Wednesday, May 30, 2007

This 'n' that

UPDATE (9:53 p.m.): Tigers lose, but the Mets do too. Atlanta picks up one game in the NL East.

Not too much to say tonight.

Not feeling well at all. Looks like more surgery. Will keep you posted.

Detroit is leading Tampa Bay 3-1 in the top of the third. Tigers already have something like 5 hits, but Nate Robertson is on the mound tonight. Looks like he pulled something in his back a few minutes ago after throwing a pitch. Don't hold your breath, especially with this bullpen.

By the way, found another cool Tigers blog that includes a podcast. It can be found here.

Atlanta won in big fashion over the Milwaukee Brewers today 9-3. I was asleep all afternoon and missed the game. Here's hoping the Mets lose tonight.

Tom Stanton has written an intriguing new book called Ty and the Babe. The book examines the rivalry of two of baseball's biggest figures, Cobb and Ruth.

But this is no ordinary biography. It also focuses on a rarely-discussed golf challenge that the two men participated in throughout the country in 1941, the so-called "Has Beens Golf Championship."

Stanton has become of one literary baseball's shining stars since his excellent debut book, "The Final Season," about attending all 81 home games during the final year of venerable Tiger Stadium in Detroit eight years ago.

I'll post a review of the book at some point in the coming weeks, both on the blog and in the Shopper.

Tennessee softball opens up NCAA women's softball tournament championship play tomorrow night at 7 p.m. against Texas A&M. The game will be carried live on ESPN.

Monica Abbott has been named USA Softball Player of the Year.

Wish me well that I can pass the remaining kidney stones without needing surgery.

Good night, and good luck.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Good time Tigers fan's got the blues

"Some gotta win, some gotta lose. Good time Charlie's got the blues." --- Danny O'Keefe, "Good Time Charlie's Got The Blues," 1972.

Yeah, yeah. Should be sleeping. Gotta get to the doc by 8:30, then try to work as long as I can later today.

Can't sleep. It just doesn't happen with these stones.

Anyway, turned on the tube tonight in time to see the Tigers blow a 5-2 lead to the hapless Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

I want to blame this on Todd Jones. I call him Cardiac Arrest. If I ever have a heart attack while watching baseball, send my hospital bill to Detroit's closer.

But nah. It isn't all his fault.

The Tigers stranded something like 8 runners. (I'm too tired to look it up.) And my man Curtis Granderson made a truly rotten defensive play late in the game. It swung the momentum decisively toward the Rays.

Give 'em credit. They rode its wave and never looked back.

I like Grandy. He's what you want in an American League leadoff hitter. He plays the field by taking a page ripped from the Thomas Magnum school of defense --- "Sometimes the best defense is a good offense." He's getting a write-in vote from me for this year's All-Star Team.

But, come on, Curtis. Sometimes you just gotta let 'em drop. A single would have been much better than that Rays dude standing on third.

By the way, the Rays' TV play-by-play guy Dewayne Staats drives me nuts. I'll figure out in a day or two who he reminds me of. Makes me wish DirecTV would let ya pick which feed to watch. I miss Mario and Rod.

(Well, I really miss Ernie. But legends only come around once in a lifetime.)

Who's complaining though? I'd let Bob Rathbun come back as long as the Tigers win.

(Did I really just type that? I must be tired.)

Speaking of the Tigers, just in case any of you Knox Vegas Detroit fans are looking in (that's you, Danny Sharp and Grant Rosenberg), check out this fantastic Tigers blog here.

Three weeks worth of stones means no trips to Comerica Park this year. That's OK. Tom Gage, the satellite dish, MLB Radio and blogs like that one will do the trick.

Hey, Jimmy: I love ya, pal, and I know you didn't ask me, but get the bullpen fixed. Now.

We gotta go to Cleveland this weekend and I'm tired of singing that old Danny O'Keefe song after every game.

If the Tigers lose tomorrow, I'm at least digging out Elvis's version, by god.

That's enough. Gotta go to bed. I'm already dreading the sound of the alarm clock.

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Monday, May 28, 2007

Let us never forget

"And I remember daddy sayin' you'll come back a better man, and I just wonder if they ever think of me?" --- Merle Haggard, "I Wonder If They Ever Think of Me"

Today is Memorial Day.

I thought about writing a star-spangled patriotic piece today. Then I changed my mind.

This is a time to remember, not for bombast. As we give thanks for those who served, let us also remember those who have yet to make it home.

Nearly 1,800 Americans have yet to be accounted for from the Vietnam conflict alone. I wear a POW/MIA bracelet for SFC Roger C. Hallberg, United States Special Forces. Sgt. Hallberg has been missing since March 24, 1967, when he disappeared in South Vietnam.

For more info on POW/MIA efforts in the United States, click

Let us never forget.

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

One charming 'Waitress'; more 'Yellow Roses'

A CHARACTER SPOUTS A LINE in a little-known 1974 film called "Lovin' Molly" that I like very much.

"A woman's love is like the morning dew," Mr. Fry says. "It's as apt to land on a cow turd as a rose."

That line flashed through my mind while watching "Waitress," the late Adrienne Shelly's quirky, charming new film. Because that's the only way one can explain why the otherwise smart Jenna (Keri Russell), the waitress of the title, would marry a guy like Earl (Jeremy Sisto).

Jenna is a server at a small-town diner. (Think "Alice.") She makes pies. Darn good pies. To escape reality, she imagines baking new pies. All sorts of pies.

Her life is all but hopeless. She adores her two co-workers (played to the hilt by writer/director Shelly and Cheryl Hines). She loves making pies.

But all that's for naught because of Earl.

Earl doesn't let Jenna drive a car. He "don't want her to go nowhere," you see.
He has this obnoxious habit of honking his horn repeatedly whenever he picks Jenna up. In fact, nearly everything Earl does is obnoxious.

Jenna wants money to enter a pie making contest. Earl says no. She stashes funds anyway, waiting for the moment to leave this nightmare.

Oh, but something happens. Earl gets Jenna drunk one night. Oops. She gets pregnant too.
She doesn't tell him; she still plans to leave. To be quite honest, Jenna doesn't even want the baby. But whaddya do?

You go see your OB/GYN, that's what. But she's semi-retired. In her stead is a newcomer, neurotic Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion).

His nervous Yankee demeanor creeps Jenna out. Then she jumps in his arms and plants a big wet one on his lips.

And therein lies the rub of this charming little flick. In the caring eyes of Dr. Pomatter, Jenna glimpses a better life. He listens to her. He holds her -- "nothing more, nothing less," she later writes her unborn child -- for 20 minutes. He makes her smile for what must be the first time in years. It's the beginning of one unique affair.

If all this seems like a slinging hash version of "Bridges of Madison County," you're dead wrong. This movie is about finding one's self. It's about dreaming big dreams. It's also a bit wacky, in a delicious, Dixie-fied, Flannery O'Connor kind of way.

Russell, best known as the star of the short-lived coming of age TV drama "Felicity," comes into her own with this role. Her Jenna becomes a complete woman when the final credits roll. This should be Russell's career-making role.

Shelly and Hines light up the screen as Jenna's fellow hash, er, pie slingers. (I swear I kept waiting for Hines to yell "kiss my grits!")

And what to say about Andy Griffith? Playing the diner's crusty-but-soft elderly owner Old Joe, Griffith turns in his best motion picture performance since 1957's "A Face in the Crowd."

At its core, "Waitress" delivers an important message. I won't reveal what it is for fear of giving away Jenna's ultimate choice, but I'm certain it's the correct choice. You'll think so too.

Despite its charming, happy feel, "Waitress" is overshadowed by melancholy. Not for anything on-screen, but because Shelly, who wrote, directed and co-starred in this film, was murdered late last year. Knowing she isn't around to bask in the afterglow of well-deserved applause for this masterpiece is a true bummer.

But that's the only depressing thing about this flick. After the lights come up, "Waitress" is as delicious and as filling as, well, a freshly-baked slice of pie.

"Waitress" is now playing at Regal Downtown West and at select theaters everywhere. It is rated PG-13 for adult language and situations.

Late last year, I wrote about an obscure 1976 Johnny Mathis song called "Yellow Roses on her Gown."

Yesterday, I received an e-mail about the song from Pat Murphy. Pat lives in Toronto. He hosts an excellent radio show, "The Long Note," the last Sunday of each month on CKLN-FM 88.1 in that city.

The program normally features songs performed in the Celtic tradition. But tonight Pat stepped away from that format to present a playlist entitled "Obscurities," songs you've rarely -- if ever -- heard.

Highlights included a little-known 1973 Glen Campbell recording of "Sold American," Elvis's heartbreaking, brilliant 1974 tear-jerker "Loving Arms" and Daniel O'Donnell and Mary Duff's beautiful cover of Porter Waggoner and Dolly Parton's country classic "Making Plans."

Near the end of the show, Pat played Mathis's tale of a disintegrating marriage. He was also kind enough to mention our e-mail conversation about the song.

Check out this eclectic station on the Web at "The Long Note" airs Sunday nights at 8 p.m. (Eastern).

Thanks for sharing this wonderful piece of music with your listeners, Pat. It remains the most hauntingly beautiful lyric and arrangement I've ever heard.

"Yellow Roses On Her Gown" can be found on the 4 CD Johnny Mathis box set "A Personal Collection" and on the out-of-print 1976 Mathis album "Mahogany."

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Saturday, May 26, 2007

Big Duke's big day

"Now on the day that John Wayne died, I found myself on the Continental Divide...Think of 'Red River' and 'Liberty Valance,' can't believe the old man's gone." --- Jimmy Buffett, "Incommunicado."

In a few minutes I'll skip this afternoon's Braves/Phillies match-up on FOX.

Don't worry. I'm not sick (well, other than the kidney stones). Nope, today is a very special birthday. A big, whoppin', big as life centennial celebration for a guy who was all that and plenty more.

Hard to believe, but today would have been Marion Morrison's 100th birthday. You know him better as John Wayne.

Wayne was a lot of things to a lot of people. To some, he was a great actor. To others, a loudmouth conservative, a no-talent hack who simply played himself again and again in formula films with repetitive plots. To millions both at home and abroad, Duke Wayne was America.

I don't pretend that Wayne was a skilled actor with the range of somebody like Laurence Olivier. But he found a niche and did it well.

Those who worked with him loved him. Liberal activist/actors (Kirk Douglas, Katherine Hepburn) said Wayne was nothing but a gentleman. They found him to be well-read, tolerant and a genuine professional. Even Barbra Streisand couldn't contain her excitement when she announced Wayne's name as the Best Actor winner of 1969 for his best film, "True Grit."

The public made him America's top movie star for a quarter century. Twenty-eight years after his death, John Wayne can regularly be found at or near the top of the annual list of favorite actor polls.

I suspect that profound sociological, cultural and political reasons make this so. But we won't get into all that now. Today's a birthday party, remember?

In honor of Big Duke's big day, here is my list of 10 John Wayne films that any serious American movie buff should screen. Aside from the No. 1 film, they aren't in any particular order. I simply can't rank John Wayne's films based on personal preference. Just can't do it.

Happy birthday, Duke!

1. True Grit (1969) --- Far and away his best picture, this simple tale of seeking justice won Wayne a long overdue Best Actor Academy Award. His slightly off-center portrayal of ne'er-do-well U.S. Marshal Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn is one for the ages. Young Kim Darby is his perfect foil. Overlook Glen Campbell and this is a five-star picture.

2. The Searchers (1956) --- A favorite of domestic and international film critics, this movie is the high water mark in the John Ford/John Wayne filmography. Wayne's portrayal of the haunted Ethan Edwards is arguably his best. Director Ford was at the top of his game here. Makes a powerful case for the best American western ever put to celluloid. Monument Valley never looked so good.

3. The Shootist (1976) --- Wayne's final film is an emotional character study of an aging gunfighter who comes to Carson City, Nev., in order to die. The fact that Duke himself passed three years later of the same disease his character suffers from makes "The Shootist" painfully prophetic. The scenes between Wayne and Jimmy Stewart, playing the town doc who gives Wayne's character the bad news, should be textbook studies for anyone who aspires to act. Ron Howard, Lauren Bacall, Richard Boone, Hugh O'Brian, Harry Morgan and Scatman Crothers shine in supporting roles. A fitting epitaph to a great career.

4. McLintock! (1963) --- This comedic western remake of "Taming of the Shrew" is a two-hour delight. Wayne and Maureen O'Hara, playing his estranged wife here, were simply made for one another.

5. Red River (1948) --- John Ford reportedly said after screening this Howard Hawks masterpiece, "I didn't know the big SOB could act." Duke delivers a mature performance as the rough, tough trail boss Tom Dunson. Montgomery Clift is equally fantastic as Dunson's protege. I'd like it better if not for the lackluster ending.

6. Rio Bravo (1959)
--- Howard Hawks had an obsession with this story. He later remade it twice (in "El Dorado" and "Rio Lobo"), all three times using Wayne in the starring role. The original is best. Dean Martin and Ward Bond are fantastic in supporting roles and pop singer Rick Nelson turns in a surprisingly decent performance as a young gunslinger.

7. Hondo (1953) --- I don't know why I like this movie so much, but it may be Wayne's most underrated western. A more subtle take on "Shane," Wayne plays an outlaw who falls in love with a married woman whose young son idolizes Wayne's Hondo Lane. For whatever reason, this film never has received the respect it deserves.

8. In Harm's Way (1965) --- Another underrated picture. This Otto Preminger flick is set in Hawaii before and after the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and focuses on the Navy's initial fight against the Japanese. Loaded with stars (Kirk Douglas, Burgess Meredith, Knoxville's own Patricia Neal), this film puts 2001's "Pearl Harbor" to shame.

9. The Sands of Iwo Jima (1949) --- Far and away the best of Wayne's war pictures. A bit corny, but perfect for its time. Wayne's mentoring of a young John Agar is another classic bit of cinema. I admit it -- when Wayne's character meets his fate, I shed a tear. Duke's losing to Broderick Crawford for Best Actor that year is a bigger farce than Peyton Manning losing the Heisman Trophy to ol' what's-his-name.

10. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) --- John Ford's claustrophobic western is an unsentimental examination of myth and reality during the taming of the West. Wayne plays the outlaw hero. Jimmy Stewart is the wimpy lawyer with a lot of guts. Vera Miles loves them both. One of them shoots Lee Marvin at the end. This is such a fine film. It's the most unique entry in the long Wayne-Ford collaboration.

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Almost perfect

What a day.

Were it not for the fact that my right kidney's stones are now moving and causing agony, yesterday would have been perfect.

First and foremost: My dear friends Dewayne Lawson and Bridget Trogden are the proud parents of a new son, Jacob Paul Lawson. Mother and son are doing fine. Proud papa made my day when he called.

Tears filled my eyes when I heard the boy's name.

The legendary Ernie Harwell, 80-something years young, was the guest commentator on the Tigers game yesterday afternoon. Ernie's the best of the best.

He tells a great story during the game about a Tigers player who began his career here in Knoxville when the Smokies were a Tigs affiliate in the sixties. After a while the player was sent to the old Atlanta Crackers. Ernie says the Crackers' stadium sported a sign in left that read "Hit it here and win a pint of whiskey."

That Cracker became a switch hitter.

Detroit took care of the Los Angeles Angels in high fashion 12-0. Jeremy Bonderman mixed his 90 mph fastball and nasty slider rather well for eight innings. His final line was 4 hits, 0 earned runs, 5 walks and 6 strikeouts.

Ernie watches a lot of baseball these days. He catches games on the radio, reads coverage in the newspaper. He's also a popular speaker on the circuit.

"If a guy burps in a movie house, I give a speech," he jokes.

Perfect afternoon it was for baseball in Motown. Packed house, loud fans. There's something special, almost ethereal, about day baseball. Seeing the boys sporting the old English D in the bright sunshine, backed by that velvet Southern voice, conjures up the intangible something that was once great about this game.

Last night, crafty Atlanta veteran John Smoltz shut down the New York Mets to earn his 200th win. The Braves are within a stone's throw of first place.

Almost perfect, man. Almost perfect.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Soaring like eagles, slithering like snakes

I'm tired of talking about myself and my sickness as much as you are tired of hearing it.

So quick update, and then we'll move on. The stones have become blocked in my system. Doc swears I'll pass them soon. He wrote me three scrips yesterday for medicine that is supposed to help with that. I go back Tuesday for a follow up and to decide what to do about the stones in my right kidney. I feel sore; I get tired easily. Meanwhile, I'm working as much as I can at home.

OK, now on to other things.

Explain to me, if you will, the paradox that is Jimmy Carter.

On one hand, he comes across as an unassuming, gentle guy from Plains, Ga., who seems to have a genuine faith and a gentle outlook on life. Other times, he's arrogant, holier-than-thou, angry, mean-spirited, naive and stubborn. Oh, yeah. He used to be president. Before that, he was governor of Georgia.

Carter rather strongly criticized the Bush Administration over the weekend. Nothing new there. Nothing wrong with it, either.

Problem is by virtually any measure Carter's White House years weren't much better --- domestically or internationally. About the only person I know who can legitimately claim he was better off in 1980 after four years of Peanut Politics is the late Ayatollah Khamenei. At one point, Carter's approval rating was lower than Richard Nixon's --- after Watergate.

Carter has spent his years out of power atoning for his Washington disaster. He's done some good things. Building houses for Habitat comes to mind.

He's written books. He runs the Carter Center in Atlanta. He goes to Braves games. Somewhere along the way he won a Pulitzer Peace Prize.

Just when you start to think Jimmy's really a nice guy, he goes crazy. And I'm not talking about his comments on Bush. Read his latest book on the Middle East conflict. You'll see what I mean.

Christopher Hitchens has written a wittily mean column on Carter that can be found here: or by clicking on the link in the blog title.

He's pretty tough on the ol' peanut farmer, but most of his points are valid.

Guess I bring all this up to say that human beings are so fascinating. They are truly three dimensional and multi-layered. Good and evil live within us all, as does the ability to soar like eagles and slither like snakes.

Maybe the thing to do isn't to try to understand the Carter paradox, or the Nixon paradox or the Clinton paradox, or fill in your own presidential name here. I don't think I care that much anyway.

No, I think the better point to note is that the contradictions of our leaders past and present, their grand visions and petty behavior, reinforces just how complex we humans really are.

It tells us something else, too.

Nothing, not even (especially not even) a smiling preacher/politician from the South, is quite what it seems.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Back to the doc...

I would tell you to have a seat, but I can't really sit myself. So I'll just lie here a minute while we talk if you don't mind.

Headed back to the doc tomorrow. Still haven't passed the stone. Gotta have some relief. Don't know if this will mean more surgery or what. I just hope he says, "It's moving through your system, you'll pass it tomorrow."

(Crossing fingers)

People have asked what a kidney stone feels like. I can't explain it. Think of the worst pain you've ever had and combine it by 100 percent. My mother birthed her children naturally; she says passing a stone is worse.

Today was a little brighter thanks to my discovery of a "can't believe it's this good" live Bobby Darin album, "Live! At The Desert Inn," from the early '70s. I'll review it when I feel better, but what a show!

The concert was recorded at the nadir of Darin's career, a mere two years before his untimely death. And yet his voice is in fine form. The so-called nightclub crooner shows surprising relevance (for the times) on a superb Beatles medley, a kicking version of Jackie Wilson's "(Your Love's Lifting Me) Higher and Higher" and a bluesy version of James Taylor's "Fire and Rain."

His own "Mack the Knife" swings easy (as always). But the real treat is a soulful, sincere cover of Tim Hardin's "If I Were A Carpenter."

It's a cliche, I know, but they really don't make 'em like this anymore.

Anyhow, wish me luck at the urologist tomorrow. I don't mind telling you this has been the roughest period of my life in a physical sense. I'm ready for it to be over.

But, at the same time, I'm mighty thankful it isn't any worse.

Just take the hurt away, will ya?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Buble is anything but 'irresponsible' on new disc

I'll never forget it.

I had just turned onto Beaver Creek Road on my way back to the office from a doctor's appointment. CD player was broken and this was pre-iPod. So I had the radio on, tuned to a low-watt AM station (yeah, it still exists) that plays American pop standards.

Then I heard the voice.

Another summer day has come and gone away in Paris or Rome, but I wanna go home...

I first thought the performer was the eccentric '70s singer/songwriter Stephen Bishop. But, no. This guy had pipes. Smooth as silk. Nice range.

Nearly had a wreck. The tune, "Home," had me climbing the walls.

That was my introduction to Michael Buble.

The Canadian born crooner channels Sinatra so effortlessly it is frightening. That's apparent right from the opening track of his excellent new album, "Call Me Irresponsible."

The best is yet to come and babe won't it be fine...

Can pop music be this good in '07? It's been lifeless for so long, save Harry Connick Jr. and Bobby Caldwell and a few others.

You keep checking the CD cover. You pinch yourself. Yes, this is indeed real. It isn't a dream.

And guess what? It isn't retro either. There's new stuff here, too.

The original single "Everything" flies along at a happy pace. It's probably a bit too happy, too slick, too obviously radio friendly. In Buble's hands it doesn't matter.

But, oh, these covers. That's where it's at, Jack.

Buble reinvents Billy Paul's '70s hit "Me and Mrs. Jones," (we got a thing goin' on...) into something quite delicious. He turns a forgettable cheating soul song into a jazz-influenced, quietly nuanced number. Yeah, he's seeing that married woman. Yeah, it's wrong. But, no, he ain't stoppin'.

There's more Sinatra. "I've Got the World on a String" and "That's Life," the latter complete with a gospel choir backup. There's a little Nat "King" Cole, too, as Buble works magic on Cole's last hit, "L-O-V-E."

Darned if Elvis and Willie Nelson aren't both here, too. "Always on My Mind" was written for The King following his separation from 'Cilla in the early '70s. Willie turned it into a No. 1 smash a decade later.

A familiar song becomes a quiet lament, a beautiful, heartbreaking study in regret. It opens with an understated piano lead, followed by strings and then that voice. Buble's phrasing is impeccable.

It's hard to pick a favorite. Force me to name one and I'll have to choose Buble and Boyz II Men's swinging, playful cover of Mel Torme's "Coming Home Baby." It glides, it jumps, it makes you wish the talented soul/R&B vocal group hadn't faded away in the mid-90s.

Misses? Not many. A cover of Eric Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight," done here as a duet with Ivan Lins, doesn't work. Maybe it's the arrangement. Maybe it's because Slowhand's version was perfection personified. Best part is the sweet harmony between Buble and Lins on the chorus.

I don't care much for the salsa-tinged "It Had Better Be Tonight." But that's just personal bias; I've never liked the song.

It's a shame, though, to say anything bad about this CD. Michael Buble has single-handedly brought back ring-a-ding-ding. That aside, his phrasing, vocals and ethos, even on the contemporary stuff, puts him light-years ahead of anybody singing pop music today.

"Call Me Irresponsible" is an oasis in the desert. I hope Buble never abandons this sound for something more commercial.

And given the fact that he is only 32, here's hoping the best is yet to come...

"Call Me Irresponsible" is now available from Reprise/Warner, on iPod download and at music stores everywhere.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

A favor...

Hi, folks.

Short and sweet tonight. I'm writing to ask that y'all send some happy thoughts out my way if you'll be so kind.

Took a downturn this afternoon. I've felt downright awful today. The pain from the stones is worse than it has been during the entire two weeks I've been struggling with them. It got so bad earlier tonight I almost went to the E/R. The painkillers weren't helping much.

I'm hoping this is a good thing. My experience has been when the pain is the most severe, it means the stone is moving. So with a little luck maybe I'll pass the darn thing within the next day or two.

So, if you'll permit me to ask a favor, send me some positive vibes out if you will. I'm so thankful that this isn't serious, but let me tell ya, it hurts. Also, here's hoping that I don't have to have another surgery to actually remove the stone. I've had it before; that surgery is worse than passing the blasted thing.

I'm embarrassed that I've written this much about myself the last few days. A writer's job is to tell stories or ponder points, not contemplate one's navel, as my boss likes to say. But it's done me a lot of good to "share" with you. Makes me feel less alone; passing kidney stones tends to be a solitary and frustrating endeavor.

Tomorrow night, if I feel up to it, I'll tell you all about this fantastic new Michael Buble album.

Meantime, I hope you're doing well. Wish your buddy some luck this weekend if you will.

Goodnight --- thanks for letting me vent.

Friday, May 18, 2007

The week is over (let's get to next week)

What a host of friends.

Gosh, I can't thank them enough for the phone calls, e-mails, well wishes, cards, and comments. I even heard from a former professor at UT. Can you believe it?

I am still sore, tire easily and can't move around that great; but I'm getting better. Resting quite a bit and drinking water like it's going out of style.

I still have some stones up in there (right side), but we'll deal with that later. Go back to the doc at the end of the month. I'm starting to feel like there are still stones in the left side (one they operated on), too --- same pain as before --- but I really hope it's just soreness.

Main thing is I can't wait to get back to work. A week without words is like a swim at the beach without the salt water.

Still, there is reason for excitement.

Things at work are popping. We have some projects on the horizon I can't wait to begin. I also just miss the gentle routines of the day, the laughter from the newsroom, the feel of the place. I'm usually the target of all the harassment --- and I wouldn't have any other way. God, I love those folks.

After surgery, I did manage to read a great, gossipy book on Sinatra. Lots of fun. Now I'm plowing through "In Cold Blood" by Truman Capote. It, and a conversation with co-worker Larry Van Guilder, has given me a sterling new slant on an old project. I can't wait to get better so I can spend weekends working on that, too. I'll tell you more about it later.

Sorry I missed Jenny's trip to Knoxville. Definitely next time, Jen. Good luck on the mission trip!

That's enough for today. Thank you to all who cared about me these last two weeks.

Only in the wonderful, horrible irony that is the journey of life can you hear from complete strangers during an illness and not hear a peep from good friends.

Don't think I'm complaining for one minute, though. No, sir. Gaining insight into a human being's actions is the writer's greatest tool.

I love 'em all anyway. Life's too short to get mad.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The rest of the ride...

Well, gang, tomorrow is it. The day I've been waiting for.

I'm having trouble with these ol' stones. Ready for them to go away. Felt just awful this week.

Don't mind telling ya I'm a little apprehensive. The procedure comes with some risks, first and foremost of which is it may not work. Y'all think about me tomorrow around noon.

And don't forget about my mom. She's either going to have surgery herself or keep trying to pass her stones on her own. Mom is in a lot of pain.

I'll be away from the blog for a few days as I recuperate from surgery. But before I go let me pause long enough to say this:

If you're reading these words, chances are you've touched my life in some way. Thank you for providing a writer with the ultimate compliment --- by reading my work.

For my friends, thank you for all you've given me. I tell people all of the time that I have the greatest pals in the world. And I mean that. This ride wouldn't have been near as much fun without ya.

Life doesn't make much sense sometimes. At other moments, it plays out like a favorite movie.

I've had a heck of great time. I don't think we pause enough to say it, but thanks for sharing this journey with me.

Do yourself a favor this week. Get outside at some point and enjoy the beauty of an East Tennessee spring. Put on a favorite record and turn it up. Read a good book. Call somebody on the phone for no other reason than to hear their voice.

Now, let's get these stones outta here so I can get back to living. There's a lot of fun left to have, a lot of words left to write (and read), a lot of places left to see, a lot of songs left to sing and a lot of people to spend time with.

Here's to the rest of the ride...

Make it one for my baby...

Got Sinatra on the player tonight.

It's the classic album, too -- even better than "The Wee Small Hours."

Yep, you guessed it. "Only the Lonely."

"The songs I know, only the lonely know..."

Don't read anything into that. I'm not that blue tonight.

Been reading a new biography on the Chairman of the Board; I wanted to hear him during his peak.

Capitol. Late '50s. Frankie and Nelson worked magic together --- especially on this one.

You can smell the smoke. You can hear the ice tumbling in the glass. You can see him sitting there, alone. It's 2 a.m. He's ducked into the place trying to find some relief.

She's left. He's hurt. He's sharing it with us. It's that simple.

No, not really. Sinatra puts us there because he was that good.

All the classics are here. Matt Dennis' fine "Angel Eyes." ("Excuse me while I disappear...")

"What's New?" sung like he means it. "Ebb Tide," without the bombastic vocals of somebody like Bobby Hatfield.

The expanded CD includes one of my favorites. Rodgers and Hart's classic.

We looked at each other in the same way then. But who knows where. Or when?

Oh, but then comes that last number.

Just Bill Miller's piano at first; then the voice.

"It's a quarter to three. There's no one in the place 'cept you and me..."

Forget "My Way." Don't even mention "New York, New York." This is Sinatra's shining hour, the moment when the man and the music became linked. All those lonely nights getting over Ava, all the pain and the agony and the ecstasy come together to form that most elusive of species --- a perfect pop record.

That's enough for tonight. Careful, or I might get the blues for real.

Oh, let's listen to it one last time. Just once more for my baby.

And another for the road...

Saturday, May 12, 2007

You can't please everyone...

Sometimes you learn great life lessons in the midst of not so great times.

That's happened to me this week. Six days incapacitated leaves you with plenty of time alone --- to read, to rest, to think. It hasn't exactly been fun, but I think I've learned a lot about myself.

If I were honest with you, I think two factors have overshadowed much of my life --- guilt and a tendency to look to others for happiness rather than seeking it within myself.

Let's start with that first one.

A friend told me recently that guilt attaches to them quite easily. So it is with me. That started in childhood, as I watched those of a particular brand of Christianity try to use their religion to guilt people into making certain decisions. I didn't much like it then; I have no respect for that tactic now.

And if I were honest with myself, I think my outlook on life and my desire to please others, or at least to not be a hindrance, adds to it as well. I feel guilty when I get sick and miss work. I feel guilty when I can't do everything others want me to do. I feel guilty about feeling guilty.

You get the point.

Bottom line is there are times to feel guilty (most often when you've screwed up), and other times when you just can't be perfect. Maybe that's a better way of saying it. Maybe it's not guilt I feel so much as it is trouble accepting the fact that I'm not perfect.

But what you learn is neither is anybody else --- and that's OK.

Now let's talk about looking to others for happiness.

I've done this for years. Although I alternate between being an extrovert and an introvert, I generally lean toward the former. I like people. I like talking to people -- especially those I care about. I love to have an audience to perform for and don't handle things well when the curtain falls.

I think that's mostly fine. But what you have to learn is you can't have folks around you 100 percent of the time. People are busy. They can't always hang out. Sometimes they don't call you back.

And that's OK. Often I tend to think something is wrong with me when that happens. It's my fault.

Well, no.

It's perfectly fine (and normal) to find sources of strength in others. That's why we're not alone here on earth. But I've found it's also healthy to spend time alone --- time to reflect, to recharge the batteries, or, frankly, just to get away from the world for awhile. I wouldn't trade my now infrequent solitary trips to the lake for anything.

I often try to put a positive spin on things. This week is an experience I hope I never repeat. But I'm thankful for what this time to myself has taught me.

You aren't perfect. No matter how hard you try, you just can't be. And while external sources of happiness are perfectly fine, sometimes the best sense of tranquility comes from within.

Maybe the late, great Rick Nelson said it best.

"You can't please everyone. So you got to please yourself."

Friday, May 11, 2007

And mother makes two...

What a week.

You know about my problems. Turns out I have at least four stones in the left kidney and at least two stones in the right. I go Monday to have them removed. Cross your fingers for me; there is no guarantee the procedure will be a success. And it comes with some risks.

Now get this. My grandfather wakes me up this morning and scares me half to death.

"Your mother has been taken to the emergency room," he says. "Your grandmother and I are going there now."

"Wait," I say, still out of it. "What's wrong?"

Got a guess?

How'd you know? Kidney stones.

Yep, mom has two of them, both in her left side. I went to see her after I returned from UT hospital getting prepped for Monday's surgery.

They've given her a 50 percent chance of passing her stones. She goes to the urologist next week.

"I go to great lengths to get out of taking you to the hospital," she jokes.

"Well, I don't want to hear you complain unless you have four or five in there," I joke back.

I'm relieved it turned out to just be stones. She'd been complaining of pain in the bladder and lower back and she'd spotted blood in her system. Some Mother's Day weekend for her, huh?

This is a May to forget. We're just all glad it's nothing more serious.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

'Rocky' start to May

Talk about a rocky start to the month.

Gonna make this one short and sweet. But I thought if I could write a little, it might make me feel better.

Got some crazy news today from the doctor. I went to Baptist complaining of back problems on Monday. Ultrasound results came back this morning. I have multiple kidney stones in both kidneys. One appears to be too big to pass. I go to a urologist at UT tomorrow afternoon to see about getting them removed. Looks like surgery.

I count my blessings that this isn't cancer, heart attack, Parkinson's or something really serious. But words can't describe how much this hurts.

It's a lonely experience. You can't read. You can't work. You don't hardly feel like moving. All you can do is drink liquids and take the pain medication they give you. And you sit. And wait.

Doc says they have to come out soon, though. Untreated stones can shut your kidneys down.

This makes me feel old. I'm not yet 30. I shouldn't have these kind of problems.

Not going to complain, though. It won't help or change a thing. Just makes me feel worse.

Cross your fingers for your old pal Jake tomorrow. Really hoping to avoid surgery. Had it before; it's pretty rough, too.

Hopefully tomorrow night I'll gave some good news for you. Going to go lie down again. I hope you all are having a great week.

Maybe if nothing else I'll open up my own quarry. You gotta laugh, after all.

Monday, May 07, 2007

'Musings' will return...

Jake Mabe's blog is taking a short hiatus.

Jake is at home attempting to pass a kidney stone. He's also hoping he doesn't have to have surgery to remove it.

"Musings from Mabe" will return...

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Saturday night lessons

Life is so funny. Here, pull up a chair, and sit down a minute. Order what you'd like. We haven't talked like this in a while.

Gotta tell you about my weekend. Boy, I was in need of some R&R in the worst way. Deadlines, jury duty, health issues --- it gets to ya after awhile, you know?

Flirted with getting out of town for the weekend, escaping to the solitude of my personal little Walden. Made serious plans also to go hear Robin sing tonight.

Didn't do either. But had a great Saturday night.

Met two of my favorite friends from the so-called "good ol' days" (are we too young still to use that phrase?) for Chinese. Worked better than any doctor's medicine.

The conversation ranged from literature and writing to politics to petty gossip. The three of us all, truth be told, have wide-ranging and varying personal philosophies and life experiences.

But that's why it was so much fun. Show me somebody who only wants to be around those of a like-minded nature, and I'll show you an idiot.

Lincoln, more so than any of our other presidents, instinctively knew this. He surrounded himself with most of his major rivals for the 1860 Republican presidential nomination. Four years later, he tapped a Democrat (gasp!), Tennessee Sen. Andrew Johnson, to be his vice president.

It worked out pretty well. I know a host of leaders at all levels who would be well served to follow Lincoln's example. Even Richard Nixon saw the value in reading books, newspapers, magazines and position papers that were light-years apart from his own politics.

But I digress.

I learned a lot, I tell ya. Heard about books I long to read, ideas I need to ponder, places I have to visit and movies I need to rent. I only hope I contributed about half of what I soaked up.

In short, Saturday night was one of life's great moments. You keep it close, pull it out every now and then when you need it, think back on it when the world is too hazy.

Then, to top it off, later I sat on my best friend's back porch, enjoyed a fine late spring Saturday evening and woke up this morning rejuvenated and ready to face the world again on Monday. Brunch this morning with two other special friends was the proverbial icing on the equally proverbial cake.

I may not know much. But if life has taught me anything, it's this:

You can't ever stamp a price tag on good friends. They are life's most precious commodity. Don't take them for granted; don't be too busy for them.

And here's something else I've figured out:

Don't ever be afraid to hear thoughts different from your own. In fact, the wisest among us should seek it regularly. Whether you agree (or disagree) doesn't really matter. In fact, you might be surprised what you learn --- both about this crazy roller coaster ride we call life, and about yourself.

Cause, after all, a mind is a terrible thing to waste.

Or lose.

Guess that's enough blabbing for tonight. Excuse me a minute, will ya? I'm going to put a quarter in the jukebox. You like jazz? I feel like a little Coltrane tonight.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

What we lost when Hawkeye left Korea

The man waved one last good-bye to his friend. He watched the other man ride his motorcycle down the hill from the helipad and off into the distance.

He motioned for the pilot to take the chopper into the air. He smiled at the "Goodbye" note his friend had made with some rocks. Then he leaned back in his seat and rested.

He was tired, looked older than his years. Three years in a MASH unit had taken a toll.

When Hawkeye Pierce (Alan Alda) left the fictional "M*A*S*H" on Feb. 28, 1983, we lost more than a fine television program. We lost good writing -- and great acting. We lost a program that made the audience think, and perhaps, reexamine their personal philosophy.

We couldn't have known it then, but in many ways the big "M*A*S*H" finale (still the most-watched program in TV history) was a watershed. Its like hasn't been seen since -- and probably never will.

Critics complain that the show lost its way about half-way through its 11 year run. Too sentimental, they said. Too bogged down in Alan Alda's personal philosophy.


My boss jokes that she's making me out to be a feminist. She's certainly broadened my mind, but that started with "M*A*S*H."

Never will forget a later episode, "Hey, Look Me Over." Hawkeye ignored sweet, gentle nurse Kellye (and her advances) while chasing after the more physically appealing, but somewhat self-centered, other nurses in the unit.Then he observed her comforting a patient, realized what a fine woman she was, and asked her for a date.

Kellye got him back at the end and Hawk learned a little something about women -- and himself.

My favorite part of "M*A*S*H" was its character development. Hawkeye evolves from a skirt-chasing womanizer to a sensitive and somewhat troubled human being. His cock-sureness disappeared somewhere in all the blood and guts of the OR.

Margaret Houlihan (Loretta Swit) became over those 11 years the most three-dimensional woman ever presented on American television. Her journey from "Hot Lips" to the woman who realizes she deserves better than both the impish Frank Burns and the two-timing Donald Penobscott is one of the more remarkable character arcs in TV history.

By the end of the series, Margaret even bucked her beloved father's wishes, choosing to realize her lifelong dream of becoming a nurse in an American hospital after the war.

And, of course, we can't forget about Charles Emerson Winchester III. Charles loosened up over the years. We found out why he pretended to be such a snobbish stuffed shirt, saw him fall in love and witnessed in horror his meltdown after five Chinese POWs were killed. I've often thought that David Ogden Stiers was the most underrated member of the show's fine ensemble cast.

I watched that classic final episode this morning while the rain poured outside my window. I was quite pleased to find that not only does it hold up after 24 years, it's still very much a masterpiece.

Take the ironies. Winchester's love of classical music was a solace from the harsh realities of war. After the POWs are killed, Mozart will forever be a reminder. Max Klinger (Jamie Farr), the guy who once wore dresses in an attempt to get home, ended up staying in Korea with his new bride Soon-Lee (Rosalind Chao).

You don't see that kind of writing anymore. In fact, with the onslaught of "reality TV," you don't see any writing at all.

Sociologists and culture critics look at modern American society from time to time and wonder about it all. Why aren't children more creative, they ask. Why all the vapid looks? Why is a whole generation coming of age totally ignorant of its history? Why is modern television such a cultural wasteland?

Next time you sit down to an episode of "Survivor," or root on your favorite American idols, remember the story of the helicopter taking Hawkeye Pierce away from Korea. Compare "M*A*S*H," its witty (and poignant) writing, stellar acting and overall philosophy, to the mindless crap in front of you.

The answers to those questions suddenly seem crystal clear.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Drowning the soul

Sunday night, barring a natural disaster, you'll be able to find me down at Barley's.I'm in desperate need for a little night music. Been one of those weeks.

Ever get the feeling life's passing you by? Well, me either, but it sounded like something to say.

Wanted to go hear Fountain City's own Sarah Lewis and Jag Star down at the World's Fair Park last Saturday night. Instead, I found myself hanging out at the old school for the alumni dinner, clicking the camera and writing in the notepad.

Life's tough. Actually it wasn't bad, but nothing compares to live music on a gorgeous Saturday night --- especially when its Jag Star. Sorry, Halls.

Haven't seen Robin, CC and the Stringband since back in the winter. Robin's vocals makes me remember why life is such a fine journey. She can pluck the heartstrings and tickle the funny bone, sometimes all in the same song.

She's good. I truly believe the Stringband could tour America and never look back. And yet they still play the Taproom every Sunday night. Robin and the boys are a local treasure.

Next weekend, the Harneds and I are planning to take in the KSO's spring concert at the Bijou. Among other things, the Symphony will present a concerto composed by Wladyslaw Szpilman. Szpilman was the subject of Roman Polanski's fine 2003 film, "The Pianist."

"Anyone who watches that film and isn't moved can't be a human being," a friend says.

And so it is. Can't wait to hear his music.

But yeah. I'm leaving the ball game and everything else behind Sunday night. Time to go hear that angel sing.

It's good for the soul.

Both RobinElla's "Solace for the Lonely" and Jag Star's "The Best Impression of Sanity" are available now. Info: and

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Lord knows when the cold wind blows it'll turn your head around...

What do you do when the darkness comes?

Hang around good people for one. Tonight was a trip to Union County to have dinner with the best writer I know, Marvin West, and his wife, Sarah.

Yankees game gets rained out, but that's OK. I really come for the company and conversation. Baseball, for once, is just an excuse.

We talk shop. Marvin tells me stories. Sarah tells me about her grandchildren, or prompts Marvin to fill in the gaps when she's in the other room.

I try to pay attention to the Red Sox, but am lost in Marvin's tales of guys named Bear and Battle. I hate to see the evening go; I cherish my time with the Wests.

Drive home listening to Sinatra, but that doesn't help much. Can't shake the fog.

Try to read, but that isn't working. News is too depressing.

Sit here in the stillness awhile. Not a good idea. Not tonight.

Maybe sleep will help. Don't know.

Can't shake the feeling.

But tomorrow I'll get up, go to work, jump back into this game called life.


Well, I've learned a lot from Marvin West. One of his lessons comes via former UT swim coach Ray Bussard.

Spizzerinctum. You either have it, or you don't.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Pieces of April

I've got pieces of April, but it's a morning in May...

My favorite month is over. Don't look now, it's gone.

That's OK. Been a good month.

The fourth month of the year means baseball. Plenty of that. Nearly every Braves game on the tube. Trip to Chattanooga. Rome Braves, too. Twice to Smokies Park. Numerous times to Halls High.

Best part may be outdoors. Didn't start off that way. Freezing cold. Thermal underwear on Easter? You gotta be kidding.

Plenty more than that. Music = good. Jury duty = not as good. Met a lot of good folks, though.

A month of reunions. Dinner at Regas with pals from Nashville. Phone calls from high school buddy. Text messages from dear souls out of state. Plenty of fun on MySpace.

And what's this? Reunion girl too? Yep. Felt like I won the lottery or some such thing. Such good times.

Bad stuff, too. Migraines. Sunday night sick. Day or two out of it. Night or two wishing with all my being I could reach out and hold her hand awhile.

Good books, too. Pistol Pete. Horrors in Vietnam. Great SI article on a guy I used to hate.

"Magnum, p.i." Memories. Mazonne rocks back and forth -- in Baltimore??!!

Huddling up by the fire. Long, beautiful spring afternoons. One of those rare evenings when the world is perfect.

Blue skies. Brown eyes. Bottom of the eighth, Braves lead. 6-4-3 double play. Halls wins! Halls wins!

Robin sings the blues. "Oh, Mandy, you came and you gave without takin'." But I sent her away.

Deadlines. Commitments. What to leave in. What to leave out. Friday night blues. Come Monday, it will be alright.

Pieces of April.

But now it's a morning in May...