Monday, August 24, 2009

Blue suede memories

What a treat to discover that a part of your past is, in a way, still around.

Senor Doug Bright, our beloved Spanish teacher from Halls High, called a couple of weeks ago to say that he had uncovered something I believed lost forever. Yes, that meant complete Elvis tribute shows from my sophomore and junior years!

FYI, for those who weren't there: we put together and performed a show back at the old school to raise money for scholarships and other worthwhile projects. We recruited a band, singers, brought in Bandit Lites and M&L Sound and asked the dance team and cheerleaders to jump into the act as well.

It was a heck of a lot of fun.

For whatever reason, though, we never did a good job of recording it. Tons of photos were taken of course. But other than brief TV clips and a home movie or two, I thought it was all gone with the wind, other than the professionally-made (and I use that term loosely) video recorded our senior year.

But Senor was searching through boxes and uncovered these gems. I watched the sophomore year show over the weekend and couldn't help but sport a huge grin.

I had forgotten what a production it was. That year (March 15, 1994) we put on a true act. It lasted nearly 1 1/2 hours and featured a bunch of songs by me and others. Hard to believe I was once that skinny.

What make me a little sad about it is I don't think I fully appreciated what we had going. When you're 16 you think life's going to be one big rock and roll show.

Then you graduate from school and start paying the mortgage.

But, you know, I wouldn't trade those memories for all the gold in California.

I'll tell you one thing, though: I'd like to step back on that stage, just one more time, for auld lang syne, and blue suede memories.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Out there somewhere

As I've tossed and turned tonight, losing my ubiquitous battle with insomnia, I heard the whistling of a train.

Oh, not really. I think it came to me during a brief moment when I crossed over into slumber. But it reminded me of the wanderlust that often lies beneath the surface of my life.

I have long been attracted to the open road. I've told you before that the only other dream job I would want besides my own is the ability to travel the back roads of America in search of adventure and a good story. It's one reason I love Charles Kuralt's "On the Road," Kerouac's "On the Road" and the old TV series "Route 66."

Responsibilities and being poor add up to the reality that I often have to get there vicariously. Last summer in Asheville I bought a copy of Kerouac. I think I will read it when I finish Conroy.

Maybe before the weather turns cold I can scrape up a few pennies and gas up the guzzler. Maybe head down 411 or 27.

As it is, I think I will put on a DVD of Tod and Buzz's adventures, dream about seeking what's out there, and drift off to sleep while the black-and-white flicker from the TV casts an ethereal glow across the room.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Summer snowflakes

Listened to the thunder a long time last night.

Storms upset people. Violent bursts of rain and electricity. Disruption. Danger.

In a way, though, I find them relaxing. It makes me wish I still had a front porch. So I could sit out in the remains of the day and watch the rain.

I thought tonight about Pat Conroy, particularly about his book "The Lords of Discipline," about the young girl that sends the cadet the broken sand dollars through the mail. I thought about her a long time. I thought about the symbolism of pieces of a romance, shattered and scattered, all that's left of the round, perfect summer snowflake.

The human heart is a funny thing. It has such a capacity to care, to love, to empathize. But, it also has the capacity to hate -- and to break.

Maybe that, in the end, is what bonds us together. By knowing the pain of loving and losing, we better cherish the beauty, the kindness, the woman who comes later to make you forget about the past.

It's funny. I once agreed to go out with a girl, back in high school, because I didn't have it in me to tell her no. The thought of upsetting others makes me sick. I cannot stand to see somebody cry.

I don't know. Life is one strange trip. I guess what you have to do is balance the blue skies with the gray. Chances are the scales will tip the right way.

Points pondered on a rainy night.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Good prose, for those who enjoy it

Pull up a stool and let me tell you about Inman Majors.

I guess I've mentioned him to you before. He wrote a fantastic novel called "The Millionaires." It's based on the Butcher banking scandal that rocked Knoxville in the early 1980s. Good stuff.

After I read the book, I heard him give a reading at the history center downtown. Later I chatted with him a minute. Then I tracked down his other two novels. "Swimming in Sky" spoke to my soul; "Wonderdog" is hilarious.

My friend Bridget, who is reading "The Millionaires," says Majors' books are definitely "guy novels." And they are. But his use of language is fantastic; sometimes the words flow together like the rushing current of a river's rapids, fast as you please, brilliant stream-of-consciousness.

Too bad I already have earned a bachelor's degree because I would have loved to have taken his creative writing class at James Madison. Can't do that now, but maybe I can sit in on one of his classes in the fullness of time.

I would recommend "Swimming in Sky" to any 30-something dude who feels adrift, maybe has a love-hate relationship with your hometown, both comforted and repulsed by it.

I swear, sometimes I think I'm going nuts. Other times, the reassurance of this valley protects me from whatever it is I fear out there in the great unknown.

I don't know. Maybe I just need some sleep.

But, if you love good writing, do yourself a favor and pick up an Inman Majors novel. I will be shocked if you're disappointed.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

There will be an answer, let it be...

I sit here tonight, John Ford's "Cheyenne Autumn" flickering from the television set, cooling myself in front of a box fan, wondering about endings.

I don't handle them well. But, that shouldn't be a shock, if you've ever pulled up a chair to listen to my ramblings. Maybe that's why this final Ford flick -- not a good one, really -- is holding my attention. The Cheyenne are trying to make their way home to Wyoming. Back to what they were promised. But, and we know this song all too well, their way of life is gone with the wind.

Movies are good when you're depressed. You can lose yourself in them. Laugh. Cry. Be marveled. Space out. Whatever you need.

I'm one of those rare people who actually likes to see movies in the theater alone. Keeps me focused. Unless, of course, your companion is a beautiful woman. Then you just pick any old thing. Save "Citizen Kane" for a solo flight.

So much of my world is changing, in rapid, seismic shifts, the way these things seem to go. I thought about Elvis yesterday, dead 32 years, watched him belt out "Unchained Melody" when he was so sick, singing from his soul, right until the end. My friend Dean says, "I don't know what's worse -- the fact that he's been dead 32 years or the fact that we're about that age."

But, what do you do? I guess you get up on your horse, pull your hat over your head, and ride off into the sunset. Thanks for the memories. Happy trails. Until we meet again.

April is supposed to be the cruelest month. But I can make a case for August.

Summer goes. Nixon resigns. Elvis dies. Good-bye "Heartland Series." And now Robinella.

Tonight, I'll watch Pappy Ford's elegy to the Cheyenne people in front of the fan while sipping on orange juice, all the while saying so long to a blissful part of my life.

There will be an answer, let it be...

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Thursday, August 13, 2009


It's so hard to understand why somebody would want to take away something so beautiful.

But, then again, it's hard to understand much about this world. Heartache. Ignorance. Reality shows.

I don't know. Sometimes I get lost in the screams. I want to tell all these idiots to shut up. Put a little love in your heart, as corny as that sounds now. Then, a bit part of me thinks it is a shame that such a sentiment is corny now.

Go away ideologues. Go away crazy fundamentalists, demagogues and radicals. Take the sycophants with you.

Drop dead, arrogant and corrupt politicians. We don't need you. And take Lumpy with you.

If you're the type who sets out to ruin someone's day, here's a punch in the face.

What's crazy is all too many people seem all too willing to go along with it.

But then the beauty blossoms, brilliant, spring-like, renewing whatever once was good. It's as pleasing as the early morning dew. It's as quiet as winter snow.

I may forever carry with me a broken heart. I may finish last. I may not have a dime to my name.

But I'll take romance over riches any day, poetry over piety, music over madness.

You want to hear the sad part?

We could change it all if enough people gave a damn.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Somewhere down the road...

If I have a hero in this journalism bid'ness, it's Charles Kuralt.

Brief synopsis for those who don't know: Kuralt was a lovable CBS reporter whose "On the Road" segments, highlighting some quirky or inspiring tidbit from the American heartland, were a staple of the "CBS Evening News" for years. He also hosted my favorite weekly news show, "CBS News Sunday Morning," which is now in the capable hands of the velvet-voiced Charles Osgood.

The day Kuralt died (July 4, 1997), I found myself in the shadow of the Grand Tetons, in Jackson Hole, Wyo. My parents and siblings were going to spend the day with friends who lived in the area. But, I wanted to be by myself. I had bought Kuralt's autobiography and spent the day reading it.

I have tried to pattern my writing style and subject matter after Kuralt's. Others at my newspaper are experts at politics, government and gossip. Other than school board, I don't touch it.

My heart lies with the guy down the street who fiddles one day and fishes the next. Or with the woman who makes jams and jellies for the county fair. Or with two twin sisters who graduated valedictorian and salutatorian from their college class.

Such stories aren't hard news, but they say something more universal. They remind us that we are human beings, that life exists outside the Washington beltway and Manhattan cocktail parties. Such people built this country. We owe them much.

It's one reason why I hate losing Bill Landry and his "Heartland Series." Landry has been to Appalachia what Kuralt was to Backroads America -- its poet.

My dream is to get paid to travel around the great United States and tell these stories. Alas, modern realities and budget constraints most likely won't allow that.

So, my plan is to get out at least once a month beginning in September, pick destinations that are less than a day's drive, write about what I see, and stay in a cheap hotel if I can't make it back home before the sun sets. I don't think it will break the bank. Plus, I feel like it's some important work that will mesh well with my talent and mind-set. I've already got a couple of stories in mind.

Charles Kuralt is way out of my league. Always will be. But they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I don't know.

Regardless, here's hoping you'll read this signoff before too many more moons slip away --

This is Jake Mabe, Shopper-News, somewhere down the road...

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August, die she must

Funny how I manage to miss summer each year.

Goes by in a blink. Memorial Day to Labor Day and it's done.

Did take two fun vacations, though -- to Michigan and Boston. Nice. Memorable.

And it's been a summer to reconnect. Old high school friends. Several in a row. I will say it again: at the end of the day life's richest rewards are relationships.

I always associate August with endings. Summer passes to unofficial autumn. Lazy days give way to responsibility. Nixon resigns.

Like Congress, I always wanted to take August off. It's hot here, oppressively so, and you don't feel like doing a darn thing. As it is, we put it in fifth gear and take off.

Speaking of which, I have a fun little trip in mind. I think I'll drive out to the other (incorporated) Halls in West Tennessee. "Jake hangs out in the other Halls." I think it will be a hoot.

Might just be the perfect ending to a good summer. One that I managed to miss this year.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Together again

There we were, as if 15 years were but a blip, together again, the way it should be.

You might think this is funny, but the Halls High School Spanish III Class from 1993-94 held a reunion Aug. 2. Oh, they didn’t all show up. Some had legitimate excuses, I know.

The others? Well, it’s sad that we often get too busy to remember what matters in life.

Tara Akins was there. She flew in all the way from beautiful San Diego, Calif. A kinder disposition you’ll never find. She’s the type who says, “If you come to a Padres game, you can stay at my house.” And mean it.

Haven Williams Smith arrived from Abingdon, Va. She has always been one of my favorites. Haven e-mailed me last Christmas with the reunion idea.

She also reminded me that I wrote in her yearbook that she’d be the only Democrat I would have in my presidential cabinet. Ahh, the crazy dreams of youth.

Maggie Myers Meyers let us hold the shindig at the Emerald Youth Foundation. She works there. What a blast!

Before the others arrived, I weaseled out of helping set up by playing air hockey with Neylan Bright. What can I say? I still don’t want to grow up.

Turns out our other classmate Heather McCloud still lives in Halls. She told some funny stories about classmates yelling her Spanish name across the way at Maryville College. She said she tried to pretend they were talking to somebody else.

We paused to remember Josh Ellis – great guy, cousin, prankster – who died way too young. Virtually all of us said that June 2 — nay a day — doesn’t go by that we think of him. I’d have given a year’s salary had he been with us that Sunday. But, in some ways, I think he was.

The man of the hour, though, the reason for the reunion, was Senor.

In so many ways, Doug Bright was the best teacher I ever had. He was so much fun — always joking and keeping us interested in learning Spanish.

Those who were there will remember his Vol Van, his obsession with all things Tennessee, the “Truffle Shuffle,” Poofs! and his dead-on Jack “Hawaii 5-O” Lord impression.

In all these years, I only saw him mad once. That was when classmates kept looking at their watch during his lecture to see if it was lunchtime. (This wasn’t our Spanish III class.)

Senor blew up. He threw his chalk. That smile disappeared. I knew I didn’t want to see it again.

Fifteen years later, Senor and I live down the street from one another. We watch a few ball games a year. Talk on the phone every now and then. His kids are growing up.
Here is the one depressing thought: We are now older than Senor was when he taught us.

But, this reunion wasn’t a day to be maudlin. No, it was an afternoon to bask in the glow of old friends, renew acquaintances, to celebrate what matters in life.

Here’s a classmate’s comment that sums it up:

“I haven’t laughed this much in years.”