Sunday, September 24, 2006

Saying good-bye to yesterday

Well, what's there to say?

Ten years. My God, 10 years.

It seems hard to believe now, as if all that was part of somebody else's life. But when the old gang gathered together at The Foundry last Friday night, it felt good, familiar, like something long missing had finally come home.

I hadn't wanted to go at first, to be honest. Just felt like too much time had passed, and I don't know, trying to fall victim to being anti-social.

But I'm glad I went. Seeing old faces, those you shared happy moments with, those you wished you had.

It's funny. Sometime before the evening was over, I happened upon a beautiful pair of eyes I hadn't looked at, or thought about, in a long time.

But gazing into them ever so briefly, I was 13 years younger again. I was that skinny awkward kid I thought I'd left behind for good. The feelings, ones I'm certain she never knew, were ever so tangible.

It was fantastic and it was awful, a literal time machine taking you back to somewhere you weren't ready to be.

Then, near the end, dear Andrea Hayes and Jenny Mynatt Choate pulled me up to the front. "You gotta sing," they said.

Could I do it? After a decade, would it be OK?

Well, I made it through "Hound Dog." It felt good to sing that old, silly rock-and-roll in front of people I'd forgotten how much I loved.

Several of my classmates are owed big thanks for working hard to pull Friday night's reunion off. To them, I tip my Braves cap, hoist a drink, and say gracias.

For those of you who might happen to read this, it was great to see you --- all of you.

And, in a funny way, that old song is true.

"It's so hard to say good-bye to yesterday."

Friday, September 22, 2006

'Musings' will return next week

Jake is away, taking in his high school class reunion and a weekend trip to the lake. Musings from Mabe will continue next week. Have a good weekend, y'all!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Benediction for the Braves

OK, it's official. Cue Don Meredith: "Turn out the liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiights, the party's over..." It's been a good run. Thanks for the memories.

The Atlanta Braves are no more.

At least not the Braves we once knew. No division title for the first time in 15 years. No postseason appearance. Nope, that's all behind us now. Good-bye to all that.

One last wisp of childhood finally wound its way up the chimney and out into the sky, gone forever like the ash of last winter's fire.

Frankly, it doesn't hurt that much.

I've been detached from the Braves virtually all year. It happened that late April evening that I eased into the easy chair to watch the game on Turner South. Instead of hearing Skip's nasal baritone or Pete Van Wieren's cigarette-enhanced deep tones, there was the obnoxious, "shoulda been in a vaudeville show" Bob Rathbun, calling the game with the knowledgeable but stilted Jeff Torborg.

I couldn't do it. In the past, you only had to put up with Rathbun on Wednesday nights. Skip, Pete, Don, Joe (and later Chip) had the games the other nights of the week on either TBS or Turner South.

FOX bought Turner South and changed all that about the time TBS announced it wouldn't even carry Braves games by 2008.

So I was without a childhood love, content to follow the surprising Tigers when I did manage to catch a TV game.

I guess it's time to put baseball away. Time to put it on the shelf with the Lee Majors lunchbox, the He-Man figures and all the other toys from youth collecting dust in a closet.

The game's not the same anyway. Favorite players change teams like underwear. MLB's 30 teams (way too many) have diluted pitching. Too often the games are now slugfests instead of chess matches.

It's just as well. There are other priorities. Work, for one. Reading. Going to the lake. Hanging out. Music. Football.

Here's to you, Atlanta. Thanks for everything:

Murph. Bob Horner's four dingers in one game. Skip complaining over the infield fly rule.

Powder puff blue unis. Nobody in the stands at the old park. Worthless rain delays. Losing 100 games a year. The game that went on forever against the Mets in '85.

Bobby's back. Worst-to-first. Sid's slide. Leo rocking back and forth. John Smoltz v. Jack Morris, in the most exciting World Series game of my generation. Crime Dog. The Lemmer. Mercker's no-no. World Champions at last.

Special thanks to Skip and Pete. You wouldn't know me if you saw me on the street, but I feel like that you two are old friends. It hurts like hell not having you all around every night for six months a year. You deserve to be on TV every night of the week. You'll never know how much you both meant to a young, skinny kid in love with the game.

Here's one last tomahawk chop.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Losing it at the movies, er, mailbox

So it's Monday morning and I'm debating on whether or not to grab a few more hours of sleep.

Sleep ain't happening, so I get up and scan the Internet.

Over at Slate, here's an interesting article highlighting the phenomenon that is Netflix. For the unwashed, Netflix is a DVD rent-by-mail service that basically allows you to rent X amount of films from the company's huge catalog for a monthly fee. The red envelopes usually show up about two days after shipping.

For years I didn't see the point. Then I got tired of the limited selection and ignorant clerks (one once pronounced Laurence Olivier's last name as "Oliver")at Blockbuster, not to mention the late fees and return dates. Plus a baseball pal from Nashville was claiming Netflix to be better than sliced bread, or at least pay-per-view.

A year and a half ago, sidelined with kidney stones anyway, I took the plunge. And I must say, for the most part,it's been a good thing.

Netflix has allowed me to see films I'd never have found at the rental store in Halls (Kurasowa's "Ikiru" and Chaplin playing Hitler), indulge in TV classics ("Upstairs, Downstairs," "The Rockford Files" and "The Bob Newhart Show") and to finally screen those awkward, "Yeah, I want to see it, but I don't want to buy it" flicks ("Ask the Dust," "Seabiscuit").

One month I was in a Hemingway mood. Two days later, here comes the TV biopic starring Stacy "Mike Hammer" Keach. A friend recommends an offbeat indie about an American wanderer and a French woman and it provides a night of fine character development. (Thanks, Bridget.)

I still haven't gotten around to "The Sopranos" or that Ken Burns bio of Mark Twain. And every now and then I get tired of highbrow and need something silly. The 1978 "Superman" did the trick quite nicely. Who can't love seeing Marlon Brando play The Man of Steel's pop, Jor-El?

I'm not sure if I'll ever finish watching Patrick McGoohan as "The Prisoner" or make it to Richard Boone and "Have Gun Will Travel" down at the bottom of the queue. And something tells me I'll eventually tire of paying the $18 a month.

But until then, it's like having the Movie Guru stop by the house once or twice a week, dropping off cinematic pizzas, while I slip into the easy chair after another day of demands and deadlines.

Pauline Kael once said she lost it at the movies when the cat rubbed up against Orson Welles in "The Third Man." I love that, too, but I sadly think my first cinematic excursion was to see Kenny Rogers in "Six Pack."

Hey, I grew up in Halls. Give a guy a break.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The one great 'what if'

Here it is nearly 3 a.m., and I can't seem to get to sleep.

Guess it has something to do with that ugly Florida win up on Rocky Top a few hours ago. I'm old enough now to take football, and most other things, in stride. No use yelling, throwing things or getting mad. These Vols will break your heart if you let them. I became immune to it all somewhere between the National Championship win over Florida State and the loss to Vanderbilt last year.

Since I'm up anyway, let me tell you a story about a good friend of mine. He's a pretty good guy. Has his faults, like we all do, isn't perfect, but does his best to work hard, play hard and keep the peace most of the time.

He's a funny one, this guy. Back in high school, he'd go out on dates with women he had no interest in whatsoever, just cause he didn't want to hurt their feelings, he'd say. He'll go out of his way to be nice to you, even if you don't deserve it, and if he does start yelling, which is usually about as often as a guest appearance by Halley's Comet, he'll apologize to you in five minutes or less --- and feel bad about it for weeks afterwards.

My friend thinks often of a girl he once knew. No doubt you've known someone like this. Not quite the one who got away, but at least the one great "What if."

No one is perfect, of course, and this girl wasn't either. My friend knew that, but he says it didn't matter. They had always gotten along famously, you see, and besides, all this bad stuff happened between her and somebody else.

He says he thinks about her often, usually in the late evening or early morning, just before either sleep or the coming dawn calls. He hears she's quite successful, is all set in an important job saving lives, and is still as beautiful as ever.

Quite a bit of time has passed, though, and my friend says he's glad his life turned out the way it did. He says he's happy and he looks it.

And yet, in the quiet hours, she'll sneak into his thoughts and he lets her wander there a few minutes, part of him wondering whether she ever thinks of him, too; the other part of him is just glad they once were friends.

"Yep," he says. "She was something else. We were just friends, really, but I'm glad we had what time we had together. I wouldn't trade those few minutes."

Ahh, if life could only be that simple.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

"Ask the Dust:" The writer and the waitress, in love in L.A.

I knew I was going to like "Ask the Dust," the engaging adaptation of John Fante's novel, when the camera panned into Arturo Bandini's (Colin Farrell) hotel room.

There he sat, pecking away on a manual typewriter, wearing suspenders and sucking on oranges, while a ceiling fan slowly turned above him.

Now that's what a writer should look like.

And, as it turns out, "Ask the Dust" is a fascinating character study, a two-hour look at a strained, passionate, ultimately doomed romance between the struggling Italian-American writer Bandini and the beautiful, haunted Mexican waitress Camilla Lopez (Salma Hayek), in Depression-era Los Angeles.

There's is something quite romantic about the image of the starving writer, although such a life is anything but easy. Arturo struggles to pay his rent, is reduced to stealing milk from a delivery cart and most of the time can barely afford a 5-cent cup of coffee.

It's at a diner, spending his last buffalo nickel, where Arturo meets Camilla. They clash at first. Trade insults, ethnic slurs and frustrations.

But the chemistry is palpable. They both deny it for half the movie, but when it comes, it lands like a tidal wave, massive and full of force.

Farrell somehow manages to lose his Irish baroque while wrapping himself in this character. You'd swear he is what he's playing, a young Italian from Colorado. You first think Arturo's sarcastic, angry facade is an act, a hat he wears as the worldly writer.

But over the course of two hours, you learn where it comes from. The slights back in Colorado, all the taunts of "dago" and "greaser" he endured from his classmates.

Camilla can feel his pain. The 1930s were a bad time to be anything but Anglo. When she and Arturo take in a movie, "Dames," at a theater near Laguna Beach, the woman in the seat beside her stares her down, and finally moves to another seat.

It's made worse when the couple sit through Ruby Keeler's infamous line from the movie, "I'm free, I'm white and I'm 21."

What makes this film so engaging is director Robert Townes' laid-back pace. Unlike virtually every other movie released in Hollywood these days, "Ask the Dust" allows for character development. Watching Arturo and Camilla find solace in each other's arms is a delight. It's honest, it's adult, it's real. There's no adolescent "Golly gee whiz" to this romance. Arturo and Camilla are two world-weary adults, both somewhat beaten down by life, who have no illusions and hear no violins.

Both, in their respective ways, are chasing the American dream. Arturo will become the voice of Los Angeles, destined to be the next Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Faulkner all rolled into one. When he receives encouragement (and the occasional check) from magazine editor H.L. Mencken, you rejoice along with him.

Camilla works to become an American citizen. She wants to marry a man whose last name is Smith, Jones, or some other Anglican surname (through half the movie she's with a man named, of all things, White), settle down and leave her painful past in the dust.

Hayek's scenes are stunning, not just for her physical beauty, but for the sass, desperation and blunt honesty that she brings to Camilla Lopez. One wishes that all her parts were written with such clarity because she clearly has the talent to make a flesh-and-blood character jump out of the screen.

In the end, the film falters, maybe because of the cliched ending, maybe because something about the finale leaves you flat.

Still, there's a charm to "Ask the Dust," an ever-so-brief blossoming of life, in the love affair between the Italian writer and the Mexican waitress.

"Ask the Dust" is now available on DVD. It is Rated R for language, adult situations and nudity.

Friday, September 15, 2006

"The Last Kiss:" Confused at 30, fearing commitment

What to say about "The Last Kiss," the new film by director Tony Goldwyn?

Well, your first tendency may be to chalk this story up to a somewhat cliched "Guy turning 30 who doesn't want to grow up" movie.

And, to an extent, that's what it is, complete with crude dialogue, childish "let's just get away from this" moments and sophomoric scenes that seem left over from an unused reel from "Wedding Crashers."

But there's something deeper at work here, something dark and almost myth busting, in keeping with screenwriter Paul Haggis' other fine works, including "Million Dollar Baby" and "Crash." This is a film that suggests that no matter what you've always been taught or led to believe, relationships are tough, love may be a lie and there's a whole lot more confusing gray in this life than there is simple black and white.

Whew. Let's pause to catch our breath.

OK, here's the deal. Michael (Zach Braff) is a soon-to-be 30-year-old who seems to have it all going for him. He's got a good job, a beautiful girlfriend named Jenna (Jacinda Barrett) and a baby on the way.

But Michael isn't ready for life behind the proverbial picket fence. He watches one friend's marriage collapse under the pressures of parenthood. He sees another pal lose his mind over a woman who isn't coming back. He even sees Jenna's pain as her parents' 30-year-old marriage heads toward heartache.

And then he sees Kim (Rachel Bilson). She's beautiful, stunningly so, young, and full of life. She catches his eye at a friend's wedding. She comes on pretty strong. He says he has to get back to his friends. She leaves him with a peck on the cheek and a promise of a future rendezvous.

One by one, Michael's friends unravel around him. He, too, isn't sure if he's ready for commitment, to the point that he and Jenna exchange words.

He calls Kim. She's going to a party Friday night. No problem, right? Tell Jenna a white lie. No one will ever know.

Guess what happens next...

It's hard to like Michael. His Peter Pan act wears thin. One can see why he's initially attracted to Kim. One can't understand why he'd ever stray from Jenna, the only character in this film who seems to have it together.

But let's not get into simple moralizing. Life is complicated and people do indeed make mistakes. His alienation feels genuine, even familiar. But even when filled with remorse, Michael is a hard character to root for.

When asked to account for his actions, all Michael can manage to say is, "I'm an asshole."

Uhh, yeah.

Braff's performance is believable, if a bit stilted. Bilson is photogenic to the point of distraction, but is perfectly cast as the sensuous, but empty "I'm not near as good as I look" other woman. Barrett's is the best performance of the film. One wishes, though, that her character had been a bit more developed and given more screen time. Blame Haggis.

Blythe Danner shines as Jenna's frustrated mother, Anna. Her scenes with Tom Wilkinson (playing her husband, Stephen) are the most satisfying of the film.

In the end, Michael realizes his mistake and sets about trying to make amends. Jenna is left with a choice to make, and perhaps that, when it's all said and done, is what this film is all about --- choices.

But, no, it's not as simple as all that. "The Last Kiss" is trying to tell us something. Maybe it's that life at 30 is confusing for this generation; maybe it's that certain guys just can't (or won't) handle commitment. Or maybe it's saying that the only way to make a successful relationship is to, shock of all shocks, work at it.

The fact that it doesn't quite say any of these things is why this film isn't a success. It's taken from an Italian hit, "L'ultimo bacio," which could be more satisfying than this American retread.

But yet, the film stays with you, bounces around inside your brain, long after the lights come back up. It feels honest, and a lot like real life.

That, at least, is something.

"The Last Kiss" opens today (Sept. 15). It is rated R for language, adult situations and brief nudity.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The slovenly days of September

I feel like a slob.

Four days of football. Plenty of football.

Need I say more?

Tennessee's game against the Air Force on Saturday was my home opener, thanks to the migraine that kept me away from the Cal game on Labor Day weekend.

Turned out to be quite a matchup. The Falcons' flexbone offense confounded the Vol defense for most of the game. It took a game saving 2-point conversion stop and an onsides kick recovery (after two attempts!) for the Big Orange to escape with a win.

At halftime, John Majors couldn't buy any respect.

Back home to be honored with members of the 1956 edition of the Volunteers, Majors was barely noticeable on the field, even while sporting his old No. 45. Bobby Denton failed to mention Majors was on the field; instead, a scroll of present team members was presented on the JumboTron.

Maybe Majors wanted it that way. Maybe UT screwed him over. Either is plausible.

That aside, the Air Force game was a lot of fun. I love the Falcons offense. I just don't ever want to see it at Neyland Stadium ever again.

The fun continued yesterday. My pal Drew Weaver broke down and ordered the NFL package on Directv. One o'clock found me in Maryville watching the Bengals/Chiefs game. Every now and then, Drew flipped to the "Superfan" feature, which allows one to watch eight games at once! Ain't technology grand?

But guess what? Here it is Monday and the party rolls on!

The Minnesota Vikings just escaped from FedEx Field in Washington with a win by a field goal against the Redskins. The Chargers and the Raiders are playing on the second Monday Night Football game as I type this.

You gotta love September!

Gotta go now. The easy chair awaits.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The weary 'Pilgrim'

The voice jumps out at you.

That's what it does. It flies out of the radio, lands in your lap, begging you to listen. You stop and do so, not because it's beautiful, or even melodic. But there's something deep there, something lyrical and poetic, even mystical.

What else can you say about Kris Kristofferson?

The Rhode's Scholar and Vietnam veteran turned down an English teacher's position at West Point back in the '60s to follow his dream. So he moved to Nashville and took a job at Columbia Records --- sweeping up the place.

Within a few years he became, next to Bob Dylan, the poet laureate of his generation. "Me and Bobby McGee." "Sunday Morning Coming Down." "For the Good Times." "Help Me Make it Through the Night."

You first heard his songs performed by others, which is appropriate given this new album, "The Pilgrim." Billed as "A Celebration to Kris Kristofferson," the disc brings together artists from across the musical spectrum to sing his songs -- Rosanne Cash, Todd Snider, Shooter Jennings, Willie Nelson, Brian McKnight. (Yeah, you read that right.)

Snider delivers on "Maybe You Heard" and Cash more than holds her own on "Loving Her (Him) Was Easier (Than Anything I'll Ever Do Again)," Kris' ode to his lover and backup singer, Rita Coolidge.

Willie can sing Kris' music in his sleep and his doesn't disappoint on the Spanish-tinged "The Legend." The one real miss is McKnight, whose "Bobby McGee" is just plain weird, as out of place as Pavarotti at a bluegrass breakdown.

But, I tell you friends, the finest six minutes are delivered from an unlikely source -- country outlaw Gretchen Wilson. Her cover of "Sunday Morning Coming Down" is so insanely wonderful that you just sit there after the final note fades away, shaking your head.

Wilson captures perfectly the solitary introspection of the song. You are with her on that Sunday morning sidewalk, wishin' Lord that you were stoned. It's enough to make you go to the closet to find your cleanest dirty shirt. Ain't that a great line?

Kris shows up at the end. Included is his demo of "Please Don't Tell Me How the Story Ends." His deep, scratchy voice does indeed sound like a wandering, weary pilgrim, lost somewhere between Nashville and nowhere.

What a journey it has been.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


Did something tonight I haven't done in years. Tuned in to a network TV newscast.

Yeah, I bought into the hype. Just had to watch Katie Couric on her first night.

I'm not a fan, but all in all, she didn't do too bad. Like Art Buchwald said in his Washington Post column today, it doesn't really matter whether it's Katie or Brian Williams reading us the news.

CBS News introduced two new segments. I really liked "freeSpeech." It is what it sounds like -- folks spouting off on a particular issue for a minute or two.

The other I didn't like. Called "Snapshots," it was introduced with footage of Ralph Edwards showing photos of the newly born Prince Charles. So far so good.

Then Katie shows us a photograph (on the cover of tomorrow's Vanity Fair) of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes' new baby. Yawn. I don't care about either of them or their kid, frankly. I was much more interested in the segment on the price of gasoline.

Network news has gone the way of my beloved afternoon newspaper. It's obsolete. Anybody with a mouse and a keyboard already knows what's going on before Katie, Brian or Charlie open their mouths at 6:30 p.m. Others have flooded to cable news shows on Fox News or CNN. A few of us still like to read the newspaper, now almost all printed in the morning, at the end of the day.

Things took a downturn at the end of the program. Katie couldn't come up with a sign off. So instead she showed some famous ones.

You, of course, can guess what the first one was.

"Good night, and good luck."

Then there was Huntley and Brinkley saying good night to each other, Cronkite's "That's the way it is" and Rather's "Courage." Even Ted Baxter's "Good news and good night" was there.

Katie suggested viewers log on to the CBS web site with suggestions. I shook my head, let out a sigh and flipped to the Tigers game.

Can you imagine Murrow asking viewers for a sign off?

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Three hours with an old pal

Fell in love again tonight with an old flame.

She is seductive that way. Just when you've gotten her out of your mind, put her away in that place you put such things, her allure proves too much.

Baseball is like that.

Hadn't cared much for my first love this summer. Not sure why, really.

Part of the blame goes to Fox Sports, which purchased Turner South earlier this year, meaning Atlanta Braves fans have to suffer through Bob Rathbun most nights, instead of being treated to Skip Caray and Pete Van Wieren, who have forgotten more than Rathbun will ever know about baseball.

Part of it is the loss of tradition. You never know who is going to be playing for your club anymore. Time was I could have told you the Braves' starting lineup in my sleep. Now, you just don't know. Free agency and bottom lines have changed the game forever.

Ignore all that, though, and it's still great fun. .

Didn't feel too good tonight. The migraine lingers for a fifth day. Settled in on the couch, pulled up the covers, and flipped on Kentucky and Louisville. But the Wildcats, as they tend to do, faded quickly.

That's OK, though, because the Tigers are on ESPN 2. Here it is September and Detroit still has the best record in the American League. The last time that happened, I was six, just starting the first grade at Brickey Elementary School.

The Tigs start Wilfredo Ledezma. He looks good for six solid innings, surrendering two runs, one on an incredible line drive home run by Los Angeles Angels slugger Vlad Guerrero. You watch the ball sail into the Tigers' bullpen, barely clearing the fence, and stare in awe.

Even Tigers manager Jim Leyland is amazed.

"That's a man, isn't it?" he says of Vlad when Jon Miller and Joe Morgan interview him in the 6th.

Baseball doesn't bring with it the short, spasmic bursts of action like football. Watching the Vols dismantle California last night, the blood pressure shot up to stroke level when Robert Meachem scored a couple of those touchdowns. You learn to deal with it.

No, the national game is a little more laid-back, which fits me just fine tonight. I take some medicine, turn out the lights and shut my eyes, hypnotized by Miller's play-by-play.

When Ledezma throws a seven pitch sixth inning, I smile, remembering quite well why I love this little boy's game.

Comparing baseball to a lover isn't quite right. Naw, it's more like an old friend. Always there six months out of the year when you need it, offering its simple pleasures and "let's just hang out awhile" rhythms.

Yeah, it changes, just like people do, but you can always count on the important things --- three strikes, three outs, three times three innings, peanuts and cracker jack, stretch in the seventh.

"The other sports are just sports," Bryant Gumbal said once. "Baseball is a love."

Thanks for being there tonight, pal.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Just out of reach

Scott Fitzgerald called it a blinking green light.

He put it across the water. Within Jay Gatsby's sight, but just beyond his grasp. There it sat, night after night, on again, off again, for Jay and Nick Carraway to look at, to hope for, to dream about.

Sometimes it takes the form of a woman. I saw her recently. She sat there, eating her lunch, winking, as if she knew something and I didn't. It made me mad and I wanted to hold her again. But I left instead to face the afternoon alone.

Perhaps it's in that feeling you get, in the fall, when the air first cools and thoughts turn to classrooms and the gridiron. I long to be on a college campus somewhere, contemplating Faulkner and Fitzgerald, Lee and Grant, algebra and astronomy.

It's there on the days when the words come, when the world seems alive and the 'burb is blooming, and all you want to do is stay in the moment forever. But of course it passes and you move on and wait for the lightning to strike again.

The scenes change and sometimes the names do, too. Everything and nothing stays the same. The days grow long, then short. Calendars are pulled from month to month like scenes in a movie they don't make anymore. Five years go by, ten, fifteen.

The seasons blend together and the music begins to sound the same. Lots of new friends with the same old problems. Moments. Minutes. Months.

Still the green light blinks. So close. So painfully close.

But always out of reach.