Kenny Smith | blog

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Saturday, slept in. Worked on my paper for Applied. I was at a loss on how to make this work. It is a short paper and also a presentation the same day, with the problem being that it is something sort of in the abstract. So that was Saturday.

Had to work today. So up early and in. Dealt with sports, lots of sports. About that time of year again for football. Exciting stuff. Also news, but not much on the weekend. Plus we have a great and hard-working intern who is willing to do a lot of work.

After that, home to more paper stuff. Reading on Clinton it sort of came to me, how to make this paper work, and almost like my original but unrealistic idea. Shopping, lasagna, a movie.
The Day Reagan Was Shot: Historically inaccurate, wildly over-dramatic. Dreyfuss is always great. Entertaining third viewing.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Thursday nothing too eventful happened. Work, nice and peaceful. Home, nice and peaceful. Sleep, nice and peaceful.

Fridays are also nicely peaceful, but they involve dessert. Before I get to that I must brag on myself: Friday marks only the second time I've been out to eat all week. This is pretty sad, my biggest vice, my largest use of disposable income, is going to restaurants.

Easier than cooking for one. You can watch people. Someone else cooks. And cleans. And charges me more. But, lately, I'm trying to reign that in a bit. The biggest loser, though, is that I don't read as much. That's the big attraction, to me, for eating at a restaurant. When I dine alone, I'll read. Otherwise, it just looks sad.
My brother never has understood this, but he doesn't read nor does he understand that it's fun-damental. But I digress.

So the tale of the long-awaited for dessert. Go out for the traditional Friday evening meal (which will not be canceled, because it is tradition), get the meal, get cracked on by the waiter. And then he brings the check. Didn't ask if I wanted dessert. So I decided We'll just wait him out.

Now, after a good 20 minutes, when he continually walks by, doesn't stop, but does stare, it is obvious he isn't taking the hint. However, a server at an adjoining table asks her customers if they want anything else. Jokingly, I say, I do, at least. She turns around and, I notice, it is a lady that has waited on me several times before.

(And here I feel like my grandparents who are on a first name basis with everyone that's ever worked at their favorite restaurants. And their extended families.)

So this serve, Suzy is her name, takes my dessert order. And then chastises her young co-worker. He brings the dish, a refill and the new ticket. Never apologizes. So neither did I for a very slender tip.

On the way there a man blocked a major intersection directly under the "DO NOT BLOCK intersection" sign. I honked at him, long and loud, until he returned fire with a gesture. It is hollow, his wife and grandchildren are in the car, he can only express his dismay with an open hand, instead of telling me I'm Number One. Just don't want your grandchildren to get hurt, sir. And, also, read the signs.

These things were more funny than anything. Must be a Friday.

Got lots of movies for the week. Made it partway through one. In a dozen words:
Wonder Boys -- About a professor/writer, so naturally it's eccentric. Life-gone-mad stuff.
Havcen't reached the conclusion, but it is promising.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

SEC Media Days. Three days of press conferences with coaches and players speaking tired cliches so maddeningly mind-numbing that each year they assume human form and, with the raspy voice of a brick drug over a cheese grater (More brick with your pasta, sir?) demand you spell it "Media Daze."

It isn't that bad. At all. For the truly dedicated media (read: the ones from out of town with little else to do) there's golf. There are free media guides; fans have to pay for those. Goodie bags, though conspicuously sparse this year (apparently they were overwhelmed by the amount of media). Lunch and, at SEC events, all the Dr. Pepper you can drink.

Now, since it was all free, and I wasn't hungry but thirsty, I must've drank me fifteen Dr. Peppers.

The best part of Media Days is the press gaggle itself. Here we all stand in rooms with over-done carpet (as in, over-done when it was installed in the 80s) and uniformly biege murals on the walls under opulent black and brass chandeliers.

We're all idly hoping a coach will offer a slightly different spin on a cliche. Or that time will pass quickly until its time to hit the links. Rephrasing questions, because they'd never wise up to that trick, to get something beyond the standard preseason optimism.

The coaches are tasked with saying the same nothing in a dozen or more different ways. Three TV rooms, a print room, a Stand Up site, various radio interviews, by the end of the day even the best are bored with it. Players are more interesting. Less skilled in the nuance, sometimes you can read between the lines when they deliver their press conference cliches.

But the media -- bobbing and weaving around the competition, toting cameras and hoping to scoop one another in a staged event -- will always tell you the story. Today it was Phil Fulmer, back after a year of self-imposed exile. He actually came off as his most likable self, but the TV guys followed him from room to room in the desperate fear they'd miss something.

He discussed the legal reasons for skipping 2004, the new and serious problems in his program, which he rightly suggests are more cultural than Volunteer. He had no ready-made solutions, but he's a football coach -- a moulder of young men's minds -- not a sociologist.

There was Steve Spurrier. New, but old, but new again to the SEC. He's apparently de-toothified himself. Having a more humble team than the powerhouses of old will do that to even the most rapier wit. He's facing sanction and now disfavor among his in-state high school coaches. Both hurdles equally daunting for a coach who all but told reporters his current team isn't really his, not that good, and don't expect much this season. Spurrier left big lines to read between.

The media though, they chased Fulmer and Spurrier around. No one would say it, but they were all hoping they'd cross paths and exchange more than nods. Or that at least a few irate Bama fans would show up to greet the Tennessee coach. Instead the numbing of minds continued. Until the Dr. Pepper kicked in.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

I made breakfast for supper. With turkey bacon. It cooks differently, but tastes the same or better. Sorry, that's all I've got. Slow day, followed by a lazy summer nap.

Though I did find myself talking about this story with my grandmother. At work, sure. With friends, maybe, but this should never come up with family.
"He was standing in a cornfield, picking the corn and eating it raw," Nale said. "He didn't have anything on, not even his shoes. He was as naked as the day he was born."

The 26-year-old man from Michigan was taken into custody without trouble, authorities said. He was charged with indecent exposure.

"I asked him where his clothes were and he said he got hot (Sunday night), took them off and laid them on the railroad tracks and then couldn't remember where they were," the chief said.
Hopefully his food is better today.

Monday, July 25, 2005

My car will break 199,000 miles tomorrow. It commemorated that historic moment by not starting this morning. With that minor difficulty removed -- and plans to see the car doctor this week -- I headed in to work with a bluntly orange sun. It was unclear which of us was wiping our eyes the most. It was unclear, period. The sky was a blue gauze only torn at the horizon by a white haze.

Sweeping through the downtown interchange the bright lights from Legion Field improbably appeared in the rearview mirror. Chased from one light to another this morning across a non-committal sky. Legion Field followed me for just a few seconds and, maybe for the first time ever, I was sad to see the Old Gray Lady go when I turned back east.

Quiet day at work. The highlight may have been making three veiled references to The Gambler. Simple pleasures. Class was long tonight. I learned two things. My peers in the program will enjoy me passing them along.

Helped a young nurse at the grocery store. Her car wouldn't start. Corrosion on the battery. Several years ago a guy told me to pour a soda on there. The acid in the drink cleans away the junk, the car starts right up. She seemed amazed her Sunkist had so much power. Hoping I'd earned some car kharma for tomorrow, I came home and decided I was too tired for breakfast for dinner.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Weekend. Lounging. Movies.

Movie reviews, in a dozen words:
Empire Strikes Back: Yoda seems different, series is empty without Han. Best of the six.

Best of Show: Willard still a genius, O'Hara gets the laughs, Higgins nailed his role.

Magnolia: Bad. Aimee Mann's soundtrack and the seminar were the film's only redemptions.
There was also an aborted attempt at whitewater rafting, rescheduled for next month because of poor timing on my part. After a very nice lunch and a new-home tour with friends in Gadsden the math stopped working somewhere south of Chattanooga. It was at a gas station in Collinsville where the day seemed like a country song.

Took the long way home, drove by Nocalula Falls. Someone else's pretty pictures there. Didn't take my camera -- I was, after all, supposed to be on the water. Look through those pictures and you'll have seen the whole site, and saved yourself a $6 admission fee.

Drove through Gadsden, the old part, where you can get lost for hours and decades and where I wished for my camera. These are the parts of the state unfelt in the few "big cities." We have a joke, and an appreciation, that there's Birmingham, Huntsville, Mobile ... and then there's Alabama. To varying degrees those cities don't belong with the rest of the state. A drive down roads like U.S. 431 confirms this.

Never fails, no camera, you stumble on tottering history like The Pitman. The front looks like the bunker of a nuclear testing site. Squint really hard and you can see chiseled faces from movies depicting the 1940s, putting goggles and sunglasses to their eyes. The brick wall behind it would be gone, but the facade would be left standing after a test explosion. That's just how they built the building. The primary advertising is what catches the eye. Air conditioned. "What are you seeing today, Bub?" Who cares, it will be cool in there. Especially appropriate in these, the triple digits of our discontent.

Friday, July 22, 2005

I have this joke about the heat (and, no, it has nothing to do with the humidity). People gasp and whither when the sun beats down and the mercury rises much above 80. Ninety-plus is just intolerable. Now, to be sure, this is a very real concern for some people. And, to be honest, I work indoors. The joke, however, is that about 92 degrees people start getting really exasperated.

Almost warm, I say.

People would look harder and with more disbelief, but the sun has robbed them of all their energy (the secret to beating the heat).

Offically, it is warm now: 104 degrees today.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

It rained. And it rained. And I read. Then I went to sleep. And woke up for dinner. And am thinking about sinking back into bed for more sleep. Last night I had less than six hours sleep. That's about right for me. Felt better than the night before when I had "a normal night's sleep." My body is odd like this.

I also worked today. And then left to head home. Didn't go anywhere or see anything out of the ordinary. Those are the days where, apparently, I notice and think the more interesting things. In my own little sterile and insular world of home, bed, work, home the mind doesn't wander as much. The metaphors are less frequent. And the metaphors are why we're all here.

So, as a service to you dear reader, I will try to go out and do more interesting things with the weekend. The least I can do since you spend so much time, money and effort to visit.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

In the back of the grocery store there is a young family shopping for the proper meat cuts. The child, so helpful when it comes to selection, has picked up a package that is so wonderfully great he has put down the oversized ball with which he'd been playing. But, it is not the cut of meat the adults want. He's downtrodden only briefly, throwing the meat back in the cooler and then moving on to his next adventure. Never mind where the meat lands.

He missed the proper section by a row; Close enough, I said.

The Dad laughed as he put the meat back. They must be a happy family. He knows what I also know: Anytime the day ends with steak it has been an unmitigated success.

Fired up the grill for ribeye, and leftover peppers, onions and mushrooms on skewers. Baked potato. My neighbor asked me once if I cook in the dark because my kitchen light is never on. (First, you don't have any windows on that side of your house, are you staring in here?) Lately the cooking is on the back deck, and it is good.

Watched Troy, which was not. It was "Eh." Here's the thing: this is one of the greatest stories ever told (albeit fictional), it shouldn't be "Eh." Checked Movie mistakes, just as I thought: 203. An obscenely large number in the age of digital everything. Not listed: casting Brad Pitt. Give him this, his little jump move with the sword was good the first time, but quickly grew tired.

Can't get enough of Peter O'Toole though. His sense of gravity should be in at least every third movie.

I'm trying this new experiment, experts call it sleeping. The plan was to try this for a couple of weeks and evaluate how I felt on a daily basis. Being tired and worn down each day was getting old. So on Tuesday I went to bed early for almost eight hours of sleep. This morning? Glad you asked, I nearly overslept. My body is in full scale revolt. I'm exhausted. After day one of Operation Slumber I feel worse than I normally do. Very odd.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

If Monday was an off day then Tuesday is my Monday. We'll say on Thursday that we skipped Wednesday, putting the world closer to Friday and then we'll all be happy.

The calculus of my mind staggers even the greatest physicists.

I watched Sideways. Really liked this movie. Except for all the wine, the trekking across California, the groom-to-be sewing his oats and the stealing of money from family this movie was completely my life. OK, and the convertible. Everything else, the bad golf being the first example, was right on. Also the dialogue and interaction between the two male leads was hilariously realistic.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Saturday was work, more yard work and dinner with friends (meaning embarrassing stories and, for once, not my own).

Sunday, my first good day off in a while, was a trip to Whitehouse for the annual singing there. Looked forward to that all year, and I will again until next July. Mother crashed the festivities.

This is the format: maybe a couple hundred people from miles and sometimes states around cram themselves into an austere white building that only recently installed air conditioning. Song leaders from all over are called up one by one and direct a song in the four-part harmony, a capella style. Try Kleinwood for an online sample.

I like to sing all the different parts. My grandmother who also came to the singing, playfully chided me for not being able to keep up with the loudest soprano. Then it became a challenge. I lost. But I have a good chromosomal excuse. Someone said it was scary when I sang the alto parts. I get that a lot.

During the sermon I picked up a bench Bible and customarily thumbed through it from the back. Pages were beginning to slip out, escaping to the floor to preach everlasting life. Catching those tissue-thin pages I found the dedication page. It was donated in memory of a former church member, Mrs. Alma Burleson, 10 years ago. The pages were smooth, the edges worn in, the thin leather cover was curling at the corners. Ten years of sitting on those front pews, with hands strange and familiar finding a spiritual purchase inside. How many good country folk and visitors passing through have flipped through those pages we'll never know.

It had worked so hard, that comfortable old Bible, that all of the New Testament, save Revelation, was loose of the binding. Matthew stuck with the seven angels and their vials. Shuffling the pages into their proper place there were little feels of completeness in my fingertips; juttings meeting complimentary indentations, like two hands that have held each other for a very long time.

After lunch Tony asked me to lead a song with him. This is normally done by fathers or grandfathers with their little boys, something I haven't done in maybe 20 years, though I used to sing with my uncle a lot. Impulsively I snuck up with him at the last moment, "I'll just stand over here and behind you" to watch him sing. Those are always happy memories, watching him sing. I can pick his voice out from the group, and did today. His passion and pitch can carry the room. His voice faltered for the briefest moment and I tried to sing harder, hopefully not embarrassing him.

The hug coming off the risers, holding his shaking hand, easily the best part of the day. You can't go home again; you've never really left.

Then, to prove it, we ended the day with an old family dessert treat. (That Mom got from my great-grandmother). And now I have the recipe too.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Christmastime in Hoover. That's what the traffic said. No accidents, but took almost 90 minutes to go about 15 miles. Made me late for a dinner date with Mom. When Mom's not happy no one's happy. When Mom's not happy she orders nachos with spinach dip.

Stole away to another library. Obviously I should have been stuck in traffic already.

Made the first pass through the movie section and picked up Troy and Sideways off an abandoned cart of DVDs that hadn't been restocked. Troy is supposed to be "Eh" and Sideways great. If that holds true my cinematic kharma will escape a little to the better.

Got a good selection in the Homewood Library. This is everything a library should be: sterile, blandly non-descript, odd art galleries, high ceilings, randomly strewn computers, overly ambitious children's section, study rooms, two giant aquariums -- I've spent a lot of time snoozing while staring at the angelfish -- and books. Who knew? And, I've only just now discovered on their site, a bookstore in the bowels of the basement that no one talks about.

Sought out the CDs, finding so many good choices that I had to put some back. Can't appear too greedy. Picked up Rod Stewart, crooning old standards. Put it in and nod your head, problem solved. Also found Traditional Musics of Alabama. This is a compilation of the life lived, heard of and imagined. Easily identifiable and inherently cultural. Kind of like the Alabama CD, picked up just to flesh out a few holes in the necessary collection.

Stumbled across the last Johnny Cash CD, put together as a Pale Horse stalked him. If there were still a handful of people that didn't have a reverential place in their hearts for Cash, The Man Comes Around circles everyone into his family. Here, in his final moments, he plays his finest role, that of an aged, wizened old man who knew he lay dying, so emotionally and impactfully pouring out his vision for the rest of us to see.

It's almost a perverse voyeurism to see what should be the final moments of the last great acceptance. When he covers Roberta Flack there's nothing approaching doubt: he's singing to his beloved June. Somewhere towards the end of the album he becomes everyone's grandfather. A raspy, breaking voice, shaking hands, trembling lips searching for the right words. Through headphones you can actually hear him strain for his breath. And when he covers Vera Lynn there's an inescapable certainty that this is how he wants to be remembered. As well he should be, its a far better memory to leave us with.

That wasn't a music review, but rather a statement on a powerful man's last powerful efforts. Pick it up.

Brian Wilson's long awaited concept albums Smile. This will probably grow with more than one listen, but so far I keep expecting them to break into Good Vibrations. And I keep wanting to say aloud, "So this is what a concept album is supposed to sound like."

Reviews and decades of anticipation aside I picked this CD up for an entirely different reason. A friend got this exact disc from the same library some time back, and it seemed there was a continuity to preserve by checking it out myself. We never think of the previous holders of these things. What did the last person think about that the CD? The person that checked this book out last October, what were they going through? Curled up in a comfortable chair as the leaves twirled to the ground just outside, were they dodging or exploring? What did they do with those hands when they weren't --

(We interrupt these wonderings for a stream of consciousness break-in: Brian Wilson ends the CD with Good Vibrations. NOW I know what a concept album is supposed to be like. We return you, now, to your regularly scheduled musings.)

-- turning pages and turning up the volume? Where were they heading with these books and CDs and what was their vacation like? Now, especially after the Good Vibrations epiphany, I'll have to ask my friend about his experience with this CD. Wouldn't it be nice if you could read a sentence in the back of the book or in the liner notes about this work's past? Products made on an automated assembly line and never touched until they got stocked on the shelf. Infused with so much from there, not as an afterthought, but other's preconceived forethoughts. You're borrowing the emotion, you might as well borrow it's experience.

On the way out of the library I found, and impulsively grabbed, the latest Inherit the Wind with Jack Lemmon and George C. Scott. The lady at the checkout counter offered me her kind old eyes and said they also had the Spencer Tracy original. I've seen it several times, it is very good. I want to now see how General Patton handles the role. She said it would be good, while pointing out that the original must be seen first.

The nice old lady then stole a glance to the side before saying, "You know how they keep remaking old movies? Some things just shouldn't be done again. To Kill a Mockingbird?"

No ma'am, no one should even try to out-Peck Gregory Peck.

She looked at me, relieved, to have found a co-conspirator. And stunned to have found it in a 20-something.

I would like to see, though, an honest remake of 12 Angry Men.

"Oh, they did that."

I was skeptical, but the librarian was right. Isn't that always true? Look at that cast. General Patton's in that too, but he's a single light among luminaries. And Tony Danza. I need to find this.

I asked the young waitress with the tragus of her ear pierced (Didn't that hurt!?): Why did you swap the restrooms? Someone had printed sheets of paper, confusing me. My memory wanted to go right, but my eyes, said "Left." After much fear, trepidation and looking around for hidden cameras I timidly walked in to this strange and alien environment.

"Because," Ms. Tragus said "there's a leak in the woman's restroom, so we are sending the guys in there."

And we get to deal with the leaky bathroom?

"So? We have the urinal on the wall," she said. "Besides, equal rights for carrying the children for nine months."

Leaky rights maybe.

Missed Battlestar. Catch the replay Monday night. Don't spoil it for me. Despite that, and the traffic, another near-perfect Friday.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

There I was, cutting down a limb in the neighbor's yard. Precariously high on an aluminum ladder, forcing a half-broken saw to do my bidding. A fence on one side and a boat on the other. Tree limb in front of me and half-a-cord of stacked wood behind me. At least I didn't have anywhere to fall.

And then the rains came. Hard. Fast. Cold. Thunder off in the distance. Suddenly the aluminum ladder and the saw mounted on a telescoping aluminum pole didn't seem the best place to be. The limb gave up the fight quickly. But not before the dust and grim from an afternoon's yard work was washed away.

Someone's looking out for me, no one got hurt.

The Army doesn't want anyone to get hurt either. They just don't know how to say it:
When he talks to parents about their sons or daughters joining the Army, McNeill said they often say they don't want their children to die in Iraq ... "We killed more people on the highways in Georgia on Memorial Day than we ever had," McNeill said. "I don't see these parents out there trying to stop kids from driving."
General McNeill should be telling concerned parents, "We don't want your sons and daughters to be hurt either. That's why we give them best training and the best equipment and put them next to the finest soldiers in the world." No doubt that the general is a fine man and an excellent soldier, but maybe it is a good thing he's not in charge of recruiting.

There's an anti-recruitment campaign of a different nature going on. Don't see this movie:
"Basically, they trashed our show," said Jones, who now lives in the mountains of Washington, Va. "It's one thing to do whatever movie they want to do, but to take a classic family show and do that is like taking "I Love Lucy" and making her a crackhead or something."
Former Congressman Ben Jones is upset with the look of the Dukes movie. Maybe he doesn't remember the pilot episode that CBS sent back to be revamped. Profanity, woman-chasing, it was all there at the beginning. Only Daisy got to stay vampy. The larger question is what they called Jones when he served in D.C. "I yield two minutes time to the Distinguished Gentleman from Georgia, Congressman Cooter." He still is riding the gravy train, running memorabilia shops. Good for him. Though one wonders about the identity crisis he must go through.

Just yesterday we learned of one man who knew who he was:
Mr. James Nolley Germany, 95, of Biloxi ... had a natural instinct for business and never ceased to be curious about the changes taking place throughout the 20th Century ... He never met a stranger, never wanted to give Uncle Sam more than his share, and never liked to compromise.
You can smell his Old Spice from here. He surely spent the last two months of his life mourning his daughter who just passed away. Before that his was probably the type smile you had to work for. The man with the firm grip and the weathered hands; fit to shake and sure to wrap your wrist up. The man who told it like it was, whom you didn't want to disappoint and were relieved to earn your way into his good graces. The man you were proud to respect.

There's probably not enough people like him left in the world. Probably there never was. Hopefully the next young generation will be able to match his values.

Mom flew into town late tonight for a weekend dinner. Made her dinner, kabobs on the grill. Good, tasty stuff. Bed late, makes for an early alarm and a long Friday.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Tuition paid. Old (unviewed) movies returned. New movies checked out. House cleaning underway. Check.

Some people don't appreciate the finer points of space that we use in our culture. I, for example, on the basis of long observation and academic study, have a good grasp on these things. So that if you are standing where I want to be, I can stand suitably close enough so that you inch over for the both of us, or even better, move completely out of the way. Not the woman at the library. Trying to see movies, I inch over closer to her so that I can read the labels as well. She turns her should in, screening me, and then proceeds to read every word on ever DVD box.

She was a slow reader.

The tedious task of house cleaning is being made easier by doing it in stages. All of life should be stages. With deadlines. And limits. And quite possibly sugary rewards at the end of each event. Someone should have had cookies ready for me when I finished the laundry and the dusting.

Hey, Auburn's top-ranked in more than just football.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Just 600 meters in my knee started hurting. The one that doesn't hurt. With so much time to fill, so much time it was time to finally head back to the gym.

Did two miles of cardio on the long blacktop track. One long straight line up a gentle hill, down and around a curve to the left for another long straight stretch and then one more curve and the start of that hill to complete the circuit. After a few laps that hill become Sisyphean. Two laps in the 90 degree heat kicks in. Somewhere thereabouts all the air is sucked out of the world. Its surely not in your part because, if it were, I could breathe right now. Then comes the point of personal pride -- and how similiar this is to torture -- I could cut across the field and call it a run, or I can leg it out. When the brain isn't getting enough oxygen or blood or some devilishly needy combination of both it begins to imagine conquering this long straightaway in just four long strides. The length of the inseam disagrees, and so the run continues.

Did two miles of cardio and then went upstairs to do arms and legs. I was reminded of a conversation I'd had earlier in the day about weight rooms and workouts and the people that do and don't need to be there: people like me and the guy with the completely chiseled upper body two sets over, respectively. But I can still squat more than you! OK, not as much as I once did -- and this is now another matter of personal pride to be redeemed -- but more still.

Why do people troll the parking lot for closer spaces at the place where they are going to physically exert themselves? You can make this observation if you walk very slowly in the parking lot. That was not a good sign and a sure hint of pain tomorrow. And though the endorphins never kicked in, I'll be back tomorrow. Point of personal pride.

Until then, I'll just be laying around, no doubt.

I've become completely enthralled in one essay in Escape: Stories of Getting Away. The editors, academics, can't write, so their contributions are plodding, but thankfully minimal. They have, however, brought me into complete agreement with a colleague about academic gobbledygook and how its simply the biggest tip-off that the author is no writer. Most researchers and academics never took serious coursework in it, so that's fine. Unless you're a stylistic snob like those of us who did. So my colleague, having just finished his own graduate degree, shares this opinion some time ago, and after finishing Willie Morris' thoughtful book of essays I have to agree. It isn't the big words that make you unreadable, dear academe, but how you use them. And Lencek and Bosker, who are no doubt very gifted scholars, don't have the most kind relationship with the pen.

Some of the essays they've included make me question their editorial decisions, but this was a book I bought on the discount rack, with a gift card, I can't complain. Besides, I bought it specifically for the essay from Winston Churchill on his escape from a prison camp during the Boer War. Two days into the account and it hasn't disappointed. A high point of his journalistic career, this tale far outweighs his early speechs in a collection I'm also reading.

Monday, July 11, 2005

We braved the hurricane. Dennis decided to go for a jog just before the coast. Bad for the Panhandle, good for coastal Alabama, bad for the rural inland counties. The hardest hit areas are fewer than the last time we all became hurricane experts, which is to say we apparently knew as much about this one as the meteorologists did.

Lots of rain and wind here. Up and down the interstates, once during the tropical storm version of Dennis and twice in the aftermath, and I haven't seen any serious problems. Most of the wind went just to the west of us anyway, and the flooding is about as to be expected or even a bit less than earlier predictions.

Our biggest casualty was office power. Lost that late last night as I was going home. Didn't return again until this afternoon. We worked from home, which is a treat, until you consider the feeling of exhaustion and a cozy bed mocking you.

The wind has picked up a few times, and for at least the third straight day it has looked like a Southern winter in July, which is to say lots of charcoal smeared across the sky, impish rains and modest leaves turned over and hiding in their humility.

The barometric pressure has been playing tricks, but it isn't the only odd happening. Driving through town with everyone buttoned down for the end-times hurricane (despite our living 250 miles inland), driving through town again, this time with little electrcity, seems almost alien. Or post-apocalyptic. And now the rain is back, inches seven through nine this week no doubt, crawling down the glass, almost apologetic for another dampening intrusion.

Weekend composers: Claude Debussy, disillusioned and near the end of his life rendered his 1915 Sonata. Here you can find all that was lost in Europe during World War I. Paul Hindemith lost his father in the war before being pressed into service of the German army. His 1919 Sonata is a crashing stare through shattered glass at a world fully broken. A thoroughly and intentionally unpleasant work. Henry Cowell was completely removed from the Great War when he wrote his 1915 Sonata. Just 17 during the composition, he managed to sneak in the whole of the American Century.

Seemed a dour enough weekend for the period's music.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Baseball got rained out last night. The foreshadowing of Dennis kept me indoors. Got called Sunday morning to go to work. So I'm talking to authorities down on and around the Gulf Coast to see how they're holding up under Hurricane Dennis.

Read the latest from Storm Central. The people I spoke with in Mobile and Baldwin counties sounded upbeat, feeling they missed the worst of it. The authorities in the two western most Florida counties know that they're enduring a full swing from Dennis. We fear that inland Alabama will get the worst punch, at least compared to coastal Alabama.

Escambia County, (Ala.) Sheriff Grover Smith sounds tired and world weary this afternoon. It was his jurisdiction that withered under Ivan, with poor communication, phone lines down and little relief trickling in. The high profile beach areas, worth so much to the state in terms of tourism dollars and the first victims of Ivan, got a lot of attention. The rural areas just to the north went without for a long time before they could get any relief from their plight.

One recurring theme today, however, is everyone's use of the word "prepared." It had been a long time before Ivan that this stretch of coastline, idyllic though it can be, had suffered a major hurricane. Now, some 10 months later the memories are still raw and the lessons have, hopefully, been well-learned.

Some 250 miles north, Birmingham is just getting rain. We're expecting the worst of what Dennis can offer us later this evening. Interesting to watch a press conference this morning held by one of the County Commissioners, talking about the shelters, the transportation, the preparation. The new outdoor "sireeeeens" which would be up, she said, throughout the duration. Until one of the engineers corrected her, quietly whispering into her ear that the "sireeeeens" don't have batter back-ups. Congratulations yet again Jefferson County.

Local officials pull their emergency response teams off the roads when sustained winds reach 40 miles per hour. That sounds like a nice round number on which to exercise discretion. I hope you'll be similarly safe if you're in the path of Dennis, weakening though he is, he's still very dangerous.

Two Wadsworth funnies:
Kenny, I'm driving home and I hear that Governor Bob Riley has issued a state of emergency in the state of Alabama. That's right, apparently Mike Shula sucks that bad. I think it's going to go on until November.
And then his wife, Brooke writes about this picture from Savannah:
Today I used your website once again in class. I wanted the students to write about something they saw in a picture using interesting language. In the assignment, though, they could only use one stylistic device. For example, one group had to use alliteration, one group similes, you get the idea. I borrowed the picture of the two women in the pink feathered hats from your website.
Needless to say, Fanny and Carol (as one group named them) got into some rather interesting adventures today. They stood poised like a pair of pink flamingos and went to a buffet, ordered pizza, got drunk, and went trolling for booty. It was great.
That picture was from Savannah and there were three ladies. They were outside Lady and Sons. We talked to them: They wanted to start their own society, not unlike the Red Hat Society so they made their own Pink Hat Society. And the picture I didn't get was all three of these large and confident women, pink a-flowing from hats, scarves and delicate hand fans (like a good woman should have in southern Georgia in June) climbing into a convertible red Mustang.

Saturday, July 9, 2005

We're gearing up for a hurricane at work. That means some weekend time at the j-o-b. Last year, during Ivan, we did this and were offered one of the greatest compliments I've ever received as a journalist. If it didn't sound cheesy or oddly self-serving I'd say more about it.

I have a sytem for everything: Friday is blues. John Hammond, one of the few white boys who could show you the blues. The King of the slide guitar, and heavy influence to the Beatles, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Stones, the Allmans and more, Elmore James. The inestimable King of the Delta blues (and James' mentor) Robert Johnson. No, he didn't sell his soul to the devil. Tommy Johnson, on the other hand ...

Gave blood at the Wynfrey. The Red Cross is moving up in the world. They had Nutter Butters and, because of that, it was hard for them to pull me away for the actual task at hand. The woman that checks blood pressure and iron and temperature was in no mood for jokes. The lady that actually took my blood was. So there I was, staring up at an opulent golden chandelier, the symbol of Southern elegance, on a greasy feeling blue cot, trying to not notice the plastic they'd spread out over the carpet. Are they painting in here too? I don't know about you, but I don't plan to spill any today.

After they got all my blood (I'm Nutter Butter positive.) it was time for juice and more cookies. Did you know they serve sugar free cookies at the blood drive? Tell me, please, the point of this. Dinner, and then crashed out before 9:30. Keep your old jokes to yourself, I haven't slept this week.

The air is back on. Nice and cool in the house, thanks for asking. Elsewhere, baseball game tonight, then more rest. Sometime Sunday evening I'll be hard at work. Hope you're paying attention to Dennis, he could be a brute. Get the latest from us at Storm Central.

Thursday, July 7, 2005

There is something oddly surreal hanging in the air. It is hard to reconcile the calm and pretty day we're enjoying and the bitter and angry ones following it out of the Gulf. Dennis is coming; he'll be angry, hopefully he'll be growing tired well before he gets this far inland.

As recently as the 19th Century what we now think of as Jello was a delicacy. Before it became the product of our youthful delights the original gelatin was a delicacy because key ingredients were left over from meaty foods. If you could make gelatin for dessert, yours was a meaty meal better than the next guy's.

That's why I should have had Jello for dessert Tuesday night. Turned in my paper, ending my nonverbal class and then came home to celebrate by dodging raindrops to grill two steaks. One was good, the other not as good. The secret, I learned, is to not burn the crap out of the unmarinated one. And eating the good one last, because it melts away in blissful moans. There was something in there about potatoes stroganoff and grilled mushrooms, but the palate was reduced to quivering twitches by then. (It did recover in time for Chinese last night however.)

And then the air conditioner broke. And I took my car to the shop. We think, maybe, we've fixed one of two problems there. Time will tell. We also discovered a third issue. Leave a note in my file, I'll be back, 198,000 miles guarantees it. About the same time work site broke. Only took 36 hours or so to get that back. External circumstances -- a fire near the hosting site -- caused the problems. All is well though, and most importantly we are back so the sales people can sell and the classified people can classify and the readers can read about Hurricane Dennis.

I just scanned more pictures from the college days. Random and sentimental things. Don't worry, the scanner's subject matter will be varying soon. (Having four days of the week back to accomplish projects big and small, indoor and out, is a pretty neat feeling. Remind me of this next time I complain of being bored.) Among the highlights of today's 10 pictures:
My favorite, Mom and GrandBonnie facing off in Jordan-Hare, Tiger, (War Eagle VI), various kids in parks and me snorkling with sting rays in the Caymans.
A conversation with a friend:
Melanie: He's an only child, should I be worried?
Me: The only child in me is a little bit offended by that.
Melanie: As a true eldest I have grown skeptical of all but eldests, because you get the bests. You get the perks of both without the drawbacks ... you don't understand our pain.
Me: Only-children are well balanced, know how to entertain themselves and a lot of fun at parties.
Melanie: And ya'll just have a different parent relationship too. I'm not friends with my parents, I'm friends with my siblings.
Me: Parents are more valuable. If you got in trouble, needed advice, help or money, what could a teenager do? See? Networking. Only-children rule.
And that, friends, is Thursday evening logic.

The sun has fallen behind the trees. There are no more shadows, only a bright sky, keeping us company for another hour or so. Dogs are chattering down the way. Usually I only notice them at night, but that's only because it seems I'm never here in the day. Any minute now I expect to hear the ice cream man swing through. He won't, but he should. Cars are whirring by at a lazy and irregular pace. All the windows in the house are open and the fans are blowing for almost cool air -- and the phone is ringing ...

... That was Mr. Bell. He was by today working on the air conditioner. It'll be cool in here tomorrow, which is good, way better than the nicely tolerable 83 of this afternoon. Even more interesting, Mr. Bell talked of how he'd been in the business for 50 years. Started in 1955, making $.75 an hour. You had to work hard too, because two other guys wanted that job.

I can't imagine, yet, doing anything for 50 years. One day enough grains of sand will have tipped over to let me see the hourglass from the other side. They do fly by, but understanding now and a fondness for memories have seemed to slow the march a bit. Really, its less of a living in tomorrow.

Monday, July 4, 2005

They only make personal fireworks in industrial strength these days. That's the best answer I have for the last two evenings of mortar fire our neighborhood has endured. Sunday night it allowed about an hour and a half of sleep.

Worked today. A light and slow day, so lunch was the end of my work day. The wind breezed by offering no respite from the heat, but making the crape myrtle snow. Parking was a breeze, my sandwich was out before I sat down. I ventured out to Sloss Furnace to walk around and avoid writing my paper. Too many ghost stories, and that place is too spooky, even in the daytime, if you're by yourself.

Hustle back to the office, for school work, and then dinner (note to Dreamland: Don't advertise that you're open on the Fourth and then understaff). Fireworks on top of the mountain. A grand view, with the sparkling embers above and beside and around your chair. I grew up with these shows, but seen from a distance. Tonight we were hearing the launch from the ground, let alone the concussive explosions in the air.

They even had smiley faces. Eruptions that force out perfectly measured blue dots for eyes and smile and an even circle of red flares surrounding the whole expressive explosion. Here the mysticism of childhood remains; no idea how they do that.

Meanwhile, at home I'm giving my next-door neighbors until 11 tonight. Then, I'm walking out with the bag of leftovers from last year (when I went to an abandoned industrial park, far secluded from everyone) to that they are finished with the explosive demonstration for the evening or that I'll continue it at 4:30 in the morning. Under their bedroom windows.

Go have your fun, by all means, enjoy all that we have by setting fire to incendiaries made in China. God Bless America, and those of us trying to sleep here.

Extra: An OTB Honorable Mention.

Sunday, July 3, 2005

The weekend: a smorgasboard of fireworks, baseball, food, FDR and a school paper.

After a little studying, a documentary on FDR and a nap I took a long look at a bad baseball game Saturday night. The night's humidity was an oven better suiting the Biscuits than the Barons. I heckled the home plate umpire a great deal, particularly after one play at the plate where I said "I strongly disagree with your call! I believe you have made a most egregious error! Perhaps you should schedule an appointment with an optometrist at your earliest possible convenience!"

Naturally, the gentleman sitting directly in front of me was an optometrist. He offered me a great deal should I ever go blind near his offices in Memphis. The Zooperstars saved the night and were generally a lot more entertaining than they should have been.

The club offered fireworks after the game. All the fine folks around us, loudly commentating about everything -- see what I can start? -- were agog over the smaller fireworks, fired off in rapid succession one after the other, titillating with small reports and showers of sparks. I prefer the larger, more graceful efforts, rocketing effortlessly up into the night sky, a little trail revealing their heading before one big pop and the explosion of light raining down. Sitting just 350 feet away they fill the sky, falling downward in graceful arcs, a chemistry experiment's afterthought.

Not a bad precursor to Thunder on the Mountain tomorrow night. I expect to make nice pictures there. I also expect watermelon.

Sunday, more paper, more FDR, more nap. Grilled kabobs. Three grillings in a week. This is becoming a habit. My cheap little $18 grill is making us all proud, despite being short a few nuts and bolts. Invest in charcoal now.

I may have to subscribe to the History Channel's magazine. Just discovered it. Speaking of discovered -- OK, that's cheap, but its late -- the June pictures are now on the pictures page. Enjoy.