#TBT: Somebody Just Got Rich, but It Ain’t Me!

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I first ran this post in 2013 after someone in my state won a paltry $400 million lottery. Well, lightning struck again only this time it’s someone right here in the Upstate AND instead of $400 million, the haul is a record $1.6 BILLION. So I thought it’d be appropriate to run it again!

As I write this, someone, somewhere here in my beloved Palmetto State is the nouveau-est of the nouveau riche.

Someone in South Carolina purchased a PowerBall lottery ticket yesterday and for his or her trouble is now $400 million $1.6 billion richer. Let that sink in just a minute. Yesterday morning, this person got up and maybe went to some dead-end job to give a little more sweat and time to The Man in exchange for enough of a paycheck to get by. All day long yesterday at his machine or behind her desk, this special someone was working away without the slightest idea the Long Black Freight Train of Fate was rolling down the tracks right towards him or her. For once, the light at the end of the tunnel WAS a train — metaphorically at least — and this time, that wasn’t a bad thing.

I like to picture this soon-to-no-longer-be-a-drone getting off work and starting towards home in a car or truck with broken air conditioning, four bald tires, and a drooping headliner. He sighs as he pulls out of the parking lot. She waves goodbye to the security guard at the gate. Either way, one of them turns into the late afternoon sun for a hot, sticky ride to the house. Suddenly, the headache that’s been building all day gets annoying so she pulls into a Quickie Mart clone near home to grab a Pepsi Max to wash down a few Advil in hopes of taking the edge off the pounding before facing the kiddos.

He’s a decent guy so he’s probably making some small talk with Apu behind the counter when he notices the sign stating the PowerBall jackpot is up to $400 million. He figures, “Eh, what the Hell?” and gives over a couple of dollars, fills out the ticket and heads home laughing at himself a little at the silliness of buying a lottery ticket. What would his sainted Southern Baptist grandmother think if she could see him now?

Just as an aside, this is one of the quirks of lotto ticket buying I’ve never understood. I’ve actually heard people say, “Ah, the pot’s only at $50 million . . . I don’t even bother getting a ticket if it’s less than $200 million.” That’s crazy talk! You are standing on a sidewalk in front of a 7-11 looking like death on a stick and you’ve come to the conclusion a mere $50 million wouldn’t be worth your while? Now I read somewhere that Bill Gates would actually lose money if he stopped to pick up a $100 bill off the sidewalk. I have no idea if that’s true, but I know none of us are Bill.

Anyway, our erstwhile worker ant gets home, talks to the significant other, plays with the kids . . . whatever. Supper’s ready then the dishes get washed and he turns around to the TV just in time to catch the day’s numbers. Funny . . . those sound familiar. Not even seriously hoping for anything and certainly not expecting anything, he reaches into his pocket and pulls out his lotto stub with the numbers he chose. He takes one look at his ticket, looks back at the screen, and the next thing he knows his wife is kneeling beside him fanning him and dabbing his neck with a cool cloth. When she asks him what happened, he shows her the ticket, points to the TV, and just manages to catch her head before it hits the floor. They won. They have hit the big time.

Dude is now LOADED. He woke up in the morning wondering how he was going to stretch the money to the end of the month and he’s going to bed tonight with visions of Maserati and mansions dancing in his head.  Of course he can’t sleep. First thing this morning he called in sick to work. Dude’s tickled to death about the money, but he’s smart so he called the lawyer who helped him close on the double wide. Then he called a buddy of his who is an accountant. THEN, the three of them went down to the store to turn in that ticket.

Now here’s another thing that cracks me up. I was reading some of the comments on the stories about the winning lottery jackpot. One guy, obviously eating a bushel of sour grapes, remarked how sad it was $400 million gets taxed down to $145 million and “no one seems to care.” WHY WOULD YOU CARE!!!??? The day before, stand up weenies and saltine crackers were a gourmet lunch because this guy was one paycheck away from the poor-house and today he has $145 Million after taxes? Sure, Uncle Sam, take your chunk because I’m STILL RICH!! ONLY $145 million. That’s like saying the Star of India is ONLY a diamond or the Grand Canyon is ONLY a hole in the ground.

So this guy is set for life now, whoever and wherever he is, and I’m truly happy for him. If there is any real justice in the world, he or she is a teacher with the class from Hell this year and now gets to quit if she wants to because that brings up my final funny point . . . all these people who win these millions get interviewed and say “I just don’t think I could stay home all day so I think I’ll keep on working like always.” RIIIIGHT! When I was a high school teacher I used to talk about hitting the lottery with my students and I always told them the same thing, “Folks, if you see Coach Wham on the news holding up one of those big paper checks that says ‘Lottery Winnings: $X millions’, DO NOT look for me at work the next day! I will hire my OWN substitute, but I’m going fishing!”

So here’s to you Mr. or Mrs. Lottery Winner. I hope the wealth doesn’t change you — unless of course you are a raging asshole and then hopefully it will change you for the better — and to all the dreamers who have worthless slips of paper in your pockets, all I can say is “better luck next time.”

Til then though, I love y’all — rich or poor — and remember to keep those feet clean!

#TBT: But They Were Both Green!

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God’s gift to men-children everywhere. For some reason, all mine were green elephants and purple hippos. Coincidence? I think not.

This post first ran on February 16, 2011

I’ve had some people ask me if I had personal experience as my guide for my last post. To that, I can only answer “Of course!” I am still amazed by the amount of knowledge I lost on January 7, 1995. (That would be the day Budge and I started dating, in case you aren’t keeping up!) For the last ten years, I had been a passable driver, notching only one wreck in that decade. It was a GOOD wreck, but still, it was only one and, to set the record straight, Budge had TWO wrecks in the six months before we met. More importantly, I had managed for the previous 20 years to dress myself in clean and decent fashion. I admit that when I was younger, I benefited from the miracle that was the original Granimals line of clothing, but even after I outgrew my mix and match zoo, I still looked presentable.

In one day, I not only lost the ability to drive, it seems I was no longer competent to dress myself either. Strangely, the only thing different from 1-6-95 to 1-7-95 was that I had become joined at the heart, if not the hip — at first at least, to She-Who-Was-To-Be-Called-Budge. Now, to get everyone just joining us up to speed, Budge was a student where I was a first year teacher. We met. We clicked. We became the worst kept secret in the school district and the fact I didn’t get fired (at least not for our relationship) has always warmed my heart because people must have thought I was a good enough man to have a relationship like this without taking advantage of a poor, lovestruck teenage girl.

Yeah, RIGHT! If they ONLY knew how brazen my future wife was!

Anyway, when I started teaching, I was a bit strapped for clothes fit to wear in front of a classroom full of students. Four years of college will do that to a guy’s wardrobe. I did, however, have ONE outfit that I thought was, to use the student vernacular of those days, “Da Bomb!” It was a nice, heavy cloth Duck Head button up shirt that I wore with Duck Head cargo pants.

Now, if you aren’t familiar with Duck Head, you didn’t go to college in the South in the late ’80s or early ’90s. They were a ubiquitous brand of khaki pants and pastel shirts in solids, plaids, and stripes. Some of us called them “the poor man’s Polo” since they were better made but lacked some of the cachet of Mr. Lauren’s little red horsey. They certainly were a great deal more affordable, especially when every dollar one saved on clothing was money that could be put towards paying down student loans! Yeah, I know and you’re right, whatever we saved went to beer, but it’s nice to think about what might have been had we been a bit more responsible.

But I digress.

This is pretty close to what mine looked like. Snazzy, right?

I had this one well-made, well-maintained and — to my eye anyway — STYLISH outfit. Since I am a firm believer in the old adage, “If one guitar string breaks in the middle of the set, play harder on the other five” I wore this particular outfit once per week, every week, from the time I got my job at the school in October until the outfit’s untimely demise six months later. Now, I’ve noted the cut, construction, and origin of this outfit, but what I failed to mention, and what apparently is SUPREMELY important, is that both the shirt and the pants were green. Apparently, that presented somewhat of a problem.

This would be a good time for me to reiterate one fundamental difference between men and women that happens to be most germane to this recollection. Men, to use computer terminology, are 4 bit color depth beings. If you’ve ever hooked up a monitor to your computer that wasn’t quite compatible and it reverted back to the lowest color setting, you’ve seen color through a man’s eye. We have red, blue, green, white, black, grey, and beige (and we’re not to sure about beige.)

Mine were a little lighter, but this is reasonably close. Does anyone else see a problem? I certainly didn’t!

Women, however, are 256 XVGA HD 1080 color compatible. They do not have “beige.” They have eggshell, off-white, candlelight, old lace, ecru (which I always though was a bird from Australia), flat champagne, and at least ten other “shades” for what men call “beige” and which no being in possession of less than two X chromosomes could discern a difference between even if held at gunpoint.

So, I thought the shirt was green and the pants were green. No problem. To Budge, however, I discovered that the pants were “olive” and the shirt was “dark lime.” Here I thought I was supposed to wear the clothes and she’s making it sound like I need to eat them. The very first time I brought her home to meet Mama, before I had revealed to Mama that Budge was — in fact — a student which is a story for another time, Budge went into my room — later to be our room — took out my “olive” pants, brought them into the kitchen, and threw them in the trash. She then told me that I could wear THE shirt with jeans and nothing else.

Life would simpler. I might even get to buy my own clothes again!

When I pointed out to her that I had worn that same outfit once a week for six months and she had NEVER said one word about it, she had a ready reply: “I know that, honey, and I told ‘the girls’ when we first started dating that once I found out I was coming over here the first thing on the agenda was to GET RID OF THAT OUTFIT!”

That, beloved, is how I found out that green actually doesn’t “go with” green and from that day to this, I have not bought an item of clothing to be worn in public without my Budge’s express approval.

I want my Granimals back!

Love y’all and keep those feet clean!

Great War Wednesday: 1918 Flu Pandemic

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Flu_viruaThe Great War provided a plethora of ways a man could meet his Maker; some were even quite novel. He could take a rifle bullet to the vitals from across No Man’s Land, or even be riddled with rifle bullets from one of the new machine guns as he charged across the broken way. He could disappear into a fine red mist if an artillery shell landed in the midst of him and his buddies. A sudden gas shell attack could dissolve his lungs in his chest. Given the right terrain and weather, he could drown in sticky, soupy mud. He could even fall out of the sky, burning like a candle, in one of the new airplanes if his enemy got behind him or the ground fire was accurate enough.

Novelty is fine and all, but for sheer staggering numbers of piled up corpses, it’s hard to beat the old black horse from St. John’s Book of Revelation — Pestilence. From the dawn of time until the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, disease killed more men in war than stones, swords, and shells. That was the first war where combat caused more casualties than disease, but in 1918, a plague fell over the entire world which would try to rethrone pestilence. The great killer was the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic.

First, though, we need to clear up a little nomenclature. This outbreak has come down through history bearing the name of the “Spanish Flu.” Because of the name, many people believe the flu originated in Spain. This is patently false. The disease picked up the name of Spanish Flu because of Spain’s neutral stance in World War One. In countries where men were off at war, military censors cut, redacted, or at least downplayed the outbreak. Because Spain was neutral, her press was free to report whatever about the flu. Since most of the early reports of the disease came from Spanish media sources, people assumed Spain was the epicenter of the flu when in fact, it was a matter of reporting. Spain suffered a proportionate number of flu deaths, but no more than any other nation.

In fact, the flu first appeared in the United States in early March 1918 at a military installation called Camp Funston in Fort Reilly, Kansas. Several men reported to sick call with normal flu-like symptoms. From these humble beginnings, the pandemic exploded, especially when American troops landed in Europe to fight in the Great War.

The disease traveled across oceans and through mountain passes. India was devastated as was China. Unlike many diseases, isolation and distance did not slow this strain. Millions of cases broke out across Australia, New Zealand, and even reached remote Pacific outposts like Fiji and the Christmas Islands. It truly was a global killer. Estimates of total number of individuals infected stand at fully one-third of the world population. This exceeded even the infamous Black Death in 15th Century Europe.

Death was widespread as well. The most conservative number is 20 million fatalities, while at the other end of the spectrum, people have put forth a chilling 100 million deaths. Exact counts are difficult because of the sheer scale of the outbreak, but if the upper number is close to the truth, the Spanish Flu of 1918-1919 killed more people than both world wars combined. What scientists are still trying to figure out and debating, however, is what exactly made the Spanish Flu H1N1 strain such a killer, and so much deadlier than other previous and subsequent flus.

We know the Spanish Flu was an avian flu of the H1N1 strain. If that sounds familiar it’s because a similar H1N1 strain known as “The Bird Flu” broke out in China several years ago and threatened to break out into a pandemic that fortunately was averted. It killed the typical targets flu usually takes, the very young and the elderly, but what made this flu unique is how hard it hit the 20 – 40 year-old demographic. These are usually healthy adults whose immune systems generally shake off the flu after a few sick days.

This flu wouldn’t shake, however. It attacked the lungs with a vengeance, causing air space to fill with fluid. Deprived of oxygen, many people died and those who did more often than not developed pneumonia as a secondary infection and without even penicillin or sulfa antibiotics, those with pneumonia perished more than recovered.

The pandemic reached its peak killing capacity around December 1918. Contributing to the deaths was the sheer number of cases. Even in the most developed countries and cities, healthcare systems were overwhelmed. Hospitals pulled in people beyond their capacity. The number of deaths swamped funeral homes. At the height of the outbreak, people lost the luxury of single family funerals. Instead, many of the dead were interred in mass graves even in America.

By the spring of 1919, the Spanish Flu seemed to have shot its shot. Total number of cases tapered off and the strain on healthcare eases enough to allow for better treatment and proper quarantines. The world wide killer had passed on.

Today, we are still under threats of an outbreak of a disease like Spanish Flu. Thankfully, modern antibiotics — though not the panacea they once were — and better overall hygiene help keep outbreaks manageable, but the same flu strain that killed so many people is still out there. The CDC and a few other labs around the world have samples of flu-infected tissues taken from bodies in colder regions. The Spanish Flu lives on in captivity, but could it ever break free and ravage the world again? Only time will tell.

Love y’all and keep your feet clean!

#TBT: Of Starfish

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Once upon a time, I was a teacher and a librarian. That was a long time ago, but back when I was and I started this blog, this post got more views than any other had up to that point and it is still in the top five ten years later.

I’ve been thinking about a lot of things and doing some intense soul searching over the last few weeks since finding out my position has been cut at school and I don’t have a job next year. To be honest, I’ve been seriously considering some field other than education just because the endless politics and prurience keep dragging me down. So I’m publishing this article that I originally wrote for my state association’s newsletter. I’ve been rereading it to try and boost my flagging spirits.  I hope y’all like it.

“Of Starfish”

Starfish and coffee, maple syrup and jam;
butterscotch clouds, tangerines, side order of ham.
If you set your mind free, baby, maybe you’d understand
Starfish and coffee, maple syrup and jam. (Music and lyrics by Prince Rogers Nelson)

Most everyone in education has or has read the poster / cup / screensaver about the young boy throwing starfish back into the ocean as the older gentleman watches him and comments on how useless the boy’s efforts are. Many of us, especially after a hard day when the children (and faculty) have tried our patience, are sustained by the hopeful last line of that free verse that says, “It made a difference to that one.”

We all have starfish in our careers. They are our life’s blood and they keep us going; their very existence validating our best efforts and giving us the desire to come back in August even if we left in May or June swearing we’ll “never come back again.” Our starfish, our precious students and even teachers, in whose lives we have made a noted, tangible difference, are the most valuable revitalizing resources we possess.

I got to pondering starfish last Saturday after eating with my wife at one of the nicer Italian restaurants in town. Our regular waiter at that particular eatery happens to be one of my first, and still one of my most beloved, starfish. Jason (not his real name) was a sensitive, broody young man in my honors English class during a particularly bad year for me professionally. He thought deeply of subjects far beyond the purview of many of his classmates. He pondered much more than proms, power, and the popular crowd, of which he was an abject outcast. Jason had problems at home where a burly stepfather insisted he play football even though Jason had precious little athletic aptitude and even less interest. To make his life even more stressful at the time, Jason was also extremely confused about his sexual orientation. For some reason, he chose to confide in me. In all honesty, it wasn’t a subject I liked, was comfortable with, knew much about, or wanted to discuss, but something in me knew that Jason wasn’t going to go to anyone else, at school or out.

So, I listened before school, after classes and at the end of the day as he talked through what he was feeling. I felt terrible because I didn’t think I was being much help other than as a sounding board. Then one day, whether by luck, intuition, or some latent librarian skill, I gave him a copy of a book that had come to me in a box of classroom library donations. The title character was a teenaged boy with an emotionally abusive stepfather and confusion about what sexual orientation he had. It wasn’t a famous book; if someone put a gun to my head and demanded I tell him the title, I’d be shot dead.

Be all that as it may, the book seemed to be a key for Jason. He took solace that someone, even a fictional someone, had similar thoughts to his own. I don’t know why, but whatever the reason, he seemed to regain a little more life and a bit of zest. I remained his unofficial father confessor through his senior year and he stopped by quite often during his first year of junior college. We lost touch for about two years until he walked up in his spiffy waiter’s uniform and apron to be our waiter one night about two years ago. Between the breadbaskets and the ice cream desserts, he told Budge and me that he’d dropped out of college, gone back, dropped out again, started waiting tables in good restaurants and got certification as a physical therapy masseur. He now has a wonderful live-in girlfriend, whom I have met, so apparently, as I’ve kidded him, he has a handle on his orientation. We see each other about once a month, either at the restaurant or at a bookstore or ice creamery. He mentions those bad times every now and then, but no matter how many times he says it, I still get shivers and Budge says my face lights up when Jason says, “Coach, you listened when no one else did . . . I appreciated it so much.”

Jason was my first memorable starfish, but I’m glad to say, not my last. I hardly have space to talk about the wonderful parade of miscreants and misfits, talkative and taciturn, popular and pauper who have made my career as a teacher and now as a librarian incredibly interesting and unbelievably fulfilling, like the five boys who demanded I sign their diplomas because they felt I was the only reason they got them or the young lady and her beau who asked that I perform their wedding after graduation. Then I had the two tough middle school football players who say I’m the only one who could ever get them to read a book, the list could easily go on. They are all my starfish.

I suppose my reasons for focusing so much on starfish have a lot to do with one particular young student I knew well once upon a time. He was very overweight and had pasty white-pink skin. His middle school playground nickname was “The Great White Marshmallow.” Overly smart for his age, non-athletic to the extreme, bookish, he was simply not a success in the shark tank of middle school. I can see him now in sixth grade huddled in the back of the small library poring over a copy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, hoping earnestly that the large eighth grade jocks wouldn’t come inhere after him.

The young man’s best ally was the school’s librarian. She was the picture of kindness to him, even lending him her personal first edition of The Fellowship of the Ring because the school’s library didn’t have one. Looking back, he can understand how incredibly busy she was at the time and he knows now that she was going through tough times of her own, but she always took as much time he needed to talk about elves and dwarves and hobbits.

Because of the love of books and learning she imparted to one lonely starfish, that starfish had the desire to go on to college, then to library school and become a librarian himself. The librarian is now at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory as a psychometrician on the venerated faculty of Harvard University, but the boy starfish is now a middle school librarian and he’s never forgotten what it felt like to be burning up on life’s beach only to have a caring set of hands take him back to the cool ocean.

In closing, my esteemed colleagues, remember your starfish. Some of them may drive you crazy while some may make you smile and laugh, but either way, remember you never know the difference you make in someone’s, some starfish’s, life.

Love y’all and don’t forget to wash your feet.

A Decade of Grocery Store Feet

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10 yearsToday marks ten years since the first post I made on this blog. It’s easy to remember the day because my first post was about Labor Day and how it’s vital to teachers. I talked about teachers in many of my posts back then. Then, the blog name was “Books, Bytes, and Grocery Store Feet” because it was aimed at my colleagues — other school librarians. I had no way of knowing at the time, but 2008 would be my last year in education. Actually, it would be the last time I was in anything. After a lifetime fighting my mind, my mind finally won so I’ve spent the last ten years on the sidelines.

Still, ten years is a long time for me to have done ANYTHING! This blog constitutes the second longest thing I’ve ever managed. Dana and I have been married 22 years. That’s the only thing I’ve done continuously for longer than I’ve written this blog. It’s longer than any other romantic relationship I’ve had by a long shot and longer than any single job I’ve ever held so I guess I have room to be thankful for this little blog anyway.

I looked up some statistics about “Granny Beads and Grocery Store Feet” that WordPress provides and I’m a little amazed by some of them. I have over 2300 followers, which is strange because I’ve never had 2300 views on a single post so apparently not everyone is keeping up to date. This blog has been viewed and read in 190 countries and territories across the world. Presently, the UN recognizes 194 sovereign countries so I’ve made a tiny ripple in a good chunk of them and since I’ll never travel to a foreign land, it makes me happy to know my ideas have at least crossed oceans.

I’ve managed to post at least one item per month for each of the last 120 months. I’m proud of that streak. It means I’ve been able to stay on top of something, even if it’s something small and inconsequential. I’ve also been featured on Freshly Pressed three times which, considering the sheer number of blogs on the WordPress platform isn’t something I take lightly. It’s one of my happier accomplishments.

I’ll be honest though, more than once I’ve thought of shutting Granny Beads and Grocery Store Feet down. One of the main reasons is I don’t get a lot of views on what I think are good or important topics. I’ve only gone over 1000 views a handful of times. The latest post that went over 1K was my tribute to my Uncle Larry. I’m happy people liked that post, but it makes me a little sad that someone had to die for me to write something a thousand people would want to read. I wish some of my other posts had managed that level of popularity.

For now though, I’ll keep writing. I’d love to have some of my readers suggest something they would like to read about and if I can be articulate on the subject, maybe I can get a post written about it. Anyway, it’s been an interesting ten years to say the least.

Love y’all and keep your feet clean.

A Matter of Priorities

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Two scandals have blackened the eye of college football this summer. In the first, as many as thirteen University of North Carolina football players were caught selling limited edition shoes gifted to them by Nike and the school. For the egregious violation of NCAA rules and basically trying to make a little bit of money — since they don’t get PAID for putting their bodies on the line for UNC — these thirteen young men received punishments ranging from one to four game suspensions. They’ll have to sit on the sidelines for up to four games for selling their personal property.

The second scandal involved Ohio State University head football coach Urban Meyer III. A full explanation of the case involving Meyer is beyond the scope of my posting but here are the salient details. Basically, a guy named Zach Smith coached wide receivers for Ohio State. He also has a record of domestic violence towards his wife. After one episode, his wife told Meyer’s wife about the abuse and offered pictures. The upshot is Smith ended up fired from Ohio State and the question came up “what did Coach Meyer know and when did he know it?” He claimed he knew nothing about Smith’s past. An investigation by Ohio State took two weeks during which Meyer was suspended without pay. The investigation found something rotten in the state of Ohio and determined Meyer should be punished. For ignoring a man on his staff beating his wife, Meyer will be suspended for the first three games of this football season.

Let’s review. Young men in their late teens and early twenties who are football players sold their OWN stuff to a third party and some of them will be suspended FOUR games as punishment. A head football coach in his middle fifties ignored an assistant coach’s history of domestic violence and lied about it and he will be suspended THREE games as punishment.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but THREE is LESS than FOUR, I think. Math was never my best subject, but I’m pretty sure of this one. I’m also pretty sure criminal domestic violence is a more serious offense than selling one’s own property through legal channels.

In the parlance of this latest generation — WTF?

Sell your shoes and get suspended four games; ignore a man beating his wife and get suspended three games.

I’m gobsmacked by the complete failure of the system in this case, and lately, it takes A LOT to even mildly surprise me. My questions are why are the boys even being investigated and why isn’t Urban Meyer being fired as head coach?

In the name of full disclosure, let me just go on record as admitting I pretty much hate football. I went to a high school where football players were treated as demigods then I went to a college where they dropped the “demi” and just treated them like gods. It’s always turned my stomach. I don’t hate the players; I hate the game, just like the man said to do. Football players and coaches are just taking what life gives them; it’s the schools and the fans that are crazy.

Ohio State has a slogan painted on the wall of its practice facility for football. It says:

HONESTY

TREAT WOMEN WITH RESPECT

NO DRUGS NO STEALING NO WEAPONS

Is domestic violence treating women with respect? If you are the head coach of a multimillion dollar a year football team do you not have a responsibility to know what’s going on with your players AND YOUR COACHES? What good does it do to paint a slogan on the wall if, by your actions, you demean everything it stands for?

Let’s review, again. If you risk permanent physical or mental damage for your school twelve times in a year for three or four years, BUT someone else can take your place on the depth chart, you get a FOUR game suspension for selling your own shoes. On the other hand, if you get paid $38 MILLION to help your school bring in nearly $1 BILLION in sports revenue AND you’re considered the second or third greatest college football coach in the game, you can ignore your responsibility and LIE about it and you will only get suspended THREE games.

Something is broken in our country when our priorities are so distorted.

Love y’all and keep your feet clean.

PS: for much better explanations of what is going on at both schools, I’ve got three really good articles I’d suggest you read, if you can stand it. They explain things in much better detail.

Shoe Deals and Double Standards at North Carolina

Urban Meyer stays as Ohio State football coach, but he is diminished after investigation

Why Didn’t Ohio State Fire Urban Meyer?

#TBT: Verbal Brutality: Still Life in Words

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Friend of mine has started restoring his high school ride. It’s a ’68 GTO. I started thinking about this post from November 21, 2011.

You ever get something on your mind and you cannot move on to something else because you can’t concentrate with THAT thought rolling around in your head? You know, kind of like getting “It’s a Small World After All” stuck in your head on an endless loop? I’ve run into such a syndrome this fine Monday morning.

I was balancing out the checkbook from the weekend, pretty much the way I do every Monday, and I uncovered a couple of bills had slid or slipped or — knowing me — been placed under a stack of other papers. One was the water bill and of course it was overdue so I went online and paid it immediately since Budge doesn’t ask for much, but running water IS one of her requirements.

Anyway, after settling up those couple of bills and scheduling out the taxes (which were ALSO resting comfortably under the aforementioned pile) I realized we had about a third of the money I’d hoped we’d have for Christmas. Now, please understand, that’s nothing unusual. Since I got fired, money is always tight around here.

It was just a little disheartening to get socked this early on a Monday morning AFTER my awesome new-to-me laptop decided to lose it’s mind (and LCD screen) AND after spilling a heaping cup of Domino’s Extra Fine Granulated Sugar all over the counter and floor as I was making tea. I just wasn’t in the mood to be reminded of this particular incident, but . . . what’re you gonna do? Thanks to a story I saw on the internet, it was rolling around in my head and I’m hoping telling this story publicly will help exorcise this foul mental demon. After all, I need the room up there.

So without further fanfare, I want to tell about the most brutal, most condescending, most intentionally hurtful thing ANYONE has ever said to me. Names have been changed to show how even with BPD, Dysthymic Disorder, anger management problems, and all my other issues I’m just telling a story; I’m not out for revenge or trying to hurt anyone.

My Papa John had a 1965 Pontiac GTO he was insanely proud of. He loved that car. When I was small, he would put me on his lap and let me steer it down the highway. The GTO died when I was in middle school, but instead of getting rid of it, Papa took it down to our little white church and put it up on jack stands (not blocks) and threw a nice cover over it. Our plan was for me to “fix it up” and drive it once I got to high school and got my own job. Apparently, at some point, the antagonist of this story — a filthy rich Pontiac aficionado, found out about the GTO and offered to buy it from Papa John. Now, folks, Israel will give up the West Bank of Jordan and leave Jerusalem before my Papa John would have sold the GTO. So he said, “No thank you.” Undeterred, the guy would make papa the same offer several times over the years.

Then in my senior year of high school, Papa John had his first major debilitating stroke. It wasn’t his first stroke, but it was the first one to take him out of action for an extended period of time. Papa John gave me the title to the GTO and said, in his newly slurred speech, to go ahead with our plans and as soon as he got well, we’d work on the car together.

Unfortunately, I found out restoring cars is a rich man’s hobby. Even repairing the GTO enough to return it to the road proved to be beyond my means with my high school jobs. By then, I’d had it towed from the church to a friend of mine’s house who had a full on shop where I planned to do the work. Fortunately, the GTO wasn’t eating anything, didn’t cost much in taxes, and was more or less safe from the elements. I figured circumstances would change eventually and I could complete the restoration.

Once the Pontiac guy found out about Papa’s stroke, he started turning up the heat on ME to sell him the car. Please bear in mind I had all the same issues back then I do now, BUT I didn’t know anything was wrong with me, I just thought I was a raging asshole with a hair trigger temper. So I said, “No.” When he kept asking, I upped my response to “Hell no.”

Then, one night after I’d had a pretty disastrous day, the phone rang. This was in the pre-caller id days or I’d never have answered it. It was, of course, the Pontiac guy. We started going through the usual preliminary small talk expected of Southern men even if they DO hate each other but this time, he had a different tactic. He went straight for the guts. He said, “Shannon, I’ll tell you, I’ve been trying to buy that piece of $#@! GTO from your grandfather and now you for too long and I’m just going to be straight with you, John’s never going to drive again and you’ll never get that car running on what you make at a grocery store– you need to sell me that car tonight if for no other reason than

(here it comes)

(the ugliest thing anyone’s ever said to me even to this day)

I know you are dirt poor and could desperately use the money.”

I didn’t have anything to say. The saddest part was how right he was. At that particular moment, all the fight went out of me. With tears in my eyes, but not my voice (pride is a dangerous thing) I told him I’d leave the title and the key with Bobby (the guy who owned the shop where I had the car) after school the next day and he could pick them and the car up and drop off a check whenever. What he gave for our beloved GTO wouldn’t buy a set of tires today.

Now here is one of my life’s greatest ironies, I went to high school with the Pontiac guy’s son. Later on, I would be roommates in college with his son and dude became one of the best friends I’ve ever had. I could always count on him and still can.

I never mentioned the conversation with his father to my buddy. He knew where the car came from but not the circumstances. He also knew I loved old cars so he’d update me on his dad’s latest restoration projects. To this day, thirty years later, the GTO sits in a warehouse in Laurens County, protected from the elements, but still far from my planned glorious outcome for it. I doubt it’ll ever see the road again.

I don’t think St. Peter allows driving where Papa’s gone to now. It’s most likely hard to get tire marks off golden pavement, so I doubt Papa could care less.

As for me, whenever I see a 1965 GTO on the road, on TV or in a magazine, to this day, I taste bile and — more than that — dirt in my mouth for hours afterwards.

Love y’all, keep those feet clean, and be careful what you say to each other.

Great War Wednesday: The Hundred Days

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hundred daysAugust 1918 proved a turning point in the Great War, in this case, the final turning point. The German Spring Offensive had begun with a roar in early May, but by July had managed to peter out with a whimper. It had managed to prove the war could become mobile again, but the cost was the cream of the German Imperial Army. At this point, the Entente forces realized the time was ripe for a decisive counter attack while Germany was at her weakest and most overextended. Thus began what we now call The Hundred Days or, so a not to confuse it with the “original” Hundred Days of Napoleon Bonaparte, The Hundred Days Offensive or sometimes The Advance to Victory.

Germany’s greatest fear materialized in the middle of 1918. Even though the war was down to only the Western Front, Russia having capitulated, that one front was now loaded with men and most of them were not wearing German uniforms. The Americans had arrived in force with more arriving every day. The presence of so many new men, especially so many new men seemingly suicidally rash, invigorated the Entente forces. Even though General Pershing insisted on American troops remaining in American units instead of spreading out to replace other countries’ troops, the Americans turned the tide. Once the British and French realized the doughboys were not going to break up, they happily placed American units in the line and pretty much let them go at it pell mell. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked.

The Entente also acquired numerous troops from the Middle Eastern and Italian Fronts. Those sectors had been largely abandoned as everyone realized for good or ill this war would be decided where it had begun, on the Western Front.

The usual starting point of the Hundred Days is fixed at the Battle of Amiens. For the first time, and eerily foreshadowing future events, five hundred tanks accompanied the infantry into this battle. They managed to blow a hole in the depleted German front and the tanks poured through the gap much as the cavalry of old and attacked the rear lines. The first day saw the Entente troops gain back twelve miles of territory and, more importantly, for the first time in the war, German morale shattered and the proud Imperial Army showed its back as it began what would become the final retreat.

By mid-August, Germany had lost the entirety of the gains it had made during Operation Michel and was in a fighting retreat. British General Haig took two weeks to consolidate his position and launched the Second Battle of the Somme on 21 August 1918. Unlike the massive casualties suffered in 1916, the British had great success against what was becoming rapidly growing numbers of raw German recruits and lesser reserves. Now the painful losses of the Spring Offensive began to tell against the Germans as the new troops forced into the line were in no way capable of replacing the quality of first line troops lost in the doomed attacks. By the time the Entente troops stopped to regroup in late August, the entire German front line had collapsed. Nothing remained between the Entente and a final victory except the massive Hindenburg Line. Here, Germany would make its final stand.

Love y’all and keep your feet clean.

 

Requiem for My Uncle

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Uncle Larry at 60

Larry R. Dickson, my uncle. December 22, 1951 — August 12, 2018. Rest In Peace.

I lost one of my favorite people Sunday. My Uncle Larry — my only uncle — drowned in a boat accident on his favorite lake. He’d spent the night on the lake, and Aunt Cathy spoke to him around 10:30 pm. That was the last we heard of him. His boat drifted into a cove with Dabo, the golden retriever, standing in the bow confused. A person who lived in the cove called the local police and a search began with all the bells and whistles: helicopters, boats, sonar, the works. A fisherman found his body about 7:30 yesterday morning. Cause of death was freshwater drowning.

All of us will miss him. He was one of those people who was capable of filling up a room whenever he entered one. He loved everyone. I don’t remember ever seeing him not smiling. He was always full of mischief. I told his oldest son, my cousin Zach, I didn’t believe Uncle Larry was dead until he told me he’d seen his body. We both held out hope he would show up looking bedraggled and contrite having pulled some foolish stunt to worry everyone even though he meant no harm. This time though, it wasn’t one of Uncle Larry’s pranks; he was really gone.

Sunday was Uncle Larry and Aunt Cathy’s fortieth wedding anniversary as well. As a tow-haired eight-year-old I had been the ringbearer in their wedding where I refused to walk down the aisle right before the wedding started because I learned the rings on my little satin pillow were fake. By that point, Uncle Larry had already been a part of my life for years.

I have many memories of Uncle Larry — entirely too many to list them all, but three stand out in my mind particularly strongly. One was when I was a preteen and he and one of his friends took me to Commerce, GA to the Thunder National Drag Races. Uncle Larry was a car fanatic. He was never quite as happy as when he was behind the wheel of a fast car like one of the Corvettes he drove. We went to the races in his little Dodge Omni and the day was cold and overcast; I almost froze and we went to Wendy’s on the way home. Uncle Larry let me walk around the cars and grounds to my heart’s content. I wasn’t used to such freedom. Whenever I went anywhere with an adult, I was usually chained by a stern look to her side, but then, Uncle Larry never exactly passed for an adult.

Uncle Larry also taught me to drive, which is a good thing because if I’d had to wait on Mama to teach me I’d still be riding a bicycle. The first car I ever drove on my own was his and Cathy’s 1978 Chevy Camaro which was special ordered with a more powerful engine. I remember being fourteen years old (not a legal driving age in South Carolina, by the way) driving down I-385 doing about 80 mph (not a legal speed in South Carolina, by the way), because it wasn’t a car to be driven slowly. We passed a highway patrolman in the other lane and I panicked. I asked Uncle Larry what I was supposed to do if the trooper flipped around and came after us. He smiled and said, “Take the next exit, turn right, and floor it. He can’t catch us!” Much of my driving attitude as a teenager can be chalked up to my driving instructor.

The last memory I have of Uncle Larry is also one of the earliest. It showed me more than anything what it was I loved about the man. I was six years old and we were eating dinner at Granny and Papa Wham’s house to celebrate Aunt Cathy’s birthday. Dinner was over and I was playing with my Hot Wheels in the floor near the old, nonworking stereo. Voices started raising. It was the time my parents’ marriage was disintegrating. All the adults were either yelling or crying and I just tried to concentrate on my little cars — making them go in circles.

Suddenly, two big arms scooped me up and I was on Uncle Larry’s shoulder going out the back door. He said we were going to get ice cream. I know I beamed because I loved ice cream as much then as I do now. We got in his car — this Corvette was blue — and he sat me on his lap in the driver’s seat. He let me “drive” all the way to The Community Snack Bar where he got us both a big Styrofoam cup of soft serve vanilla with Hershey’s syrup on top. We ate slowly and he let me “drive” back to Granny and Papa’s house. It was quiet when we got back. I realized once I was old enough to process it how Uncle Larry had wanted to shield me from all the anger in the house and he did it the only way he knew how, with a car and ice cream.

Now he’s gone and it is a tremendous loss.

Don’t misunderstand me, Uncle Larry was great and I loved him dearly, but he had his flaws and his demons as we all do. I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t dwell on any of them here. As it is, they don’t really matter anymore. All that matters is he was beyond a doubt one of the people I loved most on this rock and he’s also one of those people I never really imagined ever not being around, until he was gone.

I will miss him and mourn his loss for a long, long time.

Love y’all, and keep those feet clean.

#TBT: On Rest Areas

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I originally ran this post back on November 10, 2010. I hope it’s held up well.

One of my good friends currently lives downstate from me a ways and I ride down to check on her every so often. One Friday in the spring, I asked Budge if we had anything planned for the next day; she told me no, so I got up early, went down to see my bud, found her doing well, and headed on back to the house.

Footage from my last endoscopy.

I had just left the main interstate for the spur leading towards home when the problems started. From well within my innards came The Burble. The Burble is the early warning sign meaning, in this case, last night’s spicy Italian meatballs had reached the end of their sojourn in the Wilderness and were ready to cross the river into the Promised Land.

Over time, I have learned The Burble is ignored at my peril. My body is being polite to me, but he doesn’t repeat himself often. The Burble is the reason I carry a roll of shop quality paper towels in my Element at all times. Even though I was a Boy Scout for only a scant three months, their motto — “Be Prepared” — left a deep and abiding impression upon me.

In fact, a one-way conversation with The Burble on an overnight trip to Camp Old Indian led to my enlistment in the Scouts being so preternaturally short. No one told me until we arrived said camp lacked indoor plumbing. All manner of numbers 1 and 2 would be addressed in the cozy confines of the various privies and outhouses scattered throughout the grounds. I was forced, at The Burble’s insistence, to venture — flashlight in hand — to one of these shanties where I encountered a dearth of bathroom tissue and a plethora of sable-hued eight-legged denizens with bright crimson bellies. As soon as the bus wheels stopped rolling in front of Gray Court Town Hall the next morning, I turned in my uniform.

But I digress.

By some degrees of trial and error, I have discerned The Burble gives about a ten minute or ten-mile heads up. As I had already passed the last exit with nice restaurants, gas stations, and — consequently — clean facilities, I was forced against my will upon the mercy of the SC Department of Transportation. Briefly, I had to resort to a Rest Area.

Any port in a storm, eh?

I don’t like rest areas. First of all, I’ve seen too many episodes of Criminal Minds and spent too much time watching true crime stories on the Investigation Discovery Channel. Pulling off the highway at a rest stop to me, especially as I was alone at the time, seemed an engraved invitation to become the next lead story on the Channel Four WYFF News at 6. I could already hear Mike Cogsdill reading the tagline, “A fat man was found strangled, butchered, and partially eaten in an upstate rest area this afternoon — a serial killer or rabid polar bear [too much Lost] is suspected in the brutal slaying.”

Unfortunately, serial killer and wild animals or not, The Burble would not be denied or gainsaid so off the road I eased.

As luck would have it, this particular outpost of indoor facilities was remarkably clean and block glass walls and windows let in copious amounts of cheerful noonday sunshine. My optimism was short-lived, however, as soon as I made the turn into the restroom stall area and discovered waiting for me the SECOND reason I despise rest areas — a gleaming row of four “standard sized” stainless steel restroom stalls with a single “special needs” stall on the end.

For the record, so-called standard sized stalls were designed before the standard sized human bottom had expanded to its present dimensions. All over the news and internet is the cry Americans are becoming more and more overweight and larger . . . public rest room designers apparently didn’t get the memo.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am in no way laying claim to a standard sized sitter downer. In point of fact, I cannot boast of a single standard sized body part of any real consequence. As I have reiterated in this blog before, I am NOT a small man. I was born 10 pounds and 5 ounces back in the day when such super-sized offspring were vastly rarer than they are today.

It’s safe to say I haven’t shrunk in the intervening years.

So, I began the onerous task of choosing a stall. Stall 4 was disgusting. Some people don’t know what a flush handle is. Stall 3 had a water leak seeping from the back of the toilet and soaking the floor. Stall 1 was out of T.P. Process of elimination pointed to Stall 2. So, I shoehorned my double-wide rear end and equally broad shoulders into the stainless coffin, placed my cell phone within reach on the floor, and, forcibly cock-eyed on the seat by the idiotic placement of the T.P. dispenser, proceeded with, to quote Bachman-Turner Overdrive, “Taking care of business.”

Now those who know me are well-versed in my hatred of cell phones. To me they are invasions of my privacy and solitude and a general nuisance and if it were not for possible emergencies involving my family, I would throw mine into the nearest body of water. However, I always carry one into public restrooms with me to guard against the very real possibility of my becoming hopelessly lodged in the stall . At least with a phone near to hand, I can call *HP and order up some help. Wouldn’t you love to hear such a call go out on the radio? “Car 54, we have an obese man trapped in a rest room stall in the rest area at mile marker 13, please meet the EMTs there to begin extraction with the Jaws of Life.” Sure, I’d be the laughing-stock of the aforementioned 6 O’Clock News, but at least I wouldn’t have to wait there until I starved down enough to stand on my own and walk out.

But again, I digress.

Samuel L. Jackson Toilet Paper: It’s rough and it’s tough and it don’t take any crap off anybody.

So “my business” being a fait accompli after spending the better part of a half-hour wrestling with the roll of Samuel L. Jackson T.P.,  my posterior was adequately serviced, and I found I, in fact, wasn’t stuck this time and managed to rise, adjust my clothing, and leave the stall to wash my hands, return to my car, and go on my merry way having killed two birds with one stone to wit, taking my daily constitutional AND getting in my cardio for the day. It was an unusually simple affair all the way around.

Now, some of the more astute of you will no doubt ask me why I didn’t just avail myself of the much larger “special needs” stall and save myself time, trouble, and stress. The answer lies in my fatalistic viewpoint. I know with absolute certainty the moment I ever succumb to the spacious temptation of the “special needs” stall in all its roomy glory, a bus carrying the entire U.S. Army Paralympics Team will pull into the rest area and I will emerge from the SINGLE stall available to these heroes standing on my two wholly undamaged legs to face a group of our nation’s finest seated in stoic silence in their wheelchairs. NO THANK YOU! I have enough bad karma in my life without that little scene playing out.

Love ya’ll! Restock the T.P. and keep those feet clean!