Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Duck Dynasty Controversy

Phil Robertson said some things a little differently than I might have said them but the First Amendment said he could say them any way he chose and so it’s done. The comments about gay folks, in particular were mighty graphic, but isn’t that considered an “alternative” lifestyle?  Phil thinks they’re all going to hell anyway but he thinks straight folks will too unless we follow the tenets of the New Testament. I’ve got enough trouble judging me most days and if there’s a judgment coming down the only one I’m really and I mean really concerned about…is mine. But, I do keep my sexual stuff where it belongs, in the twilight zone. I wish I had some sexual stuff to write about but if you’re looking for titillation you’re reading in the wrong place. I will say I enjoy the ladies on FOX NEWS but there are those who find Wolf Blitzer attractive. But I digress.  

Let’s look at an important issue Phil raised, that of the black “experience”, something I know nothing about because I’m white and have to look at it through white eyes. My white eyes saw the signs, the raggedy clothes, the walking on the side of the road for lack of a car, the looks of despair, confusion hate and envy, of the blacks in the sixties. Also the look that asked, “Why us?”  And I know that people my age remember and do grieve for those people, now mostly gone. But I cannot get inside those heads. Those that made do as humans but were seen as less than. Since then we have seen progress. A person would be a fool to not admit to that. The questions we need to ask now are “What do we want from each other, where do we go from here and how can we play together on team human?”  I think we want more than anything to be accepted and respected for who we are as humans.

Assuming I am right, we must get along. I don’t take exception to Robertson’s comments about his experience with blacks in dirt poor Louisiana, in the sixties. He wasn’t going home to television after a day in the fields…seeing riots in L.A., Chicago and Memphis. From what I read, he was as poor as the blacks with whom he worked. If one wants to judge the man with regard to race relations find out what he’s been doing since he got a television set.  And no, he probably didn’t have a newspaper either. He saw blacks through his personal prism. The media is putting way too much importance into what Phil Robertson said in the GQ interview but we’re smart enough to see that stuff sells.

Those of us who live in the south, blacks and whites, have come a long way, overcome a lot of “stuff” and we’re still at it. Still trying to like each other enough to give and take where it counts.  Still trying to get beyond the rhetoric of the race baiters and find a way to make our collective experiences work. Education as I’ve said before is the key to getting along with and respecting others. I’ve seen it.

I see it in a basketball coach name James Lundsford who takes young men (black and white) at GMC and insists they be on time, make good grades, respect each other, even referees (difficult task) and extols the virtues that will lead to success in life. This man’s “successes” are everywhere! I see it in Burt Williams, who takes college football players and students from all walks of life, and molds them into a unit capable of playing in a national championship football game. Their successes are based on a common team goal.

As we sit here on Christmas day with a new year approaching, my wish for each of us is to become part of a larger team, team human. When we do we will go a lot farther toward the goal of solving our many societal problems, the least of which is skin color.  

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


I met a nice lady at a tennis function over at Reynolds Plantation the other day. She said, “Hey, you’re the guy that writes about dogs!” Some folks don’t like dogs but the older I get the more I enjoy the company of a dog or watching birds. Most folks are too busy for that I suppose; After all, the fantasy world of TV and internet is very alluring. But, if you like feeling missed when you leave home for a while a dog is your best bet. Not many folks will look for you like a dog with its nose to the floor, checking out every corner of the house. Plus, when’s the last time your wife wagged her tail and barked when you came home? Well, some will bark I suppose but a dog’s bark is different. Also, it takes a lot to rile a dog up when he’s just hanging out or resting. I believe they ponder the worth of getting upset over little things and decide it’s just not worth the trouble. 

On the subject of birds, a lot of them mate for life, something humans don’t do much of anymore. Of course most of our birds’ lives are not very long with a mating season dependent upon weather and food supply Now I don’t know if two male birds mate for life or two females, but isn’t that interesting? Yes, we can learn a lot from dogs and birds.. My mother and I were sitting on the porch one day watching some mocking birds flying around a bird bath. She said, “Could you imagine a world with no birds?” I couldn’t. But, as I’ve said before, animals were blessed in the Garden so there must be something special about them and it was a dove used by Noah that found dry land. Here’s a true story about a bird I came across at the beach one day. 

“I walked passed a large rock and there he was, hanging with wings askew, watching his family and friends as they chased bread tossed by screaming children further down the beach. He was a big one, wings spanning a foot but obviously worn out from his lifelong struggle to touch the clouds and provide for his family. As he lay there, his head began to droop, making it difficult to see the sky and he would throw it back occasionally for what might be the last time he ever saw a cloud. I’m sure he was hoping people would simply walk on by and not gawk but let him pass away in peace. Usually they go off somewhere to do that but it was a long fly across the jetty and probably too much for the old bird. From the look of him he’d been flying the waters of the bay for years and no doubt missed those days. I suppose he felt at home there on the rock above the sand but I had this feeling he was wishing he could have soared on high one last time, feeling the wind lift and turn his tired old body as he watched from a safe distance those below playing on the beach. As I got closer, I noticed him cock his head to the side to get a better look. I paid little attention, not wanting to embarrass the old fellow but I think I caught a nod, maybe a wink as he seemed to say, “You too will see a day such as this my human friend.” 

What else may he have been thinking? Memories of catching a piece of bread while flying three to forty feet off the ground or diving into the water, catching a fish only he could see and then flying out? Perhaps the families he had raised? They don’t abandon their young you know. Yes, we can learn a lot from birds. So he laid there, hours to go, wings splayed about, hanging off a rock. He was after all, just a seagull”

 Stories of abused animals and birds are seen frequently these days and you wonder why. Could it be we’re seeing the best of us in most of them?    

Monday, December 2, 2013

Last week I found myself in a room full of strangers at what I believe was my fifty some odd high school disunion. The most dysfunctional function I’ve ever attended. I wandered in around 6:15, the buffet had started at 5:30 but I wasn’t in much of a hurry. I knew that a huge dose of reality was waiting for me, the reality I see in the mirror through that pupil behind the bag I’ve noticed when prying my eyes open to shave at 6:30. I’ve considered a face lift but am afraid I’d end up looking like you know who (insert any name you please), without his wife’s money. 
The menu wasn’t much, roast beef or baked chicken, some salad, potatoes and rolls. Things we would find easy to spear so as not to get any dribbles on our clothes. No gravy, thank goodness. It was old folks’ food designed to keep us healthy until the next major event in our lives, which could come at any time. We used to eat fried chicken. Not anymore. And the “menu” of life seems to be missing several other “items”, but we’re not going there. The conversation around the tables was health care and who needed what and when the surgery was taking place. I felt healthy when I walked in but as the evening progressed my swagger became a stagger as I realized I looked pretty much like everyone else.
And I was fairly sure who I was but had no idea about who the others were because the names on the tags were too small to see, even with my trusty Dollar Store 2.5 reading glasses. Picture a hundred or so seniors, still able to get around, trying to get close enough to one another to see a darn name tag and you get the idea. Thank goodness pomade went out last year. I found myself sitting with an accountant, (who found himself to be the most interesting person he had ever known), and his wife, who looked like she had heard every story he’d ever told and was thankful he still went to work every day because he had become the most boring person she had ever known.  He was a guest so I was relieved in knowing I didn’t have to know him. But, he’s convinced that I’m convinced he is someone with whom a schmuck like me should appreciate spending time, so he keeps on talking about numbers and figures and whatever else it is they do. I got the feeling he drank a lot. “My wife and I are excellent skeet shooters!” He said. And I’m thinking; you’d better be “Sport”, from the looks she’s giving you she’s going to swing that barrel too far to the left one day and bingo, you’ve shot your last skeet.”  He got up to get a drink and I threw some roast beef on a roll and escaped to wander and wonder if there might be one living soul in that room I could recognize or anyone who could recognize me. 
I found “Bubba”, the one person who actually looked somewhat as he had in school (he still had hair) and like a drowning man reaching for a life buoy, I latched on to this poor fellow. “Bubba, it’s me, Sonny!” He gave me the same look I give myself in the morning mirror like, “what happened to you”?  Then he asked, “Seen anyone else from our class?” I had no idea. We exchanged niceties but I got the feeling we wouldn’t be “teeing it up” anytime soon. So, I wandered about a room full of fat bald “uncles” and women who looked like “aunts”. There was also the thought that remembering me might not be such a good thing, for if they did, would it be a good memory or one they had tried to forget until jarred by this encounter with a stranger. 
Also, it is indeed a strange thing to have to ask someone if they remember you, or being ask by others if you remember them. You hear and say, “Yes” but looks on faces tell a different story. We are not always remembered by someone whom we had placed at the top of our list and that just might be a good thing. 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

I got a call from an old friend the other day. He said, “wanna go referee some old guys basketball games?” I thought, sure, I’m an old guy, how hard can it be to watch other old guys stumble around a bit while we make a little money? So I asked, “are we gonna have to do any running?” He said, “naw, just stand and watch em stumble around, make a few calls and pick up the check.” “Great, I said, count me in!”

So last Saturday morning we showed up at the Bloomingdale Recreation Department gym to watch old guys stumble around while we made a little money. It turned out to be one of those learning experiences as I learned something about passion and the fountain of youth. These old guys came from all over the southeast and brought with them gym bags, ointment, knee braces, ibuprofen and a passion for the game they loved, some for sixty years. They played three on three, half court from nine in the morning until two in the afternoon with the “older” guys (those over seventy) at one end of the court and the “younger” ones (fifty to sixty nine) at the other ; then actually walked out of the gym with no help. The morning started with the team captains’ meeting where I met someone I hadn’t seen in forty years, Georgia’s All SEC point guard from the sixties, Allan Johnson.

“Hi, I’m Allen Johnson” he said and all I could think of was, “Hi, uh, I can’t remember my name but may I have your autograph and please don’t foul cause I don’t think I can call a foul on you and weren’t you the point guard for the Bulldogs back in the 60’s like All-SEC and all that?”(Well, that’s what I was thinking anyway.) And my ability to make a “call” got worse as we met players who had played for Rupp at Kentucky and others who came from out west (S.F. State) and played for other coaches I had heard of in years past. Players, who could still move, shoot and pass, maybe not with the speed of days long gone, but with an attitude that said, I want to get this right just one more time! A passion for excellence that, I’m sure, contributed to most of them becoming successful retirees.

During half-time breaks you would see them still working on the skills they had learned a half-century before. As I watched them play I couldn’t help but think, so this is where one finds the fountain of youth…this love of something that continues throughout a lifetime, keeping them interested in life. In this case it was basketball but I could see the importance love of the game and the passion for still wanting to play kept them young and competitive. And competitive they were as an occasional elbow or hard block was thrown to gain position on each other. “Aw common ref, that was just a tap!” I’d hear from the one who gave it of course; while the receiver would complain about being taken advantage of.

In the end they always shook hands and nodded their heads at one another as if to say, “Thanks for letting me play this game I love one more day.” They even thanked the referees which meant a lot to me, knowing I’d done more watching than officiating. After the last game I watched as Allan Johnson walked out of the gym as a basketball player, maybe for the last time. He’s up for partial knee replacement next week. I sure hope it goes well; the guys would miss that sparkle in his eye when he throws up that hook shot or makes one of those great passes. No, come to think of it, what we’ll all miss is the passion, and the love he brought to the game; the fountain of youth each of us must find to be truly successful.
Two questions seem to find their way into the news these days with regard to our children.  Why are they obese and why are they not able to read? To begin to solve the mystery step into a typical American home on Saturday morning and have breakfast. Sitting across from you, one hand on the remote, the other clutching a Little Smoky Sausage, you’ll find our obese four year- old engrossed in a television set filled with cartoons. In front of him sit a bowl of Captain Crunch and Little Debbie Cakes. Welcome to the Twinkie Zone. 

The schedule in the Twinkie Zone is five days of work followed by one day of sleep and goes something like this. Mom worked all week and Saturday is her “day off” while Saturday for our Little Johnny means getting up at the usual pre-dawn time. However, there will be no day care today. Sure, he’s wired and ready for another big day but today is Saturday and he’s in the Twinkie Zone and that means trouble for mom. Enter the idiot box, the perfect baby sitter for our little guy.  Getting him there and keeping him there will be tired mom’s morning mission and she does it with a series of carefully thought out enticements. First there’s cartoons… created by geniuses with the four year old brain in mind.  Cartoons with characters from Sponge Bob to some super “zero” entertaining our guy for as long as it takes. And how long it takes depends on how long mom needs to get a few extra winks in on her well deserved “day off”.   Our four year old is perfectly capable of eating cereal and Smokies (finger food of course) by his lonesome because they combine the best of both worlds…sugar and salt. Throw in the Debbie Cakes and we may be looking at going to the next level in the zone. A few years down the road decisions will have to be made regarding our guy’s teeth, as the Captain Crunch sticks to them like a barnacle on a Bayliner boat, but in the Twinkie Zone those decisions can be put off. After all, he’s going to get some more teeth in seven years or so, why waste money on these?  Now the advantage to the little smoky is in its handling. Less than an inch long and slender, it lends itself to two bites at most and as our guy matures into a major player at the table, one bite will do it. Crunch comes in large boxes so it will always be there as long as the milk holds out and Dad’s mission (which he most always accepts) is to make darn sure there’s enough milk to last through this Saturday morning ritual. Failure to secure milk by Friday evening can lead to a confrontation with mom and then everyone ends up eating eggs, toast and smokies with our little guy in front of the TV. Mom gains weight and dad pouts because he knows he must soon begin the yo-yoing that comes with dieting with mom. It all started with the milk or lack there-of. 
Meanwhile, as our little guy has turned into a big guy he’s discovered the Twinkie Zone is not only found at home but in any room with a television. He’s graduated from cartoons (well some of them) to sporting events but has retained his fondness for sweet and salt. Keeping his fondness for Crunch he’s broadened his eating skills to include Jimmy Dean sausage and waffles at the local waffle house. An occasional steak with his eggs rounds out that big boy breakfast he’s been trained to eat since he was four. Oh, did I mention he’s still eating with his fingers? Well, why not? The Jimmy Dean rolled up fits nicely into something that resembles that thing he was so fond of years ago on Saturday mornings. Never used a fork then, why start now? He’s also into gaming because it reminds him of his breakfast friend so why read? His imagination is being fed by some geniuses with the twenty year old brain in mind. The last book he read was something about a Cat In A Hat and that was read to him. Since then he hasn’t had to read so he doesn’t read. Mention reading and he’ll rip off a good text message to prove he’s a “reader”, plus there’s that roach like thing hanging from his ear. Why read?
One of those ancient Greek philosophers once said “Time is the most valuable thing a man can spendʺ (Theophrastus) but around my house no one knows what time it is so we have no way of knowing how much or how little we’ve spent. This is because most of the clocks either don’t keep the correct time or have been dead longer than Theophrastus himself. And while I've never been a stickler for being on time (it’s usually only a problem when someone else is late) having ten different clocks telling ten different times is confusing. Take the one in the bedroom for instance. He sits on the TV and runs a consistent five minutes late. The one in the bathroom is five minutes fast, (I set that one to get people out of there so I can get in) so I suppose if you average the two you have a good idea of the exact time. I had a wristwatch but left it in a locker room somewhere and that’s like giving it to a charity. You can get the time off the TV but you’d better be watching at a certain time and we do have an alarm clock by the bed but don’t care to look at it because it represents getting up time and that’s something we’d rather not do. The clock above the big screen TV is late four minutes so I’m usually not on time for Charlie Sheen’s antics and I heard he might be doing time anyway so it may be a minute point.

Wonder what timely thoughts Theo would have about him? The clocks that no longer care to give you the time simply stare back as if to say, “I know I’m supposed to be doing something but forgot what it was because you either didn’t wind me up or insisted on using rechargeable batteries which run down faster than the falls at Niagara. The Grandfather clock (which cost $300.00 thirty years ago) is one of those. He hasn’t chimed a note since gas was under a dollar fifty and the last clock “expert” we had showed up late and recommended leveling the house to allow for “dangling of the old pendulum”. People that live here spend a good deal of time asking each other “what time is it” hoping someone has seen the weather channel recently or has a cell phone handy.

There are those among us, gifted people actually, who really don’t care if they’re late or not as long as the sun comes up each morning and the car starts. I call these people “gifted” because they have managed to relieve themselves of the headache common to the type A personality, that of worrying about being on time. You can find them coming to a pew near you. Ever been to church and had to stand up while someone who was late shuffles down your pew? Just when the warmth of the cherry wood begins to creep into your soul and you get that relaxed, here comes the sermon sure to send me into a mid-morning snooze mode with visions of roast beef and mashed potatoes, some “scuse me, I couldn’t make it to the church on time” fellow parishioner, comes sidestepping his way down the pew. Now you’ve got to stand up, get the stare treatment from the brothers and sisters and lose that roast beef vision as your pants which have found their way into the recesses of your behind, give you an additional “wake up call”.

Whenever I’m late I can usually find one of three things waiting ahead … A senior citizen in a Cadillac, a red light or a school bus. It’s then I try to convince myself, I’m not spending time, I’m making memories, as I chew the leather off the covered steering wheel.
Recently my doctor suggested a checkup that involved a procedure with a “tiny” camera. He said I needed to be “on empty” when the procedure was performed and informed me that a “cocktail” was waiting at the pharmacy. He said “drink this and find a comfortable place to hang out.” This “cocktail” is an insidious mixture of mineral oil, saline, and some other stuff that makes you feel like a lab rat. You can hear the medical staff saying, “let’s give this to him and see what happens!” After several glasses of this drink from Hades the porcelain “god” began calling my name. Alone in my “castle”, (wife and daughter were mercifully out of town); I gave homage to it every ten minutes and after an exhausting evening I reported to the medical center.

The receptionist recognized me right away. “Sir, she said, the bathroom is just down the hall.” I gave a silent nod and shuffled off for another “sacrifice”. Upon my return I was ushered into a room, crossed my legs and answered questions about myself. Actually, all I was interested in was how long it would take me to get from that room to the “throne” room with the porcelain god, the all-consuming identity with which I had replaced anything else of meaning in my life. Soon I met Dr. “Anal” in another room. He seemed excited that I had made it, non-stop. “TAKE OFF YOUR CLOTHES AND PUT THIS ON…BACKWARDS.” “This cannot be effectively tied in the back, does not resemble anything I have ever worn, and I am an expose’ as I walk into the examination room.

A room with people whose mission in life is to make me feel at home... a daunting task with at least twice as much of “me” hanging out that thing than hanging in. LAY ON THIS COLD TABLE” “What are you going to do with that?” I asked. “YOU MIGHT FEEL SOME PRESSURE” And then, there I was…on TV! “RELAX”. Relax… as though I was about to do some cross-stitching. What else could I do…they had my clothes. The audience oohed and ahhd as each turn of the “tiny” camera exposed hidden treasures of nothing because everything had “left the building” hours ago.

“NOW GET DRESSED AND GO DOWN THE HALL.” “PUT THIS ON” said the attendant. “LIE DOWN ON THIS COLD TABLE”. “RELAX”. “What are you going to do with that” I asked. “YOU MIGHT FEEL SOME PRESSURE” I heard, from behind a screen. Dr. “Anal” has left his prize patient in the hands of an evil scientist, I thought. “TURN OVER” I made the mistake of turning left and there I am…on TV! This time filled with “concrete” expanded with air and asked to do yoga while he picks his fingers behind the screen. “WE ARE NOW GOING TO STAND YOU UP”. There I am, with my rear exposed, of course, hoping the attendant gets whatever he’s doing right the first time. “OOPS” NEED MORE AIR”. Well, I know I am the perfect source for air. “HOLD IT.”

He has obviously forgotten the plug he placed in me several minutes ago. I couldn’t pass a B.B. “WE ARE NOW GOING TO LAY YOU DOWN”. I’m making a vow at this point to never allow another piece of solid food to cross my lips. Suddenly I am somewhere else, and warm salty water is coursing over my body as a group of concerned Californians tries to drag me back into the deep. Once in a while they show beached whales on the Discovery Channel. I never paid any mind to it before but recently I found myself in a trance, writing a check to “save the whales”. “I’M GOING TO UNPLUG YOU”. Suddenly I’m off the beach, and frantically trying to hold my “flippers” together. “CAN YOU MAKE IT TO THE THRONE ROOM?"I did make it and after leaving I almost jumped for joy, realizing that wouldn’t be prudent. The good news is I had more than my fifteen minutes of fame on TV and lost a few pounds.
Someone once said, “Vacations are a microcosm of life”. We’re taking one next week, matters not where we’re going, I or my wife, will soon be lost and Anastasia, the GPS woman who can make you feel like a rat in a maze, will no doubt self destruct, leaving us at the mercy of someone purchasing pork skins or pigs feet in a 7-11 from hell.

Whenever I get lost I take only left turns figuring, if that’s not the right way, I’ll go in a circle and at least, find my way back to where I was. In addition, and unlike most men, I’m not afraid of asking for help. This is where things tend to unravel and the microcosm thing kicks in because the people I find when I’m lost are usually lost themselves or don’t know where I’m going. I f you want to know what some well meaning southern folk are really like, get lost…then ask for directions. And, if you’re more than three blocks away from where you want to be, better hope for divine intervention because that’s what it’s going to take for them to help you find your way. Most will over-educate you to the point where you not only don’t know where you are but also where you were before you got lost. The first words out of their mouths are usually, “Now, see that road over there? That’s yer road, the one yer on now. Go out a here and take…” When you hear those words, you are about to lose your way. .. again. But I digress. After, “ go out a here and take” you’re going to hear a series of stops and turns that will have your eyes crossed and your brain looking like a Waffle House omelet. You now have no idea where you are and you’re wondering how this person finds their own way home.

It’s about now that you stop listening all-together and simply stare and nod your head as though in a trance with some Middle Age monk sending you on a Holy Grail mission. The last thing you want that ol’ boy to think is that you think he may also be lost and how dumb you must have been to ask him for directions. Then you realize the monk has missing teeth, speaks a foreign tongue and you may not see “Kansas” again. I can’t stop nodding, you think to yourself as the absurd idea of writing this stuff down on a grocery bag drifts through your mind. If I stop nodding, he’ll know I’m not listening anymore. You come out of the cross-eyed trance just in time to hear a most important question from your mission minded friend. “Now, ya got that!?” He says, with the fervor of televangelist intent on showing you the way. “Yes, yes!” You say, praying he doesn’t ask you to repeat them. Out of nowhere comes, “Sebastian, you could tell him the back way!” “Naw, says the monk, he’d get lost fer sure then.”

Now, trying to catch the words before they slip between your lips and knowing you have forgotten the front way, sure nuff, you ask for the “back way”, figuring you will never be any more lost than you are right now. This is a huge mistake as the “back way” sounds a lot like the front way with one or two more turns, and you’re hearing phrases like, “take a right at the church, left at Burger King, cross the creek and if you see the mill… you’ve gone too far.” So as we take our microcosm on the road next week, the mission will be to see how long we can stay found and if that’s not to be, to find that person with a full set of teeth who knows where he is and where we’re going... barring that, no fighting in the car.                                                                                                                                
Do you ever find yourself talking to yourself? It usually happens in the car with most folks. You can see their lips moving as they drive. You wonder what it is they’re saying and if they’re listening. Sometimes I catch myself doing it and some people call it “self talk”. I’ve learned to only say good things to me, realizing I may not hear much good stuff from folks I run into. So I try not to “beat myself up”, as they say. The problem was, during one particular self-talk session all I could think about was Charlie Sheen. A man so wrapped up in himself, he can think of no others. He claims to be ‘winning” whatever he’s about and I thought, if this guy is actually “winning”, I must have hit the
Megabucks jackpot.

I dropped ol’ Charlie off at the nearest curb and began playing the trading places game where I think of a person, could be a celeb, athlete, a celeb/athlete (very common these days), politician, billionaire or anyone really, (of course they must be alive) and ask myself if I would trade places with that person. I can honestly say I have yet to find the person with whom I would trade places, for if I did there would no longer be a me as I know myself and hopefully, I would be missed. If you think about it, you’ll probably come to the same conclusion. When all else fails, we have our uniqueness to fall back on and we are all one of a kind. It’s disheartening to see many of our young folks idolizing a picture, a person they see on TV or sports “hero”. I wonder when that practice began. I wonder how many would be willing to trade places with a particular celebrity. We never referred to Ted Williams as a hero and he flew fighters in two different wars. We called him the “Splendid Splinter”. That seemed to be enough for “Teddy Ballgame”. We just never used the word “hero” back in the day. They were referred to with nicknames like, “The Mick” or “Yogi” “Junior” or “Mudcat”.

I’m wondering if anyone out there sees Charlie Sheen as a hero. He is rich and famous, which seems to be the only criteria we use anymore. I don’t begrudge Charlie his money but what’s wrong with us that we put millions of dollars into a TV celebrity and create a foolish person in the process? I suppose one would say Prince William could be a hero. He’s rich and becoming more famous each day. Maybe we need to be more selective when we use that word hero and think of people who are really deserving of the title. When I looked the word up I found not one reference to sports or movies except as the lead male character in a play. It was all about qualities, deeds and courage. While I admire one’s ability to hit a fastball, sink a twenty foot jump shot or serve a tennis ball 150 mph, these folks may not deserve the title. Most of our heroes today are thousands of miles away, living in tents and eating K-rations, although we have many here at Georgia Military College. They go about their day quietly, seldom mention their years of service and continue to serve in their own ways. I spoke to a young marine (one of our students) the other day who will be shipping out this summer for Afghanistan. Something about him, his eyes, his demeanor, and carriage told me he just might be a hero one day soon. He’s a unique individual, one of a kind, just like the rest of us. I hope he comes home whole and to a hero’s welcome. Something tells me Charlie Sheen might not fit in here. 
Teeth and hair are what we equate with youthfulness and hanging on to them for as long as possible can become an obsession. Most dogs aren’t like that and my old Yorkie, Deuce is no exception but the last time I took him to the vet she looked into his mouth and said, “where’d his teeth go?” I said, “Well, I dun no Doc, they were there the last time I got close enough to smell his breath”. And then she said, “Well, this dog needs dental care!” Deuce has been without “dental care” his entire life and if his “dental care” costs anything like mine has lately, I’m either buying soft dog food or he’s going to lose a few pounds. “Dental care” could be anything from teeth cleaning to extractions and filling cavities, not to mention teaching them how to gargle and spit. Besides, he hasn’t said anything about his teeth hurting and he’s too short to see in the mirror, so I’ll wait until he starts complaining and then just have him “put to sleep”. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why he hasn’t complained. I wonder if we get all our teeth back when we go to heaven. Of course I wouldn’t have him really “put to sleep” he does enough of that around the house. It’s gotten so we spend most of our time checking to see if he’s still breathing and the only way he’ll walk is if you take him far enough away from the bed that he knows he’s got just enough time to get back if he wants to squeeze in a nap before supper.
The truth is, I’ve been places recently where there is no “dental care” and those folks seem to get along fine. Saw a nice looking young couple coming out of the Dollar Store over in Alabama, just last week. He looked at her, she looked at him and they smiled that young folks’ smile. I could see the love but neither head projected nary a tooth. They were giving each other that, “I’m gonna gum you all over look” as they reached for each other’s hand. It looked sort of, well, natural if you will and I started to think, why couldn’t we all be like that? After all, we all lose our teeth eventually; it’s a fact of life, like going gray or buying a convertible. And while we’re on the subject of gray, can’t we be sensible and realize that everybody knows we’re gray headed even with a head of hair as black as a crow’s wing, when our face looks like a road map? I saw one of those TV preachers the other day with a head of dark blue hair, a hedgerow of gray eyebrows and a face that looked like “forty miles of bad road”. I wonder if his television ministry would still be around if he showed up toothless with a head of gray hair? Of course he could see an “increase” as they say when people saw his lack of “dental care” but I’ve heard toothless preachers are hard to understand. I contend if we could accept the inevitable we might be happier and have more friends our own age. The other side of that coin is a bad toupee. I used to play badminton with a fellow who wore one. You could always beat him with a good drop shot because he didn’t want to bend over far enough to hit the birdie back.

It’s not my intention to mislead here because there are disadvantages to not having teeth and one would have to be the increased potential for mispronouncing words. As you may or may not be aware, the proper pronunciation of words requires at least the central and lateral incisors, the ones in front used for eating corn. Without them you are subject to being misunderstood, which could be dangerous in today’s society, not being able to use the “th” and “f” sounds. And while I don’t claim to be a speech expert, I do know one plus I haven’t heard Deuce say "thank you” in months. We don’t feed him corn because it’s fiber. Think about it.

Friday, November 29, 2013

It’s basketball season again…the time of year when we see the best and worst from parents, students and coaches in pursuit of athletic excellence and the “dream”. That old line from "On the Waterfront” when Marlon Brando’s character, Terry Malloy says to his brother, “I could a had class. I could a been a contender. I could a been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am”, comes to mind as I watch as a basketball official, gifted athletes running up and down the hardwood in pursuit of their “dream”.

You remember; Terry thought his brother should have taken better care of him when he was young and pursuing a career as a prizefighter. You have to wonder when you see these kids of today, so athletically gifted, so polite during a pre-game conference and yet sometimes, so neglected…who’s taking care of their dream? Who’s ensuring that they have a chance at being a ‘contender”, a “somebody”? Our high school coaches are many times in the roll of Terry’s brother. They are either helping a student pursue the “dream” of becoming an athlete with a scholarship to look forward to or stepping in as a “parent” when none exists at home. Some are better at this than others, putting the student first and realizing sports for these kids must be a means to an end or they will end up like so many others on the chain link nets of the playground.

Others use the student to reach their own personal dream, that of a State Championship. Academics are negotiated, grades are given and the chain link nets tinkle with anticipation as another player comes their way. Many parents also fall into the chain link trap, thinking basketball skills will eventually pay the bills. They blink as their child brings home grades he/she cannot be capable of making in the tenth grade. But this has gone on so long it’s routine now and there’s no turning back. It’s the dream or nothing for their athlete/student. The next time a nice day rolls around in Macon, Savannah or Atlanta head for a local park and watch as these former gifted high school athletes play basketball on the chain link nets.

Some are unemployed, some coming out of rehab, wondering where that next child support payment will come from, others doing well and there for a good game of basketball or just a little exercise. Others are burning off the frustration of a week spent looking for work that doesn’t exist because many times they were pursuing a “dream” that never materialized at the expense of preparing for a life outside the sports arena. We’re doing these kids a tremendous disservice when we let them fall into the trap of “the dream” without insisting they pursue excellence in academics as well. Visit a coaches “chalk” session and watch as the players give him/her their undivided attention for as long as it takes to understand the game plan to be used against an opponent that week. You won’t see any sleeping in that “class”. I’ve often thought that if we as parents don’t give our children a vision of what they can become they will be given a vision by someone else. A vision we may not care for or one that may not be in the best interest of our child.

After all, who knows them better than us? It’s so easy to fall into the “chain link trap”, the one calling these young men from the recreation centers around the country into high school and then a life of constantly wondering what happened…what happened to the “dream”. I write this in memory of so many great guys I remember playing basketball with on those chain link nets. The New Yorkers with those great dribbling and ball handling skills, the guys from Philly who could pass and stressed teamwork on the court and the west coast pretty boys who could do it all. A wonderful bunch of characters who deserved better than they got.  

Memories Found in the Roomba

I’ll bet I’m the only man who can make the house phone ring by pulling into my driveway. Every time I come home, my wife is on the phone and I’m getting these hand signals that make me feel like a pilot trying to land on an aircraft carrier. Actually, all I’m trying to do is land somewhere near the couch but I keep getting “waved off” by this “noncom” in the kitchen. Of course the dogs are glad to see me but we all end up out in the yard till she’s off the phone. This all started with the purchase of something called a Roomba. It’s this thing that crawls around the house like a swimming pool vacuum terrorizing the dogs and sucking up everything but dirt. If something is missing, chances are you’ll find it in the Roomba. It found a driver’s license of mine that was so old I had hair. The other day I found a note in the Roomba from my 6th grade teacher Mrs. Harvey from Cherry Street School. The note read, “Leonard (that’s what she called me when my deportment was askew) needs to stop talking in class”. She sat us according to our 9-week average and I spent the entire year on the last row. Talking was the only way I could regain some of that self-esteem everyone worries about. One particular day, Mrs. Harvey, who was determined to improve my vocabulary even though she never let me speak, taught us the word, “procrastinate” and I figured if I found a way to use it at home it might defuse the grade/deportment situations, sixth grade boys were very creative. A normal day would find us practicing newly discovered “words” and smoking Cool cigarettes in the bathroom. On this day, an “enlightened” sixth grade boy named Ben Foots brought the word “prostitute” to the bathroom. Oh, were we excited to hear that one! It was a large word that was also a “dirty” word and Ben was just the kind of guy who would have the word correct. He was a “stickler” for proper spelling and pronunciation of these types of words, even though he was on his second sixth grade “trip”. We all appreciated Ben’s maturity in these matters and in fact, considered him “gifted.”

In 60’ they would let us take our report cards home from school, an interesting concept by today’s standards. It meant we were entrusted with the information. Mom was cooking and dad was standing around waiting to eat, as usual. I came in with my note from Mrs. Harvey along with an assortment of D’s in my academic subjects. It looked like another 9-weeks in “la la land” on the last row as I dejectedly held my report card out for inspection. Suddenly I remembered, THE “P’ WORD, my “ace in the hole”, surely it would impress both of them! Thank you Mrs. Harvey”! All I had to do was figure out a way to slip the word in and they would be so impressed, a pass on the grades was a possibility. Mom presented the perfect opportunity when she said, “all right you all, I’m not ready for supper, go find something to do.” Bingo! Nine weeks of abject failure, loafing and a load of D’s were about to become history. I jumped at the chance and said, “Mom, don’t prostitute, we’re hungry.”

Now, even though it was a large word, there was no way I was going to get a pass on this one. So there they were, two slack jawed people staring at a twelve-year-old boy who was trying to become invisible. My mother’s ears wouldn’t even process the word and in her state of denial, she just looked at dad and said, “Harmon, we’ve got to get that boy some glasses, he obviously can’t see the blackboard!”  I soon got my first pair of glasses and to this day I carry a pocket dictionary. Oh, Ben Foots? His mastery of the English language served him well. He became a politician.
Seems the older I get the more foolish I get and my latest foolishness involved volunteering to be in a twenty-four hour play. I know nothing about these things so they made me a director and gave me a guy about my age with a memory about as long as an ingrown toenail to direct. We also had two young students working with us who were obviously “star struck” and in awe of the old actor and older director’s ability to remember nothing but their present location and names. I should have directed them out of the building because trying to memorize ten pages of script in twelve hours can lead to a huge headache and multiple trips to the bathroom. At first I thought this might be like one of those old movies you see (Gene Kelly, Donald O’Conner and some starlet) where it’s all about getting ready for some big production on Broadway.

You know, the lights go up and everyone knows their lines and dances like Fred Astaire? I was wrong. Four people who may have been water-boarded, had met the night before to write five plays about whatever their deranged minds could come up with after negative sleep. Some of it was pretty good, I must admit, but when we got hold of our particular script and began trying to memorize, I realized that whenever the lights went up in the theatre, no one on our “team” would be home. Still we proceeded to give it the old “college why” and began the process during breakfast, taking what they had written and, while eating sausage/cheese biscuits, putting it into some form resembling a play. We were to use cheap props (no problem there) and bring the “Greatest Show on Earth” to the Goldstein Center for the Performing Arts by eight PM that evening. Thus, the twenty-four hour play!

Sausage-cheese biscuits always bring out the primitive man in me and as I thought about how I was going to control what was sure to happen in a confined area I thought, ʺwhat would Hitchcock do? I heard he kept a dog around most of the time, but that would not have been prudent in this case. Our play involved a redneck named Bubba (played by the aging “actor”), who wanted to have his grandpa’s forty year old “cell phone” fixed.

He had a son named Skeeter (played by one of the students) who was fairly simple minded and spent a little too much time with his hands in weird places, poking around in the cell phone displays. Simple plot (you would have thought) but not when we got hold of it. I could see our Bubba was having a problem remembering his lines so I said, “If you can’t think of anything to say, just holler at ol’ Skeeter.” “Ok, he said, no problem.” It reminded me of the many times my wife had caught me doing something outside the realm of normalcy at home and I would be at a loss for words. Why I’d just holler at ol’ “Skeeter”, who would most likely be one of the dogs, she’d forget what it was she had caught me doing in the first place and we’d go on like nothing had happened.

We must have gone over that script fifty times by “show time” with Bubba hollering at Skeeter most of the day. But, as they say, “The show must go on.” The curtain opened and I’m back stage following the script. Two pages go by, no problem, three, still no problem. I’m thinking, “This guy is actually going to pull it off!” Then I hear, “SKEETER!” After that you could call it improvisation because when ol Bubba panicked the others did too and no one remembered anything!
Events that took place years ago have everything to do with today’s discipline in the classroom. We allowed the drug culture to enter our schools sometime around l967 or 68’. This culture can still be seen in old clips from various rock concerts showing mainly white students involved in drug activity. They brought it to the schools where unsuspecting teachers fought to maintain classroom discipline in an environment undergoing social change from without and within for it was also during that time that integration took place. There are very few of us remaining who were not touched by these events. We integrated our school systems here in Georgia somewhere around 1967 or 68’. At that time a few African-Americans attended white schools and a few white students attended black schools. It was a tremendous time of change, shock (assassinations) riots in streets, Vietnam and social unrest.

 I say without anything but remorse that we deprived the black children of our country an equal opportunity at education for many years prior to 67’ and many thereafter (most wanted equality in their own schools) but what I am writing about today has little to do with that except acknowledgement. One area that cost both races in our attempt to correct the problem of inequality was that of discipline in the classroom and it continues to be the major stumbling block of education today, for without discipline there can be no education in a classroom. Discipline may exist in the homes of the children who are lucky enough to have it in their homes but it will not exist in the classroom unless the teacher is entrusted with enforcing it.

We see a lack of classroom discipline at all levels of education today and I do mean all and there is a reason behind it. Teachers are afraid…oh here we go! Not me! I’m not afraid! Ok…you’re not afraid but other teachers are and it strikes at the heart of the problem. Let me explain by giving an example seen years ago and still existing today. Mrs. Smith has twenty five students in her class. Eighteen are white and seven are black. In 1968 Mrs. Smith had to ensure that if she disciplined a black student for an offense, she didn’t miss the opportunity to discipline the white student for the same offense.

Mrs. Smith, do not make the mistake of making that mistake, for if you do, you will be seen as racist and or not in touch with your surroundings and the mood of our country. To avoid not making that mistake Mrs. Smith chose to discipline neither student. After all, we’re talking about job security here. Now, it wasn’t the black student’s fault, or the white’s. Both suffered from a lack of discipline in the classroom and still suffer today (sometimes). As the years progressed and we saw a gradual deterioration in classroom discipline, some schools became more and more unruly. Teachers were more inclined to ignore bad behavior in an effort to shield themselves from the wrath of parents who would not believe and administrators who refused to believe what they saw. The answer to the discipline problem was seen in the black administrator, or the former white football coach, who could identify with the male students (black and white) in a way in which Mrs. Smith could not. We still see this today for it means job security for the black male administrator his white football coach counter- part and the classroom teacher.

Do the students, black and white pick up on this? Why, of course they do, and have for years. They’ve played the game right along with the teachers and administrators. Mass punishment (how I hate it) has become the rule in some classrooms for if little Johnny (black or white) can’t be quiet then everybody stands on their heads for five minutes.  Figuring if we make them all stand on their heads, we have maintained equality as it was meant to be and after all…wasn’t that what we were after forty years ago? We suffer from a lack of trust in our schools that says a black teacher or a white teacher does not have sense enough to find fault with a particular student, regardless of race, and remediate from there. Fear and lack of trust…the hallmarks of racism hidden in the guise of equality in our public schools. When you combine the aforementioned with the breakdown of the family and drugs in our schools, is it any wonder our children can’t read or write?

Thursday, November 28, 2013

She was getting up in years, slowing down a bit, had a few scars here and there like we all do, but I had hoped we’d be able to spend a few more good years together before she’d need to go to one of those places where all old girls eventually end up. We’d had what I guess you’d call a “quality relationship”, never demanding too much from each other as the years took their toll. I wasn’t as agile or quick, as I once was and she seemed to know that, backing off at the right time and making life easier for both of us. She had no idea what had been going through my mind for several years, a secret that was easy to keep because of the hurt I knew one of us would experience when the truth came out. She deserved better; Shoot! We both deserved better.

I’ll admit I had been looking around, feeling my secret was safe as I had visited “those” places when she had no idea as to my whereabouts. They all looked the same. Newness wherever one looked and temptation where there should have been guilt. I had also seen what was at the end of the line for both of us. Security fences, hopelessness, a feeling that our best years were behind us and whatever happened was out of our control. The stench of worn out parts that could never be replaced, even with today’s modern technology. Worn out old girls and others who looked as though they wondered what in the world happened, and how they ended up in such a place as they yearned for their youth. The last time I had seen her she was sitting under a palm tree in the front yard. She looked as good as the first day we met; I can take a little credit for that, having spent many a weekend seeing to her every need, making sure she was full, and ready for another day of discovery and adventure.

I drove off feeling good, knowing we’d be together again, taking in the beach, the bay and visiting places only she and I had been. She liked to follow, preferring I lead the way on our travels, and I was perfectly ok with that. Leading was just not one of her things and I never heard her complain a single time about where we went. She followed me day or night, sometimes in the rain to mosquito infested campgrounds or down dirt roads leading to a lake where we could relax and find some solitude from the world of work. She was always perfectly content to just be there, near the truck, near me. Sometimes (on rare occasions) I would feel the need, a burning desire actually, to lock her up in order to make sure no one but me would be able to enjoy her company. In fact on this particular day I had chained her to a tree. Oh, I know that sounds cruel, maybe even inhumane but it seemed the right thing to do at the time and she never before complained about the restriction. Maybe it made her feel safer.

Well, some low rent scalawag took it upon himself to cut that chain, haul her off to the woods, cover her with pine straw and steal her identity! She was my Sea Doo and if not for the beach police, she would probably be in a hundred different pieces by now or floating in a river south of the border. A good Samaritan discovered her, languishing on her trailer in a most disreputable part of town. I asked the police why anyone would want to steal something obviously loved and cared for by another person and they replied, “Because they could."
First of all, thanks for coming here to GMC. We're glad you did all of us teachers, staff folks, engineering and the rest. We would not be here if not for you. Really, we exist as we do because of you. Without you we would be selling something, fixing something or waiting on something to happen that would make our lives more complete. Think about it. We are here because of you. So.why are you here? For some of you the answer might be.no where else to go. Unsure of yourself.looking for something.somebody told you to go here or there. Well, the bottom line is.this is your life. This is your one way ticket.the one thing in which you are completely in charge, the boss, the end all, be all do it all, make it or try something else all. The person that you are, that's sitting in that seat as you listen to me right now is all yours.your life. What you make of it or don't make of it is really all up to you.

And remember, you are special, each one of us is.I am also. Oh yes! I'm still special.just older and special but with years gone by that cannot be reclaimed. You are special with years ahead and still to be claimed. by you. You must claim the years given to you in your life as those of us who are older claimed our years. And those years will be for better, for worse or. for what might have been. I suppose one of the biggest mistakes one can make in life is the mistake of believing they cannot become.cannot achieve.cannot make a difference or. that they cannot do whatever they have the desire to do. If you are sitting in a seat in this classroom today, you can make a difference in the lives of your families, friends, people in need, and life in general. Part of the beauty of college.the privilege of college. is being given the time to find a way to make a difference in life for yourself and others. It cannot be just about the money. College cannot be just that. It must mean more to all of us. The teachers, staff folks, engineering and the rest. Look at each of us as people who are giving you a chance to make a difference. And when you think about why you are here, why you came, think that it was a good place to come, to learn, to find someway in which you could make a difference and use the one chance you have to become.something special. After all.this is YOUR life.
There are things we will never understand in this life but some bother me more than others. Like why, no matter how much I floss, my dental hygienist still finds a full meal hiding somewhere along my gums. Most of the time these things don’t keep me up at night but last night was the exception. While looking in the mirror (something I need to do less of) I noticed a droop in one of my eyelids. I looked closer and sure enough the left lid looked like it had been up for three days. Normally I would eliminate those kinds of things in the bathroom but for some reason it followed me to bed. I tossed and turned for a few minutes trying to get to sleep, gave up, turned on the television and had a “Tylenol PM moment”.

The presidential debate was on! As I watched the two candidates reveal the fact that they didn’t know how to fix anything but their tele-prompters, I realized I’d found the perfect sleep aid. Don't get me wrong, I love a good night's sleep but I wish there were some way to add some spice to these things. Lincoln/Douglas comes to mind. We all want to hear the truth but perhaps we should make them. Send em out there with nothing but original thoughts on their minds. My goodness, don’t have to get prepared to talk to each other about the country’s affairs…we just do it. We don’t need handlers telling us how the world turns and we can usually go with a few original thoughts along the way. “Hey, Barrack Obama and John McCain and we’re not approving anything that’s not something we thought of on our own!” What we’ve got now is a “rebate” not a debate. A little re-hash of every sound bite, negative ad that was produced by “handlers” for the past year. If this is a heavy weight fight let’s see the fighters, not the promoters. I can read, and upon finishing graduate school, I was considered an expert at regurgitation. We want to vote for someone who can think better than me, not put me to sleep when I’m worried about my eyelids drooping. And I don’t like the way they don’t have to look at each other either. Have you ever talked to someone who is standing right next to you and not looked at them? Or had someone talk to you without looking at you? I think they should have to face each other in these things…from about three feet or so.

That’s normal talking distance. We don’t want to invade anyone’s space here but you don’t talk to someone from across a room unless they're an ʺexʺ or their breath stinks. Let’s move them closer together…at least close enough where if one of them has bad breath the other one can offer him a mint. And just once I’d like to hear one of them say, “I’ll have to ask my wifeʺ. You mean to tell us that after all the ballyhoo with regard to these two “fantastic” women, neither candidate has received a ʺword of knowledgeʺ from the lady of the mansion? ʺsorry, I just don't know, nor do I have an opinion on thatʺ. And don’t you get tired of hearing them tell us how wonderful they’ve been as our stalwart protectors for x number of years? This is not normal behavior. If this was a friend you were listening to you’d give them about one second to tell you how wonderful they are then change their “channel”. And if these guys tell me one more time how they’re going to take care of me, the “middle class”, I think I’ll just let em. What is this thing called middle class anyway? I finished in the middle of most of my classes; does that make me eligible for some kind of government assistance? No, unless your eyelids are already drooping, you may as well have a glass of wine and enjoy a good game show. That’s all these guys seem to be playing anyway. Wonder who’s paying for all this entertainment? 
It seems we just can’t avoid inflated political egos or recessions. But, while many of you are experiencing this for the first time, there are signs portending recession that are easily recognizable. Recessions are simply a contraction of sorts, similar to the shrinkage of previously dirty underwear when you’re drying them and turn the dial to the left side instead of the more conservative drying time on the right. Your underwear felt really good for a few weeks and then one day you got the bright idea to wash, dry and shrink it. Trying it on for another stretch, you find yourself in the middle of a recession and looking at your image in the mirror you see a bloated Michael Moore staring back. Now you’re all about losing weight, exercising (how boring) and getting back into your recessed former self. Depressing at best and now you can see why…some of your stuff is getting smaller making your other stuff look bigger. It may look the same but after the underwear takes a liberal turn in the dryer it’s got your stomach looking like a helium party balloon.

So the question is, who’s handling your dirty little recession problem, and are they qualified or not? My wife insists on doing the laundry at our house. I don’t do the dryer well, sometimes using the left side when I shouldn’t. We no doubt have guys in D.C. who are trying to dry their own clothes when they should let their wives or a professional handle the underwear. Then, at the very least, they could avoid recession in their own homes. While I don’t mind them playing with laws and such, I wouldn’t let nary one of them handle my underwear for a couple of reasons; it would probably shrink and sooner or later they’d find a way to have it done overseas, which would cost me a bundle. Although I must admit, imagining Barney Franks in a local laundromat watching his underwear go round and round is not a difficult stretch. However, there seems to be enough dirty laundry being aired out in D.C. as it is, so Barney probably has his done out of town. Then again, if our “leaders” are not paying their taxes they’re probably not too concerned about keeping their underwear clean in the first place.

Makes you wonder where ol’ Tommy Daschle took his when his tax returns became public. You know those privies needed some “professional” care. One thing’s for sure, whoever is in charge of the underwear at his house is “all washed up”. It’s amazing how these guys can go around in dirty underwear and think no one is going to discover they smell like road kill on an August afternoon. On a sad note, there doesn’t appear to be any way to fix a recession unless we all wear thongs, stay away from mirrors or learn how to use the dryer. Of course you could hold your breath or have a yard sale. And, as everyone knows, underwear usually ends up as rags. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could “write off” your old underwear? So the problem for we, the electorate, seems to be how to identify members of congress who are obviously trying to do their own laundry and keep their shorts clean, while experiencing a recession. You can often spot them as they waddle up for a photo opportunity, looking like their shorts are too tight. They are. You can also recognize them when they use the phrase, “the fact is”. A “fact is” politician is in the deep throes of recessed underwear. I suppose President Obama would wear Michael Jordan Haynes, making him susceptible to a small amount of recession and our Speaker of the House, Pelosi obviously wears “granny panties”, making her equally susceptible to shrinkage. Recession is nothing new. It comes and goes depending on who’s doing the laundry.
They came up while we were playing...sort of caught us by surprise and stood around for a few minutes in old shorts and older tennis shoes. They had walked across town and the sweat had dried on their skin, giving it an ashy look in places. After watching for a few minutes they asked if they could play. We only had one ball and sometimes, when the kid who brought it got upset, he would indeed take his ball and go home. When I look back, I'm thankful that didn't happen on this particular day. I learned a couple of things. The year was l959 and the only time we saw kids like these was either through a car window or in an old movie on TV.

I was twelve and had never spoken to one, much less, swapped sweat on a basketball court. We just didn't mix in those days. No one knew exactly why and I never heard, ʺdon't go near those peopleʺ from my parents but when they asked if they could play I stared at my shoes for a bit. Finally the leader of the four, a tall slender fellow, spoke up and said, ʺWhat’sa matter, fraid it'll rub off? Let's shoot for teams.ʺ We mumbled our ok and each of us took turns shooting from the line. They made their shots, we didn’t and we played four on four with us against them. They won because they were faster and could shoot the ball with one hand while we were still using two.

I remember thinking, as I watched the tall slender one shoot, so that’s how it’s done. When the games were over we drank from a hose near the court and talked basketball until the sun told them they'd better be on their way. Being home before dark was important to them in l959. The months passed and they never came our way again but something tells me their lives were lived very differently from mine. I had a bicycle they were on foot. I had the freedom to go anywhere in town and feel safe, they didn’t. I could drink from any water fountain, eat in any restaurant and sit down front at the Panama Theatre but they couldn’t. I could dream of one day going to college, a thing that was probably unattainable for these four. They probably went to church, I didn’t. I didn't think much more about that day until 63' when the sit-ins and marches brought it back.

Didn't think much about the separate entrance for them at the Panama Theatre or the ʺcolored onlyʺ signs posted downtown. They weren't people to me, just places, signs, evening church services that could be heard from the car window while passing and bodacious bands during Christmas and “colored” football games. The marches and sit-ins brought it to television and then we had to think about it…about the differences. Those days faded from memory again until recently when I heard a speech from President-Elect Obama. And although he never lived through days when, after a game of basketball he had to get home by dark or sit in the balcony at the Panama, or use the bathroom on the side of the road when no “colored only” bathrooms were available, he represents those that did and I’ve heard he’s a pretty fair basketball player. He won a game last week and I’m proud of our country for doing what seemed to be the right thing.

I said there were a couple of things I learned that day. One was the one handed shot but the other was the more important lesson. It was that we have to take steps toward those we don’t understand if we want them to become friends. They walked across town that day and taught me that taking that step takes a lot more courage than staying at home. I don’t know about you but I’m ready to take a step with our new President. He and his family seem like nice folks to me. 
His sign read, “safe, reliable and courteous” and I suppose to his mother he may have been, but to the kids riding the city bus from the Cove in Panama City, to Bay High School, Shorty the bus driver was, just short. He was short tempered, short of breath (he smoked) short sided and short of brains according to most of us. The bus made two trips through the Cove, one at 7 AM and one at 7:30 AM so if you didn’t get to hear Shorty at 7 he would be back to get your day off on the right foot at 7:30. “Safe” to Shorty meant “sit down and shut up dadgumit” and “reliable” was, “I’m darn sure comin back there if ya’ll don’t sit down and shut up dadgumit. The kids brave enough to smoke, usually Cools, sat in the back of the bus and the smoke trail could be seen from the front.

Shorty could see it from the large mirror he had in front of him. For years Shorty’s world was what he saw in that mirror but of course, it was in reverse. The kids who sat near the front were obliged to tell “bus driver jokes” whenever possible and one thing Shorty was not short of, was hearing. Every time I read about an “incident” on a school bus I think of Shorty and what his response might have been. You could put kids off the bus in those days and Shorty, if he could reach you, would put you off the bus. Then you would have to walk the three miles or so to school. If you got put off the 7 AM bus and walked fast you could beat the 7:30 bus to school and nobody would be the wiser unless you forgot to put on deodorant that morning and then everybody would know you got put off the bus. Of course we didn’t to sit in those days.

Ol’ Shorty would pack so many of us in there we could stand without even touching the floor of the bus. He would take on riders until he could barely squeeze the door shut and then he’d take on one more just to make sure there would be absolutely no movement taking place in the isle where we all stood. A can of sardines had nothing on us but when you think about it, it wasn’t a bad idea. If two kids had it in for each other there was no way they could get to each other to fight and by the time we got to school they’d usually forgotten what the argument was about anyway. We didn’t have room for book bags back then but if we had, mine would have been empty. I only brought a book home…usually the lightest, a few days before report cards came out in order to impress mom and dad. I wasn’t a good student and in fact I think I must have been DDT or whatever they called it in those days.

The bug man, Mr. Faircloth, used to cruise our block two nights a week during the summer trying to stir up the mosquitoes and kill anything else that moved. We called him “The Fogger” and rode our bikes behind his truck as he sprayed. A heavenly smell it was but obviously not good for the brain. Some of us got labeled DDT kids from the Cove. But I digress. Riding Shorty’s bus was one of those experiences you don’t forget and in fact cherish. I even put off getting my driver’s license until I was seventeen so I could keep on riding Shorty’s bus. My folks sure didn’t mind that…we only had one car, a used Cadillac, black, that looked like a hearse for sure. I suppose it was a symbol of our “wealth” but beings it was used I don’t think anyone was all that impressed. Besides, when you’re walking around with cardboard in your shoes, word gets out. I’ll say this for Shorty. He treated us all alike, mean. Yep, Ol’ Shorty, “safe, reliable and courteous”… guess he did the best he could for a guy seeing the world in reverse. I don’t remember missing a single day of school.
Have you seen the future of basketball? You can this summer at various gyms in cities throughout Georgia and for just a few dollars. So, what will you see? You’ll see thirteen year olds who handle the ball like a Maravich and six foot five fifteen year olds who play like O’Neal, but more importantly you’ll see coaches who insist on integrity and sportsmanship from every player. It’s Amateur Athletic Union basketball and what makes it so special is the atmosphere of family that permeates every gym during the games. I saw it first hand as a basketball official during one of the AAU tournaments held recently in Macon. The sense of family was overwhelming and could serve as a model for all of us who strive to make this great democracy a thing in which we can all take pride. So what else will you see? You’ll see players patting each other on the butt saying, “great move” or “great shot” when an opponent does something exceptional on the court.

You’ll see them addressing officials and coaches with “yes sir” or “no sir” when spoken to, although they will have their “moments”. Something interesting happened during one of the games when a team was losing badly in the first half. One of the players, a little fellow, maybe five feet at best and their best ball handler, during a moment of frustration looked over at his coach and said, “they’re cheatin coach”, meaning us, (the officials after all, are fair game when a team is having problems on the court). His coach replied, “No they’re not, they’re just making poor decisions!” And maybe we were because in the second half they came back to win by ten points! I thought the coach, who was also frustrated, turned what could have been a negative situation into a teachable moment and hopefully the little fellow learned that officials are human. You’ll also see parents cheering for normal every player who turns in a performance worthy of accolades. Not just their kid but all their “kids”. That’s not to say you don’t have the occasional parent who thinks he’s the one on the court and not his child. But you always have those and they are certainly in the minority at AAU games.

These AAU folks seem to have discovered something that cannot be defined but nevertheless transcends normal human behavior during a sporting event. They cheer for both teams! I’ll admit I was confused at first when I heard one side of the gym cheer for their team and then turn around and cheer when a good play was made by the other team. I thought, there can be only two answers to this anomaly. They either don’t know who their child is or they don’t know the name of his/her team, after all, they probably just followed a bus and found themselves here. The truth is they know both but they also know the importance of making each child feel successful, needed and appreciated as a member of the team. Don’t misunderstand; the competition is fierce with each team putting everything on the line to win. But in the end, when the final score is tallied and someone wins and someone loses you’ll hear a coach say, “Go shake their hands, and look them in the eye when you do it”. Powerful stuff no doubt and worthy of a community’s support. I guess what I really like about AAU basketball is the great mix of people watching the games. People from different walks of life and ethnic backgrounds come together for a short time and cheer for a common goal, sportsmanship. And there, in the gym, we see what we as a country can be; people who want the best for their children. If that goal can’t bring us together as a country we are indeed doomed to fail. Interesting to think that basketball, being America’s game might be one of the ways in which Americans can come together for our most important.
I’ve had the darnedest time with my new teeth and I’m wondering if maybe I should have kept the old ones. A few years ago my dentist told me I needed new teeth because, after a careful examination, he found I had a mouth full of havoc heading for a decade of dental bills. He said I had a few years of normal eating left on the short side but years of gumming in the long term. I carefully weighed the evidence, my sixty years of chewing versus his dental school experience and said, “do what you will young man, all’s I want is one more shot at the Halloween candy when the big night rolls around.” I stopped doing the trick or treat thing a few years ago, after what I consider to be a modern day record of fifty seven years on everything from homemade fudge to poisoned “alternatives”, but find the stuff the wife brings home from Kroger irresistible and worth the gamble.

So you can imagine my dismay when I bit down on a hamburger the other day and found three teeth that looked sort of like mine, buried in the bun. I say sort of because I was not one hundred percent sure, having never seen the things outside my mouth and alone. Finding these guys in the bun surprised me because I don’t have cheese on my burgers…cheese being a major adhesive and guaranteed to suck the glue right off your gums. Still, an obviously irritated molar stared up at me as if to say, “How did anyone like you manage to own a home with a toilet on the inside? You remember what Dr. Pliers told you about that bridge don’t you?” I had but how does one avoid eating a hamburger? Getting an up close and personal look at one’s teeth demands a decision, particularly if you’re in the company of other people enjoying their meal. It reminds me of the time I bit into a donut and found one of those bugs with two tails staring me in the face. I didn’t know whether to “swaller” or holler and probably did both, figuring most of him was still in the half I was holding, so… I “swollered” (a term used for when you ingest something you’d rather not). I suppose I didn’t want to embarrass the assemblage at the donut shop and getting my money’s worth was important at the time.

At this writing I am now without another bridge (so named because, theoretically it connects a couple of teeth still intact with a couple who would be floating in one’s mouth if not attached to something that is not attempting to go it alone) and eating has become rather like biting into an oyster and finding a pearl of no worth. It is interesting however, as the bridge floats while you chew, that you just never know when that pearl is going to say, “You’d better try the other side for a bite or two; your teeth are not at home.” This is no big deal for me as I have always loved baby food… my favorites being custard pudding and creamed peas. But even my close friends would find it strange if I simply reverted to the baby food diet and stopped eating meat. So I’m in a bit of a quandary here, as I have no dentist (mine being detained somewhere with an answering machine that simple says, “We’ll be back in October”) and am wondering how long I will be eating pearls. I’m left wondering if the old teeth might have been better kept where they were and simply left to “stand in the gap”, so to speak. I suppose you could say I’m having a Thermopylae moment without the Spartans.
A picture rests in an old photo album and it brings memories of the holidays. Old songs around an upright piano, family around a dining room table, and pets that have come and gone. I love a picture you can hold in your hand. Something about the way it feels when it rests there in your palm. It’s as though the scene is alive in some way and those who were captured on that day, in some small way, are alive again in the palm of your hand. The feel of a hand held picture is old, smooth, sometimes yellow with age and yet not quite as old as those whose images reside therein. One picture I love to hold was taken circa 1946/47. This image of my people, most of them gone, stays at my mother’s until this time of year when I bring it out and we, she and I, talk about these wonderful gifts we were given through the years.  There, still seated around a large table in the dining room of my grandfather’s house in Knoxville, Tennessee, are my grandparents, three aunts, two uncles, two cousins and my parents.  They’ve been in an album for 65 years now, frozen in time and with lives still to live. And each one meant something special to me.

There sits Uncle Jack, newly returned from the war in the Pacific where he fought malaria and the Japanese. From him I learned a man can be tender and yet strong enough to lead and accomplish much in life. He became a respected physician in Concord, NC. Uncle Melvin whose name was never mentioned without it being a part of “Aunt Dora and Uncle Melvin” can be seen smiling up at his Dora. They were inseparable throughout life, she was the homemaker and he worked for the TVA in Sevierville, when going to work was considered a privilege. To my knowledge, he never missed a day. The other two aunts lived there at the big house on Freemason Street we all called home for many years. One was Nancy who was indeed special and never left the side of her parents. Her hands can be seen in the picture, one resting on top of my grandfather’s shoulder. Gnarled from arthritis, she used them to knit beautiful quilts for each new member of the family. Quilts that still keep each of us warm after all these years. The other was Jo, simply one of the angels God chose to send back to earth to take care of our family and play the piano during special times. Her story is too long to tell but in the picture she has no idea of the influence she will have on all of us who follow.

My mother and father, newly wed, sit side by side, not realizing they will be blessed with sixty four years together and …they were mostly good years.  And somewhere under a chair, in a corner or lying in the kitchen, there lies a dog. For sure, there lies a dog. Most of these wonderful people sleep in the photo album until they live again in someone’s hand. For now, it’s mine but in time hopefully, someone else will hold them in their palm and bring them back for Thanksgiving or Christmas when they can hear the bells outside rung by cousin Betty Hart or hear ol’ Chipper barking at the moon. This holiday season; take a picture of the loved ones in your life. Make it one you can hold and remember, years from now they will sleep in the photo album until they live again in the palm of someone’s hand. Holidays are so much more than stuff.
I guess you’re all sitting around wondering how you got into such a mess with the family finances. Not me…I know how I got here… financial “planning”. I first picked up on the problem when a financial advisor looked at me, a senior citizen, and asked, “What are your long range plans”? That was last year and I should have moved on then but stuck around for, “we should start saving for your daughter’s college education” (she graduates in the fall) and then I heard, “they’ll be a wedding soon, you’ll want to begin saving for that” (she got married last May). No, the only financial “advice” I’ve ever taken to heart came in the form of a question from my dad, who used to ask me why my brother came home with pockets full of quarters from bagging groceries while I spent the day playing basketball at the gym. “What’s wrong with you?” he would ask. In fact, “what’s wrong with you” became his mantra during my growing up years and we’re not even Buddhists.

Sometimes I wish he had taken one of those positive thinking courses and learned how to say, “What’s right with you?” At least one of us would have felt better. Well, at sixty-one all’s I know is I still haven’t answered that question and as I sit here in a house that’s so tight your ears pop when the doors open, and saving money with the thermostat set to “arctic” I wonder if I ever will. It got so cold in here the other night the artificial flowers died. Money has never been my strong “suit” although I do have some wealthy friends. And I believe that most wealthy people that manage to stay wealthy are either smarter than me or have more energy. I always try to find comfort in the fact that I can most always find something wrong with a wealthy person, although I do have one perfect, wealthy friend. There are bright spots in my economy. For instance; the stock market’s recent roller coaster ride doesn’t bother me as much as some people because my wife’s been that way for years. Up one day, down the next. And just like our economy, if she’s down, a monetary infusion will bring her back up. Of course that can bring on inflation and with the weight gain she’s back down again so... I have this liquor cabinet fully stocked with Perrie.

Drinking lots of water helps keep me fiscally regular and better able to deal with her inflation. We don’t really have a budget here at our house. I get a “quarterly” allowance and by that I mean she doles the money out in small amounts, thinking me playing with quarters might be a way of relieving stress, I suppose. I never make any large purchases anyway and if I want to travel, I always have plenty of change for toll roads. I think of myself as her charity and that makes us both feel good. Dad’s still alive by the way. Saw him the other day. He said, “What’s wrong with you?” I said, “It’s this economy Dad, it’s got me worried I won’t be able to pay the bills.” He looked at me from the corner of his eye and said, “Well, guess you could ask your brother for a loan.” I grinned, “No thanks Dad; I’ve got plenty of quarters.” Our nation seems to be in more of a financial mess than I, which is scary. You’d think with all the financial “advisors” running around in Washington they could get this thing right. Can you lay off a congressperson?

I wonder if Mrs. Obama handles the finances in that house, her being a Harvard grad and all, seems reasonable. Presidents don’t need lunch money though and I guess his driver would pay the tolls. But wouldn’t it be something if she did? “Barrack, here’s two dollars in quarters, now watch that wasteful spending and don’t forget to vacuum the Oval Office.” I have learned how to cut corners here at home but can’t go into those now. The dishwasher’s starting the dry cycle and if I don’t get to it soon I won’t get any beans with the weenies.