Wednesday, July 29, 2009

It ain't all about you

Rudeness is alive and well in Knoxville, Tenn.

Last night, while eating at Naples, an Italian restaurant in Bearden, a group of diners arrived after me and were seated at the table ajacent to mine. You ever get the vibe that you're in for a "treat"? It proved correct.

At the center of the table -- in more ways than one -- was a dark-headed woman with a big mouth. She talked louder than nearly everyone in the restaurant. Without trying, I heard the entire conversation.

A few minutes later, one of them flatulated -- loudly. I looked over in disgust. Most of them laughed. Center of attention brunette laughed the loudest. To her credit, one woman uttered, "Oh, my god!"

But, the moment of truth came when an elderly woman attempted to make her way to the exit. She needed a walker to move around.

When she approached this table, a bald doofus on the end didn't bother to stand up. Finally, he found it within himself to scoot a few inches closer to the table.

The elderly woman never lost her sweet countenance and actually spoke a few kind words to the jerk.

A bit later, at McKay Used Books, I snagged a copy of "The Education of Henry Adams" and made my way to the door. I had to pass a couple of folks, disrupting their line of sight to the books.

"Beg your pardon," I said. Neither said thanks or kiss my butt or anything.

I don't know what's wrong with our society, but people as a whole have no manners or basic empathy for others. I don't know if it is egotism or selfishness or solipsyzm.

But I do know it's disgusting.

News flash, people: It ain't all about you.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A pretty darn good real life

Figured yesterday would be tough, given that I was returning to the real world from a dream.

But, nah. It's easy when you have a job that can sometimes take you to the heights. Literally.

Monday's assignment found me at The Bluffs, property in south Knoxville that backs up to the Tennessee River, providing a spectacular view of the city from a rarely-seen perspective. About the only jarring sight is the sewage plant on Neyland Drive.

With a little bit of luck, and a whole lot of hard work, Legacy Parks Foundation just might acquire this land. It would then forever be preserved. It is a no-brainer.

Sitting at lunch in the summer sun, watching jet skis fly down the river, I thought, "Boy, this sure beats sitting at a desk."

From there it was on to our west office for meetings. Didn't mind them because we talked of exciting things. Changes are comin', no doubt.

Left West Knox in time to meet a friend at Nacho's, a new Mexican restaurant on Emory Road. Great food. Subpar service. But, cheap beverages.

Got home in time to prop up my feet and watch the Sox crush the A's.

It isn't vacation, but it's a pretty darn good real life.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

24 hours in Boston

BOSTON, July 25 -- John Updike once called Fenway Park "a lyric little bandbox of a ballpark.

"Everything is painted green and seems in curiously sharp focus, like the inside of an old-fashioned peeping-type Easter egg."

So it is. The Fens is the oldest park in the majors. It is shoved into an old part of Beantown, on Yawkey Way, complete with its funky triangle, the Pesky Pole and that hypnotic Green Monster.

This is a cathedral. This is the greatest place to watch the greatest game.

Oh, and what a perfect night. The Sox win 7-2. Big Papi and Adam LaRoche hit dingers, the latter over that beautiful wall.

An hour before game time, I was sitting in "You've got to be kidding me" seats behind the Sox dugout, throwing back a hot dog dabbed with mustard and ketchup, when I gazed toward first base.

Then I see her.

Yes, Heidi Watney, New England Sports Network reporter. My crush. I could have gone home right then and there.


But, I stayed, and we sang "Sweet Caroline" in the eighth, and Jon Lester threw seven solid innings, and Daniel Bard threw 100 mph heat, and Ramon Ramirez got Adam Jones to fly out to right field. "Dirty Water" and dancing in the streets.


Earlier, we walked to Boston Harbor, passing the meeting house in which Samuel Adams gave the signal to begin the Boston Tea Party. And Boston Massacre sites. And John Hancock's house. And more Sam Adams.

It's enough to stir the soul. USA! USA!

We walked from Quincy Street past the Boston Common to Cheers -- where everybody knows your name. Of course, they didn't. But I stood in front of that famous facade and downed a Sam Adams (the other kind) in Norm Peterson's seat, Norm being everybody's favorite barfly, our lovable CPA known in real life as actor George Wendt. ("NORM!")

In case you missed it, "Cheers" was a classy and well-written sitcom from the 1980s set in a Boston bar. It is a real place formerly called the Bull and Finch. The inside does not look like the TV Cheers, other than the set bar built upstairs. Hence Norm's corner stool. Complete with a brass plaque.

After we left the cathedral, once the "Yankees Suck!" cheers subsided, we walked the streets of this seductive city, past brownstones and beautiful people dressed in coats, ties and dresses, past newspapers tossed onto stoops, past cabbies honking their horns. A hint of saltwater wafted in from the harbor.

Like all things we cherish, the dream had to end. But, not before a perfect 24 hours in Boston, with Cheers and Sam Adams and fresh shrimp and Heidi Watney and the lyric little bandbox of a ballpark mixed into a summer sojourn to remember.


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Friday, July 17, 2009

Lost in the '50s tonight

Some nights when I can't sleep (like tonight), I like to put on old black-and-white movies or TV shows. The monochrome casts just the right glow across the room. Sometimes I even drift off to dream.

Well, that didn't exactly happen tonight, as you can tell by fact I'm still up. But, the show was "Ozzie and Harriet" and that probably explains it.

I watched an episode in which Rick Nelson sang his 1950s rock-and-roll songs and wooed his too good to be that beautiful date Sandy. And I thought to myself, "What I wouldn't give to have been a '50s teen idol."

Oh, I know it's a lie. Nobody (not even Rick) had that kind of life. Yes, he was a teen idol. But, he was addicted to drugs and enjoyed a less than perfect relationship with his wife Kris.

But, for a couple of years, Rick was nearly as popular as Elvis. He rode high until the British Invasion made malt shops and doo wop obsolete.

It's funny. "Ozzie and Harriet" isn't the show people think it is. Ozzie was the first of what became a trend years later -- the dumbass dad. He and Harriet slept in the same bed long before that became the norm on a TV sitcom. Sons David and Ricky fought all the time. In short, it was as real a family as the boob tube would allow. Maybe because they were a real family in real life.

Still, few could boast a life like the Nelsons. All their dates were stunning. Everybody could play and sing. Life was good, full of the innocent confidence of the Eisenhower years. It is a nice illusion. And I suspect it was stifling for those who thought that was the way you were supposed to live.

Maybe that's why I like it so much, though. Those who know me well will tell ya that I don't have too much in common with my generation. Sometimes I feel adrift, Jimmy Buffett's pirate, 200 years too late, lost in a world that doesn't mesh with my mind-set.

These early morning screenings of this sweet fantasy feed that part of my soul. It is relaxing. Maybe that's why I can often fall asleep.

Doesn't change the fact that I wish I'd been a teen idol. If for no other reason than to sing to the pretty girls.

So real, so right, lost in the 50s tonight...

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A perfect day

It has been the kind of day that only one with a charmed life can lead.

High noon, and I'm down at the Foundry, speaking to the Northside Kiwanis Club. I couldn't imagine why on earth they'd want to hear from me, but Tom Mattingly asked nicely and I can't say no to the Vol Historian.

So, I sing a few songs and tell a few bad jokes and swap stories about some of the characters I've written about. Guys like Catfish Dave, who illegally stocks Fountain City Lake. (Most of us call that the Duck Pond.) Dave says it ain't illegal unless he gets caught.

I told them about my first trip to New York, Sept. 1, 2001, 10 days before the towers fell. They laughed when I told them we ate at McDonald's in Times Square. They laughed when I told them I couldn't think of one word to say to actor Tom Selleck, who I met on the street.

And so it went. They were gracious hosts. They laughed in all the right places. They gave me a six-pack of Crush Orange Soda and a box of Moon Pies to take home. I enjoyed both a few minutes ago while I watched a black-and-white movie.

Life is good.

After the speech, I met the boss out at our west office. We plotted how we are going to take over the world.

Pulling in, I noticed that my right headlight was out. Off I went to the Turkey Creek Walmart to buy a new one. Passing through the store, I spotted a guy sporting a t-shirt that says, "Beer: It's Not Just For Breakfast Anymore." I laughed.

Found my headlight then headed over to Calhoun's to enjoy an early supper. Sitting at the bar, watching the TVs and admiring the pretty young bartender named Valerie, I thought about this perfect day and realized just how lucky I am to live mi vida loca.

Later, at home, I sipped my Big Orange drink and read the Saturday Evening Post (great story from Hemingway's grandson John) and figured life can't get much better than this.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Ooo, wee, ride me high...

Came home riding a high.

You do that when you meet a legend. And, I don't care what you say, Marshal Andy is a local legend.

But, I was nursing a headache and there's no baseball on tonight. (I don't count the silly home run derby.) So, I plopped down in the recliner to enjoy an old western. Starring Rex Allen Sr., no less.

Somewhere before the big fight at the end, I fell asleep, missing the climax and a couple of phone calls. But that's OK. I saw it all later. God bless TiVO.

I wanted to read Alan Alda's second memoir, the tome with the title "Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself." He is such a decent guy. Not to mention the star of my all-time favorite show.

But, headache had other plans, so I sat out on the porch and watched the sun set. It was quiet. It was perfect.

I thought about the last few days, the old friendships renewed, the wonderful, horrible surprise that is life, the good times, the laughs and the tears.

You take from it what you will. For me, it's the people, the music, a little beer and a lot of laughs, midnight Krystal runs and early morning dreams.

And it's funny. If the old dreams didn't work out, well, the new dreams will. We can't change the past. But we can do a little something about the future.

Now, it's off to bed. Big day tomorrow. Lunch and interns and seeing whether the National League can finally win the mid-summer classic.

Oh, I forgot to tell you the best part about last night. The headache went away.

Amazing what happens when you come home riding a high.

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Sunday, July 05, 2009

Knoxville: Summer 2009

I looked out over our fair city and thought about James Agee.

We were up in the Sunsphere, from the vantage point of the observation deck, and I remembered his lyrical "Knoxville: Summer 1915." I wondered what it looked like nearly 100 years ago. And, I tried to make my peace with this place, to which I have this love-hate relationship.

It looks so beautiful at night, the dimming light mixing with the glow from the houses and places of business. We pointed out the L&N, a ghost from a bygone era; Neyland Stadium, where I've wasted a lot of needless energy rooting for that blasted team; the old UAB building with its glass windows and, finally, to the river that flows through Knoxville town. Shades of the Louvin Brothers.

It was pretty and it was romantic and it was a perfect way to spend a perfect Friday night.

So it is in the Old City, in that eccentric old warehouse that is often my end of the weekend haunt. I will be there tonight. Robin is off, but her ex is filling in, and he's pretty darn good, too.

The place is marred by some signs of decay, by the panhandlers roaming the streets, by the occasional belligerent drunk. But, I like it on lazy Sunday nights. Plus, I'd walk a country mile to hear Robinella.

But, on this night, I drank a particularly good Porter, and enjoyed particularly good conversation with an old friend I hadn't seen in a mess of Friday nights.

And from the fourth floor of what used to be irreverently called Jake Butcher's Erection, I gazed upon our fair hamlet and was glad to notice that summer nights in Knoxville can still be poetic and lyrical, even if James Agee is no longer around to write it.

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