Category Archives: From College

Papa and the Braves Redux

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Papa Wham’s Atlanta Braves cap hangs right where he left it, 15 18 over 20 baseball seasons ago.

Today would have been my beloved Papa Wham’s birthday, so I’m re-running this post from a few years ago in his honor.

I take my love of baseball in general and the Atlanta Braves in particular from my Papa Wham. In 1978, Granny surprised Papa with a special present when she signed their house up to be the first “Cablevision Equipped” residence on Weathers Circle. Now Papa could watch the Braves on the new Turner Broadcasting Channel out of Atlanta right from the comfort of his favorite couch instead of having to go sit in the car and listen to the games on the car radio.

From that first season until I was old enough to stay by myself several years later, Papa and I didn’t miss a game through the week and I’d often make Mama take me to Granny and Papa’s on Saturday or Sunday or both so he and I could watch the weekend games together.

If you call yourself a Braves fan, I have one question for you? Who are Chris Chambliss, Glenn Hubbard, Rafael Ramirez, Bob Horner, and Bruce Benedict? If you don’t know those names, you are not a Braves fan, you are a BANDWAGON jumper who attached yourself to Papa’s beloved team AFTER their meteoric rise from worst to first and the subsequent instant classic that was the 1991 World Series. Those names are the starting infielders from the 1981 Braves team that finished a miserable 15 games back of the NL WEST leaders and eventual World Series Champion Los Angeles Dodgers. Papa and I watched them all. I lay on the floor next to his couch and listened as Papa told Bobby Cox how to manage a game through the television.

Papa and I claimed we would pay any price for tickets if Atlanta ever went to the World Series. For all the years we watched WTBS, however; the Braves making the post-season, much less the Fall Classic, seemed about as likely as country ham and cheese grits as the breakfast special of a kosher diner. Still, we watched faithfully. Dale Murphy was a bright spot and when he won the MVP in 1982, we two were deliriously happy. I got my license a couple of years later and stayed by myself at night while Mama worked, but come summer, at least twice a week and one weekend day I’d pull in to the driveway and run in just in time to watch some new hotshot throw the first pitch of the game.

I went off to Clemson in the fall of 1990. The Braves were on their way to a fantastic finish a mere 26 games out of first. Papa and I groused about that season all winter. Then came 1991. All summer, I’d cut grass, wash cars, and ride up to Granny and Papa’s to see the Braves play. It LOOKED like they’d finally put an awesome team together, but 15 years of utter futility had taught us not to be optimistic. Still, they kept winning and by the time I went back to school, the woe-begotten Braves were making a run at the NL West pennant.

I can remember this next part just as easily as if it were yesterday. I was standing in front of a big screen TV in The Tiger Town Tavern. It was after midnight; the Braves were playing the Pirates in the National League Championship Series. The winner of THIS ONE GAME, unbelievably, would go to the WORLD FREAKING SERIES. A new kid named John Smoltz pitched a complete game and shut out the vaunted Pirate batting line up — including a young (and much smaller pre-steroid Barry Bonds). The Braves were going to the Series!

I almost got in a fist fight pushing my way to the front of the pay phone line (this was way before everyone had a cell phone) and called Papa. Granny answered the phone and just as I asked her if Papa was up to see the game winning run, I heard him call from the den, “World Series, Shannon; we’re going to the World Series!” Granny just laughed and took him the phone where we replayed every crucial at bat during the entire game.

Unfortunately, Papa took sick later that week. I’d scraped up enough to get us tickets to at least one game, but he was under the weather and Granny said “NO.” So that was that. I ended up watching three of the seven games of the Series against the Twins with him and we were on the phone talking as we watched Gene Larkin break our hearts with the winning hit in that unbelievable game seven.

Papa and I never did get to see the Braves play in any of the World Series of that awesome 15 year run when it seemed the Braves couldn’t be beaten anymore. He was on oxygen by the time little Francisco Cabrera’s pinch hit and Sid Bream’s slide sent us to the 1992 World Series, but I sat with him and together we watched Joe “Touch ‘Em All” Carter and the Toronto Blue Jays beat us. A baseball team from CANADA. The shame was too great to bear.

Papa was gone by the time the Braves made the series again in 1995. He died of a heart attack in Daddy’s arms right after the All-Star break. His beloved Atlanta baseball cap hung on the top peg of the hat rack in the kitchen right where he’d put it the week before . . . the last time he’d worn it before he became bed-ridden. I wanted to bury it with him, but Aunt Cathy couldn’t stand the idea of parting with it, so we didn’t. I’m glad now. It’s still right where he hung it. In two decades, it’s never been moved. Cathy will gently dust it off every now and again, but it’s waiting for him.

I sat alone in tears and watched the Braves beat the Indians in game 6 of the 1995 World Series to win the only World Series they would win during their streak. The next day, I cut the box score out of the local paper, had it laminated, wrapped it in a plastic bag and buried it under the gravel in the corner of Papa’s plot. The Braves haven’t won another series since. I guess all the magic of their greatest fan just petered out once he was gone. I miss him terribly and to this day, fifteen eighteen over twenty years on, I can’t watch a Braves game without thinking of him.

So to all you fathers and grandfathers out there, take in a game and make some time for each other. I love you, Papa; and happy birthday.

And I love y’all!

Keep your feet clean now!

#TBT: I-85 Take Me Home To The Place I Belong!

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It all started with a simple high school baseball game.

I originally posted this back in April 2012. I had lunch with Robby not long ago and thought it’d be a good time for a rerun.

This post is the direct result of a memory jog brought on by reading about some random high school baseball playoff. Looking at the box score of a couple of schools I’ve never heard of took me back to one of the most confusing nights of my life that also just happened to involve a high school playoff game . . . sort of.

As Kid Rock so eloquently puts it, “It was 1989 (technically, 1990), my thoughts were short, my hair was long . . . ” My alma mater, Laurens District 55 High School, was playing for the State 4A Baseball Championship against Lancaster High School. My long-time best friend, Robby, asked me to go to the first of the three game series with him and we watched the Green and Gold dismantle the Bruins at Laurens’ stadium. The second game was the next night in Lancaster and Robby asked me to go to that one as well.

At that point, Robby and I managed to maintain what was left of our grade-school spanning friendship. He hadn’t been home from his freshman year at college long  when the playoffs in question started. He’d gone off to Clemson University while I had chosen a girl over my education and stayed home — which is another story for another time — and gone to Greenville Tech. (Spoiler alert: I came to my senses and rectified that situation in the fall of ’90.) So we agreed to meet at his house the next night about 4 and make the three hour drive to Lancaster in time for the game.

Now if you look at the relative positions of Lancaster High School and our home town of Gray Court on a map of South Carolina, you’ll probably start to wonder how in the world it can take three hours to make such a seemingly short trip. The answer — as an old man once told me — is simple, you can’t get there from here. What I mean is, then as now, NO road worth driving connects Gray Court and Lancaster. What’s more, you never ACTUALLY reach a town in the course of the entire trip there. You always “head towards” a town but make a turn before you get to the town limits. For example, in the first leg of the trip, we “headed towards” Union, but turned before we got there in order to “head towards” Chester. The upshot of it all is what looks like it should take 45 minutes to an hour of hard driving takes 3 or more hours of winding country roads through one of the most desolate areas of my home state.

Our chariot for the evening’s events. Robby’s looked almost exactly like this one.

We made it to the game without a hitch, riding in Robby’s high school graduation present – a frost white 1989 Chevy Beretta. It was a beautiful day full of  bright spring sunshine. Once there, we watched as Laurens was handed its hind-quarters on a silver platter by a pitcher named “Pep” Harris who would eventually play for the Cleveland Indians and the California Angels. The boy was “throwing bb’s” as the baseball expression goes and he made our visiting team look sickly and anemic, which future major league pitchers often do to their high school competition. I got to shake his hand before Robby and I packed up and headed home.

Here’s where the fun began.

See, this was in my younger and less responsible days when I preferred the company of my dear uncles James Beam and Jonathan Daniels over lesser forms of entertainment. Robby shared my love of the “family”, though his preferences ran more towards Messrs. Bartles and James. In any event, we had brought along several “family members” on this particular adventure and by the time the sun went down, most of those dearly beloveds had gone on to a new place of residence. In short, we were a bit less coordinated for our trip home than we’d be on our trip out.

We did fine until we were “headed towards” Chester. Then, for reasons that aren’t completely clear even now, we went UNDER a bridge that we were supposed to go OVER. That would have been trouble enough, but what with our relative lack of thought processing compounded by a joyous rendition of the ENTIRE AC/DC discography played on one of the first in-dash CD players I’d ever seen, we did not notice our mistake for nearly an hour.

When we realized we should have long since reached Union, we started looking for road signs. We were on a two lane road in the middle of the boondocks. Road signs were at a premium. Now two 19 year old guys are not lost so long as there is gas in the tank; they are merely taking the scenic route, so we weren’t worried. The fuzzy effects of our erstwhile uncles had worn off so we were in full possession of our outstanding senses of direction. We reasoned that “home” was to our left, so the very next intersection we found, we turned left. After spending twenty minutes on that road, we figured we must not have turned far enough left so at the next crossroads, we hung another left.

We started to feel this way after midnight.

After twenty more minutes of driving through scrub pine and cotton in the desolate northern borderlands of South Carolina, we came to another crossroads. At that point, a glance at the fuel gauge told the two of us we were dangerously close to getting lost. Unfortunately, we had not the foggiest idea where we were since this was well before a future POTUS Bill Clinton opened up the GPS system for civilian use. I hate to admit it, but we resorted to flipping a coin. The coin chose “right turn” and five minutes later we were at the chain link locked gate of an abandoned cotton mill. After throwing that particular quarter over the aforementioned gate, we headed back the way we came on what amounted to a left hand turn.

About ten minutes later, our luck changed somewhat. After two and a half hours of roaming around aimlessly in the dark, we saw our first road sign. It read “Charlotte 35 miles.” Somehow, we had managed to wander to within 35 miles of the largest city in North Carolina. We were no less than 270 degrees in the wrong direction. Undeterred, we now had knowledge, somewhat anyway, of our position. We still needed to keep going left. At the next intersection, we did. Twenty minutes later, we came to an intersection with a sign pointing off to the right reading “Charlotte 45” above some other places I’d never heard of and I’ve lived in this state all my life.

Now at that point, Robby — ever the stubborn optimist — wanted to turn left again. One glance at the dash, however, told me we were now SERIOUSLY close to being lost so I said, “Temp, let’s go to Charlotte.”

Click to enlarge!

He looked at me like I had two heads and asked, “Why do you want to go to Charlotte? We need to get home.”

I replied, “I KNOW. That’s why I think we should go to Charlotte.”

He said, “Why?” I asked, “Do you know where we are?” He shook his head then said, “But what good will it do to go to Charlotte? That’s even further from home.”

Finally, exasperated, hungry, tired, and my throat sore from imitating Bon Scott and Brian Johnson, I said, “I KNOW THAT DAMMIT, BUT I ALSO KNOW THAT I KNOW HOW THE HELL TO GET HOME FROM CHARLOTTE!!!!”

We turned right and headed towards Charlotte.

Along the way, about ten minutes later, we crossed a road with a sign reading “SC 92”. Before I could say anything, Robby had already slammed on the brakes and did a half doughnut turn onto that road. Two hours and a seedy gas station stop later and we were home because Robby knew what I did . . . SC 92 dead-ends onto SC 14 and SC 14 is also Main Street of Gray Court.

So the moral of the story? Don’t hang out with your “uncles” then try to drive . . . or navigate either for that matter, but if you do and you end up on the backside of nowhere, head for Charlotte because I-85’ll take you to I-385 and I-385’ll get you to Gray Court where you can stop at Mama’s and have her call me and I’ll come and try to get you home.

Love ya’ll and keep those feet clean!

My Day as an Engineer

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https://i1.wp.com/media.scpr.org/images/news/2010/02/23/blackboardblog.jpgI told you last post about my move in day at Clemson and I decided to go ahead and enlighten y’all about the day I spent becoming an engineer. I had listed civil engineering as my major of choice before I got to Clemson mainly for two reasons: one, and I don’t know if it’s still this way, but then Clemson pretty much wanted you to declare a major in your junior year . . . of high school; and two, Daddy had counseled me to pick a degree which would let me and help me earn a lot of money.

Now back then I could only think of three professions to satisfy the “lots of money” part of the equation: doctor, lawyer, and engineer. I knew I’d never be a doctor. I’d wanted to be one when I was little, but in eighth grade I spent two weeks in the summer at the Governor’s School Mini-session, which was a trial program for rising freshmen separate from the “real” Governor’s School. ANYWAY, we went on a tour of the MUSC campus and we saw the gross anatomy lab after lunch. This was before the cadavers were in those fancy roll up tubes they come in now. Back then, it was just sheets over dead bodies. Between the occasional hand lolling out from under its sheet and the overwhelming smell of formaldehyde I just barely kept my two hot dogs from lunch in my stomach . . . I was one of the lucky ones. That ended my aspirations of a medical career.

I also knew I couldn’t be a lawyer because I was raised with the belief the Bible held a slew of special woes for lawyers. Apparently they weren’t much better thought of in ancient times than they are now. I understood good lawyers existed, but I also knew they didn’t make anywhere near the money the crooked ones did.

That left engineering. I’ll tell you at the time I had no idea what an engineer did. Honestly, I’m STILL not certain what all the different types of engineers do, but I liked building stuff so I settled on civil engineer. Thus with a happy heart and visions of future fortune, I signed up for a beginner’s year as a civil engineer.

First, a bit of backstory to get you in my frame of mind. I was a good high school student. I made a five on the AP Biology, AP US History, and AP English Lit tests, and a three on the AP Calculus test. According to the sweet young lady who signed me up for classes, the biology, history, and English scores placed me out of six classes and assured that if I remained an engineer I’d never see the inside of a science, history, or English class in college. That seemed like a good deal. She then said my three in AP Calculus would allow me to skip Calc 106, Calc 108, and Calc 206 to go straight into Calc 208. I thought that was a good deal too.

It was here my sorrows began.

I earned my biology, history, and English scores on my own merit. I was good in those three classes and didn’t need any assistance to do well. AP Calculus, however, was an altogether different animal. Math and I hadn’t really gotten on well since eighth grade when some damned fool went and put letters in with all the numbers and called it Algebra. Did you know you can prove 2=1 with Algebra? You have to divide by zero to do it, but still!

I didn’t get my three in AP Calculus on my own merit. I got that score because of Mr. Larry Brady who was hands down the finest math teacher this world has ever produced. He could teach Calculus to jellyfish and I’m sure at times he felt that I was his pet Portuguese Man-O-War. The ONLY reason I passed the AP Calculus test was due to his amazing teaching skill. Unfortunately, Mr. Brady was two years behind me by this point and, quite stupidly, I had no idea what 106, 108, and 206 meant anyway. I just knew I’d be taking fewer classes and fewer classes meant less time in college and more time out making “lots of money.”

I was a right benighted fool.

So, first day of class was a Monday. I had Calculus 208 at 8:00 in the morning. That SHOULD have been my first clue I was in the wrong neck of the woods because 8:00 classes are of the devil — I’m sure it says so somewhere in the Apocrypha to the Bible. Of course, someone SHOULD have written “Abandon all hope ye who enter here” above the door of the lecture hall where the class met. They didn’t, and I walked straight into the proverbial buzzsaw.

I found a seat next to a big ol’ boy from Stone Mountain, GA. I can’t swear to it anymore, but I think his name was Joel. We had good seats on the aisle about midway down. As he and I got acquainted, I noticed people just KEPT coming in that room. I’m certain more people were in that one room than attended my extremely large (1500+ students) high school. Way down front in a bit of a hollow was a long set of chalkboards. At exactly 8:00, a guy in a tweed jacket walked in, picked up a piece of chalk, and started writing.

He wrote for a solid twenty minutes before he turned around and introduced himself. When he finally spoke, he had a thick Indian accent. I don’t know if it’s still the same, but back then, Clemson’s math department was notorious for having professors who barely spoke the Queen’s English and this fellow was apparently one of them. In any event, after he finished writing, he put the chalk down, turned around and introduced himself as something like Dr. Rathpangjani or some other. What he said next killed my hopes of ever making “lots of money.”

He said, “Students, I have written upon the board the bare minimum knowledge you will need to know if you hope to pass this class.” At this, he gestured behind him to a board covered top to bottom and side to side with cryptic symbols and unknown formulae. He continued, “You should recognize all of this from your 106, 108, and 206 Calculus classes. I will NOT be doing ANY review. Know this, I have taught classes all over the world in Calculus and I assure you if you are not intimately comfortable with everything on this board, you will fail this class miserably. I have seen it many times before. Since you know this, understand there is no shame in realizing you are overmatched in something. I have drop – add and class change forms here for anyone who feels he needs one.”

Hands went up all over the auditorium and it took me only a split second of looking at that indecipherable writing on the board for me to raise mine too. This man was no Mr. Brady and since Joel had his hand in the air, I knew he wasn’t going to be any help. I took a drop form from one of the graduate assistants, gathered my stuff, and went back to my room a defeated man. Math, that heartless wench, had beaten me again. I would never be an engineer; I would never make “lots of money.”

And that, friends, is the story of my ONE day as an engineer.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean!

My Advice to the College Bound

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college or bustAll around the country a great odyssey is in progress. Students are finally getting their wishes and leaving home to head off to colleges and universities everywhere. In some places, classes are already starting and so this advice may be coming entirely too late as it is, but I feel compelled to try anyway. I do not have any children of my own and so will never be in the position to take someone to school, help him or her unpack the car, and get all the luggage and accoutrements into the dorm. Even so, I’m calling on my own experience in a huge public university back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and we took notes on a slate instead of an iSlate. Pass it on as you will. It comes from the heart.

Here goes, in no certain order of importance:

1. CHOOSE YOUR ROOMMATE CAREFULLY. Do not, under ANY circumstances, pick your BFF as your roommate as a freshman. No better method for destroying a friendship exists in the annals of civilization than trying to co-habitate the same space as a person you have known and ostensibly loved for a big chunk of your life at a time in both those lives when everything about the two of you is in flux. You are better off taking the luck of the draw than trying to keep the friendship alive by rooming together.

2. BE RESPONSIBLE. You have been screaming at your parents and the rest of the world just how responsible and grown up you are. Well, now is your chance to ACT LIKE IT. Don’t talk about being responsible — do it. Set an alarm and go to class on time, even the 8:00 AM ones you were insane enough to sign up for. Go to bed on time. Study as much as you need to.

3. DO NOT TRUST ANYONE YOU DO NOT KNOW until he or she gives you ample reason to do so. You are in the “real world” now and that world is full of predators. I’m not trying to scare you, but this isn’t a stupid horror movie. If you get in with the wrong person, you could end up in big trouble. You CANNOT tell a book by its cover. Ted Bundy was movie star handsome, brilliant enough to run for office, and executed for murdering at least 30 COLLEGE GIRLS. Watch yourself. Eventually, you will make friends who will go to the wall for you and when you do, look out for each other.

4. REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE. College is a time of challenges — to your beliefs, your ideals, and your character. You’ll be pressured to “change” in some way or another. Ignore the hype. If you love Jesus, don’t become a militant atheist just because a professor says so. Don’t dabble in Wicca just because the cute boy down the hall claims to be a high priest. Don’t change who you are just for the sake of changing. After all, being who you are got you this far, right? Of course, if you’re an asshole, by all means change. No one likes an asshole.

5. GET A PLAN. I’m where I am right now because I am the poster child for goal-less wandering. I wouldn’t trade my years in teaching for anything, but to be honest, I backed into education as a major. I NEVER sat down with myself or anyone else and figured out where I wanted to head in life and what I needed to do to get there. I just floated along and now I’m paying for it. Set goals, do research, decide what needs to be done and go do it. Alternatively, just go with the flow, but if you do, don’t be surprised when you are 43 and wondering, “How in the Hell did I get here?”

6. WATCH YOUR MONEY. Once again, I’m speaking from painful, personal experience. Unless you or your parents are exceptional planners, you’re already looking at student loan debt. Don’t add credit cards and other money suckers to that mountain as well. When I was in college, we didn’t get pre-approval credit card forms. Back then, they sent us a real live credit card and all you had to do was call and activate it and start burning plastic. I never turned one down and that’s why I live in a single-wide trailer instead of having a log cabin on the Bitterroot River in Montana like one of my buddies from high school and college.

7. AVOID STUPIDITY. Don’t make stupid choices, don’t hang out with stupid people, and don’t do stupid things. This is the era of social media. Any stupid move you make will be worldwide before you get back to your dorm room. The night I passed out on the steps of Tillman Hall stumbling back from the Esso Club, I didn’t have to worry about anything but security guards and rain. Try that nowadays and you’ll be on someone’s Facebook page in a skinny minute. Get drunk and strip on a table at a frat party? Hello, viral YouTube; goodbye future promotion opportunity. Ignorance is fine; it can be cured with education, but — to quote Ron White, “You can’t fix stupid.”

8. DON’T BLOW YOUR FUTURE TO HAVE FUN TODAY. You will be faced with a dictionary of choices in your freshman year. You can choose to party or study; go to the game or to the library; drink that one more drink or switch to water; have sex with that person or not. Binary choices. Yes or no; this or that. Choose wrong and you actually could screw up your entire future. Of course, that could never happen to you, but I watched it happen to people I knew and cared about. It only takes one bad decision and you could end up in jail, with a disease, with an unexpected baby, with a ticket out of college, or even with a headstone if it’s bad enough. Trust me on this one and don’t insist on finding out for yourself.

9. ACT LIKE YOU’VE GOT SOME SENSE. Your generation didn’t invent sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll so don’t act like you’re a rock star. For example, if you are at a party, do not, under any circumstances, drink ANYTHING offered to you unless YOU break the seal or YOU pour the drink. Once you set a drink down, consider it gone. Why waste a good drink? See #3 above. If you are tanking in a class, act like you’ve got some sense, swallow your pride, and go get help. Pride is a piss poor excuse for failing out of college. You will usually know what the right thing is to do whether you want to or not– do it. That is what acting like you’ve got some sense means.

I hope this helps some. Love y’all. Keep those feet clean.

The Pen Beats the Sword Everytime

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blogging-is-mightier-and-more-viral-than-penI’ve always held man-whores in contempt and disdain.

I think all females are special and should be treated respectfully and if they choose to disrespect (looking at you Miley C.) themselves, a real man should do what he can to aid them rather than prey on the tendency.  Unfortunately, one guy who lived near me my sophomore year didn’t share my high-mindedness on the subject. He was, in short, a man-whore who led a parade of coeds to his room — usually at night, but not always. Had he stopped at being garden variety man-whore, I’d probably turned the other cheek; instead, he was a cocky, braggadocio, insufferable man-whore. Anyway, if I’d let things go their course, his long-suffering roommate would probably have killed him and that would have been sad.

In late September, the roommate knocked on my door at 2 one  afternoon. As I let him in, he threw a strip of red cloth on the floor in disgust. It was the sign the man-whore used to let him know the room was, “occupied.” I looked at the roomie and realized he was nearing his limit. The sheen in his eyes told of fantasies centering on several notably violent urban legends. I told him he could crash in my room as long as he wanted. I was going to put a stop to this madness once and for all. When he questioned what methods I planned to use, I just told him the less he knew, the safer he was. He  was still there when I returned three hours later, so I cajoled him into going to supper with me. He again pressed me on what I’d done and I repeated my admonition to avoid seeking forbidden knowledge.

Two days later, I was sitting in the recliner in my dorm room around 3 PM watching Tiny Toon Adventures when my viewing pleasure was interrupted by a wail of despair which wouldn’t have been out-of-place in a production of Dante’s Inferno. It was a gripping, heartsick, bitter cry sounding thick with remorse and primal fear. Then all was quiet again. A few moments later, I answered a slight knock on the door; it was the roomie with a look of abject terror on his face and a single sheet of paper in his hand. I invited him in and he sat on the bunk, looked at me with that fearful expression, and said, “Remind me to NEVER piss you off.” I told him I was certain I had no idea what he was talking about. He gave me a “yeah, right” nod and handed me the paper.

It was a typewritten letter on infirmary letterhead — very official appearing, right down to the slightly illegible doctor’s signature stamp at the bottom. The body of the message was quite short. In its entirety it ran thusly:

Dear Sir,

A person claiming to have had unprotected coitus with you has tested positive for antibodies related to the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. As you may know, this is the virus which is the active agent in Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, which is usually referred to by the acronym AIDS. This is an extremely serious matter compounded by the currently unknown incubation period of the virus and its attendant disease. At present, we simply do not know how long it takes someone exposed to the HIV agent to contract AIDS nor are we certain that such exposure inevitably results in development of the full-blown disease.

You should, of course, be tested for the HIV antibodies as soon as possible, but please note such a test may prove inconclusive at this time. The person who listed you as a partner believes their exposure was likely some three to four years ago. It will be necessary for you to be retested at a minimum of once each year for likely the next ten years or until some new development makes diagnosis more accurate. In the meantime, it is important you do not have unprotected coitus with anyone until your infectious status is determined in order to prevent further spread of the disease.

Finally, I regret to inform you that at this point there is no vaccine, no treatment, and no cure for HIV / AIDS. To this point, everyone who has developed full-blown AIDS has expired.

Sincerely,

Dr. ___________

I  handed it back to the roomie who then stood to leave. I asked him if the poor lad had any plans after getting such a shocking letter. He said the guy had sprinted to the infirmary where they’d told him, yes, they would have sent such a letter if someone had reported any STD and wanted to “do the right thing” and alert previous partners but they couldn’t, or wouldn’t, give him specific names citing privacy concerns.

I think I grunted something non-committal like, “that’s a shame. No way of knowing who sent it then?” He shook his head as I patted him on the back and shrugged. He stared at me meaningfully before he nodded once again and went back to his room. The letter’s recipient went from man-whore to monk in moments. He finished his degree, after changing his major to microbiology from engineering. I heard he was planning on going to medical school, but I haven’t had word of him in years. Funny how things work.

Love y’all, and keep those feet clean.

Why I’m Not An Engineer

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When it came to my engineering career, the handwriting was literally on the wall.

When it came to my engineering career, the handwriting was literally on the wall.

Several young people I know are starting college during the upcoming week and all the preparations got me in a nostalgic mood and turned my thoughts towards my own sojourn into “higher education.”

I went to college planning to get into a career where I could make a lot of money. This mindset sprang from my daddy’s measuring stick for success, which is wealth. I had three possible lucrative careers in mind. First, I could go the “doctor” route. I knew that would be a mistake though because of a tour of the Gross Anatomy Lab at MUSC in Charleston. I’m not the most squeamish person, but someone left a partially dissected hand out from under a sheet and that sight combined with a hot dog lunch and the smell of Clorox and chloroform made my innards rebel. I spent a good part of the bus ride home face down in a plastic bag.

My second thought was “lawyer,” but Mama threatened to disown me if I stooped so low regardless of the money involved. With those two doors shut, I set off to registration intending to become an engineer. Fewer ventures which started so innocuously have ended so completely in the toilet.

Since Engineers do a lot of math I figured I’d best get started so first I registered for calculus. At this point, I feel I should disclose something, I take to math like a cat takes to water. To me, math is akin to witchcraft and its practitioners should be burned at the stake. Still, if I was going to make that mass of Benjamins everyone expected, I was going to have to conquer math.

Here’s where things got ugly. As a senior in high school, against my better judgement, I took AP Calculus, BUT — as I’ve written before — I was gifted with a math teacher who was second to none. Because of Mr. Brady’s skill as a teacher and my seat next to Greg Hindman, I took the AP exam and made a 3 of 5. That was a mistake. The guy signing me up for math at Clemson looked at my test score and determined I would skip THREE SEMESTERS of Calculus. My first semester at university I was in Calculus 208. I didn’t know it, but I was a dead man walking.

Calculus 208 was an eight o’clock morning class in a lecture hall just smaller than a C-5 Galaxy cargo plane hanger. Moreover, I hadn’t seen a crowd like that since the last Laurens / Clinton football game. Half a mile away in the front of the room hung a projector screen larger than the main screen at the Oaks Theater movie house. Binoculars would not have been out of place. Strangely, I seemed to smell hot dogs and chloroform and my stomach began to ache just a bit.

I found a seat about halfway to the front next to a huge, good-natured country boy named Joel from Stone Mountain, Georgia. He and I exchanged some typical Southern small talk and then the professor walked in talking like an auctioneer with a truckload of cotton bales to get sold and precious little time to do it. He introduced himself as something like Dr. Rafsanjani or such then turned to a whiteboard under the projector. He wrote and spoke five solid minutes and I may have caught every third word, but when he finally put his marker down and looked at us, I understood every thickly accented word he said,”Class, I vill not beat around bush. De equations on board should be familiar to you from earlier Calculus. If you can not integrate, derive, and further manipulate each WITH EASE, it is veddy unlikely you shall pass dis course. I have teaching since you were children and know vhat I speak. If you do not recognize how to work dese equations, it vill be advisable for you to drop dis class now. I have drop add slips. Raise hands if you need one. Dere is no shame in knowing one’s limitations.” I looked at what he’d written. ONE equation looked somewhat familiar. The rest could have been Arabic or Sanskrit for all the sense they made to me. I looked at Joel; he looked at me, and we both slowly turned and raised our hands to get a drop slip.

We ate breakfast after we dropped the slips off. Joel planned to drop back to beginning Calculus 106 and start over. I knew better than to try. People mistakenly call me smart. I am not smart, I have a good memory and blossom under good teachers. MATH people are smart. Bill Gates is smart. Mr. Brady wasn’t here; Greg wasn’t sitting next to me and I had no idea how to begin studying the arcana Prof. Raj had scratched on the board. I dropped back ten and punted.

My engineering career derailed, I went back to my room and pored over the major catalog trying to find something I could succeed in. It didn’t take long to figure out ANYTHING remotely science or technically related went through Calculus 208 — or worse. By lunchtime, I’d made the only choice I could. I was going to go into education and be a teacher. Even then I had to settle for being an English teacher instead of the science teacher I’d wanted to be because all the science education majors required that godforsaken Calculus.

So there you have it. I’m not an engineer raking in the big bucks for one simple reason — I can’t do the math. Of course, I guess it’s better to know that now than to find out after a bridge I designed fell into a river and killed a lot of people. Things have a way of working out whether we want them to or not.

Love y’all. Have a good school year, and keep those feet clean.

Papa and the Braves

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Papa Wham’s Atlanta Braves cap hangs right where he left it, 15 18 over 20 baseball seasons ago.

Today would have been my beloved Papa Wham’s birthday, so I’m re-running this post from a few years ago in his honor.

I take my love of baseball in general and the Atlanta Braves in particular from my Papa Wham. In 1978, Granny surprised Papa with a special present when she signed their house up to be the first “Cablevision Equipped” residence on Weathers Circle. Now Papa could watch the Braves on the new Turner Broadcasting Channel out of Atlanta right from the comfort of his favorite couch instead of having to go sit in the car and listen to the games on the car radio.

From that first season until I was old enough to stay by myself several years later, Papa and I didn’t miss a game through the week and I’d often make Mama take me to Granny and Papa’s on Saturday or Sunday or both so he and I could watch the weekend games together.

If you call yourself a Braves fan, I have one question for you? Who are Chris Chambliss, Glenn Hubbard, Rafael Ramirez, Bob Horner, and Bruce Benedict? If you don’t know those names, you are not a Braves fan, you are a BANDWAGON jumper who attached yourself to Papa’s beloved team AFTER their meteoric rise from worst to first and the subsequent instant classic that was the 1991 World Series. Those names are the starting infielders from the 1981 Braves team that finished a miserable 15 games back of the NL WEST leaders and eventual World Series Champion Los Angeles Dodgers. Papa and I watched them all. I lay on the floor next to his couch and listened as Papa told Bobby Cox how to manage a game through the television.

Papa and I claimed we would pay any price for tickets if Atlanta ever went to the World Series. For all the years we watched WTBS, however; the Braves making the post-season, much less the Fall Classic, seemed about as likely as country ham and cheese grits as the breakfast special of a kosher diner. Still, we watched faithfully. Dale Murphy was a bright spot and when he won the MVP in 1982, we two were deliriously happy. I got my license a couple of years later and stayed by myself at night while Mama worked, but come summer, at least twice a week and one weekend day I’d pull in to the driveway and run in just in time to watch some new hotshot throw the first pitch of the game.

I went off to Clemson in the fall of 1990. The Braves were on their way to a fantastic finish a mere 26 games out of first. Papa and I groused about that season all winter. Then came 1991. All summer, I’d cut grass, wash cars, and ride up to Granny and Papa’s to see the Braves play. It LOOKED like they’d finally put an awesome team together, but 15 years of utter futility had taught us not to be optimistic. Still, they kept winning and by the time I went back to school, the woe-begotten Braves were making a run at the NL West pennant.

I can remember this next part just as easily as if it were yesterday. I was standing in front of a big screen TV in The Tiger Town Tavern. It was after midnight; the Braves were playing the Pirates in the National League Championship Series. The winner of THIS ONE GAME, unbelievably, would go to the WORLD FREAKING SERIES. A new kid named John Smoltz pitched a complete game and shut out the vaunted Pirate batting line up — including a young (and much smaller pre-steroid Barry Bonds). The Braves were going to the Series!

I almost got in a fist fight pushing my way to the front of the pay phone line (this was way before everyone had a cell phone) and called Papa. Granny answered the phone and just as I asked her if Papa was up to see the game winning run, I heard him call from the den, “World Series, Shannon; we’re going to the World Series!” Granny just laughed and took him the phone where we replayed every crucial at bat during the entire game.

Unfortunately, Papa took sick later that week. I’d scraped up enough to get us tickets to at least one game, but he was under the weather and Granny said “NO.” So that was that. I ended up watching three of the seven games of the Series against the Twins with him and we were on the phone talking as we watched Gene Larkin break our hearts with the winning hit in that unbelievable game seven.

Papa and I never did get to see the Braves play in any of the World Series of that awesome 15 year run when it seemed the Braves couldn’t be beaten anymore. He was on oxygen by the time little Francisco Cabrera’s pinch hit and Sid Bream’s slide sent us to the 1992 World Series, but I sat with him and together we watched Joe “Touch ‘Em All” Carter and the Toronto Blue Jays beat us. A baseball team from CANADA. The shame was too great to bear.

Papa was gone by the time the Braves made the series again in 1995. He died of a heart attack in Daddy’s arms right after the All-Star break. His beloved Atlanta baseball cap hung on the top peg of the hat rack in the kitchen right where he’d put it the week before . . . the last time he’d worn it before he became bed-ridden. I wanted to bury it with him, but Aunt Cathy couldn’t stand the idea of parting with it, so we didn’t. I’m glad now. It’s still right where he hung it. In two decades, it’s never been moved. Cathy will gently dust it off every now and again, but it’s waiting for him.

I sat alone in tears and watched the Braves beat the Indians in game 6 of the 1995 World Series to win the only World Series they would win during their streak. The next day, I cut the box score out of the local paper, had it laminated, wrapped it in a plastic bag and buried it under the gravel in the corner of Papa’s plot. The Braves haven’t won another series since. I guess all the magic of their greatest fan just petered out once he was gone. I miss him terribly and to this day, fifteen eighteen over twenty years on, I can’t watch a Braves game without thinking of him.

So to all you fathers and grandfathers out there, take in a game and make some time for each other. I love you, Papa; and happy birthday.

And I love y’all!

Keep your feet clean now!

Monster Mashed

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Happy All Hallow’s Eve, y’all! Today is Halloween and, wee bitty becostumed bairns will be taking to the streets going from house to house like  mendicant friars, but these false faced ghouls, ghosts, and goblins are not begging alms; they seek CANDY! Enough raw sugar to make a blue whale need a tanker truck of Adderall just to swim straight.

I enjoy Halloween, but one October tradition I never embrace is the group trip to somewhere “haunted.” I’m not talking about Crybaby Bridge or Ghost Creek Road where SOMETHING paranormal and otherworldly often happens. I’m referring to corn mazes, haunted woods trails, and other variations of the haunted house.

I’ve mentioned before I have a low tolerance for fear and even less tolerance for crowds, both of which are in abundance at neighborhood spookfests. More than either, however, I detest the idea of masked people  jumping  and grabbing at me from every niche in the wall. Of course, everyone who knows me knows I hate this so theythink great fun to drag  me to any local “haunted” attraction.

Most of them only do it once though and the annual trip through Clemson University’s Y-Theater will show you why.

Every year, some group or other puts on a spook house in the Y-Theater. Since these are college students, several of whom are majoring in design, engineering, or construction science, with vivid imaginations and a pretty hefty budget, these horror galas are intense and well done — if you like that sort of thing. This year the theme was “Silence of the Tigers” in homage to the recent Silence of the Lambs complete with faux flayed cadavers on operating tables and other palpitation inducing tableaux. Groups of fifteen followed a “guide” and, like any good haunted house, denizens would jump out at us on cue.

One reason I hated haunted houses then is different from now. Then I was vastly more buff up than now. I was about 250 lbs and 5’10”, but the distribution was different then. I had a waist and more resembled a V shape than a cylinder. Because of my size and gallantry, girls always push me to the front then cling to me. This was the ONLY time girls clung to me, and it figures I was too occupied to notice the cutie bloodying my forearm with her manicured nails or her equally attractive friend climbing on my back during the “jumpy parts.”

Instead, I was concentrating on “walking point” through the labyrinth. The tour lasted forty-five minutes, which seems like a long time; I had jumped and startled and put up a brave front but  my nerves were shot with all the grabbing and darkness and smoke. Finally, we got to the long corridor to the exit. I was sweating and so ready for the fall air to cool me off. So everything went straight to Hell in a handbag.

Close to the exit, the ladies felt my presence in the vanguard wasn’t needed so I ended up at the back of the line. That move proved to be painful for someone. What happened next seemed to take the cliched hours of time standing still but was a few seconds. Our group got to the door and  it wouldn’t open. Just one girl turned to tell us this new development, the lights in this windowless room went out. I heard a sound and as I turned to face it, STROBE LIGHTS came on and girls started screaming.

Time to go, folks.

Nothing on this planet sounds like a Stihl chainsaw  revving to cutting speed. Nothing on this planet LOOKS like said machine in the hands of a large man in a glowing “blood” streaked white rubber mask. This bastard love child of Micheal Meyers and Leatherface walked towards us through the strobes waving and revving the saw, and things got real. I realize today, the “chainless” chainsaw is old hat, but in 1991 the chainsaw sound cut every mooring line holding my nerves to reality. Those two little walnut sized glands atop my kidneys dumped three liters of adrenaline and ye olde fight-or-flight reaction kicked in.

I WILL fight if need be and back then, “need be” was more common, but hot-tempered and willing to scrap as I was, I wasn’t going to be the idiot bringing bare fists to a chainsaw fight. I turned towards the door and in a voice later favorably compared with James Earl Jones on steroids bellowed, “Girls, MOVE” and started running.

Newton’s Second Law of Motion says Force = Mass X Acceleration. I mentioned my mass earlier. Usain Bolt with nitrous would not have touched me over the fifty feet down the corridor.  One girl later said she heard a sonic boom. Actually though, she heard my left foot contact the door, which exploding outward. I took off at about the ten foot mark and Bruce Lee would have envied the only flying side-kick I have ever done outside of a Mortal Kombat video game.

Now, why was I banned? Turns out the door was neither locked nor stuck but held shut by three average sized frat boys braced against it. One guy was using his shoulder and the other two had arms locked leaning against the door with all their weight. I hit the door at almost the exact point where “shoulder boy” braced. He ended up in the ER with a separated shoulder and a concussion from the back of his head hitting the sidewalk. Another one had a broken wrist and the last one dislocated his elbow.

And THAT, fellow feetsters, was the last time those girls asked me to a haunted house AND the last time I toured the Y-theater. The three frat boys haven’t forgiven me, but I don’t lose sleep over those things.

Love y’all and brush your teeth after all the candy then get those feet clean!

I-85 Take Me Home To The Place I Belong!

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It all started with a simple high school baseball game.

This post is the direct result of a memory jog brought on by reading about some random high school baseball playoff. Looking at the box score of a couple of schools I’ve never heard of took me back to one of the most confusing nights of my life that also just happened to involve a high school playoff game . . . sort of.

As Kid Rock so eloquently puts it, “It was 1989 (technically, 1990), my thoughts were short, my hair was long . . . ” My alma mater, Laurens District 55 High School, was playing for the State 4A Baseball Championship against Lancaster High School. My long-time best friend, Robby, asked me to go to the first of the three game series with him and we watched the Green and Gold dismantle the Bruins at Laurens’ stadium. The second game was the next night in Lancaster and Robby asked me to go to that one as well.

At that point, Robby and I managed to maintain what was left of our grade-school spanning friendship. He hadn’t been home from his freshman year at college long  when the playoffs in question started. He’d gone off to Clemson University while I had chosen a girl over my education and stayed home — which is another story for another time — and gone to Greenville Tech. (Spoiler alert: I came to my senses and rectified that situation in the fall of ’90.) So we agreed to meet at his house the next night about 4 and make the three hour drive to Lancaster in time for the game.

Now if you look at the relative positions of Lancaster High School and our home town of Gray Court on a map of South Carolina, you’ll probably start to wonder how in the world it can take three hours to make such a seemingly short trip. The answer — as an old man once told me — is simple, you can’t get there from here. What I mean is, then as now, NO road worth driving connects Gray Court and Lancaster. What’s more, you never ACTUALLY reach a town in the course of the entire trip there. You always “head towards” a town but make a turn before you get to the town limits. For example, in the first leg of the trip, we “headed towards” Union, but turned before we got there in order to “head towards” Chester. The upshot of it all is what looks like it should take 45 minutes to an hour of hard driving takes 3 or more hours of winding country roads through one of the most desolate areas of my home state.

Our chariot for the evening's events. Robby's looked almost exactly like this one.

We made it to the game without a hitch, riding in Robby’s high school graduation present – a frost white 1989 Chevy Beretta. It was a beautiful day full of  bright spring sunshine. Once there, we watched as Laurens was handed its hind-quarters on a silver platter by a pitcher named “Pep” Harris who would eventually play for the Cleveland Indians and the California Angels. The boy was “throwing bb’s” as the baseball expression goes and he made our visiting team look sickly and anemic, which future major league pitchers often do to their high school competition. I got to shake his hand before Robby and I packed up and headed home.

Here’s where the fun began.

See, this was in my younger and less responsible days when I preferred the company of my dear uncles James Beam and Jonathan Daniels over lesser forms of entertainment. Robby shared my love of the “family”, though his preferences ran more towards Messrs. Bartles and James. In any event, we had brought along several “family members” on this particular adventure and by the time the sun went down, most of those dearly beloveds had gone on to a new place of residence. In short, we were a bit less coordinated for our trip home than we’d be on our trip out.

We did fine until we were “headed towards” Chester. Then, for reasons that aren’t completely clear even now, we went UNDER a bridge that we were supposed to go OVER. That would have been trouble enough, but what with our relative lack of thought processing compounded by a joyous rendition of the ENTIRE AC/DC discography played on one of the first in-dash CD players I’d ever seen, we did not notice our mistake for nearly an hour.

When we realized we should have long since reached Union, we started looking for road signs. We were on a two lane road in the middle of the boondocks. Road signs were at a premium. Now two 19 year old guys are not lost so long as there is gas in the tank; they are merely taking the scenic route, so we weren’t worried. The fuzzy effects of our erstwhile uncles had worn off so we were in full possession of our outstanding senses of direction. We reasoned that “home” was to our left, so the very next intersection we found, we turned left. After spending twenty minutes on that road, we figured we must not have turned far enough left so at the next crossroads, we hung another left.

We started to feel this way after midnight.

After twenty more minutes of driving through scrub pine and cotton in the desolate northern borderlands of South Carolina, we came to another crossroads. At that point, a glance at the fuel gauge told the two of us we were dangerously close to getting lost. Unfortunately, we had not the foggiest idea where we were since this was well before a future POTUS Bill Clinton opened up the GPS system for civilian use. I hate to admit it, but we resorted to flipping a coin. The coin chose “right turn” and five minutes later we were at the chain link locked gate of an abandoned cotton mill. After throwing that particular quarter over the aforementioned gate, we headed back the way we came on what amounted to a left hand turn.

About ten minutes later, our luck changed somewhat. After two and a half hours of roaming around aimlessly in the dark, we saw our first road sign. It read “Charlotte 35 miles.” Somehow, we had managed to wander to within 35 miles of the largest city in North Carolina. We were no less than 270 degrees in the wrong direction. Undeterred, we now had knowledge, somewhat anyway, of our position. We still needed to keep going left. At the next intersection, we did. Twenty minutes later, we came to an intersection with a sign pointing off to the right reading “Charlotte 45” above some other places I’d never heard of and I’ve lived in this state all my life.

Now at that point, Robby — ever the stubborn optimist — wanted to turn left again. One glance at the dash, however, told me we were now SERIOUSLY close to being lost so I said, “Temp, let’s go to Charlotte.”

Click to enlarge!

He looked at me like I had two heads and asked, “Why do you want to go to Charlotte? We need to get home.”

I replied, “I KNOW. That’s why I think we should go to Charlotte.”

He said, “Why?” I asked, “Do you know where we are?” He shook his head then said, “But what good will it do to go to Charlotte? That’s even further from home.”

Finally, exasperated, hungry, tired, and my throat sore from imitating Bon Scott and Brian Johnson, I said, “I KNOW THAT DAMMIT, BUT I ALSO KNOW THAT I KNOW HOW THE HELL TO GET HOME FROM CHARLOTTE!!!!”

We turned right and headed towards Charlotte.

Along the way, about ten minutes later, we crossed a road with a sign reading “SC 92”. Before I could say anything, Robby had already slammed on the brakes and did a half doughnut turn onto that road. Two hours and a seedy gas station stop later and we were home because Robby knew what I did . . . SC 92 dead-ends onto SC 14 and SC 14 is also Main Street of Gray Court.

So the moral of the story? Don’t hang out with your “uncles” then try to drive . . . or navigate either for that matter, but if you do and you end up on the backside of nowhere, head for Charlotte because I-85’ll take you to I-385 and I-385’ll get you to Gray Court where you can stop at Mama’s and have her call me and I’ll come and try to get you home.

Love ya’ll and keep those feet clean!

Food Fight

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This is a pretty long post, but stick with it, thanks!

Yesterday was Budge’s first day on her medically supervised six-week weight loss plan. This isn’t the first time she’s attempted to lose weight, but it is the first time she’s gone to this careful extent. My job is to fix the shakes and provide moral support and encouragement. I plan to eat a bigger lunch and forgo supper to avoid cooking and eating in front of her and hopefully that will make this easier on her. I don’t trust diets like this, but she is under an excellent doctor’s care AND — more importantly — she’s promised me this is for HER not ME or anyone else. She’s my Budge no matter what she weighs and that’s all that matters, but her mama fought the battle of the bulge her entire life before dying at 46 of complications from pancreatitis and a final stroke. With 46 looming large in life’s windshield, Budge told me she didn’t want to go out that way so I told her do what she had to do and I’d have her back.

Needless to say, I’m insanely, stupefyingly proud of her.

With Budge starting this diet, many people are pressuring on me to join her and want to know why I’m so resistant to adopting “the healthy lifestyle.” As I’ve mentioned before, I am not a small man. I am slightly south of six feet tall and slightly north of 350 pounds. I believe the medical term is “morbidly obese.” I prefer the much cuter sounding euphemism of “as big around as I am tall.”

Lately, my glib put-off has been “I’m going for the heart attack before the diabetes has a chance to get me.” That statement is anchored in a grain of truth. The men on Daddy’s side of the family die of massive coronaries. Granny Matt had ten children who lived and that included six sons. Of the six, five died at 78 or slightly before of the aforementioned coronary. Uncle Jack was the lone dissenter, but that’s another story for another time. Daddy had HIS first heart attack about nine or ten years ago. Many of Daddy’s male blood related first cousins have already had one or more heart attacks or have perished from the sudden squeezing of the chest.

On the other side of my family tree lurk diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. More of Mama’s kin than I can count have fallen victim to “The Sugar” and the lucky ones died quickly. The unlucky ones left the world a piece at a time. Many dodged diabetes only to succumb to Alzheimer’s and left the world not knowing themselves or their closest loved ones. I have no intention of going out like that if at all possible. Given the choice between slow piecemeal death and quick heart exploding death, my decision is clear.

As I said, that is my somewhat humorous glib smart-ass answer. The pure and simple truth is, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, not so pure and definitely not simple. Fact is, obesity and I are old and bitter foes and after many bloody engagements fraught with pain, sadness, and disappointment, I have bowed to the stronger will and chosen not to fight my weight anymore.

See the oh-so-pinchable legs?

I was BORN fat. I weighed 10 lbs and 5 ozs the day I came into the world and I was born hungry. The story is I slurped down an 8 oz bottle in two minutes and started crying for more. After 8 more ounces, I was still hungry so the nurse asked Mama what she wanted done and Mama, probably glimpsing the future, told her to go ahead and get me full. I was over 14 lbs by the time I came home from the hospital with rolls of fat on my thighs that my beloved great-Aunt Pearl delighted in lovingly pinching and patting.

I never looked back.

I think I topped 100 pounds by fifth grade. I may be off a year, but I do know that all my clothes came with the “HUSKY” label. I suppose that was the clothier’s way of trying to salvage the self-esteem of  a fat pre-teen. From almost the start, the family was worried about my weight. I was placed on a few diets by Dr. Monroe, our long-time family physician, but they all required keeping track of calories and such. I wasn’t clear on the concept of “serving size” or “portion control” so I figured a bowl of cereal was “one serving” of “180 calories” when a true serving size was 3/4 of a cup of cereal meaning my punch bowl of Cocoa Crisps with whole milk actually contained about SIX servings.

One of the greatest ironies of my saga with obesity lies in how Granny Wham tried to help me lose weight. She was THE most concerned of all my family, Mama included, when it came to my being — in her words — “a little too heavy.” She would constantly admonish me about eating too much at supper or cutting myself too big a slice of pound cake (Granny Wham made the greatest pound cake this side of paradise), but at the same time, SHE was the one asking me if I’d had enough to eat and did I want more chicken or rice with gravy or roast beef or whatever delicious dish she or Papa had prepared that night. It was like living in rehab with a drug pusher!

God bless her precious heart, it was confusing as all get out when I was a child, but looking back, I understand a little better. Granny couldn’t stand to see me fat but she couldn’t stand to see me sad either and not getting enough of that wonderful food would always make me sad so the doting grandmother in her usually won out over the concerned for my health responsible adult and I’d get another piece of pound cake . . . with ice cream on top . . . and Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup . . . and Cool Whip. You get the idea.

All through elementary school and junior high, I just got bigger. Of course I got picked on and bullied because of being

Mama LOVED to dress me in horizontal stripes. Michelin Man anyone?

fat. I was called “fatty,” “lard-butt,” “two-ton,” and — my all time favorite — “The Great White Marshmallow.” I tried to shrug off the barbs as much as I could. I was dealing with other stuff. Unfortunately, one of my earliest and most cherished coping mechanisms was “escapism eating.” I’d get to Granny and Papa’s after a day at school enduring the shark tank of junior high, grab a book and a bag of Oreo cookies and go hide in the yard until supper. That kind of emotional eating did wonders for my waistline.

That’s the way things rocked on pretty much until my first year of high school. I was a nonathletic 225 pound blob when I went out for wrestling to try to get a date with Kim Robertson. The date never materialized, but I fell in love with wrestling, even if I was getting creamed twice a week at heavyweight. Funny thing is, the more I wrestled, the smaller I got. Who knew?

Then, right after wrestling season, I got braces to fix my crazy teeth. Now, I didn’t get the cute little “invisible brackets” glued to my teeth. I got the full monty of railroad track bands all over my mouth. My head, jaws, and mouth hurt so much that I couldn’t eat. I did good if I could sip some Cream of Chicken soup through a straw. I endured that pain for two months and when summer came and my teeth had finally moved enough for the agony to ease up some a funny thing happened. I looked in the mirror and a skinny kid was staring out at me.

Junior year of HS. This was the best it ever got. Skinny AND hair.

For 24 blessed months — a brief, shining moment — I was svelte. I dropped from 225 to 160. I could shop in the regular men’s section for the first time in my life. My inseam was actually longer than my waistline was round. My acne cleared about the same time and another odd thing happened. Without all the lard in the way, girls began to notice my crystal blue eyes and thick strong blond hair. Oh, and the straight white teeth — shout out to what made it all possible! It seemed like overnight I was being favorably compared to guys like Rick Mathews, our class’s resident Adonis, who played football and wrestled the weight class right above me. I was actually kind of a big deal.

Of course it went straight to my head and turned me into the exact kind of insufferable douche I’d always hated. Not to worry though. As Pony Boy is fond of reciting, “Nothing gold can stay.” Senior year came. My foibles and mistakes caught up with me. My head started filling up with thoughts and voices I couldn’t fight back. I was entering the worst depression I’d ever encountered and starting what was to become a desperate lifelong battle with my mind and emotions — but I didn’t know it. I had no idea what the hell was going on.

The final straw came when wrestling season started and the weight classes had changed. The 167 class was gone. I was now in Adonis’ weight class and Adonis was a better wrestler than I had a prayer of being.  When our 154 pounder went down early in the season with a blown out knee, everyone looked at me to cut the 15 pounds, take that spot, and make us an even greater team. I took a shot at it. God knows I tried, but the more water I drank and the harder I exercised, the bigger I got. It seemed I gained instead of losing. So I became a senior riding the bench when I should have been a captain. I gave up the fight.

I went into a headlong spiral and started drinking whenever I could, but mostly, I started eating whatever I wanted to again. It’s not like I had to keep my weight down anymore anyway. I was a three-year letter-man in wrestling. The only year I didn’t letter was my senior year.

But I’m not still bitter or anything. I’m just saying.

In college, I skipped the freshman fifteen and traded it for the freshman 50. I went from a 34 waist as a high school sophomore to a 40 waist as a college sophomore. I’d look in the mirror in disgust and I’d go on the fat wagon for a week. I’d work out every day down in Fike Hall gym. I took up tae-kwan-do. It helped a little, but in the end, the weight always won.

I was to be skinny and handsome one final time in my life. It would come after college and brought about a similar “senior year type” downward spiral with nearly identically disastrous personal results. A sordid, sad tale — for another time.

I’d started gaining back my weight from that episode when I met Budge. She married me fluffy and has stayed with me fat. I can’t thank her enough for that. These days, from time to time, I’ll contemplate hitting the fat wagon again and trying to get healthier. I don’t keep chips and dip or things of that nature in the house — fleeing temptation and all — but I watch too much Paula Deen and cook like her too much as well.

I gave up pill popping, driving fast cars, hanging out with my Five Favorite Uncles, and chasing crazy women. I started taking meds to try to quiet the cacophony in my head. All of that draws heavily from my well of willpower. For Budge and Mama’s sake, I have to concentrate my energy on what’s going to make me the most endurable. Losing weight, no matter how important I know it is, would take reserves I don’t have.

Fairly recent picture with a good view of the booth-busting belly.

Don’t get me wrong — it’s not like I revel in being fat. I haven’t bought clothes in over two years because I can’t stand the disappointment of the fitting room. I’m reminded of what, to quote from Full Metal Jacket, “a disgusting, flabtastic piece of fatbody filth” I am every time I try to sit in a restaurant booth and have to ask for a table because of my size. It isn’t like this is a high-ho bunch of fun because it ain’t. I just have to pick my battles and this is one I know the outcome of all too well.

Dr. Lopez — my primary care physician — stays on me about losing. He WANTS me to lose down to 200 lbs. I haven’t seen 200 lbs since my junior year of high school. That’s a little over 150 lbs. THAT IS A PERSON! THE MAN WANTS ME TO LOSE A PERSON. He can’t understand how a former wrestler and wrestling coach who knows so much about nutrition and exercise can be so blase’ about dropping the 10% body fat that produces measurable health benefits. Unfortunately, he also doesn’t understand something else — nothing good has ever come of me being skinny.

Sorry for the book length post.   Keep those feet clean, okay?

Love y’all.