Sunday, March 29, 2009

My Sunday Feeling

There are some things about sports that just aren't fair. Take for instance the latest example of why golf is such an exquisitely cruel mistress.

Sixty-two year old Unni Haskell recently took up the damned game. She had only 8 half hour lessons before she decided to take this accumulated knowledge out to the course. Naturally, she made a hole-in-one on her first swing taken in anger. And of course it was one of those hope-to-Jesus numbers. Her drive went all of 75 yards and then rolled through the grass up to the green and in.

I have been playing golf for @ 11 years now. I am pretty awful but I can scrape it around well enough to keep up with my buddies on pretty much any course. I have come close to a hole-in-one 3 times. I have seen one live. My buddy PM has made one. But he was screwing around by himself and hit his with a range ball. Doesn't count unless you have a witness. Shouldn't count with a range ball.

"I didn't know it was that big a deal," Unni told the St. Petersburg Times. " I thought all golfers do this."

No Unni. Not all golfers do this. And with all due respect, may you be struck by lightning during your next round.

Another recent example of the essential unfairness of sports is to be found in the NCAA tournament pools that abound this time of year all across our fair nation. I played basketball as a kid. I have watched it all my life. I still attend a fair number of high school and college games. I am a knowledgable fan.

And yet, my friend and colleague Laurie Peterson went 16-16 the first day despite knowing no more about basketball than a cow knows about the Gnostic Heresy. She picked Maryland because she thinks turtles are cute. She picked Western Kentucky because she felt sorry for the plight of the coal miners in Appalachia.

You get it. The scientific method. I wonder if Unni Haskell entered a pool?

Then there's the ongoing psychodrama at the University of Kentucky who just fired Billy Gillespie after only 2 years. First a little background. The Kentucky Wildcats are the winningest program in Division I. Their fans are also the functional equivalent of football fans at Notre Dame. They both live exclusively in the past and have completely insane expectations for their respective coaches. Gillespie went 40-27 in his two years there. Which might have been sufficient for a 3rd year at most places. It might have been at Kentucky as well. Except for two things. Kentucky didn't make it to the NCAA tournament for the first time in my lifetime while not on probation. And Billy Gillepie is a jerk.

The Kentucky brass were horrified when Tubby Smith decided he had had all the fun he could stand in Lexington and jumped for the vacancy at-gasp!-Minnesota. They decided they needed to make a quick hire to reassure the faithful that, yes indeedy, Kentucky was still the pre-eminent job in the land. They went to Billy Donovan at Florida who politely declined as did Texas's Rick Barnes.

Gillespie was the up and coming Next Big Thing down at Texas A and M. Kentucky knew that Arkansas was after him after it had fired Stan Heath because Dana Altman decided to stay at Creighton after allegedly accepting the Razorback job. So Kentucky decided to offer the job to Gillespie before Frank Broyles could get him to the altar.

Funny thing happened after that. Or so the rumor goes. Supposedly, no sooner than he had accepted the Wildcat job, it is said that Gillespie tried to pull a Dana Altman on them and tried to go back to A and M. I would have said no sooner than he had signed a contract except Gillespie never signed one. Which certainly gave his superiors every reason to doubt that Gillespie was in it for the long haul.

But A and M said, " Thanks but no thanks." And Billy Gillespie and UK were now stuck with each other.

Gillespie's brusque and aloof ways rubbed the Wildcat fans the wrong way. A confirmed bachelor, rumors swirled about his personal life. Rumor had it that he liked the ladies. Rumor had it that he would drink one with you. Rumor had it that he was not Adolph Rupp. Of course, none of this would have mattered if Kentucky was 30-3 and still playing.

Naturally, Kentucky Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart would have you believe that they are far more high-minded in Lexington when it comes to such matters.

"There is a clear difference [between he and Gillespie] in how the rules and responsibilities of overseeing the program are viewed," Barnhart said, presumably with a straight face. " It is a gap that I do not believe can be solved by just winning games."

Which is bullshit. Gillespie could set fire to the campus library and everyone would look the other way so long as the Wildcats were winning big.

But it is all, for a lack of a better word, academic now. Gillespie gets to leave a place he probably didn't want to be at in the first place. Kentucky has said that they don't plan to honor the six million dollar severance package since Gillepsie never actually put his signature on anything other than a Memorandum of Understanding about the contract that he never signed. I hope he sues to get the severance. Discovery would be great fun.

Come to think of it, maybe there are some things in sports that are fair after all.

These people deserved each other.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Social Networking

Little Rock's Dale Miller is in a heap of trouble. According to stories in the Democrat-Gazette yesterday and today, a search for a 16 year old Perry County girl led local authorities to Miller's home near Wye Mountain where he answered the cops' knock on the door clad only in a bathrobe.

While it is certainly not unusual to have to answer the door half dressed, there is no good reason for a grown man to be dressed in such scant attire with a 16 year old girl. It is for this reason that Miller was apprehended by the authorities and charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Indeed, a bathrobe is one of the more socially appropriate garments Miller has been seen in. For years, he has sashayed about locally wearing skirts and high heels. The license plate on his car spells "Skirtman" phonetically.

He is not one to hide his particularly bizarre light under a bushel. The first time I saw him was some 10 years ago at Riverfest. He was wearing a one piece miniskirt, espadrilles and deely-poppers on his head. The last time I saw him, I was having dinner with my excellent friend Lynne at Sufficient Grounds where he kinda hung out.

The night we saw him he was wearing a cheerleader outfit. What Lynne couldn't get past were the dangly earrings with which he had accessorized his look.

" Those are the wrong kind of earrings for that outfit," she hissed. " Doesn't he know anything?"

Meanwhile, as if he weren't in sufficient trouble, Miller foolishly consented to a search of his home and computer where they found child pornography. Miller obviously had not lawyered up by the time the local paper got to him yesterday because no lawyer would have let him talk to the press. But talk he did.

" My suspicion is since I never knowingly downloaded child pornography, that one of my computer programs picked up something I didn't know about."

And what do his programs search for? Why exhibitionist pornography of course.

That's his defense?

" That's my fetish. I'd rather that not be in the paper but it's part of the explanation of what happened. I can't hide from that."

Sure he could have. He could have kept his big mouth shut. But this is a man who wears women's clothing and deely boppers. Laying low is not his first instinct.

Miller swears he didn't have sex with the girl. But he says she arrived at his house unexpectedly at noon before he had dressed so he threw on the robe. Which doesn't explain why he was still wearing it at 4 when the cops came to call.

And naturally Miller is all over the Internet. He has about 4 homepages devoted to the essential weirdness of Dale Miller. Here he may be seen showing off his gams with the Hooters girls up in Fayetteville. This promptly got him threatened with a lawsuit by Hooters. And of course, he had corresponded with his jailbait girlfriend on Facebook.

As if public ridicule and the threat of incarceration were not enough, the paper reports that UALR is firing him. He did not have a good week.

If Dale Miller asked me for some advice I would tell him 3 things: Shut the fuck up, pull down all of his web pages, and exnay on the ornpay.

I would also tell him that Lynne says you shouldn't wear dangly earrings with a cheerleading outfit.

You just can't make this stuff up.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Shameless Commerce

I did another story for Tales of the South and it will be broadcast in the Central Arkansas area this Thursday on KUAR FM 89 at 7 PM CST. It will be simulcasted online at . You can click on the live broadcast and it will also be in the archives which you can find on the KUAR website.

I hope you enjoy the show. The lady after me is hilarious.

My Sunday Feeling

The place I work out is located on the top floor of a commercial building that is built into the side of a hill. The top floor is the gym and a medical office. The bottom floor is a restaurant and some kind of office. This information will be relevant later.

My trainer is a guy named Grant. He couldn't make it Thursday so we rescheduled for Saturday morning. I got to the gym around 9. I unlocked the door and let myself in. According to the log book, I was the first person there which is odd. Generally there are a bunch of women in there working out whenever I am there. I am one of the few guys that belong.

I consider it to be a perk.

Grant was running late and so I decided to go to take a "comfort break"as they say at Wimbledon. The restrooms are located in an interior hallway outside the gym . I went out the back door of the gym and down the hall. I opened the door. It hit something. I put my shoulder against the door and reached for the light with my left hand.

A man was lying on the floor. His boots were off. The room smelled of cigarettes and alcohol. He looked up at me and blinked as the light hit his eyes.

" I'm sorry," he said. " I apologize."

I pointed down the hall. " You need to get OUT!" I yelled. I then went back into the gym and locked the door.

My cell phone rang. Grant.

" I'll be there in a minute," he said.

" Grant, you better hurry. I found a man sleeping in the bathroom."

" What?"

" Yeah. I think I ran him off but I'm not sure."

" Where are you?"

" I'm in the gym. The door is locked."

" Anybody else there?"

" No. Just me."

" Good. Don't go back in there until I get there."

" Hey, don't worry. You're the black belt, not me."

After he arrived we went back into the hallway. The bathroom was locked.

"I want you behind me," Grant said.

Nooooooooo problem.

He banged on the door. " Sir, I need you to come out and I need you to do it now," he said.

The door opened. The man came out.

He held out his hand. " My name's George Jackson," he said.

Grant shook his hand. " Grant Roberts. I'm a trainer here at the gym and this is my client."

George Jackson was a dishevelled black man wearing jeans and a blue hoodie. He was maybe 5'10" and 150 pounds. He reeked of booze and cigarettes as he did before. And he was terrified. Grant is built like a running back with a set of arms that Popeye would envy. George must have thought that he was fixing to get his ass kicked.

He produced an ID and showed it to Grant with a trembling hand. Even from my coward's perspective 6 feet away I recognized it as a welfare ID.

" I used to work at the Faded Rose but I lost my job. I needed someplace safe to sleep last night. I want y'all to know that this is just temporary. I am looking for another job but I didn't have no place else to go last night. You got to believe me. This is temporary."

Grant held his hands up palms out. "OK," he said. " Ok."

" I really appreciate y'all being cool. I really appreciate y'all not calling the police. Like I said, this is just temporary till I can find me some work."

He grew silent. His eyes found mine.

" And you, Sir," he said. " Thank you for not gettin' crazy on me when you found me in there."

" You have to go," I said softly. " You have to go."

" I'm going," he said. " I'm going right now out this here door. And remember, this is temporary."

And with that, George Jackson took his leave.

"What the hell," I said. " He might have been telling the truth."

" Might have been," Grant replied. " Most guys that are up to no good wouldn't have produced an ID. Anyway, it was clear that you put the fear of God in him."

" Me? That's ridiculous. You could knock him into the next county."

" Yeah, but he didn't have that door locked because of me, my friend," he said, slapping me on the back. " Good job."

We walked through out the building. Somebody forgot to lock not only the front entrance down at street level but the entryway to the second floor. That's how George Jackson found his lodging for the night. Grant called the owner of the gym who called the landlord who said he was on his way. Ridiculous.

Grant and I sparred afterwards. I could barely get through it because of nausea. Grant said that was my body's reaction to all the chemicals that got dumped into my system when I discovered the stowaway.

Maybe. I also think that it was a reaction to all the ways this could have jumped ugly. Sure, George Jackson seemed harmless enough. Pitiful really. But what if he had been armed? What if he had been psychotic and tried to attack me? What if one of the women had discovered him instead of me? This could have turned out far worse than it did. Far worse.

But it didn't. He was even more scared of me than I was of him. And like I said. What the hell. Maybe he was telling the truth.

A friend of mine works in an office not far from the Salvation Army shelter. She says the homeless population has changed in just the last 6 months. She said it used to consist mainly of young black guys and older white women. Now she sees more white guys that appear to be about my age.

" The Salvation Army and Rescue Mission can't take them all," she said. " How many of these churches have gyms and shower facilities? If they were really about helping the poor maybe they could take some of them in."

That will never happen for the same reason that Frank Zappa said that WWIII would never start in LA: There's too much real estate involved.

But this morning a homeless person looked me in the eye and thanked me before he returned to the streets. And while he didn't have any business in that bathroom and he had to go, his story had the ring of truth. And I felt sorry for him.

And I wondered just how many George Jacksons will be wandering the streets tonight looking for a safe place to sleep. I wondered whether his ranks will get bigger the longer the economy remains in the dumper.

We take for granted the roof over our heads and the food on our tables. I think of that man seeking shelter in a bathroom and what few problems I think I have came into perspective rather quickly.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Like It Ain't

" Jones learns lesson, worth risk for NFL teams." Thus reads the headline of Wally Hall's sports column today about former Razorback All-American Matt Jones who recently got a pink slip from the Jacksonville Jaguars after flunking a test for alcohol required as part of his probation for pleading guilty to possession of cocaine a year or so ago. This got him a week wearing orange and eating bologna sandwiches. It also got him waived by the Jags who clearly saw a last straw concerning the underachieving Jones.

After spending a considerable amount of time in today's column establishing that he really never interviewed Jones while he was a Razorback, Wally states " In my humble opinion Jones has learned his lesson."

Wait. There's more.

Wally also says that " [Jones] has stared his demons in the eye sic and told them to get behind him" and that " Matt Jones is clean and sober now."

Says who? As usual, Wally doesn't quote anybody or reveals that he has talked to folks that actually know about the situation off-the-record. For all we know, and for all Wally knows, Matt Jones is smoking a doobie and drinking whiskey even as I type this. For Jones' sake I hope he isn't because if he produces another dirty test, he gets to go away for even longer at a drug rehab facility. He will not like it there and not just because he won't be able to do drugs while a guest.

I do agree with Wally that some other team will pick him up off of waivers. As long as Jerry Jones and Al Davis are around, he stands a chance to land somewhere where they don't much care about character.

But cocaine really scares NFL types. And if he ever tests positive for that again, he can kiss his career goodbye. They will put up with a head case if he produces on the field. They will not if he doesn't. And even though he put up decent numbers last year, his production with the Jaguars clearly didn't merit giving a head case like Matt Jones another chance in their opinion.

Momentarily clean and sober or not. We don't really know. And neither does Wally.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Program note

There will be no usual Sunday post this weekend because I will be tied up with the Little Rock Marathon all day tomorrow.

But check back next week. I'll still be here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Vox Populi: Dispatch From The Field

Got the following text today from a friend who wishes to remain anonymous. We are all about protecting our sources here at tmfw. So here goes. Verbatim and without attribution although stringently edited as this is a family blog.

" I am eating lunch. There are 3 waitresses here. One that all the guys who work here want to sleep with, another that they all sleep with, and another who keeps everybody else here working."

I assume that the servers in this place are college kids. But I have found that this sort of dynamic doesn't much change as we go forward in the world of work as adults.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

My Sunday Feeling

It has been my privilege for years to audition kids for the choir at Arkansas Governor's School. For those of you that don't know, Governor's School is a total immersion experience for high school juniors that qualify through the various so-called "talented and gifted" programs in the high schools. Kids spend 6 weeks in the summer at Hendrix listening to lecturers and getting in-depth training in their various interests.

This being Arkansas, every now and again they bring in a speaker that pisses off the yahoos that would like to shut the program down as corrupting of our youth. But you don't hear that so much anymore. I get the impression that Governor's School isn't the big deal it once was for so many kids. Then again, I just do the singers. Nobody has ever gotten riled up over "Gloria" by Francis Poulenc. Except the kids that had to learn it.

I got my start with Governor's School almost 20 years ago completely by default. Back in those days the "talented and gifted program" at the State Department of Education was run by a college classmate of mine. One of the judges couldn't make it and so Cheryl had to open the can and get out another tenor. And there I was. At least I was actually singing back in those days. Now I would rather waste time playing golf. Why they keep asking me back is beyond me. I guess not everybody will do anything for a hundred bucks.

These auditions used to be a lot more fun back in the day when they came to do them in person. The halls at Parkview were filled with kids. The string players would be tuning up all over. The artists would be lugging their pieces. Anxious parents smoked outside or sat in the parent's room reading the paper and talking on cellphones. The pianists, all girls, would be dressed up in their recital best, eyeing each other like the hired killers they were.

No more. The weather in Arkansas is too volatile in the Spring to bring folks in from everywhere to Little Rock. One year we had a tornado pass overhead, causing us to herd everybody under tables and desks until we got the "all clear." One year we had an ice storm. So for about the last 5 years or so, the kids send in their auditions on tape.

It was more fun to have the kids there live. The question and answer period after each audition were alternatively inspiring or hilarious. Further, the kids actually had to prepare and had to look somebody in the eye. Singing in front of a bunch of strangers is not an easy thing to do. It is even more nerve wracking when you are singing in order to get something you want very badly.

It is a lot easier to just turn on the camera in your bedroom and sing something from "Beauty and the Beast" then it is to actually get serious and prepare some real music. But it is what it is.

My friend Venus Hamilton and I got the altos and basses. They don't make me do the sopranos anymore due to my long standing and oft-stated dislike of them. They are all a bunch of divas, even at that age, and most of them aren't really sopranos. They are the Terrell Owenses of the music world: Awfully flashy but hardly worth the trouble to put up with. Besides, most altos at that age are really sopranos who can actually read music. The music teachers stick them there because alto is hard to read.

Yesterday's auditions were the usual mixed bag. Two or three kids were outstanding. A bass from Little Rock Central had an honest-to-God 2 octave range. His "Deep River" would put Paul Robeson to shame. But he was the exception. Most of the offerings were pretty mediocre at best. In the first, place it is evident that kids nowadays are not really exposed to classical literature. I remember years ago 2-count 'em- 2 black kids from Dollarway came in singing lieder. That will never happen again. This year a girl announced she was going to do a piece by Schubert herself then proceeded to do it a capella. Why on Earth would you do something like that?

It is also obvious that some of these kids are getting bad advice from the adults. One bass attempted to sing "Caro Mio Bien" from the "Italian Art Songs" songbook that singers have learned to sing with for years. Only something was wrong as he really struggled to get through it.

" Is he trying to sing out of the High Voices book?" Venus asked.

I nodded and began easily singing the piece over the top of the quaking voice on the tape.

" I mean, was just the only book the teacher had?" she asked. " Why would you try to get a bass to sing out of the wrong book?"

Dunno. But it was obvious to us that these kids were being allowed to put out all kinds of crazy stuff with only minimal adult supervision. For example, they are supposed to vocalize a scale so we can get an idea of their range. 2/3 of them didn't do it. One of the rare people who did sang what purported to be a scale without going off a pitch thereby reposing faith in our willingness to take her word for its accuracy. The same kid that did "Caro" out of the wrong book also did " I am Sixteen going on Seventeen" which caused me to write what I believe to be the first "WTF?" down on a Governor's School auditions score sheet.

But there was the boy from Central with the amazing range. A female classmate of his sang Purcell and Mozart like a bird. A girl from Bryant did Cole Porter which ain't the easiest thing in the world. A skinny boy from the Delta had this incredible low range that came from nowhere out of his tiny body.

All in all, it was a fun morning. It is always good to see my friends among the judges and to catch up on old news. And it is always interesting to see what is going on out there in the world of teenagers.

Maybe they will wise up and ask somebody more qualified than me to come judge next year's auditions. If not, I will be happy to come and do my civic duty once again.

Just as long as I don't have to fool with those damn sopranos.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Say It Ain't So

I have been unwell over the last 3-4 days. I was out running when the deluge hit Friday night, soaking me to the bone despite wearing water repellent gear. I woke up Saturday with a bad cold which I am only now getting over.

Anyway, I went to the bookstore Saturday in search of brain candy and got "Odd Man Out" by Matt McCarthy. McCarthy pitched for noted baseball powerhouse Yale. He hung around briefly in the Angels organization before washing out and going on to Harvard Medical School.

"Odd Man Out" is his account of life in the minors in which he dishes on his team mates and coaches. Only, some of the dishees claim none of this happened. Even worse for Dr. Matt whom I hope has an umbrella policy that covers libel, some of these stories could not possibly have been factually correct.

If there is any sport that is totally anal retentive about stats, it's baseball. If you are wrong, it is pretty easy to prove it so. Some of the folks he discusses in the book think they can prove it ain't so. And some of them have lawyered up.

I'm still gonna read it. Might as well. I bought it. But if this boy is lyin' and the publisher didn't do due diligence.

Well, Matt McCarthy has sent sports journalism back a hundred years.

That was a joke. Want to see the story? Hit the link below.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

My Sunday Feeling

Connecticut's Jim Calhoun got a little testy the other night. A reporter chose a Huskies post-game interview to question Calhoun about the propriety of his making a million dollar salary at a state university while the State of Connecticut is running a budge deficit. Calhoun blew his stack which you can see here.

Actually, this is not a bad question but it kind of misses the point. The highest paid state employees here in Arkansas are certain of the men's athletic coaches at the University of Arkansas who are paid higher than the doctors at UAMS or the Governor even. You look at most states that have schools that play in the major conferences in the NCAA and you will see the same thing. Hell, even Vanderbilt is paying Bobby Johnson a million bucks a year to coach football.

Coaches' salaries, like the astronomical salaries pulled down by professional athletes, are what the market will bear. Believe me, the Yankees are making money even with a payroll approximating the GNP of some small countries. As Calhoun heatedly (is that a word?) pointed out, Connecticut basketball returned 12 million dollars to UConn. They are making money. Calhoun's salary is what the market will bear. And the minute he quits making money for UConn that is the minute that Jim Calhoun will be calling games on ESPN alongside Notre Dame firee Digger Phelps.

But the reporter, in his attempt to create a scandal where none exists, missed the boat. First of all, although his angry reaction to the questioning was not exactly his finest hour, Jim Calhoun is considered one of the good guys. I can think of 5 guys in college basketball who are absolute mercenaries. I can think of a couple in football. One of them is employed at Arkansas. Jim Calhoun made UConn basketball and will retire there a legend. Calhoun hardly epitomizes what the reporter was trying to suggest was a national scandal.

Secondly, he missed the point, as I stated earlier. The better question, and Calhoun is not the guy to engage in a discussion of matters much weightier than the 2-3 matchup zone, is whether it is hypocrisy to have colleges essentially in the entertainment business using unpaid labor to generate millions of dollars that have little, if anything, to do with their alleged higher academic purpose. Calhoun's salary is just a symptom of the larger problem.

And here's another question that didn't get asked: Most coaches' salaries are not paid in full by the colleges they work for. There is no way that even a place as rabid about football as say, Georgia, or as nuts about basketball at, say, Kentucky could justify using public funds to pay these salaries. So most of them are paid by the boosters. Here in Arkansas, the coaches salaries are paid by a private entity know as the Razorback Foundation. This presents the second conundrum. If these boosters are responsible for paying most of the salaries-and indeed the UA athletic program itself is entirely self-sustaining and receives no tax money from the State-then who is running the athletic departments? The universities or the booster club?

Vanderbilt recognized this problem a few years ago and abolished the athletic department there. You may insert joke here. In any event, the former AD there is now a Vice-President of the University under the direct supervision of the President. If anyone remembers the psychodrama of the past couple of years involving Frank Broyles and the then Chancellor John White, one can see the beauty of Vandy's way of handling the jocks.

And how many schools running big time athletic programs have followed the Commodores' lead? Exactly zero. The tail wags the dog in Division I men's sports. And that will never change as long as DI ball remains a dirty arms race.

But back to Calhoun. The Governor of Connecticut was not real pleased with his performance the other night. I am certain that the President of UConn heard from her and the AD heard from the President and Calhoun was pointedly reminded that so long as he is at least a nominal state employee he had better show a little more sensitivity to appearances during a time of national economic emergency. Which I predict he will do if given another opportunity.

Because Jim Calhoun is not a bad guy. He's just a symptom of a larger pathology. And that's where the reporter was wide of the mark.