Raymond L. Atkins
Number of posts: 34
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By Raymond L. Atkins:
One of my daughters recently got married, and all I can say is, weddings are bigger deals than they used to be. Or at least, they are bigger deals for me. They are expensive and complicated, and they weren’t either back in the good old days when my wife and I had ours. That ceremony cost $168.42 including my necktie and the honeymoon, which consisted of a tank of gas, one night in a motel in Chattanooga, and a pancake breakfast the next morning …
They say that you can’t put a price on love, but I have it on good authority that the average wedding nowadays costs $25,000.
During a recent book signing trip, my wife and I had the opportunity to visit the homes of two famous Southerners, Elvis Presley and William Faulkner. Elvis, of course, was the king of rock and roll, and as almost everyone knows, his Memphis home is called Graceland. William Faulkner was the king of Southern fiction, and his residence—located just south of Memphis in Oxford, Mississippi—has the pastoral name of Rowan Oak.
So, here we have two Southern boys who made it good. Among other things, they both gave their houses names, they both left this world before their time, and they both recorded You Ain’t Nothin’ but a Hound Dog. Ok, Faulkner didn’t record Hound Dog, but I have it on good authority that he hummed it a lot, and I think he went to school with one of the Jordanaires.
I am sitting here looking at my six-month-old vacuum cleaner, and I am conflicted. On the one hand, I’m happy. I should be vacuuming the floors right now, but I can’t because the vacuum has died, and that’s fine by me. I hate to vacuum the floors anyway, and I would much rather write about not vacuuming them. It just seems more dignified, somehow.
But on the other hand, I am unhappy, as well, because another fairly expensive vacuum cleaner has just become a member of the world famous Atkins six-month-old-dead-vacuum-club. At the risk of sounding platitudinal and trite, which I’m sure we all agree is near impossible for a writer of my proficiency, they just don’t make them like they used to.
I have always loved riding in a car. Well, ever since I became an adult, anyway. And the longer the trip, the better I like it. I adjust the seat for plenty of legroom, set the cruise control, pop the audio book into the CD player, fine-tune the climate control, and let the miles roll by.
Most times, I enjoy the trip more than the destination, especially if the destination is any theme park anywhere, Houston, or places where the tea isn’t already sweet when they bring it to the table. Of course, traveling wasn’t always this idyllic. Back in the day, as they say, it was a totally different experience.
My first clear recollection of a road trip features me, my older sister, and my younger brother
Just the other day at a stop light, I came to a halt next to a mini-van with four kids in it. One of them was on a cell phone, another was playing a video game, the third was listening to an IPod, and the final child was watching her own personal DVD player.
There was so much electronic activity going on over there, it was like I had pulled up next to NASA’s mobile command center. I kept waiting for a flatbed truck loaded with a big missile to arrive.
I’ve had twelve dogs in my lifetime, but I’ve never had a dog like Hotep (pronounced hoe-tep). She’s a Black and Tan coon hound, or at least, that’s mostly what she is. I got her for Father’s Day last year from one of my grown daughters. Yes, the daughter was grown enough to know better. And no, I don’t hunt.
If you’re curious, what I had asked for was a new wallet. And if requesting a new billfold and receiving a stray hound dog instead doesn’t make any sense to you, then there’s nothing wrong with you. You’re just obviously not a parent. Congratulations. You are wise beyond your years.
My little patch of front yard is a constant source of pain. For twenty years I have done battle with it, and for twenty years, it has won. That piece of ground refuses to grow anything. I have planted grass, sod, monkey grass, monkey sod, azaleas, camellias, forsythias, boxwoods, and a large variety of annuals and perennials. I have tried watering, fertilizing, aerating, mulching, composting, pollinating, and rotating, and it still looks like the Gobi desert out there. All I need is a camel and a couple of nomads in furry hats pitching a tent.
I have sought many solutions over the years. Thinking that maybe my problem was a radiation issue, I called the Air Force …
There is an old maxim about being sure to pay attention to the fine print, which is just another way of saying that you should be aware of what you are getting into before you inadvertently step off into a minefield. A lot of people don’t realize it, but there doesn’t even have to be an actual document involved for there to be fine print.
Assumptions can also have it, invisible fine print, so to speak, and if you are not aware, you will be held accountable for words that don’t even exist in tangible form. Take spring cleaning as an example …
I have a confession to make, and I won’t be able to sleep until I get it off of my chest. So here it is. I went to the ballet the other night. There, I feel better already. A weight has been lifted. It’s good to get these things out into the open. Otherwise, they’ll just eat away at you.
A lesser man might try to convince you that the whole thing had been a mistake, that he thought he was going to the tractor pull, or maybe to Wrestlemania. But I’ll be honest. I meant to go.
My computer was being a little balky the other night, so I slipped off my right shoe and gave it a quick tune up in the form of a couple of good whacks. It took the hint and began to work properly, but the incident got me to thinking about the sad fact that we are at the mercy of computers, and thus we are subject to forces beyond our control and understanding.
What is the deal with some of the sports they have in the Olympics? Whether you watch the Winter Games or the Summer Games, there are some seriously unusual competitions, and you really have to wonder where some of these sports came from.
My understanding about the history of sporting events is that they have evolved over time from similar, real-life activities that figured prominently in mankind’s past. Thus javelin-throwing is a holdover from the days
I was in the video rental store the other day when I noticed a section devoted to something called Blu-Ray. There was a movie on that shelf I wanted to view, so I picked up a copy and took it to the counter, where I asked if the Blu-Ray disc would play in my machine. I was told that it would not, and when I asked why, it was explained to me that a regular DVD player uses a red laser, while a Blu-Ray uses a blue laser. Well, there you go. It all makes perfect sense, now that I know about the blue laser.
Sometime after the arrival of your fifth decade, there will come a morning when you wake up and realize that you can now remember the good old days. Well, let me qualify that. Often you will be able to recall the good old days, while at other times you will have to look at your driver’s license if someone asks you for your name. I can still recall the fateful moment when I first waxed nostalgic for times gone by, and it was a bittersweet experience.
I was at the park the other day when I encountered a young couple who were having a terrible time making their youngsters mind. The children were happy and boisterous, and it was obvious that they were overcome with the absolute joy of life. The parents, on the other hand, looked like two blind chickens lost on an alligator farm. It struck a chord with me, and my heart went out to them. My wife and I raised four children, and I can tell you for a fact that we were definitely behind the learning curve on the first two. No one had ever told us what to expect. At least, no one had ever told us the truth, and we were sort of getting the feeling that what was happening before our very eyes was somehow our fault. But by the time the third one arrived, we had figured out that children are just different from adults, and if we wanted to understand them, then we had to learn what made them tick. So, to spare all of you fledgling parents out there the anguish we suffered, here are a few facts about minors that you really need to know.
While on a trip north of the Mason-Dixon, my wife and I decided to toss caution to the wind and drive through New Brunswick to Nova Scotia. I don’t know what we were thinking. It wasn’t the first time we had been to Canada, but it was the first time that we had attempted to drive there, and believe me when I tell you that they don’t call it a foreign country for nothing. The way they drive is downright un-American.
Our troubles began just as soon as we entered New Brunswick. Immediately after we crossed the border, we began to encounter aggressive Canadian drivers who time and again attempted to run us off of the road.
I was sitting in the den the other day with my hand curled protectively around the remote control, eating popcorn, minding my own business, and watching a movie. Then my wife walked in and started hounding me for no reason at all.
“Are you watching that thing again?” she asked. That thing, as she called it, was Big Jake, the classic American portrait about the majesty of the old west and the bonds of love that exist between generations. It starred John Wayne, Richard Boone, and Maureen O’Hara. Richard Boone had just told John Wayne that he had heard that he was dead, and John had just replied, “Not hardly.”
Since early on New Year’s Day, I have been inundated with phone calls and emails asking why I did not write a New Year’s Resolution column. Okay, inundated may be a bit of an overstatement, although I did get a call from a neighbor requesting that I keep my cat off of his porch, and I did receive an email from a trusted associate offering me a free credit report and a set of steak knives. The fact is, I have always waited until January 2nd or even January 3rd before declaring my resolutions. There are a couple of reasons…
It’s that time of year once again, and ever since I started seeing the first of the annual Christmas decorations appearing around town—just after Labor Day—I have had that queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. Some of you parents out there probably know the one I am talking about. It is that tickle you get right before something bad happens. The technical term for my particular twinge is BPPS—Bad Parental Present Syndrome—and at my house it is most prevalent each year during the month of December. Whoever said “it is better to give than receive” either was a parent or was looking through my living-room window one Christmas morning. Don’t get me wrong. I love my children and always have, but I love them in spite of their presents, not because of them. And no matter how hard I try, I just can’t seem to get the message […]
My daughter’s upcoming wedding occupies a high place on the list of things I hate about getting old. Not up there with having a colonoscopy or finding myself outside in my bathrobe telling lies about my gas mileage to the guy next door, you understand, but still pretty high up. This has nothing to do with my feelings concerning my future son-in-law or with the fact that my nice grey suit seems to have shrunk another size since I last had it on. They just don’t make serge like they used to. Nor is it due to my wife’s occasional tearful exhortation that “our little girl is growing up.” Our little girl is twenty-five, is finishing her Master’s degree, and has been gone from the nest for seven years. We have had some previous warning that time is marching on. No, my issue is much more mundane. If you are […]
A friend and I were walking towards an Atlanta mall recently. The parking lot was full, and we had been forced to leave the car so far from the stores that it had taken several hours to cross the asphalt. There had actually been five in our group to begin with, but the weak and infirm had fallen by the wayside. As we finally neared the main entrance, we stopped to rest briefly beside a shiny vehicle that was sitting at a diagonal while occupying three—count them, three—parking spaces. Assumably, the owner was attempting to protect the paint job, because no one could park that poorly by accident. Not even someone in Atlanta. My friend shook his head and looked at me. “You know,” he said earnestly, “it is at times like this that I am just as happy that my wife wouldn’t let me buy that Jaws of Life […]
I am going to get this out of the way right up front and tell you that I am not a cat person. But that does not make me a bad guy, and I encourage those of you who are cat people to continue being so with my full blessing. I couldn’t be happier for you, or for your feline friends. My own mother loved cats, and that may be where I got off to my bad start with them. I spent my formative years shooing cats from my bed, removing freshly-born kittens from my closet, and vacuuming cat hair from my clothing. And I swore that when I grew to manhood, I would never, ever own a cat. What was I thinking? When my youngest daughter was four years old, she discovered a female calico kitten in our front yard, a scraggly little tortoiseshell cat that was all legs […]
They say that the man is always the last to know, and I have to admit that I was certainly caught by surprise. My wife and I had just sat down to supper when she sighed, placed her spoon back beside her bowl, and looked at me meaningfully. Then she sighed again and averted her eyes. Uh, oh. Whatever was coming, I knew it was going to be bad.
“Do you suppose…” she said, searching for the right phrase. The suspense was killing me. I leaned forward so the words would arrive sooner. “Do you think we could have something to eat one of these nights that hasn’t been cooked in the crock pot or heated in the microwave?”
“What do you mean?” I asked. “Is there something wrong with your beef stew?” My own portion had just come from the microwave, and I thought it was mighty tasty.
They say that some mistakes can follow you for the rest of your life, and I guess it must be true. I had a great-great uncle once who stole a horse, and not much of a horse at that. But for the rest of his life—about a week-and-a-half before they hung him—he had to endure the ignominy of being called a horse-thief. My neighbor once thought he would look really sharp getting married in a powder blue tuxedo. And to this day, there he is in that photo on the wall of his living room, sporting those wide lapels, cuffed bell bottoms, and ruffled shirt. A guy I knew in college once bought a Yugo. No, I swear it is true. Even now it sits under a tarp at the far end of his driveway, bearing quiet witness to the level of excellence once attained by the Eastern European automotive industry. And twenty years ago, when I was still a young man with a twinkle in my eye and a spring in my step, I made the error of buying a ninety-year-old house that just needed a little work. Now it is one-hundred-ten years old—which is the same age I look these days—and it still needs just a little work. It does not appear that I am gaining any ground, and I am beginning to envy my great-great uncle, who at least got to go horseback riding before being put out of his misery.
If you are a parent, sooner or later you will be called upon to do your duty. No, I am not talking about taking the kids to the dentist, teaching them to swim, or making sure that their mama has told them the facts of life. I am talking about school projects. Over the years, I have stepped up time after time and taken my parental responsibilities seriously. I have helped produce pint-sized wooden prison camps. I have assisted in the assembly of a miniature Globe Theater that would have made William Shakespeare proud. I have gazed with pride upon a village full of spindly but lethal Vikings made of pipe cleaners. And I have assisted in the construction of many igloos. They are my specialty, little domed replicas constructed of sugar cubes, marshmallows, or Styrofoam popcorn. But none of this vast experience even began to prepare me for the horrors of Egyptian chicken.
One of the first things you notice when you walk into my kitchen is a note pad hanging on the wall next to the sink. The following words are written on it: rice, spaghetti, grits, celery, chili, popcorn, potatoes, slaw, and socks. If I asked you to identify these items, chances are you would say they were entries on the grocery list. And that would be a good guess in most homes, socks notwithstanding. In my house, however, it is the ever-expanding catalog of substances that will not go down the garbage disposal without stopping up the drain. Every one of the foodstuffs was a lesson learned the hard way, and I am so gun shy with the disposal now that about all I will run through it is water, and not much of that. As for the socks, I don’t even want to talk about them.
I live in the Kingdom of Imperfect Machines. My house is where healthy contraptions go to get sick and where ailing mechanical devices linger indefinitely at a point just shy of breaking down completely. If you think I am kidding, consider the following examples. I have three toilets, which means I have three handles to jiggle. There are also three showers and four sinks in the house, and if I ever get all of those leaks stopped, Atlanta’s occasional water woes will be gone for good.
They say that a man’s (BLANK) is always the first thing to go. You may now take a moment to fill in your own word, depending on what you used to have that is now gone, working poorly, or otherwise not as good as new. If you are a male of the species and over the age of thirty or so, I guarantee that you have been on the receiving end of this comment. The only way you may have escaped hearing it is if it was your eardrums that were the first to go. Then you didn’t hear it, obviously, but it was still said. The long list of things that I have overheard as first-to-goers includes eyesight, teeth, hair (a perennial favorite), complexion, sense of humor, gall bladder, snow tires, waistline (another recurrent choice), golf swing, knees, bowling arm, feet, wife, cholesterol, blood pressure, money, and a few […]
My birthday will roll around again a couple of weeks like it has for at least thirty-nine other years, and I’m kind of depressed. Don’t get me wrong. It is better to have one than to not have one, but even so, it sometimes seems like there is no upside to the day. Ice cream is bad for my good cholesterol and good for my bad cholesterol, the smoke detector in the kitchen keeps going off because there are so many candles on the cake, and I have to listen to people tell me that I don’t look my age. That is true, by the way. I don’t look my age. I look much older. Four children will do that to you, but that is a story for another time. I will say this for birthdays, however, they are good days to pause and reflect on what you have learned […]
It is August, and the dog days of summer are upon us. I don’t mind temperatures above 90, though, or the fact that I recently had to mercy-kill my azaleas. And it doesn’t bother me that Georgia Power has now named a generating plant after my family in honor of our power usage. It didn’t even upset me when the air conditioner in our home quit working on a Saturday when the temperature was 95 degrees. Given the luck I have with household appliances, I was kind of expecting it. But all of these occurrences are just part of summertime in Georgia, and nothing to get excited about. To be honest, the only part of the dog days that gets under my skin is dropping the kids off at college, and it gets under there in a big way. My first experience with college drop-off was at Valdosta State in […]
When you watch the commercials on television advertising swimming pools, you see happy families whiling away their leisure time, surrounded by friends and loved ones. The kids are carefree as they splash and caper, Mom is tanned and relaxed as she lounges in her lawn chair with her magazine and a glass of iced tea, and Dad—the founder of the feast—is beaming as he watches from behind the barbecue grill. I can hear you pool owners out there rolling your eyes right now. You know that this happy scene is just the tip of the iceberg, that 90% of the pool ownership experience is lurking below the surface. For those of you who are beginning to succumb to this propaganda, allow me to give you the rest of the story. My wife and I never even wanted a swimming pool, which just goes to show what can happen when you […]
My wife and I sat down the other night to watch The Birds. We had the choice of sandblasting and painting the kitchen, shaving a possum, or watching the movie, and, unfortunately, we were out of paint and razor blades. The Birds is Alfred Hitchcock’s classic movie about our little feathered friends and their attempt to destroy all of the residents of a picturesque small California town with the disarming name of Bodega Bay. For you language scholars out there, the term Bodega Bay is from the archaic form of Spanish once used by the monks who originally helped settle California, and it literally means “bad acting by the sea.” If you’ve never seen this movie, you have my congratulations. But if you are thinking of renting a copy, the storyline goes something like this. A rich girl—played by Tippi Hedrin—meets a rich boy—played by Rod Taylor—in a pet shop […]
I was flipping channels the other night when I ran up on an opera. I watched it for a moment, until my back began to itch and my breathing became labored. These symptoms were my clues that an allergic reaction had commenced and that it was time to move on. I had tried, but once again, culture had eluded me. I guess I don’t understand opera, which is a shortcoming on my part and no reflection on you if you do. Enjoy operas with my blessing if they are your cup of tea. But for me, an opera falls into the category of one of those things that is supposed to be good for you no matter how much it hurts, like getting shots, exercising, or eating brussels sprouts. It is sort of like when great-great-great Grandma Atkins lined up all of the kids twice per year to take their […]
I have been thinking about nicknames and how we get them, and it is difficult to pin down exactly why some people end up with their particular monikers. Sometimes, the renaming is the direct result of a physical characteristic. As an example, I know a guy called Slim, and that handle describes him perfectly. How lean is he, you ask? He carries rocks in his pockets so he won’t blow away when the breeze is up. He has to move around in the shower to get wet. You get the point, and since those are the only two “slim” jokes I know, I’ll move on to another illustration. I once knew a man that everyone called Zombie. I never actually saw his birth certificate, but I am pretty certain that this was a nickname, because his parents weren’t the kind of people who would name someone Zombie. Anyway, he did […]
Southern families are bound by traditions and rituals. We all tend to do things when and how we have done them before. And the same is true with my own kin. Thus Thanksgiving dinner is commonly served at 2:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, and the main course is turkey. The Christmas tree goes up on the first Saturday in December, and it comes down during the first week of the New Year. The Halloween candy must be a combination of Milk Duds and Milky Ways—which is sort of my tradition, in case there are some left the next morning—and the bill of fare on the Fourth of July will invariably be barbecued ribs. And every year, sometime early in March but no later than the 15th, we trim the liriope.
I am using the imperial “we” here, of course.
If you are unfamiliar with liriope, then you must not be from around these parts.
I am not so sure that I understand modern advertising. Back in the old days, it seemed that ads were more persuasive and less obnoxious, as if their purpose was to actually make you want to purchase the product they promoted. How many of you remember the old Hertz advertisement that featured the guy floating down through the air — already sitting in the driving position — and landing softly in his Bel Aire convertible? Or the DoubleMint twins, that wholesome pair of gum-chewing beauties? Or even Mrs. Olsen, that icon of coffeedom, common sense, and the American way, even though she was Swedish? Those pitches were so effective that I spent the first half of my life wanting to sip Folgers coffee and chew DoubleMint gum while driving a Hertz convertible. These days, however, the only way I can explain Madison Avenue’s approach is to surmise that they are […]