Kenny Smith | blog

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

It has this year been brought to my attention that, like Barney Coopersmith, I have a system. A system for everything.

So tonight I posited the question: When does a system become a burden. It was a timely mention because moments later I sat down for dinner at one of the usual Mexican haunts. The kind of place with decor just slightly authentic, but with a certain fauxness. Except for the restroom mirrors. Those are real and I want them for some reason.

Most everything else would have people pulling out their pocket translators for the spanish word for kitsch, but the food is good. Sundays they have Mariachi, there's a buy-one-get-one free night and it is the kind of place that puts letters and numbers on the menu for your ordering convenience and the all-important prevention of yuppie embarrassment by exposing an overwrought accent, but never explains chiles rellenos. But it's deemed a five star Mexican restaurant, whatever that qualification means, so you go there.

I'll have the th--

And then the waitress finished my order, along with the chicken alteration I make. When a new waitress, who has never waited on you before, knows what you're having ... well she's psychic and her talents are being wasted or the waitstaff has been talking.

Next week I'm throwing them off. I'll order the 32.

Made a mall trip, cause hey, I'm a glutton. Surprisingly easy to park, though. Very light foot traffic in doors. Not bad at all. Guess everyone is fulfilling their Christmas shopping duties elsewhere. I wanted to see, though, how much some custom frames would cost. Got something I want to make for a few people, but not at Deck the Walls. That place is expensive.

So, I know what chiles rellenos are, you don't have to write about that, but if you know anyone who can matte a 5x7, with one custom tweak and frame for less than 70 bucks, feel free to enlighten me.

Santa gave me the nod. Not the condescending look of an older man to a younger boy. Not the weary resignation of Santa to yet another parent. But the nod.

As an aside, my one Sienfeld episode idea was about this. Can't you see Kramer and Jerry going on for 22 minutes about the nod?
Kramer: He gave me the nod, Jer.

Jerry: But was it The Nod or The Lift?

Kramer: What do you mean?

Jerry: Nod or Lift?

Kramer: It looked like (And here Kramer gives one of those spastic facial tick movements.) What's the difference?

Jerry: Oh there's a big difference.

George: Oh yeah. If you get The Lift, its adversarial. An act of aggression. The guy was eyeballing you. He thinks he can take you, but he's just put you in your place. If you get The Nod, well he knows you're simply the better man.

Jerry eats cereal. Gives Kramer The Lift.

Everyone spends the next 15 minutes studying the facial mannerisms of everyone they meet. Hilarity ensues.
Never even watched that show.

Anyway. Santa gave me the nod of peerdom. What this means, I think, is that I don't have to sit at the children's table any more. Got it in in just a hair under 29 years.

And then Santa did this, just to make your night and make everyone say "Awwwww."

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The present joy of the holidays is the molasses speed of the days. The first teasings of artic breath slow the world down. We're moving in an alternate medium where everything moves at an exaggerated underwater pace.

But sometime time moves faster at the same time. The days, as individuals, go slowly, but as units together they are nipping at your heels. And thus the countdown to the end of Christmas shopping time is underway. Incessantly reminding you of that last group of presents you must buy.

This should somehow seem more leisurely, but alright there's a paradisical pace we are set on. Quiet at work. Already seems like the week is over. And for so many vacation days still outstanding, sometimes it is. Peaceful at home. Lazy all around, but with an unescapable Rush, rush, rush! being heard just around the corner.

Hey, this is Tuesday. I've been working on school work. Have some pictures.

Woke up this morning to the barest moon sliver. My neighbors, one of whom went by as I was standing outside, must worry, standing as I was in 30 degree temperatures in the dark with a tripod. He didn't notice the visibility of the unreflective moon.

Where yesterday was brooding and fierce, today we found a beautifully placid, if chilly day. The crape myrtle has given up the fight, but she never leaves without a flourishing goodbye and the flirtatious promise of next season. Those leaves always burn off so beautiful, leading to a poignant decay.

And I've taken this picture dozens of times, bored you with it almost that much, but it is one of my favorites of Birmingham. And not the common picture, either. Most people go on the mountain, or shoot the skyscrapers from the south, but if you time the drive just right -- and brother did I do that today -- you can reach out the window and take a great shot from the north as you hit the Red Mountain Expressway's flyover. Maybe I can stop taking this picture now.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Dewpoint soars, wind stirs, barometer shifts uneasily. Tornado sirens. Monsoon. The kind of rain that renders big golf umbrellas indefensible.

I text messaged a colleague, asking him to call me if a tornado aimed for campus while I was in class, not trusting the University to get this right. At the end of today's lecture the professor says, "Oh, UAB wants me to say that in the event of a tornado, you are to go to the lowest level possible and into a small room."

People living in a region with such an affinity for tornadoes that we created a second storm season for the fall probably knew this little rule of thumb, but the oversight of this place is staggering.

Anyway, tornadoes went mostly to the north, brushing across the top of the metro area, as they often do. I drove home in the rain. Bad rain. The deceptive kind that makes the middle of the lane look like the shoulder. Not your most pleasant driving experience.

New nominee for slowest news day ever: Monday after Thanksgiving.

I've worked Christmas Eve and Christmas days that were more boring, but not by much.

Gil gave me this. A matchbook he picked up in Afghanistan. These are printed in the U.S., Texas in fact, and they are online. That's Osama bin Laden of course, next to a handsome stack of gold coins. Or chocolate in gold wrapping. Gil didn't know what the text says -- and there's more on the inside cover and on the back, along with two other pictures, presumably lieutenants -- but we figure the imagery tells the story: Tell us where this guy is, get gold papered chocolates.

Also, "Be safe. Keep cover closed."

Hope they printed that in Arabic as well. Wise words in any language.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

If you were to roust Norman Rockwell from his well-deserved middle American restful slumber and asked him to paint the contemporary holiday event, that would be today.

Out and about in the rain to determine the lucky shedder of pine needles for this most festive of seasons. Attach, by brute strength of twine and in defiance of inertia, the tree to the roof of the car. Drive it back, unload it. Saw off the bottom. Pour water in the stand and then try to make the thing stand up straight.

Add lights. Ornaments, various decorations -- even a pickle!

Made the delayed -- and yummy enough to be worth the wait -- Thanksgiving meal. Removed the turkey from the oven, roasted golden brown. Perfectly juicy and far better than the dry stuff you gnawed on for 12 minutes. Cleaned up and then headed out to see an old friend.

Frank and Gil were catching up, you see. Gil is working overseas, but invited me for a visit. Just what a reunion should be story-wise.

I had the ice cream. The chocolate fudge battered the triptophan into oblivion. Or maybe properly cooked turkey doesn't offer as many sleepy triptophan moments. It has something to do with the heat! My scientific cure-all for everything!

That and staring at newly strung Christmas lights until you get all squinty eyed. This is the time to do that, at the beginning of the Christmas season, with the promise and the idea of it so new. Until you see this video a few times.

Nice video. Without it this could pass into a dusty corner of apocrypha. Makes you wonder who thought that'd be the troubled store and put the camera front and center. Almost as if someone was hoping for this. Poor Wal*Mart. If only they would babysit their customers, Christmas would be better.

But Thanksgiving could not.

And now I'll go shop online. Norman Rockwell would have painted it up that way.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

My second Saturday of the weekend. I'm worn out from all this relaxing. Or staring at papers I don't care to write.

If you have senioritis in college, what do you have in grad school? I have some thoughts, but none of them are very creative or original.

Fell asleep last night during Collateral:
Michael Mann is bleak, Cruise is a caricature of himself, Foxx rules.
Finished that up and then there was The Wedding Date:
I'm just trying to rip off Dermot Mulroney's apparent coolness. Standard fare.
Your basic second Saturday of the weekend.

Friday, November 25, 2005

An off day. A day off unlike any other. Since the last one.

Only this Friday felt like Saturday. It came with its own list of college football games to be casually disinterested in.

And there was also research to be done. Some actual progress was made here actually. Stunned as you, I promise.

Went to the outlet mall this morning, just from idle and morbid Christmas shopping curiousity. Found lots of stuff, and some good deals even. Could find nothing for anyone on on my list, now mercifully reduced to an almost manageable nine. Found stuff for me -- why oh why is this so easy at Christmastime? -- but didn't buy any of that either.

So the best part of the morning was the sky, a false ceiling hung suspended just over the skyscrapers. And right about now I wish I'd went back for that picture. As is, you'll just have to imagine this and this just barely avoid brushing the rooftops of the big buildings.

Always go back for that first picture, wonderful experience or adrenaline-frenzied adventure. These things are fleeting and beyond your average capacity to just tell others about.

So now, pie and movie rentals.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Regular morning at work today. But I'm the only person there. I volunteer for this, it allows everyone else spend holiday time with their families. I'm out of the office early enough to get to my family for lunch. I get a comp day later. Win-win.

Thanksgiving lunch was the non-traditional barbeque. Much of the family will be in the mountains next week having a late Thanksgiving, they didn't want to overdue it today, so happy barbeque.

Hearing the family stories and family laughter is a better holiday tradition than the food anyway. Except for maybe the pie.

Got to drive Tony's 1938 Ford. Rides very well, though things seem to move faster on the passenger side. Guess there's more to see. There I was, being very reverent, right lane, 55 miles an hour. He later tells of driving 85 miles an hour into the mountains. Should have known better.

He says he gets about 18 miles to the gallon, explains how its built for the highway, is a little fast in the rear shocks, and on and on. They are car people, my family, but that didn't rub off on me. I'm much more interested in the two-seater's clock, that's mounted in the glove box.

"That's original," he beams with pride, six years of details and work builds that. He talks about the specs, I wonder about what must have been the melancholy day when that clock stopped running.

More, more, more: family, food and laughter. In all, I did very well. Lots of laughs, good portion of family and small portions of food. And then a quick drive back downstate for an early night's rest. Early morning, 250 miles in the car and half a day's work makes rest a necessary proposition, triptophan or no.

Hey, I won a caption contest on Outside the Beltway.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The week began to slow down on Tuesday. Co-workers are taking time off, I'll do that a lot soon, but after Thanksgiving. No classes Wednesday and thoughts are turning completely, annoyingly, to papers, shopping and the holidays.

Working Thanksgiving morning, then on the road for a few hours with family. We're having barbeque for Thanksgiving.

Spent a few minutes in the woods today. Nice and breezy. Peaceful. Pretty colorful, even without a strong leaf turn this year.

Monday, November 21, 2005

In lieu of: going on and on about the piercing needles of cold rain, discussing the lonely solitude of a soggy winter campus (an undergrad memory easily discarded) or otherwise stretching today's nothing out to six paragraphs I'll tell you this little story from Saturday.

Walking out of a restroom before the Iron Bowl, I see a middle-aged gentleman wearing an Alabama sweatshirt and an Alabama hat. But he also one of those straps for wearing your glasses around your neck that is decked out in the traditional Auburn design.

I'm confused. You have the Bama shirt and hat, but also the Auburn glasses.

"Life is a paradox," he said, further displaying the depth and breadth of philosophy taught on the UAT campus.

The older gentleman behind me offered, "Well then, I hope you win and I hope you lose."

That's probably less than funny as a written joke. But it owned when I told the ladies outside. Bama fans just aren't finding much funny right now anyway. And the talk radio conspiracies are always a winner.

Iron Bowl print pictures should be back later this week. Looking forward to those.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Some Iron Bowl pics are up. You can see them here. These are from the digital camera. The print stuff will get back mid-week and be up for your viewing pleasure.

The rest of today has been school work and watching Meet the Fockers:
Hoffman and De Niro, my cup runneth over. The kid stole the show.
And, while we're at it, I saw Wedding Crashers Friday:
Wilson plays his character. Vaughn, his. Walken his. Just add more Walken.
Saw this at the dollar theater. I've grown fond of this place. It isn't old like dollar theaters should be. It has 10 cinemas, but it pre-dates stadium seating, giving theater-goers an idea of the relatively young age of the building.

But to close your eyes this is a different and distant place. And each room seems to belong to a different theme. A few weeks ago there was the meat locker cinema. Recently there was also the roof damage room. This week's viewing room had the dusty and mildewed used book store theme.

Emergency lights are dangling. Signs hanging above the door and at the box office don't match the movies actually being shown. There's a certain personality taking shape in this building. That's why I'll keep contributing to the cause, one dollar at a time. Just hope it sticks around long enough for that character to grow.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

The orange and blue stretched as far up and down Donahue and Roosevelt as the eye could see. Thousands of them came, eager to cheer their team. They clamored up into trees, held perches on big utility boxes, strained to from the top of hills a half block away. Tiger Walk becomes a human sea for 20 minutes. There are no ushers, no seats, no regulation. And it always, surprisingly, comes off well.

And then the team goes into the stadium and whips up on the other guys. This week, Alabama.

After that, when Auburn wins, as they so handily did today, the human sea retreats from the stadium where it has held a frenzied state for three hours and calmly walks three blocks to begin the racuous celebration of rolling Toomer's Corner.

It never ceases to amaze me how the first and third acts of this play are so even tempered and family friendly. Particularly when the second act is not.

There were Bama equipment managers and Auburn stadium personnel jawing at each other. The Auburn fans heckled the Alabama band (to say nothing of the little dig the Auburn band gets in every week). Their band heckled back. It only got worse when the majorettes worked their way from the stands onto the field.

This isn't an overly-romantisized take on the bitterness of the Iron Bowl, but rather the raw underpinnings of the fan perspective. Meantime, I did see one of those divided couples after the game, the personification of the family split apart. She was none too happy with the game's result. An old woman was threatening to have a car towed from a restaurant parking lot because it was parked poorly, but mostly because the driver was the wrong team's fan. It means more, from that perspective, to the fans than the players.

Seven stabbed in pre-game fights. An Alabama fan.

Though they kill each other for 60 minutes -- TV and most seats in the stadium convey the speed, but being right on top of the play gives an altogether different dimension to the physicality of the Iron Bowl above all others -- the players are more even-minded about the experience. They at least get together and hug and pray after the game. Why not? Some of these guys have played each other for years.

It's rolling baby. 28-18. And so the rivalry continues. And dealing with the bulk of the chagrined Bama fans will be slightly more tolerable.

Friday, November 18, 2005

I'm going to the game. I'm going to the game. Imagine this in a sing song voice because:

I'm going to the gaaaaaaame.

Got the word -- and what wonderful and sweetly delivered words! -- at lunch. There I was sitting in a barbeque joint, having a sandwich and talking about social abilities ... or something ... it doesn't matter any more, you see, because I'm going to the game.

Been a couple of years since I've been able to see an Iron Bowl live. And I'll have a great view, thanks for asking. I spent the rest of the afternoon at work trying not to gloat, but I'm getting a sense from the Alabama fans that, as the day wears on, they are more and more convinced of their inevitable fate in the game.

The one to which I'm going.

Indeed, my mother now writes:
Well...well...well...well, just realize what a long ride it's going to be back to B'ham after we beat your....well, just realize what a long ride it could be back to B'ham after we possibly beat your...well, just realize what a long ride it would have been back to B'ham if we hadn't lost Tyrone (Prothro) and we beat your butt!!! Yeah, there!!!

Have fun...wish I was there, too. Will you get some popcorn and coke for me? Or a hotdog and coke for me? Or something for me? How about a win for me?

P.S. I still love you, you traitor!!!
She's just jealous that her team is about to lose -- again -- and that she's stuck cheering for them. Oh, and that I'm going to the game. And the fact that Bama could not win with Prothro.

(This is a lot of smack talk from my normally mute self.)

This traitor thing comes up a lot, though. Particularly to her old friends whom she has not seen in many years (the more contemporary lot has heard the tale before). When she sees, say, an old high school friend the conversation goes like this:
Her: I don't know what happened, he was Raised Right, but he came in one day from high school and said he was going to Auburn. And I said 'Son, if you had told me you robbed a bank I would have said I still love you. If you told me you'd killed a man I would have said I still love you. But I never, ever thought you would come into this house and tell me you were going to Auburn.'

Me: But I saw the error of my ways, I walked toward the light. Glory, Glory to old Auburn. A-U-B-U-R-N.
I always get the better of this one. Mostly because she then has to tell how she mellowed with the news of my scholarship. But she still calls me a traitor. Like she called this child today. "I know just how his mother feels," she said.

Ehhh, so much time has spent making fun of them, we may as well laugh at ourselves. Notice how the (obviously photoshopped) Auburn child is smiling more than his peers? You would be too if you'd beat Bama three years running.

Now, movie time and Pie Day.

And War Eagle!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

We are sailing, smoothly sailing, into the Iron Bowl. It is bitter cold, but promising to warm tomorrow and for the weekend. This morning we were in the 20s. There were inflatable things on the UAB campus. The moon walk, the obstacle course, the ever hilarious two kids in sumo suits, the pugel sticks. I went to class instead of out to the fun. It was that cold.

My walks to campus have been postponed because of fear of frostbite. Unfortunately, for you, this means no pictures ... you'll have to wait a few more days.

And now to write something thoughtful, provoking and witty to keep you here.


Well that's going nowhere. So, the mundane it is.

Work. More work. Check. Class. Nothing exciting about this class. Thai dinner. Check. The library. (Several books were checked out.)

Thursdays aren't the most adventurous days here, are they?

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The wind is vindictive. Flying in from Canada will do that for you. It's not the cold, it's the ridiculously piercing wind that ruins posture. I walked through two buildings and could have sworn I was in a dirty downtown Kansas City with those noisy winds recklessly rushing through over the plains.

Got invited for dinner with friends downtown tonight. Many laughs. And chocolate cake. Getting invited to visit is like the icing on that cake. A little bit sweeter and with a little more texture. That's the stuff worth braving the wind for. That and the slightly euphoric sense that comes with laughing so much.

Class was canceled today. The prof being out of town. I used the time to make another slight step in the thesis process. Also checked out lots of books for upcoming research to round out this semester.

Then I fell asleep at the library. Snoring, they said. Loudly, I understand. Face down on the table snoring. I didn't realize that was physically possible. Must have been tired. At least I didn't drool.

And so it was probably a good thing that I found myself considering new pillows. To firm, or extra firm? That is the question. Whether it is bolder on the spine to suffer through more nights of outrageously bad pillow fortune or to take arms with overstuffed poly-cotton fibers. And by opposing the impulse to watch TV, to sleep.

This is 21st Century, middle class Shakespeare, as enacted at Wal*Mart in a sleep deprived state.

Extra firm was the answer. Queen size, thank you. Maybe I overestimated. These things will just barely fit inside the pillowcases. One hopes I'll never have to use the pillowcase as a parachute from the second floor window. I'd never get it free of the people in time to pull off the stunt.

Now let's see how they sleep.

Amuse yourself with Alabama/Auburn jokes.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Dark all morning long. Overcast through the afternoon. Finally at about 3 p.m. the sun poked out, shyly embarrassed about being so late. Until then it seemed that maybe our summery fall had finally given up.

Storms came across the northern part of the state. Already they were on edge in their memories. Today their remember a recent deadly storm.

Tonight the sky was firing off lightning, sparkplugs in the clouds. It rained the length of time that it takes to get up an exit ramp. Not enough to delay a trip to the grocery store -- where they had apple juice for a change -- where the nice ladies are deliberate, at the checkout counter. They had three separate registers for just three customers, far better service than you can get before they send the high schoolers home for the evening.

On the way home the asphalt looked chaotic with the occasional smears of water. Not even enough to tamp down the dust on the car. Now the groceries are put away, the evening is quiet. The storms seem to be gone, having been pushed in by the first bit of winter. Sometime tomorrow the bottom will fall out of the thermometer and we'll have our first 40 degree swing of the season.

Mom writes in, and I think she wants me to share this:
It's Trash Talk Week ... time to separate the boys from the grownups. And it is here I will say to my favorite Auburn fan, my son, (sorry folks, he's a little "off in the head, he was raised right but went wrong" but he can't help it): Come Saturday, I'm gonna write your name in Auburn blood ... and point out to you how Crimson it is!
People removed from this rivalry don't understand and generally discount it. Most states -- the ones that allow themselves to get too worked up about this sort of thing -- enjoy a geographical separation of the two fan bases. Things are different here. There is no oasis or freedom from the other guy. There is no respite. This game permeates every aspect of life here and separates families.

The past few years the Bama fans have been muted by their humble performances. This year they are back, braggadocious as if the Bear himself were drawing plays. Auburn's step-child stigma is lately diluted with every year and it is nice to have the rivalry back. Oh, and the above passes for a civil level of discourse. Nothing like the support of a mother, huh?

She can have space monkeys though. Or a space monkey capsule. Came across this set of photographs at work the other day. At some point there was an auction and a gentleman sent in these pictures, hoping to get rid of this Soviet test capsule from the 1950s. Given the state of their space program at the time the outcome likely wasn't good for the monkey. Impressive that the capsule held up that well.

But some monkey pants, apparently, have survived. And, like all good things, they wound up on E-bay.

The lightning is picking up, and seems to be pointing down. The celestial laser pointer says its time to go.

Monday, November 14, 2005

So I spend my Saturday surrounded by Big 12 fans. These are a passive people. No earnest fervor for their alma mater's football team, even if they are Aggies. They are, in reality, discussing Ben Bernanke's economic policies as he heads to the Fed rather than back-up quarterback Ty Branyon's technique. These are Big 12 football fans.

Why you'd expect zeal from that conference, I don't know, but presently A&M was getting beaten with a lead pipe and maybe they felt the need to discuss the game with a detached heart. It is my hope that they were being quiet and seemingly composed because of the family functions weaved into the day's excellent football.

In which I missed almost all of it.

I had a strategy, though. I sat through the obligatory A&M game, could not see the Florida at USC game (and here I'll say it: I longed for Jefferson Pilot). The plan was to record the LSU versus Bama game and then the Auburn at Georgia game. Ended up watching a fair amount of the former, and a heartbreaker it was for the Tide, but more on them in a moment.

I did not watch the Auburn game, not wanting to shock or offend any of the calm Texans by the amount of noise one person can make in the pursuits of cheering on a victory from 916 miles away.

The game was recorded back home on DVR. I intended, and was ultimately successful (but just barely), in making it through the entire weekend ignorant of the outcome or any facet of the Auburn game. I'd get to return home and watch it "live" as Sunday bled into Monday.

So now, finally, comes the time to see the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry. Seven days is long enough to wait. A full eighth day was almost unbearable. I very nearly gave in and started asking around. There were at least two people who knew the outcome to the game and I almost cracked.

But I succeeded, and now hoped to celebrate with a win. Only to ask, how to celebrate? The game has happened, is it proper to react? Would bursting forth in angst or joy seem appropriate or, at this stage, silly? The well-heeled might hold the answer to this question, the football crazed South has not yet addressed the conundrum of time shifted television programming in athletic endeavors. At first it seemed that poise would win the evening. In the second half, as even the crickets outside turned in for the night and long after the ice cream buzz wore off, the pretense of decorum was replaced by candor. Canned adrenaline, it turns out, works just as well as the live stuff.

And then the fourth quarter and three lead changes before the final crucial minutes. Auburn on the wrong side of the score, the wrong side of the field and the wrong side of down and distance. Fourth and 10.

Brandon Cox steps back, cool and even and with all day to scan the field, finding Devin Aromashodu, a streak of white fabric dashing across the field, taking a slant 62 yards -- Fumble! Auburn's Courtney Taylor flies in to fall on it! But no touchdown, because of the fourth down rule. We go to replay -- which has seemed very positive in its inaugural SEC campaign -- to determine the spot. We watch the replay once. Twice.

And then the DVR gives me this:
The recording time, set for a generous three-and-a-half hours, was not kind enough. The game is frozen in amber. The lasting image one of a receiver's inertia and helplessness. Now I am left, still, without the outcome. I know this: less than two minutes to play, Auburn has the ball on or around the five and trailing by two.

To the drive chart, then.
A 1-G G03 Kenny Irons rush for loss of 1 yard to the UGA4.
A 2-G G04 Kenny Irons rush for loss of 1 yard to the UGA5.
A 3-G G05 Timeout Georgia, clock 00:51.
A 3-G G05 Kenny Irons rush for 2 yards to the UGA3.
A 4-G G03 Timeout Auburn, clock 00:08.
A 4-G G03 John Vaughn field goal attempt from 20 GOOD, clock 00:06.

We won? We won. We won!

31-30. The most important part, of course, was that play; it is now nominated as a Pontiac Game Changing Performance but the best part was the redemption for John Vaughn. Good for him.

And so bring on the hapless Tide. A strong defense, a struggling offense, but always in the game at the end. A good team we're going to beat this weekend. Let the trash talking begin. Terry has the first joke. We're hosting a chat each afternoon at for talking smack. Come on by. Should be fun.

And now, perspective. A new ad campaign is underway in the U.S., where the people of Kurdistan ("The Other Iraq") are thanking America for its contribution to the Middle East. No matter where you come down on the issue, this is a moving piece and you should watch the commercial.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Weekend (quick) wrap up edition.

Spent Friday getting ready to get out of town.

Spent the weekend in Houston.

It was Uncle Harold's birthday and an early Thanksgiving. (I have to not eat all that good food twice?) So we all fly out as a family. Split by geography and day planners, we departed from three separate airports, all arriving into three separate airports, on the same evening. Just thinking of the logistics exhausts the mind. And this doesn't count the other extended relatives.

We were actually in and around Sugarland. The town had its initial prosperity before the Civil War. An 1843 sugar crop by one of the first families Sam Houston took into Texas was big enough to require a sugar mill. They grew and grew, getting ridiculously busy in World War II. NASA comes along, Houston booms, and Sugarland becomes a suburb. Lately things are quiet at Imperial Sugar, now this stately old building is more of a landmark than an economic watermark. I'd like to walk through that building. More history here and here.

There was football -- more on that tomorrow. Food, visiting. There was trampoline fun -- where I gave myself a minor case of whiplash -- but dominated the popcorn game.

There was Texas barbeque. Turns out that's pretty good, but I'm biased toward the local fare. Added to the college T-shirt collection. Texas A&M, Houston and Texas.

So, we'll presume this catches us up on the weekend, without the football anecdotes. Those are worth telling tomorrow.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

A new hobby is born. A new obsession begun. But this makes hobby number three, thereby insuring that I'm reasonably well-adjused.

I've wanted to collect campaign buttons for several years. A few grouped together in a nice shadowbox make a handsome display, and now I've started because of a trip to an antique store this afternoon, the idea that four to eight dollars a button doesn't seem as pricey as it once did. And Dwight Eisenhower.

Pawing through a ceramic plant pot I ran across several reproductions (why?)a few 1972 George Mcgovern buttons, dozens of Nixon buttons and one photo button of Ike. So I picked them up.

See them here.

And now I want to do even more antiquing and, especially, junktiquing. I suspect the most success will be had there. I could do it all online, throwing myself fulling into the technological maw of easy electronic access. Somehow that seems cheating.

If, however, you stumble on some good buttons I'll happily add them to my collection.

Thursday photoblogging:
Callahan Eye Clinic
Hallway to nowhere
This is down 7th Street South in Birmingham. The most interesting is the last. That's a hallway that just opens out of a wall on about the 15th floor of a UAB medical building. There you are, just shuffling down the hall, studying some important medical notes and have a fall.

Wednesday, November 9, 2005

Desert rose to peach to pink. Never saw the sun on the way in this morning. Know the shades from a practiced of nuanced colors. We had the desert rose in the kitchen as a child. This is the sort of thing, though, that is appreciated no matter the palette of your vocabulary.

A sad story of my youth mewled dimly from the day's electronic paper. The Galleria 10 is locking up Sunday. In 1988 it was a gleaming beacon of shiny cinematic newness. For a year or two it would be the fulcrum of youth's holy hangout trinity. Across the way to the front was the Galleria, overstuffed with stores, food and girls. To the right bustled a one stop putt-putt, batting cage, video arcade and bumper boat extravaganza. Many a children risked seeing their junior high lives pass before their eyes to cross that street.

The movie theater, though, was the key. The clean, antiseptic building resembled a whitewashed cutting board. Inside the big vertical glass arch lay an island of patient chaos -- the concessions. Around the ceiling ran a border of simulated celluloid, showing the importance of a cockier-than-you Tom Cruise from Top Gun and an intent Kevin Costner loosing his arrow in Prince of Thieves.

We spent countless weekends in its dark cavernous rooms. until one preview blurred into the next movie. I had a couple of first dates there -- hey, I was a teenager, cut me some slack. Each time that border along the ceiling became more and more hokey. Movies can be timeless; movies as interior design less so.

Sadly the memory that will stick will be the next to last visit. A near spontaneous trip to see The Aviator turned rude at the box office. A grandmother and her two grandchildren were out to see a cartoon movie. But the Galleria, already tottering financially, was showing the slightly older, also-ran cartoon competitor. The grandmother was about to teach the girls a lesson in concession, but I had the movie listings and mentioned that her movie was about to play at the new stainless steel and neon Rave directly behind this theater. She corralled the kids and off they went, leaving me to earn the scorn of the ticket lady.

"We don't send people over there. They're the devil."

And you don't want two little girls to see the movie they're hoping for. What does that make you?

I vowed to never return, opting instead to visit the dollar theater up the road.

And now I've driven them out of business. In reality, the writing had been on the wall since Rave announced plans to open next door. The Galleria had fully retreated to indie films, the occasional bad sequel that wouldn't run in more prominent theaters and just two showings a night. I wanted to visit one last time, recalling an arm chair I broke there, popcorn thrown, hiding from bullies, an elderly lady's heart attack. I wanted to take pictures of that film strip border. It is gone now, though. Replaced now with a faux plaster purple with green trim. Timeless.

Also going into the capsule will be the movie postures, the most accurate method of carbon dating a ghostly theater. One of those posters to haunt the curious. Someone, a few years from now will wander into the parking lot and try to place the year, and where they saw March of the Penguins, which became the theater's curtain call for me.

Fitting, because the creators of nature films pull no punches with mortality. I'm a big softie and feeling only slightly nostalgic. The whole thing became melancholy in a way. Until I decided to to pay homage with Boyz II Men ballads. Goodbye Galleria 10.

Atypical adventures at work today. We set out looking for some type of specific electronic part at a nearby electronics store. But their name and their products are at odds. We ended up visiting two separate bathroom fixture stores.

These are the kind of people who would probably be unfailingly snobby, existing to allow me the easy retort.

You work in a room of handles and spigots. You're inundated by excessive fixtures. None of them are connected to anything. You're surrounded by fakery.

They were, however, exceedingly polite. Makes you want to buy something, until you see the price tags.

One of the explorers wanted to see the newest in remote control toilets. The shower set mimicking an antique phone was more interesting. Mostly we saw odd sinks, rejects from concept kitchen shows. No one has this stuff in their homes.

Saw a dual tub bath, and another as wide as long. We all need those.

School stuff: Got an A on my exam Monday. Made some slight progress in regaining a little lost ground on the thesis, but that's in the spring. Starting to feel the early suggested pressures of paper deadlines for this semester.

Tuesday, November 8, 2005

One of my two early morning alarms has slide down the dial. I actually like it, the music is more mellow -- I need that, the first half hour of snoozing is already indistinguishable from sleep -- and, for some reason, at 5:10, the local show gets really patriotic. Congress singing God Bless America should start everyone's day. Still mis-timing the Good morning sunrise, but a few more days should do the trick.

I really tried hard to find something to fuss about, but it is really difficult these days. There's school, but even from there some slight progress is being made this week.

Low 80s in November. Sun streaming through the clouds. Early seafood pasta lunch. Found a new street to wander down on Thursday. Made it to the barber shop, the library and two gift shops. Talked to three dear friends. Heard game theory worked into football. Made plans for next month. Breezed through rush hour traffic. Laughed a lot.

Just that sort of day. Sitting around talking junk antiques, contemplating shards of pottery decorating restaurant walls, it strikes me that all my days are like that.

Pinch me if I ever tell you differently.

Unless I complain about my Shift key -- which has apparently chosen this moment to fuse itself with the keyboard tray -- or the laundry. I should probably do some more of that.

Ready for the Carnival of the Lileks? That's this week. I should do some of that too. Hope you take part. All the details are at that link.

Hi tech. NASA robot scientist Vladimir Lumelsky has developed a revolutionary "skin" that will allow robots to sense astronauts and to move out of the way.

Monday, November 7, 2005

There's that old saw, smugly prepared students deliver with costume jewelry glee. It just hangs there adorning the moment, until the point where you don't know why you bought the piece or made the comment.

"If you haven't learned it yet, you won't learn it now."

Proved that false. First three questions on today's exam were in the paragraph being read on the walk up to class.

And then I almost blanked on the bonus question: Who won the World Series this year?

Hey, my professor likes baseball. I didn't watch any post-season play this year. Seems I have "a life." The memory of this picture, though, bailed me out. Give me my two bonus points. That picture deserves that.

Two Christmas presents came in the mail today. Can I stop now?

Should actually be a good year. We've nixed some of the present giving to certain aspects of the extended family in favor of buying presents, together as a family, for a less fortunate family. You might recall reading about this here before, but now its official. A family of four little girls will be getting unexpected Christmas gifts. They certainly deserve it far more than I do.

And the nuclear family is doing a similar project. Everyone gets one present, and the rest will go to a more deserving end. This is a great idea, though it has met with more support from some family members than others. Overly indulged kids will, hopefully, learn a valuable lesson somewhere.

Best presents I ever bought were for a radio promotion. A show I worked was packing up an RV for . Walked in a store, spent 20 minutes and a fair amount of cash. Been trying to get a philanthropic family Christmas program going since.

Really, when you have a room full of presents to get through you're blessed beyond measure. To whom much has been given, much is expected in return.

Saturday, November 5, 2005

Hot hiking date to Dismals Canyon; a place in northwest Alabama that I'd never heard of until a few months ago.

Decided the leaves would be beautiful, the weather mild, the company good, so I worked up the courage and asked a nice and pretty lady to go outside and walk over slimy rocks, trip over roots and narrowly escape plunging into 50 degree water with me.

Had a great time. Muggy. Overcast. Very warm, unseasonably so, one might say. Upper 70s. Pictures may or may not be very good. Credit where due: I slipped and drove the face of my camera straight into a rock. Thought it was done, but it still works.

Down in the canyon the breeze blows through and cools hikers quickly. Fourteen degrees cooler than outside the canyon. Then there are warm spots to walk through, open air thermoclines. There are small reminders of the Paleo Indians (possibly the Clovis), who first lived there some 10,000 years ago. The Cherokee and Chickasaw lived here too, though they were relatively new to the neighborhood, with their forced removal and ceding their land in the early 19th Century (and becoming a part of the Trail of Tears).

This is private land, well-run, and the government has largely stayed out of the operation. The downside to that is that there has been little excavation performed. But we're walking in a near pristine area cluttered with the minimum of markers.

Two waterfalls, six natural bridges (this region has several), a major pre-historic earthquake, giant imposing boulders, rare flora and fauna -- including the largest known Hemlock in the world -- and a history of hiding make this a special place.

Jesse James laid low here. Aaron Burr spent a few months hiding in the Dismals after dueling with Alexander Hamilton.

And then there are the Dismalites. Arachnocampa luminosa is a fungus gnat, exhibiting a bioluminescent web-like structure that glows blue in the night. The light is thought to attract its insect prey. Found in New Zealand, Australia and Alabama, no one seems to understand the disparity. In fact, Auburn's Dr. Gary Mullen has confirmed finally that the dismalites have mouths. There are lots of mysteries surrounding this creature which demands perfect conditions for survival and has no known predator. They glow nightly 11 months of the year, with peak times in June and July when thousands descend from the cave walls. We saw several dozen, little stars glowing peacefully on the cool rock walls.

A great day trip, but bring cash; the folks in Marion County don't have credit card readers (or will fleece you with percentage charges). The good people up the road in Franklin County, however, do take plastic.

Auburn wins 49-27, but looks sloppy doing it. Beginning to believe Tubby, though, when he talks about talent. They are loaded with young potential-stars. In the meantime, bring on Amen Corner.

Alabama won too, and maybe number three in the BCS after Virginia Tech tanked at home. Didn't catch the Bama game, but sounded workmanlike and efficient. We'll all be cheering for them next weekend, Auburn needs the help to keep its championship hopes alive. The Tide is still struggling on offense though, which doesn't sit well with LSU looming.

Friday, November 4, 2005

Went over to Reed Books for a nostalgic lunch hour. Illegible diaries, ancient trophies, old postcards, movie posters, vintage newspapers and magazines.

And today I found this pristine WBRC promotional piece. Note the date: 1955. Back then they were one of the most modern station in the Southland and boasted The $64,000 question and were preparing to unleash the peerless Gunsmoke.

Basically, its a trip back through time worthy of your grandparents attic. And with books for sale.

Reed's also has street signs. I always wonder how many broken laws are sitting in his shop.

Sometimes you can find a good deal there, as is the case with any antique-type business. Most times his pricey demands and your imperative need for basement decoration just don't come together.

Take this rusty old sign from the WAPI parking lot. This dates back two buildings or so for Alabama's oldest radio station with the voices of such luminaries as, well, myself, crackling out over the ether. There's a lot of lore locked up in this rusted parking lot threat.

How much?


Excuse me? Wouldn't happen to be a WAPI employee discount for that would there?

"That is the discount."

Let's look at that again.

You had to work there to have any interest in that sign. You had to work there and park under that sign every day. You had to work there, park under the sign and be in this store, find it (a considerable challenge) and ask about it. There's a slim demand here. This sign, tetanus and all, is hardly flying off the shelf.

So, a little downtrodden, I gentle placed the old sign back. Mostly because I didn't want to stab myself.

It would not go in my accumulation of Things That Should Be Thrown Out.

And then the inevitable a-ha moment. A-ha! I will take pictures!

More people will see it here than at my house anyway.

Thursday, November 3, 2005

Robert Prather points out that the Internet is turning 15 this month. Check out this perspective on this unlikely happening:
(T)hree things that we need to understand about the web. First, it is more amazing than we think. Second, the conjunction of technologies that made the web successful was extremely unlikely. Third, we probably would not create it, or any technology like it, today. In fact, we would be more likely to cripple it, or declare it illegal.
To the near-Luddites in my graduate school department I will often proclaim -- during someone else's presentation if I have to -- that this is, in fact, the single most powerful communications tool and medium the world has ever known, period. And, remember, it is in its adolescence, both literally and in terms of its potential power. Thank you Internet, and happy birthday.

Took my long walk before class today. Can't really say it is customary since this is only the third one. And I won't have a reason to make this particular walk any more after mid-December. An aerobic interlude, then.

That also allows me to make Thursday a photoblog.

Walked down 5ht Ave. S today, passed Ted's Garage. They restore vintage cars and host business and social functions there. A great little secret of the Southside. Out front they have keys, toy cars and a Studebaker fossil poured into the cement.

Just past Ted's is The Kirkland Clinic, one of the many shiny buildings dedicated to giving the world a medical services perception of Birmingham. The design of this building settles on the consciousness with a soft subtlety. From one direction it is the first building with any height. From another it is the first not made of red brick. There is suddenly a beautiful monochrome building. Passed it many times without every really studying it.

Saw the leaves. Lots of beautiful leaves.

And a gorgeous sunset. From an elevated crosswalk at the UAB campus that I've driven under for years, but have never used.

Wednesday, November 2, 2005

The sun just showed up in the sky this morning. No rise, no burst, no golden glory off the horizon. But when the sky lit up the universe exploded with the yellows of poplars and the deep red hues of the maples. Fall is falling, long live fall. I'll be taking pictures tomorrow on my weekly urban hike, and on a nature hiking trip this weekend. Looks like we've timed that one just right.

Speaking of pictures, I'm working on the October photographs. Something like 300 to choose from. That's after weeding out the terrible ones. Should be a big month, whenever I get around to adding them all.

Kelly has autumn pictures. Go be jealous.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert has a blog. Surprisingly this isn't getting more attention. This is a significant move from the perspective of the Internet world, and a wise step on his part. He's talking directly to the people, considerately addressing the bills before Congress and offering a simplistic explanation. He hasn't mentioned any of the riders on the legislation yet, but is discussing the essence, like H.R. 1606:
Today we're taking up the Online Freedom of Speech Act. It's a good bill. Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate are supporting it.

This bill is about all the folks out in the blogosphere. It's going to protect what you say. It keeps the hand of the Federal government out of Internet speech.

Listen, I know that some of you out there may not agree with me on everything. That's okay. But if you want the freedom to keep blogging and saying whatever you're saying without government intervention, this is the bill to support.
The bill lost later in the day. And Hastert used the opportunity to call out Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi for her vote against it. Here is the full vote roster. Fear not: this is good legislation, there is language in the works to keep your freedom free and it will be back. There's nothing to be concerned about there and the whole process serves to underscore problems in a particular bit of 2002 legislation.

I'll spare you any greater details.

Minor setback in the thesis today. Got a phone call that went a different direction I wanted it to go, but I'm still optimistic. Just have to start over. Lots of options out there to pursue, and that should carry me through the end of the year.

Fish Market for dinner. Standard, bare restaurant long on Greek flavor. And kitsch. Sadly the Po' Boy does not keep with the theme.

Tuesday, November 1, 2005

The Halloween mystery is solved, thanks to Email from Mom:
I hate to have to be the one to break it to you ... but if you wait til 7:00 p.m. to start handing out Halloween candy you're going to be stuck with a lot of it left over ... The last few years kids start about 4:30 or 5:00. They no longer wait til 6:30-7:00 like when you were little.


Most places now have "Trunk-or-treat" at churches and such ... where adults take their cars to a parking lot (in a controlled environment, of course) and some actually decorate their cars and kids just walk from car to car getting candy.
Getting home early. How dreamy that'd be. As for that last part ... that's just plain heresy.

The loss of Daylight Savings kicked in last evening. Never happens on that weekend day, but the first day of work after the change, you may as well call that off. We're granted a hangover day for New Year's, we should really be getting that after setting the clocks back.

On the upside, the sunrises are back. On the downside, I drove to class and the shadows were ominously long. Before 4 p.m. Nothing about that is right.

Got a great idea for a shirt. The first version is up now on Cafepress. In a few weeks Auburn is naming the field at Jordan-Hare after former coach Pat Dye. Seems like we need to commemorate that. Check out the thumbnail just under the links on the left. "Jordan-Hare Stadium. Where opponents come to Dye."

Next I'm turning it into a postcard. And there will be a note on the back too. A rare collectors item. All proceeds will be donated.

St. Andrew's meeting today. We're redoing the little promotional video with a fresh new script. When we get that completed and a new site built (another side project) I'll point you to it. Powerful little piece.

Just one week until the first Carnival of Lileks. Some seven people are in so far. Everyone wins -- its a writing exercise and drums up a bit more traffic. We've tweaked the rules a bit. Sometime between next Sunday (11/6) and the following Saturday (11/12) you submit the weekly best "Lileksian" post -- sharing with us all the wit, wisdom and metaphor of a day of your choice. The volunteer host will then post them for all to see (Sunday evening or by Monday at the latest). Cross post from your own site, bring your friends. If you are too busy one week, no big deal, just jump back in the next time. First week host: www.couchcafe.comShoot us a note if you're interested.