Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Labor Day weekend show

Sunday night found me at my usual haunt, taking in Robinella's show at Barley's. I'm just not a fireworks kind of guy -- especially when it means wading in the middle of a mob.

So, I ducked into Barley's, arriving early, chatting with old friend and guitar whiz Ross Southerland over beer and pizza. Ross picked the guitar with me back during the Elvis days. He's one of the best, boy. Good songwriter, too.

Robin did her usual thing, the perfect music for the perfect Labor Day weekend show. All I needed was my Hush Puppies on, cause this sure wasn't glitter, rock and roll.

Tonight she treated us to her super sweet version of Paul Simon's "Still Crazy After All These Years." Between sets, we chatted about sad songs, and how we love them so much. She sings them better than most everybody else.

After the show, Ross and I walked down to a bookstore he wanted me to see. Apparently the proprietor has a first edition of Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises" for something like $3700. Oh, well. Guess it will have to stay on the shelf.

I said thanks to Ross and headed back to Black Oak Ridge, caught in the middle of the Boomsday traffic. Hard to believe summer's over, but what a perfect way to send it out.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The last pitch of summer

Well, the rain has managed to make a mess of my Wednesday. Can't complain, though. God knows we need the wet stuff.

But, I guess it means I won't make it up to Smokies Park for the last pitch of summer. The entire season has come and gone and I managed to make it to the ol' ball game a grand total of one time. It's a bitch growing up, I tell ya.

May try to meet my friend Kurt Pickering in Chattanooga this weekend to catch the closing game of the season. We'll see. Kurt works for FEMA in Atlanta and may have his hands full with all this hurricane bid'ness.

Since baseball is out, I'm going to take my mom out to eat tonight. We're headed to my favor-ite North Knox eatery, Louis'. Regardless of what you might have read elsewhere, it's a great place to eat. Best spaghetti in town.

Meanwhile I'm sitting here in Halls on a rainy Wednesday afternoon, mulling over the fleeting moments of summertime, and how it slipped away when I wasn't looking.

Spring seems far, far away, indeed.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The best show you haven't watched

For my money, the best show you're not watching is "Mad Men" on AMC.

Oh, don't feel bad. I didn't catch it during its first season -- in fact had never heard of it until the reruns aired earlier this year. But, I bought the Season 1 DVDs a month ago, caught caught up and have become hooked.

Season 2 has been a mixed bag. My friend John Hitt says he's not been able to get into the show this year. I haven't had that problem. Last night's episode, in fact, was the best one to date aired during the show's sophomore year.

In case you're in the dark, "Mad Men" follows the adventures of a Madison Avenue advertising firm during the early 1960s. It's a time of change. Some characters are still very much stuck in the 50s; others have whiffed the smell of transition.

The show airs Sunday nights at 10 p.m. on AMC. I usually TiVo it and watch when I get home from Barley's. Don't think you'll be disappointed.

The producers must have actually paid the writers. It actually has a plot -- and character development!

An afterthought:

Went out to the high school football stadium tonight. Caught the last couple of quarters of the JV game. (Halls lost to Maryville 14-0.)

Don't try to go home again, folks. Turns out Thomas Wolfe was right after all.

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Southern gothic at the Amber for breakfast

One of these days, I'm going to write a story or two based on the conversations I overhear at restaurants or wherever. It should be a hoot.

My grandparents invited me to breakfast at the Amber this morning. A woman came up to my grandmother and offered this little nugget:

"I'm mad at you. You didn't speak to me at church this morning!"

I had half the story mapped out by the time I got back to the house. Some kind of a ripoff between Flannery O'Connor and Faulkner, full of Southern Gothic and the kind of absurd humor that can only come out of a Southern Baptist church.

Dean Harned heard a classic Saturday night at the Olive Garden. Some teenager verbally attacked some man sitting there with his kids.

"Take a picture, it will last longer," the kid said, in a voice eerily similar to the guy at the C&C auto parts store that was the object of John Bean's classic "Whoop Ass" prank phone call. Dean figures the guy looked too long at the young punk's girlfriend.

Amazes me to think that some scribes complain about writer's block. I see -- or maybe hear -- stories everywhere I go.


Still hard to believe Skip Caray is gone.

I haven't watched a Braves game since his death. Just can't bring myself to do it. I don't know. I guess a part of me died, too.

All my teams are out of contention. The Braves and Tigers are irrelevant at this point. I've been looking in on the Yankees, counting down the final games at the Stadium, but I don't really care at this point.

I have this nightmare about the Series turning out to be a Rays/Cubs matchup. Cue the yawns. Guess I'm ready for some football.

OK, I'm off to heat up the hamburger left over from lunch. Peace out.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Hitchcock, headaches, NASCAR and Nancy Drew

So it's Saturday night, and I'm finally starting to feel better.

Haven't done too much today. Slept mostly.

I'm alternating between NASCAR on TV and watching the old "Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries" on DVD. When I was a kid, I had a big crush on Pamela Sue Martin's Nancy Drew. I wanted to grow up and marry a girl just like her -- good looking, smart, feisty, full of vinegar.

Ahh, the sweet bliss of youth.

Last night, I watched the underrated Hitchcock classic "Rope" while I was sick. May be one of the best movies of the director's distinguished career. If you love Hitch and have never seen the film, give it a look.

I know one thing. It has one of the most ingenious trailers of any movie I've ever seen. A couple is sitting together on a park bench. They agree to meet later at a party. The woman watches the man walk away.

Cue Jimmy Stewart:

"That's the last she will see of him. And that's the last you will see of him..."

"Rope" is best known for Hitchcock's experimentation with shooting a film in "one take." That was, of course, impossible in 1948, so Hitch shot a series of extended takes, hiding the breaks by zooming in on an actor's clothing.

The plot is rather simple. Two friends (Farley Granger and John Dall) murder a school chum (Dick Hogan) and temporarily place him in a chest in their New York apartment's living room.

The duo then host a perverse dinner party -- with the food laid out on top of the chest! Dinner guests include the boys' school headmaster (Jimmy Stewart), an old girlfriend (Joan Chandler), another schoolmate (Douglas Dick) and the murdered boy's father (Cedric Hardwicke) and aunt (Constance Collier). Providing comic relief is the smarmy housekeeper (Edith Evanson).

Stewart, whose offbeat philosophy has inadvertently inspired the boys to commit the murder, eventually unravels the deed in this true classic of a picture. It made me forget all about my migraine.

Tonight, I may screen Hitch's 1943 classic (and a film he considered his favorite), "Shadow of a Doubt," starring the great Joseph Cotten and the beautiful Teresa Wright -- that is if I can take my eyes off Pamela Sue Martin long enough to find the DVD.

Schoolboy crushes die hard. Sigh.

(What's sad is Pamela Sue Martin is probably about 50 years old now. I've led a screwed up life, what can I say?)

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Under the weather

Hi gang,

I'm under the weather this week. Will return when I get to feeling better.

Meanwhile, keep the families and victims of the tragedy at Central High School in your thoughts and prayers. For some reason, I guess I always thought that a school shooting wouldn't happen here in North Knox County.

Just makes me wonder what kind of world this generation will inherit.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Hall(s) of memories

Found myself out at the high school this afternoon.

I don't know how to put into words what I felt. It isn't deja vu, because it certainly doesn't feel the same as what went on before. No, I guess that English hall I walked down served more as a time machine, taking me back more than a decade, to memories that have long lay dormant somewhere in the back of my mind.

I passed by Mrs. Webber's door, and remembered jumping on top of her desk, playing Davy Crockett for some forgotten report. I thought about political "discussions" with Mark Padgett, watching the Franco Zeffirelli version of "Romeo and Juliet," reading Mark Twain and getting some indication of what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

I saw Mrs. Jenkins' old door and again thought of Padgett, the time he gave his infamous report on Atlantis; the time we read Shakespeare and Mrs. Jenkins cast me as Caesar and Mark as Brutus; the argument we got into over the passage of NAFTA.

I can remember reading Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities" and being quite moved by Sydney Carton's grand sacrifice, a far better thing he did, for two people in love. I also remembered standing out by the door, waiting for the dark-haired girl with the perfect teeth. I remembered the day she came; I also remembered the day she didn't.

Outside what once was Denise Pennington's classroom, I thought about the shy young man who found his voice inside, much more comfortable when inhabiting somebody else's shoes. I remembered that great production of "The Foreigner" that the students liked so well; I also remembered that other weird play, which nobody seemed to like.

Finally, I passed by Senor Bright's old room and smiled at the memory of doing the "David Letterman Show" with Josh Ellis and singing Christmas carols in Spanish.

Nothing is the same. Mrs. Webber still haunts her door. But Barbara Jenkins left years ago, for West and Bearden; she's now retired. Denise Pennington and Senor Bright both headed for Webb School not long after we graduated.

Me? Well, I hang out just down the road. Every time I walk the halls of Halls, I think about all these memories, and about the young man I used to be.

The dark-haired girl with the perfect teeth, by the way, married somebody else. I guess I'm glad she did. She never knew me anyway.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Where I'm supposed to be

Last week, I told you about Andrew Montgomery, the Powell guy I interviewed who successfully survived a bone marrow transplant 5 years ago.

Today, that interview appeared in my weekly Shopper-News column. A few minutes ago, I received a phone call from the mother of an old friend, Rick Goforth. She said that Rick is going through the same situation. It's been touch and go, she says, but Rick is in good spirits. He's hoping to go to Vanderbilt for treatment this fall.

"I just wanted to thank you," she said. "So much of what we've read has been negative. This was the first positive story we've heard."

Haven't seen Rick in 6 or 7 years. He and I used to sing together, a lifetime ago. Our "signature tune" was the old Southern Gospel classic, "They're Holding Up the Ladder." I knew Rick has been ill, but had no idea he suffered from this rare form of leukemia.

It's funny how life works. Sometimes I get discouraged, figuring the grass is always greener, wondering if at the end of the day all I'm doing is killing trees. Then, you get a phone call like the one today, and it puts everything -- including the very act of living -- into perspective.

Jerry Askew at St. Mary's has a little saying, all about people being right where they're supposed to be. I'm not going to get rich, and God knows it isn't always fun, but that phone call sure made me glad I'm sitting out here in Halls, herding words, telling stories, living this life.

Call me crazy, but ups and downs aside, I just can't imagine being anywhere else.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Miss a girl from Tennessee...

One of those nights, I guess, that makes you realize you're right where you're supposed to be.

Ducked into Barley's tonight just after 7:30. Thought I'd enjoy a Yuengling and listen to the music awhile. Just didn't want to go home.

The bartender has started to recognize me. She tells me my order before I ask. I smile, nod, and say thanks. Makes me feel a little less lonesome.

After awhile, I decided to try a Fat Tire, a New Belgium I'd heard about that's brewed out of Colorado. Not bad, but I'll stick with my favorite.

Anyway, at intermission, the boys from the band came up and sat down at the bar. We got to talking. Mike, the guitar player, asked if I was going to sing one. I told him that was up to Robin.

Asked her when she came back and she said, "Sure."

So we did. There's something spiritual about live music; something like that makes you glad to be alive, full of an almost naive happiness, not caring about anything else but the moment.

After it was over, a fella from Black Oak Ridge, Bob Terry, came up and shook my hand.

Bob is a Vietnam vet. He reads the paper all the time. Had some nice things to say and told me a little bit about his life.

"Keep up the good work," he says.

After the set ends, I say my goodbyes, walk out into the night and marvel at the simple beauty of such a moment.

And, I remember a song playing at the bar, and hum its lyrics on the way home, all about missing a girl from Tennessee.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

'...And loving it!'

Oh, what fun.

I hadn't seen "Get Smart" -- the '60s TV show, not the Steve Carell spoof -- since its early '90s re-run heyday on Nick at Nite. Ordered the first season from Amazon last week (that experience is a blog post in and of itself) and watched an episode or two last night.

For the unwashed, "Get Smart" was a parody of the spy movies and TV shows that were all the rage in the mid-60s. The late, great Don Adams played the bumbling Maxwell Smart, Agent 86 for CONTROL, who does battle each week with the international terrorist organization KAOS. Along for the ride -- and to solve the case while Max bumbled around -- was Agent 99 (the underrated Barbara Feldon), Max's partner and future wife.

If ever an actor was born to play a part, surely it was Don Adams for Maxwell Smart. He was picture perfect. The dead-pan looks. The classic one liners. ("Max, this case will put you in constant danger, your life on the line at every possible turn." Pause. "...And loving it!") Each episode was peppered with the usual bumbling CONTROL and KAOS agents. (My favorite was Hymie the robot (played to the hilt by Dick Gautier). I laughed until I cried the time he saved Max a parking space -- by lying down in the street!)

After five highly successful TV seasons, "Get Smart" had an interesting afterlife. A truly bizarre feature film sequel was released in 1980, originally called "The Nude Bomb" (the plot involved a bomb that rid the world of its clothes...), with only Don Adams returning from the original show. A more traditional TV reunion, utilizing virtually all of the surviving cast members ("Get Smart, Again!"), aired in 1989.

In the mid-90s, Fox brought "Get Smart" back for a short-lived series, again starring Adams and Feldon, along with the truly obnoxious Andy Dick and hottie Elaine Hendrix (whose dad, Tom, lived in Halls, and may still for all I know.) You know about this summer's big-budget film spoof starring Carell and Anne Hathaway. (I never could bring myself to see it. Maybe later on DVD.)

I found myself still laughing at "Get Smart," something that doesn't always happen when I revisit sitcoms I enjoyed as a kid. I give all the credit to creators Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, and the ever-inventive Adams.

Course, I should also tell you that this show -- sad to say -- is directly responsible for my becoming friends with high school buddy Dewayne Lawson. I still remember that he wrote something completely stupid in my 8th grade annual about getting straight A's and earning a "gold card" that was tied to Max's other catchphrase, "Would you believe...?"

Oh, well. Here's to you, Max. I look forward to solving another case or two real soon.

Oops. Gotta run. My shoe phone is ringing...must be the Chief with another case...

Season 1 of "Get Smart" is available on DVD from HBO.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Adrift between exits

Sometimes you get lost in it.

It threatens to overtake you, like a tidal wave, pulling you deep into the undertow, never to let you out of its grasp.

I've come to recognize it, understand it isn't permanent, and weather the tempest as best I can. Sometimes it is easy. Other times it isn't.

When it gets to be too much, I retreat -- into the music, into an old western, into a black-and-white '50s sitcom fantasy world in which the good guys always win, problems are solved in 30 minutes and everybody goes home happy. It scares me sometimes to think, though, about retreating into this world and never coming back.

Some days a diamond; some days a stone. I reach out when I can, necessity telling me I can't bury it anymore. Maybe I say more than I should, but it's the lifeline that's important here.

Off I go, adrift between exits, sometimes so high I can touch the sky, sometimes so low I can't see over the curb.

Work keeps me busy. Writing is my catharsis, the one thing that makes the headaches and the successes and the failures and the low pay worth it. When a story clicks, and the whole darn thing comes together -- well, there's nothing like it in the world.

And I try to remember, too, that the deep valleys, with all of what going through them means, make the mountaintops so much more poignant.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A little more time...

Oh, lord, what a crazy life.

You're up, you're down, you're in between. You spend half your life tilting windmills, then actually act surprised when the wind doesn't blow your way. You love it, you hate it. You can't imagine being anywhere else, you'd just as soon hop a train to nowhere and never look back.

One of the things I've struggled with for years is not seeing the forest for the trees. You know what I mean. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our petty little problems that we lose perspective. Forget about life, and friends and family, what's important, and what it really means.

Talked to a guy this morning who next Tuesday will celebrate a very special 5-year anniversary. On Aug. 19, 2003, he underwent a bone marrow transplant to help battle leukemia. One hundred and one reasons exist to tell you why he should have died.

But, guess what? He didn't. And, against all odds, he's healthy, busy and enjoying life.

One of the things he told me is that after brushing up so closely with death he learned to forget all about the mortgage, trying to buy a new car, keeping up with the Joneses. It just isn't important.

I don't know what may be troubling you on this gorgeous Tuesday afternoon. But, I do know this: your life is precious. And, chances are, you're the most important person in somebody's world.

Sometimes I get caught up in my silly dreams and my crazy wishes and sometimes let the Black Dog trick me into thinking I'm traveling all alone down life's crazy road -- and that the journey isn't worth taking anymore.

But it is. Oh, my goodness, is it ever worth taking.

And, you know, this may not help much, but you take this and use it next time you need it:

If you're reading these words, chances are you've touched my life in some way. Heck, you are right now by taking time out of your busy day to spend a few minutes listening. If nothing else, just know there's one little guy in Halls who hopes you have a great day today -- and that life brings you all the happiness you deserve.

I guess what I'm saying is that, despite it all, I'm so glad I'm standing here today. Here's to dreaming big dreams, even when they don't work out. Here's to singing too much, even if nobody's listening. Here's to family, and good friends.

And here's to living life to the fullest, enjoying every minute. Because like that fella told me earlier, we're all going to leave this earth one day -- some of us have just been given a little more time.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Good 'Times'

I've almost forgotten what it's like to read an engaging, solid, well-written daily newspaper.

Felt like crap today. Some kind of intestinal bug. It's such that I'm not going to see Robinella tonight, if that tells you anything, which it should.

Was able to get out this morning long enough to secure a Sunday Times. The Halls Kroger either doesn't stock it anymore or was sold out by 11 a.m. I headed south and found one -- the last one -- at the Fountain City Kroger. Hey, I'm not complaining. If it weren't for Kroger, I'd have had to drive all the way to West Knoxville.

So, I've sat here in my chair all afternoon, sipping Sprite and eating toast. Not fun.

But, I've been reading the Times, too, with baseball playing in the background. And guess what? It's taken me all afternoon just to get through the A section. Something else might take you 10 minutes to scan through its entire contents. At this rate, though, I don't know when I'll make it back to the sports section or the book review.

Meanwhile, the Tigers took care of bid'ness against the A's and the Angels just completed a sweep of the Yankees at the Big A. I've been looking in on the Olympics, but missed what I wanted to see -- the U.S./China basketball game.

Back to the paper, I guess. Read an interesting piece about a little-remembered December 1975 bombing of a baggage terminal at LaGuardia. Apparently the major suspect (the perpetrators were never caught; no one, in fact, was charged) was deported in July after his life sentence was paroled on another crime.

Just for the hell of it, I looked at Amtrak rates from Charlotte to Penn Station. I can get up there and back for less than $200. Part of me wants to make it up to Yankee Stadium before it closes this September. Doubt I can get decently priced tickets at this point, though.

Oh, well. I'll get to the new park, I guess. Maybe next spring.

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Saturday, August 09, 2008

The mean reds

It's been a day for the mean reds.

Oh, not quite. Had an eye appointment this morning ($250 for an exam and a year's worth of contact lenses), went to the grocery store (steaks and refreshments for dinner) and chilled at the pad the rest of the day. But, I've not been with it today. Just can't seem to give a damn.

Read James Dickey through the first two chapters. Damn, what a book. Somehow worked up a headache, though, so herding words was out for the rest of the afternoon.

Tried to watch TV. Couldn't settle on anything. Skipped back and forth between "Weeds" and "West Wing" and "Perry Mason" and a Jack Lemmon movie.

I like Jack Lemmon. Kinda miss the old guy. This was a 1975 flick based on a Neil Simon play. It's set in Manhattan. Lemmon's going through a crisis; he's lost his job. Didn't hang with it long, but it made me want to hop a train and spend a few days in the City that Never Sleeps.

I want to walk down to the little newsstand in the Milford Plaza lobby, grab the Times, the Daily News and the Post, and some coffee, and while away the morning in bed with the papers. I did just that once, on a rainy Wednesday in February, before taking the subway down to Ground Zero to look around. It was five months after 9/11. They were still unearthing remains.

I give up on Jack Lemmon, but the Manhattan feeling won't go away. So I take something for the headache and watch Audrey Hepburn bedazzle George Peppard while talking about her mean reds. She enjoys breakfast at Tiffany's, you know. What a stunner.

I throw a load of towels in the laundry, but try not to think about what I'm doing. Being domestic, adrift in the suburbs, is depressing as hell.

I don't have anything to take for my mean reds. It's OK, though. The movie will do, at least until the credits roll.

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Friday, August 08, 2008

'It's Late': Remembering Rick Nelson

I think I was born 30 years too late.

My friend Kathy sent me some groovin' stuff by the late, great Eric "Ricky" Nelson. What I wouldn't give to be sitting in a malt shop somewhere, coiffed in a crew cut, downing a Cherry Coke and flirtin' with long-haired girls in poodle skirts.

My dad introduced me to Rick's music years ago. (For some reason, I seem to have adopted a lot of my parents' music. I don't know what exactly that says about me, other than it's a fact.) What an underrated talent that guy was.

He was such a hoot as a little guy on his parents' popular "Ozzie and Harriet" TV show. Rick was the spunky brother, the one who didn't take no for an answer, the kid who would climb up on the roof to get in the house when Ozzie locked the family outside, the terror who would interrupt his brother's dates -- and steal the show in the process.

And he was a top-rate musician. Sure, some of his songs were corny, but could he ever rock his ass off. The song that got him into so much trouble at the infamous Madison Square Garden concert (which led to his writing the all-time classic "Garden Party"), a cover of the Rolling Stones' "Honky Tonk Women," is mighty fine indeed.

The Nelsons are quite a talented clan. You know about Ozzie, Harriet, David and Rick. What you may or may not know is that Rick's kids are all successful, too. Matthew, Gunnar and Sam are fine singers in their own right; Sam is also a music industry executive; daughter Tracy simply shined as the crime-solving nun on "Father Dowling Mysteries" a few years ago.

Rick died tragically, as so many singers seem to do, in a 1985 plane crash. For whatever reason, I don't think he's ever received the credit he deserves as a major player from the golden era of American rock-and-roll music. I dare say that his "Garden Party" is one of the best songs to emerge during the last half of the 20th century.

So here I am, adrift in the '50s again, a bit amused at how I got here. Forgive me if I pat my foot and sing along awhile.

It's late, gotta get on home, it's late, been gone too long...

You da man, Rick!

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

My South

So, what does it mean when we say "my South"?

I suspect it depends on where you are.

My South is much different from, say, the South of "Gone with the Wind." You'd get another version in Atlanta, still another in Savannah, and something quite different in the Florida panhandle. And we haven't even mentioned the Carolinas, Arkansas, Montgomery, Oxford or even Texas (part of the old Confederacy).

My South is complicated, just so you understand. These East Tennessee hills were Union blue through-and-through during the War (if you have to ask which war, move on to something else), although you couldn't tell it now. History is a funny thing. We see in it what we want to see.

We're stubborn folks here. Republican partisans in a state that for years voted Democratic, although that, too, has changed. We don't really care how they do it in Nashville, much less in Washington.

We like our music. Oh, lord, do we like it. And politics. And football. And a good story.

I'm biased, but I think Southerners tell a better tale than any other species. It's in our blood. We didn't have much 'round here after the War, at least until the New Deal, air conditioning and TVA, so we sat around and talked. Now that, too, is largely gone with the wind. But we still have some good storytellers here and there, if you know where to look.

We're supposed to be church-goin' folks, but if you tell a big whopper, we won't say anything, especially if we like the way it's told.

We're hypocrites, too. Let's face it. None of us are perfect. The ones who think differently are usually the worst of the bunch.

Oh, but we have a good time. This world has changed a million times over, and yet we still hang on to some of the old ways, some good, some not.

We'll give you directions and send along a piece of pie for later -- as long as you don't look too different. (Yeah, we still have problems with that too. It's not just a Southern thing.)

My South is endless summer nights on the lake, sunsets that last forever, golden light dancing across rippling waters. It's fried chicken and sweet tea with the family on a sweltering hot Sunday afternoon, but please, mamaw, let me get out of my church-goin' clothes first.

My South is pretty girls that will break your heart every damn time, but somehow, you're glad you didn't miss the dance.

My South is Elvis and fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches, country music on Saturday nights, Neyland Stadium 100,000 strong, please and thank you, sir and ma'am.

It's grotesque and morbid, beautiful and sweet, so sweltering hot you can boil a blister, so cold you can freeze your ass off.

My South is this not-so-little-anymore Crossroads in which I was born and where I expect I'll die.

It's a place, and a people, that I love more than I can ever put into words. It's an intangible state of mind, and something quite real.

All this, and a million other things, that's my South.

The old dreams

Maybe it's the sunshine. Maybe it's the call I got this morning from a reader. Maybe it's just because I finally got a good night's sleep.

Whatever the case, it feels good just to be alive this Wednesday morning.

Oh, I'm not going to lie. I'm still bummed about losing Skip. I'm still disappointed in a few things.

But I remembered something that Helen Keller said once. She said that we focus so much on the door that closes that we don't take the time to walk through the door that opens as a result. There's so much truth to that.

I guess I've had my share of broken dreams. But, I've also had more than my share of sweet surprises. If I were to quit feeling sorry for myself and put them all on a scale, I promise you it would tip toward the good -- and it wouldn't even be close.

A fictional character, looking back over his life, once said this about broken dreams:

"The old dreams were good dreams. They didn't work out, but I'm glad I had 'em."

It was the best part of an otherwise forgettable novel, and I couldn't agree more. Sometimes you get caught up in the moment, so focused on the hurt, that even getting up in the morning doesn't make much sense.

Then you remember why doing so is usually so much fun.

I don't guess some of my most cherished dreams will come true, either. But, it's OK. I'm glad I had 'em, too. I can promise you that life would have been quite dull without them.

And, what the hell. I'll still be here, meeting deadlines, telling stories, having fun, reading good prose, hearing good music on Sunday nights (thanks, Robin!), thinking 'bout women and fishin' and loving life.

So, here's to the old dreams, the good dreams, even if they didn't quite work out. And here's to dreaming plenty more.


Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Just what I needed...

Ol' Skip is still making me laugh, even though he's passed on into the hereafter.

I've taken Skip Caray's death pretty hard, partially because he's been such a part of my summers, partially because it happened in the midst of a few other disappointments. Last night, I alternated between TV and radio to hear what the Atlanta Braves family had to say about this special guy. It was just what I needed.

Joe Simpson told several hilarious tales on TV. I laughed for about 10 minutes over an incident with Vanilla Coke.

Apparently, the Coke people wanted Joe and Skip to drink Vanilla Coke on the air and talk about it. Skip hated that kind of thing. He balked. But the powers-that-be told them they had to.

So, they brought up a couple of Vanilla Cokes. Joe started guzzling his, despite the fact it was burning his eyes and all those things that happen when you chug a carbonated beverage. When he finished, he let out an "ahh", turned to Skip and said, "That was great. How did you like yours?"

Skip's classic reply?

"I didn't, the 2-1 pitch..."

Pete Van Wieren was his usual professional self, but you could tell his heart wasn't in the broadcast last night. I went to sleep to the cadence of his voice, holding on to what's left of the familiar, though in my heart I know that what made the Braves special is gone forever.

An Atlanta columnist said it much better than I can:

"Skip and Pete were simply the best — Van Wieren would give us the numbers, and Skip would supply the attitude. Whether the year was 1982 or 2008, hearing those two voices made us feel a part of something that transcended beginnings and endings, something that always was and always would be."

I know what he means. You couldn't count on girlfriends, you couldn't count on the weather, you couldn't count on much of anything really, but you could always count on the fact that Skip and Pete would be there every spring, right on schedule, to brighten your evenings for the next six months.

It's gone now, maybe right when I needed it most. But, it's hard to complain, because Skip provided so many memories, countless moments of pure joy.

Laughing at his quips last night, I realized just how special Skip was, and, too, how much less I would have enjoyed this ride without him.

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Monday, August 04, 2008


Funny thing, this feeling.

One doesn't get used to it, no matter how many times it comes creeping round your door. I haven't anyway.

Tell you what it feels like. Think about being shattered into pieces, like a child's toys, scattered around the yard. That's part of it.

It feels like you've been speeding at 200 mph and crash landed into a bottomless pit.

It feels like hell.

I'm having trouble taking it alone this time. Some things are too much.

So, I seek the familiar, haunt the same old places, try to ignore the sound of shattered dreams.

It all happens at once, lands in your lap like the boy throwing the morning paper up onto the porch, one hell of a landslide.

Worst part is you reach out, open a door, and nobody's waiting.

Here's what happens from here. I'm keeping it all buried.

Never again will I find myself sailing these waters. Never again.

Saying goodbye

I was somewhere between Barley's and home last night when I got the news.

Skip Caray, the acerbic, nasal-voiced prankster that was such a highlight of many many years of Atlanta Braves baseball broadcasts, is dead. Died in his sleep, they say. Skip was 68.

Skip was practically a member of the family. For roughly 3 1/2 hours, virtually every night from April to September during the last 20 or more years, Skip and/or his partner Pete Van Wieren would keep me company. We made it through the lean years of the mid-to-late 1980s together, and celebrated together through all those division titles and the 1995 World Series.

His father, the legendary Harry Caray, was better known nationally, but to a couple of generations of Braves fans, Skip was as much a part of a Southern summer night as Harry had been for Cardinals and Cubs fans.

He was witty, he was cantankerous, he was irreverent ("And, like lambs to the slaughter, the Braves take the field..."). I can't believe he's gone.

Got home last night and just sat in the dark for a few minutes. Maybe only baseball fans will understand this, but I feel like I've lost an old friend.

Skip and Pete not only kept me company on countless summer nights, they both got me through a bad case of depression a few years ago. I met Skip last summer, but couldn't seem to put what I wanted to say into words. I sometimes have that kind of trouble when talking to people I admire.

He hadn't been around too much these last couple of years. TBS kept cutting back Braves broadcasts, ceasing them altogether at the end of last season. Skip was on the radio a bunch and worked several TV games this year on Peachtree TV.

I can't imagine not ever hearing that nasal voice again or laughing at his wit ("The bases are loaded and I wish I was..."). His talent was such that he could make an otherwise worthless ballgame into a great broadcast.

So long, Skip. I wish I had more writing talent so I could give you the goodbye you deserve.

You were the best, pal. It won't ever be the same. We'll never forget you.

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Sunday, August 03, 2008

Blast from the past

I'm blaming this on that Sam Sheppard book.

Finally finished it, by the way. Good read. I'm convinced that Dr. Sheppard didn't kill his wife. Little good it does him, nearly 40 years dead, three trials and 54 years after the fact.

Read the book if you're into such things. It's called "The Wrong Man" by James Neff, and is one fine piece of reporting.

And so I've landed back in the '50s these past few days, a place I've liked to visit since watching "Happy Days" as a kid. Yeah, I know that show is an illusion. This is my story. Let me dream.

I regularly watch "What's My Line?", the classic TV game show, which airs late at night on GSN. Currently airing episodes were originally broadcast in 1955. Things were better, things were worse, but one thing is undeniable: we were a more literate country then.

Take Bennett Cerf. There's no way an urbane publisher would appear on a TV game show today. They'd find some vapid blond celebrity instead. I seriously doubt if a well-known columnist like Dorothy Kilgallen would be included today, either.

Late last night, I watched a few episodes of that classic '50s comedy, "Ozzie and Harriet." I lost myself in its innocence, but was also intrigued by a few things.

People have an image of early TV sitcoms as being these neat little fantasies in which the father comes home, puts on a sweater, and solves the family's problems in 30 minutes. But, guess what? Ozzie was portrayed as a likable dolt, the joke almost always on him. He had no obvious source of income, and seemed to just hang around the house a lot. Oh, it was innocent, but David and Rick, the two sons, fought like all real-life siblings fight.

Rick was my favorite part of the show. He was a precocious kid in the early episodes, looking scrubby-clean in his crew cut. As a teenager, he became a real-life teen idol, and many of his songs were woven into the series. ("Stood Up" was the hit on the episodes I screened from Netflix last night.)

Of course, this notion of the 1950s as an suburban idyll overlooks the problems of the era -- segregation, repression, blandness, Communist witch hunts, a whole bunch of other stuff. Heck, the Sheppard trial tells you that. The good doctor was an adulterer, if not a murderer. Nobody was perfect in any era. Humans are basically always human. Just read Shakespeare.

But, it was a good place to land for a few minutes over the weekend. I don't care what you say, I still like that music better...

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Friday, August 01, 2008

The song

I can't figure this one out. Maybe you can.

It reached up and bit me in a place where, and at a moment when, I was most vulnerable. Like a key, it unlocked something I thought had been hidden away forever. Just exactly what, I cannot say.

It was painful, but it was poignant, and beautiful, and all those other fancy words poets use to explain something so intangible.

Guess this is what happens when you play around with YouTube while eating lunch. But, I found the song, one I'd forgotten, and thought about what it meant back then, and what it says now.

It's a funny thing, these songs. They may not affect you like they do me. But I can hear one and fall to pieces on a cloudless day. Or, I can hear another on some forgettable afternoon when the sky won't snow and the sun won't shine, and thereafter be stepping on the clouds.

Good songs are pieces of time, moments you remember, moments you can't forget, even if you want to. It's a little about the lyric and a little about the singer. A tiny slice is about the moment and where you are in your life when you hear it.

It's as powerful as a steamroller and as simple as a solitary tear. It's wonderful and magical and awful and terrible, usually all at once.

God bless the wordsmith, who maybe knows something about what lies hidden within. And God bless the musicians in the band, who make it happen night after night. And, of course, God bless the singer, who exposes a soul for the world to hear.

And God bless the song, powerful as a steamroller, simple as a solitary tear.