Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Cold Enough For Ya?

If it is not, move to Springfield, Missouri where my brother Dave "lives." Here is a picture of the TV station where he works.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Chapter 1: Pool Cues and the Margins of the Universe

This will teach him to leave me the keys to the car. What I've been writing most recently is political pieces nobody reads about how wonderful it is to be a Democrat this week. Now, we have fiction nobody will read about a young man who has noticed that the laws of physics are unreliable.

Sorry. Could be worse.

Here goes:

In late 1972 I was living on cash, hustling nine ball in small-town pool halls and bowling alleys all over. All over the South, anyway. I lived out of my car, a rusty Plymouth with expired Arkansas tags that cops never noticed. I was just a few months out of high school and I had so many twenties I couldn’t keep any sizable fraction of them in my wallet. It couldn’t have been more than six or seven thousand dollars but it weighed a ton and I was always worried somebody would find my shoebox and then I’d have to start all over. The sharks I met all drove Cadillacs and wore custom boots. Not me. You pull up in a 1963 Plymouth Valiant with oxidized paint and rust spots wearing Levis and Chucks, nobody’s going to worry about betting a dollar a ball. You take a custom cue out of a leather case at Big Willie’s in Claxton, Georgia and the locals may all decide to take a crack at you, but they’ll also decide, on the spot, how much they’re willing to lose. They’ll risk something for a chance at being the legend they imagine they’ll be if they take down the out-of-towner in front of their friends, but they decide in advance how much that shot is worth, and they won’t go over it. Thirty bucks? Sure. Great story either way. $200? No. I need to make the truck payment. I dressed like a welder and played with the straightest 18 ounce in the wall rack. Even when I was beating them, they figured I was just on a lucky streak that was about to end. I’d keep going until they offered a check, then it was time to go.

I wasn’t a shark, anyway. I was just good with a cue stick. It’s all straight lines, and straight lines always make sense. Always.

“Time to go” meant time to go another hundred miles down the road to another little town that still had hand-painted Saxon’s pecan log billboards by the roadside and an old-fashioned motel with 24 rooms in a square U around a gravel parking lot. When you won big, you had to leave immediately because as many people as you’d taken all their money from were mad as hell and convinced they’d been cheated. People don’t like accepting the fact that they’ve failed and so cook up some way of convincing themselves they’ve been cheated. They convince their friends or a cop and you’ve got trouble. So I was packed and ready to go every day, even if I thought I’d be going back to the same motel that night. You never know.

I never learned the cons, anyway, no need, and kept moving for that next year or so. I made a good chink of change. I’m not sure how much—I was afraid to count it until after I started spending it.

I’d started playing pool when I was little, when my Dad was still in the Air Force. Three was a recreation area with a pool and a rec room at Keesler in Biloxi for base kids, and they had a kind of summer camp every year. My mom would drop me off. As long as you didn’t cause trouble the counselors didn’t care what you did, and I didn’t like making lanyards. I spent all day from the time she dropped me off right after reveille until dinnertime shooting pool. I was just finishing third grade, but I was tall for my age, and got good at it the way kids too when talent and opportunity match up. My sister’s son has a daughter who was always good at soccer—I mean crazy so. When she got to be third or fourth grade one of her coaches put her on an all-star team and I went to see some of her games in the all-star tournament. In the last game she took a shot at goal from the half-field line, something that should be impossible, and it sailed straight into that net just above the goalie’s fingers without a bounce, like an eight ball rolling slowly into a side pocket. The girls on her team all cheered, but the parents on the sideline all just looked at each other. “Did that really just happen?” I was like that with pool.

The Keesler rec room was supposed to be off limits to kids after 5:00 so the enlisted men who didn’t drink could use it, but the airmen noticed the way I played and would keep me around and make bets with each other about who could beat me. If I stayed too late, Mom would send Dad down to get me. On the way back he’d ask me how I’d shot, and I usually had won. I’d get home and Mom would send me to bed without any supper which was a pain because I’ve never liked being hungry.

When Dad got transferred to Eglin—not too far away and just as hot and humid—there was a pool table at the church Mom took us to, and another one in the base enlisted men’s recreation center, but kids weren’t allowed in there except on weekends and holidays. The church didn’t mind me coming in in the afternoons to play, but I could tell they all thought it was a little odd that a fifth grader wanted to play pool by himself for hours every day. It was in that church basement that I started noticing something odd.

When you get good at something you notice really small details. When I make a certain shot, the same thing happens every time, only it doesn’t. It should, and it usually does, but it doesn’t always. It’s hard to explain, partly because so much of what I think and do is self-taught. Not all of it. But nobody ever showed me anything about playing pool. I don’t know any pool lingo. It’s Greek to me. Well, not exactly. I picked up some stuff from watching the way other people played, over the years, but nobody ever taught me how to play. I can play as well as anybody, but if I make a good shot, I can’t explain to another pool player what I’ve done using language that pool players use. What I know is that things tend to bounce off of flat surfaces at the same angle they came in, and that round things bounce off of other in the direction of a line that connects their respective center points at the moment of impact. In optics, we say “angle of incidence equals angle of refraction.” Much of Newtonian physics is an oversimplification, but it yields some elegant phrases.

What I began noticing in the teen lounge of the First Christian Church of the Disciples of Christ in Ft. Walton Beach was that if I made the exact same shot repeatedly I would occasionally get a variant result. Generally the divergence from experience was minimal, but occasionally it was significant, or at least noticeable. If I’d told anyone else about this experience, they’d have explained that my shooting wasn’t as precise as I thought, that normal shakes and trembles or normal slight differences in pressure or force accounted for it all. No matter how consistent I thought I was, I couldn’t be consistent as I seemed to think, which is probably what you are thinking now.

But I was. I could do the exact same thing in repetition and not be assured of the same result. You don’t believe me but it’s true. The only lesson I took away from that at the time, though, was that I could never bet my life on a pool game, no matter how tempting the prize. I didn’t know it, but this was the first sign I had that the margins of the universe are crumbling. The first I recognized, anyway.

I got in trouble that fall with the church and my observations on the inherently unreliable nature of the laws of physics were suspended. The church janitor, a big black man named Mr. Morris, suspected me of smoking Marlboros while I played pool in the rec room when he wasn’t around, and had been trying to catch me. But what got me was Eddie Finch. He was my Sunday School teacher and my nemises the whole time we lived in Florida.

When I was around thirteen this interest in religion kicked in that I really can’t explain. I started listening to what they wee saying and analyzing it. I was too critical, of course, and too prone to doubt that which was taught to me. But still. This is religion. There are holes everywhere and only fools and those who render themselves intentionally ignorant fail to see them. Eddie Finch was incapable of intentionally render himself anything but was nevertheless a fool and a man of great faith.

Not just a garden-variety fool, but a world class fool. He decided he was a painter for a few years and proudly tried to sell paintings that looked less impressive than the Paint-by-Numbers Indian chief I’d done in the third grade. He had managed to marry an attractive woman, had fathered a daughter, and bought a house on the G.I. Bill before he found Jesus in his mid-thirties with a fervor that surprised his pretty, petite wife Jane, who, even to me, a grammar schooler who knew nothing of the ways of grownups, could see often seemed to be looking at her husband with bewildered dismay. Eddie signed up to be a Sunday school teacher, and, not satisfied with hectoring me and my classmates about burning in Hell for our sinful ways, he also signed up for a prison outreach program. As a result he started bringing recently-released felons to church on Sundays, which had some comical results. One special ex-con, a man named Frank Jones who, like a caricature of who he was, had beady eyes, a broken nose, and a crew cut, joined our church, confessing his faith before the congregation one hot July morning. A few weeks later I heard my parents say with some concern that Frank was moving into the spare room at Eddie and Jane’s house, and a few weeks after that, my parents heard tell that Eddie had co-signed the note on Frank’s new car, a used Cadillac with tail fins. A few weeks after that, of course, Frank disappeared, and surprisingly, Jane disappeared with him, leaving Eddie and little Mamie E. Finch in Ft. Walton Beach while Frank and Jane cruised the United States in a Cadillac that Eddie was paying for.

I’ve gotten ahead of myself. Frank came later. In the summer of 1965, Mr. Morris was trying to bust me smoking in the rec room while I was playing pool while my mother kept the books at the new hotel. The following Sunday, Mr. Finch was teaching us about the passage from Matthew in which God is supposed to have said “This is my son, in whom I am well pleased” following Jesus’ baptism by St. John. What occurred to me is the spurious but attractive kind of idea that seizes fifth grade boys. I had a vague sense that we were supposed to believe in a Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. If the Three were One, as we’d been taught, why would one of them be pleased with the other? Wouldn’t this be an un-Christian kind of smug self-congratulation? Not the way to ask the question of Mr. Finch, of course.

ME: (Hand raised) Mr. Finch?

FINCH: Yes, Henry?

ME: I have a question.


ME: If Jesus and God are the same person, like they teach us about the Trinity and all, why is God saying that? About being well pleased and all. Isn’t it kind of like talking to Himself? I mean, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense.

FINCH: Now you listen here, young man. I’ve just about had it with your questioning me in class and refusing God’s Word. God has a plan for your life and the sooner you shut up and start following it, the better off you’ll be.

ME: But it doesn’t make sense.

FINCH: It makes all the sense in the world. Now you be quiet.

Sometime later I got summoned to Pastor Leslie’s pastoral study, which I liked. The room, I mean. Full of books. Bibles in Greek and Hebrew. He was a nice guy in some ways but stuck on himself. I don’t remember how I got summoned to the pastoral presence, but knew when I got there I was in trouble because Eddie Finch had complained about me.

After I was seated he lit his pipe and filled the room with a heavy, rich-smelling smoke that pleased me at the time but would horrify me today.

“I hear you have been crossing swords a little bit with Ed Finch,” he said.

“I guess so.”

“He says you challenge his authority,” said Pastor Leslie.

“No, sir. I just ask questions. And I really want to know the answers. I’m not trying to cause trouble or anything.” I had friends who asked clearly stupid questions to make trouble or jokes. In ninth grade science class, after Mr. Spain said we could fill out our science tests in “pencil, pen, or any writing implement you choose,” Louis Bonderant raised his hand and asked Mr. Spain if he could fill out his test in Chap-Stick. I wasn’t that kind of a kid.

“So Leonard tells me he’s been finding cigarette butts in the basement after you play pool there.”

“Leonard?” I asked.

“Mr. Morris. The Negro who takes care of the church,” the pastor said, puffing on his pipe. People used the word “Negro” with no self-consciousness in 1965. That this was true, that there was no self-consciousness of it, seems one of the most improbable facts of my life.

“Oh. Well, I’m surprised,” I said.

“I think we need to think of a way to keep you focused,” said Pastor Leslie, and continued talking. I could not, unfortunately, continue listening. I had too much experience ignoring him to abruptly change course now. Trains leave stations. The Universe expands. People ignore Pastor Leslie. He gave these Godawful sermons that he would repeat on special occasions. He had this sermon about a hunchbacked kid named Zia or Zeah whose hump magically disappears when he meets the Christ Child. It’s basically Amahl and the Night Visitors without a crutch or music. It was awful, and he did it every year at Christmas. Luckily we moved on to South Carolina after I’d heard it three times. Or was it LeJune? Why would we have been at Camp LeJune?

Pastor Leslie eventually asked me a question, and since my mind was wandering in all sorts of non-church directions I had no idea what he was talking about and that was a problem because Pastor Leslie always wanted to be listened to. Telling me something important was his role and being educated was mine and the fact that I didn’t know my lines convinced him that Eddie Finch was on to something.

“Focus, yes,” he said, filling the room with rich smoke. “Here’s what we’re going to do. Your pool privileges at the church are suspended for this week. Next week I’m going to ask Ed how he felt your Sunday School experience was, and if he thinks it was good, your pool privileges will be reinstated. Thereafter, as long as Mr. Finch thinks Sunday School is going well and Leonard doesn’t find any more cigarette butts, your pool privileges will continue. All right?”

“Ah, Hell.”

“What was that?”

“Oh, well.”

“What do you think of this arrangement, William?” he asked, with a smug look that only a pipe-smoking protestant preacher can have.

“Well, I guess I’m never going to shoot pool again, because Mrs. Leslie comes down to smoke a Marlboro three or four times a day during the week. She always shoos me out, but it always smells like smoke after she’s gone,” I said.

There was an awkward pause.

“You are mistaken,” he said. “My dear wife gave up smoking almost a year ago.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Smoking cigarettes is sinful. Injurious to the body, and so, indirectly, injurious to the soul.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I would know if my dear June were still smoking. I could smell it on her clothes. Plus she would never lie to me,” he said.

“Hmm.” I said. I was forcing him into trouble with his wife. Foolish. Change gears.

“Yes?” he asked, black eyebrows arched.

“Have you noticed how things don’t always work out the same?”

“How so?

“How you do something the same way and get different results some of the time?” oddly, he was completely content to have me redirect the conversation completely.

“Well, Henry, I like to think of this as God’s way of adding nuance to the universe, and of reminding us to be grateful for the world He has created. I repeat some of My most popular sermons from time to time, and I have noticed, as you say, by the differences in the way My flock has reacted to them over the years.” He pulled on his pipe several times in rapid succession to get it burning good again, filling the study with smoke. He formed his bearded lips into an O and blew a perfect smoke ring that descended softly to the floor and then bounced up towards the book cabinets, still turning axially around its own tiny radius. I jumped in surprise. He didn’t notice. “Over the years,” he said, “I’ve come to think of it as another one of God’s many blessings. Small variations in the stresses I give different parts of the sermons, and larger variations in the mood and composition of the individual members of My congregation, yields big differences in reaction. Some years Mrs. Jameson cries when Zeah stands up straight, and sometimes she doesn’t. It’s rewarding either way. You see?”

“Dr. Leslie, I’m sorry, but that’s not right.”

“Mrs. Jameson crying at my Christmas sermon?” he asked.

“No, that makes perfect sense. What doesn’t make sense is what just happened to that smoke ring,” I said. It just wasn’t right. Really.

“How so?”

“It sailed ten or twelve feet from your lips then bounced off the floor without losing its spin. That’s just not right.”

“They all do that,” he said.

“No they don’t. They dissipate a few feet from your mouth and won’t even bounce off of a pool table, much less off a floor with shag carpeting.”

“I would be interested to know how you came to these conclusions, but am more interested in why you think Mrs. Jameson’s reaction to my Christmas sermon makes sense. Perfect sense, I think you said,” he said. I waited, hoping he’d blow another smoke ring, but no.

“If I tell you, will you blow another smoke ring?” I asked.

He deliberated. “Perhaps,” he said. Asshole. Wouldn’t even commit to a smoke ring, and he’s always trying to sell me eternal life. People truly are fractal and resemble themselves at all levels. Nietzsche was right: look more redeemed. I don’t like these things where the Universedoesn’t follow its own rules and wanted to track this one down. Except for the errata I was noticing on the pool table the only examples I’d noticed up to that point were a few times when I thought I could see through my big sister when she came home from college (I never could see through her when she was in high school) and a few occasions when I seemed to be able to see through my own eyelids when half-asleep.

“Okay,” I said. “Mrs, Jameson is an alcoholic, but she keeps it under control by only allowing herself to drink on the weekend. When Christmas Eve falls on a Saturday or Sunday, she’s been drinking by the time she gets to your candlelight service, which is when you preach Zeah, and she cries. If Christmas Eve is on a weekday, she shows up sober and doesn’t cry.”

For a kid to be honest with an adult is always risky, and this one didn’t seem to go well. Pastor Leslie frowned and sat up and pulled on his pipe. He looked into the distance in a troubled way. He blew a smoke ring, but I think it was an absent-minded smoke ring not intended to satisfy me. I followed it with rapt fascination as it bounced first off of a wall , then a glass-fronted book case, then disappeared into the thick cloud of smoke over Pastor Leslie’s head. Damn.

“How can you be sure about this kind of thing?” he asked. Amazingly, the smoke ring came sailing down out of the cloud, having apparently bounced off of the ceiling. Unfortunately, as it sailed towards the floor it hit the toe of his expensive-looking semi-wingtip, which was bouncing all of a sudden, and broke up. Smoke ring entropied, I could answer his question.

“About Mrs. Jameson,” I said. “Her step-son Mark Ralston is a friend of mine,” I said. True. We always played at his house on weekends and my house on the weekend. One Saturday when I was over there she’d been putting out cigarette butts in the front right eye of the electric range in the kitchen under the misapprehension that it was an ashtray.

Pastor Leslie gazed off in the distance some more and pulled pensively on his pipe.

“So will you blow me another smoke ring?” I asked.

“Here’s what we’re going to do,” he responded. “Your pool privileges are suspended for a week.”

“Aah, shit,” I said.

“Mind your tongue,” he said. “I’m going to talk to Mr. Finch next Sunday. If he believes you were appropriately involved with your Sunday School class, then your pool privileges will be reinstated. If your pool privileges are reinstated, it will only be on your word of honor as a gentleman that you will not be smoking inside the church. Agreed?”

“When did I ever claim to be a gentleman?” I asked.

“Agreed?” he asked.

“All right,” I said.

“I’m going to give you something else to occupy your time,” he said. He reached behind his desk and pulled out a Prussian blue book titled “Gospel Parallels.”

“What’s this?” I asked, leafing through it. Each page listed three columns, labeled “Matthew,” “Mark,” and “Luke.”

“It points out the similarities between the three synoptic Gospel narratives,” he said. “Some of the stories in the Gospels appear in all of them, some in two, some in only one. This book is designed to point up the similarities.”

“What’s synoptic mean?” I asked. I was fascinated. Immediately. Completely.

“It’s from the Greek. It means they all look the same,” he said.

“Why Greek?”

“The New Testament was originally written in Greek,” he said.

“Really? Are you sure? Not Hebrew?”

“Quite sure.” He got up to open a window. “Sorry, getting a little stuffy in here,” he said. Putting his pipe aside. “In Palestine in the days of Jesus, they didn’t speak Hebrew, anyway. They spoke a language called Aramaic. Scholars refer to the Aramaic of Jesus’ day as Syriac.”

“There are four Gospels,” I said. “This only has three columns. What happened to John?”

“He’s not synoptic. The Gospel according to St. Johm doesn’t have many narrative details in common with the other Gospels,” he said.

“Why not?” The world that had been opened to me was one would vex me for the rest of my life.

“You will be able to figure this out for yourself in time, Henry. Now I really must be getting to the fellowship hall. Do you understand our agreement?”

“I guess. When Mr. Finch says I can, you’ll let me use the pool table, but until then I read this book.”

“I think it’s in there somewhere. I’ll talk to you next week.” He smiled.

It was a mug’s game, of course. I didn’t ever get to use the church pool table again. Mr. Finch consistently told Pastor Leslie that I interrupted him, or squirmed in my chair, or did something wrong. But that was okay. Eddie Finch’s pain-in-the-assedness led me to the Niceville Poolhall where I reacquainted myself with some friends from Biloxi, and also resulted in weekly conferences with Pastor Leslie about my conduct, and when that was done, about the synoptic Gospels. He was a pompous blowhard, but he really did know Biblical textual criticism.

How did I get here from 1972? I need to go back. Excuse me.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Slacking Off

I have guests coming in from Mississippi just in time for the cold snap this weekend. Accordingly, there will be no My Sunday Feeling which I know will be a blow to the world of literature during a time of great unrest.

However, all is not lost. Polycarp and perhaps even the dyspeptic and quarrelsome PM will fill in while I am escorting freezing Mississippians to the Clinton Library and throughout the People's Republic of Hillcrest.

Will check back in later once I sober up sufficiently.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Vox Populi: The Consumptive

I was in the gym the other night when a lady I had never seen before went into a prolonged coughing fit while on the pull down machine. The cough was shallow and non-productive. I recognized it as I cough like that. Here is the following amazing exchange:

Grant the Trainer: Ma'am are you OK?

Lady: Yes..cough...I'm fine thanks.....I have asthma...cough cough..

Me: I thought so! I have asthma too. I have an inhaler in the car. Let me run out...


"Well, no shit you only do this when you get hot," I thought to myself. "It's called exercise induced asthma. Duh."

Some people you just can't reach.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Whack Jobs Can Move On To Something Else As They Most Certainly Will

The difference between me and the nutbar types out there is that I found the fact that two of the most powerful men in the world couldn't do this right absolutely endearing.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

My Sunday Feeling

Now comes the hangover. When Barack Obama takes the Oath of Office next Tuesday he will inherit a constellation of problems left to him by easily the most completely incompetent administration in my lifetime if not in history. Let us tick off all that he has on his plate Tuesday night.

2 wars. A deficit of historic proportions. A financial crisis not seen since the Great Depression. Massive unemployment. Anticipated closures in the banking and automotive industries. The rebuilding of the Gulf Coast. A jittery housing market. War in the Gaza. An increasingly bellicose Iran and North Korea. Tensions between nuclear powers Pakistan and India. Of this parade of trouble, the recession is the least problematic. Hell, that will get increased on purpose as the Obama Administration tries to kick start the economy.

And as if this weren't sufficiently daunting in and of itself, Obama is trying to quit smoking and his mother-in-law is moving in.

I don't know what he drinks, but in the famous words of Lincoln when there were complaints from the field about Grants' fondness for whiskey: " Find out what he drinks and I'll buy a case of it for the rest of the generals." If I knew what Obama drinks I would be tempted to buy him a case of it myself. He's gonna need it.

Despite the troubles that are sure to come ahead, January 20th will be a singularly important day in history of this country. On that day a black man will take the Oath of Office while standing on the stairs of a building that was at least partially built by slave labor. There is no way to downplay the importance of this moment. Some of my black friends are staying home to watch the entire day play itself out. And who can blame them? We are not so far removed from the civil rights struggles of the sixties. Indeed, I always thought I would see a woman elected before a black person. An amazing thing, indeed

But we should remember that there is trouble in the wind. Mistakes will be made. Policies will either not work or create unintended consequences. Things will go wrong occasionally because that's just what things do sometime. Barack Obama will have his ups and his downs. He just will. And he is already taking positions and making appointments that are disappointing his supporters. As James Carville says " During the election you punish your enemies. During the transition you punish your friends." In other words, Barack Obama may be unique in American history but at the end of the day he is a politician.

So I am mindful that history will be made on January 20. And while I have a sober view of the limits of power that some of my more giddy brethren haven't appreciated yet, I will permit myself this one thought that gives me no small measure of comfort despite the uncertain future.

On Tuesday, adults take charge.

I can live with that after the last eight years.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Vox Populi-The Past Is Never The Past. Especially On Facebook.

I got the following text message from a friend of mine who has known much marital strife. It is a wonder to me how he isn't living under a bridge somewhere after his two excursions across the roiling deck of matrimony.

" I just got a message from Facebook stating that it had identified my first wife as 'someone I might know.' I suppose it will go ahead and identify my second wife as 'someone I gave $400,000 to.' "

While it is at it, maybe Facebook will reintroduce my friend to the house that, according to his calculations, he was essentially required to buy back from himself twice.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Vox Populi-Graphic Arts Division

Why a sign protesting the apparent death of Mr. Oscar Grant who I guess got himself plugged by the Oakland Police on New Year's Day would be affixed to a sign over by the Arkansas Arts Center is unknown.

But that's why we always keep Nikon Junior handy. Just to record for posterity these examples of the rich pageantry of life.

My Sunday Feeling

It was quite a sight. At around 9:45 or so last Friday the tall bank buildings on Capitol Avenue started disgorging a cloud of witnesses all dressed in dark clothes. There must have been a hundred or so of us making a mostly silent march upon the Cathedral of St. Andrew on Louisiana. It was a dark cold day. The marchers trudged together, hands in pockets, eyes fixed mostly at points on the ground.

We were going to Mass that morning to say goodbye to our friend Jim Glover whose fight with cancer of the brain finally ended 2 days before. There are probably worse ways to die. Offhand I can't think of any. But there probably are.

God, in His Plan, tends to specialize in visiting misery upon his saints. Or it at least seems that way. James Jay Glover would scoff at the notion of his being a saint. But he was. Or he was if saints wore bow ties and practiced law. OK. Assume for the sake of argument that lawyers can't be saints. Jim was a kind, loving, gentle, devout Christian gentleman who as far as I know did not have an enemy in this life.

You pick an adjective. I'm tired.

Jim was a tall man. Taller than me. He had a lantern jaw and a barrel chest even as his illness took its toll. But he was as gentle and soft spoken as he was tall. He was a bookish sort who favored bow ties. Our friendship began in the weight room of the Little Rock Racquet Club in the eighties. I don't know what he saw in me. We could not have been less similar. He was a devout Roman Catholic and family man. I am a single Methodist and curmudgeon who can get in touch with his agnostic side really quickly. He was unfailingly cheerful and optimistic. I have a considerable reputation for unrequited cynicism who views the daily advent of the sunrise with something approaching alarm. You get the picture. Joined at the hip we were not.

And yet, he called me frequently over the intervening years generally for no other reason than to let me know whatever goofy thing was rolling around in his head that day. One didn't-or at least I didn't-tend to have very linear conversations with Jim Glover. Jim frequently spoke in non-sequiters, his phrases linked tenuously together by whatever was amusing him at the time. And you got a lot of dead air with Jim. Some of it was fatigue. Most of it was him laughing on the other end with a"snort snort snort" as he awaited my response to whatever drollery he had put out initially.

I am going to share some of these conversations. Most of them I remember with crystalline clarity. As an aside, I am told that I have his voice nailed. This is not surprising given all the times I listened to that voice on the other end of the line. Since I can't channel my inner Jim for Gentle Reader, try to imagine a 6'4' tenor version of Kermit the Frog. In a bow tie. That should help.

I apologize in advance for the way this looks. sometimes doesn't accept editing very well.


Jim: I suppose you have been wondering why I've been spending so much time in here lately.

Me: Not really.

Jim: Good! I'll be happy to tell you. Of course you know I've quit drinking.

Me: No I didn't know that. But then again, I didn't see the paper today, Jim.

Jim: It's not that I was having a problem or anything. It's just my wife would vastly prefer that I spend my leisure time in here.

Me: That's why I refuse to get one.

Jim: One what?

Me: A wife.

Jim: I think it would do you some good. Being married might improve your mood. We should talk about that.

Me: We should not.

Jim: That's the spirit. I knew you would have an open mind. I'll call you tomorrow.

I noticed that I hadn't seen him around much in the early part of 2000. I didn't think much about it. I just assumed that he was had gotten busy with work or stuff with his kids.

I have shot Homecoming for Catholic High for years. I do a good job and I get a sweatshirt for my efforts. This doesn't exactly make me Annie Leibovitz. But my price is one that Headmaster and Maximum Dictator Steve Straessle is willing to pay.

It was about 2003 or 2004 that Jim's daughter Sarah was named to the Homecoming Court. A prouder sonuvabitch never lived. He smiled and snuck a wave at me as they came across where I stood with the camera and unipod firing away. The buttons on his shirt somehow remained affixed in defiance of the laws of physics.

Sometimes in photography you don't really know what you are getting at the time you are shooting. But I remember thinking at the time:

"What happened to his hair?'


Thank you so much for the homecoming pictures. I cannot tell you how much this means to me. Please tell me where you would send these for a good print because I want to get a nice frame and everything. You are certainly a gifted photographer and I thank you again for your kindness in remembering me in this way. I will never forget it.


E MAIL TO J. MARK DAVIS (Jim Glover's friend and law partner)


What's going on w/Jim? I sent him some pics I took of he and his daughter at homecoming and the response was..........emotional to say the least. Is he sick? I mean, I noticed the hair.


You need to know he has cancer of the brain. The situation is not good. In fact, it is very bad.

Pray for him.

I made it a point after then to keep in touch better. And I became one of the target recipients of his e-mails in which he told friends and family about his scans and treatments in the years to come. All of them were typically chatty and discursive as if he were discussing an upcoming trip rather than life-altering surgeries and chemotherapy. The only complaint that I ever heard uttered from him was that he said that chemo was boring. It made him too tired to read but that he didn't like sitting there for all that time.

That was it.


Me: Hello

Jim: Well, I suppose you've heard about Matt.

Me: Good Morning to you too.

Jim: snort snort

Me: What's going on?

Jim: Well, Matt is leaving seminary. He's decided not to be a priest.

Me: Wow. For a minute there I thought you were going to tell me he had quit drinking too.

Jim: snort. No, he still drinks. He's coming back to Little Rock. He wants to get married and go to law school. I thought you might want to know.

Me: Ummmmmmmmm.....why are you telling me all this?

Jim: Well, if you and any of your Protestants friends want to go as priests for Halloween I gotta bunch of clerical collars and black shirts sitting around my house gathering dust.

During this period of time, two of Jim's partners Mark Davis, Mac Norton and I were involved in highly protracted litigation involving a little bank in South Arkansas. There was much high drama in those days this being at times the legal equivalent of a knife fight.


Me: Hello?

Jim: I have a problem with the government.

Me: Wait a minute goddamn it don't you start in on me too! I mean it's bad enough I gotta.....

Jim: Noooooooo. No. I am steering clear of y'all's problem. I come in peace. I have to live with everybody. And besides, I don't have a problem with you. I have a problem with the government.

Me: Hmmph...

Jim: None of us have a problem with you. We all like you over here at Wright, Lindsey and Jennings. snort snort.

Me: My relief at this news is boundless.

Jim: snort. Even Mac Norton likes you. snort. He can be a little intense. I've been working with him on that. I have told him that you are basically a good person with a good heart and that you generally mean well. It just takes awhile to figure that out.

Me: You told him that shit?

Jim: snort. Yes. snort.

Me: Is there a point to this call?

Jim: Yes. Is there any reason why nobody in the general counsel's office for Health and Human Services in Dallas will return a damn phone call?

Me: Yeah. I told 'em about you.

Jim: snort. snort.


Jim: I have just awful news!

Me: Gee...what's going on?

Jim: I just found out yesterday that my neurosurgeon is related to you.

Me: David? Yeah. He's married to my cousin. So he got his license back huh?

Jim: He's such a nice person. One would never make the connection with you otherwise. Anyway, could you do me a favor?

Me: Sure. If I can.

Jim: I am scheduled to have brain surgery next Friday.

Me: OK.

Jim: Please don't go out on the town with Dr. Reding on Thursday night.

Me: What?

Jim: Or if you go out just make sure that he sticks to iced tea. He may partake of sweet tea. I am reasonable. A man needs to enjoy himself. snort.


Me: Hello?

Jim: Mark tells me you are going to help with Miracle League. That's wonderful.

Me: I've never worked with disabled kids. This will be interesting.

Jim: Will you miss Boy's Club?

Me: I'll miss the kids. I won't miss the guys in the stands who are packing guns. It's a near thing.

Jim: I just want to know what Mark Davis is doing on the Miracle League board?

Me: I dunno. The work of the Lord maybe?

Jim: Is there any evidence in the record before us that indicates that he knows the first damn thing about baseball?

Me: Well, I ......

Jim: Has he ever once taken a swing in anger at anything bigger than a golf ball? Do we know this? Someone needs to look into his qualifications to serve on that board is all that I am saying.

Me: Don't you have anything else to do over there? Apart from calling and bugging me with these ruminations that is?

Jim: snort.


Me: Hi, Jim. I'm returning your call. It's about.....

Jim: Oh. It's just you.

Me: Well....forgive me for the intrusion.

Jim: No. I was startled at first when you called.

Me: Startled.

Jim: Yes.

Me: Keep going. I'm riveted as usual.

Jim: I've been under considerable stress lately. Perhaps you've heard.

Me: So I've heard.....

Jim: I looked at the caller ID and it said " United States Government." I just wanted to make sure that if it wasn't the IRS calling me on tax day. I'm just not in the mood to talk to the IRS. But it's just you. I'll talk to you.

The priest talked a lot about heaven the other day. I don't think about heaven as much as I might. I mean, I can't believe that it is paved with gold or that folks wear wings. And I certainly hope and pray that there are no harps. Or accordions for that matter.

I hate accordions.

If there is a heaven, and in the unlikely event that I am admitted, I hope to see my family and friends that have gone on before. I imagine that I will come up on Jim Glover in a study somewhere. He will be wearing his bow tie and he will be surrounded by the books and crossword puzzles he loved.

Knowing him, he will rise to greet me when he sees me walk in.

I will tell him to keep his seat.

After all, it's just me.

It's just me Jim.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

When You're Screwin' Other Women (Think of Me)

Doyle and Debbie have the old Dolly-Porter thing nailed down. Thanks to Singleaxis, who relentlessly scans YouTube and the Internet for this kind of dumb shit so you don't have to, for passing this along.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

My Sunday Feeling

I knew something was up when I went to the gym New Year's Day. I got on the treadmill to run an easy mile. I could barely get through a half mile before I had to stop. My legs just wouldn't work. I will usually run an easy mile in about 8:10 and a hard one somewhere between 7:15 and 7:30. Which doesn't make me Roger Bannister but I at least can do a half mile.

I knew I had the sniffles but I believe in working out even with a cold. I got off the treadmill and felt my face. I put my hand under my shirt. This was no cold. I was burning up. The thermometer confirmed what I suspected. I was running about a degree of fever. Great. Happy New Year.

My old doc who retired always told me to go to the doctor at the first sign of a fever. " You asthma people really don't need pneumonia," saith Jim Carey Morse. So I made an appointment the next day with my new doctor.

I like the new guy. He's an old marathoner so he's pretty good with athletic stuff which I know will come in handy sooner than later. He diagnosed me as having some little virus that is going around. He said about all he could do is give me a steroid shot and tell me to lay low. Also he prescribed some Tylenol with codeine.

'This," he said while handing me the scrip. " is strictly 'feel-good' medicine. The Tylenol will help the fever. The little bit of codeine will ease your muscle aches and headache. It will suppress your cough a bit so you won't infect anybody and it will improve your mood. Just don't be doing a bunch of drinking and driving and if you need to do social activities come home early for the next couple of days. No running or golf this weekend and you should be fine."

I love Jim Morse but he would hardly prescribe aspirin. He sure as hell would never prescribe "feel good medicine."

So I have been laying low. I stayed home New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. Which was OK by me as I am not a big New Year's person. The only people out past 9 on New Year's Eve are cops and drunks and I have no need of either.

I haven't been sick, apart from my biannual sinus infections, in a couple of years easy. While this episode reminds me that I am a lousy patient it did provide me with a doctor ordered opportunity to lay low and be still. Which I don't do very well being the restless sort of person that I am. It has been kind of nice to just sit and read and watch sports. I've caught up on my magazines and am half way through one of my Christmas books. There's plenty of leftovers in the fridge. There's no need to leave the house. I will get better. Some folks won't. Just got to get through it.

Since I have a lot of time on my hands, I have been following the recent events in the Middle East with a little more interest than I ordinarily would. I do not claim to be an expert by far on this issue. And I am conflicted about the Israelis usual ham-handed approach to security matters. While one cannot deny Israel's importance to Western History, theology alone does not seem a sound basis for foreign policy in and of itself. I find particularly ludicrous the position of some of our more fundamentally inclined brethren who relish the prospect of strife in that region so as to somehow induce the Second Coming of Jesus as purportedly foretold by the Book of Revelations.

If you are going to believe that hooey then you will necessarily oppose any talk of truce. You might as well not open a savings account either, come to think of it.

Having said all of that, it seems to me that Hamas would have done better if it had heard my Grandfather Bivens's admonition against hunting bear with a switch. Because the recent attacks by Hamas upon Israeli civilian targets have provoked a massive retaliation on the part of Israel's military. Can't say as I blame 'em.

From where I sit, I don't know what Hamas seeks to achieve. It couldn't be to persuade Israel to leave the Gaza. It left in 2005. It cannot prevail militarily. It strikes at Israel with mortar rockets and dynamite. The Israelis respond with F-15s. And last Saturday night their time they sent armored troops back into the Gaza. As one of my friends put it, " You know how deeply suspicious of cultural stereotypes I am, but close organizational and administrative skills, as well as disciplined adherence to enterprise goals do not appear to be in the tool kit of Hama's."

But then again, what is Israel's end game? One need only look to Iraq to see that military power alone cannot effect a solution. There has to be a political and/or diplomatic resolution to this matter. Do they think they are going to destroy Hamas? Could happen short term but long term would require the reoccupation of the region and from what I can tell there is not much stomach for that in the Israeli government. Hamas wants the economic boycott which is causing it untold misery to end. The presence of ground troops could induce Hamas to come to the bargaining table. Perhaps that is the plan. Israel could annihilate Hamas from the air. But annihilation is not a useful useful military purpose. We are the mightiest nuclear power on Earth. It cannot be used as a tactical weapon. Israel, for all of it's might cannot impose a military solution especially against a people whose litany of grievance goes back to Vespasian.

Like I said, I do not much blame the Israelis for retaliating. Somebody shoots at my house and I will get high-pissed as well.

I am no expert in these matters. But it seems to me that cooler heads on both sides need to try to get this shut down. Because annihilation is not a useful military purpose. As the United States learned in Vietnam and again in Iraq, once the enemy knows that the big hammer is off the table, a diplomatic/political solution is the only tenable outcome.

Like Barack Obama didn't have enough on his plate on January 20th.

Happy New Year to you too.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Screw This

The Washington Post reported a week ago that a federal survey revealed that kids that were in abstinence-only sex education programs were just as likely to have pre-marital sex as those who do not promise to abstain. Further, those kids in the abstinence-only programs were less likely to use birth control when engaging in sex than the non-promisors.

To me the question is not so much that abstinence-only education doesn't work. Nothing works even so-called "good" kids are going to play with fire when it comes to sex and alcohol. Twas ever thus. And the question is not so much whether the folks behind such education planning are a bunch of sanctimonious -forgive me- boobs, although they most certainly are. The question that comes to my mind is who really expected young people to stick to a vow of celibacy when history is replete with instances of vows being more widely honored in the breach?

Marriage vows have had no appreciable impact on the divorce rate. People swear an oath to tell the truth in court and then get up there and lie until they are blue in the face. The Methodists used to make folks pledge to forswear spirituous refreshment. Methodists haven't "taken the pledge" in 75 years, so successful was the earlier program. Vows of celibacy haven't held up too well recently either. The recent sex scandals in the Roman Catholic Church are proof of that.

Wishing and hoping is not a program. Speaking frankly about consequences is a start. For example, before I went to college my daddy sat me down to talk to me about drinking.

"Son," he said. "I would rather you not drink. But if you are going to drink at a party, eat some food before you get there and stick to only one type of beverage. When you get home drink plenty of water. Otherwise, you will be sick the next morning."

Know what? That's as good a piece of advice today as it was thirty some odd years ago.

I would rather kids not have sex. And they should be encouraged not to. But they will. And I would rather them know about their options and the consequences before the hormones take over.

Basing a teen pregnancy program on the vows of children to abstain is foolish. Vows have never worked very well with adults.

Why should they work with kids?