Monday, June 30, 2008

A clean, well-lighted place

Often, when I duck into Barley's on Sunday nights, I think about Hemingway.

Well, let me back up. I don't think so much about Papa himself, but rather about his short story "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place."

I've always loved that piece. Hemingway was at his best in the short story format. His tough, terse prose lends itself to it.

I often encounter a few seemingly lonely people, sitting at the corner of the bar, taking in the music. Sometimes I wonder about their lives, who they are, where they're headed. And, like the old man drinking his brandy, I too am warmed by it all.

Oh, of course a big part of that is Robinella, I know that. She was in rare form last night. I swear, she sings those sad songs better than anybody. I felt sorry for the folks who left to see Tom Waite. They missed the show.

Got to sing Don Williams' "Amanda" with her again. Made me feel like a million bucks.

Andrea, Chris and Drew took in the show, too. The conversation was good; it warmed the night.

When I got home, I pulled Hemingway off the shelf and read about the old man drinking his brandy. And I thought about how special it is to forget about life for a couple of hours, enjoy the company of friends and hear an angelic voice create her art up on the stage.

But, you see, that's what often happens on Sunday nights, in the Old City, at a clean, well-lighted place.

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

How to ruin a great TV show...

It deserves better treatment than this.

Few classic TV series are as well respected as "The Fugitive." The 1960s ABC hour-long program, starring David Janssen as the Indiana doctor falsely accused of murdering his wife, was a step above other dramas of the period. It was well acted, well written and beautifully scored -- although you wouldn't know about the latter if you've looked at the latest CBS/Paramount DVD release.

Long story made short: CBS/Paramount released two mostly fine volumes containing the entire batch of episodes from season one of "The Fugitive." A few pieces of music were changed here and there -- mostly canned music not written for the series -- but Pete Rugolo's award-winning underscore was intact throughout. The music is a big part of the series' allure; it set the tone that made each week's episode feel like a 60-minute slice of film noir.

Well, guess what?

For the first volume of the recently-released season two episodes, some genius at CBS/Paramount decided to redo the entire underscore in each of the included episodes. Its replacement is a hasty hack job, synthesized and out of place.

Fans are furious. Some are returning the DVD sets. Harsh reviews have popped up at and elsewhere.

CBS/Paramount issued a rather lame statement saying they didn't want to hold up the release by mining out all the unlicensed music. Call me crazy, but I would have gladly waited -- or else paid a little extra for uncut episodes.

What's strange about this is that CBS/Paramount has a great history with its DVD releases. "The Twilight Zone" was given the red carpet treatment for all of its 5-season releases. Such a fine program deserved it. So does "The Fugitive."

It's a testament to the quality of this program that, despite this unpardonable sin, the show is still engaging, still able to hook the viewer with its taut pace and gentle humanism.

We'll most likely never see another show quite like "The Fugitive" again. And it's a shame - a true shame -- that CBS/Paramount isn't treating this gem with the respect it deserves.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

What I learned from chocolate ice cream...

Here's a funny one for you.

Pulled up at the ice cream shop about 1:30. My plan was to run in, grab two scoops of chocolate on a sugar cone and head back to the office. It was hot. I wanted a cold dessert.

Get my cone and go walking toward the car. Chocolate proceeds to drip off the cone, through my fingers and onto my orange dress shirt.

So back into the air-conditioned shop I go.

"I'm inviting disaster if I keep walking around outside with this," I tell the server behind the counter. Everybody -- including the owner -- laughs.

"Yeah," a guy says. "That would look great on those pants."

I take a seat and eat my ice cream. I listen to the two employees chatter. I try to remember how I know the guy who comes in and asks for a Rocky Road. I watch the girls walk in and out of the sub shop next door.

Turned out to be just what I needed. I could feel my blood pressure dropping. I relaxed. Finished my cone and went back on my way. It took about 10 extra minutes.

Maybe we should take a literal or figurative ice cream break every day. Gives you time to stop and smell the proverbial roses, think about life, remember what's truly important.

I'm sure glad I did.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


It didn't come creeping up my back step, it didn't lie waiting in a dark corner and it didn't manifest itself in the mist. No, this ghost appeared in a flash, long buried, or so I thought, in the inner reaches of the mind, in the place you put such things after a time.

I sat up with it into the wee small hours of the morning; it was the worst sort of company.

I thought about long ago trips, ticket stubs to plays and concerts, the awkward moments of adolescence. I thought about a painfully shy, utterly awkward 17-year-old, trying in vain to put into words what he felt with all of his heart, and how it never seemed to matter.

What surprised me was the gamut of emotions. Anger. Sadness. Bittersweet sorrow. Confusion. And, finally, neutrality.

Time has passed. You're a better man now.

The ghost finally left me just before daybreak. I sneaked in four hours of sleep. I'm tired today.

But as I was getting ready for work this morning I thought about how life is now, thought about the people in it, thought about the values I hold dear and the junk I left behind. Whatever happens from here, I don't think I'll pay that ghost any mind should it ever appear again at 1 o'clock in the morning.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Late night nostalgia

Well, this sure puts my blog to shame...

People ask me all the time if I'd been happier had I been born a generation before my time. The short, simple answer is yes.

Honest answer, though, is no. I feel like I get the best of both worlds -- plenty of nostalgia, but with modern technology and convenience. I'd hate to think about putting together our newspapers without desktop computers, for example.

Anyway, to my point. Discovered last night while looking for something else classic clips from Dick Cavett's old late night ABC television show. Very quickly for those who don't know, Cavett was ABC's early '70s competition to Johnny Carson's beloved, ever-popular NBC program. Cavett was intelligent, quirky, and tended to attract eclectic guests -- everybody from Norman Mailer to John Lennon.

Found out, too, that Cavett writes a funny, erudite blog for the New York Times. It can be found at Treat yourself to it for a few minutes.

A few days after the Swedish director Ingmar Bergman died, TCM played an entire interview Cavett did with him in the early '70s. I think it was Bergman's American TV debut. Happened to catch it one night when I couldn't sleep. It was fascinating stuff, light-years away from the drivel you'd get on Letterman or Leno.

Surely there's room for such intelligent talk on TV today. Oh, I think Charlie Rose comes close, even if he doesn't ask hard questions and lacks, or at least doesn't display, Cavett's offbeat sense of humor. But you'll never see anything like this (or even what's on Charlie Rose's engaging show) on the Big Four, at least not in the late night time slot.

Take a few minutes and perform a "Dick Cavett" search on YouTube if you get time. If you're a movie buff, be sure and watch the interviews with Orson Welles. That guy was a genius, I don't care what anybody says.

OK, that's enough for now. Peace out. Gotta get back to work.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

It's time...

Politics is a dirty business.

Let's face it. It's difficult to remain idealistic even under the best of circumstances. If you live in Knox Vegas, moreover, you're no doubt about ready to lynch everybody connected to county government.

Yesterday afternoon I watched "The Candidate," Robert Redford's engaging, disturbing 1972 picture about an idealistic young lawyer who beats the odds -- and an arrogant, longtime incumbent -- to take a California U.S. Senate seat.

But, for those who've never seen it, this is no underdog film in the "Rocky" mold. No, it's a somewhat cynical look at the selling of an image, and how modern politics is all about the face on the tube.

"The Candidate" is dated but its message is remarkably relevant, especially during this election year. It's easy to draw comparisons between Redford's character and Obama and between Don Porter's crusty longtime senator and McCain. But that doesn't quite work, mainly because Obama isn't as idealistic as you think and McCain isn't quite so out of touch as Porter. (At least I hope he isn't.)

Still, it does make you wonder if we ever really do get to know our leaders -- and whether we'd like what we see if we did.

I don't know what's going to happen this fall. Frankly, I don't know which of these two would make the best president.

But I do know this. This country is hungry to believe again, eager to fly to the moon, ready -- I think -- to be challenged into facing the serious problems of our age. The old, empty, cynical partisanship of the past should once and for all be relegated to the ash heap of history. It's time to get to work.

I reject the notion that America's best days are gone. We've suffered through bad times and bad presidents before and we'll do so again.

It isn't happening in Knox County, it's barely happening in Nashville and is nowhere near happening in Washington. But it's time -- past time -- for somebody to step up and lead.

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Hemingway, Hotchner and haunting, sad eyes

Lindsey has a beguiling quality and haunting, sad eyes.

But early this afternoon at the Downtown Grill, it's readily apparent she's only interested in taking my order. So, I forget about flirting and ask for Mountain Eggs with brunch potatoes and bacon. It's a good meal for a lazy Sunday.

Afterward, I forget about Lindsey, and we walk south on Gay Street, looking at the classic cars that have made their way here for the special screening of "Thunder Road." But I'm not much into Robert Mitchum and bootleggers, so I head west on Kingston Pike to McKay's.

The pickings are slim, but I unearth a couple of books on Hemingway and a military history of the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu. Driving home, I get stuck on Cunningham Road behind a car with Loudon County tags that doesn't appear to know where it is headed.

Heavy afternoon thunderstorms negate the idea of watching TV, so I crank the air conditioning down and curl up in the recliner to read.

A.E. Hotchner was one of Papa Hemingway's best friends the last 15 or so years of his life. "Part Boswell, part Euripides," as the Times Book Review once called him, Hotchner observed, remembered, put down a few stories.

Mary Hemingway didn't like the fact that he wrote openly about Papa's 1961 suicide, but Hotchner said Ernie would have wanted it that way.

"He said that for him there was only one way to account for things -- to tell the whole truth about them, holding back nothing." And, if we know anything about Hemingway, surely that statement must be true.

I napped in between claps of thunder, still thinking about Lindsey's sad eyes, and wishing I could have bombed around with Papa and Hotchner on long ago adventures in Key West and Havana.

Oh, well. In some ways it's better reading about it from the comfort of your easy chair on a rainy Sunday.

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Summertime, and the livin' is easy...

So summer's officially here, and the livin' is easy, or so says the song.

It's a beautiful, but hot, day here in East Tennessee. I sat on the patio awhile this morning but am chillin' in my recliner right now. It's closer to the air conditioning.

Found myself with nothing to do until 4, so I'm listening to the Reds and the Yankees on the internet. Buddy Dustin Mynatt is up in Manhattan this weekend. He sent a text a few minutes ago to say he went to the Yankees game in the Bronx last night. I'm jealous.

There's no score in this afternoon's affair yet as I write this. I'm listening to Marty and Jeff call the game on the internet radio, while watching the White Sox and Cubs play on the north side. I've got the sound turned down on the TV.

It's summertime. That, for me, means baseball.

I'm being bad today, too. Ate Lucky Charms cereal for breakfast and am chomping down on corn dogs for lunch. Good, healthy food, huh?

I think I'll veg out in the recliner for a couple of hours before heading out for the evening, and ease into a relaxed state though Marty's play-by-play and the gentle rhythm of the national game.

I feel like I should do something productive, like finish unpacking stuff in the condo or run the vacuum cleaner.

But, nah. It's summertime.

The livin' is easy...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

I wonder...

It's pitch dark out here tonight.

Off in the distance, a dog barks, somewhere to the south of my patio. A car lazily drives around the loop in the neighborhood, headed off into the night.

I'm sitting on the porch, typing on my new computer, enjoying a drink. I'm glad the day is over. Today is deadline day. It's always rough.

Things are tough here in Knox Vegas. I've been giving Mayor Mike Ragsdale and County Commission hell in my column. I do so because I truly believe in classroom teachers. I believe they need raises. I think they are unsung heroes.

I wonder sometimes how we got to this point. I wonder how this country, this sweet, beautiful, imperfect but mostly good-natured country, has lost its way. I wonder if we'll ever learn to listen to each other.

I wonder frankly how I voted for George W. Dumbass -- twice. I wonder why we let these so-called "wedge issues," things that don't really matter, consume us, while the real problems go unsolved.

I wonder if several women in my life know how much I truly love them. I wonder if some others know how glad I am they're gone.

I wonder if I'll find for myself what I caught a glimpse of just a few days ago. (For the record, I think I will.) I wonder if some broken hearts ever mend.

I wonder if men and women will ever realize that we're more alike than not when it comes to the things that truly matter. I wonder if we'll ever get over our biases, prejudices and fears.

I wonder if the Braves will ever again reach the Promised Land. I wonder if the Tigers have really hit a stride.

Sometimes I think I wonder too much.

But I'm glad I do.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Lunch with 'Uncle Paul'

A smile crept onto my face the minute I saw the ol' professor alight from his car.

He was an enigma in the classroom, always challenging your statements, forever encouraging you to "think analytically," to quote a favorite phrase. But anybody who knows him will tell you that Paul Pinckney's greatest strength is his personal touch.

To put it simply, Paul cared about his students. He'd take time with you, invite you up to the library study to chat, offer advice about classes, books, girls and what to do with your life. He is an educator in the best sense of what that means.

We met for lunch this afternoon at Aubrey's in Powell. I smiled at the familiar speech patterns of his voice, my thoughts transported back nearly a decade, to the corner classroom in the Humanities building at UT. I did have to strain to hear him over the blaring '70s pop songs playing in the restaurant. What a disconnect it is to merge talk about history and politics with Maureen McGovern telling us at the top of her lungs that there's got to be a morning after, if we can hold on through the storm...

Anyway, Paul's doing well, despite some recent health problems. He and wife Margaret took recent trips to Charlotte to see family and to Memphis to see friends. He's teaching his Revolutions in World Perspective course at UT during the second summer term, says the Churchill course is more difficult to offer in the summer.

He takes a nap in the afternoons and watches "SportsCenter" with Margaret before eating dinner at 7:30. Sometimes he'll take a quick look at Chris Matthews and "Hardball" before heading to the table.

Paul worries about the Churchill myths that keep popping up in popular culture, even by those who should know better. (Evan Thomas in Newsweek is the latest example.) Yes, ol' Winston saw the Nazi threat early on. But he wasn't really the lone lion roaring at the gates. Not quite.

He thinks that Bush has been a great bust, sees the parallels between Bush's mistakes in Iraq with the Kennedy/Johnson mistakes in Vietnam. He still sings in his church choir, stays busy visiting friends and doing things with Margaret. He says he misses talking to young people on a regular basis.

And that's the thing about Paul Pinckney. At the end of the day, it always came back to his students. Overlook all that scholarly stuff, just forget about it for a moment. Paul Pinckney's greatest legacy lies in the lives he touched, in the way he could stir a student's soul describing the poignancy of the World War I memorial in France, or the horrible waste in Flanders Field.

He's a special soul, the embodiment of what a college professor should be, someone I'm quite proud to call a friend.

Thanks for lunch, Uncle Paul.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Drifting away

This would be a good day to be out on the lake.

As it is, I'm sitting here at the office, but it's OK. Life is good.

But I still wanna free my soul, get lost in your rock and roll and drift away. Sometimes you just wanna hear some music, you know?

I think when I get off work this afternoon, I'm going to drink something cold, crank the A/C up and dig out my old records. Play the good stuff. Otis Redding and Joe Cocker and maybe a little Duke Ellington, if the mood hits.

Don't think I'm in the mood for Sinatra. He makes me a little sad. Life's too good to be melancholy today.

I daydream about getting lost in the music, doing something crazy, hopping in the car and following a band around the country for a week or two. Then I remember that gas is four bucks a gallon and figure I'll probably just head down to Barley's this weekend or next and listen to Robin and the boys sing awhile. That stirs my soul better than anything else anyway.

Tonight, though, I wanna hear some sweet soul music, sing from your gut stuff, you know, the kind they don't play anymore. Forget about life and time and how the weather was and drift off on some little tune, lost somewhere in time, an island in the stream, sweet solace on a summer night.

Come on over if you want. I'll be the fella standing by the record player.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Simple taste

Here's some thoughts on the value of simple taste.

I love old movies, westerns mostly, simple, straightforward, good guys win. I love old reruns of "Magnum, p.i." and "Andy Griffith." Something fun for an hour or so. I love to laugh.

I love Hemingway novels, particularly the early ones, love the way the words flow. I love to sit in the corner and hear Robin sing sad songs like an angel on Sunday nights in the Old City. She does it better than anybody I've ever heard.

I love that time of day when the sun heads toward its rest, love the hues and the flickers and the calm that follows. I love women with kind hearts and pretty eyes, calm temperament and a gentle smile.

I love the rhyme and rhythm of baseball, hot dogs at the park, standing up to stretch mid-way through the 7th. I love spring, too.

This morning I ate breakfast on the patio in the cool of the morning. I watched birds and butterflies dance and fly and skip across the yard. I thought about life and how intrinsically good it is. I thought about how glad I am to be standing here today.

And I thought about simple taste, and marveled at how much it's truly worth.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Every minute of every day

I never met Tim Russert.

But, through the familiar nature of television, I felt like I knew him. Spent an hour with him some Sunday mornings during "Meet the Press" and would often catch his weekend show on CNBC/MSNBC because he could carry on a conversation. He was a fixture every four years in November, too, writing the electoral results on his white dry erase board.

He seemed like such a nice guy, the kind you'd like to have a beer and a chat with at the baseball game, full of child-like enthusiasm for politics, history, sports, family, friends, rock-and-roll and all things Buffalo, New York.

I can't tell you that I cried when he died. I can't tell you I felt devastated. Those feelings should be left where they belong -- with his family and friends.

But what Tim Russert's death at 58 means to me is that it is yet another tragic reminder that tomorrow isn't guaranteed. We owe it to ourselves, to our family, to our community, to our country, to live -- truly live -- every minute of every day.

Oh, that doesn't mean you live with reckless abandon. You save, you plan ahead, you do what you can to make a better future.

But you grab the day and seize it, live life to the fullest, carpe diem and all that jazz. Today's the day to call somebody up and tell them you love them. Today's the day to spend a few hours with your dad. Today's the day to go sit with a sick friend, pick up trash in the neighborhood, go see if your elderly neighbor needs anything.

Today, too, is the day to laugh too loud, love too much, sing too often, play too hard. Today is the day to give your all to the things you love.

Life is way too short to hang around people that bring you down. If this journey has taught me anything, it's that a true friend, a true love, a true human being, lifts you up -- always and forever -- to help you become the best you can be. Ninety percent of the drama we bring into our lives is our own fault -- often through our own poor choices.

For God's sake, don't waste your time with people who simply aren't worth it.

And, to be blunt with you, life's too short to give up on your dreams just because the road gets rough. I get down sometimes because of my misadventures in affairs of the heart. But, you know, a week or so ago, for the first time in many many moons, I caught a glimpse of what people keep telling me doesn't exist. And right then and there I realized that all the empty nights and broken promises and busted dates will one day be worth it. I believe that with all of my heart.

Best I can tell, Tim Russert never forgot from whence he came. He was always and forever Big Russ's son from Buffalo, proud papa, loving husband, good friend.

His life, and his sudden, shocking death, should serve as a wake up call to all of us that our time isn't tomorrow, a week from now, or next year.

Our time is now.


Friday, June 13, 2008

The Starry Night

I don't know much about art.

I remember a little from school. The different movements, various artists, so forth, so on.

What I do know is what moves me. Don't laugh, but I almost always tear up over a particular Norman Rockwell print. He's not considered serious art, I know. But it's sentimental. And it's pretty.

Serious art? Well, for me that's always been Van Gogh and "The Starry Night." I don't have any grand insights on what Post-Impressionism means. I just know I love it.

Thought about the Dutch painter yesterday. Fooling around on YouTube, I found a masterpiece. Don McLean and the late, great Chet Atkins teamed up on "Nashville Now" years ago to work magic on McLean's "Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)." Run don't walk over to the Web site and check it out. Such a pretty lyric.

That got me to thinking I need to find a print of "The Starry Night" to hang in the condo. It also made me want to hunt down a copy of "Lust for Life," the historical novel based on Van Gogh's letters to his brother. Sure enough, the library has a copy.

This world is cruel to its artists. We don't pay them, we dismiss them as outcasts, and yet we still reap the beauty they convey. It's cruel, too, because artists often view the world through a romantic lens, which more often than not leads to disillusionment, a broken heart, insanity or some combination of all three.

McLean understood this, and perhaps said more than he knew in his sad little song.

But I could have told you, Vincent, this world was never meant for one as beautiful as you...

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

2 a.m.

I feel the trembling tingle of a sleepless night; creep through my fingers and the moon is bright. -- "Empty Chairs" by Don McLean

It happened this morning somewhere in that twilight zone between consciousness and slumber.

I awoke with a start, visions of a crazy dream dancing in my head. (Something about trying to hail a taxi to get away from some criminals at the mall --- felt like an old B-movie crime drama.)

And there she found me, as she so often does, in the quiet of such moments. I thought about her awhile, wondered for the 100th time what her visage must look like when the first light of morning streaks across her face, then pushed such images away. They hurt too much.

Then I couldn't sleep. So, I turned on the light and read awhile about Mr. Lincoln, through the eyes of poet Carl Sandburg.

He didn't tell me anything I didn't already know. The fun lies in the way he writes.

Abe was born in a one-room cabin in Kentucky. His mother caught the "milk sickness" and died when Abe was quite young. His sister later died during childbirth.

Lincoln adored his stepmother, Sarah Johnston, who wouldn't let anybody pick at him when he buried his nose in some book.

"He's going to be somebody special one day," she'd say.

So he was. I dare say we'll never see the likes of Lincoln again, and pray that we never again reach the point where we need him. Surely we're more advanced than that now, although sometimes I wonder.

I drifted back to sleep just as the Lincolns made it to Indiana. I tried not to think again of the woman.

But I did.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Scully, Dodgers chase away the Braves and Tigers blues

One of the simplest pleasures of life has to be listening to Vin Scully call a baseball game.

What a strange, frustrating season this has been. The star-studded Tigers have imploded. The Braves can't figure out how to win on the road. The Smokies aren't even worth mentioning.

So, I've found myself drawn to Dodger games, mainly because of the team's longtime, velvet-voiced announcer. (Just to give the uninitiated an idea of how long he's been around, Scully was calling games when the Dodgers played in Brooklyn.)

It works out rather nicely. When Los Angeles is playing at Chavez Ravine, or in Pacific time, the games begin around 10 on the East Coast -- usually about the time I get home or have a chance to unwind long enough to watch. They aren't that great, but they aren't bad.

Best part is I don't much care what happens. It's baseball. More to the point, it's Vin Scully calling a baseball game. That's enough.

Put the game on last night after work. Sat on the couch awhile and chilled out.

The Dodgers were playing at San Diego, a place I have to visit someday. The crafty right-hander Greg Maddux was on the mound for the Friars. The kid pitching for Los Angeles, Clayton Kershaw, had a sweet curve and a wicked, if sometimes wild, fastball.

Maddux, by the way, has been pitching longer than Kershaw has been alive.

I lost myself in the cadence of Scully's delivery, finally giving up on the game to make a few phone calls before bed. The Los Angeles Times tells me this morning that Russell Martin was the hero in the Dodgers' 7-2 victory.

Hearing Vin Scully, though, reminds me how much I still love this child's game, even when my boys of summer ain't doing so hot.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The guy in his shirt-sleeves

People are funny.

Got gas this morning at the station that sits at the corner of Broadway and Adair Drive in Fountain City. Putting petrol in the car makes me mad these days. But that's another story for another day.

I was pulling out of the station just as the light turned red. Up pulls some woman in a Jaguar with a Central High bumper sticker on the back of her car. She sees me edging into traffic, pulls up quickly and blocks my way.

I didn't get mad. I just laughed and shook my head.

Eating lunch at Chesapeake's downtown a bit later, I watched with amusement as all the self-important people filed in. They think they're something.

They're something all right.

Oh, a few of them are nice. A former chancellor at UT is a superb human being, at least by appearances and from all accounts. Some of the others are probably OK, too. Some of them are just dull.

But I think it's funny to put on false airs. Surely it's got to be some kind of overcompensation.

I drove back north and felt my blood pressure relax as I topped Black Oak Ridge. These are my people. This is my home.

Here's one thing 30 years have taught me:

I've decided that I'm going to be the guy in his shirt-sleeves, sitting in the crowd with the folks at the baseball game. I'll be the fella at the end of the bar, sipping on a cold domestic beer while others drink something else out of a glass. I'll be Nick Carraway and let somebody else be Jay Gatsby.

I'll fail miserably but will try to always let you out in traffic. You can block my way if you wish.

Just don't be surprised if I let out a chuckle or two.

Monday, June 09, 2008


I saw it again.

It caught up with me, in a place I wasn't too surprised to find it, and tumbled around in my soul for a brief, blissful few minutes. It was beautiful and it was kind, everything you hope to find for yourself one day.

Seeing it gives me hope that it still can be found, somewhere amid this cacophony and chaos.

Life is funny. Experience gives you mental notes of what is good and what isn't; what to look for and what to run away from; what to throw away and what to keep.

Truman Capote once wrote, quoting someone else, that more tears have been shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones. That makes sense the older you get.

What I discovered in this short, sweet, beautiful moment is that you don't have to give up on your dreams. You can still shoot for the stars. The old dreams, the good dreams, might come true yet.

Seeing it ever so briefly over the weekend was just enough -- nothing more, nothing less -- to keep dreaming.

Friday, June 06, 2008

'The Train Robbers': Duke Wayne and Ann-Margret hunt for gold in Texas

Dear Lord, if you're listening, send me a woman like Ann-Margret.

Oh, I'm kidding mostly. I want a woman with pretty eyes and a kind heart, who can discuss music and movies, baseball and books, all and nothing at all. But, wow, was Ann-Margret something back in the day...

Got home late from work last night and unwound on the couch with a Yuengling and Duke Wayne. Perfect combination, as it turned out.

Wayne teamed up with Elvis' former leading lady in this 1973 oater. It didn't win any Academy Awards, but it's a fun way to spend a couple of hours.

Ann-Margret plays Mrs. Lowe, a widow who says she's hunting for the gold her late husband stole, in order to turn it in and clear his name. Duke is Lane, the aging gunfighter who agrees to help.

Lane shows up on a Texas train with Mrs. Lowe. Waiting are Lane's buddies -- Grady (Rod Taylor) and Jesse (the underrated Ben Johnson). Along for the ride too are young guns Calhoun (Christopher George), Ben Young (the pop singer Bobby Vinton) and Sam (Jerry Gatlin).

Wayne was becoming a sentimental ol' codger in his old age and this movie is full of several quiet, unforgettable moments. Watching Ann-Margret and Ben Johnson swap stories around the campfire reminded me of Johnson's monologue to Timothy Bottoms in Peter Bogdanovich's "The Last Picture Show." He was such a natural actor, picture perfect as a cowboy's best buddy.

What is refreshing is that the producers didn't try to make Grandaddy Duke (he was crowding 70 when this film was made) romance the much-younger Ann-Margret. He even tells her at one point, "I have a saddle older than you, Mrs. Lowe." It strikes me as funny, too, that their characters share the same names with his and Geraldine Page's protagonists in 1953's "Hondo."

If I have any criticism, it's that this film feels like a 2-hour TV movie of the week instead of a big budget western. But, it's fun, it offers Wayne a few moments to utter some of his classic throwaway lines ("If anybody crosses that river before we clear out of here, Baptize 'em!") and it's the kind of picture that feels like a familiar old friend after a long, hard day. If popular American cinema is remembered at all in 100 years, surely Duke Wayne and his pictures will be among that number. Don't miss the cute surprise twist at the end and a great near-cameo appearance by Ricardo Montalban.

Film students won't study this one, but, at the end of a crazy work week, who the hell cares? It's Duke Wayne, Ann-Margret, Ben Johnson, Rod Taylor, shootouts and huntin' gold in Texas.

Nuff said.

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

P.W. heads for home

Every now and then you meet someone that gives you a wee bit more faith in the human race.

P.W. Hembree Jr. was just such a fella.

He was a big man in his day, dignified, proud. I met him through his grandkids -- my second family -- and grew to love him in that way you respect wise folks of the Greatest Generation.

He was firm but had a gentle kindness about him, the kind that said, 'Here, sit down on the couch and we'll watch a ball game together.'"

Which we did. I'd often accompany my buddy Dean to P.W.'s Fountain City home for UT football games on Saturdays the Vols were suiting up out of town. P.W. shared the conservative politics of East Tennessee, loved ol' westerns and told stories from the golden days at UT and Georgia Tech.

He was a Christian, too, in the way that such people should be -- leading by example, rock solid, never having to beat you over the head because he wasn't insecure or trying to compensate for something.

P.W. fought a gallant fight these past few years. The loss of a lung had slowed him down. The death of his beloved wife Lucy a decade ago had robbed him of his sweetheart.

But his kids, sister and grandkids were the light of his life. He'd sit in his easy chair, drink a toddy, root for the Vols and laugh at old Bugs Bunny cartoons. He was an honest, good example of how to be a man.

They buried P.W. this morning. His body finally became too tired, too weary to hang around this 'ol world any longer. Dean says we're going to get together at some point over the weekend and toast this grand ol' fella with the 100 proof whisky that he dearly loved.

He'll be missed, certainly. But somehow I think Dub and Lucy are arm-in-arm this morning, walking together by a crystal river on that evergreen shore, somewhere in the sweet by and by.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

'The Promise'

I can be a big, shameless, romantic wuss at times. And, since this seems to be the week for it, let me share with you the lyrics to a pretty little song that a friend e-mailed to me today.

You take this and use it however you will. I think if we're honest with ourselves, we've all got somebody we can sing this to (or dream this about).

Dang it, I'm going to have to go watch Duke Wayne shoot up the bad guys tonight (I'm thinkin' "Hondo") just to get rid of all this sappiness. Geez...

Have a good one and be careful out there...

"The Promise"

If you wait for me then I'll come for you
Although I've traveled far
I always hold a place for you in my heart
If you think of me If you miss me once in awhile
Then I'll return to you
I'll return and fill that space in your heart

Your touch
Your kiss
Your warm embrace
I'll find my way back to you
If you'll be waiting
If you dream of me like I dream of you
In a place that's warm and dark
In a place where I can feel the beating of your heart

Your touch
Your kiss
Your warm embrace
I'll find my way back to you
If you'll be waiting
I've longed for you and I have desired
To see your face your smile
To be with you wherever you are

Your touch
Your kiss
Your warm embrace
I'll find my way back to you
Please say you'll be waiting

Together again
It would feel so good to be
In your arms
Where all my journeys end
If you can make a promise

If it's one that you can keep, I vow to come for you
If you wait for me and say you'll hold
A place for me in your heart.

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

'Jeremiah Johnson' and other great Sydney Pollack flicks...

So I never got around to saluting Sydney Pollack, a favorite director who passed away May 26.

Pollack helmed one of my all-time favorite westerns, "Jeremiah Johnson," as well as the hilarious Dustin Hoffman comedy "Tootsie" and the mid-70s spy thriller "Three Days of the Condor." He'd often show up in his films -- somewhat to his regret, or so he said -- most memorably as Hoffman's long-suffering agent in "Tootsie."

(Hilarious line: "Nobody's going to pay $20 to see two people move next door to solid waste -- they can see that in New Jersey!")

"I do that only when I can't find the right actor for the part," he later said.

I saw Pollack a few times while watching Charlie Rose's show on nights I couldn't sleep. He seemed like the type of guy you'd like to have a beer with and talk about life. In addition to making movies, he was a world traveler, a producer, and a humanitarian in the best sense of what that means.

I've got "Jeremiah Johnson" sitting on top of the DVD shelf at home. With a little luck, it's getting watched tonight. Only thing is, I usually want to drop out of society and live in the mountains after screening it...

Oh, well. That's good movie making, I guess.

Godspeed to you, Sydney Pollack. Thanks for making some great little flicks.

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Monday, June 02, 2008

Pure, unadulterated joy

It can happen on a lazy afternoon, reading Updike in your chair, wishing you could compose works with such brevity.

It's found in a woman's smile, one that brings with it warm memories of a happy winter night.

And, of course, it lurks between the lyrics of a pretty country song, performed by the most beautiful voice you know you'll ever hear, musically speaking, as it flies into the upper regions of space on a picture-perfect East Tennessee Sunday night.

Turns out that snow must fall in August; guess you can get lost between the moon and New York City after all. How else do you explain finding yourself singing with a special, talented soul, a thousand unspoken daydreams suddenly come to life?

You know what's funny, though? The best part turned out to be the conversation between sets the night before.

I've learned to cherish such pure, unadulterated joy, and often find it waiting in the simplest of places -- often through people, watching their faces, hearing their words, losing myself a few minutes in the series of moments that make up their lives.

Somebody once said the richest thing one can own is friends. Much wisdom lies in that corny line.