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."


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


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


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...