Sunday, December 30, 2007

The weekend goeth

So it's Sunday night and the weekend is closing down with ease.

The Colts and Titans are tied, the Crimson Tide seems to be having its way with Colorado and I've got Nat "King" Cole on the rad-io, a Christmas present I'm just now enjoying on the hi-fi.

It's one of his original Capitol albums from the fifties, "Songs for Two in Love" or something like that. I'm too lazy to go look. Nat is smooth as silk. You know what I mean.

The liner notes say that Collector's Choice is going to be releasing all of King's Capitol albums, some appearing on compact disc for the first time in the United States. These are classics, essential additions to any collection that claims to know something about American popular music.

The arrangements fit snugly in Nelson Riddle's more than capable hands. Nat had no equal on vocals. He's better than Sinatra, really. But don't tell anybody I said that.

Here he is singing Johnny Mercer better than anyone before or since.

The falling leaves pass by my window...

God, why doesn't anybody sing like this anymore?

I was lazy on this rainy Sunday. Spent the afternoon watching football with a pal in Maryville. It was nice and easy, a good Sunday for a nap.

Now, I guess it's time to start the week, although we'll get one last holiday respite before having to wrestle with 2008 with any kind of seriousness.

Geez. I'll be 30 this year. Where on earth does the time go?

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Friday, December 28, 2007

Life is good

I saw a woman the other day with a message on her shirt. It was a simple three word phrase, one we've heard many times before.

"Life is good."

I thought about that message this morning while driving to the office in the drizzling rain. An old doo wop song came on the radio. An old pal called on the phone.

And I thought, "You know, life really is good, if you think about it."

Oh, there have been disappointments. But those things happen. And when you put them up against all the laughs, and the good music, nights at the lake and days in the sun, they can't even compare.

I was cleaning up the other day and came across my stash of old photographs. Stuff I haven't seen in years. I laughed a lot. I felt a twinge of sadness at the sight a couple of faces who no longer come around.

But mostly I marveled at all the fun I've had. My own musical act at 15. Vacations here and there; baseball trips to Atlanta; football trips to Birmingham; NFL trips to Indy.

Way in the back were shots from my fifth grade trip to Washington with the safety patrol. It brought a smile.

Sometimes I let the world get to me. I focus on the bad, remember the disappointments instead of basking in the glow of the good times. But, you know, if the last few years have taught me anything, it's that at the end of the day all you can control is your own actions.

Let others go as they will. Me? I'll be the guy in the corner, laughing my you-know-what off, singing too loud, grinning too often, loving too hard, blabbing too much and walking too fast.

It took me awhile to realize this, but life -- this wonderful, horrible la vida loca -- is pretty darn good after all.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Mindless (but fun) 'Treasure'

I usually ignore the big holiday blockbusters, unless they happen to be favorite franchise installments (James Bond, "Batman"). But I gave in last night and went to see "National Treasure: Book of Secrets," which turned out to be the perfect after Christmas picture. I wasn't in the mood to think or get bogged down in someone else's moralizing, so this worked out just fine.

I somehow managed to miss the original "National Treasure," a mishap I'm going to remedy via Netflix, but I caught on pretty quick. Treasure hunter Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage) is back in action when an audience member at one of his lectures (the venerable Ed Harris) accuses his ancestor of overseeing the plot to kill Abraham Lincoln.

Ben takes off to Europe to track down the latest treasure, along with electronics pal and hapless wonder Riley (Justin Bartha) and estranged wife Abigail (the very fetching Diane Kruger). Dad Patrick (Jon Voight) and mom Emily (Helen Mirren) are along for much of the adventure too.

The trail leads to the other Statue of Liberty (one of three, who knew?), Buckingham Palace, the White House and, finally, to Mount Rushmore. Along the way, Ben has a lot of fun and even gets to kidnap the president (Bruce Greenwood), who has an uncanny resemblance to JFK (which is probably why he was tapped to play our 35th president in "Thirteen Days" back in 2000). Perhaps my favorite part of the film happens at the president's birthday reception, when country crooner Randy Travis shows up to sing. That got a big laugh.

"Book of Secrets" isn't going to win any Oscars, but it was a great way to unwind after the holiday rush. It's escapist fare that's perfect for all ages (we even got a Goofy cartoon before the show -- when was the last time that happened??).

If you enjoyed the first film, you'll surely love this one. It throws in enough history to make buffs like myself smile.

"National Treasure: Book of Secrets" is now playing. It is rated PG.

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas in Connecticut

Next time you're looking for a fun little movie to curl up with around Christmas, skip the heavy-handed moralizing of something like "It's a Wonderful Life" or "A Christmas Carol," and buy or rent "Christmas in Connecticut." What a delightful picture it is.

"Connecticut" (1945) is a screwball comedy disguised as a Christmas movie. Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck) is one of the most popular food/home columnists in the country. She's the perfect cook, the perfect wife, the perfect mother living on the perfect farm in the country.

But, in reality, Elizabeth is a sham. She's single. She can't cook. She lives in an apartment in New York.

But the whole deception is in jeopardy when her publisher Alexander Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet) receives a letter from a nurse asking him to arrange for her fiancee, war hero Jefferson Jones (Dennis Morgan) to visit the Lane home around Christmas. Making things worse, Yardley decides to tag along too.

So Elizabeth goes to work, and with the help of chef Felix (S.Z. Sakall) and stuffy friend John Sloan (Reginald Gardiner), Elizabeth tries to pull off the deception of being a married woman living on Sloan's farm. Of course, that means Sloan wants to really get married, but Elizabeth is really attracted to Jones, who doesn't make a move because, of course, he thinks she's married.

All this seems a little thin, and in lesser hands would have been. But the cast is superb and the writing is top notch. The Warner Bros. movie factory was in high gear by the time this picture was made, and it shows.

Greenstreet plays a different type role here and is picture-perfect as the self-important rich publisher. The underrated Sakall steals the picture away from the stars as the adorable "Uncle" Felix. I've never much cared for Stanwyck (three words: "The Big Valley"), but she's fine here and plays her role with a certain sardonic sense of humor.

What's touching about the film in 2007 is its quaint, old-fashioned morality. The housekeeper nearly quits when she thinks Sloan and Elizabeth are carrying on before marriage. Yardley takes a dim view of the supposedly married Elizabeth going off on an innocent carriage ride with Jones. But the smartness of the film is that it manages to skew all of this, too, as well as simply being a darn entertaining tale.

You have to suspend belief a little while, and this certainly won't make you re-evaluate your life, but "Christmas in Connecticut" is a perfect way to enjoy some old fashioned laughs at the holidays. In it's own way, this cute little picture is in grave danger of becoming my favorite Christmas flick.

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Monday, December 24, 2007

So this is Christmas...

Does anyone else care about the white trash saga of the Spears family? Didn't think so.

OK, now that's out of the way, we can get down to business.

Confession time: I don't much care for this time of year. The crass commercialization of Christmas is a depressing sight. The moment I stepped out of my car at the mall last week, some woman across the way yelled "I'm over it!" at the top of her lungs. I just stared and shook my head.

That being said, my favorite part of the season is family and friends, spending time with those you love. I thought about that last night, when a buddy and I took in RobinElla's Christmas show at Barley's. Somewhere amid the music and merriment, the realization struck that at the end of the day good companionship is worth more than its weight in gold.

One of life's most important lessons has to be that you are who you associate with. I'm both amused and repulsed at those who surround themselves with people who do nothing but bring them down, then wonder why life hands them so many problems and needless dramatics.

Pal Dean Harned and I got into a good conversation last night. Topics ranged from Chinese purges to Richard Nixon's political comeback, cheap comedic films and Renaissance humanism. Dean has linked the downfall of society, by the way, to the cheap questions now asked in the popular Trivial Pursuit board game.

"The old game used to ask questions about TR and the Rough Riders," Dean says. "The new game had two questions -- two questions -- about the reality show 'Temptation Island.'"

Talk about trivial...

Well, it's getting close to time to go eat breakfast with the family. I hope you and yours have a safe and happy holiday season.

Let's do something original this year. Let's be thankful for what we have. Oh, and by the way -- that has absolutely nothing to do with whatever may be wrapped beneath the tree with your name on it.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Happy birthday, Higgins!

I've gotten more enjoyment out of "Magnum, p.i." than a human being should be allowed to have over the years.

The show has not only provided a hundred laughs, but it's also been the organizing factor behind countless get togethers and indirectly led to a couple of great friendships. In short, it's a fun old program.

I first watched "Magnum" on Thursday nights (and, later, Wednesdays) during its original 1980-88 run on CBS. My dad loved the show and I guess I picked it up from him. When USA added the show to its lineup in the mid-1990s, several high school buddies and I would gather around the tube at 4 p.m. to watch our favorite Vietnam vet in action.

Whenever I visit pal David Romas, the ultimate "Magnum" guru, and his wife Jennifer Bondy in Michigan, a screening of several "Magnum" episodes, usually accompanied by several of Magnum's favorite beverage, is always a must. Buddy Drew Weaver and I have spent many a baseball rainout laughing at some of our favorite moments.

Most of such moments somehow involve co-star John Hillerman as the stuffy but loveable Sgt. Major Jonathan Quayle Higgins. I remember being flabbergasted when I discovered a few years after "Magnum" was canceled that Hillerman really wasn't British. I've often said that his characterization of Higgins owed as much to "Magnum p.i."'s success as Tom Selleck, Hawaii, the Ferrari, Robin Masters or those dobermans ever did.

David e-mailed last night to say that today is John Hillerman's 75th birthday. I wish him well. I doubt I could ever repay that guy for all the joy he's brought me over the years. I don't know if Hillerman ever won an Emmy for his portrayal of our favorite majordomo, but if he didn't, it's a darn shame.

I guess I'll have to watch a favorite "Magnum" moment or two before bed in honor of Higgie's big day.

Here's to you, John. Thanks for the laughs.

"Higgins, I can explain!"

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Whenever I think of Hub Watson, my thoughts turn to long summer days, endless afternoons in Myrtle Beach, the sweet bliss of youth.

Hub passed away Saturday. His funeral was tonight. And I think whatever's left of my childhood died with him.

Hub was one of those guys you felt honored to know. He always had a smile on his face, always was the same -- a rock solid constant in an otherwise changing world.

He and his wife Barbara were friends with my grandparents. Every summer we'd all hop in our motor homes and go to Myrtle Beach, back when that stretch of South Carolina coast was still a blue collar vacation destination.

I'd sometimes ride shotgun with Hub as he steered the motor home. He'd let me use the citizens band radio and we'd talk about whatever an older man discusses with a 12 year old boy. Life was easy.

Last time I saw Hub, we had breakfast together at Amber Restaurant in Halls --- Hub, my grandfather and I. They traded knives and showed off old coins. I reveled in the conversation and drank my coffee, trying to be an adult but still feeling like a boy in the presence of men.

Hub had been sick for a awhile. He'd lost a lot of weight, didn't look like his old self. I told Barbara tonight at Mynatt Funeral Home that I'll forever carry with me special memories of those trips to Myrtle Beach, and, of course, of Hub.

Nothing lasts. We stopped those trips to Myrtle Beach years ago. Those who still visit say I wouldn't recognize it now.

I'll miss Hub, but I'm glad he didn't suffer any longer. I'll remember his ever-present smile and friendly demeanor and hope some of his gentle spirit rubbed off on me.

I'll be thankful for the fact that he was such a good friend to our family. And I'll miss those long ago summer days, remember fondly those road trips in the motor home, and marvel at how the memories get sweeter the longer the sands pass through the glass.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The leader of the band

Heard some really sad news this morning.

Dan Fogelberg, the leader of the band, Mr. "Run for the Roses," has passed away. Seems like the report said he was only 56. Way, way too young. Advanced prostate cancer.

Fogelberg was one of the kings of the so-called "soft rock" era. His songs were light, easy on the ears, pleasant.

A couple of them became standards. "Longer," a sappy, pretty little love song, was a popular wedding anthem for a lot of years. "Run for the Roses" still gets some play around the Kentucky Derby on light rock and easy listening stations. "Leader of the Band" is a classic ode to music and those who make it.

But I guess my favorite is "Same Old Lang Syne," about the musician who runs into his high school love in the grocery store on Christmas Eve. That song had to be ripped out of real life. Had to be.

We drank a toast to innocence, we drank a toast to now/Tried to reach behind the emptiness, but neither one knew how...

Fogelberg never was a light rock star in the Barry Manilow sense of the word. But his was good music. One of his best albums is "Twin Sons of Different Mothers," with Tim Weisberg, from '78.

I drove to a doctor's appointment this morning with Fogelberg playing softly on the iPod. His music always makes me think of high school, when I discovered him, and the "passing of time" sadness that now comes with such thoughts.

Sober thoughts for a prosaic Monday. Here's to you, Dan. I'll make a toast to ya, and to "Same Old Lang Syne" at New Years.


Friday, December 14, 2007

April's a long, long time...

It's starting early.

Came home from work last night and flipped on the TV. Basketball here, steroids news there, blah, blah, blah. Even TCM let me down.

I eventually threw in the Ken Burns documentary and watched the episode about the Black Sox scandal of 1919. But what I really wanted was a real, live game to watch.

April, and baseball, is a long, long time.

Unless I change my mind, I have my big 30th birthday bash planned. Well, I'll do the usual gathering of family and friends, but my big present to myself next March is going to be a trip to Florida, to spring training, and as many games as I can afford.

The Tigers play in Lakeland and the Braves hang out in Orlando at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex. Those should be easy enough.

Was hoping to get another UT baseball trip planned to somewhere fun, like Tallahassee, where Dewayne Lawson and I caught the Vols against the Seminoles last February. But the Big Orange isn't traveling this year until the SEC schedule. The best options there are Athens and Columbia.

My friend Kurt Pickering e-mailed a great little story the other day. Kurt is a longtime season ticket holder for the Nashville Sounds AAA club. When he moved 250 miles away to Georgia to take another job, Kurt renewed his tickets anyway.

He says he made it to exactly half of the team's home games during 2007 ("Thank God for weekend home stands.), a feat that puts me to shame. I'm often dissuaded from going to Kodak to see the Smokies because of the 20 minute drive.

Anyway, the Sounds are having a big bash for Kurt in January. He's been named that team's fan of the year. I'm planning to go. Nothing puts a smile on my face quicker than someone's insane passion for the game.

So the temperature is refusing to make up its mind, the dreary dregs of January and February loom before us, and the national game, and the fond promise of spring, is a long time coming.

Now I know why bears hibernate for the winter. This sucks.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

A great flick (I'm just not sure why)

What to say about "No Country for Old Men," the new Coen Brothers (Ethan and Joel) film based on former Knoxville resident Cormac McCarthy's 2005 novel?

This is a good film, powerful even. I found myself fascinated by these characters, engrossed in this bleak, incredibly violent, fatalistic tale of a drug deal gone horribly wrong.

But I also left the theater scratching my head. All I can say is, if you go see this movie, pay attention -- to everything.

Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) is hunting antelope in the New Mexico desert when he stumbles into a drug deal gone horribly wrong. Dead bodies pepper the ground. Moss finds the drugs, and oops, the $2 million too.

He decides to take the money and run, as it were, which means he becomes the favorite target of killer Chigurh (Javier Bardem), one bad SOB who carries around an oxygen tank and a stun gun. Moss sends his wife Carla Jean (Kelly Macdonald) to her mother's and spends the rest of the movie on the run, desperately trying to make this blood money his. Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) picks up on the plot and tries, in his fashion, to protect the Mosses from Chigurh's insanity.

"No Country for Old Men" is one of the most violent films to come along in quite awhile. If that bothers you, go see "The Golden Compass" instead.

What makes this film is the dialogue, sharp and witty, and the performances of the actors. Chances are you've not seen a better acted film this year. Bardem's performance will haunt your dreams.

But if your taste runs toward linear plots with neatly wrapped endings, beware. The Coens capture McCarthy's existentialist mood quite well. There's quite a lot bubbling under the surface of this suspense picture -- ruminations on life, duty, fate and fear.

I'm tempted to write here that because I can't understand all of it means the picture is a failure. But of course that's not true. The best art doesn't reveal itself in neatly prepared packages. Neither does life. You have to work at it, toss it around a little, discuss it with others.

So there it is. If you want to chew on something awhile, "No Country for Old Men" is your movie. If you want to be entertained and just chew on bad popcorn, go see one of the mindless holiday pictures instead. You may be better satisfied, but not nearly as well rewarded.

"No Country for Old Men" is now playing at Regal CinemaArt Downtown West. It is rated R for extreme violence and language.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Romance and love and all that other jazz...

Went to see "No Country for Old Men" tonight. But I'm just not in the mood to try to dissect it now.

So I'll save that for another time and tell you another story -- a personal one. It happened on a night very much like this one. Mid-70s, raining, damp and gray.

I wanted to thank her. From the bottom of my heart, as sincere as anything I'd ever felt, I wanted to say thanks.

She had no idea, no way to know it, but she'd given me a precious gift. For a few fleeting moments she'd taken my pain away.

She meant a lot to me, although not in a romantic way. No, it was less than that, and in a way, it was much more.

It had been a week to forget. Those I trusted turned away, suspicious, not caring it seemed about what I was feeling, nor about the greater pain they'd planted in my heart. Phone calls to loved ones went unreturned. Nothing seemed real, nothing seemed right. Out of sync. Out of place.

I was hurting and the world didn't care.

But she would. I just knew she would. I'd feel better, forget all about this week from hell, all about the pain that refused to take its leave.

And I did. For a few hours I felt like a human being again, remembered what it was like to really live. The mind cleared, the heart soared and this whole damn roller coaster ride finally made sense.

So I had to say thanks. It meant so much, her giving of herself this way, a little kindness that I would remember forever.

But the time came and the words wouldn't come, lost somewhere in the haze, drowned by the one thing that could make the pain stop. I tried, opened my heart, but nothing happened.

At least, not what I intended.

Looking back on it, I guess I can understand. What was meant to be a simple word of gratitude instead looked like something quite different.

And, it's funny, but all these many moons later, all I can remember now is how much she helped me. I think about the way I felt, the sheer, beautiful, sincere, complete and utter joy, and realize that, in the end, is what matters.

But sometimes, on nights when heaven cries its teardrops, I shake my head and try to understand how two words that meant more to you than anything else at that moment in time proved to be so difficult to say.

Sometimes the worst kind of heartache has absolutely nothing to do with romance and love, and all that other jazz.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

As time goes by...

My favorite cure for what ails you is to curl up on the couch and lose yourself in a black-and-white movie.

I don't know. Something about the simplicity of it all, the nostalgia, the illusion of the Hollywood dream factory in its glory days.

TCM is playing the movie tonight, the granddaddy, the one film that conditions your life, stays with you, makes you remember it long after the credits roll.

This is, of course, "Casablanca," and if Hollywood has ever churned out a better picture, I've yet to see it -- and I've seen a good many of them.

It has it all. Bogie. Bergman. Action. Romance. Dooley Wilson and "As Time Goes By." Claude Rains, Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet.

And, of course, that famous ending.

I've seen this movie at least 20 times over the years -- possibly more. And I never tire of it. It's like an old friend, stopping by to get caught up, after a long absence.

I'll warn you that there's a spoiler ahead, so if you're among the uninitiated who hasn't seen the film, skip over this next part.

But I've often thought that if Bergman stays behind with Bogie, and doesn't get on the plane to Lisbon, this film is forgotten faster than Kevin Costner's last work.

Oh, here's the part where Bergman comes back to see Bogie in the saloon. God, I love this.

Call me crazy, but on a foggy night when you feel like hell, there's nothing better than Rick and Ilsa in French Morocco, finding each other again but realizing that some things are more important than love.

No matter what the future brings, "Casablanca" just keeps getting better and better, as time goes by...

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Monday, December 03, 2007

Taking a break

Sorry I haven't written in awhile. Sometimes you just need a break.

Speaking of R&R, I took a good one yesterday. Didn't feel well, and needed just one day to relax, so it was the perfect excuse.

I slept late, even laid in bed awhile, just thinking. Finally crawled into my recliner and alternated between episodes of "Magnum, p.i.," football and basketball. It was just about perfect.

You know, sometimes I think people make life more difficult than it actually is. They create the drama, either through bad choices or stupidity or a tendency toward soap opera-like antics.

Me? Well, I'm shunning the spotlight more and more these days. I'd rather keep things quiet, hang out with good friends, enjoy dinner and good music every now and then and laugh as often as possible. The less drama, the better.

And yesterday? Well, I didn't hardly speak to a soul all day, but it turned out to be just what I needed.

The only thing I hate is that now it's time to go back to the real world. Oh, well. R&R can't last forever.