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By Mike Cox:
Joy of Life
There are few things in life as fine as sitting in a southern place, drinking something cold, and watching a spring breeze tousle the tree limbs in a location where no other sights are visible and no other sounds are audible. I am lucky enough to live in such a place so when the weather turns this way I can walk out the back door into paradise.
The third Saturday in March was such a magnificent afternoon. The Landlord and I sat at a weathered teak table with numerous dogs paying rapt attention in case a Cheezit might hit the deck. Beer from the man-fridge tasted like honeydew vine water.
Where's the Heart Key?
Each year I get giddy just thinking about February Fourteenth, my favorite perverse holiday: A celebration of love invented by card companies to increase revenue between Christmas and Mother’s Day. Love itself was invented by humans to justify the unspeakable things we do to each other while under the influence of our primal instincts.
Valentine’s Day has become a national obsession. Americans will spend over $16 billion on the day’s festivities in 2013 with men outspending women by a two to one margin. The most surprising thing is the amount women will fork over. The most preferred gift the ladies can offer doesn’t actually cost anything.
I gravitated toward the giggling coming from a small group of female co-workers, all north of the middle age demographic. They were passing around 8X10 glossies and smiling as if back in high school. Stan, the resident work place geek, was beaming like he just discovered 3 gigs of RAM.
The pictures were glam shots of Bobby Sherman, the Sixties pop star. He was either using really old photos left over when his fame sailed out of the harbor, or had filtered current shots with industrial strength Photoshop.
Over the Cacophony
From downstairs arose such a clatter I knew the roofers had arrived. We cohabitate with five dogs and a cat under normal circumstances; when we are fostering others, the numbers swell. Currently there are eight total beasts capable of raising the fore-mentioned clatter. Reminiscent of the Bumpus Hounds from A Christmas Story.
The roofers were there to install our much anticipated metal roof, something my Running Mate has longed for since before I arrived. I had nothing to do with the decision, planning, or…
Here’s a sincere and hopeful Christmas suggestion designed to reduce stress and improve holiday festivities for all of us this year.
To: All of you who feel the need to shop for everyone you know, used to know, or might know in the future, whether you start purchasing gifts in April from a carefully prepared Excel spreadsheet, rush around the last week like some insane Tasmanian Devil, or visit the 24 hour drug store Christmas morning to purchase guilt ridden, desperation presents for those who surprised you.
Walking the dogs early one recent morning I heard a quail’s call, something absent from my ears for decades. These birds were once plentiful throughout the South until fire ants, coyotes, developers; all members of the same irritating sub-species, took their toll.
Many refer to this bird by the distinctive whistle; Bob White. My father called them potter-idges. He introduced me to quail hunting early, allowing me to tag along on a bird hunting trip to the family farm when I was six.
Missing George III?
Excalibur was on a movie channel the other night. I watched; couldn’t help it. The 1981 John Boorman classic is a rousing retelling of the King Arthur legend and as visually stunning as any current, computer programmed blockbuster.
If you can get past the unintentional Monty Python moments that appear in dialogue and character portrayal, you will enjoy the tale, especially if you are a sucker for the medieval period, as I am.
Baseball stole my heart early on. My dad taught me how to throw and catch, and shared stories of his playing days. He bought my first unused glove, a Rawlings Duke Snider model, at Western Auto in Centreville, Alabama, when I was nine. The experience was so magical I eventually wrote a song about it. I still love spring training and Opening Day. I can watch baseball and discuss the intricacies of the sport all summer long.
The Real Thing
We were sitting in the den, which was a converted one vehicle carport, so common in the middle class neighborhoods of the Sixties. My father and I were watching the television screen, hypnotized. A black and white image flickered across the room, something unusual in those days since Bonanza brought color to TV viewing.
A man in big boots and a white suit struggled down a ladder and tested the sand-like surface below. He finally dropped to that surface, still clinging to the ladder. A voice came from the television screen.
I first heard At Last on a B. B. King duet CD. The song was marvelous on so many levels; words, tune, idea conveyed, just wonderful. Over the next few years I discovered different versions by a variety of singers. Then one night, while watching TV, I heard the penultimate version of the song on a TV ad.
The commercial was for Jaguar. A sleek, shiny Jag moved through wet streets and dark places while some lady who knew a helluva lot about soul was giving chills to everyone listening.
It appears the demise of Tim Tebow was premature. The former Gator and current choirboy engineered a near miraculous effort on Sunday. His Broncos defeated the formidable Pittsburg Steelers to advance to the second round of the NFL playoffs.
Tebow had been a sensation recently, gaining exposure on Entertainment Tonight and national news networks, as well as round the clock coverage on ESPN. A six game win streak during the middle of the season assured the Broncos of a spot in the playoffs, although a recent three game slide, in which the team and the quarterback looked horrible, appeared to dash any hopes of advancement, even with divine help.
I come from a long line of pagans, vandals, and villains. While the Greeks were establishing the basics of math and science, the Chinese were inventing gunpowder and the computer, and the Persians were laying the foundation for civilization itself, my people were living in small groups in the European woods, sacrificing each other and worshiping oak trees. When someone mentions Caucasians as a superior race, I giggle.
Like most primitive people, my ancestors worshipped anything they didn’t understand. Certain unique days and recurring celestial events were identified by someone with superior intelligence and given prominence and, sometimes, a holiday. I’m pretty sure none of those deep thinkers reside at the roots of my family tree.
The Winter Solstice was one of those days.
It seems the tread marks of speeding, relentless technology are once again decorating my backside. I’ve been searching for plastic CD sleeves for the traveling music in my car. The hard plastic ones are too distracting to change out while driving and the area designated for them in my Highlander won’t hold as many as I want to store. The paper ones are too fragile.
I should probably move on to an MP3 player but I can’t justify putting an expensive system in a car with 300k on it. Besides, there is nothing wrong with the current setup, just the storage area.
I searched several places for the two sided plastic CD sleeves that will give me what I want but have been unable to find any at this point. CD paraphernalia has started toward the place where eight track cleaning tapes, whiteout, and phonograph needles have gone.
If Hank Williams Jr. had not been born in Alabama, state officials at some point would have started extradition proceedings. He is dyed-in-the-wool Southern Redneck; unashamed and vocal about it. The son of Luke the Drifter used to sing about every aspect of proud but ignorant Southern heritage, from wild parties to trash talking fat society women to reasoning that the ability to “skin a buck and run a trot line” makes one far superior to some poor bastard with a Harvard education.
America is struggling politically and no one in Washington seems willing to make a course correction. Anyone who thinks electing representatives of either party will solve this mess is delusional. For the last decade or so, politicians have worshipped at the altar of Big Money like never before, and have used the media and our inattention and apathy to create a mess. No existing or future politician is going to change anything unless the system changes.
I was searching for something to fill the commercial spots during Sweat Equity and wasting the remaining fifteen minutes before leaving for a meeting. The channel guide settled on Vision Quest. There were twelve minutes left. If you have seen the movie, you know what choice I made.
There were lots of obnoxious things slipping through common sense filters in the Eighties. Hair was big. So were characters, real and imagined. Our country elevated self-congratulation to an astronomical level during that decade, rebounding from the doldrums that were the Seventies.
I thought leisure suits and women’s shoulder pads, backward baseball caps, reality television, and the downward spiral of working politicians was idiocy at its worst. Obviously I was wrong. This past weekend was the culmination of several years of stupidity that keeps proliferating and deteriorating. The trend has little hope of reversing itself.
What I’m referring to is the need of television stations to place some outmanned soul in the midst of the elements to report an impending storm. Why? Seeing a drenched dimwit in a fluttering yellow rain suit trying to scream lucid comments over the howling wind doesn’t improve my understanding of a storm’s severity, or increase my TV viewing experience. Maybe Stephanie Abrams in a wet bathing suit, but not Al Roker in a flapping slicker.
For a redneck boy born at home, I’ve seen a lot. Sang at the Junior Talent Show, caught the last out, been carried off the field by a victorious football team, and flown solo. I’ve watched auto racing on Friday night at Freeman’s Short track, Saturday afternoon at Holiday Beach drag strip, and Sunday at Talladega. I have been a spectator for minor league baseball, low rent rodeo, ice hockey in three different southern states, and boxing.
My list of happenings includes the New Orleans Jazzfest, West Alabama State Fair, the Okra Strut, a spelling bee, quilting bee, hog killing, and a chicken fight. A few Saturday nights ago I checked off another momentous accomplishment; roller derby. I can now die happy; be promoted to glory with nary a whimper.
Neither one is available to explain so I will never know what possessed my parents to send me to summer camp in August of 1960. Our family lived in River Bend, Alabama, during that time, at my dad’s old home place. Situated in an old farm house built in the approximate center of eighty acres, we were in little boy paradise.
Any land that wasn’t cultivated was natural. There were creatures galore residing in thick hardwood habitats bordered by a couple of crystal clear creeks and the Cahaba River. Our world offered so many varied and interesting places and things we could have spent decades there and never stirred up the same trouble twice.
In 1961, in Tuscaloosa, there were only two places to cool off during the hot summer weather that covered the Confederacy like a wool blanket between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The first was the public swimming pool. Down a winding Queen City Avenue to the bottom of the hill near the Black Warrior River, was little boy Heaven.
The facility had clear, sparkling water, high diving boards, and that most mysterious creature; giggling, developing girls …
The other place in town to cool off was Brown’s Department Store. Situated about five blocks from our home and up a slightly inclining University Boulevard, Brown’s offered something no other store had; air conditioning.
She was what my uncle would have called a big ol’ corn fed gal. Large boned and awkward, with a round, full face, she endured junior and senior high in the third largest school population in Alabama and as far as I know didn’t have a single friend. I know I never witnessed her interacting with a soul.
In a place where class distinction is important and everyone’s worth is measured by a few simple things, she was invisible to almost all of us. This girl didn’t possess family wealth, great looks, comedic genius, or athletic prowess; the qualities that determined seating order at lunch, who escaped ridicule, and who paired off at proms. She didn’t even fit into the misfit groups who lived on the periphery of campus life.
Ricky was scrutinizing a five hundred dollar tiller in Home Depot. I stopped to talk. Walking around stores that sell manly stuff and starting conversations is great fun for me. My sons will confirm I have done this for a long time. These days I get paid for the privilege.
Politicians and opinionators warn us about people like Ricky; he is one of the groups messing up America. There have been many since we gained our independence and started letting lawyers run things. The British and the Native Americans were the first ones. Irishmen, Jews, Catholics, Japanese, Commies, Hippies, Vietnamese, and Muslims followed at convenient intervals.
Robert Earl Keen is a Texas songwriter who has toiled in relative obscurity, struggling for success in this American Idol world we live in. He writes wonderful songs about people and events he’s encountered over the decades and occasionally sells something to someone more famous. Keen is also capable of writing tunes with a humorous take on life its ownself. Check out Christmas with the Family for an excellent example.
Last year’s Rose Hotel CD had a number pondering whether Jesus is electronically connected. “Is there wireless in Heaven or do I go to Hell?” he asks to no one in particular from a Starbucks serving line. A bit of benign fun for scamps everywhere and something to ponder for the more serious among us.
Franklin Graham, son of Billy, is one of the more serious among us who ponders such issues without putting his tongue in cheek.
Dionne Warwick, the legendary singer and classy lady, was on the future president’s TV show last week. Wouldn’t Donald Trump be great as our Chief Executive? The current disparity between the very rich and the poor mirrors that of most third world countries. All we need is an insane, power crazy dictator. The Donald would be perfect.
Based on the previews from The Apprentice, Ms. Warwick has become a spoiled diva. I find that hard to believe; Ms. Warwick has always projected and aura of stately elegance, refined beyond belief. Even when her niece Whitney Houston made some poor choices, Dionne seemed to rise above the trashiness. I am more amazed that she would submit to such degradation as trying to be rational with Gary Busey. Maybe Meat Loaf talked her into it.
One of the few advantageous things about aging is being able to make a stand concerning life as you perceive it without catching grief. Older humans are too fragile to pop upside the head over a controversial opinion, and are considered to be cantankerous and irrational anyway. It is also much easier to proclaim, disavow, and boycott when no one you know will recall what you originally said. Being old has few benefits so we must take advantage of every one.
I got perturbed with Exxon three decades ago and have steadfastly refused to patronize them since. While this hasn’t crippled the oil giant, ignoring them still gives me a little tingle. At this point in life, tingles are still important and I’ll take ‘em when I can get ‘em.
Last week, I visited Barnes and Noble to find some Barry Hannah for a friend. To my surprise, I found no Barry Hannah on the shelves of America’s premier bookstore. Not Airships, not Long, Last, Happy, not nothing.
Last Monday, the day all true romantics look forward to each year finally dawned. New beginnings, fresh hopes, and celestial expectations were as vivid as life itself. No other new day is so filled with dreamy memories and positive vibes.
Pitchers and catchers report. This day starts the long awaited baseball season for those of us who will never lose our love for the sport. America has passed the National Pastime by as we have increased our need for screaming violence and reduced our attention spans. Baseball is quaint and slow; boring and tedious, no longer relevant.
Maybe for you, but for people who remember the feeling when our dad first trusted our young hands and eyes to handle the heater, and still get chills when we smell a brand new Rawlings, there is nothing else even close. Like comparing Sophia Loren to Lady Gaga.
I don’t enjoy halftime shows anyway. Never have. Not marching bands and high stepping majorettes; not fireworks displays and Up with People; not parachuting mascots and washed up rock and roll legends. I would prefer to watch someone throw a Frisbee to his dog while people leisurely stroll from one side to the other, just to see who is over there.
I especially dislike overblown, massively choreographed, vulgar halftime extravaganzas, designed by someone who likely never held a brand new football on Christmas morning, inhaling the scent of fresh leather, waiting for the sun to rise so you could pass to your dad.
The product we have today, whether the Orange Bowl Celebration of Excess, or the latest Roman Numeral NFL Championship, seems to be a result of either anti-football forces trying to wrest attention from the game itself or a Dan Jenkins parody.
A New York City crowd watches as a woman hangs on for dear life, dangling from a crashed helicopter on the roof of a skyscraper. Mild mannered reporter Clark Kent searches frantically and unsuccessfully for a phone booth to change his clothes. He eventually morphs into Superman while spinning in a revolving door.
When Superman was introduced to the world via comic books, pay telephones were so widespread the author depicted Clark Kent becoming the Man of Steel in a phone booth. By the time the movie version was released in 1983, those little fortresses of privacy were disappearing. The telephones inside soon followed, hastened to their demise by cellular service.
Probably half of all Americans have never used a pay phone; many have no idea what one is. If you’ve actually made a call by depositing quarters into a coin operated apparatus, you are getting old. If you remember when they required a dime, adults address you as “Sir”. If you can recall paying a nickel for a conversation, you probably shouldn’t plan too far into the future. Don’t even buy green bananas.
The snow began falling on Sunday evening. Four to six inches of white stuff below the Mason-Dixon Line can be a nightmare. On one hand everything is okay; we made it to Food Lion before the panicked hordes arrived to clean all the bread and milk from the shelves. On the other, there is a feeling that we are being restrained. Our choices are somewhat limited, which makes us feel trapped. Even the dogs are unsettled.
I haven’t slept very well the last three nights. I’ve been dozing with one eye open waiting for that click and then the deep silence that signals the end of electricity until the linemen make it to our spot on the waiting list. Being without electricity is considered a major catastrophe in America. No TV, no microwave, and no drip coffee that comes on automatically three minutes before you wake up.
I was relaxing for a quiet evening in the Man Room. Reclining in the Lazy Boy, enjoying the feel of the soft leather of the chair against the satin of my smoking jacket, I was remotely perusing the Direct TV offerings for the night.
Maybe I would watch Band of Brothers, or The Pacific, both of which make me cry. One of the great things about a private man room is not having to worry about being discovered sniffling over a TV program. The Science Channel was replaying a feature on asteroids; how dangerous they might be and how good old American know how and explosions might save the day. I think Spartacus was even listed. Not that lame soap opera with nekkid girls; the real, manly one with Kirk Douglas and Woody Strode.
Suddenly I began to sweat and struggle for breath. A lump the size of Charles Bronson’s fist materialized in my dry throat. Through blurred vision I was able to make out the cause of my consternation right on my Hi Def screen. O W N. Right there on my television in my own, private Man Room, were the words that strike fear in every real man on Earth. Oprah. Winfrey…
The signs were small at first. I didn’t really realize what was going on. I started enunciating the ending R on words like summer and dinner. I would ask people from deep in the Confederacy to repeat phrases to me. Hollywood southern accents began to sound authentic.
Even when the problem became obvious, I denied it. There was no way this could happen to someone like me. I was a smart man aware of his surroundings. It just wasn’t possible.
I wonder if this was how it all ended on Easter Island. Some of the people raising the alarm while the leaders denied the obvious, exhorted the faithful, and frightened the fearful until complaining voices fell silent.
Maybe after the island was stripped bare those in charge refused to accept responsibility; blamed political opponents for the disaster, or just wrote the whole thing off to an angry god. Divided citizens formed warring groups and commenced fighting among themselves about who caused the problem.
Last week, I read where some national economist said the American employment rate hasn’t been adversely affected by illegal aliens. Earlier reports tell us that Phoenix and El Paso, two of the cities on the Mexican border where politicians are screaming about crime, are among the five safest places in the country.
I swear, the Liberal elitists have no shame when trying to force their beliefs on the rest of us. If illegal aliens weren’t a real problem, our fine legislative hopefuls wouldn’t be talking about them so much and neither would Sean Hannity. He’s a newsman for God’s sakes, he wouldn’t say anything that isn’t true.
What if we all woke up tomorrow and decided we would no longer drive a vehicle that gets less than 30 miles per gallon. Every one of us. There are about 250,000,000 vehicles in this country classified as cars or light trucks. The average MPG is 20 when the auto and truck numbers are combined. American drivers average about 15,000 miles each year. These numbers might be a couple of years old, but we are just pretending anyway.
That would amount to a one third increase in fuel efficiency overnight.
The scene looked liked something out of Monday Night Raw. In one corner the outraged and enraged members of Congress. Opposite them were the angel faced executives denying any wrongdoing. It was so orchestrated and fake; something I had seen hundreds of times before. I didn’t know why it pissed me off so. Then it dawned on me.
I was raised in the “starving kids in China” era. We were required to eat what was on our plates no matter how vile. For the most part it wasn’t too bad. My mother would