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.


(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.


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.