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2012 in review

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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 50,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 12 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

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Deuce Part Deux — Laura-Lou Got Married

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Laura and her mama, Connie.

So for several years, Laura (Deuce), Budge, and I pretty much hung together non-stop. Laura had many other friends from the school district and Starbucks. She even kept in touch with a good many of her high school friends who moved away from Ware Shoals. She has one high school girlfriend named Shaye Hall whom I am quite ready to meet and ask a question or two about a certain New Kids on the Block concert, but that is a story for another time.

We were together a great deal, but not exclusively. We would usually eat together on Tuesdays and Thursdays through the week and at least once, if not twice on the weekends. We also had long stretches when we didn’t get to see much of Deuce. She’s a pretty amazing actress (but what else can you expect from Drew Barrymore’s bestie?) and a member of the Laurens County Community Theater.

Some members of the LCCT. Laura is the cow.

For about a month each fall and spring, we’d be lucky to see her once a week because she’d have to sandwich rehearsals between two jobs. The shows have always been worth it. Her portrayal of Olene Whiffer is especially memorable. Think Steel Magnolias meets Gypsy Rose and you’ll have a pretty fair picture of Ms. Whiffer.

The last four years, we’ve also had the ritual of sitting with Laura while she was dead panicked about having a job at the school district, which has been her main source of income and benefits. With all the cutbacks since the bottom fell out of the economy in 2008, she’s never been sure if her job was next on the chopping block or not. So far though, she’s always managed to have a spot. It probably doesn’t hurt that the superintendent and the high school principal — as well as most everyone else in District 56 — loves her almost as much as we do.

The Gang from Starbucks

Work kept us apart, the theater kept us apart, and football season kept us apart. Once Laura started working at the high school, she took over the Spirit Club. As a “perk” of this office, she got to be at EVERY football game, fair weather or foul, home or away, heat or cold. When I was still at Bell Street, I’d come to a few games as well, but I never made the trek to Union or York. For the record, Union, SC is impossible to get straight to. It’s one of those “you-can’t-get-there-from-here” places.

But I digress.

One issue which never kept us apart, however, was Laura’s dating life. Without putting too fine a point on it, she didn’t have much of one. Now you might ask, as I did when I didn’t know her as well as I do now, how such a beautiful, classy, and outgoing young woman could NOT have three dates per weekend. The answer lies in which Laura shows up for the evening — Ware Shoals Laura or Simpsonville Laura.

See, Simpsonville Laura went to etiquette classes and knows which utensil to start eating with at the most swanky restaurants and receptions. Simpsonville Laura is demure, very sweet, kind, and forgiving. Simpsonville Laura drinks Blue Moon with an orange wedge on the lip of the glass.

This is Simpsonville Laura dangerously close to morphing into Ware Shoals Laura.

Ware Shoals Laura shoots tequila. Not often, but she does. Ware Shoals Laura is the slightly less refined and considerably more dangerous alter ego of Simpsonville Laura. Ware Shoals Laura also went to etiquette classes but she mostly remembers which knife on the table is sharpest and will cut a heart out best. The funny thing is, you could be sitting next to Simpsonville Laura one minute and someone — often me — would say something stupid and when you’d look over, you’d be sitting next to Ware Shoals Laura.

Simpsonville Laura has always loved men with dark handsome looks; Ware Shoals Laura has always loved men with barbecue sauce, Texas Pete, and a side of green beans. Not every guy, not even most guys, had what it takes to deal with sporadic outbreaks of Ware Shoals Laura. Thom didn’t, Eric didn’t, some guy from Greenwood who ate one dinner with us at Wasabi’s didn’t, and poor Pete (Pete the Dude, not Pete the Cat. That’s another story) CERTAINLY didn’t. He’s still got a few things to learn about himself I do believe.

But one did, and that’s where the buckeye comes in.

Laura and Mr. Dick, giver of the sacred buckeye.

Now why in the name of all that’s holy a MICHIGAN WOLVERINE fan would have a BUCKEYE in her possession was somewhat lost on me until I heard the story. Laura’s grandfather, Mr. Dick, had given Laura a genuine buckeye when she was but a wee lass and told her it was because she was greatly loved and very special and when she finally met a boy she loved as much as Mr. Dick loved her, a boy as special to her as she was to Mr. Dick, she should give him the buckeye and he’d be hers forever.

Deuce kept that buckeye a long time and might have kept it forever if it hadn’t been for the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Now this particular group of which Laura is but a junior member is worthy of a blog all their own, but for the sake of time I will summarize. The Ya-Ya’s are a group of young ladies and older women who regularly visit one another, but once a year, they have a Ya-Ya convention at the Beach. It was during one of these annual maritime rendezvous when one of the top ranking Ya-Ya’s mentioned she had a son she wanted Laura to meet.

Some of the Ya-Ya's in the Caribbean.

His name was Cameron Hall and his mother, Elaine, introduced the two of them later that summer. The rest, as the old story goes, is history.

Budge and I knew Laura was going out regularly with Cameron and I figured he had to be at least a decent guy because he was willing to drive up an hour and some change one way from Columbia every time they went on a date. I didn’t know HOW well they were getting along until Laura, Budge, and I were on the way to supper one evening last summer and she ended a cell phone call with “I Love You!” I automatically asked her how her daddy was doing because Mr. Ray Davis was the ONLY person Budge or I EVER heard Laura say “I love you” to on the phone. She was quiet for a minute then said, “Um, That wasn’t Daddy, that was Cameron.”

Wow. This was SERIOUS.

It was so serious she introduced him to Budge and I, which was something she’d only done on one other occasion and only because she wanted some good excuses to dump the Greenwood guy from Wasabi’s. It was SO serious that the night we went to meet Cameron and Laura for dinner at TGI Friday’s in Greenville, I not only traded my normal T-shirt and basketball shorts for khakis and a collared polo, I also wore BIG BOY SHOES instead of my neon colored Crocs.  Laura noticed immediately and later told Cameron that was a fairly big deal.

The minute I saw him I didn’t like him. He was handsome in just the slightly rough way I knew Deuce loved. He was a football fan and he liked USC and . . . well, he was just about as perfect a match as is possible in this fallen world of ours. I didn’t like him because I knew he was probably the one who was going to break up the band. Once I saw him look at Laura though, I had to get over it. He loved her and the way he looked at her proved it. What’s more, he’s a good and gentle man. Hardworking and kind and he treats Deuce as if the Sun and stars spun around her hair on a halo.

This Christmas, after a little more than a year together, Laura gave Cameron Mr. Dick’s buckeye.

The shoals that give Ware Shoals its name.

I started waiting for the inevitable call.

It came this past May after the Ware Shoals Catfish Feastival (and NO that is not a misspelling). Cameron had gotten Big Momma’s 100-year-old diamond ring from Connie, Laura’s mama, and had it reset for her. He, with some timely help from young Jacob, gave her the ring on the rocks of the shoals in sight of the house where Laura grew up near the middle of town she loves like no other place on Earth. My Deuce was getting married.

Cam's beard wasn't that grey when he and Deuce started dating. Just saying.

So, just a tiny bit more than one month ago today, I dusted off my wedding manual, checked over the procedure for properly endorsing a marriage license, and sat going over the vows and ceremony as Budge drove following Laura, Cameron, and Jake, Cameron’s son, down to the Isle Of Palms near Charleston. There, in a simple white dress and Cam in nice khaki slacks repeated after me in cargoes and purple Crocs their vows and “I do’s.” I made it through almost the entire ceremony without crying, but my voice caught just a bit during the prayer.

Last week, they moved in to their new house together in Laurens, SC and tomorrow night we’re gathering in Ware Shoals for a swanky reception. Hopefully, Cameron will let me borrow Deuce back long enough to show me which fork to use.

It hurts a little knowing I won’t get to see Deuce as much as we did, but I look forward to seeing what kind of beautiful love grows from that small brown seed from the Aesculus glabra 

It’s common name is The American Buckeye.

Love y’all!

Springtime = Skip Party

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The Indigo Girls said it best when they sang “There’s something about the Southland in the springtime!” I was just sitting on the porch looking at the living proof that God Almighty is a University of North Carolina fan — a gorgeous Tarheel Blue sky. The temperature is just about perfect and if trees had a way of reproducing that didn’t involve that fluffy yellow pollen, I could stay outside forever. I know people say that we’d get tired of one continuous type of weather year round, but I promise that if someone could invent a Claritin or Allegra pump similar to the insulin pump some diabetics wear, I’d be willing to test this time of year all year.

Back when I was in high school, a day like this would result in several feverish calls between our group’s houses, and in those days — not THAT long ago — “calling around” meant dodging parents who always answered the phone. We didn’t have cell phones, Facebook, or email. Of course, it’s just as well. I probably wouldn’t have graduated if the Internet had been fully open and operational in the middle ’80s. In any event, we’d be attempting to set up a skip party for the next day.Some people favor playing hooky on Fridays to get an early start on the weekend, but I was always the type to skip on Monday so as to put off the first of the week for as long as possible. Skipping Mondays also had the advantage of less makeup work. In a tradition I was later to continue as a high school teacher myself, Fridays were always quiz and test days. Mondays were just notes and worksheets. My teachers didn’t really care if I made up notes. Tests were mandatory though.

Our parents had differing opinions about skipping. Mama simply required that I let her know if I was planning to come down with a 24 hour bout of “spring fever.” Robby’s dad was pretty much the same. Duane, however, was forbidden to skip school under any circumstances. That meant he had to actually drive to school then walk down Raider Road a bit where one of us could pick him up. For some reason, the girls got to do pretty much whatever they wanted to — and they ALWAYS wanted to skip.

"Honey, does this new vodka taste a little watery to you?"

Skip parties were eclectic affairs. Sometimes, we’d just congregate at someone’s centrally located but somewhat off the road house and sit around running our mouths and eating another set of parents out of house and home. Later on in high school — I think we started our sophomore year — some of the more adventurous souls would score some “adult refreshment” from Mom and Dad’s liquor cabinet. Those of us who were Pentecostal or Southern Baptist usually relied on the Presbyterians or the handful of Episcopalians to take care of the alcohol needs. Pentecostal parents — like Mama — really didn’t drink and the Southern Baptist parents managed to hide their liquor stashes in much more difficult to find locations. One particular young lady who will go nameless, always brought a jar of very nice vodka . . . until she finally learned — the hard way of course — that one can only replace JUST SO MUCH vodka with water before Daddy noticed. Fortunately for her, she had an extremely cool older brother who was a Clemson University student and complete Helion and gave his baby sister carte blanche to throw him under the bus with their parents whenever necessary.

Just as a reflection though, I don’t remember our parties ever getting completely out of hand; well, except for that ONE time at Duane’s when his parents were in Europe for a week and we had a weekend long bash with over 250 people showing up, but other than that, we didn’t go for some of the insanity I’ve seen among high schoolers (and even middle schoolers) of this generation. A little liquor WOULD change the dynamic somewhat, just as it always has since Jesus turned the water to wine in Cana of Galilee, but except for a few fights that produced more bruised feelings than bruises and a strange relationship or twelve, we didn’t get nearly as rowdy as today’s bunch. Of course, our parents probably thought the same thing about THEIR generation since they were certain we were in the grip of the Antichrist.

 

Like this, only LOTS more kids.

I remember two particular incidents from those days quite well. Once, around this time in April of our senior year, a great cloud of us met up at one of the girls’ lakehouses and piled on for a pontoon ride around Lake Greenwood. About ten o’clock in the morning, I noticed Robby counting people. I asked him what in the world he was doing and he said, “look around.” I picked up his drift then. We had around 30 people divided between two pontoons and of those 30, twenty-six were in our second period math class . . . which just happened to be meeting at that very moment back at school — with a grand total of 2 people in it, if they had actually shown up.

 

The second incident was during the spring of our tenth grade year. Robby picked me up and told me we weren’t going to school, which was fine with me. I just ran back in the house and left Mama a note so she’d know what to say when the school called her after she got off third shift. Then we picked Duane up in Laurens as per our SOP and headed to the Overbays. It was a warm enough day to swim if anyone wanted to–unlike yours truly who couldn’t, and still can’t, swim. The four Overbay brothers had an awesome Olympic sized pool with no fence around it. That made one of the more interesting water sports at their house the “water walking contest” where someone would get about twenty yards back from the deep end and take off at a dead sprint right out onto the water to see how many steps he (and it was ALWAYS “he”) could take before getting pulled over by the long arm of the law of gravity.

That wasn’t what made this day special though. THIS day, Robby made the grave mistake of letting people talk him into driving his car. Robby was one of the few of us with night licenses and a car. Unwisely, he started sitting in the back while different folks took the trusty little ’83 Pontiac Phoenix Hatchback out for a spin.

A little browner than this, but a pretty good likeness.

The first ten or fifteen trips actually went quite well and it was getting about time to shut the party down anyway when Robby, in a total lapse of judgment, let Kathryn get behind the wheel with Carolyn riding shotgun.

The trip out was fine. Kathryn guided the little brown car up the gravel driveway and out to the stop sign about a mile away with no problem. She was doing great on the trip back in as well when the car skidded ever so slightly on some loose gravel at the head of the drive.

Now, keep your feet clean for a while and I’ll tell you the Paul Harvey in my next installment.

Love y’all 🙂

In Memoriam 2010

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A Cub Scout salutes the fallen at the Punchbowl National Cemetery in Hawaii.

It is a rainy, dreary Memorial Day here in South Carolina so since most barbecues and picnics will be called off around here today, I’ve spent the morning thinking about what Memorial Day was enacted for — remembering our fallen soldiers. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a hawk, but if our boys and girls go into battle, my support goes with them. A true soldier, sailor, or marine doesn’t get to pick his or her war. At enlistment, they all took an oath to “defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic” and that’s the end of it. They may have serious ideological differences with their commanders over what they are fighting for, but the true soldier follows all lawful orders and, if needs be, dies for what his country if not his heart has told him is right. That bothers a lot of people these days because this is America and we thrive on the choices of the individual. We ask, “why should a soldier fight and die for a cause he does not passionately agree with?”

I think G.W. Chesterton hit nearest the mark answering this question when he said, “the true soldier fights, not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” Our soldiers defend our country. They always have. Some of the greatest heroes were also some of the most reluctant, like Sgt. Alvin York who despised the very idea of killing another human being, but who, when his country called, answered, went to the Argonne Forest, and became a hero.

Then there is the story of the Four Chaplains of the USS Dorchester. One was a Jewish Rabbi, two were Protestant ministers, and one was a Catholic priest, but when the Dorchester was torpedoed in frigid North Atlantic waters, the four men of differing faiths worked together to calm the panicked men and restore order to the passing out of life jackets. Then, when no more life vests remained, they each gave a frightened sailor their own. When Rabbi Goode pressed his vest into the hands of a frightend sailor, he didn’t stop to ask the man if he were a good Jew. Father Washington didn’t seek out an altar boy to give his vest to. They did what had to be done and when nothing more could be done, they joined hands — four faiths — on the fantail of the sinking ship and prayed.

So remember today and every day if you can’t support the war, please support the men and women fighting it. Bullets kill doves as easily as hawks. To remember the day, I’ve included a beautiful and solemn video of the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington Cemetery. Hopefully it will remind us of the multitudes of brave men and women who have paid the final price to keep America’s light shining in the world.

Adventures in Cast Iron Cooking

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When Budge and I first married, we lived with Mama and Rob for a while until we got on our feet a little better financially. Budge helped Mama with the housework and laundry, but Mama did all the cooking just because . . . well, just because, I guess.

Anyway, one weekend about six months into our nuptials, Mama and Rob went to visit Grandma Lowe for the Lowe Family Reunion up in the hills of North Carolina. Since we had the house to ourselves, Budge decided she’d make us dinner. She’d cooked a few things for me before and they hadn’t be half bad. Tonight, she planned to pull out all the stops. She knew my favorite side item in the world was breaded, fried okra, so she obviously planned for that to be prominent on the menu. It was here that things got interesting.

Now, as a side note, my Budge is a wonderful wife. God knows she’s a whole lot more than I deserve and I am deeply appreciative of her. One issue she had early in our marriage, however, was putting way too much pressure on herself to be a modern day June Cleaver complete with pearl necklace and apron. She liked things to be perfect. Unfortunately, Budge never had much hands on experience cooking. Her mother passed away suddenly when Budge was 15 and she just hadn’t had time to learn much about the culinary arts. The second factor adding to this tense situation was the fact that Budge had only seen Mama cook fried okra for me and Mama always fried her okra in Granny’s cast iron skillet.

Now from that sharp intake of breath, I see that y’all, at least the cooks out there, realize what’s going on. In this day of non-stick, space age polymer pots and pans, a cast iron skillet has mostly been relegated to baking corn bread. The reason for this demotion is simple — it’s hard as crap to cook in a cast iron skillet! Budge did not know this.

So, blissful in her ignorance of cast iron cookery, she filled the pan about a third of the way with Wesson oil and waited. Once the oil started smoking and looked about to catch fire, she dumped the bag of Southern Home frozen okra into the pan. I didn’t know Budge knew some of the words that came out of her mouth when some of the hot oil spit out onto her arms and bare feet. If you wonder what I was doing at this time, I was sitting at the kitchen table watching intently and keeping my mouth shut like any intelligent new husband watching his wife cook.

Time passed. Budge watched the okra for several minutes with no discernible results, so she decided it would be safe to prepare other parts of the meal, just like she’d seen Mama do. Now, for the laypeople out there, here is a VERY important fact — the interval of time between “perfectly golden and delicious” fried okra and “blackened pea gravel” fried okra in a cast iron skillet is about three tenths of a second. Those three tenths of a second passed as Budge was pouring up the glasses of tea. I knew something was amiss by the way Budge looked at the frying pan when she crossed back to it.

I couldn’t see her face, but I thought I caught wind of a slight “sniff” as she carried the pan of okra to the sink to strain the oil off it. As she used Mama’s aluminum colander, I heard the unmistakable sound of river rock being ground in a coffee grinder. Still, how bad could it be? She set the rest of the meal on the table and it all looked extremely tasty. I fixed my plate then asked, “Baby, where is the okra?” She didn’t answer, but sighed heavily and brought over the bowl.

You know those lava rocks some people use as mulch around their flower beds and trees? Think harder and smaller. The bowl was half full of what can only be described as jet black ball bearings with bits of blackened cornmeal mournfully hanging on to them. I glanced up at my bride’s stricken face where her eyes were just beginning to tear up and did what any self respecting husband would do in such a situation. I poured the entire contents of the bowl onto my plate and began eating.

Under her watchful eyes, I ate the entire bowl of food formerly known as fried okra. It was crunchy. Ever ate charcoal flavored Grape-Nuts without milk? Make no mistake, it was charcoal. I could have drunk a liter of pure strychnine mixed with dioxin and the amount of charcoal in my stomach would have neutralized it instantly with no need for pumping or antidotes.

It was worth every bit though to see the tears vanish from Budge’s eyes as I declared the okra “quite tasty”. We both knew the truth, but that’s what you do when you love someone. You make allowances. Mama later explained to Budge with a smile just how hard cast iron cooking was and introduced her to The Fry Daddy. Budge makes very good deep fried okra. I’ll have to tell you about her peanut butter pie later though!

Keep your feet clean and remember who loves you!

What Have They Done to Field Day?

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No ribbons?!

One of my good buddies has a little girl in kindergarten. Now to look at him, you might not think Mike would be the “soccer dad” type, but he does a pretty good job of faking it. He called me earlier to tell me about his day. Seems the mother of his child “volunteered” him to help with Field Day. Now Mike, like me, had some fond memories of Field Day in elementary school, but what he described, and what TRIGOOBITM (who has her Field Day tomorrow) confirmed has totally destroyed a part of my childhood.

As Mike put it, “Coach, they’ve ruined Field Day!”

Now, if you remember field day like I do, you remember signing up for all sorts and types of athletic events that will never see the light of of an Olympic torch but which made for outstanding fun. I’m talking about wheelbarrow races, three-legged races, egg and spoon relay, and water balloon tosses. This was the day to see who was most athletic or at least who could be the best problem solver. Above all, we competed as INDIVIDUALS (or teams in the case of relays and the Tug-of-War) If you won a given event, you got a blue ribbon with a little tag on the back naming the event, then second place got a red ribbon and so on all the way down to the pale yellow ribbon proudly proclaiming you took seventh place! If you didn’t make it into the top seven (usually out of 15) then you got a purple ribbon that said in not so many words, you tried.

Apparently, they don’t do that anymore. Now, the kids compete “as a class” against “other classes” and no one makes notice of “winners” or “losers”. The flour sack race and the softball toss have been replaced by benign events requiring little or no grace or form. Worst of all as far as Mike and I were concerned, no one gets a ribbon! Of course, if you aren’t going to crown a winner, what’s the point in a ribbon? This is a tragic development. My buddy Wishbone still has all his Field Day ribbons from GC-O . . . every ribbon for every Field Day for every year, including BOTH his fourth grade years!

As I understand it, the traditional athletic gala that was the Field Day of my youth was too damaging to the psyches of today’s tender children. See, if you recognize a winner, then by definition, everyone else must be a loser and we have to avoid dividing the little ones into winners and losers at all costs. If someone actually compared a blue ribbon to a red ribbon, the poor child might be irreparably damaged.

This way of thinking is everywhere now. It’s why everyone on every team in rec league baseball gets a trophy even if they don’t win a game. It’s why peewee football doesn’t count the first quarter because “everyone plays” in the first quarter. Kids have to feel good about themselves so we have to avoid all pretense of “winning” and “losing.”

In the end, though, all we’ve done is make everyone a loser. We’ve created a generation of divas, male and female, who think they are entitled to some sort of reward just because they showed up and not just any reward, but a reward every bit as good as what the person who did “the best” got (although “the best” becomes rather debatable under these conditions.)

I hate to tell all the do-gooders and warm fuzzy makers out there who have emasculated Field Day, but the kids know who wins and loses. They are smarter than we give them credit for and they know it’s a sham. We had winners and losers and we turned out fine. I knew I’d never run as fast as Brian or Billy-Ray . . . and they knew they’d never have the grades I had. We had our niches and we were happy. Even Stephan was happy. Stephan had something wrong with him. I don’t know what it was, but when I was in school, we didn’t have short buses and “special classes”. Stephan was in class with me from K5 all the way to 8th grade. He wasn’t ever held back because everyone knew Stephan would eventually end up in a “home” where he’d be looked after.

At school, he was looked after . . . by us. Stephan tried to learn his times tables just like we did and when he got his 2s down by heart in fourth grade, the rest of the class congratulated him and cheered for him just like we did when Greg went from the 1s to the 12s in 2 minutes with no mistakes. Stephan wasn’t a loser; he was just different. He didn’t get a blue ribbon on field day because he didn’t WIN a blue ribbon . . . but he got a shirt full of purple ribbons because he tried and we appreciated him for that.

Not any more. Now, everyone is rewarded according to the lowest common denominator and we wonder why students have such fits when they don’t get their way. It all started going south when they ruined field day and took away the purple ribbons. I’m not sure what it’ll take to get things made right, but we need to start soon.

Until then, keep those feet clean and call me if you can hold your own in a three-legged race . . . I need a partner!

Love y’all 🙂

Liquorcycles

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In Southeast Asia, this is dependable transportation; in the USA, it's a liquorcycle.

I have nothing against mopeds and scooters. From my time surfing the ‘Net, I’ve found they seem to be the transportation of choice in crowded places like Shanghai or Tokyo. In some parts of the world, Colonial Era Vespas have displaced water buffalo and burros as beasts of burden.  In Vietnam and Taiwan, scooters are the family vehicle to take the kids out for ice cream or whatever passes for comfort food in Vietnam. Some enterprising individuals even use them as taxis in India.

In the USA, however, if you see someone over the age of 20 and not in college riding a scooter or a moped with a milk crate bungee-corded to the back and the front fender about to rattle off, my next paycheck against yours says 95% of the time, you are looking at a liquorcycle.

Now, before we get to far into the explanation, it’s important for me that you hear the proper pronunciation in your head as you read this. It loses something if you don’t get the right sound in your mind. The -cycle in “liquorcycle” sounds like the -sicle in “Popsicle” and not the -cycle in “motorcycle.” If you say it just right, you get a nice internal feminine half rhyme going. Liquorcycle . . . all together now . . . liquorcycle! You got it.

By definition, a liquorcycle is the mode of transportation adopted by those bottom feeders of society who have been convicted — usually multiple times —  of “driving while intoxicated” or “driving under the influence” and have lost their drivers’ licenses as a result. Yep, a liquorcycle is the last refuge of the DUI / DWI convict. For some, it is a badge of honor. These hardy individuals ride their liquorcycles flat out at a mind-blowing 35 mph with their denture-less jowls flapping in the wind in all seasons and conditions.

Back when I had a job and my buddy, Bo, rode to work with me, I’d sit at the local gas station waiting for him each morning. Every morning — rain, sun, even sleet once — the same woe-begotten soul on his ancient liquorcycle would come putt-putting by at 6:40 AM on the dot. In January, it was hard to tell that a human and not a bear was astride a dilapidated red Honda scooter. He would be wearing a full ski suit and seemed to be wrapped in some sort of blanket. If it was raining (January in SC, it rains a lot) he would add an oversized oilskin slicker to the ensemble. He always put me in the mind of a down and out Tusken Raider on Tatooine riding a broken down speeder scrounged from some abandoned Jawa sandcrawler.  It was indeed a sad sight to behold.

Now some of my three regular readers might think I’m being a bit harsh on those who choose to imbibe and drive. I’m not. I’m actually pulling punches a little. I have friends in wheelchairs and family in graveyards because of drunk drivers. I actually like the fact that enough DUIs leads to a liquorcycle license because inevitably, the habit will grab them again and they’ll be liquorcycling while higher than a Georgia pine and when they run a stop sign and someone t-bones their liquorcycle, they’ll just bury them where they make the hole. It’s rough, but it’s natural selection in action.

Liquorcycles . . . the steed of champions!

Love y’all. Wash your feet.

Last Stop Before the Razor!

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Danger Pessimist Ahead

I have had a variety of nicknames throughout my life. Obviously with a last name like “Wham,” every group I ever met, every class I ever taught, every chat room where I was stupid enough to use my real name, some joker would say “Wham? Wham! Bam! Thank you ma’am!” like I’d never heard that before. Then I had my other nicknames. Stay-Puft was a popular one after Ghostbusters came out at the movies. Before that, I was The Great White Marshmallow. Unfortunately, both of these monikers draw attention to my status as The Man The Sun Forgot as well as my rather large girth. It didn’t help that Mama had a propensity for dressing me in horizontal stripes in grade school so Michelin Man was another of my nome de plumes.

My most ironic nickname, however, is one that I’m not the least bit proud of — Last Stop Before the Razor. Here’s the story in brief. I am not an optimist. I really, really want to be an optimist, but it’s just not in my DNA. I am the scion of a lengthy lineage of pessimists. Not just pessimists, FATALISTIC pessimists. We never met a bad situation that we couldn’t make worse by pointing out the utter hopelessness of success, rescue, resolution, etc. Definitely not the lives of the parties.

Now, I got my unfortunate nickname from a colleague I was talking to about her love life. She was having man trouble and we’d spent a good deal of time and lunches hashing out this problem or that problem when I made the statement that branded me The Last Stop Before the Razor. I said, after listening to another twenty minute tale of woe, “Well, considering your luck with men in the past, maybe you just aren’t meant to have a husband or a long term boyfriend.” My buddy sat there stunned. Clueless as usual to my conversational gaffes, I just looked at her and said, “What?” That’s when she said, “If I ever want to kill myself, I’m coming to you first and laying out all my misery and sorrow so you can say ‘maybe it’s just meant to be’ and then I can go slit my wrists. You are the last stop before the razor.”

As the Lord Above is my witness, I really wasn’t trying to be mean. I was trying to help. I just looked at the situation in a full and honest light and gave what I thought was an accurate assessment of the situation. Later, I was relating the conversation to Budge and when I told her what I’d said she blurted out, “You said WHAT? Why didn’t you just tell the girl she was fat, old, and ugly and be done with it?” (for the record, the girl in question is not fat, old, or ugly. Budge has a tendency to hyperbole.” She reiterated what my buddy had already said, “Honey, remind me never to come to you for comfort when I’m depressed.”

I’ve tried to get better and more tactful, but I still have a bad habit of blurting out the unvarnished truth that, while truthful, isn’t always well received. So, Budge spends a lot of time prefacing her statements with “what he means is . . . ” while I remain The Last Stop Before the Razor.

Love y’all. Keep those feet clean.

Fight!

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Budge came home from work yesterday completely wiped out. She’s been doing PASS testing all week and that had taken its toll, but what really had her in high dudgeon was having to break up her first fight in her entire seven years of teaching. As she described it, I realized this wasn’t just an ordinary fight. One boy really meant to hurt the other one. She told how the one boy had knocked the other boy to the ground and then, instead of backing off, the aggressor had begun kicking the other child, resulting in some huge knots on the poor defender’s body. I told her, as a former boy, that wasn’t cool. I don’t know about everywhere else in the world, but when I was growing up, such a display wouldn’t have been tolerated. As tweens and adolescents, we had our own informal code duello that a boy ignored at his peril. Girls fighting girls had their own rules to which we males were not privy, but they seemed to involve copious hair pulling and disrobing.

Rule #1 was you always fought your own size. Now a brave and tenacious little chihuahua of a boy might take on a big ole’ country boy, but a larger boy would be ostracized for starting a fight with someone smaller. Same thing for girls. Generally, girls were NOT to be hit; however, where I come from and in a couple of the places I taught, some girls walked the halls with boys hurrying to get out of their way. The rule was the same. You could not, in good honor, strike a girl for any reason. You couldn’t even retaliate against a girl who struck you. BUT, all things have their limits and a girl who drew back for the fourth or fifth time was putting herself in a man’s place and thereby bringing herself under a man’s rules, so caveat emptor.  Now, if the boy was the significant other of the girl doing the assaulting and she was doing said assaulting because of information she’d found out about said boy’s activity the previous night . . . well, he was honor bound to stand there, protect his face (and nether regions), and take it like a man. He earned it.

The second inviolate rule of our fights was if someone was knocked down, the combatant standing was obliged to either stand back and let the fallen regain his feet or to go to the ground with him. Under no circumstances was it kosher to kick a person who was down while you were standing. See, when you are punching someone or wrestling with someone, you get hurt too. You feel the pain and that encourages you to moderate your blows so no one is permanently injured. When you kick someone though, especially if you’re wearing shoes or, gods forbid, boots, you don’t feel a thing and one wrong kick to the head or kidney can result in more than just a lecture from Mom or the principal.

Finally, the fight continued until honor was satisfied. I’ve seen boys knocked cold by a roundhouse right, I’ve seen boys choked out by a rear naked choke on the ground, and I’ve seen — more than once — two boys just stop and walk away or shake hands and pat each other on the back. Fights were for pecking order, attracting the attentions of a girl, and settling disputes or matters of honor. We were not out to really hurt each other. When one person stopped resisting, the fight was over.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I saw more than one fight that was a blood rage because of the taking of a girlfriend or some unbearable insult to family. Those fights were much more brutal and it was highly unlikely the combatants were going to be friends ever again, if they ever were. Still, despite what the pugilists might scream at each other before battle was joined, I only saw a bare handful of times when one boy truly saw red to the point that he meant to cause serious, irreparable damage to the other boy and on those rare occasions, it was up to those of us watching to keep one from the hospital (or worse) and the other from prison. Those fights were thankfully few and very far between.

Today though, the rules are out the window. We would never have considered using a knife in a fight, much less a gun. A boy who pulled a weapon would immediately be branded a coward and a pariah. After all, no shame was meted out for losing a fair fight. Students today, however, fueled by the violence of the culture surrounding us all have developed precious little respect for the sanctity of life. I have looked into the eyes of two, and only two, students I parted during a fight and knew in an instant that if they had the means at hand, they would kill me right then and there without hesitation or remorse.

Of course, we fought for different reasons and it was seldom deeply personal. The papers today are full of reports of students killing each other over the smallest affronts, real or imagined. Also, boys today fight for territory, for drugs, and for sheer rage and rebellion. Today, many fights that break out in the halls or on the playground could very well be “for keeps.”

That is sad to me. I suppose it is a sign of the times as the “old folks” say. Still it hurts my heart to look at young boys so willing to deal out death or dismemberment — often for little reason if any at all.

Take care, everyone. Stay out of harm’s way. Keep your left up, lead with your jab, and wash your feet!

Love y’all 🙂

Take Me Out To The Ball Game!

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I GOT IT!!!

Budge likes to support her children when she knows they play a sport so tonight we trekked out to Heritage Park to see one of her fourth graders pitch. Now, Heritage Park is a beautiful facility with six regulation fields that have excellent seating, backstops, and dugouts. The infields are manicured and the outfields are free of yellow dandelion heads. These facilities are parsecs away from the diamonds of my youth.

The players haven’t changed quite as much though.

First of all, the group we were watching was the first year kid pitcher threw the ball at kid batter instead of some tee or coach providing the target. That in and of itself is one scary proposition. I mean, they’re fourth graders. Ask any of them and they’ll all assure you they can be the next Nolan Ryan or Greg Maddux. Well, they can’t. If a coach can find a kid who can throw the ball across the plate about belt high roughly four out of five times, he has an ace. If the kid happens to be left handed, he’s got a shot at the championship! Of course, it’s always funny to see a team facing their first lefty. Once when I was watching a similar age group much earlier in the season, the first batter to face the fielding team’s left-hander shouted to his coach, “Hey, Coach! What do I do? He’s standing on the wrong side of the pitcher’s mound!!”

Just as an aside, if Budge and I are ever blessed with a son (doubtful at this point, but hope does spring eternal), I have already decided that I’m going to duct tape a baseball into his LEFT hand and superglue a glove onto his right hand as soon as he can toddle then pray that he takes after his maternal grandfather and makes 6′ 2″ tall. That’s pretty much my retirement plan because if you know anything about baseball, you know the Majors are woefully short on southpaw pitchers.

Watching the boys play tonight reminded me of the two fitful seasons I attempted to be a baseball player. It was not a pleasant recollection. First of all, I was short, but I made up for it by being fat. Plus, I ran slower than a three legged turtle crossing a glacier in January. Finally, I had the hand-eye coordination of a blind rhesus monkey with cerebral palsy. In short, I was the model tee-ball right fielder. For those of you who don’t know, no one in tee-ball hits to right field. You have to be left handed and get the ball past the first baseman. Both are rarities in tee-ball leagues. Right field is pretty much the Vice-Presidency of a tee-ball team. If a little league coach is faced with where to play a complete non-athlete, right field is first choice every time.

It was so bad, I was known to not come in for our side’s at bats. I’d often just stay out in right field with the opposing team’s short, dumpy, clumsy clone of me. Made a lot of friends that way. Picked a lot of dandelions too. Once, while I was in the midst of a daydream, I even got hit in the head with a fly ball. I was so excited to actually be so close to an actual ball that I picked it up and chucked it into the infield. That’s when I found out it was foul ball from the adjacent field.

I hung up my glove and cleats after tee-ball though. I wasn’t nearly brave enough to stand at the plate with nothing between me and that hurtling ball but my skill with a bat. I was a coward, but I was an unbruised coward.

Tonight’s game, however, was a bloodless affair. Only one batsman was hit by a pitch. Both pitchers were fairly capable and overall, it was a fun event to watch. Of course, one of the most precious moments was watching both right fielders. Both were paragons of intensity, coiled steel waiting to unleash their skills on the first ball to come their way. I couldn’t help but smile and think, “It’s okay, kid. I saw a lefty or two in the batting order. Just be patient.”

Love y’all. Keep those feet clean!