Friday, March 30, 2012

Hell To Pay

I've watched a lot of basketball in my day.  I have tried to think of a time when 2 rivals that hate each other as much as Louisville and Kentucky played against one another in the Final Four.  I'm trying to think of a time but I am drawing a blank.  How big is this?  This is college basketball's version of Armageddon for the State of Kentucky.  Let me count the ways.

NCAA recidivist Kentucky is merely the Whore of Babylon.  It is coached by John Calipari, who had 2-count 'em- 2 teams have to forfeit appearances in the Final Four for various and sundry NCAA violations during his watch.  And both times Cal left one step ahead of the Sheriff.  While the Wildcats seem to have managed to keep their nose clean so far under Cal despite his sketchy past, his teams have consisted of so called "one and done" mercenaries who arrive at Kentucky with not the slightest intention of matriculating.  Which must drive both Kentucky's administrators, the ones that insist they are running a real school, along with the NCAA, crazy.

Louisville has always chafed at playing second fiddle to Kentucky in the Commonwealth even when Kentucky wasn't very good.  Like back when Eddie Sutton got them put on probation.  Kentucky hired Rick Petino (wait for it) who eventually led them to the first national championship in their history when they weren't openly cheating.  Pitino followed the bucks to the NBA where he toiled in mediocrity with the post-Larry Bird Boston Celtics.  Eventually he resurfaced in the college game at-guess where?-LOUISVILLE.  And so he is subject of completely pathological hatred by Wildcat Nation because he stepped down to take a job in professional hoops only to return to coach their most despised rival. 

At least Petino is only hated by one fan base.  Calipari is pretty much despised everywhere but Lexington.  Temple's John Chaney once threatened to strangle Cal during a post game interview.  Even that's never happened to Rick Petino.  And just so you will know, the two coaches are said to hate each other as well.

This ought to be good.  It ought to be Armageddon.  There will be hell to pay. 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

My Sunday Feeling

To my buddy over at the newspaper Tim Tebow and Bruce Springsteen are similar in that he doesn't so much have a problem with either gentleman.  He has a problem with their fans.

I get that. 

As you may have heard by now,  the Denver Broncos wasted very little time in getting rid of Tebow once they signed future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning after he was released by the Colts.  Tebow is now the ostensible backup quarterback of the New York Jets, who gave up all of a 4th round pick for him.

Addled blowhard Pat Robertson said that Tebow was "treated shabbily" by the Broncos in showing the door to the greatest evangelical left-handed quarterback in NFL history.  In all fairness, and contrary to numerous headlines, Robertson did not state that Manning deserved to be injured.  He just stated the obvious.  The Broncos will be in one hell of a fix if Manning-with his 4 neck surgeries-goes down. 

Don't get me wrong.  Tim Tebow seems to be a very nice young man.  I do not detect any greater whiff of hypocrisy about him than I do any other person who is semi-pharisaic.  And he is not responsible-or completely responsible-for his avid following in the evangelical community, some of whom do not know football from Easter Sunday. 

But here's the deal.  As he is presently configured, Tim Tebow is a lousy quarterback.  This is how bad Tebow is.

The Broncos are betting the farm on a guy with four neck surgeries.  However, even the most brain-dead Tebow fan can't really blame the Denver brass for casting their lot with a legend like Manning.  Which provided the cover to get rid of Tebow who had become General Manager John Elway's football version of "an inconvenient woman." In exchange for nothing. 

What is less clear is what on Earth the Jets were thinking.  This deal has "disaster" written all over it.  Granted, Mark Sanchez isn't very good.  But at least he can throw a forward pass without skipping it on the turf.  On the other hand, one doesn't typically call a news conference to announce the signing of some guy they think is going to hold a clipboard on the sidelines.  That's how much faith the Jets have in Sanchez. 

This ought to be interesting.  And maybe the Jets have gained a new fan in Pat Robertson.

Lucky them.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Kenesaw Mountain Goodell Drops The Big One

Super Bowl XXXXXXVVVVVIIIIVVVVVXXXX will be played in New Orleans this season. The odds are very good that the New Orleans Saints will not be one of the contestants.  That is because Roger Goodell, the Commissioner of the NFL, just handed down perhaps the harshest penalty in the history of professional sports.  I'm still thinking my way through this as I type.  And please don't act surprised at the notion that I occasionally wing it over here.

The New Orleans Saints fessed up to having run a bounty system from 2009-2011 in which defensive players were paid bonuses to deliver hits that knocked opposition players out of the game.  "Fessed up" is too generous and implies a certain level of contrition.  The NFL got wind of this some time ago and told the Saints to knock it off.  They did not.  And they lied to the Commissioner's office when the said they had indeed knocked it off. 

Cut to the chase.  Gregg Williams, the Defensive Coordinator during this time (now with the Rams, at least until today) suspended indefintely.  Head Coach Sean Payton suspended a year without pay, said rate of remuneration being about 7 million.  GM Mickey Loomis 8 games.  LB coach Joe Vint 6 games.

But wait.  There's more. 

The Saints were fined 500,000 bucks and stripped of 2nd round draft picks for two years.  And they haven't even gotten around to dealing with the players that might have been involved.  Now 500k for an NFL franchise is chump change.  But draft picks?  And the League hasn't even gotten around to issuing edicts against the players involved.

Mais, we stalwarts who have followed the Saints for the last 30 years can kiss this season au revoire.  But then again, why are we surprised?  These are the Saints.  If anybody could fuck up this bad it would be the guys with a flower on their hats.  Special treatment from the League and the State of Louisiana after Katrina be damned. We're gonna run an illegal bounty system in which guys are promised extra bucks if they take out-ahem-Brett Favre and others. And we're gonna keep doing it despite the NFL issuing a cease and desist order?  What did they expect?

Let's put this in historical perspective.  SMU got the Death Penalty from the NCAA around 1980, which was a depth charge from which they have only recently recovered.  I know.  SMU is a college.  But they had guys on a payroll.  Like a real payroll with contracts and stuff.  That made them pros.  Albeit honest pros in NCAA D-I football.  Judge Landis banned Shoeless Joe Jackson from baseball after he tried to fix the 1919 World Series.  Pete Rose was, and is, banned from baseball for gambling on the sport.  While he managed the Reds.  Everybody in professional cycling and track and field are dopers. They get sanctioned when they get caught.  The steroid guys in baseball?  May not get banned from the sport but Sammy Sosa ain't likely to get into the Hall of Fame either. 

No.  Leave it to the Saints to get popped with the biggest sanction in the history of professional sports despite having the good will of the nation after Katrina.

But wait.  There's even more.

As one of the few sane tweeters said on the NOLA Times-Picayune website tonight: "Congratulations, Goodell.  You have just opened the biggest can of worms in history."

Sure he did.  You think the Saints were the only team guilty of offering bounties to knock opposing players out?  Of course not.  The more paranoid among us will suggest that the NFL would have never come down this hard on a big market team.  Do you think that the NFLPA might bring all of this up if the League tries to suspend players?  Absolutely.

I don't know how all of this will shake out.  But I do know that the Saints won't be playing in Super Bowl XXVVVXXXIIIXXVVVVIIIXXXIIII. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

My Sunday Feeling

I got the text message from Ronnie about 6:15 Friday night. 

It said, "We home." 

That's not text speak.  Ronnie, him, is as Cajun as they come, non? That's the way he talks.

He had told me that they were going to get to go home for a bit and that I needed to come by before they left.  Sure.  Big dumb me, I didn't understand the significance of this.

Ronnie patted me on the back as we headed to the apartment they were staying in at UAMS. 

"She may cry on you," he said. "I hope you OK with that."

Alicia stood up as I walked into the apartment.  Alicia came to me with her arms spread wide.  How tiny she felt in my arms.  She looked up at me.  She was beaming.

"I'm in remission Paul," she said. "That's why we get to go home." 

Remission.  Thank God.


Things looked pretty grim when I first met them back in October.  I remember that Sunday afternoon vividly.  I had gotten a text from my buddy Chris Riviere from somewhere in the deer woods in South Louisiana.  It said he was hunting with a friend who had a relative in the med school here with myeloma.  He asked me if I could check on her and report back.  Sure.  No problem.  Little did I suspect that I was embarking on one of the most amazing journeys of my life.

As I said at the time, it must be sufficiently awful to have cancer.  But to be sick away from home, in a place where nobody knows you, has to be the loneliest feeling on the planet.  Especially when you don't talk like nobody in dat hospital and nobody talk like you.  Me?  I was but a tenuous connection to all they held dear.  I was available and I speak the language.  But when your world has been been completely turned upside down, perhaps those tenuous connections to your former reality are good enough for the short term.  In any event, it had to do.

Truth be told, I needed Ronnie and Alicia too.  Certainly more than they needed me. I had been retired maybe 2 weeks when I got the call from LaFourche Parish.  I, too, to a lesser extent felt loosened from my moorings.  I felt completely useless and adrift.  Looking back on it now through the crystalline lens of retrospection I understand why those early days were so completely traumatic.  Work was pretty much all I had.  At least that is how I defined myself, even despite my other interests and activities. Which is no way to run a life.  I know that now. So while I hated the circumstances that brought us together on that day last October, I was grateful for the opportunity to help someone.  To be useful again. 

Of course, in those days they were staying in an RV park in Maumelle.  They would drive to Little Rock for treatments and then drive back to Maumelle.  Although Alicia enjoyed seeing a real autumn and Ronnie enjoyed the room, it must have enhanced their loneliness and feelings of isolation to be stuck out there. 

My main use was to sit and visit with them at UAMS. I came to learn that cancer patients spend a lot of time waiting around.  And so I spent many an hour at the Winthrop Rockefeller Cancer Center shooting the bull while Alicia was hooked up to a pole. I provided the occasional taxi service.  And I sicced the Methodists on them.

When they returned in January, they rented an apartment there on the campus at UAMS.  I took them on a little tour of Hillcrest.  They liked it here.  They could go to Mass down the road at Holy Souls.  The Kroger store was equally convenient.  I made them dinner one night.  They enjoyed being in a house.  And they were 200 yards away from the clinic instead of across the Arkansas River.  Ronnie didn't much like the close quarters but Alicia felt more secure there in case of inclement weather.  Alicia came down with a sinus infection that damn near killed her which I worried she caught from me.  But she eventually got over that.  Again, thank God.

We didn't see each other much when they came back in March.  I was working again by then, both part time for a consumer protection agency, and I was also doing some free lance writing.  That was OK.  They didn't need me so much anymore seeing as how they knew their way around and Alicia's treatments didn't seem so debilitating this go-around.  In fact, I ran into them one day last week in the parking lot at Kroger.  Just folks from the neighborhood. 

I marvelled then at how much had changed since those dreadful days back in October.  And now she has been given the best news of all.  She will have to take chemo pills once a month and they will have to return to UAMS for checkups with the same frequency.  But that's nothing.  They view these trips back to Little Rock as a chance to visit me and to maybe do some things in their second hometown now that the crisis has based.  Mais, Ronnie him, he say he wants to go to Copeland's (a New Orleans chain restaurant) when they come back in 2 weeks.  Says he's buying.  You're on, mah bah. 
I've changed too.  I've learned-really learned- that everyday is a gift.  While I'm grateful beyond measure for these opportunities that have fallen from the sky I will never define myself solely by my work again.  And I will never be anything but grateful for my great good fortune and my robust good health.  I'm in a good spot.  I get to feel my way through things.  That's a luxury and I know it.  I really know it.

Friday night, Ronnie asked me if I would join him in a glass.  Being the consummate gentleman that I am I gratefully accepted. 

I gallantly held out my glass of Amaretto on the rocks.

"To good news, and to going home," I said. 

"To good news and to going home," came the responsorial.

"You know Paul," Alicia said. "I don't know the last time I ever felt this good."

Neither me, Cher.  Neither me.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

My Sunday Feeling

I went back to Court last Friday to sing the National Anthem for a Naturalization Ceremony.  It is always an honor to be asked.  I always make it a point to look at the candidates for citizenship during the beginning of the ceremony.  I follow the Clerk of Court and the speaker for the day out of chambers.  The Courthouse Security Officers (CSOs) are in place.  The Clerk sounds "All rise!" And the Judge takes the bench.

"Hear ye! Hear ye!" intoned the Clerk. "The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas , the Honorable United States Magistrate Judge Joseph J. Volpe presiding is now in session.  All you that have business before this Honorable Court draw near and you shall be heard.  God bless this Honorable Court and God bless the United States of America."

It is at that moment that it seems like the enormity of what the candidates are about to do really hits home.  There in that first moment the full weight of civil authority-the black robe, the flags, the security-is placed before them.  I have seen jaws drop and eyes glisten. 

It is pretty heavy stuff.  And words are inadequate to express how humbled and honored I am to participate.

I have been doing this off and on for 4 years or so.  The last time I did it was in October.  I had just retired and was still pretty much lost at sea.  I remember being happy that the guys at the security point still recognized me.  Which was pretty stupid seeing as how I had been "gone" all of three weeks at that point.  But I was not myself in those days.  Not myself at all.  God, what a dreadful time.

Back to last Friday.  Back to a happier world.  I parked my car over on 3rd Street and walked South toward Capitol.  I then crossed Chester and headed toward the Federal Building.  I walked past where I used to park my car.  No car there.  I recalled a recent conversation with a lady from the IRS.  " I still look for your car in the parking lot.  Isn't that funny?  I still can't believe that you are gone." I sometime can't believe it myself.

As the Federal Building drew nearer I thought to myself, "How many times have you walked on this walk?"  It was all so familiar and yet it was all so different.  Not in a sad way like it was last October.  Just different. 

The CSOs waved me through the security point.  "You know Paul," one said as we shook hands. "we see you dressed up more now that you're retired than we ever did when you were workin'." Boy, it was good to see those guys.  The ceremony was in the old courthouse which is being renovated and updated.  I stood at the elevator with some lady from the General Services Administration.

"Are you in a hurry?" she asked.  "If you are you might want to go back to the new courthouse and take the elevator there."

" Shoot, I'll just take the stairs," I said.

"Nope," she said. "Staircase is closed for construction about the 3rd floor."



Boy.  Some things don't change. 

After Judge Volpe dismissed me, I headed back down to the street.  I was restless and had nothing better to do so I did what I did every afternoon back when I was working.  I took a walk.  I saw ghosts behind the Regions building.  In my mind's eye I saw Kay coming out with her tea.  I saw Ed on his smoke break.  I saw Judge Holmes walking to the bank.  Jennifer was there waiting for me to take her to lunch. 

All so familiar and all so different.  After all, I hardly ever come downtown anymore. 

I went over to the US Attorney's office.  First time since the day I retired.  I remember walking into my buddy Richard's office on that day.  "I'll be damned Paul," he said. "I can't believe this.  I'll be damned." Handshakes and hugs last Friday along with lighthearted threats about  putting me to work.  Funny.  One of the Assistants there was always so formal when we worked together.  The 2-3 times I've seen her since leaving she never fails to put a bear hug on me.  What a privilege it was to work with these folks. 

All so familiar and all so different. 

It was a privilege to have had that life.  That career.  It is always reassuring to know that people love me and miss me. 

And now I know, I really know, that the page is finally turned.  I am the prodigal returning home.  I am treated differently now.

Because I'm but a memory now.  I am something else.

I am all so familiar and all so different to those dear people as well.  Those people back in that sweet somewhere that we all shared.  Not so long ago but now so very far away.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

the deepest secret nobody knows

I've been doing a lot of writing here in the past couple of months.  Most of it has either originated or wound up on the Internet.  The reaction has been for the most part positive and it has been fun to engage in a running dialogue with the folks who are kind enough to post comments here and there.

A week or so ago, I posted a piece here about the death of my good friend Hugh Tedder.  The post was entitled "In Just Spring" after a line from a poem by ee cummings.  I confessed in the post that this was about the sum total of my knowledge of cummings. 

A lady named Beth posted a comment a couple of days later which you can read for yourself.  But she shared with me another poem by cummings called "i carry your heart with me."  It was so beautiful that I thought I would share it with you too.

i carry your heart with me (i carry it
in my heart)I am never without it (anywhere
i go you go my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing my darling)

i fear no fate(for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or man can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart.

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

Blogger wouldn't let me render it exactly as mr. cummings wrote it but that's pretty close.  Not that cummings was much of a stickler on such matters as punctuation.

Isn't that the most wonderful thing you've ever read?  Well, it's right up there anyway.

The advent of the Internet has brought about a whole universe of trouble.  But every now and again it spits out some grace.  Like when a nice yoga teacher in Austin, Texas (of all damn things) shares a poem out of the wild blue yonder with a total stranger whose writing she liked.

And I hope someday to share the poem again.  I hope to share it again someday with someone who is "whatever a moon has always meant."

I very much look forward to that day. 

Saturday, March 03, 2012

My Sunday Feeling. But On Saturday.

A law student at Georgetown named Sandra Fluke wanted to testify before the House Oversight Committee.  She wanted to say that students such as herself were paying too much of the out-of-pocket portion for prescription contraceptives.  According to Rush Limbaugh, this makes Sandra Fluke "a slut."  "How ya figure?" Sane America might ask.  So here you go.

"It makes her a prostitute.  She wants to be paid to have sex.  She's having so much sex she can't afford the contraception."

Now this is breathtakingly stupid.  Even for Rush.  Let me count the ways.

In the first place I seriously doubt that he knows Ms. Fluke or any of the details regarding her intimate personal life.  Not that Rush is about the facts.  It's easier just to haul off and libel someone.  It's better for ratings.

Secondly, there are numerous men out there who have to take Viagra because they are not able to function due to underlying medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease or prostate surgery.  So by this logic these guys are every bit as slutty as the young Salome from notorious party school Georgetown that Rush maligned.

Thirdly, wanting contraceptives to be covered by insurance is no more wanting "to get paid to have sex" than my wanting coverage for Xopenex and Singular equates to me wanting to get paid to breathe.

Finally, and you ladies out there feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, but most birth control pills are taken once a day.  This is true whether you are abstemious or whether you are clunking along aboard stiletto heels out on East Roosevelt Road after dark.  It is a false equivalence.  You don't pop a birth control pill every time you have sex.  Having said that, I do recall a couple of instances when a lady friend said, "Oops.  Hang on.  Be right back.  I need to take something."  But that was pretty much superstition as I understand the medical science."

Maybe Rush has pills and condoms confused.  That would be hard to believe given his past relevant experience with the former.  But who knows?

Again, I don't get it.  Most women I know have used contraceptives.  And I know a LOT of women.  Granted the economy issue is not working as well for the Repubs as it once did.  Ditto with National Security seeing as how Barack has seen to it that a whole passel of his Muslim brethren got an early trip to Paradise courtesy of Uncle Sam.

But this is 2012.  Women are a permanent part of the workplace.  And a whole lot of them view their sexual health to be a matter between themselves, their doctors and their significant others.  Just like any health issue me and Rush Limbaugh might have.

Besides, and I say it again and again, did they not see what happened when the Komen Foundation cut off Planned Parenthood?  Do they think pissing off women who take the pill is smart politics?  Do they?

Anyway, I don't think that Rush Limbaugh really believes a third of the shit he puts out there.  He's just making money.  Reprehensible as that is, the amusing side effect of these scurrilous pensees might be to cost the GOP many voters in the election.

Good work, Rush! 

Anyway, I wish Ms. Fluke well.  This is a fight she did not pick.  I doubt that she's having so much sex that she can't afford contraceptives.  Mainly because it is a ridiculous statement.  And Georgetown being Georgetown, the likelier guess is that she's too busy studying to have near the lurid sex life Rush Limbaugh imagines.

Or maybe even dreams about.