Sunday, November 30, 2008

How to see the world when you're flat broke

A librarian once told me that finishing a James Michener novel is a little like ascending Everest. Once completed, the journey feels like quite an accomplishment.

I've yet to do it. The closest I came was either "Centennial" (which I still hope to finish, preferably while vacationing somewhere in the Rocky Mountain State), or "Tales of the South Pacific," his first book.

The problem isn't so much his writing (it's good) and certainly isn't his subjects (which can range from the settling of the west to the exploration of space). It tends to be his story construction (in his epics, Michener begins with the formations of the rocks and slowly works his way up to his human characters), or the sheer volume of his words ("Centennial" would remind you of the Manhattan phone directory).

But my friend Mike Finn recommended over Thanksgiving a Michener novel I'd managed to miss called "The Drifters." So I thought I'd try again. Highlighting a group of young people who find their way to the same sliver of land in Spain during the winter of 1969, it appealed to my wanderlust, to my continued fascination with the Vietnam War era, to my never ending desire to make it through one of Michener's books.

So I became lost in this rather engaging tale while the weather outside alternated between rain, sleet, wind and a most curious winter thunderstorm. Time will tell, but I might just make it through this tale.

I once read Michener's memoir, "The World is My Home," full of envy at the depth of his travels. His first book became the basis for a little musical called "South Pacific." Maybe you've heard of it.

My own travels have mainly been relegated to the contiguous 48, but tonight in my easy chair, I followed along with the long-haired college dropout from California and the pretty woman from Scandinavia as they made their way to Torremolinos.

Not a bad deal, really. I got to learn a little about two fascinating people, take a trek from California to Spain via Boston, spend the winter in a little Norwegian village and land in this Spanish paradise -- never once without leaving the living room.

It ain't perfect, I know. But, I'll take what I can get, especially on a cold and rainy November night when you're flat broke and have a headache.

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Friday, November 28, 2008

The long winter

It's happening early this year.

Usually I'm good until at least mid-January. But it started last night, on the way home from Thanksgiving dinner, which had been peppered with talk about the Detroit Tigers and our national game.

I love football. I've learned to enjoy college basketball. The NBA? Is that thing still around?

But baseball is and will forever be my first love. I miss it when it's gone. I sit sometimes by the fire on a cold winter's night and dream of springtime, when the game will return to break my heart.

Last night I pulled out the famous John Updike essay on Ted Williams' final game. (I wish I had Updike's talent and vocabulary. But I digress.) I had printed it off the computer during the season, but hadn't gotten around to reading it.

I thought about that long-ago drizzly September afternoon in 1960, back when baseball really was the national pastime, and felt a tinge of nostalgia for something I've never known. I also felt the longing begin way down deep inside for sunny afternoons, green hues blurred with azure skies, the sublime beauty of the 6-4-3 double play.

It's going to be a long winter. That's OK. The forced hibernation makes the spring awakening that much sweeter.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

All the world's a stage...

I should have been an actor.

Particularly a stage actor. I had forgotten until I spoke to the Halls Women's League last night how wonderful it is to bask in the warmth of an audience. I don't know how good I would be at it. But, I know I would love it.

It's funny. I remember watching Damon Patterson and a girl who's name is lost to time -- Allie something, maybe -- do a scene after dinner at a high school awards banquet. I was quite taken by it. I also remember a friend leaning over and saying, "I can see you doing that."

Couldn't stay asleep tonight (that seems to happen nearly every night anymore), so I finally quit tossing and turning and finished Alan Alda's book. He talks about the ups and downs of performing. His theory is that an actor has to reach a point in which you "care without caring." I think that makes a lot of sense and can be useful in many walks of life.

(I told you yesterday how much I always admired Alda. I used to want to be just like him. Funny, isn't it? Whatever late hour I get off work tonight, I'm going to light a fire and watch him and Ellen Burstyn in "Same Time, Next Year" if I can stay awake. I always watch that movie the night before Thanksgiving. Go figure. I'm nuts.)

What finally steered me away from any serious thoughts of thespianism (other than fears about earning a paycheck) was anxiety over learning lines. But, I was so taken by Damon's performance that I took a couple of years of drama in high school.

I love the play we did my sophomore year ("The Foreigner"). I didn't so much like the play we did my junior year. By my senior year, I'd fallen in love with journalism and dropped out of Denise Pennington's drama class to work on the school paper an extra semester. Don't have any regrets. As it turned out, I've made newspapers my life's work.

But I've never lost my love for live performance. One of my fondest memories is seeing Tom Selleck in a revival of "A Thousand Clowns" 10 days before 9/11 in New York. One of my goals for 2009 is to take time to catch as many local plays as possible.

And maybe, just maybe, I'll seek out more invitations like talking to the Women's League. The ham in me loves the applause, sure, but it's really more than that. Sometimes the performer connects -- really connects -- with the folks sitting out there in the crowd. You share a common moment and it makes you realize that one of the most important things in life happens when human beings relate to one another.

Kind of puts the best spin on Shakespeare's declaration that all the world's a stage.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

"What's My Line?", Alan Alda and other lessons I have learned...

Pull up a seat and order whatever you'd like. I'll buy the first round if you'll listen to a little story.

Gotta tell you about one of my heroes, the late, great publisher, Random House co-founder Bennett Cerf. There is no explainable reason that a guy crowdin' 31 should even know Cerf's name. What can I say? I'm a crazy kid.

I've been in love with books -- and words -- since an early age. I think I've told you about that before. A neighbor gave me a "Hardy Boys" mystery when I was about 8 and I've never been the same since.

Anyway, it was through reading about the literary life that I first came across Cerf -- his professional relationship with troubled author Truman Capote, his founding of Random House with Donald Klopfer, his reputation as the epitome of the New York literati during that scene's 1950s golden age.

Then, it was a flu back in the winter, and the inspiration of my friend the Rat, that got me watching the re-runs of the classic game show "What's My Line?", on which Cerf was a regular panelist. Yes, I thought. This is the life I wish I had led -- that of an urbane New Yorker, publishing books, hobnobbing with celebrities, appearing weekly on a popular television series in which I could show off my sophisticated wit.

Alas, I'm merely a somewhat educated feller from Halls who likes to read books. It took me a long time to become comfortable -- and, indeed, happy -- with that fact.

(By the way, I read a fantastic review highlighting a new oral history of the life of another famous literary personality, George Plimpton, that I'm going to try to find during the holidays. It looks great.)

So as the sun goes down on a busy Monday, I'm fighting my usual battle with the inability to unwind, reading Alan Alda's first memoir, "Never Have Your Dog Stuffed." (I just typed "Never Have Your God Stuffed" before hitting the backspace key. Wonder if that is dyslexia or a Freudian slip?)

Alda has long been a favorite. He is witty. He is a multi-talented actor, director and writer. He played another hero, Hawkeye Pierce, on my favorite TV sitcom, "M*A*S*H."

And, believe it or not, Alan Alda once taught me something about women.

Alda made a name for himself in the 1970s for his staunch feminism. Critics complained that the later episodes of "M*A*S*H" became so bogged down in his personal philosophy that it lost its way. Too preachy, they said. Here's why I disagree:

The episode was called "Hey, Look Me Over." I believe it aired during the last season. Hawkeye keeps ignoring Nurse Kellye. She sends him some not so subtle hints of her interest in him, but Hawk keeps his eye on the more nubile, but somewhat vapid, nurses.

Kellye finally lets him have it. Afterward, Hawkeye observes a tender moment that shows Kellye's personality, in which she lovingly cares for a wounded soldier. He realizes what a fool he's been and goes to Kellye's tent to ask for a date.

But, guess what? She's got another man -- and leaves Hawkeye with his foot firmly planted in his mouth.

"Hey, Look Me Over" taught me a valuable lesson. It's a cliche to describe it this way, but the gist is don't judge a book by its cover -- or, perhaps more appropriately, everything that glitters is not gold.

Life experience should have told me this is true. But it took a 30-minute episode of a popular but thoughtful television series to throw my worldview at that time on its ear.

I don't know what Bennett Cerf and Alan Alda have in common, or even why I was thinking about them tonight. But, I think in their own way, they taught me two things I needed to learn.

One is not to spend so much time envying someone else's life that you fail to realize the richness of your own journey. The other is to never fall into the trap of seeing only with your eyes at the exclusion of your brain -- and your heart.

Not bad for two famous people I've never met, huh?

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Just icing on the cake...

CHATTANOOGA, Nov. 22 -- What I'll take from a perfect night here in Knoxville's cousin to the south isn't the music.

Oh, but it was wonderful, of course. My favorite singer played at a place called the Midtown Music Hall -- complete with a dance floor and a revolving disco ball.

It was annoying at first because it put so much distance between the performer and the audience. But it cast the night in a heavenly, ethereal glow -- perfect for the chanteuse from Blount County.

No, what I'll remember from this trip was sitting in the Pickle Barrel before the show, talking about life and sharing stories that made the world not only a little less lonely, but a lot smaller.

I've mentioned before that simple moments are what make life special. I'd add to that list times when, through shared experience, you learn that, yes, somebody else has stood in your shoes before. They made it through the rain -- and you might, too.

Life is funny. We don't know what the morrow will bring. That's probably a good thing. I got into a conversation later in the weekend with a familiar face from Halls history who told me a bit about his life and then said, "Man, you just never know. Seems like everything I thought I knew about life has been turned upside down."

Maybe so. But, I'll tell you this. If the world goes to hell, or I become lost between exits again, I'll forever remember a cold winter's night in Chattanooga in which the sweet sounds of Robinella proved for once to merely be icing on the cake.

Friday, November 21, 2008


Bud Selig has got to go.

Baseball's commissioner again and again proves that he is the most inept man to ever hold the position. He's a joke. He's a disgrace. He needs to go.

Somebody should have known that making a baseball owner commissioner would be a huge mistake. Selig has more than lived up to this admonition.

His mishandled the strike as interim commissioner. He took an ostrich-like approach to the steroids controversy. See no evil, hear no evil. He botched a decision at the 2003 All-Star Game which ended, for the first time, in a tie.

And he nearly ruined the World Series this year, barely avoiding a situation in which a Series game could have been decided by default as a rainout.

Baseball has been in trouble for a long time. Its history proves that the national game has a remarkable resiliency, though. I suspect it will survive even Bud Selig.

But, he needs to go. When somebody writes a book on Selig's life, why not title the baseball chapter "Too little, too late"?

Or simply call it "Inept." That would describe the last 14 years rather nicely.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

'Fields of Gold'

It's happened four times.

The voice hits you like a tidal wave, drowning you in the undertow, clutching you in its magnetic pull.

Four times I've heard it: Karen Carpenter, "Close to You," middle school. Alison Krauss, "Ghost in this House," Tennessee Theater, 2001. Robinella, "Teardrops," Barley's, 2006.

And, last night, Eva Cassidy, "Fields of Gold," YouTube.

I first heard Eva on Jonathan Schwartz's "Sunday Show." I've forgotten the song, but it made me stop in my tracks. I wrote down her name and the album title, but never got around to buying it. You know how you do.

My friend and Fountain City historian Dr. Jim Tumblin, a fellow audiophile, sent me a YouTube clip of Cassidy singing "Bridge Over Troubled Water" from YouTube. That got me exploring and I came across her live cover of "Fields of Gold."

And, my god, it happened again.

Eva's life is a tragic tale. Like Karen Carpenter and Nancy LaMott, Eva's voice was taken from us too soon. She was virtually unknown outside of the Washington D.C. area when she died of melanoma in 1996. But, word spread, and she's become a favorite among fans and critics of a certain musical bent.

Her voice is haunting, full of emotion and depth, capable of soaring higher and higher, giving the listener the "wow" factor that sends chills up the spine. Hers is the kind of performance that gives the illusion of intimacy. This moment is just for you.

Go to You Tube and search for her and the song "Fields of Gold" if you like this kind of music.

I just hate she's no longer here to brighten our lives with her talent.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Hawkeye by the fire

So I'm sitting here by the fire -- relaxing from a long day -- watching "M*A*S*H."

I've waxed poetically before about my favorite "dramedy," so I'll not go too far down that primrose path tonight. Quickly, then: this is one of the most well-written, intelligent, heartfelt shows ever presented on American television. Sometime I'll tell you what I remember about watching the famous last episode with my dad when I was a wee lad.

I've slowly but surely made my way through all 11 years (and 251 episodes) of the series thanks to the DVD releases. Finished that up last year.

Dinner conversation the other night made me think about Alan Alda, so I've been watching re-runs in the evenings. It helps me unwind.

Life is good. I was surprised (pleasantly) tonight with a rather thoughtful invitation, one about which I'm quite excited. Thoughtful gestures are the richest kind.

It's cold outside. But I like it. Sitting here as the flames flicker across my darkened living room, I'd like to stay here awhile.

Morning comes early, though, and with it promises another busy day. But "M*A*S*H" by the fire as a Tuesday slips away seems the perfect way to gear up for it.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

'Quantum of Solace': Shaken, but not stirred

Well, the sophomore slump continues -- at least as far as 007 is concerned.

Had high hopes for "Quantum of Solace," the new James Bond movie from Sony/MGM. After all, the new 007, Daniel Craig, revived the stale series in the excellent "Casino Royale" in 2005. But, like Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan before him, Craig's second outing as Britain's famous government agent leaves something to be desired. (Only the actor who founded the role, Sean Connery, was immune from the sophomore slump, turning in his best appearance in 1963's "From Russia, With Love.")

I'll not bother much with the plot -- what little of it exists. Something about stopping a nut intent on hording a water supply, blah, blah, blah. I never quite got it.

But that isn't really my beef with this movie. I'm used to the "plots" of a Bond movie present in name only. No, my biggest complaint is the producers seem to be making 007 into a modern-day action hero, more like Jason Bourne, than a sophisticated wit. Plus, Craig's Bond needs to find a sense of humor.

Oh, he is still excellent in the role. I love the hard-edged bad ass persona he's brought to Bond. But, when you spend that much time in the theater, you want to laugh. Connery and Moore were peerless at delivering the classic throwaway line. ("I've gotten you all wet." "Yes, but my martini is still dry.") Two or three moments in this film screamed for Craig to deliver such a comment. Alas, the moment passed.

Other highlights included an homage to "Goldfinger," this time with a woman covered in oil. (Signs of the time, eh?) The film picked up right where "Casino Royale" left off. And it does a great job of showing 007 seeking revenge -- and peace of mind -- following the death of Vesper. (See the first film for explanation.)

But the little dialogue present seemed to merely be a bridge between CGI explosions, or overblown chase scenes, or an excuse to blow up a building. This has always been a highlight of the series, but in its best moments, a James Bond movie took time to develop a set piece. (The card game in "Royale" was the best such sequence in years.)

No, something is missing here, something that is essentially Bond. At least Craig gives me hope for the character's future, something I never quite felt when Pierce Brosnan had the role.

In short, "Quantum of Solace" is a file it and forget it couple of hours with James Bond. Bring on the next one. I'll keep my fingers crossed.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Heaven in three-quarter time

I love old country music.

Conversation sometimes gets heated when I call it "real country music." Let's just say it feels more honest to me than the slickly-produced stuff they play now. I'll leave it at that.

I get this channel on the satellite called RFD. They cater to a country and farming audience, but also show vintage country music TV shows such as "Hee Haw" and "The Porter Wagoner Show."

The other night I caught an episode of "Pop Goes the Country," a 30-minute show from the '70s and '80s that spotlighted country artists of the day. And there, of all people, was Ray "Yes, they call me the streak" Stevens, for once singing a straight song rather than the comic ditties that made him famous.

It was a Paul Craft tune called "Honky Tonk Waltz." I liked it because Ray was actually singing (he had a pretty good voice back in the day) and because I was tickled by the lyrics.

Just a honky tonk waltz, C-27. Ahh, but it felt like heaven in three-quarter time.

Ray's dancing with his girl to a waltz on the jukebox when she catches the eye of some stranger at the bar. And, well, Ray's heavenly waltz becomes a nightmare set to 3/4 time.

I've always enjoyed a good country waltz. Bob Wills had some classics. As did Don Williams and an underrated little tune called "She's In Love with a Rodeo Man."

You can hear "Honky Tonk Waltz" on YouTube, although it's just a compilation of Ray Stevens photos rather than a live cut. Not the greatest song in the world by any means, but pretty cool just because Ray isn't playing the fool.

And cause I'm a sucker for heaven in 3/4 time, too.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Why I love it...

Saw the funniest sight yesterday.

Went to the dentist (ugh) to get my teeth cleaned. Oh, it wasn't too bad. I like talkin' to the doc and the hygienist.

But, anyway, back to my story. So, I pull onto Afton Drive and notice a guy in an old hat, kneeling on the ground, whittling. I thought it was odd because he was sittin' by the road in the pouring rain, just carving on a stick.

"Only in Halls," I thought.

I was late for my appointment, but made a mental note to chat with him a minute when the appointment ended. But, sadly, the whittler had left.

Don't think I'd want to sit in the rain, but sometimes I think we should all take a break and just figuratively whittle awhile. Seems like it would be good for the soul.

Sights like that are one reason why I love Halls. That and a bunch of good friends, I tell ya.

Today, Dwight Smith stopped by to plug his upcoming baseball showcase. Dwight is a longtime high school coach. And you know me -- I'll take just about any excuse to talk baseball.

After Dwight left, Shay handed me a vintage National Geographic that my buddy Doug Harned had left for me to peruse. Doug stopped by to give me the magazine and chat a minute. I can't tell you how much I appreciate people who come around when they don't want anything other than to talk.

Speaking of that, Gib Galyon called a few minutes later to say thanks. Gib is a true character -- a friend I met through the Fountain City Lions Club. All he wanted to do was give me a hard time and say the Club appreciated the blurb I ran in the paper last week about a fundraiser. He kept me laughing during the whole phone call.

I don't make much money, I get stressed out too easily. I know I could always be a better writer and a better worker. But, I love it, folks. I love it.

Today is just one of a million reasons why.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

On and on...

Funny how one door opens when another is shut.

That's a cliche, I know. But I guess cliches become cliches because they contain a little bit of truth.

Made a pact with myself that I'm going to take life as it comes. No more worrying over what will never happen. No more flying into the stratosphere and crashing into the ditch. Less brooding, solipsistic introspection and more shrugging of the shoulders, "it's just that it's just that way."

And it's curious. Even when things don't work out they way you hoped, they might just take an unexpected turn that happens better than if you'd planned it.

Stephen Bishop has a song I like very much. It says that when things go wrong, "I don't care, I just dream and stay tan. Toss up my heart to see where it lands. On and on, I just keep on tryin'. And, I smile when I feel like cryin', on and on..." Sounds good to me.

Seems like we make life harder than it actually is. Oh, I know it throws its curves. Things happen that we need to worry about. But, most of what we concern ourselves with is soap bubbles, something imagined that never comes to pass, stress we don't need, drama of our own making.

So here's to buckling the seat belt, punching the accelerator, applying the brakes when necessary, but in general rolling down the window and enjoying the ride. Toss up my heart to see where it lands.

On and on, I just keep on tryin'...

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Enjoying the ride

And so we say good-bye to another week. Amazing, isn't it, how quickly the time seems to pass.

Stayed at home today. Still not feeling that great. Slept most of the time, but did manage to watch a little football and part of an old country music show I recorded. Classic stuff from back in the day -- Statler Brothers, Barbara Mandrell, Larry Gatlin, back when it was really country music and not a bunch of two-bit pretty boys and bubble gum Barbie Dolls.

Oh, I also watched a western with Randolph Scott this afternoon. Kind of an ambiguous ending, though. Kept nodding off during it, but when it was over, I wasn't quite sure what it was trying to say.

Sometimes I just want to get in the car, or on a horse or whatever, and just ride off. Go where the wind takes me. See where the journey leads.

I get to feeling this way when the world doesn't make much sense, or when the Black Dog rears its ugly head, or even for no rhyme or reason. Often it's after something has reminded me of what folks tell me all the time -- that I'm born out of my time, a stranger adrift on the waves, having missed my port of call because it's borne back ceaselessly into the past.

I don't know. I think we are who we are for a reason. The trick is to always stay true to whomever that person is, rather than pretending to be something you're not. I've done that before, too. It never works, and besides, you won't be happy long.

Me? Well, I keep holding on to the simple things, clinging to the old dreams, trying to remember who I am, living for the moments when the whole damn thing makes sense, but knowing what to do when they don't.

Life is a whole lot less complicated than we make it. And one thing I'm learning, often the hard way, is that 90 percent of the things we worry about never do come to pass. And the other 10 percent? Well, you can't change that if you tried.

So here's to enjoying the ride, even when you're not exactly sure where you're headed, or how you'll get there. The fun part lies somewhere in between.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Taking time to talk

Forgive me for being so darn introspective this week. Just seems like the time for it, I guess.

Not feeling too well tonight. Laid up in bed, doped up on drugs, listening to the rain. Thought I'd duck in here a minute and chat. Feel lonely sometimes when I'm home sick.

As you get older, your priorities change. Maybe your philosophy does, too. I've told you before that I'm becoming more of a humanist in my old age. And I mean that in the best sense, the Renaissance definition, of the word.

Seems like it's time we started reaching out to each other, celebrating our achievements, constructively criticizing our faults. We only get one shot walking through this ol' world. Seems to me we should make the most of it.

I've been thinking a lot these past few days of what I enjoy most. And it's funny.

I had an occasion the other night to spend some time with some wonderful folks -- new friends in a lot of ways, but the kind you feel like you've known your entire life. As I enjoyed the conversation, I thought, "You know, this is what life is all about." Talking together, laughing together, finding out about your fellow human beings, hearing about their lives and what makes them tick, well, it not only makes you feel less alone, it also just warms the heart.

If you're reading these words, I hope I've done something at some point along the way to make you smile. I guess when it's all said and done, I'll forever be a would-be entertainer -- cause I love to make somebody else laugh, or think, or just engage them a few minutes with a story or a song.

Seems like we spend a large amount of time trying to connect with others -- with friends, lovers and other strangers, co-workers, or just somebody who felt like chatting in line at the supermarket. It's sort of like that old saying that people get up before dawn and go throw a hook and sinker in a lake somewhere not realizing it isn't really fish they're after. Make sense?

I don't know. Guess what I'm saying is I wish we'd slow down a little bit, turn off the TV and take time to talk to each other. Make it a point to call somebody up or go visitin' when you don't want or need anything other than to spend time together. I wonder sometimes about the people I meet every now and then who won't look you in the eye and barely have two words to say. I guess I worry that their lives can't be too happy.

Well, forgive me for rambling. Just wanted to blab a minute and toss around what I've been carrying around inside this week. Try to make some sense of it.

Thanks for letting me bend your ear. Wish me luck that this migraine goes away soon. Don't much like being under the weather on a Friday night.

Peace out.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Random thoughts

People like to give me a hard time. I guess it's because I'm pretty much an open book.

I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve and speak (and write) loud and long about the things I love. It's why complete strangers come up on the street to talk about baseball and bluegrass, "Red River" and Robinella, Ernest Hemingway and Elvis Presley.

It's a good life.

You know, I asked somebody this morning if they had a hero -- or if that's too strong a word, somebody (a singer, a writer, an actor, an artist) whose work they admire. Well, they stammered around a bit and finally said, "Yeah, but I wouldn't get as excited about it like you do."

Sigh. Sometimes I think that's what's wrong with us. We've forgotten how to dream. It's as if we tossed child-like enthusiasm out the door along with our braces and training wheels.

It's too bad. We're the worse for it.

Here's something that really makes me mad. Had to go downtown to the school board meeting last night. It meets for the monthly session in the large assembly room at the City County Building.

Sometime following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a security review recommended that metal detectors be installed at the front doors. It's supposed to improve security -- but talk about awful customer service.

The woman who met me was talking on a cell phone and looked as if I'd bothered her by showing up. She was too busy talking to answer the question I asked about sending books through the detector.

As I emptied my pockets, she examined my bottle of chap stick as if it were going to explode. Then, as I was collecting my things on the other side, she almost knocked me down while walking to the bathroom. At least I got a "sorry" that time.

Government PR at its finest, let me tell ya.

We're still three weeks removed from Thanksgiving, but that hasn't stopped area merchants from putting up wreaths and playing holiday music on the store PA system.

I can't tell you how much I HATE the commercialization of Christmas.

It's become an excuse to sell more merchandise, boost profits, stimulate the economy. OK, that last one might be good, but you get my point.

I'm already having nightmares about the long lines at the shopping malls and department stores. John Grisham wrote an amusing little soap bubble a few years ago called "Skipping Christmas." It keeps sounding better and better with each passing holiday.

Call me crazy, but the best gift you can give me this Christmas is a hug, a handshake, a big grin or a trip over to the house just to say hello. That's more important than anything sitting in a shelf on a store.

Guess that's it for a Thursday. Gotta get back to work. Deadline day calleth!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Time to get to work

So the election is over, the votes have been counted, and now it's time to look ahead.

I'll let others that know more about it dissect this election -- what went right for Obama, what went wrong for McCain. The fact of the matter is we've got some real problems in this country. Now it's time to get to work.

One last word about partisanship: Here's hoping the losers don't grovel, don't become bitter, don't run and hide for four years. It's time to get to work.

And, here's hoping the winners don't gloat, don't become arrogant, don't become drunk on the heady wine of victory. It's time to get to work.

Let's face it, folks, we've got some problems. War continues to rage in the Middle East. Here's hoping we get to work on a plan that will continue the post-surge successes and start eyeing an end game, at least in Iraq. Oh, and it would be nice to know where in the world is Osama bin Laden. It's time to get to work.

The American economy is struggling, to put it mildly. Here's hoping the new administration puts together an economic stimulus package to get things chugging and stave off this possible recession. It's time to get to work.

Health care is out of control. Hate to use myself as an example, but I'm paying almost $200 a month for prescription drugs. That makes it difficult to enjoy the important things in life. I'm still weary of nationalized health care, but a change has got to come. The current system is broken. It's time to get to work.

The American education system is in desperate need of overhaul. Our current model is based on a pre-Industrial Revolution calendar in which students needed off in the summer to harvest the fields. No Child Left Behind is a complete disaster. Obama should work to eliminate it from day one. Rigor and relevance are a must if we're going to remain competitive worldwide. It's time to get to work.

We can no longer remain chained to oil as our primary energy source. Major change is long overdue. We've known this for at least 30 years and chose to ignore it after prices dropped in the mid-1980s. It's time to get to work.

And so it goes. Bottom line is our system still works. The peaceful transition of power may be the most revolutionary idea our founders created.

We can overcome any obstacle, bear any burden and face the future with determination and optimism.

As a former president once said, only Americans can defeat America. This can still be our rendezvous with destiny, if we work together -- disagree when necessary -- but stay engaged as a country.

It's time to get to work.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Life is good

So, the sun is shining and the sky is blue here on Rocky Top -- one beautiful, brilliant, colorfully kinetic last gasp of autumn.

It's election day, too. But I don't want to get into that today. We'll talk about that tomorrow.

No, today's a day for contemplating life's riches.

I'll never have much money. Don't need it. My priorities are elsewhere.

And yet, I find silver in the stars, and gold in the morning sun. My wealth derives from good times with good friends, simple moments, laughter, campouts, family moments, fried chicken on Sunday afternoons.

I love the joy that kids bring to the world, and wish that we'd never lose that innocent optimism. I enjoy old westerns, simple morality tales, where good always wins and the guy gets the girl every time.

My stocks and bonds are sunsets, reading Hemingway by the fire on a cold night, Porter and Dolly on the record player, a lazy baseball game on a late spring afternoon.

It's dinners you never want to end, laughing so hard you tear up, talking to the fella down the street who fought at the Battle of the Bulge, loving your country despite its faults, doing what little you can to help make it better.

It's caring too much and too sincerely, no matter how often you get hurt. It's aiming for the stars even if you don't make it past the front porch. It's being loyal to your friends, never making them wonder whether you'll be there.

It's trying to be humble, taking nothing for granted, enjoying every moment of every day. It's knowing this journey ain't going to last forever.

It's all this, and heaven too, in which my riches lie.