Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The craziest story you've ever heard

Guess this will teach me not to go hunting for books in the garage after 9.

Got home from school board last night, fixed dinner and settled in for a night of TV watching in the recliner. Somehow while doing so, I've forgotten exactly how, I came across a reference to a novel I'd read years ago by Richard Matheson called "Bid Time Return." It was later made into a movie with Jane Seymour and Christopher Reeve called "Somewhere in Time."

Anyway, the darn thing wouldn't leave the recesses of my mind, so I got up out of my comfy recliner, opened the garage door, pulled the car into the driveway and began hunting through my boxes of books. (Yep, I still haven't unpacked them all.) I was almost certain I still had a copy.

Well, about 10 minutes into my search, a cat strolled into my garage and began picking at my garbage can. Thinking it was a neighbor's pet, I shooed it away and kept on hunting for my book.

But the darn cat wouldn't leave.

Try as I might, I couldn't make it go. Repeated instructions to "Go on home" yielded nothing. Finally, I took the cat outside, told it again to go on home and shut my door.

Then my conscious got the better of me and I looked out. It was still sitting on my welcome mat.


Well, I couldn't let it stay out there all night if it didn't have a place to go. So I walked back into the garage to keep looking for this book I now am cursing. I open the garage door again -- no cat.

"Good," I said to myself, relieved. "It's gone on home."

Five minutes later, guess who strolls back into the garage?

I finally found the damn book. Then I opened the door just to see what would happen. Sure enough, the cat runs in, too.

I didn't have the heart to put it back outside overnight. It was going on 11 by this point. But I knew if the cat was going to stay here, it had to have some stuff.

Pet stores are closed. So I run to Wal-Mart, while making a quick call to mom to be sure I get everything I need, and grab cat food, a litter box and all that other stuff as quickly as I can. Drive back home, look inside and the cat is up on the couch, admiring my Atlanta Braves hat.

I get things settled and go to feed it. It must have been starved because it wouldn't even let me get the dish in the floor before it started gulping down food.

I finally settled into my recliner to read a few pages of Matheson. Only this time, it was with a new buddy by my side.

I guess I'm going to let it stay here, at least while I try to find its owner. I can already tell you, though, that I'm not going to be able to just send it away if nobody claims my new pal.

Remind me again why I went looking for books so late last night? Oh, well. Sounded like a good idea at the time.

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Monday, September 29, 2008

The very thought of her...

Funny thing, music. Sometimes it can be the perfect backdrop for the perfect day.

Driving back from the UT campus this morning, I heard that old Henry Mancini piece, "Moon River." The sky was so blue you could swim it; the morning air was perfect, brilliant, the kind of moment you never want to slip away.

And I heard that familiar melody, (I'm crossing you in style some day...), which always makes me think of Audrey Hepburn, and wished I could spend the rest of the afternoon outdoors, drowning in the kind of day that once could fuel my artistic juices to the boiling point, before those little pills took away both the valleys of depression and, somewhat sadly, the mountaintop experience that comes with an elevated mood.

Oh, I don't really miss it. Trust me, the end result is hell.

I thought, too, as I seem to do on days like this, about a woman I loved -- so dearly loved -- and, to be honest, still do. She has no way of knowing it, but she saved my life once upon a time. The very thought of her brightens the day.

It's a beautiful afternoon, but a poignant one, because the chill in the air is a reminder of what lurks ahead -- cold, dreary, gray days, empty, alone.

Get out and enjoy it if you can. This is a day to savor, something to warm the soul, something that can inspire politicians and poets, young kids and old men, even cynics with broken hearts.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Somewhere other than here

I'm sitting here on a Wednesday morning drinking caffeine, still trying to wake up. Can't seem to get much sleep anymore. Not sure why.

It's beautiful outside, one of those early fall days that makes me wish I was up at the lake, or strolling through the mountains somewhere, or in general roaming around outside. I get like Walter Mitty on a day like this -- daydreaming about being somewhere other than here.

Fall brings mixed emotions. Usually by late September, I'm ready for the cooler days, for weekends filled with football, all that jazz. But, of course, it means the end of summer, good-bye to baseball, early warnings of winter. Which never seems to sit too well.

Things seem to be stuck in neutral. Not awful, not great. I get this sinking suspicion that all my days are mere repetition, some kind of bizarro "Groundhog Day," but without Bill Murray to make you laugh. It makes me want to jump in the car, pick a direction and just drive.

But, nah.

I'm living for the weekend -- Friday night with friends; Saturday football; Sundays at Barley's to hear RobinElla. It's enough, and then again, it isn't.

What's that old John Denver song say? "Some days a diamond, some days a stone."

Monday, September 22, 2008

Last dance in the Bronx

So I didn't make it to Barley's last night. Instead, I pointed the Xterra in the other direction, toward Maynardville, to watch the last dance in the Bronx, the final game at Yankee Stadium, with an old friend.

For the last several years now, Marvin and Sarah West have graciously adopted me into their family. You may not know Marvin's name. Let's just say he's the best writer to ever grace the pages of a Knoxville newspaper. No joke.

Marvin covered the Vols and a whole bunch of other East Tennessee sports from the mid-1950s into the early 1980s for the News Sentinel. He was there for most of the ups and downs of UT football, the Ray Mears era in basketball, the rags to riches to rags story of "Big" John Tate and a thousand other tales.

Marvin left Knoxville in 1985 to become managing editor of the Scripps Howard News Service. He retired in 1997, moved back to East Tennessee and lives in a charming little place on Norris Lake with wife Sarah.

We've gotten together to watch a baseball game each spring for the last 7-8 years. I called him up Saturday night after the Florida debacle (I led my entire section in a verse of "Nearer My God to Thee" in the closing minutes) and asked if he wanted to watch the last game at the Stadium. He said yes.

I've never been a huge Yankees fan, but it was quite poignant to see yet another baseball cathedral (some would say the cathedral) shut its doors. All that history, all those World Series, the House that Ruth Built, will soon be but a memory.

It was a reminder of the fleeting moments of time, how the years pass so quickly, yet another subtle hint that, try as we might to stop it, the ol' world keeps on turning.

I drove back to Halls humming a line or two from an old Sinatra song:

And there used to be a ballpark...

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Friday, September 19, 2008

All in all, I'd rather be in the Old City...

So, yeah, I'd rather be heading down to the Old City tonight to hear this British Invasion band that folks with musical taste keep bragging about.

As it is, I'll be sitting at my desk, taking football scores over the phone, working the late shift tonight.

But, it's OK. The Old City in my mind is reserved for Sunday nights anyway, my usual place near the front at Barley's, Robinella's sweet songs, "Yes, Lord, I can now die a happy man."

I do want to go hear this group, though. They're called The Invaders and I understand they're pretty good. I'm more of an American pop/folk/country kind of guy, but I can dig a little bit of that British stuff from the '60s now and again. Plus, I'm always game for good music.

Not to mention the fact that there's this quaint little bookstore just down from Barley's I keep wanting to visit that isn't open on Sunday nights. The guy that runs it is keeping an eye out for a Lincoln biography I've been trying to find for several years. He thinks he can find all six volumes without me having to mortgage the house.

So what else is new? Well, I'm going to the UT/Florida game tomorrow. This will either be the greatest experience of my life or a rerun of the sinking of the Titanic. The wonderful, horrible thing about the gridiron Volunteers is you just never know. The yo-yo goes up, and the yo-yo comes down.

Peace out, y'all. I'm going to go scout around for some lunch before heading in for the late shift.

Have a good weekend and come hear my favorite singer this Sunday night if you happen to find yourself in Knoxville's Old City around 8. I'll be the guy at the end of the bar.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Nerd moment for the week

Wouldn't you know it? I fell asleep right at the good part.

OK, here's my nerd moment for the week. Last night, I rearranged my entire evening so I could catch one of my favorite movies on TCM.

"Abe Lincoln in Illinois," from 1940, stars Raymond Massey as the Great Railsplitter, following our greatest president's journey from New Salem, Ill., through his fateful train ride to Washington in 1861 to become president of the United States. It's corny, melodramatic, plays fast and loose with history, but is a lot of fun.

And the funny part is I keep missing it every time it airs. The last time TCM showed the film (it's not available on DVD), I set the TiVo, all excited that I'd finally be able to watch this classic from start to finish. Yeah, it didn't record.

So guess what happened last night? I got all the way through the movie and fell asleep right at the part where Lincoln gives his famous "house divided" speech. I woke back up on the night of the 1860 election, when Lincoln waits calmly at the telegraph office for the results.

I did manage to catch his dramatic speech at the train station that closes the film, but I guess I'm just not supposed to EVER see this damn thing in its entirety. One thing I was glad to see is that the film faithfully replicates certain aspects of Lincoln's life, including his broken-promise engagement to Mary Todd (he later changes his mind and, for some reason, she does too) and his early struggles with money and difficulty finding a direction in life. Massey is a dead-ringer for Ol' Abe.

On a serious note, I did think a lot about Lincoln -- and our current election -- after the movie ended. And it really makes you marvel at this most remarkable American story.

Lincoln had been a one-term U.S. Representative and a state Rep. in the Illinois legislature for a few years prior to winning the Republican nomination for president. And that was about it.

He'd lost a Senate seat against the Little Giant, Stephen Douglas, in 1858. Honest Abe could tell a funny story, but he wasn't much to look at. He had a high-pitched voice. He couldn't have been elected dogcatcher if he'd came of age in the TV era.

But if ever a human being was born to play a certain role in history, surely it was this gentle soul from Springfield by away of Kentucky. His tale is indeed one for the ages.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The little hippie girl

One night when I couldn't sleep, a decade or so ago, I got into watching an old movie on Encore called "Breezy."

I don't remember much about the plot other than it starred William Holden as a conservative, middle-aged guy who fell in love with a hippie played by Kay Lenz. Seems like Clint Eastwood directed it.

Thought about that movie as I was driving over to Adrian Burnett Elementary for an interview this morning. My best guess as to why a film I barely remember popped into my mind is because I must have had a dream last night about the little hippie girl I admired back in high school.

It's funny to think about now. She and I had a class or two together. We were about as opposite as two people can be. I was quite conservative politically then; she wasn't. I was very much the WASP-ish square; she was free-thinking and independent, the type of girl to which I always seem to be attracted.

Thus it went. I found out a few years later that she was hurt by the fact that we "never talked" after our sophomore year. I thought it was because she didn't like me. She, apparently, thought the same.

And, as you can probably guess, the opposite was the case.

I don't have any grand point in all this. It's just something amusing that crossed my mind this morning while driving along Black Oak Ridge.

Although I do have a sudden urge to put "Breezy" on my Netflix queue...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The chill of an early fall

Pay attention and you can feel it.

It rears its head in the evenings, when the remains of the day slips slowly away, lurking, ready to replace the sweltering summer in our collective consciousness.

And they're playing football, too, so that must mean the chill of an early fall.

But I'm watching baseball tonight -- Red Sox versus the Rays -- big showdown for top spot in the AL East. Josh Beckett's curve ball looks ever so sharp in the top half of the first. But something tells me these young fellers from Tampa Bay are going to make this one interesting postseason.

Baseball in September has always felt a bit jarring. I guess it's because autumn is for football, Saturday afternoons at Neyland Stadium, orange and white, good ol' Rocky Top, yada yada.

I don't know. Can't get into it this year. Part of me died out in Westwood on Labor Day, I guess.

Oh, I'll be there Saturday. Hell, I've already paid for the tickets. Might as well go.

It's OK. I think I'm ready for fall. I'm looking forward to cool evenings in front of the fire, drifting off to sleep in the easy chair, orange and yellow and red flickering across the otherwise darkened living room, visions of dark-haired women dancing in my head.

I'm looking forward to driving up to Harrogate one Sunday (provided gas ever gets reasonable again), taking in the colors of an East Tennessee autumn, finding that spot near the gazebo on the LMU campus where the poet Carl Sandburg wrote his masterpiece on Lincoln, and whiling away the afternoon.

But tonight I'm enjoying one last gasp of summer, the gentle rhythms of our national game, before putting a first love to bed until the cruelest month returns in the spring.

Funny, but this year, it doesn't seem to hurt all that much.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Summer in Spain

Let's just get this little contradiction out of the way right now:

I hate Woody Allen. But I love his movies. Particularly when he's not in them.

Oh, that's not quite true. I loved "Play It Again, Sam" and "Annie Hall" and a few others. It's just that his neurotic character tends to wear a little thin during the course of a 2-hour movie.

Woody doesn't appear in his latest picture, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona." Which is OK by me, but it wouldn't have mattered. This is a quirky, seductive, fun little film.

It all starts when two American friends, Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson), decide to spend the summer in Spain. Vicky is the serious one, about to marry a settled, if somewhat stifling, fiancee (Chris Messina). Cristina is a filmmaker of sorts, very much the wanderer, trying to find herself in bohemian Europe.

And it's in Barcelona that they meet Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), a dashing Spanish artist who bluntly asks the girls to take a weekend trip with him. He doesn't even bother pretending; he's really got one thing in mind.

Vicky doesn't want to go. Of course, Cristina does. And, as these things tend to go, Vicky, the hesitant one, falls in love with him, as does Cristina in time. Add to this mix Juan Antonio's wild, mentally unstable ex-wife Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz) and it makes for one bizarre little summer romance.

Let me say here that Bardem is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors. If you've yet to see his tour de force in "No Country for Old Men," run don't walk to the video store and watch that movie tonight. I think I fell in love with Rebecca Hall during the movie and I don't guess I have to say one word about Scarlett Johansson. Sigh.

I'm not sure why I liked this film. Well, I have a few guesses. It offers a blatantly humanistic view of love and sex, refreshing in its honesty.

More than that, Allen always delivers a witty, intelligent, well-written picture, and he does so again here. (Am I really the only one in America that loved "Match Point"?) It's a bit jarring not to see his beloved Manhattan skyline dominate one of his movies, but he's obviously in love with the beauty of Barcelona, and he lets his cameras capture all of its romance in glorious Technicolor.

After watching this film, one definitely longs to spend the summer in Spain, delving into its treasures, losing yourself in the less rigid mores of the continent.

Then the lights come back up and you drive back to $5/gallon gas, back to the reality of the day, back to the stifling uniformity of the suburbs. Oh, well. It's nice while it lasts.

"Vicky Cristina Barcelona" is now playing at Regal CinemaArt at Downtown West. It is rated R for language and sexual content.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Ten days before

The train came rumbling into the station, full of passengers making their way into the city for the holiday weekend.

It was as laid-back as New York City can ever possibly be, beautiful, not a cloud to be found. We alighted and walked in the general direction of the Empire State Building. I stopped at a newsstand long enough to get a morning edition of the Times.

We took our time at the Manhattan landmark, joking about finding Meg Ryan up on the roof. For a long while, we gazed southward into Lower Manhattan at those expansive World Trade Center towers. What a sight.

After awhile, we left, and made our way up to Times Square, where we found lunch and then headed for the small Broadway theater that was our ultimate destination. They weren't letting anyone inside yet, so we milled around on the sidewalk.

A few minutes later, up pulled an SUV with tinted windows. A man alighted from the car, familiar, friendly. He didn't have his famous mustache, but it was indeed Magnum, p.i. himself, Tom Selleck.

He shook hands, or signed autographs for, or took pictures with everyone who wanted something. I shook his hand, but couldn't think of one darn word to say.

We enjoyed his play, a revival of Herb Gardner's "A Thousand Clowns," very much. Phil Donahue was even in the audience.

After it ended, we made our way to Grand Central, hunting for the train that would take us back to Connecticut.

It was a day to remember, something you tell your kids about years later, a first visit to New York City.

The date was Sept. 1, 2001.

The February following the 9/11 attacks, I returned to New York. We walked down to Ground Zero. All of the normal cacophony of the city was hushed at that hallowed ground. Nobody said a word; it was very much like being at a funeral.

I read the graffiti ("Osama: Kiss My Ass") and was moved by the posters that hung here and there, people still searching for missing loved ones.

Bookends of two different trips, the events between which changed the world. Here's hoping we never forget what happened that hauntingly beautiful Tuesday morning -- especially the innocents who gave the last full measure of devotion in a war they didn't yet know they were fighting.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Fading dreams

She found me last night, at that joyous and bittersweet place somewhere between consciousness and slumber, for the first time in many moons.

It wasn't what I wanted -- with her, it never quite is -- but somehow it's enough. I could feel it floating from my heart to hers, rippling across the ocean of feelings that is often so difficult to navigate, stronger than I'd ever admit it to being in the harsh light of day.

She was there, but she wasn't, and for the first time I realized just how much of my heart she really owns.

She's my literal and figurative dream, the little slice of something I hold when the world goes to hell. I'll never really hold her, though, not in the way I long to do, in the mornings just as the light creeps across the sky.

And yet that, too, is OK. It's what she seemed to be telling me in my dreams, that even if this is all it can be, somehow it's enough.

I thought about her a long time this morning, this mystical woman that haunts my dreams, and remembered a line or two from one of my favorite singer's saddest songs:

Why'd you steal my heart away? Why'd you make me dream each day?

They'll fade in time...these dreams of mine.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Sobering thoughts at 'High Noon'

Do not forsake me, oh my darlin', on this our wedding day...

Watching one of my favorite movies tonight. Fred Zinnemann's "High Noon," Gary Cooper, 1952, one man standing alone when the town refuses to help.

It's a western, sure, but it's more than that; it's an allegory, it's a fine story, it's a searing, bothersome examination into the dark recesses of human nature.

My pal Dean Harned and I disagree vehemently about the film. He co-opted his argument from John Wayne -- claiming that "High Noon" is "un-American," that no "true American" would refuse to help Coop's Marshal Will Kane defend the town against pardoned murderer Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald).

I'm not so sure.

"High Noon" was influenced by the McCarthy blacklisting of the '50s. Look at it through that lens and it's quite easy to picture the ugliness of which human beings are capable.

Overlook all that seriousness, though, and this is a darn good movie. Kane has just married the Quaker Amy Fowler (the serenely beautiful Grace Kelly) when he receives a telegram that Miller, a murderer he sent up the river 5 years ago, has been pardoned. Everyone -- including his wife -- urges Kane to get out of town. But he can't do it. Feels an obligation not to run.

Initially the town agrees to help. But, when push comes to shove, they abandon Kane, leaving him alone to face Miller and his gang.

Wayne so hated this film that he and Howard Hawks made "Rio Bravo" in 1959 to dispute it. Hate to say it, but Duke's response isn't anywhere near as good as this classic.

Leaders like Will Kane are few and far between these days. Sadly, I think you could throw a rock and find plenty of people like the cowering townsfolk in "High Noon."

I'm not a doomsday-ist. I don't believe that America is in decline. I don't think this country has seen its best days.

But I do think I've learned a little about human nature, and I dare say there's a little bit of the "High Noon" denizens in all of us. Will Kane is who we hope we are, the type of person we'd like to think we'd be given the circumstances, even if we often fall far short of such character.

It's a heavy lesson to learn -- one I've spent most of my life trying to ignore, but one that keeps proving itself time and time again in so many different circumstances.

Sobering thoughts indeed on a stormy Tuesday night.

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Sunday, September 07, 2008

Loving women

My (mis)adventures with members of the opposite sex could probably make for an amusing sitcom.

Somebody once told me they think I've loved every girl I've ever been close to, and I guess to a certain extent that's true. "You loved all the women," they said. I laughed, knowing all too well what they meant.

But, getting serious, I guess I've really only loved -- in the true sense of what that's supposed to mean -- three women in my life. The first one never really knew me (or herself, I dare say). I didn't trust the second one. And the third one? Well, let's just say the timing was all wrong and leave it at that.

Don't know why I'm thinking about all this on a quiet Sunday morning before football. I'm thinking one of them must have shown up in a dream last night. But I can't remember. It's all faded away.

I dare say that a man never loved a woman as much as I did that cute little girl years ago. It was full of the bliss and innocence of a first love. But, I was cautious, unsure of myself, never could articulate what I felt. Time has proven that it worked out for the best.

Life is funny. I see a lot of miserable people and wonder how it could get so messed up. In my sometimes naive "Ozzie and Harriet" view of the world, it all seems so simple. But, of course, it isn't.

I tend to believe the lie anyway.

OK, enough of that. Let's go watch some football.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Sweet life on a Friday night

All is calm, all is bright tonight. Sometimes you gotta be thankful for the times in which you live.

I'm chillin', waiting on pizza, watching football. Life is good.

Sorry I haven't ducked in to write much this week. Let's just say the roller coaster ride got a bit scary the past few days. But, it's all right now. I've learned my lesson well. Sometimes you just gotta give a nod to modern medicine and be thankful for a little help from your friends.

To quote Joe Cocker, I'm so glad I'm standing here today.

Went out to the ol' school last night. After an 11-year hiatus, Halls found a way to beat Central on the gridiron, 23-6. The Big Red didn't even attempt a pass until the first of the fourth quarter. Which is just as well, considering when they did try a pass, the Red Devils lost 3 yards.

I got caught up in the excitement, jumped up and down to the strains of "Also Sprach Zarathustra," enjoyed the big, dazed grin on coach Kevin Julian's face at the end of the game. We had a good time up in the press box, too. Blake Cleveland and Rodney Duncan were pumped up. I ate pizza from Mr. Gatti's and felt glad to still live at the Crossroads.

They named the field after our old buddy Dink Adams, by the way. He was all smiles on the field at halftime, standing arm and arm with his wife Carol. Dink is a good guy.

I got back to the office about 10 last night, typed up my story and stayed around to watch it roll off the printer. Call me a big kid, but I felt all warm and fuzzy inside.

I don't understand life sometimes. Every now and then, things get a little hazy, it doesn't quite compute, stuff gets a little messed up. But then you grasp the outstretched hand from folks who know more than you do, follow the directions and find a peace unlike anything you've ever known.

Then, to top all that, you hang out at the alma mater on a Friday night, revel in the simple joy of a silly football win, and figure that despite the peaks and valleys, it really is a wonderful life.