maybe he was genuinely relieved that a game that looked, on paper, like it could have been a struggle turned into a rout. Maybe he was "apparently laughing" because the game at that point was, indeed, a laugher. We don't know and neither does Wally.
And another thing. I had an old professor who used to say, "Mean what you say and say what you mean." If Wally Hall thinks that USC ran the score up that awful night in Los Angeles he ought to man up and write, "Those bastards from USC shouldn't have run up the score on those poor boys from Arkansas, being helpless as they were, and now's our chance to get even." He should have wrote something like that instead of making stuff up about Pete Carroll.
But that's not Wally's style. He would rather rely on shtick and upon contriving a controversy where none existed previously. In other words, he would rather make stuff up to rile the faithful.
Monday, August 28, 2006
As regular readers of this blog can attest, and they number in the high two figures, I always thought his story had more holes in it than a colander. Secondly, judging from his relevant past, I adjudged him incompetent to be trusted with a wet match much less the successful prosecution of one of the more lurid murders in American history. Karr couldn't keep it sufficiently together to get a degree from that rinky dink college in Georgia he attended. Sanitizing a crime scene is way beyond his meager capabilities. Finally, and law enforcement relies on this sort of thing more than you might expect, the boy has a big mouth. If he had actually done it, he would have spilled the beans long before he saw the inside of a Bangkok prison cell. He would not have been able to help himself.
I think that it is probably too much to ask that he just go the hell away. The life of a man like John Mark Karr is rarely informed by the sense of shame that keeps most of us from making public spectacles of ourselves. Undoubtedly he will wind up on some talk show. Maybe he will write a book. Trust me. We have not seen the last of this whack job.
Which is unfortunate. John Mark Karr is a creep and a narcissist. He is unburdened by pride or shame. And his sorry excuse for a life has, for the moment, drawn attention away from the horrible reality that a little girl met an unspeakably savage end in her own home at Christmas.
Please go away Mr Karr. Go to hell while you are at it.
Saturday, August 26, 2006
Don't Stand So Close To Me- Sometimes I marvel that some people actually get paid to write stuff. Paid in the "actually make a living at it" sense of the word. Granted, these times are mostly whenever I read local sports "writer" Wally Hall. But occasionally something appears in a publication of national scope and circulation that would fit right in on the "Letters" page of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
The DG for some reason picked up an opinion piece from Newsday entitled "John Mark Karr's Closeup" written by Newsday editorial writer James P. Pinkerton. It ran yesterday in the Editorial section. You should read it if you haven't thrown it out yet. Read it and then throw it out. Such utter tripe I have not encountered in sometime.
Its thesis is that John Mark Karr, the alleged-mostly by him-killer of JonBenet Ramsey, is the logical by product of a permissive hedonistic culture, rights-based legal proceduralism and the media. I didn't much get past the third paragraph in which Pinkerton wrote:
"Now the authorities are saying that I went too far (this is supposed to be coming from inside the mind of Karr) that personal freedom doesn't include having sex with children. But where were they when the novel "Lolita" was published, back in 1955? That book, about an older man's affair with a 12 1/2 year old girl-which provided erotic inspiration to millions of pedophiles- is regarded as one of the great works of 20th Century literature. And needless to say, I agree! (emphasis supplied)."
Now that is just breathtakingly stupid. Let me get this straight. Millions of pedophiles-a substratum of our culture not typically known for their literary bent-read a book by Vladimir Nabokov, an author known for his occasionally inpenetrable prose style? Millions? And not only that, "Lolita" provided them with their "erotic inspiration?" Oh please.
Oh. And where were the authorities when "Lolita" came out? Some of them were busy hitting the ceiling. "Lolita" was banned in France-yes, France-and in parts of the United States. So, this would necessarily mean that millions of the pedophiles that allegedly read the damn thing had to work pretty hard to get their mitts on it in some parts of the country.
No, "Lolita" no more caused a spike in pedophilia than did Thomas Mann's "Death in Venice" which was published before it. That's just stupid.
And Pinkerton gets paid to write this junk. Amazing.
Oh, and by the way, I confess to reading both of them pedophilastical books mentioned herein. "Death in Venice" was way depressing. "Lolita" gave me a headache. I can still pass a background check.
And Speaking Of Whack Jobs- Want another reason to believe that John Mark Karr didn't kill JonBenet? Ok, here's another one: He's too big of a fuck up. Look, in order to believe that he did it, you would have to believe that Karr could keep his head together well enough to not spill the beans about it before now. An examination of his life would not lead you easily to this conclusion. His two marriages were failures. Of course, marriage is tough enough when you marry adults. So he had that going against him.
He has never held a steady job. He didn't finish college where I bet he didn't read "Lolita" either. His life is mostly remarkable for its utter lack of accomplishment punctuated by recurrent forays into serial creepiness.
This is the kind of guy that can keep that kind of unspeakable guilty knowledge to himself without blowing up? I don't think so. He couldn't handle real life. I don't think he could handle the major sex crime of the last decade.
Plugola- As was reported on sister site "strangepup", which may be found at http://strangepup.blogspot.com, my brother David is the executive producer of a short film entitled "Billy." You might remember Dave. He was last mentioned in this space after he pretty much threatened to kill me for certain lighthearted remarks I made about him and my other brothers on this Internet canopy we prisoners call a blog. (Can I turn a phrase or what?)
Anyway, "Billy" has done well in various film festivals and my friend and colleague PM is pimping it pretty hard to the Ozark Foothills Film Fest. Of course, I have not seen the goddamn thing myself. Noooooooooooo. Evidently, I'm not IMPORTANT enough to get a copy for myself to see.
But that's neither here nor there. I am proud of ol' Dave and I wish him well in his latest endeavor. If this takes off maybe he can quit making porn flicks. Maybe he won't have to sell blood at the plasma center so he can pay for his vodka. Maybe Mother will return his calls. God, how we need this to work for him.
Check out the website. It's pretty cool. http://www.billymovie.com
Well, we need this to work for him so long as the welfare people don't find out about it.
That's it for today. Just remember: "Literature causes crime."
Thus endeth the lesson.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Now, I will be the first person to tell you that I have pretty much zero business in such a role. Actually, you can ask anybody and they would be the first person to tell you that I have no business in such a role. I don't exactly hold myself out as a Christian role model for today's troubled youth. But then again, I'm generally not too terribly impressed with those who do. And at times my doubts seem greater than my faith. But that's one of the things I like about the Methodist Church: it is a place where the perfervid and the questioner can peaceably co-exist. At least it is as of this writing. But so far so good. There is still a place at the table for the likes of me.
I haven't been asked to serve in this capacity in a couple of years. And so I was somewhat taken aback when I was told that I had to consent to a criminal background check before I would be allowed to be a mentor for confirmation. This is new.
But I don't why I should have been even mildly surprised. The recent story of John Mark Karr, who "confessed" to the killing of JonBenet Ramsey is a cautionary tale. Karr, who appears to be a pedophile of the first water in addition to being a psychopath, was obsessed by little girls, JonBenet in particular. So naturally, he became a teacher and a nanny.
The famous bank robber Willie Sutton was once asked why he robbed backs. He said it was because, "That's where the money is." Likewise, it is not unheard of for whack jobs like Karr to try to get into teaching, coaching or Scouting. It's where the kids are.
There are crazy people out there. You just can't be too careful nowadays. Which is a hell of a note. And so I filled out the form. The main thing they are looking for in these checks-apart from a criminal record that is-is any indicia of instability. This is why they typically ask for an employment history and a list of all of all the places where you have lived since high school. I have been at the same job for over 20 years. I have lived in this county for longer than that. I've never been arrested. Now, I have recently purchased a bicycle. And some of my friends think it is completely insane, given my past history of accidents and injuries, for me to take up an activity that can get me killed. And doing stuff that is insane can cast doubt upon one's stability.
But the form didn't ask about that so I didn't disclose it.
My confirmation kid is a little boy named Hank. I don't know him at all. I don't know if his folks are married or divorced. To the best of my recollection, I have had only one confirmation kid whose parents were not divorced. Sign of the times and apropos of nothing. It just means that if the Mom has custody on Confirmation Sunday I will have to put his tie on him.
I will meet Hank for the first time at a supper at the church here in a couple of weeks. Typically, after dinner, the kids will introduce themselves and their sponsors to the class. I always write my name down on a piece of paper so that the kid won't have to be working on recall when he steps up to address the group. Because they always vapor lock when they have to get up to address the others. Hank is lucky. He's got a sponsor who knows how to game the system.
Actually, I don't know how lucky Hank is to have me in his boat throughout this process. God knows, I pretty much have zero business doing this. But I am willing to serve and I can pass a background check. My approach to Confirmation Class is much like the Hippocratic Oath: Do No Harm. Granted, it's a low bar. But a man has to know his limitations. Albert Schweitzer I am not.
I may not do Hank any good. But I will do him no harm.
Monday, August 21, 2006
The football season officially began for me about a month ago when I received the following text message from my buddy Don who lives in the Durham-Chapel Hill area and who goes by the practice fields at the schools over there with some frequency.
" They appear to be having football practice out there. Isn't it illegal to hold organized practices prior to official fall two-a-days?"
" Not necessarily. It is not an NCAA violation to have unorganized, unsupervised workouts. As I understand it, the only coach that can actually work with the guys is the strength coach. In fact, it's become kinda the standard thing for guys to stay on campus in the summer to work out together."
" I see a bunch of older guys wearing school colors and holding clipboards and stopwatches. The offensive linemen are pushing a sled with a guy standing on it. Guys are running plays. Everybody else is running windsprints."
" What? I didn't think coaches could be out there."
" Maybe they're not coaches. Maybe they're physics professors. But to my untrained eye this looks pretty damned organized and supervised to me. You know, this isn't exactly what you would call the cradle of football around here. If they are doing this crap here, can you imagine what they are doing at Georgia and Auburn?"
I dunno. Maybe agility drills under live ammunition?
The advent of football 06 has brought with it some exceptional examples of guys acting like knuckleheads. Take the gentleman pictured above. This is Maurice Clarett. Some background is in order.
Clarett played one season at The Ohio State University where he led them to a national championship in 2002. He was suspended by Ohio State for 2003 after he filed a false police report in which he claimed that over 10 grand worth of clothes, cds,cash and stereo equipment had been stolen from a car he had borrowed from a local dealership.
He left the grove of academe shortly thereafter. In 2004, some fool talked him into suing the NFL in order to challenge its rule that nobody can enter the NFL draft sooner than 3 years after graduating from high school. As was widely prophesied, he lost.
Long story short: He never latched on to an NFL team so he decided to give thuggery a try. He was arrested on charges of armed robbery on January 2 of this year. On August 9, he was arrested in the early morning hours in Columbus after making an illegal U-turn and leading the cops in a merry chase. Their attempts to subdue him were complicated by the fact that he was wearing a kevlar vest which kept the cops from tasering him. I think the cops were clement in their use of force. Some cops, when confronted by a powerfully built young man in body armor might have reached for the service weapon first.
Anyway, they confiscated an ax, an AK-47, 3 loaded pistols and bottle of vodka from the SUV our hero was driving. The judge during plea and arraignment reasonably viewed these escapades as proof that Clarett was a menace to society and revoked the bond he was out on due to the previous charge. He now sits in jail awaiting his trial. What a difference a few years make. At one time Maurice Clarett looked like he would play on Sundays. It now looks as if his destiny is a considerable stretch behind bars.
If Clarett is the gold standard of knuckleheads, Arkansas's own Darren McFadden is the zircon standard. Not long after Clarett had led the cops on his merry chase in Columbus, Darren, a pre-season SEC All-Conference selection, got into it with some guy outside a bar called The Palace in downtown Little Rock around 4 o'clock one morning. For some inexplicable reason, he tried to kick his opponent while wearing sandals. This resulted in his breaking the tip of the big toe on his right foot.
Big toes are kinda important for athletes in sports that require running. They had to put a pin in Darren's. The guys up on the hill aren't making any predictions as evidently nobody has ever dealt with this kind of injury before. It's too bad. McFadden is a good kid with no history of this kind of behavior who did something stupid. Anyway, he's also a lucky kind of kid. Suffice it to say, the Palace is not unknown to local law enforcement. Darren is lucky he didn't catch a slug.
Finally, let us turn our eyes to just west of here where the University of Oklahoma's title hopes got pimp-slapped when starting QB Rhett Bomar got kicked off the team for receiving 18 grand from a Norman car dealer for work he didn't perform last year. The shock is not so much that Bomar got a cushy job from a booster. After all, Brian Bosworth once famously claimed to landed a job in which he was paid all day to watch oil wells pump the ground.
No, the shock was the unexpected burst of integrity displayed by the Sooners when they turned themselves in and gave Bomar his walking papers. Think this would have happened if Barry Switzer were still at the helm? OU keeps this up and next thing you know they'll be making the players go to class and stuff.
It will be interesting to see if these enhanced voluntary workouts my friend described actually result in a significant increase in victories. It says here that it won't. North Carolina is to football as Hezbollah is to diplomacy. At least it's kind of nice to know that they care enough to cheat a little for once.
" I didn't think
Sunday, August 20, 2006
I suspect that he is dipping his toe in here to have some fun. It's a blog. Any nut, such as myself, can do this. He's a serious journalist. He doesn't have to fool with this. But here he is. My guess is that he's here to have fun.
As I type this, I am watching an NFL preseason game. It is halftime. They are discussing fantasy league football. Really they are.
It's crazy out there. I'm glad to commend one of my best friends to your attention.
So maybe he didn't go there to hook up with girls. Maybe he went there to become one.
I certainly feel better.
This guy is nuttier than a pecan pie. If he told me the sun was coming up in the morning I would have to check with the National Weather Service first.
Saturday, August 19, 2006
This is a man named John Mark Karr. He said he killed poor little JonBenet Ramsey. I don't believe him.
One the one hand, you would be hard pressed to find a more textbook example of a perverted whack job. A cursory examination of Karr's marital life-his 2 ex-wives were 13 and 16 when he married them-and vocational history alongside his history of repeated firings from teaching jobs for improper behavior in the classroom leads to the easy conclusion that he is a troubled person with an inappropriate interest in small children. Recent disclosures of certain e-mail messages sent by Karr to a professor of journalism at the University of Colorado buttress this conclusion.
In one message close to the anniversary of her death he wrote, "JonBenet, my love, my life. I love you. I shall forever love you." Or consider the following, " Sometimes little girls are closer to me than with their parents or any other person in their lives. When I refer to myself as JonBenet's closest, maybe now you understand." The New York Times today wrote that Karr started a Usenet site called Powerwurks which was allegedly devoted to the welfare of troubled kids and their problems. You can read some of these postings, along with editorial comments of the site's creator by going to http://www.powerwurks.com .
Finally, he was arrested in Bangkok, Thailand where he had been employed, albeit briefly, as an elementary school teacher. Perhaps, not coincidentally, Bangkok is notorious for a flourishing sex trade where child prostitution is available for the pervert with a need to scratch that particular itch. Oh. I almost forgot that there are some warrants outstanding on him for possession of-guess what?-child pornography.
No doubt, if you wanted to cast somebody as a sex criminal in your next detective movie, Karr looks like a guy you would want to audition. He could find the character.
But his story just isn't adding up. Karr claims to have picked JonBenet up after school the day of her death. Not possible. School was out for Christmas break. Besides, the lucky gal he was married to in 1996 says that he was in Alabama with her at the time. He says that he raped her and gave her drugs. But no drugs were found in her system and there was no evidence of rape. Karr also described her death as "an accident." The hell it was. That poor baby was strangled and her skull was fractured. Some accident.
And, as if this whole sordid tale could not get any weirder, in his e-mails to the professor Karr claimed that he was the subject of a 4 state Federal investigation for child molestation and murder. This was news to the Feds, who issued a denial.
You know, most guys embellish their war record or they greatly inflate their high school football career when they make stuff up about their lives. It takes a special person indeed to brag about being a murdering child molester.
So why would he say this stuff? Who knows? It is not unheard of for people to come out of the woodwork in sensational cases who claim to have "done it." The most famous example involves the Lindbergh kidnapping back in the thirties which generated over 200 "confessions." Counting Karr's, there have been 4 in the Ramsey case. His has been the first arrest.
But let's not get carried away by this. Typically, a confession is the product of a bargain between law enforcement and a defendant after he is confronted with the evidence. Here, insofar as we know, the lion's share of the evidence involving Karr, comes from Karr in the form of the e-mails in which he documents his obsession with little girls in general and JonBenet Ramsey in particular. Under these facts, this kakamamie confession gives them probable cause to get him off the streets and to bring him in.
Besides, Karr may recant as soon as he gets back. Why would he do that you ask? Easy. Believe it or not, I have never spent a night in jail. But I do know-and am related to-guys that have. Nobody has ever recommended it. I can scarcely imagine the conditions inside a jail in Bangkok or the kind of lunatics that tend to be incarcerated there on a given night. I would imagine that I might confess to killing Nicole Simpson to get out of there and I don't exactly resemble Pee Wee Herman's stunt double as does Karr. He might have looked pretty good to some of the regulars.
No, all of the available evidence proves that John Mark Karr is a pedophile and a loon who has absolutely no business being in a position of trust with children. If the DNA evidence comes back matching him up to the crime, I will fall over backwards.
The tragedy of this latest chapter of the whole sordid story is that it threatens to obscure the fact that an innocent little girl was savagely abused and killed. It is easy to think of JonBenet Ramsey as some kind of rouged up cartoon character who performed in those creepy child beauty pageants. ( Is it just me? Or are the people who are into these things just weird?) She was not a cartoon character. She was a little kid. And she sure as hell deserved better.
John Mark Karr says he killed JonBenet Ramsey. I do not believe him.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
One of the reasons that I like baseball so much is that some things never change. The coaches tend to be old guys of whom the immortal Bill "Spaceman" Lee once said, "mostly sit on their big fat asses and nod at things and spit." A greater collective of idiots than baseball's owners cannot be found cannot be found this side of, well, the owners of pro football.
When an umpire ejects somebody it always entertaining. I believe it was the writer Florence King who said that the only reason that she wished she had been born a man was because if she were a man she could become an umpire. And then she could tell somebody "You are fucking outta here!" That baseball could inspire a line that damn funny is another reason to love it.
The Cubs are always bad. The Red Sox are always good enough to break one's heart and the Yankees are always despised.
Here's one more truth about baseball. If Roger Clemens is pitching, likely as not somebody is going to take one in the ear. Part of that is because when you throw as hard as a Roger Clemens, every now and again one is going to get away from you. The other part is that he is an asshole with a nasty temper who is not above decapitating guys just for standing in against him. As Mike Piazza. He got beaned by Clemens during the 2000 World Series.
I have been lying low this week with one of the allergy/sinus infection things I am plagued with from time to time. I have been watching lots of baseball. The Cubs-Astros game last Tuesday night had more bad drama than your average soap opera which was just the thing for a stuffy head and burning eyes. That and bourbon.
The series had been marked by guys getting hit left and right. So you had to figure with The Rocket on the mound rough justice would be exacted. The festivities got started early Tuesday with Cubs outfielder Jacque Jones getting hit in the leg by Clemens in the first or second inning. He got by with that one. There's no reason to brush back the light hitting Jones. So the umps gave the future Hall of Famer on the mound a pass.
Back when he was pitching for the Red Sox and the Yankees, Clemens was widely considered by the batsmen of the American League to be a major pussy who was a pretty tough guy so long as he knew he didn't have to bat himself. But now he is in the National League and he has to face the music himself. Still, throwing at Roger Clemens is a risky thing to do. He is sufficiently bloodthirsty even when he is in a relatively benign humor. Hell, he plunked his own son during Spring Training for chrissakes.
In the 5th inning Clemens stood in against Cub starter Juan Mateo. Up to that point in time, Mateo had put in a most un-Cub like performance in scattering 4 hits and giving up two runs. EDITORIAL COMMENT: You always use the word "scatter" when describing the number of hits given up by a pitcher during a good outing. It is in the "Bad Sportswriter's Stylebook."
Anyway, Mateo has some 300 innings of Major League experience. Clemens has 350 wins. So you can imagine my surprise when Mateo plunked Roger on the left shoulder with a fastball. First of all, pitchers don't generally throw at other pitchers seeing as how they are all in the same neurotic club. Besides, Mateo was scheduled to be the first guy up the next inning. Second of all, as alluded to earlier, you don't throw at a Roger Clemens without running the risk of starting World War III. Anyway, it wasn't going to be Mateo's problem as he was jerked by Dusty Baker in favor of a pinch-hitter named Ryan Theriot.
"I'm not going to save Mateo and then send Ryan Theriot up there to get hit." Baker lied to the Chicago Tribune afterwards. " Theriot's not up there as a sacrifice." Still, I guess this would explain why Theriot was sent to the plate without a blindfold and a cigarette.
Nothing ever changes in baseball. Everybody in the house knew what was fixing to happen. Both benches were up on the rails of their dugouts preparing to charge the field for the inevitable brawl. Clemens throws an inside fastball. High but not tight. Theriot jumps back as if he's stepped on a land mine. Ball one Second pitch, low and away. You got to make this look good after all. Clemens looks in to get the signal. Theriot is praying the Rosary.
The catcher must have given Roger the "Ventilate him" sign because the next pitch is aimed at Theriot's chin. Only he does such a deft job of impersonating the Rubber Boy while this missile is heading for his cranium that it merely brushes him in the back. Theriot doesn't even know he's been hit until the the umpire sends him to first! This is something he can tell his grandchildren. "I got plunked by the Great Assassin and I didn't even feel it."
Theriot practically skipped to first. The players took their places on the bench. This shit may be worth fighting over but it ain't worth getting fined by the league over.
Here's another reason it's cool to be an umpire. At times like this, you get to warn the benches. You take off the mask and point at one manager. Then you point at the other. Then you walk to the mound and point at the pitcher. And you tell him, " This is a warning. You throw at another batter and you and your manager are fucking outta here! You got it?"
Just the sort of bad drama you need when you are struck down with a sinus infection. I'm just sorry Florence King wasn't here to see it with me.
Sunday, August 13, 2006
She started to talk.
" I threw my husband out of the house about a month ago. Looking back, it was long overdue. But I really wanted to keep it all together for the kids. I kept hoping that he would stick with AA, that the business would take off. I was committed to stick it out. For better for worse. I really believed in that. The drinking was one thing. But I found out he was using crack...."
She paused for a moment as if to collect her thoughts.
" There is a universe of problems that come with any marriage that I could sort of anticipate. Stuff that happens to everybody. Money troubles, other women, parenting issues. That sort of thing. Or even more mundane things like a need for more time with my girlfriends, questioning feelings for one another, stuff like that. But doing crack was outside the universe of problems I was prepared to deal with."
She looked at me.
"Honestly, what kind of a man wakes up one morning and says 'Ya know? I'm gonna try me some crack. I'm gonna try some crystal meth.' And of course, if he's buying drugs, he's taking his family's money and giving it to criminals. That was the last straw. He had to go. The children came first. They couldn't be in a house with a man who knows drug dealers."
She turned away again. She put her hands together and held them out over the cliff.
"What kind of man would take his family and his business and throw them away?"
And with that, she threw her hands out, palms outstretched, toward the skyline of Little Rock.
"You tell me. What kind of a man would do such a terrible thing?"
I did not know. I just looked at the ground and shook my head. What could I say?
Her ex went back into AA after he had totaled his truck one Sunday morning. This was after an apparent altercation at an all night bar which resulted in somebody busting out the rear window. I say an apparent altercation because he was still too blitzed the following morning to provide much of an alternate theory for why his windshield was AWOL.
Alcohol abuse is not unknown in my line of work. And so I know some guys that have been going to meetings for years. And I am here to say that I have seen it save lives. The best of the saved always,always, take personal responsibility for their failings. Others may regain sobriety, but they don't ever fully discard the narcissism that allowed them to justify their alcoholic lifestyle back when they were drinking. The latter species are referred to in the lingo as "dry drunks." And they are a complete pain in the ass.
Her ex and his enabler Mother tried to make the divorce all about my friend not being "supportive" and about how her insisting on enforcing her rights was impeding his "recovery." His Mom even insinuated that it was my friend's "lack of support" that put him in his fix. Like it was her idea that he spend quality time on the crack pipe!
By now it was too late for them. It was too late for my friend to be swayed by the encoded language of recovery alone with no acceptance of responsibility. And so, contrary to her rather shy disposition, she found somewhere inside herself a still small voice that said, "No more."
We tend to equate courage with heroism. "The Boy Stood On the Burning Deck" kinda stuff. Rather, sometimes courage is nothing more than the determination to stand up for yourself. To say, "As God is my witness, I will not take this anymore. I will not be pushed around." And it takes a great deal of courage to make yourself do the hard thing in order to avoid a worse result. J told me that she went back to work the Monday after her husband's funeral because she knew she would never get out of bed if she didn't push herself to get back to work.
Now THAT'S courage.
Or it was once put to me this way, " The only thing I really cared about was protecting my kids. I knew I wasn't going down with the ship and taking the kids with me. So I just put one foot in front of the other for a long time because I had to. There was no other choice."
She made some decisions that I would not have made just to expedite the process of getting shed of her husband. But at the time they made sense to her. And most importantly, she got him locked up on the big ticket items: child support, insurance, visitation, tuition for Catholic school, and mandatory drug testing. And naturally, as night followeth the day, he was soon behind on the child support and in violation of other terms of the decree. Which got him hauled before the judge again.
I kind of lost track of her about the time of the contempt of court business. About all I remember is that her ex lawyered up with some guy he had met in an AA meeting who nobody in my circle of lawyers had ever heard of before. He interposed some bellicose defenses in a response to the Motion for the Contempt Citation. However, nothing much came of it when push came to shove. I haven't heard much from her since that time. I guess she's doing ok. I think I would have heard through the grapevine if she were not.
No, courage is not always heroic. It is putting one foot in front of another. It is refusing to stay in your bed. It is making damn sure that you don't go down with the ship. No matter how uncertain the future may be. No matter if it would be easier to ignore that still small voice inside telling you to press on.
This is not to say that it will be easy or that you will prevail. But at least you will have earned the right to look yourself in the mirror everyday the Lord sends and to say to the person looking back at you, " I did my best. At least I got the goddamn bat off my shoulder and I took my cuts. I went down swingin.' "
For God's sake and for the sake of your self-esteem you got to at least make 'em pitch to you. Life is very long once you realize that you cannot live with yourself.
Sunday, August 06, 2006
We got there about 6:45. The place was about half-full and we were seated immediately. We sat there admiring the surroundings and looked over the menus the seating hostess had left for us. I was anticipating the first hit of an icy cold martini, which is the only proper and Christian preamble to a steak dinner.
And I would have ordered one to if anyone had bothered to come around. After about 10 minutes of being completely ignored, Matt stopped the water server to tell him, "We would really like to order some food." He mumbled something about finding our waitress. He went and said something to the seating hostess who immediately went running off into the kitchen. After 5 more minutes, we noticed that the table that came in after us was giving their drink orders to a live body. That was it. We got up and left.
Matt and I are hardly tough customers. We are not known for public displays of queeniness. Or private ones either for that matter. I am known for having a pretty long fuse, at least when I am not on a golf course. Matt's is even longer. I have never walked out of a restaurant before in my life that I can recall. I've been thrown out of a couple but that doesn't count.
But this was ridiculous. Here were a couple of guys batching it out on the town, looking to spend some money, eat some steak, have a few drinks while solving the world's problems. And we get roundly ignored. That ain't no way to build a customer base by word of mouth.
We decided to go to a steak and seafood place down by the river. We figured we might have to wait for a table but at least we knew we could get a drink and there would be women to look at. We must have hit it about right because we were seated immediately and soon I was enjoying an icy cold martini, which is the only proper and Christian preamble to a steak dinner. Matt got a glass of wine, and immediately the simmering down process began. The talk turned to more important matters like SEC football and politics. Which was the game plan for a guy's night out on the town.
Look. It doesn't take much to get my business. Unlike some of my more, shall we say, critical friends, I do not consider myself much of a gourmand. I am perfectly content to take my meals at any of the establishments, modest or swanky, that are open for business here in the People's Republic of Hillcrest. But I will be damned if I am going to drive across town to be completely ignored when there are folks within a 3 wood from my house who welcome my business.
End of rant.
Mr. W had emphysema. He suffered greatly in the last couple of years. LS said he was pretty much confined to his bed the last couple of months. That's no way to live.
I talked to her the day before the graveside service. I asked her how it was going.
" Okay, I guess." she said. " You know it's funny. The people that are close to the situation are pretty cool and easy to deal with. It's folks that I have never heard of or haven't been around that are the problem."
" How so?" I asked.
" Well, I don't have a lot of time right now to chit-chat, right? My friends, people like you, they call and keep it simple: ' Just calling to let you know I love you. Call me when you can. Goodbye.' Perfect. The spectators are the problem."
" Yeah. The folks that have just been out there hanging around but not knowing much about the situation. They want to bring food, they want to bring cookies. Hello? "
"What's wrong with that?"
"Mother's a brittle diabetic with Alzheimer's. She is like a child when it comes to sweets. You bring cookies around and she will eat them. I don't have time for a trip to the hospital right now. And then you have your talkers. They want to know everything about Daddy's illness, not that they ever cared enough to come visit or anything when he was able to have company. The whole thing is just wearing me out."
I know what she means. You simply cannot have a funeral or visitation around these parts without having to endure one or more morbid hysterical types who nobody seems to know very much about but who want to talk talk talk about the dear departed. Never fails. It's what we do around here.
My Mother's Daddy died the summer after I graduated from law school. During the visitation, or maybe it was after the service, I noticed a woman standing by herself off to the side. She was an enormous woman who was overcome with grief if the constant dabbing of her eyes with a tissue was any indicator. I introduced myself.
"And who are you?" she asked.
" I'm one of the grandsons." I replied.
" Oh!" she exclaimed putting the tissue to her mouth. "One of Mr. Paul's grandsons!"
"Oh. I am so sorry about Mr. Paul."
"Thank you ma'am. I appreciate that."
She removed her hand from her lips and gently touched my arm with the tissue. She leaned in close to me.
" Tell me." she whispered. " Did Mr. Paul linger?" He hand went back to her mouth as if she were steeling herself for the response.
" 'Scuse me?" I said. "Did he what?"
Her hand returned to my arm.
"Did he die a lingering death? Did he linger?"
Until that day, I don't believe that anybody had ever used that word in my presence before. In any event, like LS's father, my grandfather died from emphysema. Being relatively young, I was no expert in these matters. But I was fairly certain that nobody in medical history had ever dropped dead from rapid onset emphysema. So I could opine with some degree of certainty that he did, indeed, linger. Whether he had set the land speed record for lingering I was not prepared to say, although whatever period of time he spent in the lingering process was interrupted by a sudden burst of initiative borne of the rapid onset of a desire to settle an old score with the adjacent land owner.
This is a TRUE STORY.
My grandfather and his neighbor to the South had been engaged in a long running dispute over the property line. Legal descriptions from way back then were generally inaccurate mainly because surveying crews were notorious for drinking on the job. Another reason is because many of the calls are to imperfect landmarks. I've seen many of those old legal descriptions of that era recite calls such as "and thence to the pile of rocks" or "and thence to the big tree." My favorite was in an old mortgage in Boone County that included a call "and thence to the abandoned 1957 Chevrolet truck." As you might suspect, landmarks that are freely movable can create a tremendous opportunity for mischief for those so inclined.
Evidently, while he was otherwise occupied in his lingering, Grandpa overheard someone say that the neighbor,a man named Franklin was so moved by the news of Granpa's impending death that he took it upon himself to build a fence across the section of the woods that they had been arguing over for years. Granpa left his bed and walked out to his truck. He was so weak he drug the stock of the shotgun behind him in the dirt. Paul Bivens might have been at death's door but he meant to continue the boundary line dispute with Mr. Franklin in the Hereafter. Thank God he was intercepted and disarmed by one of his sons. After that episode of high drama he returned to his deathbed. And he never left it again.
But back to the morbid lady at the visitation and the question that was at hand:
"Yes ma'am." I gravely intoned. "I'm afraid he did linger." When he wasn't trying to blow Mr. Franklin's head off that is. But she didn't need to know that.
Tissue to mouth. Her head began to shake with sadness.
"Oh!" she gasped. "He lingered! Poor Mr. Paul! He lingered!"
And with that, she invoked God's Blessings on me and the family and went on her way, clutching the tissue to her mouth and sobbing gently to herself. I asked various of the local family members if anybody knew her.
Nobody had any idea who she was. Weird.
LS needed to wrap our conversation up.
"Listen, sweetie." she said. "I gotta scoot. I have a million things to do before tomorrow."
"Sure." I said. " Call me again when you have time to linger."
" Do what?"
" Never mind."
" I love you despite the fact that you are pretty damn strange."
" Thanks. It's part of my charm."
"I'm hanging up now."
Friday, August 04, 2006
" My name is Kassi. I am a 3rd year student at Tulane Law School. I am attending classes here at UALR until I can go back to New Orleans. I am staying with Jack and Sandra Cherry. They are both lawyers. Do you know them? Anyway, Sandra said I should try to find you. I found your e-mail address on the Alumni website and I looked up your phone number. Please call me."
Did I know Jack and Sandra? Of course, I knew Jack and Sandra. Sandra worked over at the U.S. Attorney's office, so I saw her all the time. The bulk of my relationship with Jack was forged through numerous weighty high-falutin' discussions over our shopping carts at the grocery store. I forget exactly how they wound up with Kassi after she washed ashore here in Little Rock but, by all accounts, it was a good deal for all concerned. Kassi got to stay in a nice house with great people down by the river. Jack and Sandra were enjoying having a young woman in the house for the first time since packing their daughter off to Wake Forest 5 years earlier.
It wasn't a perfect situation by any means. Kassi's husband was still in New Orleans. She didn't know much about Little Rock. She didn't know when or if she could go back to Tulane. She had thought she would go to work down there once she graduated. But as of the fall of '05, "back there" didn't much exist. Still, she was grateful to have landed where she did. And she was determined to make the best of it until she could figure it all out. None of us knew at the time that unforeseen events would force Kassi to move a second time in October.
I heard it first from Kassi. Sandra had gotten very bad news from the doctors at the Med School. She had cancer in her esophagus. It had spread. There was nothing they could do. Their best guess was that she maybe had a year. Sandra and Kassi agreed that it would be best if she moved, mainly because Sandra was concerned that as her condition worsened, it would be too much of a distraction to Kassi and that her studies might suffer. And Sandra would have none of it, saying to me later, "That girl has been through enough already. She needs to be concentrating on school. She doesn't need to be worrying about me."
I got my last e-mail from Sandra in late October or thereabouts. I told her I was thinking about her and about Jack. I asked her if there was anything at all I could do for her.
" There is something you can do for me." she wrote. "Promise me one thing. Promise me that you will keep an eye on Kassi. That girl has been through so much and now this. Promise me that you will look after her because I just can't."
Naturally, I promised.
I don't know how good a job I did. But after all, it was a pretty easy promise to keep. She was an adult after all and a married woman. She was a very serious student. So school kept her too busy to get into the kind of trouble that I got into when I was her age. I mainly helped her look for jobs, bought her dinner from time to time, talked to her on the phone, slipped her money, stuff like that. She was no trouble at all. Besides, I don't get to be around young women much anymore. It was fun to see the world through her eyes.
They found her an apartment/guest house about a mile from me located behind a house owned by a couple I went to college with. She finished up here in Little Rock and went on to graduate on time back at Tulane. Once back in New Orleans she would send us all pictures of her and her classmates from Mardi Gras, from the Quarter, out doing the normal stuff a student does in New Orleans. Which is mainly to drink copious amounts of beer out on the street.
Kassi got her life back. She got to concentrate on being a law school kid again.
Sandra's struggle with cancer finally ended last Tuesday. As her minister said at the funeral, "Although she left us too soon, it was time." Which is about as good a way of expressing that as I have ever heard.
Kassi wanted me to call her after the funeral. I called her back in New Orleans and told her all about it. I told her about the beautiful music. I told her that every lawyer and law enforcement person in the state seemed to be there. I told her about the moving tributes to her memory from all of the wonderful speakers.
And I told Kassi about my last e-mail from Sandra. The one in which she asked me to look after her.
" That was so beautiful. That sounds just like Sandra. Thank you so much for sharing that with me." she said after composing herself. "I will never forget the people of Litlle Rock. Sandra, Jack, you, the Berrys. Everyone was so good to me. I don't know what I would have done without all of you. That's why I want to move back someday. I want to work in Little Rock and I want to live in your neighborhood. I want so much to come back."
" I would love to have you around." I said. "That would make me happy."
" Don't forget to make time for me when you come to New Orleans in October. I really, really, really want to see you again. I want you to meet my husband. Don't get too busy and forget about me."
"I won't forget about you."