Sunday, December 27, 2015

Panthers need to be smart

If the Carolina Panthers beat the Atlanta Falcons today, they'll be 15-0 and the quest for an undefeated season will continue.

I hope they're smart about it.

The ultimate goal, of course, is to win the Super Bowl. Going undefeated would be a consequence of that quest. But going undefeated should not be the team's primary focus. Winning the Super Bowl should be.

The Panthers have already clinched a playoff berth and a first-round bye in the playoffs. A victory today would guarantee them home-field advantage in both the divisional round and the conference championship round, so they still do have something significant for which to play.

But if the Panthers find themselves in control of the game early, I want to see them take out their starters. Why risk injury? The team is already playing without starting running back Jonathan Stewart, who is recovering from a foot sprain. He is likely not going to see action again until the playoffs begin.

The focus right now should be keeping quarterback Cam Newton as far away from the risk of injury as possible. Clearly, Newton is in the midst of a spectacular MVP-type season and there should be no reason to jeopardize Newton's health in the team's remaining games.

If the Panthers win today, Newton, tight end Greg Olsen, linebacker Luke Keuchly, cornerback Josh Norman and maybe a few others should be given minimal playing time next Sunday in the regular season finale against Tampa Bay — just enough PT to stay sharp, but not enough to risk injury in the quest for an undefeated season.

I haven't seen any indications that going undefeated is a primary goal for this team. I think coach Ron Rivera knows what's at stake and is trying to balance sensibility (winning smart) with sentiment (going undefeated). It's a tough act, but so far, so good.

In a perfect world, the Panthers defeat the Falcons today, then look at next week as if it were an exhibition game — the starters stay in for a quarter, then yield to the reserves, who, incidentally, could hone their own skills for the playoffs.

I know it's not a perfect world. Both the Falcons and the Bucs (if it comes to that) see a target on the backs of the Panthers' jerseys. And for that reason, the next two games could be the mot difficult of the season for Carolina.

They've been smart about it so far. I hope it continues that way.


Friday, December 25, 2015

Lifting the light

For the first time in several years, Kim and I were able to get away for a Christmas Eve lovefeast and candlelight service.

Work had always gotten in the way before, but not this time. A change in workplace policy freed up the time we needed to drive to Winston-Salem for the Christmas Eve service in the rather unique 12-sided English Gothic sanctuary at Christ Moravian Church on Academy Street.

There is magic that happens here. At least, it happens for me.

Lifting the light...
 The moment I entered the narthex I felt myself being taken to a different time, to a different place. I don't know how this occurs — it just does and I let it happen. It is my full-scale surrender to something whispering to me — what, canon? mandates? decrees? — in surprisingly gracious terms.

Immediately after Kim and I find a place to sit, a Moravian brass band trumpets out familiar Christmas carols, unseen from a back room. Meanwhile, I take in the sanctuary that is trimmed in greenery, a huge 110-point Moravian star glowing from a 20-foot ceiling. And now I am whisked away to a time when I was the son of a Moravian minister, with Dad conducting his own candlelight services.

It begins. From the balcony, a handbell choir chimes out "Mary, Did You Know?" Soon after, the lovefeast rolls and coffee are served.

History is everywhere here. The first Moravian lovefeast was held in 1727. The first candlelight service a little later in 1747. I suspect not much has changed in the service since then. One of the highlights is the singing of "Morning Star," usually a solo sung by a teen or pre-teen with responsive verses answered by the congregation.

And now the beeswax candles arrive. The house lights dim, but the star above us glows brightly. I take a candle and hand it to Kim. I take my own candle from the diener, light it, and pass the flame to my wife, who seems to be tearing up. It's hard for me to tell because my own eyes are somewhat liquid right now.

Then, as one, the congregation lifts its light to the ceiling. I am rejuvenated.

It's Christmas.





Sunday, December 20, 2015

A simpler Christmas

Kim and I probably have been heading in this direction for several years without conscious intent.

When the first week in Advent arrives, I hang our Moravian Star on the front porch. I take down our American flag and put a Moravian Christmas flag in its place. I put electric Christmas candles in the forward-facing windows of our house. We put wreaths (artificial) over those windows and dress up Stoney, our concrete porch cat.

Stoney still goes the full Santy...
 The transformation takes all of 30 minutes, but we're as ready for Christmas as anybody.

For as long as I can remember, we bought an annual Christmas tree (real) and decorated it. Our fireplace mantles turned into something resembling award-winning shop displays.

And Kim let loose in the kitchen, making labor-intensive sugar cakes and whatnot.

Or rather, she used to.

Slowly, over the past few years, we began downsizing Christmas. 

I'm not quite sure how or when it happened. It could have been the year that Kim's mother passed away. That happened in May of 2009 and nobody in our house was feeling much like Christmas that year. No tree. Minimal decorating. Limited gift buying.

Hey, wait a minute. There suddenly seemed to be some sanity in our sadness. The tedious chore of packing everything back up was gone. So was a lot of the stress.

A couple more Christmases came and went without trees or cookies, and — surprise — we really didn't miss them.

Now hold on a second. Before we're accused of being Grinchy, let me make it clear we're still planning on going to a Christmas Eve candlelight service in Winston-Salem, just as we have in past years. That service, more than anything else, fills me with Christmas.

We've already been to several holiday parties, so we've been quite social with our friends. And I still look forward to seeing the standard Christmas movies – I know I'm going to cry when Clarence gets his wings. I love it when Scrooge sees the light. Certain Christmas tunes still strike a chord within me. Some traditions simply are inviolate.

Nevertheless, the irony here for me seems to be that the less wrapped up I get in Christmas, the more I feel its warmth and significance.

And maybe that's the point.

Merry Christmas.








Sunday, December 13, 2015

My steak out

Curiously, my unexpected brush with the high life continues.

Just a couple of weeks removed from having smoked my one and only Cuban cigar ever, I was recently treated to a fist-sized portion of Chateaubriand from the Angus Barn in Raleigh (a place which just might qualify as one of the best steak joints on the planet).

How does this happen?

It all goes through my wife, Kim.

One afternoon last week, my wife and about a dozen of her cohorts (no spouses or significant others) from where she works made a business trip to Raleigh to celebrate the opening of their new branch office there. Hors d'oeuvres were consumed, champagne was fluted, hands were shaken, backs were slapped and best wishes were offered.

Thus primed, the group was taken to the Angus Barn about an hour or so later. Kim, who has eaten Alaskan King Crab in Prince William Sound, lobster in New England and barbecue in Lexington, has never been to the Angus Barn (see here), so she figured she was in for a treat.

But here's the thing: she's on a self-imposed diet. She's done very well with it, too, having lost nearly 20 pounds in the last couple of months. She looks great.

So how was she going to negotiate a once-in-a-lifetime meal without derailing from her diet? Peck at a salad? Drink only water? Embargo the diet for a day?

She placed her order, selecting the 14-ounce Chateaubriand, medium well, a twice-baked potato (Kim never met a potato she didn't like), French onion soup, a square cut of homemade bread and a glass of wine. She did not order dessert.

When the meal was served, she cut off a corner of the steak and took a few delicious bites. She tasted the tater and savored the soup, but didn't go much beyond that.

"I felt guilty," she told me later, "because you weren't there to enjoy it with me. And I didn't want to spoil my diet."

So she took the rest of the meal home in a to-go box. To share.

Now the rest of the picture comes into focus.

The next day, when I got home from work, about six ounces of world-class Chateaubriand (does that translate to  "House Brand" in the way that Pinot Noir suggests "Peanut of the Night?"), some bread and twice-baked potato were waiting for me.

Oh my gosh.

I have it in my mind that years ago, when I was working at The Dispatch, we were treated to the Angus Barn to celebrate our annual cache of press awards. You'd think I'd remember, but maybe I'm just projecting a memory that never was. I don't know. I just don't recall.

At any rate, the meal actually traveled well 24 hours later. The reheated steak was awesome. We savored each bite. It was Christmas come early.

We figured we were the only people in Lexington eating Chateaubriand that night.

If only I had had a Cuban cigar...





Sunday, December 6, 2015

Word play

My past as a poem reading drawing card at HRO.
A few weeks ago I posted a picture of myself on Facebook reading some of my original poetry during Open Mic Night at High Rock Outfitters. I posted it as a Throwback Thursday item that I thought would raise a few chuckles.

I did the HRO thing for a couple of reasons: one, I wanted to face down my stage fright – in truth, I'm petrified as a public speaker; and two, I wanted to experience the perspective that performing artists have on that particular stage.

Don't ask me why. There was no logic behind it. But, anyway, mission accomplished. Sort of.

Curiously, a few of my friends have since asked me what it was I was reading that night. Most of the poems I wrote bubbled up during my college days at Kutztown State (PA) back in the time when my brain was fertile and fresh. Now, as I zero in on Medicare registration, fertile and fresh are all up for debate.

But I found a poem I'd written almost 45 years ago and this is the one I read. It's titled (probably ungrammatically), "She":

Not as vast as galaxies, nor is she deep beyond
         the oceans;
She soars the skies on fragile wings, but does not
         trace clouds in circular motions,
                          or in loops or spheres.
Not brave, or even firm and true, but rather
anxious in her dreams and fears
                        and knowing who she is and what she wants

She will not hold the stars in her her hands, but
          points to them instead;
Time does not obey her words, and confusion often 
          dwells in her head
                          because really there is no time.
I can not describe her beauty anymore, I only
feel her inside and know she is there
                          and I will try not to let her slip away

She is not magical sunsets or wondrous universes
          or blue skies;
She is the rich, damp earth, cool and moist between my fingers –
          but do we realize
                          the goodness of touching earth?

That day comes, as usual, and he looks to the horizon
as a distant dream, discovering its natural worth
                          as she heads in the opposite direction

Something waits for him now in the starsplit night, and it is he
                                                                     who slips away

I can't tell you how that poem came to be. I think I wrote it during a particularly numbing social science lecture and clearly, it was about a relationship that was failing (the impetus that drives most sane people to write poetry, I think).

Anyway, my theory behind poetry is that while I don't necessarily need meter, I do like words to rhyme. I think rhyming is part of the discipline behind a thoughtful, expressive poem that helps paint a picture or color an emotion. I also like to use rhyming words, when I can, whose root structures are spelled differently, i.e. "spheres" and "fears" or "motions" and "oceans." It makes things more challenging and can also raise an eyebrow in the reading. It's part of what I think "word play" is all about.

And, oh, yeah, don't forget about making your point. Making your point is the whole point about poetry,

One of my friends asked me why I haven't written any poetry more recent than 1973. My poetry basically vanished when I became a journalist in 1975 because, you know, making money was an imperative back then and I didn't want to travel the starving artist route. I mean, really, how many professional poets do you know?

But a few years ago, a photographer friend of mine, Rodney Slate from Thomasville, took some stunning black and white snaps after a brief snowfall. One of the images he captured was a stand of trees bordering a country lane somewhere in Davidson County. He posted the pic on Facebook and, four decades later, it got my poetic juices going again. His picture was stark, yet inviting. Geometric, yet open and free. I wrote my untitled poem and sent it to Rodney, who posted it in his blog along with his photo, much to my surprise.

A now, a few years later, I'm doing the same:

(Click on the picture to enlarge it.)

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Bucket list check-off

I have this bucket list — things I hope to accomplish before I die — that apparently I have been working on all my life.

I've been to the Grand Canyon and hiked down to the Colorado River. I've seen spectacular Northern Lights in Wisconsin. I've seen whales, moose and bald eagles in Alaska. I've been to nearly all the major Civil War battlefields. I shook hands with baseball Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt after getting his autograph. I once interviewed Arnold Palmer. I watched a baseball game from the outfield seats in Boston's Fenway Park.

There are some things I have yet to do: I'd like to see Pearl Harbor in Hawaii and the the D-Day beaches at Normandy. I want to trace my family's lineage to the Black Forest region of Germany. I'd love to bring home some sand from a pot bunker at St. Andrews. I want to smoke a Cuban cigar.

The Montecristo is on top, a Dominican OpusX is on the bottom
Oh, wait. That last thing. I did that. Check.

This happened recently when I came into possession of a hand-rolled Montecristo Habana as a gift.

My cigar-smoking experience up to that point maybe included a couple of premium Macanudos, and beyond that, Swisher Sweets cigarillos (with the plastic mouth tips) and maybe a Phillies Blunt or two. Yeah, man of the world type stuff.

And keep in mind I'm not much of a smoker anyway. I quit smoking cigarettes almost 40 years ago when I was dating my wife. I briefly smoked a pipe when I was in my late 20s, and the occasional said cigar when somebody gave me one to celebrate the birth of their baby.

But the Montecristo was different, as I expected it to be. As I hoped it would be.

Before I got started, I wanted to do it in what I figured was the right way. So I bought a fifth of Dewar's Scotch whisky. I'm not much of a Scotch drinker, so I gave myself a test run, pouring a finger into a glass with a couple of ice cubes.

Man, this is the life...
 Now, I like my whisky as much as anybody, but the Dewar's could have been battery acid as far as I knew. I should have aimed higher, maybe something like a Glenlivet or Glenmorangie or Glengargoyle or whatever — anything that Glen makes.

As it was, I poured myself a dram of Bacardi Gold, which I thought was somehow appropriate because, you know, Puerto Rico is in the same general hurricane path as Cuba. The rum worked for me. Very smooth. A nice complement.

Next, I bit off the end of the cigar and spit it out. The couth thing to do would have been to cut off the end, but I'm currently into man of the world stuff and it somehow seemed the proper thing to do.

And then I lit up. I did this on our back porch because if you smoke a cigar inside the house, the odor/aroma lingers longer than a marriage ever could, and I didn't want to be in that kind of jeopardy. Then I drew my first draw. Oh my God. I wonder if they smoke cigars in heaven?

Anyway, it was a very mild sensation. Cigar smoke is not only something you smell, but also taste, and this had a certain delicacy on my palate that I didn't expect. I sat back in my wicker chair and puffed away.

I didn't inhale. I did that once with a cigar a long time ago (maybe it was a Swisher Sweet) and it was a hard lesson learned. I might still suffer from decades-old residual coughing because of that one faux pas.

A few minutes later I was feeling like some kind of Monopoly tycoon, so I decided to walk around the house and inspect my eighth-acre of property. It looked great and I was supremely pleased with my domain. I puffed up and then puffed on.

Then I thought about celebrating championships. I might have had a Pepsi when the Philllies won their World Series titles in 1980 and again in 2008, but now I had a Montecristo and so I belatedly and sublimely saluted those satisfying moments in my life. Thank you, Mike Schmidt. Thank you, Cole Hamels.

And it went on. Thank you, Miracle on Ice. Thank you, Neal Armstrong. Thank you, Secretariat. Thank you, Joe McIntosh. I figured I may never smoke this way again, and I was going to take advantage of it while I could.

Finally, inexorably, the cigar worked its way down to a stub. I was done. It took maybe 45 minutes and I savored every bit of it. I wasn't quite sure what to do with the stub, so I buried it. Respectfully.

Then I reflected. It was all a nice moment, now all up in smoke.

Life is good. Check.











Sunday, November 15, 2015

Paris

In view of the recent atrocities in Paris, I'm trying to figure out the nature of terrorism.

Specifically, what's the point behind the bombing, killing, maiming of concert goers, or machine gunning friends and tourists having a sip of Bordeaux at a sidewalk cafe? How does that move a political agenda forward?

What worthy statement do you make when you blow yourself up with a suicide vest? Is it all about the shock value of the act itself?

Does a terrorist act really bring to light the self-perceived oppression of the aggrieved? Or is terrorism nothing more than psychopathic role playing to satisfy innate misanthropic and homicidal tendencies?

Is the modern wave of jihadist terrorism really nothing more than political fanaticism cloaked in religious garments? If religion is indeed an element in all of this, then whose God wishes to see His creation destroy itself — to destroy human progress, to destroy history, to destroy the arts? There appears to be no logic in that.

Is it about power? Money? Oil? Disenfranchised youth?

Is it all of this? Is it none of this?

From my lonely perch in a small southern town, terrorism just doesn't seem to be a viable solution. Terrorism is, at best, I think, a shady answer to my invisible questions. All terrorism really does, I think, is bring unending resolve and retribution from the victims themselves. So then it becomes cyclical, without end. You strike me, I'll strike you. Terror begets terror, with no end, with no answer.

I've seen the pleas for more love, more understanding, more communication.  That is the ideal, of course, but I'm not sure that's the world we live in.

Because terrorism is a human problem, it'll take a human solution to solve. No doubt, it'll require love and understanding. And no doubt, it'll require bullets and bombs.





Sunday, November 8, 2015

It makes me wonder

I'm currently reading a library book called "Madison's Gift: Five Partnerships That Built America."

No, it's not about Warren Buffett or Bill Gates or Donald Trump or even Andrew Carnegie or Cornelius Vanderbilt or anyone else who bobbed to the surface somewhere along the American timeline.

It's about founding father James Madison, a 5-foot-4 intellectual dynamo often credited as The Father of the Constitution (as well as The Bill of Rights).

The partnerships explored in the book, written by David O. Stewart, include Madison's connections with George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, James Monroe and Dolley Payne Todd (who eventually became Madison's wife).

I bring all of this up because we are in the midst of a sometimes fascinating, sometimes tedious, sometime ludicrous presidential campaign season. Absurdities uttered from nearly all the candidates, from both parties, seem to proliferate everywhere (you pick 'em, because what actually might make sense to me may be a joke to you. But they're there).

And this political season makes me wonder where and when we lost the intellectual brilliance of men like Madison, Washington, Jefferson and Hamilton.

Or did we?

From my point of view, I fear we haven't seen anything resembling the probing intelligence of our founding fathers, giants who seemed to be able to dissect an issue, then solve it with common sense and backroom compromise.

But, as it turns out, even the greats had their moments. The partnership with Madison and Hamilton that produced The Federalist papers faded in later years as political differences arose between them. Madison, who wrote many of Washington's speeches, drifted away from Washington in later years. It is, as they say, complicated. Political parties (never envisioned by the founders) formed, loyalties shifted.

And now, here we are, watching Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live and wondering if, 100 years further along the American timeline, our current crop of politicians will be seen as giants.



Sunday, November 1, 2015

A good skate

The conversation started off innocently enough.

Sandy Andrews, my colleague at NewBridge Bank (where I work part time) and I were just having a casual little chit chat when it came out that I had been a sports writer for The Dispatch for more than 30 years.

"Oh," she said happily, "do you know anything about roller derby?"

Sandy Andrews is a pleasant, mild-mannered banker during the week...
Uh-oh, I thought to myself. Where is this going? Usually, I'm cornered by soccer moms who want a little extra coverage for their undeniably precocious star athletes. So I prepared myself to hear Sandy go on and on about one of her kids participating in yet another low-impact, non-mainstream sport.

"Ummm, maybe," I answered, with visions of Raquel Welch in the 1972 flick "Kansas City Bomber" flashing through my head. "Why?"

"Well," said Andrews, "I play derby."

Huh? I thought I heard her say that she skated in roller derby, but that just couldn't be. Sandy is built like a No. 2 pencil and has the pleasant, unassuming demeanor of, well, a Sunday school teacher. The roller derby I knew from watching it on TV back in the 1960s was raucous, violent and contrived. It just didn't jibe.

"Whut?" I said, and the conversation took a decidedly different turn.
 •   •   •
Andrews, a 42-year-old mom who works at the bank's call center in Lexington, said her children — Aeda, Christopher and Jacob — got interested in roller skating a while back, so she took them to a local rink. Things simply rolled from there, so to speak.

...and jammer Jaisy Juke for Greensboro Roller Derby on weekends. *
"They got interested in speed skating and they wanted me to join them," said Andrews. "So about a year ago, we started speed skating every Saturday. I liked it so much I wanted to find out what else I could do with skating."

 A bell went off in her head. A few years previously, a friend of hers from high school had participated in roller derby and had posted some pictures of herself on Facebook. Andrews thought it was interesting, but never in a million years would she do it. "It looked like a painful and wild sport," said Andrews.

Well, yeah.

But by this time, Andrews was more than a little curious. She did some research and found out that there was a roller derby team in Winston-Salem, originally the Camel City Thrashers. She called, and they invited her to watch — or, if she wanted, to participate in a practice. The only requirement was that she be over 18 years old.

"I went to a practice and fell in love with it," said Andrews. "And I've been hooked ever since."
•   •   •
There's a sidebar story running parallel to all of this.

About five or six years ago, Andrews contracted Lyme Disease through the bite of a deer tick. It changed her life.

"It affected me in every way — neurologically, mentally, physically, emotionally," said Andrews. "It was a very hard struggle getting over that. I couldn't walk straight, I couldn't hold a coffee cup. I couldn't control my muscles and I had tingling all over. I had all kinds of issues."

Fortunately, she's been able to treat the malaise with medication.

"Even though I still have a little pain, I've gotten much better," said Andrews. "I control that through exercise and diet. And skating actually makes me feel better. It's strengthened the joints in my knees and hips, and I don't have as much pain as I used to."

Andrews doesn't want to play up the Lyme Disease aspect of her life, other than to show that it's possible to wrestle against adversity with dedication and determination.

 "I've overcome this illness," noted Andrews. "There's some things I still can't do — running bothers me — but I can skate. Derby is a very intense athletic sport. I can say that I've overcome this disease, I'm strong and I'm an athlete."

You cannot mistake the pride in her voice for anything else.
•   •   •
Several Thrashers, including Andrews, eventually joined the Greensboro Roller Derby (see here), which competes in the Women's Flat Track Derby Association. They currently hold their bouts (not matches, meets or games) in the Greensboro Coliseum annex.

Andrews — who took the name Jaisy Juke (in recognition of her childhood TV idol Daisy Duke) as her derby alter ego — became a jammer for her team, the Elm Street Nightmares.

Flat tracks tend to slow the action down a bit, as opposed to the banked wooden tracks that Raquel Welch bombed her way around. It's like the difference between NASCAR's flat Bowman Gray Stadium and the high-banked Charlotte Motor Speedway, and all the physics that that implies regarding speed and momentum. But the roller derby flat tracks are usually concrete surfaces, like those in coliseum annexes, which makes taking a spill a little more problematical.

"I've never been hurt," said Andrews, "except for a few bumps and bruises."

And the near black eye that is just now starting to fade.
•   •   •
A quick derby primer: Each team has five skaters on a flat oblong track that is approximately the length of a hockey rink. That's 10 people crowded together in helmets, elbow- and kneepads, trying to get their jammers (one designated player per team) through a wall of their opponent's blockers. Points are awarded when a jammer breaks through after she's completed her first lap.

"We're playing offense and defense at the same time," said Andrews. "It's kind of like football on roller skates. And it's for real. It's legitimate. There's nothing contrived about it.

"The first time I ever broke through as a jammer it was such an adrenalin rush," and Andrews. "I really love doing this."

So does her husband, Chris. And, of course, her kids. "They really support me with this," said Andrews, who practices two or three times a week. "I'm really having a lot of fun."

Wow. Amazing. And I know one thing for sure: the next time Sandy wants to tell me something, I'm paying close attention. I'll be jammed if I ever look at a No. 2 pencil the same way again.

(A brief example of flat track roller derby is in the video below. It does not depict Andrews' team): 




*Photo courtesy of Jill and Mike McClanahan, Frayed Edge Concepts, LLC.







Sunday, October 25, 2015

Another Barbecue Festival

For some reason that I can't rightly explain, I still enjoy The Barbecue Festival after all these years.

All 32 of them. Consecutively.

I haven't missed a single festival. Part of that is because for about 25 of those years, I had to be there covering certain events — like the Hawg Run or the Tour de Pig — as a sports writer for The Dispatch. For many of those years, if you recall, the Hawg Run was held on the actual morning of the festival.

I even ran in one once, checking it off as a bucket list item.

But working during the festival was OK. It was a remarkable one-day event then, and it still is now. So even after I retired from the paper in 2006, I still make it a point to come to the festival.

As usual, my wife and I try to get there early — maybe around 7 a.m. or so. That's so we can avoid being swept up by the huge crowds that arrive later in the day that can literally carry you along in their wake. Basically, the early reconnaissance gives us a chance to scope things out, and if anything interests us, we can go back later for further inspection.

It's a plan, anyway.

I did see something I thought I'd never see.

I saw Lee Jessup get booed. Not Halloween booed, either. Sports booed, like what happens when you drop the winning touchdown pass in the final seconds of a championship game in a capacity-filled stadium. This occurred when Jessup — perhaps one of the best, most popular, most entertaining, quick-witted, off-the-cuff emcees anywhere — announced to the early-morning gathering at the Main Stage that this was his last year hosting the festival's opening ceremonies.

Booooo.

I'm not sure his decision is carved in pork. I think he was a little taken aback by the crowd's reaction and maybe there's a chance he'll reconsider. I mean, what's 45 minutes out of one day of the year? On the other hand, Lee and I are the same age and our accumulated sexagenarian experiences tend to add up over time. I know where he's coming from.

We'll see.

I'll be back, though. Sure, I may have slowed down some over 32 years. I cover a high school football game every Friday night, and the game the night before the festival can make enjoying Saturday's pig gala a real challenge. Which probably explains why I was napping in front of a college football game on my TV at 2 p.m.

But that's OK, too. My consecutive streak is still intact.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Whew, that went well

Sometimes, a minor miracle can pop up when you least expect it.

That's usually about the time you need one the most.

Ours happened Saturday night during the 14th annual Davidson County Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the J. Smith Young YMCA.

I say "ours" because I am one of 10 board of directors for the nonprofit organization, which was created in 2002 by indefatigable chairman Jim Lippard.

We usually begin plans for our annual induction ceremony sometime late in July of each year in order to give us adequate time to produce the actual gala, always held on the third Saturday of October.

This year, because both Lippard and his wife, Ann, were dealing with health issues, we didn't get started until late August. So there it is: we basically cut off a month of our preparation time. That may not sound like a big deal, but when you have to pick six or seven inductees, contact them, mail out biographical information forms, hope we get them back in time, write up biographies for the brochure, generate some sponsorship and anything else that creates the necessary background noise for a function like this, time is of the essence.

This year, our inductees were former Carolina Panthers fullback and Ledford star Brad Hoover; former Ledford and East Davidson wrestling coach Bobby House; current Central Davidson wrestling coach Jay Lineberry, former Thomasville and University of North Carolina linebacker Kerry Mock; Paralympian swimmer Jan Wilson (her right leg was amputated when she was 20), and posthumous inductee George Mauney.

On top of that, we were trying something new this year: recognizing the Unsung Hero, basically somebody who works devotedly behind the scenes in a community's athletic endeavor. Our inaugural recipient was iconic Thomasville booster Warren King.

Saturday night arrived, and the first thing I learned was that Wilson, who lives in Colorado Springs, CO, was unable to attend because of hip surgery. Uh-oh. Disaster was lurking.

Then the ceremonies began. Hoover told us how much he appreciated being recognized by his own community; House and Lineberry — both of whom were inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame earlier this year — expressed similar sentiments; Mock became personal, humbly thanking his family for his success.

Then it was Wilson's turn. The emergency plan would have been for emcee Lee Jessup to read her biography from the brochure, express regrets that she couldn't be here, and move on.

But Lippard had a better idea: he got out his iPhone and gave Wilson a call. In Colorado. After more than a few interminable rings, she answered. Whew. We had a connection. Jessup read her biography, and then Wilson responded — eloquently — for a few minutes as Lippard held the phone to the podium mic for all to hear.

It was an astonishingly moving moment.

And the moment continued.

When the board decided to induct Mauney, we originally thought there were no surviving family members in the area to accept his award. Fortunately, we were wrong. Betty Mauney Perryman, Mauney's grand niece, stepped up to the podium and offered several fond memories of her great uncle.

And then King was next. He's a septuagenarian with his own life challenges, and I wasn't sure what to expect. As a sexagenarian myself (hey, look it up), I should have known better. King walked to the podium, stood with his hands behind his back, and delivered — without notes — a brief, heartfelt thank you capped by a raucous "Go Bulldogs!" that nearly brought the house down. He was the public speaker I always wished I was.

Lippard himself was surprised by being presented with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine (see here), which only made the evening nothing less than perfect.

I feel like we sneaked by with one on Saturday. I think you are allotted only so many miracles — minor, or otherwise — before the sell-by date expires.

I just hope, as a board, we don't decide to hold our first meeting in September next year.









Sunday, October 18, 2015

My friend Jim

For an award that is so prestigious, it's a curious thing that there have been a whopping 17,810 recipients since the first Order of the Long Leaf Pine was issued by Gov. Terry Sanford back in June 1963. (See here and click on roster.)

That was 52 years ago.

If you do the math, that comes out to 343 recipients per year — or almost one per day.

Jim Lippard displays his Order of the Long Leaf Pine.
 Yet somehow, the recognition seems as humbling, as special, as well-deserved as any that there is. Indeed, it is regarded as the most valued award a civilian can receive in North Carolina. Recipients include the likes of Michael Jordan, Jim "Catfish" Hunter, Billy Graham, Dale Earnhardt, Dean Smith, Andy Griffith, and, locally, former Dispatch publisher and Barbecue Festival founder Joe Sink, civic leader Jack Briggs and artist Bob Timberlake, to name a few.

Now you can add the name of my friend, Jim Lippard, as the latest honoree. That happened Saturday night near the conclusion of the 14th annual Davidson County Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony when Lippard was surprised — totally and fully — as he was presented with the framed certificate by Rev. Dr. Lee Jessup and John Horne, both of whom set Lippard up with a comedy skit.

It's great when a complete surprise meets your full anticipation. The whole idea for the award came through the combined efforts of Lip's three daughters: Jamie Bell, Lisa Davis and Julie Barker. And let's not forget the full support of their mother, Ann.

Good job, ladies.

I can't think of a more deserving fellow. I've known Jim for about as long as I've lived in North Carolina, and that dates back to 1976. I was covering Post 8 American Legion baseball for The Dispatch, and Jim seemed to be haunting as many ballfields as I was. He was an amateur photographer — for Post 8, I guess — and he happily clicked away ballgame after ballgame.

Before long, he found himself as the Post 8 athletic director, taking over when Russell Craver — a founding father of the team back in 1945 — could no longer perform those duties.

Lippard faced a crisis when Jim Leonard Post 8 suddenly found it impossible to financially sponsor the team. Incredibly, Lippard — a popular and respected tailor by trade — became a ram-rodding fundraiser for the team. In the next two decades he scared up hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep Post 8 on the field. Some of it was his own money.

In 2000, he was inducted into the North Carolina American Legion Baseball Hall of Fame.

Lippard became commissioner of Area III in 2008, and the next thing you know, the North Carolina state championship series was held at Holt-Moffitt Field last year.

As if that weren't enough, Lippard was tossing around another idea: why wasn't there a Davidson County Sports Hall of Fame? Well, Lippard took care of that, too, establishing a hall of fame 14 years ago. Since then, well over 100 recipients have been inducted into the local hall. In 2009, Jim was one of them. He is now in his second stint as chairman of the board of directors.

So, yeah, there are 17,810 Long Leaf Piners out there. But every now and then, one of them stands out pretty large.

Congratulations, my friend.


Sunday, October 11, 2015

My reading list (cont'd)

A few years ago I registered for a library card, and nothing's been quite the same since.

I started reading books voraciously. Not that I hadn't before. But my reading list back in the day was mostly Civil War history, or World War II history, or sports, with very little room for great works of fiction.

Until one day I had to humbly admit to a friend that I'd never read "To Kill a Mockingbird," and here I was, an adult in his 60s. I felt the self-inflicted shame of having not been truly well-read.

But after I got my library card, I went on a rampage. Shortly after "Mockingbird" came "The Wizard of Oz," "Gone With the Wind," "The Great Gatsby," "Alice's Adventure in Wonderland" and a host of others that should have been on my summer lists back in high school.

I did read, back in my junior high years, William Schirer's monumental "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich," which took me all summer to get through. But, again, that was history.

Just to let you know, since Mockingbird and the others, my reading has continued unabated. Oddly enough, my reading of history has led me to explore new fiction — and vice versa.

A few months ago, I was on a Pearl Harbor kick. I read Robert Stinnet's "Pearl Harbor: A Day of Deceit," which tries to show (unconvincingly, I think) that President Roosevelt knew about the attack in advance in hopes to get an isolationist United States into the war to aid Great Britain in the struggle against Nazi Germany.

I read another book — I forget the title and the author — about the early years of the war and it made mention of an office clerk who typed dispatches at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. His name was James Jones, and he went on to write "From Here to Eternity," which I promptly checked out of the library. Great read.

Meanwhile, I was also checking out the entire Tom Clancy library over several months, trying to read everything chronologically written from "The Hunt for Red October" to "Command Authority." The guy did his research and he could surely put a sentence together. Wow.

A week or so ago, on a lark, I picked up "Trigger Mortis," a brand-new James Bond thriller written by Anthony Horowitz with the permission of the estate of Ian Fleming, who created James Bond. In it, the book made mention of No Gun Ri, a Korean War atrocity that I'd never heard of. In fact, I thought it was simply a plot invention to move the story along.

Until I googled "No Gun Ri" and I found this. Oh, my. So fiction had taught me some real history.

And I also got curious about Ian Fleming. I'd seen most of the James Bond movies, and so I had an idea that Bond was a cool, collected and rakish womanizer who could work his way out of any outlandish predicament.

But the other day I checked out "Moonraker," which was written by Fleming in 1955. What I discovered was Fleming was quite the wordsmith. Witness:

"To their left the carpet of green turf, bright with small wildflowers, sloped gradually down to the long pebble beaches of Walmer and Deal which curved off towards Sandwich and the Bay. Beyond the cliffs of Ramsgate, showing white through the distant haze that hid the North Foreland, guarded the grey scar of Manston aerodrome above which American Thunderjets wrote their white scribbles in the sky."

Jeez, that paints a picture. And Fleming could tell a story, too. The cinematic version of Moonraker (a moonraker is a sail at the highest part of a clipper ship's mast), while fun, is pretty ludicrous. Fleming's Bond, however, feels real and vulnerable.

It's a little bit funny how much I've taken for granted in literature — until I actually check out a book and read it. There seems to be surprises for me on almost every page.




Sunday, October 4, 2015

Hurricane party

All the signs were there:

The super moon at high tide. The incessant rain. The growing Cat 4 hurricane hovering a few hundred miles offshore.

What could it possibly mean?

Road trip! Of course.

Specifically, a road trip to Oak Island for the weekend.

The key word to keep in mind here might be island. Or hurricane. Or both. The two usually don't mix well together.

Southport's restaurant row was a little damp.
Yep. Eight fully mature adults, constantly monitoring the approach of that watery intruder Joachim, had long ago made plans for this extended weekend. We'd already paid good money for our stay in the beach house, so, following in classic American economic thinking, the deal was irrevocable. Hurricane be damned. We were going to the beach, not fleeing from it. Nobody backed out.

Meanwhile, words like "catastrophic", "historic" and "unprecedented" kept cropping up on The Weather Channel. Weather maps with dozens of color-coded arrows projecting path models filled the television screen. One or two of those arrows were aimed at Oak Island.

Meanwhile, the friends gathered. The camaraderie, if not exactly the party, began. Conversation flourished. We talked. We gossiped. We needled. We laughed. We played cards, or Pac Man (there was a free game machine on the premises) or checked our Facebook accounts. One or two of us actually took our work with us and got something accomplished.

As it turned out, the only effect the impending storm had on us was limiting the restaurants we wanted to go to. The Provision Company and Fishy Fishy in Southport were wading in high-tide water, while the Provision Company at Holden Beach had, ironically, no water at all (a water main was being repaired). So we altered plans on the fly.

The only moment of consternation for me might have been Thursday night, when the wind picked up and the multi-level beach house began to sway on its pilings. That was interesting. That was the only time I seriously wondered if Route 211 could accommodate the entire population of Oak Island and Southport in an evacuation plan.

The best meal of the weekend was the one prepared by ourselves. Traditionally, the friends fix a low country boil, featuring fresh shrimp, red potatoes, onions, kielbasa sausage, and half-ears of corn, finished off with a homemade key lime pie for dessert. It was absolutely delicious.

Saturday was departure day. Kim and I left mid-morning so we could fulfill other obligations at home. The storm was never really a factor on Oak Island: no real ponding to speak of, and we never lost our utilities.

I guess the weekend never really qualified as a hurricane party. It was never meant to. Instead, it was a celebration of friendship. So thank you Raeann and Chris, Beverley and Tobin, and Kristi and Dave. It was great fun.

And now that we're home, here on Sunday morning, it seems to be rainier and windier now than in the previous four or five days.

Maybe we ought to go somewhere safe — like Oak Island.

By the way, this was Kim's and my 35th anniversary weekend. So, happy anniversary, Kim.




Sunday, September 27, 2015

Well, it's new to us

Who in the world drives 200 miles to buy a used car?

Apparently, we do.

Kim had been in the market for a new (to her) car for about, umm, 10 years. She'd been driving her faithful 1994 Mustang convertible (which she bought brand new that year), through thick and thin, through rain and shine, all of that time.

Over the years, the car basically stayed the same, but it was we who were getting older (kind of like the portrait of Dorian Gray in auto reverse). It was harder and harder for us to climb into the low-slung vehicle. On top of that, as much fun as it had been to drive earlier in our lives (especially with the top down), it was becoming a more uncomfortable ride. You felt every bump in the road.

So she started looking for something different. We'd stop at car dealerships every weekend on our grocery jaunts. We did this for years. She'd search on the Internet, looking at cars from across the southeast.

Thanks, Internet.

Finally, she found one that she liked: a frost blue 2011 SUV in Aiken, SC. It had only 18,000 miles on it, which made it nearly irresistible.

Just one problem...

"I'm not driving to Aiken," I said, firmly putting my foot down while carefully walking through the minefield of marriage politics. "Just be patient. The car you want eventually will show up a lot closer to home. You've already waited 21 years. But there's no way I'm driving to Aiken. It's a 425-mile round trip. No way."

She absorbed my irrefutable logic like a sponge. I was safe.

Until last Saturday, when we drove to Aiken. So much for politics.

We left at 7:30 a.m. to avoid the Charlotte traffic, stopped for breakfast, then arrived in Aiken — just a pitching wedge from Augusta National — around 11:30. We took a test drive and fell in love with the car. We did some negotiating, then the paperwork.

By the time we got home in our new (to us) vehicle, it was 7:30 p.m. We'd spent 12 hours, from start to finish, on this deal.

But it's really a nice car. It's a computer on wheels with a riding comfort level I've not experienced on the road before.

I'd have no trouble driving to Aiken in his car.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Yogi

In a shoe box full of Mickey Mantles, Roberto Clementes, Hank Aarons and Willie Mays's, the one baseball card that intrigued me the most was my Yogi Berra card.

I think it was because of his name. His, and maybe Pumpsie Green's.

We're talking the mid- to late-1950s here. I was just a kid. My dad was teaching me, first the fundamentals, and then later the nuances, of baseball. Even though I couldn't play it very well, I loved the game.

And I loved a lot of the players. One way for me to keep up with them was through my baseball cards, because at 8 years old, I wasn't much of a sports page reader. Whenever I collected a Yogi card, he went to the good end of the box, where he was protected from the front-end of the box riff raff (who usually ended up on my bicycle spokes).

My 1960 Topps Yogi Berra baseball card.
As I grew older, and started watching games on television, I became something of a Yankees' fan.

We were living in Connecticut then, so you were either a Red Sox fan or a Yankees' fan.

Mickey Mantle was one reason to be a Yankees' fan, but so was Yogi. And so I started reading the sports section. I learned how to keep a score book.

It wasn't until Yogi finally retired from the game for keeps in 1965 that I fully came to appreciate that he was clearly one of the best catchers to ever step onto a baseball field. It's the catcher, after all, who handles the team's pitching staff. It suddenly dawns on you that Yogi, probably more than anyone else, was responsible for providing the Yankees with those 10 World Series rings in 14 seasons.

Whoa. And it didn't end there.

As manager of the New York Mets (1972-75) and the New York Yankees (1964, and 1984-85), he went 484-444, taking the Mets to the National League pennant in 1973.

Then there's the quotable Berra. In a way, some of the stuff that came out of his mouth sounded a whole lot like whimsical malapropisms: "Pair up in threes," "It's dejua vu all over again," "We made too many wrong mistakes" — and yet, there seems to be a peculiar underlying logic (dare I say intelligence?) behind them.

So, yes. After I learned today that Yogi had died at the age of 90, I felt a sharp pang in my nostalgia bone. But it didn't hurt. It just made me smile to myself.

Thanks, Yogi.


Sunday, September 20, 2015

Project is (well) done

We finally finished our home renovation project for this year.

When I say "we," I mean Lee Brady, our handyman extraordinaire who carefully planned, thought out, reworked and then executed, some wonderful improvements to our house, the most striking of which was the installation of our fireplace mantel in the dining room.

The mantel and shield before work began.
Kim and I found the mantel in a yard sale on South Main Street about 10 years ago (has it been that long?). We bought it and I stripped the white paint off of it, a laborious summer project that took several days to complete. That was my sweat equity in the project.

We brought the mantel inside the house and propped it up against the dining room wall, where it patiently waited for the next seven or eight years. In the meantime, we found a really neat brass fireplace shield in a salvage store in Greensboro, bought it and propped that up against the wall, too. A pre-existing hearth was already in place, indicating a coal-burning fireplace had indeed once warmed the room.
 
Whenever we had friends come to the house, they'd oooh and ahhhh about our potential fireplace-in-waiting.

They did that for years. I think they were being kind to us.

Finally, Kim and I decided it was time to get started. We hired Lee, who promptly rebuilt our deteriorating freestanding outdoor utility shed while we decided what kind of fireplace tile we needed to buy.

The old hearth needed hammer-and-chisel attention.
Once in motion, the project gradually gained momentum. The shed was redone, along with sundry other items that needed handyman attention. Lee tackled each job one-by-one, until finally, just the mantel remained.

About a month went by where Lee had to take on another paying job (We were in no hurry. Why should we be, we waited this long) at another location.

Then he said he was ready.

One of the first things he did, besides mounting the mantel on the wall, which was impressive enough, was to remove the existing hearth. We just didn't think the tile there was appropriate to our vision for the fireplace.

We are delighted with the completed project.
What should have been an anticipated easy removal turned out to be a project in itself. The tile had been installed and attached to a concrete footing underneath. That was unexpected (working on old houses almost always reveals the unexpected) and Lee had to use a hammer and chisel to chip away the footing to prepare the hearth for the new tile we had selected.

After an uneven and dusty surface had been chipped out, our cat, Halo, inexplicably thought we had installed a luxurious new litter box just for her. She jumped on the hearth and started scratching...

Noooo. (She did not).

Finally, Lee was set to install the new fireplace tile. This actually took a couple days, but when I came home from work Thursday, I was greeted by the completed project.

I was stunned. The fireplace looked to me as though it had been there since the house was built 95 years ago.

Now when we have friends over, I know their ooohs and ahhhs will be genuine. I know mine are.

https://www.facebook.com/Brady-Home-Services-121459051345934/timeline/


Sunday, September 13, 2015

Review: Vacation (ugh)

For some reason, my wife wanted to see the movie 'Vacation.'

I'm talking about the current 2015 release. The one that's still playing at the Lexington movie theater, nearly a month after it opened. Not the 1983 cult classic (more on that in a moment).

I think I know why she wanted to see it. She's been humming the theme song 'Holiday Road' to herself for weeks, prompted, I think, by the movie trailers on TV. It was only a natural progression before we made our way to the movie theater.

So we went last week, fully expecting the flick to be disaster. And, it was. It's an hour and 39 minutes I'll never have again (I thought this in a note to myself, especially as I start to see the sand in my hour glass gaining downward momentum. Fortunately, I got into the theater with a senior citizen discount. That helped a little).

And, yet, I found myself laughing out loud at certain bits, in spite of myself. Maybe I was trying too hard not to laugh, I don't know. Maybe I just needed to get out of the house.

This is starting to sound like some kind of a reverse recommendation, and it's not. Not unless you want to suffer a seemingly constant barrage of F-bombs (some from children), or sometimes scatological humor or endless predictable predicaments.

I thought the best moments were the opening credits, which featured actual vacation photographs of compromising situations (I might could have stood 90 minutes of that). The movie went downhill quickly after that as presumed acting and dialogue came into play.

I think this is the sixth entry in the Vacation franchise. There were moments in the original movie that were inspired (I still chuckle at Chevy Chase's impatient, head-bobbing, time-to-leave-the-Grand Canyon-for-Walley World scene). And there's Christy Brinkley, of course.

But even the original flick was more stupid than inspired, I think.

What really gets me is that with a little more thought for craft, the entire franchise could have made for nifty little parodies or astute social commentary in the Monty Python vein.

Or maybe I'm just old.

Here, just to drive you nuts for the rest of the day, is the 'Holiday Road' theme:






Sunday, September 6, 2015

Charlotte skyline

It's not that I'm on a mission to see every baseball park in America (there are worse ambitions, no doubt), but a couple of weeks ago when my friend, Larry Lyon, invited me to come down to Charlotte to catch a Charlotte Knights baseball game with him, I couldn't say no.

There are several reasons why. First off, Larry was my colleague at The Dispatch back in the late 1970s and into the 1980s. He was the sports editor, I was the sports writer, and together, we made a pretty damn good two-man sports staff.

Larry stayed at the paper for about 20 years, then made the decision to enter the ministry. I rarely saw him after that, much to my regret. We just went our separate ways, as friends often do.

Another reason why I wanted to go to the game is because I seem to be taking in at least one minor league baseball experience per year, and this season was running out. A lot of this has to do with the Civil War Round Table I attend. We make an annual reconnaissance to a random battlefield each spring, usually near a city (i.e. Chattanooga, Charleston, Richmond) that has a minor league team. Consequently, we've taken in the Lookouts, the RiverDogs and the Flying Squirrels over the years.

Thirdly, I like to drink beer and eat hot dogs at ballgames. I try not to miss an opportunity.

It's all great fun.

So last Thursday, I met Larry in Davidson, and together, we drove to BB&T Ballpark for a noontime "businessman's special."

The view of the Charlotte skyline was pretty impressive from our seats.
 The game was slated for a noontime start because that night, just a few blocks away, North Carolina and South Carolina were going to open the college football season at Bank of America Stadium at 6 p.m. Yikes. I had forgotten about that. That explained why the parking deck next to the ball field was charging $40 a pop. Yikes again.

We finally found a reasonable place to park about a mile away and made our way to the game.

I always get a feeling of sublime awe when I walk into a baseball stadium. There's nothing quite like that first glance of inviting green grass — a pasture within a city block — as you enter the gates. It just gets better when you find your seats and acclimate yourself to your own personal view of the playing field, wondering if you might have a chance to catch a foul ball.

I really liked BB&T Ballpark. The city's futuristic high-rise office buildings loom like stalagmites just beyond the outfield fence. It makes me wonder if a view like this isn't part of the homefield advantage, reminding visiting teams that an entire city is right out there ready to back the Knights, to smote your pitching staff and baffle your bats. Proceed at your own risk.

So there we were for the next three hours. We barely watched the game. Instead, we were mynah birds, or maybe magpies, chirping away about everything from the decline of the newspaper business to former associates to growing old to future plans.

The ball game was merely a backdrop. I do remember the Knights trailed the Durhan Bulls for much of the game. Somewhere around the bottom of the sixth (or was it the seventh?) inning, trailing 7-3, the Knights hit three home runs into the beckoning skyline and regained a lead they would not relinquish.

Larry and I left shortly after that rally, not only to beat the incoming football traffic, but get on with our day. It was wonderful.

We talked about doing this again sometime. I hope it doesn't take another 20 years.


Sunday, August 30, 2015

Who needs this August?

What a screwy August this is.

This month, which is about to expire, has five Saturdays, five Sundays and five Mondays in it.

The Chinese actually have a name for it — Silver Pockets Full.

It's supposed to be such a rare collection of days (a month of Sundays?) that the odds of that reoccurring are said to be once in every 823 years.

Wow, I gullibly thought to myself. Once in 823 years. I'm lucky to be alive to see this. Incredible. It'll be almost a 1,000 years before anyone sees this again.

Wrong. It's misinformation. A myth. Just look ahead to this coming October, which has five Thursdays, five Fridays and five Saturdays in it. Suddenly, it's not such a big deal. In fact, a quick Internet search tells me that the first three weekdays of any 31-day month are repeated five times within that month.

So, once in 823 years? It's more like once in 823 hours. Sheesh. I suspect my pockets are full of something else, and it's not silver.

But that's not all.

The other day my wife came home from work telling me she heard there was going to be a double moon that night.

"Now that's impossible," I thought, less gullibly this time.

Hmmmm.
"Unless," I said to myself, more gullibly again, "there's some weird atmospheric condition that I don't know about that somehow causes the moon to reflect itself in the evening sky."

I bet that happens once every 823 years.

Anyway, another quick look on the Internet told me the double moon hoax has been floating around social media for about as long as there's been social media.

The whole premise of the double moon thing took root back in 2003 — before Facebook —when the planet Mars actually came within 35 million miles of Earth. I vaguely remember that. You could almost feel the breeze as Mars whistled by. At the time, it was the closest approach to Earth by Mars in 60,000 years and, consequently, Mars appeared six times bigger and 85 times brighter to our eyes than it normally does.

Six times bigger than normal would take Mars from the size of a pinhead to perhaps the size of a small nailhead to our earthbound vision, but no matter. We were in for a treat.

Extinction.

Really, can you imagine what would happen if Mars suddenly showed up one night the size of our moon? The gravitational violence alone would no doubt turn us all into asteroids.

I don't know. Maybe it's the heat. But I'm ready to get out of August and into a more stable month, like October. And Halloween.











Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Review: The Blue Eyed Bettys

I'm a little bit beside myself.

Kim and I went to see The Blue Eyed Bettys perform a private concert at Winfield Farm in rural Pfafftown Sunday evening. The Bettys are a harmony driven Americana trio, based in New York City, that features Ben Mackel on vocals and guitar, Daniel Emond on vocals and banjo, and Sarah Hund on vocals and fiddle. They all have blue eyes. Another thing they have in common is that none of them are named Betty.

Kim and I had heard them before, for the first time, about a year ago, when they opened for Underhill Rose, another well-polished Americana trio, at the Lee Street Theater in Salisbury. Usually, I'm ambivalent about opening acts. I want them to play their three songs, bow politely, and then get the hell off the stage because I paid good money to listen to the other guys.

But we were dumbfounded by what we heard from The Bettys that night. Tight harmonies. Crisp musicianship. Theater-like stage presence. Holy cow. Who are these people?



When they came to Foothills Brewing in Winston-Salem a few months after that, we jumped at the chance to hear them again. Foothills isn't the best listening room around, but The Bettys clearly overcame that obstacle with another stunning performance. And this time, we got a little chat time with them between sets. I can tell you now, they are really nice people.

Then came this past Sunday. I don't know if it was the chirping crickets, the late summer heat, the half-moon in the cloudy sky, the camaraderie of the 200 or so who showed up to sit under crab apple trees, or what. But everything came together perfectly. The Bettys were brilliant and they evidently enjoyed themselves, sharing a joy that seeped unabated from the homemade stage and into the audience.

Now here's why I'm beside myself:

All three musicians were initially stage actors. Ben graduated with a degree in theater from Catawba College, where he first learned to play guitar (he later became a resident actor at the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, VA, for eight years); Daniel graduated from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts with a BFA in acting and where he learned to play five-string banjo; and Sarah graduated from St. Louis University, summa cum laude, with a degree in theater and music. She has a résumé of theater credits longer than her fiddle bow.

All three have powerful voices. Daniel describes himself as a "Bari/tenor", and Ben has similar range as well. Then there's Sarah: she can be a throaty Janis Joplin on one tune and an operatic Celine Dion on another. More amazingly, theirs are voices that blend naturally, like a delicious vocal tiramisu.

More astounding, they've only been together since December of 2013. Less than two years. When they don't spend time performing as Bettys, they're acting in theater productions. So right now, being a Betty isn't even a fulltime gig. It's perhaps more like an ongoing experiment. A work in progress.

G'wan. Get out of town.

Serendipity strikes without warning. They met by chance as cast members of a stage production ("Poems, Prayers and Promises"), and left as a nifty little three-piece band. Wow.

 "We were all in a play together at the Florida Studio Theatre in Sarasota," said Sarah in response to my email questions for her. "We spent a lot of time hanging out together after our performances, and eventually we started jamming and making music together (in about March of 2014).

"We tried out our songs at a few open mic nights in Sarasota, and we were very encouraged by the response," added Sarah, who first picked up a violin when she was 10. "When our play closed, we decided to try to play some gigs as The Bettys on our way back to New York, and it eventually turned into a tour of sorts. It went so well, that we decided to tour again. And now we just can't stop!"

Soooo, when do they rehearse? Those terrific harmonies, after all, aren't an accident.

"These days, we fit practice in when we can — oftentimes in the car on a long drive," wrote Sarah. "If we have a few days in the same city, we'll set up rehearsal time to write or learn new songs. When we were starting out, we spent a lot of time together making music.

"I suppose that is when our sound really came together. It's tough for us sometimes, because our acting jobs take us to so many different places, so we are not in the same city as often as we would like."

And that's another thing: although they do great covers (Sarah's soulful vocals on "Landslide" are heartrending), they also write their own stuff (credited collectively as The Blue Eyed Bettys). "Free" is perhaps as truthful — and as humorous — as a tune can be about life on the road with your bandmates. Indeed, much of their original work will make you smile with their sometimes mischievous — and clever — lyrics.


So just where are The Bettys headed? Are the members actors, or are they musical performers?

"I'd say that acting is more of a profession than an interest for us," said Sarah. "This past year, we've taken advantage of the short periods that all three of us are between acting jobs by writing, playing shows, and touring together.

"Make your own work, as they say!

"It would be difficult to choose between acting and music because they are both such a huge part of me," said Sarah. "But if The Bettys did start to make it big, I suppose I could put aside acting for a while. For the time being, we are doing our best to balance The Bettys with our acting careers."

If you ever get an opportunity to see The Blue Eyed Bettys, don't let it pass. Otherwise you might be beside yourself with regret, knowing that they're more fun than a phalanx of fiddles or a barrel of banjos.


(The Blue Eyed Bettys recently released their first EP — financed through Kickstarter and self-titled, featuring seven original tracks — that is available on iTunes, Amazon and Spotify.)

 http://www.theblueeyedbettys.com/Home.html







Sunday, August 23, 2015

Wehrle luck

There's a standing joke between several of my sports writing colleagues and myself that whenever I appear somewhere to cover a game, it's time for them to run for their lives.

They don't want anything to do with Wehrle luck.

Wha...? What's that?

It's when I'm at a game, and for no reason at all, it goes into overtime. Or extra innings. Or it goes into extra innings, and then it rains. Or it's raining and lightning before the game even begins, causing a two-hour delay before the game is finally postponed.

It's the kind of luck that extends your time in the stadium or arena longer than it normally should. For people working on a deadline, it's very frustrating.

You get the idea. Wehrle luck. It feels like it's happened more often than the odds might suggest — especially the games that go into overtime — that "Wehrle luck" is now a proper (or maybe an improper) noun among my colleagues.

Every now and then I wonder why this dark cloud should follow me around.

Then I got an email from my brother, Scott, who is kind of the family genealogist. Scott has done a wonderful job tracing our Civil War ancestors, pointing out to me there were more connective bloodlines in that conflict than I ever imagined.

Then he sent this email a few days ago after he investigated a few leads in Newspapers.com (Huh? I worked 30 years at a newspaper. How come I never heard of Newspapers.com before?). Scott started off relating the familiar tale of our great grandfather, William, who was electrocuted and died while working for Pennsylvania Power and Light. That's family lore. Also, logically, maybe that's where Wehrle (bad) luck began.

But nooooo.

William's father, Francis (or Franz) died at the age of 53 when, according to Scott's email, he fell from a trolley pole in 1893. This is precisely why I don't mess with anything that requires the use of electricity.

On top of that, Franz' brother, Frank was hit by a train somewhere in Clinton County, PA. Hit by a train? Yikes. That's some pretty bad Wehrle luck right there. Kind of makes me wonder what happened. Was he trying to race his buckboard over the railroad crossing — and just mistimed it? I have no clue.

But it goes on.

Franz was rather prolific before his death, spawning sons Francis Joseph (who was a justice of the peace and a choirmaster), William (who was electrocuted), John, Edward, Frank (named for his train-racing uncle, I guess), Charles and Emil.

Scott points out that Emil and Francis Joseph both died in their 40s because of tuberculosis.

Emil was already a marked man. When he was a teenager, he lost his right leg when he jumped off a trolley to avoid paying the fare — and was run over by another oncoming trolley.

If this wasn't so sad, it would be funny. A Max Sennett comedy, maybe. I'm still trying to figure out why these boys keep getting run over by trains and trolleys. Maybe the smart gene hadn't found its way into the lineage just yet. Maybe we're still waiting.

Anyway, John, Edward and Charles, it turns out, lived long lives, although Charles was a "troublemaker" and worked at a bar in the hotel his mother owned.

I guess I shouldn't feel too bad about my own brand of Wehrle luck, given some of the things my forebears have gone through. What's a few extra innings anyway compared to jumping in front of a trolley?









Sunday, August 16, 2015

Happy ending...finally

When we finally sold our 1966 Wimbledon White convertible Mustang back in February, and collected our check, we pretty much thought that was the end of the story (see here).

Kim and I were excited because we found out the car was bought by a person in Maidstone, Kent, England. Cool.

Happy ending, right?

Not even close.

About a week or two later, Ellen Kelly, the office manager from Streetside Classics in Charlotte (where we had taken the car for consignment) called to give me a heads up.

"There's a bit of a problem with the VIN (vehicle identification number) on the title," she said. "There's nothing you have to worry about. I'm trying to straighten out the paperwork with the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles), and it's possible they might accidentally send the correction to your house instead of to us.

"I'm calling just in case it comes to you, could you please forward it to us?"

Sure, no problem. She went on to tell me there was some kind of typo in the VIN on the title. Meanwhile, the car had been relocated to the port for shipping, but because of the paperwork snafu, it was back in Charlotte. Otherwise, Streetside Classics would have to pay for storage.

Sheesh.

Anyway, I thanked her for keeping us informed, and thought that was the end of it.

Until she called again, a couple weeks later.

"I'm emailing you a document to sign that gives us power of attorney to represent you," said Ellen. "It's a big hassle. We're still trying to get this straightened out."

Holy smokes. All I could think about was that poor buyer in England who'd already paid for his classic 1966 Mustang more than a month previously and had yet to see his car.

I also got curious about the VIN on the title. Kim, fortunately enough, had taken a picture of the VIN plate on the Mustang. We compared it to the one on the title, and sure enough, there it was: in the middle of the long row of numbers and letters, the correct VIN had three ones — 111 —consecutively listed. The title, meanwhile, only had two of those number ones listed.

Yikes. You mean we had the Mustang for more than 20 years with an incorrect VIN on the title? Thank you, DMV.

I thought that was the end of it, that Ellen had finally taken care of everything.

Until I called her a few days ago.

"Ellen," I said. "I can't stand it anymore. Does this story have a happy ending?"

"It does," she assured me, telling me that the car had been shipped to England in April, a couple of months after it had been purchased. The buyer had been completely understanding about everything. Not sure I would have been.

But calling Ellen gave me a sense of relief, knowing that everything was where it should be: the car was correctly retitled and the new owner was delighted, happily driving his classic Mustang with the top down and on the wrong side of the road.


Sunday, August 9, 2015

Water logged

Kim had just finished taking her shower Monday morning. It was about 6:30 a.m. or so.

"Bruce," she said, coming down the stairs, "there's something wrong with our water pressure. There's hardly any water coming out of the shower. Do you think we have a leak?"

For crying out loud, I thought to myself. What am I supposed to do about it?

"Let me check under the house," I said. Checking under the house is one of my favorite things to do, of course. Cobwebs. Dirt. Maybe a snake or two. Who knows? But I got my trusty combination radio/siren/lantern and peeked through the crawl space door.

Nothing. Dry as a bone.

"I don't think it's us," I told her as I came back into the house, dusting myself off. "I'll call the plumber at 8 o'clock."

Calling the plumber is the smartest thing I do whenever we have a water issue. The last thing you want to see is me with a wrench in my hand around a leaky faucet.

I went back to playing on the computer as Kim got ready for work. Then, around 10 minutes to eight, just moments away from dialing the plumber, I checked Facebook and saw this picture:

This is pretty dramatic, isn't it?
Holy smokes, I thought. Lake Thom-A-Lex had just relocated itself in that guy's front yard. You could almost go fishing in his hedges.

Don't guess I need a plumber after all. That was close.

"Kim," I said as she headed out the door. "It's not just us. I think this might be a city problem."

Turned out it was a city problem, big time. The broken main on Hillside Drive apparently nearly emptied the three massive water towers in town. Somewhere around 8,000 customers were affected.

This is the kind of broken water line you might expect to see in Philadelphia or New York. Uh-oh.

But the city's utility people jumped on that thing right away. Amazingly, by mid-afternoon, the main was repaired. When I got home from work later in the day, I tentatively turned on the tap and found we had decent water pressure. In fact, the water was surprisingly clear.

The city did issue advisories to boil the water before drinking it, or else use bottled water. We used bottled water to brush our teeth, although I clearly remember when I was a kid drinking out of ponds and creeks with the crayfish and salamanders. But I also used to dance behind DDT trucks, rode bicycles without a helmet and zoomed down metal sliding boards with a sheet of wax paper under my fanny to make the ride ever faster.

OSHA be damned. It's a wonder I'm still here.

Anyway, the inconvenience continued for another day or so since the water still had to be tested and approved. But we were back in the flow, so to speak, by Wednesday. That's a pretty nice job for a small town, I think.

And think of the stories we can tell about the great geysers of water that ripped through Lexington back in 2015.











Sunday, August 2, 2015

Hot stuff

For some reason, I've always had it in my mind that August is generally the hottest month of the year.

Great.

Because coming into today, we've already had something close to 40 days in the 90s this year. Basically, we've already had a month of 90s. And it's only August 2.

The air is constantly running in our house, even though the thermostat is hanging by its fingernails on a barely comfortable 75. Consequently, I feel like I'm moving in slow motion, trying to conserve my cool. I guess we all are.

All of which makes me curious about the joggers that painfully trot past my house each day. Jogging is a great way to initiate and maintain weight loss, but I can't see where jogging in the relentless 90-degree heat resembles anything healthy.

But I guess you get acclimated to it.

I used to play golf in weather like this. And I walked the course, too, carrying 30 pounds of clubs, balls, insect repellent, water and scorecards in my bag. At the time, I thought I was doing myself some good. Now, from the view of my air conditioned house, I see how nuts that was.

I'd come home exhausted and drained, and would feel that way for days. Then I'd go play another round of golf.

I'm older and wiser now. I don't jog. I don't play golf when the temperature could reflect the number on my scorecard.

One way I've found to beat the heat is to satisfy my ice cream habit. Yeah, I know. Ice cream likely clogs my arteries and plays havoc with my lactose intolerance, but when it's 90 degrees outside, all that becomes a moot (toot?) point.

It's even too hot to write intelligently. I started this blog post at 7 a.m. today, and look where I am.

Here's the best bet: See you next week.






Sunday, July 26, 2015

Hat in the ring

It's been a couple of days since anybody new has declared his or her intention to run for the presidency of the United States, so I thought now would be an opportune time to announce my own candidacy for the office.

While it's true that I have no experience in political circles, I figure it's that very fact that makes me a viable candidate among a disaffected constituency frustrated by partisan gridlock. I proudly claim that I am no politician.

I am unaffiliated, so I am not under the auspices of any political party. I am dependent upon the monies earned from two part-time jobs, which, by necessity, makes me fiscally responsible. I have yet to draw a Social Security check, so I am not a pawn to government influence.

I am mostly of the liberal persuasion, except for the times when I'm conservative.

I have no advisers (other than my wife, who advised me not to do this) and thus I depend on my  common sense and life values when I make decisions. That's the chance you take in supporting me, as you would with any other candidate.

I have no platform, I have no planks. That means I face my challenges unencumbered and without built-in agendas. Why complicate things?

I am no orator and am petrified to speak in public. Therefore, I will not appear in the 24/7 news cycle. Most of you won't even know what I look like. Even now, I am nowhere to be found in the polls, where my graph line hovers at zero while I make great strides laterally. Consequently, my campaign is remarkably efficient.

Because I spent a career as a sports journalist, my presidency will be structured around earned run averages instead of Dow Jones averages; on defensive alignments instead of defensive expenditures; on yards per carry instead of gross national product. Clearly, I know my priorities. Our priorities: sports.

For the most part, I plan to model my campaign after 1968 groundbreaking candidate Pat Paulsen:


Thank you for your consideration in this matter. I remain, as always, your humble servant.


Sunday, July 19, 2015

The B's knees

One morning several weeks ago, I woke up and climbed out of bed with an annoying pain in my right knee.

I didn't think much about it at the time because stuff like this happens fairly often as I muddle through my seventh decade: a pinched nerve here, a tight shoulder there. These things usually happen after getting out of bed, suggesting that perhaps I should never go to sleep in the first place because what's going to pop next when I do wake up?

Almost all of the time, the aggravation is temporary. A little ibuprofen and I'm usually good to go.

Well, except for this knee thing. It was persistent, day after day.

So I went to the doctor. I'm one of those people who uses the doctor only as a last resort because, you know, a little ibuprofen a day keeps the doctor away. I just wanted to make sure that nothing was torn. A quick Q & A, along with a cursory exam, ruled out gout and arthritis. But the doc wanted to take X-rays just to make sure.

X-rays? This was getting a little more involved than I wanted it to be. I have my mouth X-rayed every few years to make sure that the tooth pain I woke up with on any given morning wasn't another root canal lurking in my wallet. I'm probably iridescent enough with all the X-rays I've had over the years to generate my own glow.

Plus, I get the feeling most people can see right through me.

At any rate, the X-rays (there were three different angles) showed no tears, and just a little fluid on the knee. It sounded like a sprain.

I'm not sure how this happened. I don't jog anymore because, you know, I didn't want to damage my knees and become a candidate for knee replacement surgery. I don't lift anything heavy at work that puts stress on my knees because, you know, I'm opposed to heavy lifting.

The only thing that made any sense to me was that I may have sprained my knee getting out of the car. I noticed that after I open the car door, I plant my left foot on the ground and push off the floorboard with my right foot to exit the vehicle. Consequently, I put a fair amount of torque on that right knee.

Anyway, the doctor prescribed me a mega dose of ibuprofen (800mg three times a day) and to apply wet heat. "Wet heat" meant dampening a hand towel and then putting it in the microwave (kind of an in-house X-ray machine), heating it enough to slap on my knee.

This actually felt pretty good, except that I had to get up every five minutes or so to reheat the towel. That meant, of course, more work for my knee.

I also wore a Velcro knee brace for a few days, which made me look like some kind of a heroic aging athlete. I was disappointed that I didn't get as much sympathy as I thought I would, however. I couldn't understand that until I looked around me and saw nearly everybody else wearing knee braces, too.

But I think things are getting better. I figure I'm about 95 percent these days.

And at my age, 95 percent is good enough.