Sunday, April 17, 2016

Shag lessons

A couple of weeks ago Kim had the bright idea that we needed to take some shag lessons.

She gets this idea every 15 years or so. This time, she learned that lessons were going to be given by Mark Tuttle at the Davidson County Recreation Department and wouldn't it be fun if we got our neighborhood friends together to take lessons with us?

Yeah, sure. Whatever.

I mean, we'd taken shag lessons twice previously in our married life together. The first time was about 20 years ago, and the second time was about 10 years after that. We'd learn a couple of nice moves, practice them, and then promptly forget them.

Don't get me wrong. I like to shag. It's a beautiful dance when it's done correctly and the music is spectacular: Miss Grace. Carolina Girls. Myrtle Beach Days. Stay. The list goes on and on.

Kim sent out an email to our friends about the lessons, but most were busy raising their own families (most are considerably younger than us wrinkled old codgers) and one by one had to decline the invite. Oh, well.

Anyway, I said, sure, let's go, it'll be fun.

Except about three days before the one-hour weekly lessons were to begin, I pulled a muscle in my left gluteus maximus while working out at the gym. I had a bum bum, and it was killing me. But I soldiered on.

The one thing that I'm not nuts about when taking shag lessons is that I quickly lose my intended partner. I feel most secure when I'm learning my steps with Kim, but every instructor we've had insists that we change partners halfway through learning the step. I'm not quite sure why this is because I'm pretty sure when I do learn the dance, Kim's pretty much going to be my permanent partner anyway.

So, whenever Mark shouted, "Men, to the right," I'd hobble over to my new date, grimacing the whole time. I hoped that my new partner didn't think I was grimacing at her, but how do you tell a woman — a total stranger at that — that your butt hurts?

Then the music would start and I'd soldier on.

We just completed our four hours of beginner classes and Kim signed us up for four more intermediate sessions. So far, we've learned the lead in, the basic steps, the Female Underarm Turn, the Belt Loop, the Chase, the She-He Turn (which has nothing to do with HB2) and the Cuddle. Coming up next are steps like the Sugar Foot, the Sugar Push, the Belly Roll (sounds like a bakery run) and Swagger.

I'm still not sure how proficient I want to become at this. I don't want to end up wearing gold necklaces and bracelets, but being a passable shagger would be good.

The video below is of Charlie Womble and Jackie McGee, legends in the World of Shag. If there's a Shag Hall of Fame, I think they're charter members in it. They look like they're dancing on ice. What they do is ridiculous to us normal humans, but it gives us novices something to aspire to. Sit back and enjoy:

Sunday, April 10, 2016


I love watching The Masters on television.

Part of that is because as a (horrible) golfer myself, I can empathize with some of the story lines falling over themselves this week at Augusta National. I mean, what duffer can't relate to Ernie Els penciling in a 9 on his scorecard after the first hole on Thursday? Heck, I do that at Lexington Golf Course all the time.

Another reason I like watching The Masters is because I've actually been to Augusta National. Twice. And not as a member of the media, either.

The first time happened about 25 years ago. That's when Gene Klump, then the athletic director at West Davidson High School, organized annual bus trips to Augusta to watch a Masters practice round. So I hitched a ride. Bucket list.

My prized Masters souvenir key fob
That was awesome. What sticks with me about that trip is that as we approached the golf course, we drove through one commercial district after another. Restaurant Row. Belly Boulevard. Sidewalk vendors. Parking, $50. Then we made a left-hand turn, went through a gate, and suddenly, in the midst of all this... this... stuff, we had entered a patch of heaven.

Voices became hushed. The rowdy bus riders had become reverential. I almost crossed myself, and I'm not even Catholic.

We were pretty much allowed to go wherever we wanted on the course (within bounds), just meet back at the bus at 3 p.m. So enjoy yourselves. And I did. I walked hither and yon, taking in sights I'd only seen on television before this, not quite believing where I was.

I needed something to remember this by, so I bought a key fob with The Masters logo on it. It's the only thing I could afford. To this day, it's a cherished possession. It's been restitched twice by a leather craftsman and it may need another visit soon.

My next visit to Augusta happened about eight years ago. My friend Chris had gotten hold of a pair of practice round tickets, and he'd give me one if I did the driving. Well, let me think about that for a min... OK, I'll drive.

Standing on the 11th fairway at Augusta National.
 So off we went. The weather was a little cooler this time, but the azaleas were in bloom and the course was in immaculate condition.

The commercialism still surrounds the course — at one point, we saw John Daly's RV parked just off Washington Road, selling golf stuff within sight of Magnolia Lane. I wondered if it was his personal golf stuff.

Nevertheless, once we got on the course, Chris and I walked everywhere. Even though this was my second visit, I was surprised by how hilly the course was. You don't really see the hills on TV, except, perhaps, for the 18th fairway.

So there it is. Somehow, I managed to get to Augusta National twice in my life. I don't know if that's a common thing, or not. I suppose the farther you live from Augusta, the more difficult the journey becomes.

But whenever I watch The Masters on television, I just kind of sit back and smile because, you know, I've seen heaven.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

It happens every spring

When I was a preteen, back in the early 1960s, I remember watching a Ray Milland movie titled "It Happens Every Spring."

It was a baseball movie, made in 1949, that was usually broadcast on our reliable black-and-white Motorola in time to herald in each new baseball season. It seems "It Happens Every Spring" actually happened every spring (for a few years, at least).

It was a fantasy flick about a college professor (Milland) who accidentally discovers a formula that makes objects repel wood. What you could actually use such a formula for in real life — even in 1949 — is beyond me. But Milland soon discovers that baseballs coated in this stuff will hop over wooden bats. So he becomes a baseball pitcher.

See It Happens Every Spring trailer here

It makes for an amusing little movie. The special effects used to make a baseball-like object jump over a swinging bat and then continue its trajectory straight into the catcher's glove were astounding for a 10-year-old like myself. It's CGI before there was CGI.

And it's still astounding, now that I think about it. Especially with Milland's throw-it-like-a-girl pitching delivery.

I guess this flick actually helped promote my love for baseball, and I often wondered why some genius somewhere couldn't actually invent a formula to make baseballs leap over bats — as if sliders, curves, knuckleballs, cutters, splitters, changeups and screwballs weren't enough to confound hitters.

So here we are: Opening Day. Upper case. The two best words in the English language. You can smell the optimism mingled with the newly mown grass. Yeah. Optimism. That's what baseball is. It's a hot dog with mustard and relish and the crack of the bat as a ball sails to the gap in deep left center — is it out of here?

Sports Illustrated delivered its baseball preview issue this week and the magazine that has gotten only one world champion prediction correct in the last 20 years (hey, I'll take those odds) is predicting Houston and Chicago (Cubs) in the World Series, with the Astros (who used to be in the National League) as the eventual champs.

Hmm. I like the Cubbies and I think their time has come. The Astros might be more of a stretch, but we'll see.

The team that I've pulled for my entire teenage-to-now life is the Philadelphia Phillies. They seem to be in a franchise-long rebuilding process (despite World Series titles in 1980 and 2008) and are coming off a 99-loss season a year ago.

Some nice draft picks, farm development and trades do offer some optimism, but a no-name pitching staff is still cause for concern.

I think they're still looking for a guy with a little hop in his pitches.