Sunday, February 25, 2018

A Gibson gala

One of the things you might have picked up from local troubadour Scott Gibson (who passed away in December) is just how much the native Lexingtonian loved his town.

Much of his original work was inspired by candy stores, statues on the square, furniture factories and the people who worked in them.

Last night, at High Rock Outfitters (which often served as Scott's performance headquarters), it was Lexington's turn to repay the love. About 80 people showed up to listen to 18 performers, either live or on video (one video came from St. Petersburg, Russia; another, from Texas) reminisce about Scott and to play some covers of his work.

The walls of HRO served as a photo gallery of Scott, with some wonderful images of him created by several local photographers.

The tribute was organized by Scott's daughter, Lindsay Goins, who worked tirelessly to put this gala together. Tirelessly? It showed. Even though the program lasted more than three hours, it flowed flawlessly, with each artist handing off a share of the program to the next performer.

Including me. I can't sing, I can't dance, I can't play a musical instrument. But when Lindsay asked me if I wanted to be a part of the program, I couldn't say no.

So I wrote a poem. It seemed somehow fitting, because I once read some of my original poetry during an open mic night at HRO. Nearly all of my poems were written more than 40 years ago when I was still in college. But Scott was in the audience, and afterwards, he asked me why I wasn't currently writing poetry, and maybe I should get back into it. A patron of the arts, Scott was always lighting a fire under someone else's muse.

A candid photo of Scott Gibson, by his friend Donnie Roberts (click to enlarge)

So I wrote a poem. It was inspired by this image (above) taken by my friend, Donnie Roberts. The statue, in fact, was also an inspiration for Scott, who wrote a song about the soldier on the square titled "The Watcher."

My poem is called "Elegy for a Troubadour"

I saw you sitting with The Watcher the other day –
Legs crossed, head lowered, lost in thought.
You were earnestly taking notes.
Being the minstrel that you are, I wondered if they were musical notes.
Or soon would be.
I imagined the guitar on your back. I imagined the words you were writing were a poem, soon to be lyrics.
That the poem would become a song, with the guitar picking out minor chords and major themes.
I could see you taking your new song to the people,
wearing your craggy, folksong face; your perfect fedora; your earthy voice telling us the truth as you saw it.
Then it occurred to me:
You were The Watcher.
You were singing about us. You were always singing about us.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Careful what you say

Sometimes you just can't win for losing.

The other day, Kim and I were getting ready to hop in the car and run a few errands.

But my first errand was to take a couple of containers to our recycle bin, which sits up against the fence halfway down our lengthy driveway. As I walked to the bin, Kim waited for me at the end of the driveway.

I got rid of my recyclables, turned, and headed back to the car, which was probably 30-40 yards away.

And there was Kim, waiting patiently.

I just had to stop and look. And admire. There's still no clue that being married to me for 37 years has worn her down. She can make wearing a casual top, sneakers and blue jeans look like a runway fashion statement. Her strawberry blond hair gloriously cascades to her shoulders, seemingly adding youth to her being as opposed to age. Her clear blue eyes still crinkle when she smiles. To me, she's an absolute vision, just as she was when she walked down the aisle all those years ago.

(Here it comes. Wait for it. Waiiit forrrrr iiiit)

I just couldn't contain myself. I was suddenly filled with emotion. I was overflowing with compliments.

"Hey," I said to her loud enough so she could hear.  "You really look good from a distance."

Oh-oh.

I'm not sure if the very loud noise I heard next was only in my head or not, but what I heard sounded something like the earth screeching to a halt while standing hard on the brakes, like they do at Daytona just before a wreck. I knew I'd stepped in it before I finished the last syllable in "distance."

I couldn't think of anything fast enough to recover, so I simply smiled. It was probably an exaggerated smile. Not sure it helped. Maybe, though.

But there was no retreat from this. If I took it back, was I also taking back how good she looks? "Hey, I didn't mean that," doesn't quite work here.

So I steeled myself for her response. It was gentle. "Back at you," she said with a wry smile.

OK, I think I just dodged a missile. The earth put itself back in gear. Rotation was imminent. Kim just revealed to me another dimension (as she often has to in my case) of her inner beauty.

She looks pretty good up close, too.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Curling takes stones

Once every four years I become enthralled with sports that I could care less about for the other three years:

Luge. Skeleton. Short-track speedskating. Long-track speedskating. Alpine skiing. Nordic combined. Halfpipe. Super G. Slopestyle. Figure skating. Curling.

Hold on a minute. Curling. Of all the sports that surface during the Winter Olympics, curling is the one that has captured my imagination the most. Maybe it's because of its name: Curling. Maybe it's because the only equipment you need can also be used to clean up the kitty litter (no shoulder pads required). Maybe it's because you can wear bedroom slippers to glide down a frozen bowling alley in order to position a rock in a house that looks like a bull's eye.

I don't know. I just know I'm fascinated.

To tell you the truth, I've been watching curling somewhat faithfully for the past four or five Olympics now. I still don't know much about the sport. Some of the participants have beer bellies. Some don't look like athletes at all.

A quick visit to Wikipedia told me that the first known example of curling happened in Scotland sometime in the 16th century. Scotland, of course, also gave us golf and Scotch whisky, which might tell you all you need to know about how close Scotland is to the Arctic Circle. (see here).

Clearly, it's a team sport and a strategy game, in the way baseball can be a strategy game (Curling has a house; baseball has a home). You can block an opponent's path to the house; you can knock an opponent's stone out of the house; you can even sweep the ice during an opponent's turn to get his stone out of the house.

There don't appear to be referees or umpires anywhere, although I suspect there's a protest committee somewhere to settle disputes. Somebody who looks official occasionally steps out on the ice to take measurements. There is a clock, depending on the version of the game being played, but nobody seems to get nervous at the two-minute warning.

I think I like curling because it looks like a sport anybody can do. I guess there are amateur curling leagues in Canada, Scandinavia and the UK, but I wonder if there are neighborhood lanes, like bowling alleys, for the masses? If there were (hard to imagine in North Carolina), I think I would be in a league.

There are plenty of sports I know nothing about: rugby, hockey, cricket, Australian Rules football all leave me scratching my head, looking for the logic of it. Curling is kind of like that.

It's a cool sport.

Note: There's a movie called "Men With Brooms" that came out about 15 years ago. It's a Canadian flick that nobody ever heard about starring actors that nobody knows (except maybe for a bearded Leslie Nielsen). But it's a charmingly funny movie about curling. It actually might be the only movie about curling. Maybe it'll show up somewhere in the next two weeks. It's just offbeat enough to be entertaining. Just like curling.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

OMG! OMG! OMG!

I'm trying hard to be something that has rarely ever been seen:

A humble Philadelphia Eagles fan.

(Take two steps to the right; slide, slide, shimmy, shimmy, do a John Travolta across-the-shoulder disco point to the sky)

I needed a day to assimilate the Eagles amazing 41-33 victory over New England in Sunday's Super Bowl. I watched ESPN for four consecutive hours Monday to see all the replays of the Philadelphia Special, that unlikely play just before halftime where running back Corey Clement took a direct snap, pitched the ball to tight end Trey Burton, who then threw a lob pass to wide-open (backup) quarterback Nick Foles for a 1-yard touchdown and a 22-12 lead. On fourth down. Yes.

(Two steps to the left, slide, slide, wiggle, wiggle, rapid wrist roll, like you're a ref making a traveling call)

I know me. I thought I'd be impossible most of the game, but I actually sat relatively still, hardly touching my remote, and joyfully watched the game unfold for three-and-a-half quarters.

It wasn't until the Patriots took their first lead of the game at 33-32 with just over five minutes left to play when I couldn't stand it anymore. I left the sofa. I started pacing. Kim kept asking me if I was okay. But I knew what was coming. Everybody did. The Patriots were going to stop the Eagles on their last possession. We'd seen them do it before. Against the Seahawks. Against the Falcons. Against the Jaguars. They had the Eagles right where they wanted them.

Only this time, the Eagles marched 75 yards down the field behind an incredibly calm Foles (calmer than me), capping the drive with an 11-yard TD toss to tight end Zach Ertz with just over two minutes left to play.

It took my breath away. By this time, I'm yelling at the TV. I'm yelling at my wife. I'm yelling at my cat. I'm yelling at myself. I might have repeated "Oh my God" for two or three consecutive minutes.

And moments later, the Eagles added a field goal off a strip sack of sainted Patriot quarterback Tom Brady. The Eagles, who seemingly had an answer for everything the Patriots did, survived a Hail Mary pass at the end of the game (it was a closer thing than it should have been) to win the Super Bowl.

(Alternate fist pumps with hip thrusts, followed by a moonwalk)

It feels a little like karma to beat a team with the mystique that the Patriots have developed over the past two decades. They are the bar that everyone tries to clear. It's gratifying to beat the best. It makes your effort all the more memorable. Especially when it's your first championship.

So, yes. I'm trying to be humble. I guess Lexington is fortunate that I haven't tried to climb any lamp posts in the last 24 hours, or jump off the Candy Factory awning, or roll over my friend's Mini-Cooper.

But I'm almost 67 years old. I've been an Eagles fan since 1964, when our family moved back to the Lehigh Valley after a three-year stint in, ahem, New England. It's literally a life event for me (as it is for many of us who wear the green-and-silver) to celebrate this victory.

So excuzzzzzzze me (Shimmy, shimmy, pump, pump, twirl, split). I'm gonna enjoy this for a while.




Sunday, February 4, 2018

Super anxiety

Well, the day is finally here.

Super Bowl Sunday, and my favorite NFL team, the Philadelphia Eagles, making only their third Super Bowl appearance in 52 years, go against the nearly legendary, nearly mystical aweness of the New England Patriots.

This will be the Pats' eighth Super Bowl in 17 years. A true dynasty. Truer, even, than the Dallas Wannabe a Dynasty (five Super Bowl championships) or the actual Pittsburgh Steelers dynasty (six championships).

The Eagles, a team I've followed since 1964, have zero championships.

So I woke up a few minutes ago a bit agitated. I mean, it's 6:30 in the morning and I've already yelled at the cat. My wife is still in bed, under the covers, and may not make an appearance until Monday. Very wise of her. Kickoff is still 11 hours away and I'm pacing through the house, my anxiety and insecurities on my sleeve.

Usually, we have my good friend Donnie Roberts over to watch the game. We've done this for at least 10 consecutive years now. Kim makes her famous five-bean chili and a sinfully rich chocolate mousse for dessert and Donnie brings a six-pack of assorted craft beers, and we have a great time.

But this year, Donnie feels my pain, somehow peering into my anxiety and knowing why he didn't get the invitation this time. He said he understood.

"I know your favorite team is in the Super Bowl," he said after I finally made an impossibly late offer for him to come over. "I just figured you'd lock the door, lower the blinds and keep to yourself. I was the same way when my team, the the Redskins (three championships, by the way), were in the Super Bowl. That was in 1991.

"I know what you're going through."

Kim and I took him his chili and dessert yesterday. You gotta keep your friends close, even when you need to keep them away.

We were also invited by our porch party friends to go on a winery run today with the promise that we'd be back by game time, but I turned that down, too. Hey, it's my misery. I can do what I want with it.

I tried to reverse the funk when Kim and I had a cheese steak for lunch yesterday. It was okay, but the bread wasn't quite right. Nobody in the south gets the bread right. It's usually too crusty. You need bread from the Amorosa Bakery in Philly to make the correct cheese steak. It has an unique Philly taste and it holds the sandwich together like no other bread can. It's culinary magic.

I don't have any Eagles paraphernalia to wear (I don't think my Phillies cap counts, but wearing it might be my go-to option as a last resort). There's some soft-spread Philadelphia brand cream cheese in the refrigerator, but I honestly don't know what to do with that. War paint, perhaps?

But here we are. Prior to the start of the season the Eagles were predicted to finish 8-8, so at 13-3 the team has far exceeded expectations. I figure the game could go in several different ways: a blowout by the Patriots; a last-second comeback by the Patriots, or an impossible Eagles victory as the result of some fluke play that nobody saw coming.

I'm counting on the Eagles defense to carry this game. We'll see. Eagles 24, Patriots 21.


Sunday, January 28, 2018

Fly, Eagles, Fly

I barely had time to enjoy Philadelphia's resounding (and unlikely) 38-7 victory over Minnesota in the NFC championship game a week ago than, presto, there it was: Eagles quarterback Nick Foles calling signals on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

You know. As in cover jinx. A week before the Super Bowl. Thanks.

Let me take a step back. Although I've lived in Lexington for more than 40 years, I am an unapologetic Philadelphian at heart. I grew up in the Lehigh Valley (for most of my formative years, anyway), which is located just an hour north of Philly. That in itself probably explains why the corpuscles in my bloodstream run either Phillies Red or Eagles Green (It probably also explains why I have this unchecked hankering for cheese steaks, hoagies and Tastykakes). I can't help myself.

Almost immediately after it became clear that the Eagles and New England Patriots were going to the Super Bowl, a huge sigh of ennui seemingly escaped from fans who still care about the NFL. One reason for that is because nearly everybody is tired of seeing the Patriots return to their 15 hundredth consecutive Super Bowl (actually, this will be their eighth in the last 17 seasons). Another reason is because Philadelphia, I think, has mostly a regional following. We didn't see much of the Eagles on TV here in Lexington. And, by God, they have the worst fans ever (Hmmm).

And the worst fight song ever:



Thanks to Facebook, I also discovered some people still resent the Eagles for hiring dog abuser Michael Vick to quarterback the team, even though that was nearly a decade ago. While I was never thrilled with that original hire, my Green corpuscles are asking what this still has to do with anything today.

There are some good stories coming out of Philly. Foles took over the offense when second-year starter Carson Wentz, who was having a spectacular year, tore his left ACL against the Rams in Game 13. Up to that point, Wentz had passed for nearly 3,300 yards and 33 TDs and an 11-2 record. Whoa.

Panic erupted in Eagles-world, of course, but then came Foles, who has performed adequately, if not always consistently, in his back-up role. He was 2-1 to close out the regular season and 2-0 in the postseason. That's a pretty good story right there.

Also, defensive end Chris Long will donate his entire season's salary to educational charities.

Foles will be going up against New England's Tom Brady, already a Super Bowl legend. While I, too, am tired of seeing the Patriots win all the time, I've acknowledged to myself that Brady probably really is the greatest quarterback of all time. I guess we (the Eagles, that is) should want to play against the best. It'll either make victory spectacular or defeat expected. The Eagles are already underdogs, as they have been through the entire postseason.

In the meantime, I'm trying not to jinx my team. I'm not talking to my friends much about the Eagles. I hem and haw when I'm asked about their chances. I remained subdued in their big win over Minnesota, and stayed quietly pleased when Foles rose to the challenge.

I'll be a mess on Super Bowl Sunday. I'll have the TV on, but I'll be pacing around the room. Or channel surfing through the rough patches. Or going to my laptop in the other room to check Facebook or play a computer game. I might even tell Kim she can watch the Home and Garden Network as long as I can do some live check-ins on the game between flipping houses.

Where's my cheese steak?








Sunday, January 21, 2018

Wedding Song

Two of our wine-tasting, porch partying, High Rock Outfittin' friends, Raeann Shaak Biesecker and Chris Allred, got married yesterday.

That in itself is not news. Anybody who knows them could see this coming.

What knocked me off my balance was the wedding itself.

Wait, wait. Before I type another word, let me preface this by saying the ceremony was beautiful, particularly in the vast, soaring sanctuary of First Reformed United Church of Christ. It just seemed somehow proper.

The happy couple...
But I knew right off something was a little different when we were ushered to our pew by Stacy Sosebee West. I'd never been ushered to my pew by a woman before, and it sort of gave new definition to the #MeToo moment ("Hey, I was ushered by a woman. Yeah, me too"). I came to learn that Raeann wanted to include as many of her friends as possible in the ceremony, even if it meant assuming nontraditional roles. "It was progressive," said another of her friends, Kristi Thornhill — who also happened to be an usher.

I no sooner took my seat and opened the program when one of the first things I saw was that Chris was going to sing a solo at his own wedding.

And that happened shortly after he escorted his mother to her seat. Chris was a busy guy. I turned to Kim and said, 37 years after the fact, "I never thought about escorting my mom to her seat. That was nice."

Anyway, I'd often heard that Chris had a beautiful singing voice, although I myself had never heard him sing, even after extended wine tastings. So I was eager to hear — and then was stunned — when he broke into the opening strains of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah."

After singing the familiar first lines of the tune, Chris (who has a beautiful baritenor voice) sang a version of the song adapted for weddings, and personalized it by adding Raeann's name to a verse or two. I was a quivering mass of jello by the time he was done. Kim was dabbing her eyes; I'm thinking she was probably grateful that I didn't sing at our wedding. I know I was.

Well done, Chris. Very well done.

Then came the processional. This was an exquisite moment, especially after Chris's solo. Raeann's mother, Dawn, passed away a little more than a year ago, and somewhere in the depths of all of our souls, her memory surely resonated within us. But Raeann had the great good fortune to be escorted down the aisle arm in arm not only by her father, Bob, but also by her son, Holt. And she was beaming. Absolutely beaming. That did my heart good.

And it occurred to me that when she reached the altar, she was safe in the arms of the three men that mean the most to her. Wow. What a wedding.

The rest of the ceremony was fairly traditional. Chris momentarily went blank during his portion of the responsive reading, giving us all a timely chuckle when we probably needed one the most, but the remainder of the ceremony was beautiful. They tied the knot.

There was a reception immediately afterwards, and then a party at the antebellum Homestead later that night featuring a low country boil and some honest hellraising the place probably hadn't seen since those damn Yankees took over back in 1865.

I don't know what it is about the weddings of my friends. I think the vows somehow take on a deeper, truer meaning when you actually know the people getting married, when they are your friends and not merely acquaintances. I covered Chris for The Dispatch when he was an athlete at Lexington; I wrote a piece about Raeann for the paper's Women's Section probably 20 years ago. And there were all those wine tastings and porch parties thrown into the mix.

So when they took their vows, it accented the vows my wife and I took 37 years ago, only now we have the perspective of time, experience and, yes, memory. We see what we've done right. We see where there is still room for growth. But it's pretty much come naturally for us, I think.

So, Godspeed to the rest of your lives together, Raeann and Chris.

Huzza, Hooray and, yes, Hallelujah.