Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Underhill Rose, minus one, plus two

For my wife Kim and myself, the anticipation level had reached a different plane. Not higher. Not lower. Just different.

We always look forward to hearing Underhill Rose perform at High Rock Outfitters, but on Saturday, for the first time in the six years or so that we have been following them, we would see them as a duo instead of a trio.

Salley Williamson, the upright bassist who provided a third part of near angelic harmony to the group, left the band last October to reclaim something like a normal life beyond plucking strings and touring down Interstate highways every weekend.

We didn't know what to expect.

We shouldn't have worried.

Guitarist Molly Rose Reed and banjoist Eleanor Underhill, who began life as Underhill Rose about 10 years ago as a duo, were back to their roots. They met while attending Warren Wilson College near Asheville, and then soon after became part of a well-regarded local female string band, the Barrel House Mamas. When that group eventually dissolved, Molly and Eleanor decided to strike out on their own.

That decision makes the rest of us who follow them very, very lucky. Their harmonies have almost always seemed effortless, and to make things just right, they are both accomplished musicians. Eleanor, in fact, can accompany herself with the harmonica while at the same time bringing her banjo to its knees. It's truly something to see. And hear.

On this particular night, Gary Oliver – who's traveled off and on with the band before –  was playing upright bass (he can also play drums), providing the girls a steady, bold and confident bass line.

And drummer Michael Rhodes was also there, giving Molly and Eleanor one less thing to worry about (he said) while establishing rhythm and beat.

They played two sets Saturday night, tossing in a couple tunes now and then that we hadn't heard before in their show. Molly served up "Dublin Days," a wistful song she penned about their tour to Ireland last year. I wanted to hop on a plane and go.

Eleanor gave us her "Captured in Arms," inspired by the massacre at the Bataclan Theater in Paris in 2015. It's an unlikely tune for Underhill Rose to perform, but I'd heard her sing it before in a solo performance in Asheville last year. This time, with Molly, Gary and Michael backing her, it was an amazingly moving song. The line "Please don't kill my friends anymore" is a hard one to let go. (Listen here )

During the first set, Eleanor told the audience to feel free to ask for requests. About five or six were suggested (including "Freebird." Sigh), and consequently, about half of the songs planned for the second set were bumped by the requests. That was cool.

I asked for two cover tunes: Jamey Johnson's "In Color," and John Prine's "Long Monday." I love both of these songs in any case, but Molly and Eleanor have somehow made them their own. Johnson and Prine ought to pay them performance fees. "Long Monday," a plaintive but thoughtful love song from a master lyricist is special, especially with Eleanor's melancholy harmonica bridge and soulful vocal interpretation. It's an earworm that is still with me days after the concert. The difference is I don't want it to go away. (Listen here).

Changes are possibly on the horizon for Underhill Rose. They are still negotiating a landscape without a third voice. Duo or trio – which way will they go? Meanwhile, Molly is pregnant with her and her husband's (Tyler Housholder of The Broadcast) first child. How will parenthood affect band dynamics? And Eleanor is preparing for her first solo CD release.

I'm a selfish guy when it comes to Underhill Rose. I just want them to continue on for as long as they can. The harmony. The talent. The personalities.

It just all adds up.








Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Jeepers

I just completed a bucket list item that I didn't even know was on my bucket list.

My neighbor, Perry Leonard, gave me a ride in his 1952 Willeys CJ-3A Jeep. I was both excited and hesitant at the same time. I was excited because I enjoy classic vehicles, and what could be more classic than a vehicle that looks like it could have landed at Omaha Beach?

But I was hesitant because, you know, there are no airbags. No doors. No roof. No rollbar. Perry's wife, Jeanne, refuses to ride in it because she figures there are only two viable options for her: (a) getting thrown out of it, or (b) getting crushed by it. Maybe both.

Perry Leonard stands over his 1952 Willeys Jeep.
I decided to suck it up. When Perry came by to pick me up, I eagerly hopped in the passenger seat and buckled my seatbelt, the only concession to safety in sight. Unless, of course, you factor in Perry's driving ability. I was counting on that.

I actually thought my chances for survival were pretty decent because, according to Perry, the vehicle rarely goes faster than 35 miles per hour. I think the gearing must be really low because when he motors down the road, the engine almost screams and it sounds like it's ready to pop off its mountings.

Cool.

He took me across town. We drove out to Lexington Golf Club, and then through Twin Acres before doubling back into town and up Main Street. I noticed people were looking at us. I remembered that exact same sensation when Kim and I drove our 1966 Mustang convertible around town. Those were the days.

The Willeys four-cylinder engine provides incredible power, not speed.
 But the Jeep was somehow different. All I had to do was glance to my right and see the road passing under us. I loved the wind blowing through the two hairs left on my bald head. I loved that I could barely hear myself think against the straining of the engine. Plus, I felt every bump in the road.

Ahhhhh.

I was having a blast. I thought we were nearly through with the ride when Perry headed us over to Northside before coming back on Winston road, and then we made an encore appearance down Main Street again. We might have been gone a half hour to cover what normally takes about 10 minutes.

Along the way, Perry told me he bought the Jeep about three years ago from Chip Ward. The vehicle was resting comfortably in the tree line near the lake there and had been idle among the foliage for about six years, but Perry made an offer and it was his.

He thinks it's an old Navy Jeep, because Navy Jeeps didn't have tailgates and this one is tailgate free. It's also painted kind of a hideous Forest Green (Perry thinks it even might have been purple at one time), but he's hoping to paint it Navy grey at some point and throw in some military serial numbers on the hood for authenticity. But first he has to recover from having the transmission refurbished ("Some of the gears were missing teeth") before he goes any further.

It may not even be military. If it truly is a CJ-3A, the CJ stands for "Civilian Jeep" (according to Wikipedia). But I think it's close enough.

Some of the gauges on the dash still work – on occasion. The speedometer worked a couple days ago, and Perry's still guessing how much gas is in the tank, which is located directly under the driver's seat. It holds 10 gallons, which I guess minimizes the risk of an explosive fire. There are no windshield wipers right now, and the steering wheel is incorrect to the vehicle. He's been caught in a sudden downpour more than once.

Mere trivialities.

The whole point of this thing, of course, is in taking some history to the road. Dwight Eisenhower, the supreme commander of Allied forces on D-Day and thereafter, said the Jeep was essential to winning World War II. And even though Perry's Jeep is Korean War vintage, you can appreciate the lineage.

As long as you don't get thrown out.








Sunday, July 8, 2018

Vinyl

The other day I went into our guest bedroom to search for a book I keep in the shelving there.

It was then my eye caught the bottom shelf of the bookcase: at least 100 record albums were sitting there, upright, out of sight, out of mind, forgotten, and yet, at the same time, a valuable vinyl diary of my youth.

I forgot about the book I was looking for; I started flipping through some memorable album covers. The Beatles were there, of course, from start to finish, as well as most of their solo work (to this day, I am a Beatles-phile. Not only do I have their complete catalogue on vinyl, but on cassettes and CDs as well. I am prepared).

It was my collection of records after the Beatles that tickled me, some of which I'd forgotten. Some I wished I'd never remembered. My taste in music virtually jumped the scales.

 There was the good stuff, of course. There was the fabulous farewell by The Band, "The Last Waltz." I listened to that one over and over back in the day. Then there was some Dave Mason, Simon and Garfunkel (four albums), James Taylor (2), Bruce Springsteen (3), Jackson Browne, Don McLean, Eagles (3), Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (2), Fleetwood Mac (4), Doobie Brothers (3), Carole King (2) and Carly Simon (2). (Carly's "No Secrets" album cover held no secrets. As did Herb Alpert's (5) "Whipped Cream and Other Delights" cover before that, which seemed somehow a coming of age for me. Hey, I was only 14 at the time.)

I kept flipping through the albums. For some reason, I bought Richard Harris' "A Tramp Shining," possibly for "MacArthur Park." Don't ask. I also found three Harpers Bizarre albums because I like tight harmony, but having said that, I don't own a single Beach Boys on vinyl. Go figure. God Only Knows.

Back in my college days in Pennsylvania, I detoured into progressive rock and jazz and I faithfully listened to a radio station out of Philadelphia, WMMR. Consequently, I have "The Use of Ashes" album by Pearls Before Swine, featuring a song called "Rocket Man," which has no connection at all to Elton John's (2) "Rocket Man."

I also dug Yes (4) and listened to Yessongs ad nasuem. Yours is No Disgrace, after all.

I also have two Weather Report albums ("Black Market" and "Heavy Weather", of which I had long forgotten. I also got into Chuck Mangione for a while, but he was never Herb Alpert. He never had a compelling album cover.

There were some familiar names whose albums I bought, but to this day, I don't know why. I have The Kinks "Muswell Hillbillies," but I don't recognize a single song title. I have John Klemmer's "Waterfalls," but here I shrug my shoulders. There's the Moody Blues, but I'm not sure "To Our Children's Children's Children" was a real biggie. Watching and Waiting, I guess.

Then there's Starland Vocal Band. Two words: "Afternoon Delight." But no Stones. Hey, I'm a Beatles guy. (I do have the Stones on CDs, so calm down).

There are some one-time purchases I do appreciate, like Melanie, Janis Ian, Pure Prairie League (for "Aime"), Boston and Genesis.

But what are Dr. Hook, Captain & Tenille and the disco Bee Gees doing there? Oh, yeah. After I got married, some of Kim's records merged into my collection. That's also where some of the beach music filters in. Beach music was a good addition.

Some artists I didn't realize I liked so much: I have four Cat Stevens albums, which must have come from my metaphysical period. There are three Billy Joels, three Steely Dans, three Rod Stewarts and two Associations.

The Sixties and early Seventies was not my country period. Again, I had to get married before I learned to appreciate Johnny Cash, Patty Loveless, Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline, et al. None of them appear on any records I own.

Looking back, it's great to have all these vinyl albums. It's like a scrapbook of my life, bringing back all these memories in the way that only music can do.

If only I had a turntable that still worked.










Sunday, July 1, 2018

Put the damn paper out

After watching the news in real time on Thursday about the deadly shooting of five employees of The Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, MD, a sad shudder shivered through my spine.

Dead reporters. In the United States of America. One of them, John McNamara, was a sportswriter.

A sportswriter.

I'm a sportswriter. That's what I've done for more than 40 years, for more than two-thirds of my life on this planet. I can't imagine going to work one day, wondering if I can still make deadline if the American Legion baseball game I'm covering goes into extra innings, only to end up murdered at my keyboard because some psychopath had a grudge against my workplace.

As a result of my job, I've gotten to know a lot of sportswriters over the years. Many are my friends. I didn't know John (who covered the University of Maryland), but maybe we were on press row together covering an ACC Tournament years ago. Maybe we sat side by side in a postgame interview, or bumped shoulders loading up on potato salad and barbecue during the pregame buffet. Who knows? I kind of hope maybe we did. I hope I crossed his path.

Dead reporters. It's part of a sorry refrain now: dead reporters, dead students, dead theater patrons, dead church-goers.

Because the gunman (armed with smoke grenades? How does that happen?) was carrying out his own warped sense of justice, it's unlikely the killings were politically motivated. But maybe he felt he had license to kill: After all, we're told over and over again, the news is fake. The press is the enemy of the people.

Listen, the news is not fake (unless we're talking about those tabloids at the checkout lane telling us about aliens from Mars impregnating Bigfoot). Most news gathering organizations utilize lawyers, ombudsmen and time-proven policy before – and sometimes after – publication to strive for accuracy. Does the media get it wrong? Sure, sometimes. Journalism is a human endeavor with all the  imperfection that implies.

If you believe the news is fake, it's probably because you don't agree with the view of the truth being offered. That's OK. But that doesn't mean the news is fake. It just means you don't agree with it. There's a difference.

A good way to tell if the news is fake is if it involves Martians and Bigfoot. I'm serious.

And the press is not the enemy of the people. It says so in the First Amendment of The Constitution, guaranteeing freedom of the press – which, by the way, was written by the people, for the people.

Which also explains why, even while mourning our slain brothers and sisters in journalism, "We're putting out a damn paper tomorrow." (Quote from Chris Cook, reporter for The Capital Gazette, on the day of the shootings).


Sunday, June 24, 2018

Sidewalks, alleys and porches

Kim and I moved to Lexington's historic Park Place neighborhood about 15 years ago and it's a decision we've never regretted.

It's not as if we moved in from another state (well, I did, but that was more than 40 years ago). We moved from across town, maybe less than two miles as the crow flies, from a house and a neighborhood that we lived in for 21 years.

There were two subtle features about the Park Place neighborhood that our old neighborhood did not have: sidewalks and alleys.

I am not a sociologist by profession, but I can say I am a sociologist by life experience (thus, are we all), and while sidewalks and alleys might not sound like much on the surface, I think they are precisely the fabric you need to knit a strong neighborhood together.

It didn't hurt that when we moved in that we already knew many of the people who were about to be our neighbors. What the sidewalks and alleys did was bring us closer together. I mean, look at the purpose of a sidewalk – its very existence is an invitation to take you from one place to another. People jog on them; they walk their dogs on them; they do chalk folk art on them; many times, people meet serendipitously on them and simply communicate (Aha! See?).

Porch crawl brings friends, neighborhood together...
 Alleys are the same way. Alleys are the back roads of a city. They tend to be less traveled, but they can reveal beautiful yards and gardens you might not otherwise see, if you accept their option.

I bring all this up because Saturday our neighborhood hosted its First Ever Park Place Progressive Porch Crawl (upper case, proper name, impressive alliteration). This was the brainchild of one of our neighbors, Kristi Thornhill, whose idea incorporated another key social element of our 100-year-old neighborhood: front porches (Think about it: front porches are where sidewalks end – or begin. Porches are the sanctuaries that sidewalks take you to).

Everyone was having a good time. (Photo by Scott Hoffmann)
 Anyway, since this was the first ever, it was experimental. Six families combined to host gatherings on three porches in a two-block area. Each porch was responsible for a theme (sort of) with each porch providing beverages and finger food for a 40-minute stint (or so) before moving on to the next host porch. That's where the sidewalks and alleys came into play.

There were about 30 people who showed up to commune, play cornhole, tell stories and strengthen friendships. None of us, apparently, ever met a party we didn't like. The first porch opened at 5 p.m.,with the last porch shutting down fairly deep into the evening.

In the beginning, when Kristi first broached her idea almost two years ago, I wasn't sure how the logistics would work out. It sounded like it could get complicated. But I'd forgotten about the sidewalks and alleys. Everything went smoothly. I don't know if there's any tweaks to be made for future crawls, but this one gave us a good start.

We have no plans to move from this neighborhood.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Paul Simon in concert

OK, here's how it all went down:

Somewhere around noontime on Tuesday we got a private message from a friend of ours on Facebook with an unexpected question:

Would we like tickets to the Paul Simon concert that night at the Greensboro Coliseum?

Hmm. Let me think about that for a min... OK. Sure.

Who gives away tickets to a Paul Simon concert? Turns out, my friend got them from a friend who couldn't go. My friend also couldn't go. So after a few more Facebook PMs to nail down the details, she came to our house after lunch, and we had the tickets in hand.

For free. OMG, as they say.

Can you imagine...???
It had been years since we've been to a concert that didn't feature Underhill Rose or the Blue Eyed Bettys. So we weren't quite sure how to act.

Earlier in the day, I consulted the coliseum seating chart online and learned we were in the upper level, far end. Armed with that knowledge, I dug up my mini binoculars that I use to cover high school football games.

We were set to go.

We arrived at the coliseum about an hour or so before the scheduled starting time and promptly looked for our seats. The last time I was in the coliseum for a main event was probably about 10 years ago, when I last covered an ACC Tournament. The place has been renovated since then, but one thing that remained the same was the steep climb in the upper deck. We really were in the nosebleed section in Row R.

But, hey. Free tickets. Not complaining. The one concern we had was watching some of the other geriatric fans more geriatric than us struggle to get to their seats while climbing the steps. (Geriatric? Paul Simon is 76 years old. Let that one sink in). Some stopped to catch their breath along the way because, you know, we were 15,000 feet above sea level (Or see level, if I must).

An hour before start time, our line of sight at 15,000 feet above see level.
 While waiting for the concert to start and watching the crowd amble in, it occurred to me how lucky we were to be there. We were going to be in the same building, sharing the same HVAC as Paul Simon, perhaps (arguably) one of the four most iconic songwriters of my generation (in my mind, the others are Lennon & McCartney and Bob Dylan). Songs with titles like "America," "Homeward Bound," "Scarborough Fair," "Mrs. Robinson" and "The Sound of Silence" are indelibly planted in my brain (sorry).

And then the concert began. Simon opened with "America", backed by a remarkable 16-piece band that helped support him through the numerous genres of music he explores. The 25-song setlist included some Louisiana zydeco ("That Was Your Mother"), reggae ("Mother and Child Reunion"), eclectic ("Rene and Georgette Magritte with their Dog After the War"), South African influence ("You Can Call Me Al") and soft folk rock ("Bridge Over Troubled Water," which had a totally different instrumental intro so that I didn't recognize the song until he started singing it).

His voice, at times, lacked some of the depth of his youth, but the familiar timbre was there and you could never mistake who was singing.

Only five songs were from the Simon and Garfunkel catalogue ("America", "Bridge Over Troubled Water", "Homeward Bound", "The Boxer" and "The Sound of Silence", and the last three were in the encore, along with "Kodachrome"). So if you climbed all those steps in the cheap seats for some S & G, you might have been slightly disappointed. Truth be told, I kinda missed Artie not being there and I hate that their feud continues at this point in their lives. Seems silly.

This is Simon's farewell tour. He seems remarkably fit for his age and vocation (he even did a little zydeco shuffle dance move) and he performed for nearly three hours without a set break.

I was glad I brought my binoculars because even though there was a huge TV screen behind him for those who couldn't see the stage well, our seats were situated precisely where our line of sight to the screen was obstructed by the huge drop-down speakers mounted above the stage. Standing in at only 5-foot-3, Simon is already hard enough to see even when you're up close.

But, hey. Free tickets. Not complaining.

In October, Billy Joel, 69, will be appearing at BB&T Field in Winston-Salem. I'm available for free tickets for that one, too.



Sunday, June 17, 2018

Uh-oh. Talking in my sleep...

Most mornings, somewhere between my deepest REM sleep and early consciousness, my cat, Halo, jumps up on the bed, and then settles onto my chest. She kicks in her soft purr motor.

She wants to be fed. It's how she brings me out of my best sleep of the night and into reality.

Or near reality.

Because apparently, the other morning when she was on my chest, I started petting her. And talking to her.

"Awww, how are you Debbie?" I said. "Awwww, Debbie, are you a good girl? You want some food? Awww, Debbie..."

I'm in bed-head consciousness. I know there's a 15-pound cat on my chest. It doesn't quite filter that I'm calling her Debbie. Yet.

"Who's Debbie?" asked my wife, wide awake at 3:45 in the morning.

"What? Huh?"

Well, that woke me up. This is how I found out I was talking in my sleep.

OK, OK. Time to give you some deep background here.

Yes, there once was a Debbie in my life. But that was 43 years ago. She was the girl I was dating at the time. I thought I was in love. I thought we might get married. We even looked at rings. I think she liked the diamond that looked like a heart, although it might have been pear shaped. I can't remember. Maybe it'll come to me in a dream some night.

Anyway, the relationship never panned out. She ended it. She's the reason why I left Pennsylvania with a broken heart. She's the reason I'm in North Carolina.

But why was I calling my cat Debbie 40 years later?

I don't know. Maybe it's how the subliminal mind of a 67-year-old male works when in sleep mode, and a long suppressed Debbie finally bubbled to the surface, like swamp gas. I don't know.

Kim said that she didn't wake me because she wanted to hear more, but apparently, my conversation with Halo/Debbie ended when I offered Halo/Debbie cat food for breakfast. So there are no ghosts in my closet.

Conversely, I keep hoping to catch Kim in mid-dream some night, but all she does is snore.









Sunday, June 10, 2018

My Southern belle

While I was watching television the other day, Kim purposefully came into the den with a card for me to sign.

Usually, these are birthday cards (more on that in a moment). But this was a Thank You card. She writes a pleasant, sincere and well-constructed note in them and signs it "(blank) & Kim" whenever we need to thank somebody for showing us a kindness they committed toward us. It's my job to fill in the blank with my own name, in my own handwriting.

"You are just sooo Southern," I tell her, not paying much attention to the words falling out of my very mouth. And sending Thank You notes may not even be a Southern thing as much as it is the correct thing to do. It just feels what I think is Southern to me. Maybe it's because this is the second Thank You note I've signed this week.

And it feels Southern to me because Kim is a Southern girl, born and bred right here in Lexington, and this simple act of correct etiquette, Southern or not, is how she was raised. She sends out Thank You notes for parties we've been invited to and attended, for gifts that have shown up on our porch, for dishes and desserts that have been given to us for no particular reason.

Sooo Southern.

"Well," Kim tells this Yankee from Pennsylvania, who surreptitiously steals the silverware when nobody is looking, "You didn't have to move 500 miles if you didn't want to marry a Southern girl."

I could go in several different directions here, but suffice it to say, point well taken. She occasionally tells me off like this with a soft, lilting and compelling accent that makes me smile.

"Ah don't hay-ave an ak-say-ent," she argues, adding all those extra syllables along the way, and I melt.

She never met a birthday she didn't like (except her own), so I am constantly signing birthday cards, too. Whenever we go shopping, we have to stop somewhere to buy a birthday card or two. She knows when everybody's birthday is, including the birthdays of my friends, much less her own. I don't know how she does it. I think she has a Rolodex in her brain.

The other Southern thing she does is fix meals for friends in distress. I mean, the other day a friend of ours recently had knee replacement surgery, and Kim whipped up a Key Lime pie for him. Several years go, one of our neighbors had an extended hospital stay, and he got a chicken pie. Another neighbor brought our cable and wifi back to life, and he got a lasagne.

The thing is, these are all the comfort foods that I enjoy but can't have because we're on never-ending diets. I'm seriously considering doing bodily harm to myself to see if I can wrassle up some of her world-class lasagna. Haven't had any of that in years. (Although, back when we were dating, I suffered a high ankle sprain while playing basketball. I was treated to Dagwood sandwiches for a week. I milked that one for all that it was worth. I think that's when I asked her to marry me).

Like I said, I'm not sure Thank You notes and comfort meals are exclusively Southern. I don't remember us Yankees running around when I was a kid doing nice things for each other, although I'm guessing we probably did. We were, after all, good church-going Moravians.

But there's something about the way Kim goes about all this that just feels right, that's taken decades to hone – no, a culture to hone.

And she's making me put the silverware back.

Signed:

(blank) & Kim









Sunday, June 3, 2018

Foul ball?

With a career in sports writing spanning more than 40 years, I like to think I know a little something about the rules of the games we play.

Well, sure. I grew up watching baseball, football and basketball, so I'm more familiar with those sports than, say, for example, soccer or lacrosse.

And to be sure, I'm particularly familiar with baseball. Growing up, that was THE sport. When I first started writing for The Dispatch, I even carried around a handbook-size copy of the official rules of baseball, published by Wilson sporting goods. I was ready.

Consequently, I thought I knew the game – until Friday night.

I was covering the HiToms at Finch Field in Thomasville. A member of the wooden bat Coastal Plain League (CPL) designed specifically for scholarship college freshmen and sophomores, the HiToms were playing a doubleheader against Gastonia. I was to cover the second game. Both games were scheduled to go seven innings instead of nine, a nod to speeding up a long night when doubleheaders are involved and teams have to travel by bus to get to their next game the next day. Almost all minor leagues observe 7-inning doubleheaders. It makes sense.

Anyway, I arrived at the ballpark at a time when I figured the opener would be close to finished. The trouble was, the first game was delayed an hour by a passing thunderstorm, so when I settled into my seat, the game was tied at 1-1 in the sixth inning.

The HiToms scored three runs in the bottom of the sixth, which I figured would be enough to win. But, baseball being baseball, Gastonia tied the game with three runs in the top of the seventh.

And Thomasville failed to score in the bottom of the seventh, forcing the game to extra innings. Oh, boy. A long night just got longer. My 11 p.m. deadline was in jeopardy.

Except that the game turned to the international baseball rule book, which has a provision for a tiebreaker when a game goes to extra innings.

Huh?

According to the rule, the team at bat starts an extra inning with runners on first and second base, with no outs. They are considered to have reached base on error, but the so-called "errors" do not count against a pitcher's earned run average, which I guess makes sense. I guess.

As it turned out, the HiToms got out of the eighth inning with no damage, and then scored the winning run in the bottom of the eighth when Gastonia screwed up on fielding a sacrifice bunt. The HiToms won 5-4.

But I'd just seen something I've never seen before. A tiebreaker in baseball. It was like watching sudden death in slow-motion. Let that one sink in for a minute.

On the one hand, this was a good thing. An extra inning game in a doubleheader can have you eating hot dogs in the ballpark at 3 a.m. In theory, you could be be playing a baseball game until tomorrow.

I know. It happened to me. I once covered an American Legion game between Lexington and Concord that went 21 innings.

On the other hand, I think my baseball sensibilities were highly offended. More than 48 hours later, I'm still shouting to myself, there's no tiebreaker in baseball. There's no crying in baseball. C'mon.

I guess I'm just an old baseball purist. My baseball sensibilities have been under assault for decades, starting with expansion (to my mind, there should be only 16 major league teams, eight in each league. More teams just dilute the talent pool. Oh, wait. The talent pool is now worldwide), and continuing with AstroTurf, domed stadiums, interleague play and the designated hitter rule.

There's a lot that's happened to baseball since 1955. I'm not sure all of it is good. Meanwhile, we're playing three-hour games because batters constantly step out of the box after every pitch to scratch themselves, adjust themselves, or admire themselves. Nobody's seriously addressed those issues yet.

On the other other hand (I have three hands), I guess I should applaud the CPL for trying to be innovative. The international league tiebreaker rule (does it apply to Olympic baseball, I wonder?) does speed up the game. The CPL also allows only five warm-up pitches for relievers when entering a game, five warm-up pitches for all pitchers during the two-minute between-inning breaks, and coaches are allowed only six visits to the mound per game. So the CPL is actually a great platform to experiment with improvements.

I'm just not sure a tiebreaker is one of them.




Sunday, May 20, 2018

Far out, man

Back in 1969, the closest I ever got to Woodstock was to think about it. I mean, I was 18 years old at the time, fresh out of high school, and the idea of going to a live, outdoor music festival with 100,000 like-minded people was compelling. I lived in Pennsylvania at the time, and Yazgur's farm was only a couple of hours away.

But I never went. Although I was pretty much immersed in the hippie lifestyle at the time (or so I thought – I had shoulder-length hair and wore bell-bottom jeans with button flies), I couldn't quite bring myself to go.

Me graduating from Hippie College, 1973. Note hair.
 It was just as well. As it turned out, more than 400,000 people showed up to sleep in their cars, or on beds of straw, sometimes in the rain, hiking miles through impossible traffic jams to listen to great music. I would have been eaten alive.

 But all these years later, I still carry a tinge of regret for missing out on a definitive (and reachable) moment of popular culture for my generation.

Until yesterday, that is, when Kim and I went to Hippie Fest at the Rowan County Fairgrounds in Salisbury.

All right, all right. Please contain the giggles. Instead of 400,000  people, there might have been 4,000. Great music was performed by people you never heard of. Plenty of people who were in their 60's and 70s strolled the grounds, popping into boutique tents to consider buying love beads, mood rings or tie-dyed T-shirts in an effort to recapture a faded past – or lost regrets.

Flower power...
 There was some cool stuff to see, including about 20-25 iconic VW Beetles and buses. One guy was selling electric guitars he made out of gas cans (or anything else he could find). Going Up Country, I guess.

There were performers on stilts; a bubble machine kept the kids mesmerized (me, too, for that matter); food trucks scented the air with grilled onions and funnel cakes, thus taking on something of a Barbecue Festival atmosphere (Food trucks, I'm sure, would have been greatly welcomed at Woodstock).

There was a small performance stage where musicians who were not even gleams in their yet-to-be parents' eyes back in 1969 sang songs from the era, and that was cool. Made me think there was some legacy being passed on, even if it was on a small plot of muddy grass in Salisbury.

Bailey Rogers belts out 'Me and Bobby McGee.' Wow.
 (Side note: I took a picture of the stage, not knowing that former Lexington resident Bailey Rogers was performing an a cappella version of "Me and Bobby McGee" at the time. She was fantastic. We'd just met her several weeks earlier when her family was in town to visit friends in our neighborhood. We had no clue she had this kind of talent. Like, wow, man).

And speaking of muddy grass, I have to point out there was no hint of reefer to be sniffed anywhere, just in case you were wondering. There were no marijuana tents, no LSD depots. I'm guessing the only pills that were popped with this crowd were probably Ibuprofen.

I did have a little concern about the weather. We've been having rain day after day for more than a week, with more in the forecast. And, indeed, the skies were overcast once again as we left Lexington and headed to Salisbury.

I kind of wondered if we were caught in a shower if we'd throw our clothes off, like in some of the pictures I saw of the Woodstock generation, where scores of people unabashedly bathed in cow ponds. But naked septuagenarians is probably not a good visual. In any case, it never rained in the 90 or so minutes we were there. You can only take your memories so far, I guess.

In the end, we had a pretty good time.  The ebb-and-flow crowd was manageable; people were courteous to each other; music of several genres (including eastern Indian and Native American Indian) were on display. It was nostalgic.

I saw what I came to see, and it put a smile on my face.

Far out.

Kim leaves Hippie Fest in her VW bus...












Sunday, May 13, 2018

For the birds

One of the things handed down to me from my mother, no doubt through her DNA, was a fascination with bird watching.

I'm not a dedicated birder. I don't go out on weekends tromping through tick-infested fields or climbing impossible mountain trails, wearing binoculars and pith helmet, to track down some elusive species that only James Audubon was able to document.

On the contrary, I've set up a metal post on my backyard patio, where four bird feeders hang within easy view of my kitchen window (which is where our hummingbird feeder is attached). I can sit back in the comfort of my home, beverage in hand, watching birds compete for a place at the feeder.

Mom used to do this a lot. Sometimes she had feeders that had suction cups so you could attach them to the window, bringing the birds even closer to you. Except that the suction cups didn't hold forever and usually left permanent rings on the glass. A trade-off, I guess.

I'm content to use the feeder tree. Usually, we fill the feeder with wild bird seed, which is enough to attract the assorted wrens and sparrows on a regular basis.

A couple weeks ago, as the result of a store promotion at Wild Birds Unlimited in Winston-Salem, we won a free meal worm bell (Mmmm. Meal worms). I hung it on my feeder tree, and almost instantly, we had bluebirds (Sialia sialis). I hadn't seen a bluebird in years.

I also had a square meal worm cake (yummm), which I inserted into the cake holder, and Bingo!, we had catbirds (Dumetella carolinensis). In the meantime, our faithful wild bird feeder was still attracting the common finches and chickadees.

Suddenly, I wondered if word was getting out that the restaurant was open. Soon enough, the occasional bird I could not identify started showing up. I had to look at my copy of "The Birds of the Carolinas" to identify the tufted titmouse (Baelophus bicolor) that appeared. Then a brown thrasher (Toxostoma rufum) arrived. This is a fairly large bird that you would think would dominate the feeder, but he seems to get along well with others.

One day, I was working in the yard and saw a Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula). No, it wasn't Brooks Robinson.

I once saw an indigo bunting (Passerina cyanea), a true blue bird if ever there was one.

The birding was getting crazy. One of our feeders is filled with nyger, which almost exclusively attracts goldfinches (Carduelis tristis). These are comical birds. Our feeder is designed to where they have to hang upside down to peck for their nyger, and it's funny to watch. At first, I thought upside down was an odd way to view the world until I decided maybe it's the only way to see the world these days. Goldfinches actually might be on to something.

I have to say, robins are still some of my favorite birds. I was weeding the garden the other day, tilling the ground with my trusty mattock. Two robins (Turdis migratorius) landed in the freshly turned soil, not more than 10 feet away from me, which I thought was particularly bold for a bird. They always come to dinner dressed in their orange vests, black tops and white eyeliner. Classy.

It's been pointed out to me that robins are actually carnivores without teeth. They don't do feeders, but go after berries, insects and worms instead.

I do have one concern: we live in an area where birds of prey sometimes show up. I hear the occasional owl, and every once in a while, I'll see a sharp-shinned hawk patrol the sky. The songbirds and wild birds usually skedaddle when the hawk shows up.

I'm sure I've left out a bunch of birds: cardinals are abundant and once in a while a blue jay thinks he owns everything. Mourning doves, for some reason, think they can hang with this crowd.

All in all, it's pretty entertaining stuff, and I guess I have Mom to thank for my avian interest.

So, thanks Mom.







Sunday, May 6, 2018

Leaking like a sieve

It was supposed to be another calming trip to the beach house, which my wife and her brother inherited, just to make sure everything was OK. You know, because the place is about 45 years old and things happen. Especially when it sits in salt air 24/7/365.

We'd already made previous repairs, including a serious leak underneath the house a year or so ago that forced us to return to Lexington on the same day we arrived at the beach. That was fun.

This time, when we arrived, we noticed some of the vinyl siding was starting to separate on the east side of the building. OK, we can live with that. So we unpacked the car and turned on the electricity. Yep, the air conditioner was still working. Whew. Lucky us. It was already 85 degrees outside.

Then I went streetside to turn on the water main

"Oh, no. Bruuuuuce," wailed my wife, who was standing in the carport of the classic two-story beach abode featuring a knotty pine interior.

I couldn't believe what I was seeing: water gushing onto the carport from under the house; water flowing down the side of the house of the lower apartment. Torrents cascading like a waterfall from the ceiling of the carport. Water everywhere. I only wish I was exaggerating here.

"Call Tom," I said, "I'll turn off the water."

Tom is our professional fix-it guy, who's done excellent work for us in the past. He arrived within the hour and assessed the situation. He said he'd be back the next day with an assistant.

In the meantime, Kim and I took a room at a nearby hotel – $142, including tax.

The next day, after breakfast and running a few errands, we found Tom busy with repairs. He thought he found the source of the leak. He turned on the water. It wasn't leaking where he'd fixed it. But the house had other ideas. It now leaked in a different location.

The entire day went like this, chasing leaks, making repairs. By late afternoon, we thought we'd caught the last leak – until we turned on the water. Yep. New leak, new location.

Apparently, the water in the house is running through 45-year-old thin gauge copper pipes that don't fare well against the salt air. The corrosion was profuse. Tom was replacing the copper with PVC tubing.

But we'd had enough for the day. Tom said he'd be back as soon as he could, but I hope he takes Sunday off. No hurry now.  We left for home after 32 hours at the beach



Sunday, April 29, 2018

New Bern foodie tour

OK, the original idea was for our Davidson County Civil War Round Table to take its annual spring campaign to New Bern to visit the battlefields there as well as nearby Kinston last weekend.

And we pretty much did that.

Full disclosure: The last time my wife and I were in New Bern was about 25 years ago. Things have changed. The city of about 31,000 has gone through a nice revitalization where downtown (or is it uptown?) buildings have reinvented themselves, utility lines have gone underground, and historic sites (like Caleb Bradham's shop where he invented Pepsi, or Tryon Palace, or the 200-plus-year-old Episcopal Church with its painted glass windows and 1717 King James Vinegar Bible), are proudly brought forward.

My wife didn't make this trip, but 15 or so of my alpha male friends did. Some of us (mostly the retired guys) arrived on Thursday, and the rest of us showed up on Friday, finally coalescing as a full round table at the New Bern battlefield for a morning tour.

Quick history lesson: the battle of New Bern was a small but significant action that happened in 1862, early in the war. It was a Union victory that captured a Confederate seaport, which it never relinquished. Today's battlefield features some pristine earthworks and clear interpretative markers that make the place a real asset.

In Kinston, about a half hour away, rests the remains of the CSS Neuse, one of only three Confederate ironclads still in existence (the others being the CSS Cairo in Vicksburg and the CSS Georgia in Savannah). All that's left of the Neuse is its water-damaged wooden hull and about 10,000 artifacts that came out of the Neuse River when the boat was finally raised in 1963. But the hull and the artifacts now reside in a state-of-the art museum in downtown (or is it uptown?) Kinston, protected for all to see.

Our round table field trips are great because they offer reasonable doses of history while leaving us enough time to explore other options. When we went on trips to Chattanooga, Richmond and Charleston, for example, we were able to take in some minor league baseball games in those cities. Our trip to Charleston also offered us an opportunity to visit the Eight Air Force Museum in Savannah.

This time, not only did we take in Kinston, but also Morehead City, where Fort Macon has stood guard since 1826. That was cool until about 600 middle school kids showed up for their get-out-of-class free field trip. Sigh.

Anyway, the nice surprise on this trip were the food options. Places like Beer Army, Craven 247, Morgan's and Persimmon's, all within walking distance of each other and all spectacular in their own way. Even Morehead City gave us Southern Salt, where I had some of the best crab cakes I've ever had outside of Baltimore.

Each day when I called Kim, the first thing out of my mouth was what we had for dinner the previous night. Oh, yeah. The battlefield was nice, too. So much for history.

Clearly, it's time to start plotting our next foray.







Sunday, April 15, 2018

Spring cleaning

For the past 10 days or so, I've found myself in spring cleaning mode.

Thank goodness this happens just once a year. Usually around spring.

It starts with weeding our vast garden areas, which somehow become more vast with each year that I get older.

The weeding is necessary, however, since what I am really doing is preparing our gardens for the layer of hardwood mulch that I throw on them.

The backyard garden area is unending. It's a scalloped garden that runs on both sides of my yard, which I figure is about 30 yards deep, from my back porch to the alley. It's a lot of garden area. I take my trusty mattock and run through fields of dandelions, wild (Indian) strawberries, poison ivy, ground ivy, crabgrass and other weeds I can't identify, digging up most anything that has no eye appeal. I am a dangerous man with a mattock.

It also means raking up all the leaves that I didn't collect last October.

The garden in front of our house is what I call our "English cottage garden", although I doubt it resembles anything English at all. But Kim has tulips, snapdragons, columbine, black-eyed susans and things that grow tall and green (not weeds) that fill our beds, which are usually lined with impatiens or begonias (when in season). It looks great.

Anyway, after the weeding comes the mulch. We usually order four Bobcat scoops of mulch that gets delivered and dumped in a rather large pile in our garden area next to the alley (the dump truck pile somehow gets larger with each year I get older).

I distribute the mulch by shoveling loads into a wheel barrow, then throwing the mulch out by hand. But I recently learned a valuable lesson. I was told that it was a lot easier to load the wheel barrow by using a pitchfork. Ha, I said. That makes no sense. The tines of the fork are about two inches apart; the mulch will simply slip through the tines, I figure logically.

But, no. The pitchfork was a Godsend. I decided that the pitchfork is not the devil's tool after all – the shovel is (at least for moving mulch). The pitchfork has saved my aching back. It only took me 67 years to learn this.

There's also indoor spring cleaning involved.

We were having friends over to the house, but before Kim would allow anyone through the front door, we had to clean the place up. My job (even though I've been mulching) was to dust and vacuum. I usually do the dusting and vacuuming anyway to keep the house-chore load off Kim, but my idea of dusting and vacuuming is surface centered. I clean what I can see.

Kim's idea is more detailed, requiring me to get down on my hands and knees to clean under sofas and chairs, under end tables and secretaries, and into corners and crevices to get rid of the cobwebs and spider dirt.

Oh. That kind of spring cleaning.

Anyway, we got the place clean. It looks great and will probably look great for another couple of hours before real life and more dust settles in.

Then we can do it all over again.

Next spring.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Masters plan

I love this day in golf – the final round of The Masters.

While some people fail to see the drama that can arise from hitting a little white ball with a crooked stick into a gopher hole, the day almost always brings me to the edge of my seat.

Part of the reason, I think, is because of the golf course itself. Augusta National, as golf courses go, is nothing less than a glorious work of art, carved out of the Fruitland azalea nursery in the 1930s by none other than Bobby Jones his own self.

I've had the great privilege to attend two Masters practice rounds in my life, thus twice fulfilling an item on my bucket list when once would have been amazing enough (Other bucket list check marks: I've played at Pinehurst No. 2 twice; I've flown in a World War II era B-24; I've hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and I sang "Rocky Mountain High" while actually crossing the Rockies. I once swam with barracuda in the Florida Keys, but that was more of an accident of crossing paths with fish with sharp teeth while I was snorkeling than a bucket list quest of mine. It'll do, though).

Anyway, Augusta National without golfers on it would be thrilling enough. Now throw in world class professionals and you enter the realm of legend: rallies, comebacks, epic collapses, epic shots – it's all there.

Another reason I love this day is because I usually pick somebody I want to win, and so it becomes a little more personal. I usually get serious about this after the cut, when it' a little clearer who's leading the field or has a reasonable chance for victory.

For example, I've never been a big Sergio Garcia fan, but I pulled for him to win The Masters last year and was happy enough when he finally put on his green jacket.

The usual suspects also tend to come into play here: Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson. I can pull for any of those guys if they're in contention. But if they're up against the dreaded best player never to have won a major, I generally pull for the guy seeking his first title.

Compelling story lines don't hurt, either. Rory Mcllroy can complete his career Grand Slam (Masters, U.S. Open, British Open, PGA Championship) if he wins today. It'll mean Patrick Reed, another solid golfer I like, will have to choke on his three-stroke lead, a development which could become something of Masters legend a la Greg Norman, if that happens.

I also like Jordan Spieth because his mom went to Moravian College and his dad went to Lehigh University, which are landmarks within my old stomping grounds when I was a kid growing up in Bethlehem, PA. So there's that. It's part of my six degrees of separation from Jordan Spieth.

This year's leaderboard looks pretty interesting going into the final round. I'm ready to settle in, immerse myself in sandy white bunkers and smell the azaleas.




Sunday, April 1, 2018

Cable guy

For about a week – eight consecutive days – our house was something akin to a third world country: we had no Internet; we had no email; we had no landline telephone service; and, oddly enough, while we did have access to most of our cable TV stations, we did not have access to some of the upper tier stations for which we were paying.

That's some bundle.

I went into panic mode, which is usually my basic go-to option when things go wrong. My first impulse, of course, was to curse out Spectrum, our cable provider.

The cable service went out a week ago Wednesday, after the mini snow storm we had that didn't even shut down the school systems. When my cable acts up, I usually reboot the modem/router, and everything comes back to life. But this time, nothing happened.

On Thursday morning, I began the first of what turned out to be a flurry of trips to the Spectrum office on Caldcleugh Road, near the community college.

We had to wait until Saturday before a technician came out. He had this handy iPad that tells him where the hot cable lines are, whether individual routers and modems are up, and neat stuff like that. He determined that there was nothing wrong in our house, that it must be in the lines, so he called maintenance. A van arrived shortly, a cable guy got out, fiddled with some wires on a pole, and left.

Still no service.

So I talked with my neighbor on Sunday, an employee of Spectrum who is out on medical leave. He, too, was without service, although he had his own hot spot, thanks to his iPhone. We don't have an iPhone – we still use a flip phone. We're dinosaurs. In fact, I guess we're the kind of dinosaurs that die in meteor strikes and turn into future tar pits or gas reserves.

At any rate, my neighbor called for a maintenance guy, who arrived shortly, climbed a different pole, fiddled with a couple wires, and left.

But still no service.

I saw my neighbor again on Wednesday, who was shocked to learn that I was still down. That was weird, because his line was now up and running. So he came to my house with his iPad. Yep. We were down. In fact, he showed me that we were about the only house in the service node (about 1,000 devices, I guess) that was down. Great. Wehrle luck. So he put in another call.

This time, the cable guy who came out located the tap to our house, which was on a pole across the street and about a half block up the road. He climbed up, cut off a piece of cable line, replaced it, and came down.

"That should do it," he said, showing me the four-foot piece of cable he'd chopped off. It looked like it had been in a knife fight. "Squirrels," he said, showing me numerous gnawings in the line, including one area that exposed the copper wire, which tends to disrupt service when the elements hit it.

But we were back online.

Well, almost.

Our printer still wasn't working. The Spectrum guy, who took 15 minutes to get us online, spent a half hour trying to figure out how to get our printer connected. He left in frustration.

But I had an ace. I called my friend and former colleague at The Dispatch, who is something of an IT whiz in his spare time. He came over Friday morning and spent at least 90 minutes trying to outsmart the system, evade my cat, and not bump his head on our low stairway overhead to the second floor. But he was up to the challenge and the printer was miraculously working when he left.

So we're finally online, our lives back to normal as we rejoin the technological revolution. At least, until the next squirrel attack.









Sunday, March 18, 2018

Brackets schmackets

I probably shouldn't admit to this, being the old sports writer that I am/was, but for the first time in memory (well, in my memory), I didn't participate in an NCAA brackets pool.

At least, not voluntarily.

As the tournament approached, I received the usual requests for my pool participation. I'd been playing NCAA pools for probably the entire 40 years I've lived in Lexington, and in all those years, I only won once.

That was in 1983. It happened like this: We had the usual brackets pool at The Dispatch, where I worked, but then we had a Sweet 16 pool, where you drew the name of a team out of a hat at $5 a pop. I wasn't there for the drawing (I think I was actually out on assignment), but a colleague of mine drew for me, pulling N.C. State.

Oh, great, I thought, thinking that's $5 I'll never see again. Until N.C. State won. Oh, great! I thought, and promptly bought myself a Members Only jacket with my $80 in winnings.

But every year since then, I've been a poor loser. It usually cost me $5 to fill out three brackets, but even with my supposedly sports writer insider knowledge, I'd only occasionally get tantalizingly close to winning the $120 pots. Usually, the winner was someone who picked their teams based on school colors or how they liked the team nicknames. Very prescient of them, but probably as good a system as any.

So this year, I just said the hell with it. I just didn't want to play any more. It was a dead-end street. Money out the window. And with that decision not to fill out my brackets, I felt decidedly liberated. No longer did I have to suffer agonizing bracket-buster upsets. I could just sit back and enjoy the games. In fact, I didn't even have to watch the games, if I didn't want to. I was free. Free to change the channel. Free to go outside in the middle of a game. Free.

Until Thursday morning, when my wife called. There was an ESPN pool her office was participating in. One of her colleagues would fill out our bracket if I just picked the Final Four teams. Sigh. OK. Easy enough. And it didn't cost anything to enter. So I picked Virginia, Xavier, Villanova and Michigan State, with Villanova to win the title (Villanova is a Philadelphia school. I might still have to ride those Super Bowl coattails).

But I didn't have to fill out a bracket. Somebody else in Kim's office volunteered to do that based on my final four teams.

I kind of like this surrogate selector idea. Going into today's games, our bracket is currently tied for first place, even surviving Virginia's stunning upset to the UM-Baltimore County Retrievers (a great team nickname, I think, right up there with the UC-Santa Cruz Banana Slugs).

I'm still not clear what happens if we win the pool. Not sure if money is involved or not. Could end up being a pat on the back. Suits me. I'm still free.




Sunday, March 4, 2018

Auto correct

I wasn't really in the market for a new car (well, actually a used car, but new to me), because the one I had was still doing OK. Yes, the one I had was 10 years old and it was approaching 100,000 miles, which is kind of like a demarcation line for trade-ins. Everybody's antennae seems to go up at 100,000 miles.

But the power train on my daily driver was still in excellent condition. There had never been an issue with the engine or the transmission. And after 10 years of faithful service, stuff was deteriorating. We don't have a garage, so there was some sun damage on anything that was plastic. And because cars are essentially computers on wheels (even 10-year-old cars), there were some annoying electronic problems with remote door locks and express windows.

Even my sound system was getting a little staticky, and foam padding from the driver's seat was slipping out of the seams.

So while I wasn't really in need of a new(er) vehicle, that didn't stop me from looking. Sometimes, over the past year or so, we'd go to car lots on Sundays just to see what's what.

Then Kim, playing on the MacBook a month or so ago, found a one-year-old car with just 700 miles on it at a dealership in Burlington. I wasn't nuts about the idea of going to Burlington to look at a car, but then, we'd gone to Aiken, SC, two years ago to buy Kim's car – which she happened to find on the Internet.

So why not?

Anyway, we went to check out the car yesterday. One of the things I dread in life is buying a car, but this particular experience turned out to be doable. Our sales person was laid back and friendly, and we never felt pressured to buy. My ace card was that I didn't need a car and could walk away at any time. We'd already done that once at another dealership. They just didn't have to know that I might want a new car.

We did learn the car had only 700 miles on it because the original buyer, a woman, bought the car, kept it for like 14 days, then traded it in for an SUV because she felt the sedan was too small.

OK. That makes sense. Lucky me.

To make a long story short, the dealership had already knocked $4,500 off its asking price. After test driving the car, we decided to bite the bullet and buy it. After a round or two of negotiating, we'd gotten another $1,000 knocked off. We also got a reasonable interest rate. And there's still about 95 per cent of the factory warranty remaining.

The car is also loaded with more bells and whistles than a traveling circus, so there's more to driving it than just hitting the start button with the remote in your pocket. I figure there's a ton of reading to do and maybe watching a couple of YouTube tutorials about this car before I accidentally press the ejection seat button.

The only real stress of the day was that the whole experience, from first arriving on the lot to signing the final plethora of papers, took about five hours.

So, even today, I'm exhausted.

It's a nice day. Maybe we'll go for a nice, relaxing drive somewhere...


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.







Sunday, January 7, 2018

Brrrrr

A couple days ago, I got an email from my brother, David, who lives in Washington state. He used to live in Anchorage, Alaska.

He emailed me wanting to know if I needed any advice about surviving cold weather. You know: how to keep my pipes unfrozen, etc. (not sure if he meant my house water pipes or my body's biological pipes), but I assured him that we'd had weather like this before in North Carolina – just not for such an extended period of time.

And it has been ridiculous. During this nation-wide cold snap, surface temperatures reached -30 or -40 in some areas, meaning it's actually been warmer in Anchorage than in some places in the continental United States. Hells' Bells, I've been told it's been warmer in some regions on the planet Mars, which on average is only 50-60 million miles farther from the sun than we are.

I have a cousin who lives in Vermont and she posts running commentary about how cold it is up there. This came just days after I saw a story trending on Facebook about the lava dome percolating under New England that could pose a significant problem sometime in the next several million years.

I suspect those frozen Yankees would welcome a small eruption about now – "just enough to keep our feet warm," replied my cousin. I think she was serious.

In fact, this morning, as I write this, it's 5 degrees here in Lexington. No, wait a minute: it just fell to 4 degrees. Of course. The sun is coming up.

Anyway, we've been doing our best to cope. Even though we keep the thermostat hovering around 70 degrees in our drafty 100-year-old house, Kim broke out an extra fleece-line afghan last night to add to our two other comforters, and it certainly didn't hurt when our 16-pound Ragdoll cat joined us at the foot of the bed.

Yet, I still can't seem to get warm enough. We have a couple of strategically placed space heaters in the house (one in our den, which has French doors and we can close off the room to make it reasonably toasty) and one in the bathroom, which really does keep our toes warm.

I've been drinking hot chocolate and shoveling down lots of Kim's chicken stew in an effort to maintain my body heat.

But relief could be on the way. The weather forecast tells me that we should be in the 50s by midweek, and maybe even in the 60s by the weekend. I may have to cut grass, I don't know.

But maybe we're about to turn a corner. In just a few more months, we can complain about how hot it is...