Category Archives: My Opinion of Something

#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!

It’s Time for the Force to Awaken

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https://i0.wp.com/www.insidethemagic.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Force-Awakens-poster-2-400x200.pngThis post is mostly a rerun, but with Episode VII: The Force Awakens hitting the theaters this week, it seems appropriate. I’m planning to see the film as soon as the initial insanity settles down a little. Crowds scare me more than they did when I was on top of that Pontiac almost 40 years ago now. I’m going to see this one though. I may even go to Greenwood where a nice drive-in theater is still operating. I think it would bring the whole experience full circle for me. I’ll let y’all know what I think as soon as I see it.

A long time ago at a drive-in theater long since buried under an I-85 interchange, a great adventure took place. It was the summer of 1977 and I sat on the roof of Mama’s 1973 Pontiac Grand Prix hugging a speaker and watching the huge Imperial Star Destroyer Devastator inexorably close in on the tiny, defenseless Tantive IV. Three years later, Daddy and Teresa took me to the now defunct Astro Twin on Pleasantburg Drive where I watched Luke Skywalker battle the evil Darth Vader right before the greatest plot twist surprise in cinema history. Then, as a high school freshman, Robby and I sat in the — once again, defunct — Oaks Theater in Laurens to see Luke reunited with his friends amidst a sea of dancing teddy bears.

Star Wars played a MONUMENTAL role in my childhood and the childhoods of a big chunk of my generation. To give you an idea of just what a cultural touchstone those films are to Gen-Xers everywhere, when I called one of my college roommates to tell him I was marrying a girl born in 1978, the first thought out of his mouth was not “Congratulations” or anything like it. Instead, Chris Hoppe shouted at me, “1978! Good God, Wham! She’s never seen Star Wars at the movie theater!” He was right, of course, so as soon as Budge and I left the theater in the summer of 1997 after watching the re-release of Star Wars: A New Hope, I called him up to let him know my beloved was now bona fide.

If some of you who are younger want something to compare the effect of the Star Wars movies and associated phenomena had on us who are now fortysomethings just think how you felt when you found out Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was going to be turned into a movie and then waiting for each of the succeeding films. It’s pretty much like that.

Now, if George Lucas had possessed the sense to get a prenuptial agreement with his wife, the Star Wars universe would probably have remained the exclusive unsullied cultural icon for Generation X. Unfortunately, the erstwhile Mrs. Lucas took ol’ George to the cleaners financially leaving him in relatively bad straits — no small feat to nearly bankrupt a man responsible of Luke Skywalker AND Indiana Jones. So, rumors started flying around the newly-burgeoning internet about something none of us Baby Boomer Babies ever dreamed we’d live to see — George Lucas was going to MAKE THE PREQUELS!!

Whatsa pissa poopsa!

Whatsa pissa poopsa!

So it was I sat in Theater 6 of The Hollywood 20 Theater with Budge on May 19, 1999 and watched the familiar opening crawl wind its way up the screen. I was more excited about a movie than I’d ever been or ever would be . . . at least until 2001 when I waited in line for hours to get tickets to Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. I quickly lost myself in the film’s first fifteen minutes; I was a kid again on the roof of that ’73 Grand Prix. Then, out of the murky green depths of one of the many planets in the Star Wars universe, disaster overtook my beloved franchise. Jar-Jar Binks appeared on the screen. Since Jar-Jar hate is widely documented, I’m not going to waste your time adding my opinions, but let’s just say, when it comes to all the negative things said about the bumbling Gungan, “I concur and then some.” I was delighted and crushed when the movie ended — delighted it was finally over and crushed that I’d waited 22 years for such a turd to plop onto my lovely memories.

Again, to give you an idea, imagine they made the first several Harry Potter movies as you remember them then, for whatever reason, they replaced Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson with Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler, and Tina Fey. It not only wouldn’t be the same, it would be a type of sacrilege bad enough to get one burned at the stake in Medieval Europe. Heresy is not too strong a word. I was in physical pain by the time Phantom Menace ended. My childhood didn’t just die on screen, it was hung, drawn, and quartered.

After Phantom Menace, I realized Lucas was just going for money so I didn’t bother to see Attack of the Clones or Revenge of the Sith. I figured it would be a waste of time. In all honesty, I do wish I’d seen RotS on the big screen though, just to see the climactic fight on Mustafar between Obi-Wan and Anakin, but since that’s the only part of the movie I care anything about, I’ve just learned to content myself with YouTube. As a side note, if the prequels hadn’t shown Lucas’ money-making bias, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull proved to me he had completely blown up the refrigerator.

The cast . . .

The cast . . .

Well, Lucas sold the beloved space opera franchise to the ONE entity more concerned with money than he is — Disney. Less than a year after the sale, The Mouse has announced Episodes VII, VIII, and IX are in the works with Episode VII to be released next year, probably around Christmas. Today, the official casting announcements came out. The good news is Han, Luke, and Leia are all back aboard although I wonder if Harrison Ford will live long enough to finish all three films. The bad news is JJ Abrams is directing and co-producing Episode VII. So, this movie could be absolutely amazing with incredible visual effects and only slightly less boom and bang than a Michael Bay CGI-fest OR we could end up at the end of Episode IX discovering the entire nine film series actually took place in the imagination of some homeless Earth kid playing with broken action figures someone left lying in the park. To anyone who thinks I’m being silly and overreacting I can only reply with two words: Lost finale.

Hopefully though, the number of original cast members along with the addition of Gollum will pull the final three movies in the Star Wars nonology through. At least John Williams is doing the scores!

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

Now, It’s Over . . . RIP Mr. Berra

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https://i0.wp.com/img-s-msn-com.akamaized.net/tenant/amp/entityid/AAeEJRa.imgYogi Berra was one of the greatest players to ever strap on a set of baseball spikes. The numbers speak for themselves, he holds the record for most appearances in a World Series at a staggering 14 as a player and seven more as manager or coach. Twenty-one times he appeared on baseball’s largest stage and in the process, became larger than life.

Yogi was a great player and a favorite of sportswriters all over the country. He shared the field with some of the greatest to ever don pinstripes — guys like Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio — , but he never let the amazing success or the rarified company go to his head. He knew he was a grown man blessed to be playing a kid’s game for pay so whenever one of those kids asked ol’ Yogi for an autograph on a baseball or program, he didn’t snarl . . . he smiled and took the item and a pen to sign it with.

In every respect, he was a class act, but, even if he hadn’t been in so many Fall Classics and even if he didn’t have a World Series ring for every finger and two thumbs and even if he didn’t still hold a plethora of records for games appeared in or doubles in the World Series, Yogi would still be remembered because his skill as a baseball player paled next to his alacrity with the English language. To whit,

  • When you come to a fork in the road, take it.
  • You can observe a lot by just watching.
  • It gets late early out here.
  • It’s like déjà vu all over again.
  • It ain’t over until it’s over.

He may not have sported Clark Gable good looks, but Clark didn’t catch the only perfect game ever thrown in a World Series, either. Yogi’s real name was Lawrence Berra, but if anyone outside his family ever called him that, it never showed up in print. He was a Yankee through and through, even though it didn’t start out that way.

Yogi had a rough patch breaking into the Major Leagues. First he was rejected by his hometown St. Louis Cardinals who instead signed his good friend Joe Garagiola, another Hall of Fame catcher. Then, when he ended up as a Yankee, his minor league career took a hiatus over a little disagreement we call World War 2 today. Finally, he ended up on the bench in his first season in The Show because he could hit the ball a mile but couldn’t throw from home to second, which is a debilitating issue for a catcher and the heretical position called the “designated hitter” had yet to be foisted upon the sacred game. Once he found his stride, though, things turned out all right for him. Besides his numerous World Series records, Yogi was a three time American League MVP and a 15 time All-Star in his 18 year career which spanned 1946-1963.

He was also one of my Papa Wham’s favorite baseball players and one of the very few Yankees he could tolerate.

In a bit of irony, Yogi died exactly sixty-nine years to the day of his Major League debut. Perhaps the home run he hit with his first at bat should have clued people in to the greatness to come.

Yogi Berra was 90 years old . . . he will be greatly missed by his family, the Yankees, and all true baseball fans everywhere.

Seven Years a Blogger

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WordPress just informed me I registered Grocery Store Feet seven years ago today. Just a couple of days later, I posted this for my first entry into the bloggosphere.

Ahh . . . Labor Day!

Labor Day is a most excellent holiday for teachers and others who work in the school system. It comes at just the right time . . . usually after the second full week of school . . . to give us a much needed rest. After all, it’s a gear-stripping, heart stopping jolt to go from the “lazy, hazy” days of summer to full throttle with a room or library full of students and a brand new year of expectations and goals — some reasonable, some, as Bogie said in The Maltese Falcon, “The stuff that dreams are made of.”
So, however you chose to spend today, I hope you got some rest in. We did here around the old haceinda. No picnics or partys, beach trips or barbecues, just sleeping late, catching up on reading and family and generally being good for nothing layabouts. Perfect day all ’round.
Tomorrow, though, it’s once more into the breach dear friends. I have a computer that is waiting on me and it will behoove itself to start acting appropriately lest I be forced to go completely Office Space on it.
Take care all. More to come later.

That’s it? I didn’t even have my usual, “Love y’all and keep those feet clean” sign off in place. Still, I think it’s crazy I’m still posting — erratically and on no set schedule, but still — after seven years. See, for me, plans are nebulous things. People will ask me what I’m doing when and where for some ridiculous amount of time in the future, like, you know . . . a week, and I just have to laugh. I do well if I’ve got tomorrow thought of. About all I know for certain is I’ll go to Clinton every Tuesday morning to check on Granny and sit with her awhile until she passes away or Gabriel blows his horn. I’m also 99% certain I will gorge myself to the point of immobility on Thanksgiving at the Hall homestead until I’m no longer invited. You get much past that, I’ve got a few murky days creeping around on my calendar here and there. No goals, no plans, no problems . . . if only.

Anyway, for me to be doing something seven years consistently is a pretty big deal in my life. That’s longer than all but one job I ever held and longer than any romantic relationship I’ve been in until I married Budge. In short, in MY life, seven years is a freakishly long time. Now I don’t claim to have improved all that much as a blogger over those seven years, but the fact remains . . . I’m still here. For me, that’s an accomplishment. So Happy Anniversary to the crusty feet and here’s to seven more — maybe.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

Don’t Call It Courage

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https://i1.wp.com/www.parcbench.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Caitlyn_Jenner_ESPY.jpgI’m not going to win any popularity contests with this post, but I’ve heard all I can stand and stay quiet, and it’s probably some sort of record for me as it is. Bruce Jenner is not courageous and certainly never should have won an award for showing courage. I don’t have any problem with his decision to “transition” from a male appearance to a female appearance and make no mistake, all political correctness aside, it is a cosmetic change only. Hormones, plastic surgery, and laser hair removal will work wonders but they will only go so far. These days, if he really wanted to, he could even change his blood. It would be expensive, painful, and require radiation to destroy his present bone marrow, but he could conceivably change blood types. What he cannot do, however, is change his DNA. He was born with XY sex chromosomes and he will die with XY chromosomes and by any biological genetic definition I have ever seen, THAT makes him MALE. He may choose to LOOK female; he may choose to ACT female; but he will NEVER BE a female. That may piss a lot of people off, but it doesn’t change Jenner’s chromosomes.

Still, if that’s what the man wants to do with his life and his money, that is his right. What baffles me is why ESPN felt the need to pass over other, much more worthy nominees, to give him an award with “Courage” in the name. Actually, while we’re on the subject, the existence of an entire slate of awards called ESPYs baffles me. Sports have enough awards as it is without an endless parade of overpaid athletes trotting across the stage to make speeches and pat each other on the back about. What’s the point in that? Have we gone so far down the road of Roman decadence we need MORE bread and circuses?

Yet, if they are going to give an award, at least Arthur Ashe Courage Award seems one worthy of giving. For those who don’t know, Arthur Ashe was an AMAZING tennis star in the ’70s. He held the World #1 spot, won 35 career titles, and remains the only African-American male to win singles titles at Wimbledon, the US Open, and the Australian Open. Unfortunately, he had a heart condition that necessitated a bypass surgery and because of a blood transfusion during the surgery, Ashe contracted HIV / AIDS. This was at a time when AIDS wasn’t the household word it is now, but Ashe battled the disease with the same tenacity he showed on the court and even though complications from the disease would claim his life in 1993, his Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS and the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health remain as much his legacy as his outstanding tennis achievements.

So, yeah, he pretty much transcended sports, as the text of the award says, and since 1993, ESPN has awarded a current or past athlete who has also transcended sports in a similar way. For example, the first award in 1993 went to Jimmy Valvano, former head coach of the North Carolina State Wolfpack. “Jimmy V” guided the ‘Pack to an improbable NCAA Championship in 1983, but what he is most remembered for is the tremendous courage and humor he showed in his fight against metastatic cancer which cut short his coaching career and claimed his life just weeks after he received his award from ESPN.

Since then, the Arthur Ashe COURAGE Award has gone to people like Muhammad Ali for his fight against Parkinson’s Disease. In 1999, Billy Jean King won the award for her role in pushing forward women’s tennis to be the major attraction it is now. 2002 saw members of Flight 93 win the award posthumously for their bravery in storming the cockpit of the hijacked flight and probably saving either the Capital Building or the White House from destruction. Nelson Mandela won in 2009 and Pat Summitt, the winningest coach in NCAA basketball who now is battling early onset Alzheimer’s Disease won in 2012. So the committee has shown they can give the award to extremely deserving candidates who have truly shown great courage in and out of the sports arena.

So why is Bruce Jenner in the same company with Pat Tillman who abandoned a lucrative professional football career to die serving his country in the Global War on Terror? What has Jenner done that is so courageous?

Make no mistake, his athletic pedigree is second to none. Fifth place in the grueling ten event decathlon in 1972’s Munich Olympics and the world record setting gold medal performance in the same event in 1976 in Montreal will cement Jenner’s place in athletic history. But what has he done lately? Well, he was a C-list movie actor for awhile and then he somehow drifted into the orbit of the widowed Kris Khardasian and her insanely narcissistic brood. They married and added at least two more girls to a household which need a lot of things, but not more divas. Then, well . . . Bruce started looking “odd.” Tabloids picked up on it and soon enough the truth came out and so did Jenner.

Bruce was becoming Caitlyn.

My question is what is so courageous about that? Sure, there was a time it might have been courageous, but in today’s society, a public celebrity like Jenner had everything to gain and nothing to lose with his gender switch. God forbid anyone have the temerity to say something negative about a transgender celebrity in this day and age of rabid political correctness. If anything, this move has propelled Jenner out of the doldrums of his career as tenth fiddle to Kris and her girls and into a new career in his own right, but COURAGEOUS? How? General Mills made the mistake of calling “Caitlyn” Jenner by his given name of Bruce in a press release and social media BLEW UP! Where’s the courage involved when everybody in Hollywood has got your back?

Sure, if he was some confused kid in a podunk high school in Alabama or Montana and still decided to come out you bet your ass he would be worthy of being called courageous — suicidally courageous most likely. If he was any nobody, this would be courageous in the extreme, but he’s famous already and this is just making him more famous. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kris wasn’t behind it somewhere even though she’s acted so “shocked.”

To make matters worse, the committee awarding this ESPY passed over two incredible candidates. Lauren Hill was a college basketball player whose only dream was to play in a game in college. She played in bits of five games before she succumbed to an inoperable brain tumor. Noah Galloway is a double amputee Army veteran who STILL does Crossfit, runs extreme marathons, and just recently completed the Dubai Death Race across the desert. They finished third and second to Jenner respectively. Why?

In closing, all I can say is this was the worst choice of an award recipient since Barak Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize for getting elected President of the United States. I know the Nobel Committee would love to have that choice back . . . can ESPN say the same thing?

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

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To Kill A Finch

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I taught high school for ten years in a rural Southern country school that split about 50/50 in every demographic category from family income to race. In my years there, I tried to pound Romeo and Juliet, Beowulf, The Scarlet Letter, and many other “classics” of the “canon” into the heads of my students to little or no avail. They froze at Faulkner, swore at Steinbeck, spit upon Shakespeare, and freaked over Fitzgerald. Freshmen through Seniors, I taught them all and they were uniform in only two things: a deep, abiding hatred of every “canon” novel save one and a deep, enduring love of that one singular book.

That book, of course, is and was To Kill a Mockingbird, lovingly abbreviated in my lesson plans as TKAM, e.g. “TSWBAT id inferred MI in TKAM chapter 10.”I

No matter the level, race, gender, or present grade of the student, each loved To Kill A Mockingbird in his or her own way. We had some awkward — extremely awkward at times — discussions about race and slavery as one would expect, but we also had some fascinating talks about poverty and social hierarchy. One of my favorite discussions, and one which seems extremely prophetic given what’s going on in our country today, began with me asking the question of my class, “Y’all think anything has really changed since the time period in this novel?” What followed was a quartet of angry young black guys declaring that absolutely nothing had
changed and we spent the rest of the hour talking about explicit versus implicit prejudices and open versus hidden racism. One extremely articulate young man remarked he preferred talking to “rednecks” because “at least with a [Confederate battle] flag wearin’ redneck, I know where I stand. I KNOW what he thinks about me. Some of these ‘polite’ folk, I’m not so sure of.” Finally, when we were wrapping up the novel, several threads would develop, but the one EVERY class noticed was simple — Atticus Finch was a “good man.”

For five and one half decades, the opinion of Atticus Finch as “a good man” has reigned virtually unchallenged except for a few screwballs from either side of the Right / Left spectrum whom Jesus Christ would not be able to please. Atticus has remained the standard of what a lawyer should be, namely the defender of the weak against the strong no matter how foregone the conclusion to the struggle because – in the words of the man himself – it doesn’t matter if you know “you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.” That is true moral courage. Few literary characters are held in the esteem so many hold Atticus. I know of no less than five teachers and professors who named their children Atticus because they hoped the name would convey their hopes for their sons’ characters.

Now it seems someone would sling mud upon Atticus’ good name. He who has stood for so long as the paragon of virtue and the sane voice of reason in a world of hate and innuendo is now subjected to what can only be described as slings and arrows of the most outrageous fortune. What makes this slanderous attempt to sully a good man’s reputation is made so much the crueler by its origin. The leader of the pack of dogs who would tear Atticus down from his rightly deserved pedestal atop the list of iconic and heroic characters is none other than Nellie Harper Lee, Atticus’ own inventor — his literary mother as it were.

After five decades of silence, an aging Harper Lee has once again taken the literary world by storm with her publication of Go Set a Watchman. She claims this is the novelTo Kill A Mockingbirdwas supposed to be all those years ago before an editor told her to make Scout younger. I have no idea. What I DO know is this latest novel assassinates Atticus Finch by turning him from a shining light of dignity and decency in Maycomb into a bitter, white robe wearing Klansman. Far from the heroic country lawyer fighting a losing battle against racism, Watchmanpaints him as possibly the most powerful force for racism in the town. As readers, we are left wondering…….WHY?

If this is the novel Lee intended to publish, she should thank the editor who blocked it. This novel is thoroughly post-modern in that it has no heroes, only degrees of villains; it offers no hope, only more despair. It’s as if, as Lee herself enters her dotage years, she insists on dragging Atticus with her.

Love Y’all and keep your feet clean!

Seventy Years on Suicide Watch

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https://i2.wp.com/larrycalloway.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/trinity.jpg

“‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’ I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.” Dr. Robert Oppenheimer.

Seventy years ago today, 15 July 1945, the world entered the Atomic Age with the successful detonation of “The Gadget,” a prototype atomic bomb device, in the desert of Alamagordo, New Mexico. Code named “Trinity,” the explosion crowned years of intense, sometimes maddening, more than once deadly, and always shrouded in I’d-tell-you-but-then-I’d-have-to-kill-you levels of secret research at Los Alamos, New Mexico; Oak Park, Tennessee; and Chicago, Illinois among many other places. It was a project so cloaked in silence and mystery the Vice President of the United States didn’t know of the Manhattan Project’s existence until shortly before he would be called upon to make the decision to use this terrible new weapon in combat against the Japanese.

The entire lead up to the test took on the quality of a March Madness office pool. All the physicists knew the device would work and go kaboom . . . THEORETICALLY. Empirically, no one, including them, had the faintest idea what was going to happen. The scientists placed bets on what would happen during the test. Most wagered on a specific “yield” the explosion would put off. One wag bet on a “fizzle” with nothing happening at all, which would have been ten kinds of disastrous, while a final optimist believed the bomb would go off and ignite the Earth’s atmosphere, incinerating the planet.

Now, we know what happened at the test. Books fill whole library shelves describing the Manhattan Project, the physics of the A-Bomb, and the results of Trinity. We also know that explosion, which turned the desert sand to green glass, ushered in the era of atomic weapons. Two of those weapons would end World War 2 in spectacular, if controversial, fashion. Still, that is not the ultimate legacy of the Manhattan Project and the culminating successful Trinity test.

What really happened in the desert that day in 1945 was the world purchased a revolver with six chambers and three mighty large cartridges. After the two bombs fell on Japan, the final cartridge would remain in the gun and that chamber would spin wildly for the next fifty years as nuclear powers like the USA and the Soviet Union played a dangerous game of Russian roulette with the world.https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/35/Trinity_Site_Obelisk_National_Historic_Landmark.jpg

When that “gadget” worked, mankind, for the first time since God created us or we climbed down from the trees to stand on two legs, whichever scenario works best for you, now possessed the power of complete global annihilation. Before the Atomic Age, we might have been wiped out by a supervolcano explosion like Yellowstone or Toba. We may have bought the farm courtesy of a Texas sized asteroid hurtling into our planet. We may even have contracted some sort of disease no one could survive, but all those scenarios have a single thing in common . . . they are OUTSIDE forces.

With the coming of “The Bomb,” the decision of a few men could set in motion the end of the human race. We image-bearers of God or evolved monkeys now hold the power to kill everyone and everything on this planet except for cockroaches and, possibly, kudzu. I don’t know about y’all, but that is a staggering thought and one my generation was the last to fully appreciate.

See, I grew up in the ’80’s as a member of Gen-X. For eight long years, I watched Ronnie Ray-gun goad and cajole and threaten the Soviet Union into an unsustainable arms race which may or may not, depending on who you ask, have ultimately bankrupted and destroyed the USSR and with it, the USA’s only real rival in the world. Along the way, though, it looked more than once like a big crop of mushroom clouds was going to pop up all around the world as the USSR decided if they couldn’t win the Cold War, no one was going to.

I spent my tween and teen years watching movies and television episodes like Damnation Alley, The Day After, and Amerika. In junior high, we even had a War of the Worlds like moment when some local station started reporting Charleston Harbor and Naval Base had been nuked. It was another “docu-drama” but it scared the Hell out of those of us who hadn’t seen the previews. We knew we lived in a world that could end at any time just because someone on our side or their side got pissed off and pushed a button. We also knew, thanks to Mr. Stoddard and social studies, EVERYONE was going to die because no matter who shot first, the tons of nuclear “boomer” submarines in both superpowers’ navies would finish off whoever was left. I can’t speak to others, but I went to bed scared a lot of nights, but then I always was a sensitive child.

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According to the Doomsday Clock, it’s three minutes til midnight.

So now, we are seventy years removed from Trinity. The Cold War is over; the remaining ICBMs safely pointed, we’re told, into the ocean. Can we really say we’re any safer though? A nuke remains the Holy Grail of every terrorist organization in the world. Just imagine if one of the planes on 9-11-2001 had carried a suitcase nuke instead of just a full tank of fuel. New York City might not be nearly as crowded. Also, remember, at the fall of the Soviet Union, apparently some generals had a “Nukes-R-Us” type yard sale because several small to medium “devices” are still unaccounted for. Where are those bombs?

If the idea of terrorists with atomic weapons doesn’t chill you enough, keep in mind the nuclear club has gotten a bit bigger since 1945. The Soviet Union / Russia joined up in 1948 followed soon after by China, the UK, and France. Now Pakistan AND India (who HATE each other BTW) are both declared nuclear powers. Don’t forget the lunatic in North Korea. He SWEARS they have at least three small nukes. Who knows for sure? Then there’s little Israel with their Samson Protocol. Sure, they don’t advertise they have nuclear weapons, but it’s a pretty safe bet they do and you can bet the house and kids if Israel is ever invaded or attacked by a nuclear missile, they WILL blow AT LEAST the Middle East all the way to Paradise and back.

Oppenheimer, et. al. let a potent genie out of the bottle on those plains of New Mexico. We’ve got the means of global suicide sitting beneath the Siberian and American Great Western plains. I just hope cooler heads always manage to prevail and if they don’t, then I hope I’m really close to the first wave of nuclear blasts because, as the man said, “It’ll sure hurt bad, but it won’t hurt long.”

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

When the Sandlappers Stood Tall

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https://i0.wp.com/www.clipartbest.com/cliparts/Rid/gEj/RidgEjAdT.pngAs a native South Carolinian, I know full well my little pie-shaped state by the Atlantic Ocean has precious little to show for its 489 years of European influence. To be sure, we started out well enough and early to boot. Spaniard Lucas Vazquez de Ayllon, founded the first European settlement in what would be the United States back in 1526. Called San Miguel de Gualdape and founded with 600 settlers, including African slaves, the little colony only lasted three months. I suppose football season ended. We were one of the original Thirteen Colonies, the First State under the Articles of Confederation, and the Eighth State to ratify the US Constitution. One could say we made a good beginning. Unfortunately, things began a steep decline from such august beginnings around 1860 and we’ve had trouble getting back on the rails ever since. We have no confirmed Presidential birthplaces within our borders, and no Presidential campaigns ever hinge on our bright red state. None of the Big Four professional sports has a team which calls our state home. No national parks beckon tourists even if the Grand Strand does.

Indeed, few in this country notice us at all and if they do it is for some reason of negativity. We hover around 49th in educational success (thank you, Mississippi). We have staggering poverty in our Appalachian regions AND in our Lowcountry. We started the Civil War after all. Anytime we get press, it usually refers to the little pizza-pie shaped Southern rebel. Every now and then, however, my state grabs the national spotlight by the throat and shines it on some speck of accomplishment worthy of pride even if, in that moment of pride, sorrow usually dwells.

Recently, our nation has endured throes of rioting and rhetoric not seen since the Rodney King Verdict in the 90’s. Places like Ferguson, Missouri; Staten Island, New York; and Baltimore, Maryland have erupted in violence towards all following violence towards others — specifically blacks. In that same time period, my state has experienced two of the worst incidents of racial violence the country has produced in many years. Recently, a white police officer in Charleston, SC shot an unarmed black man seven times in the back as the man fled arrest. Just nine days ago, a young white boy walked into a Charleston, SC church of mostly black worshipers and, after spending an hour bathed in their love, rose from his pew and slaughtered nine congregants with a concealed handgun.

Considering the response to similar incidents across the nation, people in other states held their breath wondering how the towns and cities of South Carolina would burn with rioting and looting. Imagine their surprise when our response was justice instead of inflammatory and divisive rhetoric and unconditional love instead of spewed hatred. The dread gods of chaos did not descend upon my state. Al and Jesse didn’t rush here to make speeches. Instead, we held hands and wept together at the tragedy our people had endured, but we did not add wanton destruction to the already terrible loss. Our state stood tall as others looked on, waiting for flames, they found only flowers.

Now some might take my words in praise of my state to mean I feel South Carolina is above the fray other states find themselves in. Some may take me for a polemicist point out the progress this one time bastion of the Confederate States of America has made towards equality. Some may even think I’m daring to say South Carolina has overcome racism. So do I believe my beloved Palmetto State has truly turned the corner and we are beyond the pale in terms of racism? Have we really become the fertile ground to realize Dr. King’s mountaintop dream? In short, can we say with pride South Carolina is not a racist state?

OH HELL NO! Are y’all crazy? South Carolina is one of the most racist places in the USA. Come on, now, people.

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Look, Charleston, where all this happened, was one of the largest slave entry points in the colonies and later the country. “The Old Slave Market” is still a huge draw for the city’s multitude of tourists even if today ornamental tchotchkes instead of human chattel are the featured items. We may not have had as many huge plantations as Georgia or Virginia, but we had our share and African slaves bent their backs under King Cotton’s lash for 250 years. Oh, we started the Civil War that killed more Americans than any other conflict we’ve ever entered. Once the war was over, we replaced King Cotton with Jim Crow to “keep ‘them’ in their ‘place.'” Just because we didn’t have the Scotsboro Boys or Emmitt Till doesn’t mean we didn’t have lynchings a-plenty. The white robes Klansmen have always found a haven in the Palmetto State.

Ever hear of the Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka, KS? You know, the one that was supposed to strike down segregated schools? It passed in 1954. We didn’t have the Little Rock Nine and our governor didn’t sit in the schoolhouse door to bar “colored” from entering, but anyone want to guess when our little state finally complied and FULLY integrated all public schools? 1971, the year I was born and a full seventeen years after the Brown decision. Our longest serving US Senator from SC — the Honorable (oookayy) Strom Thurmond — ran for President on a platform of continuing and strengthening segregation. When the Civil Rights Movement reached full swing and came to South Carolina, the state legislature responded by requiring the Confederate Battle Flag to fly from the TOP of the Statehouse dome. Oh, and the piece de resistance, we sent a man to the United States House of Representatives who interrupted this country’s first black President during an INTERNATIONALLY TELEVISED SPEECH to call him a liar right in front of God, the international media, and a joint session of Congress. He was later re-elected to his House seat by a 96% margin.

Rep. Joe Wilson (R_SC) of “YOU LIE” infamy.

It’s safe to say we’ve come a ways, but we’ve got miles to go before we sleep equally well.

So what AM I trying to say about my state? First of all, we don’t HIDE our racism here just like we don’t hide our crazy relatives. No, we wrap a shawl around it’s neck, sit it in a rocker on the front porch, and let it wave at the neighbors. We were an original slave state; we started a freaking WAR to keep our states’ rights . . . to OWN PEOPLE. What’s the point in denying it? Drive all over the lower part of the state and you’ll see dozens of posh, well landscaped private schools named after Confederate generals and all with a plaque out front saying “FOUNDED 1971.” If you can’t beat ’em, run from ’em. Interracial couples still get a lot of stares and glares, but we aren’t stringing them up and while that might not seem like much, at least it’s something. What I’m saying is, we are trying. Overcoming 500 years of precedent and prejudice won’t be accomplished overnight, but we are trying.

https://i2.wp.com/i.huffpost.com/gen/3090818/thumbs/o-CONFEDERATE-FLAG-COLUMBIA-570.jpgFor example, if you are a cop and you shoot an unarmed man you were trying to arrest for non-payment of child support seven times IN THE BACK on VIDEO, we will not send the video to a lab and have it analyzed ad nauseum then convene a grand jury to figure out what should be done about you amidst much hand-wringing and moral agonizing. NO. Instead, we will fire you, take your badge and gun, charge you with first degree murder then THROW. YOUR. ASS. IN. JAIL! If some poor fool walks into a church and walks out later with an empty gun leaving behind nine dead worshipers, we aren’t calling “Reverend” Sharpton to come make a speech about how tragic the incident is while neighborhoods all across the state lose their minds and start burning police cars, smashing store windows, and looting everything in sight under the pretense of “being angry at the system.” Instead, we will pack out that church with people black, white, brown, red, pink, orange and green for every funeral. We will do what we always do for death in the South . . . mourn with those who mourn and send casseroles, pound cakes, and dry chicken to comfort the grieving.

That’s just the way we roll here in South Cackalacky. From poor white trash to Hilton Head / Cliffs of Glassy McMansions, we know how to act — black and white. We may not always do right, but we KNOW right from wrong because it’s the way our Mamas and Grandmamas — black and white — raised us to do. Family members get on TV and forgive the ignorant young man because it’s what Jesus said do and around here, Jesus and Mama are still more important than the media. So, no, we aren’t perfect and we’re still racist as Hell, but most of us WANT to do better. Just like every other state, we’re all in the same racist prison looking out the same racist bars. The difference is other states are looking at the mud and we are looking at the stars.

Love y’all, and keep those feet clean!

Sympathy for the Devil

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https://i0.wp.com/www.world-war-2-diaries.com/image-files/baby-hitler-fullsize.jpgNo one is born evil. We are all born sinful, thanks to the impromptu fruit snack Adam and Eve had in the Garden, but sinful is far from evil. I’ve known many a vile sinner who was a joy to be around. I’m actually related by blood or marriage to quite a few, but I’ve never actually known or known of someone who was born truly, irredeemably, black-heartedly evil.

I say that because today is the 126th anniversary of a man widely viewed as the most evil person who ever lived — Adolf Hitler. I realize just writing a blog post about him on his birthday and including “Sympathy” in the title puts me in serious danger of losing followers, being branded a Nazi, and generally dismissed as a complete kook. Please give me a hearing.

I am not a Nazi or Hitler apologist. I agree with the prevailing historical interpretation placing Der Fuhrer at or very near the top of a short list of extremely evil people who perpetrated crimes against civilization which will forever coat their names in anathema for as long as mankind’s collective memory exists. I agree with the usual evangelical Christian opinion a special place in an exquisitely real and burning Hell for Hitler to roast and reflect on his misdeeds for all eternity. I believe, without qualification or prevarication, Adolf Hitler was a thoroughly evil man — one of the most evil who has ever existed.

I just don’t believe he was born that way.

That’s his baby portrait up top of this post. Does he LOOK evil in it? Do his little chubby fat rolls on his legs and arms simply EXUDE vile antisemitism and abject megalomania? Does anything in this picture, besides the bowl haircut, belie the human monster this baby will become? This isn’t a portrait of someone with visions of grandeur who plans on plunging the entire world into the flames of the most destructive conflict ever envisioned while executing the most thorough and organized genocide since Pharaoh ordered the slaughter of the Hebrew male children in Moses’ infancy.

That’s a baby; a sweet, chubby, innocent baby. Had he but pitched forward suddenly and fallen from the chair in which he sits, perhaps he would have had the good fortune to snap his neck fatally and in the process save not only his immortal soul but also the world from another War to End all Wars and millions of people from annihilation.

But he didn’t.

Instead, he grew. He became a young boy who grew up on a farm. He watched his beloved brother die of measles. He became a hard-headed youth fighting with an equally hard-headed father over what the future held for him. His father wanted him to become a bureaucrat and settle into a good career with a steady income and a comfortable life carrying on the family name . . . just as many fathers everywhere throughout time have wished. Hitler wanted to be an artist — like many young men before and since. His father died, his mother gave him part of his inheritance and he struck out for the big city (Vienna, in this case) to make his fortune as the next great painter.

Like many young men before and since, he had his dreams crushed by gatekeepers. Turned away twice from art school, he eventually ran out of money and became a wanderer sharing hostels and men’s shelters with other wayward dreamers like himself. He counted several Jewish boys among his friends. He was drifting and drifting objects tend to get sucked into the worst possible places . . .

https://i0.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/55/Hitler_1914_1918.jpg/170px-Hitler_1914_1918.jpgThen came the Great War. The young man fled his home for a neighboring country and enlisted in a well-known fighting regiment. Finally, he found something he was good at; he found a home and a sense of belonging among his comrades-in-arms. By all accounts, he was brave when called upon but not reckless. He became a corporal, earned the prestigious Iron Cross-First Class for his actions in battle, and then, he was gassed. He lay recuperating in the hospital from his gassing and other wounds when news came of Germany’s surrender. His beloved adopted country fell into ignoble defeat. Another dream crushed and again he began to wander.

Since he had no other skills, he stayed in the military, now as an intelligence gatherer. Then, he met Dietrich Eckart. Like other young drifting souls before him, he fell in with someone he’d have been better off avoiding. Eckart introduced Hitler to the seminal ideas of what would eventually become Nazi ideology. The National Socialist’s ancestor party, the DAP, discovered Hitler’s talent for haranguing huge crowds into revolutionary fervor. They pressed him to go into politics. He delighted in the political sphere — the speeches and intrigue — and he started a series of poor choices ending with the infamous Beer Hall Pustch of 1923. He was arrested, convicted of treason, and sent to prison. One year later he emerged, having written Mein Kampf. Now he wasn’t drifting. He had a plan; he’d made his choice.

The rest, of course, is history.

So, emphatically no, the baby in the picture wasn’t evil. He hadn’t had time to be evil. He wasn’t born evil, but he certainly died evil. He gained his evil the same way all evil men and women do — choice by choice, each worse and more soul-searing than the last. Somewhere along the way, the little boy who sang in the church choir and was an ardent admirer of Martin Luther, the German Reformer, made one wrong choice too many and became Der Fuhrer and the world would burn because of it.

What if? What if the Vienna Academy of Fine Art had accepted the young painter. He wasn’t exactly https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/d/de/The_Courtyard_of_the_Old_Residency_in_Munich_-_Adolf_Hitler.jpg/220px-The_Courtyard_of_the_Old_Residency_in_Munich_-_Adolf_Hitler.jpgMatisse or Gauguin, but he wasn’t horrible. What if they had eased their criticism of his work and encouraged him just a little instead of saying he was, “unfit to become an artist?” What if he’d met a good Lutheran minister instead of Eckart? What if he’d served his entire prison sentence and the Nazi party had been given time to die out before his release?

So I write this on his birthday, not to praise him, but to call attention to his choices and his influences. How close are any of us to becoming an Adolf Hitler? We’ve all had shattered dreams. We’ve all had family conflicts. What’s more, we interact every day with untold numbers of people who are in the midst of who knows what kind of crisis. Which way do we push them, towards goodness or evil? See that ragged soul walking around homeless? How will you treat him? It may be the difference between a Hitler and a helper.

Love y’all. Keep those feet clean.

RIP, Lauren Hill

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Friday, Lauren Hill, the 19-year-old basketball player, lost her battle with an inoperable brain tumor. Cancer may have defeated her, but it could not conquer her. Taking Dylan Thomas’ advice, she did not, “go gently into that good night,” but — in her own inspirational way — would “rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

For those who may not know her story, it is a deceptively simple one. A basketball crazy young lady from the basketball crazy state of Indiana, this Hoosier had one desire — to play college basketball. After her senior season in high school, she signed to play for Mount Saint Joseph College in Cincinnati, Ohio. She wasn’t after a scholarship MSJ is a Division III school in the NCAA’s hierarchy and so does not award scholarships . . . it didn’t matter because she wasn’t in the game for the money, she just wanted to play. Unfortunately, during that senior year, Lauren received a chilling diagnosis from her doctors. After testing because of increasingly frequent headaches, they had found a diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma — in layman’s terms, a brain tumor — completely inoperable. Her prognosis was two years at the outside.

Still, she refused to give up and continued on with her senior season, playing though the nausea of chemotherapy treatments. By the time her freshman season with Mount Saint Joseph drew near, her symptoms had started to worsen. It seemed the two-year time frame may have been a little too optimistic. But, she wanted to play. Her coach made some calls. Some other people made some calls and the usually intractably draconian bureaucracy that is the NCAA actually showed a soft side. MJS would begin their season two weeks early.

By tip-off, Lauren’s condition had progressed to the point where she couldn’t reliably use her dominant hand. Instead, she scored the game’s first points with a left-handed lay-up in front of a packed house at Xavier University’s Cintas Center. She bookended the game with another lay-up as time expired to end the contest. In all, Lauren managed to play bits of five games, scoring ten points for her brief collegiate career, but everyone knew this was a fight against an unbeatable opponent. All too soon, Lauren could no longer take to the court. She left school and went home to face the inevitable.

From a wheelchair and a hospital bed, Lauren still inspired others. Unable to play the game she loved, she turned her full attention for her remaining time towards raising money for cancer research. Her nonprofit organization, which will outlive her through her school, raised over $1 million dollars towards finding cures for pediatric cancer. Her goal was to raise $2.2 million before she died so she would match her jersey number . . . she almost made it.

Earlier today, her family, friends, teammates, and school honored her life at the same 10,000 seat arena where she made her first points as a college player. Everyone who spoke talked about her courage and determination. She realized she wasn’t going to beat this cancer early on, but she resolved not to let it beat her either. In the end, her beautiful ship slipped beneath life’s waves . . . broken and battered, but with all flags still flying.

Love y’all, and keep those feet clean.