Sunday, August 27, 2006

Plane crashes and civil wars

What a way to start the day.

Rolled out of bed this morning and flipped on the radio. What do I hear?

Plane crash in Lexington. All but one killed. The pilot apparently took off on the wrong runway.

Among the dead were a newlywed couple, friends of a friend, flying out of Lexington toward their honeymoon and a new life. He was a social worker, a former member of both the UK and Chicago White Sox baseball teams.

"I get lost in the sadness and the screams" --- John Denver.

Life is a precious commodity. All too soon it can be snatched away. Makes one think.

Watched a documentary on the battle of Gettysburg earlier this afternoon. What horror.

Pickett's Charge never fails to send chills streaming up my spine, much like the gallant men that streamed toward the stone wall on that long ago hot, muggy July afternoon.

Watching such carnage quickly evaporates any romanticism about that war.

Here in the early 21st Century, war continues to rage in Iraq. The dead return home week after week. And yet many of us go about our lives oblivious.

Perhaps William Tecumseh Sherman said it best. "War is all hell."

Thursday, August 24, 2006

One endless good time

"It's weird," someone once said. "You know the end of something great is coming, but you want to hold on, just for one more second, just so it can hurt a little more."

I've never cared for endings. Don't handle them well. Don't even like thinking about them, really.

Whether it be a love affair, a good story, a long vacation or a fine film, I never like to see the finale. Don't care much for last call. Never did much like "Turn out the lights, the party's over."

Finished a fine book tonight, an excellent biography of William Faulkner, "One Matchless Time." As the pages dwindled to the inevitable conclusion, I hated to see it go, knowing the moment would never come again.

It reminds me of the time I read "Lonesome Dove" in Phoenix on spring break. What a fine novel. At its center, Larry McMurtry's book chronicles a true friendship. I think often of Gus and Call. In my mind, they are always on an endless cattle drive, forever forging the frontier.

You ever had a perfect day? One so beautiful, so full of color and life, that to see the setting sun was to know pain in its purest form?

What bittersweet sadness when such moments pass.

I'm a sentimental so-and-so, and I don't see why that's frowned upon. Who isn't maudlin about some things? I don't care much for those who aren't. Take your "I'm above it all" smugness somewhere else.

I tear up over episodes of "Andy Griffith;" I always choke up when John Wayne jumps over the fence at the end of "True Grit."

"Well, come see a fat old man sometime."

They say all good things must end. I say, "Why?"

Let's keep the whole thing going. I'll stay here as long as you will.

OK? Sounds good.

See there? That feels better already.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Protection from the toons!

File this one in the "You gotta be kidding" department.

Turner Broadcasting has announced that it is editing out all scenes of characters smoking from the popular "Tom and Jerry" cartoons, along with similar scenes in "The Flinstones" and "Scooby-Doo." Apparently an overseas viewer complained when seeing one of the characters light up in a broadcast on Boomerang, a Turner station.

Give me a break.

Regardless of how diligently the politically correct may try, you can't erase history. People smoked. Yeah, it's bad. Once we knew that, most people stopped. Those who didn't? Well, it's their own choice. And I guaran-dang-tee you none of them started puffing because they saw Tom the cat light one up.

This is, sadly, just the latest in a trend.

Speedy Gonzales cartoons aren't shown on TV anymore. Racist. A dozen or so Bugs Bunny cartoons are banned forever for the same reason. An entire group is trying to get Bugs and his Warner Brothers pals thrown off the air altogether. The reason? Shows are too violent.

I don't know about you, but I can't tell you how many times I've tried to blow up a Road Runner with various Acme products or slap a wandering hunter with an oversized mallet.

Meanwhile cannons thunder in the Middle East, gas is through the roof and most of us can't afford health care.

But, by golly, we won't see smoking on Tom and Jerry cartoons anymore.

And we wonder why the world is the way it is...

Monday, August 21, 2006

The fading light of August

Oh, the dog days of summer. How we curse them now; how we'll long for them come winter.

There is a certain light in August, a particular way the sun sets through the late afternoon haze, through the stifling, overpowering layer of heat that lingers, clinging to you like a mosquito sucking blood. It defines us as Southerners. It's also why we don't sit out on the front porch anymore.

Air conditioning, no less than emancipation and Reconstruction, sent the Old South the way of the wind.

Some good remains, though. Like storytelling.

Go ahead and admit it. Southerners are the best weavers of words.

It's OK. You can pretend to like Updike and Hawthorne and Hamill. But put them up against Faulkner and Foote. See what I mean?

Who couldn't love Foote? God rest his soul. That great voice, that courtly manner. You think you're going to get that from some Yankee? Not hardly. One of these days I'm finally going to finish his Homeric journey through the War.

Even our generals are poetic in death. Take Stonewall Jackson. No messy finales for Thomas J. In a clear voice that fateful Sunday, he was heard to say, "Let us cross the river and rest awhile under the shade of the tree."

Under a shade tree seems like a fitting place to be in late summer. Even after twilight, when the sun sleeps and the glaring realities of day give way to the mysteries of the night, the heat remains.

Nothing good comes from this month. School. High electricity bills. Even Elvis checked out during August. They say his heart gave way. I'm not so sure he just didn't get overheated.

Shouldn't complain though. The lifeless days of winter will soon appear, and with them that familiar gray malaise.

"Oh," we'll say then, "can't wait for warmth, for summertime."

We humans are a funny sort.

So what the heck. Push the sun back up into the clouds. Let's enjoy the fading light of August.

Forgive me, though, if I stand a little closer to the shade.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

One lucky son of a gun

The laughter reverberated around the room, contagious, full of the vitality and the warmth that only human beings can create.

It felt good. It felt safe. It felt, in short, like home.

Such was the scene Friday as we enjoyed lunch from that fine Italian pizzeria, Elidio's. Paul Abraham, the guy from Scripps we'll always think of as a Halls guy, was there, too. It's his job to oversee Scripps' division of weekly newspapers in Knoxville. Paul's a good guy.

It has been said of Faulkner that his source of strength, and perhaps his talent, emanated from the Mississippi soil of his birth. I'm nowhere near Faulkner, of course, but I feel similarly about myself and North Knox County. There's a familiarity here, a tangible sense of belonging, that makes me never want to leave. While natural wanderlust and a passion for baseball often takes me to various ports from sea to shining sea, never once do I leave Halls with the intention of never returning.

Like Pete Hamill's character in "Forever," I am content to roam this island forever, as long as I never leave my Manhattan.

Faulkner learned a secret the best writers all share --- write what you know. I could no more dare write about Yoknapatawpha County than I could Hemingway's Michigan or Larry McMurtry's Texas.

As the afternoon shadows began to creep into the windows and invade the newsroom, the party broke up. Paul left for another appointment. Everyone else scattered for their own offices and the work that waited.

I leaned back in my chair, basking in the glow of such camaraderie, knowing these moments are what make life the grand journey it is.

I turned to my desk, marveling in the fact that somehow, through nothing short of a miracle, really, I had found my life's calling.

"Old buddy," I said to myself, "you're one lucky son of a gun."

Thursday, August 17, 2006

'WTC' a memorial to heroes

It was just another day.

John McLouglin rolled out of bed early, as is his custom. Time to go to work.

The day dawned bright and beautiful — not a cloud in the sky. It was election day in New York, time to pick a new mayor.

Then the first plane hit the World Trade Center and changed the world forever.

Oliver Stone’s brilliant new film, “World Trade Center,” is really McLouglin’s story. And, more than that, it’s the story of survival — and humanity.

McLouglin (Nicolas Cage) and fellow New York Port Authority police officer Will Jimeno (Michael Pena) are trapped deep within the rubble of the collapsed towers. They had gone there to help after the first tower hit that morning.

McLouglin is an old pro. He worked the World Trade Center bombing in 1993. He knows the score — and the grim truth that there is no real plan to deal with this disaster. Jimeno is a rookie, fresh faced and more emotional.

Together they find themselves trapped in a literal hell, burning flesh and all. They keep talking to one another as the hours tick by, keeping each other awake, waiting for help.

Meanwhile, their wives, played by Maria Bello and Maggie Gyllenhaal, watch and wait, growing more desperate as more and more sand falls through the hourglass.

Watching the horror unfold on TV is former Marine David Karnes (Michael Shannon), who heads to Ground Zero from Connecticut, eager to help, feeling called by God to do so. It would seem cartoonish if it wasn’t true.

For once, Stone puts conspiracy theories aside to create a taut, well-acted thriller. Deep in his soul, Stone is a storyteller, and the talent that has often become bogged down in malaise (think “JFK”) shines through here.

Cage delivers an understated, stoic performance, perfect for his character. Bello’s quiet strength may be the best performance of the film.

And to his everlasting credit, Stone does not exploit 9/11. Instead, he records a moving tribute to real heroes, as corny as that sounds nowadays.

When McLouglin and Jimeno are pulled from the rubble and passed down the line of waiting firefighters, you want to stand and cheer. A card at the end of the film, however, reminds you that McLoughlin and Jimeno were the fortunate ones; so many more emergency personnel met their maker underneath the rubble.

Five years removed, 9/11 stands as the defining moment of this generation. The communal “We can get through this together” attitude that blossomed ever so briefly after the tragedy is gone now, replaced by partisan bickering and arguments over the mundane.

Let “World Trade Center” stand as a reminder to what almost happened here in America. And let it serve as a memorial to McLouglin, Jimeno and all those who rushed into those burning towers on that fateful September morning — those who returned and those who didn’t.

“World Trade Center” is now playing at Regal Knoxville Center. It is rated PG-13.

Monday, August 14, 2006

The REAL national pastime

CINCINNATI, Aug. 13 -- Are you ready for some football?

If the raucous, mostly intoxicated crowd at Paul Brown Stadium tonight is any indication, the answer is a resounding "Yes!"

Tonight's Bengals preseason opener against the Washington Redskins is sold out. The 64,961 fans in attendance didn't seem put off by the fact that quarterback Carson Palmer, still recovering from his season-ending injury, won't play.

Nope, they're all decked out in orange and black, yelling and smiling like kids at Christmas. The parking lot is full of revellers an hour before the game. Many are drinking, of course. Some play corn pole, an updated version of horseshoes, in which the object of the game is to throw a bag into a board -- specifically the small hole in the center. Most of the boards here are Bengal-themed.

Bengals fans don't like opposing teams. One guy spots a couple of Redskins partisans making their way into the stadium.

"Look," he says. "There's some Redskins fans. Let's kill them!"

They especially don't like the Steelers. Pittsburgh, of course, was the team responsible for Palmer's injury. Even the homeless guy sitting in front of the stadium is in on it. Instead of "Out of Work," his sign reads, "(Expletive) the Steelers."

"I guarantee you he'll get some money," Jaci Spicer says as we walk into the stadium.

Former Steelers running back Jerome Bettis is in town. His new job is an analyst for NBC Sports. The fans let him have it. Boos reign down while Bettis prepares to broadcast the halftime report with Bob Costas and Cris Collinsworth. Bettis takes it in stride, bowing and waving an imaginary Terrible Towel.

Cincy fans are a mean bunch. They don't even care much for their backup quarterback, Anthony Wright.

Wright struggles early, but completes some timely passes, including a flea flicker to T.J. Houshmandzadeh, to set up the Bengals' first score.

But this isn't good enough for the drunk a row back.

"He'd be in the end zone if Wright had an arm," he says.


Wright hits Chris Henry a few minutes later for the touchdown.

"Hey, Henry can catch the ball with handcuffs on," the drunk says, referring to Henry's off-season run-ins with the law.

The drunk aside, Wright delivers a blue collar-type performance. He completes 9 of 16, scoring a touchdown and earning a respectable 96.1 percent passer rating during the half he plays.

His replacement, Doug Johnson, has a better arm than Wright. He hits Kelley Washington for 34 yards and a TD late in the third quarter. Washington dances a jig in the end zone that would make Ickey Woods proud.

The Redskins look flat, earning only a field goal in the 19-3 loss. It could be worse. Running back Clinton Portis partially dislocated his shoulder making a tackle following a turnover. He will not play the rest of the preseason and is questionable for the Redskins' opener.

Pro football in person has a charm to it the other sports lack. Most of it may be from the inebriated crowd. What a sight it is.

When 64,000 sell out a preseason game, the Bengals' first such feat at Paul Brown, you know something's up. Maybe my friend Dean Harned said it best.

"Have fun watching the real national pastime."

We are ready for some football, indeed.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Bear

He stood leaning against the goal post, his eyes surveying the practice drills unfolding in front of him.

Every now and then he'd take a drag on an unfiltered Chesterfield cigarette. He was wearing a suit, of course. And that houndstooth hat.

I'll get shot for saying this in the heart of Big Orange Country, but I loved Paul "Bear" Bryant.

The late Alabama football coach was a man in the best sense of that word. Yep, he was vulgar, rough around the edges, maybe a bit too concerned with winning.

But he had grit. He valued good things, too, like hard work, discipline, honesty and toughness.

He'd get to the office before the sun came up and usually put in a 16 hour day. He was color-blind in an era when the state's governor was standing in the schoolhouse door, trying to prevent black students from attending the University of Alabama.

And he was one hell of a football coach.

Bryant was criticized even in that era for being too tough. His training camp at Junction, Texas, back when he was the first-year coach at Texas A&M, was something straight from hell. Two-a-day's in the blistering summer heat. Little water. Little rest. One player, tackle Bill Schroeder, almost died from heatstroke.

But remember now, this was different time. Bryant told his players he was preparing them for life.

"When you have two kids and a wife to support and you're sick, you'll get out of bed and go to work," Bryant said.

I watched an ESPN documentary on the old coach earlier tonight. Seeing images of Bryant walking across the field wearing that suit and hat made me wonder where that kind of ethic has gone.

Tennessee has been plagued with a bizarre string of off-the-field incidents the last few years that would make the Miami Hurricanes proud. Head coach Phillip Fulmer says he's cracking down. He dismissed freshman Lee Smith earlier this year, days after Smith was arrested for DUI. He's brought back old pal David Cutcliffe to both resurrect the offense and restore discipline.

It is an overdue move. The Vols have a long tradition of running a clean program. Tennessee's best coach, Gen. Robert R. Neyland (the man Bear Bryant could never beat), would turn over in his grave if he knew about some of the recent incidents surrounding the team.

Course, he'd also turn over in his grave at the fundamentals the 2005 team lacked, but that's another story for another day.

Coaches don't wear suits and ties on the sidelines anymore. It's a different era now. Suits and ties went out not long after The Bear did.

Time marches on.

But the mystique of the suit, tie and houndstooth hat endures. So, too, do the values for which they stood.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Take a moment and live

OK, it's been a rough day. Don't fret. There has to be a little humanity left somewhere.

Pull up a chair and I'll tell you how to find it. It's easier than you might think.

Cause sometimes it seems like it's gotten lost somewhere. Or tossed aside somewhere. Crumbled up into a heap and left neglected by the side of the road.

It was here often once, or at least I'd like to think it was, back when we had time for such things. You didn't have to go hunting for it, right?

But now all we can do is insult one another. The quicker the better, too. So what if you hurt someone's feelings? It's all about me, after all.

Saw that new movie tonight, "World Trade Center." Remember how it was then? Especially in those first few weeks after 9/11.

Strangers swapped smiles instead of insults -- even in New York!. People took time to stop and say hello. Every now and then, you'd even hug somebody, cause you didn't want them to feel alone.

Now we're back to insulting each other's politics, religion and God knows what else. We won't have an intelligent, respectful discussion. No, I'll just start shouting and you try to shout over me. We'll act like fools for 15 minutes. It will be fun. Watch FOX News or CNN one night. You'll see what I mean.

It's just a shame it took a tragedy, loss of human lives, to get us back there for even a brief few minutes.

We brush people aside in the street. Who cares? They got in your way, remember?

We take guns to school cause we feel isolated. Shoot down the principal cause somebody makes us mad. Then we wonder how somebody can drive airplanes into buildings.

You don't have time to chat a few minutes with the postal worker anymore. No spare minute to call your mom and tell her you love her. You don't even have time to love anybody.

Instead we rush on, so wrapped up in life we've forgotten how to live. Hearts get broken at the drop of a hat. A mockingbird's song goes unnoticed. Neighbors pass one another in the street. Can't wave though. No time for that.

Sunrises and sunsets offer such poetry. But we don't stop to see them. Instead we hurry to the next appointment, rush to the next ball game, cut somebody off in traffic, just to gain two seconds during the morning commute.

Smart off to a coworker. They don't matter. You've got a job to complete, remember.

Knock the guy over on the way to your seat. Who cares?

And God forbid, don't thank that nice young woman holding the door for you. Can't do that. No, we'll just walk on and talk on our cell phone instead.

Enough is enough. Life is too short.

Do yourself a favor. Stop what you are doing right now. Just relax a minute.

Now, take a deep breath, get up, go find somebody, and flash them the biggest grin you've got. Chances are, they'll grin you one right back.

See there? Don't that feel better.

Call an old friend and tell them you love them. Pass out compliments just cause you were able to get out of bed today. Pull over to the side of the road tonight on the way home. Let all the other cars whiz by you. Watch the sun go down instead.

When you get home, listen to your favorite piece of music. Spend a few minutes tonight with a loved one, or a child, or a little dog.

When you get that inevitable kiss, or that tender little hug, or a big, wet lick on the face from Fido, smile again.

Cause that, my friends, is what life is all about.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Big shoes to fill

The dust has finally settled. The smoke has finally cleared.

Bob Corker is left standing to take the good fight into November, where Harold Ford Jr. is waiting.

I voted for Corker. So why am I not smiling?

Maybe it's something to do with all those senseless negative ads. Why do that when you have such a lead as Corker obviously did? Maybe it's something to do with the stretching of the truth in several of them. Maybe it's that awful ad Corker ran of him and his mother. What genius came up with that?

That's not it. I've seen negative ads (Willie Horton), stretching of the truth ("Mission Accomplished" comes to mind) and stupid political ads (Dukakis driving the tank) before.

No, I guess what gets me is thinking about the Republicans who once held the seat Corker now wants. And how he just doesn't measure up (both literally and figuratively).

Pull up a chair and let me tell you about another Chattanooga native. He was a good looking guy, and really smart. He used to be a Democrat, but saw the error of his ways in the 1950s, and converted.

He was elected to the U.S. House in 1962 and served four terms. In 1970, he won the Republican nomination to go after the devil himself --- the late Albert Gore Sr. He even beat Tex Ritter in the GOP primary!

And Bill Brock sent Gore packing for Carthage that fall.

He was the mastermind behind the rise of the modern Republican party in the Volunteer State, the seeds of which were planted in Howard Baker's election to the Senate in 1966.

Brock and other influential state Republicans found a Memphis dentist named Winfield Dunn, another dude who looked good on the tube, to run for governor in '70. Dunn won, too.

The unthinkable had happened. Tennessee became the first state from the old Confederacy to have two Republican senators, and the GOP would again hold the governor's chair for the first time since Alfred Taylor outfiddled his Democratic brother, Bob, for the seat in the 1920s.

Brock became a star in the national Republican party; he was one of Richard Nixon's favorite senators. When Watergate (and a little unpleasantness about income taxes) came back to bite him in 1976, Brock went on to become the head of the Republican National Committee.

When Brock left that job in 1981, Ronald Reagan appointed him a U.S. trade representative and, later, secretary of labor. Today he's retired and living in Annapolis, Md.

A whole blog post could be devoted to that era's senior senator from Tennessee. Baker is a true legend, a charismatic Volunteer who gained national fame as the Republican voice of reason on the Senate Watergate Committee. They called him The Great Conciliator. ("What did the president know, and when did he know it?")

He should have been president, but a guy from California with a big grin and an even better sense of humor beat him to it. Baker shrugged his shoulders and went back to the Senate. He later became Reagan's chief-of-staff at a time when the Gipper's ship needed salvaging. George W. Bush made him Ambassador to Japan.

I saw Mr. Baker at Regas earlier this year during the busy lunch hour. A bit in awe, I stuck out my shaking hand.

"How are you, sir?"

"I'm doing fine," he said. "How are you, sir?"

You gotta love a guy like that.

Meanwhile, Corker is headed toward his rendezvous with destiny and, thusly, with Ford, this November. Best guess is Corker will carry East Tennessee handily, Ford will win West Tennessee going away and the seat will be won in that squishy, basin-dominated region in the middle of the state.

If Corker wins, he's got big shoes to fill. And I'm not talking about the one's being vacated by the current Senate Majority Leader.

He, too, never quite measured up.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

A Saturday with a migraine

You stare into space, lost somewhere between lucidity and darkness, wishing that the pain would go away.

You alternate between the bed and the easy chair. Every now and then you check the computer, just to remind yourself that, yes, there is a world out there.

A friend stops by for a few minutes. He brings you dinner, stops a moment to watch the Civil War program on TV. He ruminates on the ineffective leadership of Gen. George McClellan, then leaves to take his wife to dinner. You thank him for coming.

You miss a colleague's wedding tonight and it makes you sad. You wish you could have been there to watch the happy couple take their first steps together. Instead you pop another pill that doesn't help anything at all.

You fall asleep, thankfully earning a respite for a few minutes. You dream. It's sunset. Someone is chasing you. Suddenly, you're walking along a beach. It's the most beautiful place you've ever seen. You can feel the waves splashing on your toes. The sky is pink. You do not want the moment to end.

But it does, and you wake up in your chair.

You turn on the TV. It's a real life murder mystery. A professor in Richmond is killed in the early morning of Oct. 30, 2004, shot in the back as he walks down the driveway of his quiet suburban home to fetch the morning paper.

Two hours later you learn that his ex-wife killed him, probably because he received full custody of the kids. She resents it and doesn't like paying nearly $900 a month in child support.

She cries on the witness stand. Claims she was in Houston the weekend of the murder, even offers the shaky testimony of a friend and the excuse that she was at some local bar the night before the murder.

But her cell phone records and videotape at a convenience store prove otherwise. The jury deliberates for less than an hour and sentences her to life.

She cries, still insisting that she is innocent. You don't feel sorry for her.

You pick up Faulkner. The pain returns full force. You feel sick to your stomach and put the book down.

The local news shows a protest at Oak Ridge over the nuclear bomb. You lament that your head feels remarkably like such a weapon has exploded in it. The joke is so bad, you don't laugh.

It's a lost weekend. There's nothing left to do but sleep.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Good night, and good luck

The camera pans in on a shovel. A pair of hands, attached to an unseen body, digs a foxhole. A familiar voice interrupts the clanging of metal on dirt.

"This is Korea."

Ed Murrow was a legend. He got his start in radio, painting word pictures of the bombing of Britain, during World War II. Murrow knew what all reporters worth their salt know -- the best news is the story of people.

He chose an average soldier, some guy from Louisville, to represent the American G.I. experience in Korea. It was brilliant. Ahead of its time, in fact.

As were most things Ed Murrow did.

PBS' "American Masters" series devoted two hours to the legendary CBS reporter this week. Filmed in 1988, the program was peppered with interviews by the principals -- Sevareid. Friendly. Hewitt. Kuralt.

I hadn't heard Charles Kuralt's wonderful voice in at least a dozen years. It brought back memories. I used to spend my Sunday mornings before church with him. His "CBS Sunday Morning" show was by far the finest mainstream TV news program ever presented on television. (And his "On the Road" segments were even better.)

But I digress.

Murrow was good because he instinctively had a feel for a good story. More often than not, these stories involved the average American. He was there when they fought flooding in the Midwest. He was there to expose the wasteful poverty of sharecropping in the South. It wasn't pandering. Murrow felt a kinship with such people. They were, in many ways, just like him.

And Murrow was there when Joe McCarthy accused half of the country of being Communists. He, wisely, let McCarthy's own words hang himself. It was enough.

George Clooney made a fine picture last year about Murrow's battles with McCarthy. "Good Night, and Good Luck" is available on DVD. If you haven't seen it, do so.

Television news isn't worth much today. In-depth programs like "See It Now" couldn't get on the air. Nope, instead they need the time slot for the latest reality show. The thought that Katie Couric will be sitting in Murrow's old spot at CBS makes one question the future of civilization as we know it.

Say what you will about Dan Rather -- at least he was a professional reporter.

The news report has been replaced by the sound bite. Murrow is gone. Huntley and Brinkley are dead. Kuralt left us almost a decade ago, appropriately enough on July 4. Cronkite is enjoying retirement.

The world seems a little darker without them.

Take this, from Murrow's "See It Now" broadcast about McCarthy:

"We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deeply in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men -- not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular."

You won't get such lofty prose from Katie. She'll be too busy checking to make sure her hair is perfect.

Part of me likes to believe that Murrow is still broadcasting out there in the ether.

If he is, let the camera pause one delicious moment on the plume of smoke from his cigarette. Let him finish his broadcast, leaving us with both points to ponder, and that signature send-off:

"Good night, and good luck."

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The flame

A brief piece of fiction...

It was as if someone had struck a match.

Saw her yesterday. She was still beautiful, just the way I remembered. Her beauty hits you with a force that makes you cherish the moment, hold it close, save it for a rainy day, when the world is cold.

Her eyes, the color of coal, looked on in that ethereal seductive way she has, making you forget everything, including your own name.

"Hi," she said. "You're looking good."

"It's been a long time."

"How are you? Is your health good."

"Yep. Health is good."

I couldn't think. Suddenly, it was Nashville in winter, rain on the window and her in my arms. I think about her kisses to this day, soft and wet, and the look that was in her eyes at 3 a.m.

I tried to get her to forget about the rest of the day that long ago morning. Wanted her to eat breakfast and stay wrapped in my arms.

But she didn't.

She said she was only passing through town. A job called in another part of the country. Just where she didn't say.

We embraced one last time.

"It was so good to see you."

"You look good. You look really good."

I walked away and then stopped, wanting one last look. I turned.

She smiled and winked.


"See you."

I walked outside.

An old flame was burning brightly. You know the kind.

It burns eternally, never to be extinguished.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Night They Drove Ol' Dixie Down

"Back with my wife in Tennessee, when one day she called to me, 'Virgil, quick come see, there goes Robert E. Lee.' Well, I don't mind chopping wood, and I don't care if the money's no good. You take what you need, and you leave the rest, but they should never have taken the very best."

Thought we were going to have to refight the whole darned War.

If I have to tell you which war, you either aren't from the South or just aren't in tune with things down here.

The party was going well. Folks were laughing and having a good time. Old friends were reunited. Several members of the infamous Halls High School Class of '96 were together for the first time in 10 years. It was nice.

Then it happened.

Somehow the discussion turned to politics. Positions were exchanged. Harsh words were spoken.

Then the guy from New York opened his mouth.

"Gee, it's no wonder you people lost the war."

Keep in mind he says this to the party's host, who just happens to have a print of Robert E. Lee over his mantle.

I ducked for cover, expecting the first shot would make Ft. Sumter look like a fireworks display.

"People say things are better off because the South lost the war," he replied. "I don't think so. I'm a firm believer in state's rights."

The argument simmered down. Which is nothing short of amazing, really. People have been killed for less.

Folks outside the lower portion of the Mason-Dixon Line don't seem to understand why the War is still with us. I confess I don't understand it totally myself.

Guess it has something to do with the fact the South lost. Could also be because many of the issues that separated us then still do today. If you need proof, look at an electoral map of the 2004 presidential election. Dixie is solidly one sharp shade of red. The Yankee color is dark blue.

Tony Horwitz explores this phenomenon in his brilliant, funny book "Confederates in the Attic." He hangs out in biker bars and with the late, great Shelby Foote, trying to make sense of our Southern obsession with The Lost Cause. He tours Shiloh before dawn and Sumter before dark. It's a most unique read.

Naturally he runs into neo-Confederates and downright racists. Which is a shame. But he finds others, too. Those who just feel connected. Those who, like Patton, feel like they were there, marching with Lee and Grant.

Perhaps Foote said it best. A real understanding of this country, "And I mean a real understanding," he said, has to start with the War. Our past, our present, maybe even our future is wrapped up in those four and a half years of hell.

Especially here in Dixie, where Stonewall still charges on early spring Sundays and Lee is still riding Taveler, forever seeking another way to outfox the Yanks.

We'll never forget. Our ancestors were there. If you sit out on the porch in the evenings you can almost smell the smoke from the rifles. You can almost hear the cannons thunder. You can almost feel the waste of it all.

And on a hot summer night in Halls, you can still feel the passions the War brought forth, especially when the talk turns to the night they drove ol' Dixie down...

"Like my father before me, I will work the land. And like my brother above me who took a rebel stand. He was just eighteen, proud and brave, but a Yankee laid him in his grave. I swear by the blood below my feet, you can't raise a Cane back up when he's in defeat."