Sunday, December 25, 2011

My Christmas Feeling

It occurs to me that I have never been sick on Christmas before.  At least I can't remember a Christmas when I was THIS sick. 

Now it's no big deal.  Jim Mark told me on Monday that I had a sinus infection for which he gave me a shot in the ass and dreadfully expensive antibiotics.  That aren't working apparently.  I'm running about a half degree of fever and my throat feels as if I swallowed some steel wool.  Oh well.  If this is the worst that happens to me during the future Christmases I am allotted I will be fortunate.  Not too far from where I am sitting there are folks in the cancer center at UAMS who are spending Christmas tethered to a pole.

I will get better.  Some of them will not.

I hear church bells.  Christmas on Sunday. 

My day began with the phone buzzing with text messages and the IPad ringing with posts on Facebook.  One of Hugh's girls wished me a Merry Christmas first thing.  I imagine that this will be a hard day for them.  I wished Susannah a Merry Christmas and I told her that I loved her.  That's all I can do from over here.  Come to think of it, that is about all I could do if I were in Jackson.

I have some presents but I don't much feel like opening them.  My original plan for the morning was to go play golf at War Memorial down the street.  It is a time honored tradition that guys walk War Memorial for free on Christmas day.  I will not be in that number today.  I will be doing good to get the stuff out on the grill this afternoon.  Oh well.  It is always best to measure one's expectations at Christmas.  Christmas can be pretty overwhelming if let it. 

Last night I joined the Baptists for a little service.  I hadn't been in that old church in years.  My new golf buddy Randy Hyde is that pastor there.  I had never heard him preach before.  So I walked my Methodist self in and took an aisle seat in the middle.  Carolyn Staley, the assistant pastor there, came up to me and gave me a hug.  She told me to go sit with her husband "so you won't have to sit alone."

I was sincerely moved by that small, considerate gesture.  I live by myself.  I do lots of stuff in my own company.  It's no big deal to me.  But it was to her. 

I don't much know what I believe anymore.  And I know that much of the biblical narrative of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth does not withstand the scrutiny of history.  Christopher Hitchens pointed out once that humans existed in organized societies some 10,000 years before the Nativity.  It was his position that to believe that God would wait that long, evidently doing nothing, only to intervene in human history to impregnate a young girl in the middle of the desert is ridiculous.  It is a fair point.

But, as I have said before, there is power in myths.  And often truth is subsumed therein.  And as Dr. Hyde said last night, even in those days as it is in our present age, when the Middle East coughed the whole world heard it.  So what better place to introduce the Kingdom of God?  It is a fair point as well. 

Who knows? 

All I know is I  that enjoyed the service last night.  I felt very welcome there among my Baptist neighbors.  I enjoyed seeing my golf buddy up in the pulpit.  And it pleased me to conceive that God exists so you won't have to sit alone. 

Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

My Sunday Feeling

"I burned the candle at both often gave a lovely light."

I heard Christopher Hitchens speak at the Arkansas Literary Festival a few years ago.  In retrospect it would have been about the time that he was diagnosed with the esophageal cancer that eventually killed him last Thursday at the age of 62.  "god [sic]is not great" had just been published and he was on a promotional tour in the Deep South.  As I sat in my seat awaiting the lecture it occurred to me that there was a period of time in Little Rock's not too distant past where the very idea that an avowed atheist could give a public lecture at a literary festival would be unthinkable.  Then again, the idea of a literary festival was pretty much unthinkable around here as well.

I didn't know what to expect.  Hitchens was nothing if not disputatious as one of the many obituaries gently pointed out.  Would he chain smoke at the lectern? (One of his friends has reported that he smoked @ 130 cigarettes a day.)  Would he be entirely sober? (Hitch drank a staggering amount of Scotch.  No man this side of Faulkner wrote better with a buzz on.)

The Christopher Hitchens that I saw that day was gentle and soft-spoken.  He was courtly and deeply respectful of the audience, especially of the elderly members who had questions.  If atheism needed a PR man, Hitch was a good one that Spring day in the River Market.

Hitchens believed that religion "destroys everything."  There is a story in "god is not great" that I remember to this day.  A man was set upon by a masked gunman on a country road in Northern Ireland. 

"Are you Catholic or Protestant?" the gunman asked.

"Neither," the nervous hostage replied." "I'm an atheist."

"Well then, " came the response. " Are you a Catholic atheist or a Protestant atheist?"

Now I don't know whether this story is apocryphal or not.  But it is a perfect example of the complete madness of sectarian strife.  One doesn't have to be an atheist to admit that Hitchens had a point about the potential dangers of religion and power.  Look at the examples.  The child abuse scandals involving the Catholic church.  Radical Islam or "Islamofascism" as Hitchens put it.  Look at how the Republican Party in this country has been hijacked by Christian conservatives.  Garry Will, as devout as Hitchens was not, has sounded much the same alarm.

One of the more moving tributes to Hitch that I read came from a British journalist who said," With the death of Christopher Hitchens it feels like our culture just lost a limb."

Perhaps this apropos of nothing.  But I thought of what passes for culture nowadays when I consulted Facebook this morning.  Someone had posted a picture of an American soldier in full combat gear kneeling in prayer.  Below the picture was a caption that said that the young soldier was fighting to preserve our rights "including the right to say 'Merry Christmas.'"

Now this is profoundly stupid on any level you care to explore.  Pick one.  Factually, legally, what have you.  The fact that otherwise sentient people actually believe such utter tripe is evidence of a very real strain of paranoia to go along with the dumbing down of the culture. 

This was the sort of inanity that Christopher Hitchens loved to skewer.  He was argumentative, occasionally inconsistent, self-destructive and despised by many of his peers.  But his opinions were never opaque.  And he was utterly fearless in presenting them.

The culture has indeed lost a limb. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

My Sunday Feeling

The lady had just been released from jail.  She had been incarcerated for "hot checks" the first week of December.  She has 2 kids and a job at a fast food place here in town.  I'm no criminal lawyer.  But I know people in the prosecutor's office.  And just like that other well known legal scholar Mick Jagger, I ain't too proud to beg.  The prosecutor told me the Judge would let her out if she could come up with half of what she owed.  800 bucks.  Which might have been 800,000 as far as this lady was concerned.  And she had no relatives or other people here in town to pony up the "get out of jail card." 

Mercifully, a local pastor agreed to pay the money.  He went down there himself and got her out.  God bless him.  And 2 days later she met with me and the social worker.  While I am not overly familiar with the internecine procedures of District Court, there was something about how all this went down that had me confused.

She sat on one end of the table in the Conference Room.  I sat on the other.  The LCSW sat between us.

"The reason we are meeting today," I said. "Is we want to figure out just how you got in this fix and what we have to do to keep you from going back to jail.  You OK with this?"

"Yessir," she said. " I don't want to go back to that jail ever again."

"And we don't want you to go back."

"Tell me," I said. when did you first learn that you had been charged with writing hot checks?"

"When I was in traffic court here in Little Rock."

"I'm sorry.  Traffic court in Little Rock. OK.  Let's start there then."

"I got a ticket last Fall.  Illegal lane change.  That and I didn't have no insurance. So I had to go to the traffic court."


"And that Judge up there said that there was a warrant for me over in Sherwood and that they were sending somebody to Little Rock to pick me up."

"So that's when you first learned about the warrants."

"Yeah but I kinda knew about the hot checks before then really."

"I beg your pardon?"

"They took my state tax refund to pay on them checks about 2009 or so."

"2009?  When did you write the checks?"

"I bounced 2 checks to Kroger about 2004.  I ain't written any checks since then."

"Can they do that?" the LCSW asked.

"Sure they can," I replied. "I've seen the IRS do it a million times on delinquent Federal debts." 

"Ma'am how do you know that's why the offset your refund?" I asked the lady.

"I don't know what that means," she replied.  "What's offset?"

"I'm sorry.  When they took your refund.  How did you know the reason they did that?"

"I got a piece of paper that said it was for those checks. I didn't think no more about it.  I thought it was taken care of then."

"OK. So they took you to Sherwood.  What happened there?"

" They took my fingerprints and snapped a photo.  And ROR'd me."

She actually said "ROR."

"They told me to go to Court in December. So I went to Court and that Judge told me I had to pay $1600.00 or he was gonna throw me in jail.  I was by myself.  I didn't have $1600.  So they put me in jail."

OK.  This was making sense now.  For some she didn't show up on the hot check charge.  Maybe she moved and didn't leave a forwarding address.  Maybe she never read the letter advising her of the Court date.  2 little checks plus a fine for a FTA and the running of interest and court costs can turn into a 1600 buck problem pretty quickly.  There wasn't much else the Judge could do.  Not and be fair to others that had similar stories that he had to make guests of the County. 

"You have any other criminal charges?" I asked.

"Just that theft of property in 2003," she said.  "But I've applied to the Governor for clemency."

"OK," I said. " Let's talk about THAT."

This went on about another 20 minutes.  I struck by the fact that this lady was pretty clueless about she had gotten to this juncture.  They offset her tax refund.  She thought it took care of the problem.  That had the ring of truth.  But she also knew the acronym for "Released on Recognizance."  This indicated to me that she had a nodding acquaintance with the system.

Not that it matters.  She goes back to Court in January.  She will be put on a payment schedule.  She will pay it or she will go to jail.  If she goes to jail, her kids will get picked up and they will be put into foster care.  That's what we told her. 

And it also struck me that the jails are full of low level criminal types for whom the social problem drives the legal problem.  Folks for whom 1600 bucks is a princely sum.  Folks that live from "pillar to post" as the old folks used to say, stumbling from one calamity to the next.  Most of us can scarcely imagine getting into such a fix.  But then again, most of us are really lucky.

So far so good.  Money got found.  Her social worker is on top of the problem now.  But the keys to the jail are in the lady's hands.

And if she doesn't understand that, she doesn't have ears to hear.  And the jails are full of those types of those people too.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

How Not To Pick Your Spots

I don't know if this story is apocryphal or not but it sure is a good one and is instructive on many levels. 

Years ago, tennis star Andre Agassi was playing in the Legg-Mason tournament which is held in Cincinnati.  His private plane touched down at 1 AM at an airstrip in rural Kentucky across the Ohio River from Cincinnati.  Andre, then solidly in the avis rara stage of his career, supposedly got freaked out by the lack of security in attendance (or more accurately NOT in attendance) when he got off the plane.

"Andre," the lady the tournament sent to pick him up supposedly said. "It's 1 in the morning and you are in rural Kentucky.  Unless you play basketball or are on Hee Haw, nobody around here has a clue who you are."

Which brings up to the recent news of the arrest of mega head case Mindy McCready, who was arrested in Heber Springs, Arkansas by the authorities (State and Federal) on a warrant out of Florida where she is engaged in an exquisitely nasty custody fight with her parents over her child and from whence she had hit the trail. 

Now, if I am on the lam and am a country music singer of some fame if not notoriety, I think that the last place I would try to make myself invisible would be Cleburne County, Arkansas or any other small town in the South where you probably can't swing a dead cat without hitting a country music fan. 

Good thinking!  What?  She didn't have the gas money to make it clean on to Nashville? 

As for Andre, he has settled comfortably in a relatively conventional life of husband and father.  But I think if he ever needs to take a powder somewhere, I bet nobody knows him to this day in rural Kentucky.

Or Heber Springs either.  If Mindy ever reads this, she could profit from his example.  If she ever has to hide from the authorities again that is.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

My Sunday Feeling

Herman Cain may be many things.  But he's not stupid.  And since he is not stupid, how did he think that allegations of sexual harassment and infidelity would not  eventually come to light during the white hot atmosphere of a presidential campaign?  The most recent is a lady from Atlanta named Ginger White who claims that she had a 13 year relationship with him.  Even had phone records and text messages to back up the claim.

Guess Herman Cain never heard of Houston Nutt.

Let me say this again.  I could give a rip about what two consenting adults do in private, be it a romantic interlude or a commercial transaction.  As I wrote about a certain prominent Arkansan's wandering from the marital hearth, if Hillary could live with it, I could live with it.  I honestly do not care.

But really.  What made John Edwards, Bill Clinton, and now Herman Cain think they could get away with it?

We all engage in compartmentalism.  Which is to say that we tend to rationalize our faults and/or put them somewhere in our heads where we don't have to trip over them too often.  A more extreme example of this behavior would be found in the interview of accused child molester Jerry Sandusky on the front page of yesterday's New York Times which may be found here:

As you can see, Coach continues to deny that he engaged in any deviant sexual behavior with minors.  And he reveals himself to be a whiner in the process. 

But sexual predators are a different breed of cat altogether.  In Sandusky's case, he talked himself into believing that he was helping these kids and he sticks to this story in the interview.  It is one thing to slip around on your spouse. (She's a bitch, she doesn't understand me, we're only married for the children's sake).  It is quite another thing to take a shower with a 10 year old boy.  (How the hell do you talk yourself into thinking THAT'S normal?)  So let's forget pedophiles, although it is useful to note that Sandusky actually thought he had a shot at being Head Coach at Penn State someday despite his unsavory sexual proclivities. Evidently, he must have thought his criminal deviancy would never pop up in a background check. 

But let us return to mere garden variety egomaniacs.  There is the thought being bandied about that Cain wasn't really all that serious about running for President much in the way it was the suspicion that Mike Huckabee was mainly in it for the money down the road.  But still, why put yourself in the public spotlight thereby running the risk of humiliating your spouse and/or hurting your family and supporters?  How could you?

A buddy of mine has a working theory that a person has to be borderline crazy to want to put themselves through electoral politics at a certain level.  Or maybe any level.  I have a buddy in the Arkansas State Legislature.  You ought to hear some of the stories he's told me. 

There may be something to my friend's theory.  You would have to be crazy to think that you can cat around with and give money to a woman not your spouse for 13 years and that it can be kept a secret when all of a sudden you decide to thrust your philandering self into a race for a public office.  He wasn't sleeping with her?  Right.  Name me another man in our common experience who is giving money to a woman over that length of time who isn't showing him where the horse bit her. 

I mean c'mon.  That's crazy.  And he was leading on that side of the aisle for a bit.  And now serial philanderer Newt is "trending" as they say.  In the race to become the standard bearer for the party that allegedly stands for an exceedingly cramped view of Christian morality. 

This is crazy. 

But maybe the R's are counting on their lunatic base to compartmentalize as well. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011


No Sunday post today.  Too much stuff going on.  Will be back next Sunday with yet another heartbreaking work of staggering genius.

Talk among yourselves.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

My Thanksgiving Feeling

I would like to think that, for the most part, I am a grateful man.  While I have had my ups and downs since last year, much like you, I have on, the whole, nothing much to complain about.  Allow me to take a moment to count my many blessings in this space.

First of all, I would like to thank the Civil Service Retirement System.  While it is not responsible for the content of this message, it allows me the freedom to sit here in tennis shorts and a Nikon sweater on a Thursday morning rather than being at the law office.  As a corrollary, I am grateful that I had a long career.  Likewise, I am grateful for the prospect of doing something else.

I am grateful for my friends, both old and new.  As I have written elsewhere, the outpouring of love and affection upon the news of my retirement was beyond what I expected or deserved.  I am truly blessed beyond measure.  I do not take my good fortune or the love of others for granted as I know now all too well how fragile they can be. 

I am grateful that I have become even closer to old friends.  As Mark said, "We got a good thing going here, Bowen.  Let's not mess it up."  Although he did not use the word "mess."  And I am grateful for new friends.  You can never have too many.  At least I can't.  One of my new friends is a Baptist preacher.  Another is a therapist.  It doesn't hurt to hedge one's bets.

I am grateful to have few wants and even fewer needs.  I am grateful to have some time to figure out what my next step will be.  I am grateful for Amy at the gym.  This is despite the fact that she attempts to kill me on a routine basis.  Female trainers are the worst.  They get ahold of a fit man and they treat him like he just bounced a check. 

I grateful for the opportunity to read another short story for the Tales From The South Holiday show.  Next Tuesday.  Starving Artist Cafe.  In Argenta.  5 bucks at the door. 

I am grateful for the tolerance of shameless plugs such as the one above. 

I am grateful for Ronnie and Alicia, my new friends from Thibodaux.  They will return to UAMS next week so that Alicia can begin her stem cell treatments.  They will spend the Holidays here in LR.  I am grateful my friend Chris Riviere told me that they were here and I am grateful for the opportunity to serve these wonderful strangers at my gate.  I just hope that Ronnie,him, makes gumbo again back at the RV, non.

I am grateful for how I spent last Thanksgiving.  If you have a chance to express your gratitude to someone or to return a favor, do it now.  You may not get another chance.  Having said that I am grateful for a more acute appreciation for those opportunities when second chances present themselves.

I am grateful for my good health.  Oddly enough, my blood pressure dropped a good 10 points since last year.  I wonder what we can attribute that to.  While I am grateful to be healthy and strong, I do not take it for granted.  Read the recent headlines in the Sports section.  Hang around over at the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Center awhile.  You think you got problems?  You don't have problems.  And neither do I.

I am grateful for Newt Gingrich.  This is great. 

I am grateful for the return of college basketball.  Especially since it looks like the NBA is going to shoot itself in the head. 

I am grateful for Community brand Dark Roast coffee direct from New Orleans.  I am grateful for friends bearing whisky.  I am grateful for Brother Richard and his gentle wisdom.  I am grateful for the fact that I caught that I had accidentally spelled "gentle" "gentile."  Which is kinda funny if you think about it.  I am grateful for a woman who likes me because she thinks that I am kind as much as anything else.  I will take that.  That would have pleased my mother who liked me because she thought I was "such a gentle man, just like your father."

Maybe that's why me and Brother get along.

I am grateful for a roof over my head.  A new one at that.  I am grateful that I had sense enough to listen to Uncle Howard 30 years ago and always set aside money with each paycheck.  That's why I can afford to carry on my profligate ways for at least 7 months to a year before I have to get serious about other employment.  I am grateful that my youngest brother is about to get out of court finally.  I am grateful for the certain knowledge that even the nastiest, most protracted litigation must always come to an end. 

I am grateful for my license to practice law.  Oddly, enough I'm starting to miss it.  Didn't see that one coming. 

I am grateful for another Thanksgiving and the opportunity to see my family in Heber.  I am grateful that there's a lot of water going under the bridge.  It needs to stay under the goddamn bridge.

And I am grateful for you.  Whoever and wherever you are.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Townsman of a Stiller Town.

To-day the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at the threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.

"To An Athlete Dying Young," by A.E. Housman

I knew Garrett Uekmann in much the same way that most people in Little Rock did: as a football and basketball player at Catholic High School here and later as a tight end for the Arkansas Razorbacks.  And that's OK.  He was just a kid and there was not much reason for people other than his friends, teachers and family to know him much beyond the limited context of the honors he achieved on the playing field.  However, I can say this.  I never heard the single bad word uttered about him.  And that's not true of everybody either at Fayetteville or Catholic High.

He was in his sophomore year in college, well on the path of formation to someone other than just an athlete, when he was found dead in his room last Sunday morning.  The mind reels.  How can this be?  19 years old.  An elite DI athlete, strong as 3 men.  And from all accounts he just "up and died" as the old folks say.  I cannot possibly imagine what his parents are going through right now.  Cannot possibly imagine.

Years ago, I attended a funeral service for a man who died in an accident.  Jim's hobby was remodeling houses.  He accidentally got across a hot wire in an attic one day.  And that was that. 
The homilist at his funeral Mass was Andrew McDonald, the Bishop of the Diocese of Little Rock at that time.  He told a story from early in his ministry when he was confronted by another tragic loss of life that was equally unfathomable.  I paraphrase.  But not by much. 

"There was a young couple in my first parish church.  Devout.  Strong in their faith.  Their only child had just drowned in the lake.  They came to see me not only for solace but they wanted answers.  They wanted to know how something as unspeakable as this could have happened to a couple as devout as they?

All of my studies, all of my training at seminary and in graduate school did not provide me with an answer.  Neither did my own faith in God.  So I told them, 'As God is my witness, I do not know why these things happen.'"

Bishop McDonald paused for a moment.

"I stand here today as your Bishop," he said. "And as God is my witness I still do not know why these things happen."

And perhaps that is still the only answer. 

Scant solace for his thunderstruck friends and devastated family, to be sure.

But perhaps the only answer.

Rest in peace, you good boy who had no need of rest so soon.  Rest in peace.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

My Sunday Feeling

My friend GiGi motioned for me at the back of the courtroom.  She was sitting next to an Asian lady. 

"Ask him," she said, pointing to me." He would know."

"They said we can take pictures."

"Yes ma'am.  This is the only time cameras and cell phones are allowed in a Federal Courtroom. You may take a picture."

" Will I be able to take a picture when my husband takes the Oath?"

"No ma'am," I said. "They will administer the Oath to everyone at once.  But when your husband goes up to receive his Certificate, you can go up and take his picture then."

"That won't be a problem?"

"No ma'am.  Absolutely it will not."

"Oh good," she said, obviously relieved. "This is such a happy day.  I'm glad I can take a picture. Thank you."

"Thank you.  And congratulations."

I suppose I have sung the National Anthem for at least 7 Naturalization  Ceremonies.  I got this job due to the fact that up until last October I was the best tenor in the Federal Building.  Now I'm just the best tenor the United States District Clerk has on speed dial.

It's a fun gig.  I try to get there early to avoid the jam at the security point by the entrance.  If a Color Guard is there, I go through the drill with them.  Unless, it's the Marine Junior ROTC from Catholic High.  With them, "just like at the ball game boys.  The flag is presented and we do the Anthem." suffices. 

Usually, the Clerk takes me back to chambers to shake hands with the Judge before Court is convened.  Friday's ceremony was presided over by United States Magistrate Judge Beth Deere.  We go to the same church.  Last month's ceremony was run by United States Bankruptcy Judge Audrey Evans.  She lives down the street from me.  I used to be scared to death of Federal Judges.  Now I pretty much know them all.  This is all pretty cool.   

Yesterday, as I sat on a bench near the Bench waiting for the show to start, it occurred to me that people that hate the the government would do well to see one of these ceremonies.  Of course, it also occurred to me that a bigot who hates the government (and they sometimes are one and the same) would probably be alarmed to see so many Asians, Hispanics and Arabic people assembled in one spot. 

To some of these lunatics, the government is represented by a Muslim illegal immigrant who is trying to take their guns and do away with Medicare.  If the average Tea Party wing nut were to attend a Naturalization Ceremony, assuming they could get through the security point without packing a gun, they would see something else: the entire magisteria of civil authority in the service of all manner of people from distant shores.  In the Courtroom Friday I saw representatives of the military, law enforcement, the goddamn Postal Service even and elected representatives.  The Courtroom Security Officers enter.  Unlike the average day in Court, they aren't all tightassed.

"All rise!"

A Federal Judge appears.

"The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, United States Magistrate Judge Beth Deere, presiding in now in session.  All those that have business before this Honorable Court, draw near, and you shall be heard.  God save this Honorable Court and God save the United States of America."

I always watch my new fellow citizens as the Judge is announced.  Some of them smile.  Some are transfixed.  Some are in tears.  The Judge has taken the Bench.  They are about to become Americans by rule of law.

I thought of something else as well while sitting out there on my little bench.  Weirdly enough, I thought of Tim McVeigh.  Rather, I thought of the spoken by the Judge when he condemned McVeigh to death.

The judge said something along the lines of "The Government is not some abstraction that looms over us.  The Government is people just like you and me."

The Government is people like you and me.  And last Friday around 50 people got to be part of it.  Just like you and me.  Just like the Tea Party. 

Like the lady said.  Such a happy day.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

My Sunday Feeling

Ronnie and Alicia had never been to Little Rock before.  But then again, Alicia had never been diagnosed with multiple myeloma before.

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) is one of the leading centers in the world for the treatment of this dreadful disease.  I have heard that people show up on the steps of Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church with literally nothing more than a suitcase and a piece of paper that says "UAMS." 

Ronnie and Alicia took a more conventional route although they decided to go ahead with a planned vacation to Albuquerque after their doctor back in Thibodaux gave the bad news to the kids and them.  Their doctor told them to come to Little Rock.  So when their vacation was over they pointed the RV East and headed to the People's Republic of Hillcrest where they knew not a soul to begin Alicia's treatment.

I received the news that I had strangers at the gate via-what else?-text message.  My Tulane buddy Chris Riviere was deer hunting with a relative of theirs when he found out.  He sent Mike Robichaux-the relative- an email with my contact information and copied me in on it.  Chris sent me another text asking me to check on them. 

Small world, non?

I met Ronnie last Sunday in the lobby of the Winthrop Rockefeller Cancer Center at UAMS.  He was standing by the elevators.  He had a Subway sandwich in one hand and a Toyota cap on his head. 

"You must be Paul from Tulane."

"You must be Ronnie."  We shook hands. 

"How's it going?"

Tears.  Oh God.

"It's hard, man," his Cajun accent pronouncing it hod , " It's been hard."

By now I'm crying too.  Great.  What a sight that must have been, two grown men and all.  After we had composed ourselves we went up to see Alicia. 

She was sitting in a recliner tethered to a pole.  They found me a chair.  I sat and held her hand.  We got to know each other.  Being a woman, she is tougher than either Ronnie or I.  She told me about her kids and grandkids.  She talked about how nice the folks at UAMS were.  They both talked about how pretty they thought Little Rock was although Ronnie said he could do without all of the Hogs depicted everywhere.  I advised him to keep those thoughts to himself.  I also told him he was lucky that the only peoplein the room that understood his thick Cajun accent that delivered that observation were his wife and I.

"I know there is no cure," Alicia said as I prepared to leave. " But I hope this will buy me a little more time.  I would like to spend more time with my family.  To see my grandchildren grow some more.  That's all I want. The doctors say it is treatable.  That's all I want."

The biggest lie in the world is contained in the phrase "I know how you feel."  Unless, of course, you know how someone feels.  I can only imagine how lonely it must be for folks from rural Acadiana to be uprooted from their insular Cajun life and to be inserted into the booming buzzing confusion that is UAMS. 

I am just happy that I can provide, through mutual friends in this small, small world,  a tenuous connection to home.  I understand them perfectly when they talk.  Except on voicemail.  Cajun voicemail so far is indecipherable to me.  But that's OK.  My pingy Arkansas accent probably hurts their ears.  What's important is that we are all here for each other.

Like I told Ronnie, " I know everybody in this goddamn town and half of them owe me something.  We're gonna get y'all some support."  Not exactly the Beatitudes.  But that's how I roll. 

As I type this, Ronnie, Alicia and their son Greg are heading South having spent the night in Vidalia to break up the drive to Thibodaux.  They will be back here in late November.  By then, hopefully, I will have both the Catholics and the Methodists layin' for them.  And I know a couple of female cancer survivors that I can sic on Alicia.  The biggest lie in the world in the phrase "I know how you feel." They know how she feels. 

Once upon a time I wrote-concerning the passing of Kurt Vonnegut of all things-that hope abides in the heart that loves.  The days ahead will be hard indeed for my new friends.  But Alicia loves her family and she loves her life. 

And so hope abides. 


Friday, November 11, 2011

Speak, Memory

My friend Richard sent me a message on Facebook-of course-after he read my Father's Day post.  He wanted to share his recollection of something my Father once said either to him or to one of the classes he taught at Mabelvale United Methodist Church.  For the uninitiated, this means he was relating something that took place no later than the early seventies. 

Now, as anybody who has ever done a deposition can tell you, memory can be a tricky thing.  I wish I had a nickle for everytime I have seen somebody testify under oath about what they remember with crystalline clarity to be true only to have a document shoved under their noses prove the opposite.  It's not that these people are all liars. Memory is selective.  People tend to remember what they want to remember.  People confuse emotions with facts.  It's just human nature. 

But I have known Richard about as long as I have known anybody.  And so I know that there is not an ounce of confabulist in him.  So I will just relay the message.

Richard said that the discussion that day during United Methodist Youth or whatever group my father was leading concerned the proposed Vietnam Memorial.  He says that my father didn't think much of the notion.

He said that Buck talked about being at Guadalcanal and how you could smell fear in the air.

"Your Dad said he got so sick of that smell and being so sick of being afraid himself that one day he set up on a trench and smoked a cigarette," Richard wrote."

" You want a monument to war?," he remembers Buck saying. "Go down to the State Capitol grounds and dig a slit trench.  Fill it with all the trash and rubbish you can find.  Urinate in it.  Defecate in it.  Now let it fester a couple of weeks in the sun.  That's your monument to war."

There are a couple of problems with this recollection.  My father didn't serve at Guadalcanal.  However, although he was in the Navy, as a Seebee he served on many islands that the Marines had taken over and so he would have been familiar with the contents of a slit trench.  Further, my father was a painfully shy man, especially around women and girls.  Accordingly, while I can't imagine Buck ever using elevated bathroom language in front of high school kids, the slit trench as a metaphor for the ennui and degradation of war would have come easily to him.  So it might have been Buck. 

Most likely the speaker was Mr. Dalton Miller, who did indeed serve in the Marine Corps in the Pacific Theatre.  I have no recollection as to where he fought but that much I am sure of. 

But it doesn't matter.  As we lawyers say, the story has the "ring of truth."  Richard most assuredly heard the story from a veteran whose actual wartime experiences made his view of war cynical and unromantic.  That's all that matters.  And it stuck with him to this day.

And whoever the speaker was, we owe him a debt of gratitude along with all the other men and women who have worn, and will wear, the uniforms of the Armed Services of the United States of America.  To me, the slit trench is only a metaphor.  To either my Dad or Mr. Miller, the slit trench served both as metaphor and a disgusting reality of daily life at one time in their youth back during the Big One. 

Thanks to them and all the other veterans, I vote as I please, pretty much say what I please and go to church wherever I want.  Or I don't go if I don't want to.  Thanks to them, I was able to spend my youth and young adulthood acquiring an education and a profession.  Thanks to them, I enjoyed a good career from which I was fortunate to retire early.  Thanks to them, you and I enjoy a measure of personal autonomy that is the envy of much of the world.

And thanks to them, never had to sit atop a slit trench in order to cover up the smell of fear all around me. 

For all of these things, I give thanks to our vets.  Thank you.  Thank you. 

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Big Trouble In Happy Valley

By now, even the non-sports world is reeling from the sordid tale of the sexual assault of a young boy in the locker room shower in Penn State's stadium by a former coach and the subsequent completely inadequate response on the part of very important people in the athletic hierarchy who were informed about it.

Let us begin by reconstructing a basic timeline.  In 1977, Penn State Defensive Coordinator Jerry Sandusky starts a non-profit called "Second Mile" which is created to assist at-risk youth.  More on this later.  Sandusky resigned from Penn State around 1999 or so.  However, he still had a parking place, keys to the building and an office at the athletic complex. 

On March 2, 2002, a graduate assistant informs Head Football Coach Joe Paterno that he had seen Sandusky having sex with a young boy-adjudged to be about 10-in the shower in the football locker room the night before.   On March 3, Paterno advises Athletic Director Tim Curley that the GA saw Sandusky "doing something of a sexual nature with a young boy."  No law enforcement investigation is launched. 

Later in 2002, Second Mile gets wind of the shower incident.  The AD tells Second Mile there was no "finding of wrongdoing" on the part of Sandusky.  Still, law enforcement not advised although Sandusky by this time has been relieved of his 24/7 access to the locker room and is advised by Penn State not to bring anymore Second Mile kids around the facility.

From 2005-2007 Sandusky begins another relationship with a Second Mile kid.  Buys him gifts.  Takes him to sporting events.  According to testimony before the Grand Jury, Sandusky performed oral sex on this boy 20 times during this period. 

In 2008, the kid's Mother reports Sandusky to his High School principal.  Sandusky is banned from coming on campus and the police are notified.  Eventually, Sandusky is indicted on numerous counts of sex with children.  The Athletic Director and one other administrator are indicted for lying before the Grand Jury.  Paterno escapes any criminal sanction.

Paterno says he advised AD of sexual activity.  AD testifies that Paterno told them that Sandusky and the boy were merely "horsing around."

At this point, let us distill this down to the simplest essence.

I have coached youth sports for years.  I never, and I do mean NEVER touch a kid outside the presence of another adult.  While I have devoted much of my life to being a friend to kids, I do not have a peer relationship with any of them.  It has been my recent privilege to have 3 boys in my life and I came to love them very much.  But I was not in love with them. 

If somebody came to me and told me that they saw one of my fellow coaches, or acquaintances even, was seen naked with a child, not only would I have informed law enforcement, I would probably have to be physically restrained from killing the son of a bitch.  Since when is a grown man in the shower with a naked boy "horsing around?" I don't know whether Joe Paterno had a mandatory duty as the Head Football Coach to notify law enforcement as would a doctor, a minister, or-yes-the principal that finally sounded the alarm.  I don't know whether I have a mandatory reporting responsibility as a coach of youth sports. 

But I don't need to know what my legal responsibilities are.  I know what my moral responsibilities are as one who is privileged to be entrusted with other people's children.  And it wouldn't take me very long to connect the dots between Jerry Sandusky and Second Mile.  Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks.  "Because that's where the money is," he replied.  It is not completely cynical to suggest that Sandusky was informed by a similar logic when he incorporated Second Mile. 

I don't get on my High Horse very often around here.  But I'm up there now and I'm digging in the spurs.

And the kid that Sandusky is accused of molesting between 2005-2007?  That's on Joe Paterno.  That's on Tim Curley.  Hell, it's on the Graduate Assistant.  But at least he reported it to SOMEBODY.

Paterno says he will retire at the end of the year.  You goddamn right he will.  If I'm Penn State, I tell him to hit the bricks yesterday. 

Because any kid molested by that bastard after 2002, that's on Joe Paterno. 

Sunday, November 06, 2011

My Sunday Feeling

The woman that told me this story swears it's true.  And it is the worst retirement story I have heard thus far.  A man retired from a job with the State of Arkansas.  He sold his house and moved to another town 50 miles away.  This man evidently did not have much to occupy his time.  So twice a week he drives back to Little Rock to do his old job on a voluntary basis.

Is that not the saddest thing you've ever heard?  Well, there are sadder things.  We all hear about the guys (and they are all guys) who work until they are 75 or so and then drop dead within the year.  And lately, all of the comedians in my life-and they evidently are Legion-have reminded me that the recently deceased Andy Rooney and I both retired last month.  And look what happened to him.  Please.  Andy Rooney was 92.  The fact that he died a month after he retired from CBS is not nearly as remarkable as the fact that he worked into his nineties.  I can't imagine living into my nineties much less working then.  Not that there's much chance of that.  The men in my family tend to check out way ahead of what the actuaries prophesy. 

Still, people ask me all the time, "How's it going?" or the equivalent.  And here's what I tell them.

It's going OK.  I'm not going to lie to you.  At first it was just awful.  Unlike the man in the story that opened this post, I did not miss my old job.  Indeed, I still don't.  Rarely do I even think about it unless somebody from the office calls me or sends an e-mail or something.  Oh, I miss most of the people I worked with.  But I keep in touch with most of them.  As I told one of my Louisiana friends, as long as they keep playing college football, he and I will remain in touch.  But I don't miss the job.  That's huge.  And the realization of this early on was the anchor to which I held during those terrible first weeks.

What was so terrible?  Hard to put a finger on it.  There were certain complicating factors of which I was unaware until that point in time that added to the feeling of dissonance I was experiencing at first.  To borrow Mr. Eliot's lovely phrase, sometimes the moment is forced to its crisis.  So it goes.

My friend Gisele called me from her vacation.  She wanted to know how things were going. 

"Awful," I bravely said. "Just awful."

"I was afraid of that," she said.  Then she told me something I had never considered.  Or had even heard before.

"Paul," she said.  I could tell from her voice that she was shifting into full blown clinical psychologist mode.  "You don't have to earn your self-esteem anymore.  You had a great career.  You have a wonderful reputation in the community.  You are loved by more people than anyone I know.  You earned this by your actions and your service.  And you don't need a job right now to maintain your self esteem."

Boy.  That was exactly what I was doing.  Didn't see that one coming.

"Be still.  Just like the Bible says," she said. "Now is your time to be still.  There will be plenty of time for a second career.  Enjoy this while you can."

I kept these things and pondered them in my heart.  And in time, the Big Picture that I had lost sight of returned to me.  Of COURSE this is not all the money I will make for the rest of my life.  Of COURSE, I will work again, Of COURSE people won't forget about me. And of COURSE I will have someone in my life again.

The line between navel gazing and having one's head up one's ass can be pretty thin.  I believe I crossed it.

So how are things going?  OK.  If the first pension check is any indication (and people say the first one is never right) I can sustain my normal level of profligacy for about 7 months or so based on the money I have in my checking account.  But I hope to be working again before then.  I have retained a resume service.  I got the first draft last week.  As the old saying goes, I look good on paper.

I have made new friends.  Men and women.  One of them is a Baptist preacher.  Most people find this astounding given-shall we say-my historic (ummmmm antipathy is too strong) differences with the Baptist communion.  Differences.  Let's go with differences.  But Randy and I just mainly talk about golf and photography.  But the other night, while we shooting pictures off the Clinton Library bridge at twilight he made a reference to his "personal theology of hell." 

Now this is pretty un-Baptist.  To most Baptists-at least the ones I grew up with-Hell is not a theological concept.  It is a geographical location. Like Memphis.  This is great.  The scales have fallen from my eyes. 

What else? I've been taking lots of pictures.  That's nothing new.  I'm working with a trainer again after a hiatus.  That's nothing new.  Playing golf 2-3 times a week.  The frequency is the only thing that's new.  I generally walk twice a day mainly in hopes of getting the pinched nerve in my back that has returned to loosen up.  Doing a lot of reading.  Cleaned out the shed.  Replaced the crap in there that got hauled off with other crap.  Like the box filled with my degrees and licenses.

My boy Chris from Thibodeaux has a friend up here at UAMS with bone cancer.  Wants me to check on she and her husband.  Talked to her husband before the Razorback game.  Listening to that wonderful accent made me wonder if I would need to provide translation services for the folks at the hospital.  Anyway, Ronnie said they would like a visit from the Catholic clergy.  I am plugged in to the Catholics around here.  Not to mention the Baptists all of a sudden.  But I can make that happen.  Ronnie also asked me if I knew where he could park his RV for a week.  I told him I would have to get back to him on that one. 

I'm glad Chris reached out.  It's good to feel useful.

But not much has changed in my life except I now get paid just for breathing.

So it's going OK.  At least it is now that I have got my eye back on the Big Picture. 

Thanks for asking.  Know where I can park an RV for a week?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

My Sunday Feeling

I was in the clubhouse of the apartment complex minding my own business and watching the World Series when I felt the tug on my arm. 

"You've got to come outside!  You've got to help! Please hurry!" a fellow guest at the party yelled  as she pulled me to the patio. 

I had seen them together earlier in the evening.  Some of the folks had come to the party in Halloween attire.  She was dressed like some kind of cat. A really good looking cat.  Like me, he was in civilian dress.  Unlike me, he was in her face.

" Fuck you," he yelled.  He was obviously drunk.  He had her by the arm.  She was struggling to get away.

At this point in the narrative let me make something abundantly clear.  If there is a bravery gene in my family makeup I did not inherit it.  Similarly speaking, the word "gallant" has rarely been bandied about in any discussion about me insofar as I know.  But this was trouble.  And something had to be done.  And for some reason, I was the instrument chosen by Catgirl's friend to try to get this turned off.

I stepped in between them.  I put my hip into her body and blocked her away from Prince Charming.

"Hey, you stay out of this!" he screamed at me. 

I pointed my finger at him.  "You have to leave," I said in as calm a voice as I could muster.

 Catgirl's head was buried between my shoulder blades.  I put my left arm around her from behind me.  All those years playing basketball turned out to be surprisingly useful at that moment. 

"Fuck yooooou!" he screamed.  His fists were balled up.  His face was crimson and contorted by rage.  It occurred to me that he resembled a child throwing a tantrum.  So this is why we don't let children drink whisky.

"You have to leave," I said again.  By this time, the only sound on the patio was from the television in the clubhouse.  People were staring.  He noticed.  He also noticed that he was outnumbered. And so he stomped away, F-bombs dopplering off in his wake.

I sat Catgirl down.

"Are you OK?" I asked.

"Um-huh," she said as she took a badly needed sip of her wine.

"Do you need a place to stay tonight? I know a place you can go if you have to."

"No.  I'll be OK.  He won't come back. "

Her Android buzzed.  She looked at it briefly and set it down.

"Guess who?" she said through a thin smile. " I'm not talking to him."

"Would you mind telling me just what the HELL happened here?" I asked although I had a pretty good idea. 

"He was mad at me to begin the evening because he didn't like my outfit.  He thought it was too revealing, she said. "That and he has been drinking."

"Well," I said.  "So has everybody else at this party tonight.  But not everybody is acting like an asshole.  You need to pay attention to this.  I'm not kidding."

She took another sip.  She smiled.  She squeezed my hand. 

"Thank you," she said. "I really appreciate it."

Her phone buzzed again.

I went back into the clubhouse to get my self a glass of the amber liquid.  The woman who had summoned me minutes earlier came up and hugged me.

"God that was awful," she said.  " Weren't you scared?"

"Of course I was scared," I said. "Absolutely I was scared."

"This isn't the first time he's gone off on her.  She'll let him come back."

"I'm not surprised, " I said. "Trust me.  I'm not surprised."

I didn't stay much longer after the evening's amusement.  I didn't think that I needed to be hanging around in case our hero returned with a gun to settle the score.

It is said, as a matter of statistics, that a woman has to leave 5 times before she makes the final decision to escape an abusive relationship for good.  I've never really understood that.  But people that have studied these matters say that dynamics of abuse are more complicated than folks are generally aware.

Maybe so.  Maybe no.  I used to help run a women's shelter.  I just think that there are some things that we aren't meant to understand. 

This much I do know.  I've never gone off on a woman. And I don't know any woman that I've ever been involved with who would tolerate such behavior out of me.  I also know that this incident is proof that abusive behavior crosses all lines and stratas.  After all, this didn't exactly go down in a biker bar.

I'm just glad that I was able to successfully intervene and slow this jerk down long enough for him to realize that all the eyes of the party were on him.  And that he was making a big mistake.  I guess he realized it.  In any event, he left and nobody got hurt. 

I'm also glad that he didn't have a gun.  Really, really glad.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

My Sunday Feeling

The literary world may lift a sigh toward Heaven but there will be no MSF today.  Between Miracle League, Race For The Cure and covering something for a buddy today I ain't got time. 

Will be back next week.

Talk among yourselves.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Vox Populi: Message In A Bottle

Yesterday I got a card from a lady friend I haven't heard from in awhile.  The outside of the card said "When was the last time you did something for the first time?"  Inside, she described the piece I did for the paper about retirement as "a major housecleaning."   She went on to write:

"The best way to predict your future is to create it."

"Sometimes the hardest role to play is yourself."

"You can't get to a place that you don't believe exists."

"Do or not do.  There is no try.  Yoda said that."

Finally, "Don't close the door completely.  Just find another one to kick in."

Do or not do.  Find another door to kick in. 

The lady knows me. 

And I know that I am very fortunate that my universe still has people like her in it while I "clean the house."

Very fortunate.  And humbled beyond measure by all of this kindness. 

I'm lucky.  I know it.  I do not take it for granted.

And I think I owe somebody lunch. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

How Indeed?

I was invited to attend services at a church in the neighborhood by a friend of mine.  Inviting a friend to church is a lovely tradition here in the South.  As for me, I have always found that it does me good to hear Mass said now and again.  I'm playing golf tomorrow with the Senior Pastor of the Baptist church down the street tomorrow.  Haven't heard Bro. Randy preach yet but first things first. 

I really have been irregular in my church attendance for the past 6 months or so.  A nominal Methodist at my most fervent, I seem to have spent most of my recent Sundays here at home or off doing something else.  So I was pleased to receive the invitation if for no other reason than I had never set foot in this particular church.

Once I found my friend I sat down and scanned the program.  It was clear from the Order of Worship that this congregation is a little more evangelical than what I am used to and I am no fan of so-called "praise music." But it pleased me to be sitting with a friend at a different church on a beautiful Sunday morning.  And I looked forward to the service.

But what I really looked forward to was singing the first hymn which was the stately old Baptist(not Quaker as is it is widely misidentified)  hymn "My Life Flows On" otherwise known as "How Can I Keep From Singing?"  The hymn tune sprang immediately to my mind as I read the program.  After all, God knows I have sung them all. If you will pardon the expression.  But to paraphrase a very famous Methodist, my heart grew "strangely warm" as the pianist played the first bars. 

Hymns can have that effect on people.  And there is no accounting for taste in this area.  While there are any number of hymns that I love, my Mother's favorite was the dreadful "In The Garden."  Which alongside "Are Ye Able?" are two of the worst hymns in Christendom, much less the Methodist hymnal.  But I digress.  The congregation started the first verse.

"My life flows on in endless song,
above earth's lamentations,
I hear the sweet, tho' far-off hymn
That hails a new creation."

Then came the refrain.  Draw near.

"No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that rock I'm clinging.
Since love is lord of heaven and earth
How can I keep from singing?"

No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that rock I'm clinging.  The word "inmost" is voiced with alternating half-steps while the word "calm" goes down a major third.  No where else but in the refrain are words set to music in such a declarative fashion.  Boy.  That's heavy stuff. 

Some folks have a mojo.  I have an inmost calm.  Or I did.  My friend Jennifer Imbro once told me, "You know what I like about you?  You're quiet."  It is good to be liked by the Jennifer Imbros of this world. 

But quiet ain't calm. 

Somewhere along the way I have lost my rock.  I need to find it again.  Or another one to replace the one that evidently has disappeared.

There are worst places to began the search than singing a wonderful old hymn with friends old and new as sunlight streamed through the stained glass. 

This is do-able.  After all, love is lord of heaven and earth.  How can I keep from singing? 

For some reason, Blogger won't let me upload youtube videos.  So I have attached a link to a performance of this wonderful old hymn by the Los Altos High School choir in Palo Alto, California.  The arrangement is not as tricked out as some I found.  And these kids really sing well. Here it is: 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

My Sunday Feeling

I recognized the number in the Caller ID as being one of the "Tall Building" law firms here in town.  I figured it was probably one of lawyer buddies from the world of work.  Probably wanted to get some lunch.  I was wrong.
"I swear. You are the hardest son of a bitch to find in Little Rock," said the voice of an elderly man.

"Well, there's no longer any particular need for anybody to find me," I said.  "To whom do I have the pleasure of talking to?"

Turns out that the voice on the other end belonged to a much beloved gentleman who is greatly prominent in banking and the legal community around here.  I know him just a little.  But he is the kind of guy that knows everybody.  And how to find anybody. 

"I read your essay in the paper about you retiring from the government.  I thought I would try to get in touch with you.  See how you're doing."

" Well, it's kind of surreal," I said.  "I don't know what to make of it right now."

"And you can't.  Not right now.  How old are you?"

"See, that's young.  I retired 3 times in my career.  I'm proof you can have more than one career in your life if you keep your health.  Anyway, they let me have a little office up here.  But they don't let me stay very long during the day on account of I have a terminal illness."
"Oh my God.  I am so sorry.  I had no idea.?"

"Yeah.  Old age.  I'm 88.  Anyway, 55 is nothing. You'll be OK.  You'll find something to do.  I don't want you to have a worried mind."
"I won't," I bravely replied. " I mean, I got a job offer just last week."

"Don't take it."

"I beg your pardon?"

"I said don't take it."

"Well, I only brought it up because it's an encouraging sign."

"Of course it is.  But don't take it."

"Oh.  Well, I didn't.  Although I was quite flattered."

"You aren't married are you?"

"No sir."

"Didn't think so. There are 3 things you don't need to be doing right now while your trying to get your bearings. You don't need to get married.  You don't need to buy real estate.  And you don't want to take a job just yet.  Not unless it's something that you really, really want to do. And I would think long and hard about it before I committed to it. But in general, this is not the time to make any big decisions."

"I don't plan on doing any of those things any time soon, Sir."

"I want you to call me next week.  I want to buy you lunch and we'll have a good talk about your next step."

"I would like that very much.  I will call you next week." 

And with that we hung up.

As I have written, I don't know what the future holds.  But I think it's going to be OK.  All I know is that although I have stumbled here and there I have been supported and nudged along by the best friends a man can possibly have.  I am truly blessed far beyond what I either expected or deserve. 

I look forward to lunch next week with my crusty old friend.  I am fortunate beyond measure to still have a wise elder with whom I can confer. 

They say that when the student is ready, the teacher appears.  It's going to be OK.
"Oh hell yes it is, Paul," my friend said. "Hell yes.  It's going to be just fine."

The student is ready. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

I'm The Best

I am taking pictures at the fashion show that closes out Harvest Fest in Hillcrest Saturday night.  This afternoon the lady in charge of the production was called away by a phone call while explaining the drill to me in her shop.

"Excuse me," someone said.

I turned to behold a tall young white kid resplendent in tattoos and dreadlocks.  And I do mean tall.  He had to be at least 6' 7".

"Excuse me," he said again. "I hate to eavesdrop. But did I hear correctly that you are the photographer for the fashion show?"

"I'm one of them," I said while looking up at him.

" Do you have a makeup artist?"

"Do I have a what?"

"Do you have a makeup artist?  Because I'm the best," he said with an offhand gesture, palm up to the sky.  Replete with slight curtsy and eyes cutting to ceiling to emphasize what passed for his point.

"I do events.  I don't do fashion," I said.

"So you wouldn't have one."


"Does she-she being the lady running the show-have a makeup artist?"

"I have no idea."

"Well, I'll go ask her.  Because she needs to know that I'm the best."

Back when I worked for the government was disseminated on a "need to know basis."  It was never information like this and I have my doubts that I will ever need to actually use it.  And while I don't know much about this young man's industry,  even if he's not the best makeup artist in the business, I would wager that he has got to be the tallest.

I also know that you just can't make this stuff up.  And that obviously there's a slice of life out there that I never much encountered while sitting in a law office all day during my previous incarnation.

Saturday will be interesting.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Vox Populi: Don Checks In

My law school buddy Don called yesterday to see how my new and interesting legal problems were going.  As usual, the conversation devolved into slanderous commentary.

Don:  You know, you having all of this free time nowadays is worrisome to those of us that know you best.

Me:  How so?

Don:  Well, Grandmother used to say that idle hands are the devil's workplace.  We are all waiting for you to do something stupid.

Me:  Actually, idle hands are the devil's tools.  An idle mind is the devil's workplace.

Don: So, that would mean that you have a "two-fer" going for you.

Me:  I guess so.  Yes. 

Don:  This is hardly reassuring. 

Me:  Don't you have anything better to do than to pester me?

Don: Not at present, no.

Me:  Well, I do.  I'm going to use these idle hands in the service of a round of golf. 

Don:  Even you can't get in to too much trouble out there.  I will be able to sleep tonight.  Bye.

Me:  Bye.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

My Sunday Feeling

Is there anything more dignified than a burial with military honors?  And Edward Erxleben was nothing if not the very essence of the word.  His final commendation by a Color Guard of his beloved United States Air Force was a fit and appropriate send off for an extraordinary gentleman.

An age in which a Chaz Bono or an Alex Rodriguez can gain some measure of national spotlight is neither dignified nor is it modest.  When an Ed Erxleben departs this life, some cosmic scale tips a little closer toward the profane. 

To use Leonard Cohen's expression, I was only permitted a fleck of Ed Erxleben's life.  His health, not much good in the last 10 years, had begun to fail him.  I loved one of his daughters.  We had a falling out.  So I was not around much toward the end of his life.  But the times I was blessed to have been in his presence will never be forgotten. 

I don't have extensive experience with military men.  Or women for that matter.  My father was a Seabee in World War II.  I worked with a man who was in every deployment since Viet Nam.  One of my best friends was sent to Iraq.  What all 3 guys had in common was that they really didn't talk much about their service.  And if they did, the talk never much centered around them.

They also had mutual disdain for those that would inflate their military deeds so as to make them appear like unto the second coming of Audie Murphy.  I am told that there are any of a number of guys that hold themselves out as Navy Seals despite have nor more military experience than I do. This is amazing to me. 

Ed only told me a couple of stories about his service.  One was an absolutely fascinating tale of how the VC (he never lapsed into racial epithets)  were in awe of the Buddhist Monks in South Viet Nam.  They referred to the monks as "ghosts."  Ed told me that while the monks were basically apolitical, they leaned toward assisting  the wounded and the escapee.  They could also be counted on for intelligence.  Ed Erxleben's war stories-or at least the ones he shared with me-were highly nuanced and ego-free.  And he told them very simply and quietly and without extraneous detail. 

The positive attributes of military service informed Mr. Erxleben's life.  Words like honesty.  Integrity. Duty.  Words which were spoken often during the service today only to hang in the air like sparks upon their utterance.  To those wondrous attributes I would add "modesty" and "dignity."

These attributes may be undervalued in this loud and profane world.  But despite my unfortunately all too few encounters with the gentleman I could see that they were the core of his essence.  Our society is all too full of guys that are equipped with levers they don't know how to use.  Edward Erxleben was a fulcrum. 
I hugged his grandsons after the service.  To my beloved Jack I said, "He was a helluva man."
And perhaps I should leave it at that. 
Your grandfather was a hell of a man boys.  He loved you all.  He loved his wife and he loved his girls.

 And they don't much make them like Edward John Erxleben anymore.  A helluva man.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Vox Populi: The Catholic Educator

I was out taking a walk early this morning when my buddy Steve pulled over.  I noticed he was not in his usual uniform: khaki pants and golf shirt. 

"Nope," he said. " Heading for Chicago.  Going to tour Notre Dame and watch a game Saturday."

"And who are the Irish scheduled to lose to on Saturday?" I asked.

"Air Force," he said.


" Well, how's retirement going?" he asked. " It looks like you're still sober.  Frankly, I'm surprised."

"No, I haven't started my days with orange vodka yet."

" This is just your 4th day.  Give it time. Ease into it. I have faith in you." 

"Hey!  Thanks for caring!"

" No problem," he said as he pulled away. "Will call you when I get back.  I got you on the sub list at the school."

" Great!" I said. 

"Go Air Force!"

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Vox Populi: Top This Bob Ueker

One of my Miracle League kids is a kid named K.  She is aphasic, which means that things that come from her little highly intelligent brain, turn out to be something else when they get to her mouth.

Anyhoo I was up taking  pictures at the "First Thursday" up  on Kavanaugh.  K and her folks were there.

K hugged me around the knees

" Love you baseball, " she said.

" I love you too," I said as I hugged her before she ran back to her folks.

Her doc Mom looked at me, shrugged her shoulders and laughed.  Her educator Dad did  much the same.

Great to have  you around little K.  Great to be hugged,. 

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Vox Populi: The Country Banker

CB:  So, how's retirement so far?

Me:  Scary.  I'm used to being busy.  It's just surreal.  I'm not used to the phone not buzzing or e-mails flying in.  I am going to have to find something to do.

CB:  So what are you doing now?

Me:  Just got through playing golf.

CB:  Put this on the list of things to do.  Kiss my ass.

Me:  Noted. 

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

First Steps

The alarm clock didn't wake me up this morning.  The sound of text messages did.  Text messages from the working world and one e-mail from my old office.

Today is my first day cut loose and left utterly to my own devices.  And you should see my devices sometime. 

The technical term is retirement.  But I don't like that word.  The word "retirement" connotes receipt of the gold watch, a white belt to match white patent leather shoes and moving to Arizona.  I still consider myself to be a young person. I still have lots of energy and most of my marbles still.  I will do something else with my life.  I just really don't know what that "something else" is at this point. 

Which is kinda scary.  I won't lie to you.  At least not about this.

We are creatures of habit and structure.  Men in particular.  And as one of my friends-one armed with a license to commit social work-told me, I am a fixer.  As she said, I have experienced a lot of loss in the past year or so.  Maybe work kept me from dealing with it.  So I guess now there's nothing much left to fix but me.  At least for right now. 

I am a guy.  Goddamn I hate this.

But it's going to be OK.  It's just going to be different.

I talked to a lot of people about whether I should take Uncle's offer to retire early.  One of the people I talked to was my old friend Linda.  Linda's health is not the greatest in the world.  Whatever it is they can't seem to figure it out over at the med school.

" Just think of getting up on a beautiful morning in October," she said. " Think how wonderful it would be not to have to put on clothes and fight the traffic.  Think how great it would be to get up and take a long walk.  To breathe the cool air and see the beautiful colors.  Me, I have to go to the Mayo Clinic.  I like your prospects better."

Perspective is a bitch is she not?

Early this morning, I took Linda's walk for her.  And she is right.  It was great.  The first steps of Act II. 

The e-mail from the office said, "I miss you already."

I miss you too, baby.  But the Federal Government survived the assassination of Lincoln. It will survive without me.

Everything is going to be OK. 

I'm not retired.  I am changing. 

It will be different.  See?  Already I am overindulging in one sentence paragraphs. 

Everything will be OK.  I just have to figure it out. 

As Mr. Frost said, "You come too."

Sunday, September 18, 2011

My Sunday Feeling

TMFW will be off of the air for awhile.  I have a hearing next week in Jackson for which I have been preparing.  And when I return I have a million things to finish up that I couldn't get done because I've been trying to get my arms around this deal in Jackson.

But suffice it to say, my schedule will pretty much clear up in October.  And we will have many things to talk about when I reappear.  So I will see you in a week or so.

Talk among yourselves until I get back.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

My Sunday Feeling

I was at work when the planes hit the Twin Towers.  Carrie came into my office to tell me about a terrible accident in New York.  It didn't take long for the horrible realization to set in that the death and destruction in New York, Washington and rural Pennsylvania were not the result of "accidents." 

And then the world flipped. 

I don't know what to say about September 11, 2001 that hasn't already been said.  Or will be said today. 

So on this day I will leave history to the historians, politics to the politicians and punditry to the loudmouths. 

September 11 2011 was a beautiful day here in Little Rock.  We were sent home early after the attacks.  The government was trying to get a handle on just what in the hell was going on.  The only reason Tim McVeigh blew up the Federal Building in Oklahoma City was that he couldn't find the one in Little Rock.  Some Ranger.  Anyway, rather than run the risk that lower hanging fruit was also involved, most federal offices closed. 

Like I said, it was a beautiful day.  Perhaps there might have been less chaos if it were raining cats and dogs.  I went for a run.  I went up on Kavanaugh.  There used to be a convenience store up there that sold gas when it wasn't getting stuck up.

There was a line of cars at the two gas pumps there that snaked around the block.  The rumor had gotten out that there was a gas shortage and folks all over town were scrambling to fill their tanks. Tempers were short.  The line ran across the parking lot of the pizza joint next door.  The manager of the pizza place was threatening to call the cops if cars didn't get off the lot.  High words were exchanged. Exasperated drivers trying to turn up side streets that were blocked off by the panic induced gridlock were laying on their horns.  It was an ugly scene in a neighborhood that is otherwise known for tranquility and civility. 

Of course, there was no shortage of gas.  Winthrop P. Rockefeller, who was the acting Governor at the time while the lack of commercial aviation had Mike Huckabee stranded in another state, took to the airwaves to assure Arkansans that there was plenty of gas available for purchase and that everybody should cool it.

In retrospect the image was striking and ironic in the extreme.  The terrorists that flew the planes that day were for the most part Saudis.  Who sit atop most of the world's oil that feeds our addiction.  And the initial response to the events of 9-11, at least in my neighborhood, was a run on gasoline.

Here's what else I remember about 9-11.  A couple of years after the attack I was awakened early one morning by the sound of footsteps on my porch.  I went out to investigate and found 2 letters from my friend John on my porch swing.  They were addressed to " My dearest son Jackson" and to "My dearest son Strick." There were no instructions.  None were needed.  It was my duty to deliver these letters to the Edwards boys if there daddy didn't make it back from Iraq.

I never had to deliver those letters.  Thank God.  Strick and Jackson were lucky.  Other little boys and girls were not so fortunate. 

Much blood and treasure has been expended since that awful day when the world flipped.  It is safe to say that we will never see a military operation of the size and scope employed in Iraq and Afghanistan ever again in the Middle East.  As former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said, any future Secretary of Defense that would make such a recommendation to the President, "needs his head examined."

Are we safer since 9-11?  Certainly.  Al Queda has been decimated and many of it's leaders, including Osama Bin Laden, have been exterminated.

Are we immune from further attacks?  Of course not.  And we never will be.  Terrorism is not the enemy.  It is a highly theatrical tactic used by individuals or groups who otherwise could never attain their goals through political means.  Which means that as long as there are fanatics and/or lunatics with access to technology we must always be on guard if not necessarily on alert.

This is the lesson of the last ten years.  This is the lesson of 9-11.


Sunday, September 04, 2011

My Sunday Feeling

I confess that I don't much get Dancing With The Stars.  I know a lot of women that watch the show.  Then again, as I type this it occurs to me that all the women that have ever been in my life and/or are still trapped there have loved to dance.  And I suppose that it is harmless fun to see celebrities try to attempt to perform in areas outside their comfort zones.

For instance, I've always enjoyed watching politicians and other famous people attempt to throw the "first pitch" of a baseball game.  It is amusing to see Hillary Rodham Clinton fire one in there while a highly skilled basketball player like John Wall three hops it to the plate.  One of the most side-splitting hilarious things I have ever witnessed was Bob Ueker-the self-depreciating "Mr. Baseball" and the voice of the Milwaukee Brewers-sing "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" at Wrigley Field as a stadium full of Cub fans booed their lungs out. 

So I kinda get it.  What I don't get is how who gets kicked off DWTS sometimes is the lead story on the morning "news" shows.  And I also don't get how they pick the contestants for the show.  Which brings me to the gentleman above.

A part of the universe that watches DWTS is high pissed that transgendered Chaz (nee Chastity) Bono has been picked to compete in the Fall season along with the venomous Nancy Grace and lunatic professional basketball player Ron Artest.  I suppose I can see the inclusion of the latter 2 for the reason that Grace was in the news without surcease as she tried to convict Kaley Anthony from the TV screen.  Artest has been an NBA All-Star and he will most assuredly be the biggest, most powerful human ever to wear the sequins on DWTS.  If I were his partner I would rightly fear being accidentally hurled into the balcony by Ron Ron. 

But back to Chaz.  While I don't much care, I find his inclusion to be something of a mystery.  I'm not offended by his sexual orientation if that phrase is even particularly apt given the fact that he is now a man.  And I'm not attempting to be flip.  While I have many gay friends I don't think I know any transgendered folks.  I would think that they would have to be exceedingly complicated people.  And, contrary to the protests of the highly offended "family values" blowhards, I don't think they invited Chaz Bono to promote the "gay and transgendered agenda" any more than including Nancy Grace promotes the harridan agenda.  By the way, it occurs to me to check with Mark to see if he can shoot me his copy of the Gay Agenda.  I've lost mine.

But has the notion of what constitutes a "celebrity" been so seriously dumbed down in the Internet age that Chaz Bono may be considered to have achieved that status?  Back when I was a kid celebrities were people like Kitty Carlisle and other New York types that appeared on game shows.  What on Earth has Chaz Bono accomplished in life other than the fortuity of being born to Sonny and Cher Bono and having sexual re-orientation surgery?  Nothing that I can tell.  Kitty Carlisle may have been as utterly useless as Mr. Bono appears to be by the time she was doing game shows but she at least appeared in opera productions and on Broadway and
was awarded the National Medal of the Arts.  And I'm not just harshing on Chaz.  By the same token what did Bristol Palin have on her celebrity CV apart from getting knocked up while her Mother was running for Vice-President?  Again, nothing.  At least Bristol looked reasonably lithe and athletic which I would think would be useful for dance competitions.  This cannot be said of Mr. Bono beside whom DWTS alum Kirstie Alley seems taut. 

But then again, I don't much care.  My friend Jeanette, who is a very fine dancer, predicts that even I will be compelled to tune in to watch this lineup "perform."  Maybe so, maybe no.  It depends upon if there's nothing else to watch I suppose.

But my God.  Is Chaz Bono what passes for a celebrity nowadays?  Just because his Mother happens to be Cher and just because he switched out the plumbing?  Really?

I don't get it.   

Sunday, August 28, 2011

My Sunday Feeling,Which Today Is Mostly Frustration

Blogger inexplicably ate today's post while I attempted to edit same.  I ain't got time today to do a rewrite, so the literary world will have to go elsewhere for amusement.

Talk amongst yourselves.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

My Sunday Feeling

North Carolina and THE Ohio State University can breathe a completely undeserved sigh of relief.  The NCAA has bigger fish to fry.  Last week Yahoo Sports broke the story that a scumbag Miami Hurricane booster named Nevin Shapiro showered Hurricane athletes with gifts and money since 2002.  Shapiro, pictured above with former Miami basketball coach Frank Haith and Miami President Donna Shalala at a fundraiser is doing 20 years in prison for operating a 930 million dollar Ponzi scheme.  The $ 50,000 check held in Dr. Shalala's hands?  Completely hot.  Stolen from his "investors."

The NCAA investigation involves 73 current Miami and former athletes and @ 7 coaches.  You can read about it here:

When, this news first broke the phrase "death penalty" was instantly bandied about in the sports community.  They refer, of course, to the NCAA's banning SMU from playing football for 2 years back in the eighties.  My initial thought was that the NCAA would never do that to a program again.  Indeed, SMU has just now become remotely competitive again.  Besides, the Mustangs scandal not only involved the boosters but the coaches were in on it and the SMU administration was aware of it.  Hell, even the Governor of Texas back then knew about it.  If any program deserved getting nuked it was SMU. 

But I am having second thoughts as the Miami deal is getting worse with each passing day.  First of all, the Miami Hurricanes are no stranger to the NCAA slammer.  Indeed, they were on probation in 2002 when Shapiro says he started his activities.  Rumor has it that the NCAA has advised Miami that it will invoke the "wilful violators" clause in the NCAA by-laws to increase the "lookback" period beyond the the usual 4 years.  If Miami was violating the "extra benefit" rule while on a period of probation this will not go well for them. 

Secondly, as Yahoo reported, Shapiro, in a drunken rage, tried to fight Miami's compliance officer in the press box during a game.  They should have banned him from the program then but didn't.  Secondly, Shapiro says that Miami  investigated him after that incident and discovered all the swag he was providing the players.  And did nothing.  Why should Shapiro be believed?  After all he's a convict.  Well, so far he has been right on the money according to Yahoo, convicted con-man or not.

If this is true, Miami is toast.  The NCAA will have to come down harder on Miami than Southern Cal and Tennessee.  Here's why.  The head of the Committee on Infractions in above-referenced investigations was a man named Paul Dee.  Guess what?  Dee was the Athletic Director at Miami when most of these alleged violations took place.  And it has been reported elsewhere that Dee approved Shapiro to participate in a mentors' program back in 1995.  No, whatever the NCAA does to Miami, if it can prove a lack of institutional control and/or actual knowledge of what Shapiro was up to while its former top cop was the AD it will not be pretty.

Of course, the delicious irony in all of this is that Butch Davis was brought in to Miami to shut down the party and appease the NCAA after Dennis Erickson got them put on probation. As you may recall, Butch Davis just got fired at North Carolina for NCAA violations during his watch.

The only reason a punk like Nevin Shapiro got within spitting distance of the athletic department at Miami, much less on the sidelines, was because he gave them so much money.  Even if it wasn't his to give.

Which leads to another observation.  If the Federal Judge in Shapiro's criminal case ordered a Trustee to try to "clawback" the money that Shapiro gave to Miami they may get to cough it all up AND suffer what are sure to be crippling sanctions from the NCAA.

A cautionary tale for all Division I schools.  Get a handle on the boosters.  If it is even possible.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Of Course, This Is Not True

" Printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treacherous, or treasonous, in my opinion."- Gov. Rick Perry

Texas Governor and Tea Party Presidential candidate Rick Perry gives us the opportunity to resurrect the first of what undoubtedly will be the first of many OCTINT posts during this political season.

Gov. Perry's remarks concerned the possibility of the Federal Reserve, and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke,  qualitatively easing the money supply to help stimulate the economy.  Perry, and many others, may believe that this is a bad idea and they are entitled to their opinion.  But it ain't treason.  Says who?  The Constitution of the United States and the United States Criminal Code.

The Founding Fathers, oft misquoted by the Tea Partiers, defined treason in Article III, Section 3[1] as follows in pertinent part (or in pari materia as I like to say frequently in casual conversation at the grocery store):  "Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them,or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort." (emphasis supplied). 

Maybe I missed it but I didn't see in the paper where the Federal Reserve's Board of Governors attacked Kansas.  Or that Mr. Bernanke was caught giving lemonade to members of the Taliban.

Turning to my home edition of the United States Criminal Code, the one that I stole from the Office of the Inspector General (I have a home version of the United States Bankruptcy Code and Federal Rules of Civil Procedure as well.  While these tomes are not on my nightstand, the question of why I live alone is something of a moot point given the reading material I possess.) we see the codification of the definition in the Constitution.

18 U.S.C. 2381 states, " Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States."

Which is pretty screwed up if think about it.  The range of penalties if you are convicted of treason is death toooooooooooo 5 years, a 10k fine and you can't run for County Judge.  No matter.  Uncle isn't really going to fool with you for this reason unless you are Tim McVeigh.  And you will note that he is usually referred to in the past tense.

But I digress. 

Do I really think that Rick Perry believes that Ben Bernanke deserves the death penalty if the Federal Reserve "prints more money?" No.  But treason is not a word that should be bandied about in political discourse.  Treason is not only, well, treason but it is a legal concept first defined with acute precision in the Constitution.  And to equate the Fed's exercise of its legal authority to regulate the banks and execute the monetary policy of the United States is palpably irresponsible and panders to the lowest common denominator in the electorate.  Which, of course, seems to be working. Which is why I'm fixing to ask my old Hendrix College buddy over in New Zealand who coaches track if he needs an assistant. 

 But is "printing money" an act of treason?  No.  Of course, this is not true.